Jan 202013

Tonight I was blissfully happy.

My teenage son, Sunshine, his friend, and I were given free tickets to the Arturo Sandoval Save the Music concert at our beautiful local theater.  I could not keep the grin off my face. I sat on the edge of my seat with tears in my eyes watching teenagers, classmates of my son, play in the first ever Arturo Sandoval Institute Allstar Student Jazz Band opening for Arturo Sandoval himself.  I was filled with pride and joy as I watched kids I ‘know’ step up and play with skill and heart. One of them even got to sub in with Arturo Sandoval’s band at one point.





As a bonus, the actor Andy Garcia introduced Sandoval and then played bongos in his band. (Yes, he actually plays the bongos, as well as the conga and piano.)  





Sunshine had his own fan boy experience watching sax player and band leader Gordon Goodwin play as part of Sandoval’s band.


Arturo Sandoval was wonderful.  He’s not only musically talented, but he’s very funny and a great teacher.  His banter between songs was priceless.   Paying tribute to his mentor, Dizzy Gillespie, in words and music, he explained how Gillespie helped invent Be-Bop when Swing was all the rage.  He confessed that growing up in Cuba, music saved his life.  It was in 1990,when Sandoval was on tour with Dizzy Gillespie, that he was able to defect to the United States from Cuba.


Not one to take without giving, he has created the Arturo Sandoval Institute to preserve instrumental music education in public schools and universities worldwide. Part of the proceeds from the night go to our city’s arts organization as well as our local school district’s educational foundation.  

I find it hard to put in to words just what watching good live music does to me.  It’s as if my soul wants to leap out and dance.  When I watch kids or teenagers pour their hearts into their music, I can barely contain myself.  It is one of the most transcendent things I’ve experienced.

Tonight, I am grateful to my son for asking his band teacher for an extra ticket for his mom.  And, once again, I’m grateful for music.

 Posted by at 09:17
Dec 172012


*In my journal, this day starts with the words “Happy Birthday E!”  My middle child turned 15 while we were in London and I was feeling a slight twinge of guilt, but trusted that his sibling, grandparents and cousins would take care of him.

Through our travel agent, we were able to get some London Passes at a reduced rate.  The London Pass allows you free access into as many of the attractions on their list as you can in 24 hours.  In order to make the most of the passes, we started early on that Friday after Thanksgiving.  The top of our list was the Tower of London.  The Tower is still a functioning royal palace as well as an amazing historic castle.  It turned out to be one of the major highlights of our trip.


The original stone tower (The White Tower) was started on the banks of the Thames River in the 1070’s by William the Conqueror to be used as a fortress-stronghold.  The Tower was protected by two existing Roman walls, the Thames and some strategically dug ditches.  Beginning with Richard the Lionheart around 1189, work was begun on the other structures that still exist today.



A recent addition to the Tower is the ice skating rink that was built in the area that was once the moat.  They filled the moat with earth in 1855 because it was causing illness and the stench of stagnant water was making it a very unpleasant, although historically accurate, experience.


Early birds that we are, we arrived in time to see the royal guard accompanied by a Yeoman Warder march out and unlock the main gate to the Tower.   The Yeoman Warder are the ceremonial guards who are chosen by the Queen based on their outstanding military service to live and work at the Tower, leading tours, passing on the history, caring for the Ravens, and protecting the Crown Jewels.yeomans-houses.jpg

The Yeoman Warders’ Houses in the walls surrounding the Tower of London.


After exploring the various buildings and areas of the Tower on our own for a bit, we joined one of the Yeoman Warder tours lead by a Beefeater named Andy.  (No one knows exactly why they’re called Beefeaters, but it may be because they were allowed as much meat as they wanted from the royal table so they had strength to defend the Tower.)






Andy led us through the grounds of the Tower telling the brief history of each building and explaining how it functions today. The tour itself ended inside the Tower of London Chapel, St. Peter ad Vincula (“Peter in chains”) where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey are buried.  They were all prisoners in the Tower and each executed on Tower Green just outside the Chapel windows.  While we sat in that Chapel, I was again struck by where I was – the actual location of so many famous happenings that shaped England and the world.


jubilee-diamond.jpg After the tour, we made our way through the Waterloo Barracks where the Crown Jewels are currently housed.  As with every other museum, gallery, and historical landmark we visited, the security seemed light.   Hubby took a picture of the 35 carat Queen’s Jubilee Diamond before being warned by the ONE security guard that photos weren’t allowed.

We wandered quickly through the Bloody Tower where the bodies of 12 year old Prince Edward V and his younger brother Richard were found after their murder in 1483.


One room in the Bloody Tower housed Sir Walter Raleigh on and off for a total of 13 years. They have recreated his study so you can see where he spent his days – pretty posh for a prisoner accused of plotting again James I and failing to find the city of El Dorado.walter-raleighs-study.jpg

henry-viii-armor.jpgThe White Tower (the oldest structure) is now home to military themed displays: horses, weapons, and armor. The picture is of King Henry VIII’s armor. Either he was well endowed or paranoid. Although I suppose he could have just been a braggart.


The Beauchamp Tower was used to house many of the most important religious and political prisoners including some amazing graffiti artists.  The walls of some rooms are filled with carvings from prisoners both known and unknown.beauchamp-tower.jpgup-the-staircase.jpgthomas-abell.jpg


Can tell what this guy’s name was? (right)





We did finally reluctantly tear ourselves away from the Tower, mostly because we were starving.  We ate some passable take-away fish and chips and headed for our next destination.  Before we left, Hubby took a picture of the Tower Bridge (built in the late 1800’s).



 Posted by at 21:15
Dec 132012

With my feet throbbing in protest, I followed the group past the courtyard of St. Paul’s which used to be used as a marketplace for booksellers and publishers including John Newbery (considered the Father of Children’s Literature and namesake of the Newbery Medal). We walked over a few blocks, past Milk Street and Bread Street (those clever Brits), to St. Mary-Le-Bow Church to have Thanksgiving lunch in the cafe now housed in the crypt. le-bow-steps.jpg

It may sound like an odd choice for Thanksgiving – no turkey, no stuffing, no pumpkin pie, no football – but it was outstanding on many levels.  in-the-crypt-line-small.jpg


The twelve bells of St. Mary-Le-Bow are called Bow’s Bells and it is said that to be born within the sound of Bow’s Bells makes you a true Cockney. Having once played the Artful Dodger in Oliver, I felt right at home.

It was also the sound of Bow’s Bells that the BBC World Service broadcast into Occupied Europe during WWII.

The crypt itself dates back to 1090 while the current church building was designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and completed in the 1670’s.  The steeple had to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by a bomb during the Blitz and it took 20 years to get the bells ringing again.  


The courtyard of St. Mary-Le-Bow contains a statue of Captain John Smith, founder of Jamestown and leader of the Virginia Colony who worshipped here when he wasn’t off in the new world.

As we settled into the crypt, it was great to sit back and reflect on the morning.  Hubby had a hamburger and I had the most delicious Beef, Mushroom and Guinness Pie.  We split a Treacle Tart for dessert.  Treacle Tart is Harry Potter’s favorite dessert and is much like a pecan pie without the pecans.

Since my feet were screaming bloody murder by this point, I limped back to the Tube and headed straight for my tennies back at the hotel. We had told our children that we would Skype them that day, so we headed over to Starbucks to make use of the free WiFi (the hotel charged).  Our connection was not strong enough to support video so we stuck to audio to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving and find out what they’d been up to. They seemed to be surviving so we kept it short. Once we hung up, all our have-to’s were done for the day. Next came the want-to’s.  What to do?  What to do?

 Posted by at 08:21
Sep 062012

We loaded up and headed to the ‘bu for Labor Day weekend.  Nine preteen girls, seven moms, and two dads with adventurous souls and a bit of camping chutzpah.

Malibu Creek State Park is scrub camping unless you get one of the shady spots, which we didn’t.  We did score a spot pretty close to the bathrooms though.  It’s all relative.

Here’s where I cut out the boring bits and serve up just the highlights.

It was really windy when we arrived so it was hard to put up the tents.

mary smaller   

The girls got creative.

We got all the tents up in time to take a walk to the ‘rock pool’, a naturally formed pool in Malibu Creek surrounded by vertical volcanic cliffs. It was the location for some scenes in Swiss Family Robinson, Planet of the Apes, and a few Tarzan movies. 



The girls braved the slime and waded right in.  They quickly discovered that flip-flops float and were virtually worthless against the muck.


Everyone swam and explored both above and below the water. My kid discovered great treasure when she dug up an old shoe from the bottom of the pool.  It had started to decompose and was full of rich black sludge.  She was in heaven investigating how being under water had changed the properties of the shoe.

As the sun pulled the curtain on our swim, we walked back to camp for a scrumptious spaghetti dinner. At the ‘campfire’ that night, the girls were treated to a live animal presentation put on by Wildworks.  They enjoyed meeting a skunk, barn owl, and many other local animals along with an African Serval that had been surrendered at a local shelter as a kitten.  The girls lingered long after the talk was over to pet the dogs that accompany the more exotic animals.

On our way back for the traditional s’mores, one of the moms discovered a tarantula in the path.  Apparently they are native to Southern California and males are often seen wandering in search of females in the fall!tarantulacroppedsmall.jpg

We managed to get a decent night’s sleep and woke to the summer sun blaring down on us.  (I got to share someone’s air mattress.  Sh!  I know that’s cheating.)  After a leisurely breakfast, the girls decided to spend the morning ‘relaxing’ while a group of mom’s took off to explore the campground. On our ramblings, we discovered that some people bring their entire kitchen camping with them, California King Snakes are constrictors and REI trains their employees at Malibu Creek. The highlight was watching a lone coyote yip at an open field as if it’s life depended on the amount of noise it could make. Being city folk, we assumed it was injured or protecting it’s young.  As we passed by at a safe distance, it abruptly quit and trotted off towards the park entrance. So much for our theories.

Lunch was perhaps our most thrilling adventure of the trip. The girls had constructed “Buddy Burners” out of upended coffee cans using tuna cans filled with wax and cardboard for fuel.  They cooked amazing grilled cheese sandwiches on them and then started a batch of brownies and some chocolate chip cookies.  



We had to abandon the project mid-stream since the hot wax began flowing down the wooden picnic benches carrying the flames with it.  

 bench crop

A little quick thinking saved the bench, but the dessert idea was abandoned.





We headed off to Zuma Beach where the girls challenged the power of the waves and gladly lost every time. They soon retired to the sand where they buried a few brave souls.




Needless to say, showers were the first order of business when they returned to camp. Another good(?) nights’ sleep and a Starbucks’ run brought us to the end of a wonderful weekend.



 Posted by at 18:26
Aug 312012

It looked like Thursday was going to require an advanced degree in order to navigate successfully through the parenting maze.  It isn’t that parenting my teens and pre-teen is that hard, it’s needing to be in multiple places at one time.  Take school, work, band, choir, and football, and throw in a read-a-thon and back to school night and you have a  full day, to say the least.  I was ready to make the ‘ultimate mom sacrifice’ and skip E’s first football game so I could drive the other two around, but we made some adjustments and hubby and I were able to make it to E’s first Freshman Football game. I am so glad I went!

As we drove down to San Gabriel in the sauna that has been Southern California for the past month,  I must say that my biggest concern was how sunburned I’d be by the time I got home. I had donned my only pair of shorts in an attempt to keep my body temperature below 100 degrees.  Turns out wearing shorts was a good idea for another reason.

The traffic wasn’t too bad heading east on the 210 (small miracle) and, as we drove the last few blocks towards the high school, a few fat, juicy raindrops hit the windshield.  “One.” I counted. “Two.”  Then got ‘the look’ from the hubby.  I got all the way to seven before it quit sprinkling. Ahhh, too bad.

“It would be so great if it rained on us,” I said thoughtlessly.

We arrived at the school just in time to find our friends in the stands and obey the cheer leaders’ command to “Stand Up for the Kick-Off”.  We scanned the sidelines for our boy in his #69 jersey. He looked so huge, I couldn’t believe it was my kid. When did this happen?  (*Side note: I think they gave him that number because they knew he could handle it with maturity and panache.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just forget I ever said anything.)


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 Posted by at 21:27
Aug 252012

So apparently August is ‘Romance Awareness Month’ which makes perfect sense since it’s the month that my hubby and I got married, my parents got married, my aunt and uncle got married, and my grandparents got married.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but we chose August for our wedding for reasons totally unrelated to ‘romance’.  

Wedding Photo

Honestly, August just worked for our schedule: 6 weeks after finals and a month before we had to be back in school. We figured that would give us some time to adjust to married life before we plunged back into our college courses.  I can’t remember if it worked.  

Now that we’ve been married for over half our lives, ‘romance’ is becoming an even more illusive concept, especially when it comes to our anniversary.  We even spent our anniversary in separate time zones one year.  (Not much romance in that since we didn’t even know how to Skype yet.)  

So where does romance fit in after all this time?  I’m not sure I even remember what it is.

Lacking any books on the subject, I turned to the internet.  I figured Cosmo might have something to say on the subject, so I went to their website and typed ‘romance’ in the handy search bar.  109 articles came up.  Since I only had an hour tops until hubby came home and caught me, I thought I better limit my research to one or two of these.  Which to choose?

Just looking at the top 10, I eliminated a few right away: Is Splitting the Bill Hurting Your Romance? (haven’t split a bill with him in about 25 years), Personalized Romance Novel (like sexy madlibs?), and How to Date a Coworker (wouldn’t do a thing for my marriage).  Down to 7.  Cross off the fashion advice, celebrity gossip, romance survey results, and the book club recommendations and I was down to 2: 12 Romance Rituals to Start and The Passion Python.  

Since children and my in-laws read my blog, I chose the 12 Romance Rituals.  

What I found from reading those 12 Rituals is that over the last 25 years or so, we’ve done some version of them: Go on a vacation, give massages, make a sexy playlist, go on a picnic. We’ve even watched True Blood together.  

Here’s my take-away from all this ‘research’:  Be more intentional about romance…..Which brings me full-circle back to “Romance Awareness Month.”  Now I get it.  Being aware of the romantic possibilities helps you seize the moment.  

Since I suck at being spontaneous, I’ve added “Be Romantic” to my weekly to-do list.  Does that make it any less meaningful?  You’ll have to ask my hubby.    

 Posted by at 21:44
Aug 072012

School starts in just two short weeks for us and even though our friends and neighbors are savoring the last of summer, we are already back in the swing of things here thanks to Marching Band Camp.  Sunshine, my oldest, is now a Senior in High School.  He got himself up at 5:45 this morning and jumped right back into the routine.  

I love the fresh start that the beginning of the school year provides.  I’m always happy for the opportunity to reboot my routine and re-establish good habits.   I don’t know what it’s like not to “go back to school”: my parents are both educators and I’ve been a student, a teacher, a teacher’s wife, a parent, and an administrator.  I dance to the rhythm of the school year whether I want to or not.

That being said, I thought I’d share some of my tips for starting the school year off right.  

1. Get a Calendar and USE IT!  I recommend a central, visible written calendar for the whole family.  With five of us going different directions nearly every day, a calendar is essential.  We write everything on the calendar so it’s important that the squares are big enough for all our information.  Football, Marching Band, Back to School Night, Minimum Days, Work Schedules, Youth Group, Doctor and Dentist Appointments – it all goes on the calendar.  I tell my kids “If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening.”


2. Get ready the night before.  Think through your day and prep as much as you can. Encourage everyone to pick out their clothes the night before and lay everything out. Seriously, your know it’s much better to discover that your kid is out of clean underwear at 7 p.m. than at 7 a.m.  If you have a kid who can never find her shoes when it’s time to go, have her put them by the front door before she goes to bed.  Establish a gathering place for everything you need to take with you when you leave in the morning: backpacks, instruments, sports equipment, P.E. clothes, etc.  Consider packing the car the night before if that’s practical. The more you can do before you go to sleep, the easier your morning will be.  

3. Use the power of 15 Minutes.  I’ve written before about the power of 15 minutes, but it comes into play again at this time of year.  When faced with homework, especially after a carefree summer, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  If you’re faced with a whiny or defiant kid at homework time, set the timer for 15 minutes.  Challenge them to focus until the timer goes off and then reward them with a brain break.  Sometimes you’ll find that they’ll keep working after the timer goes off just because they are so close to finishing or they’ve gotten into the groove.  

4. Read everything the school sends home on the day it comes home.  I know, it’s a ton but it’s important to know what’s going on and you don’t want to be the parent who forgot to pick up your kid on the first minimum day.  Transfer all the important dates straight to the calendar right away and toss all the papers that you won’t need.   My least favorite thing about starting a new school year is all the paperwork that I have to fill out as the parent.  Fill out and sign everything on the day it comes home so you don’t have to think about it again.  This is where the power of 15 minutes comes in handy: don’t be afraid to set the timer for yourself.  You’ll feel so much better when it’s done.  

5. Set a Simple Routine.  Whether it’s morning, after school or before bed that is the hardest for you, a routine can help.  The goal of a routine is to make part of your life automatic so you can concentrate on the fun and important things.  For kids a routine makes part of their life predictable so they can spend mental energy learning new skills.  Imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have to repeat the same words every day.  How do you set a routine?  Start simple.  Think about the top 5 things that must be done and write them down in an order that makes sense to you, i.e. shower, get dressed, breakfast, pack lunch, free time. Now post this list somewhere you will see it! It takes 27 days to make a habit so be kind to yourself (and your kids) and don’t give up!

Last night Sunshine gathered his supplies by the front door and laid out his clothes without a word from me.  He got himself up in the morning and was ready to go by 6:30 a.m.  Not every day will start this smoothly, but we’re off to a good start.  Here’s to another successful school year!

 Posted by at 08:12
Jul 312012

When my husband and I got engaged (22 years ago!) and we picked out our everyday dishes (okay, I picked them out and he nodded), I didn’t pay close attention to every detail. I chose the dishes based on the color and the pattern and figured that was all that was important. They’re just dishes, right?


We got 12 place settings of those dishes, Dansk Christianshavn Blue, from various wonderful friends and relatives as wedding presents.  We started out our married life with more dishes than we had seats in our apartment.  And then we started to use them.

At first we didn’t notice the problem.  Dinner consisted of microwaved Weight Watchers pizzas or whatever meat was on sale at the local IGA.  Neither of us quite knew how to plan and execute a side dish that was edible at the same time as the main dish: only one large plate required.
Then we discovered the miracle of salad in a bag and we began to use the ‘salad bowls’ from our set.  

Since we now had a few of the bowls unpacked, washed, and ‘in the rotation’ (table, sink, dishwasher, repeat), we got brave and started using them for cereal as well.

Yum!  Special K & Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies & Cracklin’ Oat Bran (Remember that?).  But something was wrong.  

Our bowls weren’t the right shape for cereal.

I know! How in the world could a bowl be the wrong shape for cereal?

Our new bowls were flat and disc-like.  In fact, they reminded me of an upside-down frisbee.  Instead of having a central well for gathering liquid, they were slightly raised in the middle and pushed any liquid into a ring around the outer edge.

Imagine trying to eat cereal from a bowl like that!  Chasing the flakes around the edge with your spoon, unable to collect even a dram of cereal-flavored milk because it refuses to gather in one spot. Finally resorting to tipping the bowl to gather all the goodness and having it flow out over the inadequate edge and spread mockingly across the table.

I was devastated!  How could I have failed so miserably?  Why didn’t anyone warn me?

And then my wonderful, innovative, forward-thinking, not-bound-by-convention husband saved the day.  He pulled a coffee mug down from the cupboard and filled it with Golden Grahams for me.  He handed me the milk and a spoon and rescued me from a cereal-free existence.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we still eat cereal from coffee mugs at our house.  

Don’t tell my kids.  They think everyone does!

 Posted by at 06:33
Jul 032012

How long is 15 minutes?  

No, really, how long?  How do you measure it?

Is it a short period of time as in “Only 15 more minutes on the computer” or an extrordinarily long period of time: “There’s a rest stop 15 minutes up the road.”  I guess it depends on how you look at it.

About 9 years ago, when my kids were smaller, 15 minutes was all I had.  A toddler, preschooler, and elementary school kid can fill every minute of the day with fun, mess, laughter, whining, food, dirty dishes, activity, exhaustion, and mountains of laundry.  

I really wanted to dig my way out from under the pile of stuff and the list of chores and just breathe.  When I saw someone who looked peaceful amidst the flurry, I’d ask for the secret.  One day, someone gave it to me: 15 minutes.  

She directed me to a woman called FlyLady whose motto was “You can do anything for 15 minutes!”  And it’s true.  

15 minutes

There are two sides to this:

1. You can accomplish a lot in 15 minutes if you focus.

Even if I couldn’t fold all the laundry, I could make a decent dent in 15 minutes, if I just stayed with it.  I discovered that I was flitting from pile to pile and not completing anything.  My to-do list was filled with half-finished tasks and overwhelming me before I even got started.  Which brings me to #2.

2. If you are dreading a task, just spend 15 minutes on it.

When faced with “cleaning the house” or “doing the taxes”, my inner princess would run screaming and I’d find every excuse in the world to not even start.  I can talk my princess down off the ledge now with the promise of spending ONLY 15 minutes on a dreaded task.  (She’s really easy to fool.)

I’ve discovered that most of the things I used to dread take less than 15 minutes: mopping, vacuuming, unloading the dishwasher, dusting, filing papers, paying bills.  The list goes on and on.

What can you accomplish in 15 minutes today?  Set your timer and find out!

For more on FlyLady and the power of 15 minutes, check out

 Posted by at 17:18
Jun 232012

The past two weeks have been jam packed with activity for our family.  There have been many endings and beginnings and very little time to stop and reflect.  That means almost no time to write.


Even when I did have time to write, I didn’t know where to start.  I feel like we’ve undergone some gigantic shift and what comes next is more momentous than what’s gone before.  We’re leaving elementary school behind, I have a 7th grader, Freshman and Senior now.


We are completly immersed in the world of hormones, Freshman Football, college visits, SATs, youth group outings, driver’s training, dating, eye rolls, part time jobs, acne, growth spurts, and more hormones.

The weighty topics we discuss are now somehow weightier.  

When we stand together, we feel like 5 people with at least one foot each in the adult world.  There’s no going back.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about what’s ahead.  I love seeing my kids step out into the unknown and carve their own paths without me holding their hands.  They are each entirely unique, yet so alike.  And it’s not just my kids who have a bright future: being able to have an uninterrupted conversation with my husband is beginning to sound like an attainable goal.  

As I step into uncharted territory I’m reminded that every day is new, whether we recognize it or not.  Here’s to exciting things ahead and all the moments that led to this point!

 Posted by at 13:05