Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Magic Lives On

(Posted in the O.C. Register-12/20/13)

Christmas through the eyes of children is a magical experience. The perspective changes, however, when your child grows into a suspicious tween who's been getting mixed reports at school, or a full blown teenager who's got it all figured out. In my house it's challenging to manage the various versions of truth and belief circulating within.

My sweet and innocent youngest is beyond excited. He has revised his letter to Santa at least ten times. It's ready for the the mail, but he has some concerns about the reliability of the United States Postal Service.

"Mommy, don't you think Cocoa and Frosty could deliver my very important list to Santa faster than the mailman?" (Cocoa and Frosty are our "Elf-on-the-Shelf" elves.) When I agree to elf-delivery, the light in his eyes is completely contagious.

My middle, on the other hand, is distraught. He has come to tears more than once in the last month. Ever since he watched the movie "Guardians" (a must-see, by the way) with a friend who knew the wiser, he has been teetering on the edge of a painful reality, still frantically hoping the rumors are false.

"I don't want it to be true, mom. I want to still believe in Santa."

Per his request, I have neither confirmed nor denied the big man's existence. But I wish more than anything that I could erase his sadness and recover the lost innocence from this part of his childhood. It's heartbreaking.

My oldest is happily aware. She knows her dad and I are the Santa stand-ins and she's fine with it. In my opinion the rite of passage was perfectly timed. She actually made it to adolescence with her magical belief system completely intact. She even lost all of her baby teeth believing in the tooth-fairy. Lucky her! "Don't worry mom. I'll still pretend for the boys," she assures me.

Don't misunderstand me, our children know that, first and foremost, we celebrate Jesus' birth at Christmas-time. But during this season of transition, when their different beliefs are painfully apparent, I want them to know that Santa is more than just a list-collecting, chimney-hopping, gift-giver. He is a teacher. His job is powerful and real. Santa shows children how to believe in something they cannot see. Children need this ability for all of their lives: to believe in themselves, or in a cause, or in their friends, or in their future. This capacity to believe also extends to immeasurable things such as hope, faith and love.

Even though this year mine is a house divided, when the time comes, I want my children to understand why we waited as long as possible to reveal ourselves as Santa's helpers. Year after year, we delight in their sweet faces, lit with joy, when they discover the presents he's delivered. We are also eternally grateful for the intangible gift that he has given them: the gift to BELIEVE. This gift, after all, will last long into adulthood and one day, they will carry on the tradition of weaving magic and love and hope and joy into the Christmas season for their own children. And so, the magic lives on.

{J}

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It's a Christmas Miracle!

This post is from the whole Hale family. Really. My kids wanted me to share this story and they had lots of ideas of what was important about this post. Writing for the blog is often a family affair. So here goes.

This past weekend, we made several trips to Home Depot. We had barely recovered from our over-indulgent Thanksgiving feast when we catapulted ourselves, along with the rest of South Orange County apparently, into the Christmas craze.

We went to Home Depot for the supplies we needed. Actually, we went six times. And frankly, it was way more crowded than the mall. (I was there too, so I know.) This was the weekend for everyone to get their Christmas on. On one hand, I appreciate that so many people waited until after Thanksgiving to set up for the Christmas holiday, allowing the turkeys their share of the holiday pie. But on the other hand, I didn't appreciate the scores of grumps that I encountered, all worrying about making the right purchases so they could prove how cheerful and "holiday-ish" they were. On the outside: "Look, we're totally in the spirit," and on the inside: "Quick, get that tree before that family gets to it. It's perfect and it's ours!" Charlie Brown would be horrified!

But I digress. Amidst the Christmas chaos and the shopping mayhem, there were still some wonderful people spreading cheer. We met one. Sunday night. Trip #6 to Home Depot. His name was Alan.

Alan overseas the Christmas tree lot at our Home Depot. They experienced record sales this past weekend and sold almost all of the trees. When we were ready for our tree, after church and a yummy JalapeƱos dinner, we sang carols all the way to the lot and guess what? It was closed. Early, on account of them selling all but a few trees. Well, we walked all around the chain linked fence, searching for a way in, but to no avail. And that was very upsetting. To some in our family (ahem, Noah) it was devastating. Particularly because he had been asking to go get our tree every 38 seconds ALL day Sunday.

So when it didn't look like it was going to happen, the crying ensued. At first, it was a sniffle. It soon evolved into a sniffle-whine. Before we made it back around the fence, it was a snotty-wet-sniffle-hiccup-WAIL. No kidding!

Then...here comes Alan. He was wearing an invisible cape and used his super-hero hearing to identify the dreadful noise, making his way to us in order to save the day. You see, he'd seen us walking around the gate looking for a way in. He knew why we were there. And he knew the reason behind the moaning.

"Now I can't send you home like this," he called out to us as he approached.

He looked directly into Noah's glossy eyes as the tears continued to fall. The wailing ceased. Noah wanted to hear what Alan had to say.

"How about we see if we can find you a tree to take home? There aren't a lot to choose from but would you like to take a look?"

Noah, wet-faced and still hiccuping, nodded and wiped his nose. The rest of us nodded too and we were all filled with a rush that felt like equal parts luck and joy, because that's what it feels like when a Christmas miracle actually happens to your whole family! It was awesome!

Alan helped us find the best remaining tree. He gave it a fresh, chainsaw cut to its trunk, packed up some tree nourisher and put that gorgeous tree in the back of our truck. All the while, my children danced around him saying "It's a miracle!" "Thank you SOOO much!" "You're so nice!" "You should get a raise!" "Want to come over for Christmas?" Alan was smiling as much as they were. They were feeding each other joy. It was a beautiful exchange.

Once we paid, Alan handed us the receipt and asked us to do him a favor. Really? We were planning to name our next pet after you, but whatever you want...it's yours!

His request was simple: "Could you go to the Home Depot website and rate your experience today? Feel free to use my name. I'm Alan. I oversee the lot. It's been a long weekend and it would really help me out," he sighed. We agreed to complete the survey and we meant it. (It was the first survey we've ever completed.)

Driving off, the kids continued to squeal about our good fortune meeting Alan, the most thoughtful person we'd met that entire weekend. At the same time, I realized that Alan had probably had some run-ins with the other patrons that I mentioned earlier...the rushed, overwhelmed, cranky, "I-want-what-I-want-and-I'll-fight-you-for-it" type that were out in full force this past weekend. Yes, I can practically guarantee that our friend Alan dealt with customers that were less than kind. Those who didn't get their "perfect" tree because everyone was buying trees at the same time, or those who complained that the lot was understocked or overcrowded or the service was slow. And my fear was that those folks were completing online surveys of their own. It made me sad and grateful for Alan at the same time because despite his "tough" weekend, Alan had shown our family kindness and compassion and holiday cheer. And we were changed by his generosity.

Listen people, spreading joy, regardless of the holidays, is a choice. It's simple, lasting and has a rippling effect. More than anything, our community is in dire need of the simple spreading of joy. Instead of racing around to cross things off your list, make the effort to look up from the list and smile at someone, preferably someone with a scowl. That person needs it more than you know. Instead of merely going through the motions of decorating your house with cheerful lights, set aside some time to rekindle the light in your heart, remember the magic of holidays past, bring that light out and let it shine. You need that more than you know. And instead of focusing on the "bigger and better and newer" that you're told you must have to be happy, take stock in what you already have and share your abundance, be it toys and food, or compassion and grace. The world needs that more than you know.

So, as you find yourselves looking for the perfect gifts to show your loved ones how much you care, think of Alan and remember how simple it is to share that love and kindness and thoughtfulness. It can change the world.

{J}

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Revolution

Thanksgiving is tomorrow! Besides stressing out about how close that means Christmas is, I am thinking about how grateful I am. I need to note here that I am not grateful as OFTEN as I should be. Gratefulness and thanksgiving are not practices that come easily to me. When things are great, sure! Then it's easy. What's not so easy is being thankful and grateful when life happens and dreams are put on hold. When we think that the thing that will change everything for the better is just around the corner and then it never comes. In those moments of fear and frustration, gratefulness is not what shows up first. But shouldn't it? Shouldn't we just feel miraculous that we have a place to live, food to eat, and opportunities each and every day to show others a spirit of joy? I think that is what this Thanksgiving holiday is really all about. Whether or not you have a fancy dining room table with a beautiful centerpiece or you're having KFC right out of the bucket, being thankful for each and every day that we are given by our God and how BIG and AMAZING He is! Living that truth. I am learning to be grateful and thankful for just that. But it's taking practice.

I am also grateful that my family and I will be spending time with great friends all day long! Tomorrow will be about celebrating all kinds of blessings. It will also be, not just about remembering why we are grateful and thankful, but living it OUT LOUD. Kids may have made handprint turkeys with "What I am Thankful for Feathers" and posted them on kitchen refrigerators. Maybe you even have a Thanksgiving Thankful Tree decoration in your home with leaves to write your blessings on. Or maybe your family goes around the table before you eat and has everyone share what they are grateful for. It is a great habit to practice. This season of being grateful for the things we have received and sharing those grateful thoughts with those around us is a reminder to put that practice into action every day.

My family is thankful for the blessing of having a full thanksgiving dinner right at our fingertips. Turkey, pie, potatoes, stuffing and don't forget about green bean casserole. The seemingly unlimited amounts of food that will be baked, roasted, mashed and stuffed on this holiday will be thoroughly enjoyed by us(except for those picky eaters that I live with). But as I was compiling my list for the store this year, I came across a disturbing statistic. One in every six Americans is going hungry this holiday (and every day). In this "land of plenty" that number seems crazy. How is that even possible? Especially when it seems the other five have stuffed themselves and still have leftovers for days? Something isn't adding up. What if this year we all decided to share our bounty? What if we could each buy two turkeys and give one away? What if we bought the ingredients to make a dinner and delivered it to a hotel for homeless families? What if...well, what if we just decided to give more and eat less? A favorite blogger of mine is always reminding her readers that "we belong to each other." How great would it be if we actually started living, day to day, in just that way? We could start a Thanksgiving revolution! What is a revolution all about anyway? It's about change. Our revolution can be about taking care of each other. Let this Thanksgiving be a catalyst to feeling grateful and living it out loud ALL YEAR LONG! Sharing the bounty, no matter how big or small. Acts of generosity bring hope and blessing to others who are yearning for a sign that someone cares, that someone has noticed, and that something is changing. A little kindness plants a seed of hope, and that can go a long way. If we each did something little for someone in need, be it a neighbor or a stranger, who knows what kind of sparks we could ignite. I would love to find out!

This next week, as your making your third or fourth plate of leftovers and thinking how sick of turkey you are, take a second to think of something small you could do for someone else that would make them say "I'm so thankful for that!" Even if your circumstances have left you with only a smile to give to someone else, do it to the best of your ability. A smile can sometimes change someone's day.

So today, tomorrow and the next day, remember to be thankful in all your circumstances (remember it takes practice). Think about something little that you can do to pass some joy on to someone else, and look for things that will help you to LIVE OUT LOUD how grateful you are. The revolution has only just begun! {H}

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Get Over Myself

This morning started like any other day. Alarm going off too early. Dragging myself out of bed to get the kidlets up and going. Coffee. Waffles (um, the frozen kind, let's not get crazy), back packs packed, running in the rain (what? it's WET outside)to get to the car. Walking the dog, quickly so we aren't too drenched. Back home to HGTV and another cup of coffee. Then it was time to start my to-do list. Today was supposed to be about cleaning and writing, but I think I started off on the wrong foot. Maybe I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, or maybe its the very rare rainy day, but my mind drifted to other things and my motivation dried up. I sat too long watching someone else's kitchen get remodeled and their house get decorated for Christmas and the Grinch in me raised its ugly head. I started thinking things like "we don't even HAVE a fireplace so I could decorate the mantle if I wanted to", and "I'm SO SICK AND TIRED of living in 900 square feet with 5 people, 3 of which are getting bigger EVERYDAY! (the other two might be as well but that's another rant). Discontent set in QUICKLY. It was all about ME and how I didn't deserve this!! I deserve to have a cute kitchen! I deserve to have a roaring fire in the fireplace when it's raining! All of these thoughts swirling around in my head and finally landing in me in a pity-party.

I started cleaning. Usually cleaning is my way of mulling over the situation. Whether it's an argument or I'm stressed about work or whatever, something about vacuuming away dirt and dust, and bleaching the heck out of everything puts me in a better frame of mind. This time though, it was only feeding my feelings of entitlement. My bathtubs are EXTREMELY hard to keep clean. They have these tiny ridges in them all along the bottom, for safety I suspect. But in order to get them clean enough I have to soak them in bleach and then scrub like a mad woman. I feel like I've run a marathon afterwards and so I leave it until I can't leave it anymore. So today, as I'm scrubbing away, I'm cursing the bath tubs in my head. Reminding myself how NO ONE ELSE cleans them. How if we lived in a "normal" house, I would have a nice tub with NO F***!@# RIDGES!!! I really worked myself up. By the time I was done, I had moved to a country house somewhere with porcelain tubs and was homeschooling my children so we wouldn't have to wake up early every morning.

I needed something to make me feel better. What usually does the job? Food. I decided I was going to make a batch of brownies and EAT THEM ALL because I would still have time to clean everything up and no one would even know we had brownies in the house. If my kids got home and could smell the left over aroma, I would simply explain it was a new candle I got as I brushed the last of the crumbs off my hands in to the sink. Ha! That would TOTALLY make me feel better!

I made the batch and put them in the oven and then sat down to scroll through FaceBook. What do you think the first thing I read was? An article about committing to others and not ourselves, pushing through selfishness so that we can see what the needs are around us and help to meet those needs. It was titled "Get Over Yourself". God really has a sense of humor.

The next article I saw was about raising kids to feel content in an entitled world.

I am paraphrasing, but this line stood out..."And this combination of (the desire to consume and blurring the line between wants and needs) is creating a generation of children who aren’t grateful, who expect everything to be handed to them and don’t really know how to work and this breeds the greatest enemy of all: discontentment." (Source)

Discontentment was MY ENEMY this morning. Thank goodness the God who loves me NO MATTER WHAT saw fit to ease me out of my tantrum and open my eyes to the battle that I was fighting. Grace. Peace. Love. The frustration and sadness melted away and my soul was soothed.

I have heard that when we are too wrapped up in our own problems, focused on finding a solution, the best thing we can do is help someone else. After reading these articles that were divinely brought, my focus automatically shifted from myself to my kids. It's a rainy day. They probably had to stay in class all day and will come home wet and tired and bring all of the things, good and bad that happened to them home. I will be ready to meet them with a warm brownie and a hug and a lesson in my heart about the things that are important.

Did I still want to eat the whole batch myself? Of course, I mean they are chocolate chip BROWNIES and I am only human. Although the battle of discontentment will continue to wage in me on certain days, I am reminded that I am not fighting it on my own. My human strength is not enough but my God is enough. All I need to do is be open to shifting my focus and to the opportunities that will present themselves. It won't change the fact that I HATE my bath tubs, but it will keep my focus in check and help me to get over myself. {H}

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wait For It...

A few nights ago as I was tucking in my son, he told me about a friend who was harassed by some classmates during lunch that day. He was understandably upset by what he witnessed but that wasn't the only thing that was bothering him. I could see it in his eyes. I could tell by the tone of his voice. It took some work but after a few probing questions, he confided in me that he felt badly because he didn't do anything.

"I wanted to tell the other boys to stop, but I was afraid," he admitted. "And then when I felt like I was brave enough, two other boys already stopped them." His sigh was heavy and I immediately pulled him in for a hug and told him how proud I was of him.

"But mom, I didn't do anything," he reminded me.

"That's okay, buddy. You thought about it and next time, I bet you'll offer help even sooner."

He snuggled in while processing my statement. We continued to talk about the events of the day. He shared with me which boys stood by and which ones stood up. As we chatted, he agreed that noon-duty aides and teachers and principals are all good resources when we see a classmate in need. We also discussed how important it is to have friends that will stand up for you, and we explored ways to find courage to protect our friends and the many ways that such bravery can unfold. It was a great exchange of lessons and ideas.

Now I'm sure some parents may have left out the "I'm-proud-of-you-for-doing-nothing" hug and that's okay. At the moment, I was thinking more "big picture."

I wanted to acknowledge my son's internal conflict and help him let go of the guilt, the heavy regret he felt for not intervening. In actuality, I was thrilled that he had that reaction in the first place because, had he witnessed the argument, done nothing and felt nothing, I'd have bigger concerns.

I also wanted him to know that it was okay to pause, to observe the situation and then think about how to help. Thoughtful evaluation in the face of conflict does not automatically qualify as cowardice. We live in a society that sensationalizes people who are quick to react and who dramatically lash out before thinking. I was pleased that he paused first, even if it was initially influenced by fear.

And I wanted him to know that I'd always be here to listen first, then help him figure things out, that I would always be on his side. If I had scolded him for not acting sooner, if I had shamed him for being afraid, if I had reacted rashly rather than taking a lesson from him, I might just miss any future chances to influence the unfolding of my son's self confidence and to shape his moral compass.

So parents, when your child confides in you in instances such as this, when they are faced with navigating life's hard decisions as they will undoubtedly be, pause and proceed with care. Remember, they're new at all this and they're learning from you. Be open. Listen. Then help.

{J}

Monday, November 18, 2013

This Writing World

Hi everyone! We took a little unscheduled break from the blog but we are in FULL WRITING MODE so get ready to be dazzled! (or not...) Jenn and I have decided that we are attending a writing conference in San Diego at the end of January...so the 1st draft of our book has to be ready to present and PITCH by January 24th!!! I'm having a little anxiety attack thinking about that...

This writing thing/adventure/whirlwind has been a roller coaster of emotions. So happy to be fulfilling a dream, so scared to be rejected and/or ridiculed, so frustrated that there are not enough hours in the day to write all the ideas that flow through my head, so excited when we have a SOLID 4 HOURS of writing time...the list goes on. This adventure has opened up so many opportunities, and introduced us to a whole new world. A world of editing, publishing, agents, marketing, book signings, writing conferences, and maybe most importantly, the authors inside of us. Finding her, that writer that was hidden deep down inside, has been an amazing and challenging experience for me.

I started out as a Journalism major in college. Hated it. Probably should have switched to English but I loved my Psychology teacher so I majored in Psychology. It has been good to me, but I have found my way into a VERY analytical branch of the profession and a few years ago thought I would D-I-E if I didn't find a creative outlet. The God that loves me intervened and I found a great writing group. It opened my eyes to the possibility of being an author. It changed my focus and made something come alive in me.

When Jenn shared with me her passion for writing after a girls' night out, I invited her to the writing group and the rest is history! We have grand plans for writing retreats all over the world, including but not limited to: a cozy cabin in the mountains of Idaho, a beach hide-a-way in Hawaii, and a moss covered, thatch-roofed cottage in England. Can't you just picture that? A low fog laying over the green covered, rolling hills and a roaring fire in the fireplace. Quaint furniture, warm socks and hot tea. Ahhhh....pure love. I can completely visualize this so that means that it will come true one day, right? Right.

So, along with dreams of our hearts, comes the reality of life. Jenn and I are not in our 20's (thank goodness on so many levels) and we do not have the luxury of devoting hours upon hours in a week to our craft. We rarely both have a few free hours on a Saturday to see if we can fit in some writing time or a networking mixer. A week will go by and I realize I have not put pen to paper except to make a grocery list or fill out papers from my children's school. The discouragement sets in and I feel overwhelmed. Why am I even doing this? Who am I fooling? I suck. My head hangs low and my dreams appear unreachable and out of touch. That is why, if I were giving a seminar to young writers, or even to people who want to be writers, I would recommend having a writing partner. Jenn has the ability to, for lack of a better visual, "light a fire under my ass" and get me motivated to believe in myself again. Maybe it's because she finds herself in the same boat and can relate because her feelings are an identical match to mine. Luckily, we are often on opposite schedules of feeling defeat and despair so we are actually helpful to each other. Writer types are very emotional but often don't wear emotions on their sleeves. It simmers, bubbling right beneath the surface and with a little inspiration it will explode out of us and hopefully resonate with our readers. Our lovely readers.

We are so thankful for you! Many of you have taken the time to stop by our favorite writing spot (you all know where!) and given us encouragement or just shared a kind word and let us know that you have actually read what we have written and you LIKED it. What?? Do you even have the slightest inkling of what that means to us? We are giddy. We appreciate you. You keep us going. Even when we (read I) don't write on this blog as much as I should or want to, I think of you out there clicking on our link and reading the stories that I share. It means something. We are creating something, good or bad, and we are taking a risk. Daring to suck! So while you may not love everything printed here in black and white, (or grey and yellow), it represents something for us. We took a chance and we are running with it. We had a spark of an idea and it has developed into a full-fledged blog and that led to the sentences of an idea for a book that we are weeks away from finishing. Thank you for being on this journey with us. We have no idea where it will lead us or how long it will take to get there, but we are full of hope and determination and the dream of our little thatched cottage in the woods. Sometimes that's what it takes. Plus, someone who will light that fire when needed.

We will be posting snippets of our book for your review, but not until we can push the POST button without feeling sick. Please be patient! We love you!

{H&J}

Monday, November 4, 2013

Reflections on 40

Forty. It used to be labeled "Over the Hill." Now, I hear it's the new 30. Well, it begins today for me and I've gotten mixed reviews. I have some friends on the bright, sunny, grass-all-green side of the hill and they look at 40 as though it's some distant, off-in-the-future age. It'll take a long while to get there and they'll be living it up until then.

I also have some friends meandering down the other, shady, more relaxed side of the hill, and they look back at 40 fondly and say to themselves, "Wow...I thought I was old then..."

As I reach the milestone myself, I am blessed to have a few friends climbing to the peak along with me. They are my sisters-in-arms. We lift each other up when the number gets us down. We commiserate over the new aches and pains and moody blues. And together, we are motivated to soften the numerical blow. But we're all asking the same questions: Where did the time go? How did 40 find us so fast?

I've never been fixated on numbers. Age, weight, bank balance, price, social media "likes", etc., number ratings have never been my go-to for measuring value. But when my husband turned 40 a few years ago, it took me by surprise. I wondered how that could be. It felt as though he'd just sprung it on me, like, "Hi honey, I'm home, and by the way, now I'm 40." Really? Did I think that time marched on with no real impact on his age? He didn't seem 16 years older than when we married. And I surely didn't feel that much older.

Now, as I sit on the cusp, I'm equally perplexed that I didn't see it coming...that 40 crept up on me too. Was I in denial? Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn't. Stick with me...I have a theory.

For the last few weeks, I've been reflecting on what 40 really means to me. Looking back at my past laid out, years lined up one after the other, many memories in snapshot form, I'm proud. It's true what they say, that with age comes wisdom, and I'm a whole lot more comfortable about who I am at 40 than when I was figuring things out in my 20's.

Looking ahead at my future, slightly mysterious and undefined, hopeful for another good 40, I'm excited. It's true what they say, that the future starts today, not tomorrow, and not just mine...my entire family has more living ahead of us than behind us.

From this vantage point, I realize that the "Surprise! You're 40!" can only mean one thing: I've been doing it right! All this time...40 years of growing and learning, of navigating the ups and downs, the heartaches and the triumphs, the smooth sailing and the struggling-with-all-my-might...no wonder 40 crept up on me! It doesn't mean that I'm sad or disappointed or in denial. Quite the opposite, in fact. It just means that as the years have passed, I've been too busy living to stop and count.

{J}

(Picture above: Husband hosted an intimate dinner party to celebrate my 40th. With this group of FABULOUS women by my side, the number doesn't seem so bad.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Lesson in Vertigo

(Previously published in the OC Register on 10/11/13)

The world is spinning. Things are floating and moving at unusual speeds. It feels as though a tsunami has hit the coast of California and our house is toppling over and at any moment, I will land on the floor. No, it's not vodka. It's vertigo.

I Have. Vertigo. For the second time in eight years. The first time I had vertigo was one year after I was in a car accident. My daughter was five and we were turning cartwheels and summersaulting all over town. The spinning happened the next morning as I rolled out of bed. The room shifted and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor. Initially diagnosed with an ear infection, I was given antibiotics. When the meds didn't make the spinning stop, I was sent to Dr. J, a gifted Ear, Nose, Throat doctor. He knew what was wrong and promised to fix me.

There are many types and causes of vertigo. A migraine headache or a virus in the inner ear can cause symptoms of vertigo. Luckily, they can be remedied with medication and rest and time. The most common type of vertigo, one that typically afflicts people over 60 or with those who've had head injuries, is called BPPV: Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo in which dislodged crystals travel though the labyrinth of the inner ear and send mixed messages from the vestibular system to the brain. It's what I had eight years ago and what I have now.

The key word is "benign" so we know it's harmless, except for the falling and nausea and inability to function normally. This type of vertigo that is inextricably tied to movement. If I move too fast, I spin. If I flip my hair, things get shaky. If I look up, left or right too quickly, I feel disoriented and faint.

The treatment for BPPV - the Epley Maneuver - is like magic. With a vibrating disc pressed behind my ear, Dr. J shifts my head until the misplaced crystals travel back through the inner ear to where they belong. The treatment induces extensive spinning during which I try not to throw up on Dr. J's shoes. For at least a week, I am required to limit my movement and sleep in a recliner so the crystals stay put. But it's worth it. Once my brain trusts the messages from my vestibular system, the world, my-spinning-twirling-falling-over-world, is set right.

If you ever experience symptoms of vertigo, avoid driving, take things slow and see your doctor right away. For best results, find yourself a Dr. J.

{J}

Update: I'm happy to report that my treatment worked and the spinning has (mostly) ceased. It's amazing that things can go sideways so easily as we get older. On the brink of 40, I'm really feeling my age and it's freaking me out! More on that to come... Happy Fall!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Katie's Story- Part Three

Hi everyone. Those of you are who are our regular readers have seen my previous posts about Katie. This is the third update I'll be sharing. Here is a quick recap for those of you that missed the first two installments. After being diagnosed with Neuroblastoma at age nine, in 2009, Katie fought her way back through many treatments and chemo infusions and beat cancer. In February of this year, scans showed that it had returned. It has been 180 days of more treatments, scans, transfusions and lots of hope and faith.

In June, Katie, her big sister Melanie, and Bob and Mary Kay traveled to University of California, San Francisco so that Katie could undergo five days of radiation treatment for the second time in three months. Her first time was over Spring Break. So many miracles happened on that trip, but the most important was that she was declared NED, or No Evidence of Disease! Everyone, including the doctors, were in shock and awe. It wasn't expected, but miracles rarely are.

Since that fateful scan back in February, Katie has been on a rollercoaster of emotions. Good news and bad news all culminating in her final scans in August that still showed that no cancer was detectible. As such, she was able to travel to Hume Lake for a week with her church group from Crossline. A week of praising God with her friends did wonders for her spirit. She was able to take a two week trip to Maui with her family and her best friend, a wish of hers for a Hawaii summer vacation since being re-diagnosed. There, in paradise, another miracle occurred. The family met a man whose daughter had been through Neuroblastoma treatments three separate times since the age of nine. He was happy to report that she is now living a full life at the age of 32. Another ray of light shining down on them and giving them hope for the future.

Katie was voted ASB president for Ladera Ranch Middle School and is spending her 8th grade year planning activities and heading up committees to make it a year to remember. She will also spend this next year traveling to CHOC hospital in Los Angeles for chemo treatments each and every Tuesday. Her doctors believe that her chances of a healthy future depend on continuing the treatment that has been working so far. She has been chosen to participate in a study of Neuroblastoma and will be receiving a combined treatment of Vorinostat and Accutane. 10 pills in the morning and 3 at night. That story in itself is another miracle. Her parents had been praying for guidance and wisdom concerning the best next course of treatment to pursue. A new doctor that was unaware of the Hawley's history, randomly mentioned a study that a brilliant doctor was forming. The brilliant man he spoke of turned out to be one of Katie's other doctors. Her parents knew that his advice to become part of the study was the right move. Prayer answered.

Katie's school schedule can be revised so she doesn't miss out on important classes and knowing Katie, she won't let herself miss a thing. Her parents are worried that the extensive treatment will make her sick enough to want to miss school but as always, she is encouraging them, assuring them that she will be OK. Tutors are waiting to see if they are needed and teachers are more than willing to work with the family. Her friends have rallied around her once again and proclaimed that this will be the best year ever.

Mary Kay, Katie's mom, relies on prayers from her inner circle and takes it one day at a time. Katie is excited for this year. She is starting volleyball and can't wait to take on her responsibilities as ASB president. When I asked her what she wanted most for this year, she simply said "Straight A's. I really want to focus on my grades. Oh, and no drama." We're behind you all the way Kit Kat. Praying for health, fun and great memories! To follow Katie's story, please visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/katiehawley.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Shame is Unnecessary Sister!

I am painfully aware that I may lose some friends by writing this blog post, at least temporarily. Sure, you'll wave from afar, you'll smile awkwardly as you shoo your children in the other direction, maybe you'll text to ease your conscience, but nonetheless, you will withdraw. I will understand. It will hurt, but I will understand.

And more importantly, I will still be here when you decide it's safe to be my friend, and for your children to hang with my children once again.

Last week, we got lice. Lice. LICE! (Pause for understandable shiver and head scratch.)

I blame the schools or the movie theaters or the barber or the pocket park. But it doesn't change the disgusting and plain truth that my house has recently been infected with lice.

When we discovered this tragedy, I decided we should move. Since that solution wasn't immediately available, I texted my friend. She shall remain nameless in order to protect her family. A fellow survivor, she was very supportive and very informative. When we finished our text stream (highlights below), I got to cleaning. At midnight, in between laundry loads, I consulted the WEB and was assured that contracting lice has nothing to do with hygiene. It said that I am not a dirty person. My kids are not dirty children. (WEB has clearly never picked up said children after a long, sweaty day at school, when they immediately remove their shoes in the car. That smell, sorry, there's only one word for that: DIRTY!) But stinky, sweaty, dirty, end-of-school-day-children have no relation to lice transmission. I checked. So people, we are not generally dirty. The internet says so.

Nonetheless, we did, very recently, have tiny, microscopic bugs crawling in our hair and probably all over the house, and in the cars, and in our beds, and on our multiple seating options and maybe even on our pets (except WEB said that pets can't get lice...oh, ok. They eat fleas and lick their asses clean but they draw the line at lice. Whatever.) So, our pets are the only things here that didn't need to be completely disinfected which, by the way, involves boiling and poison. Oh to be a dog, just for a week. Last week.

So to get rid of lice, you have options. You can pay a service to completely clean your house and your heads. Plan to spend $500 or more, depending on the severity of your case. They will guarantee no lice and even give you a certificate proving that you are uber-clean. (I've heard some private schools require this certification to allow your kids back in if they find a critter crawling on your sweet one's head.) You can also go the organic route with tea tree oil, vinegar, rosemary, mayonnaise, and other environmentally friendly, non-toxic treatment methods. Or, like me, you can go for the heavy stuff: washable and sprayable and practically ingest-able pesticides. Don't worry, I did my research and most of the websites said these are totally safe.

Once we decided our preferred method of de-lousing, like, as soon as we picked the tiny, moving blood-sucker from the scalp, we got to cleaning. EVERYTHING and EVERYONE! The whole family, even those of us that had no creepy critters and did not exhibit any signs of scratching, got treated. We cleaned the whole house. Really, the entire freaking house. Every blanket, sheet, mattress pad, pillowcase, pillow insert, quilt, towel, rug, cushion, stuffed animal, car interior, helmet, backpack, brush, hat, hair band/bow, not to mention every stitch of clothing that we own, was scalded and run through HIGH heat in the dryer. Everything else (including the pets, just for good measure), was sprayed, first with lice-killing poison and then a tea tree oil spray. After all, if we have to deal with lice, at least we can pretend we're at the spa.

I am hopeful we got them all. There weren't very many to begin with and since our treatment, we haven't uncovered any critters. But we will remain diligent and continue our daily family hair-combing time, closely resembling a family of chimps, for another few days. We want to make sure the lice stay away, as much as it's in our power to do so.

If you've ever had lice, I join you in solidarity and am hear to say it's ok. It totally sucks but the shame is unnecessary. Shame should be reserved for intentional and hurtful actions against others, like say, um, I don't know, running away when you hear your good friend has a lice infestation. That's shameful. But the act of catching lice? It's out of your hands. You can't be ashamed of something you can't control. So let it go sister. You don't have to keep this nasty little secret anymore.

And if you haven't had lice yet, don't worry. If you have children who attend school, daycare, the movies, get haircuts or venture outside, EVER, statistically speaking, you will one day get your lice.

But I will TOTALLY support you. I will share with you what worked for us. I will remind you that you didn't do anything wrong and I will assure you that you will get through it...all of it. The cleaning, the combing, the sterilizing, the stressing, the nausea, the paranoia, the repressing, the calling-the-school-and-neighbors and even the forgiving. Because as survivors, we get it...our friends, the ones who are afraid of us and our bugs, are right to be afraid.

But if you're a judging, abandoning-your-friends-in-their-time-of-need type of person, you'll probably get it twice.

{J}

Enjoy the post-lice-discovery text feed. I must warn though, this is rated MATURE due to a few expletives. Come on...I was STRESSED out! And disregard the few typos.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Going Gluten Free

Well, here I am again talking about healthy things and trying to change my ways, namely my ridiculous addiction to SUGAR and BREAD. Two of my favorite things. I love them when I'm happy. I love them when I'm sad. I love them when I'm _____(fill in the blank with any emotion). It's the overall experience of eating them, including the taste and texture, that takes me to my happy place. My happy place also keeps an extra 10 pounds on my hips and tummy, and that takes me to my sad place. So you see my dilemma.

Lately, my sad place has been getting many more visits. Especially in the mornings when I am looking for something to wear. I only have so many black outfits that will cover bulges and lumps and I'm tired of wearing the same thing. I do a lot of laundry! It's tiring. So, being pushed over the edge has brought me to the conclusion that I need to make some significant changes that don't feel significant. Does that make sense? I can't go to over the top or I won't stick with it. I know myself well enough to know that going cold turkey won't work either. It will just make me obsess about all the things I shouldn't have and therefore propel me to run for those exact items and eat them quickly (when no one is looking).

This summer, (bathing suit season seems to motivate me), I kept hearing about a condition called Gluten Sensitivity/Intolerance. Not only did I not like the way I looked in my suit, I was also feeling yucky. In researching, I learned that it's not the same as Celiac Disease which actually breaks down the small intestine. Unlike the devastating effects of Celiac, when people with gluten sensitivity eat gluten and products that contain wheat, they will feel bloated, fatigued, irritable, and may have achy joints and headaches. Also, they may suffer from Borborygmi. Have you heard of that? Neither had I. It's the fancy word for stomach rumbling. If you have this syndrome, you will feel gross after eating, say, a piece of pizza. That is me!

I was curious about why it seems that there are so many people suffering from this in 2013? It turns out, nutritionists believe that it's because of the way products containing wheat flour are processed now-a-days. Before the invention of mass produced items like Wonder Bread in the 1940's, wheat rolls and bread were made by letting dough rise. It took 12-18 hours for this process to be completed. During which, the yeast broke down the gluten part of the wheat so that our bodies could digest it more easily. In order to feed the masses, companies learned how to make bread quickly and the yeast didn't have time to break down the gluten. Gluten is not easily digested by our bodies and for some it causes problems as it builds up in our systems (yuck). So if this sounds like you too, try making your own bread and see what happens. I haven't tried that yet but I'd like to when Fall weather arrives for good (SOON I hope).

Because of what I have learned, I've started thinking more about the food I eat in order to gauge how my body may react. Is the cookie/French bread worth it? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It has definitely changed my outlook. It has also given me a new project. I have slowly been researching and experimenting with gluten free items and here is what I have discovered so far:

It can be very expensive! It's definitely important to try different items to find one that is to your liking but when crackers are $6-$8 a box, it can make it unpleasant to continue eating them if you've found they taste like cardboard. Finding a brand you like and buying things made by that same company is usually the key. Luckily, there are SO many options now, even in restaurants. It takes away the anxiety if you love going out to eat but don't want to feel like you should crawl into bed right after dinner. So, moral of this story: it may take a little more out of your grocery budget for a few months, but your tummy will thank you!

Another issue is getting used to the taste. It can really take some getting used to! Gluten free Bisquick is awesome because its so easy but the pancakes and biscuits do not taste the same. It's not BAD, it's just different. So stick with it...when I made the decision to try this new way of eating, I went out and bought all the baking products I could because I really wanted to make a chocolate chip cookie that tasted the same as the one on the Nestle bag. After MANY tries it finally happened (kind of)! I can now eat a cookie and not feel like I gained 10 pounds of water weight and getting a stomach ache. It's definitely not the same but its not horrible either. Unless, of course, you use a vegetable derivative flour for cookies. Then the after taste is like anchovies. Fish and chocolate don't mix. It's a learning curve people...

The bottom line is that I feel SO much better! I can and do still eat a piece of pizza or a "normal" cookie here and there, but I noticed the difference in how my body reacts so I'm compelled to stay away from it more often. If you feel like this may be an issue for you, try a little test. Stop eating gluten/wheat products for a week and see if it makes you feel better. If so, go a little longer for a detox (a good month is recommended) before slowly introducing some things back into your diet. You may feel, like I did that when you limit those items, your body can tolerate them more easily, and you can eat a bagel for breakfast once a week and feel fine. Going gluten free isn't easy but it can make a huge difference in how you look and feel. Isn't that what our happy place is really all about after all? {H}

Friday, September 20, 2013

Cray-Cray and Letting it Go!

A wise friend recently said to me "Men don't get emotionally connected to the moment like women do," and I thought..."BRILLIANT! Must blog that!" So here I am, demonstrating yet another difference that I've noticed between men and women, or at least between me and my man.

So last night was back to school night for my middle-schooler. She's in 8th grade now. WOW! I still can't entirely wrap my head around my first born, my little girl, lover of all things pink, watcher of Bear and the Big Blue House (I absolutely ADORED Luna! Remember the singing moon, Luna?!?), consumer of salami and cheese like a true Italian, singer of Sara Hickman (and if you don't know who she is, GOOGLE her immediately!), reader of Angelina Ballerina, my baby, finishing primary school.

Sorry...I digress...last night was back to school night and I couldn't make it. And I felt really sad about that. My husband, a teacher at her school, was obviously there but couldn't attend as her "parental representative" because he had to run his own class for the night. He assured me that I shouldn't feel guilty because I was sick. And that I shouldn't be sad because she has many of the same teachers as last year and I went last year so they know I care about her, or at least I did when she was in 7th grade.

Although he was trying to help me feel better, I still couldn't reconcile my harsh, self-imposed pangs of regret. Then he pointed out that, due to my vertigo (that's my illness...PITA vertigo!), I would likely do more damage if I showed up at BTSN, looking like a zombie, trying not to lean to the right or worse, fall over, incapable of carrying on an intelligent conversation and unable to move my head for fear of the awful spinning, and we all know that nodding is the primary mode of communication when you're sitting at your child's desk listening to her teachers talk about all the cool things they're going to learn in the 8th grade. He was right. It was better if I just didn't.

And then, all dressed up in his fancy BTSN suit, my handsome, science-teacher-of-a-husband, kissed me on the forehead, said, "Don't feel bad...let it go," and went off to school. Easy for him to say.

This is the difference between my husband and me. He can intelligently process a situation, find the reason in a decision and move forward, LET IT GO, no big deal. On the other hand, I, too, can intelligently process a situation, but that typically requires me phoning-a-friend, embarking on an extended survey of all factors, and lots of discussion and reassurance. My husband does not have the time, nor the patience, to help me "intelligently process." He says I'm "beating it over the head until it bleeds," and I'm really not entirely sure what he's referring to.

But I do know that we do things differently. We think differently. We process differently. And last night, when our daughter, our so-grown-up 8th-grader was essentially non-represented at her FINAL back to school night of her entire primary school career, I was sad. He was rationale. I had guilt. He thought I was INSANE. I wanted reassurance. He wanted me to let it go. I wanted to process some more. (OK...I see his point about the beating and the blood and all.) He had evaluated the chain of events reasonably. I had connected to the moment - the LAST of all back to school nights - emotionally. And that's the difference.

What it came down to was that I was missing out on a moment, a moment that mattered to me, that I wanted to store for all eternity in my memory, along with all of the other back to school nights. And more importantly, I didn't want her to feel in any way, that she wasn't important. I wasn't as concerned about proving to her teachers that I'm an involved and present parent. I am and I know that. And I wasn't overly worried that I'd miss some critical bit of information. Seriously, I read the School Loop email EVERY day, and her dad works at the school...she's not going to miss anything.

Once I'd processed the disappointment, found its source and replaced it with some good ole' self-assurance, there was only one thing to do before I let it go. I sat down my sweet and spicy 13-year-old and told her how I felt about missing her final back to school night and that I wanted her to know that she was so LOVED, even though I might've been the only parent in all of Ladera Ranch Middle School that didn't show up to back to school night, and finally, that I was so, SO proud of her. Then I gave her a great big hug.

And she hugged me back, a big, I'm-not-too-old-to-hug-my-mom-at-least-in-the-privacy-of-our-own-home hug, giving me an even sweeter memory of her last back to school night. Then she calmly agreed with her father and said I was acting "CRAY-CRAY."

Spinning, CRAY-CRAY, and letting it go. It'll do.

{J}

Sunday, September 8, 2013

'Twas The Night Before School...

'Twas the night before school started and all through the house, 
Not a single child stirred, it was just me and my spouse. 
Our three kids were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of summertime still danced in their heads.

My husband and I, exhausted beyond a doubt,
Had just pulled the wide range of lunch fixings out.
We packed plastic baggies with fresh fruit and snacks,
Filled water bottles and searched for ice packs.

For the next day a new school year would begin,
The thought of the kids back in school made us grin.
We love our children, now don't get me wrong,
But this year our summer was unusually long.

Beach days, star-gazing, camping, and more,
Kayaking, barbecues and friends galore.
'Twas a memorable summer, chalked full of fun,
But after twelve weeks, like most, we were done.

The teachers were needed to make some new rules,
To reign in our wild ones, to retrain these fools!
For seven full hours, they'd teach them cool things,
And inspire them with knowledge that each new day brings.

Math facts, fluency and science were all in store,
Kindness, respect, "best effort" and more.
For seven full hours, they would use their brains,
While we hoped that last year's facts were retained.

The backpacks were ready, not one thing was missed,
Stuffed with the "suggested" supplies from the LIST.
Their outfits were hanging, so fresh and so clean,
Collared shirts for the boys, a new dress for our teen.

We hoped in the morning they'd be alert and lively,
But cute, well-dressed zombies was way more likely.
Our late summer evenings and sleeping past nine,
Made it impossible to get to sleep on time.

Their cranky demeanor surely couldn't last,
A week of early rising would fix them up fast.
The new year was exciting, grades four, five and eight,
And once we adjusted it was sure to be great.

The things of the summer that we'd surely miss:
Playing and late nights and sleeping in -- BLISS!
Things we were ready to put in the past:
Messes and fighting and being harassed.

"Mom, he touched me," and "She took my stuff,"
Or "I'm bored," "I don't want to," and "My life is so rough."
The constant demand for friends, cash and food,
"I swear kids, one more request and I'll come unglued!"

Yes, summer was over and it was a good thing,
We needed a break from all the bickering.
And the kids needed learning, no more TV or Wii,
Tomorrow would start school and a slew of activity.

Which meant for us parents a different type of work,
The lax days of summer replaced with homework.
We'd be needed for chauffeuring, reading logs and more,
Thursday folders, concerts and flash cards galore!

But as we look back on the first weeks of school,
Maybe missing the trips to the beach or the pool.
Or maybe we're dancing cuz they're out of our hair,
Either way, there's one thing that we certainly share.

Come May when we've gotten through standardized tests,
When we're all done with essays and science projects.
We'll longingly look at the year that has past,
And say to ourselves "Summertime...at last!"

{J}

























































Friday, September 6, 2013

Starting Somewhere

Do you have a goal but don't know how to reach it? Is there a bold dream simmering inside just waiting for you to take the first step? Are you unsure where to begin? Well, it's all part of the process, and everyone's process is different. What matters, is that you begin somewhere.

A process is a systematic series of actions or steps taken to achieve an end. But not all processes begin in a systematic manner. In fact, many times, they happen by accident. That's what happened with me and my writing process. And it was the best accident of my life, I might add.

Almost two years ago, my friend Holly joined a writing group. She'd been trying to launch a new writing/blogging venture, praying for guidance and fellowship and encouragement, when she found a beat up piece of paper in her courtyard. It was a flyer advertising a writing club in Ladera Ranch for women looking to find and give life to their narrative voices. As it turns out, the group facilitator had only posted three flyers around town. Kismet!

Like Holly, I'd always written: poems, short stories, personal essays, but I wrote for me, not for general consumption. Like Holly, I'd always felt like I had a story to tell, but I was waiting for a time when my desire to put pen to page would fit in with the rest of my life. (I think I was also waiting for the the wizard to dole out my dose of courage.) And like Holly, I was looking for a sign. Little did I know, it was sitting right in front of me and we'd be joining forces soon.

She invited me to join the group. That's how I became the recipient of Holly's hand-me-down fate. During my second meeting with the group, I read a portion of my new book for feedback and criticism. I was so nervous I thought I would have an anxiety attack right in the middle of chapter one. But I got through almost fifteen pages and I was fueled by the feedback the group provided. So I kept writing. Really writing. I wrote from a place inside me where ideas flourished. I wrote scenes as they played out in my mind. I wrote paragraphs that I didn't recognize when I re-read them. I wrote until the plot firmed up its edges, the edits tightened up the conflict, and the characters became family. I wrote until the words had all been written.

My writing process didn't begin systematically. It wasn't the traditional, outline-draft-edit process, but I got to the series of steps eventually. As I edited, I created a plot line, a character chart and a synopsis. Interestingly, the absence of these things on day one gave me and my story creative freedom and it was better that way.

Almost two years have passed since Holly shared her writing goals with me. In that time, we have researched all things writing, we have started a blog to build our writers' platform, we regularly write columns for the newspaper, and we have refined our writing skills. I have finished my first book (seeking literary representation now) and the series we are co-writing has a strong foundation, in fact, a formal outline spans the wall in my garage, and we are almost done with book one. With thoughtfulness we are implementing a system of actions. Leaving room for creativity, we are taking steps toward our goal. And most of all, we are embracing our writing process, the one that works for us.

So when dreaming and planning and setting those goals, be flexible. Look for the signs, begin somewhere and then embrace your process, whatever shape it may take. I may have stumbled upon my writing endeavor by accident, but my dream, my passion, my process, is anything but. Neither is yours.

{J}

Sunday, August 18, 2013

China Is So Far Away

We have a daughter in China and she came home on Monday. She was gone for two months. We missed her.

Elena has been with our family for three years. She is an international student, living and studying in the United States for high school with the hopes of attending a reputable and rigorous American university before returning to Beijing and starting her career. Her real parents live in Beijing with her maternal grandmother. She is an only child, most of the time. But ten months out of the year, she is the oldest of four and she is very much a part of our family.

Our family has benefited immensely through the experience of hosting an international student. One of the greatest benefits of spending time, especially living with, a person from another country, is being exposed to different cultures and customs of the world. We have learned how to make and appreciate traditional Chinese food, which is very different than what we are used to. Our three children have been introduced to an entirely different level of studying and to the discipline required to achieve an academic goal. And we have been completely humbled as we try to learn the Mandarin language, with all its tonal fluctuations. We are so bad at it, Elena usually ends up rolling on the floor, seriously falling down from laughing so hard. I'm not sure the vulgarity we are muttering but we keep trying. We love to see her laugh.

Additionally, and equally beneficial, is the opportunity to provide American experiences and insight to our culture and way of life, while supporting a young person's journey to better herself or himself. It's outreach in the most fundamental form and in the comfort of your own home. Elena has learned how to make and appreciate traditional American food. She has been exposed to the concept of balance and finding the value of "experiential" education as we drag her away from the books for trips to the beach or neighborhood parties or campouts. While studying new-to-her subjects like U.S. and World History and English Literature, she has refined her English language skills, recognizing and now even using, slang and puns and American conventions.

Lastly, hosting an international student, whether for a semester, a year, or longer, will change lives. It's opening your home and your heart to a new member of the family, one whose differences are gifts, whose experiences are lessons and whose thumbprint will be permanent. We stumbled upon the opportunity to "adopt" Elena via a family friend and we are so happy we had an open mind and got matched with an AMAZING young lady. (Not everyone's stories are the same.) The ultimate reward, the forging of a lifelong and meaningful relationship, has been invaluable.

We love you, Elena. Welcome home!

{J}

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Summer Buzz Kill

I love Target. It's one of those stores that just makes me happy. Things are color-coordinated and perfectly placed. Target makes me believe that even I can be organized and put together. There's no place else that you can take your $12.99 and get that perfect impulse-buy without the guilt. Whether it's a new chevron scarf, a few pairs of frilly panties, a CD or best-selling book...whatever "must-have" it may be, Target has it. Target and I have a great relationship. Or, I thought we did.

Recently, while prepping for my annual camping trip, I roamed the aisles for my s'mores supplies, RV-friendly toilet paper and other various camping necessities. I was taking my time and taking it all in, filling my cart and letting Target work its magic on my mood. I. Was. Happy.

Then I rounded the bulk items aisle and found myself in what looked to be a construction zone. The shelves were bare and the bins were empty. I stopped mid-aisle and wondered what wonderful seasonal items were going to be set out. Maybe patio and garden supplies, or more summer toys, or some other amazing find meant just for me.

All of a sudden, five, red-shirted worker-bees came toward me pushing GIANT carts. I couldn't believe my luck, that I would be able to witness the unfurling of the newest must-haves. As I watched with excited anticipation, I noticed the carts did not carry painted flower pots, matching gardening gloves or watering cans, nor did they carry brightly-colored pool toys or lawn games. No. They were overflowing with little yellow and green boxes. Boxes filled with colored pencils, pens, crayons and water colors. They were stacked high with ruled paper, scissors and glue. They were filled with school supplies. In July!

Oh Target, why did you hurt me so bad? I thought we were friends! I thought you were looking out for me! I thought you knew me! I stood there in disbelief as a wave of nauseousness came over me. Then sadness. Then rage. Really? It's July! We have almost two months until the kids are due back to the blacktop with their shiny new backpacks, clean, hole-free shoes, and oodles of school supplies. (Really. The list is long and very specific.)

So I turned on my heels, snuffing the Target employees that had just killed my summer-time buzz, and went to check out. On my way I regained control over my summer spirit. After all, if I can ignore Christmas decorations that make an appearance in October, I can surely avoid school supplies until later. Much, much later.

{J}

Monday, August 5, 2013

Broken Bones and PTSD

Why is it that when you become a parent, no one shares with you that your children's injuries will leave indelible, painful marks on you?

I used to feel like I could handle it when my children got hurt. I was always the calm one, assuring them that everything would be OK. Then the last year happened. With one injury after another, my resolve to be cool and collected withered away to nothing. I was left raw and exposed and anxious.

We have become very familiar with the ER near our home. In the last 12 months we have visited there on four different occasions with each of our children. In April 2012, my middle son was stung by a swarm of bees. We pulled 38 stingers off of his little body and took him to get steroid shots. In September my daughter was climbing on the bleachers at the baseball field by our home. She slipped and fell while she was pretending the hand rail was a balance beam. No stitches, but the area from which she was bleeding was a grizzly scene. In February of 2013, my middle son (again) fell backwards off a chair onto his head. He was having trouble speaking and his pupils were different sizes. We rushed him to the ER where they pronounced a moderate concussion. Most recently, my oldest broke his wrist playing trampoline basketball. Saying that it broke really doesn't do it justice. It SNAPPED in two. It was very dramatic and was the final undoing of my calm exterior. Everyone commented on how calm I appeared but that was a complete facade. I'm pretty sure I'm suffering from PTSD.

I know, being a mother of boys (and a daughter that plays like one), that accidents will happen. Cuts and bruises I can do without feeling panicked. But I've noticed that now I am much more vocal about what I DON'T want my children to do. Climbing walls, running in flip flops, crashing waves, and riding skateboards evoke sudden panic attacks and crazy yelling scenes that did not occur B.A. (before accidents). My children give me the rolling eye look as if to say "you didn't act like this before! Now everything is BORING."

Well, BORING I can do, and I can do it really well. Especially if it means keeping my precious children safe from all the things that threaten to beat them up and make them bleed. Is that realistic? Probably not, but until I go through desensitization therapy to deal with my anxiety, I will put up with eye rolling when I make them sit on the couch and watch TV instead of going outside to get hurt. {H}

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Middle

Today we have officially been out of school for 52 days. I think this is what they call the Dog Days of Summer. We are HALFWAY through. My oldest saw a back to school commercial the other day and moaned, "WHY are they reminding us about school?" That made me ponder the fact that I haven't made them do one math problem or pick up a book in the last 45 days. Whoops.

It's kind of hard to believe that it's already the middle of summer. It has been very easy to let the routine go. Too easy in fact. I have gotten used to not paying attention to what has to be done tomorrow and had more of a "go with the flow" attitude. We have had some "stay in our PJ's'" days, movie days, pool days, VBS days, art project days, and beach days. The joy in all of these days has been being on our own time. We make our schedule and with the exception of a few practices and some work days in the week, that schedule starts and ends when we decide. It is a luxury for which I am eternally grateful and long for starting around March 1st.

Is summer all fun and games? No. Are there days that I wish my three lovely children would have to be gone for six hours a day? Of course! I am only human after all. Being sole entertainer can be draining and sometimes frustrating. Trying to plan something that all three will enjoy usually has to involve ice cream or spending money. My 13 year old is not interested in playing with my five year old every day and my 10 year old would just play baseball if he could. Part of having a fun summer is a willingness to compromise. Teaching my kids that coming up with ideas that we can all do and enjoy together is difficult but always worth it. Bottom line, it's all fun. It's just in the way they look at it.

I am not looking forward to certain things that September will bring. Summer is a well deserved break and is not so easy to say good-bye too. However, the school year has its good points too. I guess it's all in the way I look at it.

A successful transition back to "real life" routine will be a difficult one. Practicing math facts for 1st, 5th and 8th grade will have to be on our summer agenda sometime soon. But I think I'll wait at least another 30 days before we start that. {H}

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To Hover, or Not to Hover...That is the Question

Wikipedia defines "Helicopter Parent" as a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child's experiences and problems, named so because they hover, in need of control.

I pride myself in not being a helicopter parent. For example, I am completely comfortable allowing my youngest to wear his t-shirt backwards and mismatched socks. I hardly ever criticize when my middle uses too much hair gel or consumes three cheese sticks even though he really shouldn't. And I almost never comment on the content of my oldest's text messages or her mascara application techniques. They have to learn, right?

But something changed the night before my daughter and husband left for a fabulous, 9-day ecological tour in Costa Rica. The weeks leading up to the trip were full of excitement and shopping for travel-size everything. All the while, I was repressing, purposely ignoring the feeling of panic at the thought of my 13 year old daughter being almost a whole continent away. (Did you know that Central America is actually considered to be part of North America?)

"She'll be with her dad. He's really responsible. There will be tour guides and drivers and lots of other people. She'll be FINE!" Those are the statements I replayed over and over until the night before. Until it didn't matter. Until I panicked!

"What if the zip line fails? What if the horse she gets for their ride doesn't like blondes? What if a crocodile bites her hand off during the crocodile tour? What if she gets (insert tropical name here) fever?" Those are the questions that raced through my mind the night before. It was a dark and scary moment.

So I had two choices: I could give my daughter some gentle safety reminders about the zip line, the horses, the crocodiles and the bugs, certain to scare her, and I could voice my concerns to my husband who knows fully well how to parent and protect her, certain to insult him, OR I could identify the root of my irrational fears...that the trip would be full of experiences over which I had no control. Would being a hovering (even-from-a-distance), worrying mom give me any more control over the situation? Or would it just make me a fun-vampire?

Being a helicopter parent usually has more to do with the parent's need for control than the child's need for support. A few weeks ago, as I teetered on the verge of hypocritically hovering, that distinction became very clear.

So from now on, when you hear the helicopter blades start spinning, ask yourself who benefits. If the answer is you more than them, think again. Our job is to teach our children how to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, safe from risky, it's to foster their self-confidence, and demonstrate how to care for the people we love without controlling them.

(On a side note, they made it home safely, all limbs intact, with no strange illnesses and they had an amazing time.)

{J}

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Waterslides, BBQ, and fireworks...O My!

I cannot believe it's time to celebrate the 4th of July! This summer is already flying by! A slow routine, if any at all, blends the days and nights into each other like a cool summer drink. Suddenly it's time to plan BBQ's with friends and wake up at the crack of dawn with blankets and caution tape to hustle to Founder's and get that "perfect spot". The spot that won't get covered by puffs of black firework smoke or be so loud it becomes impossible to have a screaming conversation with the person next to you. The spot that beckons all your friends and neighbors to join you with glow sticks and red solo cups in hand. Ah, traditions!

This year our family will be starting off the day at the 7th annual Freedom Run. We decided last minute so we probably won't get a shirt but that's ok. We will run, enjoy some pancakes and sausage, and then head back to the hood to slather on sun screen and change into swim suits. Our hood doesn't do a block party so luckily we have friends in high places that allow us to pretend we are part of their block. As long as we bring something good to eat. It just so happens that I found some great recipes for sharing this year. I will also share them with you! (see below)

Wherever your plans take you this Independence Day, I hope it will be full of close family, great friends and good food! Take the time to plan the traditions that will be carried on in your family for generations but also enjoy the subtle quiet moments that make summertime what we all look forward to!

Grilled Corn Cobettes with toppings

Cut corn cobs into 1/2's or 1/3's

Brush with oil and grill about 10 minutes

Prepare toppings in advance:

Herb -1/4 cup butter, 2 T chives, 1 T dill, pinch of kosher salt, whirl in a food processor until well mixed. Place saran wrap over container and chill. Spread on hot corn.

BBQ and Bacon-1/4 cup mayo, 2 t BBQ sauce, 1/2 cheddar cheese, whirl in food processor, chill, spread on corn and roll in crumbled bacon, add more cheddar if you like!

Cilantro-lime- 1/4 cup butter, 1 T chopped cilantro, 1 t lime juice, 1 t lime zest, whirl in food processor, chill, spread on corn.

Basil Mojitos

10 large basil leaves

1/4 cup plus 4 T fine white sugar, divided

1/4 cup lime juice

1/2 cup white rum

1/2 cup club soda

lime wedges

Whirl 3-4 basil leaves and 1/4 cup sugar in food processor until well blended, transfer to a flat plate. Put the remaining basil leaves in a large cocktail shaker with a few ice cubes, the remaining sugar, and lime juice. Muddle the mixture with the handle of a thick wooden spoon. Add rum and more ice and shake to blend. Rub a lime wedge along the rim of a lowball glass and dip in basil sugar. Add ice to glass and strain drink from shaker into glass (don't strain if you want basil pieces), top off with a splash of club soda and garnish with a lime wedge. Enjoy!

{H}

Sunday, June 30, 2013

You Will Be Remebered

Change is in the air. In many ways, it's a good change. In other ways, it's sad. For Karen Gerhard, Principal of Ladera Ranch Middle School, it's an exciting and bittersweet change. After the great success and hard work of serving teachers and students, families and the Ladera Ranch community, Mrs. Gerhard is retiring.

The adventure ahead of her includes unlimited family time and the opportunity to watch her grandchildren grow into beautiful little people. It will also allow for time relaxing with her wonderful husband, who also happens be a principal and retiring, without the unrelenting interference of bell schedules.

While Karen Gerhard adjusts to the life of retirement, the community of Ladera Ranch will be adjusting to a campus without Mrs. Gerhard. (This is where the "sad" comes in.) Built in 2003, LRMS has 41 state-of-the-art classrooms, over 60 amazingly dedicated teachers and staff, and shares a beautiful campus with Ladera Ranch Elementary School and the Ladera Ranch branch of the Orange County Library. It's a one-stop-shop for all things learning for its approximately 1200 students. At the heart of it all is Karen Gerhard and she is adored and invaluable.

The teachers love her. They say she leaves her door open, always available to them. She supports their innumerable efforts of raising up middle-schoolers, (which is not an easy task). They say she's motivating and fair, an excellent administrator and that her shoes will be hard to fill.

The parents love her. They say she answers emails and hears their concerns. She has actual solutions to a wide array of issues and presents resources when parents need alternatives. They say she's approachable, friendly and sincerely cares for those kids...each and every one.

The students love her. They say she knows them and talks to them. She looks them in the eye, and not just because many of them are as tall as she is, but because she wants them to feel important. She makes their school a safe and fun place to learn. They say she's a great principal, treats them with kindness and smiles a lot.

So when a big change like this occurs, it's easy to focus on how uncomfortable and scary the unknown is, and how inconvenient that things must change. But the feeling around Ladera Ranch Middle School is different. Students, staff and parents alike are not dwelling. We are celebrating. Celebrating the career of a fabulous principal whose legacy is permanently emblazoned in the hearts and minds of the thousands of students, teachers and parents she met along the way. Congratulations, Mrs. Gerhard. You will be missed but more so, remembered.

{J}

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Spend a Little T-I-M-E

I don't know about any of you married folk out there in reader land, but finding a regular date night or just time to connect appears to get more difficult as the years go on. My husband and I will be celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary in a few weeks. I asked him what he wanted to do and he just stared at me blankly like "you want me to think about that now?"

Let's be honest, marriage is H-A-R-D work and frankly there have been times when I just don't want to do the nitty gritty that needs to be done. Busy schedules keep us running. At the end of the day I look at my husband and think, "O... YOU." Our marriage has turned into a back burner relationship. It's there, simmering away but we've put the temp on low so we don't have to think much about it. Until of course black smoke is pouring out of the kitchen.

I have had the black smoke folks. It ain't pretty and it takes awhile to get rid of the damage it can cause. But, taking steps to move that very important "pot" to the front of the stove so you can really pay attention to it, will keep you from creating that damage in the first place. It does take a few sacrifices but if you're like us and have decided that your goal is to keep an intact, healthy family for your kids, here are some suggestions:

•Schedule date nights. I know that a million obstacles can get in the way but these nights could be as simple as checking in with each other for 10-15 minutes before you collapse, unconscious onto your pillow at night.

•As sad as it makes us, time is ticking away and those cute little children are on their way to being full fledged adults. They will live OUTSIDE your home one day leaving you and your spouse ALONE. Take a minute to let that sink in. What will that be like? Start paving the way for that relationship in the future by investing some minutes now.

•Re-new or re-read your wedding vows. This doesn't have to be an elaborate ceremony. It could be something that you do at the dinner table with the kids. Just make sure you are looking into the eyes of the person you have chosen to do life with. It's a reminder of what you committed to all those years ago and it could even be a little romantic.

These things take planning but like my daughter's music teacher says, T-I-M-E spells love. {H}

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Downside of Social Media

Hi friends! This post is the article that appeared in last week's OC Register. Since it was published, I have read three more articles on various blogs and news sites about Social Media and our teens and tweens. Jenn and I would love to hear any feedback or experiences that you have had with the various outlets available to our kids including Instagram, FaceBook, Ask.fm, KIK and SnapChat.

If you have a middle school aged child, chances are you have seen Instagram and Ask fm, two popular social media sites. I have many friends that use Instagram to post creatively doctored pictures of pets, children, and favorite items #cute.

It can be a fun way to express yourself. If you’re in middle school, it can also be a way to demean, degrade and otherwise humiliate each other. The crazy world of junior high is full of drama, turmoil, and hormones. The fragile ego of this age group leaves them susceptible to the fickle nature of friends who one day think they're the best and the next want nothing to do with them.

Enter Social Media.

In junior high years ago, we weren't alerted to every event that we weren't invited to and sent pictures of what we were missing. Yes, it was still hurtful to be excluded, but we could feel safe in our bedrooms where we were miserable without anyone knowing. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram among others, bring it right into the privacy of our homes and our teens are bombarded with it.

How about Ask fm? Ever heard of it? An "Ask me" page can be linked to another social media profile where it encourages others to anonymously ask questions. It’s harmless enough when the questions are “Which Disney princess is your favorite?” but in this era of “shock value” the questions can be quite disturbing, very racist, and even pornographic. There are no privacy settings and all comments can be kept anonymous. That often facilitates young people saying things that they might not say face to face or if their names were being shared. Inhibitions disappear and that can lead to dangerous consequences.

In the UK, three teen suicides have been linked to comments posted on Ask fm., just in the last few months. Schools across Europe and the US have sent letters home, urging parents to disable the site and stop its use with their children. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, there is no way to report offensive and disturbing comments, or to uncover those behind the anonymous posts.

It is agreed across cyber safety websites that ALL social networking sites are not doing enough to protect children. Kids as young as eight have created Instagram accounts and may harmlessly post pictures of their school, bedroom, or favorite spots in town. It makes it too easy for child predators to find and stalk them. As parents, how can we protect them from the evil that lurks just a few clicks away?

First, become digitally savvy. Research new social media sites that have been created. Find out what their privacy policies are. Educate your children about being safe and smart when using these sites. Encourage them to be kind. A sweet friend from my son's Bible study group had some vile things posted on her Ask fm page. In response, they had a week long “fast” from Instagram and took down their Ask fm links. They vowed to only post encouraging things and to stay off Ask fm for good. Many of their peers are following suit.

The moral of this story? Get connected! Learn about the sites that your children are visiting, or will visit, and do anything necessary to protect them. You are the first and most important step in protecting your kids in this cyber social media jungle.

{H}

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Summer Fun = Financial Crisis?

Summertime and the feeling is...BROKE!

Wait...isn't it supposed to be "EASY"? Well, that depends.

The things that my husband and I love about summer are the same as many parents we know: we don't have to pack hundreds of lunches or drag cranky kids out of bed. We don't have to carpool to three different schools and we get a break from homework, projects and activities. Hallelujah!

But that's not all we love about summertime. We love that the kids play outside in the neighborhood ALL DAY. We love regular bike rides to Juice it Up for Congo Lime smoothies, walks to Hill Top Park with our doggy, visits to the Ladera Ranch Library for more reading material, beach days and pool days and sprinklers-on-the-lawn days. We love picnics and play-dates and barbecues - CONNECTING with each other. Those are the highlights of summer.

In the last few weeks, we've been inundated with fliers and emails about summer camps, enrichment classes, amusement park discounts and activities galore...all of the possible options to fill our summer to the brim. But we don't want to go into debt to "entertain" our children as though they're relatives visiting from out of state. We've scheduled a few things but we can't do it ALL. Even if we could afford a trip to every local amusement park, luxury movie theaters, trampoline centers and water parks, on top of surf, cheer and tennis camps...even if we could, we wouldn't.

If we schedule away the peaceful, easy months of summer, we'll miss out in the fun of being spontaneous, which is sorely undervalued in our busy culture. I don't know about you, but we want the freedom to enjoy a day trip just because, or say yes when the kids come up with a great plan. We also want our kids to find value in creating their own fun, like cardboard forts, neighborhood obstacle courses and fresh-squeezed lemonade stands. And nothing beats a Netflix-family-movie-night with real buttered popcorn, or lazy, lounging mornings with absolutely nothing on the agenda. If we overbook our summer, we will miss every bit of it.

So as you sift through the options, resist the urge to fill every free moment. As a family, decide on the definite musts. Make sure you take advantage of your non-scheduled time, don't forget the local, low-cost options, and enjoy a peaceful, family-bonding, fun-filled summer. Who knows, with the money you save, maybe you can start planning a family vacation for winter break. It'll be here before you know it!

{J}