This Rocky Road We’ve Traveled

When the Los Angeles Unified School District kicked off the 2019 spring semester with a strike, parents reacted in a myriad of ways. Many kept their kids home or sent them to child care in a show of support for the union. Some military families, who are allowed by the state of California to send their kids to any school that has space, pulled their children out of LAUSD and enrolled them in neighboring school districts. And some, with serious reluctance, sent their kids on to school each day. As for our son, we conducted a trial run of homeschooling.

I hadn’t been particularly happy with the education our son was getting in the LAUSD system. Although he was only in the first grade, I felt that the student to teacher ratio, coupled with the lack of classroom aides, was hindering how much was being accomplished each day. Many aspects of a well-rounded education were falling between the cracks and we worried that he would leave California unprepared for what would be asked of him at his new school when we moved the following summer.

One week of homeschooling during a strike went surprisingly well. We completed Kiwi Crate boxes and walked the picket line. We posted pictures of our Lego art on social media and we baked brownies. I began to look at homeschool curriculum while he watched Molly of Denali. By the time classes resumed the following week, I was convinced that I can do this. Then I convinced myself I could not do this. And I vacillated wildly between conviction and apprehension for almost 4 months…until I attended a homeschool conference last June.

I filed into hotel meeting rooms for 2 days, from 8 AM – 5 PM, listening to industry leaders and other homeschooling parents give advice and maxims on effectively educating my child. I shopped the vendors with their curricula that covered everything from math and language arts to art history appreciation, nutrition, and coding. By the time I headed home, I had a solid plan for what our 2019-2020 school year was going to look like.

I had no idea it would be so difficult to get our son on board with my solid plan.

Experienced homeschooling parents had told me that it can take up to a year for a child who has been in a traditional public school setting to adjust to the freedom of homeschooling. But our son had attended 4 different schools in 6 years. I was, if nothing else, assured of his resiliency. He would take to this like he had always done, with a cheerful heart and an appreciation for the adventure.

He did not take to it with it a cheerful heart or an appreciation for the adventure. He cried for 2 weeks. My mom reminded me that I cried every day of the second grade. I looked at my second grader and instantly regretted my decision to homeschool him this particular year.

In California, homeschools can be considered “public schools” if you enroll in a homeschool charter school. Also in California, the money set aside for each child’s education follows the child. So, by unenrolling him in a LAUSD school and enrolling him in this homeschool public “charter” school, I was given approximately $2000 to purchase curricula, memberships and extracurricular activities. The rules for how the money can be spent are precise and a little bit tedious, as well as unimportant unless you find yourself in our exact situation, but suffice it to say I had bought all. the. things. I know our son, possibly better than he knows himself, and I had purchased everything that would make learning a joy…except when it came to math and language arts. And for those, I purchased traditional curricula from BookShark and Eureka Math, which would ensure that he was prepared for whatever public school he would enter next. If I was a cooler mom, I would have found a way to work math and language arts into his Lego play and his current obsession with Scooby Doo, but the fact is, when you are not an education professional, you follow the curriculum because you don’t want to unwittingly create any gaps in learning. As a result, he fought me on language arts and math every single day.

FOR EIGHT MONTHS.

Y’all…I cannot even tell you how not fun homeschooling was for those 8 months. Neal would come home and my son and I would not be talking to each other. He and I had said things. Not nice things. At least once a day I would threaten to take him back to the elementary school down the street. He would cry and beg me to let him stay home. He refused to go back to public school. He refused to do the work I was assigning him. I had 2 jobs: mom and teacher. And I was absolutely bombing at both of them. One night, after I had escaped with my mom friends in the neighborhood to the Thai restaurant down the street, I came home to find our son hosing down the back porch. At 9:30 PM. My husband had informed him that his job right now is to go to school and if he won’t do that, then he will work. He will perform manual labor in our home from sun up to sun down. By 7:30 AM the next morning, he had changed his tune significantly. Too bad it was Saturday.

And on we went like this, through October, November, and December. We extended Christmas break by a week because I just couldn’t endure any more fighting during the season of Christ’s birth. And when we finally returned in January, it seemed we had turned a corner. Our son knew what was expected of him each day (because it was the exact same routine we had begun in August) and sometimes he would even start working before I asked. Until he got to the math.

I have never really understood this resistance to math because he’s actually very good at it. The same addition and subtraction problems he can do in his head, I have to work out on a piece of scratch paper. Common core, for all of its faults, has taught him some spectacular number sense. But when I hand him 3 worksheets of 4 problems each, his head starts to swim and he manages to work up several real tears before storming up the stairs.

If I had to homeschool more than one child, I don’t know what I would be doing differently at this point. Something would have to give because I would not have the luxury of spending 4 hours cajoling one child into doing 9 math problems.

As we finish out the year, our daily rhythm, on the whole, has smoothed significantly. And we have, together, learned quite a bit about ancient civilizations, the animal world, the human body, famous artists, proper grammar, and how to play the recorder. We have read genuinely enjoyable children’s books like Owls in the Family, The Year of Miss Agnes, Gooney Bird Greene, Little Pear, Homer Price and Detectives in Togas. We’ve also read several Roald Dahl books, including James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Going Solo (I skipped over the war scenes where pilots were dying in gruesome ways), The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Matilda. Because we finished our assigned read-alouds for the year with 2 months left to go, I started Little House on the Prairie, which seemed fitting considering this period of isolation that we are now experiencing. We start our day with me reading one or two chapters while our son builds detailed, labyrinthine cities in Minecraft. I know he’s listening, though, because sometimes structures I’ve described end up in his carefully crafted scenes.

From there, we read the assigned pages of science and history, which are currently focused on the human body and ancient Rome, respectively. He has a couple of questions to answer about each and then we start our language arts and (the dreaded) math lesson for the day. A couple of days each week we wrap up with an art project or a science experiment.

What I will take away from this year, above all else, is that nothing great and lasting was ever built in one day. In fact, the most effective way to educate anyone is little by little, each day. A steady and consistent diet of nuggets of information. Although we have only read 2 pages per day of both history and science, we have learned a great deal. And we have built a foundation of background knowledge on which he can stack more complex information about these topics in the future. He may only remember that the Scythians were like full-time RV families or that white blood cells attack Coronavirus, but the next time ancient civilizations or the human body are mentioned, it won’t be a new concept. And the battles of August feel like so long ago, I would almost be willing to do it again. Like childbirth. Sometimes you have to forget in order to be accepting of the idea of repeating it.

I wholeheartedly agree that what parents and teachers are piecing together looks nothing like what we know as homeschooling. Even homeschooling right now doesn’t look like homeschooling. The extracurricular activities and the precious play time outside each afternoon are sorely missed. My only child is missing out on being a kid with other kids. Somedays I feel like he might be one Smithsonian documentary away from emerging, post-COVID, as a 34 year old man trapped in an 8 year old’s body. His middle age parents are inadequate substitutes for the boys across the street, who often came bearing Nerf guns and a cache of foam bullets just 5 weeks ago. But we are all doing our best. We are doing the next right thing each day, whether that’s 2 hours of Scooby Doo or 30 minutes of scrubbing toilets or a 60 second dance party.

And I wonder, when our younger kids are in high school, what they will remember about this time? Surely, some will remember a time of financial stress and strained relationships…tension in the home and a palpable sense of some impending doom. Others might remember more family time and less commitments pulling them apart. Maybe they will recall a time when summer break lasted for 4 months and started before the flowers had really even started to bloom. Aside from the isolation from our friends and neighbors, our routine looks almost exactly the same. So, maybe our son will only mark this time by an increased vocabulary with words like “Coronavirus” and “social distancing”. Maybe he will remember it as the year when, by the end, everyone was mad at math, but we were all in it together.

And he wouldn’t be wrong.

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Where the Roadside Takes Us

I don’t know that there’s really anything like Natural Bridge, Virginia. Just about 80 miles southwest of Charlottesville and a lovely little stop on your way to Roanoke or Lynchburg, it’s best described as the ultimate in roadside quirkiness. So, when we were stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia, we obviously had to go out of our way to see what Natural Bridge had to offer. My only regret is that we spent just one night. I could easily have stayed another 3.

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You know things are starting out on the right foot when your dinner spot has a welcoming party waiting in the parking lot.

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Anything painted pink on the outside must offer nothing but God’s divine mercy and fried chicken on the inside.

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Don’t let the empty diner fool you. At the time, we were on a 5 month old’s schedule, which is roughly the same as a 95 year old’s schedule. We were there with the 4:30 PM dinner crowd.

Ah, but the piece de resistance was Foamhenge…which is exactly what you think it is – a life-size Stonehenge, made of foam. A faux-Henge, if you will. We took a questionable road about 1/4 mile onto someone’s private property. We hit a rock in one of the potholes, which flew through the grill of the Prius and put a hole in something that controls the air conditioner. It wasn’t a problem at the time, which happened to be during a record-setting cold front on Valentine’s Day weekend, but by July I was having some regrets. Nonetheless, we saw what we came for and I can honestly say, it looked a whole lot like that other one.

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Not long after we visited, the owner decided to dismantle this monstrosity on his private property and move it to Centreville, Virginia. It is actually said to be more photogenic than its original location and the one across the pond because it is set against the backdrop of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains. Further proof that sometimes one visit is just not enough. Here’s the full story on Foamhenge and its creator, Mark Cline: https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/9209

The Art Museum that Walmart Built

When Yale made the announcement that the school was going to offer a free audit of its most popular class, The Science of Well-Being taught by Dr. Laurie Santos, I jumped on it. Not because I miss lectures or taking notes or I need some way to fill these days of Safer at Home, but because what I have learned in the past 2 years is that my happiness is inextricably linked to where the Army sends us. And I’m not the only one. That’s why Army posts like Fort Polk, Fort Bliss, Fort Hunter Liggitt, and Fort Drum are considered, for many, bottom-of-the-list options. A lot of people either thrive or die on the vine based on where they are planted. But after 2 years of living like that, I’ve decided that maybe there’s a better way. Perhaps we can be sent anywhere and I will be able to draw from some eternal, internal spring of happiness and gratitude. I’m pretty angry and annoyed about everything right now, so a spring of happiness is probably just what the doctor ordered.

The first week of class, we were instructed to complete 1 of 2 happiness surveys. I took them both, just in case I did one wrong. That’s probably some indicator of my happiness, or at least my OCD, right there. And then we were assigned a 120-question character assessment. As it turns out, my strongest characteristic is curiosity and I feel that  being surrounded by beauty is vital to life – whether it’s a field of flowers or something hand-painted. So, with that in mind, I’m taking you to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Now, I know when you hear Bentonville, you think one thing: WALMART. And some of you will get a shiver because…I mean…WALMART. But the Walton Family Foundation’s dream of creating an art museum for all (free admission makes it truly for all) on their family land was realized in the best possible way. Although they obviously had to clear some of the woods that Alice Walton recalls exploring with her brothers as a child, they did try to nestle the museum in a natural setting. They’ve intentionally designed a space that unites human creativity with divine creation.

I was going to give you a little background on each piece, but I’ve decided to just post the pictures and you can see it through your own lens, without any navigation from me.

Man on a Bench by Duane Hanson

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Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell

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Blackwell’s Island by Edward Hopper

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Summertime by Mary Cassatt

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The Reader by Mary Cassatt

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Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife by John Singer Sargent

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The Bubble by Harriet Frishmuth

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Depression Bread Line by George Segal

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Big Red Lens by Fred Eversley

Art tucked into the Ozarks

You can see more of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art here.

Calgon…Take me Away from COVID

I have been at a complete loss as to what to write here in this space. As they say, that escalated quickly…and I found myself woefully unprepared – mentally, emotionally, and with regards to how many paper products we had on hand. At first, it was something of a joke. Every time we visited a landmark, it closed due to health concerns the next day. We chuckled over the path of destruction we left strewn all over Southern California. Of course, it had nothing to do with us, we were just lucky in our timing (and somewhat cavalier in our attitude toward the dangers of continuing to tour areas where others gathered). On second thought, maybe we did contribute to the problem. Maybe we were why we can’t have nice things.

But now I haven’t been in a store since March 12th. For almost 4 straight weeks, I have been nowhere except in my house, in my neighborhood, and in my car driving around for a few hours on the weekends. If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know this is killing me. I mean…not COVID-19 killing me, but it’s really, really, really hard. I’ve cried an ocean over our canceled cruise to Alaska, as well as the fact that we are supposed to be hiking Kanarraville Falls (look it up so you can share in my pain) and Bryce Canyon this week. Instead, I’m baking cookies, sewing masks, taking a million walks through our neighborhood, and watching a little too much Odd Squad.

I, along with so many millions of other people, am trying to flatten the curve without tanking my attitude. The mental health professionals are going to have quite the job security when this is all said and done. While the rest of my family thrives on routine, I am easily bored when one day bleeds into the next without some new adventure to set it apart. And I’ve done all the quarantine things. We went on a bear hunt, chalk painted the driveway, refinished a piece of furniture, baked cookies, purged the closets, spent a Sunday in the hammock, rearranged the furniture, played drinking games with the neighbors on Zoom, learned how to sew and then made a mask, drove through a deserted downtown L.A., and walked around our neighborhood, as well as the surrounding ones.

I’ve done a lot that was being neglected in favor of the next big adventure, including simply spending Sunday afternoons in the backyard. So, this time has not been wasted. But the uncertainty of it all is beginning to wear on my patience, as it is for many more, I’m sure.

So, I’m just going to use this time and this space to share photos of places that make me happy – from our adventures all over the world. Tiny corners of the universe that I love and maybe you’ll love, too. And, someday, this too shall pass.

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The Flower Fields of Carlsbad are the result of almost 100 years of floral cultivation. Beginning with the seeds of the Ranunculus (which I have started calling the “redonculus”) flower, which was originally a single petal with shades of red and yellow, Luther Gage, and later the Frazee Family, harvested unusual seeds from the previous season and then replanted them the following year – thus eventually creating a multi-petaled, stunning flower. We walked through this rainbow about 4 days before the fields officially closed to visitors. And I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to see what man and God can accomplish together.

 

Get It Before It’s Gone

When we talked of our move to Los Angeles, as the snow fell across Pennsylvania for the 6th time that winter, Neal and I were equally excited for 2 possibilities: attending the Rose Bowl Parade and camping at the M.A.S.H. site in Malibu State Park. During our second month of living out here, we decided to take a family hike to the filming location to scout it out. 20180623_124352

What we didn’t know as we were starting off down this path was that less than 12 hours earlier, a man had been shot to death in his tent while his 2 small children slept next to him…in Malibu State Park. We saw no evidence of anything awry. No police tape, no news crews, no signs warning us of a murderer on the loose. We saw and chatted with 2 mounted police officers but they made no mention of any recent foul play in the park. They just looked like they were out for a safety check of the area on what was turning out to be a blistering June day. But that’s another life lesson about Los Angeles. Things are rarely as they seem.

At the end of a 2.5 mile walk down a dusty path where we encountered swarms of bees and a creek to cross, right as Blue was running out of steam and interest in the mission, we found the Swamp. 20180623_141818

And it was everything I wanted it to be. It looked just like every episode of M.A.S.H. I had ever seen. Neal whistled Suicide is Painless and ran up the hill to “meet the chopper”. He let Blue climb on rusted out Red Cross jeeps while I over-explained how they treat tetanus at the hospital.

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The sun was unrelenting, the shade sparse compared to hiking on the east coast, and we were running out of water. But for 35 minutes, we surrendered to the thrill of walking where great television had been created a lifetime before. Hawkeye and Hot Lips. Colonel Potter and BJ Honeycutt. Trapper John and all. those. nurses. It was not a very politically correct show, but it was pretty spot-on about life in the military…the glorious and the gruesome.

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And I’m glad we got to see it all before the damn thing nearly burned to the ground during the Woolsey Fire. Apparently, the city signpost is slightly singed, but the rest of the props survived. Although it was a brush fire that burned the original set in 1982. Meaning that if it didn’t burn this time, it could very well go up in flames the next time. Malibu has a lot of forested area, which is a great escape from the chaos of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. But also makes it fairly flammable. My advice? Make your list and then start checking off the things because here today, gone tomorrow.

We never did camp at Malibu State Park and it’s not likely to happen before we leave. They think they caught the murderer. But I’ll pass on an overnight, at least until we buy an all-weather camper with 4 solid walls.

Never insult seven men when all you have is a six-shooter. 

-Colonel Potter

For Whom the Bell Tolls

My first task, after we are told where we are moving next, is to look up the city and surrounding areas on Trip Advisor. I know that this particular review platform is not as relevant as it once was and maybe I would be better served by reinstalling my Yelp app, but it’s habit now and old habits die especially hard around me. So, when I typed in “Things to Do”, number one was the Korean Bell. It sounded…disappointing. I kind of wanted a world-renown art museum or maybe an epic science center. But what I got was…a bell.

It turned out to be so much more.

20180606_143329The Korean Bell was a gift from the people of the Republic of Korea to the Americans on July 4, 1976. It was and continues to be a symbol of friendship and trust between the two nations. It also happens to be a fantastic place to fly a kite. Or have a picnic. Or do a little yoga. There is always a breeze and the view of the Pacific from the bell is really unparalleled.

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The Korean Bell also tends to pop up in the most unexpected places…like a Hyundai commercial…and the basketball court adjacent can be found in Viagra commercials. Once you take a solid look around the hidden hamlets of Los Angeles county, they immediately become more conspicuous on the television, too. In fact, that is probably one of most enjoyable aspects of living here. TV and movies no longer seem like products of some far-away landscape…I know that craggy coastline, I’ve hiked her beaches at low tide. I recognize that stretch of highway, I traveled it to Blue’s parcor class every week. It’s not just a peek at the wizard behind his red, brocaded curtain. It’s sitting down and having a kombucha and a korean bbq taco with him. For 24 months.

And look for the bell in that Wednesday night replay of The Usual Suspects on TNT. You might just be surprised.

The Places Where We Gather

Ever since I finished my undergraduate degree, after a college transfer and about 8 years of stops and starts, I really hate leaving something unfinished. Even if it takes a minute, I want to finish what I started. So, yes it is practically the end of January, but I’m finishing this month of SoCal gratitude starting now…

20180528_100811The USS Iowa is a gem in our little town. During World War II, it carried President Roosevelt across the Atlantic to a meeting with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. She has served in numerous campaigns and wars and has now come to permanent rest in Berth 87 at the Port of L.A. We had been here all of 3 weeks when we decided to attend the Memorial Day ceremony held next to the ship every year. A somber moment, observed by local residents next to a piece of history that has seen its fair share of fallen servicemembers. Since then, we’ve toured the USS Iowa and next month we will participate in a Cub Scout camp-out on the ship, where we will eat in the mess hall and sleep in the quarters below deck. For us, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For people around here, it’s an everyday sight…but still a constant reminder that freedom is not free.

Keeping Dry

18 November

I am grateful to be an athletic supporter. 

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I have never had any desire to learn how to surf. Besides the fact that the Pacific Ocean is considerably colder than the Atlantic, even during our summer (which occurs in October instead of August), there are sharks in that water. And surfers have to be very careful about draping themselves over a board waiting for a wave, lest they resemble something like dinner to a shark on the hunt. Also, I don’t swim very well. I can mostly save from myself from drowning (which was put to the test one summer before college graduation), but I tend to not seek out wild water situations.

Because of this, I have never tried to teach Blue how to surf. Or swim. I leave that to the experts. I think he would probably master it more quickly than I expect, but the idea of sitting in sand while he practices just sounds itchy. Twenty years of vacationing in South Carolina and it took 18 months of living in Southern California to realize that I really hate sand when it is part of life indefinitely. 

But it’s great fun to watch the surfers do their thing. And they are a determined sort. Like golfers. They will float on that board for hours, just waiting on their perfect wave. And, if you enjoy photographing them like I do, it often feels like you are out there bobbing with them. Because once they spring into action, so must you.

Neal and I have been watching Lost L.A. on the SoCal PBS channel on our Roku. That show alone has done wonders for giving me a sense of what we’ve missed by arriving 50 years too late and what is still here, waiting to be discovered by someone willing to open a door, scratch beneath the surface, journey to the middle of the desert. On one episode, the host explains the relationship Los Angelinos have with the environment. And you can’t talk about nature in L.A. without discussing the Santa Ana winds. Apparently, these hot gusts from the Santa Ana Canyon create epic surfing conditions, causing the waves to rise up and stay up, instead of being crushed by breezes coming inland off the ocean. I fear I may have missed my chance to photograph surfers on the ride of their lives since Santa Ana winds have most likely subsided until next year. But if one kicks up, this time I’ll be ready!

Not in Kansas Anymore

17 November

I am grateful for diversity. 

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OK this picture is meant to be rather tongue-in-cheek because Ensenada is located in Baja California. If California is still in the name, did you really even leave? But I use this photo because it’s the only one I have to represent the idea that I’m beginning to embrace other cultures besides the ones I’m most comfortable with (which basically only includes the culture of white girls from southeastern U.S.).

When I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona for about 10 minutes in 2001, I worked for a gentleman who, among other business ventures, owned a Mexican restaurant. I was his bookkeeper and the slew of illegal immigrants that staffed the kitchen used to call me La Princessa. I’m convinced it was a term of endearment. I also worked as a cocktail waitress at a bar/nightclub nicknamed The Zoo. We had “Latino Night” every week and, when the patrons asked for “la cerveza”, I, knowing zero Spanish despite living in Arizona, gave everyone a Corona. Because I used to drink Corona like water as a freshman in college and I knew that right there on the bottle it says, “la cerveza”. I was a disastrous cocktail waitress (and my tips reflected that), but it was especially awful on Latino Night. I had much better luck with the NAU frat boys on Dime Beer Wednesdays. But that’s a story for never.

The point is, until living in Southern California, I had largely viewed other cultures, and specifically the Hispanic culture, as one to coexist with, but not necessarily to mingle with. I could tolerate it, but I did not necessarily celebrate it. I’m going to get skewered for saying this, but this blog is known for its authenticity so here goes…until 18 months ago, I thought all Mexican food tasted the same, Dia de Los Muertos was creepy, Mexican blankets were silly souvenirs from your Spring Break at South Padre, Mariachi bands were annoying, and not understanding the language was a valid reason for pretending like the Hispanic culture (and its people) were just a phase in U.S. history. Like horchata or kimchi. (However, never once have I chanted “build the wall” and I believe that DACA babies have just as much a right to be here as I do.)

NOW…before y’all start commenting really awful things about what a narrow-minded ho-bag I am, hear me out.

I have lived in Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, Kansas, and Pennsylvania. And Flagstaff, AZ for about 3 months until 9/11 sent me running home to all that was familiar and safe. I have not lived anywhere that has challenged me to accept another culture not only because it co-existed with mine, but because it was the majority and I was not. Stay-at-home white moms are all the rage in pretty much everywhere we’ve been stationed since 2010. I knew how to fall in step with downtown Richmond, Virginia and the Power and Light District in Kansas City. I discovered my place among the Amish and I ordered sweet tea and fried chicken with the best of ’em in Georgia. But here, I avoided the taco trucks because…well…all Mexican food tastes the same, right? And I was annoyed that there are 2 country music stations on the radio, 1 pop rock, 1 hard rock, and the rest are Spanish-speaking channels. Also, I didn’t speak the language. I once said to Mom after we had been here for about 6 months, “This is the closest you can get to living in another country without actually leaving the U.S.” And, I wasn’t wrong, but I was voicing it as a complaint. I should have been praising that observation.

Something happened to me in Ensenada. I allowed myself to become immersed in their culture for a few hours. Yes, I took shots of homemade tequila in the back of one guy’s store until I spent entirely too much dinero on Talavera serving bowls, but there was something else. The Hispanic culture isn’t garish, it is colorful. The people aren’t loud, they are expressive and warm. And, for the love of all that is good and holy about guacamole, not all Mexican food tastes the same. Tumbleweed and Chi Chis should be sued for what they did to this white girl’s palette. Dia de Los Muertos is a beautiful tradition that embraces death and invites us to draw nearer to those who have gone before us. Mexican blankets are the perfect protection between your bum and the desert floor, especially if you are waiting for the sun to set.

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I still don’t love Mariachi bands, but I think that has something to do with my disdain for brass instruments. I barely tolerate the trombone, but I have never been a fan of the trumpet.

The truth is, the Spaniards came up from Mexico and moved into California, establishing the mission system all the way up the coast. The only people who pre-date them are the tribes like the Tvonga people in the Los Angeles area. So, yes, I do actually think that blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls are the minority in these parts, but that’s OK. It has opened my mind and broadened my experience. And I’ve even learned some Spanish along the way. It did not occur to me until recently how deeply I’m going to miss the rich tapestry of heritage that makes up Southern California. A person can live here a lifetime and not fully comprehend the hundreds of cultures that endure, side-by-side, and primarily peacefully. But just by being exposed to them, it has made me a better person.

When the Real Ones Flood…

16 November

I am grateful for canals to kayak in. 

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Oh Europe and your intoxicating charm. Where would much of the U.S. be if Americans had always stayed on this side of the pond and not been tempted to catch a ship bound for foreign ports? The Vanderbilts would have had burlap curtains. We would not be drinking tea. And there would be no Italian canals in Southern California. But as it is, there are 2: Venice Canals at Venice Beach and Naples Canals in Long Beach. Abbott Kinney was first to recreate his vision of Italy on the shores just south of Santa Monica. How was he to know that Venice Beach would become synonymous with freak shows, bodybuilders, and, now, the homeless and the drug addicts? It started out so well…

Many things are more charming after dark. Venice Canals is one of them. Venice Beach is not. Venice Beach after dark is a good place to score some dope, get knifed, or step on a needle.

Long Beach is not much better. People check their life insurance policies before they cross the street. And best of luck finding a place to park anything bigger than a Vespa. But the Naples Canals, which are flanked by beautiful beach cottages, are fun to kayak. And I can’t believe I’ve gotten Blue, Neal, Big Mama and Nana Anna on the water. Rowing with a view. You can’t beat it. I’m not sure they are worthy of the gondoliers that some folks hire to paddle them around in a circle, but for $24 in a rented kayak, it’s certainly a different side of Long Beach.