Monthly Archives: December 2014

No Filter December – Day 31: The Final Day

No Filter December has come to an end. I’ve enjoyed the freedom of blogging under the No Filter title so much, I may just declare next year “No Filter 2015.”  Let’s just consider it that between ourselves, though, so I don’t have to preface every title with it, because frankly, that got tedious this month.

041At any rate, it’s New Year’s Eve. Time for the Traditional Schmidt Household New Year’s Bash, a rollicking good time wherein we drink Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider and do a jigsaw puzzle.  Sometimes, if we’re feeling daring, we light a fire.  This year we added a pot of chili to the mix AND were treated to gluten-free donuts made by the 14 year old.  (There was a slight misunderstanding about the difference between 1/2 tsp and 2 tsp when it came to the salt measurement in the recipe, however, so we didn’t actually eat the donuts.)

When I was young and single, I did my time at New Year’s Eve parties. I remember one in particular, a rather large one for the Singles group at a popular church.  After a painful hour or so, a friend and I, having recognized a certain desperation in each others’ countenances, politely sidled out without drawing undue attention to ourselves. As soon as we got to the sidewalk, we ran, yelling “Aaugh,” down the street.  Yes, we literally yelled, “Aaugh.” It was that bad.

We ended up at a party at the home of a friend of his. It was a handful of people, and we sat around and played quiet games and chatted and I do believe it was the best New Year’s Eve party I have ever attended.

That was the last year I attended a big party.

A quick look at my Facebook newsfeed tells me that I’m not alone in enjoying staying home on New Year’s Eve, so either I’m getting old or a lot of people have come to the same conclusion as I that large New Year’s parties are overrated.

So to those of you who are joining the loud, the frantic and the raucous this evening in your celebration, I tip my hat.  To those of you who are joining me in staying home, I lift my glass of sparkling cider to you and offer you a quiet and understanding grin.

And, since I spent some time with this little guy earlier today while his mistress and my daughter were riding bikes at the beach, I also offer you a Happy New Year grin from Sam.  No, he’s really grinning. Really.

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Categories: Around Town, Blogging, Family, Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

No Filter December – Day 30: iPhone Christmas

It was an iPhone Christmas around here this year.

It all started back in October when my LG Extravert gave up the ghost.  Or rather, when the slide-out keyboard started having sticky keys, which is a problem that phone tends to have. This was our 3rd or 4th phone, between my daughter and I, and every single one of them has degenerated into sticky keys within 6-9 months.

030cropThis resulted in texts that said things like, “I cannnnnnnn commmme to the performmmmannnnce,” and after a while, even your best friend starts to lose patience (and text back things like, “donnnt mmmake funnn of mmme,” especially if you have made reference to a typo she has made).

I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth buying another Extravert, so I started looking for a used iPhone.  I figured, since my other alternative was a $20 flip-phone with phone keypad and T9 word recognition, even a used iPhone 3 would be better than that.  I quickly discovered that unless you are lucky enough to know someone with an old iPhone they want to offload, you can’t really buy one.

Well, you can, if you want to spend hundreds of dollars.  Or, you can buy one cheap, but there is no way of knowing whether you will actually receive the item you thought you purchased.  We went through that with a purchase of a “Used-Excellent” 3G Kindle Keyboard last year. When it arrived, it turned out to be WiFi only, not 3G, and was refurbished.  After a month of emails going back and forth (very slowly on the seller’s part), we sent it back, only to be told a week later that we had to prove to them that they had received it before they would issue us the refund. Fortunately my brilliant husband had sent it via Fed Ex, having foreseen just such an eventuality.

At any rate, there was no way I was going to get into a purchase of electronics from a third party or eBay seller again.

My 20 year old has had an iPhone for two years, so I asked his help.  He showed me a plan offered by Verizon where we could get free iPhones and a month-to-month family plan. We did the math and it worked out to about what we were already paying for our pre-paid phones.  The only problem was that we had to wait until his contract expired in December before we made the change.  This gave me the bright idea to get phones for my husband, the two oldest kids and myself and give them as gifts for Christmas.  For free!  What’s not to love about that?

035In the meantime, since I had an old flip-phone lying around, I used that. Three months of T9.  I should get an award.

Did you know that T9 does not recognize the word “Valentines?” It comes out “Takeouines.”  So my family and friends have, from my years of flip-phone use, gotten used to me wishing them Happy Takeouines Day on Feb. 14.

Also, the word “right,” if one of the letters was not picked up by the phone as I was typing it, would come out as the S-word, which was quite unfortunate when I was answering a text with a sarcastic “Oh, right” and didn’t notice the change before I hit send.

Especially if it were to one of my kids.

At any rate, two days before Christmas (I think I have already established my affinity for the ragged edge of disaster), my son and I were at the Verizon store signing a contract and picking up the phones. At the last possible second we suddenly realized that my husband has a phone from work, and that he really doesn’t need an iPhone however much he would like one, and that there was no way he was going to strap an iPhone to his belt next to his gigantic Samsung Galaxy every day. He’s a bit of a tech nerd, but not that bad.

Which was fine and all, but then that left me, two days before Christmas, with no gift for my husband.

Oh, but it was worse than that.  Not only did I not get HIM a gift, but I got myself an iPhone. All of a sudden my genius idea of October was turning into a very, very bad thing.

How did I not see this coming? How did I not figure this out until I was about to buy the dang phones?  That could be the topic of another blog.  It probably will be.  Let’s just leave it at the fact that this is not unusual behavior for me.  Despite the (now-expired) Mensa membership card.

I agonized over this predicament.  I had so wanted to surprise him with my foresight and thriftiness, getting us all superior phones for the same price as the throwbacks we had all struggled with for years in the name of living within our means.  I could find no easy answer for it.  My elation at finally having an iPhone — and a pretty GOLD one, at that — was overshadowed by the sour taste of Christmas Fail.

My son had no qualms about this, mind you.  He started using his phone right away, quite gleefully, and no one noticed the upgrade.  I had to keep mine and my daughter’s hidden, so they lay hidden in the bottom of my tote bag, a token of my shame.  I didn’t even want to wrap them.

I couldn’t stand it any longer and finally confessed the whole debacle to my husband later than night.  He stared at me, speechless.  I couldn’t read the expression on his face and this worried me.  Finally he sighed and said, “Well then, I guess I’ll just have to take back the phone I bought you for Christmas.”

As if it hadn’t been bad enough before.

I was saved from total despair by the realization that it was playing out like a scene out of “The Gift of the Magi.” We both had a good laugh about it, and when he lamented, “Now I don’t have a gift for you either,” I pulled the box out of my tote bag and handed it to him.  He wrapped it in front of me, chuckling all the while.

The next day I sang at an afternoon Christmas Eve service, so my focus for most of the day was preparing for that.  With that deadline out of the way, I once again turned my thoughts toward my husband’s gift.  I still had a good 8 hours of shopping time left at this point.  The sky was the limit.

The 12 year old offered, after the service, to accompany me on my shopping trip.  There was a hardware store around the corner from the church, and I remembered Alan showing interest in a tool there a few weeks before and saying he had always wanted one, and I was confident I could remember where that tool was located, so we headed there.

It turned out to be the wrong hardware store. I knew right where the tool was in THE OTHER store.  But not in this one.

A helpful employee, noticing my aimless wandering, asked if he could help.

To make a long story short, my husband received from me, the next morning, a gift card for the hardware store with the attached note: “Apparently a ‘handheld tool that looks like a drill but isn’t one and that has a spinny thing on the end of it’ isn’t enough to identify that tool you wanted, so you’ll have to go buy it yourself.”

075So Christmas morning worked out okay after all.  He was very happy with his hardware store gift card (note to self: remember this next year), the 20 year old was ecstatic with his new phone, I was over the moon with mine, and the 19 year old, the only one for whom the phone was a surprise at this point, actually cried when she opened hers.

All the gatherings of relatives for the next two days now had a focal point. Well, okay, celebrating the birth of Christ and the spending of time with family, but ALSO, the giving of iPhone tips.

I now have an Instagram.  I’m not sure why, given that I have a blog and a Facebook account, but I’ve always wanted one, so I have one now.  I may even venture into the unknown territory of mobile banking.  I still don’t understand how the bank considers it a deposit if you just take a picture of a check, but the 20 year old assures me it’s a thing.

I have also become that woman, the one who is so focused on her phone as she walks across a parking lot that she walks right across a parking space just as someone is trying to pull into it.

Perhaps I should put increased capacity for multitasking on my list of New Year’s Resolutions.

Categories: Christmas, Family | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

No Filter December – Day 29: The Rules

My friends in Mexico live in a community with a security gate.  Apparently most of their neighbors are also Americans, and although part of the charm of the place for me has been that friendly neighborhood dogs roam the streets and take themselves down to the beach whenever they feel like it, someone in the community must have become uptight about it, because signs have been posted all over the complex.

And really, since English is not the guy’s first language, he did a pretty good job, all things considered.

I went ahead and laughed at it, at length, anyway.  I have a feeling that parts of it will be quoted among my family for years to come. Especially Rule Number Three, aka “The Unfinished Rule.” It should come in handy whenever I feel chaos ensuing.

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Rules To Live By

 

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No Filter December- Day 28: Flu With a Side Of Diabetes

So, the flu hit. I took the day off yesterday, and was planning to lay low today too, but then the 12 year old made himself breakfast.

Which would have been okay, but he has Type 1 Diabetes and gave himself enough insulin to cover for waffles and syrup.

Which also would have been okay, but the waffles turned out to be freezer burnt, so he couldn’t eat them, and once he has given himself insulin, he needs to eat within the next 30-45 minutes or his blood sugar could drop too low and he could pass out and the paramedics would then have to pay us a visit.

No problem, thought I from my cozy chair by the fire, he can just make himself some pancakes.  Except it’s 3 days after Christmas and I was sick yesterday so no one has been grocery shopping, so we were out of eggs, and all the other drivers in the house were either at church or sleeping off a late-night band practice.

There was no way around it. I had to run to the store to get eggs.

The 12 year old apologized profusely and promised me that he would run in and buy the eggs while I sat in the car, but once we got there, I felt okay so I said I would go in with him.

And then this happened and I realized I really should just have stayed put.014

Categories: Around Town, Christmas, Diabetes, Family | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

No Filter December – Day 27: Driving Tips For Mexico

I have ranted on this blog in the past about how much I hate four-way stop signs, but I found I actually don’t mind them in Mexico.  Down there, everyone works together and you all get through the intersection, and if someone pushed in a little ahead of you when it was technically your turn, it’s not all that bad, because at least they do it quickly, and with sure intention, so that there is no question in your mind that you have to stop and wait a bit.  And they tend to get out of your way with equal alacrity.

There is this one intersection in Rosarito that almost defies description, but I’m going to try anyway. Or perhaps I will draw a diagram.

Here’s how it looks on the map:

Mcdonalds Rosarito intersection

The top orange line on the right is a freeway off ramp, and the bottom orange line is a freeway on ramp.  The white road between them goes over a bridge that starts right about where the ramps begin. The yellow lines on the left show the main road through town.  Doesn’t look so bad, right?  Except for one thing.  If you are coming off the freeway on that top orange line, but you want to go across the bridge (and it seems that a large percentage of the traffic does want to do that particular maneuver),  you have to pull a U turn across the white street.  Okay, so that’s not so bad either, especially when you consider that the west-bound traffic on that white street has a stop sign right there.

Except that this seems to be one of the busiest intersections in Rosarito. Not only are people coming off the freeway and wanting to U-turn to cross the bridge, but some of them also want to go to the McDonalds across the street.

Plus there are people coming out of McDonalds who want to go across the bridge.

Plus, let us not forget that freeway on ramp at the bottom, and some people coming east from the main road want to get on the freeway.

Also, some of the people coming across the bridge, who have stopped at the stop sign, also want to either get on the freeway or go to McDonalds, so some of them are turning left there.

And to make matters more fun, a large amount of people are coming off the main road and going across the bridge, and at the other end of the bridge there is an equally busy intersection that often gets gridlocked.

All this means that this intersection is almost always choked with cars, and that much of the time traffic is backed up across the bridge.  So if you are coming off the freeway, you don’t just have to make a U Turn.  You have to make a U turn while pushing your way into traffic that is backed up while not blocking the people who have stopped at the stop sign.

And you also don’t want to accidentally get on the on ramp instead of the bridge because then you will find yourself the other end of town, at the off ramp that empties directly into the parking lot of a very popular Pemex gas station.

Mcdonalds Rosarito intersection satellite2At any rate, the satellite picture on Mapquest shows the mayhem a little more accurately, although this was obviously not taken during rush hour.  Notice there are no sidewalks or crosswalks.  More than once I have seen pedestrians crossing this road.  Not at the intersection, though, but kind of in the middle between the intersection and the bridge, i.e. the absolute worst place to put your body in front of a moving vehicle because the driver is already distracted with trying not to hit the cars coming at him from five different directions.

Just to make it more fun, when you get to the other side of the bridge, if you want to turn right, you have to be aware of an off ramp coming up alongside the bridge on the right.  You can’t actually SEE it, because it’s lower than the road, but there could be a car coming up that way, so you have to do your best, before you cut over to the right turn lane, to catch a glimpse of something in that direction so you don’t crash into them as they merge onto the main road.  This is why it’s always good to have a passenger with you when you drive in Mexico.

Within a few hours of arriving there my first time driving in Mexico, I had to face this intersection – the hard way, being one of the U-turners.  I should also mention it was the evening rush hour.  And dark.

It was surprisingly easy, because as I said before, everyone worked together. As long as you don’t dither, and take your turn the second it opens up, you do just fine.  I find this far preferable to the waving-on wars that happen in intersections up in the States.

Come to think of it, while this U-turn intersection actually seems to work in Mexico, I’m pretty sure it would result in some shootings if it were up in L.A.

At any rate, after my two days of driving across the border, I came up with this:

Mexico 2013 Ems Camera 403Driving Rules For Mexico

1) Drive slower than you think you should.  You never know when a car, pedestrian or dog will appear in front of your car.  Or a pot hole.

2) If you think it’s your turn, go. You’ll figure out it really wasn’t your turn if you find someone else in your way, and you can always stop then. If you hang about too long trying to figure out if it’s your turn, though, you’ll mess up the whole flow of traffic.

3) Always take a passenger.  This gives you someone to talk to during slow traffic, as well as equipping your vehicle with another pair of eyes.

4) If someone honks you, they are not upset.  They are just saying, “Hey, I’m over here, don’t hit me.”  There is a good chance they are breaking traffic laws at the time, hence the need to get your attention.

5) Stop signs are a good idea, but no one really takes them all that seriously.

  • Corollary A) If the paint has washed off the stop sign, you really shouldn’t have to stop there.
  • Corollary B) On the other hand, it’s a good idea to treat every intersection like there is a stop sign, just in case someone else is not taking them seriously coming the other way.

6) Traffic lights are also suggestions, but it’s usually a good idea to agree with them.

Mexico 2013 Ems Camera 3597) If armed men in fatigues or uniforms tell you to stop so they can look in your vehicle, it’s a good idea to comply.

Corollary A) Don’t take pictures of them.

8) Develop an innate sense of the width of your vehicle ahead of time. You will use this information often.

9) If too many pedestrians are clogging the crosswalk and taking their time to get across, just start easing forward to encourage them to hurry up, especially if they are students.  They need to develop a healthy fear of moving vehicles.

10) If you need to back out into traffic, just go.  Nobody wants to hit you.  They’ll stop.

11) Don’t worry about doing the right thing. You can’t really do the wrong thing.  We’re all making it up as we go.

Come to think of it, that last one is a good rule of thumb for life.

Categories: Around Town, Los Angeles, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

No Filter December- Day 26: The Art Of The Wrap

I’ll be the first to agree that Christmas is not all about the presents.

Except, you know, let’s be honest. No matter how devoutly you celebrate the birth of Christ (and yes, He wasn’t actually born in December, and much of what we celebrate comes from a Church-power-play co-opting of pagan rituals, and personally, I celebrate his birth every day so I don’t really get all that tweaked by Santa this time of year anyway), it is LARGELY about the presents.  Especially if you have kids.  And relatives. And friends.

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My “niece” joined the tradition this year. I think she does indeed get the Ugliest Wrap Job Award.

I wish wrapping was an aerobic exercise because I would have burned ALL my Christmas food calories and then some this year if it were.  Sore feet and back (and papercuts) aside, however, I must admit that wrapping is actually one of my favorite parts of the process.

This goes back to my childhood. I love surprises.  I hate knowing what is in the present ahead of time; my family is the same way, so over the years we developed an ever-increasing repertoire of ways to disguise gifts.  We did the small-gift-in-a-big-box, the tape-toilet-rolls-to-the-outside-to-disguise-the-shape, the throw-a-handful-of-pebbles-in-the-box-to-make-it-rattle.  We even did the there-is-no-possible-way-to-wrap-this-neatly-so-it’s-just-going-to-look-like-crap wrap.

One of the fun things about wrapping is the whole secrecy thing – locking the door to the bedroom, only letting certain people in the room. It’s a little difficult when you share a room with your husband, though, and you need to wrap his gifts.  Luckily my husband is very focused on whatever is right in front of him much of the time, so this year I perfected the art of wrapping his gifts right in front of him.  I even took a little item he bought for himself right out of his hand (“Oh, cool, can I see that?”) and went straight over to the wrapping paper and wrapped it up, while asking him questions about something else. He didn’t even notice. It made for a good laugh Christmas morning.

There was one gift I wrapped for him while he was in the kitchen making me a cup of tea (I know, I know.  What a guy). I felt like living on the ragged edge of disaster right then, so I left the door open and started wrapping his main gift.  I could hear him out there, but I knew that at any minute he might walk back to the bedroom, so I tried to stay calm and hurry.

Okay, that’s just not possible.  For me, anyway.  You know those spy TV shows where the spies are breaking into someone’s safe or computer and the owner is walking down the hall and putting their key in the lock, so the spy has to hurry, and they act all cool and methodical and get the job done and dissemble completely when the person walks in the room?  Yeah.  I could never be a spy.  My hands were shaking.  I dropped the tape at least twice.  I kept doing breathing exercises and telling myself to calm down and talking myself through the process, but my heart was going a mile a minute and my brain clicked into slow-mo mode.

But you know, when you have presents to wrap for 13 relatives and about as many friends, you take your excitement where you can get it.

A couple of years ago we ended up wrapping the kids’ gifts until midnight Christmas Eve, and I was getting pretty punchy.  After 10:30 p.m. the wrapping jobs and gift tags began to degenerate.  I present here a photo-documentary of my slide into befuddlement.

Gift wrap degeneration (2)

9:30 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gift wrap degeneration (3)

9:49 p.m.

Gift wrap degeneration (4)

10:32 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gift wrap degeneration (5)

11:15 p.m.

Gift wrap degeneration (6)

11:57 p.m.

 

Categories: Christmas, Family | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

No Filter December – Day 25: Merry Christmas

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Merry Christmas From the Beach

 

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No Filter December – Day 24: Comfort and Joy

The words to Christmas carols are hitting me in a new way this year.  We sing them every year, but certain phrases are jumping out this time around and sticking with me.

Like “tidings of comfort and joy.” Wow.  Who doesn’t need some comfort?  Who among us doesn’t feel a little bit beat up by the frenetic pace of life, the difficulties of today’s economics, the greediness of politicians, the abuse of power by those who have it, the unfairness of society, or maybe just by the selfishness of those around us?  Especially this time of year, when you add Christmas shopping and holiday traffic and expectations of The Perfect Holiday Decorations/Food/Gift to the normal grind.  I’m raising my hand.  I could use a little comfort.  The emotional equivalent of fuzzy slippers and hot chocolate in front of a nice warm fire would be good just about now.

Teacup Party Girl TherapyAnd joy, too.  I like to people watch.  It’s what I do at red lights to pass the time when I’m first in line – you get a really good view of the faces of drivers who are turning left onto the street you’re on.  So I can tell you, for the most part, people look miserable.  We need some joy.  Not happiness, which is fleeting, but joy, that deep joy that roots in your heart and can’t be budged by circumstance and situation.

So yes, some tidings of comfort and joy are just the kind of news people want to hear.  Where do we get this comfort?  Where does this joy spring from?  People want to know.  People need it.

I went to a Christmas Eve service tonight.  It was packed – the semi-annual Christmas and Easter crowd was out in full force. I wondered, though, how many of them were searching for comfort and joy in the traditions of religion and church attendance, but were not finding it because their favorite carol wasn’t sung, or the decorations weren’t like they remembered at the church they grew up in.  It’s easy enough to do – to look for the right thing in the wrong place.

The problem is that when spiritual matters are relegated to the realm of personal choice and cultural preference, as opposed to the realm of fact and truth, it is actually hard to find comfort in faith.  In fact, when faith is considered, as it is by so many today, to merely be a form of personal expression, it’s pretty empty faith.

It might feel good for a little while — along the lines of Christmas Spirit and That Holiday Feeling — but if these tidings of comfort and joy, this good news that is sung about in so many of the traditional carols, is not based on truth, then it is actually of less use than the Santa Claus myth.

Faith is not something you experience or feel.  It’s something you believe, and if you are trying to put faith in something while at the same time keeping your options open as to whether or not this thing is actually true, you will not reap the benefits of your faith.  Faith is not the thing that brings the benefits – the truth of the person or concept in which you put your faith is the only meaningful source of benefit.

The writers of these carols meant it when they offered tidings of comfort and joy.  It wasn’t just a Hallmark sentiment, like dreaming of a white Christmas. They were referring to something with which they had first hand experience.

Like this verse from It Came Upon A Midnight Clear:

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

These words were not written along the lines of Rudolph and Frosty.  These writers sincerely believed in “glad and golden hours.”  They were talking about something they were counting on.   They had experienced relief from “life’s crushing load” and wanted others to know about it.

Did they want to tell others about this because they would earn points by doing so? There are religions that foster some kind of a point-earning system, but in this case, no, these writers weren’t trying to impress anyone.  They wanted people to know because it worked.

If you were to visit a primitive tribe somewhere, and noticed that they were constantly sick because they didn’t wash their hands, would you withhold the information you had about the existence of germs because you didn’t want to influence their culture or offend them? No, you would tell them you knew a better way, because you wouldn’t want them to suffer with sickness any more.

The world today suffers under a great sickness of heart. A quick glance at the headlines of any given day will tell you that. So when someone says they have any answer that will bring peace, joy, comfort and salvation, it might be worth looking into.  Maybe that person is not just participating in a cultural ritual.  Maybe they are telling you the truth.  Perhaps their delivery is not flawless.  People are, well, human.  But even if the messenger is not perfect, maybe the message is true. Maybe it might be worth having a discussion about it with someone whose life reflects the sincerity of their belief, because if it truly works for them, it will work for you too.

But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” Luke 2:10-13

A nice story to read at Christmas time or a history-altering event wherein God Himself came down to earth in order to set people free from the things that so easily entangle them? People are spiritual beings, so just as it’s worth reading up on foods that will help your body function better and exercise that will keep your body healthy, it’s worth spending time looking into the things that heal and nurture your spirit. It’s worth your time to explore tidings of comfort and joy.

Baja Mission 12-2014 275crop

Categories: Christmas, Faith, Family | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

No Filter December – Day 23: Driven To Distraction

I must admit I was nervous about driving in Mexico when I went last week, but quickly discovered that it wasn’t all that bad.  Because as crazy as some of the intersections get, and as optional some of the stop signs seem to be, it all somehow works out.

After a few days of coping with Rosarito traffic, I returned to the States, and it was on my way out that I almost got in an accident.

Just as I approached the border, the lane I was in unexpectedly turned into an offramp that would take me back to the road to Rosarito, so I had to quickly slow down and cut over a lane.  Unfortunately, someone was at that moment parked horizontally across that lane, waiting for traffic to clear so that he could shoot over to the offramp.  I checked the mirror and started to drive around him on the right, when all of a sudden someone was honking me, loudly and long.  My daughter told me there was someone trying to cut around me from behind.  I stopped and let him go first, and as he drove past us I looked at him. He was a very harried-looking overweight American with a very sour expression on his face.  He looked exactly like a character in a movie about a grumpy middle-manager.

I was a little shaken and upset at first, as I maneuvered into line in the lane next to him.  We had reached the point where the border lines began, so I knew there would be no going anywhere fast for the next hour or so. I tried to catch the man’s eye so I could wave and say sorry, but he just looked away. A few minutes later, the car in front of him didn’t pull up right away when the line moved forward a few feet.  The man laid into his horn with the same gusto he had honked me.  It was so ridiculous to honk when you’re going to be sitting in line for the next hour, I burst out laughing.  What exactly did the man think he would gain by moving up those few feet right away instead of waiting a few seconds?

039While he was busy honking in the left lane, I was quickly working my way across the lanes to try to get into one of the right lanes. I had discovered on my last trip that the right lanes at the San Ysidro crossing open up two or three times down the road into multiple lanes, so they go much faster than the two left-hand lanes, which only split once at the very end.  If you don’t get into the right hand lanes right away, however, you lose your opportunity to change lanes, as the space between the lanes is filled with vendors and their carts all the way to the border. Within a few minutes, I was 5 or 6 cars ahead of the man.  Again I heard the angry honking.

“Oh no,” moaned the 12 year old.  “Is he going to keep that up all the way to the border?  For the next hour or two?”

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “We’ll soon be out of earshot. We can just use his honking as a gauge of how far ahead we’re getting in this lane than if we’d stayed in that lane.”

Sure enough, about 10 minutes later we couldn’t hear him any more.  He had honked at least twice more before he faded into the distance, however.

All I could do was shake my head and think, “That poor man.” His honking was making no difference to his wait time. It was only fueling his frustration.  Suddenly all the stress of the incident with him, which I had realized by then was simply his preponderance for horn-blowing and not actually a near-miss, melted away. I sat back and enjoyed the wait, watching the vendors and talking with the kids.

036The vendors have a tough job, standing in the sun all day, threading between constantly moving cars, but many of them (the successful ones, as it turns out) maintain good humor.  One vendor walked in front of my van just as traffic started to move, so he quickened his pace and crossed himself with a twinkle in his eye.  They don’t let the grumpiness of the drivers get to them.  They hawk their wares, exchange pleasantries with each other and help each other out when needed.  Smiles sell more goods, and the ones who have found a way to smile sincerely sell the most.

Something clicked into place in my head that day. How many times do I get upset about circumstances outside of my control, fuming and ranting and raving about it?  It makes no difference.  Even if there is a point where my words might change the situation, those words need to be calm and reasonable, not ranting and raving.  I can be saddened by a situation, but working myself up about it — following the excitement plan, as a friend of mine calls it — does nothing but raise my blood pressure.  It’s not good for me.  It’s not good for my kids. And it does nothing for the situation.

I came back to the States and jumped headlong into Christmas shopping and traffic jams and harried people and long lines, but somehow the lesson I learned at the border stayed with me.  I keep finding myself pausing in the middle of chaos and smiling, appreciating details, giving away small kindnesses, stopping to have conversations and putting people above things.  Just as I duck under large breaking waves in the ocean, I have been submerging myself under the Christmas frenzy and letting it wash over me instead of knocking me down.

Because the circumstances come and go, and stuff is just stuff, but people are forever.

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Categories: Around Town, Christmas, Family, Los Angeles, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

No Filter December – Day 22: Pilgrimage To The British Connection

20141222_113615_resized_1Since my parents, my brother and I left England 45 years ago, you would think I would be thoroughly Americanized by now.  Ah, but you would only think that if you had not ever been to my parents’ house.  It was a little piece of England.  We moved a lot, so that piece of England was transplanted quite often.

At any rate, when we finally settled in Southern California in the 70s, we had come to terms with not being able to eat our favorite British sweets and foods without a journey up the coast to Santa Monica.

20141222_113410_resizedAnd then, after many Jelly Baby-less years, we found The British Connection in Torrance.

Since then, it has become a necessity to visit this store every year at Christmas. When Alan and I got married, he became a British sweetie convert and insists on making the pilgrimage, with or without me.  Other people visit the Christmas lights at Sleepy Hollow section of Torrance; we go buy Cadbury Flake bars.

So here’s a shout out to The British Connection.  If you’re in the South Bay of L.A., give them a visit.  They are at 4413 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, CA 90503.  Very friendly people working there, without fail, and if you have no idea what to get, they can help you figure it out.  You can even tell them your budget and the age of the person you are buying for and they will put together a basket.

The girl stocking the shelf said they just can't keep enough Flake and Crunchie bars.  "This will be gone in a few hours," she said, piling the candy on top of the bars.  "I didn't believe them when I started working here, but it's true."  I confirmed her words by promptly putting a handful of each kind in my basket.  Oops.  Now my brother knows what he's getting for Christmas.

The girl stocking the shelf said they just can’t keep enough Flake and Crunchie bars. “This will be gone in a few hours,” she said, piling the candy on top of the bars. “I didn’t believe them when I started working here, but it’s true.” I confirmed her words by promptly putting a handful of each kind in my basket. Oops. Now my brother knows what he’s getting for Christmas.

Just a note – you can buy Cadbury at regular grocery stores, but the British Connection sells the real stuff.  Yes, there is a difference!

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Categories: Around Town, Christmas, Family, Los Angeles | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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