Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best Marriage Advice I Ever (Indirectly) Got

 The coastline near Carmel, CA 12/28/11

It must have been six, maybe seven years ago that I heard it. I believe I was at a friend's wedding shower when either the mothers of the bride and groom—or perhaps all of us—were asked to offer up our marital advice. The bride's mom told her that she and her husband should make it a point to take vacations alone together, especially after they had children. Whether it was once a month, once a quarter or once a year, she promised it would help the couple stay close.

Although it seemed like a somewhat obvious practice to employ, this idea stuck with me. And now that I'm nine months into matrimonial bliss, I can see why it's so necessary.

 Pacific Grove, CA 12/29/11

Even when you don't have children, even when you don't have a job, it's easy to get disconnected from your partner. You begin to take him for granted, and amidst kisses, you find yourself mentally adding an item to your grocery list. As you sit side-by-side on the couch, you discover that you're both so engrossed in your laptops, you forget the other person is there. Clutter fills your head day and night, and although you have plenty of moments where you recognize and appreciate the person you married, you find yourself continually bombarded by thoughts, people and activities that distract you from him. 

 A river off Highway 1 near Big Sur, CA 12/30/11

One of the things I love most about travel, in general, is how it forces you to be in the moment. You're usually in somewhat unfamiliar surroundings, so you have to be more alert; pay more attention to sights, sounds and smells. You're taking everything in, all of the time.

 Big Sur, CA 12/30/11

Travel with the object of your affection causes this alertness to spill over into your interaction with him (or her). You catch yourself smiling at him when he's not looking. You talk about the nuances of your wine and the flavor of your meal and your shared plans for the future, without the relentless mental tug of the dishes in the kitchen sink or the birthday card you need to send.

Getting away together forces you to be in the moment together.

Elephant seals near San Simeon, CA 12/30/11

I know I'm still a novice when it comes to this whole marriage thing, but the woman who I heard dole out the vacation advice has been married for at least three and a half decades. I think she knows her stuff. And I think I'm learning already how right she was with her recommendation.

The key to experienceing the wonderful side of wedlock may just be locked up in a hotel room somewhere along the Central Coast of California.

The sunset over Santa Rita Valley, CA 12/30/11

This post is dedicated to a friend who is celebrating something very special this weekend. I hope she reads this and knows who she is.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Deliciously Succulent

This little bowl on our front deck is looking a smidge haggard these days after
being left unwatered for too long, but that's the beauty of succulent plantings—
you can almost always bring them back to life.

One of my favorite plant varieties of all time is the succulent. From the shiny flat leaves of the jade plant to the spiky horns of the aloe to the flower-like bursts of the Graptopetalum, I love the clean, sleek lines of all these little guys. 

 Our agaves have been delivering lots of baby shoots that we've relocated to pots around the yard.

The day after Christmas, Mr. Wonderful and I went to work replanting clippings to propagate more plants for our gardens.

 One single aloe plant I stuck in the ground last winter has produced at least half a dozen of these new little sprigs.

 The mini olive tree next to our front door got a few friends, courtesy of Mr. W and his garden shears.
As much as I love them for their aesthetic, what I adore most about succulents is their can-do attitude.

Clip part of one off, stick it in the dirt, just about anywhere, and it will most likely thrive. It doesn't need coddling. It's not picky about where it's replanted. It will just make the most of the situation and start a new chapter of its life.

We could all learn something from these determined little plants. 

As you can tell from the mud speckles everywhere, Mr. W threw this container together
at the end of the day. I have no doubt it'll get itself cleaned up and turn into a lovely, prolific planter.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Holiday Lesson: Lose the Expectations

There's something about growing up in a small town that skews your perception of relationships forever. Awhile back, I mentioned here and here that before I moved to Hollywood with Mr. Wonderful, I lived in virtually the same town where I grew up. And that has caused me to stay friends with people I knew in preschool and kindergarten and, really, even back when I was a wee zygote in my mom's belly. For the most part, once you're a friend of mine, you're always a friend.

This small-town way of looking at things can make it hard to handle being dissed. (Remember that gem from junior high?)

When I see the number of Facebook friends on my page fluctuate or I notice I've been pulled from someone's blogroll or I don't receive a Christmas card from a once regular sender, I totally get my feelings hurt.

I immediately assume that I've done something to offend them or they don't like my writing or they hate me and want to feed me nails and chalk dust. Because why wouldn't they want to be friends when I'm so nice all the time? Right...

Mr. Wonderful can't count how many times he's had to tell me to "let it go." In fact, we were just having this conversation recently when I stumbled upon a horoscope of all things that reminded me of my erred, halfsighted way of seeing things. It said:

Sure, you've built up a lot of good karma over the past few months, but you can't stand there tapping your toe, waiting for the big payback to come. If you are doing that right now, you're missing the point of being selfless. Don't do things for others because you think that will earn you something in return. Life is not tit for tat. Do things for other people because it brings you happiness, a sense of importance or a heartfelt warmth. Reach out when there is nothing in it for you.

What I realized is this doesn't just apply to tangible things like holiday cards. It applies to friendships.

Just because I cheer someone on during a tough time or make time in my schedule for them or comment on their blog doesn't mean they are required to repay me. Furthermore, it's selfish of me to expect them to.

When you put thought or energy into a relationship, it's really easy to presume the same amount will be returned to you. An even exchange. But that's not what love and friendship are about.

I had forgotten.

Maybe it's time to shed this flaky piece of skin from my small town days and accept that here in the big city, people are entitled to change their minds. They're allowed to go in different directions and even decide to remove you from their roadmaps. And that doesn't mean that you are a bad person or in some way unworthy. It just means that their relationship requirements have shifted.

Trying to hang on to this notion may become one of my New Year's resolutions. Selfless giving of friendship seems like a good one to add on the 2012 list.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Cheer

 Of course the yearly cookie-making tradition with my dad generates buckets of
holiday cheer. We especially enjoyed his misspelled Fedex truck cookie this year.

Despite the fact that I'm job-free as a bird these days, I've not been impervious to the stressors of the holiday season. It's so easy to get caught up in the shopping and planning and frustration of waiting in massive lines, and lose sight of all the good things going on around me. But recently I've seen so many examples of goodness and humanity, I just had to talk about a few... 

Secret Santas paying off layaway tabs. I saw multiple news stories about this and I just fell in love with the idea. Kindness from strangers at a time when people will appreciate it so much. So touching. 

The new game show You Deserve It. In case you don't know the premise, people go on the show to win money for someone else who they believe deserves it. I watched part of an episode where a woman was playing to win money for her mother who had raised not only her special needs sister, but also taken in a special needs foster child. Very cool.

This post by Janice. It's all about taking people on as your "nurture projects." What a wonderful idea, huh? Sending love and kindness to people who really need it. Letting them know someone is thinking of them. Adore this.

The couple who found and returned $23,000. They were on The Today Show this week, telling the story of how they found the money under a mattress in the new home they purchased—and subsequently tracked down the previous owner's son to return it to him. Their karma rating just went through the roof.
The early Christmas present Mr. W gave me tonight.
The little Vespa looks just like the one Mr. W and I motored around Capri on during our honeymoon. But the one I got is better because he painted "Capri" and "2011" on its sides. The best part is that I almost bought him a yellow scooter magnet as a stocking stuff. Typical that we would have the same idea...

The fact that my oldest niece asked on Thanksgiving that we do less this year and give money to charities instead of buying presents. Oh, how that one always makes me proud. She's going to save the world one day. I decided to adopt orca whales through National Wildlife Federation for my cousin's kids. The money is going to a good cause, and the kids were overjoyed that they're now "whale parents." I did a few more things, but they're top secret until Christmas...

What's warming your heart this season? Have you seen any shining examples of humanity in your state or city or family? Lay it on me!

***After seeing Nilsa's comment, I need to clarify that the Vespa is a Christmas ornament! Not a real scooter!***

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Story for the Parental Archive

This past weekend, Mr. Wonderful and I took my parents to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Hollywood as a belated Father's Day gift for my dad. In traditional fashion, my mom showed up with holiday gifts in tow. A wooden "Merry Christmas" sign and a sprig of real mistletoe for us to hang somewhere in the house. As if newlyweds need parasitic plants around to prompt them to kiss...

Having not visited since the spring, my mom and dad were very interested in all the details of our house. They loved seeing our holiday decorations and the new coffee table Mr. W built (future post to come...and by the way, I was in a furniture store recently and noticed that they're now calling them "cocktail tables"—is this a new thing?). In the hallway, my mom temporarily confused a picture of her own mother-in-law with Mr. W's grandma, saying, "That looks just like Grandma Hetherington!" Yes, that's because it is Grandma Hetherington.

When my dad put his glasses on in the hall to inspect all the pictures a bit more closely, he too malfunctioned:

I immediately started to laugh, and he very dramatically yanked them from his face and stared at them in horror, declaring, "I thought one of my eyes had gone bad!"

This isn't the first time my dad's been convinced he has lost his sight. He has a tendency to immediately jump to the worst-case scenario rather than think logically for a moment that perhaps it's just dark or there's a lens missing from his glasses.

My mom was standing in a nearby doorway doing the silent cackle we know so well as the precursor to pants-peeing incidents. Like the one before Christmas in 2008. Mr. W later said he was very worried that she would have to borrow a pair of his jeans to wear to the museum.

Thankfully, we all left the house dry and sighted.

The best part of touring the museum with my parents was all the stories they shared as we looked at the different cars. A refurbished streetcar reminded my mom of how she used to take the "dinky" from Montrose to Glendale as a kid. Another car sparked a story about a thief jumping on the running board of my great grandparents' Ford (or was it a Chrysler...or a Studebaker...) and reaching inside trying to steal my great grandmother's jewels right from her neck. The race cars brought up a tale of my grandpa's cousin who had been a professional driver and lost his leg in a crash. And the suburban garage display of course reminded us of what my parents' garage looked like for years and years.

Mr. W and I took them to lunch at Umami Burger when we were all through, and tried not to be too embarrassed as my dad read the menu with one hand covering the missing lens of his glasses.

Near the register at Umami, there was a tray of homemade ding dongs that somehow my mother heard the waiter say were "favors." As though that's the new thing in Hollywood—you go to a restaurant and then you get a little gift for dining there. I think the waiter was describing the "flavors."

So I have one blind parent and one deaf one...

Overall, it was a highly entertaining day made better by the stories that were told to us—and created by my parents' hijinks. We may take them out again on the town sometime soon. As long as my dad vows to buy new glasses and my mom promises not to have to borrow any of Mr. W's jeans.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Proof Is in the Period Talk

This weekend, Mr. W and I were watching an episode of House Hunters International where a newlywed couple was searching for a rental house in Florence. As we drooled at the footage of the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio bridge, Mr. W suggested that we move to Italy temporarily. That maybe he could find a movie shooting over there to work on.

"But I wouldn't have any friends," I said. "I think I would have a hard time."

"I'll be your friend," he told me.

I laughed and waited for some sort of proof.

He turned to me and said in a higher voice than normal, "How was your last period? Did you get cramps like I did?"

Ah, men... Of course that's all we women talk about when we get together. Makeup and menstrual cycles. Just like they taught all of you guys in boys' finishing school. Such a simple species we womenfolk are...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Should've Sewn Capes for All of Them for Christmas

I discovered this picture of Montrose on Flickr. Taken by cjanebuy.

When I walked into the restaurant last night, there were 12 adults and 8 kids crowded around a series of pushed-together tables. My entire immediate family, plus some in-laws, had gathered to dine on pizza then walk through the town I lived in for 8 years before moving to Hollywood with Mr. Wonderful. This little city was partly developed by my maternal great-grandfather, and it's the place where my beloved grandma lived from age 2  into her 90s. To say I adore Montrose isn't enough. It's my village. The place of my people and so many of my memories.

Though we lost a few members after dinner, there was still quite a group of us tromping down the main street to take in the holiday decorations. My brother was pulling my youngest niece and a friend's daughter in a wagon decked out with tinsel and Christmas lights. I joked that we should all start caroling.

But as we crossed the main intersection, my Mom said to my brother, "Oh my gosh you need to go help that lady!" On the other side of the street, an older woman in thin pink sweatpants was on her knees, struggling as two passers-by tried to get her back on her feet.

Immediately, my brother (a fireman), my dad (a longtime wannabe fireman/cop/superhero) and my cousin's husband (an artist who is very tall and strong) dashed across the street. My brother knelt on the ground, easing the lady back so she was resting in his lap. My sister (a nurse) darted over to see if she could help, too. They think the woman may have had a small stroke.

As I stood on my corner, watching the scene unfold, I was overcome by emotion. There was something about seeing my family rushing to the aid of a stranger that nearly brought me to tears. I don't know if I've ever felt more proud of them. They are such good people.

The fire engine and medic truck arrived and my sentimentality quickly passed as my cousin went to work on a rescue of another kind. A woman had approached us and asked what happened and when my cousin turned to respond, she noticed a spider on the lady's collar. "I'm really sorry but you have a giant spider on you!" she said, swatting furiously at the woman's head.

We laughed about it the rest of the way down the block.

It's pretty neat to be part of a family that's not only an asset to me but to the entire community. My grandma would have turned 97 this coming year, and although she's not here with us anymore, I know she'd be so proud to have her brave, strong children and grandchildren standing together, doing such good on her streets of Montrose.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Egg Beating My Husband into Submission


One of the gifts Mr. Wonderful gave me last Christmas was a bottle of my favorite body lotion paired with this blue dachshund-shaped massager. I love this thing. It works the kinks in my neck like nobody's business. And each appendage serves different muscle-knot purposes. The feet are fantastic for big, sweeping massagery (yes, just made up that word), the nose is slightly more pointed for digging and the tail is pretty much like a slightly rounded ice pick.

Over the last year, Mr. W and I have routinely uttered the phrase, "I need you to use the dog on me tonight," when our backs and necks are particularly knotty. (Note: not "naughty" - "knotty" - the dog is not used for anything creepy and weird. Neck kinks are as kinky as it gets around here, folks.)

Anyway, given how much we adore the dog, I thought the gift below would probably be a big hit in Mr. W's stocking this year. See, he loves having his head rubbed and that little egg beater is a scalp massager.

We had seen these contraptions before and laughed at them, but when Amazon suggested one to me this year for the bargain price of $2.89, I really couldn't resist. If anything, I knew it would make Mr. W laugh when he saw it. 

This past week, he had a really long hard day at work, so when he arrived home I told him he could open one of his presents early. Of course he cracked up when he saw it. But then we tried it...


I cannot tell you how amazing this thing feels on your head. I almost drooled.

Mr. W looked drunk after I spent a few minutes popping it up and down on his cranium. He was in ecstasy. I don't know how you could hang onto any stress after spending time with the egg beater. It is seriously a godsend.

I'm so addicted to it that I've put it on my head every day since he opened it. Yes, picture me sitting on the couch self-stimulating my scalp. Perverted, right? Ohh but it's sooo wooonderfulll.

This weekend, Mr. W looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, "Can we take the egg beater to bed with us tonight?" He's such a wild man. 

I think as we laid side-by-side, me gently grasping his head with the claw machine of delight, I heard the massage dog wimper from my nightstand.

There's a new massager in town and It Is SPECTACULAR.

Do yourself a favor—go on Amazon and order one. Your head will be thanking you all the year through.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's a Body Image Bonanza Over Here, Ya'll

After reading my last post, Geekhiker sent me an email with the following response:

"You totally mis-quoted me in your post. My point was not that it was "easy" for you. My point was that you can't dismiss those qualities as having been to your advantage. Would Mr. W have fallen for you, or gone out with you, if you looked like a 300 lb Hunchback of Notre Dame? Would you have fallen for him if that's what he looked like, and he melted in a gasping, sweaty puddle 100 feet into a hike?"

[He also went on to say that obviously other factors play a role (intelligence, education, etc.) and that the idea of manifestation may be only one small component. But I'm not tackling that part of the conversation right now...] 

In yesterday's post, I wasn't meaning to say that physical appearance had NO bearing whatsoever on one's dating life. The human race likes eye candy; most of our Presidents have been tall; studies show that attractive people fare better in interviews; etc. I know how things work in our society. BUT I still believe that if you accept your perceived shortcomings and learn to love yourself, you will discover there's someone out there who finds you just as lovable.

It's not about striving to nab a Ryan Gosling look-alike, it's about finding someone whose whole package fits with your whole package. (Yes, there are a dozen dirty jokes in that last sentence...)

So if Mr. W or I had been 300-pound hunchbacks, we may not have attracted each other, but if we were happy, confident hunchbacks, I believe 100% that we could have each attracted other mates who fit well with us. If we had moped around lamenting the fact that we were overweight and had bad scoliosis, I doubt anyone would have wanted to spend time with us. But I think a smile, eye contact and a good attitude go a long, long way.

The bottom line is, most of us are not hunchbacks. Most of us aren't growing our twin out of our face or have black, hairy moles covering 7/10 of our chins. Most of us have small hangups—some of which only we will ever notice. Most of us (as Mr. W mentioned in his comment on my last post) need to lighten up and have fun. And if we spent more time focusing on our cute dimples instead of our muffintops, we would probably feel more deserving of finding our matches and put out the kind of irresistible energy that attracts people to us.

Steve Buscemi, Paul Giamatti and Hillary Clinton are all married. None of them fit the stereotypical confines of what society thinks is attractive, but they all found love at some point in their lives. Could it be that they focused more on their talent, their smarts, their charisma?

I'm not saying you have to embrace every little thing about yourself and call it a miracle from heaven. It's ok to use Crest White Strips and wrinkle cream. It's okay to go to the gym to try to trim your thighs. But if you let all that stuff hold you back from how you think of yourself, ya might have some problems finding someone who wholly embraces you.

Geekhiker is completely right about one thing: If Mr. W had "melted in a gasping, sweaty puddle 100 feet into a hike," I probably would not have been attracted to him. But that's because hiking is a huge part of my life. In order to fully enjoy a relationship, I need someone who can share that with me. That's the kind of stuff that is more important to me than looks. 

Looks will fade over time. Hiking skills can last forever. Even when you're a hunchback.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Getting What You Believe You Deserve

When I was in D.C. last month and met up with my friend Geekhiker, a couple beers in the hotel bar led us into a rather intense conversation about dating and relationships. I, of course, started in on my beliefs that individuals create their love lives based on the kind of thoughts and energy they project into the world. What you put out comes back to you. Like attracts like. Focusing on what you DON'T want will likely draw that right to you. Yadda, yadda go read "The Secret" and "The Power of Intention."

After I reminded GH that I am convinced this mode of thinking is what brought Mr. Wonderful and I together, he came back at me with something to the effect of, "it was easy for you because you're thin and blonde."

This has been eating at me ever since.

First of all, weight and hair color do not automatically make you some sort of siren with the menfolks. There are a multitude of other necessary components, many of which I did not have figured out for a long time. Also, for the record, my teeth are off-center, I have freakishly long toes, my voice could belong to a muppet and, as we all know, sometimes my tongue smells. But all that aside, my biggest issue when dating was that I lacked confidence.

I was so concerned with all the flaws in the list above and so worried that I wasn't worldly enough or smart enough or just ENOUGH that I put out a vibe that screamed "I'm afraid I'll never find a man to love me!" And guess what: for a long time, I had a hell of a time finding a man who loved me!

It wasn't until I accepted who I was, got really comfortable with what I had to offer and what I was looking for in a partner, and started believing I WOULD find him that I actually had luck—and ultimately met the man of my dreams.

When I was single, a friend's father once told me, "You get what you believe you deserve," and now I see how dead on he was.

Believe in your heart of hearts that you deserve everything you desire, and you'll figure out a way to get it—whether you believe in manifesting or not. But if, on some level, you don't think you're worthy; if you question whether you're deserving of true happiness, I don't know that you will ever find it.

Remember what our moms all used to tell us: you can't love someone else until you learn to love yourself. And part of that loving is knowing the happiness you want  will come to you. Even if your tongue stinks and you have monkey feet.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Retraining the Mental Muscles

For the majority of my life, I absolutely hated running. I can remember having to run one lap around the track during P.E. in high school and feeling like I might just collapse. It was only a quarter of a mile but it felt like the length of the California coast. Even in college when I was working out regularly, any attempt to run left me feeling winded and wimpy and totally unmotivated rack up any sort of admirable distance.

Then in my early thirties, my girlfriends distracted me with conversation and I realized that if I could push through the first couple miles, I was totally capable of running several more after that.

I just needed to get warmed up.

Those first two miles always feel like a slog. But I know that once I blow through them, everything is going to get easier. And the endorphins at the end of my run will be that much better. Yeay for endorphins!

I realized this week that writing for me is just like running.

Well, except that I never hated writing.

But it requires me to warm up in a similar fashion—or else I can't really get in a groove and enjoy the elation of accomplishment when I finish. It's funny because I need about the same amount of time at the keyboard as I do on the sidewalk. Twenty minutes is the magic number.

I wonder if they've done studies on the twenty-minute factor. Maybe everything gets easier if you stick to it for 20 mins. Maybe the payoff is always better if you do something for longer than that allotment of time.

I'm just glad that I recognized the correlation between putting on my shoes and panting, and settling in at the computer and typing. I'll likely have to remind myself of it every single day while I'm *living the dream*.

Just like training for my half marathons, if I'm ever going to get to the publishing finish line, I'm going to have to warm up and push myself into better and better shape.