Tag Archives: Friends

gratitude in the year 2014

20 Nov


turkey 2If I know even one thing about you, it’s that your life looks different than it did last year, maybe in big ways, maybe in small. This past year, and well, every year before that, we clumsily struggled to balance the big and the little, with varying degrees of success. If every single thing coming our way was a major life event, we’d be exhausted and broke. We can’t have a baby every day, or get married every week, indefinitely stay on that grand vacation, or graduate every couple of months. For sure, your aunt would eventually stop sending cards stuffed with $20.

After all the big stuff you fit in this year, comes the avalanche of small, with a few mediums squeezed in. We waver back and forth between celebrating the little, and wallowing in the little, and complaining about the little, then not sweating the little, as many a bumper sticker and motivational book advises us to do. Just as our life can’t be all big, it can’t be all little, because then I would have to mark my milestones with vanilla lattes and deals I’ve found at Target.

And so here we are, at the very best time of year to take stock in our lives – the big and the little – and remember that there’s simply more good than bad, and the big stuff sometimes isn’t as big as we think, and the little not as insignificant as it first appears.

  • However your family is constructed, whether it’s made of blood relatives or people you hand-picked, what a gift they are. These are some of the few people you still call on the phone, and ask favors of without feeling weird. You love them. And even after knowing all that stuff about you – the real you -the you that’s a poor sport, and a terrible singer, and chronically late, they love you back anyway.
  • Whoever your friends are, however difficult they may be, however many times you have driven them to the airport or helped them move, they know what you’re like at the end of a long night out, and that you have the tendency to talk too much/too little over coffee, and guess what? They still want to hang out with you, and you still want to hang out with them. They invite you to watch the game, or for a mani/pedi, and they don’t even mind that you are not as good at planning those kinds of outings as they are.
  • Maybe this is the year you gave up soda and dropped a few pounds. You ate clean and were the poster child for green juice. No? Guess what, another opportunity to juice everything is around the corner. And for whatever parts of you that seem to be working fine and humming along today, getting you where you need to be, thanks and hallelujah!
  • At least once a week, I threaten to quit reading the news, because lately it’s really just terrible, on a big global scale – TERRIBLE. But hey, this year, healthy panda triplets were born, and human twins were born holding hands. And remember when the Giants won the World Series? (Skip that one if you have to, Royals/Cardinals/Dodgers fans). Jimmy Fallon’s doing a great job with the Tonight Show; we still have another year of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting the Golden Globes; it’s ok to wear loose fitting jeans again, and Gen Xers everywhere are celebrating the fashionable return of the plaid flannel shirt. This year a Time Magazine cover told us to “Eat Butter.”  It’s true, look it up, then eat some butter.

And don’t forget….

  • You celebrated a birthday – maybe even a big one.
  • At least one TV show you love did not get cancelled.
  • The time changed, and even though you hated it at first, you got used to it. So much so, you got mad when it changed again.
  • You ate a comfort meal that reminded you of your childhood.
  • You saw a breathtaking sunset/sunrise/full moon.
  • You splurged on something you shouldn’t have, but it felt great.
  • You read something that made you laugh/cry ugly/think hard.
  • You had the world’s best cup of coffee.
  • You helped someone who needed it.
  • Someone helped you when you needed it.
  • You found that thing you thought you’d lost. It was under the car seat/couch/pile of papers on the kitchen counter.
  • You found out they’re making Toy Story 4.
  • You got waaaaaaaaaaaay into the World Cup, and you didn’t let anybody forget it.
  • You didn’t have to get a new phone/you got to get a brand new phone!
  • Your March Madness bracket busted early, but that’s ok, so did everybody’s.
  • You finally learned the definition of zeitgeist/alchemy/schadenfreude/bae (thanks kids!) and look forward to putting them to good use in 2015, (much to the chagrin of said kids).
  • You got through something you didn’t know you could get through.
  • You got a little wiser.
  • And someone out there, whether you know it or not, is thankful for you.

Turkey

 

Thanks for stopping by and Happy Thanksgiving! Find me on Instagram @colleenweems, and Twitter @FulcrumChron

Hey Internet, what have you got against my heartstrings?

6 Feb

heartsrings

What are you trying to do to me America?

Facebook turned 10 this week, and I spent a good part of the big day watching the Look Back videos Facebook created for us, their begrudgingly loyal users, highlighting years’ worth of our photos and status updates. There, set to the most perfectly inspirational, emotionally manipulative-but-I-like-it, nostalgic-though-I’ve-never-heard-it, instrumental piece of music, was a peek into my near seven years on Facebook.

I cried at the pictures of my kids from when they were little. I cried at the wedding photo I posted for our 17th anniversary, and at pictures from Disneyland and Christmas and our friends’ Nicaragua wedding and my dining room table.

Then, I cried at Melissa’s, Jill’s, and Pam’s Look Back videos too. I got emotional with Katharine’s, Tricia’s, Kirsten’s, Tim’s and Sheila’s – and that was in the first two hours.

We’ve read the cautionary tales about social media – linger there too long and you can be left feeling empty and depressed because your friends seem like they are having a better time than you, and to add insult to injury, you weren’t invited to their good time. You were already well aware that your own life wasn’t perfect, but then, blammo, there’s your life, set against that perfect piece of music – and you realize, it’s pretty magical after all.

I needed a break from all the Looking Back and turned my attention to what my 13-year-old was watching on ESPN – Super Bowl winners through the years, searching for their family members after the game, desperate to share their joyful elation with the ones they love.

“Who’s that?” I asked Jacob, already starting to tear up.

“That’s Jason Pierre-Paul. He plays for the New York Giants, and his dad is blind.”

Tom Brady looked for and hugged his sisters (I guess before he married the supermodel?). Dick Vermeil loves his wife AND his grandkids. Ray Lewis loves everybody. Big muscley guys hug their moms and dads, kiss their stunning wives, and cradle their babies, after a win OR a loss.  And it is beautiful.

“You are why they make these videos,” my husband tells me at the end of every one of these sports specials.  If I watch the pre-game show of a game I otherwise could not give two hoots about, I am suddenly pulling for the guy who overcame something terrible to get where he is today. I am now his number one fan, and anybody who roots against him has no soul. (Full disclosure – I may have also once cried while watching the ESPY’s.)

I left Jacob to his stats and analysis of a game that was two days in the books and retreated online only to find stories of a good Samaritan handing out $5000 checks to waitresses struggling to pay for their educations; a school custodian who completed his own higher education during his few off-hours, only to work his way up to teacher, and finally principal overlooking the same classrooms he had once cleaned. There was the 13-year-old with strong pipes and a dream crushing a Nina Simone song; a philanthropic couple picking up the cost of San Francisco going all out to celebrate Bat Kid; a dog and a cat being best friends; and God knows how many people saving other people from train tracks.

Thanks to the Superbowl, this week I’ve already watched, re-watched and re-wept at the (somehow controversial) Coca-Cola ad during which “America the Beautiful” is sung in different languages and the sweet Cheerios ad with the (somehow controversial) biracial family. Don’t even get me started on the puppy and the Clydesdale.

My heartstrings are all stretched out and exhausted…exhausted, but happy. Which reminds me that Pharrell’s appropriately named anthem for happiness, “Happy,” is practically guaranteed to play on the car radio at some point of your commute.

Goodness isn’t new, but I pray to God it’s just extra noticeable this week, and not simply trending.

Maybe we all just need a healthy dose of nice. Perhaps there is something in our DNA that seeks out good when overwhelmed by the icky, the bleak and the #RichKidsofBeverlyHills. Maybe we are all just collectively looking for the anecdote for the snarkiness, cynicism, grumpiness, injustice, and sadness we see in real life and whenever we turn on anything with a screen.  I don’t know, maybe we all just have a bad feeling about these Olympics.

It’s ok to admit that sometimes we want a good cry for a good reason. Being touched so deeply by something we simply see reminds us that we are capable of all kinds of feelings – not just anger, amusement, or “meh,” – but also forward-looking hope and backward-looking gratitude. There is still a lot of love out there floating around, and it’s ours to take, and share.

sunburnt: a summer (cautionary) tale

9 Jul

Image

There are a few minor adult ailments that might be described as humbling. The first of the non-graphic variety rhymes with… tangover.

The second – a summer staple, perhaps next to the tangover – is the sunburn.

Maybe you are of Irish descent, and you have freckles, and you spent 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s summers with ineffective and/or expired SPF 4 slathered on your parts, only to have the lotion rinse immediately off on the first pass through the sprinklers, or with the first toe dipped in the pool, or with the first sweat broken. Maybe you decided you were better off with an unflattering oversized t-shirt covering your bathing suit – a shirt that became a 40-lb anchor once you jumped in the pool.

Maybe you are an olive skinned beach beauty who’s only had to look with pity at one of us less fortunate folks, roaming the sweltering grounds of the state fair, pink and defeated.

As a grown-up, I listen to my doctors. I wear sunscreen on my face every day. I wear a hat. I sit in the shade. I even went so far as to move to the foggy part of a notoriously foggy city. This ain’t my first rodeo – I’ve been burnt before. (I have been to a rodeo, but it was at night, so I was not actually burnt at the rodeo.)

I was burnt in the usual locales – the pool, the park, the passenger seat of a car, the driver’s seat of a car, the back yard, the front yard, and while sitting on a bench/blanket/lawn eating a sandwich/popsicle/cheeseburger.

In college and during that sliver of time in which I wore a bikini, my then-boyfriend/ now-husband and I uncharacteristically spent the day jet skiing on Lake Tahoe. It turns out Lake Tahoe is closer to the sun than I am used to. The jet-skiing part exposed enough parts of me – top, bottom, front, and back – to make sleep impossible as there was not one way to avoid resting on a throbbing purple and blistered patch of skin. I was out of commission for two days, calling in sick to my barista job, and freaking my mom out with sunburn fueled hallucinations.

In high school, I went to the mid-day Oakland A’s baseball game with friends.  Our upper deck seats put me at roughly the same elevation as Lake Tahoe. As I rode back home, rolling around in the back of my friend’s grandma’s old van, I knew I was in for a world of hurt. I couldn’t bend my knobby violently violet knees and the blisters were already presenting themselves. It was days before I could ride my bike.

Over the next 20 years my baseball outings were relegated to night games, or day games at the San Francisco Giants’ ball park where one usually freezes one’s rear end off, regardless of what weather is happening immediately outside the gates. But July 4, 2013 – armed with a hat, two tubes of sunscreen, and an additional precautionary spray from my friend Megan’s sunscreen can- I re-entered Oakland Coliseum at mid-day, ready for my show-down with the sun.

Our kids had been lined up in the parking lot and sprayed down with an additional protective layer of cream over their little faces, necks, and the oft-forgotten tops of ears.

Somewhere in the 2nd inning, I took off the knee brace that protects my wonky joint but makes my leg fall asleep when I sit for very long. Maybe it was my hops-based beverage in a souvenir mug. Maybe it was the nostalgic and patriotic delight of being with friends at a baseball game on the 4th of July. Whatever it was, I missed sun-screening my darn knee. On that day, in the stadium cleverly designed to focus the sun’s powerful rays on whatever seat my pale limbs occupy, the sun won.

Our friends from New Mexico emerged from the game looking as if they had been kissed by the sun. (Fun “fact”: New Mexico’s climate was designed to resemble that of the Oakland Coliseum, so they had the advantage going in.)

My little family unit walked to the car with 7 pink knees, and one familiar-looking, raging violet knee.  I knew I what I was in for.

Beginning with the failed attempt at prevention, your general sunburn experience might look a little like this:

  • You feel false confidence that you’ve done enough to protect yourself
  • As the sun goes to work on you, you remain blissfully ignorant
  • You congratulate yourself for wearing shorts and a tank top because it’s so hot
  • Your friend slides her sunglasses down her nose, peers at your afflicted area, alerts you to your pinkness, and pokes it with her finger
  • You put on another layer of sunscreen or move to the shade, knowing it’s already too late
  • You realize it’s going to hurt
  • It hurts
  • You wonder if it should really be as purple as it is
  • It hurts more than it did before
  • You vow never to wear a tank top and shorts again, let alone go in the sun
  • You love aloe
  • You love aloe so much
  • You consider filling the tub with aloe and sitting in there for a while
  • Nobody is allowed to touch you
  • You do not sleep
  • You can’t stop talking about your sunburn, as much as you want to
  • Your mom tells you not to worry, it will fade into a tan
  • You assure her that it most certainly will not fade into a tan
  • She remembers that she and your brother are the only family members who enjoy the “fades into a tan” phenomenon
  • You realize the burn does not hurt as bad as it did yesterday
  • It’s itchy now, a sure sign it will peel soon
  • It peels
  • It’s peeling and you feel like a lizard, and you have finally found the one thing that grosses out your boys so it’s kind of funny

All the while, and just like with a tangover (I’m guessing) you waiver between feeling sorry for yourself, and feeling like an idiot.

You should know better. You cooked your own goose. Or in this case, you cooked your own knees.

Image

* At the top is our actual sun prevention collection. It is strategically spaced through the house, so that by the time you reach the front door, you will have had three to four opportunities to remember it.

**This is me and my awesome friend Megan at that fateful game. I’m the one in the stripes. The one with the freckles. The one who’s legs are sizzling just out of frame.

whose bucket list is this? the beauty of doing stuff you didn’t think you could

2 Aug

When I look back at the highlights of this weirdly action-packed summer, I feel a sense of accomplishment from successfully whittling away at a bucket list….

Somebody else’s bucket list.

There is a special sense of satisfaction, however, that comes with doing things you never intended, hoped, or signed up to do, and then doing them well.

If this list looks familiar, please step forward to claim it. It’s mostly done, so, you’re welcome.

#1 Be Allowed into Central America

Every day, people go to fabulous exotic places with backpacks, sarongs, and well-worn passports. Maybe they’re off to climb a peak, or swim to a hotel room that sits on stilts in the middle of a crystal clear lagoon. Maybe they’ll pet a sloth, or drink tea with a prince on the balcony of a palace. No? That’s not what happens immediately upon crossing the border? My obvious international inexperience also extended to not knowing how to change money, or use a passport. I knew how to take a cab – but I didn’t know how to take a cab in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua – the exotic-to-me locale where our dear, smart, hyper-educated, beautiful, world traveling friends had decided to get married. We’d known them forever, and I’d been not-so-secretly hoping they would finally get hitched.

But Central America?

What happened to getting married in Vegas? Or Palm Springs? Palm Springs is nice.

I thought my first trip abroad, might be to, say…. Canada. Not like faaaar into Canada – I’m not crazy – I was thinking maybe the part of Canada that touches Washington.

My husband John was not nervous at all. He’s traveled far more than I, and in more precarious situations than our loungey, celebratory jaunt to the Tropics.

John came home a few nights before we were to leave, and could see it on my face.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I’ve been reading the Internet.”

“No. Why? Why would you do that?”

“According to the Internet, there’s a good chance we’ll be abducted by machete wielding kidnappers if we take that road from the airport at nighttime.”

“We won’t. Stop reading the Internet. And besides, someone visiting from Nicaragua would be scared to death if they read the Internet about coming here.”

Here’s what happened instead of us getting kidnapped: Our trip to Granada, Nicaragua – a Spanish provincial town from the 1500’s that smells eerily like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland — was notably machete-free. We met amazing people who’d traveled from near and far to celebrate a couple we all love; the weather was warm and the people of Granada were kind, and lovely.

The trip turned out fine. Not just fine, but fun. Like really, really fun.

Even the part where my hair frizzed out to three times its normal size.

Image

#2 Be OK with Lizards

After traveling safely from the airport, we settled into our Indiana Jones suite – huge vaulted ceilings, wrought iron fixtures and a mosquito netted, four-poster bed.

Image

John, having been to Central America before, ran into the bathroom ahead of me, mysteriously asking me to wait in the hall until he emerged a moment later with a sheepish grin. “OK, here’s the deal. There’s one little green lizard in there, but he darted away. I’m sure he’ll stay hidden.”

He did stay hidden, and I’ve never been such a picture of efficiency in the lavatory. I stomped into the bathroom on every subsequent trip, hoping to scare away any critter that may have already called dibs on the bathroom. It was a full 24 hours before the little green lizard and I came face to face.

I have been known to scream and run when faced with a lizard of any size, shape or color. However, the tropical heat paired with the rum gifted to us by the bride and groom, most certainly significantly and mercifully slowed my freak-out response time. I was able to look right into the creature’s beady little eyes and see he was scared to death. He had a facial expression I did not know scaley things were capable of. As he stood frozen in the corner, his face said, “Please don’t see me, please don’t see me. Does she see me? Oh no, I think she sees me.”

My fear was replaced with pity as I realized he was just minding his own beeswax when he got stuck in a bathroom with a terrifying giant sorely in need of a deep conditioner and a flat iron.

#3 Use what little Spanish I learned in college

Each morning of the trip, John and I shuffled to the hotel dining room where Olga, whose dewy skin and bright smile belied her age, presented us with a new exotic juice, tropical fruit, and huevos-anything-you-want. She was patient with my Spanish as I said the eggs are very good, and the birds are very pretty, and the trees are very pretty, and the table is very pretty. And every day, Olga suggested to us that our family would only be complete once we had a daughter. Either that, or she was saying her family is complete because she has four daughters.

If only my college Spanish teachers, who I in no way remember, could see me now! Unlike Spanish class, not once did I get to ask someone how to get to the library.

Image

#4 (Almost) jump into a pool, fully clothed, at the end of a party

Our trip to Nicaragua was a four-day fiesta punctuated by naps and mosquito bites, and of course, the tear-jerker wedding and five-hour dance party reception that concluded with grown men jumping into the swimming pool fully dressed – John included. I stood next to my college roommate as her boyfriend Jesper jumped in. Liane and I hemmed and hawed. “Should we jump in? We should, we should totally do it.  I don’t know. Yes. No. Yes, let’s do it.”  By the time we got to “OK, we’re totally doing this.” It was over, the guys were climbing out, and I did not have to transport a soaking wet dress back to the United States in my carry-on.

But still, I’ve never been closer to jumping into a pool while wearing a dress. So, progress.

Image

# 5 Be glad I went to my 20-year reunion, and come to terms with the fact that high school was actually pretty OK.

When the invite came for my 20th high school reunion, I thought, “Of course I’m going.” I spent the next months trying to change the minds of naysayer classmates who saw no value in reuniting, telling them “Come on, you have to go! It’s been 20 years! No, it’s not the same as Facebook! It’ll be fun!”

Sitting in the parking lot, all dressed up, with my classmates streaming into the party behind me, I realized that maybe I had jumped the gun. “Remind me why I’m doing this,” I said to John. It’s not like I was that great in high school; I was really committed to that asymmetrical haircut I had all four years. I went through a thing where I made my own jewelry. I was in a knee-brace half the time. I was a bit of a spaz. “I don’t need to be here. We have Facebook now.”

Buoyed by my arm-candy husband and old friends who met us in the parking lot, we went in.

Sure, the evening had its awkward moments – even painfully awkward moments with stilted conversation or that thing where you don’t recognize or remember someone in the slightest – but most of the moments were hilarious, sweet, fun, or wistful. Everyone had changed…but not really. While the 10-year reunion had an air of one-upsmanship, the 20-year came with the acute but unspoken sense that time was now starting to go by too fast, so we should just enjoy ourselves. Some classmates had passed away, many had moved away, and it seemed that everyone recognized we simply don’t have the luxury of time to compete, judge, be intimidated, or hang onto whatever baggage we’d brought from high school. We’re all just people, with a little bit of shared history – just like we were in high school, before we had the wisdom and sense to realize or appreciate it.

If given the chance, go to your reunion – it’s not the same as Facebook.

So there you go – what I did with my summer vacation. And now for MY rest-of the-summer bucket list:

Sit around and talk about the heat

Clean last day of school stuff out of backpacks before first day of school

Get DVR ready for new season of TV

Deep condition

*The photos at the tippy top are hopefully illustrative enough to make sense: Nicaragua. Then you’ve got reunion pics with girls I was lucky enough to grow up with. This one below? That’s my darling husband leading me through the streets of Granada. I’d follow him anywhere (almost).

Image

but that’s my school: the mustang swan song

12 Mar

Image

Dad called with the news. “They’re closing your school.”

“No. Sierra Gardens? What? Why? No!”

(Sorry, Bears, Trees and Bruins, not that other school of mine you love to hate.)

“They voted… it will close next year.”

“I’m sorry, that’s sad,” John said sincerely when I told him the news, “I still get sad when we drive by my old school.”

John’s long abandoned elementary school is for sure, totally haunted. Lincoln Elementary, brick and forlorn, sits abandoned on the main road in the small Idaho town of his childhood, still sporting a reader board that now says “ead to you ids 20 mins a day.”

John’s high school moved somewhere else too, leaving the hallowed halls he once roamed to become a rock climbing gym or self storage center, or possibly both.

John’s were those cool “inside” schools of John Hughes movies with real cafeterias and giant lockers for winter coats; cool to California kids who were stuck eating outside and with classrooms that opened directly into all that sunshine instead of echoey hallways that probably smelled like sweat and old paper.

During our 15 years of marriage, I had not been terribly sensitive to the fact that those pieces of John’s youth had been summarily shuttered.

Of course I don’t like that my school is closing. Opened in 1957, Sierra Gardens has weathered a lot. Think of all those little Mustangs talking about Nixon, Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and astronauts landing on the moon. We heard about the Challenger disaster in the middle of class, and worried about Russians parachuting down onto the playground, like in Red Dawn.

Whoever voted to close it obviously didn’t scamper down to the creek’s edge, play kickball in the lower flats, or Chinese jumprope outside Room 20.  They didn’t wonder why the basketball courts were always covered in seagulls or  taste Doritos for the first time at their 3rd grade desk. They didn’t learn to spell stuff there, and read stuff, and write cursive without really understanding why a capital cursive Q looks like a 2. They didn’t know which drinking fountains would give barely a trickle or shoot you straight in the eye. They didn’t learn they hate math and love writing and that Shel Silverstein was a genius. They didn’t have a principal with a handlebar mustache or a first grade teacher named Mrs. Beaver.  They didn’t get to be the Student Body Secretary or dutifully wear their Mustang T-Shirt on Spirit Day, or make the friends that I made there.  Nope; because if they did, Sierra Gardens would be getting a historical registry number instead.

My friend Doug wrote a bit in his blog about the liability of being too sentimental; something of which I am terribly, terribly guilty. I am an advocate for change and progress, but a big sap at the same time, which makes for a lot of confusing feelings.

So while I will miss you, I will never forget you Sierra Gardens, even when you are a rock climbing gym or a collection of old building shells with two haunted portables; and I look forward to tapping into my unending supply of your stories to bore my children, and their children, and their children’s children far into the future.

I will not miss the bathrooms though. The bathrooms were gross.

*That photo up there gives you a peek at one corner of Sierra Gardens, circa 1985. That’s me in the grey jacket and the extra bangs cut specifically to cover  my surprisingly normal looking ears. Mostly though, it’s my amazing, quirky, smart, kind, funny, talented class and group of friends from Room 20, whom I am very proud to know then and now. I guess just like a church isn’t the building, a school isn’t either.

the shrimp dumpling gang

28 Sep

Realizing we had a rare uninterrupted family day ahead of us, John hollered the magic words into the morning air to send the boys scrambling around the house for their shoes…  “DIM SUM!!”

There are just a couple of phrases that send them into such immediate action. The other is “How about a 5:00 bedtime, then, because that’s where you’re headed,” but the circumstances are usually less jovial, and my brow is likely furrowed.  But when we yell “dim sum,” they know what that means: “Today is special, we’re going to the city, find your shoes.”

Years ago, my college roommate, Liane took us to a Chinatown bakery, and bought a dozen shrimp dumplings for about $4. She doled them out when we emerged from the crowded closet sized storefront onto the bustling sidewalk.

Much as one would divide their histories into “before and after kids,” or “before and after the career change,” or “before and after I got a smart phone,” I have pre and post dim sum, marked by that first taste of shrimp dumpling on a crowded San Francisco street.  It squirted all over my awesome kid-sized Curious George T-shirt, ruining it forever – a small price to pay for dumpling shaped nirvana.  Perhaps it was also a sign that even as a pseudo hipster 20-something, it was time to stop wearing the kid-sized Curious George tee in public.

Before we knew it, our favorite San Francisco Saturdays as newlyweds were spent convincing the bakery lady that, yes we did want 42 shrimp dumplings and 2 Cokes so we could have lunch at the cold beach. Or when we were feeling fancy, we’d wait for the good stuff to be pushed by on a cart in a dim sum restaurant. There’s a tripe incident I don’t like to talk about, but if you have the opportunity to select your items from the cart, don’t put your face directly over the bamboo steamer basket when they open it. A tripe facial is not something one soon forgets.

Our Richmond District neighborhood that bordered what is considered by many to be San Francisco’s “New Chinatown,” still boasts Ton Kiang which is delicious and perfect if you can take off at 11:00 on a weekday and head that far down Geary Blvd., because then you can totally…probably… maybe get a table. For the bakery experience, we head to Good Luck Dim Sum. I don’t know how God feels when I do this, but when we venture here, I start praying for a parking space when we’re within a mile radius of the place.

But, alas, we usually end up at Hong Kong Lounge. It has pink awnings, and at some point within the last decade changed their name from the far classier Hong Kong Flower Lounge.  Now that the beautiful old theater where we saw “She’s All That,” is shuttered and forlorn, Hong Kong Lounge is that block’s reigning crown jewel. It sits between the old biker bar John ended up at when he locked himself out of the apartment, and the Ross Dress for Less where I went when it was my turn to lock myself out.

We moved away from the city years ago, but manage to find our way back on chilly days when we are feeling a little nostalgic, and a lot hungry.

We’ve dragged along dear friends like our seminary compadres, Megan & Harold and their kiddos. As we’d wait outside for our name to be called, our little children would press their faces against the glass to stare at the diners inside, or they would tuck their arms in their shirts and huddle together for warmth on the cold sidewalk.

“Stand up before someone tries to give you a dollar,” one of us would say, “Well, never mind, it’s ok, go ahead and stay there.”

Sometimes we come with our college buddy, Bouncer. When he’s there, the hurried wait staff takes a look at our order sheets, and asks us if we’re serious. We nod proudly, and take their doubt as a challenge. It’s delicious at first, then funny, then scary as we try to convince each other to “please, pretty please eat the last bun, they don’t think we can do it, and I cannot. I cannot do it, but I know you can.”

(If you go to the Hong Kong Lounge, whatever you do, don’t ask them to split the bill, because then it’s a whole thing, and every level of management gets involved, and your kids get really embarrassed.)

On this day, when our little foursome gets seated, I go all 1950’s and hand the menu/worksheet to John to make the selections on our behalf. Ordering is like a long and deliciously complicated word problem:

Two adults and two kids go for dim sum. There are three pork buns to a plate, and four shrimp dumplings. Shrimp and chive dumplings come six to a plate, as do potstickers. The 6-year old eats one half the pork buns as the 11-year old, but twice the potstickers. The mom will eat any shrimp dumpling that passes by if her fellow diners are not careful. The dad bats clean up, and assumes responsibility for the consumption of the ‘adventure plate’ if it is not liked by the rest of the group. What combination of plates should they order?”

John taps the tiny little pencil against the paper, and I can see his eyelid twitch with all that thinking.

I try to keep the boys from using their chopsticks to stab each other, poke themselves in the eye, or dig at that hole in the padding of their chair.

The waiter whisks the sheet off our table and John informs us our adventure plate will be the doughnut noodle roll, which arrives first.

Yup, there it is. Imagine you had a doughnut, then you rollllllled it up into a big rice noodle. The man poured brown stuff on it for us, and we debated whether it was syrup or soy sauce.  Three doughnut noodle rolls already cut in half. That’s six pieces. I’ll take one of those, and save room for the other stuff. (It was strangely good by the way, and the brown stuff was soy sauce.)

The shrimp goes fast & furious, and then come the potstickers and fried and  steamed pork buns.  “Darn, I meant puffs,” John mutters to himself, “I like the puffs with the shiny tops.” He notes it for next time, and we talk strategy and what we’ve learned for the future; one more order of shrimp dumplings, two fewer orders of pork buns.  John rethinks this by the time we walk out the door, “I don’t know,” he says, “I think I ate too much shrimp in my 20’s.”

The visit isn’t complete without us driving slowly by our old apartment, which looks exactly the same as it did 11 years ago, cracked glass front door and all. “There’s our old bank,” I say enthusiastically. Kids love seeing their parents’ old banks. “The hobby shop is still there! The card shop! The video café is gone, where we saw the guy lick the ketchup off the bottle, but they still have the poster up for ‘The Green Mile.'”

“Mom?”

“Yes, dear?” I look back at the boys who are blissfully staring out the window, their faces shiny from our feast.

“Can you please turn up the radio?”

If I had to be pick him being super pumped to see my old bank branch or excited to share a dim sum meal with us – I’ll take the doughnut noodle roll, thankyouverymuch.

*The restaurant above is actually yummy Ton Kiang, and I snapped that pic of Good Luck one day as we were probably looking for parking. That building there to the right is our old San Francisco apartment. That might be our former neighbor’s car. Wow, Gary & Linda – I’ll save them for another blog.

interlude

8 Jun

Between lying in the Disneyworld sun (it’s like they have their own sun!), and lying in bed melodramatically clutching Kleenex in each hand, and lying on the couch surrounded by work notebooks and papers and sticky notes with cryptic half-words scrawled on them, I’ve been occupied. Indisposed? (Either way sounds bathroom related. Everything sounds bathroom related when you’re surrounded by boys all the time.)

I of course would be completely honored and totally surprised if anybody noticed it had been a while since I posted anything. But I noticed, because small funny illustrative moments kept happening, and I couldn’t take advantage of them like I had grown blissfully accustomed to. And I didn’t take notes like I promised myself I would. I’ve walked by my laptop, and run a finger along the top, wistfully recalling how once upon a time I could sit over there *points* typity type type typing the night away while uncharacteristically letting shows stack up in my DVR. (I would very much like to tell you, and in short order, about my waterpark temper tantrum, the bodyguard in the Gucci sunglasses with the book of Sudoku puzzles, Ponce de Leon, the art of confiscation and a less than magical turn on the Magical Express.)

It’s been a whirlwind of activity and emotion that have included a blinding flurry of work and work functions as well as the sun soaked giddiness of a much appreciated vacation and getting to see old friends…all accompanied by the intense desperation for a nap, a mug of tea and a decongestant.

I had a feeling it was bad when three people walked past my office door in a day, gave me a cursory glance and wave, then doubled back to ask if I was ok. I caught a glimpse of my reflection. Wild haired and tired eyed and sorely in need of lipstick.

We’re all victims/offenders of busy (depends on how you look at it), but what’s so acutely new to me this time are the byproducts of being a kid of aging parents and a parent of aging kids. Every conversation in our house is anchored by preschool and or 5th grade “graduation” and what’s next for the boys; what’s next at work; or what’s next as we navigate the unfun health stuff of one of our parents toward what we expect to be a positive, and frankly, more fun outcome.  And then there’s the part where we remind ourselves that it could be a lot worse, and it’s actually the perfect time to count our blessings, and then I feel junky for feeling sorry for myself in the first place. (I just cannot be the only person who does that.)

As I sit in the middle of happy and hard things last week, this week and next, I’m hopeful for the return of the sun, and maybe some sense of normal. I’ve asked for prayers without hesitation, and bent many an ear, and look forward to returning the favor.