Smells Like Tween Spirit

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From birth, she had the most expressive eyebrows I had ever seen on a baby. Not that I paid any attention to babies’ eyebrows, or to babies, for that matter, before I became a mother. I was not someone who ever dreamed of having kids. The closest I came to enjoying the company of children as a young adult was when I worked as a camp counselor during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college.

My counselor “nature” name was Brook, and the six and seven-year-olds with whom I played at camp endeared themselves to me with their wide-eyed innocence and wonder for the world around them. They would yell out “Brook!“ and smile when they arrived each day, happy to see me, giving me a glimpse of how intoxicating it was to care for them. Once I got to know the subtleties of their precious vulnerabilities and experience how much they began to rely on me for their safety and comfort, it was hard not to get hooked… at least for the summer.

The experience reminded me of the joys of childhood, the possible joy of parenting, and how it may be fun to spend some time with little ones once in a while. But that was as far as it went. I babysat kids in Newport Beach here and there while attending school at UC Irvine; and their young parents, who must have been in their early thirties, looked so old and mature to my twenty-year-old self (yet ironically, they were probably much younger than I am now with the same aged kids!). When I arrived to relieve them of their parenting duties, the moms and dads always seemed like they couldn’t wait to be free of their children. I didn’t understand then that it was most likely their date night, and they needed the break from parenting to stay sane and keep their marriage together. From my naive perspective, there wasn’t much joy in parenting for them, as it seemed more of a burden from which they were looking to escape, even if just for the night. This observation stuck with me.

After graduating a few years later in 1994, I dove head first in my career and didn’t give kids a second thought. Even having a boyfriend wasn’t a priority to me those years in which I worked fifteen hour days and slept in between. I didn’t see how kids would fit into my life with the big career I had originally envisioned for myself… back when I thought I was going to make movies for a living.

Twelve years later, after many memorable experiences, life lessons, and stark realizations, I was married and pregnant with my first child… this child, whom you see above, the one with the tween attitude and the expressively arched eyebrow. She came into my life by surprise, not by plan, and the expectation of her arrival was the biggest thing that had happened to my family in a while. She would be the first grandchild in my first family, an unexpected gift we all couldn’t wait to receive. But this big thing that was about to happen got eclipsed by an even bigger thing. My mom died. The woman whom she was going to make a grandmother didn’t survive a car accident and left this Earth just three months before she was born into it.

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So when she was delivered to me, under a cloud of grief, her huge blue eyes, single cheek dimple, and raised eyebrows soothed my hurt and gave me purpose, when all reason and sanity seemed to have abandoned me. She smiled and laughed and furrowed her brows, and she showed me how much joy one person can bring into another’s life, even in the worst of times.

I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew she was the most important thing in life. I knew she needed me, but I didn’t realize then how much I needed her. My life felt out of control, like all of its biggest decisions were being made for me without my input, and I was forced to just ride the ride, regardless of whether or not I was a willing passenger. Without my mom there to support me, or to assure me everything was going to be okay, I felt lost as a woman, but found as a mother. The void my mom left was dark and deep, and I don’t think anyone, not even me, understood how much losing her would change me. I wasn’t sure of anything except that this little girl needed me to love and take care of her. I knew I could do that, I was going to do that no matter what, but I really didn’t feel like I could do much else.

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Once again, twelve years later, and this child turns twelve years old… today.

She is bold and she is beautiful. She is shy and she is stubborn. She is like me in so many ways and nothing like me in so many others. I see my mom in her sense of humor. I see my dad in her blond hair and blue eyes. I see how being my child has shaped her. I see her strong sense of identity rearing it’s head out from under her childhood innocence, and I see the baby I once knew still very much alive in her big eyes.

I am not ever one to say, “Where did the time go?” I have not said or written that statement, not once. I know where it went. I have spent almost every day of the last twelve years with this kid, and these twelve years have been unforgettable. They have been a mixture of happiness, sadness, and feeling a love never known before. There were times I felt content in the life I have built, and other times I struggled with unrest and wanderlust when my autonomy felt sabotaged by motherhood, and when my individual desires and personal aspirations got the best of me.

But regardless of the phases I have gone through, there has always been intense gratitude for the privilege of getting to watch this beautiful creature live, learn, evolve and grow.

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She has been a joy, a challenge, a heartbreak, and a saving grace. Sometimes she makes me feel on top of the world, and sometimes she wounds me to my core and momentarily crushes my soul. The way I feel as a person and as a woman affects how I relate to her, and the wounds I carry from my own childhood affect how I behave in some of her childhood circumstances.

There is so much I wish I had done, worked on, or figured out before I had her. There is so much I wish would have been different before she came into my life, the most significant thing being having my mom here to be a part of it. But mainly, I wish I had figured out who I was a bit more before motherhood made it’s mark on me.

I have been sharing my writing on this site for almost five years now, trying to better understand who I am, what I feel, and where my greater purpose lies beyond motherhood. This does not lessen my commitment to being a mother, nor does it reflect a dissatisfaction for being a mother. But as I watch my daughter grow, and see all the possibilities for her life that are coming around the corner for her, I want her to experience the best version of me, and I don’t think I have found it yet.

But above all, what I try to remember, however hard it is to keep at the forefront of my mind, is that nothing will ever be perfect or ideal, and no one ever is truly ready to become a parent. Even if you think you are ready, you don’t know what you are in for when a child takes over your life and your heart. I know I never could have imagined this kid.

She is innocent, but she is wise beyond her years. She’s been called an “old soul” so many times by so many different people who all see the same thing in her eyes. There is something intangible there that makes her seem like she knows more than she logically should at her age. She has the normal tween angst, hormonal mood swings, and irrational attitudes that a typical twelve-year-old girl does; but there is an added layer to her.

I sometimes think that her awareness to inherently know things that she doesn’t quite understand yet, or have the emotional capacity to process at her age, casts a cloud over her head. She is more pensive and somber than most of her peers, and doesn’t consistently possess the carefree nature and lightness that they do. As such, I have wondered if that cloud she walks under was formed soon after her birth, during her first few years in which she was with me every day as I was dealing with a lot of sadness and did a lot of grieving.

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There is no way to know for sure. What I do know though is that she is still the most important thing in life.

Along with her brother, she brings an elevated purpose to my existence…

She brings eternal hope to my heart…

And she brings so much joy to my soul…

Even if she crushes it occasionally.

💖

Happy 12th Birthday to my sweet girl. Thank you for choosing me to be your mom. I am eternally grateful.

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November 2018 - An Inspirational Disaster

Leo Carillo State Park campgrounds devastated by the Woolsey fire- Malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

Leo Carillo State Park campgrounds devastated by the Woolsey fire- Malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

Pacific Coast Highway through Leo Carillo State Park after the fire - malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

Pacific Coast Highway through Leo Carillo State Park after the fire - malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

The entries I posted on Instagram in November 2018 started off inspirational, but ended up in disaster, full of news and updates on the unexpected tragic events that took place that month. After my last Instagram entry on November 26th, I went offline and took a seven week hiatus from posting on or even looking at social media.

I completely checked out from it all, needing to focus on the care of my injured daughter, and the healing of my own hurt body. So amidst living through the frightening fire disaster, returning to a home in an area that looked like a war zone, and contending with the debilitating injuries and illnesses that befell me and my family, I remained offline through the whole of December, and made my best effort to enjoy the holiday season in gratitude for my family through to the new year.

A devastating wildfire, a painful spasm, and a serious fracture did a number on life around here for a while, and the following words and images chronicle how everything unfolded in November…

(I’ll get to December later.)


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It’s hard to live life sometimes. It’s hard to keep it all together when it feels like it’s all falling apart. It’s hard to be consistently responsible, helpful, kind, and generous, while also feeling happy, joyful, and sane. It’s challenging to do the right thing all the time. To resist sadness, anger, selfishness, laziness, and pessimism when they rear their heads, and when there are plenty of legitimate sources to justify their existence.

It takes discipline, awareness and intentional positivity to resist being swallowed up by the overwhelm of the big picture, the state of our world, and the perils of humanity. It takes courage and a strong will to resist collapse under the weight of our own quiet heartbreaks and peaceful resignations. To suffer soul crushing defeat, survive it, and rise above. It takes hope, intention, and an unwavering desire to build rather than destroy... our homes, our families, our kids’ spirits, and our own sense of peace within.

But we do it. At least we do our best to do it. We do it because we love life. And because we just plain LOVE. Holding love in our hearts can move mountains. It can get us through the worst of storms; and it can bring us to our highest purpose. It is our saving grace.


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Thousand Oaks is part of an extended community for many residents of Malibu. My kids and I are over there often, most recently this past Tuesday, the day before the Borderline Bar & Grill shooting, at a restaurant only four miles from where shots were fired and twelve lives were violently lost. Newbury Park, a town within the city limits of Thousand Oaks, is both where the shooter lived and where I take my kids to see their pediatrician. We dine, shop, and run most of our errands in this community, just over the mountain from our home.

I took this photo of my son in February 2017 at the mall when we were out in T.O. for our mother/son night while my husband and daughter were attending their annual father/daughter dance back in Malibu. It is just minutes from the Borderline Bar and Grill where the shooting took place. “It could have been us” has entered my mind more than once today, and I have had to qualm feelings of unrest for my kids’ safety as we go about our lives. The fear of losing loved ones has been more pronounced for me since my mom went away for her birthday weekend and never returned, killed by a driver under the influence of prescription drugs.

When these senseless shootings happen, as a victim of unexpected tragedy myself, I go back to how I felt the day I was informed by the police officer on the scene that my mom had died in an accident. I relate with and weep for the those whose lives have been forever changed in a blink of an eye. I know first hand how they have been blindsided by such news, how their existence has been severely altered, and how they now have to reconcile their new reality of living without. They have been pulled into the abyss of tragic loss these last 24 hours. Darkness has blocked out the light and they are just beginning their journey through it. My heart and my thoughts are with them. Even though the rest of us are left to process another senseless shooting in whatever way we can (again), we are the lucky ones this time.


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The Borderline Bar & Grill mass shooting last night and now the Hill Fire in the same town of Thousand Oaks, right over the mountain from us. We have the car packed for evacuation, which may come at any moment; as we have heard they’ve already evacuated five miles north of us. Hoping we can stay in our home tonight and all will be ok... but for now, we are thinking of all those over the mountain that are already mourning the loss of victims in the Borderline shooting, and on top of that, are now battling wildfires.


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Mandatory evacuation for all of Malibu from #VenturaCountyLine to Malibu Canyon/Las Virgenes. We are in the car stuck in solid gridlock on PCH right now trying to leave Malibu. Our home had a mandatory evacuation last night, but we stayed in Malibu at a friend’s house further south where there were no evacuations. Now we are part of the mass exodus to leave, wishing we had just left the area entirely last night. Hoping we will have a home to return to in a few days, and praying for the safety for all the Ventura County Fire & LA County Fire fighters and all residents in the affected areas. 🙏

#woolseyfire #hillfire


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My home is (or was, as the jury is still out on that) located about 18 miles up the coast from where I took this photo, somewhere behind and under that huge cloud of smoke. This was at 11:00am yesterday, and the kids and I had already been in the car for two and a half hours but had only traveled a mile. We stayed at a friend’s house further south from our home down PCH on Thursday night, having left our own home at 8:45pm under a mandatory evacuation.

I quickly packed up photos and various irreplaceable items, as much as would fit in our car with my two kids in the back seat, and walked out the door, leaving 99% of our possessions behind. It is now a day and a half later, and with each passing minute, it becomes more of a real possibility that I may not ever see my home again, except as a pile of ashes where it used to stand. I am heartbroken for my community, as so much of it has already burned; and so many of my friends are already dealing with the devastating news that their homes are gone.

Now, I sit here at my sister’s house waiting to hear the fate of mine - for the other shoe to drop. Yes, my immediate family is safe. Yes, the things we left behind are just possessions. But it is also our home... where I lived when I got married, pregnant, found out my mom died, grieved her, birthed two babies, nursed them, put them down for naps, fed them solid foods for the first time, watched them take their first steps, and took their first day of school pictures each year. Where we measured and marked their heights in pencil with a line and their names and the date on the wall next to the entry closet.

It may all be gone. It may all still be there. Either way, what has happened to Malibu is devastating. I know we will survive, and I know our community will rise up, support those who need it most, and get through this tragedy together. I am just so sad, and I need to allow this feeling for a moment before I face what is to come.

#hillfire #woolseyfire


Our home in Malibu did not burn down on Friday in the #woolseyfire and #hillfire, per the report I received Saturday afternoon. However, the danger is far from over and my sigh of relief will be forever stifled, since at least eight families we know already lost their homes, and those are just the ones confirmed.

Power lines have burned and our community is still evacuated. Wind ceased to blow most of the day Saturday, giving firefighters, first responders, and volunteers a reprieve, and a chance to make some headway on fire containment. Unfortunately, the winds picked up again Saturday evening, and more fires ignited in Malibu. It is going to be another rough day (or maybe days) of wait and see.

One of the many sad notes of Saturday was the news that Leo Carillo State Park was burned significantly. The landscape on and around my favorite Leo hiking loop is going to look vastly different than it does here above (taken last week) when I finally am allowed to hike up to this ocean vista point again and survey the scene. I am weeks away from that reality, but I know it will be hard to look out on what the fires have done to it from this spot.

For now, I must stay focused on the reality before me. Thank you to everyone who checked in and left notes of love and encouragement on Instagram, Facebook, or via text. I deeply appreciated all of your kind words and concern, and felt the love communicated from near and far. 🙏❤️

Hope for another day begins now. Hope for the safety and protection of those battling, and the victims of, these fires. Hope that peace and comfort will eventually soothe those who have already suffered tremendous loss. And hope that all life and property that has been spared thus far will stay safe and unscathed over this night and into these next few days.


These palm trees stand on our property, just feet from the side of our home. This mountain behind the palms, the sone in the second photo, is above us, right behind our home. The whole mountain burned, the fields adjacent to our home on both sides burned, and the open land in front of our street burned. Miraculously, our home did not burn. We have been assured our home is now safe from the threat of fire... well, at least from this fire. We are relieved and grateful. We are one of the lucky ones.

The list of Malibu families we know whom have lost their homes has grown to 26; and I expect that number will rise as information continues to spread. Kids in my kids’ classes lost their homes. Teachers at my kids’ school lost their homes. Moms I love and have worked with volunteering at school and in the PTA have lost their homes. My daughter’s best friend lost her new home, the one she just moved into a few weeks ago, as well as the home from which she just moved, where she grew up and had my daughter over for countless play dates, hang outs, and sleep overs. Educators and mentors who have inspired, supported, and just been there along the journey of our lives in Malibu the last 16 years, have lost the homes in which they had lived for over 30 or 40 years.

They are all suffering tremendous loss right now. Please pray 🙏 or keep them in your thoughts... or however you chose to send out positive energy 💫 into the world.

Donate to the many relief efforts that have been formed: @we.love.malibu @onelovemalibu @malibufoundation @bgcmalibu90265, offer a hand to help where you can, or just foster a little more gratitude for the safety and security of your own home, if you are reading this from afar, miles away from Malibu.


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Last Monday night, four days after being evacuated from Malibu, we were still taking refuge in my sister’s South Pasadena house. After sleeping in their cousin’s room for three nights, my kids came to snuggle with me, missing home, and their beds. They drifted off peacefully, while I lied there feeling the unrest and sadness of the last several days fully palpable in my body. My neck, where I hold my stress, had been tight for months, building since May, getting worse with difficulties endured in June, July and August, leading to its present state of stiffness and knots.

A yogi and runner, I had knowingly neglected my self care and exercise regimen in the face of adversity for months... a big mistake. Even though my home was safe, I didn’t feel relief. The damage to my body had already been done. The wildfire was the catalyst to my body finally raising the white flag in surrender.

At 5:30 the next morning, I was awoken by a muscle spasm that shot down my neck. My back was frozen in pain and I didn’t know how to make it stop. Bending my neck up lessened the spasm, so I held it in that position. I couldn’t move without pain taking over, so I just lied there, paralyzed in the dark, while everyone else in the house slept. I felt helpless, scared, and I had to pee. I needed to get up, so I silently gritted through the pain. It got worse from there as the hours passed, spreading down my right side to my arm, hand and fingers.

Thus began what is now going on seven days of chronic pain that hasn’t relented, except for some minutes here and there, and while I’m asleep, when I can sleep. I have seen three professionals ~ healers, therapists and doctors ~ and have had several treatments and tests, with no quick fixes in sight... just the expected weeks of physical therapy.

My body has drawn a line in the sand. It has told me it isn’t going to be ignored or neglected anymore. The wildfire that threatened my home and ravaged my town was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and mine. It was a huge wake up call. I am finally returning home today, still immobilized by pain, to begin the work of healing... not only the physical healing of my body, but the mental and emotional healing of myself and my community.


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Finally arrived back home yesterday afternoon, and witnessed the first sunset here in ten days. A sight for sore eyes.

The mandatory evacuation has been lifted for most of Malibu, but there are still some canyons in which people are not allowed to return to their homes, or to survey the damage done to their property. I am feeling a mixture of gratitude for still having a home to which to return, and sorrow for all the loss suffered by my friends and the challenging times ahead for all of us to rebuild our community.

Anyone interested in helping, you can donate to @onelovemalibu, @malibufoundation, @bgcmalibu90265, or you can visit @gabbyreece to find out what is actively being done for the relief effort locally, not only in Malibu, but other affected areas like Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley. Several groups have been formed to help victims of the #woolseyfire in all areas, and she has been disseminating information through her IG posts to help galvanize people into action. 🙏❤️💪


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My sister and brother-in-law have created a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition at their home for my family and my brother’s family, and they outdo themselves each year with an amazing meal and this beautiful setting.

Thanksgiving was especially memorable yesterday, since we had been evacuated here and stayed at their house for five days when the Woolsey Fire hit Malibu two weeks ago. So many lives have been turned upside down since then, and I am feeling so many different feelings about it. Most of all, I feel gratitude for the safety of my family and our home from the fire; but I also feel sadness for all of my friends who lost their homes to it.

When tragedy strikes, clarity for what you value most can often hit you soon after. I feel overwhelming love for the people dearest to my heart, and an aching desire to be with the ones I love whom are not in my physical realm right now. 💗 I feel the void of their presence and miss their touch, while simultaneously feeling the fullness of my heart with love for them. A testament to how much love our hearts can hold.

Amidst all the love and giving thanks, I’m still feeling the debilitating effects of my back injury from a week and a half ago; and now my daughter is also injured from an accident she had on her scooter the evening before Thanksgiving. It landed us in Malibu Urgent Care right before they closed, and luckily they were able to stitch up her chin that had split open when she fell face first on the asphalt street in front of our home. She scraped some other body parts too; and beside the pain in her chin, her jaw is stiff, her teeth are sore, and she ran a 102 temperature for the duration of our Thanksgiving celebration.

We woke up this morning, both of us bedridden and sore, and I was feeling a bit in a state of “when it rains it pours.” Yet I recognize that these physical challenges and injuries we are nursing still pale in comparison to losing everything in the fire. I know we will be fine soon. We’ll heal our bodies over the next few weeks, and then we will be ready and stronger than ever to help our friends rebuild their lives, and help rebuild our beautiful community.

#malibustrong 💪💙


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In bed. Looking up from the flat of my back. Visions of love, loss, limbo, lust, and light abound. 💫💛✨

#backinjury #bedstretches #yogainbed #youwilllookupatmefromtheflatofyourback #aknightstale #william #heathledger


Before all the hills in my neighborhood off the coast of Malibu burned, including this bluff I often hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, I began writing #thirtydaysofinspiration posts, starting on Nov. 1st. I only wrote and posted on day 1-7 before the Borderline Bar shooting occurred in nearby Thousand Oaks the night of Nov. 7th.

The next day, the Hill Fire in Ventura County, the Woolsey Fire in LA County, and the Camp Fire in Butte County, all began to burn up the state of California. I never got to my day 8 inspirational post, instead writing about the bar shooting. The wild fires took over our lives on Nov. 9th, and they burned their paths of destruction through the city of Paradise up north and my city of Malibu here down south.

Tragedy and loss have competed fiercely with inspiration during these difficult days from Nov. 8-25. Still, many examples of bravery, kindness and perseverance emerged amidst the rubble by the first responders, fire fighters, law enforcement officers, community members, and people from near and far, either working to prevent loss, or helping those who have suffered loss. Inspiration at its finest.

Today, on day 26, I wanted to resume my posts on these last days of this very difficult November; but I find I don’t have it in me right now. I feel sad and overwhelmed. I need time to process some things and do some healing. In the absence of my attempt to write something inspirational to share, I want to show some love and appreciation for those on my Instagram feed who often inspire me.

Inspiration can take many forms... in words and images, in art and intellect, and in humans who embody love, courage, strength, beauty, emotional intelligence, kindness, and ⚓️ hope, as they share their gifts and vulnerabilities, and expose their humanity.

Thank you for inspiring me:
@nayyirah.waheed @changeurperception @createthelove @beingisbeautiful @mindfulmft @abbywambach @estherperelofficial @bzblooms @herbadmother @thelastburstofspring @fodadaclothing @timhortonphotomalibu @julieellerton @projecthealthybody_ @dallashartwig @briana_leonard @rootsnwings_malibu @wearemanenough

Thank you all for the truths you share, and the light you shine. 🙏 💙 xo- Lisa

Promote What You Love Instead of Bashing What You Hate

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There are, and always will be, things we love and things we hate... about situations, opinions, people. We can even feel love and hate for a person, circumstance, or reality simultaneously.

I try so hard not to use the word hate, and constantly tell my kids to express this strong emotion using “I don’t like” instead of “I hate.” Yet truthfully, among adults, hate is more accurate a word to use when it comes to what we passionately oppose, that with which we vehemently disagree, or realities we have an impossible time accepting.

I can say I hate prejudice, intolerance, racism, sexism, ignorance, misogyny, chauvinism and injustice; and there are many people who would think I am justified in my hatred.

But there is a different brand of hate on the opposite side of mine; and if that hate is what fuels my hate, then more hatred is being generated than love.

Allowing ourselves to feel hate on such a deep level can bring us to a dark place, and will never pave the way to the light.

When I suffer disappointments and dashed hopes, when my precious (possibly idealistic) expectations are not fulfilled, and when I envision the way I think others will behave (or I want them to behave) and find instead they do the opposite, hate can manifest within me, despite my desire to feel empathy instead of anger.

If we allow hate to grow in our hearts - out of fear, pain, outrage or conditioning - it can eclipse the love for which we have an unlimited capacity.

Giving love without strings attached, expectations placed, or guarantee of when or if it will be returned, is scary. Loving unconditionally is risky; it can make us feel vulnerable, powerless, and taken for granted.

Love itself is the opposite. It is powerful. It can transform and transcend. And promoting what we love - equality, justice, respect, tolerance, acceptance, hope, positivity, perseverance, generosity and kindness - especially in the glaring face of hatred, can be the difference between fostering a life consumed by ugliness, and creating one that thrives on compassion.

Multiply that exponentially, and it’s not just a life... it is a nation, a world, a global consciousness, a future generation.

I Am Here with You

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Every year, I bring the kids to visit you. After school ends, we rush over from Malibu and arrive with only a few minutes to spend before the gates close at five.

They give you their flowers and run around the grass. I try to steal a moment to talk to you, but I often don't let myself get very far into the one-sided conversation. I don’t want the kids to feel the heaviness in my heart while they flit around in their lightness. Sometimes, I just don’t want to acknowledge the heaviness.

So I watch them run around... burning off energy they built up on the car ride over. I tell my son repeatedly not to step on the other headstones and to leave the balloons and pinwheels where they are.

They are comfortable here, playing in their grandma’s yard, the only one of yours they will ever know.

I sit on the blanket and breathe in the peace this place is supposed to bring its visitors. I look around at all the trees and beauty and reflect on the number of years it's been since we laid you to rest. It may be only a year between our visits, but so much happens in the span of each year that sometimes it surprises me how much remains the same here.

Yet it’s a little different today… the light is different. I haven’t been here in the morning since the day of your memorial service twelve years ago, when I had a baby in my belly and an army of mourners walking with me from the chapel to this spot in the grass.

At this time of day, the tree that shades you filters the sunlight from directly above, casting strong shadows of branches down on your headstone and a warm, golden spotlight that bathes me in a natural glow when I lie down next to you.

The ground is a bit moist and uneven, and the smell of soil and cut grass is potent. My blanket is supposed to keep the wetness of the lawn from coming through, but it doesn’t. I hear the whizzing sound of weed trimmers all around, as the groundskeepers’ maintenance is in full swing. Ironically, I came here today to get some peace alone with you while the kids are in school, but it turns out it is a little less peaceful at this time of day then when we usually visit in the evening.

Still, without the kids in tow, there is a different kind of peace. I can sit here alone and say anything I want to you. I can talk and cry, and there is no one to hear me. I also can sit here in silence and feel the intimacy of the moment without words, knowing words don’t actually need to be spoken aloud to be heard.

Intimate words are hard for me to form through my voice. I get overcome with emotion in most instances of speaking intimately, and those strong emotions often muddle what I am trying to verbally communicate to others. For me, words flow more freely when I write; hence, this.

I write here next to you, sitting on this now wet blanket. Wanting to talk to you, but not knowing where to start. Wondering so much, about so much. Thinking of questions I never asked you. Wanting answers I am missing that I had not sought to get when you were alive, because my life had not yet begged their questions.

You feel closer to me here somehow. That doesn’t make logical sense, I know, because the ashes of your body buried beneath me here are not really you, nor is this inanimate slab of concrete next to me embossed with your name. I just refer to it as “you” because it is tangible. It is a symbol, a sign... It’s what I have left of you.

People like to say you are in me, and that you are with me always. They say it to comfort, and they say it with spiritual conviction; but it is not enough for me just to hear that. You are a feeling I have to deliberately elicit… one I have to connect with to believe, or to find comfort in. Just being told by others you are here with me, and that it is so because of how they choose to believe, doesn’t do it for me.

I am here with you. You are here with me. It’s intangible, but it is all we have. I write to you and about you to feel closer to you. I think about you and all that you have given me, and I feel you with me. When I am connected to my true self, I remember that you are part of me.

I have to go now. The kids and I will return in a few hours, with flower bouquets in their hands. They will give their flowers to you, and they will run around the grass, as always. They will hear church bells ring in the distance and take off to meet the source of the chimes. I will watch them go, silent in the calm of the evening stillness, enjoying the last few minutes we have before the gates close at five.

POSTSCRIPT (about the photo above): On that day, the branches of the tree that looms over my mom’s grave had filtered the midday sunlight in such a way that the glow affect on my face was created in the camera of my phone. I did not add any artificial filter to it after the fact, nor did I manipulate the photo in any way. I’m grateful for the beauty of nature’s filter, and for capturing this image.

Forty Six.

a poem inspired by my birthday weekend getaway in May 2018

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Leaving town,
Can't get out soon enough
Traffic building,
Too late, it already sucks.

Made this trip many times,
Know the drive by heart
University visit,
Walk the campus
Memories materializing,
Time is gone.

Where I slept and lived,
Freshman dorms
I was so quiet and shy
A transformative year.

Up the hill to Greek housing,
I hardly recognize
So much seemed to have changed,
Yet still it’s exactly the same.

Sorority house there,
Fraternity next door
Visions of boys flirting,
Forgot all names but one.

Sisterhood outside of family,
Bonds made, anchors grounded
Then lifted up and floated away
To our separate lives,
To chase diverse futures.

It went by in a blink,
Never thought about it then
That I’d miss it once it was gone.
How hard those days were for me
In relation to that time,
Yet they seem so easy
Now that I’m living this adult life.

I was out of place, in my skin
and in that large circle of friends.
I sometimes wish for a do-over
If what I know now, I only knew then.

Leave the past behind,
Time to start time for me
Hotel room unpacked,
Autonomous feeling
Shoulders are relaxed,
Raise a glass to freedom.

High floor,
Bird’s eye view
Breathing in the solitude,
Just me, no sign of you.

Late at night,
Quiet, so quiet
In bed with book in hand
In heaven reading about
A founding father without a father.

Wake to 46. I’m 46.
What does it mean?
Not good nor bad,
But indifferent maybe.

Am I older, wiser, more evolved?
Or am I living the same life
As I did one day before?

Hotel bed,
King size all for me.
Buttery white sheets,
My favorite delicacy.

Don’t want to get out
I could stay here forever.
Am I avoiding life,
or living my best one ever?

Birthday wishes,
Coming at me from all sides
Playing weekend plans by ear,
Yet suddenly, I am deaf
As a time warp draws near.

In a different place, but similar feel
A different year on the calendar page,
Still unable to make an escape
From the plans I didn’t make.

Embrace by instinct,
Shielding me from the truth I know
Hard to trust the feelings,
That led me astray for years.

A garden walk instead of a run,
A birthday wish I thought I wanted
Giving up what I should have done,
Not satisfied and nothing won.

Why go back to the played out fact,
Like a vinyl album with a scratch
Skipping, skipping, staying on the same track.
I want to change the song,
I need to change the song.

Hope for the unattainable,
Desire for what doesn’t exist.
Disconnect. Accept.
Compose a new tune to hear,
Find a new direction to steer.

At least I keep his eyes in my life.
RISE UP. WISE UP. HAMILTON.
Art that breathes life,
Life that affirms good.

Food, love, music, rest, indulgence,
Why don’t I do this more often?
Heartbreak, frustration, tears, and anger,
Why’d I think that while away
These things would soften?

More love than I know what to do with,
So much it suffocates me
I want to break free of it at times,
Cut it loose, let it fall away and fly off.

But I am tethered to it,
like an oxygen tank
Needed to breathe,
And crucial for survival.

Wishing it was quiet uptown,
While I’m going through the unimaginable
Wishing I could in fact rise up,
And stop the cycle I’m caught in.

Nautical dinner, birthday treat
Sharing stories of pain and love
Family and friend alike,
Repertory and a playwright.

Drama, Art, Passion, Life
There’s so much to see
To be,
To flee.

Sun, sweat, water, swim
Can I stay a little longer?
Delay my departure north,
Not ready to go home yet.

Dinner, sweets,
Late night movie
I Feel Pretty,
But not really.

Who cares anyway,
Beauty comes from inside
Good message with which to leave,
It’s time to get back
To the life that I lead.

It’s far from gone,
I’m alive and awake
There’s a million things I haven’t done,
Just you wait.

*To read the piece I wrote about this year’s birthday weekend getaway, and why I am posting it four months late, see: No Mom Is An Island

No Mom Is An Island

Poolside 5/28/18

Poolside 5/28/18

For the fifth year in a row, I went away alone for my birthday weekend. It’s my ritual, and usually, my saving grace. In previous years upon my return, I have felt renewed, light, free, and more connected to myself as a woman, rather than exclusively a wife and mother. Traditionally, I have written about my thoughts and feelings after these getaways, having done so three times before in 2014, 2016, and 2017. I didn’t write about my 2015 trip; I’m not sure why.

As for this year, I am having a hard time finding something positive to say about it. I honestly would chuck it and not write about it this year, leaving it to fade into my past and memory, if only I hadn’t begun the habit of documenting these annual trips in writing. I’m sure no one else would miss it if I didn’t write about it; but I would be disappointed if I didn’t at least try.

I felt like escaping more this time than ever before, wanting to head out somewhere that wasn't necessarily going to be better, but was going to be at least a relief from that which I wanted to get away. Since 2014, I had spent my birthday weekend each year in Orange County, staying in either Newport Beach or Costa Mesa, seeing various people down there and experiencing various situations that made memories, changed perspectives, and left indelible marks on me.

Should I go to the OC again this year, just out of tradition? Why? I had been contemplating this for weeks, not sure if there was anything left for me there after four years in a row. It seemed some people had moved on, and other people had moved away, and I pondered what my motivation would be this year, going back to the same place. Living and breathing in my current, resigned reality, I couldn’t find any excitement for it, any good reason to rehash the past or try to replicate what I had experienced over the last few years. I needed a new reason to go there this time, and I just didn’t have one.

So I asked myself what I’d like to do instead. What would be the thing I would want most, in experience rather than in people or material gifts? The idea that instantly popped into my head was Hamilton. I had missed seeing the musical when it came to Los Angeles last winter, so I wondered if there was any possible way I could go somewhere for my birthday to see it; that is, short of flying to New York to experience it on Broadway, which was not in the (monetary or time) budget.

Maybe if it was somewhere close enough to California, I could go there, finally see the show, and have a change of birthday venue. It was a long shot, but I did a quick Google search to see if Hamilton was still touring the US; and if so, where they would be during my birthday weekend… just to rule out my farfetched, pipe dream of seeing it.

To my surprise, the company was in the western United States, and not only were they going to be in California for my birthday, but in Orange County, playing a limited run from May 8th-28th at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts - in Costa Mesa. I couldn’t believe it. I had my new reason to go back there… down to the area where I not only attended college and earned my degree almost twenty five years ago, but where I discovered many truths about myself, my soul, my loves, and my life over the last four years of birthday getaways.

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I bought a single ticket to the matinee performance of Hamilton, snagging a seat in the center orchestra near the front, for the afternoon of my birthday, Saturday, May 26th. I booked my hotel, then proceeded to make zero plans to see anyone in the area I had previously seen for my birthday in the past.

This was intentional, as I needed to free myself from the confines of what usually transpires: A long massage, meeting a friend for a chat over lunch, dinner or drinks, getting a glimpse into my alternate reality on the other side of a sliding door - the life I might have lived had I settled in the area after graduating from the University of California, Irvine.

Sounds crazy, I know, now that I write it… passing up on a massage! Weird, but I just needed a change. This year, I was determined to break free from my set routine, and Hamilton was just the experience that I thought would do that.

Before I left, my eleven-year-old daughter was upset with me for going. She laid the guilt trip on thick, as she couldn’t believe I was going to leave her alone to be “ganged up on” in a house full of male influence and energy… namely, her seven-year-old brother and her dad. Neither of them were the picture of sensitivity and empathy in her view, at this drama-filled stage of her tween angst life.

I’ll admit, this made me want to leave town even more. I needed a break from parenting, and from my kids, who relied so much on me to be their emotional safety net. By design, my birthday weekend had become the most significant stretch of time for me to have a respite from the draining demands of motherhood and my life in general; and I couldn’t get away fast enough, or long enough. However, drama, angst, and life still seemed to find me that weekend, as I would soon find out.

I drove down in massive Memorial Day holiday weekend traffic, but still made an early check in at the Westin South Coast Plaza, next door to the theater where I was going to see Hamilton. After dropping my bags and changing into running gear, I headed to UC Irvine for a run around the tree lined park that lies in the center of the campus. It’s always a little strange for me to return to my alma mater, but when I’m in the area, I don’t seem to be able to skip a visit there.

After my trip down my collegiate memory lane, and a nice hot shower, I spent the evening cocooning in king size comfort alone and reading. I have shared my reverence for hotel beds many times before in my birthday posts, and reading a book for hours tucked away in one is a getaway tradition I happily kept in the repertoire. I read for hours that night and the following morning, trying to get through as much of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography that I could before seeing the show. I maybe read a third of it before showtime, but it didn’t matter; the musical Hamilton was otherworldly. I can’t go any further on that topic because I will get off track and this will turn into a long exaltation on it’s brilliance; so I’ll just say it was the best piece of art I have seen or heard, ever.

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In contrast, I saw a non-musical, two-act stage play at the South Coast Repertory theater the following night. Despite what seemed to be a miscasting of the lead actress, the play was enjoyable, and I was grateful to meet up with my husband’s cousin to accompany me to it. We shared a Chilean sea bass dinner at the nautical Water Grill restaurant adjacent to my hotel before the show, and I was treated to a birthday dessert with a candle upon which to wish. Oh, what a wish.

The following night, I saw I Feel Pretty at the movies; and I liked the film for its commentary on inner beauty and female self-worth.

I was grateful for the opportunity to see and hear three forms of art, music, drama, and comedy on stage and screen for those three days in a row; as those three theatrical performances were the highlights of my trip.

It would have been great if the theatrics had remained inside those three theaters that weekend; but it didn’t. Although I began my trip hopeful to have a relaxed, autonomous existence and trouble-free weekend, that dream was short-lived. During the first 24 hours away, I received texts and calls that forced me to confront issues I was hoping I would be free of that weekend… they were communications from people I love, but ones from which I was trying to take a break. Contact that interrupted my peace and solitude, and that reminded me of my love and anger, desire and hope, hurt and loss… contact that reminded me that I was still a woman who was not indeed free of the confines of her existence, still in a challenging marriage, and still a mother.

I found myself unable to bask in the autonomy and solitude as I had done previous years on this weekend, or see and experience people on my own terms. Failing to be immune from complicated issues infiltrating my vacation left me feeling like I hadn’t gone anywhere or taken a break from anything. No matter how mesmerizing Hamilton was or how lost I got in that show (or how much I wanted to go back to that theater day and night to watch its awe inspiring cast of characters sing and perform)… I was me, and my life was it, and there was no escape.

No mom is an island.

I had turned 46. It is not old, but it is not exactly young. I feel younger inside than I am in biological years, and I have come to discover this reality is common for many at my age; and further that it shocks the hell out of most people when they get here. It shocked me, and truthfully, kind of depressed me. Being an adult and growing older are not things most of us revel in. It is a transition we all have to make, and one we can't avoid or delay, no matter how hard some of us try.

As teenagers, we naively anticipate adulthood, as we see the impending perks of age as isolated “adult” prizes: independence, autonomy, freedom from parental limits on our behaviors, eating what we want, and staying up as late as we want. Spending money as we wish. Having sex whenever and with whomever we want. Having successful (possibly ego-driven) careers. Drinking alcohol and going bar and club hopping. Enjoying all those luxuries and irresponsibilities that we crave when we are naive, immature and primarily selfish kids posing as young adults who think they know themselves and what the world is all about.

But once we settle into adulthood, and have lived here for some years, we realize we didn't know why the hell we were so excited. The sentiment, “Can’t Adult Today,” is printed on a t-shirt my sister gave me, and that pretty much sums it up. Sometimes being an adult sucks. Sometimes doing the right or responsible thing is no fun, and sometimes our desires - to break the rules and live like we have no allegiance to anyone but ourselves - get the best of us. Sometimes we get a harsh reality check that forces us to reign it in and accept we aren’t islands… we aren’t, never were, and never will be autonomous beings.

What we do deeply affects others. Our actions, or inactions, hurt people. Our habits, our words, and our behaviors shape our relationships with one another; and whether we want the responsibility or not, what we do and what we say, and to whom, has a profound affect on them. It affects their lives, and in turn it affects ours, as well as many others’ lives in our world, and exponentially in the world at large.

No mom (or man, woman or child) is an island, not even if she claims to be one for a birthday weekend getaway during which she expects to be self-indulgent and pampered. Instead, life infiltrates, issues bombard, and people come into the fray uninvited to force her out of her fantasy world of problem-free bliss.

No mom is an island, especially when she is called upon to comfort her crying child on the phone, for what seems like an eternity, on her birthday night, instead of enjoying room service, an in-room, on-demand movie, and a bubble bath.

No mom is an island, when she realizes the uninterrupted peace that she desired for a few days could only be claimed at the cost of others’ tender needs… that is, if she ignored those needs and went ahead and claimed her peace. (She didn’t.)

No mom is an island, when she rises up to the responsibility of her life, instead of fighting it, to comfort, console, and put her child’s needs before her own wants, no matter how much it may frustrate or disappoint her in the moment, and no matter how sad it makes her for a little bit afterward… as she wishes things were different, but doesn’t know how to make it so.

This is not hero behavior. I am not claiming it to be that. This is what a mom does. A mom who loves and comforts, whether she feels strong enough to handle it or not. A selfless mom who sometimes gives too much, at the detriment of herself. A selfish woman who sometimes takes too much, at the detriment of her family. A flawed human who resents, and suffers, and regrets, out of weakness and poor choices and from her own wounds and limitations.

But all is not lost. Sometimes this mom finds a way to gather strength from the kind souls surrounding her, who don’t abandon her in the most challenging of times. Sometimes she finds inspiration in the feats of adversity she sees others accomplish.

And sometimes she is able to summon the last vestiges of courage inside herself… to cultivate gratitude for what is right and good, to learn acceptance for what is not the way she wishes it would be, to find peace for what will never be again, and to raise hope for what is possible in the future.

She may not be an island, but she is a piece of a continent that is beautiful, and one that is worth keeping together.

She (me) has also adopted a more realistic goal of existing as a peninsula of that continent, instead of an island, next year for her (my) sixth birthday weekend getaway in 2019. ❤️

No man is an island,
Entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were:
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were.

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

No Man is an Island - a poem by John Donne, 1623

POSTSCRIPT: I began writing this piece in June after my birthday weekend trip at the end of May. I was not feeling completely optimistic at the time; and what I had written reflected that. When it wasn’t shaping up to be anything worthy of sharing, I abandoned it altogether. I never shy away from sharing hard truths when I write; but I also don’t like to just spew negativity and offer it up to my readers as some sort of self-indulgent, pity party.

I began writing a poem instead, thinking that might come out better, or at least more entertaining to read. (I was determined to write something to honor my tradition of birthday weekend posts.) But the poem wasn’t any more positive; so I just left it be, and figured it wasn’t going to happen this year.

Then I had a shitty summer, in which I was faced with some new challenges that occupied most of my waking time, having to do with relationships, business and personal, both mine and other family members. Phone calls, emails, and lawyer meetings consumed my life, as I struggled to be a good parent and somehow give my kids some semblance of a summer vacation.

The stakes were life-altering high, and the little down time I had consisted of sleep, commiserating with my sister on the day’s events that she was going through with me, wine drinking, and binge watching British baking shows, Queer Eye, and other Netflix originals… anything to take my mind off the stresses of the day. Regretfully, energy for physical exercise and mind space for creative writing was at an all-time low.

Since then, although things are not completely resolved, the load has been lightened and shifts have been made, enough to get on with the writing (and physical fitness) part of my life. I have much to do, pounds to lose, a lot to write, things to heal, people to love, and help to give. I am (still) blessed to live this imperfectly charmed life in perceived paradise, and for me to try to claim otherwise would be fallacious and wholly ungrateful.

The culprits behind the challenges I was facing consist of a laundry list of the usual suspects: parenting woes, hormonal imbalance, and marital conflict. The origins and details of these challenges are just as important as the shifts that have been made since then, and I plan to write about them in the future. There are important lessons I have learned that may help others, especially women (and the men or women who love them) who deal with any severe level of hormonal imbalance issues.

As my sister would say, “To make a long story endless…” When I revisited both this piece of writing and the poem months later, I was able to finish both. Trying to find a positive note to end them was easier now, at what seems like a lifetime later, but the hopeful ends don’t conceal the victim-y, self indulgent negativity that fueled the beginnings of them written back in June.

They aren’t my proudest examples of writing, or living; but the negativity and sorrow in them document what I was feeling at the time, and that’s an important part of my journey as a writer and a human, if not for anyone but me.

My birthday poem is entitled Forty Six. You can read it here.

That One's Life

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My kids are at the center of my world. Not as they were when they were babies - when they had to be for their mere survival - but rather because, intrinsically, they point me to my greatest purpose.

They are the catalyst to every good or hard decision or change that I make. They rely on me to make sense of their world, and look to me to show them how to live a good life. They are so affected by my attitude and how I live my own life that they show me every day, through their behavior and in the way they receive my love and show me love, what I am doing well and where I need to improve.

There is always so much to improve upon. More than I wish. The daunting responsibility of raising them, although challenging and overwhelming, is more important than anything. I want to give them my best self, yet I fail to do so, so very often.

Still... Wanting to do my best for them doesn’t mean I need to sacrifice myself or my own fulfillment of wishes and dreams. I have done that too many times in the past to good short term results and negative long term ones, paying dearly for what I’ve given up in happiness and well being. I’ve decided I’m not going to do that anymore.

There’s no black and white answer to any of this. I perpetually live in gray areas. Parenthood is a never-ending balancing act that is so hard to master, and an easy one to give up trying to balance.

Many people either completely sacrifice themselves for their kids to the detriment of their own identity, or they put themselves first and roll the dice on how their kids will turn out or eel about them later. I think we all wish to fall somewhere in between these extremes.

I strive to do better for them, and for myself, as far as honoring their needs, while still honoring my own... honoring who I am, what I love, what makes me feel healthiest and most alive, and how I can use my gifts to contribute to the world.

It’s out of these choices that one’s life materializes. That one’s life finds its path in both parenthood and individuality. That one’s life reaches its fullest potential and has its strongest impact. That one’s life defies the odds, winds its way through its challenges, and travels the journey that was meant for it all along.

#lifesjourney #findyourpath

*Originally posted to Instagram and Facebook

Fleeting Beauty

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I sat alone on the beach tonight at sunset, before I went for a run, looking out at this.

It only appeared exactly like this for a matter of minutes before growing dimmer, duller, and eventually darkening into night.

It was like looking at a stunning piece of art in a museum, only to have it morph and change before your eyes.

There is so much beauty in this world that is fleeting; yet, even if it goes away, the affect it has on you sustains and the memory of it remains, so it can never be lost.

#malibusunset #zumabeach

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Happiness is Being Croatian

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This is me, my older sister and brother, and our mother at our ranch before leaving home for a school picnic, circa 1977. Yes, we are all wearing matching “HAPPINESS IS BEING CROATIAN” t-shirts, written in big, bold, blue letters. My dad and mom were used to being in the spotlight, so I guess they thought we wouldn’t mind it either; however, it was hard garnering attention for something about which people didn’t even understand or know existed.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, the largest suburb of the melting pot that is Los Angeles, California, I was often asked what I “was”... what mix of blood and ancestry could I claim proudly while chatting about such worldly topics on the elementary school playground at recess. The other kids would boast about their combinations of Italian, Irish, Spanish, German, Mexican or English... declaring, “I’m 50% English and 50% Irish,” or “I’m half Italian and half German.” When asked what combo I was, I would timidly answer, “I’m 100% Croatian,” to definite looks of bewilderment.

“What is that?”
“It’s what all four of my grandparents and my parents are.“
“What country is that from?”
“Yugoslavia.”

This answer did not enlighten them further on the topic; they just looked at me funny.

They had no idea what or where Yugoslavia was.

The Croatian people fought for and won their independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, and more Americans learned about this small nation on the coast of the Adriatic Sea through the news of its war and victory. When their basketball team competed in the 1992 Olympic Games for the gold against the USA “Dream Team,” Croatia was in the spotlight on the world stage of sports; and I was able to share I was Croatian without confusing people.

Over the past few weeks, my half Croatian kids and I have been watching Croatia on another world stage of sports, as their Hrvatski nogometni savez (Croatian Football Federation) soccer team have been dominating the FIFA World Cup, yelling at the TV and jumping up and down each time Croatia scored or won a match. I can’t wait to watch them take on France in the World Cup finals on Sunday, as this 100% Croatian American gal will be watching and yelling and jumping up and down once again for Croatia. ⚽️

#fifaworldcup2018 #croatiasoccer

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Purr Purr...

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Three months away from turning eight years old, and my son still takes the liberty of crawling onto my lap to cuddle whenever his heart desires.

He likes to nestle in and rub his face on mine, his mop of hair blinding and tickling, while he says “purr purr” like a kitten looking for pets.

He’s heavy and cumbersome, invades my personal space, and periodically checks me with his flailing limbs, unaware of his size, and unfettered by the fact that he is no longer a baby or toddler.

And yet... these displays of love and affection compose the air I breathe and give me life when life is trying to suffocate me with challenges and heartbreak.

His raspy voice uttering “purr purr” is the sweetest and most life affirming sound in my ears these days; and my gratitude for him and his love knows no bounds. 🙏⚓️💙

#sometimesyoujustneedacuddle #breakfromlife #staycation

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Failure is Success if We Learn from It

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Another hot tea inspiration for ya... “Failure is success if we learn from it.”

We can’t expect to grow and evolve if we don’t fail and learn from our mistakes. Consider your life a success if you have already learned this lesson; but if you haven’t, know that there is still time to adopt this viewpoint, forgive yourself for your failures, and learn the lessons they are there to teach.

I myself have been learning a lot of lessons lately. Sometimes it takes a few times to make the same mistake before the lesson is clear and we are willing and able to integrate it inside us. We are only ready to accept certain realities when we are ready... there is no rushing the process. Sometimes we convince ourselves and others that we accept things, while still secretly holding onto a grain of hope that things will turn around somehow and finally go the way we wish.

In the past, I have seen this kind of acceptance as giving up hope. This is a tough one for me, as Hope is my anchor ⚓️, my North Star. Losing hope was the ultimate failure in my past view, so I had often tried to hang onto it when I really should have let it go. When we continue to hang onto hope in situations that clearly don’t warrant it, it can be seen as a form of insanity. As it has been defined, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

I feel more sane now than I have in years. By accepting what I had not been able to let go of previously, along with changing my attitude, perspective, and actions, I have seen different, better and healthier results. This does not mean I am getting what I want; as I certainly am not. It just means that I am finally ready and able to accept the reality that I am not getting what I want. That I have made peace with the loss of hope in certain things, and have replaced dashed hopes with new hopes, new goals, and new expectations for different results. Only time will tell how it will play out; but regardless of the outcome, I know I am already a success. ☕️

#hotteainspiration #teatagwisdom

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Relax into the Moment

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My kids were playing ping pong in front of James Perse this evening while a nice breeze swept through the Malibu Lumber Yard courtyard. The building loomed over the ping pong table to keep it in perpetual shade; so I moved away from watching their game in order to sit in the sun to warm up. I sank into the soft cushions, closed my eyes, listened to their faint laughter in the distance, and felt the heat of the sun’s rays warming my face and body. I relaxed into the moment, seizing a few minutes to quiet my mind.

I have so much to integrate from this past week, after my birthday getaway alone, and have been tuning in to what I feel, what I want to reflect upon, and what I want to express, as I prepare to write about my trip (as is my tradition each year). So it was a gift to open my eyes and look up at the blue sky to see the beauty and simplicity of this view... a welcome break from the physical, mental and emotional stimulation of a long day of softball games and Malibu Little League closing ceremonies.

My daughter played amazing today, a double header in the hot sun, catching three hard hits into the infield to make three crucial outs, two of which she caught while she was pitcher, running and diving to catch them like a pro. She was named MVP of her team for the season, will play in two post season tournaments, and was recognized at the closing ceremony for scoring five home runs this season. Her accomplishments are hers alone of which to be proud... I am simply honored to bear witness to these milestones in her life.

I was an artist not an athlete as a child, so this culture is new to me and very different from piano recitals and dance shows. Her drive and perseverance to play and excel in these team sports starting with “s” (softball, soccer, swimming) is awe inspiring; and it’s a testament to all of our lives really being our own for the crafting. She is her own person, and I love that she is following her passions.

Whatever influence I may have over her other interests (creative writing, reading, playing an instrument), it is still her journey to forge her own path for a life that she will lead on her own terms.✨

#lookup

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now...

Standing in front of my university’s library right now, and memories are rushing back.

I walked in and out of this place for the three and half years it took me to earn my Bachelor’s Degree in Film Studies in the School of Humanities here at the University of California Irvine.

I spent countless hours in this building, studying for tests in Statistics and Spanish, researching and writing my film term papers. I remember so clearly walking the paved circle of this campus... young, shy, bright, often anti-social, a bit insecure when it came to my status of social acceptance, yet confident about my academics, my skill for writing, and my knowledge of film theory and history.

This library was one of my safe havens... my main refuge away from the scary and awkward world of youth, college life, infatuation, fraternity boys with hormones on overdrive, and sorority girl drama and competition. It was exciting, terrifying, exhilarating, and dreadful, all at the same time.

All I can think right now is, if I only knew then what I know now...

#everybodysaysthat #hindsight #25yearslater #classof1994 #fifthannualbirthdayweekendaway

*Originally published on Instagram and Facebook

So Much of Her is in Me

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So much of her is in me. So many ways I am, and things I do, stem from her. She was thoughtful and creative, with an open, vulnerable heart and a vast artistic sensibility.

She was editor of her high school and university yearbooks, and earned her degree in journalism. She was a proficient photographer and writer, and had a talent for piecing words and images together to create a visual narrative of people and moments in time.

I grew up watching her create. Whether it was drawing, painting, writing, taking photos, decorating a room, designing an invitation, or planning an event, I experienced how she used her gifts to enrich the lives of those around her.

She brought me into this world and gave of herself more than anyone else in my life; and she left this world with so much more to give.

Although I think of her often and miss what could have been - how she could have enhanced my life as a mother, and how her energy could have contributed to the lives of my children - I honor her on Mother’s Day, and every day, by sharing my own gifts... those I feel have been passed on to me through her love, her example, and her presence in my life, both while she was alive, and now that she is gone.

When I create - when I tell a story through words and images - I do so because she was my mother.

#mothersday #missyoumom

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Three Monkeys

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My heart, joy, heartache, destiny, and purpose, all wrapped up in a little boy. Cocooned in my bed today with a 101 degree temperature and a tummy ache, he wished something would come up and out of him to give his tummy relief. No luck. An easy patient, he was calm and quiet, almost peaceful, and didn’t complain at all about feeling yucky. It was unexpected, since his older sister has the opposite demeanor when she is sick. Comfort came to him today in the form of cuddles with me, books read, movies watched, and naps taken... but most of all, in his three 🐵 monkeys.

His bedtime companions since he was two years old, they are three identical monkey heads on soft security blanket bodies. Why three? He actually started with one that I would switch out to wash, with a spare for the car; but he got hip to my deception and demanded to keep all three at once. And so it has been, for the last 3 years or so.

Today, monkeys were in their usual spot, gathered up together and clutched in his arm like a bouquet of flowers. He dubbed these best friends “rockstars” early on, but now he simply refers to them as “monkeys.” They have priority over anyone and anything in the house; and even when enjoying warm cuddles from me (one of his favorite pastimes), he may demand I move my face a bit so I don’t breathe on them. 😷 The nurturing and gentle care he shows these precious companions speaks volumes. He is a special soul.

While cuddling with him today, his body hot from fever and weak from starving it, I felt a surge of emotion, as the back of his head rested on my mouth and chin. My eyes welled up, and I acknowledged silently to myself that there was no place I would rather be, and nothing I would rather be doing in that moment. An overwhelming sense of contentment and gratitude washed over me, and I felt as lucky as monkeys to be enveloped in his love.

#threemonkeys

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Becoming You: From Tragic to Transformative

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Thirteen years ago, I had a dream job, dream husband, and dream lifestyle by the sea. Happiness was on the rise, and its expected trajectory was limitless. I was living a perfectly charmed life, despite mild insecurity and self-doubt; and the formula I had created for it centered around pronounced wellness... in health, fitness, discipline of mind and body, and professional success.

I ran three miles five times a week. I practiced yoga. I worked long hours, but was rewarded for it in title and salary. I drank green smoothies, ate vegan meals, and consumed eight glasses of water each day. I wore a size 0. I had overcome a dysfunctional childhood, suffered career failures, and let go of unfulfilling relationships. I lived in an impeccably choreographed external reality, while my internal footing was not completely solid. I fought for the life I wanted, and created the best version of it I could. I felt happy. I thought if my life could just remain stable and secure long enough, then maybe I could feel a deeper sense of happiness and belonging in my soul, down to my core.

But it didn't stay that way. I was laid off my job, got unexpectedly pregnant, and tragically lost my mother, all within the span of a year and a half. This eruption of unexpected losses and unplanned detours blew up my life, triggering unconscious wounds and undesirable outcomes. Life's curve balls were thrown so fast, and from so many directions, that there was no time to brace for disaster. They invaded my intentionally crafted existence and destroyed what I had worked so hard to craft.

Now, not only was my mom gone, but my life, as I knew it, was over. I felt left behind and tossed aside by the world. This world, which I thought had promised me a good life, had lied and reneged on its promise. My baby was born amid my crippling grief. Postpartum depression, marital disillusionment, and a monumental identity crisis soon joined in; and together, these life altering states of being uncovered a minefield of hidden wounds within me, and ignited deep emotional pain, debilitating me.

I naively thought I had paid my dues of difficulties early in life, and that this was supposed to be my time to shine. It was my turn to have a happy life. One full of joy and love. One in which I felt that I belonged, and was wanted and needed. How I always dreamed. But it was not going the way I hoped and expected. I had lost the dream. I was angry and sad. I was no longer the me I wanted to be. My neatly landscaped life was now a messy, damaged life... one chosen for me, rather than by me.

Through sheer will and stubbornness, I hastily rebuilt myself and attempted to regain control of my life. I was a mother now, but also a motherless daughter. I kept mostly intact for years, and even thrived in short, temporary bouts... in motherhood, marriage, and fitness. But my proven formula of wellness, and the method of healthy functioning I previously used before the fallout, was no match for my unresolved wounding. My life appeared put together enough from the outside (again); but inside, insecurity, hurt, and fear were emerging from the shadows. They began to eclipse the happiness I had cultivated out of tragedy, and I couldn't sustain it. Compelled to remove the masks of coping and posturing, all too common in adulthood, I exposed the dark underbelly of my sadness and perceived inadequacy, and faced it.

By my own resolve, I was forced to grow.

This kind of personal growth is distinct from the growing we do as children, which doesn't take our conscious effort. Our new bodies, ripe with possibility, develop beyond our control and without our deliberate intention. Our minds, clean slates ready to be written on like new blackboards with fresh pieces of white chalk, soak up life’s experiences like sponges. Before our physiques are done developing, our young minds and hearts begin to fill with experiences... ones that elicit hope, hurt, conceptions and conclusions. For most of us, the development of our emotional intelligence is hijacked by wounding, in its many forms, encouraging a climate of managing and minimizing to take over while a regimen of denying feelings and numbing pain sets in.

The depth of hurt and vulnerability that's inside us by the time we are adults often remains buried and unexplored, sometimes for a lifetime; unless we are compelled to dig deep and break through to the other side of pain. Loss is most often the catalyst to this unearthing, as was the case for me. Although I had been an introspective student of yoga and soul centered living for years, this was different. More confronting. I realized that emotional, spiritual and whole body wellness could no longer be a surface goal, or merely a healthy or trendy lifestyle choice. Exercise, smoothies, and meditation weren't gonna do it alone. No more glossy top coats to conceal the flaws or slurry to cover up the cracks. I needed to jackhammer that shit up, down to the foundation... to the core of my soul. I had to confront my wounding, look my pain dead in the eye, and rescue myself from its clutches.

I am still under this personal and intimate reconstruction, and expect to be indefinitely. I have learned and healed so much, yet I have so much more to discover and integrate within. I love and fear the process; but mostly, I am grateful for the insight I have gained and the perseverance I have found inside myself to stay curious, courageous, and keep healing, growing and evolving.

I have concluded that if we don't commit to doing this healing, growing and evolving bit, we are at risk of staying stuck in a version of ourselves that we've outgrown, but insist on squeezing into...  just like that tight pair of jeans we claim still fit, but require us to lie down and suck in to zip them up. Being stuck in those old, shrunken selves stifles joy, impedes our potential for true belonging, and immobilizes us from moving about our lives freely with comfort and purpose.

It is possible for personal growth and evolution to be intentional and self-motivated as well, rather than spurred on by loss or misfortune. It could be inspired by a desire for a more fulfilling existence and a deeper understanding of one's place in humankind, or it can be spurred on by the discomfort of trying to fit into those ill-fitting, played out denims.

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Whether prompted by life changing challenges or by curiosity about what exists beyond our self-imposed limits, growth happens when we open ourselves up to the possibility of exploring, healing, and becoming who we truly are. Becoming more kind, compassionate, and empathetic to ourselves and others. Becoming whole and wise and open and vulnerable. Becoming who we were meant to be, before we began to tailor and fabricate a version of ourselves to present to the world for self-preservation.

Becoming you is the single most important thing you can do in this life.

From tragic to transformative, only you have the power to make your life what you want, out of what you have. All that is required to establish strong roots and grow magnificent wings is to accept the invitation to find what authentically grounds you, and to cultivate the strength and courage to let it fly free into the wonderful wilderness of this world.

It's all inside of you... it's inside all of us.

 

POSTSCRIPT: As a strong adherent of my writing, Dr. Jennifer Johnston-Jones, founder of Roots & Wings Personal Growth and Family Excellence, a non-profit organization established in Malibu, asked me to write an article for the premiere issue of their wellness magazine.
Although they shifted gears and ultimately decided not to publish the magazine, I had already finished the article. This is it, reconstructed and edited a bit for posting here.
Roots & Wings' mission is to transform individuals and families into their best selves through parent education, personal growth coaching, child development, and school educational programs. For more information, visit www.rootsnwings.org.

These Feet

Rough start today. First day back to school after a two week spring break. Kids. Moods. Attitudes. No more explanation needed.

After they left for school with my husband, the house was quiet and peaceful again. Hallelujah. I needed to just sit for a minute. Breathe. Regroup. I lied on my bed, checked my email, read an article or two, recited some positive affirmations, and did a few mind centering exercises to collect myself before tackling the day. I have an article to post today, and some writing to finish up on another piece I want to get out this week. So many ideas in my head, things I want to explore, share, open up about, and connect on with all of you. 🙏

Before rising, I noticed the light streaming in from the window, right onto my feet in front of me. It’s as if they were put in the spotlight for me to notice them. So I thought about it... How often do we consciously appreciate the parts of our body that do so much of the heavy lifting for us, but rarely get the love and care that other less productive, but more aesthetically pleasing, parts get?

These feet have taken me on so many lifesaving, therapeutic runs, climbed hills on the toughest and most beautiful of hikes, grounded me in hundreds of renewing yoga poses, walked me gracefully down the aisle at my wedding, kept me steady carrying babies and toddlers everywhere for years, and held me up as I stood at the podium giving mother’s eulogy. I am grateful for my feet. For the mobility they grant me, the solid connection to the Earth 🌏 they give me, and the foundation they provide me to stand tall and strong... even in the face of a moody eleven year old.
👣

#thesefeet

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

We Are Not Our Faces

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We are not our faces. Our physical beauty. Our smooth skin. Our flowing hair. Our yoga poses.

Our professional accomplishments. Our bank accounts. Our cars. Our houses. Our jewels. Our reputable names.

Our extra pounds around the middle. Our gray hairs. Our dark circles. Our wrinkles.

Our shame. Our guilt. Our hurt. Our regrets. Our failures. Our vices. Our self images, distorted through other people’s lenses, tarnished when fallen short of lofty expectations. We are none of these.

These attributes and circumstances do not define us. It may feel like they do, because they have shaped and molded us into who we identify ourselves to be today; and we present these selves to the world (flaunting or concealing parts) for others to weigh in... to decide our worth or our level of acceptability.

But we aren’t these things in our core. In any way that truly matters. No, instead, we are our strength. Our vulnerability. Our kindness. Our courage. Our perseverance. Our empathy. Our hope. Our compassion. Our humanity. Our love. Our resistance to letting all that other sh*t define us.

#internationalwomensday2018

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Even in Australia

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It’s #nationalreadacrossamericaday, so books are on my mind; which, truthfully, is no different from any other day. 📖 I recently color coded my library, with inspiration from my sister’s 🌈 rainbow book display... these are just two of several shelves in my house filled with books curated over many years.

The oldest in my collection is the big red coffee table book on the far left entitled “The Movies.” It was my mom’s and sat on a shelf in the den of my childhood home for as long as I can remember. Having it here makes me happy and feel connected to her, reminding me of our shared passion for film.

But today, when I think about the book that meant the most to me as a child, I could think of no other than “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. I grabbed it from my kids’ bookshelf in their room & added it to my library here for a moment, since I no longer have my childhood copy.

After I birthed my first child, this was the first hardcover book I purchased for my nursery library of cloth and board books. It was my favorite as a child because it taught me that it was okay to have feelings... to have MY feelings, ANY feelings I felt, no matter what anyone else said. That it was normal to feel yucky sometimes and that every day didn’t have to be picture perfect, chronicling a childhood of a chronically smiling (often fake smiling) girl.

Expectations to be cordial, well behaved and “good” dominated my childhood, and any feelings of anger or sadness were rarely accepted or validated. The pressure to present a groomed and shiny exterior, for the purpose of preserving my father’s celebrity and professional reputation, was overwhelming for me, and it didn’t leave much room for normal childhood fears and angst.

I related to Alexander and his desire to get away and move to Australia. I related to his feeling of being invisible and finding life unfair and unbalanced sometimes. This book helped me be ok with being the real me, big feelings and all, and that was transformative.✨💫

*I also wrote about this book in Some Days Are Like That

#booksaremagic #readacrossamerica

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

The Greatest Thing You'll Ever Learn

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“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” - Eden Ahbez, Nature Boy

Happy Valentine’s Day to my husband... 18 years of love, laughs, loss, and life together, yet it feels like we’ve just begun our journey. I love you.

#valentinesday2018 #natureboy

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook