Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I rack my brain constantly trying to figure out where I can carve out a little bit of time for myself. All for me. When, specifically, can I write?

I know that if it is a short time frame I can write at night. Not with quality. But with intention. I did it two years in a row for National Novel Writing Month and I just made myself sit down and write for an hour every night after the boys went to bed. I did it. I don't know that it is sustainable. But the time is there.

But usually, by the end of the day I am too tired to write. My schedule, still, is simply too busy during the day to get to the desk, or a computer, or my journal, at the same time every day.

I have analyzed and broken it down. And in the end, though I am not a morning person, the only time left is early, early, in the wee hours, before the house awakens.

I am not a morning person. I hate getting up early. Hate it! In fact, when I tried getting up early another year Jonathan got so mad at me just setting my alarm at 6:00 am every morning and not getting up he was about to throttle me. My therapist asked gently if such a goal was realistic. "Because if it isn't," she said, "you are just making yourself feel bad."

And I was. Each day I failed to get up I beat myself up all day for failing again. AGAIN! So I started each day off on a negative footing, furious with myself.

But after New York I was determined. My body was on a slightly East Coast schedule, and spring was here. I want to buckle down for the final part of the school year. So the past few mornings I set my alarm early to grab a few minutes, or half an hour, of the only time that is truly all mine.

I set my clock radio alarm (OK, it was the soundtrack to Frida), got up, tiptoed down to the kitchen and put some water onto boil. I told myself I would do without my beloved coffee for the first hour because I know that even a whiff of espresso in the air can rouse people from sleep. At least me. I get my tea, tiptoe back to my computer, and sit down. I write down what I want to accomplish the night before so I am on track-and perhaps I have been solving my problem/issue/story in my dreams.

Do you know what happened?

Every one else got up, too.

Theo gets up early anyway. Jonathan bounced out of bed (blaming Frida) and Benji, my bedhead, heard all the commotion and got up himself. The coffee was on. The boys were building with magnatiles. Benji was asking to play computer games and demanding that I look at what he built.

It is funny. In a way. But I also just feel like giving up.

Early morning was my last option. I don't know where else I can find time.

Perhaps, for now, it is not meant to be. But giving up completely is as depressing as failing.

I don't know what to think.

All you mothers out there, any ideas?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Paper Frogs

Last night we had a frog invasion.

We tucked Theo into bed, and when I went to get him in the morning he had made about a hundred million origami frogs. They have been making them in school for a world market, and my boy can't stop folding. Very good for his spatial relations skills!

They really jump, and if you look closely, you can see eyes.

And look, two of them are procreating on the corner of the table! Frisky!

My First Harvest

Here is my first harvest--a few leaves of lettuce for a fresh salad--an incredible victory for a trepidatious gardener like me.

Half has been eaten. Gobbled, I should say.

Jonathan broke out a fine white wine. And we ate from this bowl.

The leaves were so fresh. They exploded with flavor. Jonathan said better with no dressing at all.

It is a small thing. But for me, the woman who kills all plants, a cause for personal celebration. Perhaps soon a radish, or a bean.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Alice Waters

My long-awaited (long-awaited by me, the author) LA Magazine story on our school's experience with the Edible Schoolyard is on the news stands now. I LOVE those glossy pages.

As soon as there is a link, I will post it here. In the meantime, parents and teachers are reading it in dribs and drabs. And, as always, everyone reads it through a different filter.

The wonderful and thoughtful hot lunch coordinator found it inspirational. Our principal looked shocked after reading it (I love her, so that was not a good feeling.) Others thought it was an accurate portrayal. Still others lust to have the problem at their school and thought the story showed heart. As always, I sort of want to hide until the flurry passes, but I am taking it on.

Writers write the truth (or try) and then you just have to stand with your head held high and let the readers give it to you on the chin. You will hurt people you never meant to, and make people love you who never would have given you a second glance. These intense emotions lasered at you from all around are the nature of the beast, but still a feeling I never quite get used to. (After big stories ran in the paper I would often just not answer the phone for the first part of the day, and instead cower as the phone ring. Later, when I had regained my composure, or knew the blast of vitriol, or the shower of praise that would greet me, I would return the call. Ready.)

In that spirit I took my story down to Alice Waters, who just happened to be in Los Angeles this weekend, perhaps for the LA Bookfair, But even more incredible she was signing copies of her latest cookbook right down the street at my favorite boutique, Lost and Found.

I decided to take a copy by for her perusal. The woman meets a hundred million fans a week. She is a rock star in the food world, and I passed through her life with a notebook for only the briefest of moments. She sat in a store at the end of a long wooden table, with two helpers shelling mountains of fresh fava beans and tossing them into a beautiful hand-carved bowl. Alice herself sat radiant and green, like a shimmering garden vegetable or a magic elf. I approached her. Again. She said she remembered me. And she looked like maybe she might. I gave her the magazine. She said someone had already given her a copy.

I said I wouldn't sign it, but I wanted her to have it--from me. It was a personal essay about our school's experience with the Edible School Yard and I was grateful to have been a part of it. Dutifully she took it and put it behind the curtain. And then she got it. "You are the author!" she said.
(Yes, why else would I be there?)

Then she said she loved the picture, said we were doing the work on the ground, and she couldn't wait to read it.

Oh, boy.

I hope stories of life on the ground are refreshing, not frightening.

But then, that is my job. To tell the truth. Even to Alice Waters.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New York City Here I Come!

My nails are freshly painted blue (Play Til Midnight blue to be exact), my coats and rain gear and boots and suitcase are ready.

Tomorrow morning I wake at dawn and fly to NYC for a weekend of fun and friendship.

To walk without pulling children, to immerse myself in art, architecture, theatre, to dress only me, to skip meals and get grouchy if I feel like it, to read uninterrupted, to hang with a dear dear old friend, and to be with myself.

Back Tuesday, with tales from the Big Apple!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bird Poop

On Saturday morning when we returned to the mainland, we headed straight for Joannafina's, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants from my days in Ventura. We used to go there post surf on Sundays and eat chips, the macho man burrito, a beer, and listen to the Mexican trio. I went with Chris and Michelle--no longer a couple--who saved my life and my soul in that lonely city.

So we went into Joannafina's and had a beer, and chips, and a burrito, and sat in the sunshine in the adorable little back garden. We were sitting there when a little bird came down, and landed on a tree. It landed right over us, it wiggled its little bird butt over on the branch, until it was right over Jonathan, then it pooped on him.

"Omigosh!" I said. "I think that bird just got you."

But Jonathan couldn't feel anything, so I thought maybe I was wrong.

Then Benji spotted it. A big white and green stain running down the shoulder of Jonathan's super high end Goretex jacket. The boys started laughing so hard they couldn't stop. I had tears running down my cheeks. Jonathan just calmly wiped it off and said it was good luck. He knew it. I just said, "It definitely means something!"

The next day we went downtown. On the way back we stopped in MacArthur Park, that glorious place, and went for a walk in what was once one of LA's grandest parks. It still is--even if only immigrants and ducks use it now. We were walking around the big pool when I felt wetness on my head.

A bird had pooped on my head. I didn't even have a napkin on hand to wipe out the shit. Jonathan on Saturday, me on Sunday!

What did it mean?

We tell ourselves it must mean something good!

At the very least it is a most uncanny, and unfortunate, coincidence.

It sure did make our boys laugh.

A Metaphor on Santa Cruz Island

A long time ago, my favorite therapist, who talked to me in metaphor, because I could not hear the truth spoken plain, would tell me I was on a path. She would describe the path, and where I was going (or where I was aimed) and what I could see, feel, smell--or not.

I loved the game (because I am a traveler) and when I am down I ask Jonathan, my storyteller, to indulge me.

"Where are we on the path now?" I ask.

And, if he is in the mood, he will tell me.

"We are walking along in the forest, there are shafts of light coming through, we cannot see where we are going, but it is beautiful..."


"We are on a bleak, rocky stretch. It is hard. But far away in the distance, we can see a mountain, and it is beautiful, and we know where we are going..."

or whatever.

On Thursday we went out to Santa Cruz Island to camp. I love Santa Cruz Island. It is virtually untouched, and now that the final sheep have been cleared away, and the island has been recovering for 10 years, the island is nearly pristine. No cars, no commercialism, no money, but that which you carry in your pockets. You walk out of the campground and you see hardly anyone. You walk more than a half mile and you are alone.

On Thursday afternoon we hiked to Potato Harbor. We were on a path that cut across the bluffs of the island. Everything is green, now, and covered with wildflowers--wild mustard, coreopsis, purple flowers I do not know, and wild nettles. The grass is so high it ripples like ocean, and if you close your eyes you can hear it. A simple road stretched out before us, cutting through the green. There were flowers and grass. Hills soared up to the left. The ocean fell away to the right. Ahead were the jagged peaks of the other end of Santa Cruz--different geographically from the rolling hills of the East End of the Island--and off limits to the public. They belong to the Nature Conservancy.

The path was so beautiful, that on that day it felt like heaven. And the road did feel like a metaphor. It just cut so clear and clean across the top of the land, like a poem. You could see forever in every direction.

But here was our metaphor. We could see the path stretching straight ahead. It was a wide trail, and comfortable. and you could see that far away it just stopped at a cliff: Potato Harbor. You could see the harbor pretty well from far away. You could see the road, and where it would end up. In a way, you did not need to go to the end. You wouldn't get much extra. It was so obvious. You were done before you got there--all the beauty, all the views, all the walking. Why not turn back? Did we really need to walk the extra quarter mile? But we were with the boys, so we kept walking, to the end of the wide path.

But when we got there, what a surprise. The path had looked like it ended, like there was nowhere else to go.

We were wrong.

There, cutting away from the path that petered out over the perfect view in a big bald patch like a picnic terrace was another path. It was a smaller path, low in the grass, impossible to see until you were right on top of it. But when you got to it, to the end of the other obvious path, there it was, as clear as day, leading on, to somewhere even cooler, even farther. But the thing was, you had to walk to the very end of the obvious path, to the final step, to see what came next.

If you didn't, if you stopped even twenty yards short, because you were sure you knew what you would find, you would have missed it. And you never would have questioned, or known what you had missed.

But you would have--that secret path was just waiting.

How many of us have the courage to walk to the very end of the path, to see what is next. We always think we can see. We always believe we know where every path leads. It is so obvious. Clear as day. But how often are we wrong?

We will never know. Until we go to the bitter end, and don't second guess.

The path is always there.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Checking in With my Gardening Muse

And myself!

For Easter we invited my gardening muse and her family over for dinner. I prayed she wouldn't ask about the garden. I worried because I had just had a horrible revelation about myself, brought on by gardening.

Gardening makes me nervous! It makes me neurotic! It makes me crazy!

I worry about every little seed and whether it will come up. I worry whether I am doing it right, whether I got the soil mixture right, whether it is too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. And whether I got dud seeds. But mostly I worry that I will do something that will mess it all up.

Two days after I planted a few plants and a lot of seeds I walked down the stairs and a beautiful zucchini plant Jonathan had planted was flowering. It was perfect, healthy, and I wanted to pluck it and fry it up Neapolitan style. But here is the weird thing. Rather than thinking: Hooray, this zucchini plant is thriving, I bet mine is, too. I thought, Oh No, I am just too scared to go up and check my plants. In fact, the more scared I got, the more paralyzed I became. I simply could not make myself go up to the back garden. And if you saw the Peruvian terraces I have to scale to get to my garden boxes you would know that it would be very easy to never, ever go up there again.

All of this had been running through my mind: my fear, my worry, and my reaction to my worry, which is to run away.

But Oh, my gardening muse, she was so wise.

"Oh I feel the same way," she said. "I worry about them all like children."

"It's true," her husband chimed in. "I saw her out there this morning, hunched over her tomato plants with a look of fear and worry in her eyes."

"Really?" I said. And I got all confessional like therapy.

"Let's go," she said. And she dragged me up into the back garden in my dress, she with a glass of red wine in her hand.

While we walked she gave me a pep talk. "Don't worry," she told me. "You have to think of this as a giant experiment. This may not be the right place. Your seeds may be no good. This may not be the right place in your garden. You are just learning and seeing what happens."

Her words were balm for my soul. She climbed up the uppermost terrace and the boys helped unwind the hose. She stood there in her Sunday best, wine glass in one hand, hose in the other, and sprayed away, looking so dapper and confident and Easter-y. She looked at a limp Amazon chocolate tomato plant that looked like it had already given up. It hurt me to look at it. She took it in her hand gently, and said, "Don't worry. These are very sensitive."


She talked me through it and gave my plants water and by the end of her hose-down they looked like they might resurrect.

I thought about how my garden has a Buddhist lesson for me. You see, it is so easy for me to do the active part of things. To begin. To buy. To dig. To build. To plant. But the waiting and watching and nurturing part for me is torture. It just kills me. I would rather run away and never look back.

But I must be Buddhist. I must force myself to look each day. I must look at the plants that are dying, the plants that are thriving, and do what I can for all of them, no blame. Just observation.

Today (two days took me a day to digest all of this) I climbed back up. It took me until 4:30 but I made myself look, and water. The Amazon Chocolate looked like it might survive after all, and the cucumbers and zucchini are thriving. I felt a little bit stronger. But it is the daily practice that matters--as with everything--not the dramatic resurrection.

I pray I can make myself go back up there tomorrow.

Who ever thought there would be so many mental blocks to a garden?

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Dry Run

Here are the boys practicing for camping. They are curled up inside their fabric igloo, warn and cozy and, most importantly, inside.

We were supposed to go to the Channel Islands today, but the temperature dropped to high forties at night, low sixties in the daytime, winds, and rain. So we pushed our island adventure off for three more days. The day dawned wet and cold, but now, as the ferry would have been pulling up the pier at Scorpion Ranch on Santa Cruz Island, the air is clean, the sky is blue, and the breeze is spring sunshine. Gorgeous!

This is our transition trip. We have done endless car camping, and I long to do back packing with my boys. On the Channel Islands we will be a million miles away from civilization--in a world that feels like California before the white man--but we take a boat there, and only have to drag our stuff a half mile. That means we can still bring our big tent, our heavy sleeping bags and an unwieldy camp stove you wouldn't dare to take into the wilderness. There is water from a pump, and latrines for campers.

I have been reading the boys the Swiss Family Robinson, and a great book sent me by my sis in law, about a sailing trip around the world. Sometimes we read inside the igloo.

If the weather gets too rough out on the Channel Islands you can be stranded. Boats are cancelled if the waves are high or the currents too strong. The National Park service tells you to pack for an extra day, just in case that should that happen. The prospect of getting stuck out there only makes the trip more exciting!

Last time we went the island was lush like Ireland, and monarchs fluttered through the eucalyptus grove where we will be camping. We saw a whale and a bunch of midden sites. It will be too cold to swim, or kayak, but the ocean will be wild and beautiful. We also saw 25,000 dolphins on our last trip. Our boat got caught up in their migration. It was one of the most magical things I have ever seen. I pray we will see them again. But there is no way to predict, you can only hope. And if they come, those dolphins and their baby dolphins, leaping around the boat so the whole ocean is alive and we humans are NOTHING, and you can imagine the ocean before we harvested everything to dangerously low levels, then my heart will sing.

If it doesn't, that is OK, too. The wildflowers will bloom. The little island foxes will sneak up to our tents, and the wild pigs will snort around our tents and try to eat our food. The rats have hanta virus, which is a little scary, but the rats are mostly on Anacapa island. Still, that means the threat of disease, too! Pigs, hanta virus, foxes, whales, beauty and seclusion will be adventure enough.

Oh how I long for some time in the wilderness. I am counting down the minutes.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Moment of Grace

I have a niece here in Los Angeles. She is adorable, like a big kewpie doll, but we barely see her, for a number of reasons I confess I do not fully grasp. It makes me sad.

Last weekend we saw her for breakfast. Her mother placed her in my arms. She is nearly two. She has seen me about eight times since birth. Usually in public places or large family gatherings. I would not call it intimate. I don't know that she even knows who I am. Memories are short at that age.

But that Sunday, her mama placed her with me, and she snuggled right in. She held me tight and wouldn't let go. I don't think she knew it was me. I was mystified.

But it was delicious. She is still that age when they fit perfectly on your body like a little koala. She is soft and squeezable, a feeling that disappears as they walk, then run, and their bodies turn harder, more muscular. My boys are cuddly, so cuddly, but this was different.

She clung to me as we walked in, sat down, ordered breakfast. She just sat and burrowed and nestled. She didn't talk or play or try to go to sleep. She just cuddled, and turned away from the table--seemingly as happy to be cuddling on me as I was to hold her.

Later I tried to figure out what happened. Why me? Why then? Does she really know me? Recognize me? Love me?

But then, I thought, it doesn't matter. When a baby loves you, you just accept that faith, that love, and savor it. There is nothing larger. It is just a perfect moment. And I got one.

It was sweet.

Why I Love My Mommy

This from Benji--in the giant puppy pile in our bed--as we laze around refusing to get up on spring break:

"Daddy, get away. You have spikes growing on your face!"