Friday, November 23, 2012


The kids and I were excited to host Thanksgiving this year, although we were still surrounded by boxes the night before. I woke up at 6 a.m. on Thursday to clean and unpack until noon, when it was time to pick up our catered feast.

The kids made decorations from stuff we grabbed at the dollar store the day before. Their creative process involved too much screeching and punching for my taste but I heard Martha isn't very nice either.

Sadly, raccoons living in the carport at the apartments ripped the head off each one of our vintage free-standing paper turkeys. We were happy to find the scarecrows safe and sound.

It took me more than four hours to make gluten-free stuffing and gravy and reheat our meal. I burned the mashed potatoes and was flushed and disheveled when it was done, but I was proud of the food I didn't make:

Brined All-Natural 17 lb. Diestel Turkey

House Gravy made from pan drippings & giblets

Salad of local apples, fennel, persimmon, walnuts & creamy lemon dressing

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Winter Squash with balsamic-shallot vinaigrette

Savory Bread Stuffing with pecans, herbs & assorted dried fruit

Creamy Mashed Potatoes with roasted garlic & chives

Fresh Cranberry Sauce with citrus & quince

Organic Pumpkin Pie made with fresh-roasted local pumpkins and whipped cream 
I'm not completely unpacked yet, so Violet helpfully found the paper plates and set the table.

There's Grandpa's Shark Spot.

Grandma's Pretty Plant Spot.

Uncle's Bat Spot.

Auntie's Flower Spot.

Mommy's Butterfly Spot.

Violet's Pumpkin Spot.

Sister's Devil Spot. Wait a second . . . try again.

 That's better.
After eating, I sprawled out on the floor in front of Toy Story while my parents cleaned up. I don't think I even have pictures of my mother from the visit - she was so busy getting things done the whole time, and I was too tired to stop her . . . or lift my head to take a picture of her.
I think my father summed up the rest of the evening best in an email to my middle bro and Mathilda.
The girls got pretty amped up during the course of the evening. A long walk had no calming effect whatsoever. So they put together a puppet show extravaganza that began around 9pm.  Violet was the director and star. Daisy was in charge of lighting (utilizing a flash light held at different positions and angles) and provided commentary from inside a giant cardboard box that acted as the stage. Grandma had a speaking part too. Her replies to what started as a monologue had a grounding effect that seemed to keep things moving. The first act lasted for about 40 minutes. Then we had dessert before your brother and Mimi headed home. The remaining adults were pretty weary and we convinced the cast and crew to continue with Act II at a later date . . .


Monday, November 19, 2012

Big, Big, Big Thanks

This is not the year to be thankful for bats and moss and cool stuff like that. This year, the girls and I have something way bigger to be thankful for -- our home. We're still barely moved in but we are already a hundred times more relaxed.

When we first moved into our one-bedroom apartment a couple years ago, we were in shock and hurting. The kids and I sort of huddled together when I had them, so a small space was fine. I felt liberated from having to clean a house and relieved to finally have privacy to heal away from my ex, who I had been living with post-separation for months. So what if I couldn't open up my oven door all the way because my kitchen was so small and one of the two shared washing machines in the complex was broken most of the time? I thanked my lucky stars for every worn, stale-smelling inch of our little space.

We enjoyed the community at the apartments. It's probably the most reasonable rent in the area if you have a dog, and tenants were mostly in transition - other single parents, students, Cuban refugees, people who qualified for Section 8, people with visiting probation officers, a man with failing health. It wasn't fancy but it actually felt very safe. I left my car doors and even apartment unlocked all the time. People looked out for each other, sharing food and drinks in the courtyard, and the kids left their scooters and bikes unlocked. I would even say it was idyllic.

Then, sometime last spring, something shifted. The population of hardcore drug addicts, homeless alcoholics, and mental cases that gathered around the neighboring Taco Bell as well as the RVs at the Burger King a block over multiplied. I don't know if you've seen this in your town, but all over the Bay Area, there are areas where people down on their luck live in clusters of RVs. The police may clear them out, but they come back; if they had somewhere to go, they would probably be there.

I heard our local law enforcement explained the reason things got crazy around the apartments was a result of the overflow of state prison inmates who were transferred to county jails, necessitating the release of those locals who aren't handling life so well but only really pose a danger to themselves. Some pretty crazy people showed up on the apartment grounds, often going through the dumpster by my car for food and souvenirs. Stuff started going missing, including my bike. We knew it was probably the meth heads because they didn't really steal so much as trade. There was a dusty camping chair left in place of my bike. Good thing it wasn't a total loss.

A woman, a friend of one of my neighbors, who had been sober for 20 years but somehow got mixed up with the Taco Bell crazies relapsed on meth. One morning, she ran full steam at me demanding "her" purse. It scared me but I yelled at her to go away - and she did. And that's the thing, other than theft, the crazies were harmless and easy to run off. Still, what was formerly known as my peaceful rundown apartment home became strangely chaotic and unwelcoming.

Our miracle came in the form of my parents beating out another bidder to make a down payment on a foreclosed condo for me to rent to own. The girls and I are now in a two-story two-bedroom, two-bath condo with a garage and patio. There's a public playground with basketball and tennis courts across the street. There is a pool and hot tub on site. We couldn't be more thrilled. Grandpa joined Angie's List and either hired out or completed a series of home repairs so that everything is safe and working properly.There was plumbing work, a sump pump, new locks, new garage opener, new circuit board, as well as other interior and exterior repair. Grandpa also painted the girls' room sky blue on the walls and dark blue on the very tall ceiling, just as the kids requested. And even more amazing, there was a brand new washer and dryer installed in the laundry closet before we moved in.

I've been sleeping better than I have in months. Daisy and I are getting along much better. Violet's a little better in the morning before school. We're happy.

Life isn't easy - I'm working lots and there've been personal setbacks, but the most important thing is: I have a good place to raise a family. My parents have given us not just a condo but a home. And even though I didn't do this on my own, I feel badass to be the head of my household.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dear Lil Bro and Sister-in-Law,

Congratulations! I'm so happy for you both! You must be thrilled to finally have your own place. I'm sorry I haven't visited yet; we're all busy, and our schedules are so different. I was thinking that since we haven't had time to see each other much, I'm probably overdue for some big sister advice.

When I think about you guys recently, I can't help but remember what it's like to be early in a marriage. There is so much to do and process. The details to be hammered out, the boundaries to be acknowledged, the shock you might feel at some of the more peculiar traits you discover in your mate, and the realization that someone you love could be so wrong so often.

Well, the thing is, EVERY COUPLE goes through this. The person you're staring at across the table at night will be wrong about a lot of things. Accept this and point it out. It's really best that you don't let your partner go blind to their own weak points.

On the other hand, there will be those moments when it is you who is clearly wrong or peculiar. Accept this and point it out. You will be amazed at how avoiding a defensive attitude will open up discussions you've never had.

The couples I knew who claimed to never fight early on were divorced long before I was. Maybe that doesn't sound very comforting, but I guess what I'm trying to say is don't be alarmed if you suddenly experience conflicts you weren't expecting. It's normal.

I don't need to tell two preschool teachers about positive reinforcement and timeouts, but remember: these work well for adults too. Recess and clean up time are pretty important too. However, I think the most important thing is to find the humor as much as possible. If you can make each other laugh, everything will be OK, and you'll create a homebase to nurture and inspire each other.

See you soon! Send me pictures of the new place when you can!

Love to you both.