Presents Day 2012 - Done!

Another Christmas, aka Presents Day, behind us. It was a fairly nice one, aside from the amount of time I spent looking at excel documents for work. It's hard to have deadlines during the holidays, but such is life...
We had a mini Xmas at home with my foster girl, a big one at my sisters and then a small one at home with just Andrew and I. Then an extra one at his cousins house, where I completely forgot to take any pictures, but that doesn't indicate that it was any less special.



Crafts, Crafts and More Crafts

This weekend was a planned craft weekend with my girls.

I had my regular foster girl visit - she's five and she LOVES crafts.

And my friend Alison is crafty - she and I have been talking about getting together to do crafts for ages.

And then there's my friend Jennifer and her daughter, Adrienne. Jennifer was born with no craft gene whatsoever...her daughter isn't as challenged thankfully.

Thanks to my decade of hosting volunteer events, I have more craft supplies than the average elementary school. You need googly eyes- check. Pipe cleaners- of course. Any particular color of paper and any thickness- yep. Mini clothespins? Cotton balls? Sculpting clay? Ink pads in various colors? Holiday stickers? Handmade paper from India? Polka-dotted tissue paper? Sequins? YES - I have anything you could possibly need.

Here's some scenes from our crafty McCraft-a-Lot day:

Busy bees!
Laughing while crafting is a must!

Hard at work!

Finished clay projects!

A child did NOT make this. It's rastafarian Elmo....

Who Are Your Friends and Family?

I have a grandfathered plan on my carrier which allows me to have 10 friends and family numbers added. With those 10 numbers, I can have ten numbers that Andrew or I can call and have them not count towards our minutes.

However, minutes to Verizon customers also don't count against our minutes. And most of the people we seem to know are on Verizon.

And we rarely ever talk on the phone anyway. We text them. Or facebook message them. Or email them. Or just see them in real life.

Which means we have very little need for this special friends and family plan. I'm not saying I don't want it. Just noting that we don't have a huge need.
I struggle to come up with ten names to even include on the list. I hope this doesn't provide an indicator of who my friends are....

The Love/Hate Relationship About Hotels....

I love picking out my breakfast the night before and having a nice young man bring it to me just after I've woken up.
But I hate waking up so early to eat breakfast before I begin a 12-14 hour day.

I love being upgraded to the executive level because the room you originally were given had an old-man-b.o. smell about it.
But I hate that the executive level in this particular hotel is only different in that they have a robe in the closet. (a robe I would never consider wearing)

I love not having to worry about anything. They'll do your laundry, they'll clean your room, they'll bring you fresh towels.
But I hate that I have to hear people next door at random times when I'm used to living alone and hearing no noises in the night.

I love having tv with cable-there's so many channels!
But I hate having to watch commercials.

I love having dinner downstairs and just signing my name and not having to worry about more receipts to expense.
But I hate the limited options in the hotel restaurant.

I LOVE staying in hotels!
But I hate being away from home.

This I Know - I Have No Elevator Speech

Have I mentioned how much I love NPR? There are just so many amazing shows on there.
For sure, This American Life is at the top of my list. The Moth is a close second.

There's another great show out there called This I Believe - it's short essays written by random people on various pieces of their life. I thought of that show this weekend as I was helping edit my niece's college application essays and was thinking about how I would answer the question in her essay - Who am I?  If this were for the show This I Believe, it might just be the most boring and convoluted show they ever made....

I'm almost 40 years old - I should have a pretty solid answer to this.
My manager at my new(er) job once told me - always have your elevator speech ready. If someone asks you about your job in the elevator, you need to be prepared to speak to what your role is for the entire elevator ride. Be prepared. Always have an elevator speech.

I don't have my elevator speech ready to define who I am. That's a pretty big question...maybe one I will always be changing.

For nearly half of my life, I have defined myself by "I am a single parent." And though I am still single, and I will forever be a parent, I really don't define myself that way anymore. Except when I look at my pathetic bank account and non-existent retirement fund and then I remind myself that it's okay..cause I'm a single mom. I can choose to send my son to college, or I can save for retirement. Single mom choices...and I have chosen to invest in my son, not my future goal to end working at a particular age. I am a single parent - but my Andrew is an amzing young man, out in the world on his own, doing amazing  as always. He just doesn't need me as much...

My new elevator speech about Who Am I would have to mention that I am a therapeutic foster parent. Even though I only have a child about six days a month, and the required meeting 1-2x a month, my life feels more complete now that I can share my experiences. It's such a rewarding part of my life. I haven't been volunteering much - I have too unpredictable of a work schedule right now - but having a foster child is definitely filling the void.

In my Who Am I thoughts, I try not to include that I'm a person who has heart disease. It's difficult though, as I honestly think about my heart at least five times a day (maybe 50). That's down from 65 times, so I'm making progress. My friend told me the other day about how Rosie O'Donnell was hosting a tv show the other day and brought up her heart issue (the exact same kind that I had) MANY times during the show, and my friend thought of me. I feel bad, as I know that my friends were just overwhelmed with how much I brought it up last year, but I know exactly what Rosie is going through. It's such a huge shift to go from being "normal" to being someone whose most important organ nearly stopped working without warning. I had rarely ever stopped and thought about how my heart felt before my heart incident, but now I can't remember a day in the last 18 months that I have not thought about it multiple times a day. So as much as I would like to not include this in my elevator speech - I probably would have to.

I'd also add that I'm a bit of a crazy cat lady. I love my cats!!! They have been so sweet and cuddly lately! I have to refrain from talking about them every day. I recognize that nobody else cares about them as much as I do.

So - to recap:
Who Am I?
  • I am a single mom to my wonderful and amazing Andrew.
  • I am a therapeutic foster parent.
  • I am a closeted crazy cat lady.

Girls Aren't So Bad!

I had a foster child last weekend. I've been keeping busy with fostering lately!

Something that really surprised me about fostering lately - I think I actually prefer having female children! I've only ever known what it's like to parent a boy. I helped take care of my nephew before I had my son, and then it was always my son and his male friends around forever. When Andrew brought girls home, I never really knew how to respond to them....they were so different. When my niece was a wee lass and I would babysit her, it was fun and all, but it wasn't always natural. She had different mannerisms, girly type movements, she had to sit down to pee, she wouldn't just entertain herself with a was different.

Typically when I get a couple referrals for foster kids who need a place to stay on the weekend, I am inclined to select the male option. Sometime there isn't one though...and I have to settle for...a girl.

Somehow the latest four kids I've taken care of over the last 6 weeks have been girls. And somehow I have loved EVERY SINGLE ONE of them!! They have been personable, calm, enjoyable to be around, easy to entertain, and I would take any of the four of them for a return visit.

Last weekends visitor was even a teenage girl - yikes, a teenager...and I still loved her!! She has a traumatic rape event (insert brief moment of hatred of republican government officials who have recently been making rape comments that lesson the crime of rape against women) in her past, but she is working on healing. It's just so heartbreaking when you hear a beautiful young woman-child say things like, "crocheting is a coping skill for when I think about cutting myself" or "I started being homeschooled because I was raped at school" or "sometimes I wake in the night and think there is someone in the room watching me." It's just so hard to not want to take these children and run away with them to a world where bad people don't exist. Unfortunately, I can't take them there because I haven't yet found that location....but when I do - I have four young girls who are going with me.

I Am No Longer a Mother of a Teenager - Happy Bday, Andrew!!!!

This little guy is somehow TWENTY YEARS OLD TODAY!!!!

I'm not sure how many times when you have a baby that people tell you "the time goes so fast!" - and how at the time, all you care about is sleeping, or having a few minutes to yourself, or sleeping, or thinking about how nice it would be to just sleep all night. But people say it over and over again...and they are stupid, you're sure of it. Cause you just want to sleep.


Then one day you wake up and your baby is no longer a baby. He's now a toddler.
And he's a preschooler.
Wow, he's in elementary school.
Whoa...middle school already??
Wha....wait, huh? I have a high schooler??
And now we're saying goodbye and he is off to college to learn new things, experience life (good and bad), make his own way in the world, and survive without you (for the most part).

crazy - you wake up the next day and he happens to have a birthday - and it happens to be TODAY.
And he's not 1. He's not 6. He's not 12 or 16. He's now somehow TWENTY years old and two decades have flown by since you held this tiny little baby in your arms and promised him with all your heart that you would love him more than anything in the world for as long as you are still breathing, and maybe even after that point....and you do. You really do.

My man cub is no longer a cub. He is now a man. A nearly-grown man. My baby has left his teenage years behind him and he is off into his twenties - where he will experience what it means to be on his own for long periods of time, he will probably fall in love (and maybe out of love), he will cherish things he didn't know he could even enjoy, he will go new places, he will make bad choices and figure out how to make it better, he will meet new friends, he will discover who he really is and who he really wants to become, he will finish getting an amazing education - and he will (hopefully) live life to the fullest and enjoy each year of his twenties.

And I will continue to love him more than anything in the world.

Happy birthday to my darlingc baby-no-more, Andrew B!

And The Pink Pill, And the Yellow Pill, And the Big Capsules, And the White Ones...

Since being diagnosed with heart disease last year, joining 42 million other women who live with this killer, I have been adapting to a live of daily medication.

I've never been a fan of taking pills. When I was younger, my mom would have to cut aspirin in half so I could swallow them. I never got on the birth control pill because I didn't trust myself to take a pill every single day. And yet now I am relegated to taking pills the rest of my life (or that's what three cardiologists have told me).

I take three pills for heart purposes.

I take an allergy pill - year round though really, I might be able to go off of that for a few months a year. I haven't quite figured out when that part of the year might be and I absolutely hate having allergies.

But then someone told me I should be taking a probiotic for digestive health. And I thought-she's right---my digestive system isn't always great, I could use some kind of assistance! And now I take a probiotic.

Everyone knows about fish oil and how helpful (supposedly) that is for a human - so I bought some fish oil tablets.

My mom was emphatic that I take this I gave in and bought a big bottle of those (the things we do for our parents!).

I read quite a bit on the world wide web about the dangers of taking a statin drug (like Lipitor or Crestor) and how taking CoQ10 pill is very beneficial to help your body process those drugs or combat the side effects or something like I buy those each month now.

And there's a B-complex of some sort that is essential...

And zinc and magnesium and lysine....

And something else and something else....and now I have gone from not being able to swallow an aspirin to having this to contend with DAILY:
It's a lot!!!
Speaking of a lot of drugs....for some reason, after I became a heart patient, I started keeping all the pill bottles I went through. I don't know why, or what I thought I was going to do with them. But now I have this large bag filled with empty pill bottles. I was on even more drugs when I first left the hospital - and let's not forget how I cut my finger open that same month and spent quite some time double-downing on pain pills daily...and now I have THIS:
I don't know what to do with them-but I know I want to do something.
If I end up doing nothing, our local animal shelter takes them as donations to put their meds in for foster families, but first - I will see if there's not something crafty I can do to impress you all.

Sometimes You Just Have to Call 9-1-1

I live in this very quiet community made up of mostly retired people, aside from one young family two houses down and an older family, who thinks they are young, two houses the opposite way. After 8pm each night, the neighborhood is pretty much deathly quiet, aside from the occasional summer get-together.

The house directly next to me had an old grumpy man living there when we moved in. Sadly for his family, he passed away last year. The house sold in about six months and some woman and her big dog moved in during late January. And then the woman and her big dog moved completely out of the house in early March.

VERY strange, no?

Every few weeks, 1-3 cars will pull up at the house and stay for a day, maybe overnight. And then they disappear and the house is deserted again for a few more weeks.
Also very strange, no?

Last night, I was up late watching some TV and trying to get a head start on this work project that I will be working on all day today and headed to bed about 12:15am. But I couldn't get right to sleep, so I played a few rounds of bejeweled on my phone. About 12:45, just as I was starting to feel too tired to match any more jewels, I heard a really loud noise, like someone splitting wood, coming from the back of my house. I usually look to the cats to see how scared they are to determine if I should be scared or not, but they were failing me. The noise happened about four times in a row. I made my way back to the other side of the house and could tell right away that it wasn't coming from my backyard, unless someone broke the security lights, because my yard was dark, aside from the glow of a light from the suspicious house next door. I can't see anything in their backyard from inside my house-I sure tried though- and I cracked a window open and couldn't hear anything. But it just didn't make sense on where the loud noise was coming from.

It could have been a tree limb cracking and breaking, but it wasn't windy or stormy...and the light didn't make sense.

So I waited about five minutes, listening intently, and then decided someone more qualified than me should ensure everything was okay.

I haven't called 911 in probably 6 years (last time was when we lived in an apt complex and some drunk driver smashed his truck into five cars in our parking lot). I don't know if this is how it is on all carriers, or on all phones - but this is how it went:

Dial 9-1-1.
My phone screen turned a solid red color and it flashed a message that said: CONNECTING TO EMERGENCY DISPATCH.

After a few seconds, it rang and then a recording came on saying that I was calling dispatch and to please push a number or say "help" to be connected. I said help but it didn't do anything but then started the same recording in Spanish so I pushed a number. Then the recording asked if I wanted fire, police or ambulance. I requested police.

This seemed like a REALLY long process. If someone was breaking into my house while this was happening, I'm not sure I would have the patience to deal with a recording. It probably only took about ten seconds total, but when you are under attack or need medical help, those ten seconds are going to be ridiculously long.

I don't have a conclusion to my story, other than to share what I learned about dialing 9-1-1. Lesson learned-if you THINK you need to call, get a head start on calling because you need a tiny cushion of time to actually be connected.

The police came to the neighbors house about three-five minutes later (I should have timed it), and I heard them walking around and then rapping on the door (you would have to be really rapping hard for me to hear it inside with my windows closed). And then very shortly after, they drove away. I think more info will be on the police blogger at the end of the week and I can see what came of it. Or if I really cared, I could call the office tomorrow probably.

I'm not sure I do though....currently, I'm busy fighting off other intruders - the ANTS!!!! They are no longer in the kitchen in droves-just a random one here and there (gross). I have ant traps all about, and I sprinkled some kind of ant killer outside the back side of the house, yet I just discovered a new trail of them in the sun room. I rarely ever even have food in the sun room so I'm not sure what they are doing. I'm currently spraying the trail with 409, which works great as a temporary fix. Once I finish the project I'm working on, I should do a full scrubdown of all the rooms and make suer there isn't some secret ant paradise they are trying to reach.

Foster Parenting - How the Matching Process Works

I have the best little foster girl this weekend!
This is the text conversation I had with Andrew:
Me: FYI-I am keeping this little girl. You have a sister!! Her name is (we should change that) and she turns six in February and we will celebrate our birthdays together and I will never beat her. She is wonderful!
Andrew: No.
There are some really amazing people fostering children - I am only doing respite care on weekends, which is nothing really, a 72 hour commitment. Others are taking in a child full-time, with no idea how long the child will need care. It's the foster care situation you probably think of - some police officer or social worker calls you at all hours of the night and lets you know they are bringing by a child in need. And now you have a scared child in your house...and you just go about your business...with someone else's child in your home.

My role is much easier. Around Monday or Tuesday, I will get an email and it will have intake forms for 1-3 children who need a place to go on the upcoming weekend. I can look at the forms and decide which one sounds like a good match for me.

I don't know how other respite foster parents do it, but I look first to see if the child has any history of fire-setting or animal abuse.  These are potential deal-breakers for me. I keep an open mind because the intake forms are completed by one underpaid, overworked social worker who is probably getting their information from an exhausted, overwhelmed parent or foster parent looking for assistance. It's possible that they started a fire accidentally while playing with matches because they were in a home with no parental supervision and they were just curious (aka being a child). Or maybe they were in a tantrum, completely out of control of their body, and while flailing around, they hit an animal nearby. Social services forms don't tell the full story and it's not fair to judge someone based off some random check boxes completed during a stressful period.

The next thing I look for is bathroom issues. I'm just not in the place in life where I can mentally deal with dirty diapers on a half-grown child. Bed wetting at night isn't such a big deal if they wear something, but bathroom issues during the day aren't something I want to take on right now.

Sleeping difficulties is another checkbox I focus on. I'm just not able to function at a good level when I get minimal sleep. If the child is known to be one who wakes up every two hours, then I probably won't be the best match. I would prefer to find the form that says: sleeps for 12-14 hours, but I have yet to see that come through. It's not just being in a functional state while the child is with me on the weekend - I need to be alert and prepared for anything that may come up with the child. If they suddenly go into a tantrum, I need to be alert and prepared to prevent them from hurting themself or others-which may include being in the right position to prevent them from accessing something harmful or may include having to put them in a physical hold for ten minutes. And also - this is my weekend. I can't start my work week exhausted from my weekend.

Other information I'm provided:
  • Clinical Diagnosis Axis I-V. Usually one of the diagnosis is PTSD. PTSD!!! In small children??!! Sad.
  • Positives: what does the child enjoy
  • Challenges: potential triggers
  • Community: how does the child do in public
  • Can they be around other children, and specifically male vs female, and what age ranges.
  • History of stealing
  • Tantrums
  • Sexually acting out
  • Hygiene issues
  • Medical issues
I usually am given a recent respite report as well. Every night a child is in respite care, a respite report is required. The respite report is the most current information I will get, so it's important to see - if a child had a really rough time at respite for one worker, it potentially means that I will have a challenging time as well.

I have the right to ask for the therapists evaluation, or I can call the therapist and talk directly to him/her about the child. I did this for the first child I had, only because he was suicidal, coming straight from the hospital, and I wanted to know HOW suicidal he was and if I really needed to be worried while the child was in my house for a weekend. The therapist felt that the boy would be fine and it was mainly being around his bio mom that was causing him the major stresses in life. If I was going to take a child in for more than just weekend care, I would definitely need to see the therapists eval, but for just a weekend, I don't need an in-depth report. And honestly - these are REALLY sad stories!!! I don't need to hear all the heart-breaking details.

This is the matching system for the non-profit I work with - I'm sure that other agencies do things slightly different. I like our system. I feel like I have enough information and I'm always able to say no, I don't think that would be a good match, and then I get different options.

BUSY BUSY BUSY - Notes from my World

In bulleted format for your convenience:

  • I saw a man at a food cart downtown two days ago that looked just like Samuel Jackson. I pretended to be reading the menu nearby him so that I could hear his voice and confirm. It was definitely Samuel Jackson - if Samuel Jackson is now muttering under his breath about the amount of the pollution that he is breathing in, and if he randomly stops muttering to ask a pedestrian for spare change, and if he smells like he's been living on the street.
  • I also saw a man who was all business above the waist, typical dress shirt, carrying a briefcase, but wearing a flowing red velvet skirt. Just walkin along, no big thang.
  • I love being downtown.
  • I've worked about 10-12 hours a day this week. And will have work to do this weekend as well. Boo. Luckily, I love my job and I know this schedule is only sporadic.
  • I'm traveling again for work in early December-YAY!
  • My hammock is still outside and I fear the rainy season may be here until next June. It's cloth. It's big. And it's starting to grow mold. I should have known better-I live in Oregon- and I should have brought it in a couple weeks go when the sun was shining for days on end.
  • I have a foster kid coming for tonight. She has a history of sexual abuse and is developmentally behind. I'm not sure how tonight is going to go...but she's only with me for about 18 hours and hopefully she will sleep for at least 8 of those.
  • I need a haircut.
  • I am totally addicted to the tv series, Homeland. ADDICTED.
  • I had a caramel apple, wrapped in plastic, on my kitchen counter the other day. Three days later, I had a caramel apple covered in tiny little black ants, wrapped in ant-covered plastic, on my ant-covered kitchen counter.
  • I had the most delicious gardenburger for lunch today - even more importantly, I had the most amazing sweet potato tater tots with them. SWEET POTATO TATER TOTS...pure bliss.
  • I miss seeing this kind of bird:

Therapeutic Foster Parenting - When Everything Just WORKS

Now that summer is over and my month of work travel is behind me - I'm starting back up with being a therapeutic foster parent for kids in the community. I've missed it, but in a way, it's been pretty peaceful.  Getting back involved again though reminds me of how hard the world has been to some of our children, and how much need there is for adults to make a difference, to make the world a little less unfair.

This weekend, I had a lovely young girl stay with me. She was probably the "easiest" foster child I will ever have. EVER. Her story is a bit different, in that she qualifies for therapeutic respite care due to struggles in the past combined with a current challenging home life - she has four siblings living in her house with special needs. She has her own history of this and that, but the stress of home is a lot for any child I'm sure. 

And so she came to my house...and we got along splendidly. I adored her-there was never a time when I felt I had to be on edge, or leery of what she was doing, or worry that she was going to flip a switch and suddenly start throwing things at me. Which is nice, right?

Speaking of violent acts by children - Saturday was a required training for foster parents called Intervention Skills. It's two parts, in this first part I learned about some legal requirements I'm supposed to follow when  have kids in my care, and we started learning a little of the physical part - such as, what to do if a child grabs your shirt - there's actually a special technique to remove someones grip from your clothing. We also covered how to handle if a child grabs your arm, grabs on with their teeth (aka biting), or puts you in some kind of choke hold. There were a lot of great examples and stories by the instructor, who has worked with therapeutic children for years. And by great - I mean horrifying. 

Interesting thing about biting - if someone latches on with their teeth, you hold their head in place with the back of one hand, and then you just wait. As soon as you feel any kind of give by their jaw/teeth, you push the limb being bitten into the top of their mouth, and then you push down while rolling the limb out. If you just try to pull your arm or leg out while it's being bitten, you risk them breaking your skin, and it can tear as you're pulling out. So you just wait..and as soon as you get a chance, push in, push down, roll out. Easy right? 

Oh - and pinching -if someone grabs your skin and pinches, holding on with their little angry pincers - you just take one of your hands, keep it flat and push it down against the back of their pincer hand, while pushing up into the pinch. That causes the little pincer to open up and you can peacefully just remove your skin from their grasp and step away quickly. Easy right??  It's a cool trick. Find a partner and try it, you'll be amazed.

Anyway - this weekend, I needed none of these new skills. I had the sweetest little girl staying with me and I hope I see her again as a repeat for respite. We went to the pumpkin patch and she faced her fears of the corn maze- the corn stalks are twice her size! We picked out pumpkins from the patch and we had the most delicious corn on the cob ever. 

While at my house, we did some crafts, we colored, and we spent quite a bit of time playing with playdoh. Of which, I have 43 containers. FORTY-THREE!!! I got a great deal on a box of 36, so that really supplemented my stock.

I discovered that I have the most amazing play-doh skills EVER. I'm considering a future in playdoh sculpting. It was really hard to have to pack everything up at the end of our playdoh time and say goodbye to these creatures:
We also went to see Hotel Transylvania - highly recommend seeing it!! It's a really cute movie, great for all ages.

It was a great weekend....I only wish all foster care weekends were so wonderful! I have the next two weeks off and then I'll have a different child at the end of the month. We can only hope it goes as well.

I Survived Carmaggedon II - Some Of Us Vomited, Some of Us Didn't

The other day, the state of California shut down the busiest highway in America - the 405 in Los Angeles. They call it Carmaggedon and they talked about it nonstop on the news that week. It was like a big fun event was coming...but then here was no fun involved. This was the second time they had to do it, hence: Carmaggedon II.

The first morning of Carmaggedon II, I was just hanging out with a friend of mine, who would like to remain anonymous...we'll call him Andy.
Or Drew.
Or Pandrew.

Names don't matter....but just know that names have been changed in this story to protect the not-so-innocent.

My friend Andy/Drew/Pandrew goes to college. And as sometimes happens when you are a young college student, my friend drank some alcohol. Nothing shocking, nothing excessive, nothing out of control (that I'm aware of), but sometimes when you drink, you sleep in the next day and sometimes you drink and you have to get up four hours later to go to an amusement park with your mom friend.

Many people would think - maybe drinking at 4am is a bad idea with plans at 8:30am, but when you're a young college student, you don't always remember such logic.

And so it was - my friend Andy/Drew/Pandrew headed out to Universal Studios for a fun day in the sun, complete with fast rides, lots of walking, and more fast rides.

We were in the car, on the LA freeway, going about 80 mph when my good friend said to me: I think you need to pull over. I said, no, not at this exit, right? He had the GPS on his phone, but I had to question it as I was certain he was wrong.
But he wasn't wrong. we really NEEDED TO PULL OVER.

Young Andy/Drew/Pandrew wasn't feeling very well.
In fact, he was slightly green.

And so I attempted to talk him out of the decision that I knew was no longer a choice. I told him to put the window down and take some slow breaths and I would pull over shortly. And seconds later, as I was changing lanes at 70mph, my funny young friend stuck his head out the rental car window...not to take a deep breath. But to "exhale." A lot of exhaling was done. He exhaled all over the side of my little rental car. All over the yellow line that I crossed. And slightly on the truck directly behind me that didn't want to let me get over in his lane, even though I used my turn indicator.

And then I took a second to see how green Pandrew was looking, and it seemed like he was no better, so I proceeded to try and get into the next lane on the right-only 3 lanes to go before I was able to pull over....and as I proceeded to cross that dashed yellow line again, Andy stuck his head back out the window and exhaled deeply again. All over the side of my little rental car. All over the yellow line. All over the car that didn't want to let me get over, even though I used my turn indicator.
And then....guess what happened next?

That will teach those aggressive California drivers not to let someone merge after they used their turn indicator!! Welcome to Carmaggedon II, mofo's. Or as we called it all weekend: Karmaggedon.

Anyway, by now, I am finally in the far right lane so I really can pull over and stop the car. And this is when Pandrew said - I'm fine, we can keep going.
So we did.
And he was.

Visitin' My Boy, Makin Faces All the Live Long Day

Wow – it is October already?! So crazy to think 2012 is almost over already. Time goes so much faster as an adult.  Remember the summer days as a child where you wake up whenever, maybe shower and eat some cereal…then you just do *whatever* the rest of the day. Go meet some friends at the school, pick some berries in the backyard, play with your paper dolls, read a book, swim at your lucky-to have a pool friend’s house. And then you still had the ENTIRE NIGHT to do *whatever*.
Sometimes it felt like the day was dragging on f-o-r-e-v-e-r. And then you grow up and suddenly you have to go to work all day and then you rush home to dinner, then you have dishes, then you have to clean, then you have to go for a short walk, then you have to do laundry, then you have to watch the new episode of The Amazing Race while sorting your mail that you only get every few days cause it’s all junk or bills, then you have to get ready for the morning, then you have to clean up cat puke, then you have to shower, then you go to bed-and you do it all over again! I miss the days of *whatever*.

September went by quite quickly with the travel. I got back from South Africa on a Wednesday and the following Wednesday, I was back on a plane headed down to our corporate office in Long Beach. Which happens to be less than 30 miles from my beloved bouncing baby boy, Andrew-so of course I stayed through the weekend and hung out with him. We had a nice dinner on Friday and decided we would splurge and go to Universal Studios on Saturday morning. Universal is fun-it’s not ridiculously crowded, it doesn’t take an hour to get to the park from your car, you can spend less than 6 hrs there and feel satisfied, and did I mention there aren’t a gazillion people there? There’s not. We bought a photo package which allowed us to have every single photo taken of us available online.

We took some classic photos, such as “so terrifyingly scary our faces are melting off”


“Just playing it cool”


“We died on this ride and nobody noticed”


“Fighting in Jurassic Park”


We also have a couple mainstream (boring) photos:
He's so handsome!!

Saturday night, we went to a show at a club in LA – a comedian/magician who also happens to be the host of Cupcake Wars. Funny guy. He had a few tricks where the entire room was a bit bedazzled. A couple of the tricks were so amazing that people didn’t even clap directly after-we all just sat there. He pulled up a bunch of random people from the audience and random like – he threw a Frisbee in the crowd and whoever caught it came on stage, or tossed a ball out in the crowd and had someone toss it to the next person and so on.  

It was fun – but mostly it was nice to just be with Andrew. When you’re with someone for 18 years nearly every single waking day and then suddenly you are not, it’s a weird feeling. Empty nest is no joke, yo. 

Everyone Can Make a Record, But Not Everyone Should

I couldn't look away...I just COULD.NOT.LOOK.AWAY.
The enthusiasm is incredible.
The random capital letters....
The woman rebel who is actually *gasp* swearing!
The underwear on someones head in the sound room??
The mustaches...
THE ENDING -oy, the ending!!!!

I may be singing this in my head the rest of the week now.

I Bless The Rains Down In Africa

A week ago, I was riding in an open-air jeep, freezing while wearing 4 t-shirts and a thin sweatshirt, being pummeled by rain in the middle of South Africa.
Today, I woke up at 10am, lounged about, had a 90 minute massage and did some yard work.

What a difference a week makes.

I was in South Africa for work, but took an extra two days off so that I could take a four-day safari. Most people save up for month and months and plan far in advance for a safari...I had two weeks to plan. Financially, it would have been much better to have months and months to plan, but that's what credit cards are for, right? It's like layaway (for those of us who relied on layaway back in the day). Because of my lack of time, I was limited on options for where to stay. Because of my lack of funds, I was even more limited on where to stay. In the end, I was quite happy with where I ended up - at Shindzela, a tented safari camp. It's like camping, but a little bit more luxury. I had a private bathroom, attached to my tent, but it was open-air so it wasn't luxurious by far.
The weather was quite cold and windy the first day I was there, then quite rainy and cold the second. The third and fourth days though - beautiful. Just beautiful.

Interested in seeing where I stayed? Here's a short tour:

You have to keep the bathroom zipped up since it's open to the outdoors, or baboons will come in and wreck havoc on your world.

My guide, Monica, told me a story about how when she first visited the bush years ago, her and her mom and now-husband Peter stopped at a vista to enjoy the view and this lovely little baboon was sitting nearby. Excited, they offered the little guy a piece of bread. And within 30 seconds, there were about 35-40 baboons surrounding them. Moral of the story -never feed the monkeys! We had a baboon come by the camp just after lunch one day and all the guests were excited and preparing to take pictures, but Monica and Peter started yelling at it and scared it away. Baboons are NEVER welcome.

We also had a hyena that approached us while we were at dinner. Monica just suddenly got up, grabbed her gun and ran from the table, calling over her shoulder: "TORCH PLEASE." Peter jumped up, grabbed the flashlight (torch) and followed. I guess the hyena was being quite bold and had decided to come join us for dinner. They are huge pests for the management as they knock over the garbage and create havoc in the kitchen. Honey badgers are also a huge pest for them, though we never saw them.

There is a resident male elephant that likes to come through camp, mostly at night. The path he prefers is right past my tent and directly in the path of the solar panels that provide the limited electricity at camp. He gets caught in the wires and unplugs them every time, but luckily has not damaged the solar panels themselves.

The game drives were great - even in the pelting rain. It was just peaceful. I say this - but a safari game drive is just sitting in a jeep for four hours at a time, going up and down and around on this dirt trail, hoping you'll come across a wild animal. But being out in the open, knowing you are totally exposed and FREE - it's peaceful. It's not like going to a game park where you get to drive around with wild animals (which my coworkers and I did and every lion pic I have is from that game drive). It's different. It's like being in True Nature. You turn a corner and suddenly you are watching wild elephants. Or you come up over the hill and you see a brand new baby giraffe.

This is a giraffe that was very recently born, maybe that morning or the prior night. It still has it's umbilical cord attached.

This was probably one of the highlights of my safari. I really love giraffes - they are both clumsy and graceful at the same time. They have those gorgeous eyes and eyelashes. And now I have witnessed that they love deeply and truly.

While driving in the middle of nowhere Africa, looking out over the view, I thought it was a perfect chance to contemplate life and think about where I'm going, where I want to go, where I've gone right, or wrong...
Instead, I spent a lot of time singing songs from The Lion King.
And then I forced myself to quit...and put Africa by Toto on repeat in my mind. But I don't know most of the song, so really I just kept singing "I blessed the rains down in Africa."

And I did. I blessed the rains in Africa. I hope to return someday and highly encourage you all to try to make it there. Such an amazing trip - I have many stories from my journey, but I'll end for now with a series of photos:

Oh My, Elephants Charging..My Response: A Giggle

I have just returned from AFRICA!!!!  Every time I have thought about going to Africa, in my head, I shout the name - it's just too unbelievable. But I was there, and it still seems slightly unbelievable.
I have much to share - about the country, about Johannesburg, about the food, about the animals, about the land, about my experiences...but this was my last 40 hours:
Starting on Tues morning - ending at noon on Wednesday:

  • 5:30am: Wakeup call
  • 6:00am - 9:45am: Morning game drive
  • 10:00 - 11:00am: Shuttle service to take me from the campground where I was staying to the city nearby
  • 11:00 - 11:30am: Peer pressured into having a double shot of rum at the local pub where I was awaiting the next shuttle
  • 11:45 - 5:15pm: Beautiful drive through the countryside to get to the airport
  • 5:30 - 7:30pm: Check in, spend last handful of South African Rand (dollars), stand in line for ages, take a nice anxiety pill.
  • 8:30pm - get on flight to Atlanta for SIXTEEN hours
  • idea what time or day it is anymore....
  • 3 hour layover in Atlanta. Spend most of it observing people imaging who are celebrities (I think I may have seen the Duggers)
  • 5.5 hrs on a flight from Atlanta to Portland
  • 10 min shuttle to my car
  • 25 min drive - HOME!!!!
I have elephant dung on my tennis shoes, sand in my backpack, ridiculously smelly laundry to get done, and about 900 photos to get sorted. And TONS to blog about.

But for now - here's a fun video from one of my safari game drives when an elephant decided to charge at our vehicle (listen for the giggle):

Note that this is a teenage female - she's not a mom protecting her baby, not an aggressive lone male. Just a naughty teenager. We'd been sitting in the same spot for about 15-20 minutes observing the herd and she suddenly got a bit irritated with us watching.

Random Notes from South Africa

The bus system in Johannesburg isn't very robust, but what they do have is what they call Shared Taxi's.

Shared taxis are a really crazy, but wonderful idea. There are these mini-vans that go all over Johannesburg and it's kind of a hop-on, hop-off type thing. You pay this small amount of money and it takes you where you need to go. Great, right?

What's not so great is that the shared taxi business puts itself above the law. They don't necessarily have to follow any of the street laws that cars have to follow. They stop ON FREEWAYS or on busy streets...anywhere they find someone who needs a ride. You don't often have much warning that they are about to stop either-it just happens. And they honk a TON.

The people who don't use them are not fond of them, and for good reason. They just do their own thing and get away with it. For example, you could have four cars waiting to turn right. The shared taxi will drive around the four cars and weave their way to the front so they can go first. They drive like they are late for little league and they are quick to stop whenever. The great thing about the shared taxis though are that they aer a great resource for the poor folks to get from one area to another for WAY cheap.

Something really interesting about the shared taxi system - they don't have any specific routes or stops. They will pick you up in any location, at any time. You simply stand on the side of the road and you hold your hand out. There are different hand signals to indicate where you are going. If the van has room (they always make room) and if they are going that way, it will stop and pick you up. I asked a local how someone would know the correct hand signal and he explained it this way - If you are poor in Johannesburg, you grow up in a certain neighborhood. You know everyone in that neighborhood. You grow up, you likely stay at home or you move into a location in the same neighborhood. Everyone knows everyone. In the states, we might not talk to our neighbors, but in Joburg, everyone knows each other. So if you are going to go somewhere across town, someone you know will know you are going there and they will tell you what hand signal to use to get there via shared taxi. It's interesting to see people standing all over town just holding out a few fingers pointed up, or just one finger pointed down, maybe four pointed to the side.

KFC is huge here. They have them all over it seems. People love KFC!  McDonalds is around, but isn't very popular. Our tour guide last Sunday said this: black people really like chicken. I cringed a bit when he said it, as we're so ingrained to be sensitive to saying stereotypes that could be construed as offensive, but he was just saying what he knows to be true. To be clear-I don't in any way think he's racist in saying that, especially having spent the day with him and if you listen to the way he talks, you would think he was black himself. He had such heart-felt words all day about the inequality towards blacks, the unfairness of the laws, etc.

FYI - there is not ONE Starbucks in Johannesburg. Not even one!!! It's actually a bit refreshing. They did have a Starbucks here during the Olympics in 2010, but as soon as the Olympics were over, Starbucks closed up and moved out. My colleague said that it's just not feasible for Starbucks to be here, as nobody can afford to pay their prices.

Traffic signals in South Africa (or at least in Johannesburg) are called "robots." Nobody knows why. The word in the Afrikaan language doesn't sound like it and it translates directly to mean signal light, so it's just an odd cultural thing that's been around...but nobody I've talked to seems to know why. It's funny to hear them called that-this morning our driver said, "sorry for the delay, the robots were not working on most of the street."

Hard to tell in the picture of this robot, but the don't walk symbol is a man with his legs apart. The walk symbol is legs open, as if walking.


I am, I really am!!!

This is the end of my first full day in South Africa - and to say I am crazy overwhelmed with all I have experienced so far would be an understatement.
I planned a tour with a local man who started a tour company with his wife. They got amazing reviews on TravelAdvisor and I can see why. He had SO MUCH information to share on the city, it was a million times better than anything I could have learned in a book. The history here, with apartheid and the gold mines and the segregated sections of the city is pretty intense.
  • They had concentration camps here in the early 1900's!! - started by the British!!
  • KFC is everywhere here, McDonalds is here, but is not popular.
  • Starbucks came in for the 2010 Olympics, but left immediately afterwards.
  • In 1976, a group of children (!) revolted against the governments order that they learn a certain language affiliated with apartheid and 15,000 of them took to the streets for a peaceful protest and were very successful...until an executive order came down from some government official to OPEN FIRE on the crowd-OF CHILDREN. Hundreds died, mostly children.

....there were a million other things, but I'm off to bed for now! This week is very work-focused and then next week is safari-time!

Every Human Is A Potential Friend

I read this book recently called MSF Seeking BFF - all about a married woman who moved with her husband to Chicago and found that she was missing her BFF's in her home town.  Females don't make best friends easily as adults, it sometimes just *happens*, but if it doesn' doesn't. And what the author found was-you have to make  LOT of effort to make new friends.

I haven't really got a female BFF, but I have a fair amount of friends who are wonderful, for wonderful reasons.

But is that enough? The author does a great job of discussing different theories on friendship and bringing in results of studies done on friendship and talking with "experts" - it was a really easy, good read. Highly recommend it!!

I recently went to California for another work training and took this book with me. I nearly finished it on the trip, and it really did inspire me to talk to more people than I normally would. Sometimes I go to a class or training and I might smile at someone, or maybe laugh at their joke in class, or maybe have a short conversation while we're on break, but I don't always go out of my way to really talk. So this trip I decided to practice just being friendly for friendliness-sake.

This comes REALLY easy to some people. I know a few people who will talk to anyone at any time about any thing. And they don't feel awkward or strange or anything, and I don't think that the people they talk to are thinking that either. I'm not really one of those people. I have to put effort in. And I would say a lot of time-I don't make the effort. Which means I've lost out on a TON of chances to make a friend!!!

So back to my training - I did it - I practiced being more outgoing with strangers and it worked out well. One of the ladies I made effort with was not really my type. I gave it a long, hard try multiple times (in case she was having a bad day or something) and we just weren't a good match. I'm sure she had no issues with me, since she did all the talking and never once asked me a question or showed interest in me, but I was left knowing a lot of her life history. No give and take type friendships-no thanks!

I had a long chat with a man from Belgium who was in my class. I asked him quite a number of questions about his work and then it moved easily into discussions about his life in Belgium, and then flowed right into conversations about his family -with him asking me questions about each of mine as well. We just had a nice conversation. I wouldn't say we are going to be lifelong friends but he had interesting stories and I'm glad I had the chance to hear them. I think he would probably say the same about me-I had interesting things to share also.

I hung out with a couple of ladies one afternoon and had some good conversations, everything flowed well and I was glad to have them to hang out with. The four of us (the ladies and Mr. Belgium) planned a road trip into San Francisco 40 minutes before class ended. Spontaneous and adventuresome!!!  We saw some seals, played tourists, ate at the pier and shared an enjoyable evening. I'll probably never see them again - but it was a fun time and I'm glad I made that effort.

I'm preparing to head off to South Africa for work soon and I am looking forward to talking with more people and learning some interesting stories. Life is a big story - we are all just writing it one page/day at a time and I really am enjoying hearing others tales...and hopefully some new friends will be in my life with this new "talk to anyone" look on life.

The Young Star of the Sea World Dolphin Show!

I have this little Sony cassette recorder that I thought might come in handy in college. I've had it since 1996. I've moved maybe 4 or 5 times since college and for some reason I kept this outdated little thing.

In the last 12 years, I think the only time it was used was when my ex-punk-rock-boyfriend Brian set it to record, set it down on a table and then taped 30 minutes of our boring normal conversation, twice he did this! He even flipped the tape over for the different conversations. So strange, that punk rock Brian was.

On the first side of the tape is us recounting the night prior where I got drunk and apparently there were all kinds of funny things that happened at the bar. Typical day-after recounting of drunken escapades. We only talked for about 15 minutes, and then the rest of the tape is apparently just my cockatiel Charlie whistling after we left the room.

The other side of the tape is us watching some kind of documentary of tribal people who do certain ritualistic behaviors that made us repeatedly scream and laugh in horror. The best part of the documentary side is that I got to hear the voice of  9 year old Andrew. Apparently Andrew had a loose tooth and punk-rock-Brian and I took great delight in threatening to pull his tooth. Andrew didn't want to go to bed, so by not listening and going to bed, he was choosing to stay in the living room with us, and the only way he could stay in the living room was if he let Punk Rock Brian pull his tooth, which made him squeal and scream and apparently at one point, shed a tear-which we laughed about (great parenting, Kaylen), but then Andrew was laughing too, so I guess it wasn't too threatening to him. It was just fun to peek in on 2001 Kaylen and Andrew and hear a bit of the conversation. Except the part where I yelled "BRUSH YOUR TEETH" in this high-pitch crazy-mom sounding voice.

These days everyone has capability of taking videos and it's no big thing to go back in time and relive the past. For us elders though - it's not as easy. The past is gone and unless we happened to borrow or *gasp* buy a twelve-fifteen pound video recorder, there just isn't the joy of watching a lot of home videos. I wish I had borrowed one much more often than I did. Especially with my memory failing me won't be long before I'll forget my entire history. I'll just be perpetually waking up and living in the moment, wondering what happened to me. Aside from the things I've blogged about, of course.

The other day I was asked the name of my doctor from 2001 so we could verify what shots I had before moving to Korea. I have NO recollection at all of what doctor I went to, what insurance I had, whether it was a male or female, what part of town it was located...NOTHING. Not one tiny piece of memory is linked to anything medical for me in 2001. It's so frustrating. This is much too soon to be blacking out pieces of my life. I'm not even 40!!

And so the little trip down memory was sweet. I got the chance to hear a normal every day time with my little pumpkin head, who I refer to on the tape as "Bubby" and who laughed as a 9 year old does, free and full of life with no worries about a care in the world. Except holding on to that little loose tooth.

Bubby and I went to Disneyworld one summer when I first started college and luckily, the college allowed students to borrow video cameras! So I lugged this mammoth thing across the country with us and got some great this one where young Andrew was selected from the crowd at Sea World to actually BE part of the show. He was awesome, even at a young age.

Bienestar Backpack Project v3 - Grassroots Efforts Are Effective!

This is my third year of acting as the "backpack angel" for a group of deserving kids enrolled in homework clubs in 5 low-income housing complexes, managed by an amazing nonprofit: Bienestar.

The homework clubs have been expanding and growing, funded by grants to Bienestar based on the success of the program in proving that children in the homework club have increased GPA's throughout the school year. Children are our future - we need to invest in them. The smarter the children are, the better our future will be. 

And so it goes that I coordinated this little supply drive to make sure that the homework club kids will not go to school without the needed supplies to help them be a success.

Let's look at the numbers for a second:
  • Year One -99 children
  • Year Two - 130 children
  • And now Year Three - 150 backpacks for kids!!!  
With the help of a handful of local businesses and a group of people I am amazed to have as my friends - we provided a backpack with supplies for 150 children!! All of this was done in a three week period, based out of my living room, with no publicity other than my own personal begging for supplies via this blog and facebook. Amazing, no?

The Executive Director of Bienestar was on hand to welcome the volunteers that gathered last Saturday to stuff the backpacks and she referred to me as their Angel multiple times. But really - I'm not an angel. I just send out emails and let things gather in my personal space. The real angels are those who dig deep in their pockets to donate $10 of supplies when they are themselves on a tight budget. Or the people who organized a supply drive through their company and gathered hundreds of dollars of supplies. Or the ones who gave up a beautiful Saturday morning in late summer to help prepare the backpacks to be distributed to the kids.

THOSE are the angels. The power of grassroots efforts is amazing. 

If you think you can't do this - you are wrong. Anyone can organize something wonderful to help make a difference in their community. It doesn't have to involve your own pocketbook and it doesn't even have to take up a lot of time- just coordinate it to help others give. Anything is possible if we all work together!

Pictures from the event:

Unloading, unloading and more unloading of supplies.

And more unloading.

The amount of school supplies needed for 150 kids is pretty amazing.

The kids were bedazzled by the number of backpacks.

Sorting, sorting, sorting supplies.

And sorting of backpacks. We have the kids sort by grade level.

We tag the bags with grade level, as each grade level gets some unique supplies.

And then we stuff. And we stuff. And we stuff some more.

Some dedicated volunteers gave up their Saturday morning to help.

The first homework club participant to pick out his bag.

On to the road of success - new bag and supplies in hand!

Thanks to everyone who donated, both time and money. 150 children will go off to school better prepared because of all of us. We truly made a difference.


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