I’m so excited to be doing my first ever GIVEAWAY! Read to the bottom to learn how you can get your very own FREE copy of Frosted Cowboy! ALSO, if you are local, you are invited as my guest to a book signing party on Thursday, April 7th at Bellini in Westlake Village at 5:30pm!
Before I moved to Agoura Hills, I didn’t know anyone except my husband.
I met Charlene Ross because she is my neighbor and our boys went to school together. I just thought she was another mom until she passed by my house one day, walking toward the park with a notebook and a laptop pressed to her chest. “Oh,” I asked, part curious, part friendly, “where are you going?”
“I’m going to write in the park,” Charlene replied. “You write?!” Surprise and excitement burst through the surface of my suburban mom calm. And here I thought she was just another mom. “Yeah,” she gave me a humble little smile, cute dimples lighting up her blue eyes. “That’s so cool!,” I said, “Who do you write for?” She told me she had a blog and wrote for Skirt! and the Agoura Hills Patch. “Right on!” I replied and added her to the file in my head called “future writing group members”.
I was starting almost from scratch, but I was busy building a life in my head. In that life, I would be surrounded by amazing and talented women who liked to write. Eventually, that happened and the success we’ve all experienced as a result of encouraging and supporting each other is immeasurable. Charlene Ross and Julie Gardener published their first books. Lexi Rohner and Kim Tracy Prince are featured in anthologies. Laurel Janssen Byrne built her own social media company and I write regularly for LA Parent.
But we’re here to talk about Charlene.
Charlene’s book is called Frosted Cowboy and it’s a chick-lit book about Laney Delaney and her journey of self discovery and all the mistakes she makes – that we all made -along the way, except hers are way more funny and her boyfriends are way more hot. Laney, like most of us growing into ourselves, has no idea how cool she really is – she’s a wedding dress designer for crying out loud! (Did I just use that terrible cliche? Now we all know why Charlene is a published author and I am not).
I mostly read articles, science fiction or literary fiction. So, I haven’t read any chick-lit since Bridget Jones’s Diary in college. Also since becoming a mom, my reading time is limited. It’s usually right before bed, when it’s finally quiet, that I indulge in reading time. Often, it takes me a while to finish a book. However, I flew right through Frosted Cowboy, to the point of where I was carrying it around with me, making flimsy excuses to my family that I had to hurry up and read it so I could tell Charlene what I thought of it. Yeah, right. I just wanted to see what would happen to Laney after she walked in on her fiancé filing a “brief” in his secretary’s “desk” on top of the kitchen counter in the apartment Laney shared with him.
I highly recommend this book and I am so happy to say that I really enjoyed it because otherwise, it would be kinda awkward at next month’s writer’s group meeting.
There is also a prequel available for a free download to your ebook reader! Love on the Rocks was a great way to extend my relationship with Laney.
In honor of my friend’s amazing accomplishment, I am giving away a free, signed copy of her book to someone who comments below. Just tell me why you need a break from your life and I might make that happen for you. I’ll pick the winner on 4/18/16 so if you don’t hear from me, then at least you know where to find a great read for your summer vacation!
There’s a time in my life for which I should be very grateful. That’s what the doctors have told me every time they’ve heard the story and every time they’ve seen my scars. One doctor even said, had the accident happened 15 years earlier, I would be missing a leg for sure.
But I am old enough to know that what should be and what is are often very different.
When I first met my husband, I hid myself. He didn’t know what was beneath the clothes or behind the girl. Because it was a new relationship, in every moment I was reborn. I got to recreate myself in his eyes and through his eyes, I saw that I was pleasing.
As we strung the days we spent together into a happy little fantasy, there came the time he brought me home after a date and we were kissing on my couch. I had rehearsed the line in my head all day. Maybe even the day before, anticipating it’s inevitable arrival. As I felt his hands start to move beneath my shirt, I knew the moment had come. Instead of excitement, I felt dread. I stopped kissing and moved my head back a few inches, preparing to say the line. “Are you ok?” he asked.
“I have some scars,” I whispered, and waited into the moment. Preparing for rejection, a tentative drop of his hands and the space growing larger between our bodies. He didn’t say anything. I felt shame course through my heart. I felt his fingers lift my face and a wonder at the laugh I heard him make. “Um, yeah,” he said. “I figured you’d have some scars.”
Five years before that night, I had been in a motorcycle accident. It left me in the hospital for almost two months. I flat-lined twice and the doctors had told my parents to say goodbye because I wouldn’t survive the night. I had lost 90% of my blood, draining the hospital of its A+ blood supply through transfusion. I had a compound fracture in my left leg, a broken wrist and three broken ribs that had punctured my lungs, my heart and my liver. As a result, I also had a tracheotomy.
The tracheotomy scars were easy to fix. A plastic surgeon just snipped out the scar tissue and glued my skin together. You can’t tell it was there.
My insides healed too. But I was left with a wide, angry white scar down the middle of my torso from being held open by a surgical retractor.
It divided me like a playing field, each side populated by opposing asymmetrical circles, like little players ready to charge each other. The plastic surgeon was worried that if he tried to make it look prettier by cutting the scar tissue out and reattaching it, I wouldn’t have enough skin left to have healthy kids. He was afraid it wouldn’t stretch enough and their little brains wouldn’t have enough room to grow. So even before motherhood, I was making sacrifices for the kids.
So, instead of prancing the Earth, throwing fairy dust into the air from the gratitude I felt for not only surviving this accident but also managing to thrive afterwards, I was instead engulfed in feelings of remorse and nostalgia for the times I was able to walk around in shorts, worry free (because now I also had two vicious round scars on my calf and shin from the bones popping out + a white stripe on my thigh from the skin they had to peel off to cover that mess). And I was never going to wear a bikini, I decided. No way was I going to expose my ugly middle to a world of judgmental, media scarred people. No way. It didn’t matter if I worked out all the time to look my best, a tankini was the closest I’d ever come to barring my body.
And that’s just how it’s been all these years. But for all the negativity that surrounds getting older, there are some rarely talked about benefits. For one, I’m not as hard on myself. Not every thing I do or every way I look is a direct reflection of who I am.
I love too many things about myself to keep letting myself get dragged down by trying to be the person I think everyone wants me to be, instead of discovering and embracing the unique person I am.
So fast forward 10 years to the boyfriend who is now a husband who tells me, when it comes up, that he doesn’t even see my scars.
This now husband and I have three children we’re raising and friends we love so much, we want to travel with them and so we do.
We went to Club Med this past summer for our annual big trip.
And on this trip I have decided I no longer want to hide myself from the world. I am going to throw myself open and let the world do what it wants.
I have too many other things to be grateful for to worry about getting the seal of approval from strangers.
And you know what? No one looked twice. And what did my family think?
When I became a stepmom eight years ago, there were few resources to guide me over the rough spots in my new life. I read the only thin book I could find on the subject of parenting step children, and its bottom line was: “It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have and no one will ever thank you for it.”
Before step-motherhood, I thought I was a kind and thoughtful person.
But based on my troubled relationships with my stepson, my in-laws and – as a result – my husband, I soon began to think there must be something inherently wrong with me. I imagined that someone else with a different background, a different disposition, or even a different hairstyle would have handled things better.
Recently I took Kathy Hammond’s course, How to be a Stepmom: 51 Ways To Save Your Marriage, Your Shirt and Your Sanity, online at Udemy.com and realized that even Mary Poppins wouldn’t have been up to the tough job of stepmothering without at some point thinking she was losing her mind.
Hammond is a business development executive and lifestyle coach living in Yorba Linda, and has mothered two stepsons for 23 years. Her course includes advice on money, legal issues, discipline, extended family and relationships. This is one woman’s experience, but I felt it addressed the most common situations a new stepmother will face.
The first lecture alleviated the guilt that had haunted me from the beginning of my marriage. Hammond said: “You can’t fix a hurt you didn’t cause.”
I went into my relationship with my husband, who was a widower, and his son, trying to soften the pain they had experienced with the untimely death of my husband’s first wife. I was never able to do that, and I wish now that someone had told me it would have been impossible for that to happen.
I wish I had had the benefit of her insight eight years ago. It would have saved a lot of energy and heartache. This 90-minute course was definitely worth the $9 price of admission.
It sounds like science fiction. It has words attached to it that sound like another language. Words like mudra, mantra and pranayama. But it’s actually an approach to healing that is rooted in ancient history and modern science.
It’s called Na’am Yoga and its unlike any kind of yoga I’ve ever practiced and I’ve been practicing for over a decade. It combines movement (mudra), sound (mantra) and breath (pranayama) to move mountains within the body and mind, promoting healing far beyond the reaches of conventional Western medicine.
The Na’am Yoga LA center offers classes for everyone, the physically healthy individual as well as the one with specific health challenges. They are a non-profit because they offer free sessions targeted to promote healing for people who’ve experienced set backs such as strokes, diabetes or cancer. They even offer a Friday class for those on the autism spectrum.
I sat in on the class tailored for those on the spectrum and felt the floor shake as the kids pounded on it, combining musical beats with movement and joy. Instructor Eugene Pisareuski helped release any tension the kids may have held in their bodies by guiding them through sharp exhalations and beautiful mantras. The room resonated from a chorus of their declarations that “I am love to all. I am peace to all.” They filed out after class with soft faces and laughter.
One parent, Kate, thinks it works. She said her two adopted, autistic sons have participated in the Friday class for two years. “I wish they could do this everyday.” She said the class left them calmer and they sleep better. Her sons, Nathan age 22 and Michael age 8, she explained, come from traumatic backgrounds on top of the autism they must navigate. “This practice centers them and that’s a definite plus.”
Executive Director of Na’am Yoga Los Angeles, Jane Mirshak said there are many different paths to healing but this one “opens your heart and makes you happy. When you are happy, you can deal with stress.” And doctors believe stress is the cause of many diseases.
Mirshak said there is much research on sound and breath and it all gets incorporated into Na’am Yoga. The sound redirects energy throughout the body, the movements and pressure points stimulate healing in both body and brain, then breath promotes relaxation.
“Whatever ailment someone is experiencing,” said Mirshak, “we could design a routine to specifically address it.”
Many of the teachers with whom I spoke found Na’am Yoga after seeing the positive results of someone they knew who was practicing it while also battling disease. Even Kate is now training to incorporate the technique of Harmonium, a healing tool created by Na’am Yoga founder, Dr. Michael Levry, for use in her home. According to the Na’am Yoga website, Dr. Levry discovered the secrets that inspired Na’am Yoga through the teachings of spiritual gurus in India.
Excited by this new discovery, I quickly shared the news with my parents. My father practiced yoga for years until two strokes left him unable to perform many of the moves in a typical yoga class. Since beginning his new practice of Na’am Yoga, his caretaker tells me he’s happier and wakes up excited to start the day. Na’am Yoga, it turns out, is good for everyone in the family, even if you’re not the one practicing it.
I lost 10 pounds. The 10 pounds. The elusive 10 pounds everyone is always trying to lose. At least everyone I seem to know.
I wasn’t sad. I didn’t feel deprived. I felt motivated because I had started so strong (6.5 pounds in the first week!). I had half-heartedly been trying to lose weight for, well, ever. I eat healthy (most of the time). I work out pretty much every week day. But it wasn’t coming off. (And sometimes it was coming on!) It wasn’t until I was finally ready to try something new that it finally did.
For 30 days I did two plant-based, protein shakes a day, with capsules full of fruits, vegetables and berries, and a healthy meal. Sometimes that meal would be lunch (better) or if I was going out, it would be dinner. The shakes were filling. Sometimes I would put kale or bok choy or carrots or apples in it too. Whatever I thought sounded good and easy. In between, I ate healthy snacks like apples, bananas, roasted brussel sprouts etc. Grow food. I never let myself get hungry.
10 pounds – one month. I think that’s the healthiest way to do it if you’re trying to do it fast. Two-ish pounds a week. Though my weight didn’t come off like that storybook tale of weight loss.
This program has rules. Rules that I was supposed to follow for 30 days. I followed them for 7. And the rest of the 21 days I was close but not perfect. No where near perfect. And I guess that was okay.
The next time I weighed myself after my exhilarating 6.5 weight drop was a Wednesday (I normally weigh myself on Fridays but did it early because we were going camping later that day and I knew I was going to skip a few detox days and add them to the end of my 30. Creative, right?). Turns out I was the same weight I had been the week before. I was a little heart broken because it felt like I had tried so hard and didn’t have the validation I needed for my efforts but at least I hadn’t gained any weight which meant it was real. Plus, I was just about to start my, umm, cycle and that’s a couple extra water weight pounds every month. So, really, hurray!
When we got to the campsite, my blonde, thin and beautiful girlfriend Morgan walked over to me and said, “Wow, you look great. Did you lose some weight?”
Now that’s some powerful validation.
During the camping trip, even though I had given myself a hall pass for the weekend, I was still aware I was supposed to be good with my food. I wanted more of what I got from my friend Morgan. I ate but not a lot and I made healthier choices than I would have otherwise, knowing I had my 6.5 pounds to protect.
In that first perfect week, I had tried to cut out coffee. I drank maybe one or two cups. In the second, I resolved to reduce. One cup a day was fine I decided.
In that first week, I worked out every weekday. You’re supposed to move your body for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. I usually walk or take a yoga or zumba class. Nothing crazy. In the second, we went camping so that cut out three of my five days. In the third week, I was tired because it felt like I was fighting off something I had picked up during the camping trip because although I was still drinking the shakes in the morning, I HAD FORGOTTEN TO BRING MY JUICE PLUS CAPSULES – the real heart of our healthy regiment. I live a life full of irony. So, third week, no workout but no coffee either.
You’re also supposed to reduce dairy, wheat and alcohol. Eliminate if you want to go faster. I eliminated wheat and reduced the rest. I love a little feta or gorgonzola in my salads.
Also, somewhere in week two, I watched a documentary with my husband called Forks Over Knives. It talks about a study called The China Study, which is the largest nutritional study ever conducted and points to the meat and dairy industries as the culprits for the increase in cancer we are seeing around the world. Previously healthy countries, shifting from their local diets to our Western one, are starting to experience the obesity and resulting diseases that we are seeing in our country. This study purports it is caused by meat and dairy. Although I am not willing to give up all the foods I love that include those items, I am willing to reduce them. So, starting at week two, we shifted our diets dramatically to include beans, rice and many new (to us) vegetable dishes. I had to get a new cookbook.
But I am a big proponent of the 90-10% rule. With everything, including the kids. If I eat well 90% of the time, I feel I can get away with atypical choices the other 10. It’s within that 10% range that birthday parties fall into for my kids. It’s within that 10% that meat and dairy and alcohol fall into. It’s the every once in a while rule. So you never feel deprived and never have the urge to binge or overindulge.
Another big part of the program is water consumption. You’re supposed to drink half your body weight in ounces every day. More if you exercise. That’s a tall order but it’s also how your body flushes all the toxins out and how your skin and cells stay supple. I drank two glasses of water in the morning, afternoon and evening, with my meals or shakes. After a while, it just slides down.
Then there’s sleep. You’re supposed to get 8 hours a night on the program. Many women hold onto their weight because their bodies don’t get a chance to “cleanse” themselves during the sleep cycle. When we sleep, our entire body repairs itself. And people who regularly get less than 6 hours of sleep, have a shorter life span. Every night I aim for 8 hours but I have kids and I wake up when they wake me up. So the trick is to accommodate this temporary condition in my life by adjusting my natural body clock which is nocturnal. I had varying results with this one too.
Plus, you’re not supposed to eat after 6. This is also to aid with the “cleansing” portion of the body’s cycle. I mostly failed with this one. I wonder if I had been able to stick to this rule specifically, if I would have had even better results. But I love to go out to dinner with my husband and friends. And I love my weekend couch dates that involve wine and popcorn (air popped).
Overall, I think if you can follow the main principles of the program and decide whether you want to do this quickly to power through the inevitable detox portion and finish quicker (T30) or go a little slower to ease into the program ( The Complete Transformation). I used the shakes as meal replacements because I wanted to lose weight. But athletes and people who just want to get healthier overall can use them as snacks between meals and after workouts. They are very filling.
At the end of week 4, I held my breath as I stepped onto that little window of judgement and found the number displayed dipped below my pre-pregnancy weight. Hurray! It was such a welcome sight. I looked up into the mirror with a whole new appreciation of myself, ha ha.
Ultimately, here’s my philosophy on health: we’re all going to die. Taking Juice Plus and trying to be healthy is about living long and dying short (plus looking good in the meantime….naturally!). Everything will benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables. Everything.
I always hear these great stories from people who take Juice Plus consistently. My one girlfriend has struggled with a bleeding dry skin disorder her entire adult life. She was already eating very clean but after adding the capsules, she told me her skin is softer than it’s ever been. Another friend just told me after a month of taking the capsules, her cousin had her blood work done and all the results were in great ranges. Her doctor asked her what she was doing different and to keep it up because her cousin is battling a brain tumor. It’s things like that that make me want to tell everyone how easy it can be to look and feel great. It’s why I do it between my writing projects. It’s why I pull my hair out when I feel I’m not communicating this great find in a way that makes it clear. What brought it home for me was after 6 months of taking the Juice Plus capsules my doctor told me my blood tests showed I had low (“enviable”) cholesterol levels. I haven’t had low cholesterol ever. Not since the first time it was tested in 9th grade. It’s genetic and I thought out of my control. And it’s also freed my family from being quaratined during the cold and flu season like a war triage unit. There are several respected medical journals that have published scientific clinical research studies on Juice Plus showing many more ways it helps people. Which other nutritional supplement company has that?
There’s a reason doctors and nutritionists say to eat 7-13 servings of fruits and veggies everyday. But in this fast paced, over scheduled, processed food world that we live in, it’s hard. Besides, who has a refrigerator big enough?
Somewhere in my thirties, maybe it was after I got married; maybe it was after I had children and lost most of my pregnancy weight, I decided: I had outgrown diets.
I had resigned myself to the fact that I’d never be a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.
And my husband loved me just the way I was. I wasn’t big and I wasn’t small.
But slowly, over time, even though I was working out, even though I had a healthy lifestyle – I didn’t overindulge in any of the fun stuff I did in my youth – I noticed a thickening around my middle. I saw my once firm legs, genetically blessed without cellulite (or so I thought!) suddenly seem a little softer, a little more dimpled. Frankly, it was aggravating. My first reaction was denial. This couldn’t really be happening. This had to be temporary. I was just retaining water. A lot of water.
I started to amp up my cardio, eat more whole foods but I still gave in to the occasional mini binge on cheese flavored corn chips or a chai latte, or the weekend glass of wine. Much as I tried to pretend that these calories didn’t really count, my body vehemently disagreed. In a big way, so to speak. But, like I said, I tried to ignore it and deny the flesh escaping the top of my yoga pants (darn dryer!), or the pictures where I looked like my face had expanded (bad lighting!) and my arms resembled utility poles.
I was happy in my denial, as we tend to be, until kinks develop in the armor of our fantasy to sneak in information like the numbers on the scale progressively climbing during Friday morning weigh-ins. Or the Fridays I would miss the weigh-ins because deep inside, I knew it was better not to know that week.
I was healthy and that was the most important part. I attribute part of my excellent health to the Juice Plus business my husband forced encouraged me to buy after we started taking the products and I couldn’t stop raving about them to my friends. Sorry friends if I keep trying to get or keep you healthy but I want you still playing with me as we wander into our old age together.
About two years after the whole family started taking Juice Plus (and I kept raving to anyone that would listen how my kids kept missing the cold and flu season), they introduced a detox/weight loss program.
I kinda had a problem with that initially. I was into health, remember, not weight loss. After taking my index fingers out of my ears, I heard them say doctors developed this easy program to help people jumpstart into their healthiest condition.
If that meant, they needed to lose weight, then that’s what would happen. If it meant someone needed to gain weight, then that could happen too.
The program is called T30. (There is a less intense version that is just as effective called The Complete Transformation) It uses the nutrition available from The Juice Plus Company, clean, encapsulated fruits and veggies and 100% whole food protein shakes, to add 40 whole foods into their body every day and launch them into their “healthy zone”. It basically boils down to two shakes, the trio of veggie and fruit capsules and a healthy meal. You can juggle that however you want.
I started it with my enthusiastic friend, Elana, because it’s always more fun to do something like this with a friend, on the 10th of September, a Wednesday. I feared being hungry like I remembered from previous diets. I feared being crabby like on previous diets. Luckily, I walked through my fears.
I will say this and not much more, (and I’m sure you’ll understand why), but, I did detox. Even though I eat clean and have been taking Juice Plus for 2 years, I still did visit the toilet more regularly than my usual regular and the first few days my body did feel awfully “busy”. I tried to focus on the fact that I was getting rid of all the stuff that had gotten stuck inside of me and needed to come out anyway.
On my Friday morning weigh-in (two days later), I was down 2.5 lbs. I didn’t get (too) excited. I regularly lose and gain a couple pounds in water weight but at least we were finally moving in the right direction. Haha.
I wasn’t crabby. In fact, I suddenly had all this new energy to become interested in projects that I had told myself I was much too busy to do. The house got cleaner and more organized. I hung up pictures in my office that had patiently waited for wall space for a couple years.
I never starved myself. If I was hungry, I ate an apple, a handful of nuts or some other type of “grow food” as we call it in our house. A few days ago, I went on a baked vegetable kick and coated two bagfuls of broccoli sprouts (one for dinner, one as a snack) and two handfuls of kale (dinner) with olive oil and salt and baked them into crunchy snacks. Even my youngest, Knox, was trying to steal my veggie snacks.
I don’t feel deprived. I allow myself some leeway. On Wednesday, I had a glass of wine and some air popped (non GMO) popcorn with my writer’s group gal pals. On Saturdays (or one day a week), I’ll enjoy myself on date night, or at someone’s birthday or a girl’s night out. Still cognizant of what I’m trying to achieve, I enjoy myself without over-enjoying.
My last Friday morning weigh in was fantastic. My scale had dipped into territory it hadn’t visited in a while. I was 6.5 lbs. lighter. I felt better. My middle didn’t feel like it was getting in the way of my body as I moved from activity to activity. I checked out my chin in the side mirror and saw the softening I had attributed to the “beyond my control” aging process had sharpened up. I now had an edge between by neck and my cheek. And I bade my wattle goodbye.
And this was after 9 days. Stay tuned. I wasn’t brave enough to take before pictures. Sorry. But I will gladly share my “after” pictures.
I’ve always tried to change things for the better. Or at least my interpretation of the better. I believe I know what’s right and how things should be and can never understand why people don’t do the right thing. Some people may call me controlling. But those people aren’t very nice. After years of trying to change the world, I’ve finally had to admit, I can’t change or fix everything. Believe me, I’ve beat my head to a raw pulp trying to budge some of those brick walls that shape things into what they are.
This is how my world would look
Today that brick wall is my dad. I’ve had very limited influence over his decision-making processes in the past but I’ve had more than most. I’ve been trying to use that limited influence like a snake charmer trying to coax him into The Sand House. We went back to have lunch there last Saturday. My husband, Howard, took pity on my solo plight and offered to have his dad watch the boys so he could accompany us. I wasn’t sure about this. On one hand, I really needed the support and felt relieved to have him hold my hand as I traversed the narrow path between love and fear. On the other, I was afraid he would break the bubble I had created in my head to better deal with this situation. Within this bubble sat my dad who reluctantly agreed to enter into this new senior living situation and found he was much happier, healthier and surrounded by new friends. I didn’t want Howard asking questions or giving opinions that touched, or even worse, burst my bubble. But I appreciated that he acknowledged how difficult this has been for me and wanted to help out. This was the part of marriage that felt like a partnership or a team. So we picked up my dad and took him to The Sand House. Lunch was being served in the dining room which felt more like an oceanfront restaurant.
I think an ocean view helps with digestion
We were seated by the hostess and greeted warmly by our server, Helen, the Russian speaking immigrant who had wanted to meet my dad. Or at least welcome him as a fellow Russian. She was surprisingly fantastic, like a female Don Rickles. She was irreverant, poking fun at the residents but in such a kindhearted, loving way, she had everyone giggling. I could see the light in my dad’s eyes as he gazed at her with a wonderous smile.
I felt hopeful.
We went and looked at his potential room again while my husband sprinkled appreciative comments along our path, “Wow, this place is great.” He sounded sincere.
“I know,” I replied, “It’s amazing. I really do want to live here someday.”
“No really,” he said, like I was doubting him.
“I know!” I replied, could we move on already? My dad just walked alongside us with his left foot slightly dragging. And we went into the room again to confirm just how amazing this place really was.
view from amazing room
We left feeling good. Or I was feeling good, like I was a step closer to him agreeing. How could he not? We even had an elderly gentleman stop by our lunch table and give an unsolicited testimonial about how great the place was. And my husband kept reaffirming how much better this place was than the one his grandma had lived in and how it was so much better than he had imagined. This made me wonder, does he not believe me when I tell him something? Because I had already told him it was perfect. But that’s another story, ha ha.
We dropped off my dad back at his apartment and told him I’d call him the next day. When I called him, I wanted to casually ask what he had thought of our visit but couldn’t find the courage to say the words. I wasn’t ready for any responses other than the one I needed to hear. So we chit chatted and I called again the following day. At the end of the conversation, I summoned my courage and asked. “So. Wha’d you think of The Sand House?” Brief silence.
“No,” he said with a deep sigh. “No.” A little softer.
I don’t think his inner platelets ever budged, not far enough to create the type of seismic shift that would have allowed him to move into the direction for which I had hoped for him.
I couldn’t hold it together any more. I was too tired to keep down the bubbles that begged to explode from the bottle. This last ‘no’ had shaken the contents until there was a little explosion. I didn’t yell but I was very stern. I lectured him about what a good opportunity this was for him. He could heal, make friends and enjoy the beach anytime he wanted. I urgently kept talking but I knew there was no hope. He had made up his mind and I couldn’t shift his glacial stubbornness. I didn’t want to make things worse by getting mad and yelling even though I was so scared for him and didn’t know what else I could do to help him.
So I didn’t. I had to let it go and have faith.
That night I got an email from my friend, Diana. She too is Russian, though so Americanized, like me, unless she told you, you’d never suspect. But being an immigrant, regardless of how young you were when you got to this country, shapes you. Maybe you have a stronger feeling for the plight of other immigrants. Maybe you are more empathetic to the struggle of being a loner in a foreign land, even if that land has been your home for decades.
Anyway, Diana reached out to me by giving me the phone number of a Russian home services agency passed on to her by her grandmother.
In the darkness of my disappointment, I felt a glimmer of hope.
He said no. I heard the no, between his chuckles and warped speech, the kind I usually have to rummage through to find the words he actually means to use. I feel myself starting to sink. I tread harder but play dumb because I’m tired and don’t have the energy a commitment to this conversation will require. “No?” I ask, hoping I’m wrong about what I’m suspecting he means. “No, what?” I always have to have an idea of where he’s going with his words, to help guide him to his meaning. Like a game of charades but with half syllables instead of pantomime. Since his brain tumor and ensuing stroke, he has had a problem with word retrieval. He knows what he wants to say, he just can’t find the words to say it. Sometimes he uses words from the other languages he knows, thinking they’re the ones he needs, but usually they’re not. Unless I can figure out the terrain of where his meaning lives, we’re both lost and when he’s lost, he gets frustrated and waves me away with an impatient groan, stops trying to say anything and instead resigns himself to be locked in the prison of his mind. But during this conversation, he seems more lighthearted. I wonder if he’s had some drinks. “Sand House.” I can decipher the words through his mirth. “Sand House!” he repeats, louder, like a tourist speaking to someone who doesn’t understand his language, assuming a greater volume will make everything clearer. The Sand House is the assisted living facility we visited together. And, in this stage in his life, it is the perfect senior living situation for him. The Sand House is in Santa Monica right across the street from the beach. My dad moved us to Santa Monica from ‘Little Russian’ in West Hollywood just before I went into the fourth grade. He hasn’t budged since. Santa Monica is the one place on Earth where he sees God. Or at least His handiwork. The beach is his altar. When he is at the beach, he is in his version of heaven.
The problem is he hasn’t been going to the beach in the last few weeks. He hasn’t taken his regular walks on the boardwalk or really done much of anything. Since he was duped by his Internet Bride, he’s just been sleeping all day. He wakes around 4pm to sit in front of the TV, and barely eats, if at all. The gold-grubbing thief arranged for a woman who takes care of an ailing, next-door neighbor to come every day and cook and straighten up for him. But this caretaker woman used to drink wine with the Internet Scavenger so I’m not sure about her morals or her intentions. When I ask my dad what he’s eaten each day, his first meal is always cheese, yogurt and coffee and then a soup as his dinner. The skin is flapping around his spaghetti-thin arms. He is looking as skinny as a concentration camp victim. Each of these conversations breaks off another little piece of my heart. How could this have happened to my dad?
When we visited The Sand House, its bright, airy interior and cheerful staff and residents was a stark contrast to the gloom in which he now lives. I hoped he was seeing what I was seeing. They serve three gourmet meals a day but also have a small menu available until 6pm so my dad could eat whenever and wherever he likes. They have housekeeping services and laundry. They have exercise classes including his favorites, yoga and tai chi.
This is the room where they execise
They have physical, occupational and speech therapies, all covered by Medicare so it would be 100% free. My dad’s ego has always prevented him from getting the therapy care that he’s needed after each of his medical maladies. His dragging left arm and leg and his stunted speech are the result of his inaction. I can do it myself, he always said. Here, I tell him, he can give his body and brain the attention they need to finally heal. “You deserve this,” I told him, when we first toured the place. “You’ve always taken care of everyone. Please, please just this once, do something for yourself.” We even went back again to see the actual rooms that were available, to get a sense of what his life would be like living there. I felt tears meekly slide into my eyes as I looked at the view that he could have.
Actual balcony view from the room he could have
I really wanted this for my dad. I really wanted this for myself. When I’m older and retired, I want to live in a resort overlooking the ocean with meals available anytime of the day and people cleaning my room when it needed plus a variety of activities planned for me – like this one that happened this month on the 20th:
It would be like living in a college dorm except with older people. Sure, when I looked around there were a few people that had special needs but the majority seemed like they were there because they wanted to live their lives fully, not be locked away in some isolated apartment like my dad’s. When we got back down to the lobby after seeing the two available apartments the last time we visited Sand House, my dad’s ailing leg forced him into an awaiting chair and it appeared, but I didn’t want to look too closely, that he was softly weeping under his fedora. I wanted to give him his moment and had to admit that although I can see the beauty of this potential situation, he might see it differently.
Here’s what I saw (the rooftop deck)
Here’s what he might see
I know, after doing yoga for many years, that what we see in this world may not be what actually exists. People see a blend of what is in front of them and what has happened to them in the past and/or what they are expecting to happen in the future. I’m sure my dad has seen images of terrible nursing homes, although I would never call this a nursing home. I’d say it’s more like a resort exclusive to seniors. He said, after his brief weeping episode, when I leaned down to see if he was okay, “I am not in my grave yet.” This was quite a sentence for someone who normally has trouble stringing together more than three words. He proclaimed this with a hot burst of frustration born from the tension taking over his body. I know when he gets like this not to argue. Besides, there was nothing to argue. “Of course not.” I tried to smooth his rising hackles. “This is not a grave. You’re apartment is more like a grave. This is living. This is being surrounded by people who want to be your friend, who have enough of their own money that they don’t want to steal yours. This is where you can meet a nice woman who will think you are so handsome and like you for who you are. This is where you can do things you enjoy all day long or do nothing at all. Or go for a walk on the beach, which is only across the street!” I ended, sounding more like a cheerleader or a spokesperson for an infomercial than the scared, defeated daughter I was actually being. Yet, when I called to check in on him the next day, he told me, in no uncertain terms, No. He would not be moving into The Sand House. Okay, I told him, feeling like a deflated balloon, trying not to get stuck in the slimy swamp of inviting hopelessness, trying not to let anger take over the situation and bring it to an unshakable end. I wished him good night and hung up the phone. The next day, I called him again and told him I wanted to take him to lunch. “Okay!” he said with excitement in his voice. I couldn’t imagine how lonely he must be now that the greedy witch had abandoned him. “I’m coming on Saturday and we’ll go back to The Sand House and have lunch in their restaurant and you can meet the Russian server that works there and wanted to meet you.” During our last visit, the nice lady who was facilitating our tours, Kortney, told us there was a woman who spoke Russian and was excited to meet my dad but we were running late that day and she had already gone home. “Okay,” he said, sounding a little less certain. “Great!” I wasn’t going to get dragged down by my fears for his future. I wasn’t going to get tangled in my frustration that this situation was going to be harder than I imagined, that his Old World Ego wasn’t going to let him be cared for. If I went down, there wouldn’t be anyone left to see him as the strong, determined man he is that brought us to this country and fought for our survival until we could fight for ourselves. And now I had to fight for him. Saturday. It was another chance.
When I was four, I wanted a colored pencil set more than anything in the world.
The memory of this seemingly trivial desire has followed me into my 40s, a permanent etching in my mind. At the time, we were living in Italy. We had just left Israel, where we had sought asylum as Russian-Jewish refugees.
Our Soviet Union family passport photo
Now we were awaiting permission to enter the United States. I know now, as an adult, when we left the former Soviet Union we were not sent off with kisses and well wishes. We were stripped of our possessions and sent into the unknown with $100 to mark our family fortune. But my dad is stubborn and a hard worker. I’m sure we were given some type of social assistance when we arrived in Israel because they really do try and take care of their people. I know my dad was a reservist in the Army.
Dad on left
I know my dad must have worked diligently to rebuild some type of financial cushion because that’s the kind of guy he is.
But by the time we went to Italy, to await the bureaucratic green light, we still weren’t living anywhere near the financial elite. We shared a rented room in a boarding house in Rome.
This was not our room in Rome.
This was actually taken in Israel right before we left
for Rome. In Italy we didn’t take any pictures
because we didn’t own a camera.
But as a four year old, full of desire (and apparently unaware that I was artistically uninclined), I saw that pencil set and imagined all the beautiful pictures I could create with those colors. All I wanted to do was color my life. Maybe it was the influence of the talented street painters we passed by daily. But I knew if I had that set, everything would be perfect. In an anguish of tender consumerism, I threw out a passionate declaration to my young, innocent parents: If they bought me this pencil set, I would never, ever ask for anything else in my entire life.
When I made that statement, it was true.
I sincerely sat down, crossed leg, pondering on the checkered tiles in the aisle of the market. I put my little chin into my small hand and asked myself with unflinching honestly: could I really make this commitment? Was there anything else I would ever want? No! I answered myself. There was nothing else. This was truly it. I got the set. My parents took pity on my passionate plight and relented, I’m sure spending a good percentage of their remaining financial resources to satisfy their four year old’s questionable needs. And needless to say, I have asked for one or two things since then. This memory comes to mind because now I have a new wish that falls in the same category of urgency and fervent desire with which I yearned that pencil set. Only this wish is for my father. I want him to live in a nurturing, safe environment. One in which he would have help and supervision. He’s reached the age where he shouldn’t drive, he can’t cook for himself and cleaning has never been his forte. He won’t come live with me. I know he doesn’t want to be a burden, though he never would be, or so I tell myself now. He also doesn’t want to leave his paradise: the beach in Santa Monica. So, I need him to move into an assisted living apartment. It is a vision I never thought I’d have for my dad, the pillar of strength in our family who threw away everything he and my mom had known to walk into the unknown, in search for a safer, more secure place to raise their daughter and by the time they got here, a soon to arrive son.
I remember looking at my dad’s bulging biceps, knowing he was the strongest man in the world.
Except for my visiting grandmother in the middle,
that is my entire original family in our first apartment in America. I’m on
the right, my grandmother is holding my brother (born here).
But since that day in the Italian market, my father has weathered the onslaught life can sometimes bring: rebellious kids, a divorce, an unhealthy lifestyle filled with smoking and booze, a fickle economy, two strokes, a brain tumor that robbed him of most of his speech, lung cancer and most recently: a heartless, younger Russian woman he met online. He married her, she took his money and scurried back to Russia with it. Not all of it, but a good chunk. It was the supposed good intentions of this woman, who promised to take care of him, that set my mind at ease. Living an hour away and taking care of two rambunctious boys, it’s hard to see my dad as much as I’d like. Instead, this woman created a situation that highlighted my dad’s inability to continue to care for himself.
keep this woman away from your daddy
It is in the aftermath of that drama that I now find myself. My dad needs help. Because of his stubborn, self-sufficient nature, he never got the therapy that he should have had after any of his ailments. Since his second stroke, he is limping and no longer able to do the yoga handstands that once stood for his ability to survive despite anyone else’s prognosis for him. He has never asked anyone for help and would thwart any attempts when it was offered. That’s partially why it’s been hard to admit to myself that the best situation for him would be in an assisted living environment. I know what a battle this is going to be, one that needs to be fought with finesse and patience rather than muscle. It’s an amount of energy that, on most days, I can’t muster. The other reason is I still see my dad’s bulging bicep and his defiant attitude towards anyone that would dare tell him he couldn’t do something. I still see that glimmer of mischievousness as he joked with my friends and flirted with the check-out lady. I still see the sailor that learned all of the Soviet propaganda he had heard growing up, about the United States, wasn’t true.
He found there was hope for a Jewish man, raised by a single mother with three kids in the wake of a vicious war, to find freedom.
My cutie-pie dad on the left
Freedom to raise his daughter without the anchor of racism weighing down her ability to soar.
Everything my father has ever done has been for his family. I only hope now, with the desperate hope of a four-year-old who still sees sparks of her father as the superhero he once was, that he now allows his family to do for him.
This was our first official picture (almost a year ago!)….we’ve since acquired new members
I say “helped start” instead of just “started” because I had had the idea in my head for some time. But I needed to meet the right writers to make it happen. Had they not agreed to be part of the adventure, there would have been no adventure.
I guess over time most writers turn blonde. (this is a more recent pic of some of us on a road trip to support Kim Prince in her stage debut)
There are two main reasons why I wanted to have a group like this in my life. One, I needed the support and accountability that comes from being part of a fellowship. I have had this experience before in my life and found it worked quite well. Second, I thought if I surrounded myself with writers maybe I could convince myself I too am a writer. I still have my doubts. But they tell me I am and that is great to hear.
One of the original members above, red haired Charlene Ross, participated in an online writing train where writers talk about their Writing Process (#mywritingprocess). At the end of her post, she picked three writers to ride on that train. She picked me as one of the writers.
Again, I am grateful that she considers me a writer and also that she picked me from the many writers that she knows and (wait for it), I will do that too. You know, to keep the train going. So if I pick you, please join us on this lovely ride into the workings of our inner selves. And if I didn’t pick you it means 1) I didn’t know you wrote a blog bc I really had to wrack my brain to find the three I did or 2) you’re not a writer but are a reader, so please kick back and join us on this journey.
Why do I write what I do?
I write mainly three things (not counting Facebook status updates). I write short fiction stories, non fiction stories and blog posts. My heart is in the fictional worlds I create like this one. It’s also an opportunity for me to work out my fears and feelings about things happening to me or to our world. It’s a little like an exorcism. A way to get out the demons and the jesters that live in my head. There are observations I’ve made of people and the world in which we all live. I am always looking and taking mental notes. I’ve written much more in my head than I’ve ever written on paper. Sometimes, I’ll even grab a piece of paper, if there’s one handy, because I know if I don’t capture the thought, it’ll drown in the thousand of others that follow it, never to be seen again. Stories are like that too. I’ve procrastinated on stories I thought were so original then watched a movie, that was my story, being told by someone who didn’t wait around to tell it.
My non-fiction started when I decided to major in Broadcast Journalism in college. That in itself was a victory and I kept expecting people to laugh when I told them what I was doing. It was only my father who commented how unpractical this was because it is such a competitive field. (This was a recurring theme in his parenting me) But I had a plan. I was going to become a well known reporter and then write a book, thereby already securing a built in audience. Well, I didn’t wait long enough to become a well known reporter (my instincts for success conflicted with the seemingly accelerated pace of my biological clock) but I did start writing for print newspapers and magazines while I was pregnant with Kaleb. That was the last bit of free time I regularly had to myself. It’s only now that the kids are in school that I can start focusing on that again.
My blog is almost like a free sample for prospective readers. Since I never became that famous reporter, I need to give out bits of myself for readers to know whether I taste good or not. I figure, if you like the various styles I offer on my blog, then maybe you’d be interested in a longer format piece, like the books I will someday find the time to write. Plus, I don’t have to get anyone’s approval to publish the things I want to write. All I have to do is hit the publish button.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I think if we’re talking strictly blogging, my work tends to be sporadic and disorganized compared to the official blogging sect. But it’s also original because it’s my work being presented by me. I strive to be really honest and I try to present things in an interesting way. I suspect that if I found more time to actually write, I would get much better at this.
How does your writing process work?
If I show up to write in front of my computer, the words will come. No matter how many excuses I make beforehand or activities I find to distract myself, once I arrive to write, I write. Then I edit. And edit.
Since joining the writing group, it’s become a lot easier to convince myself to just get in front of the screen and start typing. I know some people prefer paper but I think my brain is trained to work with keyboards and formats where it is much less messy to edit.
What am I working on?
I am lucky to have been offered some stories to write for LA Parent magazine. They are amazing to work with. Very warm and supportive – obviously a theme I seek out in my writing life. From this platform, I intend to submit to more national magazines, probably parenting ones since that is the place in my life where I happen to live.
I also have a few sci-fi shorts I have written and am editing and will be submitting after just having my first one actually published.
I also had a huge gift fall into my lap. A friend introduced me to someone whose life story needs to be immortalized. It is interesting on levels that scrape beneath the skin. I have spoken to this person many times now and we are evolving his story into one that will become the first book I will have the honor of writing.
Ok that’s it from me.
Let’s invite some new conductors onto this train of self discovery.
Julie Gardner is the newest member of the Writing Safety Tree – our writing group. She used to be an English teacher and her notes on works in progress are sweet and priceless, just like her.
Laurel Jansen Byrne is a friend from a group that helped ease me into motherhood, the Westlake Village MOMS Club. And she turned out to be a writer and was the cherry I needed to help me make this sweet concoction of a writing group. She’s also probably the only one of us that has a actual education in creative writing.
And Jessica Craven, whose simple and precise words make my heart bleed regularly when I read them. I haven’t seen her offline in ages but she came to mind when faced with the assignment of finding three talented bloggers to choose for this fun exploration into self.