Happy

3 Jan

 

img_3936I’ve spent much of my life waiting for something to make me happy. If only ________ (fill in the blank) would happen, I’d be happy. If only I had________, everything would be all right. If only I could do _________I’d be fulfilled forever.

IF ONLY, IF ONLY, IF ONLY!

If and when the IF ONLY finally comes to pass (and it does happen occasionally) I’m content for a nanosecond. Then I’m right back to where I was before, hoping and wishing and dreaming of something better.

The other day my husband, René and I were driving somewhere together I must have let out a sigh. He turned to me and said, “You know, Jess—trying to be happy all the time is unrealistic. We may strive to find happiness—we may even have joyful moments here and there, but most of the time, every single one of us is struggling. And it’s okay to be sad. It’s human nature.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what he said, particularly because it’s frequently an internal battle for me to find constant happiness. Because I have so much to be grateful for, I feel guilty if I’m not blissful.

Of course I blame my parents. During my loosey-goosey 1970’s childhood, their philosophy was to promote an unrealistic idea of constant sweetness and light—no negativity allowed whatsoever. Happiness was a must—even if we had to fake it. All the while my poor, depressed father drank himself into oblivion every night.

Looking back on his short life (he died at 53) I understand now that he was faking it as well. While struggling daily with his ADHD and severe depression, he tamped down his creative side, trading it in for familial responsibility. I’m sure I’ve inherited some of my melancholy from him, although I’ve been lucky enough to also inherit some of his creativity. Even with all of the childhood angst I experienced, I’m grateful to him and my mother for giving me a life of privilege. I’m thankful I’ve been able to pass that good life down to my own children.

My goal for the coming year is to let go of this unrealistic idea that I must be happy all of the time. I’m going to allow myself to feel sad sometimes. Perhaps this will allow me to truly enjoy those moments of happiness that do come my way. And when they appear, I won’t have to fake it. I’ll allow the happiness fill my soul to the brim.

And when it’s full, I’ll let it spill out into the world.

Happy New Year, my dear readers. You indeed make me happy.

I thank you for that.

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This is me, not faking it.


 

 

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Fierce

10 Dec
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photo credit: Kay Bess


Forty-four years ago, an insecure twelve-year old named Jessie stepped foot onto the campus of her junior high school and instantly realized the outfit her mother had bought for her at Sears was all wrong. She nervously tucked a strand of frizzy hair behind one ear before scratching at a group of pimples threatening to erupt on her chin. She felt like crying.

Her previous elementary school friendships had faded away over the summer and Jessie’s main concern that day was that she would end up eating lunch by herself. As noontime approached, her fear intensified. Then something wonderful happened. A pretty, brown-haired angel named Julie sat down next to her in English class and struck up a conversation. She invited Jessie to each lunch with her group.

It was the beginning of a miracle. A miracle that has continued to this day.

After graduation from high school, our friendships ebbed and flowed. Back then we had no social media, making it more difficult to stay in touch. We attended each other’s weddings and baby showers, but as a complete group we didn’t really bind to each other until my mother threw me a surprise 35th birthday party and secretly invited my nine best girlfriends. I don’t think we’ve ever laughed as hard as we did at that party, pouring over old yearbooks and reminiscing about our high school days. I believe it was then that we decided to make it a priority to meet up at least once a year near the holidays. What began as a dinner out eventually turned into an annual three day vacation trip.

Today we are closer than ever, mostly because of our shared history. More importantly, as we age, we find we need each other more. As our marriages end, as our children grow up and leave us; as our bodies begin to fail, we know that we can rely each other for love and support. No one knows me as well as these nine women do. We are free to reveal our true selves without fear of judgement or recrimination. Our secrets, once spilled to the group, are tucked away into the “vault” for all time.

This December, we traveled to Avila Beach and stayed in a lovely house. We had massages and facials. We cooked incredible meals together. We went on walks and bike rides together. We sang, some of us off key, some of us forgetting the words. We laughed so hard we cried.

I still find myself in awe of this unbreakable bond of friendship. When that nervous and insecure twelve year-old Jessie rears up inside my head I sometimes feel lost and afraid. But as soon as I’m with my girls, my strength returns. Because of them, I feel anchored. Because of them, I feel loved.

Because of them I feel fierce.

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Lunch together at Avila Beach, California

Dream Come True

5 Nov

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Two and a half years ago I sent out my first query letter for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca. Over the course of that time I’ve received more standard rejection emails than I can count (actually I did count them but I’m mortified to admit to you how many are clogging my inbox.) I experienced some lovely moments of hope after receiving a handful of requests from agents to read the full manuscript. Then I was over the moon when the head of a reputable New York literary agency said she was “this close” to adding me to her list. She ultimately chose to decline.

One agent said I’d written “a well-crafted novel” and gave me some helpful advice. Another said she loved the book but had no idea how to market me. I’m not famous. I have no brand. These days, traditional publishing relies so much on who the author is, or what she looks like—it’s no longer focused solely on the writing. I totally get it. What traditional agency would want to take a chance on a middle-aged piano teacher who has hardly published anything?

All hope is not lost, though. I didn’t spend five years of my life writing/editing a novel to give up that easily. I’ve decided to head in a different direction. Come hell or high water, this novel is getting published.

The exciting news is that Lost in Oaxaca was recently accepted by Spark Press Publications, a hybrid agency that selects its authors based solely on the quality of the writing. https://gosparkpress.com/about/.

I know your first thought is that this is merely a vanity press—that anyone with enough cash can get their work published, not matter how good (or bad) it is. After much research, I’ve learned that this is definitely not the case. While I do have to finance the publication, I don’t have to worry about navigating all the difficult details of publishing.  Those details most likely would have led to a mental breakdown had I decided to self-publish. Keeping my sanity is worth the cost.

I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my early fifties. With a family and a full time job, I don’t have a heck of a lot of time left over to write, let alone market my novel. This might be my only chance, so I’m going for it.

Barring any unforeseen problems, Lost in Oaxaca should come out in sometime in 2020.

Watch for the movie version shortly after that.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

 

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Middle Aged Bliss

29 Aug

img_3203These days, my head is in the clouds. I’ve completely lost my motivation to get anything done. I’ll sit down at the computer to write, and the next thing I know, I’m on Facebook, sobbing over clips of returning soldiers reunited with their dogs, or the smiling faces of babies fitted with hearing aids for the first time. I’ll put on my tennis shoes to go for a walk but before I even get out of the yard, I’m busy picking a bouquet of flowers for the dining room table. If I glance at my phone to check the time, I may lose thirty minutes scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. Don’t even ask about watching CNN at the top of each hour. I mean seriously, the day will be gone in an instant.

Some days, I lie on the couch listening to James Taylor snuggling with my two dogs. Other days, I’ll spend three hours binge watching a British detective series. I crave sweet and salty snacks. I get cranky and pick fights with my husband. I press my thirteen year-old daughter for stories of junior high drama, but damn her, she’s above all that teenage gossip stuff. I long for weekends away with my girlfriends. Nothing pleases me more than having the house all to myself.

Oh, Lord. I’m heading toward sixty and I’m turning back into a teenage girl again.

Perhaps my behavior is in response to getting older. In my head I count how many more years I have left on this earth. Thirty, forty? However many, I’m afraid it’s never going to be enough. I’m having so much fun being an adult. Even though my knees ache as I climb the stairs, even though white hairs snake up out of my head like Medusa, and even though I have actual jowls, I truly love my life.

Here’s the thing: I’m so much happier now than when I was as a teenager. My body may have been perfect back then, but I was an insecure wreck, always caring about what others thought of me. Today I have the luxury of not worrying about what I’m going to do with my life because I’ve already done it! I have an awesome career. My husband adores me, my kids love me, and I have so many wonderful friends who like to go out to lunch with me.

Middle age rocks.

So I’ll take an Advil or two and plop my butt down on the couch. I’ll text a girlfriend and arrange a lunch date. Maybe I’ll daydream about my future grandchildren. And then there’s that new Netflix original movie based on one of my favorite novels (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society, if you must know.)

It’s time to watch it for a third time.

Enough

11 Jul

Every time I turn on the television, I think it can’t get worse. Then it does. I’m scared for our country. I’m scared for our democracy.

I’m scared for human kind.

I’m tired of watching clips of people treating others unkindly. I’m tired of folks calling the police on people because of the color of their skin. I’m horrified about what’s happening at the border. I’m exhausted from the anger I feel very time the president opens his mouth.

My head is about to explode. I’ve had enough.

Today, I’m taking a break.

For the rest of the day, I will try my best to focus on all the good things around me. Because right now, it’s all I got.

Here are a few photos of the things that bring me joy.

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She’s going to kill me for posting this, but I will anyway. This face makes me happy, even when it’s looking down at an iPhone screen. Oh, to be thirteen again!

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Pink, cotton candy smoke coming out of our chimney. 

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The view out my upstairs window. My neighbor probably won’t appreciate me taking photos of her house, but the color of this Bougainvillea is just so beautiful.

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My younger brother recently gave me this adorable handmade birdhouse for the garden.               I love it.

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Leo pretending he doesn’t care who wins the World Cup.

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My husband’s family at his sister’s recent memorial. No matter what you think about immigration, this is America. 

Good always conquers evil. And there is so much good to see if we just look for it. Tomorrow is another day and when I turn on the television, I’ll probably find myself angry again.

But not today. Today, it’s all about finding the good.

Maybe take a moment and find yours.

Worry

7 May

“When I look back on all these worries, img_2382I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”

–Winston Churchill

You’d think that I would have learned my lesson after all these years. But I haven’t. I still wake up in the middle of the night, riddled with worry about the things that I have little control over. My go-to worry is usually about money—that’s there never enough of it—though compared to the rest of the world, my standard of living is in the top one percent. I worry about our house being eaten by termites. I worry about my weight and my health. I worry about politics (who doesn’t?) I worry about my kids, my husband and my aging mother. I worry that I’ll never find an agent for my book—that people are sick to death hearing about me and my dumb novel and how I can’t find an agent who loves it enough to sign me.

I worry that I’m not a good enough writer.

I lived with some form of worry my entire life, most of it pointless. Almost eleven years ago, my worry turned to terror when our daughter, Isa was diagnosed with cancer. Now, that was truly something to worry about. And boy, did I ever get good at it. For almost three years, I carried a tight ball of fear in my gut that never went away, not even for a moment. And when it was all over and Isa was cured, the worry slowly began to dissipate. I was left with this incredible sense of relief. Everything was sweeter and brighter and more joyful. I began to practice feeling grateful.

I stopped worrying and I found my passion.

I began to write.

And I’ve kept at it. Over the past six years, I’ve written 135 blog posts, published two essays (in actual magazines) and even earned $75 for one of them. I’ve managed to send out my annual Holiday newsletter. Every. Single. Frickin. Year. I’ve become friends with many amazing writers (virtually and in person.) And I wrote an entire novel, which most of the time I think is pretty good if I’m feeling generous toward myself.

But in the process of following my literary bliss (and the subsequent rejection I’ve faced with my efforts of trying to get published) I’ve allowed the worry to come back. I began practicing self-doubt instead of self-appreciation. I’d forgotten that what’s important is the path, not the destination (trite, but true.) I’ve been so focused on getting to the end of my journey that I haven’t allowed myself to enjoy all the beautiful things in my periphery along the way.

The worry attached herself again. She’s kept me up at night with her tortuous ways.

Eleven years ago, she held onto me so tightly that I could barely breathe. I learned to beat her back. And I’ll do it again. She’s a tough one, but I’m tougher.

Bring it on, Bitch.

Glorious Spring!

18 Apr

Spring is my favorite season. This one has turned out to be particularly spectacular. The photos don’t lie! Hope you enjoy them!

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Fragrant Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco) has the most incredible scent!

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These Delphinium are such a vibrant blue!

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If only you could smell these sweet peas!

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California Poppies closed up for the evening.

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Foxglove. My favorite English Flower.

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A mass of fragrant color!

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Mexican Primrose and Linaria.

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PINK!

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Jupiter’s Beard

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I’m like a kid in a candy store.

Engagement

28 Mar

img_2367As I grow older, I find myself becoming more reclusive. When many of my close friends are excitedly planning their next big trip to Asia or Europe, I prefer to stay home, puttering in my flower garden or lying on the couch reading a good book. The thought of planning a travel itinerary and lugging suitcases through busy airports exhausts me. Introverted as I am though, I can occasionally be talked into taking a short road trip. Especially when my teenage daughter, Isa uses her formidable powers of persuasion to convince me to get out of the house.

Isa chose San Francisco. Before long, the entire family had decided to go along for the three day trip. Then, a few weeks ago my daughter’s boyfriend pulled me aside during a weekend visit.

“Just so you know,” he said, “I’m planning to ask Leah to marry me. I know she would want you all there and I think this trip to San Francisco is the perfect time to do it.” He did add a caveat that he wasn’t asking us if he could marry her. After all, Leah is her own person and not our property. He knew if would go against her principles if he asked our “permission.” This guy knows my daughter well. All in all, a very good sign.

An elaborate plan was set in motion. Although we were as secretive as we could be, Leah had to have known something was up because she happily agreed to go along with every suggestion we made. We somehow managed to get her to the beautiful San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts where Jeff was nervously waiting with the ring, their two dogs, and a professional photographer. After weeks of heavy rain, the day, though a bit chilly, was gloriously sunny. We got to hang back and watch the entire event unfold. Pure magic.

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Our trip was a blast. Other than a slight snafu which included not realizing that the Airbnb we had reserved was “owner occupied” and that our hosts would not be leaving, everything went smoothly. Did I mention that our hosts decided to cook garlic and cabbage at 10 p.m. on Sunday night? And that the smell was so strong we had to sleep with the windows open? It was the one and only time I actually welcomed the frigid San Francisco air.

We took the ferry to Alcatraz, walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, and spent too much money at the renowned City Lights Bookstore. We visited the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. We had an unbelievably delicious lunch at Nicks, a vegan Filipino restaurant in Daly City. We drove down the coast to Big Sur’s The River Inn for another lovely dinner by the water. With the recent rains the scenery was popping with vibrant color.

 

I continuously count my blessings that my children are my friends. There are no other people I’d rather spend time with. And now we are beyond fortunate to add another son to the mix. Luckily, Jeff possesses the exact amount of crazy to fit right in. And he loves my daughter, which makes him a crazy genius.

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                                Love, in all forms, is what allows us to breathe.

Congratulations, Leah and Jeff. Now, let’s plan a wedding!

Springing

12 Mar

The rain is here and the flowers are singing! The caterpillars are happily stuffing themselves with milkweed leaves. I hope you enjoy these most recent photos of my garden. I have a feeling it’s going to be a spectacular spring!

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Pink ranunculus 

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Daffodils!

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Iceland Poppies

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Sweet peas and Freesia

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Caterpillars chomping on Milkweed leaves

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Magenta Freesia

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Yellow Iceland Poppies

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Narcissi

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Tulips!

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.