Our Home Away from Home

28 Jul

oax 16Our family just returned from a two-week vacation in Oaxaca, Mexcio. We had a wonderful time lounging on the beach, eating the most delicious food, visiting with family and traveling up to my husband’s isolated hometown in the mountains.

Much of the novel I’m writing (which I swear to you is almost finished!) takes place in Oaxaca so it was wonderful to travel there and research even more ideas and descriptions for the book. It is truly a magical place.

The Oaxacan people are some of the most interesting, kind and generous people in the world. Someday, we hope to build a vacation home there. Ah, it’s good to have dreams…

oax 2

This is the main church in Yalalag, my husband’s hometown.

oax 3

While we were in Yalalag, we attended a wedding. This is the bride, Melina who is wearing the traditional wedding outfit of Yalalag.

oax 4

I thought this was interesting because the little girl is tied to the back of her mother with a traditional Mexicanl “rebozo” and yet the little girls is wearing sparkly gold shoes instead of huaraches.

oax 5

This is an old photograph hanging in the municipal building in Yalalag. It was taken in 1936 and shows a family standing in front of their home wearing traditional clothing. Not much has changed in 75 years (except that the town now has internet!)

oax 6

You can’t go to Oaxaca without eating Mole Negro. Delicioso!

oax 14

A painting of La Virgencita in one of the churches.

oax 13

Oaxacan chocolate is to die for!

oax 12

The fresh produce in the marketplace smells wonderful!

oax 15

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any building painted this shade of cobalt blue before!

oax 9

Dried chilies for sale in the marketplace.

oax 10

My absolute favorite Oaxacan treat: Rose flavored sorbet!

oax 11

Another stunning doorway in downtown Oaxaca.

oax 7

The inside of the Church of Santo Domingo. Awe-inspiring.

oax 17

One of the many meals served over the course of the weekend for the wedding. First the men would all sit down and be served by the women, and then the women would sit and be served by the men.

A June Miracle

11 Jun

flowers june 10 8

Something happened on Tuesday that NEVER happens. It actually rained all day long–in JUNE! We are in the middle of one of the worst droughts in California history, and even though this half-inch or so of rain won’t do much to help our dire situation, it certainly was a welcome sight. It’s almost as if I could hear the parched earth sighing with relief. The grass already looks greener and the flowers brighter. I don’t want to jinx it, bufkiwers june 10 5t maybe this is a sign that things are about to change. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Take a look at my happy flowers!

flower june 10 2flowers june 10 4

flowers june 10 1

flowers june 10 6

fkiwers june 10 3

flowers june 10 9

flowers june 10 7

The Long Road Home

26 May

Eight isa pile of puppiesyears ago, our lives changed forever.

The doctor sat us down in the hospital room, his face full of concern. “We finally know what it is,” he said, quietly, “She has a form of leukemia.”

For two agonizing days, my husband and I had been pacing the hospital hallways waiting for the bone marrow biopsy to tell us what was wrong with our daughter. Now a pediatric oncologist with tired eyes and a stethoscope around his neck was telling us that our fourth child—our baby girl—had cancer.

Those ominous words should have expelled all the air from my lungs, buckled my knees out from under me, or caused me to run screaming down the hospital corridor—but they didn’t. Oddly, I felt only relief. We finally had a definitive answer as to why my two year-old was so sick. Yes, it turned out to be cancer—but at least we knew what it was and could immediately get started on saving her life.

I can do this, I told myself, not realizing that our ROAD TRIP TO HELL was about to begin. For the next two and a half years, our family would travel down that bumpy, pot-holed road, the gas tank running on empty, the tires balding and the radiator constantly threatening to overheat as we navigated our way through a cancer diagnosis without a map. Isa, strapped into her car seat, would thrash about in the back, sweaty and miserable as she crammed Lays potato chips into her mouth, the salty snacks the only food she ever wanted to eat. In the rearview mirror I watched in horror as my beautiful daughter morphed into this hairless, grotesque creature with a protruding belly and swollen cheeks. Her normally sweet brown eyes were filled with an unrecognizable fury caused by the steroids that we crushed into a white powder and mixed with cherry syrup, feeding it to her each night like a special treat.

The constant fear was the worst part—the multiple surgeries to infuse chemo into Isa’s spine; the weekly lab reports signaling her low blood counts which indicated a non-functioning immune system. This meant staying indoors, constant hand-washing and no visitors. A high blood count report meant that I could actually breathe again until the next round of chemo started. For years my hands rarely left Isa’s body as I felt her skin for any sign of fever. When her skin burned with a temperature over 101.5 it meant a trip back to the hospital—cool skin under my fingertips meant no infection and it was such an enormous relief it was like diving into a refreshing swimming pool on a hot, summer day.

Now, eight years after Isa’s diagnosis of cancer, the lives of our family have returned to normal—if there even is such a thing. Isa is perfectly healthy with no long-term effects from the chemotherapy. Now I can’t even remember the names of all the medications she took. Our daughter is blossoming into an intelligent and thoughtful young girl with a wicked sense of humor. Every day when I see her beautiful smile and hear her laugh, my heart fills with gratitude.

And although we are beyond delighted with our happy outcome, we do carry residual sadness in our hearts from losing children we have known and loved during this long trip. That sorrow gets easier as time goes on, but it will never go away. And I believe that’s a good thing—because in remembering those who have died, we are more apt to cherish those who are still here with us.

Aug 30 07 022

As we approach the eighth anniversary of Isa’s diagnosis, I’m truly thankful for what our family went through all those years ago. I’m grateful for the friends, family and those in the medical field who supported us back then—and who still support us today. I’m grateful that this experience changed me, and that I’m not the same woman I used to be. I’m more loving, more appreciative, more present in the moment, and more at peace with myself than I was before Isa got sick. I’ve realized how incredibly strong I am. I understand that there is only right now, and most importantly, that not only is it acceptable for me to put myself first at times—it’s often necessary. After all, I’m the one behind the wheel.

Our long road trip was arduous and exhausting and I consider it a miracle we arrived home safely. I’ve no doubt there will be other journeys as our family navigates down that long road of life, but lately it’s become a much smoother ride. So smooth, in fact—that now we can actually take time to roll down the windows, breathe in the sweet spring air and marvel at the scenery.

Drying Up

8 May

may 8 2015 1 may 8 2015 2 may 8 2015 5 may 8 2015 6 may 8 2015 7 may 8 2015 8 may 8 2015 9 may 8 2015 10 may 8 2015 11 may 8 2015 12 may 8 2015 13The garden has yet to realize we’re in a severe drought. We’ve completely stopped watering the lawn and it has since turned it into a crunchy plot of brown turf that makes me cringe every time I drive up to the house. I absolutely refuse to let my flowers die though, which means it’s bucket time around our house. We now have buckets in each shower to catch all the cold water that would normally go down the drain until the water temperature is hot enough.

For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why my back was hurting so much until I figured out it’s because I’m lugging buckets of water out to the yard every day.  Curse you, drought!

For those of you around the country who are experiencing hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, hail the size of baseballs and massive flooding, I apologize for complaining about a little dead grass. I humbly request that you please send some of your surplus rain out to Santa Barbara!

Through Different Eyes

23 Apr

nino 14My son, Nino is an artist. I figured this out back when he was four years old and he drew a meticulous rendition of the front of our house with the most intricate details, including the coiled up hose off to one side of the garden. I distinctly remember thinking: This kid sees the world through different eyes.

Now Nino is a senior is college and I think at age twenty, he’s finally realized what I knew all along—that creating art makes him happy. For a couple of years he went down a different path, thinking that a degree in economics and accounting would offer a better chance at financial success. Luckily, this path didn’t turn out to be the right one for Nino and he changed his major to Art. Since making that decision, I don’t think I’ve seen him happier. When you follow your bliss you’re heading down the right road, no matter what.

nino 4

Nino and my proud husband Rene standing in front of the gallery.

Last night our family attended Nino’s first solo art exhibit at the UCSB Art Box Gallery and I’ve got to say, I’ve never been more proud of my boy.

The title of Nino’s show is “F*** You, Pay Me”. Sorry if the profanity offends you,  but hey, it’s Nino’s prerogative to express himself in any way he chooses. He’s the artist, after all.

nino 6

nino 12

Nino drew this by hand and digitally colorized it on the computer.

nino 3

These are prints from a drawing that NIno carved by hand into some sort of material and then ran them though a print making machine.

nino 15

Nino will probably kill me for including this, but he painted this for me while he was in high school and it now hangs in my music studio. It’s a rendition of five famous composers: clockwise from left, Chopin with the Polish flag; Tchaikovsky with a deck of cards because he loved to play card games; Bach with a personalized coffee mug because he had so many children; Beethoven with an apple core and dirty underwear because he was such a slob; and a young Mozart playing the violin in front. I look at this painting every day and I truly love it.

nino 1

One of NIno’s earliest drawings at age four. Even then he was into cartooning.

nino 9

More prints.

nino 10

Pen and Ink drawing.

nino 5

NIno musing on the way things are.

nino 7

Another print, this time using color ink.

nino 8

He really has a unique style.

Leaving the Guilt Behind

28 Mar

flower 3All week long I’ve been chanting in my head: “Just four more days until vacation…just three more days…just two more…just one”—and poof—it’s finally here. I’m actually on vacation where I don’t have to do anything, go anywhere or teach anyone how to play the piano for nine glorious days.

Husband is off to L.A. to watch a soccer game. Ten year-old has been dropped off at the sleepover. Son is off somewhere in southern California with his friends. Daughters are off living their lives.

No one is asking me what’s for dinner or why there’s no milk in the fridge. I’m not having to bite my tongue to keep myself from screaming at that particular student who’s played the same wrong note for the third week in a row. At the moment my husband is not lying on the floor in front of the television watching Mexican soccer at full volume while begging me to please rub his feet.

The house is quiet—check. I’m barefoot—check. My unwashed hair is up in a messy pony tail—check. I’ve taken off my bra—double check. I’m wearing my most comfortable show-all yoga pants (which my husband tactfully calls unflattering—translation: your butt looks huge in those)—check. I’m on the couch with my feet up—check. The dog is curled up on the couch next to me—check. I have a hot cup of Starbucks coffee right in front of me—oh baby—CHECK!coffee cup

I am totally and utterly alone to do whatever my little heart desires and my mind is abuzz with all the things I should be doing with my free time. It’s the most beautiful spring day outside and I tell myself I should be going to the beach or out taking a hike even though I don’t really feel like doing either of those things the moment. I tell myself there is a huge basket of clean laundry that won’t magically fold itself; I tell myself the front lawn needs to be mowed; the flower garden needs to be weeded; there’s hair on the bathroom floor that needs to be vacuumed up; there are bills to pay; I need to go to the grocery store…ARRRRGH!

I can come up with a million things I should be doing with all this free time, but the truth is, I don’t want to do anything but sit right here on this couch and write. Writing makes me happy. Writing is my bliss—thoughts, words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters—eventually a finished novel. This is what I love to do.

So, for today—for right now, I’m leaving the guilt behind.

And I’m writing.

Spring is Here!

20 Mar

flower 7Today is the first day of spring and the proof is right outside my front door. Sorry to those of you who feel like you’re still stuck in the thick of winter, although I’m hoping these photographs might send some cheer your way. I so love this time year–the birds are busy composing their symphonies, the Liquid Ambar trees are fluttering their lacy lime green leaves and nature’s atomizer is spritzing the scent of Pitasporum and Star Jasmine in the air. Lovely! Now all we need is some rain…

flower 3flowers 9flower 4IMG_5031flower 5flower 6

 

FullSizeRender

Self-Sabotage

11 Feb

GetAttachmentI honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me. When did I become a self-sabotaging idiot who will do just about anything to avoid working on her novel? Since last Friday, I’ve been practically salivating about today because incredibly, there is nothing on my calendar for a four hour block of time. I’ve been eagerly anticipating finishing a particularly difficult chapter that’s been hounding me for weeks and yet I’ve already wasted more than an hour of precious writing time on the most mundane tasks possible.

Here is a list of the things that I believed were more important to complete today before working on my novel:

1) Stripping the bed and throwing the sheets in the washing machine. I mean, who can even think of writing anything when they know the bed sheets haven’t been washed for over a week?

2) Running out to Starbucks to get a coffee. I really shouldn’t count this as unnecessary as all writers know that coffee is needed to get the creative juices flowing (and other important juices as well.) Plus, they know my name and order at Starbucks and this makes me feel important.

3) Realizing that I need to pick up 25 Valentines for Isa’s class, plus candy to attach to each Valentine even though you’re not really supposed to do that because candy is so unhealthy and the school district frowns upon it. Then after seeing how crowded Michael’s Craft Store is, immediately deciding to let my oldest daughter handle the whole Valentine undertaking when she gets off work tonight.

3) Arriving home and switching the sheets into the dryer while noticing that there are toast crumbs all over the counter and the dishwasher needs emptying.

4) Wiping toast crumbs off counter and emptying dishwasher while mentally grousing how nobody in this goddamn family ever cleans up the kitchen but me.

5) Opening the refrigerator door and noticing a rank odor that turns out to be a bag of rotting cauliflower florets that now resemble hunks of yellow mucus. Throwing said cauliflower away while grousing that nobody in this goddamn family ever cleans out the refrigerator but me.

6) Taking the dog outside to poop. This task is quite a production and can take up to ten minutes as Cody, our Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix must sniff every inch of the front lawn while intermittently pausing to bark at invisible threats before his own creative juices start to flow, wherein he’s finally able to produce the tiniest nugget of poop imaginable. Wherein, I have to praise him in a high squeaky voice and give him a treat.

7) Removing sheets from dryer and realizing that two balled-up pillow cases got stuck inside the fitted sheet which means they are still sopping wet while everything else is dry. Deciding to put wet pillow cases on the pillows anyway and hope they’ll dry by tonight.

8) Reading and answering emails. Checking Facebook. Sharing a post about how Annie Lennox thinks older women are more interesting. Love her!

9) Deciding that even though I’m an older woman and I’m certainly more interesting, I still can’t think of anything compelling to write about lately, and it’s been way too long since I posted anything on my blog. Realizing that if I don’t post something soon, my readers might eventually forget all about me which will be a problem when I finally get this stupid novel written and want them to read it.

There. Almost two hours gone. Damn.

Now it’s time to start thinking about lunch.

Insignificant Things

28 Dec

IMG_4675For the first time in weeks, I find myself completely alone in the house. No kids, no husband, just me and the dog. As a functional introvert who constantly pines for alone time, I should consider this to be a minor post-Christmas miracle. Oddly though, I find this unexpected quiet to be strangely unnerving. I even feel a bit lonely.

I attribute my current unease to the fact that it’s been so crazy around the Mireles household over the holidays with a steady stream of people coming and going (we had sixteen people for Christmas dinner) that I’ve done nothing but shop, cook, clean, wrap presents, entertain small children and do about six loads of laundry each day. I guess I’ve become so accustomed to the constant noise and commotion that now the silence feels thunderous.

A recent sunset in Santa Barbara.

A recent sunset in Santa Barbara.

But that’s just me—always longing for something I don’t have or not appreciating what I do. Being dissatisfied is a tough habit to break and for much of my adult life I’ve had to work really hard at being grateful. This is really the most ridiculous thing ever because the real truth is that compared to most of the world, I live a privileged and abundant life.

What’s most remarkable is that I’ve discovered when I post something on my blog, my gratitude meter begins to rise. I believe this is because in the process of writing and posting photographs, I’m compelled to think about all the good I have in my life and I become more cognizant of the wondrous beauty that presents itself to me every day. And you, dear readers, are largely responsible for allowing me this chance to become more aware and mindful of my good fortune. For this gift I humbly offer you my thanks.

My best junior high school girlfriends during our annual beach house get together.

My best junior high school girlfriends during our annual beach house get together.

Paper origami cranes in a local church created to honor the many lives lost in mass shootings.

Paper origami cranes in a local church created to honor the many lives lost in mass shootings.

I hope that for all of you the coming year is filled with hope, love and deep gratitude for all of the grand events and milestones that may come to pass, but even more importantly, gratitude for all of the insignificant things that make up the moments of our days—the ones we pay little attention to—but are ultimately responsible for making our lives that much more extraordinary.

I so appreciate your readership.

The amazing sunset at the Santa Barbara Harbor where Rene and I had dinner recently.

The amazing sunset at the Santa Barbara Harbor where Rene and I had dinner recently.

Yours,

Jessica

 

Christmas Eve dinner with my beautiful family.

Christmas Eve dinner with my beautiful family.

Autumn

21 Nov

fall 1Autumn color has arrived and all I want to do is curl up into a cocoon of quiet contemplation. And if I can’t swing that amid the chaos of my life, maybe I’ll make myself a cup of tea and pick out a good book to read. I absolutely love this time of year. How lucky I am to be able to live here.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with many happy moments and much love and laughter!

fall 5

fall 2

fall 3

fall 4

fall 7

fall 6

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 871 other followers