Thursday, December 30, 2010

Page 2

When we arrived in Los Angeles--bright eyed and a bit overwhelmed by the size of the place--our first mission was to find a place to live.  We had no idea where to start looking, but we had a general idea where the campus was and where my office was, so we somehow settled in San Gabriel, within walking distance to the Clearman's North Woods Restaurant, where we often enjoyed a burger, red cabbage salad, and cheese bread.  (We stopped for lunch at this same restaurant 13 years later, when we passed through LA on our way out of California for good--a fitting bookend.)  

A look though the newspaper for an affordable apartment was our first clue that we were no longer in the little leagues.  In northern Michigan, we had both paid around $100 a month for a room.  In LA, we were shocked that we were going to need to shell out more than $400 a month for an apartment.  In one of those apartments, we saw termites floating in the toilet and realized that we needed to adjust our baseline.  I don't remember exactly what we paid for our first apartment--I think it may have been closer to $500 a month--but I do remember it was on the second floor of a indistinct complex.  It had two rooms and a very small kitchen, and we decorated it with two lawn chairs and a blow-up mattress.

I went to work immediately, and Tom filled his days building a resume and scouring the paper for jobs.  Since we had only one car, Tom drove me to and from my office.  

Shortly after we moved in, a neighbor knocked on the door and invited Tom to play poker.  George was very tall, fair, mustached, and he smoked a pipe.  He managed a local Friendly's, I believe, and was desperately in love with a Mexican woman whom he was trying to bring to California.  He and Tom became fast friends and often spent afternoons lounging around the pool. I don't recall George being a good influence on Tom, but I do recall that he made killer potstickers. 

Another set of neighbors, a couple from India, recently had a baby.  The woman often knocked on our door to chat or to bring us Indian snacks.  She also often paced back and forth in front of our living room window, singing to her baby.  I have to admit that we sometimes didn't answer the door when she knocked, as it was difficult to bring her visits to an end. 

About two weeks after we settled in, Tom was in a Kinko's getting resumes copied.  When he walked out of the store, he saw that "some poor fella's parked car had been hit."  Then he realized it was our car, totaled by a guy who only tell Tom, "I hit car."

Another two weeks later, it rained.  We walked outside to crisp, clear skies and were shocked to discover that we lived about a mile from the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, which we had never seen due to the smog. 

Welcome to LA...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Page 1

June 1987.  I've just graduated from Michigan Tech University, and I'm scheduled to be at USC in Los Angeles for grad school in September.  Tom (not yet Husband) decides to come along. "I've always wanted to go to LA," he says casually.  I don't think either of us gave the arrangement much thought beyond that.  My parents are somewhat glad I'm not going alone.  His parents are reluctant (read: highly distraught with his impetuous decision) but let us take the car they've given Tom.  Neither of us has ever been west of the Mississippi.  

Concerned about my finances, my mother arranges an interview for an LA-based job at the copper and brass manufacturing company for which she works.  The job:  inside sales at a distribution warehouse--a position for which I have no experience.  As a Communications major with job experience as a lifeguard, working at the dorm desk, and writing news releases for the university news bureau--selling copper fittings and tubing to plumbers was a stretch.  But I somehow talk them into hiring me, so we need to leave for LA earlier than we had planned. 

We pack up all our worldly possessions--clothes, blankets, one of the original Macintosh computers (maybe even a Mac II?) and its diskettes, and head out across the country.  Across the country.  An adventure I'd never envisioned myself on.  I don't really know what grand plan I had in mind for myself, but I'm pretty sure it didn't involve being in Los Angeles. In pictures of the trip, we looked like a couple of carefree kids, to be sure.  Tom has a gift for driving long distances without getting tired, and I doze off every couple of hours.  I didn't drive much.       

I do remember going zen when we drove through Kansas.  Those forever fields of warm, yellow wheat, with long trains or tall silos the only breaks in the scene, hypnotized me. We watched a huge thunderheads develop and let loose in the distance.  In Topeka, we stopped for lunch, where we were offered "Kerrs and Kerrs Lite" as beverage choices.  Tom ordered a "Kerrs." 

We pass through St. Louis.  Into Colorado, we see snow on the caps, and we delight in driving through tunnels.  In Golden, we stop at Buffalo Bill's grave site--for no reason, I imagine, other than we were there, and it was there.  My guess is that I had to convince Tom to stop, for he's not generally a sucker for tourist stops, and I am.  In our pictures, he wears a white trucker's cap that reads "America Rocks." 

Across Utah, we were both captivated by the canyons and colors of the landscape, that in places, looked more like a moonscape.  We take a break in Zion, the only national park stop on this trip, and hiked through sandstone cliffs with warm, western colors that danced and changed with the light.  Such a contrast to the forested landscapes of Michigan, where we both grew up.

We are only a day or two away from Los Angeles, where everything contrasts to all the previous days of our lives growing up in Michigan.  Those pages to come...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010



Dearest William: 

In this belated birthday letter for 2010--the year you turned 11--I will tell you why I think you may be destined to become a frat boy...

It came to light yesterday, when you were describing the "Core Olympics" in which your class was participating on the last day of school before Christmas break.  

"I really want to be in the frozen t-shirt contest, where you take a frozen t-shirt and defrost it enough to put it on.  The first one on wins."  

A frat challenge for 11 years olds if I've ever heard of one.  

Backing up in time to four months ago:  It's the middle of August, and you've been at Camp Billings for two weeks.  When Dad, Max, and I arrive to take you home, Mia greets us first.

"Will has been wearing the same sock for a week."  

Notice she said "sock" not "socks".  

Sure enough, when I find you at the tether ball with Baxter, you're wearing one knee-high rainbow-striped toe sock on one foot, a black strip of fabric tied around your other ankle, and your red Crocs.  

"Are other people dressed like that too?" I asked.  They were not. 

Another 11yo frat boy sight to behold.  


One of the things I LOVE about you is that your sense of self and independence is already strong and bold.  You've got your own style, you make your own choices, and you don't really seem to give a flip about what others think. 

That's not to say you're not conscientious.  Your trendy Justin Bieber hair swoosh and your skinny jeans give that away.  

In this, your sixth-grade year, you are holding strong academically and surprising me with a solid performance in language arts--a subject that didn't spark your interest in any way whatsoever in previous years.  I also see you highly enjoying your first year studying French.  

You took up cross-country running, basketball, snowboarding, and swimming this year--leaving taekwondo behind.  You also loved spending days on the lake with Dad on the sailboat or on a board behind the ski boat.  When I watch you groove on piano and your toe taps, mine does too.

You are still an amazing older brother to Max.  The other day, he was struggling with something--I don't remember what--and you doubled back to kindly help him.  Neither Max nor I asked you to help, but you just did it as naturally as any warmhearted person would.  

Finally, about a month ago, I said something to you, and you scowled at me.  Then you followed with a big grin, as if you say, "I was just kiddin' mom."  And I thought to myself...I don't have much longer before that scowl is NOT followed by that wonderful grin.  

I dunno though...I have a feeling that grin is here to stay and will get you far--with both your mom and the rest of the world.  

I love you. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ho, Ho, Ho!

For a couple days now, I've been working on a blog about how to simplify the holidays.  I deleted it, however, because at the end of the blog, I figured out that being spirited isn't really all that complicated.  

You decorate a tree, give some gifts, bake some cookies, plan a few family meals.  Eh voila!  You got yourself a solid holiday.  

Little One is full of cheer and is pulling the rest of the sluggish family along.  He still believes in Santa and has played "Jingle Bells" on the piano at least 80 times.  He has already watched Charlie Brown, Frosty, and  Rudolph.  And he begs every evening to decorate our tree (standing in our house now, undecorated, for six days).  But it's hard to pull everyone together on weeknights, so tonight, Friday, is his night. 

Our shopping is 98% finished, and admittedly, we've fully embraced the consumerism of the season.  I always think we're going to cut back, but Husband rallies with bargains he finds online.  Plus, I don't feel like we bought stuff the kids won't use.  That seems to be an upside to older children--they actually want practical gifts, usually of an electronic nature.  But Will even put a snowboarding helmet on his list.    

I gave up holiday cards a couple years ago for eco reasons.  I'll also cut back on cookies this year because I'm the person who eats the most and needs the least.  The kids cherish decorating my great-grandmother's cut-out cookies though, just as I did as a kid.  (Mia says the cookies are her favorite holiday tradition.)  I have some dough already in the freezer, so maybe we'll just make a small batch and call it a Christmas day.  

So I just need to pull out some decorations, find a good Santa for Max to visit, bake a few cookies--and I have more than two weeks to pull it all off. So why was I looking to simplify? 

I think I actually need to simplify some other areas of my life, not the holidays.  Christmas comes only once a year, and it really does bring out the happy in people.  Plus, I think we have only another two or three years left of the Santa Show.  So it's definitely time for me get on the sleigh and get a shot of seasonal joy.  

Or maybe a bottle of seasonal joy (one with lots of bubbles), a Starbucks Cranberry Bliss bar, and some Christmas tunes.  How simple is that?  Ho, ho, ho! 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Crack in Everything

Feeling a little heavy hearted whenever I see news about Elizabeth Edward's passing today.  What a role model and figure of strength.  

Note to self:  Remember this:  

In an interview, she quoted this from Leonard Cohen's "Anthem": 

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering. 
There's a crack in everything. 
That's how the light gets in.

From her latest book: 

"[When my children] tell their own children about their grandmother, they will be able to say she stood in the storm.  And when the wind did not blow her way--and it surely has not--she adjusted her sails." 

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Dear Max: 

You turned seven 82 days ago, and I missed the opportunity to write you a birthday letter then.  So here goes now... 

Just yesterday, I went to your school library to see if I could find a missing book.  When I told the librarians your name, they both smiled, and said, "We love Max."  They didn't even seem to care that you had lost a book.  I told them that I love you too but that they shouldn't be fooled by your smile.  There's a little rascal in there too.  (See picture above as proof.)  

"He's always so happy," one of them remarked.  "Always smiling."  I confirmed this, and told them that people have been saying this about you since your very early days.  This is truly one of your gifts. 

Also just yesterday, while I was sitting at my desk working, you were carefreely skipping rope around the room.  I stopped and watched you and indulged in the freedom and purity of your kid-ness, and I felt so fortunate to still have that energy in my life.  Your older brother and sister aren't always so free and uncomplicated anymore.  

In the past year, you learned to confidently ride a bike.  You mastered the kneeboard behind the ski boat.  Your reading has advanced leaps and bounds.  Your math mind still amazes me with the things you can figure out.  You started riding the bus after school to the taekwondo studio without Will--a big show of independence.  You marched with the Little League in the Fourth of July parade, and threw candy to only your brother and sister and their friends.  And you kept leaving these notes at my desk: 

During your first second grade school conference, I asked your teachers about your social life. 

"Everybody likes Max," they told me. 

"Yes, but does Max like everybody?" I asked.  

"Well, he's definitely a cat," remarked one of your teachers, suggesting that your social choices were all on your terms.  I cannot think of a better metaphor for you.  

Your older brother is still the center of your life.  You still offer to help me in the garden (which everyone else complains about), and you always reach for my hand when we walk out there.  You organize things, like the kitchen drawer where we keep all the plastic bowls and cups. And you take good care of your fish. 

All this sweetness, then you give me some kind of cool-dude surfer hand gesture in response to some request, and I realize that you are indeed growing up, you won't fit on my lap for much longer, and that jump rope will be too short for you someday very soon. 

Little Man Cat, you are the light of our family, you make us all smile and laugh, and you manage yourself with style.  Keep it real, dude.