Saturday, August 18, 2012

When Pianos Are Trash

Perhaps you saw that devastating story in the New York Times about people throwing away grand pianos, and smashing them up with sledge hammers?

Our piano came from a bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard in a section that used to be full of old book stores. It was the last bookshop, and our piano (reputedly Liberaci's practice piano) was lodged among the stacks, there for anyone who wandered in from the Boulevard to play. There were some homeless people and some old customers--but we came along and bought it for almost nothing. It cost more to get the piano movers to push it up our 43 stairs than to buy the piano itself.

We love our piano.

Now the boys play, and we are always picking up music from the strangest places. Jonathan got an entire collection of show tunes from 1960 to now from a library sale. You just knew they belonged to some old Hollywood person who played for years, then died. In that pile we found Fiddler on the Roof, and Benji learned to play Sunrise Sunset for his last piano recital. I hope that dead piano player can see where their music ended up.

Then recently, J and I were walking a friend's dog and we found a pile of piano books strewn along the sidewalk, along with an old mattress--probably an eviction.

There was Bach and Mozart and Beethoven and more showtunes. I think there were literally piano books from my childhood. I felt I was rescuing them--like they were beautiful orphans who had lost their way and no one could see how beautiful they were. We did!

We brought them home, and there was Beethoven's Fur Elise. Probably one of the most cliched pieces of piano music in the world today. It was the piece my parents demanded I learn to play at 11, before I could give up piano and join the band at Cutler Jr. High School. I sat down, after all these years, and started to play.

It's a cliche, yes. But I had forgotten how beautiful it is. Even played unevenly, without confidence, with many errors, I felt like it cast a spell on our house. Jonathan shouted out from the TV room, and the boys shouted out from upstairs: "What is that? I like that one!"

I think I never learned to play the whole thing. I know the sound, but I did not know the middle pieces. Now I get up most mornings, grab my coffee, and play for just a little while. When I don't, Benji asks why I have stopped playing piano in the morning.

And I marvel at how this pile of piano books, found on the street, can give me such joy.

I feel like it was sent to me by a secret messenger from beyond, who just knew I needed a little Fur Elise in my life.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Day, One Child

Before we had kids, we used to hang out with some friends of Jonathan's who had kids "early." And by early, I mean, much later than our own parents--but they were still in their Twenties. Not waiting until the last possible moment their bodies could do it, if you know what I mean. Like us. Pushing the biological limits.

Anyway, they had these two amazing girls (who continue to dazzle). We would borrow them and take pictures with us to try out what we might look like as parents. Kind of like looking at yourself in new clothes, with a new persona, you know?

Anyway, these two people were truly awesome parents, and we have tried to copy and steal parenting techniques from them all along, as we are continually about nine years behind them.

One tip they had was this: make sure that you always take time to have a day alone where each parent shares a day with only one child. A total one on one bonding experience.

Well, life hit and we lost track.

But last weekend I got a day like that. And I didn't do anything spectacular like go to Paris with one child, or sail to Catalina, or even visit the Jet Propulsion Lab with my tech-minded child. Instead it was a simple day, brought on by necessity.

Jonathan took Benji to a birthday party, and I took Theo for a swimming lesson, and the day.

Well, first, I am a fanatical swimming mama. It is the one place I am pushy and demanding. The boys, AND their instructors, know that I care. I intentionally always make Theo wear his red Coronado Roughwater Swim cap, instead of his red swim school cap. It is my message to the teachers: someone in his family is a good swimmer, and he will be, too.

So he swam. He was tested. He got moved up. I was proud.

And then we had our day.

I took him to Book Soup, the last great book store in Los Angeles. I showed him the kids section, and walked him through the adult stacks. There was a reading going on, and I told him what was happening. I showed him the list of upcoming readings--with authors and books listed, and told him you could come and hear. He scanned the list dutifully and said, surprised, "I have never heard of any of them, Mommy." Neither had I.

Then we went and bought art supplies for our upcoming trip. Sketch books for all of us, and pastels in metal containers small enough to carry in a purse or backpack. I want us to travel like 18th century pilgrims, drawing what we see as we move around the castles and green rolling hills of England.

Then I took him to Poquito Mas and we sat in the sunshine, he and I, and talked about a book I wanted him to read (The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy). We told stories, and nibbled each other's food, and I wondered if he would spend his whole life trying to get back to California so he could eat tacos in the spring sunshine.

Then we went home and we drew each other with the new pastels, and I read him a chapter of the Apothecary, and then we cuddled up and read together in bed. We rounded it all out with a game of chess, in which he beat me soundly.

It was a perfect day to spend with anyone. But especially with my boy. It felt different to be with one child, instead of two. To share my favorite things and places and foods with him, and to talk to him like a companion, instead a small sheep in a herd of two, who must be corraled like a wild thing as we move hither and yon through the world.

I thought of Greg and Chalon and how they had told us how special that one on one time could be.

Jonathan told me Theo felt calmer that night--at peace because for one day he did not have to fight for attention in our merry band of endless talkers--but could have me all to himself--and I, him.

I wouldn't trade two for the world, but for a day, one was fun.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I love poppies. I love red poppies, opium poppies, wild poppies, California poppies. I love fields of them, waving on their slender stalks. I love that they are so vibrant and alive, yet cannot survive for long once picked. They love to be outside--don't mess with them!

You know this--this is my picture here.

Today we plant some in our front yard and pray they will come up in spring.

It won't be a field of gold, or a hillside of yellow, or a waving valley of red. But it will be a tiny carpet of California poppies in Whitley Heights--a small ode to this state I love.

Some Things My Husband Taught Me

The great thing about a spouse, or a best friend, is they bring things, ideas, philosophies and ways of being into your life that you never ever could have adopted on your own. And then they become part of you--but you always know they gave you those lessons as a gift.

So here are three from my husband. They are part of why I love him.

1) Always tip street musicians. Good or bad. Talented or Suckass. They are putting music out into the world and sharing that beauty. Give them a dollar. Or five. Buy their CD. Tell them you love what they do.

2) If you think someone is cool, or smart, or great, or inspiring, or can teach you something, or you just want them in your life, take them to lunch and pick up the tab. You will never forget it, and neither will they.

3) When some great opportunity drops into your life--do not hesitate--leap and jump in. Perhaps the timing is not right. Perhaps it is scary. Perhaps it costs money you feel like you do not have. Perhaps it is not the plan, the dream you had--even if it is really cool. But do not walk away, and do not take it for granted. Those opportunities that truly change your life only happen once in a blue moon--maybe only a few times in your life. When they come, there is no negotiating--you are in or you are out. You have to jump, jump in, and seize the day. Later you will wonder how you ever thought of NOT doing it. Stay open--or you will miss these moments--and you will never even know what passed you by.

What about you? Did anyone you love ever teach you some great lesson that changed how you live?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sick Sick Sick

My boys are sick--fevered and vomiting and coughing, and watching waaaaay too much television.

I am up at night mopping fevered brows and taking boys to throw up in the toilet, or giving more advil to keep fevers down. Then I rise and go to work, and pray that my head-ache is something else--not coming illness.

All weekend we were still and quiet. I read stories, and cuddled and coddled and nurtured. We ate soup and went to bed early and barely moved at all.

And it felt like the sweetest, most luxurious time, to lie in bed with my boys, to sip tea, to read chapter after chapter of a good book without falling asleep or having to rush off.

Sickness, yes, but sweetness, too.

The Season of Yin

We are a culture of yang--that is what I learned in my one Chinese medicine class before I dropped out. We are about constant action, with no rest, no respite. We do not believe in that--and when we lag we feel bad, or we medicate, or we drink more caffeine (my preferred route).

If we are still, not moving, not thinking, we feel compelled to justify, to explain, to make excuses. Because for us, being still is not valued.

Yoga studios get that. That is why you pay $20 for that final five minutes when you lie on your back in shivasana in total stillness. Some yoga studios do not even have shivasana, because they say that some practitioners cannot stand the stillness at the end of the class.

I feel guilty. I am the daughter of a Navy man who prowled the house and thought anything not active was a crime. I am mostly active, but I desperately need my stillness, my alone time. At 45 I have finally accepted something. January 6 to March 1 is my Yin time. I sleep more and get chubby. I still exercise and move--because as much as I would like to hibernate like a bear--alas, I cannot.

But I will rest, stay home. I will indulge my desire to be still, to read, to think. I believe, deeply believe, that all great things follow both periods of activity,and periods of rest. Because in the periods of rest seeds take route, things start to happen, ideas grow, and travel. Like winter, those periods feel like everything is dormant, but actually, beneath the surface, the most important things in the world are happening.

That is what I am trying to believe is happening right now.

In my season of yin.

How about you?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Marriage Is Hard

I wanted to be a mother. Being a mother feels natural to me. I wanted to be a wife. And I want to be married. I really do. But being married is hard. Or being married being well, loving my husband well, is hard. For me.

Send me a prayer. Or a good wish.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Target Missoni!

Back in September, when the Target Missoni madness gripped all fashion conscious females in America, I missed the boat. I didn't even hear about the Missoni collection the day it launched until 9 a.m. when there were already news stories that the entire collection was already sold out.

I was devastated. I never would have gotten up at 5:00 a.m. to wait by the computer and log on like a feverish Sixties femme fatale, but still.

That night, tho, I logged on to see what I had missed. I was so sad. I had missed a lot! But it all felt like an historic moment--a moment I was part of. So I sought out every item (clothing, not housewares) that was still there, and bought two things. They don't even look Missoni, but they look cool. A pea green sweater with fuschia striped trim (for real!) and a miraculously chevron pleated black skirt that looks unbelievably elegant--if not Missoni.

Months went by. Target told me first it would be a month or two, then they told me I could give up if I wanted. But I stood by--like I had invested in the stock market, or wine futures. One day, I knew, the items would come. And I would be happy.

Well, they came. And I love them. I am wearing my pea-green sweater now, and I wore my pleated black skirt to work this week. It was a hard week, but just knowing that I could get up and wear my gorgeous Missoni products made life better. Am I superficial?

J told me I looked like a Sixties co-ed in my sweater. And I look like an elegant Roman housewife in my pleats.

Is there anything better than a cheap bargain version of a beautiful thing?

Good gracious me, I do not think so.

Old PIctures

In the Japanese tradition, on New Year's Day we dove into our house and tried to deeply declutter. Only two closets and two rooms in we had about eight trash bags of stuff to go, and were sneezing from old dust. LIberating. Freeing. Today the purge will continue.

BUT, in the midst of the purge I came across an old roll of film. (film. remember film?) J snuck off and developed it this week and it was like a time capsule from four years ago. It was a series of photos from Xmas of 2008--we estimate. There are clues, but we cannot be certain.

There are our boys, in their footie pajamas. Theo, already himself in hair, personality, expression. But Benji, so different. And I remembered again, how odd Benji was. He emerged into the world so clingy, so needy, so uncertain. Even Theo picked up on it--there he is with that Benji expression, mouth open, staring slightly dumfounded into the camera, as if to say. "Why am I here? Why do these people drag me to these strange places? Make me wear these strange hats? Who are they and what do they want?"

He used to not meet Jonathan's eyes. He did not talk until he was nearly three. He was unbelievably clingy--always leaning, needing, wanting, even in his sleep.

It was if he were born with a cloud over him, some shadow from a past life. It was as if he had a horrible past life, and he could not believe he had to return and do this all again. Life. He was born weary. Not wanting to be here. But then around three or four the cloud dispersed. He became himself. He started to talk. To be mischeivous. That lost, mouth-open why-am-I-here expression disappeared.

He is here now. Ready to be here. Still snuggly, but not in need of warmth on his cheek from the mama every second. He is in this life and believes life can be good. The shadow of his past life--or whatever that was--is gone.

Monday, January 2, 2012

I Twitter: Tweet Tweet

I signed up. I tweeted three times. I have one follower: my devoted husband, who indoctrinated me, brought me along on his journey, and got me excited. We are the last in America to tweet and the technology was surprising, thought-provoking. I leaned over his shoulder here and there, taking it it, editing his tweets, offering recommendations. In a day he had 30 followers, in a month close to 200 (am I hallucinating?) A lot are porn stars, with names like waxmyvagg. I don't know if I will get them. He said the porn star ratio stays pretty steady--more followers also means more porn star followers.

It is reductive. Yes. It distills you to your very essence. If you love all the messy details of life you are in BIG trouble. And yet, you do get to the nub of people. Boring when you are only promoting. Unless you are promoting how funny you are--that is funny. Some are brilliant, delightful, like a daily vitamin. They just leave you happy, like a bite of chocolate. It's fleeting, but a pick me up. Mine is not personal. Mine is to promote VoxHollywood. Twitter seems best for that: a one note advertisement on a single message. Stay on point. The perfect sound bite. You edit it yourself.

I am still an oval on a square--later I will put up a logo. Still, I am excited. It is a small, real step towards the paper. I KNOW I can do 160 characters three times a week about Hollywood. I can establish my voice, experiment (just me, my husband and my porn star followers--if I am lucky...).

Sad posts are supposedly funny people who are not funny. Or supposedly cool people who are not cool. You want to avert your eyes. You feel embarassed for them. It is worse than facebook.

You know it leaves some people isolated in a narcissistic universe where it is just them, alone, living for thousands, but really, no one cares, at all. It allows them to keep up the illusion. Should tools like that be allowed? Is that healthy?

But some people have voice in 160 characters. They really do. They provoke. They recommend. They delight. They make you think. They make you grateful. They make you laugh.

Even I do not know what will come out of me. Will I hate my twitter personality? Will she bore me with her observations? Or sicken me with her earnestness? Will she revel in the brevity, since she never gets to do that? Will her tweets be like poetry? A running commentary? Filled with self-importance (GOD! I hope not!)

I am not a natural tweeter, but I am up for this. I am diving into the future, and this is just one more funky body of water. Shallow water.

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

To all of you who do not speak Japanese: Happy New Year!

If you are here I love you, and I thank you for your presence in my life, the gift of your attention in a distracted world.

I had an amazing year. A hard year. A rewarding year. A year of massive change. I know everyone did. At a New Year's Eve party the other night someone called 2011 a two, a zero and two middle fingers. Wow. Mine was not THAT bad.

There are years of crazy change and discrete goals and achievement, of catapulting and shooting to new places and aiming for things you have never done like an arrow sailing towards a target. Then there are years where you maintain, not coasting, but shifting, improving, upping the quality and the ante, being better. I think this year will be that for me. I hope. It is a "be better" year. It is a year to look deep inside and remember the big, long-term goals and slowly shift the Hilary Mother ship back on course.

Here is what I aim for. Not resolutions, exactly, just a roadmap:

To start VoxHollywood (twitter account officially launched today. I can do 160 characters a couple of times a week--I know I can). To manage my monkeymind and stay steady. To do a yoga workshop with Rod Stryker, itinerant yoga guru extraordinaire. To go to England and find the Family Castle. To get better at my job, and to make a difference for the kids of Los Angeles. To grow a great garden. To get a dog. To support my husband. To learn to play the guitar well. To eat more plants. To buy veggies in a bag from school again--and start the program myself if I have to. To make time for friends, and to love them and support them. To dance. A lot. To nurture my boys and enjoy them and spot their unique talents and foster and see and support them. To paint with oils. To save money to take my boys to Naples. To publish four stories somewhere (and my blog does not count) for money. To try to start a book--to be open to any type--to have a project like that. To write and write and write for my life.

You? What do you want to do?

I'm Going to Run Away and Join the Circus

My sister-in-law can read the desires of my soul almost as well as my husband and last year she got me some classes at Cirque School--a circus school in Hollywood run by former Cirque de Soleil performers. It took her gift, and my husband's perseverance, but after a year we went--all four of us.

We entered through a small alley in East Hollywood--less than a mile from the Kodak Theater where Iris is now playing--but a world away in terms of environment. The school is across from a hip little Latin cafe, wedged between Thai and Mexican restaurants that no white person ever really ventures into. It is a still undiscovered part of Hollywood. More ethnic, less glam, but full of beautiful old buildings rich in history.

We walked down the alley, past a magnificient mural of lions and fantastical creatures and there was the room. A whole gym, set up just for us. There were trapezes (low) mats, crash pads, gauze curtains and rings suspended from the ceiling. And there was a beautiful man with a perfect body and a great sense of humor ready to train us. He is a performer, when he is not teaching classes for ordinary, inflexible people like us.

We ran around and warmed up. We stretched--a lot. I am so tight from my desk job that after my first back bend I wondered if I would complete the class. He had us do somersaults and cartwheels. All of us! Then we did dive somersaults, then we dove through a ring and did a somersault. Then we dove through a ring of fire and did a somersault! Just kidding on the last one--but we were ready. We had signed papers saying we would not sue if we broke our necks or fell from trapezes, still, I was amazed at what he encouraged us to do.

Benji flew through the ring like a boy shot out of a canon, he did not even do a roll. Theo was fantastic. Jonathan and I were awkward, but delighted with ourselves. The Fernandez Family Circus!

We turned to the trapezes, where our teacher with the hot, sexy accent and the huge muscles flipped upside down and showed us some tricks--effortlessly. We got on our trapezes and hung upside down and looked at ourselves in the mirror. We hung sideways (Mermaid) and hung sideways with one leg hanging down (Angel Mermaid). We hung upside down in a straddle, no hands.

Some of it hurt. The rope dug into my ankles when I hung upside down on the trapeze. Our teacher nodded. "In Cirque we say the more beautiful, the more painful." I will never look at a Cirque show the same way. It all looks effortless when they do it, but even the simplest things require an immunity to pain. Even if you ARE flexible. And strong. And a contortionist.

We went to huge gauze hammocks and flipped around, hung, suspended ourselves upside down, and were guided through pretzel like routines, then dropped out free. We were amazed.

We tied gauze around our feet and hands and lowered ourselves and suspended ourselves in fabric from the ceiling--and in my case I let the boys flip on my arms. Wow. That was an excellent spinal stretch.

We all had weak spots. Places we knew we would break if we tried. Our teacher encouraged, but did not push. He seemed to have an innate sense of where our aging bodies might snap, or get stuck--forever.

We ended up on a hoop in the middle of the room, spinning like a top right side up or upside down, or sideways like Mermaids, playing to the invisible crowd that was crying out our names. Our teacher spun so fast, so beautifully, he was like a gyroscope, a perfect blur of beauty. Jonathan went slow and beautiful. Theo, too. I spun like the teacher, pushing my legs out to spin slow, then pulling them in and straightening my body like a pin to go fast. I spun so fast the world was a total blur. They told me I was not going that fast. It was thrilling, and also nauseating. I got off and stumbled. Our teacher told me to jump up and down to stop the spinning. I did, and it did. But I was slightly queasy for an hour.

Still, it was heaven. To flip. To defy gravity. To spin. To stretch. To swing on a trapeze and sail through a hoop. No matter what you look like -- and really, you do not want to see yourself--it is a thrill.

And to get to see a real Cirque performer do a private show for you to demonstrate the moves--that is not bad either. I just imagined my head on his body, spinning perfectly in the air.

If only I were born small, flexible and airborne. Maybe I really would have gone to Cirque School.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

On a Quest to Find the Family Castle

I am a MacGregor. That does not mean much as a MacGregor, except my father loves to sport a kilt, we always had a set of old, malfunctioning bagpipes stashed in the bottom of our hall closet, and my father likes to tell stories about the long-armed warrior Rob Roy every 10 years or so (less, now that my sister is dating a man who really is named Rob Roy, who is sweet and solid, but short, not long-armed, and not a warrior).

Suddenly, though, I feel a desire to see the family castle in Scotland. I asked my mother about it this fall, when the vision came to me and she said: " Castle? There is no castle. Just sort of a cottage at the end of a road, and a rose garden, and the dowager MacGregor."

Disappointing, but still I would like to go.

Then, yesterday I talked to my brother, who lives in England. We will visit soon, and quizzed him. How far to Scotland? Had he been to search for MacGregors? What did he know? He said only 4-5 hours to Scotland, and seemed to know more than I. He thought there was a fortress with a moat, at least, even if no castle. And someone--not our mother--had told him it was an incredibly beautiful part of Scotland, and could not believe he had not gone. He was up for the journey. Perhaps two families of MacGregors, in search of a castle.

I know this is embarassing to his wife, who is British, and is puzzled and ashamed of Americans who cling to their Scottishness for generations, though they know nothing about the place except their family tartan. Yup, that's us. But she is always always game for anything, so I bet she will come along.

But then, last night, it was as if the fates lined up. We went to the most magical New Year's Eve party I have ever attended. There was a table set for 24 in a hunter's cottage in Laurel Canyon--heart of the Seventies music scene in LA. It was an under the sea theme and I sat beside a towering Scot named Lachy--short for Lachlan MacKenzie. I heard his story and he heard mine. I told him we were thinking of going on a quest to find the family castle. i told him I knew, yes, that there would be no castle. Maybe a cottage. Maybe, if we were lucky, a moat.

Oh, NO, he said. There will be a clan seat. Every clan has a seat. And MacGregor is a big name. There will definitely be a castle. My hopes soared, with the bubbles in my umpteenth glass of champagne. "Really?" I asked. "You think so?"
"Blimey," he said. "Absolutely. There will be a clan seat--every clan has one--and a castle--and a village of people who look just like you, only they speak differently, like me."

The idea was absurd, delightful, unbelievable! Then my husband jumped in to say Lachy looked like my father--tall, a little gaunt, Abe Lincoln-ish. Lachy said we could be related. There was a lot of inbreeding between the clans.

My vision was getting blurry with drink, but it felt like destiny, that Lachy would sit beside me and make me believe there really IS a castle out there. He did not think it crazy that an American would go in search of their family castle. He thought it was crazy that I had not been yet.

I hope we will go--two families crammed into two cars, driving down rambling country roads through mountains filled with history and magic--in search of MacGregors, our story, our family, our descendants.

And I hope we find a village full of people who look like us--but talk different.

I will wear a tartan scarf, or bring a tartan tablecloth for a picnic. And we, the next generation of MacGregors and our children, will find what there is to find.