oh, voir dire: the reluctant juror

“Does this outfit say, ‘poor decision making?’ Because that’s what I’m going for.’”

“Colleen,” said my darling husband, “you’re going to get picked, just because you so intensely want not to get picked.”

The 11-year-old gave me his advice at the breakfast table, “Smile a lot, but not a regular smile, a scary one; and don’t blink; oh and leave your hair like that,” he said gesturing at my wild morning mane.

Everybody had given me advice – bless their hearts – advice I in no way felt comfortable taking as it all involved total untruths; “Tell them you can’t sit very long. Tell them you’re racist. Tell them you bring with you the wrath of God.”

My number was quite literally up – I had jury duty.

After blithely and incorrectly assuming I would be excused by phone, I packed my purse with reading material, then as I do at the airport, proceeded to make a spectacle of myself at the courthouse metal detector.

“Ma’am, don’t put your purse in a bin.”

“Oh sorry, I do at the airport; should I take out the water bottle? I forget at the airport too-”

“No, that’s fine, don’t take off your jewelry – oh you already did – take off your belt then walk through with your hands over your head.”

“I’m still beeping.”

“It’s your boots.”

“Should I like, jump through the machine thing, or take the boots off? Do those go in a bin….like at the airport? Can I put my arms down? ”

 Close your eyes and picture “Jury Assembly Room.” Got it? Whatever image you conjured up is likely correct. Did you also imagine the emotionally unavailable clerk handing out questionnaires and clipboards? Yes, you did.

The last time I was filling out paperwork with total strangers en masse, I was taking the SAT, which is likely what brought out my competitive streak in the Jury Assembly Room.

Boom! Done!

I triumphantly turned in my paperwork – second! Second one done in that whole room of people!

I was all the way back to my seat when I realized I had made a potentially grievous error. What if my paperwork efficiency was the sign of an eager and capable juror? Perhaps I would have been better served by taking forever with it and acting confused.

The clerk came to the podium, and instead of giving out awards to the people who finished their paperwork first, he hit play on the VHS tape DVD of smiling former jurors telling us how fulfilled we were about to feel by the process.

The people watching the video with me were not smiling, nor obviously anticipating fulfillment.

There was a grown-up Sesame Street thing happening – there were as many people of different heights, ethnic backgrounds, and walks of life as you could fit in a room. I sat behind the nurse, and the plumber sat behind me, flanked by the elderly gentleman with the crossword puzzle, and a dude with a Big Gulp. The young guys with computer bags sat interspersed with ladies in business suits and ladies in sweat suits.

 *****

“Yes, it’s an imposition on your time,” the judge said after our rag tag group had filed into her courtroom, “but it’s your duty as a citizen to serve, and if you ever need a jury, you would want someone to step up for you.”

Was she looking at me? Did she know I had considered the advice of an 11-year-old to get out of this? The judge was obviously a mother, because she knew right where to strike to make us squirm in our seats, look at our shoes, and feel bad for being such whiners.

She was right – we weren’t like those bums from jury groups 5, 6, 7 and 8 who were excused over the phone the night before. We were the jurors of groups 1-4! We had to cancel doctors’ appointments and hair appointments (that was me) and meetings to be there – we were outstanding citizens!

The sexiness of civic duty waned over the next three days however as we sat through voir dire, which is a much cooler way of saying jury questioning. We heard from an EMT, the nurse, a real estate agent, a bookkeeper, a financial analyst, a gaggle of scientists and retirees, a lifeguard who could not imagine a universe where he could be unbiased, a furniture salesman, two teachers, a liquor store owner, and a lady from the Teamsters Union who I also had lunch with. As a nosy curious person, this process should have been fascinating, but the questions were long, tedious, and repetitive – often ending with “Do you watch CSI?” and “Do you understand that CSI is a fictional show?” You’ll be happy to know, they did.

Our numbers dwindled until just a few of us remained, unquestioned and anxious, watching perfectly good jurors stream out of the room, excused. At break times we chatted about our work, shared harrowing tales of parking in the adjacent “Detention Lot” and whispered about who might be excused next. Everybody’s money was on the elderly lady in the glitter pants who was asleep on the bench by the water fountain, and who had already slept through a day and a half of questioning. She was excused – not for the sleeping, but more for answering, “Can you have an open mind?” with “No! Guilty! Go to jail!”

When I least expected it, I heard, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have our jury,” from the judge who motioned to the group that did not include me.

I gave a nod of goodbye and good luck to the Teamsters lady who sat in the jury box surrounded by the truck driver, three of the retirees, two of the scientists, the nurse, the liquor store owner, one of the teachers, and the furniture salesman.

I stepped out into the sunshine, feeling free and light and also wondering how I got to be so low on the selection list. Was it random? Was it because I worked at a church and was married to a pastor who had also attended some law school, which I absolutely made sure to mention during my awesome paperwork-completing on day one? I’m afraid that the most likely scenario is that somebody got his or her hands on the video footage of me trying to get through the metal detector.

the white pants paradigm: hello, spring

Seemingly moments ago, in a post called “pot pie paradigm,” I wrote about the warm cozies that accompany the arrival of autumn: pumpkins and hot coffee and the undeniable desire to wear corduroy. Oh, and the undeniable desire for pot pie.

Sure I wore corduroy last week, after the official start of spring, but the rain was coming down in sheets, and all I wanted to do was sit inside and drink tea and eat the mini bundt cakes someone dropped by the office (unsolicited baked goods are surely on the long list of perks of working at a church). And then I made a half-hearted promise to stop incessantly writing about the weather on Facebook, where I also repeatedly threaten to get one of those UV lights that are supposed to make the sunlight-deprived generally less bummed out.

But then – the sun came out. Sure it may be gone tomorrow, but today, I want to eat asparagus. I want to rearrange the throw pillows, and edit my knick knacks, and maybe spruce up the joint with some flowers.

Yesterday, after a bright, happy day surrounded by Norman Rockwell looking, seersucker wearing, egg hunting children, and in a fit of sunny ecstasy, I went out and bought a pair of white pants. Ladies, you know the pants – they will look just perfect with a nautical, navy striped tee. Or a sparkly top. Or pink. Or wedge heels or sandals. Or even deck shoes, a colorful belt, or an arm full of bangles.

I think when a guy looks at white pants he sees a 1980’s Don Johnson or 1980’s James Spader, or most likely an impractical purchase. Maybe he says, “Don’t you have white pants?” And you say, “Um, those are cropped, and from five years ago and now they fit weird anyway,” or “Yes, silly, but those have a cigarette cut, and these are flared, but not like an obnoxious flare,  just flared enough to make them perfect for wedges.” It is at this point, and you can see it in his face, when he becomes sorry he asked. This scenario may also be applied to black shoes.

When women look at white pants in early spring, they see the promise of what is to come:

Sunshine and patios and tossing your head back to laugh. You will live in a catalog and you will not be sad. You are not allowed to be sad in your white pants, unless of course, you just sat in gum, which totally happened to my mom at Sea World. Now in 2012, we know not to wear white pants to theme parks, and most especially water-themed theme parks.

I’m going to eat brunch in those pants, but not just any brunch, it will be brunch with a view of the sea! I’m going to catch up with an old friend while wearing those pants and drinking a white wine spritzer (Yes, they still exist! And they are surprisingly refreshing! And if you were to spill, it’s got spritzer right in it, so it will probably not stain – so practical and smart. Somebody should pin that.)

My new white pants, with just the right amount of flare, are currently hanging like a decoration in my room, representing the pristine hope of spring. Nobody has touched them with potato chip hands, or dribbled iced tea on them. No animal has rubbed on them in a friendly greeting. I have yet to sit in something green or sticky while wearing them.

I will not wear them today or tomorrow; there is more rain in the forecast. I will leave them hanging there in place of the cheer-you-up UV lamp that one of these years, I really will buy. But the white pants are a better deal, which fellas, in the unlikely case you continued reading after you saw  “flare” or “wedges,” is something you might appreciate.

**Thanks for all the support and fun comments after the organization post was Freshly Pressed, which was way cool, and entirely too intoxicating. Thanks, hello and welcome to the all the new subscribers, and double thanks if you decided to stick with me after reading about my pants.

but that’s my school: the mustang swan song

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Dad called with the news. “They’re closing your school.”

“No. Sierra Gardens? What? Why? No!”

(Sorry, Bears, Trees and Bruins, not that other school of mine you love to hate.)

“They voted… it will close next year.”

“I’m sorry, that’s sad,” John said sincerely when I told him the news, “I still get sad when we drive by my old school.”

John’s long abandoned elementary school is for sure, totally haunted. Lincoln Elementary, brick and forlorn, sits abandoned on the main road in the small Idaho town of his childhood, still sporting a reader board that now says “ead to you ids 20 mins a day.”

John’s high school moved somewhere else too, leaving the hallowed halls he once roamed to become a rock climbing gym or self storage center, or possibly both.

John’s were those cool “inside” schools of John Hughes movies with real cafeterias and giant lockers for winter coats; cool to California kids who were stuck eating outside and with classrooms that opened directly into all that sunshine instead of echoey hallways that probably smelled like sweat and old paper.

During our 15 years of marriage, I had not been terribly sensitive to the fact that those pieces of John’s youth had been summarily shuttered.

Of course I don’t like that my school is closing. Opened in 1957, Sierra Gardens has weathered a lot. Think of all those little Mustangs talking about Nixon, Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and astronauts landing on the moon. We heard about the Challenger disaster in the middle of class, and worried about Russians parachuting down onto the playground, like in Red Dawn.

Whoever voted to close it obviously didn’t scamper down to the creek’s edge, play kickball in the lower flats, or Chinese jumprope outside Room 20.  They didn’t wonder why the basketball courts were always covered in seagulls or  taste Doritos for the first time at their 3rd grade desk. They didn’t learn to spell stuff there, and read stuff, and write cursive without really understanding why a capital cursive Q looks like a 2. They didn’t know which drinking fountains would give barely a trickle or shoot you straight in the eye. They didn’t learn they hate math and love writing and that Shel Silverstein was a genius. They didn’t have a principal with a handlebar mustache or a first grade teacher named Mrs. Beaver.  They didn’t get to be the Student Body Secretary or dutifully wear their Mustang T-Shirt on Spirit Day, or make the friends that I made there.  Nope; because if they did, Sierra Gardens would be getting a historical registry number instead.

My friend Doug wrote a bit in his blog about the liability of being too sentimental; something of which I am terribly, terribly guilty. I am an advocate for change and progress, but a big sap at the same time, which makes for a lot of confusing feelings.

So while I will miss you, I will never forget you Sierra Gardens, even when you are a rock climbing gym or a collection of old building shells with two haunted portables; and I look forward to tapping into my unending supply of your stories to bore my children, and their children, and their children’s children far into the future.

I will not miss the bathrooms though. The bathrooms were gross.

*That photo up there gives you a peek at one corner of Sierra Gardens, circa 1985. That’s me in the grey jacket and the extra bangs cut specifically to cover  my surprisingly normal looking ears. Mostly though, it’s my amazing, quirky, smart, kind, funny, talented class and group of friends from Room 20, whom I am very proud to know then and now. I guess just like a church isn’t the building, a school isn’t either.

organization overload: getting it together is making us lose it

Let’s start with a quick quiz, shall we?

  1. Have you purchased a storage container for an item you did not yet have? “My new baskets will be perfect for those cashmere throws….I aspire to own one day.”
  2. Do you need a mild sedative upon entering/leaving The Container Store?
  3. Do you have a visceral reaction when you see those catalog pictures of well-stocked, organized pantries? You know the ones –the unseen homeowner has 16 bottles of Pellegrino, pasta sorted and stowed in airtight containers, and giant cans of Italian tomatoes, all perfectly aligned with nary a Ritz Cracker or Fruit Roll-Up in sight?
  4. Do you now, or have you ever, owned a ribbon caddy? Yes, a caddy for ribbons.  Or a caddy for anything, for that matter.

I get it.

If you looked at my room this very moment, you might not think that I get it. But underneath all that laundry, and the castoff sports stuff, you would find a baseline level of organization; so yeah, I kinda sorta get it.

I have the ribbon caddy, a recipe system, and a jar for cotton balls. My photos and movies are in order, and my kids know where to find the LEGOs. Well, one of them does.

Five years ago, that was fine.

It’s 2012 and suddenly, fine doesn’t cut it anymore.

Organized is the new rich. Or tan. Or maybe the new skinny. However you look at it, we want to be organized, and we want it bad. We’re no longer satisfied with knowing where stuff is, we’re looking for a new level of in-your-face, extreme organization that will make us the envy of our friends. We want our clutter so creatively and lovingly contained it ceases to be junk, and become treasure. We want every last possession in a basket, a tub, a bin, a repurposed bucket, or a mason jar, and there should be no rest until it is done.

We are a people out of control.

I especially get caught up in this after reading any article with “five easy steps to decluttering your way to a carefree life.” (Or worse, If I visit the house of someone who read the article, and is actually making it happen.) If I really wanted to be clever, says the Associate Editor of Clutter Control, I’d store my pony tail holders on a toilet paper tube. Heaven forbid, I just set the rubber band on my dresser, where I can pick it up again when I need it. “It needs to be on a TUBE!”

So this is how it goes: I get inspired and show the boys that their LEGO guys with heads still attached go here, and without heads go over there.  Movies with horses go in this box, and movies with aliens go in that one. They nod, knowing it will only be a week until I return to being satisfied with just keeping everyone in clean socks and underwear, until the next time I read an article and try to find a new system for storing paper clips in a beautiful way.

But then something happened to turn that happy cycle on its ear…Pinterest.

I asked my friend at work how she liked the booming site. “It’s a great way to collect everything you want to do or try or buy, or cook. But it’s depressing. I’ll never make that stuff.”

“Hmph, well I don’t want any of that,” I told her. The last thing I needed was to try to organize the Internet.

Two days later, I asked her to send me an invite.

Part of any organized person’s strategy is the list keeping. Through the years I’ve kept track of to-dos, to-buys, and to-think-abouts. When I was a kid I had lists of Esprit clothes I owned, people I knew, and states that I could remember without looking at a map. (Dang it, Delaware, how did I keep forgetting you?)

Now, with Pinterest, the list making is visual and easy, and there’s the fun social aspect of sharing ideas with your friends and glue gun toting strangers. It’s also immediately and dangerously addictive. It will likely suck you in and spit you out, bleary eyed and overwhelmed by clothes you don’t have, projects you won’t do, recipes you won’t make, houses you will never live in and organization systems you will fail at. It’s also by far the most convenient way I’ve found to combine sloth AND envy.

“What is THAT?” asked John as he looked over my shoulder to find three photos of braided hairstyles, two of cupcakes, two pretty necklaces, six pieces of furniture, a quiche, a DIY Easter Wreath, a DIY confetti lantern, a pair of boots, and a romantic black and white photo of New York City.

“Pinterest. It’s a way to organize projects, recipes, design ideas…”

“Um.”

“See, what you do is create your pin boards, then you categorize them, so you can organize your….”

“Colleen.”

“Wait, see, this one is just for hairstyles. This one’s dedicated just to mid century modern design, this one’s for appetizers, this one’s for jewelry,”

“Colleen, I love you, but I can’t even pretend to be interested in this.”

We’ve been married for 15 years so he can say that. I sure hope he can say that, because that’s what I say when we pull into the parking lot of an electronics store and I announce I’m waiting in the car.

My lazy Internet research revealed that 80% of Pinterest users are women (thanks ignitesocialmedia.com!). Over at Google +, they are running close to that equivalent, male.

I suggested he look into Google +.

Keep in mind, this is the same guy who, when I am in an organizing frenzy, comes up with this sage advice:

“How about we just have less stuff?”

  

*the label maker is fun to use! And The Dewey Decimal System doesn’t hold a candle to our video organization with categories such as “chick flicks,” “high brow,” “spies!” and “classics” where you’ll find anything starring Will Ferrell, Steve Carell or Adam Sandler.

further thoughts on robots

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Other than the self-diagnosed situational agoraphobia, I think I would do ok in space.

Not a spaceship as much as a space colony, after they’ve had a chance to work out the kinks. If it’s a space colony, I suppose we’re thinking about the future. And not a dystopian Hunger Games future where we’d all have to work together to snare rabbits for survival and overthrow an oppressive and evil government with nothing but our wits and a map. I was thinking more of a Jetsons set-up — pellet food, space mall, low-profile furniture – pretty much anywhere there’s a robot lady who can help me navigate the day.

“Do you have Siri?” I ask anyone with a new phone, hopeful I can have a chat with the intriguing electronic personal assistant.

“Naaaah,” some say.

Or “I do, but I don’t use it,” which is worse.

How are you not using it? Have you SEEN those commercials?

Many mornings I wake and grab my non-Siri phone and talk into it without lifting my head from my pillow.

“What’s my day look like?” I say to the phone.

“Pre-tty cra-ppy…you have ele-ven mee-tings,” I say back to myself in my best robot voice.

John laughed the first few times.

Today, I had a few minutes with Siri’s electronic sister when I called the bank. Because I had forgotten my password, we got to spend  a few minutes chatting. She’d ask me something, and I would slowly reply. She’d tell that was wrong, and to try again.

When she mis-heard me and I had to repeat myself, she said “Sor-ry, my fault,” and I felt bad. I wanted to tell her that it was indeed my fault because I mumbled, but that’s too many words and I didn’t want to blow her robot lady mind, and be forced to start over.

I know technically, it’s more accurate and PC (ba-dum-dum) to say “computer lady,” but my imagination always puts a robot with the disembodied voice. Keep in mind, I still do not understand the technology that makes a fax machine work.

Just like when Morgan Freeman is the spokesperson for anything, I find I accept what the robot lady says without question. Not every robot lady, but most. Our GPS offered us two voice options when we set it up. The first was a little too breathy and adult. I felt uncomfortable having her talk in front of the children. So we went with the English accent. Sure, she gets annoyed when I miss a turn, but with an implied sage wisdom, she redirects me just like Mary Poppins would, and we are on our way.

The reigning queen of the robot ladies though, is the one who’s in charge of the airport.

If one were actually flying to space, there is no way that it could feel as much like going to space, as Terminal 2 of San Francisco International Airport. The robot lady tells you which shuttle to board, reminds you to hold on, carefully disembark, and not to forget your belongings.

I think she’s the one who talked me into the tofu and shitake spring roll (basically a tofu-packed space food pellet), with a coconut water. I found myself sitting in an egg shaped chair at an egg shaped table, eating it out of a plastic box, when there was a perfectly good cheeseburger available 7 feet away.

Female robots have been an integral part of our cultural landscape for decades. Kudos to my personal favorites, Rosie the Robot (so full of sass!) and  The Bionic Woman, Jaime Sommers (full disclosure, she was like, half robot). I was a proud owner of the Bionic Woman doll, with the roll up arm skin and removable face that revealed her circuitry. Don’t even get me started on what would happen if Barbie and Jaime were to get in a street fight. But sadly, more often than not, female robots are depicted negatively – from the Stepford Wives (spoiler alert!) to the Fembots, whose you-know-whats double as machine guns.

We’re looking to you Siri, to turn this around, and when I finally get you, maybe you also can remind me to hold on, grab my suitcase, get to my meeting, and hydrate.

How I’m ok with the robot lady when mannequins give me the uber creeps, I shall never know.

*The photo above is another favorite robot, R2-D2. Is a Droid a robot? Am I going to hear from all the Star Wars fanatics that an R2 unit is NOT a robot? He IS s guarding the LEGO White House, so relax, he’s a hero. I have plenty of Transformers, and Star Wars guys in my house of boys, but no lady robots, so R2 will have to do as my visual aid.

the forgotten art of looking around

It was a busy Friday, and I was stuck in one of the backwards-riding seats on BART, the Bay Area’s mid-century modern version of the subway. I looked longingly at my oversized satchel of reading material – five magazines, two regular books, a loaded Kindle, and the phone that keeps me linked in to every breaking world/national/state/local/entertainment/sports/finance/business/health/lifestyle/science/technology/opinion/home/travel/dining headline, allowing me to remain minimally informed on a maximum number of topics, and dangerously chatty at dinner parties.

This was the reading material I had thoughtfully prepared to get me through this train ride, two airport waits, two five hour flights, and no fewer than a dozen cappuccinos. I know well enough by now that if I were to read something while riding backwards on the train, it would be a throw-up extravaganza like that time in 8th grade, or like that other time in 8th grade. With 19 stops still to go, I couldn’t let that happen, I was wearing wool. If you are traveling alone though, it is just common courtesy to read, or pretend to read, otherwise you are the creeper who keeps engaging others in “accidental” eye contact. Alas, short of closing my eyes, falling asleep and waking up in the wrong county and relieved of my purse and suitcase – I was just going to have to look around.

Not long ago, I wrote a post about the value of boredom – but looking around, my friends, is not boring, which I keep somehow forgetting.

You think reading is entertaining? (Oh, it is! It IS entertaining, I love it) but people are REALLY entertaining; what they wear, what they say, and what they are reading.

The sky outside was perfectly blue, the couple to the left was deciding what they were having for dinner, and the guy behind me was suuuuper annoyed with another guy at his job who quite frankly, did sound awful. The girl in front of me had her scarf tied just so….it looked fresh and whimsical like it just happened to come out that way, but I knew she probably recruited a boy scout or sailor to tie it. I tried taking a mental picture to figure out the knot. I thought about taking an actual picture, but that was potentially more disconcerting than unwelcomed eye contact, which did eventually happen. A few feet away, there was an older gentleman also looking around, and after our eyes met, he did not look away, and then he strained his neck to continue not looking away. I decided that maybe I should look out at the blue sky again, and assume he was also nervous about motion sickness.

When you are defiantly not looking at your phone, you start to feel condescendingly sorry for the people who are glued to theirs.  That poor guy with the messenger bag – think of what he’s missing!

I tried sharing with John my window inspired euphoria – “I looked out the window today, and it was amazing!”

“Wow, what was out there?”

“I dunno – cars and people and stuff.”

I spent some more time with the window over the next few days — New York is a great place to do that. Whether you wake up and peek in the windows of another tall building across the way to the early bird who spins his chair while he talks on the phone, or simply watch pedestrians hustle by below, wrapped in winter layers not often seen in California, everybody looks like they are doing something more important than you ever will.

My dad worked in a tall building when I was a kid, and on one of those school in-service days, it was his turn to entertain me.  It wasn’t hard, I sat in his window and watched people wander up and down Sacramento’s Capitol Mall, visit the hot dog vendor, go to the bank, and wait for the bus.  I wrote a poem about what I saw, and recited it proudly to anyone who would listen – I think it included a rhyme for “briefcase.”

One of my all-time favorite movies is “Rear Window,” the premise of which is fascinating and terrifying – you just never know what you are going to see out there. I thought of this in our San Francisco apartment years ago when we were newlyweds, so full of excitement about what lay outside! It was not Grace Kelly or Jimmy Stewart  I found across the courtyard from our bedroom window however, but an elderly couple eating breakfast in their underwear, fully aware that I could see them.

Give it a whirl. When you are done reading this (and only then), look out the window. If you are outside, go inside, and look at the spot you were just sitting. Tell me it doesn’t blow your mind, a little bit, if you wait long enough.

But then again, I’m pretty sure this hobby could also be the telltale sign of an extreme extrovert. Do you know how hard it was not to ask the couple what they finally decided for to eat for dinner, or pick the brain of the jaunty scarf girl (who also had a phone with a screen so cracked, it was barely holding together – seriously, how did that happen?). Extroverts are energized by others, but if that extrovert is fully engaged in the world around them all the time, their head just might explode. Others are everywhere! There were the girls who worked together in Saks then ran into each other after four years! The lady that thought/hoped the Starbucks breakfast sandwich was a cheeseburger. The girl nervous about a job interview. A German tourist with laryngitis, a guy editing a proposal, the couple from Toronto (she was waaaaay taller than he was), the guy who dropped his dry cleaning in the street, and Karl from the shoe department who has bad knees too. Where does one even begin? It took copious amounts of hand-wringing and concentration not to start conversations with every single one of them. I did talk to Karl, however, and recommended insoles if he was going to be standing all day.

It might just be better to return to my headlines, and leave all these nice folks to go about their day without a nosy lady in a wool coat watching them from the window.



The top pic is from our hotel in Murray Hill. The left photo down here is from one of my seats at Starbucks, 40th & Lexington, NYC, and the right is a lady reading on the subway platform, caught through two windows as the train passes between us.

treasures

During a recent visit with my mom, she pulled out a book of “Treasures” that she and my uncle had unearthed. The album actually had “Treasures” emblazoned across the front in a font usually reserved for the words “Antique” or “Apothecary.” The album had not seen the light of day since before I was born. Inside were never-before-seen-by-me pictures of my grandparents as well as uncles, aunts, and cousins I had never met, though my mother refuses to believe it.

“That’s Dewey, Colleen, you know Uncle Dewey.”

“Not really.”

“Lucille?”

“Sorry.”

Everyone was dressed to the nines for each photo, even though they were usually standing in a dusty field. Our current photo albums are littered with our raggedy little group in pajamas, tearing into Christmas presents or doing dishes after Thanksgiving dinner, always with messy hair and half-closed eyes.

But there was my mother, with her perfectly round cherubic face and shiny ringlets, decked out in her Sunday best, walking around in that dusty field at nine months old. It was the Depression; kids didn’t enjoy the luxury of waiting until their first birthday to learn to walk.  Jacob was born during the technology boom. He rolled around, chubby and euphoric from the optimistic atmosphere of a modern day gold rush, lazily waiting until he was nearly 15 months before taking his first official step.

There were a few handwritten entries throughout the book, noteable things that had happened in the 1930’s and 40’s. “Your grandmother was very up-to-date on stars,” my dad said as I looked at him curiously, unaware of her interest in astronomy. He clarified, “she kept very close track of celebrity news.” Thank God, it’s hereditary. Who am I to fight my genetic predisposition to know exactly what Blake Lively’s or Ryan Goslings’s relationship status is at any given moment?

Toward the back of the book of Treasures, was a little newspaper clipping from Christmas, 1940, featuring unedited children’s notes to Santa.

My uncle’s note was first. He asked for candy and nuts, a big drum, slippers and a coloring book, and added a special request to Santa to please not forget their little brother. Then there was my mom, the big sister – a 5-year-old who asked for dishes, an ironing board, slippers, candy and nuts. I couldn’t believe it. This was very nearly the same list she’d rattled off my entire life, save for the new ironing board; that was just once a decade. She still loves ironing, and will proudly tell you how she was the victor of her high school’s home economics ironing contest. She eyes me suspiciously every time I tell her I don’t know where our iron is, or worse, if we even still own an iron.

“It’s the same list, mom, down to the candy and nuts,” I laughed, until I recalled my own trip to see Santa, nearly 30 years ago, that went something like this:

“And what would you like little girl?”

“A red purse.”

I had waited in line to meet Santa who was holding court in our town’s toy store. The purse I was referring to had a little buckle and a long strap that made it the perfect cross-body bag for the 7-year-old on the go.  It wasn’t bulky but had plenty of room for the necessities – Dr. Pepper flavored lip balm, gum, a hairbrush, three key chains with no keys, and no fewer than 11 pens.

A red purse has popped up on my list every few years since.

Meanwhile, two states away, my future husband Johnny and his little brother Mikey were propped up on the knee of their small-town Idaho Santa who greeted his guests at the auto parts store. That Santa may or may not have been failing Algebra while depending on the healing powers of Stridex to assist with his…youthful complexion. He also weighed about 120 pounds and hated his job.

John doesn’t remember what he asked for. He probably said “It’s ok, Santa. I really don’t want or need anything,” while wholeheartedly meaning it, frustrating the chestnuts out of Santa and solidifying his reputation as being nearly impossible to shop for. Not that I have any experience with, or am in any way also frustrated by that.

Our own boys have grown and changed over the past year. Zach’s desire to see Santa was not as urgent and his normally adorable wishlist of toys was replaced this year with a football video game. Jake has braces now and his feet are bigger than mine.  He surprised us all by putting some special, and crazy-hard-to-find basketball socks at the top of his list…SOCKS. (Nike Elites; heard of them? I hadn’t either. Some joker’s selling a $12 pair online for $52.) The rest of their lists don’t stray too far from there – if a Manning brother, a big league pitcher, or anyone on the Miami Heat endorses it, wears it, or plays with it, it’s likely on the list.

It’s not the stuff that overwhelms me; it’s what the stuff represents now. The boys are big, and they are getting bigger, just like I’m sure my Dad was less than thrilled that my one wish was a red purse so I could look like a Charlie’s Angel or Laura from “Remington Steele.” While we know the presents and the busyness aren’t the parts of Christmas that fortify us, they can perhaps stir up a memory or two, and cause us to pause and think and feel things – whether they are happy or sad or funny or wistful things.

But that’s not where we find our true joy, or peace, or promise of a new and brighter day. My prayer for you this Christmas is that in spite of all your stuff, your to-do lists, the baking you meant to do, and the half finished Christmas cards, that you find your Treasure, whatever that may be for you right now – peace, joy, or hope – and you pass it on. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Joyous 2012 to you and yours!

i’m taking that

It represented months of stern discussion, a few tears, plenty of exasperation, and a smattering of time-outs (some for me, some for the boys) – but what we had collected was quite the impressive arsenal of kid weaponry.  Colorful plastic, wood, fabric, and foam. Pointy things, blunt things, long things and short things. Things that shoot, things that poke; but mostly things that whack, hit and pummel.

The pile started innocently enough with a foam dart gun. I don’t recall the exact circumstances that resulted in its confiscation, but likely someone was shot in the eye, and did not like it. It was taken away, and hoisted atop my lovely bedroom armoire where neither boy could reach. Then we added the padded bat (I believe someone was walloped and did not like it), a light saber and an Indiana Jones whip, then the other two light sabers and the other three padded bats. A football jersey made it up there at some point, followed by the football, and one out of two of the hockey sticks. There was a potato gun, three foam golf clubs, and the foam dart rifle that went straight from the original package to the pile, with nary a stop in between. The old western six-shooter actually took longer to be put up there than I thought it would. Within one week, Zach lost both of his chef knives – one from his basic kitchen set, the other a wooden cleaver from the sushi set.

The pile teetered as the gun barrels hung precariously off the edges of the armoire. ”Confiscation Station” was bursting at the seams.

“Mom, can I have the potato gun please? I need it for what I am doing.”

“Fine.” His brother was not home. I retrieved it easily, and handed it to Zachary. I knew exactly where it was in the pile because it was the first thing I saw every morning when I woke up.

Zach returned the potato gun when his mysterious potato-gun-necessitating activity was complete, and I placed it back in its spot, no questions asked.

Confiscation Station had become storage…and could easily pass as the gun locker for a deranged but adorable teddy bear, with a penchant for golf and baseball.

The boys eventually forgot about the stuff up there and focused on LEGOs and some made-up game that involved diving onto the couch and yelling at each other.

Hoping we could sneak it all back into place without re-piquing their interest, John and I quietly cleared out Confiscation Station. I woke up and cheerily surveyed the newly cleaned off, cleared out grown-up space that could now be left to collect dust in peace.

The knives were first to return, followed by the light sabers and the bats, and then finally the dart guns. We acquired two Disney swords that fit nicely in the crevices created by the Storm Trooper gun and the six-shooter.

Then I needed to have a place to keep things from the cat. Up went two half deflated balloons and a spool of curly ribbon.

I drove up to the house the other night, and our bedroom curtain was open just enough for the pile to be revealed in all its glory, perfectly framed by our outdoor Christmas lights.  I had never seen the pile from that angle before. It was architecturally and structurally impressive, sure, but it also looked like the window of a person sorely in need of some kind of intervention.

You might say, “They are boys! Let boys be boys!” or “Why do you have so many weapons in the first place?”

“Good points!” I would say back to you. They are boys, but I don’t think boys should get poked in the eye either, and tomorrow, when their arms are longer than they are today, their reach will extend beyond the “thiiiis close” distance to the TV/Window/my face/the cat/other faces they have enjoyed thus far.

We did not intend to accumulate so many weapons, it just happened. We didn’t head out one day on a stockpiling mission with an arsenal shopping list. They have grandparents, uncles and birthday parties, and moments at Target where I am weak and they have a gift card, and they do not like my suggestion of drawing paper or a new knit cap.

I dismantled the pile again after spying it through the window, but the contents have not been put back into the boys’ rooms. Instead, they have found a new home in the bin recently vacated by the Power Rangers, who though adored by young Jacob, have been (mercifully) ignored by Zach.

The spot is clear once more, just in time for Christmas.

*A potato gun IS pretty cool. You stick the barrel into a potato, and it takes out a little potato plug/bullet, that you can then shoot. Searching for and collecting the spent potato bullets will make you feel like a farmer AND a CSI.

the pot pie paradigm

When you live in California, or anywhere really, you can’t depend on the calendar to tell you when the season has changed.  You likely have your own little tell tale signs that it’s time to shift gears and jump into the next season with abandon. It’s officially Spring when I hear a lawnmower or an airplane through an open window. Summer is the first day I require an iced coffee to function. Winter is simple – sweatshirt, fuzzy socks, hot chocolate, staring at the Christmas Tree; rain, optional.

Fall however, is a little different. The Bay Area enjoys its most beautiful warm weather in September and October. The lazy days of summer are gone, but the realities of school and work and sports and responsibility are just… the worst. You like the idea of fall, but you can’t enjoy a moment of it…yet. Then one day it happens, the good part of autumn arrives. This week, the signs were everywhere; real fall is finally here.

  • Without explanation, a big fat, warty pumpkin showed up on our doorstep. Not the jack-o-lantern kind, but the harvesty cornucopia kind. Some autumnal fairy left it there (thank you, whoever you are). Until the moment it arrived, our entire 2011 pumpkin inventory consisted of the tiny souvenir pumpkin from Zach’s kindergarten field trip, and John’s sad matching chaperone pumpkin. If a mystery gourd doesn’t tell you something special’s afoot, I don’t know what does.
  • Dry leaves swirled dramatically around the parking lot as I hurried in from lunch, clutching close to me my brown corduroy blazer, the official jacket of fall. When the wind blows like that, no matter what building I hustle into, I announce, “It’s like ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ out there.” It’s weird enough to say that at the grocery store or the dentist, but you get really special looks at work yelling that something wicked is coming, especially when work is a church. I might need a new movie reference that says “it’s windy.” Nobody’s even seen “Something Wicked This Way Comes” in 25 years, including me.
  • The 6-year-old needs a new pair of slippers; he’s grown out of the firetruck pair, and his feet are now cold. The cat’s feet are also cold and she thinks she controls the heater. She sits on the grating and paws at it unsuccessfully for an hour or so until it finally kicks on, at which point she looks at me, as if to say, “you’re welcome.”
  • A hot cup of coffee is never far from my thoughts.

 “I need to finish this budget draft…then get a cup of coffee.”

“ Where did I leave my keys? Over there, by my coffee.”

“Someone put peppermint mocha creamer in the office fridge; best day ever.”

  • The moon on Wednesday was freakishly huge and hovered menacingly over the freeway and the hills, so close it looked like I could drive to it as fast as I could drive home. I never look directly at it; it knows I blame it for my crankiness, other people’s crankiness, sleepless kids and bad driving.
  • Monday is the day I will make my annual turkey, apple and sweet potato pot pie. No part of it comes from a box, hence the annual-ness of it. I am trying to get John to commit to a date for his annual apple cake.  They cannot be made on the same day, or my head will explode.
  • And then, to top it off: John picked up egg nog on the way home. It gets dark after lunch. I took an umbrella with me, and promptly left it in a restaurant. Twilight’s out in a few days (they’re vampires, so that’s fallish, and they sparkle, so it’s festive.) I think about ginger cookies almost as much as I think about coffee.

It seems people who know about gardening and growing things best understand the rhythms of the seasons. They talk to me about their bulbs or their tomatoes, eyeing the weather and their soil, and maybe an almanac. I nod, recognizing that yes, I have heard of bulbs and tomatoes, though I cannot tell you what grows from a bulb.

So, don’t let the mall tell you it’s time to feel like Christmas (because they’re trying, hard); it’s not up to them, it’s up to you. Your fall may not have even started yet.

play it safe

“You’ll fall. You’ll throw up. You’ll pinch a finger. You’ll land on your head. You’ll squish a little kid. I won’t be able to find you.”

The boys prefer to leave me at home when they go to the park. For a while I had unapologetically forbidden them from visiting the playground down the street. There were no sides on the tall slide, and the bottom where kids were supposed to slow to a stop was just sheared off metal. The ground cover seemed to be equal parts tan bark, glass shards, and cat/dog/raccoon/deer/fox/mountain lion/horse poop. There’s a lake in that park; it’s practically the wilderness.

But then the city went and replaced it with brand new play equipment and that space aged spongy ground cover; I had to find some other danger to fret about.

The New York Times ran an article this summer citing a study that our new safe playgrounds may be depriving an entire generation of the adventure, risk, reward, accomplishment, and self esteem necessary for them to become healthy and well balanced adults. Worse than the potential injuries, we might be instilling more fear and more anxiety into our kids by keeping them too safe.

I don’t know…I fell out of a tree house once, and that’s likely why I boast a fairly healthy anxiety about my kids falling off of, or out of, stuff.

The rule of my childhood neighbor’s tree house was you could use the ladder going up, but you had to jump out of the tree to get down. I now know that was likely not sanctioned by their parents, but….a rule is a rule. I scooted to the edge of the five or six planks that were nailed together to create the “house” and sat there for a long time. When I’d gathered enough courage, or had succumbed to the peer pressure, I gave myself one final push, at which point my favorite lavender eyelet shorts hooked onto a wayward nail. There I dangled cartoonlike by my shorts from a tree with no way for the other little kids to get me down. Those adorable shorts finally gave way, sending me plummeting to earth. It hurt like the dickens but I miraculously didn’t break anything, other than my shorts. I limped home, blubbering, and covering my rear end with my bruised and bleeding hands.

The crowning jewel of the Sierra Gardens Elementary playground was the Eagle’s Nest that sat outside Room 5. Kids would race to scramble up the side of the rounded metal climbing structure, hoping to be the first to reach the pinnacle where they could sit and survey their kingdom, the Sir Edmund Hillary of 2nd grade. Sometimes, you would climb back down the side, or, on a dare, you would let yourself hang from the top before your sweaty hands would give out, dropping you down into the sawdust.

I spent many a lunch recess across the blacktop at the simple bar that was cemented into the ground by the swings, and designed solely for the purpose of swinging around and flying off, like Mary Lou Retton. Every trick had a dramatic name; of which I now only remember pieces: The Cherry Something, Dead Man’s Something (which should have been named the Arm Breaker), and The Such-and-Such Drop, with all of the two-handed, one-handed, backward and forward variations.  There was never ever enough sawdust to actually cushion a fall, and I’m fairly certain that’s where I said my first swear word.

Modern playgrounds still look plenty dangerous to me. There is always that one part of a play structure where, no matter how new and up to code it may seem, you can imagine a kid just falling unceremoniously over the side, bypassing the sliding pole altogether. The monkey bars are still awfully high, and don’t even get me started on blisters. What if some big kid goes bananas on the wobbly bridge, and to be funny, wobbles the little kids right off?

When we take the boys to San Francisco, they beg to go to a park that sits nestled in our old neighborhood.

There are reclining seats suspended from the mile-high slide, and a tall climbing cone sits atop a merry-go-round (climbing and spinning in the same convenient structure!). Jacob flew straight to the top of the cone and encouraged passing kids to spin it. I hollered up to him with the very necessary reminder to hold on and not jump. When he was in pre-school, our first teacher conference included this feedback, “we always have one playground teacher assigned to Jacob; he will jump off of anything.”

John and I watched our smiling eldest whose vantage point surely gave him a view of the Pacific Ocean. As I was standing there willing him to hold on, we turned to find a flurry of activity behind us.  A mother was sprinting to a child who was spinning wildly out of control on a small seemingly benign stool. Little legs were flying around in a blur. It was Zachary. The woman had saved Zachary from spinning off in the direction of the sea, while I stood inches away concentrating on the kid in the sky. We thanked the hero profusely and checked on Zach whose face reflected nothing but shock after his centrifugal episode.

“How did that happen Zach?”

He wondered off wordlessly leaning a bit to the right.

I sat down, and pushed at the ground a little with my toe. Before I knew it, it was spinning and I was yelping, incapable of displaying the same stoic demeanor as my 6-year-old.

I was at once horrified and amazed at the marvel of engineering. The unassuming little seat was simultaneously low to the ground and terrifying – the perfect combination for my peace of mind, and my child’s future emotional health and sense of accomplishment and adventure.