Snail Snacker

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Today she turns 40- that second sister of mine. My favorite childhood memory of her is that time as a toddler when she was crawling around the patio during a summer backyard BBQ. We had this very slippery patio you see. As pre-teens, on a hot summer day, we’d throw our swimsuits on- altogether us sisters and cousins too, run the garden hose over it and slip-n-slide. At the end of a good session, our knees would be rubbed red and bruised. We didn’t care- fun was all we knew. There were no plastic slip-n-slides and if there were- our parents didn’t have the money to buy one. We did what we could and played with what we had. What we lacked in money we made up with in creativity. But I digress.

Back to my sister. She was crawling all over that slippery patio while Dad BBQ-ed some type of delicious meat. I remember we had those windows in the kitchen that opened up to the patio and we’d pass the carne asada raw and cooked back and forth through that window. The meat always marinated in this giant, mint green tupperware bowl. Man, every time I saw that bowl- I just knew it was going to be on. So there went my sister – maybe 18 months old and she’s crawling around that slippery patio and hardly anyone is paying any attention to her until- PLOP!– she picks up a nice, juicy slug of a snail and just throws it in her mouth. I’m not quite sure who noticed first that she seemed to be crunching away on something not right. Next thing you know- they ran right over to her and took it out of her mouth or what remained of that little insect and washed that mouth out with water and Lord knows what else.

I couldn’t look at my sister in the same way for a few months after that. Every time I thought of her- I thought- there she goes- a snail snacker. The only way Mom and Dad explained it was you know your sister- she’s always getting herself into something- she can never sit still- that one.

And so she remains to this day. Mother of four, husband to one, full-time working momma with a side business – making homemade, personalized sugar cookies, cupcakes and party planning. She planned her own 40th birthday bash a few weeks ago and it was spectacular- tequila shots, 90’s music in a cottage along the beach. She just finished baking personalized cookies/cake pops for our niece’s 15th birthday party. She always goes over the top and she can never stand still- constantly moving and plotting her next move. She gives her entire heart to her others. I worry about her sometimes as I do with all of them in different ways- that she gives too much, does too much and not enough time is spent on herself.

She is brilliant, talented, and full of life and love. I hope she remembers that today- a celebration of her 40 years on this earth-  and always. As her big sister, I will try to remind her of that. Love you Mel. Sisters forever.

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The Park

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The local park looks shabby now. The tops of the play structure have turned a light blue and yellow. It’s all kind of run-down looking and you wonder- did it always look like this?

My kids are at home or at school, working and doing homework on iPads and computers. Checking their grades on school portals. Practicing their instruments. Selling Girl Scout cookies and attending Boy Scout meetings where they plan the highlight of their scouting career- the infamous Northern Tier trip. Everything seems heavy and carries an air of finality to it. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m too sensitive or too serious.

I drive past the park at least once a day. I think a lot while I’m driving. I do a lot of driving. I remember our park days.

There was the time we landed there early- like 8:30 in the morning of a muggy summer day. We met friends there- the usual suspects. There was no plan, soccer balls, food nor blankets. Our kids didn’t ask us to log onto our hot spot. They didn’t complain they were bored. Half hour in- the sprinklers came on throughout the park area. We had the whole park to ourselves. The kids and adults shrieked with delight as we ran free through the sprinklers, our damp clothes sticking to our bodies and hair hanging in our face- a moment frozen in time. A moment of complete freedom and joy.

I remember being a young mom at this park. Nursing one baby in a sling and chasing the other. Pushing my babies in the infant swings. Then transitioning to chasing after them to make sure they didn’t fall off the structure. To our dismay, they loved heading to the big structures where the big kids were. Then finally graduating to teaching them to pump their legs and swing high. We held picnics and potlucks there. We flew planes and kites there. The mountains were our backdrop to our life. There was always a new Mom to connect and pass the morning with. Our conversations were always interrupted and I recall we would tell each other- just wait until they are older- we will have all the time in the world- then indeed we will be able to finish this conversation.

Our days seemed like they’d just go on for all time. The plan was always this- let’s run them ragged for 2-3 hours- then go home, throw them in the tub, make a quick Mac and cheese dinner so they’ll be in bed by 7:30. A glass of red wine was always our reward before going to bed and doing it all again the next day.

I go to the park every now and then- between the soccer games and farmer’s market – always on the way to somewhere else. The park is no longer the primary destination- it is merely an interruption on our journey to somewhere else. I don’t recognize any of the faces anymore. I’m at least 10, okay maybe 15 years older than everyone there.  I feel like an odd duck- an imposter- my face is not shiny and new and that optimism and open-mindedness that accompanies new parents is no longer in my DNA. That belongs to the new ones- with new babies in slings and swings- calling after them with that sing-songy voice. You know the one. The one you used to use that now drives you nuts when you hear new moms using it.

My kids? They are at home. He is stressed out because there’s 38 honors geometry homework questions that are on top of the test, the history quiz and spanish homework. Due tomorrow. Real dinners with equal amounts protein and veggies need to be made and someone needs to be picked up from somewhere- every day of the week. There are parent-teacher conferences, awards ceremonies, PTA meetings, reading nights and school fundraisers to attend. The red wine has been replaced with Kombucha because alcohol keeps you awake at night and between the pre-menopausal night sweats and anxiety over how you will pay for college – sleep is something you need so much more of these days.  That and our thickening waist-lines simply cannot tolerate the alcohol any longer. We wave to our mom friends in the school pick-up lane and text in case of more urgent matters. Sometimes we get together with those who have’t yet returned to the workforce- we grab a bite to eat, we hike and we talk- all uninterrupted.

Sometimes things just change. And you have to change with them. But you still drive past the park at least once a day and you remember.

To New Beginnings and 18 Years of Marriage

You might be wondering where I’ve been in the last month. Long story short. We moved back to California, moving company was 2 weeks late in delivering our stuff and all 3 kiddos began a new school year while my husband transitioned to a new work setting. As for me? A million crazy, outlandish things happened and at a certain point all I could do was laugh. So many great stories to share and I will at a certain point. For now, I am relishing in being home where I belong and creating my new normal. Work has picked up and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to do meaningful work with nonprofit organizations that are changing lives.

On this Labor Day, I’m thinking about my husband and one of the greatest journeys I ever embarked on- getting married 18 years ago. I literally had no idea what I was doing but in a way I think that’s the way it should be- that’s life- stepping off the ledge- hoping for the best and knowing you’ve got to prepare for a little turbulence. So- here’s to new beginnings- that we never grow so comfortable that we are afraid to step off that ledge. I’m off to push my family into joining me for a hike in our beloved canyons this morning. In the meantime, while I catch my breath- I leave you with this piece written during my last week in St. Louis. Many blessings to you all…

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The cicada’s song has returned and serenades us upon dusk. The out of nowhere monsoon thunder and lightning storms have resumed as well.We chase the fireflies around the yard and marvel at their lights. The ground smells strong after a good storm and the birds and bunnies remind us of how much life there is in the world.

I’m not scared anymore.

One year ago we landed in St. Louis, ready for an adventure and yet so sad to leave California. Also scared because I knew this move would bring so many changes and I was afraid of how those changes might affect us.

The past few years had caught up with us. My father-in-law’s stage IV cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing along with the aftermath. Ever watched a person die before your eyes? It’s a frightful thing and as you watch the horror unfold in front of you, control is slipping out of your hands and you realize this is how we all end. Life and marriage and kids and problems had turned us into shells of what we had been in our younger days, we found ourselves scrapping through, with no gusto for life- our feet heavy upon waking and hitting the hardwood floor most mornings. And then out of nowhere- poof- we were moving to St. Louis! Everything you thought about your life and what you knew about gone in that instant.

Although we didn’t know it at the time- we had just hit the re-start button for our lives. What an incredible gift. People entered our lives that we didn’t even know we needed. Experiences were had that we didn’t even know we needed to experience. But most importantly- our most valuable lesson is that we learned to laugh and find the joy in life and in each other again.

It is time for this family to go home back to California. We will pick up where we left off but from a different place. Continue our adventure we will- seeking out those people who are a bit different- the outsiders if you will- realizing how hard it is to be the person that no one talks or relates to, the person that doesn’t quite fit the narrative. Always looking for new places to discover, new journeys to travel, new experiences to have so we can continue to learn about ourselves.  We will challenge ourselves to be more empathetic, caring, loving and open. We will try our hardest to protect our sacred family time and space amidst the crazy of life and not overburden ourselves with outside commitments.

I’m not scared anymore.

 

 

People, Ron’s Big Mission and Amazing Grace

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I’ve been so busy trying to keep the kids busy this summer that I have not had a chance to post a weekly multicultural book or talk about WeStories– the organization I have had a chance to volunteer and get involved with these past couple of months. So today I will highlight 3 multicultural books.

In May we attended our kick-off for WeStories and received our bookbag with multicultural books. They were books I had never heard of, much less read. Loved it. Still reading the books with the kids. Some of them were sad and they were shocked/taken by it- trying to process all the feelings around segregation and racism. It’s hard for us adults to process so imagine kids doing that. But it’s important work and I will continue and talk to them, push past my own comfort zone knowing that my children will be better for it. Considering everything going on in the world right now- I think there is no better time to do this. We must do this. Educate our children in age-appropriate ways on topics of race and skin color and the history/legacy of our country around these two topics.

People by Peter Spier

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People is the simplest of all these books and it places a strong value and emphasis on the beauty of diversity in this world. Highlights different cultures, skin colors, nose shapes, religions, languages and customs. A book you can go back to again and again.

Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corrine J. Naden

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Ron’s Big Mission was super sad because it features a little boy who lives in segregated 1950’s South Carolina. My kids couldn’t understand why he wasn’t able to get his own library card. As proud card holders themselves for years now, this really disturbed them. Lots of conversations around emotions and anger after reading the book.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

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Amazing Grace was a big hit with Baby Girl. Not only does Hoffman tackle cultural stereotypes but gender ones as well. This book empowers and paints a picture of girls being more than just quiet, polite, rule-abiding children. Long live Grace and all the rules she breaks in this book!

Happy reading and warm snuggles.

The UnderDog

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A few weeks ago, 2nd Most Honorable Son played in his final lacrosse tournament of the seaon. We weren’t expecting much because the team had not won one game at the last tournament in Indiana. And it’s not about winning- right? Also- it was hotter than a mother out there and I was secretly hoping to get home in time to just relax. But of course we cheered and told him to go out there and play his best. And he did, they all did. This last seeded underdog lacrosse team played their heart out, beat out a previously undefeated team and went from last place to a final competitor in the championship game. They played the game of their life and lost but came in 2nd place overall.

A great lesson for us all- NEVER EVER underestimate the underdog! 

World Bird Sanctuary

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The World Bird Sanctuary sits on 305 acres of Missouri hardwood forest out in Valley Park, Missouri. Their mission is to “preserve the earth’s biological diversity and secure the future of threatened bird species in their natural environments.” The organization does this through education, field studies around the world and rehabilitation of injured animals.

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We journeyed out to spend a day at the World Bird Sanctuary in early June. Upon arriving, we visited the Monsanto Fund Environmental Education Center where we met several animals who had been rehabilitated. “Frazzle”- an Eastern Screech Owl really touched our hearts. These owls can be found in orchards or woodlots and are usually a gray or rust color. Frazzle came to the Sanctuary as a young bird with a severe eye infection. Despite treatment, the staff was not able to save her eye and it had to be removed. My kids were so touched by Frazzle- we lingered around her cage for some time and discussed ways we might be able to help other birds like Frazzle. You can see her closed left eye in the picture below.

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After leaving the Education Center, we ventured outside where there were several different types of owls, eagles and hawks for viewing. Below you see a European Barn Owl. These owls are found across Europe with the exception of Scandinavia and tend to be smaller and lighter-colored than their American relatives. Did you know that one Barn Owl can eat up to 2,000 mice a year? 

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We followed a paved footpath where we passed a hospital that helps rehabilitate many patients like Frazzle. We ended up walking through to their outdoor exhibits where they had many animals- All types of owls, Red-Tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, White Pelicans, Sand Hill Cranes and Turkey Vultures, just to name a few. There were also several off the beaten path trails that took you through their backwoods. It was really breathtaking.

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We ended our journey with a visit to the Nature Center. There we saw birds, parrots, bats, an armadillo and our favorite- “Anna” the Green Tree Python! Wouldn’t want to meet her in the forest but behind the glass- she looked pretty cute. If you live in the St. Louis area- this is a great place to visit and take your kids- They have a BatFest in Early Spring, National Trails Day in June, and an Owl Prowl in November. Many of the programs are free or low-cost. And the work they are doing is incredible. Truly.

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