Dying, As You Do

My friend is dying.

We found out at the end of last year that Georgia has a brain tumor.  In January some friends and I flew out to spend a weekend with her and go out for one last over-the-top meal before the chemo-necessitated diet kicked in.  We accompanied her to doctor appointments, invading the waiting rooms with our Very Much Diva presence.

023I mean, we were polite and all, but there were five of us.  Still, apart from that one incident with the unattended wheelchair and the empty hallway at the hospital, I’d say we behaved ourselves pretty well.

Even so, four middle-aged women, who are used to advocating for themselves and their children – we each have at least one with some level of special needs, so we are all very used to doctors and hospitals and insurance companies – accompanying a fifth woman who is, from sheer height, physically imposing, with a personality to match…

Well.  We made the day interesting for the staff, at any rate.

087cropAnd then we went out for dinner at the second-fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been to (the first was the night I met Georgia) and accidentally spent $132 on a plate of caviar.  Okay, but the “1” was really, REALLY small, and did I mention we’re all middle-aged?

When I finally returned home, I figured that was probably the last time I would spend time with my friend.  As much as I wanted to hop a plane again and hang out for a weekend, I knew my schedule was not going to allow it.

And then, miraculously, she was able to come here this weekend for the 4th of July celebrations.  It was like a bonus round.  She has quit the chemo, so the diet is off, so once again we went out to eat food we know better than to eat, because if you can’t eat foie gras with your friend who is dying, when can you eat it?

My heart is full today, full of love for my dying friend, for my friends who are walking her through this, and for the inevitable day that approaches far too rapidly when we will all come together once more on her behalf, but without her presence.

003For now, though, I will focus on the laughter last night around the table, the delight we took in each new dish that arrived at the table, the moments of bliss we shared with that first bite of that steak sampler, that song that we enjoyed so much as it wafted through the sun-warmed patio, the sea breeze that was just enough but not too chilly.

None of our lives are easy at the moment, and every now and then one or the other of us would bring up something we’d had to deal with during the week, and we would find the funny side and laugh about it, and then move on to another topic as if to say, “Yes, this is hard, but it too shall pass and what matters is this – this moment now, this shared joy, this camaraderie, this love for each other.”

Death puts life into focus. Death lines up our priorities with lightning speed. While I do not want to let my friend go and every ounce of my being screams that it’s too soon, that the world needs her, that we need her, that this isn’t fair, I can’t sit beside her with only that in my heart.  I can’t waste these precious last moments I have with her on this earth on complaints about the manner in which she is exiting.

So in my sorrow, there is joy.  I dig deep and focus tightly on that joy, and the sorrow that wails in the periphery, threatening to rush in at any moment and extinguish it, only serves to make that joy all the more precious.

There are any number of Scriptures I could quote here, but each one that comes to mind seems trite in the face of this reality.  Not that they don’t apply, or that they aren’t true, but I don’t think you can just pull out a verse and slap it on a situation like this.  Reality is hard, life is messy, and death is heart-breaking.

It helps to have the assurance that one day I will see my friend whole again, cancer-free and in full command of the words that now elude her grasp.  But there isn’t one tidy little verse that I can recite to encompass all of that, nor do I think I should try.  It’s in times like these that I can only draw on the full extent of faith, of walking with God, of having tried and rejected pat answers and legalistic forms of religious behavior, and having come to the end of myself and having realized more than once that without Him, I am nothing.

And I can rest in the knowledge that as dear as my friend is to me, as much as I love her laugh and her joie de vivre and the mischief we bring out in each other, God loves her more – really loves her, gets her on a level no one else does, cares for her and is walking with her every step of the way until the day He welcomes her into His arms for eternity.

Until then, there are still moments to savor, smiles to share.

And baked olives to eat.

(Something, incidentally, I would not have known had I never met Georgia.)

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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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Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part Three (in which we visit Huntington Beach)

(Continued from Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part Two)

The Husband (who we shall now call Alan, because “The Husband” is getting a little old.  The term, I mean, not the man. Although he DID just have a birthday…) turned the car west and we drove, obeying the siren call of the beach.  Eventually we found the coast road and headed north toward Huntington Beach.

Huntington is a place we generally drive past in a hurry, since Huntington Pier on a weekend or mid-summer attracts just the size of crowd I will do anything to avoid, but this was November, and it was Monday, so we decided to park and walk around the pier.

559While there are historic buildings scattered around, the main drag leading to the pier and surrounding streets are very trendy, boasting just about any retail establishment or restaurant you might expect to find.  It was somewhat of a cross between San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Diego.




I pause to pay my respects to Mr. Huntington.

I pause to pay my respects to Mr. Huntington.

Still full from our breakfast at Rooster Cafe, we walked past the numerous restaurants, bars and treat shops and simply admired the architecture.

I had a teacher in college who gave this piece of advice for exploring a new town: “Don’t forget to look up, and whenever you have a chance, nip up the snickelways.”


We debated whether that motorcycle just happened to be there or was part of the decor. Because it just matched a little too well.

Admittedly, this class was in England, and the professor was talking about the city of York, but I took his advice to heart and have followed it ever since.  This has resulted in more than one bruised shin, but has also led to many a hidden discovery.

Sure enough, the “snickelways” (alleys) of Huntington Beach proved worth “nipping up” (quickly exploring). Local artists had painted murals and around each corner was something new.


And there’s just something about a back entrance that intrigues me.

Eventually we made it to the pier. Considering that both of us grew up in Manhattan Beach, 30 miles to the north, we couldn’t help but compare beach venues.

It pains me to have to admit that indeed, Huntington has the better pier.

For one thing, it’s longer, boasting 1,850 feet to our own Manhattan Beach Pier’s 928.

A shot The Husband took a year or so ago at "our" pier.

A shot Alan took a year or so ago at “our” pier.


Manhattan Pier prides itself on its landmark roundhouse, which contains a snack bar and the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium, the site of many an impromptu homeschooling field trip or lazy Sunday afternoon walk for our family.


Huntington Pier Roundhouse

Huntington also has a Roundhouse. Theirs is bigger, of course. And theirs contains an entire stinking ocean-view restaurant. We had no choice but to abandon our deep-rooted South Bay loyalties and bow to the superiority of Huntington.  Ruby’s Diner indeed.

20141124_113725They even had more surfers in Huntington. We consoled ourselves with the thought that the water around OUR pier has become a hangout for young sharks, proving that we’re just that much more hardcore up in L.A. County, because we all still surf and paddleboard and swim (and by “we,” I mean my really cool friends).

Also, we have a restaurant owned by The Fonz.

And I’m pretty sure I saw Kevin Costner on our pier once.

At any rate, despite the superiority of their pier, it was time to turn toward home.  (Read: I didn’t take any more photos worth blogging about).

Well, except this one of Alan with a pelican.




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Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part Two (in which we discover Rooster Cafe)

(continued from Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part One)

The next day broke blissfully late at 9 a.m.  The only thing that propelled me from that quiet, comfortable hotel room was my need for caffeine and The Husband’s need for nourishment.  We fired up the trusty Google again, looking for a breakfast place, and found one, strangely enough, across the street from the Antimall. Apparently our need for gluten and dairy-free fare puts us right in the middle of all things young and hipster, because we ended up at another place our kids would love.


Before the food arrived, I took the time to text a picture of my coffee cup to my friend Di in Washington. She had just texted “Good Morning” to me, so it was only fitting I reply. She accused me then of being overly competitive. I shut her down with a picture of my breakfast. Overly competitive indeed.

This restaurant, Rooster Cafe, has a counter for ordering, just a few tables inside and four more outside, and serves a breakfast menu that consists of a handful of ways one can mix and match 15 basic ingredients. Sounds unimpressive?  Oh, no.  Not when you consider that 96.3% of their produce comes from local farmers markets, and all plates are made to order (“Patience, grasshopper, patience,” the sign says).  Plus they have lattes, cappuccinos and Mexican hot cocoa.  As well as a lunch menu.

At any rate, despite the fact that we got there just before 10 on a Monday morning, which is generally not the breakfast-rush time of the week, the place was hopping. We had to park down the street. We got the last outdoor table.  The staff was cheerful, friendly and on the ball, the music was blasting the same alternative rock mix that Habana had offered the night before (hence the necessity for taking our middle-aged ears outside), and despite the sign’s warning to have patience, the food was ready in record time.

I had the breakfast tacos; he had the huevos rancheros.  Both were served with a generous helping of homemade salsa, which was just spicy enough, and fried red potatoes, which were done to perfection and seasoned with a dash of cayenne. The coffee was strong and fresh-brewed, and the orange juice looked freshly-squeezed.

We shared the outside patio with a pair of fellow Late-Period-Baby-Boomers who were swapping the sober-for-X-years stories that are popular among our generation, and a younger couple with a two-year-old Sheltie and differing views in acceptable breakfast attire: he was clad in t-shirt, basketball shorts, crew socks and cross-trainers, while she wore flowing palazzo pants, contrasting rayon tank, beribboned straw hat and bright red lipstick.

1124141025cropWhile we ate, I resumed my commentary on what was going on behind The Husband’s back.  “APPARENTLY,” I said. “that guy was afraid of parallel parking, because while there are three different spots I can see that he could fit that car into, he just hovered next to each of them and then took off down the street.”

We continued eating.

“No, wait,” I said.  “He’s back!”  The driver had flipped a u-turn, checked the parking on the other side of the street and had come to the conclusion that the spots across the street were the only ones available.  He lined his car up just past the largest spot and cautiously backed into it.

“He’s on a first date with a very beautiful woman,” I predicted. “Parallel parking was not something he anticipated having to do.”

To his credit, he nailed the parking job, hitting it perfectly on the first try.  He got out of the car and swaggered around to the other side to open the door for his passenger, who turned out, sure enough, to be a tall, beautiful red-haired woman. As he escorted her across the street toward Rooster Cafe, she patted him on the back, congratulating him on his parking job, then hung on his arm while the two of them paused in the middle of the street to look back and admire his handiwork.

The mixture of pride and relief on his face was a sight to behold.  He looked a little like someone who has just won the lottery.  A little bit like he was afraid he might awaken at any minute and discover the whole thing was a dream.

We finished our meal, but before we left, I went back inside and asked for a business card.  The server behind the counter gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look and then said he would look for one in the back. He appeared back a few minutes later and said apologetically that the owner would bring one out.  Thus ensued an agonizing two minutes in which I tried desperately not to block access to the tiny counter, the condiment station and the trashcan while the servers behind the counter tried not to stare at me as they wondered why I would ask for a business card.  By the time the owner appeared with one, I wanted to apologize for all the fuss, but instead, I thanked her graciously and tried to appear business-like as I sauntered out the door.  For all she knew, I was a professional food critic, not just a middle-aged Mom who simply wanted to recommend the place to her adult son and his friends.

Back in the car, we set off on the rest of our adventure. The rest of Monday beckoned.

–to be continued–

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Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part One

It’s not that I actually drank all THAT much coffee, but the fact that I had two cups of coffee this morning plus a decaf at Starbucks (and everyone knows that Starbucks decaf has twice as much caffeine as the regular at most other places) has led me to believe that everyone wants to know about the trip my husband and I took to Costa Mesa this weekend.  Or perhaps it’s just that the caffeine-induced words bouncing around in my head need an outlet, and the kids are at a movie and The Husband is running an errand at the moment.

At any rate, it was The Husband’s birthday, and since men of this age are so very hard to buy gifts for, I came up with the winning idea to whisk him away for an one-night adventure (“winning” because that meant I got to go too).  And since it was one night, and since I knew he would want to drive, it had to be close to home but still far enough away that we wouldn’t bump into the kids when we went out for dinner.  Because it’s not much of a birthday gift if it involves driving for four hours.  At least, not if you’re my husband.

We had stayed at an Ayres Hotel once for a marriage retreat, and found it to be very nice while economical, so I decided to look for one of those when I made the reservation. I found one just 52 miles away that was running a buy-one-night-get-a-$50-gift-card deal, which brought the room price down (technically) to $70, so when I was finished with my happy dance, I booked it.

When we got there, it was all exciting and new until we headed for our room and I recognized the cabinet next to the elevator.

“Wait a minute… didn’t that other Ayres we stayed at for the marriage retreat have that same cabinet?” I asked.  The Husband looked at me funny for a second and said,

“This IS the Ayres we stayed at for the marriage retreat.”

“Oh,” I replied, considering playing it off like I’d known all along, but realizing there was no way to do so at this point.  “Well…. at least we know it’s a good one.”  In my defense, I didn’t drive to the hotel on that trip, either, so I hadn’t really been paying attention.

So, for those interested, the Ayres Hotel in Costa Mesa is quite nice, with friendly staff, clean rooms and bubbling fountain in the inner courtyard.  I recommend it.

The Birthday Boy at Habana

The Birthday Boy at Habana

Our first task upon arriving was to Find Nourishment. We whipped out the trusty Google map we had printed out before leaving home and agreed that, given our need for gluten-free, dairy-free fare, a nearby Cuban restaurant named Habana was our best bet.

Well.  That proved to be a fortuitous decision.

We found ourselves at a place our older kids would love.  In fact, if I had to give it a slogan, it would be “Ambiance Adult Children Will Appreciate, At Prices Only The Parents Can Afford.”


Me and My Blackberry Mojito and a Hipster Habana Waiter.

The music was straight off KROQ’s playlist of two years ago, the decor was urban-Pinterest-repurposed-hipster, and the staff were of the young, cool, pierced, bearded, hatted and tatted, disinterested-yet-friendly ilk.

Fortunately, we are surrounded by this culture at home and were therefore able to appreciate it, unlike the older couple two tables over who looked like they might have been Cuban and had come out looking for a taste of home but were entirely puzzled by what they had found.

The food at Habana was amazing. This is not an exaggeration.  From the freshly baked bread delivered to the table while we waited (which smelled so good we had to flag down the the server and ask her to remove it to remove lest we be tempted to try some and end up in gluten-sensitivity-induced agony later that night), to the roasted-red-pepper salad, ropa vieja, roasted chicken (the seasoning was so good I actually sought out and ate every scrap of blackened skin, and I don’t like skin), homemade pickled onions, plantains cooked just right and even the rice (the secret there is lots and lots of butter, the server confided), every mouthful of the meal was delicious.

And then came dessert.  Hands-down, best flan either of us have ever eaten.  Even if the dinner hadn’t been so appetizing, it would be worth it to us to drive the 52 miles back down there JUST to eat some more of this flan. This is not an exaggeration.

While we were eating, since The Husband’s back was to the rest of the room, I kept up a running commentary on what was going on behind him.

“APPARENTLY,” I said between mouthfuls of salad, “There is no bathroom in this restaurant.”  Just then, as if on cue, a young Asian woman in a short white pleated dress floated past us with hands raised in concern and called to her friend in a distressed voice, “They don’t have a restroom!”

By the time the main course came a middle-aged woman had met with a waiter near our table and confirmed, “So, the restroom is out in the mall, right?”  I wanted to flash her a sign of middle-aged solidarity, for being so au fait in such a Millennial kind of place, but I couldn’t figure out what that would be, so I didn’t.

During dessert I almost choked on my flan.  It took me a minute to calm down and tell The Husband what I had seen. A young couple came into the restaurant from the outdoor patio, she pushing a stroller and looking concerned, and he holding a baby, who looked to be about 10 months old, under the armpits, at arms distance.  They walked across the width of the room, conferred with a waiter, and then did an about-face and walked back across the room and back into the patio, the panic on their faces having doubled, during all of which the baby remained at arms distance from the father.  I will never forget this image as long as I live.  That man must have had some formidable arm muscles.

A very dim and blurry picture of the wall sconces because, well, candlelight...

A very dim and blurry picture of the wall sconces because, well, candlelight…

By the end of our meal, the room had been taken over, at least from an acoustic standpoint, by a group of early-40s Girls Night Out attendees.  At one point I looked up just in time to see one of them, who was standing, turn back around to face the table while lowering the back of her shirt and hitching her pants up.  All I can surmise is that she had a new tattoo on her lower back and had just displayed it to the table.  As the noise level rose exponentially with the amount of alcohol they consumed (leading one to ponder whether it was actually the alcohol or its anticipated effect that was contributing to the tone of the conversation), we decided it was a good time to make our exit.

On the way out, I asked the host whose job it was to light the candles in the wall sconces.  There was one inside, and another two outside, each holding about 40 candles.  This was in addition to the candles that lined the indoor balcony. He smiled and said, “Those are electric candles and they’re on a timer, but up until six months ago, it took an hour every day to light them.”  Not to mention blowing them out at closing, one supposes.

The adventure continued outside the restaurant. Habana is located in a mall called “The LAB Antimall.”  Don’t let the name fool you. It’s a mall.  But it’s an “our mall is so much cooler than your mall we couldn’t really call it a mall” kind of mall.

The LAB fountain

Our picture was taken by a man who was sitting nearby with his young daughter. Not only did he volunteer, but he offered suggestions as to the background, took two shots “just in case” and apologetically pointed out as he handed the camera back that he had positioned us slightly off-center for a more artistic shot. Best Passer-By Photographer Ever.

The name stands for “Little American Business,” and true to its name, many of the shops in it are the type that you might find relegated to a cart at a big, corporate mall.  This is where The LAB is way cooler than the average – besides having closet-sized shop space indoors, they also had shiny metal Streamline trailers scattered around the outdoor shopping place, housing jewelry-makers, macaroon bakers and other small-time, handcrafted vendors.

20141123_192523cropThe decor ranged from a fountain made of brightly-painted 55 gallon drums, to mosaic-covered walls to crocheted handrail covers (!) on a covered bridge.

A Buddha statue with a single daisy propped in its grasp sat inside a plexiglass box on a pedestal with a sign that simply read, “Why?”  Another sign next to it instructed us not to take pictures of it, and, inexplicably enough, I obeyed it.  I intend to return with a real camera to take better pictures of it.  The mall, I mean.  Far be it from me to disobey a posted sign on-camera.  Ahem.

We originally planned to extend our night on the town with a movie, but this weekend apparently falls in the lull before the Christmas movie storm, so there wasn’t much worth watching, and we went back to the hotel and were asleep by 9:30 p.m.  Bliss.

–To Be Continued–

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Sprouts, Poptarts and Humble Pie

001It was Friday night. The hubby and I needed some alone time, so we went out.  To the grocery store.

This is how you can tell our age and domestic status.  Married, four kids, pushing 50… yup, date night means a trip to the grocery store.

And because we are this family, with our various auto-immune challenges, ranging from gluten, soy and casein sensitivity to Vitiligo to Type 1 Diabetes, with some lactose intolerance thrown in for good measure, we were having our “date night” at Sprouts, the Valhalla of special ingredients, stocking up on gluten-free pancake mix, dairy-free “yogurt” and the all important Bio-K to balance out our digestive tracts.

Don’t worry, that’s as TMI as I will get about digestive tracts.

I always look forward to a visit to Sprouts, because with all the dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, MSG-free, hydrogenated-oil-free foods they offer, it feels like they speak my language. And a couple of times a year, they speak my language for half-price for a full 8 days, so that really makes it fun to shop there.

Except we missed the memo that this Friday night was “take your overwrought and fussy children shopping” night.

I heard him before I saw him.  I heard him running from one end of the store to the other.  From my position in the juice aisle I paused and looked toward the center aisle of the store.  Sure enough, I caught a glimpse of him.  A small, black-haired boy, running, just as his footsteps had suggested, full-tilt, waving both arms above his head yelling, “Mommy!  Mommy!  MOOOOOOMMMMMMY!”

Artwork by Erin

Artwork by Erin

He was not lost.  He was not distraught.  He was obviously having the time of his life.  I stood there with a bottle of organic lemonade in my hand and tried to project authoritative displeasure in his direction the next time he sped by the end of my aisle, but he went by so fast I barely saw him, so the “Thou Must Stop With Thine Misbehavior” vibes apparently bounced right off him.

I contented myself with packing things into my cart while vehemently thinking the things I would like to say to his mother about the importance of Keeping One’s Children In Check In Public Places.

Now, you would think, with four of my own, and with a small nephew who almost exactly fits the description of this little boy, apart from hair color, that I would have a modicum of sympathy.  Or at least understanding.  And see, NOW, from the comfort of my home, after the fact, I do.  I totally get it.  But I’m getting ahead of my story here.

Because at the time, I was supposed to be having ALONE TIME with the hubby.  And this whirlwind of a child was distracting me from my date.

In 20-20 hindsight, it does not escape me that while half the problem here might have been this boy’s mistaken assumption that the grocery store was a playground, the other half might very well have been my mistaken assumption that the grocery store was a venue for Quality Time With One’s Spouse.

However, at the time, it was all about how little his mother was doing to curb misplaced exuberance.

It didn’t help that there was another lady there at the same time with no fewer than six 5 to 8 year olds in tow.  I must admit that she was doing a spectacular job at keeping them polite and orderly, despite the fact that Whirlwind Boy was flying by with distressing regularity and tempting her youngest beyond the poor child’s ability to resist.  A quick, “Hold my hand NOW!” from Mother was necessary to prevent the hand-waving cavorting from becoming epidemic.

Which, by comparison, made Whirlwind Boy’s mother look even more lax in her duties and added fuel to my vehement mental fire.

I finally took refuge behind a display of Christmas treats, actually feeling thankful that they were on display two months early, since they made such an admirable shield from possible collisions with flailing five-year-old arms and legs.  There I waited for the ruckus to subside, and eventually it did.

My date, on the other hand, was bravely shopping for cheese as if nothing was amiss.  He’s bigger than me.

Once the store was quiet again, I assumed the Whirlwind Family had left the shore, heaved a sigh of relief and ventured out from my hiding place, rejoicing that while I was there, I had discovered gluten-free Toaster Pastries in two flavors.

I met back up with the hubby and we had a conference that went something like this:

ME: Is that it?

ALAN: Ummmm… I don’t know, can you think of anything?

ME: I don’t know. Did you get cheese?

ALAN: Yep, I got cheese.  So… what else?

ME: Ummm….. I don’t know.

ALAN: We should go home.  We sound pitiful.

ME: Yeah, we should go home. We can always come back later. After we have slept.

Let’s just say it had been a long week.

We made our way to the checkout, and as soon as we got in line, who should pull her cart up behind us but… yep, you guessed it.  Whirlwind Boy’s Mom.  With son.  And daughter, who was a slightly toned down version of her brother.

Our stuff was already on the conveyer belt, so we were stuck.  Whirlwind Boy ran around us and stood where we needed to stand to pay and struck up a conversation with the checker.


The checker took it all in stride and chatted with him, while I, feeling slightly huffy, had to maneuver my cart around the boy to get it to the end of the checkstand.

“My name is Cory.  What’s yours?” bantered the checker.

“MY NAME IS COLIN!” he announced to everyone in the store except for those at the far end in the dairy section, who were probably out of earshot, what with the humming of the refrigerators.

He finally threaded his way between Alan and I to stand by his mother, who had been quietly but firmly trying to get him to return to her this whole time.  As he walked past Alan, Alan said, ‘Hi, Colin!”

The boy whirled around, mouth agape, and said, “How did you know my name?”

At this point, just like the Grinch when he hears the Whos singing in Whoville despite his attempts to steal Christmas from them, I began to feel the ice around my heart begin to crack.  Because this kid was undeniably cute.

I was still judging, of course, because when we are tired and not reining ourselves in and fall back on our natural inclinations, judging comes so much easier than, oh, reasoning, or empathy, or connecting with our fellow human beings.

“He has probably had too much sugar,” I mused, feeling superior because I never took MY children shopping when they were all sugared up.  (In order to think this way, you understand, I had to conveniently forget the Sideways Tipping of a Full Basket of Groceries Incident, as well as the one that involved a two year old colliding with a sweet lady’s cart of vegetables. And we won’t even talk about how an entire department store was locked down when another two year old of mine hid under a rack of girl’s clothing.)

Selective memory is so comforting, but it always comes with a price… that inevitable fall before which pride goeth.

Almost as soon as that judgmental thought had crossed my mind, the friendly checker grabbed a container of Organic Lollipops and offered them to Whirlwind Boy and his sister.

The sheer panic in their mother’s voice stopped my self-righteous self in its tracks.

“NO! No, please, don’t give them sugar!”

So.  Apparently this child’s behavior had nothing to do with the mother’s inattention to healthy diet.  The fact that she was shopping at a store that carries healthier food than most should have clued me in.  Apparently this mother knew all about the evils of sugar and red food dye and nitrates and all the other crazy-making ingredients being sold by Evil Big Business Food Companies.

Which left only one conclusion: this child was just like this.  All. The. Time.

Within a split second, I went from judging the mother to my heart going out to her.

This child was not a monster.  This child was a delightful, outgoing and very intelligent young man.  He was the type of piano student I love to teach, even though he would most likely fall sideways off the piano bench or get his fingers stuck in the lid while sitting on it.  The type of teen I love to have in my English classes, even though he would most likely stir up enough of a ruckus that building maintenance personnel would feel the need to remind me on a regular basis that There Is A Class Below Yours And You Are Shaking The Building.

ESTELA, Tratamiento Facial (2)

ESTELA, Tratamiento Facial (2)
(Photo credit: estelabelleza)

The type that is often misunderstood by the system and those who cling to the status quo, who gets shackled with labels and drugged into submission but ends up growing into the kind of adult who can change the world for the better. The type whose mother should be awarded instant Saint status when the child comes of age, along with a life-time membership at a spa and a free yearly vacation in Hawaii.

This is what Ty Pennington looked like as a child.

And apparently, it was very, VERY bad to give this child sugar and his mother knew ALL about that.

Without hesitation the checker whisked the lollipops out of sight with one hand and offered a box of stickers with the others.  Whirlwind Boy declined politely and commenced trying to hang upside down off the neighboring checkstand. Alan and I picked up our groceries and left the store, but not before I caught the mother’s eye and smiled at her.  A little nod of solidarity.  A little glance of, “Don’t worry, he’s awesome.”

And although she probably didn’t know it, a little moment of, “I am so sorry for judging you and I vow I will never, ever, ever do it again.”

Categories: Around Town, Diabetes, Family, Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Diagnosis: Diabetes. The Day of The Unraveling Of Mom.

stress strain redo

Stress Strain Chart: Wikipedia
Additional artwork mine. (I know, I know, it’s a gift)

Diary Entry from one week after Ryan came home from the hospital:

The crisis has passed, and we are now settling into our New Normal of Diabetes Regimen.  Ryan is handling everything very well, Alan is back at work, and we have recommenced school.  Everything is great.  I have nothing to complain about.

I am noticing, however, how very irritating people can be.  I can’t really explain this, but in the past few days, people have been so difficult to deal with.

Other people, you understand, not me.

It occurs to me that perhaps what is happening is that a combination of stress, sleep-deprivation and delayed-onset-motherly-freaking-out has begun to bring out in me my Inner Cranky Person.  I usually keep her well at bay (unless I lose something, but that only happens once in a while, and is TOTALLY UNDERSTANDABLE).

<Glares left and right just in a case a family member appears to say otherwise>

This week, however, my ICP seems to be making her voice known.  I worried about that for a few seconds, until I realized that I was too stressed, sleep-deprived and freaking out to really care, and reasoned that since I know many cranky people who live their daily lives requiring the world to walk on eggshells around them, it is actually possible to be cranky and not have the Entire World Blow Up.  Which is what I think, in the back of my mind, I believed would happen if I were to ever be impolite. So apparently, and I don’t remember actually doing this, but the signs are there that I have, apparently I decided at some point that it’s my turn to be cranky.

So here’s how today went:

<Fill this part of the post with errands all over town compounded by drivers being affected by the full moon and the fact that I was running these errands for a family member who was getting ready for a long-awaited trip, on which I was now not able to accompany her, given our current status of Newbie Diabetes Family, but I’m Mom, so I couldn’t act jealous.>

Extrapolate mood after that, factoring in a math lesson, once I got home, that was pretty much like this video:

Kid Snippets: “Math Class” (Imagined by Kids)

Also factor in the subsequent realization after this Math Lesson from Hades that I am going to have to enforce a gluten free diet with the child who struggled so much in the math lesson.  She had been on one in the past, but we eased her off it.  Let’s just say the symptoms have returned.  Lack of focus is one of them.

Giving shots is easy compared to policing gluten-freedom.  But I so NEED to have something else to do, so why not?

I finally tried to cook dinner, since my last two piano students mercifully stayed away for unknown reasons, (perhaps their guardian angels whispered warnings in their ears?) but we were out of hamburger buns, so I tried to call Alan to ask him to pick some up, but the son-of-a-goat-herder-phone-cord, which is long so that it can reach all over the kitchen, has reached that inextricably tangled state, and rather than calmly working on it while I talked to him, I just pulled as hard as I could on the ends in opposite directions and walked into the kitchen without really even looking to see if that worked, even though I knew darn well that brute force never works with the stupid cord when it is tangled.

And it hadn’t. So I knocked the whole phone on the floor, along with the stuff on the counter, which included my cell phone, which popped open, flinging its battery and cover all over the kitchen floor. Not to mention that the dang phone hung up at some point in all this violence, so I had to call Alan again, so at that point, the conversation went something like this:

Alan:  Hello! How are you doing?

Me:  Well the phone cord is tangled (still struggling with it) and it just won’t untangle (grunt) no matter what I do (grunt).

Inner Monologue:  This stupid cord! Why won’t it untangle? I’ll just pull harder! That’ll show it!

Alan:  Oh. (silence while he tries to figure out why I called him to tell him that)

Me:  Anyway, what time are you (grunt) coming home?

Inner Monologue:  It’s all Alan’s fault. It’s all his fault this thing is tangled like this.

Alan:  Um…  (silence while he tries to figure out why I am asking him this, since it’s the same every day)…  I should be there by 5:30.

Me : (Looking at clock for first time) Oh. It’s only 4:30. (grunt) Oh, I didn’t know it was 4:30. Never mind. I can get the buns myself.

desert & wine!

desert & wine! (Photo credit: ookalieoo)

Inner Monologue: I’ll go to Target. Then I can buy buns AND a cordless phone.  I’m going to buy some chocolate and junk food too and eat all of it with a glass of wine.

Alan:  Okay. Um. What buns?

Me:  (realizing I’m beginning to sound crazy) For dinner. Never mind. I can get them myself. I just didn’t know it was 4:30.

Alan:  Okay.

Me: My students canceled so…. anyway, I didn’t know it was 4:30.  Um…I have to go, bye. (hangs up before she does any further damage)

So I went and bought the ding-dang buns. No junk food, though, because when I got to the store, it inexplicably turned out to be the grocery store instead of Target.  And since I had foiled myself on my phone-replacement plan, I became sanctimonious and healthy and rejected all the rest of the promises I made myself over the cheese-whiffing phone cord and bought some nice vegetables instead of the junk food.

After dinner I could have kicked myself for not at least buying chocolate, however, and ate six somewhat stale cookies to make up for it.

And about halfway through the cookies I noticed that everyone had gone to the other end of the house, leaving me by myself, bringing me to the conclusion that embracing my Inner Cranky Person is all well and good, but there is actually a REASON that politeness is a better policy.

It has to do with not eating alone.

Categories: Diabetes, Family, Food, Homeschooling, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Night With The Divas

It all started because a woman named Georgia, whom I had never met, came into town and wanted tapas.  One thing led to another, arrangements were made, potential divas were contacted and before I knew it, there I was with Georgia, Molly and Cynde, being driven to Beverly Hills by a Moroccan named Morad in a Chevy Suburban, listening to Arabic music, because if you have a Moroccan driver, you might as well find out what his favorite music sounds like.  And Georgia used to live in Kuwait, so she already preferred it.

We were headed for The Bazaar restaurant in Beverly Hills. Just the thought of 1) driving to Beverly Hills 2) negotiating parking 3) walking into a chi-chi restaurant and 4) trying a type of dining experience I had never before encountered would have shut me down at the “Hey, that sounds like fun” stage, but Georgia is fearless.  And besides, she had done this before.  We were her willing disciples. So she hired a driver, told us to dress up and led the way through the throngs of relentlessly young and beautiful people wearing outfits that cost about what I spend annually on my own wardrobe.  Which is saying something, considering that some of those young women apparently forgot to put on important aspects of their outfits.  Like pants.

The Divas Prepare To Depart

Speaking of outfits, I must admit that the instructions to dress as a diva sent me into somewhat of a tail-spin, especially after I walked into my closet and discovered that my wardrobe has been taken over by a middle-aged housewife.  With the help of my 18 year old daughter, as well as some consulting on the part of a 9 year old neighbor who happened to be over, I settled on an outfit.  Let me just point out here that Molly’s nails, which you can’t see in this photo, matched her zebra-striped bag.  Cynde was wearing the most amazing pair of teal-blue kitten-heeled pumps.  Georgia, a woman after my own heart, was wearing sensible flats under her long dress, while I… well, see my awesome shoes?  Yeah, they belong to my daughter. It turns out I don’t actually own black pumps.  Also, I discovered after about half an hour that they were two sizes too big, so I was having trouble walking in them, which caused the valet to comment, as he helped me out of the Suburban and then caught me, that I must have “started the night early.”  So then, of course, I had to explain to him that these were my daughter’s shoes and they were too big and that was why I was walking like a drunken sailor and I’m pretty sure that just killed the whole diva act.

At any rate, after Georgia led the charge into the restaurant (which was more of a very slow and careful shuffle on my part), and thanks to Molly, who had the bravery to reject our first seating arrangement and find us a much more spacious, well-lit and less ear-splitting table, we began the culinary adventure. I, being British, would have sat in the dark with my elbows tucked in tightly, smiling and nodding as if I could actually hear the conversation, and left the restaurant hours later wondering what it was I had eaten.  This is why it is important to have nights with brave diva friends.  It’s not just the fellowship and encouragement… it’s the life lessons to be learned.

Dr. Frankenstein, our drinks watier

The first items of the evening were the drinks. I thought I understood how that worked, since that’s generally the schedule of meals at restaurants, but then Dr. Frankenstein wheeled out his cart and started mixing something in a big bowl, and somehow liquid nitrogen was involved in this process, resulting in clouds of cold smoke that billowed out from the cart and across the table.


Molly avoids the garnish with aplomb.

We had just about recovered from that when someone brought Molly her gin and tonic, which was such a work of art I don’t know how she drank it.  Literally, I mean.  At least, without wearing safety glasses.

The Gin And Tonic Again, because a drink that beautiful deserves two pictures.

It was so beautiful, I had to take a picture with my big clunky tourist camera, which I brought along simply to take the initial group picture and then somehow found myself carting around for the rest of the evening.  Cynde also took pictures of it, but since she is far cooler than I, she used a svelte little phone and was actually able to Instagram her photo.

Yes, we were those people.  I used flash, too.  At this point I think the waiters began to have an inkling of what they were in for. Well, actually, maybe it hadn’t really hit them yet. At some point, however, they were on to us, and at least one of them called us “the fun table.” And words were exchanged more than once along the lines of our main waiter, Collier, becoming betrothed to both Cynde and Georgia. It was a beautiful thing.


That’s a lot of words without one’s reading glasses.

Once we had settled down, I was able to remember that the reason I was having trouble understanding the menu was that I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses. I fished them out of my stylish mom-bag (no, really, it’s a hand-me-down from my 81 year old mom, so it really is a mom-bag) and rejoiced as a whole new world unfolded before me.  The menu was quite overwhelming.  Four full pages of tapas, a page of specialty drinks and…wait for it…. an entire page devoted to water.  I so wish I had thought to get a shot of that.

Georgia took pity on our dazed expressions and suggested we start with something easy, like an appetizer. When I related this to my husband later, he asked why, if tapas are like appetizers, do they have an appetizer section on the tapas menu?

Yup.  Just like ice cream cones.  Only completely different.

Yup. Just like ice cream cones. Only completely different.

Cynde and Molly opted for the caviar cone, which I was told was something like an ice cream cone only without ice cream and not a dessert. Ah.  That explains everything.  I smiled and nodded and tried to look knowing.  Then, not wanting to look like a follower, I bravely struck out on my own and ordered a “Californian Cone.”  It turned out to be just like the caviar cones, only instead of fish eggs, they used the innards of tomatoes, which actually looked very similar to fish eggs when lined up next to the caviar. I suppose it is a vegan alternative to the caviar. I am not vegan, myself, and only ordered it because, while I was trying to be brave, I latched onto the safety of the words “guacamole” and “tomato” rather than venturing into the unknown wilds of something called “Tortilla de Patatas New Way,” which apparently involved “potato foam, egg 63 and caramelized onions.”  I mean, I might have handled the “potato foam” but “egg 63” sounded too much like something from Adam-12.

Yogurt with tamarind and star anise dip. I've always wanted to try tamarind. I'm still not sure what it tastes like, but at least I can say I've had it.

Yogurt with tamarind and star anise dip. I’ve always wanted to try tamarind. I’m still not sure what it tastes like, but at least I can say I’ve had it.

Georgia chose the sweet potato chips with a dip made from yogurt, tamarind and star anise and then graciously shared them with the entire table.  Our cones, on the other hand, were a one-person kind of deal.  A one-person, don’t blink while you’re eating this or you might miss it, kind of deal.  But flavorful… my goodness.  I didn’t know it was possible to pack that much flavor into one mouthful.

Which, I am beginning to suspect, is the entire point of the affair.  At least, at THIS restaurant in Beverly Hills. Tapas elsewhere is all about the relaxed pace of the meal, so that one can enjoy the flavors without becoming engorged, while also enjoying the company and leisurely conversation. And that was the case here too, but I’m pretty sure Jose Andres takes it to a whole new level of culinary artistry. High praise indeed, coming from a woman whose idea of hors d’oeuvre is chips and salsa and maybe, if I’m feeling really fancy, some Ritz crackers topped with hard-boiled egg slices and mandarin orange sections.

Feeling quite initiated by our cones, we dove back into the menus with new confidence. It was at this point, incidentally, that I realized I had been sitting the entire time with my mom-bag on my lap. The night was supposed to be about channeling our inner diva.  Apparently mine is in her 80s.

Eggplant Tempura With Air

Eggplant Tempura With Air

The first dish to arrive at the table was Eggplant Tempura. It was served with a bowl of froth that was called “air.”  At least, I think that was what it was called.  It was what we were calling it, at any rate, and we may have originally gotten that idea from the waiter. This “air,” and the tempura itself, I suspect, were flavored with “local honey.”  Who knew there were beekeepers in L.A.?  At any rate, it was amazing.

We then moved on to “Bunuelos,” which I had ordered off the “traditional” side of the menu, wanting to compare classic tapas with the more modern fare we had already sampled.  These were deep-fried, breaded balls made of cod, with a honey aioli sauce.  I have always wanted to know what aioli was.  Now I know. I didn’t get a photo of the Bunuelos, but you can see it in the video linked below.

Click on the link in the word “moving” to the right to see the potato shaving waving its little hand at you.

I also ordered “Yukon Potato Gnocchi,” since I had once ordered gnocchi at an Italian restaurant, the last time I was feeling brave while dining out. Apparently I didn’t pronounce it correctly this time, either. At any rate, this gnocchi was nothing like that gnocchi had been.  For one thing, when the plate arrived at the table and the sauce was poured on top, the food was MOVING.  Something to do with the heat of the sauce and the thinness of the potato shavings.  I don’t know… I missed the explanation given by the waiter because I was too busy trying to videotape  it. I can’t post the video here, so I posted it to my YouTube account and linked it, which leads me to question whether I have really gone over the top now.  It’s bad enough posting photos of your food, but VIDEO?  Just shoot me now.

The rest of the meal progressed through a haze of gazpacho, cauliflower “couscous,” something called “beef cheeks,” Brussels sprouts cooked in a way I never would have imagined, and some amazing little rounds of flank steak topped with spheres of a red pepper sauce that popped in your mouth.  Those flank steaks were so incredible, we had to order another round. Molly topped us all in the adventure department, however, by ordering rabbit, which none of us had ever eaten.  And yes, it tasted like chicken. I could have sworn I took some pictures of these culinary masterpieces, but found none on my camera when I got home.  I was apparently so mesmerized by the food, I either forgot how to work the thing or never managed to pick it up. And yes, the food was that good.

Chocolate lollipop, raspberry tart, pecan chocolate cookie and hot chocolate mousse.

Chocolate lollipop, raspberry tart, pecan chocolate cookie and hot chocolate mousse.

At any rate, before long, we were looking at the dessert menu.  Three of us were, anyway.  Molly doesn’t have a sweet tooth.  I mean, she REALLY doesn’t have a sweet tooth.  So when Georgia was eating a chocolate orange lollipop and raspberry tart and Cynde and I were tucking into Hot Chocolate Mousse, a very confused waiter appeared at the table with a plate of Ox-tail Sliders, wondering if something had gone wrong with the order.  We assured him that he had gotten it right and Molly thoroughly enjoyed her second new food of the night.  Cynde also ordered a cookie for our driver, but it somehow never made it out to the car.  Sorry, Morad.

Molly's Masterpieces.  Note the nails that match her purse.

Molly’s Masterpieces. Note the nails that match her purse.

After the dessert was thoroughly consumed (Cynde and I restrained ourselves from licking our bowls.  But only just), Molly felt it would be rude, considering how artfully each dish had been presented, to return the empty plates in any other condition than in the same vein. She then proceeded to gather all the garnishes from our drinks, as well as a couple of morsels from our dessert plates, to decorate plates for the benefit of the busboy.

Maybe Jose Andres will hire us.  What?  It could happen.

Maybe Jose Andres will hire us. What? It could happen.

Cynde and I joined in; I created a minimalistic piece involving a single chocolate-covered rice krispie and Cynde… well, Cynde had a more all-inclusive, eclectic approach (read: whatever she could find on the table pretty much went on that plate).  We then arranged the plates on the table, and placed a little gift and a note for our waiter in the center (he didn’t really expect a TIP from us, did he?).

Oh stop it, of course we tipped him.

Before we ventured back out to the car, Georgia and Cynde went back to the kitchen and applauded the chefs while Molly and I visited the Ladies Room.  Oh. My. Goodness. There was an attendant in there, and Molly said she must love her job because she gets to see the looks on everyone’s faces as they walk in the door for the first time.  Unfortunately, I did not get any photos of the vanity area.

I did, however, and forgive me for this in advance because I am sure this lands squarely in the category of TMI, get a photo of the stall.  No, but really, how could I not?


That is just a few too many Julia’s for my comfort.

The stalls were completely enclosed, floor to ceiling, including the door, and both the walls AND door were mirrored. I just didn’t think anyone would believe me unless I took a picture of it.  So here it is.  So, yeah, while you’re sitting there, you get to watch yourself sit there.  I… I have no words.

One more thing, though.  I must boast a little here that while I may have blown the diva act the second I stepped out of the car at the restaurant, I totally WIN in the mom-bag department. Not only did I sensibly pack a pair of flats in that bag, thus rescuing myself from my high-heeled torture and enabling myself to navigate my way through the hoardes of the well-heeled and shiny in my quest to find the much-mirrored lavatory, but, when preparing to leave, I managed to fit both high-heeled size 8 pumps into my bag, along with my big clunky tourist camera. AND I zipped it up.  BAM!  Who’s the Mom Diva?  Oh yeah, that would be me.

Categories: Around Town, Food, Los Angeles, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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