Monday, July 27, 2009

Vacay 2009: Livermore

We left for our official 2009 vacation on Tuesday and headed to Livermore. Generally, you have only heard of Livermore if
1. You know the Livermore Lab.
2. You have been on wine tours.
3. You have lived there.

Ryan's family moved to Livermore right after his high school graduation. He lived there on (working) and off (schooling) in the eight months before he left on his mission. When he returned, that was his home. We got married pretty quickly and that was were we visited frequently. We both love the Bay Area and Livermore and the people in Livermore. The Caress family lived there on and off (a brief stint in Florida in which they rented the house and then moved back afterwards) for about ten years. This is a picture of that home as it looks in 2009. It was a great house. We have many fond memories there.

Ryan showed the girls the highlights of Livermore. We drove by the Lab, the wineries, golf courses, the ole' hang outs, THE home, where he used to work, etc. We checked into our Residence Inn and made our way to the Hatch Family House.

The Hatch family has been the source of great friendship and stability in our lives and the lives of the rest of the Caress kids. Ryan and all of his siblings logged in countless hours hanging out, living with, talking with, eating, swimming, laughing, crying, and being supported by the Hatch family. Even though I am an "outsider" to this relationship, they have included me in their circle and always made me feel a part of the family as well. Liz, the mom, and I are kindred spirits: same educational background, same profession, same un-shrinking violets. We have opinions and we make them known. I love Liz. I love the whole family. No wonder the Caress kids made themselves surrogates. They are a blended family: Mark was left a widower with five young boys after his beloved wife lost her battle with breast cancer. Liz was divorced with two daughters. They brought their families together and have truly raised a family worthy of admiration.

Ryan was particularly moved when he saw in their family room the wall of missionary plaques, the wall of pictures of college degrees and the wall of pictures of temple marriages. "They are the picture of success." Not that they haven't had their trials. Not that life is perfect right now. Bu they are on the path to success and are continuing down that road. They have built a solid foundation for success.

Mark gave the dinner prayer. As he expressed gratitude and requested blessings, you could feel the spirit. It is a marvelous thing when a patriarch of a family prays and you can feel the love and goodness. Liz is a marvelous cook - everything always tastes incredible and this meal was no exception. After eating, visiting, swimming, greeting many kids and grandkids, we grudgingly left. All the girls expressed their love for the Hatch family and expressed their desire to return often. One more generations of Caress kids who have been smitten by the Hatch family.

We returned to the Residence Inn. Maya has had some issues with this Marriott brand - she hates staying in them. Ryan finally reserved the right configuration: two-stories. One room with two rooms and a living space. Is that really too much to ask? We love that Residence includes breakfast and has more space. But we don't like having two rooms, unless we have adjoining doors. It is hard to get. This has been a dilemma for us and the kids have protested. Now that we have found the right configuration? They love it. Now they want to stay in it from now on.

The next morning, after our Residence breakfast we made our way to the Livermore Donut Wheel. It is one of the most popular places and has really good donuts (not THE best, mind you, but really good.) We went and discovered the passion. We each had one and no one really wanted to share their pick. I loved the little donut holes filled with raspberry jam and covered in powdered sugar - that was something I hadn't seen before. The had been a favorite of the whole Caress family when they lived there and is still a must-stop place when they drive by or visit. Not that they go just for Donut Wheel. It is just a bonus.

On to San Francisco!!!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

15 Books

Once again, a facebook thing ... 15 Books here was the original instructions:
Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you for better or for worse - in no particular order. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose.

So here was my list:

1. East of Eden by Steinbeck
2. The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky

3. Harry Potter by Rowling - the whole series

4. America's Women by Gail Collins

5. Animal Farm by George Orwell

6. Out of My Life and Thought by Albert Schweitzer

7. The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry - everything by Berry

8. Anna Karenin by Tolstoy

9. Charlotte's Web by White

10.The Standard Works

11. Les Miserables by Hugo

12. Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher

13. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

14. The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence

15. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller - everything by Miller

If I think about it too much, I will probably kick myself for leaving out so many of my favorites. But everything on this list I have read at least twice, most of them at least three times. I know, I know Austin did not make the list but then again neither did To Kill a Mockingbird or David McCullough, I don't know how I will live with myself.

So now I am going to use my blog to talk about my list. 'Cause you know that I can't stand publishing anything and not going on and on and on about every little thing. So here it is: the loooong version of why I picked these fifteen. By the way, these were not put into any particular order. Someday, my children and grandchildren will read this and hopefully read these same books.

1. East of Eden by Steinbeck. What can I say about this book. It is everything a great novel should be about: the eternal struggle between good and evil. The Cain and Abel themes make me rethink everything I see. After the initial forbidden fruit thing, it is the Cain and Abel story that brings out the story that we all face: siblings and the love and acceptance of our parents as we struggle with them and each other. Most of the rest of the Bible deals with the great rivalries: Jacob and Esau, Ishmael and Issac, Joseph and his brothers, etc. And what about the New Testament parables: the prodigal son, the talents. Martha and Mary. How do we gain the love and acceptance of our parents and not drive our siblings crazy? Then, on top of that, throw in Kate. The deliciously evil Kate. It helps that this story is somewhat based on real people in the John Steinbeck world. It is very much based on real people. I have read and reread this book a few times. each time I finish I think about how I want to start it again. "Thou mayest." Thank you John Steinbeck for this gift.

2. The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Good and Evil. Love and Hate. Spiritual let downs and murder. More sibling rivalry. More parents who withhold their love. "What is the definition of hell? To be unable to love." Not everyone gets to have lovable family members. Sometimes you are related to people that you do not even like, and yet there is something that bonds you together, in spite of it all. How do you make sense of those relationships? Is good always manifested easily? Secrets. I read this book until my brain feels like it will explode. Then I have to take a break and then get back into it.

3. Harry Potter by Rowling - the whole series. I am not going to talk about what is written in these books, but what they did for me. I have always loved to read. I read for school and for pleasure. I read everything I could get my hands on. Then I went to college and there was so much reading, I just read what I had to, not for strictly pleasure. Then I entered the real world and I was too busy. Work, marriage, babies, family: I was too busy to read. I was teaching Fifth Grade and I got tired of grading book reports on this Harry Potter book when I didn't even know what it was about. We were going on a trip to Europe to visit Ryan's parents and so I brought along the first two books just to keep me from being bored on the long flight. About twenty pages into it, I was hooked. I breezed through the first two and even though the third one was out, I had to wait to get to London to buy it. It was all over Europe. I looked in Rome and Paris, but they did not have it in English. I suffered. The second we hit London I bought my copy and devoured it. Each book was met with supreme anticipation. In between waiting for the next ones I was reading other things. Harry Potter gave me back the gift of reading. I was back into reading for pleasure. I had found the time ... I made the time. And yes, I love what is written on the pages, too.

4. America's Women by Gail Collins. Wow. Talk about Herstory. For all the talk about the Founding Fathers, who ran the farm at home while they were spouting off their high and mighty ideals? This book opened my eyes to so much. We don't learn these things, but sometimes we wonder. How did women deal with their periods while walking across the plains? What difference did the right to vote really make? How did a woman juggle career and family in the 1800's? How did a women deal with men who were threatened by her intellect and talent in the 1700's? Guess what? The issues we deal with now, they dealt with then. "God created a uterus and then built the body around it" (Harvard Medical School in the 1800's) I read this book twice, cover to cover. I literally finished it and then started it over again immediately. I marked it like a textbook. If I had the money, I would buy a copy for every woman I know and we would book group it chapter by chapter.

5. Animal Farm by George Orwell. Aside from the fact that this book is a fun read, aside from the fact that you can substitute the animals names for real characters in actual history, this is still an incredible intellectual ride. What a great parable. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Poor Snowball. Those darn rules keep getting rewritten. Maybe the farmer wasn't that bad. Maybe all pigs should do is provide us breakfast meats. Maybe we should read this again. And again. And learn a little something.

6. Out of My Life and Thought by Albert Schweitzer. This book answered a lot. I am fine with eating meat. I enjoy the taste. I occasionally suffer from some moral issues with it. (HINT: this is something Ryan and I do not discuss - not eating meat would be blasphemy for him.) However, this book really helped me understand the whole thing. I love that Albert spent half his life doing what he wanted and then spent the other half in service to others, specifically to God (and the first half was spent exploring his music so it's not like he was off carousing with loose women.) I love his philosophy of REVERENCE FOR LIFE. This taught me about gratitude and revering God's creations. It made several connections between my religious beliefs and feelings that had stirred for years. We must have reverence for everything that God created from the tiniest ant to the carrot to the rock to the fish and fowl, not to mention each other. God created it all for our benefit. Misuse is ingratitude. Everything was created for us, but it is our responsibility to not waste or exercise gluttony. We are the caretakers, the stewards of this earth and all that is on it. Express gratitude.

7. The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry - everything by Berry. Berry makes me happy. Berry, Berry, Berry. What can I say? Racism is covered in this book. But this led me to other books. There IS a connection between how we treat each other and how we treat all of God's creations and if you do not feel that? Go plant something. Deal with your own trash. He discusses social classes, politics and getting dirt under your fingernails. What does that have to do with racism? Everything. Read Berry, Tolstoy, and Kingsolver together - it blows your mind. They all have this relationship with the land. [So why don't I have dirt under my fingernails? A girl can dream. I live in a desert with no backyard. But growing up, my dad always used a good half of our large yards to garden. I loved it.] Berry is an intellectual who has an enormous capacity to love and respect others. He is not an elitist. On the contrary, he focuses on what is common to us all. When one person suffers, we all do. When one person is judged by the color of the their skin, their gender, their class, their appearance, their accent, their beliefs, their educational levels ... we are all wounded.

8. Anna Karenin by Tolstoy. Vengeance is mine and I will repay. There you go. There are consequences to everything in life. Have your fling with the hot dude who relentlessly is pursuing you while your distant and ambitious husband grows more remote every day. But someday, somehow, someway it will bite you in the butt. I love the side story of Kitty and Levin. That love story is the sweet reward for reading the bitterness of the title character. I fell head over heels in love with this book in the 10th grade and I have probably reread it about four times. War and Peace is up there too. However that one is so long, I don't dare reread it. Tolstoy has a little short story titled What Men Live By. It is a short parable that helped me better understand our interdependence on each other. Tolstoy deals with human nature. The characters are ALL flawed, even his favorites. It is the flaws that allow us to ponder our own weaknesses: what would I have done? Go back to the land and work it. Produce something meaningful, something tangible. And stay away from the hot dude with the six-pack.

9. Charlotte's Web by White. I think it convinced me, even as a child, never to assume you know what someone is like just because of appearances. Charlotte is such a heroine. Wilbur is so grateful and full of life and innocent. Templeton is, well, I guess all rats are simply rats. My first chapter book. My first foray into what I will call my love of literature. I want each of my daughters to read it and love it. Simplicity, artistry, and a charming little story about friendship. Terrific, Humble, and Some Pig. Salutations.

10.The Standard Works: The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price. Do I include these or not? On the one hand, they are so far and above the rest of the books, it is almost insulting to put them on the same list. On the other hand, could I talk about the best books without mentioning them? So here they are. They are truly God's inspired messages. The history of God's dealings with his people. The record of Jesus Christ and His ministry. The words of prophets. Instructions and warnings. Letters from a Heavenly Father. Gospel. Doctrine. A must-read again and again. And each time, something new pops out. Something new applies. Something new is taught and brings comfort and peace and clarity. True? You betcha. Literally? It doesn't matter. The scriptures explain why. They do not claim to explain the how, when, where. We can learn who, what, and why. Especially the why.

11. Les Miserables by Hugo. Okay, I admit it. My list is filled with the cliches. I just can't help it. When the bishop purchases Jean Valjean's soul with a pair of candlesticks how can you not feel the liberation? Admittedly, I can do without 300 pages of the sewers of Paris (that might be an exaggeration.) What is the worth of a soul? Don't you wish, with one simple, truly Christlike act, you could save a soul? Maybe we can, if we have the courage to try. Don't you wish someone would have enough faith and confidence in you to purchase your soul? Wouldn't we all be a little bit better if strangers gave us the benifit of the doubt? Charity. Mercy versus Justice. Mercy is always better. It wins in the end.

12. Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. How do girls deal with all the pressures of the world? How can I instill my daughters with all they need to know? I am not usually a self-help kind of gal, but a deep conversation with a YW General Board Member convinced me this one was worth reading. She had three daughters and explained it was one of the few secular books that really explained that fine line between love and leniency, rules and relationships, structure and safety. It turns out the best combination of parenting: love and structure. I read this when I was YW Camp Director. I read this when I had one daughter. I read it when I had two. I keep referring to it now that I have four. I have bought it and given it to friends. It is real life stuff so watch out.

13. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Barbara makes you think. She is also a great story teller. She weaves all these stories together and makes you pause. Maybe the underdog is actually the most decent person of the bunch. Maybe the political mess in Africa is actually the fault of the "civilized" societies. I love all her books. There are some I like better. But Poisonwood was my first love. And I read it way before Oprah chose it, so there.

14. Journey to Modern China by Jonathan Spence. I am not sure why this is on the list. I have read it four times. Three times for Chinese History classes, once for pleasure. It is a great book. I minored in Asian Studies and learned a lot. One thing I learned was how little I know. It is a search. How could a nation rise and fall and rise and fall? Is communism the worst thing out there? By the time Japan and Chiang Kai Shek were through, the communists looked like they cared. At least they talked about people having rice in their bowls. I might get fired from the State Department, but China needed to go through a purging of the west and their own superstitions. It was carved up like a melon. It was raped. It was addicted to opium. It was starved. Do you know why "the sun never set on the British Empire?" God didn't trust the British in the dark.

15. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller - everything by Miller. Come to terms with the truth about your parents and love them in spite of what you find out. What happens when a salesman get too old to do the only thing they know how to do? Whether I read it or go see the play, I always get a little more insight into my own life and the people in my life. Regrets, unfulfilled expectation, aging, hypocrisy. One son fights endlessly, but truly loves his dad. One son buys into the lies, but doesn't even care. I love all Arthur Miller's stuff: All My Sons, The Crucible, After the Fall, etc. Know the truth and it shall set you free. Oh Arthur, I know you loved Marilyn, but we are soul mates.

So there you have it. My 15 books. Yes, I could take them to a deserted island and be quite happy reading all of them. Over and over and over and over and over again. Then again, a good cookbook with recipes of deserted island delicacies might come in handy after a few reads.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Maya is no longer a baby ... we have proof.

Maya was complaining that her tooth hurt. Maya frequently complains of pain. She is acutely aware of every little ache and pain. A little gift from my DNA. Her teeth have also been on the soft side. Even though she is the best brusher and flosser, she has the most cavities. Poor Maya. It is not her fault. My baby teeth were a mess, too. The good news is my adult teeth were strong, so there is hope. But enough about me, me, me: this is about Maya.

We were eating pizza at a locals type of pizza place when Maya complained that it hurt too much to eat pizza. We knew something was up 'cause she loves pizza. I took a look and low and behold: a wiggly little tooth!

My girls were always late teethers and always lost their baby teeth after all their friends at school. I don't mind one bit - every dentist I've talked to says that is best - stronger teeth! But it is a painful thing in a school classroom when the teacher has a tooth chart and EVERYONE has a little tooth sticker, in fact some have several, and you have none. The whole school year passes and you have none. The anticipation builds up. Still nothing. (The older two girls had to wait until well into their first grade year.)

Maya was so excited. It looked like it had been wiggly for a while. I told her to keep wiggling it with her tongue and it would be out soon. Maya proceeded to explain, with the specific names, all the students who had already lost teeth. In fact, some of them had lost several. She knew that this was a serious coming-of-age sign.

She kept up the wiggling and two nights later, there it was. A little baby tooth sitting in a big girl hand.

Don't you just love that look: "SEE, MOM!!!!" She explained in detail to Monterey how the tooth fairy was going to come. She knew everything, obviously listening to classmates, because we don't speak of the tooth fairy in our house. You see, our tooth fairy is lame. In fact, I think she should be fired! She did such a lousy job with the older two girls. And this was a hotel room - what were the chances of her getting that right?

Luckily, Maya slept well and slept in. The tooth fairy made it right in time. Maya got a dollar and because it was the first tooth, she let us keep it (or maybe she could not find it in all the bedding without waking up Maya.)

Maya wanted to buy a $23 doll stroller with her $1. This is Maya learning another grown-up lesson: $1 is not $23.

Well, she is a bonafide big girl now. Her body is sending out those signals to get rid of the baby stuff. It needs to make room for the big girl teeth.

I just love those gap-toothed grins! Bring them on!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

4th of July

We love to go away for the 4th. We have spent most Independence Days either at the ballpark or the Hollywood Bowl. Lots of time, we are with friends. At the very minimum, we love to spend time at the beach. This year was no exception.

We decided this year, we would do San Diego or, as Monterey puts it, Sandy Lego. We had made great plans. The Dodgers were playing at Petco Stadium so we could see them AND have fireworks. Ryan got us tickets and a Marriott room. We kept the plans for the 4th informal. We had a rough idea of what we wanted.

The Dodger game was great (oh yeah, the Padres played too.) Except for crappy food and the crappy music, it was like we were in Dodger Stadium. The fans were everywhere. Manny Ramirez was back after his fifty game suspension and the fans made the trek to support him. One commentator after the game said the crowd was 65:35 percent Dodger fans. In our section, it was more like 99:1. Seriously, it was like we were at Dodger Stadium.

The commentators also could not figure out why the crowd was so supportive. I suppose they expected booing. We cheered like crazy. Now before anyone gets upset, let me 'splain. Manny did the wrong thing, got caught, received punishment, did his time and lost money. Now he is back. He paid the price. He suffered the consequences. Done. We have had SOOOO many players who have done the wrong thing and it was not discovered until well after their careers ended. No consequences. Are they taking Barry Bonds' record away? No. Can they go back and retroactively suspend him? No. SOOOO many have done the drug thing and paid no consequences, it was actually refreshing to see someone go through the whole process of consequences. Should he have taken it? No, but he paid for it. He did not fight, or deny, or lie, or pout, or quit, or whine. He took it like a man, did his time and now it is over. Redemption.

Dodger won 6-3. Beautiful tribute to Lou Gehrig. Awesome fireworks with patriotic music. 30 minutes waiting on the 7th level of the parking structure in order to move our car - such is life in the big city. But it was worth staying until the very last minute for the fireworks.

We made the 10 minute drive back to Hotel Circle and hunkered down for the night. Everyone slept soundly.

We awoke to the news that Serena had won Wimbledon. Dang it! We missed it! We were so looking forward to seeing Venus and Serena play each other. But we both picked Serena to win, so we were happy.

Ryan and I had a pow wow to decide what we were in the mood for. A little breakfast. A little swimming. El Indio for lunch. A Seal Tour. A little beach. Balboa Park. Fireworks. A drive home, late at night. Sounds perfect. I really wanted to do the the Seal Tour because it would give us a great tour of the Naval shipyards and the submarine base. What a great 4th idea! We could have fun while gaining a greater appreciation and knowledge of our military. Ideal day. Camera in hand. Lets go!

First some breakfast. We decide to go to Denny's. We were walking in the parking lots and there was a huge puddle of water. We can't go over it, can't go under it, can't go around it, we have to walk through it. Our flip flops got wet and our feet were too. No worries. Get to the car and as Ryan gets into the car, we hear: "son of a %$#@&" repeated twice. I can tell by the way he grips the steering wheel he is in pain. I ask cautiously, "Are you okay?" He replies through gritted teeth: "Yeah, I hurt my toe."

***GRAPHIC VIOLENCE WARNING: The next section contains graphic descriptions and is not suitable for those with a sensitivity to blood.*** I think we all know the pain that accompanies stubbing one's toe. It hurts bad, but the pain goes away relatively quickly. So I was mighty sympathetic as we drove on to Denny's. We got out of the car and as Ryan emerged, he removed his shoe and lifted his foot. Blood. (This is Maya's picture of the incident - I should have grabbed my camera.) Blood was covering his entire foot and had filled a pool in his shoe. Thick blood - like coagulated blood. Uhh. "I think you may have done more than stub your toe, babe." He put his foot back in and asked me to seat the girls while he cleaned it up in the restroom. Okay ... anything you say. As I do so, I'm thinking: whoa. I talk to the guy who is seating us and explain that my husband is in the restroom and probably needs a band-aid. He says he will take care of him.

Ryan comes to the table and we eat. We return to the hotel and I explain that I think I should take a look at it. He lays down on the bed and I place towels under his foot and get a wet washcloth to clean it up. I gingerly wiped the blood and observed the source: a slice in his middle toe. I moved it as carefully as I could. "Uh, Ryan, this is cut to the bone. You need to go to the emergency room." We discuss this for a minute. He wants to go home and drop off the girls at home and then go. I explain: "No, you need to go now."

I made a phone call and gave instructions to the girls to shower, dress and pack. I drove him to the emergency room, dropped him off, returned to the hotel and gathered everything up. We packed the car and checked out. How nice it is to have girls who are old enough and responsible enough to delegate responsibilities to and be able to trust and have confidence in their abilities.

We returned to the emergency room and Ryan was inside. This was a good sign. We got comfy in the kids' section. I checked on Ryan. They had video games. That was cool. I read. We watched a little TV. Ryan called and said they were taking X-rays. We went to the cafeteria for snacks. Here are the pictures of our 4th: in the ER. Notice how patriotic everyone is dressed. So cute. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally he emerged. No stitches: the cut was on the crevice of the toe. If they stitch it, it could result in loss of movement. Bandaged and wrapped. One sprained toe: the fourth digit.

What to do now? I was still hoping we could do the Seal Tour: it is just sitting, after all. He was not into it. Too many people who could step on his foot. He was supposed to not walk or stand for two days. No shower for two days. No swimming for a week. Bandages for a week. Okay.

We had a nice lunch at The Cheesecake Factory and hit the road. I drove home. We got home and he fell asleep. Panda Express for dinner. He slept again, this time for the night.

So much for our 4th. Something about best laid plans.

Oh, by the way, I love America and in spite of having a less than stellar 4th, I still love America. Hopefully, this is not a tradition that will be repeated.