The Many Flavors of Love (a Valentines Day Love List)

I love the sound of rain drumming against the roof, splashing against the pavement, trickling down the windowpane while I watch, warm and cozy indoors.

I love the way a good book transports me far away from the world I know, inserting me, like a fly on the wall, into the lives of other characters, in other places and times.

I love my three teens, who are now 14, 17, and 19. I love spending time with them, sharing laughter, traveling to new places, enjoying meals. My middle daughter is getting ready to graduate from high school soon, and head off to university. Then I’ll have three years left before my nest is empty.

I love trying new foods, and incorporating recipes from around the globe into my daily repertoire. In our house, vegetarian curries and Asian soups are just as common as spaghetti.

I love my sister and her kids. We talk surprisingly little for sisters who actually get along (She doesn’t respond to texts or phone calls often). But on rare occasions we do manage to connect, it’s pretty positive. She began her family much later than I did, so she and her husband have three very young daughters. Two of them have finally reached an age of comfort with being away from their mom and dad, so now we are beginning to have Auntie outings. Since my own kids are nearly grown, it’s really nice to be able to hang out with my young nieces. The next best thing to being a Grandma.

Fun outing with my daughter (right) and two of my young nieces (center)

I love my ex-boyfriend, who I refer to as “Z.” (The last letter of the alphabet for the last man I will ever date or fall in love with). Yes, it’s been more than a year and a half since we were together. But that means nothing to my heart. I hate that he is gone from my life. I love remembering the wonderful, though brief, relationship we had, how kind he was, and how happy we both were together.

Z and me perfect date San Francisco Japanese tea garden
“Z” and me on a couple of unforgettable dates during a weekend together in my favorite city.

I love my career. I love what I get to wake up and do every day. I work in IT, designing and building software systems that revolutionize business for many people. It’s very fulfilling (and pays well, too).

I love that feeling of euphoria I get at the end of a really intense workout or a long weekend run. Runner’s high is not a myth! Now if only we could experience that in the middle of the run, instead of the burning lungs and aching muscles…

I love writing. I especially love to write stories for other people to enjoy. If you read my stories and find yourself transported into another time and place, like a fly on the wall in some character’s life, then my job was well done.

I love a perfect cup of coffee (Decaf dark roast with cream and Splenda), or a perfect cup of tea (earl gray or chai, splash of milk, plus Splenda). Especially with a good book. Long ago, when I had friends, then sharing a perfect cup of tea or coffee while spending time with a good friend was pretty much nirvana.

Hot cup of tea

I love that this list is actually far longer, filled with music, and flowers, and candles, and soccer, and great movies, like Amelie, or Pride & Prejudice (2005), or Shakespeare in Love. I also love how this list continues to grow throughout my life, as I travel more, try new activities, and grow. Ideally, much of this list would be people-based, since really, things and experiences, while worthy of loving and enjoying, can’t love you back. (But then, I have grown quite used to not being loved back. That has never before stopped me from loving).

Whoever, or whatever you love, may you love them fully today, and every day. What’s more, I wish for you what I have always lacked most in life — that you feel fully, completely, and unquestionably loved in return.

The LOOK (aka: Journeymom)

appreciation

2-4-6-8! Who do we appreciate?

Moms, that’s who!

Well, only since 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May to be a day to honor mothers. Before then, I guess mothers had to appreciate themselves. But now, we get to spend one dedicated day every year taking our mothers out for waffles and coffee, surprising them with bouquets of fresh flowers, and showing them how much we love and appreciate them.

Mother’s Day is not an easy day for everyone to celebrate. Many people no longer have their mothers in their lives. Some of us have tense, rocky relationships with our mothers, and finding things to appreciate about them is, well, a struggle. But even those of us who are lacking can use this holiday to be grateful for what positive lessons we once learned from our mothers, and to reflect on our own parenting choices.

As a mom to three teens, I kind of feel like I’ve reached the journeyman — er, journeymom phase of mothering. Instead of washing sticky handprints from the walls, or singing the Barney clean-up song to get them to put away their toys, I have mastered the LOOK. All moms know the LOOK. Just the right tilt of the head, just the right narrowing of the eyes, and those teenagers drop their cell phones and start scrubbing the house.

Okay fine, not really. But they’re supposed to.

Maybe I should go back to singing the Barney clean-up song. It would probably be more effective, since they hate the song so much and will do anything to get me to stop singing.

At this phase of mothering, I have to strike just the right balance between being my kids’ friend, one they’ll want to talk to and hang out with, and being the enforcer. The one who has to make sure they get their homework done, and stop tossing his dirty laundry on his brother’s bed, and finish all of the dishes, or else I’ll give them the LOOK. (Seriously, I need to come up with a better tool).

The other thing about this phase of parenting is this growing sensation that we are running out of time together. My baby birds have grown so big. They are testing their wings, finding their own worms. In four years, an alarm clock will ring, and my nest will be empty. I can only hope that they will return from time to time, to bring me flowers and take me out for waffles and coffee. I would really appreciate that.

Mothers Day Flowers

 

 

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.

The Truth is Out There (aka: Happy Alien Day!)

At last! An official day to celebrate the visitors to this planet — those of the the third kind instead of the first kind. The ones the rest of you usually forget all about, thanks to that mysterious flash of light from the men in black suits. But not today. Today, the world is aware and in awe of the aliens who walk among us.

Yes. Today is Alien Day.

Sorry, immigrants. Not that kind of alien. Today is for the beings from galaxies far, far away. And also this galaxy, seeing as how some of us are from Jupiter. (Trust me folks — if you could meet my family of origin, you’d probably agree that I must be from Jupiter, too). So what shall we do to celebrate the rest of this glorious day? Sing Katy Perry songs? Paint our faces green? Watch The Martian? (Okay fine, Matt Damon played an immigrant to Mars who got stuck on the planet, not an actual martian).


I know — how about a list of the Top Ten Best Aliens? Starting with:

10. The aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s the earliest alien film I can remember, and I used to walk around humming the music they played to communicate.

9. The aliens from Men in Black. Loved how easily they disguised themselves as humans. Most of the time.

8. The aliens from Aliens, for scaring the heck out of all of us with their tendency to hibernate inside of people’s bodies, then hatch from their abdomens like little demon babies covered in goo.


7. The aliens from Toy Story. Who doesn’t love their passionate worship of The Cla-a-a-aw?

6. The aliens from Independence Day, for looking exactly as we all imagined the Roswell aliens must look.

5. Seven-of-Nine. I know, I know, she started off as a human. But once she was assimilated into the Borg, most of her humanity was stripped away. Eventually, she became a highly intelligent badass who was more alien than human, but learning to embrace more of her humanity every day.


4. E.T. With his adorable weird face and love for chocolate, how could he not worm his way into our hearts? Glad you made it home safely, buddy.


3. The aliens from The Arrival, for having such super-amazing technology and learning to communicate so well.

2. The aliens from the Star Wars franchise. Especially Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca. I’d totally count C3P0 and R2D2 if I knew whether droids could count as aliens or not.

1. Superman! Especially as portrayed by Tom Welling in Smallville, followed closely by Christopher Reeve. Other than his alienness and unfortunte allergy to Kryptonite, Clark Kent is pretty much the perfect man. Plus, he can fly.


Well, I hope you all enjoyed this brief Alien Day blog party. May you always treasure the strange who walk among you, and never stop believing that The Truth is Out There. Now, if you’ll all just look in this direction and face the rod I’m holding in my hand…

IMG_0065

Fiffer-Feffer-Splunk (aka: Happy World Poetry Day!)

Say-It-With-a-Poem

Today’s a special holiday

observed across the land

a time to honor poetry

the crummy and the grand.

 

Egads! You cry. You rhymed your blog?

Oh dear, such cruelty

to force the world to read your slop

transformed to poetry!

 

Take heart – for only once a year

deserves such accolade

tomorrow, from your memories

these dreadful rhymes will fade

 

(Nature aims to set the mood

with gray and thunderous rain

as though the weather knows it too,

that rhyming is a pain.)

 

I guess I could have skipped the rhymes

and written in haiku

or flowing, esoteric prose

Like Maya Angelou.

 

Or, break the rules like Dr. Seuss

and fill the gaps with junk

like cats in hats and Sam-I-Am

and Fiffer-Feffer-Splunk

 

But genius poet I am not

so my apology

for this experiment

in lame originality.

 

Well, that’s a wrap, it’s time to go

amazing how time flies.

I’d better hustle back to work

and quit this exercise.

 

Now it’s your turn.

Come on…it’s not like you can do much worse.

Let’s honor World Poetry Day

by writing blogs in verse.

poetry talk

Say Cheese! (aka: One Cheesy Summer)

Cheese glorious cheese

Okay, I know it’s Independence Day, and I should probably write a post celebrating our nation’s bold and wonderful patriotic heritage, or about the joy of celebrating by making things blow up. But that’s pretty cliché, so instead, I’m going to write about cheese.

Yes, cheese. Queso. Fromage. Der käse.

See, every summer, my kids and I like to have a foodie adventure. Usually, we pick a country, or a type of cuisine, then we spend a few weeks tasting foods from that culture. We sample at restaurants, look up new recipes, and try our hand at preparing all sorts of interesting foods from around the world. The French and Chinese experiments were huge hits. Soul food and Indian food, to my disappointment, didn’t go over so well with my kids.

This summer, we took a slight detour from our annual tradition. After a delicious visit to a famous Berkeley restaurant known as The Cheese Board Collective, the kids and I were inspired. What if, instead of trying many types of food from one culture, we try eating a variety of fresh breads and cheeses from many cultures? Think of the possibilities!

bread

So once a week, instead of cooking dinner, we head out to the deli, or farmers’ markets, or to local bakeries, and we pick up a fresh, hot loaf of some type of interesting bread, and one or two cheeses. Then we head home and prepare a cheese platter to sample with our bread. So far, along with the usual staples like cheddar, swiss, and mozzarella, we’ve also eaten fontina, harvati, goat cheese, brie, and munster. We’ve also had plenty of breads, like pugliese, naan, rosemary olive loaf, cheddar-jalapeño ciabatta, and garlic-onion baguettes. Like with any foods, we have found definite winners (harvati with dill) and definite losers (a spicy artisan cheese from a farmers’ market stand).

You know, when you really think about it, this is a very patriotic blog post. No, not because of the amber waves of grain that went into each loaf of bread. But because our little food experiment embodies one of the values we Americans hold dear–the freedom to make our own choices. We live in a country where we are at liberty to make our own choices, to try any kind of bread or cheese or other food that we desire. And, true to the American spirit, we can break from tradition and define our own customs, like spending a summer tasting new foods together as a family.

Happy Independence Day!

Independence Day USA

Merry X-cess (aka: Leave No Trace)

Christmas Save the PlanetEver notice what a waste Christmas can be? No, not a waste of time or energy (although that’s debatable). But what a waste of paper!

(Buckle your seat belts, readers. This is going to be one long, bumpy guilt trip.)

It’s ironic that I would be preaching about excess exactly one day after I braved the mall to purchase an excess of stuff so that my kids won’t think I’m a total Grinch. By the end of my trip, I was carrying so many shopping bags, that some kindhearted stranger offered me a few crumpled dollars. Okay, that totally didn’t happen. But it could have.

Excess of Santa Clauses

An excess of Santas

Excess of Xmas light-up stuff

An excess of holiday lights. What show-offs!

Anyway, there I was, gliding past Hot Topic and Yankee Candle, when it occurred to me that I was carrying so many plastic shopping bags full of plastic doodads, that it could probably be melted down and reformed into an entire Barbie Dream House. Or better, a whiffle ball bat. Very useful tool for fighting one’s way through the mall crowds this time of year. And all around me, people swarmed like Orcs — I swear, my keys were glowing blue and everything.

blue glowing sword

What happens to my keys when there are too many people around.

 

Between the excess of people, the excessively tall North Pole Christmas tree, and the excess of soon-to-be plastic junk in every store window, three words popped into my head:

LEAVE NO TRACE

Leave No Trace

 

Now I know what you’re thinking. Go back to Jupiter and let us have fun destroying our planet in peace! Well too bad, because I’m just getting warmed up — exactly like this planet. (See what I did there?).

I love the principles of Leave No Trace. The idea is that we can all take steps to help to protect the earth’s natural beauty and pass along the heritage to future generations. Yes, the principles largely apply to venturing outdoors, but what if we took it further? What if we attempted to “walk lightly on the earth,” as Barbara Ward once said, and applied Leave No Trace ethics to everything we do, including our holiday celebrations? How would Christmas look if we were to focus a little less on creating the world’s tallest mountain of torn and crumpled Santa Claus gift wrap, and more on the impact our choices may have on the environment? What if we all rose up and decided to ex-nay the excess for once? What if we…

Hold that thought. One of my kids just mumbled something about my spending an excess of time using the computer, which just happens to use an excess of electricity, kind of like the non-LED and therefore not-environmentally-friendly Christmas lights blinking on our non-replantable Christmas tree. Okay fine. I give up. Just call me Miss Hypo-Christmas. Anyway, I’ve gotta go wrap some plastic junk in a bunch of shiny paper.

I Want a Buzzsaw Louie (aka: The True Meaning of Black Friday)

It’s that time of year again. People are bundling up to stay warm in the chill air. Tiny colored lights are beginning to twinkle on rooftops. And though Halloween was like, yesterday, every radio station insists on blasting It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year eleven times per hour. So naturally, I can’t stop thinking about veggies.

Wait, what? Shouldn’t I be thinking about turkey and pumpkin pie? Shouldn’t I be obsessing over my three kids’ ever-expanding Christmas wish lists? After all, it’s only a few days until Black Friday – the most popular and important American holiday of the year! (Or so I heard on the radio, just after they played Santa Baby three times in a row). Who would be thinking about veggies at a time like this?

Me. But to be clear, I am thinking about a specific bunch of veggies – a talking cucumber, his best friend the tomato, and a bunch of squash and peas with adorable faces and vaguely annoying voices. Because the moment Halloween ends and the winter holiday season rushes in, kids everywhere contract this hideous disease I call the “I-Wants.” And nobody does the I-Wants better than those ultra-super-OMG whiny veggie brats from The Toy Who Saved Christmas movie.

Even now, I can hear it eating into my poor brain: “I WANT A BUZZSAW LOUIEEEE! ‘CAUSE THAT’S THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAAAAAS!”

Ironically, the whole Buzzsaw Louie thing was supposed to be pointing out the ridiculousness of Christmastime consumerism and greed, to encourage viewers to embrace the simpler and more meaningful reasons behind the holiday. But just the memories of it (mixed with the 52-page long wish lists of my kids and their friends) make me want to steal Christmas like the Grinch. Or better yet, invite Krampus to the next kids’ school Christmas party to shake things up a bit.

Evil Krampus

However, I will not. I will swallow my inner screamie-voice, pull out my bank card, and perform my duty as an American to keep the national economy afloat by buying more Stuff™ for my kids. I will head over to Stuff Mart (Yes, sadly, another Veggie Tales reference) soon after Turkey Day (since Mervyn’s has gone out of business, and I can’t do that open-open-open thing anymore. I tried it once at a Target, but they didn’t get it). Because, readers, that’s the true meaning of Christmas. Not the ideal meaning. Not the peace-joy-goodwill toward men meaning that we like to sing and write about. But the technicolor, battery-operated, hate-it-but-it’s-true kind of true.

On that positive note, I wish you all a very Happy (and Profitable) Black Friday!

 

Love, Chocolate, and Lupercalia (aka: Valentine’s Day)

Love love love 

You guessed it – I am a Valentine’s Day hater. Okay, not really.  Because deep beneath the surface, I am a hopeless romantic who grows weak-kneed at tales of true love, candlelit dinners, and moonlit walks. But on the outside, I look at holidays like Valentine’s day through a scornful and cynical eye. When I scan through the Facebook posts and Tweets of other people, I am amazed and somewhat disgusted by some of the posts I read. “I swear, he’d better have roses and chocolate for me when he comes home…”  For reals? Since when was it a romantic gesture to receive a gift which you demanded? Isn’t it really just a fulfillment of your shopping list?

meh

 

Ugh. Well, instead of turning this into a full-blown rant against commercialism and narcissism, I decided to try taking a different turn this year, by sharing some of the positive aspects of St. Valentine’s Day from history. You see, there was this Christian guy named Valentinus who was martyred in Rome in the 3rd century. Apparently, he wrote a note to the blind daughter of his jailer just before he was executed, and signed it, Your Valentine. Hence, at some point down the line, it became popular to give love notes signed Your Valentine. Because apparently, we’re all going to be executed on February 15th. How romantic.

Of course, before this, the Roman festival of Lupercalia was celebrated around Valentine’s Day. And – well, those crazy Romans – they celebrated by sacrificing goats and a dog, then stripping their hides. Then they ran around smacking women with the hides, in order to make them fertile.

The heck?

Stephen Colbert Discusses Lupercalia

I give up. There are so many ridiculous traditions, both in modern times as well as ancient. But through the ages, with the possible exception of Lupercalia, there is one common thread that is the saving grace of St. Valentine’s Day. Love. Yes, the main focus is usually on romantic or erotic love, but I tell my kids that it’s also a great day to focus on loving your friends and family, too.
Charlie Brown Snoopy Valentines

And so today, instead of passing on my bitter cynicism to the next generation, I am celebrating Valentine’s Day by loving my kids. Here is what they will find when they return home from school today:
Strawberry Cake and Candy

They will also learn that I have already done their chores for them, so that they may begin the weekend free. Now that is love. No martyrdom required.

 

 

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas Anyway? (aka: Holiday Cynicism vs. Idealism)

Sigh.

It’s that time of year again. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The season of peace and joy and goodwill toward men. The time of year when children’s eyes shine as brightly as the mysterious star that appeared over the baby Jesus in his manger (although, I imagine that this is less for the birth of Jesus as it is the anticipation of getting a big sparkly pile of toys).

A Mountain of Presents

First of all, let me just say that I am not a Scrooge. While I may Bah! Humbug! the tinsel and trappings and materialism and hypocrisy surrounding the big day, I am actually very fond of the ideals that embody the true spirit of Christmas.

As a parent to three terrific kids, I know too well how easy it is to get sucked into the self-centered, mind-numbing void of consumerism this time of year. It’s just so much fun to see my children get all excited as the days progress toward Christmas Eve, and such a thrill to hear the laughter and happiness bubbling over on Christmas morning, as they unwrap the special toys they’ve been hoping for. The very idea of their reactions is a huge driving force – so strong that even I, the cynic, race to the stores at the crack of dawn on Black Friday, anxious to find The Perfect Toy and secure my place as Best Mom Ever.

Who can resist this level of excitement and happiness on a child's face?

Who can resist this level of excitement and happiness on a child’s face?

But that is not Christmas. It is not supposed to be about shoving people out of the way in order to grab the last cool toy from the shelf. It is not supposed to be about making my kids feel temporarily happy with a pile of toys they will love for two weeks, then forget about. It is not having the most impressive display of Christmas lights, or the most adorable family photo greeting cards, or being hostess of the perfect holiday party.

But when is anything ever as it is supposed to be?

Underneath this hard, cynical shell lies a soft, sentimental idealist. A daydreamer who wants the impossible. I want Christmas to be a time when people open their hearts wider than their wallets. I want the neighbors holding hands and lighting candles and singing songs together. I want the poor and the needy of our community to be more than just faceless nobodies to whom we throw a dollar or donate a shiny wrapped toy. I want them to be the guests of honor at our tables. I want for people to try a little harder, to reach a little deeper inside themselves, and to be genuinely kind, loving, humble, compassionate, forgiving, and generous. Those are the values that embody this holiday. Those are the values that were supposedly taught by that man who was once a little baby, born in such humble circumstances so long ago – the one about whom so many Christmas carols are sung today. I want that miracle.

The end of It's a Wonderful Life is filled with so many of the best ideals of Christmas. Too bad it's only a movie.

The end of It’s a Wonderful Life is filled with so many of the best ideals of Christmas. Too bad it’s only a movie.

But I keep my idealism safely locked deep inside, where the disappointment of reality cannot destroy them. Because here is the truth: there is no miracle. Many of the same people who sing the carols and claim to believe in the same ideals of Christmas are sucked into the same void of self-centered, mind-numbing commercialism as everyone else. And so, the holiday becomes a pointless blur of shopping and decorations and fancy events. We pretend to pay homage to some cute little baby in a manger, when the truth is that he is not much more important to us than the plastic blinking reindeer our our front lawns.

This.

This.

And so, I sigh. And I spend too much money on expensive toys for my children. And I deck the halls with plastic holly and twinkling lights. And I sing Joy to the World and smile to see my children’s sparkling eyes as we await the big day of celebration. But what do we celebrate?