Running Free

Running Free

Friday, October 31, 2008

Harvest Time

October 31st means two things in our family: a pillowcase full of candy and an opportunity for me to share the importance of etiquette with the neighborhood children.

My husband is chartered with trolling with our son and several other family friends here in our little corner of the world. They try and scheme to figure out how many houses they need to hit in order to reach a sizeable mother lode - and that changes by the year. I haven’t been keyed into this year’s expected return on investment (ROI.)

I on the other hand, am placed in the all-important role of dolling out treats to good little witches and goblins. I have a plastic cauldron that I stuff with every imaginable sugar treat known to the shelves of Target, our local retail community. And for the next two to three hours I will answer a series of doorbells and knocks and feign fright and plop a handful of sticky, chewy, gooey, chocolaty candies into waiting containers of every shape, size and color imaginable.

I generally enjoy seeing the faces and costumes of the children. As long as they say, “Thank you” all is well. If in their exuberance of the moment they forget their manners, I am of course more than ready with a smile and a gentle, “You are welcome” which usually elicits the intended if not belated, “Thank you” that is sheer music to my ears.

Needless to say DS (Dear Son) and DH (Dear Husband) are far far away trekking through the hinterlands of the neighborhood with pillowcase and gruesome masks whenever I am on Halloween duty. They think I am the wicked witch of the east and the abominable snow monster all rolled into one.

Why do I take such effort to help pass along the good graces to the next generation of potential parents? Well, I will tell you. Several years ago a little girl of eight or so dressed in a confectionary blur of blue and pink that I believe was supposed to be a princess outfit, rang the bell and instead of saying, “Trick or Treat” as is the generally accepted and established custom here in Southern California, proceeded to try and place her hand directly into my cauldron -- which I quickly moved out of her reach.
“Excuse me,” I said in a humorous voice. “Aren’t you supposed to say something first?” She gave me a look. It was a look as if I had green mucus spewing from my nose or something.

“Give me my candy,” was her reply.

“Indeed.” I said looking down the pathway to see whether her accompanying parent or handler might nudge this woefully off the path child back toward the center.

No such luck.

What to do? I pondered this as a gaggle of ragged looking six year-olds dressed up as a band of pirates ran up the walkway threatening to knock over the etiquette-challenged little girl.

“You are supposed to say, ‘Trick or Treat,’” I shared with her.

She looked at me big eyes the color of Blue M&Ms.

I placed a handful of candy into her pintsized yellow purse.

Well, this child may not have figured out how to say ‘Trick or Treat’ but she had no problem demanding in a loud voice, “I want more.”
Not seeing any parent willing to claim this child for their own and within a few feet of being torn apart by a fierce looking group of pirates about to embark upon a mutiny -with me as their intended target I did what any sane and rationale person in a similar situation would do.

I turned the young lass around and sent her back from when she came.

And so this year, I am armed and ready.

I have a sign that reads: PLEASE REMEMBER TO SAY “THANK YOU”- IT GURANTEES A HIGHER RATE OF RETURN…I figured if the little ones don’t get it then the parents responsible for these little ones will and will pipe up with, “Don’t forget to say thank you Junior….”

Did You Know that…
  • Halloween did not become a holiday in the United States until the 19th century, where lingering Puritan tradition restricted the observance of many holidays.
    American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries do not include Halloween in their lists of holidays.
  • The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine (1845–1849) finally brought the holiday to the United States.
  • Scottish emigration, primarily to Canada before 1870 and to the United States thereafter, brought the Scottish version of the holiday to each country.
  • The main event for children of modern Halloween in the United States and Canada is trick-or-treating, in which children disguise themselves in costumes and go door to door in their neighborhoods, ringing each doorbell and yelling "Trick or treat!" to solicit a gift of candy or similar items. (CAVEAT I would like to add that children should say thank you when they receive a treat.)
  • Scottish-American and Irish-American societies held dinners and balls that celebrated their heritages, with perhaps a recitation of Robert Burns' poem "Halloween" or a telling of Irish legends, much as Columbus Day celebrations were more about Italian-American heritage than Columbus per se.
  • Home parties centered on children's activities, such as apple bobbing, and various divination games often concerning future romance. Not surprisingly, pranks and mischief were common as well.
  • At the turn of the 20th century, Halloween had turned into a night of vandalism, with destruction of property and cruelty to animals and people.
  • Around 1912, the Boy Scouts, Boys Clubs, and other neighborhood organizations came together to encourage a safe celebration that would end the destruction that had become so common on this night.
  • School posters during this time called for a "Sane Halloween." Children began to go door to door, receiving treats, rather than playing tricks on their neighbors. This helped to reduce the mischief, and by the 1930s, "beggar's nights" had become very popular. Trick-or-treating became widespread by the end of the 1930s.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Antique Shop

Soft golden sunlight peeks
through a moon shaped window
tucked high in a corner of the room.
Outside, a rooster cock-a-doodle-doos.
Inside, dust sprites land silently
on the honey colored oak tables.
Old and scuffed,
they sag
under the weight
of candles, plates, spice jars
and other bric-brac.

The air is wrapped in a blanket of
lavender, lemon and rosemary.
The doorway, framed with gnarled
and knobby beams,
the color of ash,
holds plump and prickly reed baskets
hanging from big black nails.

Mounted to the ceiling
a wrought-iron chandelier
looks down with crystal snowflakes
scattering rainbow flecks here and there.
The walls, the color of ochre
cool to the touch,
display strands of yellowed parchment:
birth certificates, diplomas, wedding licenses -
framed in glass, hung on hooks
beckoning one
to stop and remember.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Royal "We"

My son came home from school yesterday with his usual chipper self front and present.

“Hello Mama” he yelled in a loud and clear voice. I was upstairs in my office and looked forward to this afternoon ritual and music to my ears- as cliché as it may be.

“Hello Nana,” I answered dutifully. We were prone to using nicknames for each other. Mama stresses the accent on the second syllable – try it- you might like the way it tumbles across the tongue versus the more staid Mama with the accent on the first syllable – a more lummox like gait across the plain of the tongue.

“How was your day?” He asked before I got a chance to ask him first. I skipped down the stairs to greet my 52” package of wholesomeness.

“It was fine,” I answered. “How was yours?" I asked.

There is such comfort in the regularity and the rhythm of what we so often take for granted in the routine of everyday life. And I am guilty of sometimes forgetting just how wonderful these tidbits can be.

I was expecting him to reply with his usual “It was wonderful...”

So I was thrown a bit when he responded with “Well, it was great but we forgot that it was oral speech day for me. We need to sign this slip for Miss A.”

“We?!” I asked in a rather incredulous voice. “We?!” I repeated.

“Well you know mom, you always help me find a topic and remind me to practice,” said my experienced son of making his mom feel guilty. My son gave me a Cheshire cat grin. When did he get so tall I thought to myself? He was now up to my shoulder. Was I shrinking?

“Uh huh,” I said in a rather ruffled feather voice.“Miss A. was surprised that I forgot to do my presentation; she says I am always so on top of things.”

“You mean “we’ are so on top of things don’t you?" I asked. By this time my son had tossed down the twenty pound hernia producing backpack that lay with its bulging belly on the couch while he was rummaging through the refrigerator for an afternoon snack.
“Do we have any cheese sticks?” He asked grabbing a bottle of water from the top shelf. I went over to my sweaty dog little guy and planted a kiss on his moist cheek red as a cherry tomatoes from his speed drill ride home on his bike.

“Do we have any cheese sticks?” he repeated for my listening pleasure. There it was again - that little two letter imp of a word - a vowel and a consonant – a very rigid first letter coupled with a circular fluid second letter: W-E.

Did you ever imagine that two letters could have such a multitude of meanings? I thought to myself. My son was humming to himself as he plopped down on the couch and picked up the book he had been reading at breakfast, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

“Don’t forget we need to send back my permission slip for the field trip on Thursday,” my Dear Son – heretofore known as DS reminded me in his 'I am in control of the situation’ voice.
“Yes dear,” I sighed and went in search of a cheese stick in the refrigerator.“WE” was particularly useful when applied to anything remotely related to homework. There are a plethora of examples that come to mind:

1. “Mom, we need to do my spelling definition.”

2. “Mom could we go get a milks shake before swim practice today?”

3. “Mom, could we work on my social studies tonight after dinner?”

The list goes on and on.The word “We” however is anything but regal when the she-monster of the house – aka – me – Mom- tries to finagle a culture enrichment out of the young lad and his dad – heretofore known as DH – as in Dear Husband.

The eyes roll back in the head and mysterious aches and pains suddenly take hold whenever I mention a family outing to the Getty or the Simon Norton or even a fun adventure filled place like the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
Suddenly, the almighty “We” of fame to matching socks and lunches and afternoon snacks and evening vittles is a solo party of U-N-O– a three letter sad word – whether in English – one – or Spanish – uno – and probably a host of other languages the meaning is clear.
The royal “We” has an audience of one.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sleeping Beauty

I do not sleep well. Never really have. It is something I have learned to accept. I mean, I prefer to be busy and not have to be lounging around anyway. But I do need a few hours every night to refuel if you will. The challenge for me is getting to that wonderfully deep state of REM. ‘Calgon take me away...’

Imagine if you will being propped up in a nice big cloud of pillows and a few soft lights with the television in the armoire at the other end of the room perfectly positioned so really one just points and clicks and voila the magical squawk box starts squawking. There am I on my side of our California King and my husband is on ‘his’ side and usually in charge of the remote control. For good reason as will become clear in a moment.

“He who shall not be named” – aka my better half- recently has taken to watching a truly riveting series that makes one think. The problem is that when he is ready to sit down for a nice evening of intellectual stimulation I am ready to hit the land of feathered fluff and try and grab a few hours of hopefully uninterrupted sleep.

We both begin the evening after the dinner has been prepared and consumed, after said cherub has been bathed and has completed his homework and has been tucked safely into bed. Now here we are ensconced in our bed. Me in my extremely seductive flannels and my husband in his nightwear which shall not be named....

After a few spontaneous yawns I do a few cleansing breaths to get me to a calm and centered point and sometimes resort to planning the next day’s riveting schedule of cleaning, laundry, working and general maintenance issues. And usually, within an hour or so of truly deep thoughts I am able to sleep for a bit.

But sometimes, my brain just doesn’t want to cooperate. The old gal has a mind of her own and while my eyes are brick heavy and unable to budge; all my brain matter is full throttle all circuits open and speeding down the highway of overactive imagination and to be done lists or what to worry about now lists. It means, the brain is endless in what she decides to concoct at the end of the day. I am too busy doing something close to nothing most of the time but somehow when I am weary and looking forward to some unrequited down time- forget it. A grim outlook for sleep indeed....

Well, thanks to the efforts of my darling husband I found a cure almost a guarantee to a restful few hours of sleep. It comes in the form of a talking head and is better than any sleep aide I have ever come across. Of course a glass of wine in addition to the aforementioned talking soothing head is a most delicious combination.

I speak of a show that my husband stumbled across in his web browsing. He web browses like I window shop – but somehow my window shopping is so much more fun. To each their own- caveat emptor. With all due respect to the narrator of this riveting show called “Connections” the synapses in my brain have begun to connect much quicker to the land of slumber. I owe the man a debt of gratitude.

Without fail, as soon as the brilliance of the narrator James Burke begins his soothing explanations of why we have levees and why sand is important, I simply try and focus on what he is saying and all of the amazing factoids he is passing on. But alas, the only connection I am able to make to his impressive narrative is a one way road to a deep slumber – including – ahem- the occasional deep sounding sleep as my husband is fond of sharing with me the next morning after a restful night of sleep.

What is exactly is Connections you ask? Well, let me share....according to the all knowing websute wikipedia describes Connections as follows:

Connections was a ten-episode documentary television series created and narrated by science historian James Burke. The series was produced and directed by Mick Jackson of the BBC Science & Features Department and first aired in 1978. It took an interdisciplinary approach to the history of science and invention and demonstrates how various discoveries, scientific achievements, and historical world events built off one another in an interconnected way to bring about particular aspects of modern technology. The series is well-known for Burke's impeccable narration (especially its dry humour), historical reenactments, intricate working models, skillful use of classical music (most notably Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi, or "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana), and shots on location as far afield as Penang (Malaysia). The popular success of the series led to two sequels, Connections² in 1994, and Connections³ in 1997, both produced for TLC.

For those you hungering for more....All three Connections documentaries are available in their entirety as DVD box sets.

And should you still be hungry for more.... Burke also wrote a series of Connections articles in Scientific American, and published a book of the same name, all built on the same theme of exploring the history of science and ideas, going back and forth through time explaining things on the way and, generally, coming back to the starting point.

A Myst-style computer game with James Burke and others providing video footage and voice acting was released in 1995.

Burke produced another documentary series called The Day the Universe Changed in 1985, which explored man's concept of how the universe worked in a similar way to the original Connections.

Sleeping Beauty never had it so good....

Monday, October 27, 2008

Open Letter to My Magic Carpet

Dear Magic Carpet:

I had faith in you. I trusted you. I mean, I really trusted you. I couldn't read a map if I tried and there you were, a beautiful shade of ruby red promising to take me on the whirlwind ride of my life. And I fell for it - you with you satin ways and soft silky tassels.

You said not to worry - you were a pro, you had been in the business for decades. I was young - I should live a little. See the sights, see the world. "Enjoy the ride." Those were your exact words. You would be my personal chauffeur.

I knew I should have checked out your references. I should have stayed where I was. At least I knew where there was. I was spitting out news releases and coaching wayward executives on not what to say to the media. I was in control of my life. I had a career. I was on the fast track and then - Bam! Splat. You came along and said you had a great idea. I would have to let you drive but hey, since I was always a better back seat driver well, why not I thought? What did I have to lose? Hindsight…oh for a bit of hindsight.

"Hop on," you told me. "The time is now. The world is your oyster and it is yours for the taking." Was I gullible! I'm allergic to oysters - I should have known better.

What about maps or directions or planning I asked. You laughed and told me not to worry. You would take care of everything. All I had to do was jump aboard, hold on and we would take flight- you and me - we would seer across lands and oceans and I would view the world as never before.

So much for reading maps. I mean, at least when I get off the main road I can find my way back. But you- you - well you certainly did take a wrong turn. And what a doozy it was.

Boy, did you pull the wool over my eyes. No pun intended. Could you perhaps at least have given me a bit of notice? A bit of warning that we - or me to be more exact - was coming in for a bumpy landing?

Suddenly, my journey toward corporate career success was waylaid. You, my trusted Magic Carpet unraveled on the branch of an oak tree and left me stranded in the middle of motherhood and middle age - without a manual.

Sheesh. One moment I was helping management get the egg off their face for saying things that they were told not to say and the next moment, I was changing diapers, tackling mountains of laundry. Soiled miniature shirts tattooed with the most curious of colors and designs - it is enough to make one color blind. And on top of this I had to try and figure out how to get a sock on a ten pound bald, squirming, toothless little person.

Boy oh boy, was I wrong about you Magic Carpet !! Did you ever give some thought to auditioning for a Hollywood movie? You would be perfect - you can tell a lie in any shade of grey, white or black and still look amazing. You are ready for Hollywood my friend.

The next time - if there is a next time. I am staying firmly on the ground. Leave the magic carpets to the genie in the bottle and the cat in the bag. No more up in the air rides for me. I am keeping my feet planted.

Speaking of which, don't look to me for a reference. I've got my hands full with trying to help my son figure out how to attach this fiddly bit to this other gadget and then make the 1,000 piece Lego creation work...


Lost in Legos

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Place that Lives

If I close my eyes and breathe deep, I can return to a place that lives - for the moment - only in my mind. And if by chance, you find your way in this magical place, please give my regards to the inhabitants of the city of Cortona located in the heart of Tuscany. Tell them La "Signora Americana" sends her regards.

I can, for a moment, pretend that I am back in this charming medieval town tucked into a corner of Tuscany where it has remained unscathed by modernization and technology. Perched high on a hillside, this walled city claims to be 3000 years old. It is a small tight knit community of 1,600 that proudly traces its ancestry back to the time of the Etruscans; a place where tradition and art blend together in a delicious gazpacho.

I imagine that I am back at the Hotel San Luca with its wrought iron black gate and welcoming windows. Small and cozy, it is my respite from the daily grind of life as I know it here in the States. From my bedroom window I can see red tiled roofs that seem to climb on top of each other rubbing shoulders with turrets and bell-towers in a span of a few meters. The old and the new - side by side.

I can recall the voice of Vincenzo, the caretaker of the grounds, who greets me every morning me with a "Buongiorno Signora" and a steaming caffe latte. "Grazie mille" I answer with a smile and grateful outstretched hand. He is a wizened little man with deep jowls, an easy smile and the bluest eyes I have ever seen.

Often Vincenzo can be heard humming or whistling Italian ballads. His voice is sweet and rich. Vincenzo knows I am a strange bird, a solo bird really, who prefers to take her morning caffe out in the Piazza Garibaldi rather than in the parlor with the other guests. He and I have come to be friends and every morning I count on this Italian relic for a smile and a warm drink. He knows I write - or pretend to - and he actually helped me translate from English into Italian a little piece of verse I had composed. It was a small poem I had written about the allure of Cortona and how something about the city just seemed to tug at my soul then and now.

Usually mornings find the city shrouded in a blanket of grey mist that moves slowly and dreamily across the sky. The sun tries to peek through but without success. By afternoon however there is a stage before the eyes with enchanting views of the landscape surrounded by Lake Trasimeno and the Apennines.

One sees a vast and beautiful patch work quilt of green fields, regal Cyprus trees standing at attention and purple and yellow valleys swooping gently across the land. As I sip my hot drink, I hear strands of Italian music and morning greetings of "buongiorno" and "ciao" wafting through the air. I smell the rich aroma of caffe floating by on an invisible cloud. Fresh bread beckons from la panetteria around the corner. I look at my hotel from across the Piazza and see the green clapboard shutters being thrown open here and there like eyes suddenly opening wide ready to take in the adventures of the day.

A sleepy tabby cat guards the entrance to the hotel. I watch all this and feel as if time just saunters, softly, quietly, dreamily. Sitting on one of the old stone benches in the Piazza Garibaldi I watch the city wake up. The mothers - in three inch stilettos - take their children to school, walking easily across the cobbled stones and plant generous kisses on cheeks and head of tussled-hair cherubs.

Old woman in bright colored kerchiefs, handmade sweaters and support hose, wheel little carts effortlessly through narrow streets on their way to market. Large men with big bellies and bigger voices make their way to the nooks and crannies of the city where they will spend hours reading newspapers and nursing a caffe with il panino. There are a few cars small and compact that make their way up and through the Piazza but it is mostly feet and strollers that one notices in the early hours of the morning.

Sipping my caffe latte I listen to the chatter of the birds clearing their throats in the boughs above me. Everyone seems to know everyone here. Mid morning I take a stroll through the city's narrow, stone-paved alleyways down to the city's main street, Via Nazionale. It is here in this main square with its impressive medieval town-hall that much of life in Cortona takes place. Here people shop for groceries and chat without ever stopping to look at a watch. The tower bell in the Town Hall will ring when it is lunch time. Life here rolls across the landscape. Every morsel is tasted and remembered.

I watch a teenage boy with droopy lids and baggy pants give his father a big hug as they cross through the square. In turn, the father plants a kiss on his son's cheek. It is not a sight I would find easily in the States - a teenage boy hugging his father in public.

The history of thousands of years still present and part of people's lives; respect for things old, wearing wrinkles with pride- nothing plastic- authentic - real- fresh bread- nothing bought in a bag from a store pre packaged- (well some things like paper goods) - the simple act of just being and enjoying the moment - seizing the moment. This is what I love about Cortona. This and the little things that mean a lot. I can see and hear little children running around the square chasing pigeons and skipping across the brick sized cobblestones.

Each stone is a timepiece unequalled. Centuries have crossed this square and still, the echoes of laughter fill the air, music to the soul really. I walk along and see the pigeons paying little heed to me- I have nothing to offer. I dream and wish I could be there tasting the sweet butter with il pane in my la pasticceria.
I wish I could sit high on the buttressed wall in the square of Via Nazionale and listen to the children coming home for lunch laughing strolling arm in arm fresh-faced and young and care free. But now, I must open my eyes, take another breath and return to the laundry and the grocery shopping in the real world of the moment. Tomorrow perhaps I will plan another visit to la dolce vita.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Roderick the Fowl Beast

I have heard of the chicken that wouldn’t die but I have not heard of the chicken that wouldn’t cook. Yet, that is precisely what happened to me not too long ago.

I had decided to try and ‘cook’ a meal for my husband and son: roasted chicken, summer squash and small baked red potatoes. I put the chicken in the oven at 4:00 p.m. The instructions on the bag in which said chicken came suggested baking at 350 degrees F for approximately one and a half hours.

Now this wasn’t an especially big chicken, it was not much larger than a hen actually. So, at 5:30 p.m. I took the chicken out of the oven to examine said poultry’s state of consumption-readiness. Using our trusty Sharper Image digital thermometer (with new AAA batteries) I stuck the aforementioned fowl to see where we were in the temperature department.

The instructions on the bag in which the bird came said that the internal temperature should be 180 degrees F. Much to my chagrin, the thermometer read a measly 140 degrees F after 90 minutes. I decided to stick the chicken back in the oven for another thirty minutes. At 5:55 p.m. my husband who has asked to remain nameless on this blog, breezed through the door with a pleasant, “Hello darling!”

Trying not to show my utter lack of control over the evening meal gave him my biggest grin. “You’re home early,” I squawked.

“A little,” he said. He planted a kiss on my cheek and then went to help our son with his homework while I prayed to the cooking goddess to hurry up and cook the bird to which I had now given the name Roderick.

Of course there was no real reason for constructing such a name, but I thought that by anthropomorphosizing (is this even a word? and if it is does it apply to once alive animals soon to be devoured by humans as opposed to the more typical assignment of humanistic characteristics to live animals?)

In any case, Roderick was the name I had given the bird in the oven that I was desperately trying to cook for my husband and son. Lest there be any doubt, this chicken was definitely male- I knew this much from our brief interlude.

Well, two hours passed and I took Roderick out of the oven to have a look see at his internal temperature - 152.7 degrees F. I was stumped. The potatoes were cooked- in fact they were rather shriveled and resembled dried figs more than roasted potatoes. But at least they were cooked! The vegetables were cooked, steamed to perfection.

But said Roderick- he was no where near being cooked- despite being poked and prodded in a host of different places, the thigh, the neck, the breast, the back- I began to feel like a mad scientist about to dissect a victim, except that I was losing my cool and beginning to curse at the beast under my breath.

“Okay,” I announced to the hungry lads playing a game of chess in the family room who were patiently munching on some carrot sticks and a few nuts to quench the thirst of salivation, “Just fifteen more minutes and we should be ready.” By this time our son had his finished his homework. The time was now 6:15 p.m.

Needless to say, fifteen more minutes did nothing to bring Roderick into the realm of ready for consumption. And by now I was about to cry. There was and is a reason I dislike the kitchen and this was just one more chapter to add to my horror stories of cooking.

Roderick was a big blob of gooey, liquid mush and rather unappealing. My dear husband being the kind and understanding man that he is came to my rescue with a “Not to worry honey. I still love you and I applaud you for trying.”

Talk about being made to feel worthless- a wife who can’t cook a chicken- a chicken mind you- not Chateaubriand or king crab - just a chicken....

Did I mention that I detest cooking? Did I mention that I have no appreciation for the supposed art of cooking?

Did I mention that the unsightly Roderick was quickly relocated (with the help of my husband) to a trash bin along with the rest of the proposed evening meal and that we went to Taco Bell?

The moral of the story: don’t pretend you can cook when the chicken won’t cooperate.

Vile beast.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


It began simply enough.

I said hello.

She smiled.

She had on a Juicy Couture black velvet sweat suit, with the familiar logo crest on the left pocket. I told her I liked her outfit - especially the shoes. They were pink ballet flats with satin bows trimmed with tiny bits of purples and iridescent green rhinestones that shimmered like fish scales in ocean foam.

She said thank you.

I was sitting on the ledge of a pock marked slab of grey stone beneath a pair of tired maple trees heavy with peeling bark and graying trunks. I sat there under the umbrella of leaves, in the soft strands of southern California morning sun drinking my habitual green tea. I was a teaching assistant working in a kindergarten classroom at an elementary school recognized as a national award recipient for academic excellence.

I told her my name.

She told me her name was Grace.

Her voice was soft and pert, like lemon drops, sour and sweet at the same time.

I asked her how she came by such a lovely name. She told me her mother named her after a beautiful actress who married a prince and became a princess. Just like in fairy tales.

My new friend sat down next to me. The smell of jasmine was everywhere. The bees in the nearby bougainvillea were grumbling. A rogue bee with a nail-sized tail the color of mud landed on my arm raising and lowering his backside and tickling the hair on my forearm. He looked like he was trying to unload a gift I was a bit hesitant to accept.

Grace had skin the color of fresh cold milk, with an almond shaped face that peeked out beneath a veil of hair the color of molasses. Around her neck was a heart-shaped silver locket. It was a Tiffany's necklace - I recognized it because I had longed for one in college.

He won't hurt you if you don't move she explained.

I tried not to think about the bee navigating my arm. As the creature moved its fine tuned legs up and down my arm, goose bumps popped up - little round hills of cold pink skin. I tried to keep my arm still so as to not frighten the bee and cause a startle reflex (assuming that bees even had such a reflex). I didn't want to chance having the visitor leave me with a nasty welt. Finding nothing to eat or pollinate, the bee flicked his wax paper wings and flitted away.

Grace dangled her long legs over the side of the planter letting the shoe on her left foot tap the dried leaves that had fallen off the maple tree. Her left foot was grinding the leaves into bits of brown and sand-colored flakes.

Ribbons of white streamers crested across the sky, piercing shade of blue. The smell of spring was teasing us with beach air you could almost taste. I breathed in deeply filling my lungs, closing my eyes.
From somewhere behind me I could hear the other children giggling and laughing. Two mop headed sprites with purple and yellow tights and red patent leather Mary Janes skipped up to me and threw their sweaty arms around my neck. They smelled of Play-doh and fruit loops.

The sticky arms caked with dirt and sand wriggled their way into my lap, which was not quite big enough to hold two sets of arms and legs and associated heads and other body parts.
I returned the hugs of Julia and Sophia, the twins, now taking up residence on me.

They called me Miss C.,short for my name, Miss Camerone, a bit of a tongue twister for little mouths. They asked what I was doing. I explained I was enjoying tea with a new friend. Their voices, like daffodils made me smile.

I introduced the girls to Grace.

The twins said hello and Grace smiled shyly but didn't say anything.

After a few more giggles the girls bounced off to play with Dominic who was taking a turn with the red wagon. I removed the grass bits and melted chocolate from my neck and cheek- gifts from my pint-sized pals.

I turned to Grace who was picking at an imaginary piece of lint off her shoulder. I asked if anything was wrong.

She gave me the look like you get from someone who is afraid to tell you the truth. Her eyes got big and glistened and her tongue licked the side of her mouth as if searching for something.

The wind was rustling through the leaves above us and not too far away a crow was announcing his imminent arrival.

Grace whispered that her stomach hurt; that today was her busy day. She shared with me that on Mondays she had ballet and piano and a language lesson. It was the way she said what she said - not so much the words themselves. The way the words stopped short on her small mouth, like wisps of pollen in search of a place to call home.

Her words were suspended somewhere between her and me. I could feel the knots of her stomach somehow gripping my insides. I looked at her staring up at me with eyes that wanted more than I could say or do.

And what could I say or do? What was I to think? I was little more than a cog in the educational web of what we consider to be mandatory academic preparation for our children. She was so small and tiny. I was so much bigger than her and yet, it was I who was the truly helpless one.

She reached out with her small pink tipped nails, took my hand and placed it on her chest. Inside, inside here is where it hurts the most she whispered. I let the sun reach the quiet shadows in my mind now growing darker with the heaviness of this child's burden.

I cannot tell my mother because she will be ashamed of me. And my father, he tells me to be good and I can have anything I want. But I have to be good. I have to be strong.

I didn't know what to say. So I sat there with a mouthful of dust and empty words that would do little to console this young child. And I felt empty, bone dry, full of chalky thoughts.

I had nothing to offer this young and trusting soul.

Her voice trailed off and I squeezed her hand as if such a gesture could do or change anything about her life as it was in the moment.

The school bell rang.

I stood up and gave Grace a hug. She clung to me with her pretzel thin arms and I choked back the tears threatening to flood the messy thoughts in my head. She let me go and walked slowly toward her kindergarten classroom.

My break was over, and I was that that much closer to the end of my work day.

But for Grace, a six year-old kindergartener in Orange County, California - it was just the beginning.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Birds, Bees and Buzzards

Recently, my family and I went to the San Diego Zoo. It is one of my favorite places. The sights, the sounds, the never ending wonder and amazement of animals and birds and the obvious care that the folks who run the place take to keep it clean and well maintained.

I have a fascination with the Archipelago Tortoise. A rather big fellow. Several of them actually. I also have a habit of talking to animals. Like a female version of Dr. Doolittle - really - a combination of Eliza Doolittle - just a bit left of center and the infamous straight down the center line - Dr. Doolittle who had a way with words and two headed llamas.

There was one particular tortoise to whom I yelled out a jolly "hello and good morning" greeting. He lifted his wrinkled sweater neck and sauntered over from his end of the enclosure to come have a chat. At least that is what I told my son and husband as they stood there shaking their heads. (There is a lot of that in my family- especially when it involves my escapades as harmless as they may be.)

Well, as this giant tortoise with a very big shell and leathered well-worn feet made its way to me there was a smaller much more petite tortoise quietly grazing in the corner near where I was standing. She was so quiet (most tortoises are actually) that I didn't notice her. But as the approaching Big Daddy tortoise made his way at a fairly quick gait I might add she poked her head up and around and realized that Big Daddy wasn't coming to greet me with a smile. He was enroute to an unplanned rendezvous with Little Miss Tortoise.

Well, she stopped munching on her delectable grass and took off - I do mean as in jet plane tortoise speed. I didn't know that tortoises could move so quickly.

Well, of course my son and husband are witnessing this and my son is thinking it is a game of chase. And so it is. I know what is coming next. Because it never fails that every time I go to the zoo, these amphibians never fail to be well, active for lack of a more discrete word.

And what better way to explain the facts of life to my son who is a precocious curious one - and I frankly wouldn't have it any other way- except that his questions and life lessons do seem to come at rather well, awkward moments.

"Dad, why is that big tortoise trying to climb on top of that little tortoise.?"

And I cringe a bit as I know what is coming next. And lo and behold.

"Grrrrr, Awarrhhhhooooo...."

"Dad, is that the tortoise making those noises.?"

My husband by this time has burst out in a full throttled laugh and I am quietly trying to keep it all light and fluffy, "Isn't nature amazing. You never know what wonderful bits of life will unfold before your eyes when you come to the zoo."

My son and husband look over at me and in a fairly loud voice and my son asks, "Mom are the turtles mating?"

Now I am not sure exactly what he knows at his tender age or doesn't. We haven't actually had the "birds, bees and buzzards" talk. But if he asks a question, I always try and be truthful- within limits.

My son knows that Dad has given Mom a special sugar and that is how he came about. Now for years (mind you he asked me this question when he was quite young- four or five and the answer has suited him quite fine for the past few years.) I was driving and had to think quick...

But now, he wants to know did I drink the sugar, etc.

My husband of course never manages to keep a straight face whenever this conversation comes up.

"So Dad, how did you give mom the special sugar?"

My husband's eyebrows will raise and his neck will scrunch- kind of like that of the tortoise and he looks over at me and will inquire of me, "So honey, how exactly did I give you the special sugar.?"

And up until the interaction with aforementioned tortoises I would respond with something like, "When you get a bit older son I promise to share all the amazing wonders of life- for now though know that we love you and created you with love."

And that would do it. Finis. Sans mas.

Up until now. Here they were Big Daddy and Little Miss demonstrating coitus front and center loud and clear. And now my son wanted to know how and where the special sugar went.

Well, without going into particulars, one can imagine that the birds and the bees and the buzzards was given in an annotated fashion over a Dippin' Dots ice cream and a long walk around the Zoo.

And it was all good. Nature is that. Wonderful, powerful, unexpected and oh so much more - just like life....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Magical Moment

My ten year-old son asked me a question on the way to swim practice the other day.

“Mom, are you Santa?”

I can’t say I was prepared for the questions. It took me by surprise. It was rather random given that we had been talking about an upcoming social studies test less than thirty seconds earlier.
I was driving so my hands had to stay on the wheel and my eyes had to remain on the road. My stomach lurched and there was a feeling of cold air rushing through my insides despite the balmy southern California breeze flowing in from the open window.

“Why do you ask honey?” I said in what I hoped was a smooth and steady voice.

“I don’t know. I just want to know. Are you Santa?”

We were approaching a red light so I began the crawl toward the light as cars frantically scrambled to squeak through the yellow light. Anything to save a second of waiting. With my foot planted safely on the brake I looked around and noticed the metal boxes surrounding me on all sides - some shiny, some dented, each a testament to its owner and his or her cachet of the California driving experience. I looked over at my son. His eyes big and brown, the color of hot chocolate with clotted cream were staring at me hard.

“I am Santa,” I whispered. “But I still believe in him and in the magic he holds,” I added.
My son looked at me a moment longer and slowly turned to look out the window. He nodded his mop of sandy hair. His shoulders sturdy and already molded from two hours of swim looked strong and solid.

The light turned green and I accelerated.

I had dreaded this moment for years. My husband had been telling me for the last year to tell him the truth. But he was so young I would reply. Let him believe and hold on to the magic for as long as possible.

“You don’t want him to be the laughing stock of his school when all the other kids are telling each other their parents are Santa and our son is saying there is a Santa Claus,” he would caution.

My pat response had always been “But I still believe in Santa. Santa lives in my heart.”
And my husband inevitably would roll his eyes and plop a kiss of resignation on my cheek. “Yes dear,” he would say.

But this time, it was different. Social norms of school had begun to creep into my little boy’s world. And rather than foster something that would be potentially be an act of betrayal I opted to tell him the truth. The truth as I know it. The truth as I see it.

“You know honey, the spirit of Christmas is magical. And parents want to share and give this magic to their children. Holding onto the magical moment of the season is something that is a real treasure. And I don’t want you lose that. It is kind of like the last bit of childhood innocence. I still believe in Santa- and the magic of what he stands for – and just look how old I am.”

My son laughed and said, “You’re not that old mom,” and reached over and patted my arm.
He is an old soul in so many ways. But still, I harbor dreams of him having a sense of wonder and amazement at all the beauty that the world can and does hold. I keep returning to Sesame Street and the wonders of this show and how truly we are blessed with the little things.
If and when we- me- take the time to stop and look.

So now my son knows that I am Santa- and by extension my husband. And as painful as I thought this moment would be it actually wasn’t the heart breaking gut wrenching event that I had been dreading.
There was a sense of mutual respect that I could feel. As if by telling my son the truth, by not lying, by not trying to protect and swaddle him - that I had somehow given him a new dimension of reality. That life sometimes is colored in a good way by those who love us and want only the best for us.

I made it through the next set of lights – miraculously they all had been green.

“Thanks Mom,” my son said. “For telling me the truth. You don’t have to worry, I won’t tell any of the other kids at school. And I still believe in the magic of Christmas. After all, it is Jesus’ birthday and that is the really special part anyway.”

We had reached the swimming pool and as he gathered his swim gear he leaned over and gave me a kiss.

“I love you,” he said waving as he closed the car door and skipped off for his two hour practice.

That was a magical moment and for that moment, I am grateful.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Just another Monday Morning

...and after a spot of coffee with my husband who is now at the office grinding through another day I got to thinking. What would it be like if the daily straggle of grocery shopping, laundry and sending our loved ones off to school and work didn't exist? What if I were just me without a network of family members to care for and a full time job to take my time? ..It is good to be alive.

What if...well, on this Monday morning I counted my blessings that I have a husband and son to care for. And although the grind of matching socks and keeping toilets clean and making sure there is fresh milk in the refrigerator are just that-a bit of a grind the options and alternatives could be so much more bleak....

I could be sitting somewhere without a roof over my head, with one arm or one limb missing. I could have no skills to help me make my way in this wacky world. I could have bombs dropping on me. Or a case of malaria one door away. I could have a parent missing- incarcerated, sick or dead. There are so many people so much worse off than I that as I contemplate the best way to untangle a wet pair of jeans from a slippery black sock wrapped tighter than a boa constrictor around its truly blessed I am. Monday October 20th - I will count my blessings and make it not just another Monday morning....

I am reminded of Sesame Street - given the rules and regulations of Wall Street and the rather chaotic state of affairs the simple truths of Sesame Street seem so much well, easier and honest I guess you could say.

"Sunny day sweeping the clouds away..."and I promise to try and make this Monday morning a bit more than just another Monday....