Moments Matter

Where Are You From?

Editor’s Note: As I love reading posts of other writers and bloggers, I was inspired to try my first writer’s challenge, “Where You’re From.”

I also love how writers motivate other writers. The notion of “where we’re from” was initially posted by Sharla Lovelace entitled “Where I am From.” Then, Jenny Hansen’s More Cowbell (one of my fav bloggers) was inspired by her post, which then rippled to Lisa Hall Wilson’s Blogging Through the Fire. This challenge was right up my alley. However, it was much harder to dig deep into my past – the pain and good times. So please take a step back in time with me…

“The further backward you look, the further forward you can see.”
– Winston Churchill

I am from jugs of wine lining the kitchen floor like soldiers at attention. I am from bell bottoms and hand-sewn dresses with pockets. I am from a wooden rocking chair next to a wood-burning stove. I am from slippery hardwood floors and an old dining room table. I am from fried Spam in a can and Velvetta cheese for dinner or a just prepared chicken that used to be a friend.

I am from hippies on a farm by the freeway with hills and apricot trees. I am from a barn with a creaky door that smells of hay. I am from warm baby bunnies just born and gracefully-trotting peacocks. I am from ducklings that need me. I am from a lit billboard sign with a funny cartoon.

Sitting criss cross in the wooden rocking chair on my porch. The freeway is located behind me with our mailboxes up to the left.

I am from a red house with few doors and many windows. I am from a laundry room that was converted into a giant rock shower. I am from a back porch with steep, splintering stairs. I am from a swing set and hand-made playhouse that was all mine. I am from macramé baskets and stained-glass windows.

On my swing set in my apricot orchard.

I am from a towering oak tree next to my house, the place where I stood frozen as a rattlesnake slithered and was shot in an instant, then hung on the tree.

I am from Christmas trees covered in tinsel and rubbery dinners from my mom and dad and dinner-time prayers with my grandpa as I held my eyes shut tight with hands gripping.

I am from if you can’t say something nice don’t say it all. I am from love and sadness. I from alcoholism and white straight jackets. I am from selfless giving and silent stubbornness. I am from paying cash, not with plastic.

I am from The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, the Brady Bunch, Get Smart and Gilligan’s Island…I am from free love and free spirits. I am from my mom reading me “Dear Abby.”

I am from a make-shift Church that was an old house next to the railroad tracks. I am from wearing a pretty dress in the summer on Sundays with my grandpa while listening to Bible stories told with felt people and backgrounds. I’m from knowing God is my Lord and Savior.

I am all smiles around age five. Notice the china- painted picture of the pink flowers in the background. Painted by my late Great Grandmother Dona.

I’m from the Central Coast of California, with bloodlines to England, Germany, Russia and France with whispers of Native American ancestory, and apricot fried pies and tasteless stews. I am from truck driving oil sellers in the deserts of old New Mexico.

From the mom who lost her own mother to brain cancer at 16, married at 17 and divorced by 20…who felt alone and afraid, her confidence shaken, and I am from a dad who was abused, then sent off to the Vietnam war and returned to rocks being thrown and picketing signs, while trying to mask the pain with liquid poison.

I am from hand-painted china, and old coins. I am from scrapbooks of unknown faces. I am from antique cars, Masonic dinners and Rainbow Girl dresses. I am from hardy dairy farmers with worn faces. I am from blankets made from yarn and loom. I am from illegal whiskey stills during prohibition with look-outs and shoot-outs.

I am from two beautiful daughters with smiling faces and inquiring minds. I am from the future is bright, not a cloud in sight…

Where are you from? I’d love to hear a few lines (or more) about where you are from…c’mon…

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The Beauty of the Deal

“Would you take $25 for the couch?”

“No, I marked it $40.”

She walked around the couch while her eyes scanned the piece of furniture. She was searching for a flaw of some kind. She needed some quick bargaining leverage. Other cars were pulling up to the sale.

“You know, I did notice a small mark on the side,” she said pointing to a small scuff.

The man bent down to try and rub off the small mark with his finger – with no such luck.

Sighing, he stood up, shrugged his shoulders and replied, “How about $35?”

“Since I’ll have to buy furniture cleaner, would you be willing to go $30?” she asked.

He relented. “OK, $30.”

She would have paid $35.

And that my friends, is how haggling, negotiating – wheeling and dealing works. My mom is a master at getting “the deal.” The deal she wants. She is masterful at negotiating and loves to play “the game.”

She is also a pro at the “wait and see.” Meaning: if no one else buys it at the end of the sale, she’ll leave her phone number for the price she’s willing to pay. The sellers almost always calls her.

She has the “DB” (drive by) system down perfectly as well. Driving extremely slow, or even making a dead stop, she would scan the garage sale for any key items that caught her eye. The DB allows her to hit as many sales in a short amount of time.

In addition, she would pre-determine those garage sales we would pass (known as “passers”) – those are the chronic garage sale sellers that have a sale every weekend. “Oh, they just have junk,” my mom would explain.

I’ve watched my mom work deals my entire life as a chronic “garage saler.” As a family low on funds, we lived from items purchased at garage sales. And I mean pretty much everything – mattresses, bras (gross), underwear (really gross), home decor, appliances, clothes, shoes…

My mom – the professional garage saler.

My mom’s theory: “Why would I pay full price when I can get it for less?” To this day, she loathes paying full price for anything.

I grew up nearly every Saturday morning (when I wasn’t working), going to garage sales with my mom. When I became a teen, it grew more humiliating to be digging through – well, frankly – someone else’s junk. Oh, and the smell can be down-right disgusting. We’d stop for donuts and my mom would strategically map out the garage sales. Our car slowly filling up with someone else’s crap.

It was a beautiful thing.

However, my mom did not always work alone. She had a partner in crime so to speak – my grandpa. He was a wealthy, retired oil man. You wouldn’t know it while working garage sales with my mom, though. He intentionally wore wholly jeans and drove his old beat-up truck (while his shiny Lincoln Continental sat in a large garage with his many other cars).

The two partners in crime – my grandpa and mom.

Like my mom (his daughter), he also loved the game of negotiating. And played the “poor old man” character. He would even limp a little. He’d pick up a few trinket-type items. He also loved chatting with buyers and sellers throughout the morning. He might even take a wiz in someone’s garbage can.

Another beautiful thing.

In particular, I remember going to those garage sales that had the dark room off to the side. These rooms were separate from the outside sale area and usually smelled of burning incense. A typical type garage sale held by a college student or hippie. My mom and grandpa would quietly venture into these rooms on occasion. I visited these rooms a few times, and oh, the things I saw…pipes, bongs, “artistic” pictures and statues of naked people, boxes of pornographic videos and books. Lots of eclectic items that had been banished to the “dark side.”

Ahhhh, the beauty of human curiosity.

The whole concept of garage sales came up recently when I was chatting with a friend. We were discussing how our beds were a sanctuary and refuge. I explained that every time I lay my head on the pillow, I am so appreciative. And not just because I have a bed, but I have a new mattress and pillows.

If anyone has slept on an overused mattress with springs popping into your back and lumps under your body then you know the pure enjoyment when you sleep on a new, good mattress. I experienced the feeling of a new mattress for the first time at the age of 32. It’s a beautiful thing, really.

So, for 32 years of my life I slept on old, used mattresses. My mom would say that they were “perfectly fine.” But I discovered: new can be good. After I got a taste of the new mattress, I thought why stop here? So, I went to one of the major department stores and asked the clerk for the most luxurious, softest towel they sell. I had never had a new towel before. I bought two.

When my mom comes to visit, I offer her my best towels. I know in my heart there’s a mixture of pride that her daughter can afford to buy new items. I also know that she’d love it if I told her how I got a great buy, or how I negotiated a deal with the clerk for the towels.

In my own odd way, I appreciate those moments of garage saling with my family. I believe this to be the wonderment of the human connection and interaction related to peoples’ stuff. (See my post Purse Break Up that covers a similar topic). The truth of the matter is that I value each and every item I own – new and used – as there is usually a story to tell, or associated memory. Ironically, my story of the new towels was that there was no deal, no haggling.

That was the beauty of it.

My mom still goes to garage sales almost every Saturday. But now she applies her negotiation skills in a new way. Being retired and active in the local community at several local charities, including the soup kitchen, her church, thrift store and women’s groups, she often supplies much-needed furniture and other items for needy families. My mom is doing what she does best, which is negotiating the deal. But not for her own family – for someone else’s.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Are you a wheeler and dealer, or have a family or friend that is a pro at negotiating? How do you feel about new, or used stuff?

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The Joy of a Story

“Mommy, tell me a story.”

The five words that make my heart sing besides “I love you.” My daughters love hearing stories more than anything (except for dessert). They not only love it when I make up fictional characters with storyline and plots, but they almost always request the stories of when I lived on a farm.

I tell so many childhood farm stories, I forget which ones I’ve recounted.

“Did I tell you the one about finding my first bunny in the barn?” I ask. “Ya, mom.”

“Did I tell you the one about when Aunt Michelle fell off the horse?” I ask. “Ya, mom.”

“Have I told you about Colonel Sanders, the mean rooster?” I ask. “Uh-uh (impatient sigh).”

Since we live in the city, I think the stark contrast in settings intrigues their little minds. Dirt roads, eating off the land, chasing peacocks and riding a donkey are foreign concepts compared to their suburban lives. I am also flattered that they are interested.

Tough Crowd
I not only enjoy hearing stories, I love telling stories even more. This week, I volunteered to read at my daughter’s preschool class. Storytelling is so my type of gig.

When I’ve taken my daughters to various story times over the years, in my mind I think: “I could tell that story so much better. Come on show more emotion, more crowd interaction!”

My daughter was giddy that her mom was the special story reader. Believe it or not though, I was a little nervous in front of these four- and five-year-olds. They could be a tough crowd.

What if I turn out to be like one of those boring story tellers? What if they don’t like the books my daughter and I selected to read?

Reading to my youngest daughter’s preschool class – one of our favorites: “Emma & Mommy Talk to God” by Marianne Williamson. No booing or tomatoes thrown. I think they may have even enjoyed it.

Their little bodies gathered around on the carpet as I sat in my “share chair.” I began reading the first story when a few pages into the book, there were a few outbursts and giggles from my audience.

In the end, I think it’s suffice to say that they enjoyed the stories. I even had one little girl approach me in a soft voice to let me know how much she liked the stories. Chaa-ching. Even the teacher remarked that I was a natural with children. Double chaa-ching.

The Power of Stories
It would be an understatement to say that storytelling is a valuable tool in our lives. This is true for both adults and children. Fables, short stories, novels, poems, songs – have played a significant role in cultures around the world. From tribes in Africa gathering around a fire to share a story, or to a mom like me reading to a group of small children in America.

Stories are powerful, heart tugging, sometimes life changing.

I am naturally drawn to real-life, or non-fiction stories of people that overcome the impossible. These stories never cease to amaze me.

As a child, I have faint memories of my mom reading books to me, but I wish I could say storytelling and books were a driving force in our household. I remember a few childhood books, like “Pat the Bunny” and “Cinderella.” I recall my dad being an avid reader, but would retreat to another room to read alone. I wish he would have sat and read to us as kids.

Fondly, I remember our local library. It was my escape. Since it was located in the city, going to the library was a huge treat (except for maybe eating out).

My mom would drop me off at the story time. The story teller was a bubbly, mom-looking type with bobbed brown hair and a bright smile. As she would crack open the book, her silky smooth voice would transport me deep into the story. Her changing tones, pauses and facial expressions could make any character come to life. When I couldn’t make it to the library, I would beg my mom to let me call the library storyline to hear a recorded story from my favorite storylady.

I’m in Love, Again
My love for reading continued through high school. For my high school graduation, while kids were asking for class rings, cars or trips, I asked for a four-inch thick literature book. After graduating from college, I slowly slid away from reading books while working long, grinding hours and commuting in the corporate race race. Over the years, I would stop and start books. I was exhausted from mommy hood and running my home and business.

This last summer, I realized I missed reading. Not thumbing through a magazine – actually reading. I set the goal to finish an entire book (so sad). I read my first full book – not a 900-page novel per se – a short non-fiction memoir.

I re-connected with the joy of reading. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed your conflict. Your villains. Those protagonists. The allegories, metaphors, hyperboles. The symbolism.

I vowed that when I had children I wanted books and reading to be an integral part of our family lives. We read and/or storytell every day. So, when my daughters ask, “Mom, tell me a story,” it means so much to me – as I know it is one of the best gifts I can give them – the joy of a good story.

Did you have a favorite childhood book that sparked a love for reading? Did you have a “storylady” in your life? How did he/she influence you?

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Mommy Killed the Fish

The little blue fish squirmed in the bowl pushing its body up against the glass as if it could escape. After swimming in circles, it lodged itself in the branches of the artificial coral tree.

Hiding. Scared. Alone.

It didn’t help the lil’ guy’s nerves any that during the transition of moving the fish to its new home, I dropped it. My daughters yelling, “Save him, mommy!” While trying to rescue the poor fellow, for a split second, I envisioned it dying on the kitchen counter. For years, my daughters would retell the story of how mommy killed the fish.

Meet Carson the fish. Life expectancy – not so sure

Holding the slimy booger with my bare hand, I scooped it up and into the bowl. You bet I had a serious hand washing after the fish-handling incident.

Oh, one correction – the fish is not an “it.” My daughters pointed out, “Remember, mom, he’s a boy!” That’s right, sorry. They named their new fish Carson.

I peered in at Carson, and I felt sad for him. I thought of life. And how we are all just little fish in a big tank, inside little tanks all over the world with our own fears – sometimes all alone.

As a parent, feeling alone and scared is what you try to protect your child from on a daily basis. The irony, is that we as adults are often times scared and alone ourselves.

Recently, I attempted to illustrate that concept of vulnerability to my youngest daughter when she was scared of the dark. I thought if I shared a story (rated G) of how I faced my own fear, it would help her cope with what she was experiencing. Thus, begins the story (rated PG-13 for you folks) of my own personal waterfall and the cave…

Facing the Cave
Growing up on a commune farm we had a waterfall. About a quarter-mile from our property down a winding canyon road hidden from the main road, you could take a short hike up a hill to find this beautiful waterfall. As it was the 1970s, our summers were spent frolicking in the nude and catching salamanders in the adjoining swimming hole.

The trail to “my waterfall.”

We often washed our hair in the actual waterfall using it as a giant shower head. It was an exhilarating experience as a child to stand in the waterfall overlooking the swimming hole. The deafening sound of the waterfall was scary at first, but then it became a tranquil, soothing sensation.

My 20-foot waterfall. When I was a kid, there was a lot more water and the fall actually cascaded down over the cave.

The real fear was the cave. The deep cavernous hole that lay behind and underneath the fall. As kids, we would dare, double-dog dare and triple-dog dare each other to venture in the dank, pitch black cave.

We would push each other towards the dark mysterious mass with the smell of stagnant water dripping through the cracks. I would have nightmares of a tribe man with a mask, loin cloth and spear popping out of the cave. And, my cries for help would be drowned out by the sound of the waterfall.

The cave next to the waterfall, which is actually 70-feet deep. It still looks creepy.

After a few traumatizing moments at the mid-point spot of the waterfall and the cave, I finally went alone (to avoid being taunted just in case I chickened out) to face down the cave. My heart racing, I took a few steps and a few more and a few more until I was farther in the cave than I had ever been. Spooked, I ran out of the cave feeling like my heart was going to pop out of my chest. I faced down the cave.

You Are Not Alone
My daughter thought it was really cool that her mommy had her “own waterfall,” but I could tell she felt scared for me too. I explained that in life even though you might be scared, you are never really alone.

She looked at me perplexingly. I then thought of the line that I repeat with my children (and myself, for that matter): Who is with you? I ask them this question when they are facing a fear. They know the answer to the questions, which are intended to build confidence and help conquer fear.

Here’s a typical conversation between one of my daughters and myself:

My daughter: Mommy, I’m scared to go in my room, it’s super dark.

Me: It’s OK. You are not alone. Who is with you?

My daughter: God.

Me: That’s right. God is with you everywhere. Who else is with you – in your heart?

My daughter: My mommy, daddy and sissy.

Me: Yes; see you are not alone.

We all have our scary caves. We have our “fish out of water” moments. Our dark rooms. Our feelings of alonesss. But we are not alone. We have our own spiritual beliefs and support from family and friends. Sometimes, even total strangers that reach out.

So, today we’re throwing Carson the fish a “welcome to our home” party. See, even this little fish is not alone.

Sidenote: For those of you interested to see the place I grew up as a hippie kid, here’s a first-hand tour (paste into your browser):

What is your cave? Do you have a fear you stared down as a child and/or as an adult? As a parent, how do you help soothe your children when they are scared?

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I like ’em healthy

While whipping up dinner, my two daughters were watching the movie “Madagascar 2: Return to Africa” for the first time. Part way through the film, I stopped in dead cooking mode as these lyrics pounded out in a rhythmical, catchy beat:

Chunky, chunky,

I like ’em big

I like ’em chunky

I like ’em big

I like ’em plumpy

I like ’em round

With something, something

They Like my sound

They think I’m funky

Here’s the full video of the song in case you missed the movie:

Being the concerned parent, I was trying to discern whether the song was promoting obesity, or embracing all body types. Or maybe a little of both?

As I listened to the song, I could hear my daughters giggling, my youngest ran up to me, poked my stomach and teased, “Mom, you’re chunky!”

Oh, that stung.

Battle of the Bulge & The Heart
A flood of memories about my weight battles came to mind. Each and every day, there is a fight between my willpower vs. food. Being overweight was almost expected in my family – as pretty much everyone teeters at the 200-pound and over mark. When I tell people that obesity is the norm in my family, they usually respond, “No! Oh, but you’re thin.” I will never be thin. Inside I feel like I will always be chunky – much like the song.

Truthfully, I want to be healthy, fit – inside and out. I am 5’8 and weigh just under (ahem) 140 pounds. I work extremely hard to maintain that weight. I am an avid exerciser. But I also love eating – snacking – especially at night. That’s the killer for me. Everyone’s asleep and there’s no accountability. It’s just me and that bag of chips.

Growing up, I remember my mom trying the yo-yo diets – pills, shakes, fasts and all the commercial diet support groups with special foods. You name the diet, my mom probably tried it. At one point she was even hospitalized because of one of the diet fads – causing permanent damage to her heart. She almost died.

When I was around age six, and soon after my mom had her last child, I remember someone asking when her baby was due. Ouch. The pregnant question is one of the cardinal no-nos among women, along with asking someone’s age. I could see the look of hurt on my mom’s face.

My older sister also fought weight issues and was sent to “fat camp” for kids. As a child, I thought how sad it was that they have to send a little girl to camp because she’s chunky. It didn’t make sense to me.

Here’s a photo of a similar tummy roller I tried at the age of 12.

Around 12 years of age, I recall my older sister and my mom joined an all-women’s gym. They let me “workout” with them a few times. This was during the 80s, and I remember this odd wooden contraption that had giant, moving rollers that would spin on their stomach – like a boxer on a punching bag. I thought it was burning off their stomach to make them thin. I tried the machine, which hurt my abdominals and gave me a rash.

Most of the time, my mom and sister would hit the jacuzzi at the gym. One time, I went in the locker area to find my sister slumped on a bench. I asked her what was wrong, and she said two girls were making fun of the fat lady that just got into the jacuzzi. They were referring to my mom. Mean girls strike.

Desperate to lose weight?

Tipping Point
I knew at that moment I did not want to feel that sting of hurt. Or heart failure. Or diabetes. Or asthma. The list of weight-related medical conditions goes on…

When I was a teenager, I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a healthy person. I declared: “When I am an adult, I want to run with my kids and be healthy.” I wasn’t the jock type, so I joined the local YMCA and began a committed, enjoyable work-out regimen. Between working out and my waitressing job, I was a healthy teenager and young adult.

After college, I began working desk jobs and commuting. I slowly put on almost 40 additional pounds. I vowed to stay true to my commitment I made as a teenager.

I also wanted to be a healthy mom. While being pregnant can be a wonderful experience, it can also add those unwanted pounds. I thought of my mom and sister, their pain and medical complications associated with weight. Before I became pregnant, I lost nearly 30 pounds on Weight Watchers. For me, motivation, accountability and support were key.

Skinny Is (Not) In
Inundated with a media that markets “thin” everything, I now worry about my daughters and the battles they face when it comes to self image. Last year, I took my older daughter shopping for jeans and the sales person asked if she’d like to try on the “skinny jeans.” Really? That made me sick to my stomach.

Diet and exercise are critically important when it comes to childhood obesity. My oldest daughter is neither petite, nor athletic. Exercise is also not a favorite on her list of activities. She’d rather read, draw or watch TV. It doesn’t help that she is made fun of by others at school because she can’t do a cartwheel, or run fast. Kids can be cruel. When she comes home upset, I now feel her hurt.

As a parent, I know that talking and listening to our kids is crucial during these formidable years. We also need to be role models for our children. We can’t shield them from everything, but it is our job to guide them in making healthy choices and clearly distinguish between negative and positive behavior.

We are now on a mission to find a physical activity that my daughter enjoys. She wants to learn how to do a cartwheel. So, she has asked to try gymnastics. She made her statement. And, I am listening. After gymnastics, though, I thought we might take a run (or a walk) together.

Sidenote: OC Family ran a wonderful article entitled “The Costs of Childhood Obesity” by Tori Richards. An excellent piece that sheds light on the epidemic of childhood obesity. My take away: It’s up to us to make the change.

Do you have a story to share related to a weight challenge that impacted your life? Do you have a child that fights you on exercise and/or a good diet? How are you listening and talking with your child? What do you think of the media and its skinny marketing?

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