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Product Review: Squeez’Ems

There’s something about kids and squeezable pouches of food. There’s also something about toddlers and not eating. Therefore, when I got a Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 8.31.28 AM copyrequest to review Squeez’Ems reusable food pouches, I suspected this might be a winning combination. At around 2-3 years old, I’ve noticed that all of my kids sleep better at night if they eat a good bedtime snack. This is also the age at which I night wean them, but then find I’m still awakened all night by a kicky toddler who seems to be hungry. So, we work hard to get a nutrient dense bedtime snack in them before bed and eventually the sleep for all improves. The sticky point can be what snack to offer. When Zander was little, we tried all kinds of different smoothie recipes, hoping for a magic combo. With Alaina, we do string cheese a lot and she rejects a lot of our other suggestions. Enter these little reusable pouches. Food is infinitely more intriguing to a little child when it is in a squeezable pouch. The first night, I filled it up with Greek yogurt and she slurped it all down and asked for more. Zander, who is seven now, also enjoyed two pouches worth of yogurt. See what I mean? Instant intrigue! However, there are two other great features about using the Squeez’Ems pouches instead of buying pre-pouched food: you know exactly what is going into it (no weird, additive-filled store purees) AND you can just wash it out and refill it, rather than trashing pouch after plastic (or foil) pouch! I call that a win for the ecologically-minded as well as for the bedtime snacking toddler. The company also notes that they are a good match for children with food allergies who may not be able to eat the same pouched foods being eaten by their contemporaries. I look forward to experimenting with some additional smoothie recipes and trying them out in these pouches!

Alaina is a fan!

For more info on Squeez’Ems, please visit www.booginhead.com.  Squeez’Ems are available at BabiesRUs stores and Amazon.com.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary two-pack for review purposes. I have no further relationship or financial benefit from this company.

Listen to the wise woman…

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Mini mamapriestess sculpture I made to take with me for my medicine bundle.

Last summer after I finished my priestess certification and I’d been facilitating women’s retreats for two years, I got a wild idea to go to a womanspirit or goddess festival of some kind. I did a google search and found one that sounded great—the Gaea Goddess Gathering–and it was happening in just two weeks. Imagine my surprise to then look at the bottom of the screen and see that it was located only a five-hour drive from me, just over the border into Kansas. I decided it was “meant to be.” My mom and a friend signed up with me (and Alaina) and we packed up my van and went! The night before we left on our adventure, I sat down at the kitchen table and felt a knife-like stinging pain on the back of my leg. I’d accidentally sat on a European giant hornet (these are not regular hornets, they are literally giant hornets about two inches long).

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Sting before I left.

Though it became hot and swollen and terribly painful, we set forth anyway. I asked for input on Facebook and did google research and started putting benadryl cream on it, even though I usually go with home remedies over medical-model remedies. It got worse and worse, eventually running from my hip to my knee and wrapped around my entire leg so
that two thirds of my thigh was sting-area and the difference in size between my legs was noticeable through clothing. During the festival, as I watched myself get worse and worse and people kept making remarks about needing epi-pens and maybe I should go to the hospital, I decided to dispense with the benadryl and listen to the wise women instead. My friend found plantain and made me a poultice. The cook gave me baking soda that I applied in a paste. I went to a ceremony that involved a healing ritual with sound and a priestess in a tent beat a drum over me as I lay there on my stomach. After a little Reiki healing, she then leaned very, very close to my ear and said quietly, “are you taking good enough care of yourself? You give and give and it is time to receive. You need to be taken care of too.” And, I cried.

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Sting after arriving. I didn’t take any pictures of it at the worst. It got about twice as bad as this. Every time I thought it could not possible get worse, it got twice as bad!

I came out of the tent and laid on a bench and women I didn’t know came and put their hands on my back and made me tinctures of strange plants they found in the herb garden and I drank it even though it almost made me gag. Another woman I didn’t know rubbed my back and though I couldn’t even see her face, she leaned close to my ear and said, “sometimes life stings you. Your friends, your family, being a parent, taking care of your children. It stings sometimes. Things people say without meaning to sting you. You’re sensitive, Sometimes it stings a lot and you worry that you’re not good enough. I see you with your baby. You are such a good mother.” And, I cried again, lying there on bench in the middle of nowhere with my dress pulled up and my red, sore, swollen, horrible thigh covered with a poultice of mysterious weeds, surrounded by women I didn’t know, but who were caring for me. And, I got better. By the time I got home, the sting was almost totally healed.

As soon as I returned home, I made a list, intending to develop it into a blog post about everything I’d learned at this gathering of women. The list languished in my drafts folder and the wheel of the year continued to turn and now it is September again and next week, some friends and I will be hopping back in my van and heading back to the GGG for this year’s festival. I decided the blog post will never get “developed” into the post I had intended, but that I can still share my list anyway. I also realized that I have been reluctant to post it here for fear of being too “weird” and alienating readers. But, Talk Birth is like a buffet, you can take what works for you and leave the rest! 😉 I’m also writing now because I’m going to go ahead and give myself a week off from blogging and I wanted to post some sort of explanation as to why. I’m going to focus on getting ready for the festival (I’m selling jewelry while there too!) and hanging out with my family (and, oh yeah, grading all the papers that are due this Sunday night!).

So, what did I learn at the GGG?

  • I have a lot to learn
  • Likewise, I know more than I give myself credit for—I am both more skilled than I may think and less skilled than I’d like to be.
  • I want to be more confident
  • I need to always remember to look for a wise woman when I need help. And, that allowing myself to be cared for by strangers is a surprisingly powerful experience.
  • I am much more quickly judgmental than I realized or like to admit—I judge the book by its cover and assess “worth” by appearance more often than I thought and I disappointed myself with that. I learned that ALL women have hidden gifts and I was surprised over and over again what people had to offer, that their appearance might not have suggested.
  • My body knows how to heal (I’ve learned this before, also from a bug)
  • It was great to have just one-on-one time with Alaina. She just wants to be with me. I didn’t have to cook/do laundry or anything else. I just toted her around which is exactly what she needs/wants (*note from this year: she still wants exactly this and I’m looking forward to giving it to her).
  • My mom is incredibly creatively gifted. And, I’m lucky to be around so many creative women in my own community. They have awesome gifts!
  • I don’t need to do everything—other people have their own talents and I don’t have to “do it all,” all of the time.
  • But by the same token, I don’t have to be good at everything and it is still okay to do things and be bad at them, but still try. (However, it also good to let other people have their specialties/share their gifts. I don’t have to do it all.)
  • I can be open to receive.
  • I can be a singer! Perform in a group! Feel awesome!
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    Once this started, I knew I’d made the right choice to come after all!

  • Ditto drummer!
  • Explanation of the two points above which also connect to the one about not having to do everything and yet it also being okay to try. One of the sessions at the festival was the “GGG Soul Singers.” One of the women taught a large group of us several cool songs. During the special dinner that night, we got up together with sound equipment and everything and performed our songs. Everyone was yelling and cheering and clapping and it was great. So much fun! I’m a terrible singer, I know that, but that night I felt like I was amazing. And, I learned that being terrible at something doesn’t mean you can’t do it anyway and enjoy yourself. I’m looking forward to doing this again this year! At this festival I was captivated by these massive community drums the women had. Large enough to be played by four or even more women at once, I absolutely loved them. Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I tried, and discovered I could indeed do it. I could drum and sing and keep up with the group. When I got home, I decided I must have a drum like this and spent way too much money and ordered one online. And, even though I’m tone-deaf and “non-musical,” I can play it. And, I’m still amazing, whether I really am or not!
  • I felt both more and less competent—related to knowing a lot and yet having a lot to learn, I discovered that I’m a pretty good ceremonialist, a lot better than I’d given myself credit for, but that some other people are way better than me (and others are not. What matters is trying).
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    Intense stairs from the dining hall and lodging to the “ridge” where ceremonies took place. Navigating these was NO FUN with that sting on my leg! But, isn’t tiny Alaina cute setting off on her own and heading on up?!

  • I was acknowledged/recognized as priestess/clergy to my own circle of women and it felt very good to be seen in that way. I’m trying to be/offer/bring something to the local area that still feels tender and vulnerable in myself. I lack some confidence. Want to build it! And, yet, I do it anyway. I’m brave! Maybe I’m not as skilled or musical or awesome as I could be, but I’m pretty darn good and…at least I TRY!
  • Want family to be clear priority. Family harmony is a top goal. I want to make sure to give them my good stuff too! Don’t save my passion and enthusiasm for “others” only!

When I got home from this festival, I was so inspired that I planned and facilitated a pretty great nighttime, firelit “sagewoman” ceremony in a teepee (with drumming on my new community drum) for the wise women of my own community. As a ritualist/ceremonialist, I learned from the GGG-experience that ambiance really, really matters in offering a cool ritual.

Since last year, I’ve developed my ceremonialist skills even further and last month received an additional supplemental ordination from the American Priestess Council. I’m almost three years into my D.Min program, I’ve taken advanced coursework in ritual design as well as pastoral counseling, liturgy, the role of the priestess, ethics, history, and so forth. At this time last year, I was struggling with whether or not it was “okay” for me to own the Priestess identity I felt “called” into and at the GGG I was seen and heard into this identity particularly by my friend and also by my mom. It turns out it is okay for me to serve others as a Priestess and to claim that title with authenticity even though I’m not as perfect and amazing as I feel like I should be (I’m also a blogger for SageWoman magazine and I’m currently working on a post called who does she think SHE is, that is about exactly this tension).

Some more pictures:

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Henna feet! From the woman who did this for me, I learned the phrase: “sparkles are my favorite color.”

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Medicine bundle! This was the best class ever. The woman brought piles and piles of random and awesome stuff and it was all free to choose what you wanted for your bundle. How cool is this face?!

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She also had simple clay goddesses for us to paint and attach as well as we could.

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Pensive little Lainey looking back thoughtfully at the stairs up which she just journeyed.

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Back home demo’ing a beautiful sarong gifted to my by my seeing friend!

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What’s this…

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…I hear…big DRUMS!

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When I got home, I was inspired to make some new sculptures and Mark cut a lovely gemstone and made a pendant.

Here I go again! I wonder what lessons await me this year…

Vacation, Final Phase: Pismo Beach

The last phase of our epic California trip was to relax and enjoy our favorite beach on the Central Coast: Pismo Beach. This is the final post (thank goodness!) in my vacation recap series. The others are as follows:

Vacation, Phase 1: Disneyland and California Adventure

Vacation, Phase 2: Himalaya Tourmaline Mine

Vacation, Phase 3: Legoland

Vacation Phase 4: Mamoorials

Vacation, Phase 5: Moonstone Beach

Vacation, Phase 6: Montana De Oro side trip

 

Pismo is such a familiar setting to us, that I don’t have a lot of narrative to introduce the pictures.

Pismo picture gallery: if a closer view is needed, just click one and then follow through them in slideshow format.

On my cousin’s 21st birthday we went to a steakhouse sort of place called McClintock’s that no one in the group was particularly familiar with. After sitting down, we were horrified to see the cheapest hamburger was $27. And, this was a “family style” dining sort of place, so we ended up spending $50 (for just our own family!) to grab a few greasy onion rings out of other people’s fingers, basically, and for Mark and I to split a mediocre hamburger. Not. Impressed. Luckily, dinner came with dessert—a measly scoop of ice cream or a “dessert liqueur.” Yes, please. I quaffed that Kahlua. The “atmosphere” did not match the prices. If it had been a normally priced hamburger place, perhaps it would have been normal to see cougar paws on the wall and polaroid pictures of various guests, and a gigantic stuffed bison, and waiters pouring water into glasses held on top of people’s heads, but for $27 hamburgers, I would have expected something a little classier (and tastier)! Maybe it was a feature of where I come from? I’m having an epiphany as I type—to ME, from good old mid-America, stuffed bison and greasy onion rings are normal and should be cheap, to coastal dwellers perhaps they are a wild novelty worthy of upscale prices?!?! I remember once being disappointed to go to a Pismo restaurant proudly featuring none other than, “real Kansas City style barbeque!” What the heck? I want clam chowder!

Anyway, I also composed this delightful beach poem:

McClintock’s
House of onion rings
And diarrhea

The next morning my sister-in-law said they had hoped to sneak out before anyone else and scrawl McClintock’s! in huge letters on the sand to greet us on our beach stroll. They didn’t manage to do it, but imagining it was funny enough on its own!

While at Pismo, we also got semi-obsessed with taking silhouette pictures. Some my uncle took with his camera and his more practiced eye. The others we took after he went home and they didn’t turn out quite a clear.

This was quite a trip and a family adventure. It took a lot of stressful planning to pull it off and it also took a lot to keep us going through each phase, but we did it!

We flew out of the small San Luis Obispo airport at 6:00 in the morning. We were right on track getting to our layover in Phoenix and then…after over an hour in the air on the way to St. Louis, the plane began to experience difficulties that made the pilot concerned it was not safe to fly, so we turned around and went back to Phoenix. We could hardly believe it! After we landed, we began to feel lucky, because I overheard some of the flight attendants talking and I think the problems may have been more serious than they’d been letting on. We each got a free lunch voucher and enjoyed a panini and after only a little waiting we got on a new plane and headed to St. Louis, again. We didn’t end up getting home until about 9:00, when we’d expected to be home by 3:00, but we were safe and sound and home. 

It wasn’t until the next morning that we discovered that somewhere between our two trips to Phoenix, the boys had left behind their iPod, the android tablet, and all of our cell phone chargers, headphones, etc. We made a lot of calls and were resigned to being out of luck, when the next afternoon I got a call from Angie, a U. S. Airways baggage department worker in Kansas City who saw my number come up when I Facetime called the ipod trying to locate it. The bag of electronics had been back to Phoenix and then back to St. Louis and then on to Kansas City without the bag being picked up by anyone. So lucky! She FedExed it back to us and the boys had their equipment back in their hands without every fully realizing how lucky they were!

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Vacation, Phase 6: Montana De Oro side trip

You might think that after our Moonstone Beach expedition, we’d be ready to rest at Pismo Beach and count our shiny stones, but we decided to head out for another side trip to one of the coolest places along California’s Central Coast: Montana De Oro state park.

We all have happy memories from past visits to this rocky coastline, which is less than an hour from Pismo. This time, however, there was some kind of ferocious windstorm going on and we froze and were whipped with sand. It was actually kind of awful and while we tried to recapture earlier good times, instead we finally had to confess we were suffering and wanted to leave ASAP. I didn’t get very good pictures either, but I did get several. It is amazing terrain there as well. I sure love rocks! After Montana De Oro, we took another quick detour by Spooner’s Cove, which while still experiencing some excess wind, was more sheltered. The boys played in the surf and on the rocks and Mark, Alaina, and I looked for…rocks. Yep, more of them.

Picture gallery: if a closer view is needed, just click one and then follow through them in slideshow format.

In case anyone is tiring of these seemingly endless vacation posts, know that I’m almost done—just the pix from Pismo to come. I write blog posts for various reasons and one of them is for my own family/memory banks. This series of vacation posts is, for me, in lieu of printing the pix for a scrapbook! 🙂

Anniversary Mini-Vacation

I’m not sure exactly what I was thinking in planning a mini-vacation right on the heels of getting back from our California adventure! Post-vacation-survival euphoria may have played a part, but the main reason is that today is our fifteenth anniversary and it felt like we really needed to do something for it. Fifteen years is a pretty big deal! On our fifth anniversary, when I was pregnant with our first baby, we took a mini vacation to Elephant Rocks State Park. We haven’t been back since then. So, it seemed fitting to return, ten years later, with our three children in tow this time! We went to Johnson’s Shut-Ins first, which I’d never been to, and then went to Elephant Rocks the next day. We stayed at Arcadia Academy, a restored former boarding school (and once Civil War hospital) originally built in the 1800’s. I splurged and rented a “third floor apartment,” which was still comparably priced to any regular hotel room, but had two bedrooms and a kitchen/living room (with another bed and a pull-out sofa). I’ve wanted to stay there ever since we walked around the grounds on our last visit ten years ago. On that trip we went in and smelled cinnamon rolls cooking and wished we hadn’t reserved a B & B further down the road! So, on this trip we did it right 🙂

This was a pretty easy, low-key, quick little vacation and while I groaned and moaned about what was I thinking, I don’t have any regrets about going. All of the kids have mild colds and Alaina had a fever the day we left, which was unfortunate. Johnson Shut-Ins was pretty crazy/felt kind of dangerous with a toddler. While we had a really good time there overall, as I staggered and slipped in chest-deep water carrying both Alaina and my little purse (dumb!!! But, I needed somewhere to put my keys and my camera!), it reminded me a lot of the bad dreams I have about water sometimes. The Shut-Ins are kind of a “natural water park” formed by large slabs and chunks of volcanic rock that are resistant to erosion. Very cool looking and fun to play in too. Lann referred to it as: “Treacherous Adventure” and then “Crystal Insanity” when we started finding cool agates in the water. We thought perhaps they’d get even more visitors if they rebranded the park using these terms…

Elephant Rocks is a “tor”—a rocky granite peak composed of large, round boulders that kind of look like massive elephants. Alaina kept spotting “baby elephants” and also obsessing about when we were going to get to, “Batman’s Squeezer” (really a narrow rock passageway called “Fat Man’s Squeeze”).

I wanted to find pictures from our fifth anniversary trip to compare, but apparently the only pictures we have from that visit were from the dark ages of pre-digital cameras. So, just some pictures from our current, fifteen year anniversary trip instead!

When we got home, Alaina tripped on a ball and fell backwards on our hard, concrete floor (though on the living room section where there is carpet). It made the most horrible “head-cracking” sound that I have ever heard (and I’ve had two boys fall on this floor as well!). She vomited copiously immediately afterwards and we were all freaked out, but then she stopped and seemed “normal,” so we’re just keeping a close eye on her tonight!

I don’t have a lot of marriage thoughts to share specifically this year. I have the same thoughts I already shared last year:

I personally don’t experience my marriage as being hard work or difficult. Though I do understand that this is not everyone’s experience, I have a lot of difficulty understanding or appreciating comments that I see repeated in various Facebook-type locations that come from the, “love is a choice that you make every day” angle. Really?!?! I have trouble getting on board with that, because it sounds like if you don’t make the “love” choice, the alternative is just naturally disliking or not enjoying your spouse? My love for my husband feels similar to the love I feel for my children—it is a constant, it is not choice based. It is deep, abiding, and embedded. It doesn’t feel optional, which is what the word “choice” makes it sound like to me. If you choose to love your family, you can also choose not to love them on a daily basis. This doesn’t reflect my own experience in my relationship or my mothering.

via Marriage thoughts | Talk Birth.

I read a similar article along this “daily choice” line in another blog post just this week (written by someone on their first anniversary) and once again I thought the same. Loving Mark is not a “choice” for me, it simply is.

And, as we do every year, we reflected on that longer-and-longer ago Rainy Wedding day:

…But the day hung like an iron bell
tolling rain, rain, rain
all down the metalled sky.

The stones stood dark and forbidding
as thunder upon the earth,
and all our tinseled plans
for a bright and delicate day
were washed away in gray cascades
above and below us.

Yet, there was another kind of beauty there:
Small boys slid like silver minnows
in that heavy green light between the trees.
Garlanded little girls yearned
toward the coming of the bride,
tugged at their mothers’ hands,
pulled at their mothers’ hearts
with the brevity of their innocence.

Family and friends gathered
and sheltering, made a chapel
of their bodies and faces and wishes.

There, in the unplanned darkness,
was unlooked for wonder,
joy beyond ornament,
song beyond instruments.

At last the bride came and like a white flame
blazed among her maidens,
in brilliance more stern and starlike
and vastly more magnificent
than the ribbons and confections
we had planned for that day…

via Rainy Wedding | Talk Birth.

Vacation, Phase 5: Moonstone Beach

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With my brother and sister midday through our Moonstone Beach adventure

After my grandma’s Mamoorial services, we hit the road in her car heading for the beach. When she was planning the details for her own Celebration of Life luncheon, she had also requested that her three kids and their families meet the beach afterward and spend several days there together having fun. For a while, it looked like the beach part of the request wasn’t going to work out due to scheduling conflicts, but then it did and I’m really grateful, because it is what she asked for. And, we love the beach! I have two natural places on the planet in which I feel most comfortable, at home, and happy with the environment. One is my own woods at my own home—I think that the Missouri Ozarks with its rocks and hills and trees, trees, trees, and incredible, rich biodiversity is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world. I love it. I love living where I live (even though there are lots of bugs and the summers are horrendously humid). The second place is Pismo Beach, CA. Pismo is on California’s Central Coast, so it is pretty cold and not like the beaches you see on TV. There are no people roller blading by wearing bikinis (usually). It is a beach upon which to take foggy early morning walks and to surf wearing wetsuits, not a beach on which to sunbathe or swim. Quite a few years ago, my uncle bought a condo at Pismo that he rents out throughout the year. He was nice enough to reserve it for our families following the Mamoorials. My aunt rented a condo right below it for her family and my mom rented the one next door and stayed there with my sister, my brother, and my sister-in-law. My mom and my aunt stayed behind in Fresno for an extra day after the Mamoorials to take care of some more details at my grandma’s house and so our first day at Pismo was just my own little family, my sister, my brother and his wife, and my uncle and his daughter and son. So, we decided it was the perfect day to take a little detour to Moonstone Beach, another Central Coast beach about one hour away from Pismo. Thankfully, my uncle and cousins volunteered to take care of Lann and Zander, and so the rest of us were able to cram into my grandma’s car and take our side trip.

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There was some wild terrain at this beach! I like this pic my sister-in-law took because it looks like we’re really hiking around (I guess we are!)

This little trip to Moonstone Beach remains one of my high points from our trip. Like our unexpected laidback good fun at Legoland, I learned from this trip that the best experiences often arise from surprises or the unexpected, rather than that which is carefully planned. All we knew about Moonstone Beach was what little I had read online and reports were extremely varied. I read that it was the most beautiful beach in all the world with sunsets to rival Hawaii’s. I read that it was the stinkiest beach in all the world and that you had to flee gagging because it smelled like dumped out portapotties. I read that you could find hundreds of moonstones. I read that you could find no moonstones. I read there was a delightful boardwalk. I read that it was dirty and there was no where to walk. I read that, “it is nice except for all the tar that oozes up everywhere and gets all over.” (??!! My uncle then reported that the word Pismo actually means “tar”!! 😉 ) Interestingly, we discovered this was all true, except we didn’t stay long enough for a sunset. Moonstone Beach stretched for quite a way along the coast and depending on where you stopped, you had different experiences. We saw the tarry areas, we saw the beautiful areas, we saw the boardwalk, we saw the mounds of horridly stinky, putrid seaweed. We saw sections where copious stones sparkled in the sun and sections where there was not a single stone. Apparently other random internet reviewers didn’t bother driving any further than where they first stopped and made their pronouncement!

We followed an intuitive hunch and did not stop at the first turn off that actually said Moonstone Beach, but proceeded further down the highway until we saw an unmarked parking area. And, oh my, it was beautiful. Stones sparkled on the beach like we were at a jewelry store. In addition to moonstone, the Central Coast is also home to California Jade, agate, serpentine, and some other semiprecious stones. We immediately found large hunks of jade and then started to find moonstones. We spent ages sitting/lying on the rocky beach sorting through stones and finding treasures and it was so much fun! The thrill of discovery was huge and we felt like we’d really figured out something special 🙂

Later, at Pismo Beach, we found a small section of beach with some really lovely agates, and I already collected a bunch of plain beach stones in Carlsbad. So, we had to sort through a lot of rocks when it was time to go home—it is so wise to travel 2000 miles from home and bring back a bunch of…rocks. We ended up Priority mailing two boxes of rocks home to ourselves, actually. As we sorted through them the day before leaving, I composed some joke beach poetry:

Time to sort rocks
Cast off the non-shiny
Previously gathered
In a fit of mistaken beauty…

Picture gallery! If you wish to see bigger versions, just click one and then proceed through the rest as a slide show.

Vacation Phase 4: Mamoorials

Today is my grandma’s birthday and so it seems fitting that I’ve coincidentally reached the point in my vacation recap of writing about her memorial services. We called my grandma Mamoo and so I refer to her committal and Celebration of Life events as her Mamoorials and these were the real reason we went to California in the first place. When I tell people that my grandma died, I’ve noticed two common responses: “How old was she?” and “Were you close?” It is as if people are evaluating how “sorry” to be or much condolences to offer, with the older the person, the more appropriate the loss, or something like that. Anyway, she would have been 84 today. She has a beautifully long and vibrant life that was full of activity and experiences right up until the end. However, I had great-grandmas of my own until my late teen years and I fully and completely expected my kids to have the same experience. I heard from my mom that my grandma’s life insurance company still had her life expectancy at 15 more years, so forget the “how old” question and believe me when I say that her death came as an unexpected shock, even if it was in the “right” generational order and even though she was “old enough” that it doesn’t count as tragic. Since we always lived far away from each other and thus often went six months without seeing her, it is easy to forget that she’s gone and not at her home in California volunteering at the zoo and working in her sewing room. There is a definite sense of her life being “cut short,” regardless of her actual age. When we were at the beach following her Mamoorials, Zander found a whole tiny crab. He saved it and took it back to the condo saying as we walked, “I’m saving this for Mamoo! She’s going to love it!” (She did the children’s program at the zoo and she often carted strange artifacts of the natural world back to California from her visits to Missouri, including a whole donkey skull, but also things like a turtle shell and a hummingbird’s nest, and a whole well-preserved stag beetle. My dad often saved weird, dead things for her and she was always happy to receive them and add to the zoo’s demo collection.)

When I left off my vacation recapping last we had finished a fab stint at Legoland and were still in Carlsbad, California, which is about a six hour drive from Fresno, where my grandma lived. We opted, perhaps bizarrely perhaps geniusly, to fly to Fresno from San Diego, rather than making a long car trip. Tickets were only $60 each between the two and it seemed worth it to us. However, in my frenzy before leaving, I neglected to notice the difference between AM and PM on the tickets and accidentally booked a 10:00 PM flight to Fresno. After some intense lamenting that actually involved flinging myself on the bed and sobbing hysterically and then yelling about my own stupidity and what kind of IDIOT does that?!?! Someone who is too busy and MUST QUIT EVERYTHING AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, I decided to then, again perhaps bizarrely and perhaps geniusly, to buy new plane tickets for the correct AM flight, thus completely wasting $300, but restoring the “rightful” order of my plans. I tried to never think about it again, though as we enjoyed pizza with our extended family that evening in Fresno and rehearsed for the Mamoorial, I wondered if they were paging us for our PM flight back in San Diego…(why not switch tickets you ask, because there was a $200 penalty per ticket for doing so? I may not be a genius, but I can do enough math to realize that paying $200 to change a $60 ticket is not a realistic option).

The San Diego flight was awesome and easy and we got to Fresno right at 11:00 (a.m. 😉 ) and my dad picked us up at the airport in my grandma’s car. I knew as we started to descend into the Fresno airport and saw those so familiar flat, flat, flat squares of irrigated desert farmland, but without my grandma waiting there to meet us for the first time in my entire life, that I had significantly underestimated how difficult this was going to be. Getting into her familiar boat of a car that smelled like her and that had her sunglasses under the seat and her water bottle in the console with her name tidily written on it with Sharpie was hideous. Pulling into her little condo was even worse, but going inside was the worsest. My aunt and mom and sister were already there and had been there since the night before and they had a sort of rhythm and plan going on with sorting through my grandma’s things. The “bandaid had already been ripped off” in their case, as my aunt put it. I, however, was a complete mess. I could NOT believe how awful it was to be there and see her home without her in it. Again, there was that sense of her life cut short—her mousepad by the computer, her zoo jacket hanging on the door, her calendar on the wall with her writing on it, her exercise video in the VCR. So familiar and so over. I cried and cried and felt sort of stupid and also “drama queenish,” because everyone else was so busy and methodical and I felt like I was all like, “but look at me, I’m totally sad!” My aunt sat with me and then suggested I go ahead and keep ripping the bandaid by advance-watching the memorial slideshow for the Celebration of Life luncheon the next day. This was a spectacularly good idea and really helped. Her house was so full of things familiar to me from my childhood and it was also remarkably and beautifully full of us, pictures of my kids all over, things I made for her on walls and shelves. It was a mirror experience of what I already observed at my own home on the day that she died:

…it is amazing to think about all the ways her presence is woven through my days even though she lives 2000 miles away–the sweater I put on every morning is one she knit for me, her quilts are on my kids’ bedroom walls and on all our beds, magazine subscriptions she gifts us with are in the car and bathroom…we’re connected in many ways and I don’t know what life will look like without her in it.

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Dinner with cousins/siblings.

via Goodbye | Talk Birth.

After losing it with all the pictures and memories, I then sort of helped my mom, sister, aunt, and sister-in-law go through my grandma’s things. Later we checked into our hotel and Mark took the kids down to the pool while I rehearsed for my Mamoorial speeches/service. I cried and cried as I practiced my speech until my eyes were horribly puffy and I looked awful. “At least I’m getting this out before tomorrow!” I thought optimistically. I texted my mom that my plan for the next day was “teary-eyed and with a tasteful catch in my voice” rather than the wreck I was today. We had a family dinner that night at a cousin’s house and while there, I enlisted my cousins in a plan for a grandchild responsive reading of a version of “Song of the Open Road” at the first Mamoorial. We actually had a really fun time laughing and rehearsing our poem.

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At least the kids hitched a ride on a luggage cart.

We stayed a horrible hotel with the worst breakfast in the history of hotel breakfasts. We so missed our beloved Drury Inns on this trip!

We headed over to the Chapel of the Light where Mamoo’s ashes were to be placed in the above-ground chamber in which my grandpa is interred. I was asked to officiate at a brief committal service before we placed the ashes and this ceremony was attended by only close relatives. After my grandpa died in 1989, my grandma remarried so my step-grandfather and most of his children and their children were there. Mamoo always kept our families kind of separate, even though she was married for more than 20 years to this “new” husband. It was easy for me to forget that she had another life with a whole set of other local grandchildren that I didn’t have a lot of contact with, but for whom she was the only grandmother, the only Mamoo, they’d ever known too. I quickly enlisted the aid of these grandchildren as well for my Song of the Open Road plan. The service I planned went well, but the grandchildren piece was the highlight, in my opinion. I’m not sure if other people specifically liked it, but it was so important to me that each grandchild’s voice be represented during the ceremony. While I don’t know that she liked Walt Whitman at all, my grandma was a traveler and so this poem felt absolutely perfect to me. My grandpa loved his boat and they used to go on boat trips together as well and so the section about taking to the seas, to me, felt like this perfect tie-in to our return of the remains of her body to his:

Song of the Open Road (responsive)

(modified from Walt Whitman)

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Riding an elephant in Africa

Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road
Healthy, free, the world before me.

Henceforth, I ask not good fortune—
I myself am good-forturne
Strong and content
I travel the open road.

I inhale great draughts of space;
the east and the west are mine,
and the north and the south are mine.

All seems beautiful to me;
I can repeat over to men and women,
You have done such good to me,
I would do the same to you.

Lyla

Ready to hit the road!

Whoever you are, come travel with me!
However sweet these laid-up stores—
however convenient this dwelling,
we cannot remain here;

However sheltered this port,
And however calm these waters,
We must not anchor here;

Together! The inducements shall be greater;
We will sail pathless and wild seas;

We will go where winds blow,
Waves dash, and the Yankee clipper
Speeds by under full sail.

Forward! After the great companions!
And to belong to them!
They too are on the road!

Onward! To that which is endless,
As it was beginningless,
To undergo much, journeys of days,
Rests of nights,

To look up or down no road

As I made Mamoo's name, I thought about how I hadn't had any "signs" from her. Then, in the middle of that thought, I looked down and right by the "M" in her name was this rock. I held it all through the memorial service I did at the internment of her ashes and all through my speech at her Celebration of Life luncheon.

I held this stone all through the memorial service I did at the internment of her ashes and all through my speech at her Celebration of Life luncheon.

But it stretches and waits for you—

To know the universe itself as a road—
As many roads—
As roads for traveling souls…

It was a lot of pressure to be responsible for this ceremony. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to be what she deserved. I wanted it to “speak” to every person there. I wanted it to be worthy of her. I hope it was enough.

Before she died, Mamoo got some details l all planned out with my aunt. She wanted a specific banquet center for a celebration of life lunch with chicken salad, no traditional funeral. She wanted the theme music from Out of Africa played and she wanted chocolate chip ice cream bon bons (which was the only thing that couldn’t be worked out–we had chocolate chip cookies instead and the rest was just like she asked for). After the committal service, we went to Tornino’s banquet center for the Celebration of Life. People came and came and came. We exceeded the capacity of the banquet room and emergency additional food had to be prepared. She didn’t want a “funeral service” type of feeling and it wasn’t. The slideshow played, the theme music from Out of Africa played, we ate chicken salad and visited with distant relatives and friends. My aunt spoke briefly and explained the planning of the event. She did a beautiful job honoring my grandma’s wishes and planning an special, lovely lunch in her honor. My grandma’s stepson read a poem written by my step-grandpa about “My Lyla, My Lyla.” It was heart-rending and I suddenly realized I might have made a huge mistake in saying I’d be the last speaker. My grandma’s stepdaughter spoke. My uncle spoke. And, then it was my turn. I was speaking on behalf of all the grandkids, each had sent me a favorite Mamoo memory to share. Remember my plan for the tasteful, teary-eyes? Yeah, that. Instead, I failed to even see the handy Kleenex on the podium and instead wiped my nose with my hand while I was talking. There were 260 people there, which is a much larger group than I’ve spoken before in the past. I didn’t feel nervous really, but I did feel sad and I cried much more than I’d wanted to or expected to. People afterward told me they’d never experienced anything like what I’d said at a memorial before and they hoped someone would do the same for them someday. I apparently talked really fast, but that is not a big surprise. It was hard, but I did it.

For the story from my boys for the speech, they had this to say: Mamoo was really epic.

And, she was.

For my own memory contribution I shared that I picture her in a little jacket and jaunty scarf and zoo necklace and her ball ring, with slightly bent knees and open arms ready for a hug of greeting and she’d smile in that welcoming way. We got too big to be greeted in that way, but I saw her do it again with my own kids. And, I shared what I wrote in my last card to her:

I’ve always been proud of you—your smart, creative, adeventuresome self. Best. Grandma. Ever. You’ve been a beautiful example to us of how to live, both in the practical sense in terms of being frugal and in the more esoteric sense of how to be of service to the community, to take risks, to be productive, and to age gracefully and with a neverending zest for new experiences. We’re grateful to you also for her generosity over the years, particularly for the gift of my college education and the debt-free legacy that left for us and our children. I don’t know that I can ever explain in full what a potent gift that was—one that lasts our lifetime.


I closed with a slightly edited version of a poem I originally shared here:

Last Words

We learned from you
we loved with you
we heard you
we saw you
we hugged you
and held you
we mourned with you July 2013 035
we mourned for you
we have been dazzled by your radiance
inspired by your adventures
and touched by your generosity.

Three generations of people
sat in your lap as children
were covered by your quilts
and zipped into your sweaters
you carried each of us on your hip
and held us each in your heart

We respect you
we cherish you
we appreciate you
we’ve learned so much from you
we’ve laughed with you
and lived with you
and traveled with you

and now
we open up our hands
we open up our hearts July 2013 036
and we let you go.
Be free.
Continue your travels
on the currents of time and space…

Go in peace
go in love
and go knowing that you have left behind
something beautiful
something marvelous
something that matters
The fabric of a life well-lived
the hearth of a family well-tended
the heart of a community strengthened
and a never-ending chain of generations
unbroken.

You’re our Mamoo

June 3, 1979

You’re our grandmother
and we say goodbye
and thank you.

Sink deeply
and gently
into the arms and lap
of time
the great mother of us all

She holds you now.
We let go

Then, we left the Mamoorial and headed out for the beach, a little over three-hour drive. We drove her car…

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When we got home from California, the Mamoorial blue hydrangea we’d planted was blooming beautifully!

One of my earliest memories of Mamoo is of sitting on her lap and playing with a gold ball ring on her finger. I don’t know the story behind that ring, I feel as if I should, but from the time I was a tiny girl she always wore it when she visited her grandchildren and we all liked to play with it. I imagine it was a coincidence that she wore it around a grandchild in the first place, but then it became a thing that she did and that all of us associated with her. When my aunt and mom were going through her jewelry they asked if there was something I wanted and I asked for the ring. Later, my two sisters both mentioned it as well and I feel guilty or selfish for being the one to get it. At this point, I can’t wear it. It makes me feel awful to see it on my own hand. Its hers. It belongs on her hand. The whole reason I wanted it was because it was something that reminds me very concretely of her, but that is the exact same reason that I can’t wear it right now. I hope my own grandchildren will play with it though when I wear it to meet them. It fits on the same finger on my hand that it fit on hers.

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They also gave me her Hitty doll. Hitty: Her First Hundred Years is a classic children’s novel by Rachel Field. It was published in 1929 and wasJune 2013 005 one of my grandma’s favorite books. Hitty is a small ashwood doll who travels the world. In 1997, my grandma bought her own Hitty replica and did, in fact, take Hitty with her on some travels as her travel doll. My dad made replicas of Hitty’s key furniture pieces for my grandma and they were all set up as a display in her house, along with a tiny wooden peg person Hitty I’d made for my grandma, but completely forgotten about. I sat the ball ring on a Hitty’s lap for a while and then ended up putting it into a little shadow box with her on the replica of Hitty’s bench that my dad made for my grandma and a set of my grandma’s Dionne Quintuplet dolls. Those who know me in real life may puzzle somewhat over my extensive and non-frugal American Girl doll collection, but I come by this doll thing genetically, I swear. It is in my blood! I remember the Dionne Quintuplet dolls from when I was a little girl. They were my grandma’s when she was a girl herself and she was fascinated by the story of the Quints.

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Last month, I took the ring to the woods and wrote a sort of “poem” about it, excerpted below. After doing so, I became obsessed with finding a picture of her wearing the ring, because suddenly I worried that I’d imagined or exaggerated that she always wore it to see us. Indeed, I don’t know if she ever wore at other times, but around the grandchildren, it was a fixture. And, I did readily locate pictures from her eightieth birthday party in which you can see the ring on her hand where it belongs and pictures from when I was younger and pictures from when she came to meet Alaina.

…Ball ring
has been a lot of places
told a lot of stories
seen a lot of things
and it is still here
a reminder
of what has gone before.

Thank you.

(6/6/13)

Bill's Beach Pix 03620130715-140057.jpgSANYO DIGITAL CAMERAI had to include this picture even though I, personally, look like a mutant, because Mamoo is so cute in it!

0070She passed along her smile to my whole family! 🙂

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Baby

This is the kind of picture that really twists my heart, because she looks like Alaina in it and the world spins so fast…

Happy birthday, Mamoo! My mom sent me a text to tell me that your birthday club friends went out to lunch for your birthday. They’ve been going out to lunch on birthdays for 50 years.

And, today the investment statements came from the college funds you set up for my kids. Thank you.