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The Boat

I had never been on a cruise. I was never sure I actually wanted to go on one. I love to travel and explore, but the desire to do so by way of a giant floating hotel wasn’t on my list. Mostly, I thought the limited time in each port just wouldn’t be enough. Still, I’ve always been curious about them and had heard from people who cruise that it’s important to pick the right cruise line. Oceania appeared to fall into that category.

As soon as I got home from the watering hole the evening that Sarah extended the invite, I went online to check out our specific cruise. My eyes watered in anticipation of the places we would visit. I had never been to any of these cities, let alone countries. My visits to Europe have been limited to Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Italy. I had never been to Spain, Portugal, France, or England. And while the stops would be brief in our ports of call, I was positively giddy.

On our last morning in Barcelona, Sarah and I went for another run down to the water. It was then that I first saw our ship. The big “O” loomed 10 stories up on top. I couldn’t wait to get on and see what was on the inside.

First Sighting

First thing’s first

I don’t want this to read like an advertisement so I’ll just say this: The food was delicious, the service impeccable, the beds luxurious, and our stateroom, while small, was perfectly comfortable with plenty of closet space and a nice sized bathroom. We also had a balcony where we drank gin and tonics and looked at the sea.

Our first night, in what we thereafter called, “The Purple Bar”

A lasting memory to take with me was Natalia. She was our housekeeper from Russia; an adorable young blond woman with an infectious smile who took excellent care of us and called us, “My ladies.” No doubt she treated everyone that she was assigned to the very same way, but she had a knack for making you feel like you were the most important person on the ship and I adored her. You sometimes meet people who make an impression and though I really didn’t actually know her, I wish I did.

Not once did we stay on the ship in lieu of exploring a port. Had we, there were plenty of daily activities or a beautiful swimming pool to lounge around, but we didn’t want to miss what was beyond the ship. We only had one full day at sea, and that was toward the end of the cruise between Bordeaux, (where we actually did an overnight and were able to spend more time), and Honfleur, our last stop before disembarking in London.

And we’re off. Goodbye Barcelona. Until we meet again.

First stop, Cartagena.

Barcelona

It was once a place I could only imagine in my head; lively, colorful, and bold. It was that and so much more.

We arrived on a Friday morning after a long and mostly sleepless flight, greeted by sunshine and a cool breeze. Excitement was the drug keeping me awake. I was in Spain.

These were my companions: Sarah (Winemaker and bestie), Gail (Sarah’s mom and friend), Marcus (Sarah’s nephew and newest friend of mine who I adore), Doralice (dear friend), Teri, (friend and Wine Club Manager), Rebecka (Winemaker and friend), and Dennis (Rebecka’s husband and friend).

The hotel check-in time was 3pm and as it was still morning we dropped our bags and went for a walk. Within blocks of the hotel were two of Antoni Gaudí’s most famous buildings; Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. For those that don’t know, Gaudí “is considered the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism and one of the leading lights of the Art Nouveau movement in Europe, despite his architecture evolving into such a personal style that is rather difficult to classify.” (Giordano, Carlos, Nicolás Palmisano, and Ricard Regàs. Visual Guide to the Complete Work of Architect Antoni Gaudí. Barcelona: Dos De Arte, 2015. Print.)

We decided on a tour of Casa Batlló, but first we were hungry. Rebecka, with a travel guidebook in hand, directed us to Tapas 24, which was in the neighborhood. We arrived a little before they were ready to begin lunch service, but they said they would serve us if we were okay with a limited menu. That was fine with us. My first meal in Barcelona did not disappoint. It was simple food; pan con tomate (toasted bread with tomato and huevos rotos (broken eggs with potatoes and sausage). Delicious is an understatement. Perhaps it was because I was in Barcelona, perhaps it was delirium from lack of sleep, perhaps it was hunger, or perhaps it was the olive oil, but I was so happy.

Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló was once the private home of the Batlló family. In 1904 Joseph Batlló contracted the services of Gaudí to construct a new building at the site of a building built in 1877. Batlló wanted the building torn down and a new one designed by Gaudí, but Gaudí convinced Batlló to renovate the existing structure. Two more levels were added along with a completely new facade. The end result was a work of art, complete with eight private rental apartments and a roof terrace.

With our hotel room still not quite ready, our group split up. Sarah and I hopped on the “on and off bus” knowing we could see much of the city in a relatively short amount of time. We had no intention of getting off the bus. We were weary and killing time and thought this a good way to see the highlights of the city. We plugged in the English headset, put them on our ears and then struggled with heavy eyelids and nodding heads. Two hours later, we checked into our room, but then promptly made our way to the roof.

Jetlagged and blissed out, we sat sipping wine and taking in the entire city that we had only two and a half days to explore. For me, it didn’t matter what we did or where we went. It was all new to me and I knew I would be delighted with whatever was chosen. If I am unfamiliar with an area and someone else isn’t, then I prefer they take the reins. Just tell me what time to be ready. I did very little research before this trip because I knew I didn’t need to. I wanted to be surprised. I know that I am an easy traveler, low maintenance, and possess a ridiculous childlike wonder when it comes to knew experiences. I’m known to do happy dances.

Dinner that night was at Cervecería Catalana, highly recommended as the best Tapas in Barcelona. The wait was long, but so worth it. I can’t remember everything we ate, but these thinly sliced fried artichokes quickly became a favorite dish of mine in Spain.

After a good night’s sleep, Sarah and I began our day with a run down to the water. We were out of the hotel before 8am. The streets were so quiet and unoccupied. I loved running by the small shops that were just beginning their day, but not quite open. There were a few elderly folks out for a morning stroll before the city awoke, and the smell of fresh baked goods and coffee kept hitting our noses, tempting us to forget about the run.

Our excursions continued to be about Gaudí. He is so pervasive in this glorious city and with so little time, we wanted to see the stand outs. After the run, our group gathered to visit Park Güell. This is a 42-acre public park that Gaudí designed beginning in 1900. It’s a combination of landscaping and architectural elements. We walked the paths to the top of Carmel Hill and enjoyed another beautiful view of the city.

Park Güell

Park Güell

From there we were in for an amazing treat. By way of a friend’s recommendation, Doralice took us to Entrepanes Díaz for lunch. It was a tiny place off the beaten path, which most likely serves locals more than tourists. Incidentally, Doralice speaks Spanish, which I’m certain was a relief to the gentleman that greeted our gang at the door. We were the first to arrive, as it was still a bit early, but he was warm and welcoming. The food was excellent and the memory of that place is one of my favorites from the entire trip.

After lunch we went to what is considered to be Gaudí’s most famous work, La Sagrada Familia, an expiatory temple dedicated to the Holy Family. Gaudí toiled 43 years on this project, but died in 1926 at the age of 73, before it could be completed. Construction did not resume until 1954, and still it is not completed, but it is considered a masterpiece of world art. We were all in awe, from the moment we saw it from the street upon our arrival, to the moment we departed in our taxi. In fact, curiosity took hold from the rooftop of our hotel with its spires towering above the city skyline.

La Sagrada Familia

Inside La Sagrada Familia

Saturday night took us out of the city to Codorníu for a private tour and dinner with the entire wine club. Codorníu is the oldest Cava producer in Spain. The winery dates back to 1551. As much as I would have liked to have one more evening on the town in Barcelona, this was a wonderful experience and I’m very glad that were were able to visit a place so rich in history.

Tomorrow we set sail.

 

 

 

The Invite

An ordinary Friday last August. Your dearest friend and “sort of” coworker texts and asks if you want to get a beer after work. I say “sort of” coworker because while we work at the same winery, we don’t work together at all, and we were friends for quite some time before her commute became my commute. She’s a winemaker. I’m in the compliance department. I make sure that everything we are doing when we ship the wine that she makes to various states is legal. I also make sure that we are complying with the laws set forth by the U.S. Department of the Treasury that regulates the production and sales of alcoholic beverages; the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, otherwise known as the TTB. Boring stuff if you aren’t me I suppose because I actually like my job.

Anyway, back to that beer. We met at a place we occasionally frequent. Does that even make sense? If you only occasionally frequent an establishment then you don’t really frequent it, do you? But it’s on our way home and on the occasional occasion that a cold beer needs to be drunk before we make our way home, this is our place. We never say no to each other. At least not that I can recall. It’s a given. If one of us needs a quick beer, the other is available. I sat across the picnic table from the girl who has been my closest friend since moving to Healdsburg almost nine years ago. We both had an ice cold pint glass full of Trumer Pils. We cheered. And then she said, “Do you want to go as my guest on the wine cruise next May?”

I burst into tears. In a nutshell, there is a wine club cruise to far off lands every other year. A cruise that the winemaker goes on and is afforded a guest, be it husband, family member, friend… Since knowing my friend, who I will call Sarah because that is her name, she has always taken a family member. She said, “I want to take you. We will have a blast!”

I literally jumped up and did a happy dance.

 

My Stint as a Concierge – Part 2

The beautiful young woman with long, dark hair stood with her large breasts resting on the counter of the concierge desk. When I looked up, her plunging neckline and erect nipples were staring me in the face. No, I haven’t started writing erotica. If so, that would have been a terrible stab at it. She handed me an earring and a large gemstone and said, “Can you fix this?” She reached up and put her hair behind the ear that was wearing the match to the broken one. “Can I have the one on your ear so I can look at it?” I asked. She took it off and handed it to me. I studied them both. I wasn’t a jeweler, but it appeared to be costume jewelry so I wasn’t too worried about saying, “I can crazy glue it.” She smiled and said she’d be back for it in an hour.

She was a prostitute hired by the Los Angeles Bond Club (bail bondsmen) to accompany a group of about 30 men to the hotel for the weekend. It was just she and one other girl. The men were there for their annual convention (golf/drinking/sex with hookers), and what was left in their wake were stories the staff would talk about for months, especially the Housekeeping Department.

Being a concierge was an interesting job. If you got the right gig, it could be very lucrative and you could be dialed in to everything going on, especially in a big city. The perks can be phenomenal. Later on in my husband’s career, he was managing a hotel in Los Angeles where we benefited greatly from the relationships the hotel concierge had fostered. But that was a little different from the job at Spanish Bay. A posh golf resort wasn’t the same as a big city hotel because of all the things a big city has to offer. Still, you never knew what would be thrown at you. For the most part, it’s talking about where to go and what to do and what to eat and scheduling dinner reservations and massages and babysitters and tee times, etc., etc., but occasionally you are hit a little sideways with requests that leave you slightly speechless while you process how best to accommodate.

Like the time a 40-something year old woman, who was very plain and soft-spoken walked up to the desk and stated that she had forgotten her compact at home. First I said, “Did you check the gift shop? We have some cosmetics there.” She said, “Yes, but you don’t carry Clinique.” I thought, So what the hell do you expect me to do about it, run to Macy’s for you? I hesitated, then said, “If you can tell me the shade, I can send a porter to Macy’s.” A month or so later, I found out this woman was a “secret shopper” hired by hotel management and in her report she described our interaction to the letter. It went something like this, “Jodee was very pleasant and helpful with getting the compact I told her I forgot at home, though there was a slight initial hesitation.”

On very busy days, the concierge staff would have to jump in and do some of the porter duties. Occasionally I parked cars. I once drove a Bentley to a parking spot. I also drove a 20-something passenger bus more than once. The first time the doorman came in and said, “Jodee, I need to you shuttle a group to The Lodge,” I said, “No way. I can’t drive that big bus.” Yes, you can,” he said. So I did. It was full of a group of golfers from Japan who spoke very little English, but tried to ask me questions while I held their lives in my hands and in that bus. It went okay, and truth be told, I often volunteered to drive the bus even though I don’t think I was legally supposed to. I seem to recall a special license (?), but maybe not.

On another busy day, the doorman walked in holding the elbow of a man holding an ice pack to the side of his head. “Jodee, I need you to take Mr. White to the ER.” He had been hit in the head with a golf ball and was actually knocked out briefly. He refused an ambulance, but the hotel insisted he get checked out. As I was getting in the driver’s seat of the hotel Town Car, the doorman whispered, “Don’t let him fall asleep.” That poor man. I talked his ear off and asked him questions the entire drive to the hospital. I could tell he was annoyed. I finally said, “I’m not supposed to let you fall asleep.” He said, “I know.”

I mentioned in the first part of the story that my immediate supervisor, David, would become my second husband in less than a year. So yeah, that was going on; his trying to “court” me, and me resisting (initially). He made it pretty clear from the beginning that he was interested, though he was always professional. I recall him saying, “There’s something I really want to ask you, but I’m not sure I should.” I said, “You want to ask me out?” He said, “No, I want to ask you to marry me and have my children.” I laughed and walked away. I had a crush on the bartender in the Lobby Lounge. I was once hiding behind the bar having a coke or something when I heard David walk up and ask the bartender if he had seen me. He said, “no.” That was my cue to go out the back door of the bar and run as quickly as I could through the back hallways to the employee lounge and act like nothing.

Eventually he won me over so we went to Tahoe and got married. Within two weeks, the General Manager of the hotel called David in and said, “I don’t think Jodee should be working here now that she is your wife.” And that was end of my stint as a concierge.

My Stint as a Concierge


My friend Renee called me one day and asked if I would be interested in working as a concierge at The Inn at Spanish Bay. “I don’t think so,” I said. I was working as the daytime bartender at the Monterey Plaza Hotel at the time and I liked my job. Renee and I did some part-time modeling together and in the relatively short time I had lived on the Monterey Peninsula, I considered her my closest friend. I was recently separated from my first husband and things weren’t easy, but my little boy and I were settling into life in a one bedroom apartment a few blocks from the beach. “John is recruiting,” Renee said. John was Renee’s husband. He was in the hotel business and if I took the job as concierge, he would be my boss. He was a great guy, but the thought of changing jobs during such an unsettling time in my life sounded like more than I wanted to deal with.

A month or so later, John called me himself. “Come on, Jodee, just come down to the hotel and let me show you around and tell you about the job.” I agreed. The Inn at Spanish Bay hadn’t been open too long and was part of the Pebble Beach Resorts family. The historical Lodge at Pebble Beach was (is) its sister property. Both are located on the world famous 17-Mile Drive and both have world class golf courses. It was beautiful. The resort itself wooed me. When John and I finished walking the property and talking about the job, I was smitten. It didn’t hurt that he timed my visit with sunset, and the bagpiper who plays and pairs beautifully with that time of day.

A concierge takes care of a hotel guest’s every need, though you aren’t required to break the law, and you can refuse to help a guest if they ask you to cross the line, though that line is never actually spelled out. Of course you aren’t allowed inside of a guest’s room, other than the short time you are pointing out the workings of their room after you have escorted them to it. You see, that was how Spanish Bay had this position structured. You were either one of two employees behind the concierge desk, or you were posted in the lobby awaiting arrivals. If that happened to be you, the front desk clerk would introduce you by name, “Mr. Jones, this is Jodee. She is going to escort you to your room, tell you about the hotel, and answer any questions you may have.” But I’m jumping ahead.

We didn’t have bellmen. We had porters. Porters would be posted outside as hotel guests pulled up to the porte-cochère. The hotel was set back from the road. There was a guard gate at the entrance. The person working in the guard gate would inquire whether the person entering the property was checking into the hotel and if they were, the gate person would call the doorman and let them know that Mr. Jones was on his way up in a blue Mercedes. Mr. Jones would then be greeted by name by the doorman and then whisked to the front desk clerk and introduced where he would promptly get checked in before being handed off to (a concierge) me. Mr. Jones would always inquire about the car and his bags, but he would be told not to worry about that. While one porter was parking his car, another porter was already on his way to the room to drop off the luggage before we arrived, and when he is surprised to see his luggage and inquires about tipping, he is told that a 15% gratuity is added onto his folio so he is not to tip anywhere in the hotel other than the restaurants and lounges. Sometimes guests would push cash into your hands and not take “no” for an answer, but you would never know if they were a spy so you tried to resist as best you could. Not taking “no” for an answer was a pretty good clue that they weren’t hired by management to “secret shop” on your ass.

My second husband, David, was my immediate supervisor. He was John’s assistant manager. I didn’t know he was going to be my second husband when I met him, but he would become that in less than a year’s time. My first day on the job was shadowing David as he told (and showed) me everything about the hotel. It was crucial to the job that I know everything about the hotel, the restaurants, the company, etc. We also drove over to The Lodge at Pebble Beach because I had to be familiar with that property as well. My one standout memory of that day was when we were driving to The Lodge and I told David about my son Jarrod, who was five at the time, wanting to change his name to Arnold. David laughed to tears.

To be continued…

Honeymoons

I haven’t had very good luck with honeymoons. Or marriages, come to think of it. Though I would actually call both of my marriage successful despite their ultimate demises. My son was a product of the first, and I would hardly call a 20-year marriage a failure. We succeeded for a long time, but I’m actually writing about honeymoons today. Specifically, the first one because there’s not a lot to tell about the second one as you will discover at the end of my story.

Two marriages equal two honeymoons with two different husbands and both to Hawaii, though they were on different islands so I didn’t have to suffer the fate of remembering being in the same place with Husband #1 when I was with Husband #2.

Husband #1 was only interested in buying weed. We spent a week on the island of Oahu, and he spent six days trying to score weed. Of course I knew before I married the guy that he liked his weed, but I didn’t think his smoking habit would infiltrate our honeymoon.

There was a casual mention of him wanting to buy some “good shit” in Hawaii a few weeks before our wedding, but I didn’t give it too much thought. I envisioned him asking the bellman at our hotel about it when we arrived, and then perhaps the bellman coming to our room that night with enough to last him the week and that would be the end of it.

I also envisioned us sitting on our hotel balcony overlooking the ocean drinking Mai Tais or some other exotic tropical drink and then walking hand in hand along the surf as the sun set, but that never happened.

The bellman did come to our room that first night, but only with one joint. The next morning Husband was on a quest to find more weed. I found myself running along behind him on the streets of Honolulu while he looked into the eyes of locals hoping they could read each other’s minds. “Got weed?” his eyes would say, “Yes,” the stranger’s eyes would say, and then they would duck behind a building or dumpster and exchange money and drugs. As the lookout, I became an accessory to these crimes.

For whatever reason, he could only get a small amount at a time so these were our daily excursions. I took to wearing a disguise. We did have a few nice dinners in between our hunts for illegal drugs, and the Luau that the hotel put on was a memorable experience. But what I remember most is following Husband and a local dude into a rundown apartment complex where we entered the unit with an upside down “B” on the door, and while Husband was conducting his final transaction with four strange men lurking, I envisioned them taking what was left of our money and slitting our throats.

Obviously that didn’t happen, because nine years later I was on the island of Maui with Husband #2, who didn’t like marijuana due to the paranoia that would envelop him each time he’d tried it.

We had a wonderful time sitting on our hotel balcony overlooking the ocean sipping exotic tropical drinks and taking nightly walks along the surf at sunset. We dined at wonderful restaurants, went on a snorkeling excursion to Molokini, swam in the ocean, read books on the beach, and even tried parasailing. We did all the touristy stuff.

What we didn’t do was have good old-fashioned sex. Instead, we asked the concierge at our hotel where the nearest pharmacy was so I could stock up on Monistat because I was hit with a raging yeast infection on Day #2 of Honeymoon #2.

Alone Time

Oh, the neglected blog. To borrow from an overused phrase, the struggle is real. The struggle to write. There has been very little blogging and a bit of writing outside of the blog, but mostly I have found 2016 to be the year I stopped writing. So I will end the year with something. Anything. Boring or mundane, or whatever, I will write.

I will write about the visit to see my grandson cancelled due to stormy weather. I can go on about that. About the need to squeeze the little guy and plant kisses on his chubby cheeks and on the top of his sweet smelling head. FaceTime is awesome, but it doesn’t replace the feel of his soft little arms. So much is happening with him right now. The words and funniness are flying out of his mouth. He can tell you his name, he can point to just about anything you ask him to, and he can release his dog Frank from the crate.

So instead of the trip to see Larkin, I drove 50 minutes outside of town to Valley Ford, a blink and you miss it sort of place not far from Bodega Bay, to stay at a little hotel in the wall. Actually, it’s quite lovely in an understated sort of way. It’s clean, has very nice linens, and EO amenities in the shower. Also, the coffee is good and there was a basket of snacks at the top of the stairway landing when I arrived. When I peered in I saw individually wrapped homemade brownies. I’m sold.

I came to pout. I brought books, a puzzle, my new 2017 planner, my computer, my running shoes, and wine.

I finished one book and started another.
I completed the puzzle, start to finish.
I planned my triathlon training.
I worked on my budget.
I ran 4.5 miles this morning and I’m planning to run again tomorrow morning.
I discovered the Estero Cafe across the street for breakfast and Rocker Oysterfeller’s here in the hotel for dinner. Both delicious.
I didn’t finish the wine I brought.
I wrote!

All in all, this was time well spent with myself.

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Kids First

Mike told me a funny little story the other day. This past Friday afternoon there was a meeting at our house regarding at-home therapy for the boys. Not the type of therapy for kids going through a difficult time or anything like that, but the kind of therapy designed to help kids with autism. Since Erin (the boys’ mom) had them on Friday, she let herself into our house and was waiting for Mike to get home so they could wait for the entourage of two therapists and the person in charge to arrive to meet the boys and then discuss with us what to expect, etc. I say “us” even though I wasn’t there. I would have been there, but I didn’t know about it until that day and thought it was a quick meeting in an office somewhere. Had I known it was a three hour thing at our house, I would have changed my plans and been there. As a result, the next day Erin and I discussed her including me in group texts about what is going on with the boys because, well, we both know Mike.

Anyway, the funny story was that when Mike got home and found Erin there with the boys, Liam said to Mike, “Hey Daddy, this is Mommy!” He said it more than once. He thought this strange enough to point out. In his world, Mommy and Daddy are in two separate houses and though there are pick-ups and drop-offs and instances where we are all together in the same place, Liam isn’t used to his mom hanging out at the house where his dad lives.

That story made me think of my own son, Jarrod, who was also a child of divorced parents at a very young age, but for many reasons (that some of you know because you know my story or you follow this blog), there was nothing civil or friendly about my break-up with Jarrod’s father, Joe. We communicated only when absolutely necessary. In fact, early on, he didn’t even know where we lived.

I had hoped that we would one day get beyond that animosity. I envisioned time healing all of our open wounds. As ridiculous as it sounds given our history, I thought we could let the past go and be friendly one day. I attempted to when Jarrod got older by inviting Joe to his high school graduation party at my parents’ house, but he declined.

What brought us together was Jarrod’s cancer diagnosis at the age of 20. Why does it take something so catastrophic to get two people to set aside their grievances and breath the same air inside the same tiny room? We didn’t drive together to Stanford University Medical Center to discuss the next steps after the diagnosis, but we met there, and the three of us huddled together waiting for Dr. Ronald Levy to walk in and tell us something that would allow us all to sleep that night. It was a two hour wait. This doctor was the leading authority on Lymphoma and as a favor to my brother-in-law’s roommate whose girlfriend was a colleague on the fundraising for research side of things, (I think I got that right), we were gratefully squeezed in for a consultation. I would have waited all night for a sit-down with that doctor.

I don’t remember all that much about the wait because my state of mind during that time was one that only allowed me to go through the motions of living. I had one mission. And that was to find the right person for the job of making my son healthy again. But I do remember that Joe and I were both calm, united together by the same feelings we had for Jarrod. We were the only two people in the entire world who knew how the other felt during that time, and if that was all we had left of what was once “us,” then at least we had that.

Despite the circumstances we were able to share a few laughs with Jarrod. That I remember. And like Liam, though it was a different kid, a different time, and a different place, I remember something Jarrod said when Joe left the room to go to the cafeteria to get us something to eat. He said, “This is so weird.” I asked, “What’s weird?” He said, “You and dad in the same room with me.”

Incidentally, we all slept better that night.

Jarrod and Liam

Jarrod and Liam

 

 

The Uneventful Eventful Weekend

Our kid weekend started out normal enough. I took off work early Friday and picked up the boys from school because Mike had a thing, their mom had a thing, and grandma had a thing. We hung out and played with a new train set until Mike got home. I took an electric engine apart looking for a battery after Liam handed it to me and said, “Fix it.” I took four screws out of the bottom, which is not where the battery is housed. The battery is easily attainable by taking one screw off the top of the train, though I didn’t know that yet. When the last screw came out, the guts of the train fell out. I had three little axles in my hand. They each had three to four wheels on them with teeth. There was only one way to make them fit so they would all work together to make the actual train wheels move. I couldn’t figure it out. All the while, a distressed little boy is hovering over me as I worked on the tiny engine. I kept repeating, “I’m sorry, Daddy will have to fix it,” knowing Daddy wouldn’t be able to fix it. I gave up, put all the parts in a little dish and set it on top of the fridge. I distracted Liam by turning on the TV then went online to Amazon and ordered a new electric train engine exactly like the one I just dismantled. These are the moments I’m thankful for Prime and overnight shipping.

As soon as Mike got home he took the boys to a fair at school so they could jump in bouncy houses. I stayed home and started dinner. I made fresh pesto for pasta and when the guys arrived home, we ate. Liam devoured two platefuls and Finn took his usual two bites. After dinner, baths, and mani-pedis for the boys, we all sat down to watch Curious George 2. Finn seemed tired, but that isn’t unusual for him at the end of a long day. Liam was his usual bouncy self.

Toward the end of the movie, and during an upsetting scene where the mama Elephant is captured, Finn, who was laying on top of Mike, sat up and let out a scream. Just as I was about to say, “the mama elephant will be fine,” the entire contents of his stomach upchucked all over his father and our new couch. And so began the weekend of thirty loads of laundry, diligent sanitation, and managing one healthy kid and one sick kid. (Sidenote to parents whose kids were in the bouncy houses with Finn: So sorry, we didn’t know he was sick).

At 9:24pm I received a message from an old friend’s son-in-law via Facebook. He told me my friend had cancer and wasn’t doing well and that she qualified for Hospice this week. This was a dear friend who for many years was a big part of my life. We met when I was in my early 30s and she was in her 50s. We worked together for several years and despite our difference in age, had an immediate connection. We had always stayed in touch, but the past few years had been more sporadic and when I received his message I immediately felt awful about that. I should have known. I told him I would call her on Saturday.

Only Liam slept much that first night. Finn was up a lot. I will spare you the details of what the stomach bug did to the poor little guy because we’ve all been there either with ourselves or our kids. There’s no need for explanations. In the morning I ran to the store for Gatorade, Pedialyte, and Jello. We had planned to take the boys to see The Angry Birds Movie on Saturday, but that turned into me taking Liam and leaving Mike and Finn at home. Finn being sick had already made an impression on Liam because on the way home from the movie he said, “Let’s go see Daddy and Finn be quiet.”

Off to the movies.

Off to the movies.

My friend and the phone call I had to make weighed heavy on my mind. I was afraid to call. What would I say? How would she sound? Would she forgive me for not calling to check in with her sooner? I thought it might be a long phone call, though I didn’t know if her health would allow that. I just knew that in the past our phone calls were often very long as we caught each other up on our lives and I wanted to be sure I had a good stretch of uninterrupted time to talk.

Liam’s new train arrived and when I handed it to him he thought it was the broken one and by the end of the weekend we realized that he thinks I can fix anything. Actually, I did end up fixing the broken train on Saturday evening because of my dogged determination.

Part of me was procrastinating, part of me was having a hard time finding a good time to make the call with all that was going on in the house. I messaged my friend in the early evening not knowing if she would answer. I asked her if Sunday afternoon would be a good time for me to call since Mike and I had already discussed him taking Liam out of the house and me staying home with Finn. I figured Finn would either be asleep or I could put a movie on for him. She responded shortly after with a “Yes.”

On Sunday morning I scooted Mike out the door for a run after breakfast. He’d been housebound since Friday. Finn was still green. He sat and stared at a plate of pancakes, but didn’t attempt one bite. He slept most of the day on Saturday and it looked like Sunday was going to be a repeat. When I returned from a trip to the laundromat to wash the boys’ comforters, Mike took Liam for a walk and lunch downtown. Finn was still lethargic and not eating at all. Knowing kids usually bounce back pretty quickly with these bugs, we were getting a little concerned.

Nope.

Nope.

My fear about calling my friend went out the window when I heard her voice. We picked up where we left off like we always had. Knowing the kind of person she was, I wasn’t surprised by her acceptance of her situation and her matter-of-fact demeanor. She had been a rock for me during difficult times in my life. She was the first friend I called when my son was diagnosed with cancer. She had a daughter who had survived cancer so she knew exactly what I was going through and she let me lean on her. I leaned hard.

Around 5pm Sunday evening, Mike and I talked about calling the doctor on Monday morning if Finn still hadn’t eaten and at the end of that conversation, Mike went in to take a shower. I stripped Finn to join Mike and we were both taken aback by how skinny he looked. He’s a skinny kid to begin with, but he didn’t look healthy. It was a little scary. After a good scrub, I took Finn from the shower so Mike could finish up and got him dressed in clean pajamas. Then he sat down at the dining room table. I started asking him about food. Quesadilla? Peanut butter and jelly? Cereal? I held up the box. “Okay,” he said. I gave him a bowl of cereal and he took two big bites. Then he said, “All done.” It was a start. He crawled up on the couch and pulled a blanket over himself. I wanted to keep his interest in food going so I put a small bowl of cantaloupe in his lap that Mike had cut up the night before. He said, “Thank you,” and started eating it, and thus began the bouncing back.

Can I forgive myself for forgetting my friend’s 80th birthday this past March? She told me there was nothing to forgive. She told me that she knows how life is and how busy I am now and how lucky those two little boys are to have me in their lives because she knows the kind of person I am. I don’t feel worthy of her saying those things to me because I feel like I have failed her as a friend. What an amazing and wonderful woman she is.

Just as Mike and I were settling in to watch Game of Thrones, my phone rang and I saw it was my mom. We talk fairly often and it’s usually pretty quick check-ins so I told Mike I wanted to take the call. He paused the TV. A few weeks back my mother had told me that she and my dad had wanted to go to Anaheim for an Elks Lodge event this past weekend. My dad doesn’t drive any longer because of his vision and my mom said she wasn’t sure she wanted to make that drive herself. They were hoping some other friends would be going so they could tag along. I suggested looking into Amtrak too, but she discovered the timing wouldn’t work for the train. I had forgotten about the Anaheim weekend until we started talking last night. She told me that she and my dad had gone after all and it was just the two of them and they had a nice, relaxing time. My mom is 82 and my dad is 86 and they just took a mini roadtrip together.

Hug your parents, hug your kids, and then pick up the phone and call that old friend that you haven’t talked to in awhile.

Pat

My beautiful friend.

 

I grew a tree

Actually, I grew more than one tree. Ten years ago or so, I opened up a few pods from a Mesquite tree and put the seeds in the ground in the backyard of my house in Southern Arizona. Today the trees are massive, and knowing these beautiful trees are there because of me makes me feel like I did something good. This was different than going down to your neighborhood nursery and buying a tree in a pot. This was me helping nature by scattering seeds and growing something that will still be standing in 100 years.

My husband, David, had made a somewhat impulsive decision to buy a house in Tubac, Arizona after visiting his parents one winter. They had retired to Southern Arizona and the town of Tubac was about an hour away from them. He bought a completely staged (furnished) brand new home in a development that was within walking distance to town, which wasn’t much more than four square blocks of art galleries, a coffeehouse, a few restaurants, a saloon, and one gas station. I had never been there. He returned to our home in Palm Springs with the news.

We then impulsively rented our house in Palm Springs completely furnished, put a few things in a storage unit, loaded our two vehicles with personal belongings and three dogs and then drove to the state next door where we would live for the next two years, which brings me to the day the Mesquite pods came into my possession.

We had gone to visit my in-laws and after a lazy afternoon and early dinner, we stood in their front yard chatting before saying goodbye. They had a very large Mesquite tree next to their driveway that was shedding pods. My father-in-law (who I also must give credit too) picked up a handful and gave them to me. He said, “Take these home, open them up, and put the seeds in the ground. You might get a tree.”

Mesquite pods

Mesquite pods

Our backyard was all rock, very sparse, and with only a few desert cactuses and shrubs. It wasn’t pretty. In addition, the development had a rule about the height of your fence or enclosure. We had a four foot wall that overlooked a park to the back and an adjacent neighbor on one side. There wasn’t much privacy. I told David that I would try to grow four trees. Three on the back wall and one on the side closer to the house.

Before trees

Before trees

The seeds sprouted very quickly. I was ecstatic. When our desert dwelling days came to an end, the trees were about as tall as me, but still wispy. We visited Arizona when we could and it was always joyful to see their growth, but as the story goes there came a time when that house was no longer my house and the ex-husband got custody of the trees.

Happily, the story doesn’t end there. Knowing what those trees meant to me, David sends me pictures every time he visits Tubac.

View from the back wall of one of my trees.

Look at that tree!

 

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