Change Has Come

I watched my first inauguration today (and almost kept my kids home to watch it with me!) and on this day of change, I'm making a change too.

For several months I've been posting the same things on this blog and on my other site.  Today I won't. While I love LiveJournal and this is where I started, I've decided to save myself the confusion and just have one blog address. For those of you that read and comment here at LiveJournal, I am leaving these links so you can visit me at Blogspot.

Thanks for reading -- see you there!

The Office

My son set up an office for himself last year. He emptied the shelves and restocked them with his favorite books. My husband found an old OFFICE sign which we lovingly stuck on the door. Drew spends hours in there with the door shut, reading and rereading, sometimes even writing and doing homework.

Unfortunately, his choice of office space conflicts with my daughter's bladder. And bathing.

Why he enjoys reading and writing in the bathroom is beyond my comprehension. But whenever he disappears for 30 minutes, an hour, or more, the first place we look is Drew's office. My husband joked that for Christmas we should have bought him a padded toilet seat.

I've always preferred window seats, sofas, beds and armchairs for curling up with a good book. But that's just me. Drew says he likes the bathroom because he can shut the door and no one disturbs him. Personally, that's never worked for me. My children have no qualms about following me into the bathroom and asking for a snack, like I've got a stocked mini fridge by the toilet!

I'm glad he enjoys reading so much. I just wonder have to wonder, why there? Anybody else like reading in the bathroom?

Up in Flames

Well, Christmas is finally over.

I know. For the rest of you, it's been over for at least two weeks. But here in Solvang, the season doesn't end until we've burned all the trees.

Every year the fire department encourages people to throw their Christmas trees on the acreage in front of the Old Mission Santa Ines. Then on the 2nd Friday night in January, close to a thousand of us gather on the lawn to watch our trees burn.

It's pretty frightening to see how quickly an old Christmas tree can ignite! The firemen always pull out a few to show us how important it is to keep them watered, etc. But that's not what we're there to see. We want to feel the scorching heat of a thousand trees burning in our faces.

And believe me, once the trees light up, everyone backs away. The heat is incredible. It feels like you could get a sunburn just watching the flames! Twenty minutes later, the fire dies down and people start walking home, stopping to smile and talk to friends.

It's a unique way to bring closure to the season. I wouldn't miss it for anything.

Still Giving

This afternoon as the checker rang up my groceries, I noticed the black rubber bangles she wore on her right wrist. Studded with silver and brass bands, the bracelets were simple and lovely.

I told her I liked them and she told me the story behind them. Made by women in Africa and sold around the world, the money goes to help families affected by AIDS in that country. Then she took off one of the bangles and handed I to me.

Of course my first reaction was to hand it back. “What? No. You don’t have to do that.”

She pushed my hand away. “No, really. If you like it, take one.”

I realize that this is Solvang where we know the grocery store checkers by name. But still. I’ve never had someone take off what they’re wearing and hand it to me just because I said I liked it!

I decided to take the gift from her. If there’s a lesson I’ve learned during this 29 Days of Giving, it’s that whatever you give away will come back to you in one form or another. She was willing to give me the bracelet and even though I haven’t given away any jewelry (yet!) it’s all part of this circle of giving. It’s amazing and beautiful and I’ve been so touched by the simplest encounters.

It’s just a bracelet. But every time I look at it and wear it, it will be a reminder to me of this 29 day journey, of giving, just for the sake of giving.

Ready for the New Year

My in-laws left this morning after a two-week visit. The house is in shambles, nothing is where it should be and I feel so out of sync. But not for long.

Thankfully, my writing class starts in a few days and I'm really looking forward to deadlines and writing on a regular basis again. I had a deadline over the holidays for a local magazine. That was tough. I was so not in the writing zone. I've been wrapping, eating, singing, partying, cooking, baking, playing...everything but writing! I'm looking forward to just being back to normal.

Our family has a New Year's Day tradition of going to the beach. We live about 25 minutes from the ocean and we've only had rain on New Year's Day once. Somehow looking out across the ocean and breathing in the sea air brings such a sense of being alive, of being able to accomplish anything in the new year. I love that the beach is practically deserted. We feel like we own it, like we've discovered this secret that only we can share.

I'm not one for making resolutions, but childish as it sounds, I do believe in the power of wishes. My goal for this coming year is to dream big, reach for the stars, and  do everything in my power to see my wishes become reality.

It's the start of a new year, the beach is calling, and anything is possible...

Family Traditions

My husband has a glittery golden reindeer that he hangs at the top of the tree each year. It has to go up first and nothing can go higher except the tree topper. The irony is, my husband HATES glitter. But he’s had that ornament since he was a child and his father used to lift him up so he could put it near the top. For the sake of childhood memories, he overlooks the glitter.

One Christmas Eve his mom got home late from work and made tacos for dinner. Everyone loved it, so she kept making tacos for dinner every Christmas Eve. It became a tradition that all four of her kids carry on today in their families.

My family would eat popcorn, cookies and hot cocoa on Christmas Eve, open one present and watch whatever holiday fare was on tv.  My dad would also insist on a roaring fire to keep any fat men from breaking and entering through the chimney, but our stockings still managed to get filled by morning. My kids think this is an excellent way to spend Christmas Eve after a nice taco dinner.

Before I had children, I was really anal about where the ornaments went on the tree. Everything had to be spaced properly and color coordinated. These days, I don't have time or energy to control such ridiculous details. And the haphazard way the kids decorate the tree has a charm all it's own. They love to listen to Christmas carols and sip candy cane tea as we unwrap and hang each treasure from the ornament box.

We have a Christmas village that grows larger each year. My husband's grandmother started us off more than 10 years ago with a bank. (She worked her entire life at a bank.) Each year we add one new building. The four of us spend a lot of time in the store trying to agree on which piece to buy each year. It’s one of the things our family looks forward to every December.

What traditions do you look forward to each holiday season?

Food for Thought

There is something inherently wrong with paying perfectly good money for creatures I would normally kill with relish. And yet I seem to find myself forking over my hard earned cash every week or two simply to buy insects for the dining pleasure of a lizard or two. Okay, it’s not a lot of cash, but still!

Meet Sarah and Travis, our cricket guzzling, spider chomping, rescued pet lizards. My daughter saved Sarah from the jaws of death, otherwise known as Twinkle the cat, and decided we should keep her as a pet.  A couple days later, my son rescued another lizard from Twinkle and named it after cousin Sarah’s brother, Travis.

While I’m happy to admit that it’s actually quite fascinating to watch these scaly pets devour insects, I’m rather disturbed that I’m buying food for them that they could have for free if they just roamed around our back yard. Instead I pay someone to kill the insects outside, and pay for insects to feed the lizards inside. How screwed up is that?

The kids and I go on Insect Expeditions where we turn over rocks and dig for bugs to feed the lizards. And whenever you hear the cry, “Bug jar! Bring the bug jar!” you know that someone has found a spider poking his head up where he shouldn’t.

We often find Twinkle on top of the lizard cage trying to finish off the job he was so rudely interrupted from. He can’t understand why we get hysterical and chase him away. Sometimes, neither can I…

Christmas Favorites

Part of the fun of Christmas in our house is getting to read all our holiday favorites. My husband and I have been lucky enough to still have a few of the books from when we were children. One of his comes out every December and we all enjoy the story.

“A Little Cowboy’s Christmas,” published in 1951 by Wonder Books (a division of Grosset and Dunlap that no longer exists) is a sweet story of a father’s desperate search on Christmas Eve for a rocking horse for his son. The kids laugh at the 39¢ price on the cover. And while a lot of Wonder Books have become collectibles, ours isn’t in great shape. It would probably still sell for 39¢ today!

Not that we’d sell it. For us that book is worth so much more. Pulling it down from the shelf every year is like unwrapping a Christmas ornament and remembering how much you've enjoyed seeing it hang on the tree year after year. It just wouldn't be Christmas without it.

Isn't the vintage artwork great? And notice something else about the cover? The author and illustrator aren't even mentioned! You have to open the book to find out who did the work. I wonder how much they got paid back then for this type of book? It's interesting to see how things change over time.

What are some of the Christmas favorites in your home?

It's the Thought that Counts?

A few weeks ago Mary Hershey  issued a challenge based on Cami Walker’s website, 29 Days of Giving. I accepted the challenge and promptly discovered something about myself: I have lots of good intentions, but I don’t always follow through.

Don't get me wrong. If I SAY I’m going to do something, I will go to painful lengths to make sure that I do it. I can’t stand flakes.

What I’m talking about are all the kind thoughts that pass through my brain on any given day. I should write a thank-you note to so-and-so. Three months later I still haven’t and feel too embarrassed to do it now. (Miss Post would roll over in her grave!) Or, I’m going to donate those outgrown clothes to charity or a child I know who would look cute in them And the clothes are still in my garage gathering dust. I should offer to help so-and-so. They’re having a rough week. But I don’t do it.

The thought doesn’t always count. Sometimes people need to see in real practical ways that you care about them, that you’re willing to put yourself out there for them. So for me, this challenge was a way of forcing myself to act on all these “nice thoughts.”

And how have I done? I’ve managed to give something away every day, sometimes twice a day and I’m loving it. Sometimes it’s hard. I get caught up in my day and then try to figure out what to give. But every time I give, whether it’s a concrete thing or my time or my assistance, I feel good. And sometimes, I get something right back. It’s a sweet little perk!

I hope I can maintain this level of giving once the challenge is over, because I’ve realized something else by doing this challenge: I have a lot to give. Of course I have days where I feel like life sucks and people should be giving ME stuff! (I could really use a tiny fraction of that bailout money!!) But I live in America. I’ve got plenty to give, and I’m not just talking about stuff. I’ve probably been the most satisfied when I give things that you can’t put a dollar amount on: helping a stranger with my design talent and positive word-of-mouth; writing a thank-you note even though it’s late; giving my kids an afternoon to do whatever they want to do with me even though I’ve got deadlines.

So a big thank you to Mary and Cami. I wouldn’t have done this without them.

And now I challenge you. Don’t just think about it. Do it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Don’t you love reading something so funny it makes you laugh out loud?

Two summers ago on vacation in South Carolina, my son discovered Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He was only 7 years old, but he totally loved that book and read the whole thing out loud to us, sometimes laughing so hard we could barely understand the words!

Last night in the car on the way home from Santa Barbara, he was rereading the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar. He read out loud to us his favorite funny parts. But even as he read to himself, I could hear his chuckling delight and it made me laugh.

Jasmine recently discovered the Dumb Bunnies series by Dav Pilkey. I realize some people think he is too irreverent for children, but omigosh I LOVE him. And I love that even at this young age, she gets everything she’s reading and just laughs and laughs as she reads the books!

A.J. Jacobs is making me laugh out loud right now. (Yes, I’m actually reading a book intended for people over the age of 12. Shocking, I know.) I’m reading The Year of Living Biblically and I have to say I love his honesty and his dry wit. Coming from a conservative Christian background, I totally relate to some of the absurdities of religion and I love his “outsiders” perspective on the whole concept of Christianity.

Since I can’t read just one book at once, I’m also busy reading Sea of Monsters, book two in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. While I don’t laugh aloud in these books, they do make me smile. Percy's world completely captures my imagination and I’m thinking Riordan’s pretty brilliant.

What’s making you laugh out loud these days? Tell me. Books that can crack up my family are always a good thing!