Disneyland Tessering (and other Magical Things)

I know. There is bug splat all over my car. It’s pretty grody to look at, and I’m sure the next-door neighbors are frowning at my carport. But I’m not ready to wash it off. Not yet.

My two youngest teens and I just got back from a week-long vacation. It started as a plan to spend Ski Week (aka Presidents’ Week) in Southern California, touring colleges. Yes, it’s true. Teen #2, my 16yo former gymnast, is a junior in high school already. Sensing our time together at home slipping away, I suggested we make this college tour trip super-fun. “How about we spend a day at Disneyland?” I said. *Insert shrieks of enthusiasm from the kids*. In the end, our plans included one of my daughter’s friends, and extended to two days on our favorite sunny SoCal beach, followed by two days in the Happiest Place on Earth.

So off we went, road-tripping through our state, plugging our noses as we passed “Cow-alinga,” admiring the miles of golden hills and farms, and even being surprised by a snowstorm as we drove through the Grapevine. Seriously. Snow, in Southern Cali. So cool, right? That was the beginning of the magic.

The next big Magical Thing was the beach. The amazing blueness of the sky and surf, and the empty golden sands, like the beach was open just for us. (Okay fine, it was freezing cold, an the other beachgoers were probably gathered indoors somewhere with a heater. But still).

Magical Thing #3 was the poke restaurant we discovered, which had macaron ice cream sandwiches. They exist, guys. They exist. And you have not lived until you have tasted one.

Then came the biggest Magical Thing of all. No, it wasn’t getting pictures with both Mickey and Minne Mouse without even waiting in line (though that was pretty rad, too). No, it wasn’t the part where Star Tours was better than ever, and Soarin’ Around the World was better than ever, and Radiator Springs Racers was our favorite new ride and well worth the wait. Nor was it seeing the Black Panther drive by, or meeting Captain America, who was fresh out of lectures, but had a funny story to share about his friend, Thor.

No, the most Magical Thing happened when we just happened to be strolling past the castle on Thursday afternoon. A woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if our family would like to participate in a photo shoot to advertise the new A Wrinkle in Time film, which is coming out next month.

Would we! My son and I had already read the book and can’t wait until the movie is released. So naturally, we said yes. I signed a couple of wavers, then they handed us free t-shirts and directed us to a roped-off area, where we waited with about one hundred other Disneygoers. “Have your phones ready,” the woman advised me. I wondered why.

And then…it happened. The crowd around us erupted into huge cheers. Then they stepped up onto a podium a few feet in front of me — Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, and the Queen herself, Oprah Winfrey. *Insert Screams*

Ohmigod! I was so starstruck, I forgot about the cameras snapping photos of us. Only the top of my head, and my hand, holding up my cell phone made it into the official shot (just to the right of Reese Witherspoon). But who cares? My kids and I got to be part of a very cool, very magical movie promotion along with some of the most talented and famous actresses ever. Eeeeeek! The entire experience took our level of Disney magic to a whole new level. In fact, I think we may have tessered right out of the park and straight to Neverland for a while. I’m still kind of floating there, as the pixie dust hasn’t yet worn off. How did we get so incredibly lucky?

Somehow, we managed to return home safely, though still in a daze of wonder, high on Disney Magic. There are still suitcases to be unpacked. And there’s my car, covered in road trip bug splat, in need of a wash. But that doesn’t even bug me right now. I want to savor this magic, as all magic moments in life are meant to be savored, treasured, and remembered during the times when life seems to have lost its shine. We all need a little magic, sometimes, to remind us why this wonderful, beautiful life we have is so very worth living. May you have your next magic moment soon.

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One Small Thing (aka: Life-Changing Baby Steps)

Big things start with small steps.

It isn’t a new concept. From the moment we were born, we learned and grew in small increments. Before we could talk, we babbled. Before we could run, we had to crawl. Then stand, Then take our first wobbly steps forward. But at last, we could do it — we could run! After that, we mastered running. Owned it. Our childhood motto was: Why walk, when you can run? Some of us still run.

But first, we had to crawl.

Change requires baby steps. It is astounding how much we berate ourselves for not being able to reach our personal potential. Why can’t my body be fit and toned? Why can’t I lose twenty pounds? Why can’t I save enough money to do the things I really want to do? What’s wrong with me?

We blame it on our lack of willpower. Our genetic inheritance. Our own laziness. Or, we try — really, really try. We follow the latest fad diet and exercise like crazy until we tear a muscle, or gain back the weight. We start hoarding money, only to realize that we’ve forgotten to budget enough cash to pay the bills, or buy enough groceries for the family.

Instead of growing, we grow discouraged.

But we’ve forgotten that every positive change starts with small steps. Teeny tiny movements in the right direction. Like learning the sounds of each letter of the alphabet before we are ready to learn to read.

MSNBC’s news website has a lifestyle segment that I often enjoy reading, called Better. Each day, it features tips for one small change that we can take in order to improve in some area of our lives. Sleep better. Eat better. Have better relationships. Be better in the workplace. Manage our finances better. Each time I read one of the articles posted, there, I walk away with new ideas for one small thing to try. One tiny change that may lead me to better habits, and assist me as I strive for excellence.

Because isn’t that what this is all about? Not just trying to grow for the sake of growth, but to strive for excellence. To live our best life possible. To be all that we can be.

I have had a decades-long goal of becoming a better homemaker. I want for my family’s home to be comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, and clean. Even back when I was a full-time SAHM/Homemaker, I was a terrible housekeeper. I could cook well, and sew adorable curtains to hang in the windows. I could paint walls and add special touches to make our house feel like home. But our home was rarely ever clean. I’ve certainly come a long way, as have my kids. But I’m still not where I’d like to be.

I began with baby steps. Start by making your bed. I don’t remember where I once read this advice, but after my ex-husband and I split up, I began to make my bed every day. And know what? I grew to appreciate having a well-made bed to sleep in each night. I also began to keep a very clean bedroom. Uncluttered surfaces, vacuumed floors. Each small change added to my daily happiness, and reduced my stress levels. Soon, I hope that this state of being always tidy spreads to the rest of the house. That’s a little tougher, since those are shared spaces, and my kids, well, they remind me of myself twenty years ago. Some days, I wish that they could just magically become organized teens, with neat bedrooms, and organized school binders.

And know what? Someday, they may get there. They just have to start with one small change. The same is true for you, too.

Cozy Còsagach and Hygge Happiness

Some of us are just better off barefoot.

A coworker of mine didn’t buy this. For Christmas, she gave me not one, but two pairs of warm, fuzzy slipper socks. I love the heck out of slipper socks! So comfy, and that fits well with my philosophy of hygge. (More on that later).

Sadly, it took less than three days before I was down to a single, mate-less slipper sock, its partner and buddies nowhere to be found. I’m sure they wound up in the secret place to which all sockmates vanish, and are drinking and dancing the night away. At a sock-hop, no doubt. My feet, as usual, remain bare.

But no worries. Socks are not required to live the hygge life.

Oh silly Jupiter Girl, says my inner snob. Hygge is soooo 2016. We’re all about còsagach now.

Ok fine. Whatever. Danish hygge, Gaelic còsagach, the idea is the same. Get cozy.

Hygge Defined

I am all about coziness in our family’s home. There is nothing better than to come in after a day in a cold, loud, and hectic world, and be surrounded by warmth, family, and good food. Thick, hearty soups and chowders. Soft sweaters. A crackling blaze in the fireplace (for those of you with fireplaces).

My family loves nothing better on a chill winter’s day than to curl up with soft blankets and throws on the couch and read books, or watch a TV show, or just converse with each other while scented candles glow across the room. Throw in some steaming mugs of earl grey, or perhaps some rich, sweet cocoa, and you have just defined our version of hygge. Or còsagach. No matter what you name it, it means the same thing. Home.

No socks required.

Merry Cookiemas!

I asked my kids if it would be okay if I didn’t do a bunch of cookie baking this Christmas. They were horrified.

“But Mom! It wouldn’t be Christmas without your cookies!”

Naturally, I couldn’t bear to ruin their Christmas. So, as usual, I spent day after day wrapped in an apron, measuring, mixing, shaping, and baking. Then a few more days melting, dipping, drizzling, and sprinkling. And voila! Christmas = made. This year’s cookie menu? The usual iced sugar cookies, some maple-glazed pumpkin cookies, cranberry-orange-white chocolate cookies (the trick is to use fresh cranberries, not dried); chocolate mint-chip cookies, peppermint cookies & cream balls, and as always, the Best Cookie Ever – alfajores. Which, in case you don’t know, are an Argentine specialty consisting of two complex shortbread cookies sandwiched together with sweet dulce de leche, then coated in powdered sugar. *Drool*

The Christmas baking is both my favorite and least favorite baking of the year. Least favorite, because it is soooo time-consuming. Not to mention messy. And exhausting. These are not the easiest cookies to prepare – especially the four-step alfajores. But also my favorite, because I adore giving away my cookies. They are delicious. And festive. Bite after bite of sweet, chewy, homemade Christmas Spirit.

I do wish that I had a few good friends to share my Christmas cookies with. Years ago, I had a fun tradition of leaving containers of cookies on my friends’ doorsteps on Christmas Eve. Of course, they always knew who had delivered them, but it was still fun, in a magical St. Nick sort of way. I miss that, a lot. Instead, I will bring these babies to the office, to share with a couple dozen coworkers who probably still don’t even know my name. And I will distribute some to family members, who rarely acknowledge my existence, but will enjoy the treats anyway. But best of all, I get to share them with my kids, as we enjoy these Christmas days together. And hopefully, one day, they will take on the tradition in their own kitchens.

Donut Holes (aka: Running at a Walk Pace)

CIM Start Line

Yesterday, I participated in a marathon for the first time ever. No, not a Netflix marathon. It was the California International Marathon  , a popular race where runners from around the globe came to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon, or the US Marathon Championship, or the Olympic trials, or the $20,000 first place prize (I wish). The race begins in Folsom (think gold country, Sierra Nevada foothills). Then it heads downhill, winds through my suburban neighborhood, and ends in front of the California State Capitol. 26.2 very long, exhausting miles.

Okay, fine, fine…I did not participate as a runner. I participated as a volunteer, handing out thousands of water bottles at the finish line. My thirteen year-old son was a volunteer, too. My sixteen year-old daughter was also a volunteer. But she was a volunteer runner. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. She and some friends from her high school cross-country team signed up to be sag runners, who purposely run at the slowest possible pace in order to encourage the marathoners who are lagging at the rear.

Their plan was to run the first half of the marathon, then head home. But get this — halfway through the race, my daughter sends me a text: Hey mom, we’ve decided to run the whole thing!

That’s right. Those little girls ran the entire California International Marathon — on a whim.

marathon runners

Okay, well, they sort of ran it. Mostly, they ran so slowly, it was practically a walking pace. And occasionally, they walked at a walking pace, too. They also sang songs, talked, and called out words of encouragement to the many runners they came across. Runners who had trained hard to meet their goal of finishing a marathon. Runners who were exhausted and discouraged, but were perked up by the little group of slow-running cheerleaders with their huge grins and a bag of donut holes.

I kid you not. Donut holes. Which they munched every few miles or so, and even passed out to fellow runners to lift their spirits. Like marathon Christmas elves.

Meanwhile, back at the finish line, my son and I got to be among the first faces to greet the thousands of marathon runners as they staggered zombie-like past the finish line, hugging their medals and temporary hoodie jackets.

“Thanks so much,” they often said as they took a water bottle from our table. “Thanks for volunteering.”

“We’re happy to help,” I responded back. And it’s true. I was seeing the end result of people who had just accomplished what, for them, was a dream. Maybe it was to become an Olympic athlete or national champion. Maybe it was to run ten marathons in ten years, or to race side by side with a loved one, or a best friend. Or maybe, their huge goal, the one they’d worked so hard and so long for, was simply to finish. Nothing made me happier than to be in a role where I could see and help those people to achieve their dream.

CIM 35th Sacramento Capitol

My son felt the same way. And so did my daughter. She and her friends, the courageous little group of shepherds, finally brought their flock home to the finish line, where I was waiting with huge hugs…and water bottles. I was so proud of both my kids! For being such enthusiastic people helpers, for finishing an actual marathon (in two very different ways), and for literally going the extra mile.

 

The Lady with the Chalk (aka: Heroes All Around Us)

Yesterday, my teens and I watched Unbreakable, a 2000 film by M. Night Shyamalan. It was such a good movie. Super, you might even say. Afterward, I couldn’t help but ask my kids, “How would you feel if you learned that one of your parents was actually a superhero?”

My 13 year-old replies, “If I found out that Dad was a superhero, then I’d be shocked. Like, what the heck? But if I found out that Mom was a superhero, then I’d be like, oh. Okay.” He shrugs. No big revelation there. My daughter nods in agreement.

This has been a long-running theme in our family. You see, no matter how much I try to dissuade them, my teens are convinced that I am either a). A superhero in disguise, b). A CIA operative, just like Sydney Bristow; or c). a super hacker. Or possibly a combination of all three.

“Please,” I say each time the topic comes up. “I am just an ordinary, cookie-baking mom who works in a cubicle at a tax agency.”

“Su-u-ure,” one of my kids will answer. “Perfect cover.”

I’m not sure what led my kids to believe that I am somthing greater than I appear to be. Maybe it’s my hopelessly INTJ prsonality. Maybe it’s my ability to run very fast (though nowhere near the prerequisite superhero speeds displayed by the Flash). Or maybe it’s my steady lack of close friendships. Superheroes know how difficult it can be to form attachments while keeping their true identities a secret.

It is flattering that my kids think so highly of me, I guess. But I would prefer that they look arond them to honor the real heroes that walk among us. No, not cape-wearing comic-book characters with extraordinary superpowers to fight gainst supervillains. I’m talking about the real people who help humankind with their courage, altuism, and sense of duty. Police officers, firefighters, soldiers. Teachers, surgeons, and even regular people, from time to time. The heroes who save lives, offer hope to those who have lost hope, pick up the lost and set them on the right path.

Not long ago, I encoutered one such real-life hero in my own neighborhood. While out for a run one day, I came across something that made me stop in my tracks. A large, colorful chalk design had transformed a section of the sidewalk into a work of art. “You are needed here and now,” the message read. My heart soared with the positive impact of those simple words. As I continued to run, that day and in days to come, I came across more of these beautiful, uplifting messages, as did my daughter, as did other people in our neighborhood. They brightened our day each time. They filled our sails with wind.

And then, one day, we happened to spot the woman who was responsible. She wasn’t wearing a cape or a super suit. She was an ordinary human being, anyone’s neighbor from Anywheretown. She probably didn’t even realize that the offerings she had left had such an enormous impact on the people in our neighborhood. In fact, she seemed surprised, and perhaps a little timid as I thanked her for making such a difference.

Can you imagine what our world would look like if each one of us strove to become a hero in our own small way? No, not a superhero. We don’t need X-Ray vision or Iron Man suits or the ability to fly to save lives, or to make someone’s life better. Maybe all we need is to care a little deeper. To show our compassion for those who are less than ourselves, rather than our disdain. To use the gifts we have been given to do good, rather than to do harm. To offer someone a genuine smile and encouraging words to give them a positive boost. Maybe all we need to save each other, to be something greater than we are, is a piece of chalk and the willingness to make the world a better place for the people around us.

 

Hats Off! (aka: Graduation Day)

My 17yo son has graduated from high school.

Hooray!

My Kid on Graduation Day

The end of 13 years of homework struggles, 13 years of report card anxiety, 13 years of parent-teacher conferences and dropoff/pickup arrangements. The end! Woohooo! *Throws hat in the air*

Of course, the end of one era often signals the beginning of another era. For my son, this marks the beginning of his years as a young adult, and the start of college. Which of course, means a few more years of homework struggles and report-card anxiety (for him). It also means, hopefully, his entry into the workforce as a scrub, like the rest of us had to do at some point in our youth. Yes, kid, I want fries with that. Welcome to the Real World.

As my son and his class marched along to Pomp and Circumstances in their flowing green robes and tasseled hats, I was filled with pride, relief, and excitement about my son’s next phase of life and what it may bring. I was also filled with thoughts about the very idea of graduation. According to Merriam Webster, one definition of “graduate” is: to pass from one stage of experience, proficiency, or prestige to a usually higher one. We all graduate numerous times throughout our lives. We graduate from high school and begin college. We graduate from childhood to become young adults. We graduate from university to begin our careers. From single-hood to married life. From being green, inexperienced neophytes to experts in our field.

Graduation ceremony

Our graduations, as we ascend the staircase of life, don’t always come with flowing robes and tasseled hats. We don’t always celebrate each rite-of-passage with parties and hoopla. But maybe we should. Maybe, each time we accomplish an important, long-term goal or achievement, we should celebrate just like graduates on the day of their high school or college graduation. You did it! You passed! Your hard work and dedication has paid off, and now you have the reward of entering a new phase in your life. Drink up friends. Let’s cut the cake and throw our hats in the air, and celebrate our life’s successes together.

Graduation throw hat in the air

Playlist for Graduates of All Kinds

Unwritten– Natasha Bedingfield

Graduation (Friends Forever) — Vitamin C

It’s Time — Imagine Dragons

Ain’t it Fun? — Hayley Williams

School’s Out — Alice Cooper

It’s Good to Be Alive — Andy Grammer

The Climb — Miley Cyrus

On Top of the World — Imagine Dragons

I Hope You Dance — Lee Ann Womack

Don’t You Forget About Me — Simple Minds

Closing Time — Semisonic

It’s My Life — Bon Jovi

100 Years — Five for Fighting

World — Five for Fighting

Titanium — David Guetta (ft. Sia)

Best Day of My Life — American Authors

Celebration — Kool & the Gang

Hall of Fame — The Script

 

 

Last week, my 17yo son graduated from high school.

Hooray!