Embrace it or get rid of it

We successfully arrived in our new neighborhood.  It looks like a toy bomb went off in here, but otherwise we are having a really good time so far.

Until I have time to write a longer post, here’s the short version: lots of neighborhood kids, family visits, firefly catching, running around in bare feet, splashing in blow-up pools.  Summer perfection.

My husband and I are desperately trying to get the house together.  It’s considerably smaller than our California apartment, which is a good thing, actually, and has turned out to be an exercise in acceptance and letting go.

Yesterday I saw our new neighbor’s home.  Her house is the other side of our twin, so, it’s pretty much a mirror image of ours, though she has done a number of excellent renovations and additions.

Her home is lovely, a model of taste, comfort and clean simplicity.  I felt such pangs going through that house, a real longing to have  a life different than the 10,000 lb. reality of our life. (Well, actually, our belongings weigh 10,000 lbs, plus the weight of the 44 boxes of books we mailed through the post office; they were obviously not on the moving truck, so they weren’t weighed with the rest of our things.)

As I was falling asleep last night on our new bed (we had to sell our Cal. King bed — ultra-comfy mattress and gorgeous Mission-style frame — right off the moving truck.  When we realized that it would never fit in our bedroom, I used Craigslist and an impossibly low price to make sure that we didn’t have to take that beast into this tiny home) I thought about that yearning for a simpler existence.

That desire makes me subscribe to Real Simple magazine and stimulates my salivary glands when I see displays at Ikea, all organized and neat and impossibly wispy-light.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that moving offers an opportunity to see all your worldly possessions, to touch them again after they’ve been stored away in plastic bins for years, to make the decision to bring them with you, to give them away, to sell them or to trash them.  And when you arrive at your new destination, you get that opportunity all over again as you unpack and settle in.

I figured that I can either embrace all this stuff and celebrate where I’ve been, who I am and what I’ve collected or I can throw it all out.  

For whatever reason, this is a real challenge for me.

Whatever I do, I realized that it’s no use fretting about it.  Either way, the kids will still come over and play and will still run in and out, demanding snacks and juice.

And it’s all good.

This is one big country

I was thinking this today as we continued to drive across it.

After manic packing all last week, the moving truck came on Friday.  It was a long day for us, especially for my husband, who packed absolutely non-stop the whole time the movers were moving.

We had gone to bed the night before, exhausted, at about 3 am.  We just couldn’t do another thing, but there was still lots to do.  Luckily, we had some help getting the kitchen packed up (you know who you are!), and that really helped us over the hump.

Then, after a couple of goodbyes, we finally hit the road at about 10 pm on Friday night.  Incredibly, the girls fell soundly asleep, and Dwayne and I chatted about this huge move we’re making.  We made it to Barstow, CA at about 11:30 pm or so and checked into a Holiday Inn Express.

The next day we slept in late — we all needed the rest! — and then we grabbed breakfast at a Denny’s and headed out for the Grand Canyon.  We will try to avoid Denny’s again if we can.  I thought I remembered that Denny’s was pretty OK food, just cheap, but it’s not, really.  Blech.

Since we had come into Barstow in the dark, it was really amazing to step out of the hotel and to see it in the daylight.  We were staying next to a bunch of outlet shops, but other than that, there was the highway and then, desert.  I really felt that our journey had begun when I saw that desert and felt the heat beating down on us at only 9 am.

We made pretty good time to the Grand Canyon and got there with enough daylight left to check in at Bright Angel Lodge — we were staying at Thunderbird Lodge.  We walked along the paved rim path, enjoyed the sunset and then got some yummy dinner.  I had a delicious red pepper cream soup.  (I took a picture of it since it was so pretty, but unfortunately, I realized that we didn’t pack the software necessary to upload pics from Dwayne’s camera onto my machine.  I can probably find the necessary software online, but I just don’t feel up to it right now.)

This morning, we took a ranger walk and learned about fossils.  He taught us about some different kinds of fossils and then let us go hunting for some.  They were 250 million year old fossils from the time when the Pacific Ocean had submerged the place where we were standing.  I didn’t realize that at one time, the Pacific Ocean had covered the Grand Canyon.

Then, after the fossil walk, we walked down a little ways and saw some beautiful petroglyphs.  The ranger had told us that only 5 percent of Grand Canyon visitors venture down below the rim, so just by going down a few hundred feet, we became part of the elite few!  (I also took pictures of the petroglyphs, but I’ll have to post them later.)

Then we had lunch at one of the Canyon restaurants, spent too much at the gift shop and hit the road.

We made our way on Route 160 through Navajo country.  We stopped at a few of the roadside stands to look at jewelry, rugs and pottery, but the prices were really high.  We were surprised because so many people had told us that the prices were reasonable, even cheap, but this is not what we found.

Life on the reservation looks very rough and very poor.  I could not see any economic infrastructure to speak of, except the roadside stands.  I didn’t see much ranching, or farming or any other type of means of earning a living.  Most of the homes were either RVs or trailers or octagonal yurts of some sort.  But most of the homes had pretty nice-looking trucks or SUVs parked outside, which was so weird, given the poor condition of the homes.

We didn’t get to go to Four Corners because the park was closed when we passed by.  Right now, we are in Cortez, Colorado.  The girls swam in the hotel pool, and then we gave them a bath.

Dinah and Djuna seem to be enjoying the trip so far.  They do ask often how far we are from our new home, and they’re very excited to get there.

Everyone is sleeping soundly, while I type this post and enjoy a cup of hot herbal tea made with hot water from the hotel room coffee pot and a tea bag I found in my back pack.

I think I’ll go join my sleeping family.


OK, now *that’s* disgusting

Short post here, but I just had to take a minute in the midst of packing hell to share this.

There is a new tenant in our building, and she seems to be, uh, a troubled sort. Late at night, she brings home drunken men, and there have been a number of scenes in the parking lot behind our building. Once, one of her friends threw up all the way from the parking lot to the woman’s apartment, so we were treated to piles of vomit when we came outside in the morning.  Excellent.

Last night, though, her friends topped even that.

I was packing like mad yesterday, and I got tired at the end of the day and left a few things outside of the storage space — a few bins of Christmas ornaments, a few empty boxes, and a bin of bike helmets and bike gear.  I vaguely thought, at one point, that I should go outside and put everything away, but I was just too tired.

So I left the stuff outside and did a little more work dismantling my office.  I did think a couple more times that I should go out to move the stuff in, but I just couldn’t propel myself in that direction.  

A little later, around 12:30 am, I heard the woman pull in the parking lot, and a few guys poured themselves out of her car and started staggering around.  I heard them all, cursing, talking loud, and one of the neighbors yelled out of her window at the drunken revelers to shut up and watch the language.

Then, I heard a scuffle on the side of the building, and then one of the drunk guys said, “Dude, [garbled name] just pissed all over the [garbled description of something or other].”

I knew in my heart that one of the drunken idiots had just peed all over my Christmas ornaments.

I ran outside, and sure enough, there was a fresh wet spray on the wall.  The amount was impressive, I’ll give him that.  The liquid was pooling on the ground, threatening the neatly stacked boxes.  I couldn’t even bear to look at the bins of ornaments.

I scooted out to the driveway just in time to see the woman running to her car from her apartment.  I guess she knew that she needed to leave before the cops got there.

I called the cops, explaining that a drunken fool had just urinated on my Christmas ornaments.  It was one of those moments when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry at how completely bizarre life can be.

When the police came, the nice officer shined his flashlight on the bins of Christmas ornaments, nicely illuminating the drops of pee, and explained that there was nothing they could do since the car and the dudes were gone.  

So, my husband and I got water and doused the area and moved everything inside, which I should have done in the first place.

I guess the lesson is: you never know when someone will pee on your Christmas ornaments.

The long goodbye

We are living in a pure chaos of stacked boxes, errands, goodbyes to friends … it’s frantic.  It’s happy, sad, heart-wrenching, exhausting.  I’ve been trying really hard to face the goodbyes head-on, and in the process, I realize what a rich life we’ve had here in Southern California for 12 years.  

Though this is overall a happy move, you can see that we are all stressed out in the silly, klutzy accidents that have been happening.  For example, just today I dropped my beloved camera and trashed it, I’m sure.  Stuff like that always happens when I’m running around, stressed.  I remember how I sprained my ankle moving out of my apartment the night before I graduated from college. 

I’ve been trying so hard to get around to everyone to say goodbye, but ultimately, I know I won’t be able to get to every single person on my list.  This is a very difficult realization for a perfectionist like me.  I want to hug everyone who’s touched my heart, let them know how much they mean to me, ask them to join Facebook if they haven’t, let them know what their friendship means.

Back in April, I fantasized that I could do it.  But I know today that I cannot. Dammit.

Barrettes for a previously bald chick

I got some barrettes!

This is a very big deal for me because at this time last year, I was bald.

I remember the first time after cancer treatment that I felt the wind in my (very) short hair.  What luxury!  It was a luscious feeling after months of being bald.

Soon after that, I needed to actually run my fingers through my hair in order to tame it.  And more recently, I’ve needed to use a comb or brush.  All of these are incredible sensory experiences that I’m sure I took for granted before my cancer treatment took all my hair away.

All my life, my hair has been a statement because of sheer volume and lots of curls.  Now that it’s growing back from chemo, it’s even curlier than it used to be; I hear that this is not uncommon for post-chemo hair.

Since it’s so curly, it’s starting to look a little goofy, but I’m not ready to have it cut or shaped.  After we’re on the East Coast, I figure it will have enough length to be worth shaping.  So for now, I figured that barrettes might tame some of the goofier curls, and I swiped a couple of my daughters’ clips to test them out.

Today, I needed a little retail therapy because the goodbyes to my friends and workmates (our move is only about two weeks away) are getting more and more overwhelming.  A Target stop was in order, and I got a few new barrettes!  I stood there in the hair accessories aisle at Target and got all choked up to be lucky enough to be there with all the other ladies with hair, doing something so mundane as selecting and buying barrettes.

The thought of having hair long enough to use barrettes is really something.  Really really something.

Movie review: Up

If you want the short review: yes, go see it.  It’s not the best Pixar movie, but it’s well-worth the price of admission.  There are very poignant moments, imaginative moments, funny moments.  It’s entertaining and offers some good things to discuss with the kids after the movie is over.

Here’s the longer review:

We went to see the 3-D version at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood.  The El Capitan theater is owned by Disney and is right across the street from Graumann’s Chinese Theater, so we got to visit the handprints and footprints.  I was particularly interested in seeing the Harry Potter actors’ prints (they did handprints, footprints and wand prints!).

We saw 101 Dalmatians at the El Capitan back in January 2007 when the movie was refurbished, and we had a great time, so we wanted to make sure to take our daughters there one more time before we leave California at the end of the month.  

When you walk in to take your seat, there is organ music playing.  Then, before the movie, there is a goofy stage show.  So, seeing a movie there is a complete, um, experience.

By the time the movie started, I was exhausted from fighting the crowds and sitting through the stage show and the previews.  But the movie was lovely and worth the wait, the high ticket prices and the crazy crowds.

Up is the story of Carl Fredericksen, a crotchety old man whose house is being threatened by the encroaching city.  Carl is trying to hang onto his house, which is an anchor to memories of his life with his beloved wife Ellie.  

The first 15 minutes or so of the film consists of an elegant recap of Carl’s life from boyhood, when he meets Ellie, all the way through their marriage, life together and Ellie’s death.  The vignettes are emotionally wrenching, but visually subtle.  My 5 1/2 year old daughters understood that Ellie died, for example, but they did not catch that she was unable to bear children, something that was revealed only by an image of Ellie in a doctor’s office, her head in her hands.

This tableau of images worked well to protect young kids from material that was too emotionally sophisticated.  They understood enough of the sad material to make out the plot, I think, but not enough so that they cried as much as I did throughout the film.  Which was about 20 times, darn Disney.

The film’s action begins when Carl engineers a way to escape — with his beloved house — from the city that is about to devour the last tether he has to his past life.  

You’ve seen the previews and ads, so you are already aware that Carl uses his equipment from his days as a balloon man at the zoo to make the house go up, up and away.  Unbeknownst to him, however, is the little boy, Russell, who is an unwitting stowaway on his porch.  

The rest of the film consists of the adventures Carl and Russell have as Carl tries to fulfill his promise to Ellie that one day, he will relocate the house to Paradise Falls, a destination Ellie had longed to visit her entire life.

The adventure section of the film was rollicking, funny and imaginative.  I loved Kevin the bird and Dug the dog.  Some of the plot gets a little unbelievable (like the unlikely ability of an old man to hang on to a hose dangling in the air below a house; or the age difference between Carl and the movie’s villain Charles F. Muntz — Muntz was an adult, maybe in his 30s, when Carl was a child, so seeing them both as similarly-aged old men was confusing; what happened to Russell’s father, and who was his mother?)

The last thing I’ll add is that 3-D is not my favorite way to see a movie.  Those glasses gave me a headache, and I just couldn’t get used to them.  I took them off, put them on, focused and re-focused my eyes; even when I had a couple of minutes when the effect worked for me, I just couldn’t understand the purpose.  The 3-D doesn’t make the visuals more appealing or real for me.  I guess I am just not hip enough to appreciate it or something; maybe I don’t play enough video games, but I like a well-done 2-D movie just fine, thank you very much.

All in all, I’m glad we had the opportunity to see Up on the big screen.  I’ve thought about the movie a lot in the last few days, something that, for me, means that the movie has some sticking power.  The emotions and poignancy of the film still resonate, my girls and I are still talking about how funny Dug the dog was, and my daughter Dinah thinks the head bad dog, Alpha, was handsome.  

But that’s another story.

Straight talk, after Prop 8 was upheld by California high court

If one or both of my daughters are gay, then you can be darn tootin’ sure that if I have anything to say about it, they will be able to marry whosoever they damn well want to.

And, I’ll add that if one or both of my daughters marries a member of the same gender as themselves, my straight marriage to my husband won’t be threatened or endangered by their actions.

Our family will be just fine, thank you very much.

The bizarro world of buying & selling on Craigslist

My husband and I decided to take our girls to Disneyland before we move to Philadelphia.  In spite of the economy, we decided to go ahead and splurge.  None of the amusement parks near Philadelphia is like Disneyland, and we have no idea when we’ll get to Florida, though we would love to get there to check out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at some point after it opens in 2010.

But it’s a small fortune to take a family of four to Disneyland, and we don’t have any of our birthdays coming up in time so that one of us can go in for free in order to save at least a little money.

So, we decided that we would sell some things on Craigslist and that we’d put the proceeds toward our Disneyland trip.  We are also on the prowl for boxes and a couple of other things that we want to buy on Craigslist.

Easier said than done.  Craigslist is unpredictable, to say the least.

Here is a little list of my Craigslist lessons:

*Mostly, the e-mails I send for items I would like to buy go unanswered. Why do people put ads up and then not answer their e-mails?  I don’t get it.  Ditto for the e-mails I send in response to e-mails I get for the ads I’ve placed.  People express avid interest in an item, and then when I respond, then they can’t take a minute to say they’ve found something else or that they’ve lost interest?  I’m not sure what the lesson is, except to not count on anyone to get back to you.

*I placed an ad for these super heavy carved stone lamps I got from my step-father years ago when he first moved in with my mother.  There was a flurry of e-mails, and they all said they were very serious about the stone lamps, but I felt obliged to respond to them in a first come, first served fashion.  But every time I exchanged e-mails with the first woman who had responded, she said she was serious, but then she had more questions, like, “Are the lamps more yellow or more white?  The pictures you sent don’t really show the color too well.”  Suffice it to say, the lamps were yellowish white, and the pictures showed that just fine.  I did my best to answer all her questions, and finally I was able to set up a time for this woman to come all the way down from Ventura to see the stinking lamps.  In the meantime, I had to put two other serious buyers on hold, just because I wanted to stick to my original plan of first come, first served.  Well, to my amazement, the Ventura woman actually stood us up and never bothered to call to cancel her appointment with us.  My husband waited all afternoon for this lady.  Nevermind that we weren’t sure if she was OK, if she got lost on the way to our home, or what.  Finally, I just decided that she was a flake, and I called the next woman on my list. She came right over and was so excited to get the lamps because they went perfectly with her decor.  I had wanted to sell to this woman all along because she was so upbeat and charming in her e-mails, so I’m glad she got the lamps in the end.  My lesson was that next time I’ll go with my gut instead of worrying about first come, first served.  

* I wanted to replace a missing hubcap on my Matrix, and I found a scratched up one for $10 on Craigslist.  Perfect!  I figured that the others are scratched up, so they might as well have a scratched up friend to match.  So, I set up a time to meet the hubcap owner in her town, which was kind of far from mine.  Later in the day, she kindly contacted me to let me know that she had decided to spend the night with a friend in a town closer to mine and that I could pick up the hubcap there.  That was nice, I thought.  And so I headed out the next morning, as agreed, and knocked on her friend’s door at 9:30 a.m.  There was no answer.  I waited a couple of minutes and heard stirring inside the apartment.  A young woman stuck her head out the door, and it was clear I had woken her up.  I apologized and said that I had come for the hubcap.  From inside the apartment, I heard more stirring, and then a sleepy voice that said, “Oh, the Craigslist person.  Right, sorry.  Let me put on some pants.”  So I lingered outside of the apartment, trying to look casual, and then another young woman came out of the apartment in a t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops.  She was carrying some car keys.  I realized that she must have left the hubcap in her car.  As we walked to the car, we chatted, and I thanked her for bringing the hubcap to a town closer to mine.  She said it was no problem and then explained that she and her friend had gone to a birthday party the night before and that it had gotten a little wild.  Then I noticed that there was something red smeared on one of her feet.  I thought of the party and thought, Is that ketchup?  Had they been dancing in ketchup?  But what it really looked like was blood.  I was freaked out but determined to get the bargain hubcap, which I did.   And it looks perfect.  The Craigslist lesson?  Beats me.  Don’t dance in ketchup, I guess.

*Another hubcap story.  I was looking for hubcaps for my Corolla too.  I sent an e-mail to someone in South Pasadena because that is a town very near to my workplace.  Of all crazy things, the person who answered my e-mail was one of the teachers at my school!  This cracked both of us up, of course.  He brought the hubcaps to work, but they didn’t fit my car.  No lesson here, except that you never know who you’re gonna meet on Craigslist.

And that’s it for now.  Through Craigslist we have made a little money towards our Disneyland trip, and we’ve met a few nice people who have made our moving load a little lighter.

OK, so I’m sitting here

For the second time in my life as a mom, my little girls have asked for me to let them put themselves to sleep like big girls.

So I read to them, got out of bed, turned off the light, turned on some lullabies, kissed them, told them I love them, tucked them in and slipped out of the room.

For the second night in a row, they feel asleep almost immediately.

Now I’m blogging, but just before that, I was just sitting here, staring into space.  I should be grateful that I have the night to myself, but I am in shock and not sure what to do with my time.  I should probably be going through files or packing boxes, but I feel disoriented.

We have always put our girls to sleep by reading them a story and then cuddling with them until they fall asleep.  Only then do we sneak out.  Lots of times, doing this makes me so tired that I end up just going to bed.

Sometimes, it made me crazed that I almost never had the evenings to myself.  My husband offered to put the girls to bed, but since I work out of the home full time, I really like bedtime so that I can spend time with the girls and read them stories.  I just wished that I had the energy after that to stay up and hang out with my husband and do other stuff, but so often I just don’t.

But then my friend Sandy told me to enjoy the bedtimes, that soon enough they would be a thing of the past.  So, I made peace with the fact that I just wouldn’t have the nights to myself for a while.

And now, here I am with a night to myself, and I just don’t know what to do with it.  I just want to snuggle with my girls, but at the same time I am so proud of them for wanting — and asking for — some independence.

I honestly can’t believe how fast they’re growing up.

See you on the flip side

We are moving across the country at the end of June.

When we were 30, my husband and I came out to California for an adventure. After 12 years, we’re heading back to Philly. We’re packing up the apartment we’ve lived in those 12 years, and then we’ll drive two cars and two cute twins and head back to where we left from.

I think my husband and I have always known we would move back East to raise our girls near family. As we were struggling with my cancer last year, I think the timetable just moved up. And it’s for the best, I think. My daughters are in Kindergarten, and it’s got to be better to make this move now rather than when they’re older and really rooted here.

We actually found a home to rent on my sister’s street, 150 footsteps from her house, to be exact. Cup-of-sugar borrowing distance. My girls will walk to the bus stop with their big cousin, my sweet nephew. It’s a great street where there are block parties and the kids all play together. I can teach my sis to knit, and maybe she can show me how to sew a skirt.

I have a new job at a terrific school, and there are some interesting opportunities opening up for my husband. We’ll be able to regularly visit lots of relatives and friends that we haven’t seen much over the last 12 years, including my 91-year-old grandfather and my mom. We’ll get to see my husband’s family, too, both in Philly and at the Jersey Shore. We’ll be able to spend time in the Catskills, too, and in our family’s cottage in Maine.

But, we’re leaving our amazing community in So. Cal. where:

-we have warm, lovely, thoughtful friends we’ve known for the years we’ve been here. These friends have clapped, cheered and prayed for us as we got married, had kids, made big career changes, fought cancer and then decided to return home. My girls call my women friends “Auntie,” and one of them, “Auntie Lisa” has been like an aunt to them. She listens to their secrets and understands them and has watched them grow up. Lisa supported me through my whole cancer journey, from freak-outs in her office when I was sure I was going to die, to hanging out with me during what I call the “blue meany” days of chemo. I have lots of other stories about things big and small that my California friends have done through the years, good times we’ve had.

-we have made brand new friends with two special families, just within the last few months. One is a family we met through my daughters’ Kindergarten friend and the mom and I bonded over Obama, knitting, Harry Potter and more; and the other is a family we met when the mom picked me up in a Trader Joe’s when she saw me there last spring, wearing a bandanna over my bald chemo head. With both of these families, we have all had fun hanging out together, and it’s crazy to think that we’ve found families where our kids are the same age and where we all have fun together, and now we’re moving.

-I have met some amazing, strong women who have fought breast cancer. These women have helped me through by sharing their intimate stories, by e-mailing, spending time together and much more. One of them is a special friend at work who was the first one who told me that I’d make it through to the other side. She leaves me cards during the hard days and made me care packages during my year of treatment.

-my father lives only about an hour away. I’ve had a complicated time with him in the last three years, but we’re finding our way to some peace again. And, I recently was able to reconnect with my step-brothers, too, so it’s hard to leave now because of that. And seriously, I am so grateful for Facebook, because I know I’ll be able to keep in touch with my step-brothers (and lots of other folks, too) that way.

-I fought breast cancer with the help of terrific doctors and nurses.

-we love our daughters’ school and our town.

-I have an interesting job and also journalism contacts. My husband’s career blossomed here, and he’ll be leaving all the people he’s met along the way, people who gave him opportunities, encouraged him and championed him.

-we’re leaving the sunshine and the broad, open light, palm trees and flowers year-round.

It’s a hard transition, bittersweet in so many ways. What gets me through is knowing that we’ll be closer to so many people we’ve missed for so long and that my daughters will grow up knowing these people, too, in addition to the wonderful people we’re leaving behind in California.

They say you can’t go home again. We’ll have to see about that.