“i am my father’s daughter”: whether we like it or not, our parents’ behaviors are reflected in our own

Today I can officially declare, “I am my father’s daughter.” No matter how much we try to separate ourselves from our parents’ behaviors (the quirky, weird, or negative ones, anyway), sooner or later we start repeating them.

My dad was a blue-collar man who worked hard to keep a roof over the heads of his wife and five kids on a meager salary. My mom worked too, part-time and usually around our schedules, but my dad was the chief breadwinner. To scrimp and save, and because he was a child of the Great Depression, my dad would find ways to make due with what we had, fix it to make it work better, and only when there was no hope, buy something to replace it–and more likely than not, that “something” would come second-hand.

Have a rusted fender on your ’63 Fairlane? Duct tape will do the trick. Need fertilizer for the plants? Pee on them–the high nitrogen levels in human urine can provide the necessary nutrients. Too much forced-air gas-heat escaping down the hallway to the unoccupied rooms? Open the door to the heater and tape thick corrugated cardboard to its edges to concentrate the warm air.

Today I borrowed a page from my dad’s playbook. We are having a series of heavy rainstorms in Southern California that we are never prepared for here. For example, no one bothered to check the grading of the lawns when building our under-insulated tract homes forty- or fifty-odd years ago, so some of us have accumulated rain water sloping toward the houses’ foundations. Remember the homes in Malibu a few years ago that slid off their foundations? Similar thinking. But, hey, “it never rains in California.” It may just be a line from a song, but it’s often the gospel truth. In fact, since we’ve had so little rain to speak of over the past few years, we could get by with those sloping-toward-the-foundation yards and roofs that may have leaked during the last heavy rain six years ago but were forgotten about in the dry drought years. It’s easy to block out unpleasant thoughts.

A case in point, something that my husband and I put off fixing is now a problem for us. We have a door that leads from the garage to the side yard. It appears to me to be an indoor door, not a heavy-duty outdoor door. It’s hollow, for one, and looks as though it was inserted into the frame with a few nails and a couple screws in a hurry when it was time to sell the house years and years ago. It sufficed for a while, but with the door being in the hot sun, the cheap, thin door’s paint has peeled and with it came the top layer of the door. The outer portion is now hanging on for dear life. My husband and I planned to replace it, but, as is often the case, time got away from us, and now the door is not only getting hit by the sun, it’s being pelted by the rain too. A hollow door with an outer portion of thin plywood is not going to keep the elements out.

To the rescue came I. Well, I and my dad in my head. For a quick fix, yesterday, before the rains came, I grabbed three black trash bags and a roll of packing tape and taped the bags to the door. I figured it would do the trick in a pinch until I could find a more permanent solution, shy of getting a new door. Then I came in the house, got online, and tried to find something I could find that would be more sturdy than a Hefty bag. Guess what? There is nothing on earth at any of the big-box stores or even the neighborhood True Value that I could find to use in a pinch. Sure, I could have bought plywood, got it home, cut it, painted it for protection, and screwed it into the door, but I was pretty sure I didn’t have the time or the skill or the tools necessary before the rains hit, which did indeed show up a few hours later.

So I had to think fast and find something flexible that I, personally, could put up over the door and that would arrive asap. Searching Amazon, I found a thick clear-vinyl tablecloth and a four-pack of duct tape that were part of the next-day delivery program. Perfect. (No, I didn’t need four rolls of tape, but I couldn’t find a single roll in the house or garage and that’s why I used packing tape yesterday.)

When the box arrived an hour ago, and the rain had halted for a bit, I got to work draping the thick vinyl over and under the trash-bag-covered door and taped away. The lowest of the three bags had come a bit loose and let some rain hit the door, so I was happy that this tablecloth would now cover all of that and not have separations.

Ta da: 0119171320

All right. So it won’t win any design awards and the prototype needs a little tweaking before I apply for a U.S. patent, but I’ll bet there are a few people who are right now scrambling to post it on their Pinterest boards!

Well, maybe not. The only thing I know for sure is it will make do…oh, and that my dad is likely smiling down on me from the heavens knowing that one of us five inherited his skills.


This week’s three things I’m thankful for:

  1. A brain and two working hands and a healthy body to come up with a plan and implement it no matter how crappy the end result looks.
  2. A break in the rain so I could walk the dog and “fix” the door.
  3. A house with a roof that will probably not leak until at least day 2 of this storm.



schmaltzy movies are sometimes just what the doctor ordered

internI love movies. But not every movie. I have my preferences. They all require good acting, a believable and well-written story, and oftentimes something I can either relate to or something I can take away with me.

I have seen plenty of films that have actually won Academy Awards that I couldn’t stand, shaking my head as the credits were rolling and wondering what the eff? And just because something is popular is no indication of how well I’ll like it. I’m not the big-action and fireworks kind of movie fan. (No, I have not seen the latest Star Wars movie, or the last three for that matter.) There have been some pretty good action thrillers, of course, and I love a good gritty movie now and again (Manchester by the Sea, for one), but it’s the films that evoke a warm-hearted feeling that I love. Yes, there may be a heart-wrenching dilemma to be solved, like a widower whose son wants him to find a new wife or a man whose wife is on life support searching for the man his wife had had an affair with, but the problems are not insurmountable and there is a satisfying ending. A little humor doesn’t help either, but no Jim Carrey, please. Ever!

I write this as I’m watching one such film, The Intern. It never won any awards that I know of, but it’s got the right formula for having moved me to see it in the theater, purchase it, and return to it many times since. There’s good acting, without a doubt. Who can beat De Niro in anything? And Anne Hathaway is quite good too, proving once again that a movie doesn’t have to be Oscar worthy to be satisfying. Throw in a few great actors, and voila!

Other movies I return to again and again include:

  • Sleepless in Seattle (my favorite!)
  • You’ve Got Mail (Hanks and Ryan again!)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (De Niro, with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence thrown in and a true-to-life portrayal of mental illness; plus De Niro so reminds me of my Uncle D here)
  • The Descendants and Up in the Air (never knew I was a Clooney fan until his movies started showing up on my most-loved list)
  • While You Were Sleeping (if I were to cast someone as me in a movie, Sandra Bullock would be it)
  • Steel Magnolias (who can’t relate to–or wish she had–that kind of female camaraderie?)
  • Finding Neverland (Depp and Winslet and some amazing British children)
  • Dan in Real Life (Steve Carell really is good at lightheartedness and sincerity)
  • The Family Stone (Christmas movies are always a plus)
  • Baby Boom (more Keaton)
  • The Family Man (love this movie’s statement that success doesn’t always equal how many zeros are in one’s paycheck, and Nicolas Cage is great too)
  • The Love Letter (the perfect New England town in the summer, with plenty of humor)
  • I Don’t Know How She Does It (not the best on the list, but can every mom relate, or what?
  • Terms of Endearment (the first movie I saw that started me on loving this genre–and this one did win an Academy Award!)
  • The Intern (see above)

OK, so some might say they’re all chick flicks, but that diminishes their importance and they are much more than that to me. They are like being in the presence of friends or family you love or being “home,” whatever that image might be for people. They are pleasant, thought-provoking, mood-enhancing films. No, they might not win any awards, but they are still number one in my book.

parenting: two steps forward, only one step back today

lunch bag.jpgMy son reached a milestone, and it only took thirteen years in public school to do so: He made his own lunch. Well, it wasn’t the first  time, but it was the first time this school year, and he will be doing it for the rest of the term, he says. Trouble is, he left the lunch home before driving off to school.

I discovered it sitting there on the counter where he’d prepared it and phoned him. I drove up to where he had just parked the twenty-one-year-old Camry in the pouring rain and handed it off. Sure, I could have left it at home, not phoned him, and let him learn lesson number two, number one being making his own lunch and number two, taking it with him. But I felt he’d done so well to pack the turkey and Havarti cheese on a croissant, baked potato chips, rose-red apple slices, and Goldfish crackers, plus half of his breakfast muffin, that I didn’t have the heart to have him go hungry.

So I drove it up to him. The parenting dance: two steps forward, one step back. But sometimes you’ve got to take whatever progress you can get.


This week’s three gratitudes:

  1. Rain, precious rain, to fill our low reservoirs and to nourish our parched earth.
  2. A dry place to live and a roof over my head that hopefully won’t let the precious rain in. (It’s twenty-five years old.)
  3. A family to care for and to be cared for in return.




my silver linings playbook for the new year


Here we are again at the start of a year that will, from the looks of things, be full of changes and challenges. I see some good things on the horizon, like paying off a big loan this year, and I see some things that could be horrific (I already touched on that back in NovemberBut one thing I would like to accomplish this year is being more grateful and in being grateful, I cannot focus on the negative. I must find those silver linings even if I have to look through hundreds of dark clouds to do so.

How this year will be different:

  • I will write at least one blog post each week, and I will end one posting with three things I am thankful for that happened that week, even if it’s that the cats only threw up three times or that I was in line at the DMV for forty minutes less than usual.
  • I will explore my city more and enjoy the great things it has to offer. In other words, I’ll appreciate what is available to me. I live in a part of the country that people fly and drive to from all over to visit, but I sit at my desk and work in my house day in and day out, some weeks barely getting out more than a couple times and within a five-mile radius of home. I choose to go someplace fun each week. Even if I have to take my laptop with me to work there, I will get out and see this city.
  • I will not belabor bad things I have no control over. The dilemma of anxious control freaks such as myself is we worry about everything, much of which we can’t control. Unless ruminating over the horrible consequences of something that may or may not happen is actually going to help put a plan into action, I choose to not waste my time and the finite space within my brain worrying about it.
  • I will not feel as though everyone’s life is so much better than mine and be envious of the good things that happen to them. I have a terrible habit of doing that: I’ll hear something positive that a friend of mine has accomplished, like she got a new job or a new kitchen or a new car, and I’ll compare my crappy sporadic paychecks with hers or my fifteen-year-old vehicle to that shiny new one sitting in her driveway and feel bad about myself. Well, no more of that. I have been trying hard to get more and better work and I could afford a new car and a kitchen if I wanted one, but it’s not all that necessary right now. So no more comparisons. I will feel happy for her, and that’s all.
  • I will realize that others’ lives are not all they appear to be and be thankful for what I have and when things go well. A friend of mine who I never think has to struggle as much as I do told me a story of something frightening that happened to one of her children when he tried to do the right thing a few weeks ago. On the outside, her life looks better than mine, but I went home that night and thanked the heavens that I don’t have a child struggling with such an issue right now. My kids may not have the greatest jobs or be in fulfilling relationships, but at the same time, they’re not in difficult, dangerous situations either.

And that brings me back to my premise of feeling grateful for the things that are good in our lives. We all have something to be thankful for and this week, for me, it was:

  1. Having my healthy, well-rounded, smart kids around me over the holidays and getting to reconnect with friends and family members I don’t get to see all the time.
  2. Getting to enjoy a nice lunch with a view and a walk with my husband on New Year’s Day.
  3. Being alive and well.


should i pursue a low-paying job to get me out of the house and back into the world? (a freelancer’s dilemma)


I am a freelancer. Anyone who’s freelanced, especially in the writing and editing field, knows it’s a lonely career path. Most of the time–in my case 100 percent of the time–is spent in a small room, at a tiny desk, where the only communicating I do is by e-mail and instant messaging. If I didn’t have a dog at my feet or a habit of talking to myself, I’d never utter a word all workday. Now I have a chance to break those bonds and get a job outside the house. But is it a job worth pursuing if it doesn’t pay well, is a fairly long commute, and would disrupt my routine?

I finally heard back from one of about nine library systems that I applied to and was put on an eligible list for over the past year. It’s actually the very last one I applied to. And that was just two weeks ago. Most of the time, names of eligible candidates are added to a list. People need to reapply if they haven’t been called in twelve months, so the wait can go on into perpetuity.

The library in question, the one library in a small city within my county, has offered me (and many others, I’m sure) an opportunity to take a test for a position that is at the bottom of the hiring hierarchy and at the bottom of the pay scale and with zero benefits. I have applied to better-paying library jobs with more responsibilities and with benefits, but I’ve yet to get a call to test for or be interviewed for one of those. This job is at the lowest wrung of the ladder, but combined with my more challenging freelance editing career it may be just what I need. Sure, I’d like more money instead of being paid barely over minimum wage, but the benefits of my taking such a job are manyfold. Still, leave it to me to find the dark cloud outside every silver lining.

Reasons to not take the job/pursue it (even if I take the test and get a perfect score, it doesn’t mean that I’m the one who’ll get chosen):

  1. The job pays very little.
  2. The commute is 25 minutes each way on a good day, possibly double that on a bad one. And it involves driving over a bridge, which is over a large body of water, which is kind of frightening.
  3. It would force me to work regular hours and I’d have to clear vacations and sick days instead of being free to take a trip around my husband and kids’ schedules or when I want to (which I rarely do, but I have the possibility to do so anyway).
  4. I’d be away from home, meaning my family and my dog, and that’s kind of hard on me.
  5. I’d be paying for gas, which I figured today would cost at least $40 a week. That’s like four hours of work just to fill the tank.
  6. I’d miss out on important events at home or even just the regular stuff, like eating dinner together (hours are 10-9 weekdays and the library’s open till 6 on Saturday and 5 on Sunday).

Now for the pluses of taking a low-paying, low-risk, low-expectations job (or at least pursuing it):

  1. I won’t feel guilty if I have to quit.
  2. The job is in the most quaint, adorable city in the county, and the library is very nice.
  3. It probably wouldn’t be very demanding work, which is kind of nice for a change.
  4. It will get me out of the house and give me other humans to talk to (see paragraph one).
  5. It will give me some stable income (maybe $8,000 or $9,000 a year) to rely on in addition to my rollercoaster freelance income.
  6. It’s part-time and wouldn’t require a huge commitment of my time, leaving me free to do my other work and have free time. Plus, unlike a retail establishment, it’s closed on holidays.

I keep kicking myself for not going after another very similar position with the main library system in my county close to a year ago. I was offered an interview but cold feet and a head filled with anxieties made me cancel. I was upset with myself for a long time for not going after it, and I swore that the next time an opportunity came through, I’d jump on it. So, with that kind of history, I plan to take the test. My chances of getting the one open position may be good or they may be not so good. I realize there will be people whose personalities mesh with the interviewers more or who know the interviewers or who just appear to be the best candidate in whatever way, like, say, they live on that side of the big, mean bridge. But it’s worth going after.

I did a dry run today. I got in my car around the time I’d have to leave for the test in two days and I dialed up my Google maps. I followed the path to the library without a hitch, and I found street parking easily. I had never been inside the building before but always wanted to go in. The pillars leading to the door, the beautiful lawn, and the coffee cart out front were beckoning me. So I went in and looked around. Dang, it was just as cozy and quaint inside as I’d imagined! Even better, in fact. There were rows and rows of books; a cute, roomy children’s section; a divine sitting area with big, comfortable leather chairs, the way a library inside a mansion might look–I could almost smell the cigars and brandy; two Christmas trees (no generic “Happy Holidays” will be uttered here, I guessed); and a big, 24 foot by 8 foot display case containing a winter scene, set up with a moving toy train and storybook characters looking on. Gazing out of the floor-to-ceiling windows with views all around, including of the adorable gazebo and park in the town square, I felt like I belonged. It was as if I’d walked into Bedford Falls or, better yet, Stars Hollow.

“I could really enjoy going to work here,” I said to myself. (No, I didn’t say it out loud this time.)

And I knew right then and there that $11 an hour or not, I’d be happy to spend time in this place. Now to get the offer….


he who shall not be named won the presidential election; what to do now?

I’ve woken every morning since the day of the election that shook me to the core Sad Woman Looking Lostwondering how I can live through four years of a presidency run on hatred, flimsy policy promises that a fifth grader could have spoken, and a possible cabinet that I heard Sarah Palin might be appointed to. Only in America! To say I’m in a bit of a depression is like saying the pope is a little bit Catholic. So what to do now?

I guess we all carry on and hope for the best. And if that isn’t happening, we speak up and get noticed. I feel sorry for a lot of the voters who chose Trump because they are angry and looking for a savior. I think they will be surprised that the man who they hoped would look out for the little guy (and how they thought a premade, not self-made, billionaire could do that is beyond my comprehension) will be the first to take away their health care, cause the rate at the Fed to rise and behind it costs of loans on things they don’t have the money to buy, and put their tax dollars into the military because we will need to be even more vigilant at our borders and in the air and with nations who will despise us because of what our leader has said.

How did Hillary Clinton lose? How did she not break the ultimate glass ceiling, which should have been broken long ago? Tim Kaine, for one. He brought nothing to the ticket–no progressive voters or people of color, as far as I know. Being a Clinton, for another. This was the year of change, for how many times did Bernie Sanders have to speak the word “revolution” and mention that his campaign, one that swept the nation, was built on contributions averaging twenty-seven dollars apiece? And for the Democratic Party to turn a blind eye to the gift of enthusiastic voters was insane. The Republican Party only did so reluctantly. But once the momentum was going the way of their “outsider” (a man who has changed his party affiliation more times than most people change addresses), I think conservatives had to let the wave crest and roll to the shore. And it did, like a tsunami.

I don’t worry so much for myself. I’ll be OK. I worry about my kids and the disadvantaged, the poor, the families who may be torn apart. Mostly, I worry that health care will be taken away from people who for the first time in their lives can have it and can afford it. I worry about a vehemently antiabortion VP (I honestly don’t think Trump gives a hoot about the topic personally) and what that might mean for the country. I wish there was no such thing as abortion. I’ve had four kids at times that were not ideal, so I think it can be done–and should be done. But taking away health care from women and then forcing them to carry to term, paying for their own maternity care, which is astonishingly expensive, is so, so backward. If you want women to not have abortions, then please, please make it affordable for her and the newborn as well. Don’t take away their health care or force them to not have it. More women will be having babies with problems and, for people who want to look at it in monetary terms, the rates for the rest of us will go sky high to pay for those noncovered moms and children.

My husband and I have had to pay for private health insurance a good part of our marriage and I can attest that about fifteen years back, during the Bush II administration, nearly all big health-care companies took maternity coverage out of their policies or made the premiums so high, it was unaffordable.

After my fourth child was born, for instance, we had to pay for private insurance because my husband nor I had a job with health-care benefits. The premiums were around one thousand dollars a month and we didn’t have the option of maternity coverage. I prayed that I didn’t get pregnant during that time, because maternity care is about ten thousand dollars and that’s if there are no complications. When the Affordable Care Act came along, it forced insurers to put maternity coverage back onto their policies and be affordable. It also prevented insurers from excluding people with preexisting conditions. So people who have an illness, a disease, or a disability cannot be turned away or be forced to pay higher premiums. People in the middle of cancer treatments, for instance, who maybe changed a job with a different health-care provider, could still be covered for the remaining treatments. My friend, for instance, who passed away a couple years ago, had to switch insurers because the one she had been on did not allow for experimental drug treatment. She was able to move to another plan and was then put on a brand-new drug, which extended her life a bit longer. It was a miracle, in my eyes, that she could do that. Never would that have happened if Big Health Care and Big Pharma hadn’t been forced to allow people to switch providers and policies and not be turned away.

So Donald Trump is our president in a year we should have been celebrating our first female leader and our first male “first lady.” Maybe next time. (Elizabeth Warren, are you listening?) For the time being, let us all say a little prayer and hope that Mr. Trump’s presidency isn’t the gloom and doom we think it may be. After all, four years isn’t that long. I hope the time flies.



taking a walk down memory lane can trip you up

pic-of-letters-in-mailI have been trying to discard some of my old things I have no use for. While looking through a box of old letters (I used to be a prolific letter-writer, and hung on to those written to me in return by family and friends), I was taken way back in time. Funny how we call them “the good ol’ days,” but in actuality they weren’t so good at all.

Although I had a college degree and had started (just barely) working in my career, I married young, especially by today’s standards. When my husband decided his history degree wouldn’t put bread on the table, we moved a year and a half after getting married so he could go to graduate school. By then, however, we already had had our first child. A second was born when we were away in a new city, with no friends or family and no one to help with the kids. We went an entire year, when our firstborn was a baby, without any income. We lived off of student loans and the savings we had accumulated, which of course wasn’t much. We had no help from our parents–nor should we have, really. After all, we were adults, making big-boy and big-girl decisions.

When my husband was away at class all day (he took a train into San Francisco, while I stayed in our apartment on the Peninsula) or working at the school library to make a few bucks during his second and third years, I was raising two babies by myself basically. That included taking the girls and myself to doctor’s visits (since I had no one at all to watch them, they came with me everywhere I went); handling all the feedings; doing all the housework, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the bill paying, the banking, the car repair visits;  and working at a job from home, at which I called subscribers of the two big daily newspapers to ask about their service. A lot of that job was performed while feeding, rocking, and holding my infant or during her naptime (no, I never could take the wise advice given to new moms about resting when the baby naps–and that may be why I cannot, for the love of God, force myself to nap to this day). I was beaten down, exhausted, stressed out, and, above all, lonely. Good ol’ days? Hah!

We were stone-cold broke and I recorded each and every expense so as not to go over our budget. We had only so much in student loans to live on until the next year’s allotment. So every month’s rent, every power bill, every newspaper we purchased, and every McDonald’s cheeseburger we bought on the handful of days we treated ourselves to a meal out over the three years was written down in a notebook. I never was able to afford cute little clothes or toys for the girls or anything I wished I could give them. My older daughter’s favorite item of clothing was a skirt I’d found for two dollars on the clearance rack at Target (it was a splurge, believe me). But it was too chilly where we lived and she was back to her KMart pull-on corduroy pants until she outgrew them, reserving the skirt for our drives back home to Southern California.

We made weekly trips to the public library, and I’d stock up on books for them and for me. This was a big part of our lives. I taught the older one her letters, numbers, and colors and eventually how to read. We had the most basic cable service imaginable because we couldn’t pick up TV reception from San Francisco. We were, however, able to get two fuzzy San Jose stations that were almost impossible to watch when the fog rolled in. The basic cable only allowed us the local stations, including PBS, and a few cable stations, like CNN, MTV, and VH-1. Nickelodeon and other children’s programming networks were additional, so the only show my daughter could watch was Sesame Street, first on an old color TV that had been a wedding gift from my brother and then a 12-inch black-and-white when the color one gave out.

We didn’t socialize at all, being that most of my husband’s classmates were single city dwellers and we were a married couple with kids living on the tightest budget possible. And we resided outside the city in a more affordable suburb. Our entertainment, if you can call it that, was watching the occasional NFL game on TV or direct-to-TV movies and series, and reading all those library books. I felt really cut off from the rest of the world–the world I had barely gotten a foot into before having kids. Since we couldn’t afford long-distance phone calls, our friends and family would call us, and only between certain hours on Sundays, when rates were lower. So getting a letter from a friend of mine or maybe my mom or sister was a big deal to me. A letter was often my only connection to that other world and it made me feel as though people cared.

Finding and reading those letters today didn’t quite give me the morale boost I would get when I opened them for the first time. Instead, I became melancholy and sad for the young woman I was and the woman I never got to become. I don’t know if I felt trapped, because it was a life I willingly walked into. Maybe enmeshed is a better word. I was enmeshed in a world I had wanted but was too naïve to understand all the ramifications of. I was mature enough to realize, though, that it was a temporary life and it would improve.

And yes, my life has changed for the better since then, but some things remain the same. I still work from home and I’ve been a stay-at-home mom my entire thirty-plus years of parenting (now with four kids, the youngest of whom is in high school). Life has gotten so much better, though. To all the struggling young moms out there, I am living proof it turns out OK, but it was rough in the eighties and nineties. At least the moms of today have online forums in which to share feelings and Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to keep them in touch with long-distance friends. I didn’t have that, but I did have all those letters to keep me sane. They represent a tough time in my life, but also, they were my lifeline. I think I’ll hang on to them.