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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.

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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.

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

 

Staying Put

28 Mar

When one lives in paradise, it’s nearly impossible to find vacation spots that compare to home. Our solution? A staycation. We explore our own community and pretend we’ve never seen it before. Yesterday, we took a drive up in the Santa Ynez mountains, had lunch downtown and took in a late afternoon movie (Get Out–a fantastic film.) This morning was breakfast at Anna’s Bakery and a walk to our local nature preserve. I am so grateful to live in Goleta the Goodland.

Here’s a slideshow of our hike this morning. Enjoy!

Now I’m off to work in the garden.

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Tiny Beautiful Things

1 Mar

I recently read the most wonderful book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, the author of the best selling memoir, Wild. This lovely little book is a compilation of letters sent to the author while she worked writing an advice column for the Rumpus called Dear Sugar. My childhood friend Michele (one of my fellow creative soul sisters) recommended it to me as she understands my constant angst about trying to find happiness through creative expression.

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I needed this book right now. I haven’t felt like myself lately. Each morning when I turn on the television I want to either scream or cry at what’s happening in our country. I need to start my next novel and every time I sit down at the computer–I’ve got nothing. I stare blankly at the screen until I finally give up and log into Facebook where the political posts made me even more depressed. Just before falling asleep in bed each night, my brain manifests all kinds of wonderful and exciting writing ideas, then when I wake up the next morning, I can’t remember a single one.

The best thing about Tiny Beautiful Things is that we learn something that we already know: life is hard sometimes. We are all sad and raw and completely lost at some point in our lives. the trick is to understand that with each experience there’s a lesson to be learned. We don’t always pay attention, but it’s there.

I’m not sure what my lesson is lately. Certainly, I need to feel more gratitude for what I have. And I have so much. So I will pay attention to all the tiny beautiful things that are right in front of me.

 

 

 

Happy New Year

11 Jan
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The Mireles Family: Back row: Nino, Nora and Leah. Front row: Rene, Isa and Jessica

I’ll be honest–due to my complete lack of preparation and general malaise, I neglected to get my annual holiday letter out before Christmas. I did manage to send out a few cards, but if you didn’t get one this year, here it is. I’m sharing it on my blog because after a rough 2016 for all of us, I feel the need to spread some love.

Dear Family and Friends (and Blog Followers),

Okay, I know I’m late in getting our annual Christmas letter out this year and I’ve no doubt most of you were paralyzed with fear and dread that I wasn’t writing one. Rest assured, I will not leave you in your state of angst any longer. You may now drag yourself out from under the covers and move on with your life.

As difficult as it is to focus on the good after 2016 went flying off the deep end, my plan of action is to try my best to focus on the one thing that has the ability to solve everyone’s problems: LOVE.

Here goes:

NORA: My oldest and favorite child. I love that Nora still lives at home even though she worries that she’s too old to still be living at home. I love that she adores her job working with such amazing women at California Retina Consultants and has developed wonderful relationships with them. I love that Nora plays coed fast pitch softball and that she’s really, really good at it. I love that Nora drives a Prius and has become totally vegan and is now super healthy. I love that she’s trying to convince the rest of the family to do it too (hmmm….we’ll have to see about that.) I love that she’s goofy, funny and kind and still tolerates me and René (most of the time.)

LEAH: My second oldest and favorite child. I love that Leah is will graduate in May from USC with a masters in Hospital Administration. I love that after working a full-time unpaid internship at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles while going to school full time, the hospital hired her for a paid position. I love that Leah wrote an incredible essay about healthcare and won a huge scholarship that paid half a year’s tuition. I love that she took a solo trip to Italy to meet up with a friend. I love that Leah and her boyfriend, Jeff come and visit us often and bring their dog Luna, who is my favorite granddoggy. I love that Leah is so funny, kind and generous to our family as well as the rest of the world. (And I love Jeff, too.)

NINO: My only son and favorite child. I love that Nino graduated from UCSB last June as an art major. I love that in July he moved to Oaxaca, Mexico to live for six months (he just got back right before Christmas which is why this letter is late—I mean, what kind of mother would I be if I took our family Xmas photo without him? I love that the minute he arrived home, he got his old job back (with a raise) and started working right away with the intent to pay off his student debt within the year. I love that he makes me belly laugh all the time. I love that I didn’t realize how much I missed him until he was home again.

ISA: My youngest and favorite child. I love that this kid is so great that sometimes I have to close my eyes and thank the universe that she’s here with us. I love that she was elected La Patera School’s student body president and when she came home from school that day, she very nonchalantly told me she’d won. I love that she does cartwheels and handstands around the house like a crazy person, plays soccer, takes piano, voice and dance lessons and does her homework without asking. I love that she begged for an iPhone and got it for her 12th birthday (and Christmas and sixth grade graduation.) I love how she laughs all the time and that she can come up with puns and zingers that put her siblings to shame. I love that I don’t embarrass her in public (or at least not yet.)

RENE: My favorite husband (so far.) I love that René comes home from work each day raving about how much he loves his students. I love that he still drives to L.A. almost every weekend to see his sister who is confined to a nursing home. I love that he yells at me to get off my phone and then proceeds to spend hours playing games on his. I love that wherever we go, he meets someone he knows. I love that he values family above all else. I love that he stops for coffee at McDonald’s everyone morning on the way to work and has breakfast with a group of homeless men. I love that even when I want to kill him, he makes me laugh. I love that we will celebrate thirty years of marriage this coming June. And I especially love that I still love him after all these years together.

ME: my favorite self. I love that I’m blessed with the best job where I teach children how to love music. I love that I got to spend several days at a beach house with a group of women friends I’ve known since junior high. I love that I finished my novel and am now trying to find an agent. I love that I’ve received over thirty rejections (really—I do love this because it will make it all the more sweet when it actually gets picked up.) I love that the five people I’ve allowed to read my book have raved about it (including Nino, who is a hard sell.) I love that my mom is still going strong at eighty. I love that my kids tease me and laughingly accuse me of turning into my mother. I love that I dote on my two lap dogs, Cody and Leo. I love that I still work in my flower garden and that it brings me so much joy. I love that our extended family spent Christmas together and had such a wonderful time.

2016 was a challenge, and perhaps 2017 will be as well, but I love that I will ALWAYS try to find the good around me. I love that I will always try to be a helper to those who are disenfranchised and looked down upon. I love that I will never stop believing that the majority of us are kind and moral people who choose to see that deep down we are all the same.

We send our warmest wish of LOVE, happiness and good health to all of you in the coming year!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

René, Jessica, Nora, Leah, Nino and Isa (and Cody and Leo, too!)

Miracle

12 Dec

img_0612My youngest daughter, Isa turns twelve years old today. I guess you could say she’s a bit of a miracle–born to a mother in her forties whose other three kids were practically grown up when she entered the world with a lusty cry and a head full of thick, black hair. Then, when she was a toddler, this miracle girl did something even bigger: she was diagnosed with cancer and after a fierce battle, she survived. And as a family, we also survived. The greatest miracle of all is that through this nightmare of cancer, Isa taught us how to live.

Today is a special day: Isa’s golden birthday. She is 12 on 12/12. It’s also the birthday of the Virgin de Guadalupe, who is an iconic saint in Mexican culture. When Isa was going through treatment, when her hair fell out and her belly swelled from the medication, Rene took a short trip back to Oaxaca to see his family. While in Mexico City, he went to the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe to make an offering to the Virgincita and to pray for Isa’s life. Now, my husband could certainly win the prize for the best lapsed Catholic, but going to that shrine somehow comforted him, offering him hope during a very dark time.

Since that time, our family has made it a tradition to go to Olvera Street in Los Angeles on Isa’s birthday to Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church to offer our thanks for another year with our beautiful daughter. We went last night and had a wonderful time, marveling at the beautiful culture of Mexico and deeply grateful that Isa is still here with us.

Happy Birthday, Isa!

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Thankful

26 Nov

There is nothing more blissful than a rainy Saturday afternoon. Even better, being able to get outdoors during a break in the rain and revel in the beauty of this wet day. Even though my heart is heavy about what’s happening in our country right now, I’m choosing to set my worries aside for one lovely, quiet afternoon and reflect upon all the gratitude I have for my wonderful life.

There is a lovely park near our home that used to be a private ranch but is now a county park open to the public. Numerous hiking paths meander around a small lake filled with all kinds of water fowl. Come along and take a walk with me. Perhaps you will even be able to smell the wet earth…

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I absolutely love the vibrant red of these berries!

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Before long, these grasses will be bright green.

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The dogs (and Rene) are so happy to get out of the house!

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A new tree popping up in front of trunk of a dead tree

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Almost felt like I was in the English countryside!

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Nothing better than the scent of wet Eucalyptus!

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Stow House at Rancho La Patera in Goleta, California

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And because it’s Thanksgiving week, I can’t resist sharing a photo of my wonderful family.

Midlife Crisis

17 Oct

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I’ve recently decided that I’m going through my first real midlife crisis. At least I hope that’s what it is—perhaps I have another 54 years ahead of me. Whatever it is though, I’m struggling to find the joy lately.

I could blame my depression on several things:

1) No takers on my novel so far. I do have one agent still looking at it, but no word back yet. I’m savvy enough to know that for new writers trying to get published, this is not uncommon. It’s still hard on the ego, though.

2) The ELECTION. Like a looky-loo at a car accident, I’m sickened but at the same time, strangely captivated. I can’t seem to pull my eyes away from the tragedy playing out on television while eagerly waiting for another car (or scandal) to plow into that already huge pile of carnage.

3) My children are growing up and leaving me. I know this is as it should be, but shedding my role as caretaker of four is harder than I thought it would be. Thank goodness I still have six years left with Isa.

4) Getting older sucks. Menopause, wrinkles, aches and pains all remind me that while inside I’m still that sixteen-year-old girl, my body proves that she is long gone. I should have loved her more when she was around.

“White-privileged, first-world problems,” my husband admonishes me. “Get over yourself.” As a person of color, he’s allowed to say this to me. Growing up poor in Mexico, he knows about real poverty, discrimination and suffering. Sure, I’ve had my moments of pain, but fully understand I’ve lead a privileged life. After recently calculating our wealth on Globalrichlist.com. I’m actually embarrassed to admit how far up on the scale we are. I have NO reason whatsoever to complain.

Still, I can’t seem to shake this feeling of “What if?” What if I’d starting writing earlier? What if I’d made exercise a priority throughout my life? What if I’d traveled the world when I was young and had the energy? What if I’d learned to love myself a long time ago?

Hey Jess—do you want some cheese with your whine?

Okay, rant over. No one can fix me but me. I need to look for the good, so I’m off to practice some intentional gratitude.

I’ll start with a heartfelt THANK YOU for following my blog. I truly appreciate your readership.

There. I feel better already.

Just to remind myself of how lucky I am, I’m posting some photos of things I’m grateful for:

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Black-eyed Susans in the garden

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Time spent with my beautiful daughters

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My daily view of the Santa Ynez mountains

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Isa and our babies, Cody and Leo

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The vibrant color of this late autumn hollyhock.

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There are really no words to express my gratitude for my family.