Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jazzy Tuesday

Canyon HS Vocal Ensemble circa 1982

Lately I've been entertaining a horrible thought: What if I'm the girl in the choir who really thinks she can sing but in reality is the most off-key vocalist in the group? I struggle daily with this line of thinking.

But I take comfort in the fact that I have excellent taste in music. No, really. And tonight, I'm feelin' a little jazzy. Check out these selections and tell me these aren't some of the coolest jazz vocalists ever. I know I'm old. And you're welcome!

Joe W.

Anita O'Day


Betty Carter



Louis & Keely

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bed & Breakfast

One of the things I love most about my German family is being the recipient of genuine European hospitality. It's amazing to know someone's spent so much time and effort just to make you feel at home. Such was the case at a recent overnight trip to my Tante Ulla's house — everything presented with thoughtful attention to detail and a touch of loving kindness. The only thing better than indulging in all of this is creating it for someone else — a tradition well worth passing on to my own children.

My beautiful hostess

Treats in my room

Oh the garden!

Almost too pretty to eat

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Promise

Written over a year ago ...

I took a few days off of work this week. Mainly to “spend time” with Cliffie and Melissa, who are on spring break. However, Melissa has a 3-day long church campout, and Cliffie wanted to watch reruns of Flight of the Conchords and play video games with his friend Adam. Teenagers. So I got a rare day to myself – and it was wonderful. Slept in, read a good book, visited a girlfriend, then went to San Simeon beach to read some more and took a nice hike up the cove.

God speaks to me during these quiet moments. I looked down and noticed the caterpillars mingled with the broken branches and fallen Eucalyptus leaves. Lots and lots of caterpillars – so many it was hard not to step on one. In due time they’ll become the gorgeous Monarchs that descend on this area en masse, making the cove even more spectacular if that’s possible. A small example of God’s grand schedule, which is always perfectly timed.

I decided to veer from the usual trail and cut across to the other side of the cove. The thin trail that guided me for a while broke with a fallen tree and didn’t reappear. So I trudged through the grass — offroading it. Maybe this was a mistake, I thought, as I climbed through the foliage and fallen trees with no end in sight. I reached the other side to what I hoped would be a promising peak at the ocean — never get to see this side since it’s not on the main trail. I ducked under the branches and through the little hole leading to the viewpoint. What I saw brought me to tears. It was that lovely. Big waves crashing on a clear black table of rock with ridges, amber sand cliffs, purple daisies and flowering ice plant. And a subtle ocean spray almost kissing me. I sat for a while and cried at the sheer beauty of it. My gift today, for sure.

Caterpillars and butterflies, days and nights, new growth on broken trees — all expertly timed according to a precise, divine schedule. Can’t help selfishly plugging my own bits and pieces into this line of thought. I want to get better, feel less sadness, live happily ever after. Now. In other areas I want to turn back the clock. But I come here and am reminded: God's timing, not mine.  Cliffie’s 15 and starting to drive — becoming a man before my very eyes. Tall, dark, and cute with ocean blue eyes. Same dazzling smile as when he was a baby. His thoughts and ideas are complex, sometimes way out there. He continues to amaze me daily (on the order of that ocean scene I shared in previous paragraph). Also, he understands and appreciates good comedy. I now have someone to watch Will Farrell movies with. 

I believe it to be true that the more pain you’ve suffered in your life the more you appreciate the little gifts God gives you along the way. I just think you notice them more, maybe because you’re still expecting bad stuff to come your way – and when good things come instead you can hardly believe it. For me, everything seemed to hit the fan about five years ago. Marriage, brother, dad — all gone in a little over a year. And to make matters worse I had to give up the only two treasures I had left every other weekend to my lousy ex and that wicked witch that tore our family apart (and her own, incidentally). I sat in church one Sunday without the kids, unable to control my feelings of despair and helplessness. I had no idea what was going on with them, but I was sure they were being horribly abused and there was nothing I could do about it. With this experience now part of their backgrounds they would grow up crack addicts or teen parents for sure. Then God spoke to me. (Here's where it gets cheesy, you're thinking ... bear with me.) So loud and clear I’m sure the rest of the congregation heard it too. “Don’t worry. They will be OK. I’ll be taking care of them.” Oh yeah. You’re God. I didn’t have to carry the burden — at all. So I let it go right then and there and things have gone surprisingly better for me from that moment on. A promise.

What I didn’t know then is that that promise would continue to be fulfilled in droves as Cliffie and Melissa have grown. They’ve been blessed with great mentors, teachers, friends, friends’ parents, experiences. Hell, even their dad and his side of the family have stepped up to the plate most of the time. And when it seemed like family might have failed them, others stepped in to fill the void. To us, this little town is family. When the kids walk into town I know they’ll be safe because our friends who manage the shops and drive the streets are watching out for them. And not only are they OK and being taken care of, but they are also growing into happy, amazing human beings. I’m convinced they will go on to do wonderful things with their lives. God means business when he makes a promise. I don’t doubt it for a second.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Garden: The good, the bad, and the ugly



Stand tall, future sunflowers...

Really hoping lots of yellow flowers = lots of cherry tomatoes!

First gardening success: heathy cilantro!

Come on basil, you can do it!

Things are looking hopeful!

Front yard: newly landscaped!

It took about a month for the hummingbirds to realize it was here. They discovered it, apparently.

The neighbor's orchids. I can dream, can't I?

The most thoughtful guy in the world brought me this lovely table on which to rest my morning book and coffee.


Pulling for Mr. Cucumber & buddy. Pretty crappy soil and hungry insects to overcome. But I believe they'll prevail against the odds.


Damn raccoons.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Over the Rainbow

I was destined to be a world traveler. My mom, born and raised in post-war Germany, grew up roaming the Black Forest and vacationing in Paris. And my American-born dad was one of the great globe-trotters of all-time. As assistant press secretary/advance man for President Nixon, he orchestrated history making events in just about every major world city (and some not so major), including Nixon's monumental China trip. He and my mom brought home stories and treasures from foreign lands they visited — places we could only dream of — although we were fortunate to see a few of them as kids. We literally grew up on airplanes. I'm not talking TWA — but Air Force Two (the presidential press plane) itself, where we traveled along with my parents to Germany — and Disney World — with the likes of Diane Sawyer, Dan Rather, and White House staffers who were like family to us.

So when it came time for me to start making my major life decisions — post college, early 20s — I seriously considered that life of travel and adventure. I had a college degree and a contact or two to enable me to pursue the dream — and dad had some good buddies working on the George Bush (Senior) campaign. I went to DC, met with some very nice folks, and the deal was sealed — an unpaid internship. If Bush became President I'd be working in the White House, and a life of jetting from country-to-country would be all but mine!

But I met a guy. I was in love. He lived in Pasadena. He proposed marriage the day I returned from my DC interview — and I had a big decision to make. After much deliberation, and the fact that dad told me I really didn't HAVE to do this, I chose the guy. When you are in your early 20s and in love, it tends to take precedence over everything else.

My brother Tim (pictured above at about three on said airplane), as it turned out, became our family's next generation world traveler. He joined the Air Force after high school (we were so NOT a military family), and traded with a guy to be stationed in West Germany. He became fluent in German, forged relationships with my mom's side of the family there, and lived out his own adventures in Europe and beyond. Sadly, he left us early in his life, but we all take comfort in the fact that he indeed had his share of travel and adventure.

But I took another road. And it's becoming more than evident that world traveling is not in my "life script." I am a mother of two living in a small town, and my oh so wonderful husband decided I wasn't oh so wonderful — and left. Regrets? Yes. And no. I experience deep pangs when I realize I may never experience the wonders of Greece, or Paris, or Florence. But my children are everything to me, and the fact that they know I believe they'll do amazing things with their lives gives sense and purpose to my own. I sometimes catch myself saying I wouldn't have chosen any of this — but in fact, I did. Exactly how it is right now. Pretty much ALL my choice.

In my brother's last days he and I had a couple of deep conversations. Those life and death talks you hope you'll never have to have with anyone — much less your kid brother/best friend. His big regret was that he wasn't a father, and clearly never would be. He wondered if he'd have been a good one. I assured him he would have been the best. Also that I admired him for being bold enough to actually live out his dreams — the exciting life of travel and adventure I denied myself with a couple of lame choices I made in my early 20s. Well, maybe not so lame. When we both looked back, neither of us would have chosen different paths, but a part both of us really wanted what the other one had.

If I'm ever lucky enough to travel to Europe again, or any foreign land for that matter,  I'll certainly take him with me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Wrote this a year ago. Still rings true ... especially around this time of year. 
I did manage to get to one end-of-the-year awards ceremony — Santa Lucia Jr. High. They don’t tell you if your child’s receiving an award at this school — so last year I didn’t go and my daughter was honored — another moment from the Kirsten Hall of Shame. So after inadvertently blowing off my son's awards ceremony last week I made sure to take time off and was there with bells on this morning. My girl said she’d at least be receiving the perfect attendance award. What mom wouldn’t fully support that?

I’m sitting among parents whose children are receiving awards in band, math, science, language, history, PE … but not one for my baby girl. Not entirely her fault. Her friend is an exceptional student and swept every category. My daughter did indeed receive the attendance award (along with about 100 other students they called up to the front individually — it was an excruciatingly long ceremony!) Then it happened. They announced the honor roll students … Oh yeah, she did make honor roll the first quarter. So she got to go up. She was beaming. I was happy for her. The friend's mom turned to me and said “Yay!" I gave her two thumbs up and said, “We got one!”

I’d give my daughter 50 awards for her efforts this year. She may not be a straight-A student, but she gives 100 percent and is kind to every soul she meets. I couldn’t be prouder.

Many of my former preschool students were honored (some are in sixth and seventh grade now). I was happy for them. They’re hard workers and really deserve it. And I can’t say I don’t take a little of the credit for giving them their academic start. But my heart goes out to the kids sitting on the bleachers whose names were never called. (That was my boy … always.) To have to sit there for two hours watching everyone else in the school rake in the honors. Who’s to say these kids aren’t just as special or talented as the ones doing exactly what their teachers expect of them? It’s clear the kids on the bleachers don’t fit into the “ideal student” mold — whatever that is. But are they less special? Delinquents? Today’s ceremony didn’t do much to dispel any negative beliefs these kids might have of themselves, did it? Sad, really. I think the opposite of the bleacher kids. These are the ones who will go on to do amazing things … if they know they’re loved and are lucky enough to be inspired.

I don’t think I like awards ceremonies very much.