On Staring Down A Blank Page

I am sitting with a student while she writes so I have a few minutes to write my blog. (She and I will edit her writing once she is finished.) That brings me to the question of what shall I write about tonight? Finding a topic for writing is one of the toughest parts of blogging daily. On a busy day, it’s often no problem since I might have a ready subject to pull from, but sometimes even on those days, I’m not inspired to write about what I’ve done. That’s when I sit and stare at the blank page, which is usually not all that fun.

When I am faced with a blank mind and an empty page, I do what everyone does, I think, “I’m just too tired to do this tonight.” Sometimes, I go back through my past blogs to see if I can find one to repost or I include a recipe from a favorite dish or I do a photo essay with few words. Occasionally, I’ll listen to music and upload YouTube videos to fulfill my 20 minutes a day of writing obligation. It could be argued that I am not actually writing on those days and that is the absolute truth. I tell myself that any blog is better than no blog and, besides, nobody is perfect so reposts, recipes, photos or videos will do just fine. On one level, I am fine with this since these all represent aspects of my personality or interests and my blog is about maintaining a balanced life. Alas, on another level, I have to accept that I am cheating, and that is just the plain truth.

Tonight appears to be the night that I am writing about writer’s block or what I do when I am not feeling inspired. I guess I should add that when faced with this situation, I often simply write about what I see, hear, taste, touch or smell in the room around me. (Taste doesn’t usually apply here, as you may have already determined.) This will serve me well most of the time because just focusing on my immediate surroundings somehow centers my mind and I often stumble upon something that has caught my attention, which will fill up 20 minutes.

On days when I have waited too long to write and I am just worn out, either physically or emotionally, I have to simply throw in the towel and skip writing. I try not to let that happen too often, but sometimes it does just because of how life works. As I said before, nobody’s perfect.

Speaking of perfect, I can’t help but leap right over to perfectionism, which is the killer of all things creative. I have learned that often blog posts that I’ve determined are glaringly imperfect are often the ones that receive a whole host of positive comments and reader “likes,” while others that I think are brilliant fall on deaf ears. I have come to accept that I may have been too busy trying to be brilliant rather than honest. Alas…I live and learn.

My student is now finished. I am going to close.

The bottom line when facing a blank page is to write something even it you think it’s terrible. The physical writing of the words (or adding those reposts, photos, recipes, etc) will let your brain know that you are going to spend 20 minutes on this writing activity no matter what, so it (your brain) might as well stop protesting. That is where discipline comes from, when you have trained your brain to shut up and you get on with the work, no matter what.

On that note, I’ll say good night.

I hope you’ve had a fine day.

I’ll be checking in with you again tomorrow.

writer's block

Grandma Day with Luna and Nico

I have a little break in my childcare this afternoon due to two sleeping kids so I thought I’d take this time to write my blog early rather than 30 minutes before I head to bed.

Normally, Ray and I take one day a week to take care of our little grandkids: Luna, age 3 and Nico, age 5 1/2 months, but Ray had to attend to some business today so I am here in Sierra Madre handling the grandparent day solo.  I arrived here at 7 am (Gregorio left at 7:05 and Sarah at 7:15).  It is still hot here in LA and because Sierra Madre is out of the city (45 minutes east of our house), it can be even a little warmer.  So, I decided that we would go to the park by mid-morning since I figured it would get too hot later in the day.

I actually did a good job all by myself of getting both kids dressed; snacks, extra diapers, diaper wipes, my phone and money in a bag; and Nico strapped to my chest in a baby carrier.  (Don’t ask how I got him in there by myself. I actually was holding on to his diaper with my teeth at one point.) Despite that minor complication, I did get him all settled and happy.  We walked the 3 blocks to the park with no incident.  Yeah.

I realize that I sound as if I am building to some big problem that occurred.  Actually, that is not the case.  Luna played on the swings for at least an hour – me pushing her and Nico asleep in his carrier on my chest – and I chatted with the various young mothers who were there with their kids early (just like me) before the real heat set in.  Luna then ran around a tree about forty times, climbed up and down the little play structure, took a turn in the sand box and even told me when she needed to go to the bathroom.  We also took a couple of breaks for snacks.

Nico, meanwhile, slept, slept, slept, then woke up and grinned, looked around, then fell back to sleep.  He was completely contented to be all snuggled in his carrier and the warmth of my body must have had a serious soporific effect on him.

We stayed for almost two and a half hours. Long enough that all other parents (and a few other grandparents) and their charges had come, played and gone.  There was one lone mother and child on the play equipment by noon.

Luna’s cheeks were bright pink from all the playing and the heat so we headed into downtown Sierra Madre (another 1/2 block) and had a blueberry and mango smoothie sweetened with agave nectar.  We sat out front at a table and watched while people went in and out of the nearby Subway.  Luna drank her half of the smoothie while I eavesdropped on the conversation of a mother, father and adult son (clearly on the autistic spectrum) about whether you could take food onto airplanes.  (I refrained from tossing in my knowledge on this topic since they were having a spirited argument and everyone seemed invested in being right.) Still, they weren’t too loud and it was pleasant sitting outside (still cool in the shade) and Luna and I enjoyed sharing our fruit smoothie. After that we stopped in a local hardware store on the way home just because we had nothing else to do and they had a gift shop in the front part of the store.

Back home, I fed Nico and got Luna settled on the couch with a blanket and pillow and a tv show called Pinky Dinky Do (a decent show despite that ridiculous name.)  Anyway, within minutes she was asleep and after Nico’s bottle, he was asleep too. That was two hours ago and Nico has awaken twice for a diaper change, some holding and yet another bottle since I figured he might be a little dehydrated from his long morning without any liquid besides his breakfast.

So here we are.  I have these two gorgeous children all cozy and asleep and I am sitting here writing my blog EARLY!  Yahoo.

The best part of this weekly grandparent day is that I get to hang out at the park and in downtown Sierra Madre (or wherever we please) and spend at least 8 hours with these grandbabies.  That is a treat that is hard to describe and is one of the BEST perks of being a grandma so far. (I’m sure my more experienced grandparent friends could let me know of even better times ahead though it’s hard to imagine anything could beat this.)

So, I’ll wrap this up now since I am certain there will be stirring among the troops in the very near future.  I might have to start making noise since Luna and Nico’s parents might not want children who have slept all afternoon and are experiencing major energy bursts just as Mom and Dad arrive home, tired.

Ray, I’m certain, is feeling jealous that he missed his babies this week. Of course, it is especially wonderful when he is here too.  Nothing like Grandma and Grandpa heading up the charge together in the multi-tasking needed to manage a 5-month-old baby and a three -year-old.

I’ll be checking back in tomorrow.  Until then, stay cool and enjoy your day.

Luna during her park swingathon

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Nico awake for a few minutes

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Crashed out Luna

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Nico back to the zzz’s

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Flash Fiction: Jacob’s Search

Jacob reached for a cigarette, lit it, sucked in the smoke then blew it out through his nose. Good grief, what was he going to do today?

He considered his options. Watch more CNN? No, that was making him agitated and depressed. Take another shower? How many did he need and besides his skin was getting too dry. Think up a friend to call and talk? Ugh. That sounded like work. His wife was busy working in the garden. His kids were all at their jobs. His grandkids were in school.

He stood up and walked to the window. The sun was shining, the temperature was mild. A woman in a pink running suit jogged up the street. Cars passed filled with people who had somewhere to go and something to do. What had happened to him and his destinations? He took another draw from his cigarette. Who needed a retired man in his late sixties for anything? That was what younger people were for, to try new things, fill new vacancies. They had a life ahead of them to build; he had built his, lived it and was now watching the world go by.

The phone rang, he ignored it. More solicitors. Nobody who knew him called on the main line anymore. Not many people called his cell phone. Just his kids for a duty call every couple of weeks.

He ground out his cigarette and stared. What now? He thought he could go to the beach and get some fresh air. Or out to eat just to be around people. Or to the library to get a book. None of those things appealed to him. Instead, he sat down and took a deep breath. He thought of a line he’d often taught to his patients, breathe in calmness; breathe out anxiety. In calmness; out anxiety. Over and over again he did this, breathing deeper each time.

After a few minutes, he noticed the cool air from the ceiling fan, the deep shade of green of the hedge outside the window, the rich smell of the coffee from his cup. “Maybe I’ll go for a walk,” he muttered, then saw his dog’s ears perk up. He sighed, went to find his socks and tennis shoes and the leash. Maybe life wasn’t all that complicated after all.

Just before heading out the door, he walked to the kitchen sink, pulled his package of cigarettes from his pocket, dumped them out and turned on the water. “At least, for right now, I’m not going to smoke.”

His dog was barking with excitement as Jacob fastened the leash. As they stepped outside, he stopped for a moment and felt the warm sun on his face. He took another deep breath. “What do you say, boy, let’s go meet the day. Who knows what we’ll discover if we’ll just slow down and look.”

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Today’s Heat and Tonight’s Moon

Today has been a day to hide from the heat. That’s just what Ray and I did, worked inside, upstairs in the air conditioning. I talked to one friend in Palm Springs who said it was 123 degrees there – a new record – and here in LA it was HOT, in the high 90’s. In Ojai, Ray checked mid-afternoon and it was 111. Oh Lordy.

It was hot enough that we rescheduled a meeting with an estate client, and elected to miss the last art class at the Barnsdall. At 7 pm in Hollywood it was projected to be 96 degrees and the classrooms at Barnsdall are warm even when the air is cool outside. Like I said, we hid upstairs in the air conditioning and did our work.

I’m sure there have been plenty of brownouts because of all the air conditioners that are on all over this part of SoCal. Daughter LIz said there was a brownout in Glendale where she lives yesterday and I’m sure there have been more. I haven’t seen the news yet for this evening, but that simply has to be the case.

The traffic was at a minimum today here on Doheny Drive. We live on a busy street, but it wasn’t that busy today. I think anybody who could stay home or at an air-conditioned workplace was happy to stay there. Plus there were two wild fires raging east of town and another one up near Santa Barbara. My oh my. Sarah and her family live in Sierra Madre and she told me this evening they could see and smell smoke from the fire near them in Arcadia.

Luckily, the temperatures are headed down after today. I think it only is going to be in the high 80’s tomorrow. That’s good. That will at least not make it so hot for the firefighters as they continue to combat these terrible fires.

As for the rest of us, I think knowing it will start to cool is a big morale boast for everybody. It is no fun living in a big city during a major heat wave. The heat shimmers off the cement and off the buildings and increases the heat index by a significant amount. I saw on Facebook that one of my friends had headed to the beach today. I expect as many people did who could though most had to work.

I hope you’re keeping cool wherever you are. Drink lots of water and keep out of the direct sun.

On a lighter note, I went outside this evening and saw the full moon beaming down in all its glory. A fitting sight for the summer solstice. The air was cool; the moon luminous. Beautiful.

Be well, my friends. I hope you’ll take a minute to go out and see that moon.

I’ll be checking back in with you tomorrow.

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Our “Mini” Father’s Day Amid the Heat

Liz and Ron, Rachael and Ariel came over this morning to celebrate a mini-Father’s Day with Ray. The “mini” is because we are going to officially have this celebration next weekend when Sarah is not working nights at the hospital. (A resident’s life is hardly worth living, I’ve noted.) Ron and Liz arrived with food. Ron made waffles for everyone, Rachael and Ariel made a fruit salad, I scrambled eggs. Liz and Ray chatted in the room next to the kitchen with Liz occasionally coming in to see how the meal was progressing. When the food was ready, she headed off to set the table.

This was a relaxed event with not much fanfare. Just six of us sitting down to enjoy a meal and chat for a while. Rachael had to leave to go babysit at noon and Ariel left to go join his family. Ron and Liz stayed until 4 when she had to head off to volunteer for a couple of hours at the yoga studio where she takes classes. She was then going to Ron’s family’s house for their Father’s Day event. (She dropped Ron off there on her way back to Glendale.) After our meal, Liz, Ron, Ray and I sat in the den and watched a recorded CBS Sunday Morning and talked about the primary topic on everyone’s mind in LA right now: the heat wave.

Liz texted on her way to Glendale that her car thermometer was reading 109. At our house it was in the high 90’s. Tomorrow will be just as hot or maybe a little hotter. We Southern Californians are not equipped for this. Many of us don’t have air conditioners at all or only in our bedrooms. (Our case). We had to move from the living room to the den in mid – afternoon because the sun was pouring in from the west and we were too hot.

Ray is now upstairs in our air-conditioned bedroom. I am downstairs sitting in a room with all the windows and back door open with a fan pointed on me that is on high. It is 9 pm and the temperature is not cooling off very fast. Our house is stucco so it’s slow to heat up and slow to cool down. Particularly when tomorrow is due to be so hot again.

My Texas friends are no doubt rolling their eyes now. “You want to see heat,” they’re saying, “then come on over here. We’ll show you real heat.” However, I would contend that in Texas nobody is surprised by hot weather and is geared up for it. Most people have air conditioning in their whole house. Here, we all start melting when we even hear the words, “Heat wave,” and many are not properly prepared. Plus, here there are miles and miles of concrete that start absorbing the heat, which makes everything even more miserable.

But it is not attractive to whine… (That is a message straight from my mother).

Despite the heat, I believe Ray had a very good mini-Father’s Day. I assume that Gregorio did too though I suspect it was filled with baby and toddler needs. That’s okay. He’s a good sport about his babies. I look forward to next Sunday when we will see the Pacheco Beaty side of the family (along with Liz, Ron, Rachael and Ariel) and have our real wing-ding.

Until then, I may have to go buy some frozen peas to put on my neck to keep me cool.

Okay, okay. No more whining.

I hope you had a great day, regardless of the weather and/or your father status. These “parent” days are not happy ones for everyone. If you are among that group, then I hope you diverted your attention to something that brings you some happiness.

On that note, I’ll say good-night.

I’ll be talking to you again tomorrow.

Ray’s Mini-Father’s Day Breakfast

Ray's Mini Breakfast

Reflections on My Father

I am sitting here tonight thinking about what I could write about my dad. He was a good father. He demonstrated daily that he loved me dearly. His eyes lit up when he saw me, and he always held open his arms for me to come close for a hug. His pet name for me was Tootsie Roll.

We went to church every Sunday and participated in every event that occurred at Holy Trinity Episcopal church. He took me with him to feed the cows and out to his sale barn (Bonham Livestock Commission Company) to see how many head of cattle, horses and pigs had come in for the Monday sale day. He went to the Friday night football games when I was in the band or a cheerleader and I could see him in the stands smiling when he saw me. He loved to watch tv with me in the evenings so we could talk about Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe on Bonanza or Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. He would dance a jig in the kitchen when he was happy and make silly jokes that made us all roll our eyes.

My dad was handsome. He had a straight nose, dark brown almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones. His skin was pink, his hair silver (he was fifty when I was born) and though he wasn’t tall – 5’8″ – he had an ease and dignity that gave him a strong presence. He took pride in dressing well and he was always well-groomed, whether he was going to the sale barn or off to a formal event. His smell was a combination of baby powder, Old Spice and Camel cigarettes.

The main thing about my Dad was that he was devoted to me and all of his children. I never once had to guess if he loved me or whether he would be there for me. When I was a teenager and started to date, he expected my boyfriends to come in and get to know him before they were allowed to take me out. He also expected me home by 11 and was not happy when I was late. He didn’t allow boys in the house when my girlfriends and I had a slumber party. When my cousin took a photo of my high school boyfriend and me kissing, my father walked into my room every day and turned it face down on my dresser. His favorite line at that point was, “Len, I was sixteen a minute and a half ago and I know exactly what sixteen year-old boys think about.”

My dad died of lung cancer only a few weeks after I turned nineteen. I was a freshman at the University of Texas. I saw him the weekend before he died and he said to me, “You know this old dog’s not gonna hunt much longer, don’t you?” My response was tears. He held my hand and told me how much he loved me and that his love would stay with me forever.

On this eve of Father’s Day I have to admit I was dealt a very lucky hand when it came to my dad. I grew up feeling truly adored by him, and his love – so steady and true – built a firm foundation for me as a female and a person. He taught me to care about people and they would care about me, to shake hands firmly and to look people in the eye. He said, “You walk in a room and make friends, one person at a time.” I have followed that advice my whole life and it has served me well.

My only regret is that Daddy died long before he could meet Ray, my daughters, their partners and my grandchildren. They missed a treat knowing this handsome, sincere and loving man and he missed the chance to enjoy all the love my family and my siblings’ families would have offered him.

Alas, it didn’t work out that way.

Still, he was right about his love. I feel it everyday.

Daddy

Simple Tasks: My Daily Favorites

A list of my favorite activities on any given day in no particular order:

1) Taking a bath
2) Drinking lots of chai tea
3) Listening to music – classical, country, jazz, folk, etc.
4) Perusing Facebook
5) Taking my dogs for a walk
6) Fixing food
7) Taking a road trip
8) Writing my blog
9) Working on my Work-in-Progress
10) Seeing family members (children, in-laws, grandchildren, etc.)
11) Seeing friends
12) Watching intelligently written television shows/movies
13) Communicating with my online friends and students
14) Working with/hanging out with my husband
15) Being at the orange grove
16) Reading a favorite book and/or different news articles.
17) Praying/Focusing on being in the now
18) Laughing
19) Doing something new and different.
20) Crawling into a freshly made bed.

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