Friday, December 27, 2013

the important stuff

Mein bruder.

It's about time for another trip to Goodwill. Old clothes I never wear, cups and mugs from the back of the cabinet that never make it into the rotation, books I've never read and never will read — they've all gotta go. I came to realize years ago, after, for lack of better terminology, my shit rainstorm, how cleansing it is to get rid of stuff I no longer need. You know that feeling you get when you've cleaned out your purse or your car and life seems wonderful and uncomplicated? After a good stuff-cleansing I am my purse with no trace of already-been-chewed chewing gum wrapped in a napkin that wiggles its way out of the napkin and sticks to everything else. I am clean and organized and know exactly where my keys are. This philosophy's become my credo in recent years — part of the collected works that comprise my own personal wisdom. I'm in dire need of that Goodwill purge right now, and bonus: another soul on the planet might actually benefit from all that stuff. Win win.

Switching subjects: It's the holidays and I miss my brother! When he was literally on his deathbed in the hospice facility ten years ago, a nurse asked me if we were twins. I hadn't thought of it before that moment, but yes, for all intent and purposes we were — only 14 months apart in age and allies from day one. But I'm currently angry at myself, not for a lack of love for him, but because I seem to have undergone a diminishing of brain cells with passing years and many of the details of my life and times with that wonderful person are fading, I'm ashamed to say. Thank God for small reminders, especially at this time of year, including but not limited to The Carpenters, Andy Williams, and Charlie Brown Christmas albums.

Here's where stuff is important — and I'm gonna sound like a really old person here. Every framed or digital photo that reflects my brother's face is a memory to treasure. As is a VHS video of both of us yucking it up in a paddleboat at the lake behind our parents' old house — coincidentally, at Christmastime. His old transistor radio collection I inherited. See's candy,  Starbursts, and Baby Ruth bars. Old cassette tapes containing our voices as children. Charmin toilet paper (there's a story). His book "1,000 Questions Every Home Buyer Should Ask" (he'd always lived in rented apartments), and old yearbook from Jr. High on which he graffiti'd  the word prison after the title, i.e. "El Rancho Junior High School Prison" (I keep it on the bookshelf for easy reference!). His Cuisinart pot/pan set. Ornaments on the Christmas tree. Just random things. 

I own  a few expensive luxuries — fine crystal, jewelry, and the like — but none compare to the everyday items that scream precious memories of my lost loves. (My dad is equally missed this time of year and merits his own blog entry!) Those little trinkets mean the world to me!

Speaking of stuff:  Stuff That Works-Guy Clark

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sarah Jarosz - "1,000 Things"

So many of the things I once deemed so important don't matter to me in the least anymore.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

party of one

I've completely lost it. Unless you call sitting at my computer at 6:00 a.m. watching a Gilbert 'O Sullivan video — and liking it — normal. I am well aware how miserable a statement like "I am lonely and also a little bit bored" would make me sound, so I'm not using it as the topic sentence to this blog entry (doh!). OK, it's true. But I have a wonderful friend who's helped me through my boredom and solitude. Just this morning we shared a nostalgic trip to the 70s via Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now," Paul Davis's "I Go Crazy," and other clips he suggested for me because I brought up the above referenced video. We do that. I'll come up with a random but inspired idea and he'll make it even better, taking me in directions I didn't even know existed.

He introduced me to Facebook, which is either the greatest invention or the biggest time-waster of the 21st century. I can't decide. I was leary of the whole thing at first, but soon ventured out and posted material I found mildly entertaining. I got some glorious feedback and experienced highs one can only attain through the intense positive reinforcement of an all-audience standing ovation after your mediocre performance in the high school talent show. (*This never happened.) After years of Facebook bliss  I can now admit it's an addiction for which I probably would benefit from a 12-step program. Damn Mr. Webb for ever introducing me to it!

Sure, I'm thrilled when the hilarious Tina Fey quote I post as my status merits 19 likes, but equally devastated when my recommended "They Might Be Giants" video renders a big fat zero. Am I the only one who thinks dancing vegetables are cool? What a loser, my Facebook audience screams through their lack of attention. Seriously, does my daughter's former fourth grade teacher really need to know I'm on a "Big Bang Theory" kick? I wake up some mornings with a virtual (haha virtual) hangover deeply regretting the previous night's Facebook bender. Unless, of course, a good amount of my 203 friends make it known they also have big love in their hearts for Wallowitz .. then I'm thrilled beyond belief!

When you are among the lonely perusing Facebook you totally appreciate cultivating relationships with some really great people you might not otherwise have the opportunity get to know. Who knew, for example, my coworker from a few years ago was so incredibly supportive and cool AND and Elvis Costello fan? Of course, to open a dialog via Facebook you first must put something out there, or at the very least, comment on what someone else has shared — and face the likely possibility that no one will "like" your stuff, which translates in your mind to no one "liking" you. Those dancing vegetables are the bane of my existence!

Another distraction introduced to me by Mr. Webb is the wonderful world of blogging. You're probably not surprised to hear I have a blog (duh, you're reading it right now!) — actually four — the unifying topic of all of them being yours truly. Are my blog entries incredibly self-serving and pathetic or quality gems that others can relate to? I like to think the latter, although if I get no feedback at all I'm once again convinced of my total loser status.

Well, I suppose, like many of my past relationships, Mr. Webb has brought both good and bad into my life. (
I'm not even going to mention Spotify, Yahoo, blogs I follow, celebrity Twitter feeds, online shopping, etc. etc. ... except that I just did!)  It's time to face them all head-on and decide where to go from here. I honestly would like to read a book or start up a craft project, maybe even drag out the old sewing machine, but where in the world would I find the time?

Maybe it's time to break it off completely. I mean, really, are the copious hours I'm spending on this relationship really the best use of my time and talents? No! And yes. Oh, who am I kidding? I have it bad for the guy. In my heart of hearts I really do want the wedding ring, ceremony, the whole nine yards. Obsessive love is such a bitch.

Friday, September 20, 2013


“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” 
― John Muir, Our National Parks

*photo by Melissa

Sunday, August 25, 2013

german bedtime stories

"Struwwelpeter" describes a boy who does not groom himself properly and is consequently unpopular.

For some reason I woke up this morning thinking of the German bedtime stories my parents read us when we were kids. Along with "The House at Pooh Corner," we were periodically read tales from Dr. Heinrich Hoffman's "Der Struwwelpeter," a work of literature I'm certain has long since been banned by concerned parents groups in every corner of the globe. The book contains graphically-illustrated stories about children who misbehave and the horrible consequences they reap in doing so. Like the bratty kid who is mean to others, including his own dog, who retaliates by attacking the boy; the child who won't eat anything on his plate and eventually dies of starvation; and the little girl who plays with matches, catches herself on fire — and burns to death. The protagonist Struwwelpeter (pictured on the book's cover) appears a gruesome looking beast — a result of his refusal to attend to the rituals of his own grooming. And my personal unfavorite: a thumb-sucking boy is attacked by a scary joker-looking guy who slices the boy's thumb off with a pair of scissors (a thumb-sucker myself, this was especially horrifying!). Most of the naughty children in this book end up dying as a result of their naughtiness. That these nightmarish stories and images are still in my brain is a wonder, as I never read this book to my own children, for obvious reasons.

Yet my German mother and American father thought it important to retell (in English translation) the stories of Struwwelpeter to us when we were kids. My mom's parents read them to her when she was little, and for some reason my dad, God bless him, was also on board. Believe it or not, the collective hours these disturbing tales were read at our bedside are some of the happiest memories of my childhood. I love them so much. 

I'm pretty sure my brother and sister would both agree we were not traumatized by their telling — we recognized their absurdity and understood this was pretty far out stuff. In contrast to the horror we viewed on the pages, the rhyming prose was lilting — even soothing. I especially remember the stories read in my father's comforting tenor voice. We totally understood the underlying messages  and what our parents were teaching us through each little drama: If you are unkind; if you fail to treat other people and your parents with respect; if you don't take care of yourself; if you are reckless in your actions — there will be consequences. Probably the most important life lessons parents can teach their children. 

Perhaps the reason these books are heavy on my mind lately is that my own children are currently approaching their lives as adults. Whatever lessons their father and I taught them when they were young are pretty much set in stone, and to my sheer gratification, both have made excellent choices in their lives to this point in time. The other night I had a "date" with my son at a nice restaurant. He  thanked me, not only for the gourmet meal, but also for NOT handing everything to him on a silver platter when he was growing up. He's living on his own and financially supporting himself through college, and although money is always tight, he's quite proud of himself for doing so. My children grew up knowing about boundaries and consequences. Like if you misbehave at a store we are leaving that store, and so on. Every now and then I had to say "that is not acceptable." No need to spank or lecture; they understood. Where did I get this stuff? I'd have to say Struwwelpeter was a large contributor.

I am by no means a perfect parent. I have stumbled and corrected and stumbled again and corrected again too many times to count. But the older I get and the more knowledge I acquire I see more and more human behavior, both locally and globally, I absolutely deplore: Selfishness, greed, dishonesty, laziness, disloyalty, disrespect, spitefulness ... The list goes on and on. Parents make their children the center of the universe and as a result of little or no boundaries they grow up believing they're just that. What can be done about the roots of evil that have plagued societies for centuries and by every indication are likely to exist for centuries to come? You gotta love the Germans, who offered the world a simple answer in the mid-nineteenth century through this book and others like it: Nip them. Nip them in the bud.

"Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar" (The Story of the Soup-Kaspar) begins as Kaspar, a healthy, strong boy, proclaims that he will no longer eat his soup. Over the next five days he wastes away and dies.

In "Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp" (The Story of the Fidgety Philip), a boy who won't sit still at dinner accidentally knocks all of the food onto the floor, to his parents' great displeasure.

In "Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug" (The Dreadful Story of the Matches), a girl plays with matches and burns to death.

In "Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich" (The Story of Bad Frederick), a violent boy terrorizes animals and people. Eventually he is bitten by a dog, who goes on to eat the boy's sausage while he is bedridden.

In "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher" (The Story of the Thumb-Sucker), a mother warns her son not to suck his thumbs. However, when she goes out of the house he resumes his thumb sucking, until a roving tailor appears and cuts off his thumbs with giant scissors.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

the little jabs hurt the most

I adore my parents and feel I grew up in an incredibly loving home. My dad was a generous, gregarious soul with a quick wit, a heart of gold, and an ability to laugh at himself that was so endearing! He adored my mom and our little family of five and went out of his way to show us that love, often with grand gestures — like taking my mom to Germany on a regular basis to see her family there; he knew it was important to her. My parents met on a cruise ship — yes, the Love Boat — and fell hard for each other from day one. I liked to think of theirs as a storybook romance, and wanted exactly that for myself someday.

For many years, I thought I had one. I was married to a man who said I Love You at least five times a day and always made sure I had freshly cut flowers in the house (from the garden he himself tended). He once had an exquisite cross necklace from Tiffany delivered to me (it was not my birthday or even a holiday) —  a beautiful, meaningful gift neatly wrapped in that little baby blue box every woman dreams of receiving, complete with note that  read, "all my love." He renovated a portion of our garage into a jacuzzi spa room that was to be my oasis from a hard day's work and surprised me with its unveiling on Christmas Eve. All proof positive of an enduring love that would last a lifetime. Really long story short: It wasn't to be.

While all of the wonderful occurances mentioned above — and hundreds more like them — actually happened, my "head-in-clouds" view of love and romance failed to allow for any of the little jabs I may or may not have endured during the course of said relationship and others like it. Like being laughed at for breaking a wine glass while washing dishes, mildly lectured for failing to vacuum ALL of the dust from the floorboards, looked at in a weird way that nonverbally screams "Really? You're going to choose THAT outfit?" And worse: "Because you arranged for your sister to arrive on the very week I scheduled my vacation, I  cancelled the appointment I made for you to get your teeth whitened. Which, by the way, I was going to pay for." For many years, and in more than one serious relationship, I'd chosen to sweep all of these things under the carpet as though they didn't exist. After all, they were really just little things, and you're supposed to forgive, right? Problem is, like all food particles left unattended on the floor, that shit increases in mass and rots and festers and creates anger, not to mention resentment. Eggshell walking becomes a way of life and you get quite used to it. And, if I'm truly forced to remove my blinders here, the exact kind of stuff I witnessed in my parents' "storybook romance" during my formative years. Add a little alcohol and verbal abuse from their backgrounds to the mix and you can begin to see where much of this stuff comes from.

Why did I put up with any of it my own relationships? I'm smart. I took a women's studies course in college. I know why the "caged bird sings"! Yeah, I don't really know the answer, but I'm sure it has a lot to do with my own upbringing. Also, people, men in this case, are not "black and white" in their behavior. Wonderful, fabulous people can say some really mean things (often cleverly disguised as humor, by the way). Let's face it: we're all pretty much the result of our DNA and whatever parenting model we're dealt. Some of us learn by example not to love ourselves, and instead of dealing with that cold, hard fact we project our self-hatred onto anyone who's close enough to reap the fallout. And if we're on the receiving end, we pretty much take every negative sling and arrow thrown our way as God-honest truth. "Why DO I break so many wine glasses? He's right, I must be a total idiot!!!" This stuff runs so deep we don't even know we're doing it. 

But I have learned this and am happy to share it with any young person I know, particularly 17-year-old girls. That shit's not OK. If you are ever made to feel stupid or powerless or that you're not as good as the man in your life, get out — before you've invested so much in it that you can't. This goes for friendships too. Make kindness your credo in your life and your relationships and surround yourself with people who do the same. (Contrary to popular belief, they're out there in abundance!) Master this concept early in your life, because I guarantee you, it's the most important thing you will ever learn. Don't allow for negativity of any kind (including those "innocent" little jabs), and if you see it in yourself, get help and learn to love and forgive yourself. Only then will you be fully able to offer — and receive — the unconditional, kind-hearted love you deserve.

You do deserve it, by the way. 

Postscript: I've finally found the love of my life and have enjoyed more than four of the happiest years  with him. He would never utter an unkind word and directs his anger at his sports teams instead of me. Life is grand.

* Photo by Melissa Mathieson

Saturday, June 8, 2013

the art of doing absolutely nothing for a day

"Elaine Dancing," viewed multiple times is a super productive time-waster

In all honesty, I have achieved a few things:

1. Updated Facebook status. Checked page approximately 750 times throughout day.
2. Cleaned grout with toothbrush in 1/12 of kitchen. Began task with great enthusiasm but was distracted by anything more entertaining. Later scolded self for failing to scrub house from floor to ceiling as planned.
3. Binge watched four full episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Praised self for great taste in TV comedy.
4. Considered going to library to return three videos. Opted to save 3-minute drive and renew online. Incurred $3 in overdue fees.
5. Scratched initial plan for in-home screening of the two previous films in Richard Linkletter's "Before Sunset" trilogy. Admittedly an excuse not to get in my car and go anywhere, like, for instance, the video rental store.
6. Took a nap.
7. Consumed countless Trader Joe's Ultimate Vanilla Wafers, a Little Debbie Swiss Roll 2-pack, and anything else lacking nutritional value in pantry/fridge.
8. Googled dad's name and spent an hour trying to find new pics or info on him online — to no avail.
9. Read a couple of really good blog posts: What Marriage Means and The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going to Miss Almost Everything.
10. Assembled a "big salad" for dinner. Applaluded self for innovating the addition of sauteed onions.
11. Searched Youtube for Seinfeld's "big Salad" episode (where Elaine asks George to deliver her a big salad from the diner).
12. Viewed "Elaine Dancing" on Youtube.
13, Contemplated the following: my children's milestones, good friendships, which Trader Joe's white wine I truly prefer, whether or not I should cancel DirecTV and subscribe to Netflix, upcoming travel plans, what the hell I did with a great book I wanted to loan my boy, finances.
14. Perused DVR cue for a good movie to watch tonight. Going with this one. If I can get through it, it  might just be the most productive thing I've done all day. (UPDATE: I don't recommend this movie!)
15. Created this blog entry. Decide to publicly post despite likely possibility everyone will think it's totally lame and I have no life.
16. Experienced numbing sensation of ass expansion resulting from 12 hours upon a computer chair.

But it's Saturday and I still have Sunday. SO MUCH to do tomorrow!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

geeking out at the wildflower show

This weekend's "9th Annual Cambria Wildflower Show" features hundreds of local celebrities— aka clippings of fresh wildflowers collected from the Monterey County line to the Morro Bay Estuary, and the Coastal bluffs to the ridge of the Santa Lucia Mountains. I tried to capture some of my favorites here, but, as in all nature, these beauties are best seen in real life.

Plant family name in all caps followed by genus and species, citation (shorthand for name of person who named plant), and common name of plant.

FABACEAE, Pickeringia montana Nut. var. montana — Chaparral Pea

FABACEAE, Lupinus succulentus Koch — Succulent Annual Lupine

ASTERACEAE, Carduus pycnocephalus — Italian Thistle

BORAGINACEAE, Borago officinalis L. — Common Borage

ASTERACEAE, Uropappus lindleyi (D.C.) Nutt — Silver Puffs

ASTERACEAE, Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertner — Milk Thistle

ASTERACEAE, Layia platyglossa (Fisch. & May.) — Tidy-Tips

ASTERACEAE, Helenium puberulum D.C. — Sneezeweed

ASTERACEAE, Gazania longiscapa DC. — Treasure Flower

SCROPHULARIACEAE, Castilleja affinis H. & A. ssp. affinis — Indian Paint Brush

ROSACEAE, Rosa gymnocarpa Nutt. — Wood Rose

ROSACEAE, Fragaria vesca L. — Wood Strawberry

RANUNCULACEAE, Ranunculus californicus Benth — California Buttercups

RANUNCULACEAE, Aquilegia formosa Fisch. — Crimson Columbine

PORTULACACEAE, Calandrinia ciliata (Ruiz, Lopez & Pavon) DC. — Red Maids

POLYGONACEAE, Rumex acetosella L. — Sheep Sorrel

PLUMBAGINACEAE, Limonium sinuatum (L.) Miller — Statice/Thrift

PAPAVERACEAE, Eschscholzia californica — Dune Poppy

ONAGRACEAE, Epilobium ciliatum ssp. watsonii (Barb.) Hoch & Raven — San Francisco Willow Herb

MYRTACEAE, Eucalyptus globulus Labill — Blue Gum

MALVACEAE, Lavatera cretica L. — Cretan Mallow
Introduced: Europe ...

GERANIACEAE, Pelargonium grossularioides (L.) Ait. — Smelly Geranium

GENTIANACEAE, Centaunum davyi (Jeps.) Abrams — Davy's Centaury

GARRYACEAE, Garrya flavescens Wats — Ashy Silk-Tassel

IRIDACEAE, IRis douglasiana Herb. — Douglas Iris

TROPAEOLACEAE, Tropaeolum majus L. — Nasturtium

TAMARICACEAE, Tamarix parviflora DC. — Small Flowered Tamasisk

STERCULIACEAE, Fremontondendron californicum (Torrey) Cov. ssp. obispoense (Eastw.) Munz — Flannel Bush

ASTERACEAE, Cirsium occidentale var. compacta Hoover — Compact Cobweb Thistle

ASTERACEAE, Centaurea cyanus L — Bachelor's Button/Cornflower

DRYOPTERIDACEAE, Polystichum minitum (Kaulf.) Presl — Giant Sword Fern

EQUISETACEAE, Equisetum telmateia Ehrh. ssp braunii (Milde) R. L. Hauke — Giant Horsetail

Sunday, April 14, 2013

smartly happy

A walk in the woods on a fresh spring morning, waking my daughter with a tight squeeze, a really cool song on the i-pod, and the high school drama production packed full of emotion-triggering performances — just a few random samplings of joys I've experienced of late. How is it that I often race through life failing to notice the magnificence of moments like these?

Newtown. Boston. So horrible — and vivid reminders that my time on earth is all too fragile and temporary. Who cares if I don't make deadline at the office? I'm currently blessed with a beautiful, magnificent (am I overusing that word?) daughter with whom I have the pleasure of watching American Idol two nights a week! How cool is that? Says God.

Some people seem quite adept at ruining our God-given paradise, but they are troubled and largely outnumbered by those who honestly seek good over evil. Truth is, life is most awesome— including the hard times, because they most efficiently put life lessons into our thick skulls! I have emerged my little trip to hell and back with the invaluable blessings of 1) being able to say "I've been there" to someone in a similar circumstance, and 2) recognizing the simple joys in life when they come my way. Nature walks are most important in affirming No. 2.

Wisdom and beauty are wonderful things.