"If writers possess a common temperament, it's that they tend to be shy egomaniacs; publicity is the spotlight they suffer for the recognition they crave." Gail Caldwell, from her book "Let's Take The Long Way Around"

"To look life in the face, always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. . .always the years. Always the love. Always the hours." From the movie "The Hours", based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham

"Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly." Baz Luhrman, "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"

"A writer can do nothing for men more necessary, satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibility of their own souls." Walt Whitman

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant or talented?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson

Thursday, August 26, 2010

1975 and the Family Years

See this 70's couch?  Boy, do I have a story to tell about this
couch about 10 years later.  You'll have to wait.  And you'll
NEVER guess what it is.
I started kindergarten in the Fall of 1975. We were still living in the Stevens Street house. I went to La Crescenta Elementary School. I love that school. Whenever I am in La Crescenta (which is not often) I drive by the school. It looks so small to me now, especially the kindergarten playground. At the time it seemed so big and I guess it was to a 5 year old. It wasn’t the closest school to our house – Valley View was, which is where my friend Beth down the street went. But my parents were buying their first house, and it was closer to La Crescenta Elementary. We moved there shortly after I started school, I guess. 2948 Mayfield Avenue. I drive by that house sometimes, too, although the last time I did, it had been so remodeled on the exterior that it doesn’t even look like the house I lived in, so I guess that chapter is closed.

Anyway, I started kindergarten in 1975 and around the same time we moved into our house on Mayfield Avenue. Mayfield is a street that has houses only on one side of the street. The opposite side has a sidewalk and a chain link fence that provides a boundary between the street and the 210 freeway. The freeway is not level with the street though; it’s actually really far down, so there’s like a hill of dirt that leads down to the freeway. I forget what they call that.  Our street was also a dead end so there was in fact very little traffic. It made it easy for us to ride bikes, roller skate, etc in the street itself, almost like an extended front yard.

I LOVED that house. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s the last time I felt like a kid. This house had aspects that the Stevens Street house didn’t have, like a walk up porch, or rather a porch with steps. We also had a cool backyard that had a cement patio and then had steps down to a grassy yard where there was a swing set and enough space for my parents to garden vegetables or for us to have a makeshift baseball game. In reality, it was probably a small space but everything about this house felt big to a kid. Our house was built on slanted ground which also allowed us a long sloping driveway which was fun to ride our Big Wheel down.

Kindergarten was fun. Again, I don’t remember too much about it. At one point, a group of us were selected to go to a first grade class in the afternoon. Our day would go like this: we would go to the kindergarten class for a while in the morning, then our group would move next door where all I really remember doing was playing with legos. Afterwards, we would spend the afternoon in a first grade class.
I made a few friends on the street, one of which was in my class at school. I liked to try to get everyone together to put on shows or invite all the neighbors over. I loved to play pretend. We played Charlie’s Angels and even made construction paper boxes to fit on our bikes that were supposed to be our car phones like the 70’s Angels had. We played Nancy Drew, too. And my favorite way to play was that I would get kidnapped or put in danger and everyone had to come rescue me.

Things just felt so normal to me, my parents being together, my brother and sister and I playing. I have a great memory of coming home from school one rainy-ish day and my mom had made hot cider with cinnamon sticks for me and my brother. That was the mom I always wanted to have. Sometimes, she lived up to that expectation. Other times, she just did her own thing. By that I mean she was there, she made our meals and took care of us, I guess, but I don’t remember a lot of those Ideal Mom Moments. She would never be the TV mom of the 21st century when I think about the way moms these days are sometimes overly attentive to their children’s development.
It didn’t help that every weeknight at 7:30 we watched “The Brady Bunch.” It became my favorite show and in retrospect realize that I was far too impressionable to watching that show. It was too perfect and it represented everything I wanted my family to be. I wanted to be Marcia, perfect and melodramatic, with her parents falling for every burst of tears, running out of the room, every “my life is over” moment. I copied the Brady kids’ lines, even telling my brother once when we were fighting that I was leaving him out of my will. The Brady kids used to threaten that all the time. Things came easy to them. Their excitement was contagious when good things happened.

Unfortunately, those kind of exciting things never happened to me, and my parents never responded the way I wanted them to when I threw a tantrum. I used to threaten to run away all the time, would even pack a sack of clothes and run down to the end of the street. No one ever came after me the way I wanted or expected them to.

At school, I was quiet, good. I wasn’t at all disruptive. I got good grades in all subjects, very rarely got in trouble. I had friends in my classes – we had all come up from kindergarten together. Generally, I was a shy child among those people I didn’t know. With my friends, I tended to want to be the center of attention and could be a little bossy. I don’t remember really having a “best friend” until much later on, but probably the concept didn’t exist for me until then. Children are fickle, and there is really something to be said for stability in school – you know, growing up and going through the grades with the same group. You almost become like brothers and sisters.

By then, too, church had become less significant. Sometimes we went, sometimes we didn’t. Some of my friends at school were also members of my church, and I remember at times it seemed awkward that I wasn’t always going to church with them. I didn’t really care so much. It just gave me more time to play on Sundays. Wednesdays were different – Primary was on Wednesdays, kind of a secondary Sunday school for school-aged kids and younger. It was more fun than regular church. Sometimes I went, sometimes I didn’t.

I don’t remember my parents fighting. Or maybe once I did but it wasn’t like real arguing, not the kind I encountered years later when my mom was with my stepfather. I just remember one Sunday morning my parents were up early. I thought we were going to church but it soon appeared we weren’t – maybe this is really the time we stopped going. It was my dad who got all of us kids together and gathered in the den because they had something to tell us. I was six or seven, my brother about four and my sister was still a baby at one or so. My mom was sitting on the couch in her pink robe and she looked like she’d been crying. Her arms were folded across her chest and I think she tried to pull herself together for our benefit. My dad was more composed. He told us they weren’t going to live together anymore. I honestly didn’t really understand. At least, I don’t remember understanding. I didn’t know what divorce was or what it meant. I didn’t have any friends whose parents were divorced. They assured us that they still loved us and that they just couldn’t live together anymore, I guess. Maybe I cried. Maybe I hardly reacted at all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Green Bananas

I don't think I'll ever get used to the quality of produce here in the desert.  For example, green bananas.  It's not that I want to eat them when they're green but I want to buy them when they're green, because to me, they are at their most perfect (there's that word again) just after they've turned from green to yellow.  Maybe there's even a hint of green still there.  Beyond that, they turn too sweet, too mushy and in my opinion n.g. (no good).

I went to Starbucks today to wait for my husband's prescriptions to be filled and they had the most beautiful green bananas I've seen in a long time.  I had to buy 2 at $1.00 apiece, mind you, but I guess, literally, that's the price you pay for good fruit.  See, I know the value of a good banana.  In California, where we used to live, my husband Deril (pronounced like Darrell, but his mom had to be unique - she used to say it's "devil" but with an "r" instead of a "v".  Don't ask; even Deril will admit that his family is straight out of "Deliverance," so he won't be offended) taught classical ballet and I took classes from him (I was an adult when we met, so don't start getting freaked out), we knew the value of a banana with its potassium to keep your dancer muscles from cramping.  Bananas are good for that, even if you're not a dancer, and it frustrates me that I can't find any good ones here, because potassium is important, and I don't know why I feel so strongly about this that I had to blog about it but here I am, at Starbucks, writing about bananas.

And by the way, there's a guy sitting next to me, eating Taco Bell with a Starbucks cup of ice water.  How rude is that?  And it's against the health code, but maybe he has an arrangement with them.  How do I know?  Oh, I think he's getting the lecture from one of the employees (I can't hear because I have my ipod on - "Rock the Casbah" if you're interested).  Meanwhile, I just look knowingly at the poor girl sweeping the floor.  I mean, I know it's hot outside, but as my friend Masha would say, come on people!  I don't even know where there is a Taco Bell around here, but come to think of it, I sure would like to.

And if you're also curious, along with the bananas, I'm paying for my extended stay at this Starbucks with an iced Trenta 6 pump Zen Tea Lemonade.  And I loaded my Starbucks card.  Great.  When my husband reads this he'll know exactly how I spend our money. 

Monday, August 23, 2010


I don’t know how far back I really remember. I know I was born in Provo, Utah on July 29, 1970 and that just a few weeks later we moved to Southern California, somewhere in LA. My dad was from La Crescenta, a suburb in the San Gabriel Valley. I’ve seen pictures of myself as a baby in various apartments or duplexes but the first place I actually remember living in was the house on Stevens Street in La Crescenta.
Maybe my mom was already pregnant with my brother Matthew, or maybe that’s where she got pregnant. Anyway, I don’t much remember living there without him. He was born at home in our kitchen, naturally, in the presence of a midwife. It was 1973. My parents were kind of faux hippies, hippie wannabes, as much as Mormon parents could be. So that’s where the natural childbirth came in. (I, on the other hand, was born in a hospital.)

My overall feeling of my family life was that we were pretty average. I fought with my brother a lot but I think it was normal sibling rivalry. My mom sewed me clothes, cut our hair at home, made meals. I remember that at dinner every night we had the TV pulled into the entrance of the kitchen so we could watch Walter Cronkite say “and that’s the way it is” every night.

My dad was funny. He would horse around with us, liked to make us laugh. One night or maybe morning, we were at the table. I had my elbow on the table, holding my toast in the air and he leaned over and took a bite out of it. My dad was always funny.
I played lots of dress up and make believe. I wanted to be a princess. I was definitely a girly-girl.

I got spanked sometimes. I get the sense looking back of how young and new my parents were. By the time Matthew was born they were only 26 and 27. I don’t ever remember my parents arguing in that house though.

At some point, my dad stopped going to church. He had grown his hair longer and had a mustache and beard. He wore cut off jeans and went barefoot. I don’t remember what I thought about him not going to church. My mom still went and she took me and Matthew. Church didn’t mean much to me. It was just Sunday School and a boring Sacrament meeting where sometimes we got to eat a little piece of bread and drink a paper cup of water. (His body and His blood, the Mormon way.) I do remember playing tag on the lawn with the other kids after services, waiting for my mom or my parents.  Eventually we all stopped going to church but I’m not entirely sure when that happened.

Before I started kindergarten, I went to a preschool. I don’t remember much about it. There was a girl there, I guess, named Michelle Sides. I must have talked about her quite a bit because my dad started calling me Michelle Sides as a nickname. He called me that from time to time into my grown up years.

About late 1974 my mom became pregnant with my sister. As my mom and dad tossed about names, they asked me what I liked. I liked the name Julie Ann because I knew a girl named Julie Ann whose white knee socks always stayed up (mine always fell down). My sister was born on my birthday in 1975. She was born at home, like my brother. A short time afterwards I had my birthday party. As a joke, my dad handed me my sister and said, “here’s your birthday present.” Oh, and they named her Julie Ann.

It never bothered me that we had the same birthday. I thought it was pretty cool. I also never felt the same rivalry with my sister that I did with my brother, but it’s probably because of the age differences and the boy/girl thing.

Those were good times, the time when I was truly a kid with only kid worries. (Reminds me of the song "Kid Fears," one of my favorites, by the Indigo Girls.)  I felt loved, I felt what I would consider now normal in a normal 1970’s family. We watched cartoons on Saturday mornings. I took ballet lessons. We ate dinner together. I had friends on my street. I played dress up and with paper dolls. I fought with my brother, I threw tantrums. I was a normal kid. That feeling didn’t last much longer.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My first blog

Here it is, my first blog.  I've never blogged before, never read anyone else's blog (apologies to those of you with fantastic blogs).  I'm not even really sure what a blog is or how people find your blog or why they would want to read my blog.  All I know is that I have to do something with my life and somehow this idea of a blog started to fester in my mind.  I read a Quamut guide, glanced through a book to get a general idea and this is what stuck:  you need to have a topic, a reason, a subject about which one wishes to blog, like "Julie and Julia," but I have no intention of setting out to prove anything or accomplish anything, other than to hold myself accountable for writing something, anything.  So this is it.  A blog.  I hope you find it interesting, if you find it at all.  It's me, my life, my thoughts.  I have things to say once echoed in my head over and over again.  I'm older now, lazier maybe, but I don't want to believe I've given up.  People change their lives all the times.  Believe me, I am surrounded by books everyday of my life, stories of people who found their callings, discovered themselves and the secret to their perfect happiness.

Speaking of perfection, I am a perfectionist, so you might find that my blog design changes from time to time.  Somewhere in me, I have grown to believe that if everything looks perfect on the outside, everything will be just right.  That belief takes me way back, and that's where I'll really start:  at the beginning, the beginning of me.