One of the Lucky Ones

11 Feb

a5473b30-fd36-4183-9492-e434f9c87dc3-3513-000001ddc6b3956dThe roads are finally open again and my daughter, Isa and I took a drive through Montecito this afternoon. It was so much worse than I could have ever imagined. News stories on television don’t really show the full extent of the destruction.

Santa Barbara was hit hard at beginning of December when the Thomas Fire burned the mountains above Montecito. Then on January 9, we had a 200-year rain event where half an inch of rain came down in five minutes. This triggered a devastating mud flow. Twenty-three people were killed and many of the homes saved during the fire were damaged or destroyed by the mud flow.

While there have been numerous stories of tragedy and loss, I’ve also heard stories of the incredible generosity and kindness of people in our community. It’s inevitable that we initially focus on all the bad things that have occurred–we cry. We grieve. We get angry. Then we try to find the good.

I wasn’t personally affected the tragic events of the past two months, but lately I have felt so lost watching the suffering of others. After Isa and I returned home from our drive, I looked around my own neighborhood and felt so grateful. My home is safe and not full of mud. I suddenly felt the need to document the beauty around me.

For now, I’m one of the lucky ones. And I’m so thankful.

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One of my favorite flowers: Stock. Such a lovely, spicy scent!

 

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A caterpillar chomping on my milkweed plant.

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First tulips of the season

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Love this magenta!

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The spring garden is planted!

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Lake Los Carneros

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Happy little pansies.

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The color of Iceland poppies are so vibrant!

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Isa and the dogs on a walk around the lake.

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Messages from the Universe

5 Jan
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Smoke over the Pacific from the Thomas Fire.

The universe often sends me messages. Most of the time, I’m too wrapped up in my day to day drama to pay much attention to them. Especially when those nudges seem rightfully insignificant: a slice to my finger while cooking (stop thinking negative thoughts about people, Jess—especially when you’re chopping vegetables with a sharp knife.) Or a flat tire while hurrying to get as many errands done before starting work (time to slow down, Jess—you don’t have to do everything for everyone all the time.)

Recently, I got a very loud message from the universe that had to do with my mother. A little background first: I’ve lived with my mother for pretty much my entire life. After college, when I married my husband, Rene, we moved in with her so she could help us financially while he finished his education. Eventually, we were able to buy the house from her and she stayed on with us. I won’t speak for my husband, as it can’t possibly be easy living with your mother-in-law for thirty years, but overall, it’s been okay. Our house is configured with a granny flat for her with a separate entrance and yard, so we have some privacy.

Recently, my mom had been driving me a bit crazy. Maybe it’s because as she gets older, I find her to be more hardheaded and stubborn. Maybe it’s because I realize she won’t be here forever and it scares me. Maybe it’s just hard having someone greet me every single day with a cheery, “Good Morning, Darling! How are you, today?” before I’ve had my coffee. Whatever it was, I was becoming extremely irritated with her. And if I’m honest, I’d have to say I was occasionally mean to her. In fact, I was downright nasty sometimes.

Then, at the beginning of December, while Santa Barbara was experiencing the largest wildfire in California history, my mom tripped and fell in front of the neighbor’s house while walking her dog. Now, she couldn’t just break her arm or something—she had to go and land on her eyeball. We didn’t know it then, but she had actually spilt open the back of her eye and hemorrhaged so severely that her left eye was literally being pushed out of its socket.

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My poor mother, two days after her accident and still managing to smile.

Luckily, the planets aligned for us that day. After a CAT scan it was determined there was no damage to her brain but the ER doctor was worried that she might lose the sight in that eye. We were able to reach her ophthalmologist and he agreed to see her during a break between his scheduled surgeries. I rushed her down to the surgery center where it was determined she needed an immediate operation to get all that blood out from behind the eye. Somehow, the doctors and nurses made it happen (a big shout out to the Santa Barbara Surgery Center) and they were able to save her eye.

Although she’s doing much better, my mom is still blind in her left eye. As I write this, she’s having her third surgery (a corneal transplant) and hopefully this will give her some vision back. We won’t know for a very long time what the outcome will be.

After the accident, I suddenly became my mother’s caregiver. I had to dole out medication, dress her facial wounds and make sure she ate three meals a day. I had to drive her to her doctors’ appointments. I had to hold her hand and tell her how sorry I was that this happened. I had to convince her everything was going to work out in the end.

The strange thing is that although I was spending much more time with my mother than before, I didn’t feel the least bit irritated with her. I felt only love and concern. I was so thankful it was just her eye and not her brain that was injured. I learned how much she means to me—that although we are different in so many ways, we share an unbreakable mother-daughter bond.

I guess it took a really scary, knock-down, whopping nightmare message to wake me up. Most likely this is because I inherited my mother’s stubbornness.

I think from now on, I’ll pay attention to those quiet, little messages from the universe.

Maybe if I do that, I can avoid getting anymore of those loud ones.

**Update: Mom’s surgery went fine, but the news wasn’t good. Her retina was permanently damaged and it was determined that she will not regain the sight in her left eye. I’m devastated for her, yet she’s handling it with grace and a positive attitude. Much to learn from that woman!img_1984

Drive

21 Nov

 

img_1986I love to take drives. I especially love to take drives when my almost thirteen year-old is sitting next to me. Because when she’s in the car with me, she talks. It’s like we’re traveling along in a private capsule where she’s comfortable enough to give me a tiny glimpse into her seventh-grade life. The life I’m rarely privy to now that she’s in junior high.

As we drive up San Marcos Pass into the mountains of Santa Barbara, I’m taken in by the beauty of where we live. Even more though, I find myself captivated by hearing about the details of my daughter’s life. How which friend said what; who likes so and so; how that boy was being mean to that girl. I absorb every mundane detail because I know it’s temporary. Before I know it, there’ll be silence.

And I’ll be driving alone.

So we meander along the road and admire the incredible scenery.  She talks. I listen.

And I’m thankful for the little things. 

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

 

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Taking too Long

25 Oct

img_1069I got another rejection email this morning—nothing out of the ordinary—just another one of almost one hundred agents who have said no to my novel.  “Thank you for sending this,” she wrote, “And I apologize for the delay. Your query looked interesting, but unfortunately it is not exactly what I am looking for at the moment so I will have to pass.”

I sent that particular email in April of 2016—it was one of my first queries. Doing the math, I laughed aloud, realizing that it only took her a year and a half to answer me. I do give her credit for actually responding.

So here’s the question: When do I give up and decide that enough is enough? It’s getting a bit depressing. I’ve been querying agents for well over a year and I’m seriously thinking about self-publishing even though I’ve heard that if I do, I may quash my chances of ever getting an agent to represent me for this novel. Although there is the rumor of the occasional success story of an Indie author getting picked up by a publisher, it’s rare.

I’ve given my novel to well over a dozen people to read and everyone has told me they’ve really enjoyed it—even loved it. And no matter how fond of me they are, I can’t imagine they’re all lying to spare my feelings. It can’t be worse than some of the junk I’ve read over the years, can it?

Researching this whole self-publishing thing is thoroughly daunting. There are so many questions: which company is the best; how much money should I spend—how do I market the dang thing? Ugh. I don’t want to think about these details. It is it too much to ask that someone do it for me?

I just want to write.

 

 

 

 

 

Change is Good

22 Aug

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As some of you may know, I live in the house I grew up in. It’s not easy buying a home in the Santa Barbara area on two teachers’ salaries, so my husband and I were indeed fortunate to be able to purchase my childhood home from my mother (who came along with the deal.)

Last summer, after five years of a long California drought the liquidambar tree that grew in our parkway began looking a bit sad and spindly. One Sunday afternoon in July, a huge branch suddenly broke off and landed on the hood of my husband’s car. A couple of weeks later, after having insisted that the tree had been properly maintained, therefore denying our damage claim, the city arborist came out and decided the tree was pretty much dead. Next thing I knew, a crew of men in orange hats showed up and within a span of several hours cut it down, chipped it up and left me with a bare strip of dirt in front of my house.

I ranted and raved and then I cried. After spending my own childhood with that beautiful tree and then raising my four kids under its boughs, I really thought life would never be the same again.

Time passed, and life did indeed go on without the tree. Fall arrived and that there were no dead leaves or spiny seed pods to clean up was definitely a benefit. The rain came and without the tree roots, the soil became fertile again. I was immediately drawn to the potential of all that dirt. I got down on my hands and knees and planted.

Life is full of change and trade offs. Sure, the birds build their nests in the neighbors trees and I have a little less shade in my life, but now I get to watch a daily performance of bees and butterflies as they flit in and around my newest flower bed. Not to mention the perfectly unobstructed view of the mountains.

Change is good.

Different Cups of Coffee

10 Aug

 

c2a98633-8524-45d7-9844-0aedd3daff88Today I found myself falling back in love with my husband. This is no small feat considering we’ve been together since 1985, married over thirty years with four children, during which time I’ve learned many things, one being that I’m absolutely capable of murder.

As most married couples, we have our certain routines. Please don’t tell anyone, but we eat breakfast at McDonald’s. Often. And there is an exact procedure that we follow with our breakfast ritual: Before leaving the house, I order my Venti Decaf Skinny Mocha from Starbucks using the app on my phone so I don’t have to wait in line (one of the greatest inventions ever created.) Then I drop Rene off at McDonald’s and head over to Anna’s Bakery where I order him a sesame bagel (double toasted), a muffin for me (pumpkin or blueberry oatmeal) and a crème-filled chocolate donut for Isa if she’s with us. We then meet up at McDonald’s where Rene has ordered scrambled eggs and his beloved McDonald’s coffee. We grab a window table and after greeting the locals, we eat our breakfast and talk.

Most times we talk about our work, our students—our family and friends. We often run into people we know (it’s astounding how many people my husband knows in our community) and have a quick chat with them. Sometimes, during our conversations we get angry with each other, usually when the topic is our children; he wants to push them and I want to defend them. Mostly, we talk and laugh. Throughout the years we’ve had some deep, philosophical discussions under the glare of those fluorescent lights.

Today was really no different than usual, except that as René spoke about his latest trip back home to Oaxaca, and how much he appreciates his life there and well as the life we’ve created together here, I realized how deep my love is for my husband. I’m so very lucky to be married to a man who is so different than I—in language, culture and background. Over the years, he’s exposed me to a world I never would have known or appreciated if I had married someone like me. And I guess I’ve done the same for him. The reality is that although we sip our coffee from two different cups, we’re drinking the same thing.

The other night, René pulled out some love letters I’d written to him when he’d gone back to Oaxaca after we first began dating in 1985. The words written by that young girl were so full of love and promise. At twenty-three, she didn’t know if he was coming back to her, but it didn’t matter. She loved him and she wasn’t afraid to tell him.

She must’ve been a pretty persuasive writer because he ended up coming back. And it’s been a pretty good life so far. We’ll see how it goes over the next thirty years.

You can find us having coffee at McDonald’s.

Puzzle

31 Jul

img_1605It wasn’t that long ago that I looked forward to my writing time—a few free hours here and there would make my stomach tingle with eager anticipation. I’d grab my coffee, open my computer and begin piecing together my puzzle of words, sentences and paragraphs. After several years, I watched my jigsaw come together with pages, chapters and finally, a completed novel.

I know I should feel a sense of accomplishment that after many hours of work, I took an idea and turned it into a story with a beginning, middle and end—a story that many people have told me they’ve loved reading.

And yet the truth is, it’s not right yet.

After another round of queries, another agent was intrigued and asked for the full manuscript. He told me he’d get back to me within three days—which he did, but not with the positive news I’d hoped for.

It was another pass. But instead of the standard I’m sorry this isn’t the right fit for me at this time, blah, blah, blah, this guy actually called me on the phone and spoke to me for twenty minutes about what I needed to do to make the narrative execution work. He really liked my voice, but felt I needed to flesh out the main character more so that the reader could better understand her motivation. He said he’d be happy to take another look at after some revision.

More revision? Oh, Lord.

I guess that in my eagerness to finish the puzzle, I neglected to take the time to see if all the pieces were in the correct position. From a distance, it looked fine, but upon closer inspection, it became obvious some of the pieces were not aligned.

When the truth hits you right in the face, it hurts. Especially when you realize that deep down, you knew it all along.

Which is why I haven’t been writing lately. I’ve avoided my computer altogether (except when I waste time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—or spend an inordinate amount of time following the distracting antics of the crazy man in the White House.) Right now I’ll do anything to avoid facing the nitty gritty work that I know I must do in order to make my novel really good.

But it is imperative that I remember I’m not defined by whether or not I get this novel published. Instead, I’m defined by my tenacity in sticking with this process no matter how much rejection and failure I’ve faced. I have a stubborn streak and it will do me justice in the end.

There. I just wrote over 400 words. I guess I’m already back to work. I’ll report back and let you know how it turns out.

Thanks for listening.

No Place I’d Rather Be

17 Jun

I normally teach Saturday mornings, but with several students out of town on vacation, I miraculously had the morning off. Not only that, I had a very generous gift card for a local nursery that one of my graduating seniors gave me as a goodbye gift. Talk about bliss! Starbucks in hand, I browsed through the colorful flower displays and went completely nuts, choosing whatever I wanted with no residual guilt about spending too much money. My trunk stuffed with color, I headed home to plant.img_1413

I started with the back patio where the zinnias were on their last legs. I pulled everything out of the pots and started over. Here’s the final result. Can you tell I’m into pink and purple these days?

Next, I tackled the front porch, where the pots have been empty for months. I think it turned out really well.

Now I’m tired. I think I’ll sit on the front porch chair and gaze out over my kingdom.

There’s no place I’d rather be than the garden. Life is good.

Ten Junes

30 May

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June is almost here and I’ve begun to feel it—that sense of giddy anticipation for the coming summer. All the signs are here—the misty fog banks that hug the coast, the scent of jasmine in the air when I open the front door; the ruffled towers of purple delphinium that sway in the offshore breezes that slip in off the Pacific.

Since I was a girl I’ve associated June with happy affairs—a long vacation from school, the prospect of lazy days spent at the beach, a new part time job—the thrill of a budding summer romance. June was always filled with a sense of endless possibility and hope.

Then in 2007, June turned on me. It became the month my daughter, Isa was diagnosed with leukemia.

Exactly ten years have passed since Isa’s diagnosis of cancer, when the perfect month of June lost its allure and became a time associated with doctors, nurses and hospitals; with antibiotic cocktails, blood transfusions and chemotherapy. When June became a time saturated with anxiety as my two year-old developed an angry rash all over her body and suddenly stopped eating because her mouth was filled with painful sores. June was raging fevers, sweat-soaked hospital sheets and sleepless nights. June was spending our twentieth wedding anniversary in an isolated hospital room watching our daughter suffer. June was thinking Isa could die.

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Isa  in the hospital on her third birthday.

But June turned out to be other things, as well. It was the wisdom of the doctors and the compassion of the nurses who held our hands, loved our daughter and reassured us that Isa would be all right. It was when our family, friends and community gave us their unconditional support through selfless acts of kindness—big and small. June was when we received that phone call from the doctor telling us that Isa had responded rapidly to the chemotherapy and was in remission.

Ten years.

In a few weeks, Isa will graduate from sixth grade. Like the jasmine that grows outside my front door, Isa has blossomed into a beautiful young girl—outgoing, smart, funny and most importantly, kind. Today she is considered cured and shows no residual effects from the chemotherapy.

As I stand on my front porch and look out at my garden, I realize the anxiety I carried for so long is gone. I am no longer afraid. Isa is still here with us and for this I am forever grateful. As summer stretches out before me, I feel only wonder for the possibility of what is to come.

June has come back to me.

 

Isa in a commercial for Santa Barbara Cottage Children’s Hospital

 

Friday Blooms

26 May

Happy Friday! Here’s a little color to brighten your day. Hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!img_1284img_1274img_1276img_1281img_1280img_1279img_1277