Los Angeles is Not a Desert

There’s been a shift in my plans.  I’m more dutiful daughter than flowing stream, but you get the benefit of more words as a result as I sip instant coffee with instant creamer and follow it with Ovaltine because I’m at Mom’s house and that tastes like my childhood.

Los Angeles is not a desert.  Seriously.  It goes against everything I’ve ever been told, but I’m reading and learning because there’s a boy who looks like a man and he said it’s not and I’m researching a bit because he sparked my curiosity and I need to know now. Yes, he shifted my perspective, but we won’t go into that because I work with him, can’t have him and will only be able to daydream and objectify him. Technically we aren’t even in the same department and he’s not my supervisor and maybe he’s too close for awkward later. I don’t want to risk it going south. And I don’t know that he’d be interested. I don’t write about the people I actually go out with for the most part because reality is rarely as amazing as my imagination. And some guys are just special with memories that are mine. As long as I don’t see him as a possibility, I don’t mind objectifying him. 

Yes, this would be the same man that was on my mind when I wrote Earthquake Country and part of a conversation with him happened before I hit Santa Monica and met two other Los Angeles transplants that prompted me to write Native Californian before that.  Talking to him makes me want to write and it’s a good thing.  I may also look for him in common areas, and that’s a problem.  But it’s my problem and I’m enjoying it.

Yesterday at the company barbecue we were talking about the endorphins that hit him after running about a mile and I was in my slack jawed glory, just trying to focus on his face and not the way his faded red t-shirt was hanging off of his pectorals making my mind drift to naughty places.  The conversation shifted to the Los Angeles mild weather versus East Coast hell.  After painting the picture of shoveling snow and layers of clothes contrasting against oppressive humidity and a need to shower more often than the commercial breaks in an hour long episode (and yes, I pictured that), he brought up the fact that we are not in a desert.  He mentioned a documentary and his curiosity was infectious as he managed to say it all without making me feel objectified. He was adorably expressive and nearly bounced with childlike excitement.  Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I loved what I was seeing.

It was sometime after he wasn’t in front of me and I wasn’t looking at the chest hair peeking out of his shirt, or the bright excitement over his ideas and sharing them or the way I wanted to . . . There’s a point, and I will get back to it because we work together and he’s off limits and that is the story I keep telling myself.

The American Association of Geographers has a long case built on the fact that we have more rainfall than a true desert making us semi-arid and we have groundwater that keeps us looking like LA and not Barstow in natural areas that are not funded by water wasters. (We can ignore the fact that they misspelled Los Feliz.) The fact that our water resources cannot support our population does not make the land a desert in the classic sense. We also grow much of the food for our nation in California, and aside from pretty lawns and luxurious bathing, what we put toward agriculture on a national scale requires more water than is natural to the land, but our climate is arid and mild enough to nurture most plants and vegetation.  I often ignore planting schedules on the backs of seed packets, because plants will usually sprout as long as they have water because our sunshine is good for that.

This article says we have a Mediterranean climate based on the Köppen system.  We certainly have a love of mediterranean food and I have a thing for the men. Sometimes.  It just depends. The point is we have great plants that thrive here and if you are wise enough to support a xeriscaped garden somewhere, these plants are made for home and know how to come back after a drought or fire or flood because that and the earthquakes are what Los Angeles is used to. I remember a geology class where my professor talked about plants that will only release seeds once the plant has burned. We usually get heavy rains and mudslides after fire season.

I won’t go into articles that whine about bad propaganda because that just blames long forgotten individuals for an evolving classification system, because science changes as we see things differently and add information.  But yes, Mr. Adorably Curious was right.  We are not in a desert. His large brain has my attention. He shifted my perspective. This is what it feels like and it feels good. Imagine that.

 

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Cotton Candy Skies Make it Better

I’ve had a rough dating week this week.  There were enough bad “man experiences” that I’m looking forward to my weekend alone.  I decided yesterday I would date myself.  Today I will paint my bedroom and visit a friend that is female and has no interest in my body whatsoever, and tomorrow will include church and probably nature somewhere.

It was a 40 minute drive from Burbank to Santa Monica Beach and I enjoyed it.  I got to the pier and was surrounded by sounds of happy screaming on rides, performers making music and creating laughter, conversations about everything and nothing and dreams and desires. I saw families and couples and babies.  There were anglers catching mackerel and I saw what was too wriggly to be a mackerel with sharp teeth that was called a lizard fish by the cute blonde that released him back into the ocean.

I saw that friendly photographer again.  It was the usual hug of a greeting and I left to look for the seal he said I wouldn’t find.  He was right.  He suggested it’s a seasonal thing and the seals are working on fattening up for the summer.

 

He took several pictures of me in front of the breathtaking sunset I enjoyed last night and then wanted to show me something.  I walked with him to a quieter area of the pier where fishing isn’t allowed and saw more breathtaking views.  The ocean was so calm.  He then lead me to another quiet area above Maria Sol where there was another couple walking through and I was able to get a more bird’s eye view of the many people I normally weave through.  At this point he took my hand in a firm grip, reminding me why I wear fewer rings on dates because, ouch, and wanted to show me the lit up ferris wheel. There were other people around, and that’s where I made up a story about meeting a friend at the 3rd street Promenade.  I had to rush.  Sort of.  He offered to take me to Marina del Rey to see the seals.  I said, “Sure. Maybe,” and headed off without giving another word.  Really, I have a great car and Waze and I can get there myself.

I keep trying to think of how this should look differently than it does.  It was really a kindness and a blessing on that first night when my mood was bottoming out to see him and have him offer a free picture that still sits on my fridge.  It’s his job to take pictures for a price.  A freebie when I was seeking out the ocean to dwarf the drama in my life seemed like a gift I really needed.  I thought I would return that kindness with kindness.  He was always friendly and I assumed that was his character because often it is mine.  I don’t know how I feel about going back there anytime soon, or if I would want to go alone, because it was my alone happy place. I should tell him I’m not interested in seeing him anywhere but on the pier and I really don’t want to hold his hand, but it would be easier to catch those sunsets from Will Rogers State Beach where it’s less crowded and then head to a more crowded area where there’s a strong police presence, because yes, I am a chicken that sometimes has a hard time rejecting people because I know how much it hurts to be rejected.

That may be why I will continue conversations I’m not really interested in.  I hope they’ll change my mind, but they rarely do.  A date I had this week repeatedly brought up my ex. It’s bad when you bring up your own ex, I know this and avoided it. He wanted to know how we met and when I knew he was the one and how he could recreate it.  You can’t recreate that.  I wouldn’t want to.  We met at a pool hall.  After weeks of flirting, I saw him sitting at the bar and told the bartender I was having a Coke, and he would pay for it.  He told me it would cost my number and I scribbled it on a matchbook.  A week later I was in the pool hall on a bad date and asked him why he never called.  He did call.  We had our first date, and I went home to my roommate and told him I would marry him.  He went home to his mom and said the same thing.  It was beautiful and amazing.  He was my soul mate but I’m waiting for my life partner now.  You can’t recreate that magic because there’s enough stardust left in me for something whole and new with the right man. 

My plan was for a boiled crab dinner on the pier but I ended up at Hummus House on the Promenade where  I sat alone and enjoyed my meal.  Another man sat next to me, also alone at his table and he sipped wine with his meal as he enjoyed the basketball game on the big screen in front of us, and it was comfortable.  I love comfortable and companionable but I enjoyed our silence. I walked alone and stopped to greet blue eyed babies and creep out their parents a bit.  It was awesome.  I drove home along Sunset Blvd. for the most part singing too loudly, and ignoring the flashing lights and sirens whipping through Beverly Hills in the opposite direction because I was content to sit in selfishness and not wonder about who’s life was shifting into despair and chaos behind me.

At the end of the day, my day got better because cotton candy skies will do that.  Although next time, I resolve to include cotton candy wisps that melt on sticky fingers in clouds of joy and diabetes.

What Family Is To Me

Growing up my Dad told us that family comes first.  I saw it in his discipline and the way it was encouraged.  I saw it in my uncle always having a place to shower and land when he went through his many years of chosen homelessness.  We spent holidays with our extended family, hopping from house to house toward the end of the year. It was kisses that were too wet and hugs that were too warm.  It was sitting still through boring conversations because visiting family was about  showing our elders love through respect.

Family was my mom’s years of petitioning to bring her mother and siblings to the states from Thailand.  It was money spent and hours and red tape and bureaucracy with English as her second language.  (She literally thinks in Thai before responding in English and has a brain for money and planning that I envy.) It is her constant sacrifice to help us out when it comes at a cost to her needs and wants.  It was her choice to remain in a marriage that would not bring her joy for many years for my sake.  She was Mom before she was who she is.  My mom still teaches me that we show we love our family by doing what is best to teach and support each other, even at our cost because at the end of the day, our value is found in the joy of the lives of the children we lead – of the adults we love.

One of my sisters had a child who is now an adult, but spent her first year or so at home with us.  When my sister stood on her own two feet and moved out, mom missed the “pitter patter of little feet.”  I was still in high school, so she did the amazing and decided to become a foster parent.  Through her divorce, she remained a foster parent.  To this day, we sometimes see kids that have now grown into adults that remember our “zoo” with fondness and return for love and to let us (mainly mom) know how they’re doing.  Foster care is ideally about a temporary home until parents can better care for their children, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way.  My mom started adopting kids.  This made me part youngest, part oldest and part only child.  I didn’t really have anyone to get into shenanigans with or conspire against the parents with. I was telling on someone or being reprimanded by too many parents.  I was a bad example of a grown up to the children that came after me.

Let me clarify, so I don’t confuse you. . .

4 daughters from the first marriage, of which I am the baby. We’re all black and Thai.

2 step sons and a step-daughter that refer to her as “Mom,” and it melts the icy parts of my heart every time. They are caucasian like my Okie Step-Dad.

6 children through adoption.  2 Vietnamese sons.  2 Mexican sons. 2 Black daughters from different families of origin.

There are 3 in laws and my ex is the 4th but I don’t count him anymore.  Mom still does.  She will always see him as a son.  She always sees my sister’s ex husband as a son.  But she keeps her distance out of respect for everyone involved, and keeps old pictures because those memories are still special, if a bit bittersweet.

We are family and we’re surrounded by Thai cousins, aunts and uncles all the time, with calls from our cousins in Houston too.  We range in ages from 47 through 7 or so.  I’m not sure about the baby’s age as it changes every year and she will always be the baby to me. Some of us older kids have had children of our own and our family is ginormous.  And international.

Our family gathers for most major holidays, and even the not so big ones.  We celebrate birthdays once a month.  We get together when we can in smaller groups but larger gatherings are at Mom’s house where there is food from all of our cultures.  Our family doesn’t require blood or marriage.  If you really just need a place to be for holidays, our family is big on welcoming you.  You will eat more than you should and the drinks flow freely with laughter and the talks you expect from siblings that love you.  There’s honesty and raw emotion because we are people that won’t always approve of what each other is doing, but will love each other through it.  If you are coming as a date, there is a long period of breaking in before we decide if you are good enough to deserve the person we would move mountains for.

Our family is tolerant.  There are those that are not okay with chosen life styles, but we never withhold love because of it.  We have gay family members and a cross dresser that helped me put on fake lashes.  He is a better girl than I am and he deserves my breasts more than I do.  He can probably work them like I can’t.

We love each other enough to help when we can, at no cost.  There are medical professionals in the family.  My paper tiger skills have been called on.  My nieces tag team babysit when I need them to.  My cousin is a creative mechanic and will help out when he can.  We don’t do it with a price in mind because we’re family and that’s what family does.  That’s what family means.

If you thought my 3 surrogate pregnancies were impressive, I have two sisters that did it as well.  That’s who we are.  We understand the value of family and life and the miracle of childbirth.

When I wanted to wait out my ex’s midlife crisis, my family held their tongues.  They supported me through it.  When I decided it was time to let go, I was met with love and respect and encouragement.

Even when we are angry with you or don’t agree, we will always fix the rift because you are family and this is what our family does.  Love often looks like lectures and written checks to bail us out, knowing that repayment may never happen, but hoping it one day will.  It looks like sacrifice and lots of food.  It looks like jumping in front of your car and stealing your keys when you’ve had too much to drink and making sure you are in a recovery position when you need to sleep it off.  It’s trips together when we can all plan and budget it.  It’s texting late at night or early in the morning because your sibling is your friend, the one you call and rely on when it matters the most.

 

Earthquake Country

Our schools practiced earthquake drills regularly.  We knew to drop below our desks, facing away from windows with our hands protecting our necks from projectile bits of shattered glass and eyes shut tightly.  We knew to look for sturdy support structures that would create pockets of safety.  Open spaces that are not below power lines are safety zones. We were versed in what is needed in an earthquake kit and had bags packed with snacks and comfort items to get us through a few days if that’s how long it would take to be picked up by our families.  We knew to shut off gas lines and smell for leaks, but honestly I haven’t done that.

A thought: Imagine being the teacher that can’t leave her students to find her child because teachers are unsung heroes in a school crisis.  Yikes.

The first earthquake I remember was around 7 in the morning when I was in elementary school in the mid to late 1980’s.  I rode a school bus from East Hollywood to school in Brentwood and the driver stopped in the middle of the street near West Hollywood.  Residents came out of their homes and stood around us and I thought they were rocking our bus.  I had no idea what an earthquake felt like.  In the following days, aftershocks would remind me how small I was and that my big problems were not big or problems.  This thought would later be a source of peace as I find comfort in ocean waves for the same reason.

During the Northridge quake I was asleep.  I didn’t stay asleep.  I was a high schooler sleeping in the attic of my Mom’s 1901 Victorian styled home.  It has a wood frame that is flexible with cracking plaster where it is not.  Her house sits on a hilltop near Chavez Ravine and that earthquake sent waves of energy up the hill and into the house.  The shaking rolled through and up. I was terrified.  My mom heard my screaming in the absolute dark and feared that I was hanging out of the window by my hands as I often sat on the roof from the windows that opened to the front of the house.  Naturally a strong enough earthquake makes a power outage an expected accessory.  We sat in the dark and dozed off until the waves of aftershocks reminded us of our powerlessness.

Everything else has been a shake here and there with random destruction in it’s wake.  It’s not enough to make me leave the place that has always been home.

When the earth shakes, all you can do is seek safety and ride it out.  It’s humbling.  It shifts your perspective.  It changes who you are and alters relationships in letting you see what the one you love is really made of.  How do they handle a crisis? Are they prepared? Will they take their fear and turn it into anger that is directed at you?

Last week I was chatting with a co-worker from another department.  He’s tall enough with a great smile and he probably cares about his fitness slightly more than I do.  He’s all kinds of beautiful with his bald head and warm tan and constant 5 o’clock shadow that would look lovely with my shade of lipstick smeared all over it.  But I work with him and I’m not revisiting those shenanigans. [Obsessive Observations of My Latest Crush Because He Was Hot (and so fun to watch) if you’re curious.] This latest bit of eye candy isn’t a native. He’s from the northeastern tip of our country and can tell you about freezing winters and muggy summers.  We were chatting with another California native when he asked about earthquakes and how a native handles them.

We go with it.  We don’t panic right away.  Not for the most part.  Some quakes are terrifying, but the shaking starts slow enough that you can tell when it’s getting bigger.  You have time to decide if you should take cover and where to find your safety.  You have time to see if you can just look around from where you stand.  You look around at the ones who have never had the ground shake below them.  I may be amused but I wouldn’t outright laugh.  That’s a cruelty I can’t stomach. I tend to look up to hanging lights and chandeliers once the shaking starts.  The swaying tells me it’s a rumble from the earth and not a giant truck rolling by.  I will pay attention and try to determine what the shaking feels like.  Does it shake abruptly like it’s a strike slip fault, or does it come in waves of energy that roll through the earth? The shaking isn’t destructive, it’s the man made parts that fail us.  Earthquakes are natural, just not normal, although the earth is normally always in motion.  Is it really any wonder that I wanted to be a rock doctor and study geology? It’s not just metamorphic rocks that are sold as precious stones in jewelry stores. I keep fresh batteries in flashlights around the house.  I don’t have tools next to the gas meter or water shut off, but I know where to find things if I smell gas or water is flowing out of a broken pipe.  There’s a house shut off for water, but there’s also one at street level.

The earth will move.  We will be shaken, but we will also be okay.  Somehow we’ll learn from it and build safer structures because of the destruction we live through and learn from but mainly we will let the earth do what it will because we really don’t have a choice.  Such is life.

 

 

 

Jealous Much?

I once read a Maya Angelou book that I loved into worn and dog eared pages. It was weighted with the pleasures of words that resounded deeply in the wistful and angsty corners of my heart.  The most profound (to me) thought she shared was on jealousy.

“Jealousy in romance is like salt in food. A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening”

The beauty of online dating is the ability to hide certain details like where exactly I live and work.  That’s the benefit of hiding behind a keyboard.  I let potential suitors know I’m available when custody shifts to their capable Dad, and I usually have a couple of offers lined up for Wednesday because that’s my first kid free opportunity.  Last week and again this week, I was asked to meet at the California Pizza Kitchen in Burbank.  I work in Burbank and that seems to be the solid choice because it’s across from Ikea and everyone seems to know how to get there.

For years it was our place.  My ex and I went there for date nights, and we shared many family meals there.  I went there last week with a lanky guitarist/skateboarder and learned from the staff that still remembers me that it’s still my ex’s favorite place with the new woman in his life.  I was surrounded by scent memories and nostalgia in a restaurant that has slowly shifted into something new and trendy in shades of my favorite colors.

My date probably had first date nerves, but I wasn’t so into him that sharing a first meal with him mattered to me.  He relaxed into the evening when he realized I really don’t bite. He had yet to impress upon me the benefit of his presence.  As cocky as that sounds, I am picky.  I’m on four dating sites, and have swiped left enough times that I’ve exhausted both Clover and Bumble’s list of potentials because I’ve narrowed my criteria and rejected as many as they had for me.  I like a clean shave because that’s a preference.  I like fair skin and light eyes with a solid jawline.  At the end of the day, he has to be doing better in life than I am, and not feel like dating is the same as a sex interview and that’s where they tend to crash and burn.  I’m very interested in not having to take care of anyone else, and I refuse to date younger men.  As of right now, I have 237 likes on Clover in the past 3 days and 90% of them are still in their 20’s. It’s a cougar’s market.

“No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.”

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I’m meeting someone else at that same restaurant this week.  I hear his insecurities when he brings up my ex.  He wants to compare and contrast but that’s not a game I’m interested in. I can hear his need when he tells me how carefree my smile is and that I have a magnetic charm he has wanted to get to know for some time and then he talks about his insomnia.  He thinks he needs what I have but I don’t know how to share it.  It’s who I am.  He’s a bit jealous of the ex and I don’t think he can tell I don’t care to see that.

I have jealous moments, but it’s not for the man my (still) husband has become, but the life we used to have.  It’s gone.  We’ve both changed too much for that history to become a future. I have moments in the bustle of a busy restaurant with friendly smiles and fresh yeasty bread with a crackling crust and the aroma of fresh pizza sauce that catch me by surprise in memories of spilled soda and laughter and even a bit of hand holding when we shared each other’s rings. I’m sometimes jealous for the life we shared before this last year changed who I am and forced choices I never imagined I would have to make.  I’m no longer jealous of the woman that called me a horrible mother, an ugly woman and that I deserve how my husband treated me as she spent long nights and days texting my husband and sharing family moments with her children and mine in restaurants and at their workplace, replacing me at my children’s birthday parties that are now separate celebrations.  I’m no longer jealous of the in laws that treat her like family and told me I was no longer family because I was thrown away.  I was thrown away.

I think of the ignorance and joy of a life as a wife that never imagined a “what if” or “when . . . I will” because I once had a marriage that didn’t have a contingency plan. Our future was camping trips and growing old together and it doesn’t look like that anymore.  I’m jealous of the certainty of that.

A Year Ago Today I Said

A strong woman rarely needs emotional hand holding and when she’s not needy, it creates a vacuum that makes her the person to rely on and complain to. Don’t let this be discouraging. You are amazing. You are brave. You are strong. Otherwise you wouldn’t be asked to shoulder someone else’s emotional weight. 
Some people will never be happy without something to complain about. Let them complain. You don’t have to hear it or believe that their tangential existence in your life gives them authority unless you allow them to. I imagine a baby duck who is too busy learning to swim to have a little water annoy them. Being spiteful with your handheld mirror only makes things worse so don’t bother. 

Worth the Effort

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I had a birthday party for a friend Saturday night.  I won’t get a sitter when I have a date.  That’s what shared custody is for.  But I had a party to attend.  It was a party with Persian food and it was full of vegetarian yum and the beautiful art of kabob that satisfied the carnivore in me.  It came at a cost.

My son didn’t want to go to Grandma’s house, but he agreed if I would make him macarons.  He loves macarons.  He requested orange blossom.  They’re a complicated piece of work with very few ingredients.

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Granulated sugar, powdered sugar, almond meal, cream of tartar and gel food coloring.

I usually use fewer dishes, but I wanted to take pictures.

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Sifted powdered sugar and almond meal being folded into the meringue.

At this point, the egg whites have sugar added and a bit of cream of tartar.  I had stiff peaks that stayed put when the bowl was flipped upside down.  The powdered sugar and almond meal were sifted together, then folded into the egg whites.

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Orange blossom water and gel food coloring. 

Orange blossom water added the flavor and the gel food coloring made it pretty.

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ribbonning off my spatula

This stream of yum is ready to be put in a piping bag.

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Silpat mats and parchment

I use silpat mats with parchment over it.  It keeps the bottom from browning too quickly.

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Piped and banged on the counter

I’m horrible at piping things with a bag. I bang the pan on the counter to release air bubbles. They rest a bit until the top is no longer sticky.

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Pretty little feet

They’ve baked and have cute little feet from released steam.

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Buttercream frosting because ganache is too sweet. Um, it’s all too sweet. 

I eyeball my buttercream.  Butter, powdered sugar, more orange blossom water and gel food coloring.  Normally the cookies would rest but my boys don’t allow that.  I already had one thieved away as soon as the cookies were taken out.

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Finished macarons

The cookies were made and gone by morning.  (I asked them to save some for Kid3 who thinks they’re too sweet.)

The point is the work involved is where you find the love.  I was texting someone last night. It’s the new form of dating I’m not sure I like.  Even in casual dating, people want to get to know you and I feel that’s the point of going out for coffee and dinner.  I rely too heavily on nonverbal communication and body language to be comfortable with texting.  It skeeves me out when I’m texting someone that says he’s willing to relocate from Dallas to Los Angeles for love or when you can’t judge the tone of a conversation because it is something that pops up when you are in the middle of living.

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I think this might have been flirting in a not so flirtatious way. 

I wholeheartedly believe that if the juice is worth the squeeze, it’s not work but anticipation.

My kids have on and off freak outs about my dating.  They are okay and then the anxiety kicks in and they are not. For the most part I keep it away from them.  They won’t meet anyone I’m dating unless he’s really special and we’re talking long term and progressing toward cohabitation or marriage.  I’m still legally married and not at all interested in that right now.  I’m also not into “Netflix and Chill,” now that I know what that means. (Yikes!) I try not to piss in my own pool, (to put it in the most vulgar form I can), but that means I’m not eager to date someone that knows my family.  That just feels like descabbing the scars our family faced last year when I was a sobbing mess shattered by a false friendship and deep betrayal. This morning I had a heart to heart with Kid3.  He’s worried about a replacement Daddy. I assured him that he has only one Daddy and Mom is just going out to have fun.  He’s special to me and someone has to be really special to earn the right to meet him.  He felt better about that.  He was curious about the many alerts and likes I get because my phone goes off all the time and I showed him a couple and pointed out that Mommy can’t date the many 20 year olds that like me because that would be creepy. He started laughing with me and we both felt better.

This juice is worth the squeeze but I’m waiting for the wine glass to shine before I pour this mimosa.