Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Beach, The Whale and The Escape Artists

Ben and I just returned home from a long weekend in Santa Cruz with my mom, my sister and my brother-in-law.

It was a great time. We had really good food, amazing weather and lots of belly clutching laughs, mostly at the expense of my mother and her choice of accommodations which my sister and I swore never to talk about.

We spent our second afternoon at Twin Lakes Beach. Gorgeous location. Perfect area for Ben to wade and swim and dig.

Prior to the trip, I scoured the greater Sacramento area for beach umbrellas. At this last moment, I scored two - deeply discounted - and I told everyone that they could thank me later for protected skin. So, with my two umbrellas and my SPF 110, we were set.

Except that I only sprayed the SPF stuff on Ben and instead of sitting under the umbrella, I sat kinda to the right of it.

I never want to see that shade of red on my skin again. I wore a jean jacket for the rest of the trip and winced out loud every time I took a shower. That's how bad it was.

On our third day, we drove north of Santa Cruz and my mom and I took Ben on a walk up the bike path. It was breathtaking. I was so in awe of the view that I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard the sound of a blow hole from beneath the drop-off next to us. Ben's eyes widened and he exclaimed, "It's a WHALE!" I love this age. I love it, love it.

Monday night at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the time to go: most rides are $1.00. Ben's not a fan of rides, in general, but he did point out the "Fright Walk" on the Boardwalk web site and he asked me over and over, during the course of the weekend, when we might go. And so, that is why, against my better judgement, I entered that damn thing with Ben in tow.

It was pitch black. Skeletons and goblins and all sorts of bloody creatures jumped out at every turn.

Do I need to tell you that Ben was a mess? Just a few feet into the dark hallway and I knew we were screwed. Not even the light from my phone could illuminate the way as my terrified child clung to me and screamed bloody murder.

For any parent who is stupid enough to take their tentative child into a haunted house, I offer these two words to you: Emergency Exit.

Ben and I sprinted the short distance to the door, flung it open and found ourselves in the middle of some kind of employee lounge. At the other end of the Boardwalk.

I will say this: that Fright Walk is one long adventure. You certainly get your money's worth.

The only way to redeem the night was to take Ben to laser tag and actually play with him. I never thought I'd have so much fun strapping on a heavy vest and chasing down 10-year-olds and I have to say, I think I'm hooked.

We came home the night before school started and this I do not recommend at all. I did have the foresight to have one of Ben's ink tattoos placed on his shoulder so that he could keep it for school but the giant, black skull on his forearm had to go.

Not only did I not purchase any shirts, or shoes for the lad, I also did not have requisite school supplies ready nor did I cut his long and unkempt hair.

But I do have the whale story.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Put It Down

One of my yoga teachers offers this instruction at the start of every class:
"Put it down. Put it all down; the thoughts, the chatter, everything."

Oh, if it were only that easy.

I've been trying, though, to put it down if even for a few seconds every day.

My best opportunity for this is in the early morning. These days, I'm waking up super early (don't even ask) and starting my day with the requisite email check and facebook review, followed by some reading in my meditation book. I even write in my gigantic journal.

After that, I'm generally awake enough to roll out my yoga mat and practice for 30 or 40 minutes.

Ambitious, I know. Plain crazy, definitely.

Then, I come back to the idea of mediation by closing my eyes (whilst reclining in bed, of course) and by taking some deep breaths.

This is how things went this morning:

6:40am - Complete yoga practice, roll up mat, slip back into bed, throw on the covers, throw off the covers, turn the ceiling fan on, flip the bedside lamp off, drop the remote, curse loudly.

6:43am - Close eyes, commence meditation.

6:43am - Notice that the garbage trucks are uncharacteristically loud this morning. Wonder if it was my recycle can that was just dropped. Worry that I do not have time to call the utilities company if my recycle can is broken. Or worse, lost. Send good karma vibes to the neighbor who sometimes pulls the cans in for me.

6:44am - Hear very loud owl outside my open window. Contemplate putting an owl house in the backyard for Ben. Remember ex's failed attempt at this. Decide that Ben can visit his grandpa's owl colony.

6:44am - Try to slow down breathing and notice that my stomach is starting to hurt. Is a half a pot of coffee before 7am, on an empty stomach, really necessary? Flip onto belly. Uncomfortable. Flip back.

6:45am - Pony tail is crushed against pillow. Ouch. Release the elastic band. Ahhhhhh, so much better. Why have this long hair anyway? I've been growing it for a year and half and it is lovely and full and practically an ad for Clairol, but what good is all that when it's back in a pony almost all of the time? Oh right, my young clients say men like long hair. Best not to cut it just yet. But what about the color? Every-five-week salon visits are a killer. Speaking of the salon, I need a facial. And my eyebrows are in bad shape. I could use some Botox, too. Everything's feeling wrinkly. I really am high maintenance. I'm a nightmare. God, I hate camping. I could end up dating a man who loves camping. Camping might be a deal-breaker. I think it is.

6:47am - Stomach is insanely growling. On my dietitian's hunger scale of 1 to 10, 1 being famished, 10 being in a food coma, I am a 0. Totally empty. Weak. Depleted. I don't think she has me on enough calories. Just as I was starting to get used to all these curves, I'll be a toothpick by Christmas. Maybe by next week, at this rate. What's for breakfast today? Oh yeah, the meal plan says high fiber cereal and nuts. Fail. Where's the meal plan with blueberry pancakes? That's the meal plan I want!

6:48am - The indecisiveness of the men in my life is making me C-R-A-Z-Y. And I am making everyone else C-R-A-Z-Y with my rants on this subject. Why am I cursed with dating C-R-A-Z-I-N-E-S-S? Why? I'm the nice girl who's getting it all together; I don't even do crazy. Is my head starting to hurt now? No, it's just my heart: I'm used to that.

6:49am - Glad, oh-so-very-glad that I bought two beach umbrellas to take to Santa Cruz. My mother is going to insist on riding in the backseat with Ben all the way there, and all the way home. Not quite sure how the umbrellas are going to fit into their back seat accommodations, as I'm sure there will be discussion of safety, decapitation. Decapitation. I need a working house alarm. Umbrella? Where is my leopard umbrella from last winter? I'll be seriously pissed if I've lost it. I might have to go back to NYC for another. Maybe I'll take whomever I'm dating.

6:50am - Crazy dating again. GET OUT OF MY HEAD, you, you and you, too! I'm not in control! Everyone else is! Give it up, Janeen. Surrender. This is way bigger than you.

6:50am - The owl and the garbage truck are back, in tandem. How can anyone get any meditating done around here with all this racket? Oh, and there goes the broken sprinkler too. Hundreds of dollars into a new sprinkler system and the faulty one is next to my bedroom window. Figures. Good thing I can't sleep in past 3:30am.

6:51am - Breathe. Ignore rumbling tummy. Don't think about pancakes. Mmmmmm, Kashi cereal and cantaloupe in 9 minutes. Mmmmmmm.

6:51am - Can't believe that my stomach is going to turn itself inside out from hunger pangs. Who knew that yoga revved up the old metabolism so efficiently? Because it's not like I just did a 5 mile run.

6:51a - Kevin. Fall Ball. Ugggghhhhhh. We need a closer (better) League. Wondering if our local league is more normal than that *other* league we played for? Maybe I'll actually meet some nice mom friends; scope out better looking guys. Why is the dog barking? This can't be good. Someone is breaking in. Even though it's morning and seriously bright, the bad guys have found the single girl on the block. I'm toast.

6:51am - Mmmmmm, toast. Whole grain toast with real butter. French toast. Tower Cafe French Toast. Why don't I ever go there?

6:52am - I never go anywhere. I'm relegated to reading and journal writing and yoga. OMG. I need three cats for this existence. Ben is riding me hard for a cat. My mom is publishing, "1o1 Reasons Janeen Should Not Get A Cat." She's already lecturing on the topic. Caught between the boy and the mother. Is there any Valium in the house? Oh right, of course there is. Now, who gets it? The mother or the daughter?

6:52: I just heard a kick from Ben's room. Damn, I hope he's not in a foul mood this morning. I've been up two hours already and he'll be firing up any second in God knows what kind of mood, which will inevitably lead to me making more coffee and bribing him with time on my iphone.

6:53am - My iphone! Where is my iphone? Is it possible that I left it in the garage when I was scooping up Molly's breakfast? Ohmygod, I have been up too long. Where in God's name is that Valium?

6:54am - Is today a nap day? For me, not Ben! Who's canceled? Who's coming? Oh shit, oh shit, OH.SHIT. I forgot about my early morning client. How many days has it been since I've washed my hair? Five? Six? Thank God for the ponytail. I have camping hair.


6:55am - MOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMYYYYYYY! Come get me! I am ready to get up! Where's my girl, Molly?

Thank you, sweet Jesus for little boys in great moods and for 12 minute meditations and please, for the love of all things holy, let this writer's block pass soon. I promise I'll meditate and pray more.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Let Me List The Reasons

I can't write. I CAN'T WRITE!

It is too soon for me to have writer's block. It's unacceptable at this early stage, and it's kinda freaking me out. I'm thousands of words into my essay and I'm so stuck that merely launching the document makes me want to fire up the vacuum cleaner and go into my catatonic-dog-hair-sucking daily meditation.

I'm screwed?

The way I see it, my right brain is getting totally squashed by the left side. Really.

All the logical stuff that I need to ruminate on is encroaching on those creative channels that need space to breathe and to express. The finances of my house and the logistics of Ben's school and sports are jamming up the expansive, sentimental and not-at-all-linear brainwaves of the right hemisphere.

Damn you, left brain. Stay on your own bleep-bleep-bleep side.

"Impossible," left brain is telling me. "Because there's all this..."

(I know that my right brain is still in control, somewhat, because what you are about to read would be considered "stream of consciousness.")

Ben starts school in a week and a half. That's it? Summer's done? We never even went miniature golfing. Or to ExploreIt in Davis. God, we didn't even make it to Fairytale Town and now he's probably too old and I'll never get to set foot in that cute park with all its sweet memories again. I am the worst mother of all time.

But we did go to Six Flags and it sucked. My shoes were hurting my feet and I was tired and Ben wouldn't ride on anything that moved. Except the parking lot tram. I'm not kidding. Ask him. He'll tell you that we had fun but I know better. One giant bowl of Dippin' Dots on the way out and all he remembers are good times with Mom. And the fact that I had to literally sugar coat the event to make it OK makes me cringe all the more. It worries me that I'm not stepping up more on "fun mom" stuff. I'm great at the logistics of motherhood, but when it comes to fun, I'm not always on par with the expectations of my 7-year-old.

Ben's dad and I got some kind of email notification about Fall Ball. I deleted it. Worst mother of all time confirmed.

Golf lessons proved to be a fantastic investment, and what a bleep bleep bleep investment it was. Ben spent the first week with the "Wee Swingers" and quickly advanced to the 10 to 12 year old group by the second week. The coach suggested that we pursue year-round lessons next year for Ben. Of course that means something else needs to go and after three long, muddy years, I'm happy to say that it's soccer. And maybe Fall Ball if no one sees that email. No love lost there.

My beloved OAR released a new album this weekend but I streamed it all last week because it was so bleep bleep bleep great and I got all psyched about their Fall tour until I visited the band's web site and saw that there are no West Coast stops. How much does that suck? Quite a lot. Bleep bleep bleep. And for the record, yes, they are playing up and down the East Coast but repeat Florida trips are not even a remote possibility.

I dredged up a whole lot of BS known as "experience" and attempted to re-create my resume. Just in case the perfect "marketing/pilates/writing/wear all my cute clothes" gig presents itself. I even sent it out to twelve, yes twelve companies for positions that I am seriously not qualified for. Is it really possible that my big career re-entry might be in the form of an administrative assistant? Is it too much to ask for a cute boss at least?

I have a new girlfriend. But she's in Texas. Still, to me, she's "awesome Angie in Austin." We talk a couple of times a week and message each other daily. I love instant friendships but I wish I saw more of my local girlfriends. Why is everyone so busy? Or is it just that I'm not busy enough?

My longtime BFF is still moving to Boston. Her house sold in just three days so I guess it's official: she's really going. Bleep.

With school starting up again, it's time to start wondering how I will contribute to the Montessori school that my son attends. Will I get the lofty title of "Environmental Coordinator" again this year? It's a great title for my resume and this will be my second year in the position. I just hope I don't have to disclose the job description: "Clean the classroom at least once a week." I am so not kidding. I only volunteered because it gets me out of doing "jobs" with the kids. Unless you have a Montessori credential or you are a NASA engineer, those jobs will cause you to furrow your (normally smooth) brow, show your right brain ways, and hope to hell that a teacher will rescue you soon.

So it's pretty safe to say that our Montessori children will likely grow up to do great, left brain things and it's very safe to say that they'll have colorful language skills to boot. Ben learned, in the K/1 class, some of my favorite, yet off-limits words in rapid succession last year. At the beginning of the year, the "S" word was "stupid" and the "F" word was "fart" and we didn't even discuss the "H" and the "B" words. All that has changed now as he has been schooled on every word in the book. To say I'm dismayed by this early learning is an understatement. The same kid who knows nothing about Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus has way more words than I'd like, thanks to a few "bad apples" in the classroom. To that I say, "what the bleep?!?"

This child rearing stuff is keeping me up at night and so, caffeine is becoming more and more of a vice. These days, it's more common to see me with a Coke Zero can in my hand, than a water bottle. Case in point: I lost my Sigg and I never replaced it. I didn't peg myself as a 40-something, diet soda addict, until, at Six Flags, I actually inquired as to whether their diet soda product was Coke Zero or Diet Coke, or worse yet, Diet Pepsi. It was Coke Zero, thankfully, and I drank four. I have also discovered that Coke Zero is even better with Bacardi.

What's really bad is that the stuff doesn't really give you a decent jolt. I fell asleep on a conference call yesterday. Dead asleep. I woke up to very loud beeping from my phone, followed by a text: "Wasn't that speaker GREAT?" Clearly, I need stronger substances if I am to maintain a (conscious) presence on conference calls. Bleeping embarrassing.

Why are the tomatoes so slow this year? I didn't plan seven tomato plants to scamper off to the Farmer's Market each weekend.

We are off to Santa Cruz on Saturday. "We" meaning Ben, myself, my mom, my sister and my brother-in-law. Our accommodations might be questionable. My mom made the reservations. We'll blame it on her if things aren't on the up-and-up. And then I'll write about it here and she'll give me "the look."

I have an appointment with a dietitian - not a nutritionist - to figure out what is driving my cholesterol numbers up. I'm scared that the outcome will involve a bunch of pricey supplements (which I don't take much of anymore). Actually, I'm more afraid that she will tell me to eat oatmeal, almonds, salmon, fruit and vegetables and then I will have truly wasted my money. I have a mere two months to get those numbers down. Blllllleeeeeeeeep!

On Wednesday nights I teach yoga in my neighborhood. It's the one group class that I teach and we're up to 25, 26, even 30 people in our group fitness room. It's very, very difficult to receive compliments from the crowd that gathers each week when I know that I can't - and won't- be their instructor forever. I try and teach for the moment, and in the moment; and the time has become something that I covet and look forward to.

This evening, I was playing games with Ben. We played three rounds of Dominoes and we built two Jenga towers. I posted a picture of Ben with the leaning stack of Jenga blocks on Facebook and another parent texted me: "Being a single mom with one child must be like dying a slow death." Really? What the bleep? I often feel like I don't play with Ben nearly enough. I rue the day he hides in his room and mutters one-word answers to my questions. He still calls me Mommy and I wouldn't want it any other way. (And he doesn't know that popcorn isn't part of the typical movie experience or that his car bad is far too young for him. Don't out me on these!). I often think that the time I spend resting is gas in the tank, so to speak, for my time with Ben. I didn't think this was such a bad thing until this other parent inferred that I have no life. But I don't think I bleeping care.

My client/friend treated me to a great experience on Friday. She booked manis and pedis at the uber-swanky Pedicure Lounge downtown. We had wine and spent the afternoon getting seriously pampered. I sometimes wonder why I am so lucky to have such generous clients, whom I can easily call friends. The idea of not having my business is a tortured one, from that perspective. I am indeed very, very blessed.

On that note, I'll end with this comment. Life is so much easier when there's no complaining. I've made this huge and very concerted effort to reduce my whining, bitching, and overall bouts of verbal unhappiness lately. So while it was fun to write this post, after re-reading it, I realized how out of character it is for me. There are days when I can't think back to my last complaint. That's a good feeling; I like it.

But I'm still stuck on my article. And I may have to complain a bit more to unblock this case of writer's block!

J Lo and My Girlfriends

Disegard formatting issues. Blogger doesn't like me today.

What does J Lo have in common with a handful of my girlfriends?

"She loved herself enough to walk away," People reports.

And several of my friends apparently feel the same way.

I'm talking about Jennifer Lopez's failed marriage, in case you're just crawling out from under a rock. I'm also referring to the unsettling number of marriages that have crumbled around me in these short summer months.

I believe I'm swimming in fairly safe waters here by mentioning the demise of these marriages. It's not like there are any big secrets that I'm sharing; only an influx in invitations for "GNO", otherwise known as "Girls Night Out."

Sadly, for my newly single friends, I'm more of a fan of "GNI" these days (Girls Night In") or "GMY" (Girls Morning Yoga) or "let's just do coffee or a pedicure."

At any rate, I can't help but be puzzled and alarmed by the divorce rate of my friends right now. And you know what they say: these are just the friends I know about; God only knows who is just one fight away from calling it quits. I hope it's no one. I seriously do.

Because divorce makes me sad. My own divorce nearly crushed me and I have tremendous empathy for anyone who is experiencing marital difficulties. It tears apart your whole psyche. Short of having a sick child, I don't think that there's anything worse.

I get asked for advice on this topic. A lot. Sometimes I give it; sometimes I don't.

But what I do say is this: "If you're asking for advice, particularly from someone who's already been married twice, I don't think you should strap on those 4-inch cage heels quite yet for "CGNO" (Crazy Girls Night Out).

My sage advice continues: "Cancel the table service at the Mix, stay home, cool your heels and think about how all this is really going to feel in a year. Two years. Five years. Then, let's have coffee tomorrow. Or a pedicure. After yoga, of course."

So far, the girls haven't canceled any of their wild nights. But I will say that I've had three pedicures in merely three weeks shameful, indeed and my own body is thanking me for all those weekend mornings of yoga
and no hangovers.

I don't know what's going on with my friends right now, but I sincerely hope it's a phase. Not only because I can't afford to have my toes painted every few days, but also, I think there's a lot of fight still in these marriages that are in question and even though J Lo walked away, it's not always the right thing to do. I'm always a fan of staying until the bitter end. Because you just never know.

It's hard to be a go-to girl on serious topics like marriage. I'm honored that I have the opportunity to listen, but I'll be glad when the tides turn a bit and when the trend skews back to: unique but not obscure baby names, "this Pottery Barn couch or that cute futon from Target" and "yellow Lab or Pug puppy" (Lab, always Lab!).

And in the meantime, there's Yoga In The Park, The Pedicure Lounge, more yoga at Padme and Whole Foods, my favorite coffee, people watching and post break-up place in town (the cookies make anything and everything seem better!).

Friday, July 29, 2011

Yet Another Reason To Love The FedEx Man

Stay or go? Stay or go?

This has become the question that I've asked myself nearly every hour of my day for the last two plus years. This same question has plagued me at night. It's driven me to make countless calls to Bank of America; it's even caused me to break down in tears on more than one of those calls.

But thanks to my sexy Fed Ex guy and early Friday deliveries, I know my answer and it's all good...


At least for now. The trial period is not a guarantee of a permanent loan modification and even if it was, I'm not certain that we're meant to be in this house for years to come. But at least in the short term, I can quit worrying about run-down rentals, lack of studio space and how Ben would survive without his sweet Molly dog.

By Christmas, I should know more about our new loan. Having some breathing room between now and then is a very, very good thing.

I can't end this post without adding that I definitely believe in the power of prayer and in faith, too. Now more than ever in my life, I'm all about conscious contact with God and it is a good, good thing.

We are indeed very, very blessed.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Writing In WordPress

I'm going to get this out right now: I.hate.Wordpress.

Around the time that I ran out of business cards (two months ago!) I decided that it would be a good idea to develop a more professional web presence with a predominant theme. Friends told me that WordPress was the way to go and after following many, many blogs in the last few years, I agreed that the WordPress format was definitely superior to Blogger in many ways.

User functionality is not one of those and I only discovered this when I was midway into the project, with many ideas in my head and in my journal and no place to put them because there are widgets and tabs and all kinds of craziness that I simply cannot get my creative brain wrapped around.

So I seriously struggled for about two days and walked away from my computer more than ten, twenty, eighty times in sheer and total frustration.

Since Ben was out of town with his dad, I had no excuse to avoid the project although I did get a pedicure and while I'm not happy yet with the "finished" product, at least I have a functional URL and new business cards in my studio.

I have a few objectives for this site. First, I want to get back to writing about wellness. I dispense so much "advice" on this topic throughout my day that it makes good sense to have it accessible to more people. I also want to give my clients, and potential clients more resources on trends that I see in my industry, particularly in the areas of nutrition and exercise. Lastly, I want to figure out how to get Mr. WordPress off my Comments and also how to make my picture larger without it becoming a complete blur!

For the time being, I'm keeping the two blogs separate so to access the new blog, please use the following link:

And if you have any WordPress secrets, please message me! Soon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Committed (and trashed)

Recently I've been trying to be more disciplined about certain areas of my life.

I certainly don't need any more discipline in the exercise department, but I have been making a fairly good attempt at reading, downloading music, hanging out with the dog and just unplugging, in general. It's working fairly well, I think.

One area that I've been neglecting is my writing. Check Spelling
I developed a new web site for my business and I wrote a few hand-written cards last week. I also opened up a brand new (and enormous) journal and filled up three pages. And obviously I've had a few things to say here, too.

But I've been wanting to do more - something that pushes me a bit.

When I happened across a contest in one of my favorite magazines, "Real Simple," I knew that I had found my project.

Real Simple is doing a call for essays on a topic that I think is actually quite trite. In fact, the topic was a bit of a deterrent initially, until I realized what I could do with it, in a way that's totally different and maybe somewhat unique to the editors there.

I have no idea what the prize is; I only noted the submission date (September) and the length of the essay (no more than 1.500 words).

I'm committed. I'm going to do this. With the help of my sister, I hope.

Which brings me to my next point. My sister and I were talking to another writer this weekend about how many words a writer "should" write each day. The general consensus was 1,000 words. My sister said that when she writes any more than 2,000, she's exhausted. But I bet my dad could write 3,000 words and not bat an eyelash.

Well, I can say with certainty that 1,500 words has done me in today. I'm completely trashed and it's only 3:30pm. Not sure how anyone could sit down day after day with a novel unfolding and keep this pace without copious amounts of caffeine, but maybe it's like anything else. I suppose you build stamina.

Nevertheless, I'm stocking up on the iced coffee and will press on with this essay with plans to post it here by September.

Hopefully by then, I'll be pounding out 2,000 words a day with no problem, but until then there are always pool breaks. I think I hear a chaise lounge calling me now.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

11 Years.

Recently, I met an engaging and bright woman at a party. She was my age, exactly.

We talked about how hard it was to turn 40, and we talked about our kids and Kindergarten and the fact that boys generally mature later than girls and eventually she shifted the conversation to work. And to me, specifically.

I told her the short version of my marketing turned mother turned Pilates instructor story. She seemed intrigued.

The details of "What do you do?" turned into "What do you want to do?"

I went on about career limitations in Sacramento. I gave her the same speech I'll give anyone who will listen: "Marketing jobs almost never come up in Sacramento and even if they did, I'm not sure how I'd handle the logistics of my son's out-of-the-way (but amazingly great) school. I'll probably teach Pilates for the next 11 years, and then figure it all out."

"Why 11 years?" she asked.

"Because Ben will graduate high school by then and we'll pack him off to whatever school gives him the best scholarship (I can hope, right?)."

She pressed on (I'm telling you, she was engaging!): "That's a long time - 11 years - but, what would you do then?"

I replied, "Sell shoes at Nordstrom, get my Nursing degree, teach more Pilates...who knows?"

"Well," she continued, "what were you doing 11 years ago?"

"Wow, she's good - no pregnant pauses in this conversation," I thought to myself.

And then I was the one who paused.

years ago? How do I even begin to tell her what was happening at age 29?

How I had just landed a highly visible and very coveted position at Visa and how my team there was charged with rolling out the Visa Check Card and how we had the most cache in all of Visa as the ambassadors for this fine new product that would hit the banking market with a frenzy and how the team manager would work me to the bone and how I'd make my way to the women's restroom at least once a day to cry my eyes out and how I'd never sleep because I'd be thinking of all the things that could go wrong with the damn card and how I'd fly to Chicago every few weeks and meet our agency there and how the Travel Department always booked me into the Monaco but one time reserved The House of Blues and how lucky I felt to have such a prestigious job but how I knew that if I stayed, I'd be popping Prozac by 30 and how I walked in and quit one day without another job lined up and how I didn't want to bail out but how was there another choice?

Or how, with all the physical risks I was taking, I was on the fast track to a major injury and how it felt when, flying down a ridiculous steep hill on my roller blades, in the remote hills, I snapped my pelvis - twice - and had to walk six miles to my car and how I drove myself to the ER and how the doctor was stunned by the severity of the fractures and how my mother, upon hearing the news, asked: "Can you still have children?" and how my dad had to drive to the Bay Area, pick me up, and keep me for two months - on his couch - while my bones healed and how I had all this downtime to seriously scrutinize my values and how I was not happy with myself at all.

How life in the "dot com era" was changing me and how everything was about money and how everyone was about money and how my friends were all "rich on paper" and how the outings were unbelievable and how materialism was affecting me and how I was going through a new car every two years and how I wildly spent everything I made on new suits and new make-up and therapy and how I went to the Canadian Rockies with thirty of my friends and how we all spent crazy amounts of money on food, wine and spa treatments and how I didn't like the person I was becoming and how I knew I needed a major change and how very scared I was of leaving the Bay Area and how I was even more afraid to stay.

And how, at 29 going on 30, I knew that life was going to be different, how it had to be different, how the move to Sacramento was oh-so-lonely but how I felt calmer and how the people I met here were down-to-earth and accepting and how my circle of friends would slowly grow and how the consulting work I was doing would become stifling and how my world would be altered forever with marriage and motherhood in just a couple of short years and how quickly my life in the Bay Area was forgotten and how blessed I was to close one chapter and open several more.

In response to this woman's probing question, I took the easy way out: "Oh, you know, at 29, I was working and having fun. 40 always seemed like a long ways away."

The woman looked at me intently - and with marked curiosity - and then we were interrupted by our children again. And in a way, I was relieved.

It's not that I don't appreciate the experiences that I had in my late 20s and 30s; on the contrary, I believe that the opportunities I had, especially professionally, were nothing short of amazing. I can remember being in many business settings, literally reminding myself that yes, indeed, important people wanted my opinion.

But things have changed so much.

Now, when I think of my career, I think of Ben first. That's why it's so easy for me to imagine myself teaching Pilates for another 3, 5, 11 years.

And when I carefully look at myself today, I see someone who wants to grow, someone who wants a healthy and fulfilling life that is rich in relationships and not necessary in wealth, someone who will make every concession possible to eek out just a few more minutes each day with her son, even if it means that there won't be a corner office, spendy client lunches or a stay at The House of Blues.

Although my convictions are strong on this, it's not always a comfortable topic for me to discuss freely.

So, naturally, after the kids were attended to at the party, I shifted my attention back to the woman and intentionally turned the tables.

"Enough about me," I started. "What do you do?"

"Oh, I'm a therapist," she replied.

Of course. Because no one is that interested in a perfect stranger at a party. And no, I did not save myself hundreds of dollars by monopolizing her time with tales of my divorce, parenting and dating.

But I was tempted.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hurry Up, Life.

Recently, it was pointed out to me that I may have less patience than my 7-year-0ld.

Moi? Really?

In fact, I was told that it was an area - this impatience - that I needed to work on.

"But I don't understand," I protested. " I don't push people out of line at the store. I don't drive
aggressively. And I never read the last page of a book before I get there. In fact, I can barely manage the fast forward-ing function on the DVR. It drives my impatient 7-year-old crazy!"

"So," I ventured, "other than wanting to know exactly how my life is going to turn out right now, I have no issues with impatience."

Denial is a lovely thing.

I do admit that I experience impatience at times:

  • I'm certain that my blood pressure increases when Ben procrastinates at bedtime.
  • I can't stand loose Legos, our sucky vacuum cleaner (no pun intended) and Molly's hair; the three together are like a daily rite of passage that makes me question why Legos have to be so tiny, why I skimped on an appliance that ultimately would rule my world and why we had to choose "exploding fur dog" as a breed for our household pet.
  • I have the typical scavenger hunt/obstacle course of lost socks, half-brushed teeth, forgotten lunch money, spilled yogurt and "leave the fur alone on that damn dog right now and get into the car before we are both late for everything," also known as "mornings with small children."

Daily impatience is definitely a part of my world.

After careful consideration, I suppose what I am feeling is global impatience. It's not so much that I tire of the coffee maker's slow pace each morning, it's more about the demands that I place on life to deliver on its promises: a warm and healthy family life, consistently good health and a home that will be ours next week and next year.

Being the spiritual - and religious - gal that I am, I do believe in trusting God for signs and direction. And I also know that patiently waiting for a plan to unfold is much, much smarter than pushing for a hasty - and often messy - outcome.

So it was affirming - and somewhat serendipitous - to open up my workbook of daily "lessons" this morning, and have this passage present itself for today's contemplation:

Or need to control can manifest itself as a need to know what's going on. We cannot always know. The lesson, the purpose, shall reveal itself in time - in its own time. It will all make perfect sense - later.

Today, I will stop straining to know what I don't know, to see what I can't see, to understand what I don't yet understand. Today, I will not be in such a hurry to move on.

Point taken. Adding to this, I will let my son be the impatient one. And maybe by doing this - just maybe - he will actually teach me about patience.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Everything And Nothing.

For my 200th post, I vacillated about what scintillating topic to write about and I came up with...


So, to commemorate countless hours of brain downloading on this blog, I'm going to write about what's been going on in our lives for the last six months. Don't hold your breath; it's not all that exciting and really, unless you're a blood relative you may just want to stop right here because - spoiler alert - this might be very boring.

Ben is seven and eight months now. But who's counting? Apparently, he is because the chatter in our house is all about the 8th birthday and whether or not an iPad will make an appearance in his birthday gifts.

His father and I decided that there would be no birthday party this year as we are really, really tired of the birthday excess (mind you, this was a conversation about Ben's birthday, NOT mine).

So since the birthday party is nixed, Ben wants to know if we can apply the birthday party funds to an iPad. His dad's answer was a resounding "N-O" but I'm a little more soft on the subject given the fact that my *second* Acer laptop is about to die.

I thought I had solved the problem free and clear for us, when I suggested that we both forgo Christmas gifts and instead ask for an iPad from the family. This went over like a lead balloon. Ben simply could not fathom the idea of giving up Lego sets from his Grandpa. Suffice to say, we will probably finish out the year with the cranky Acer and maybe Ben will settle on an iTouch.

Now, the reason that the iPad has become so coveted is because the iPhone - my iPhone - is the hottest commodity in our house. Admittedly, I was beyond excited to get the iPhone earlier this year. Elated even.

But then Ben got his little paws on it, and I'm lucky to squeeze a phone call in. Actually, it's not that bad as I limit his usage each day to whatever time I need to get things done without being accompanied from room to room hearing complaints of how boring it is to stay at home and when when when might Angry Birds come out because there are new seasons, new levels, new worlds, all these grand new experiences that enrich Ben's life so very much.

God help me.

All this inactivity certainly isn't stunting Ben's growth or hindering his appetite. He's almost up to my shoulders and he eats twice, sometimes three times as much as me. His new game, anytime I'm sitting on the couch, but especially at bedtime, is to pin me down and keep me there.

And since he's got me beat on physical strength, my only leverage are those damn birds. At 9pm each night - sometimes later - here's the line that gets me an hour or so of uninterrupted adult time: "Benjamin, get off me right now or there will be no Angry Birds tomorrow!" Don't believe me? Ask the neighbors. Ask anyone in Carmichael. They'll tell you.

During the day, Ben is currently going to two camps: golf camp in the morning and day camp (at my club) in the afternoon. You'd think he'd be too tired to hold me down each night in what always results in a major physical tangle (so not my thing!).

Recently, an acquaintance with a 7-year-old daughter used her Facebook status to report the following: "Seven is heaven." Seriously? Because I was thinking that one was heaven. Really. There wasn't all this attitude and brute force. Granted, there were a lot of diapers and sleepless nights but the pay-off of having a sweet baby who would curl up for hours in my arms was well worth all the inconveniences of babyhood. Those days are so gone.

Now my sweet baby boy is tripping me when I walk by him. He plays "chair gymnastics" each night at the dinner table, and I'm certain that he'll split his head open any day now. He won't take a bath unless I bribe him. He gets into my dark chocolate stash. He shoots at me with his Stampede. He plays "fly the ottoman" across the wood floor and smashes into the glass slider repetitively. But he still asks me to cuddle nearly every night, so I guess there's some semblance of heaven here. Oh, and he'll still hold my hand in the parking lot, too. That's heavenly, for sure.

On the subject of heaven, I believe that Ben and I have broken up with my church. It pains me to write this, but, we - or I- am just not fitting in and I think that church is a place where you have to feel welcomed, or at the very least, comfortable. It's not happening. I don't know why. I really hate that I feel this way.

Also on the subject of uncomfortable things, my childhood BFF is moving to Boston. I'm totally crushed, but also elated for her. It's not like I didn't see this coming. She and her husband have maintained a very jet-setty lifestyle of flying back and forth for months and I believe that the breaking point was finally reached. I can't say I blame her: who wouldn't want to trade the Central Valley for downtown Boston?

Nevertheless, I'm still reeling from her news. This is, after all, the girl who picked up the phone at 10pm over eight years ago, when I called with a positive pregnancy test and 1o months later, in the delivery room, exclaimed, "He smiled! I swear, he just smiled at me!" I don't think I can continue on this topic without crying so I'll move on.

Dating. Now there's a happy topic. Not. The general consensus among my friends is is that "it's time for Janeen to start dating again."

Le sigh. Repeat. Repeat.

It's not that I don't want to date, I simply do not know where to begin and I don't think that the answer lies in my computer (ie - Match, eharmony, etc). Soooo, the friends all have other friends who could be potential set-ups. UGH.

God help me. Again. Please.

There's a single dad in my neighborhood. I've known him for nearly five years, maybe more. He's taking the old 'cat and mouse' game to a new level. "Drive by my house," he texts, "and I'll go out and get the mail and we can talk."

Really, God? REALLY? Is this punishment? I'm sorry I broke up with the church. I'll go back.

I think I like my world of Netflix and Molly time better. It's served me well for months. I sleep better in this world and I don't have to worry about blind dates with gills and the single dad who is scared to be seen with me.

I can't believe that dating, at 40, has come to this. Or maybe I can. Because nothing, in the area of my love life, shocks me anymore.

But a routine visit to the doctor does. It's never good when the doctor barrels in to the exam room saying: "Your cholesterol jumped 101 points this year. Your total number is now 301! You're going to die!" Well, he didn't say the last part, but of course that's where my brain went.

Just in case you didn't read that correctly, let me clarify: THREE - OH - ONE!


The doctor went on to explain the breakdown; that the "good" number wasn't good at all, and that the "bad" number was indeed very bad and did I know about oatmeal and vegetables and fiber and nuts and Cholest-Off and heart disease and stroke and clogged arteries? I asked him to please refer to the occupation listed in my chart (that would be "Wellness Consultant") and to kindly get off my back because my favorite relative lived to 93 and had cholesterol in the 300s and no, I do not eat red meat. Or eggs. Or butter.

Needless to say, there is a Lipitor prescription waiting for me in three months if I don't get my numbers down. So now instead of four vegetables a day, I'm eating eight and instead of a small bowl of oatmeal each day, I'm filling a horse trough. And suddenly dating doesn't seem so concerning.

On a final note, after months - and I mean months - of applying, re-applying, begging, and crying, my mortgage file is finally on the desk of an underwriter. What does this mean? It means that I run to my nearest B of A branch at least twice a day with paystubs, W2s, letters from my ex (really!), and bank statements from last week, last year, last decade.

Last night, the underwriter sent a message marked "Urgent" in the middle of dinner. "Urgent" in B of A terms means that someone lost the fax and could I please send it for the 9th time? Now. You can bet that I did not leave my prime seat outdoors at Zocalo's with three of the loveliest ladies I know and excellent conversation about love, sex, Paris and Viagra to attend to B of A's idiot-ness. No way.

Suffice to say, I've had a bit of anxiety as we come into this final step of the modification process. I figure that at best, I could know the outcome in a week or so, but definitely by the middle of August. I guess the situation was easier to stomach before, because I was just another file hanging in limbo, but now there is a very real possibility that we could be packing next month. Everyone keeps asking me if I have a gut feeling of how this will go. I really don't. And maybe that's what makes it so hard.

What also makes it hard is that I've been unable to shield Ben from the process. Each day he asks me what will happen to Molly if we have to move. I think he has overheard too many adult conversations on this topic and given that his love for Molly is so over-the-top right now, her whereabouts is a top priority for him. I don't have an answer for this - obviously - and can only re-assure him that everything will be fine.

So, while we hang out in this weird space of total uncertainty, I'm trying to keep us both busy. Ben has another week of golf and more day camp, and we'll head to my sister's, and also to the beach in the next few weeks. I've found that pool time is great to calm the persistent thoughts and so is time with my wonderful friends. Molly has become a sweet companion when Ben is away, and when the house is quiet, she must sense my need for company because she never leaves my side.

I will be grateful when things are more solid for us. Being on unsteady ground isn't easy, particularly for someone like me who thrives on planning and known outcomes. But, I still hold on to the notion that The Plan is in the works, and that it will unfold in due time on all fronts: with work, our home, health and love.

Often, in the classes I teach I'll play something that comes directly from my heart. Tonight's choice was "Let It Be."

And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be. Let it be.
There will be an answer
Let it be.

I'm letting it be. What other choice do I have?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Alice and Me and the Journey Down The Rabbit Hole

I've been working on this post for months. Months!! It's been re-written a dozen times. Two dozen times. Too many times. The content has been expanded and altered. I've vacillated between saying too much and saying too little. I've been in that space between "Publish" (Go!) and "Save" (No 'effing way!) nearly every day for the last five months. I'm making myself crazy.

I don't think this post is perfect now, but that's okay. The story is here and it needs to be told and I finally have the courage to do it.

Here goes.

Back in December, I turned 40 with very little fanfare.

I was surrounded by my family. My dad took me for a drink at the same place we celebrated my 21st birthday (The Desert Marriott). We rode the Palm Springs tram. I didn't have a cake. But I did have a deluge of birthday texts and calls. My sister and I laughed so hard that our stomachs hurt. I redeemed my free Starbucks drink for a Venti Cappuccino (low fat, half caff, light foam, extra hot). It felt like it was just the right amount of celebrating. I felt lucky. Grateful. Loved.

And tormented. Conflicted. Scared.

While writing this post, I was reminded of a childhood favorite, "Alice In Wonderland." I've always been fascinated about the rabbit hole experience. It seems to me that the rabbit hole was so symbolic and yet so overlooked. Innocent, pristine and lovely Alice, tumbling into a dark abyss of fright and terror. Such a juxtaposition. And yet a perfect comparison for my own sordid story.

I told everyone that I was gracefully stepping into a new decade. But in reality, I was actually losing my foothold and had been for quite some time. Nothing was eloquent about my transition from 30-something to 40. Nothing at all. In fact, the whole segue way was downright ugly.

But you wouldn't know it. Not by how I looked or what I said. I became extremely practiced in the facade of "everything's fine."

I weathered a tough divorce and my ex still wants me back. But everything's fine.

I can't afford my home anymore and, in fact, I'm months behind on the mortgage. But everything's fine.

I can't sleep at night. I lay awake for hours on end. But everything's fine.

I don't know how to be a "good" single parent; I fear I'm failing my sweet son at every turn. But everything's fine.

My heart was broken in Florida last year and I don't know how to fix it. But everything's fine.

I don't think that God loves me anymore. Why else would my prayers go completely unanswered? But everything's fine.

Nothing was fine. Nothing at all.

On the day of my 40th birthday, I was staring down my own rabbit hole and by January, I was falling into it. Rather quickly.

In another moment down went Alice, never once considering how in the world she was to get out.

The mid-life crisis that everyone warned me about - "You know, Janeen, it's coming. No one makes it to 45 without one"- that midlife crisis, indeed had found me.

And I fell further. And faster.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

Despite the rapid descent into an inky black space, I knew exactly when it all came apart and I knew precisely what I had to do. I honestly don't think that there is a better gift from God then the knowing - without a doubt - what your work is and when the time is right to do it. My work was very clear, and the timing was as simple and as urgent as "now."

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for Alice had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything.

When you are falling down something as dark and dirty and dismal as a rabbit hole, there is a horrible sense that you are moving away - very quickly - from everything you knew to be true, everything you knew about peace, resiliency and hope. And even though the fall can seem so very long, there is time, so much time - like Alice explains - to peer around and to not know; and it was in that unknown space where my own fear began to emerge.

I don't want to get into the details. Not yet anyway. We all have financial issues, disappointments in relationships, challenges with our children. Life sometimes feels like a lesson in crisis management, and I believe that it is, to some extent.

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? `I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?' Alice said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think--.'

The rabbit hole is like a vortex; you quickly lose sight of the light and the journey to the bottom seems so very endless. There isn't room for anyone else in the confines of the rabbit hole. The tunnel is narrow and harrowing and a place that no one else would voluntarily want to be.

Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, when suddenly, thump! thump! down Alice came upon a heap of sticks and dry leaves, and the fall was over.

I too, landed on the bottom - after the longest tumble of my life - and it was only then that I could appreciate the eager, willing and loving hands that would be there to scoop me up. Like Alice, I knew that the most painful part of it all - the fall - was over. I felt the "thud" of my own rock bottom place and when I looked up, there was a circle of people who handed me tissues, who picked up my son from school and who told me that everything would be okay, that it really, really would be.

Now, in the midst of my own personal ascent, I'm realizing the payoffs of simplifying and the rewards of quiet, reflective space.

I've stopped putting pressure on myself to practice my writing, to be at the gym every day and to eat eighteen varieties of fruit and vegetables at every meal. I haven't rolled out my yoga mat in weeks. I'm saying no to most social invitations. I'm avoiding Target. I'm making some new friends who are in similar life situations to mine. I'm letting go of the burning need to accomplish everything and to settle for nothing less than perfect execution.

I'm feeling - at last - a calmer mind, a more settled sense of being.
And I'm sleeping. A lot!

But I have a long, long way to go. The rabbit hole has become my own metaphor for strength and resiliency in the darkest of days. This was no mere gopher hole.

It's such a long way, that when I'm closer to my destination, I'm convinced I'll have a story to tell. And although I don't know quite how that story will unfold yet, I do know that I'll want to share the experience.

In the meantime, I know that what I'm doing is going to make me a better mom, sister, daughter and friend. I have all the faith in the world that subtle shifts turn into big changes and that every day and every moment of progress equals big steps toward becoming the person I want to be. I believe that God has a hand in all miracles and that I'm witnessing my own. And it will be amazing.

Indeed, year 40 will go down as one that is permanently etched in my memory. It will be the year of sisterhood between Alisa and me. That part is way overdue, yet so very welcomed. It will be the year that Ben saw me the least. That's the part I grapple with most. But there is so much goodness, so much truth to be had on the other side. And my Mom is an awesome stand-in for me.

Now I can look up to the small space where light sparingly peers its way into the rabbit hole and there is solace in the sweet glimmer of of its rays. I'm coming into the warmth. It's closer - every day the narrow space becomes a little wider and I'm starting to believe that the way out is right before my eyes. I just keep looking for the light.

And then Alice opened a secret door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: and she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw.

PS - If you got this far in the post, congratulations! And thanks for hanging in. The next post - my 200th - will be lighter in nature, I promise.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mea Culpa, Mom

My mom has always told me, "Kids take their moms for granted."

She's never stated this in a discouraged or disappointed way; it's more matter-of-fact, as in: "this is how it is and not only am I OK with it, I'll also never complain about it." And she never does.

Because that's the type of person she is.

My sister and I can emotionally throw-up all over her and my mom will be there, holding the space and offering empathy. We can toss just about anything at her - and we have.

Because that's the type of person she is.

My mom can babysit for hours on end and never once turn on the television or resort to the Nintendo player. Instead, she'll bust out every crafty thing imaginable and have Ben collecting leaves and rocks. She's better at getting Ben to do homework than I am and she's quick to volunteer to drive across town to retrieve him from school so that I can have a little downtime at home.

Because that's the type of person she is.

Our dog is forever bonded to my mom because she is the one who walks her every day. She also dog sits when I'm gone overnight and I so don't deserve this but she also treats the dog's ears and picks up the dog poop.

Really. Because that's the type of person she is.

On Friday mornings, I usually hear the garbage trucks rumble by and sit straight up in bed, panicked. Then, I remember that I have no reason to panic because my mom always drags the cans to the curb on Thursday nights.

Yes, she does. She really does.

When I optimistically plant a garden in the Spring months, my mom is the one who waters the whole project all summer. I also catch her vacuuming on occasion and she has a real penchant for Cloroxing my sinks. And if you ever have a moth problem in your kitchen, my mom's your girl. She knocked out a whole colony for me. Twice. It was pretty remarkable.

Because that's the type of person she is.

I get headaches. A lot. My mom brings over medicine, she cares for Ben, she makes food. Last month, when I missed the school holiday performance, my mom took the treats I had made to the classroom and stayed for the show - in my place.

Because that's the type of person she is.

A busy month like December means that there is constant movement and quite a bit of chaos in the background. Ben needed to be watched when I rushed off to my birthday dinner. He wanted constant entertainment on cold weekend days when I had stacks of cards to address and piles of gifts to wrap. The Christmas tree would still be standing in my front window had my mom not stepped in, with Ben's assistance, and dismantled the whole thing while I closed the books on my business for the year.

Because that's the type of person she is.

I should have done a little shout-out to my mom in the previous post because most of December would not have been possible without her. Right up until the last day of the year, when she came over to help with Ben before she volunteered at a homeless dinner, her presence gave me just a few short hours to begin the conversion of a new invoicing system.

In the midst of my divorce, I never would have imagined the crushing responsibilities associated with maintaining an older home, running a small, service-oriented business, carting a child to and from an out-of-the-way school and still carving out time for everyone to have a good meal, clean clothes and a little fun once in a while. The daily tasks are still daunting and only do-able with the extra set of hands that belong to my mother. She is, indeed, the backbone of this whole operation.

So, I'll say it now and I'll keep it simple:

You rock, Mom. You really do. I couldn't do all that I do without you. It just wouldn't work. I may always take you for granted, a little, but I'll always appreciate you - more than you'll ever know.

Thank you for being the village that we desperately need. You do it so very well.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Blessed January

Hello, New Year's Day. You have no idea how glad I am to see you. Not that the last two weeks weren't brilliantly fun, but I am toast. Supremely exhausted. Genuinely and positively wasted.

You did this to me, December.

All fatigue aside for a moment, I want to re-cap the last two weeks of the year because they were, despite all the chaos, perhaps the greatest two weeks ever.

In the middle of the month, my girlfriends threw their annual birthday dinner party for me. I am wickedly lucky - I know - to have a group of lovely, lovely friends who plan this for me especially during the busy month of December. The food is always yummy, the wine is great and they bring extremely thoughtful gifts. Having spent my entire life with a birthday that's completely overshadowed by Christmas, I'm always moved by the generosity of my girlfriends. I'll say it again: I am oh-so-very lucky!

The weekend before Christmas, I celebrated a high school friend's 40th birthday at a winery in Livermore. We played bocce ball, drank wine and lamented the fact that we're all "on deck" for the 40 club. My childhood girlfriend came with me and we took an entire day to shop in Pleasanton, while my dad and stepmom took care of Ben. It was a great time.

The week before Christmas started with opening a big Nordstrom box containing the Uggs that I wanted. They are even better in person. I still don't feel deserving of such a great gift.
Following the Uggs was a deluge (really!) of sweet gifts from my clients. I never, ever expect presents from any of my clients and when they come bearing gifts at this time of the year, I'm always taken completely aback at their generosity. The gifts ranged from a massage certificate to a Costco sized bottle of really good vodka. Did my holiday stress really show that much?? What always touches me is the gifts that come for Ben. (Those do not include the vodka! Or the masssage, for that matter).

I started my vacation mid-week with Ben which made for uninterrupted reading, drawing and movie time. The morning of Christmas Eve was perhaps the best day with hours of pajama time, opening a few client gifts and enjoying the anticipation of Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, we went to Mass with friends (their child was singing in the service) and then had dinner at their home. Ben set a new record among the kids by wolfing down two whole burgers (buns and all) and asking for more. God help me when we get to age 10. What's next? Three burgers??

Late on Christmas Eve, Ben set out chocolate chips for Santa and I worked hard to draft a letter "from" Santa, explaining the issue of traveling on Christmas morning and the whereabouts of our gifts. The letter, I have to say, was quite good. All bases were covered.

Early Christmas morning, Ben awoke to chocolate chips scattered all over the living room, his letter from Santa and two gifts to open. He read the letter carefully - eyes widening with every word - and he bought it all: hook, line and sinker. Even the part about Molly eating most of the chocolate chips. We then set off for Palm Springs.

One airport shuttle, one ride on the (very full) airplane, one trek in the rental van (with a few tears from the backseat) and six hours later, we were, at last, in sunny Palm Springs.

We were joined the next day by my brother, my sister, her husband and his mother. I hardly ever get to see my brother. He lives in Orange County and I adore him.

In just a few short days, we managed to go to Christmas services, shop, walk the desert, go up the tram - hike a bit - and then come down, shop some more, celebrate my birthday, dip into the cookies - the cake - the wine - the chocolates - the vodka, drive to Joshua Tree National Park for a hike, open gifts, shop again, open more gifts, and return to the site of my first "legal drink with my dad: the Marriott.

I also opened my second pair of Uggs. Thank you, Alisa!!

The addition of my sister's mother-in-law was seamless and welcomed. She took care of Ben in the early morning hours so that I could sleep in, she cooked my birthday dinner and she told us how much she loved our family. We rode back to the airport, wedged into the back of my sister's Acura. The entire way, Ben leaned into her. When we arrived home, Ben asked me to guess who is new favorite person was. I didn't have to; I already knew that she had won him over and vice versa. We love you, I. You are our family. Please come again.

It was indeed a great trip, thanks to my Dad and to my stepmom and to everyone who made the long journey to the desert. The best birthday celebration ever. In retrospect, I think that everyone should be lucky enough to have a 40th birthday celebration like mine. I will always treasure the memories from my 40th. Thank you again, Dad. Let's go back to the Marriott in another 10. In the meantime, we have your now infamous birthday comment about getting the dog's "claws trimmed" or as you said it: "the dog needs her traws climmed!"

Ben and I ended our month, and our year together with my stepmom and her family. We were invited, or we invited ourselves - not sure which - to their home in North Sacramento for a traditional New Year's dinner of posole. Posole is a stew that cooks for hours. It is a basic, yet very core part of Hispanic celebrations. We enjoyed the company of my stepmom's extremely gracious family and we were home by 10pm and asleep by 10:30pm.

At midnight, I woke up to what sounded like the entire neighborhood setting off every explosive imaginable, but I'm sure it was all contained in my neighbor's - the Griwalds - yard. To my own surprise, I was supremely pissed off at the racket.

I really must be old.

Lastly, I have dozens of photo files to upload and download and unload. Our time in Palm Springs was well documented by everyone but me and I'm anxious to share the images from our trip.

But first, I need a nap.

Happy New Year!