How I Pass the Time

"Much may be done in those little shreds and patches of time which every day produces, and which most men throw away." -Charles Caleb Colton

You and I

flag3

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, I woke up feeling great. Proud, hopeful, safe. Ready to take on the world.

By the end of the day, however, those feelings had crumbled to dust, and over the past seven days I have felt as if I’m in some kind of alternate universe. Everything looks distorted. Up is down, down is up, and nothing makes sense.

Now, I’ve never been one to stay down in the dumps for very long–I’ve gotten pretty good at looking on the bright side of things, healing my wounds with gratitude, and getting those endorphins flowing again. But this is different. It has been one week and I’m feeling exactly the same, if not worse, than I did when I woke up on the morning after the election. My brain has been on overdrive trying to make sense of everything, trying to justify, trying to love, trying to find a ray of hope, but nothing seems to be working.

I hate to be a brat, but I’m trying to build up my site. Please read the rest of my blog post at luzpinilla.com/you-and-i/.

Thank you!

Advertisements

How I’ve Passed Two Years

It’s been too long, I know. Forgive me. For the past two years, though I haven’t posted, rest assured that I have been making the most of my shreds of time. In June of 2014, I had an idea. I began slowly, just fleshing out my thoughts, but within a matter of weeks I was in knee-deep, and by October of 2015, after pages and pages and pages of notes, I was ready to make it official: a memoir.

memoir

The first draft was completed on the night of June 5, 2016. Just over a month later, I completed the second draft–this one sleeker, more coherent than the first. I’m currently finishing my third draft, incorporating feedback I’ve received from a handful of beta readers as well as my own re-readings, and today I will send my first official book proposal to a literary agent I selected out of dozens I’ve considered.

I’m attempting to live my dream, finally, after way too many years of conjuring up a bunch of silly illusions, like soap bubbles, and remaining in the same place. If you would like to tag along with me on this new tangent, please visit my writerly page at luzpinilla.com, where you can subscribe to my writerly blog and read all of my writerly thoughts.

Hope to see you there!

Breaking Free of Junk and Barriers

A few years ago, my daughters and I decided to have a yard sale. It was the middle of summer and our objective was not to make money but to clear up some of our clutter.  So early on a Friday morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and our stuff out to the front lawn. Old toys, electronics, shoes, sporting equipment, knick-knacks… just a whole bunch of odds and ends we no longer had any use for.  Our prices were low, and we reverse-haggled with the customers who began to trickle in.

“Yeah, the books are $1 but take a couple of extra.”

“Could you use a flower pot? Go ahead, no charge!”

After two days, our collection of gently-used possessions had been transformed into a $350 profit and a beautifully clutter-free home. But that is not what I remember most fondly about this event.

See, having a yard sale requires more effort than simply gathering enough crap to cover your lawn. You have to make signs, post them around the neighborhood, get change and set up a system for collecting money. You have to sit outside on your lawn chair all day (in the middle of a Texas summer, remember?) and set up a system for snacks and bathroom breaks. Best or worst of all, you have to actually interact with the people who come up to dig around through your stuff.

Now, I’m not a very social person by nature. I’m learning to be, and I’ve come a long way, but it still takes a bit of effort for me to interact comfortably with strangers. And during this particular event, my socialization skills were put to the test. As stranger after stranger came up to my house, I smiled and greeted, thanked and nodded. I had some polite conversations about the weather, religion, even politics… but just light stuff, you know? Nothing life-altering.

Except one. Around midday on the second day, this lady came up to me. She was holding a few things and I offered her a great deal. My daughters, who had been sitting next to me for moral support, had just stepped inside the house for a quick break, but not before the woman caught a glimpse of them.

“Where do your girls go to school?” she asked, innocently enough, as she placed a couple of bills into my hand.

Ever cautious about stranger-danger and whatnot, I told her the name of the district they attended, and she nodded.

“How do you feel about public education?”

I blinked. How do I feel about public education? Do you really want to know, because I could spend hours discussing both the qualities and the deficiencies of the system as well as my theories about ways in which to improve it. Or are you expecting just a quick “it’s fine”?

I hadn’t really looked at the woman until she asked me this question, but now I saw that she was just past middle age, Hispanic, and with a pair of very kind brown eyes. I decided she could handle an authentic answer.

“It’s not the best,” I replied. “I’m hoping things will change soon.”

And that is how one of the most important conversations of my entire life began. The woman was a Mexican immigrant. Her English was choppy but she was taking courses to improve it. Her two children had attended some of the most prestigious private schools in the North Texas area. The elder had already graduated and was currently attending an ivy league school on a full scholarship. The younger would graduate within two years and already had offers to several excellent universities.

She wasn’t bragging. She was educating me. This woman had next to nothing when she came to America. She didn’t even speak the language, but she knew that her one goal was to make sure her children had the BEST education they could possibly have. And she never thought small. She asked questions, she got help. She actively fought to achieve this goal, and she didn’t quit. She was an active participant at her children’s schools and constantly provided support for them as they struggled with projects, activities, fundraising for trips, and every other challenge they met on their path toward achieving her goal. Now here she was, on my front lawn, encouraging me to steer my own children in the same direction.

A thousand thoughts filled my head as I listened to this woman speak. The first time she even mentioned the names of those prestigious schools, I thought she might have been confused. Those schools, really? Only millionaires attend schools like that. Celebrities, rich people. Anglos. Not poor Mexican kids from a neighborhood like mine. I didn’t say these thoughts out loud, but she seemed to know they were there behind my eyes.

“Why not?” she challenged. “Why can’t your kids go there?”

Money, I thought.

“They have financial assistance,” she replied. “Your girls are smart.”

Distance, I thought. Transportation, uniforms, school supplies.

“All excuses,” her eyes said. “Look at me.”

She proceeded to give me the contact information for recruiters at two of the schools, told me where I could obtain used uniforms and free tutoring, advised me on the best times of the year to apply, and walked me though the entire admission process so that I would have an idea of what to expect if I ever did follow through.

If I ever did follow through.

I’m not so sure that she ever actually used the word “if”. She was so confident in her ways, so convincing. She spoke with such passion! I think that if this woman had asked me to base jump off the tallest building in downtown Dallas I would have left all my crap on that lawn at that very moment and followed her to my death.

Luckily, she wasn’t convincing me to jump, at least not literally. But convince me she did. That hour-long conversation led to many more thoughts over the following weeks and months. Lots of self-evaluation in terms of being a parent, a mother. I’ve always thought I was a pretty darn good one, but that conversation unsettled me in some ways. As I continued to play it back in my head, I realized that I had subconsciously been holding my own children back from a future that may well be available to them! I never even considered applying to a prestigious private school because I didn’t feel that we were worthy. What kind of a mother did that make me? What kind of message was that to send to my own offspring?

Well. I made some changes.

Fast forward two and a half years from that fateful yard sale day. Right at this very moment I am sitting in the cafeteria of the only highly prestigious private school in the North Texas area that I believe actually matches our family’s core beliefs in terms of education (project-based, explorational, socially productive) and spirituality (open-minded, tolerant, individualistic). A month ago, we sent in our multiple-page application including written replies to a handful of questions addressed to both my children and myself separately as well as a page-long essay that each of my children had to compose. My daughters’ teachers have submitted their recommendations. Their school has sent in transcripts and test scores. The girls attended a day-long visit of the school and met with the administrators for a one-on-one interview. This morning they each walked into a classroom with about 20 other children to take a test that measures their mathematical, reading, writing, and analytical abilities.

In approximately one hour, we will have completed the entire application process and even though my kids are the ones who have done most of the work, I feel as if we’ve all collectively run a marathon. I feel proud. I feel accomplished. Regardless of the outcome, I feel that we have broken a very important barrier.

Am I still afraid? Of course. I’m uneasy. I’m unsure. They might not get accepted, and even if they were to get accepted, they might hate it. It might be the most difficult experience of their lives, and I might have to sell my left kidney to pay for it! My drive and determination does not begin to compare with that of the woman who approached me two and a half years ago on my front lawn, but at the very least, my eyes have been opened. I know that I must break away from this tendency to place invisible barriers around myself and my loved ones. Most importantly, I must teach my kids not to do it to themselves.

Into the Wild…ish

When I was little, my dad gave me a piece of advice that I really took to heart.  “The only person you can count on is yourself.”  It sounds a little pessimistic, I guess.  When I tell people about it they seem to think it’s a very negative way to go through life.  That you shouldn’t trust people at all, that you should be completely exclusive and live entirely on your own.  But that’s not how he meant it, and that’s certainly not how I interpret it.  To me, it means that you’re in control of your own life at all times.  That you can’t blame others for anything, and that you can’t count on others to give you what you want–you have to make things happen for yourself.  I firmly believe that.  Each one of us has the power to do whatever it is we want to do whenever it is we want to do it.  When we don’t do what we want, it’s more than likely because we’re not willing to put forth the effort to do it, and that’s something we need to take responsibility for.

Anyway, so a few years ago I read somewhere that at least once in your life you should go camping alone.  Completely solo, out in the wilderness, just for the heck of it.  The idea intrigued me.  Me, a campfire, a hammock, nature.  Not a bad combination, right?  But it scared me, too.  Me, darkness, creatures, vulnerability.  Potential death.  (haha, you can say that about anything)

Now, I’ve been camping a LOT in my lifetime.  Shoot, I once actually lived in a state park for two months.  I’m definitely no stranger to camping.  I’ve gone with family, I’ve gone with friends.  I’ve gone with a significant other.  I’ve even been brave enough to go camping with only my daughters, and we’ve had a blast every time.  But completely on my own?  That’s a whole ‘nother category of camping, and honestly I wasn’t sure I could pull it off.

The last time my daughters went out of town with their dad I actually looked into this camping-alone thing, but then the $20 to $30 a night fee seemed outrageous for just one person, because I mean, really.  It’s not like they were providing clean linens or complementary coffee.  Anyway, I used money as an excuse and I didn’t go then, and after that I kinda pushed the whole thought to the back of my mind.  But when I found out the girls were going out of town for Spring Break this year, guess what.  The thought came back!  This time I got online and did a little Googling.  Didn’t really find any advice I didn’t already know, but I did find out that it’s actually something people do.  Even women.  And heck, if they can do it, why not me?

So I wrote down my list of essentials and got all packed up.  And what are my essentials, you ask?  These:

GEAR:  tent, sleeping bag, blankets, tarps, hammocks, rope, hammer, lantern, flashlights, batteries, firewood, charcoal, lighter fluid, lighter, knife, stove, gas tanks, cookware, utensils, cooler, coffee percolator, trash bags, aluminum foil, paper towels, toilet paper, cell phone, charger

FOOD: water, fruit, snacks, fajita meat, four potatoes, rice (that I had made a few days earlier), coffee, sugar, milk, canned ravioli, spices, cooking spray

PERSONAL ITEMS: toiletries, clothes, socks, undies, pjs, hair bands, my blood pressure pills

ENTERTAINMENT: notebook, pens, art supplies, magazines, books, Rubik’s cube

I made a quick Michoacana run for the seasoned fajita meat (2 pounds, yumm!) and a Wal-Mart run for some apples, grapes, crackers, yogurt, tortillas, water, ice, and a small bottle of milk for my coffee.

Then I headed out to the nearest state park, which happens to be Cedar Hill State Park, less than an hour away.  (Because the idea was to survive the actual camping on my own, not a full-fledged road trip.)   At Cedar Hill, there are basically two camping options: all or nothing.  I went with all, meaning water and electricity.  I could have easily done without electricity, but I opted out of “primitive” camping because I wanted access to water and to my car… plus, it was just me lugging everything out there.  So two nights of luxury camping cost me a whopping sixty bucks.  It hurt a little, I won’t lie.  But I was determined to do this, dammit.

The lady at the office was sweet and friendly, especially after I told her I was there alone.  “I’ll take care of you,” she said with a wink.  Yeah, that sounds kinda creepy now, but I’m pretty sure she was just being nice.  She kind of took on a motherly role after that.  She assumed I would want something by the water (with overnight lows in the high 40s to low 50s I didn’t think I was gonna be doing any skinny dipping, but whatever) and chose what she said was a GREAT site for me.  (I made sure to ask for the office number in case I changed my mind and wanted to choose a different site, no offense.)  Then I pointed to one of the hiking trails pictured on the general campground map, and she got this really worried look on her face.  “Oh, no.  That’s a biking trail,” she said, shaking her head, although on the map the trail was clearly marked as being for bikers AND pedestrians.  “You don’t want to hike there, those big strong men go flying by at 50 miles per hour, nearly run you over!  Your best bet is the Duck Pond trail, over here.”  She tapped her finger on a tiny little dotted line on the map.  Obviously this well-meaning lady had the wrong idea about me, so I nodded politely and thanked her for her help, then headed out.

Before I even got to the site Ms. Overly-Cautious had selected for me, I knew it wasn’t gonna work.  That whole stretch of park was covered in low shrubbery, which in early spring is nothing more than a layer of thin brown twigs.  Most of the sites were completely out in the open.  Safe?  Maybe, but absolutely no privacy.  And yeah, there was access to the water, but what did I need that for?  I don’t have a boat.  Besides, it was crowded there, families and groups of young people, already starting to hoot and holler.  I was looking for quietude.  I headed back onto the main road and turned off into the next group of sites.  This one was far more to my liking.  Actual trees, more secluded sites, fewer people.  I chose one particular site up at the top of a low hill.  Good strong trees for shade and hammock-hanging, and the only site anywhere near it was hidden by a good twenty feet of thick shrubbery.  Perfect.  The only flaw was that the entire site was on a bit of a slope, but I was okay with that.

I called the office and switched the assignment, then started setting up my stuff.  Tent, check.  I remember the day I bought that tent at Academy–I was trying to choose between this one and another bigger, fancier one that happened to be a beautiful blue.  Some random guy was looking at camping gear, too, and advised me to go with the one that was easiest to set up.  “You’ll thank me later,” he told me, and I’ve been thanking him ever since.  Got the tent up within ten minutes, including the rain fly.  Then I inflated my mattress and set up my sleeping quarters: two heavy blankets, my sleeping bag, and a pillow.

Next were the hammocks.  And yeah, that’s plural, not because I was expecting some late-night visitor, but more as a safety precaution, to make it look like I wasn’t completely alone.  After that, I took out my handy-dandy yellow plastic teacher cart, which contained my stove, charcoal, firewood, and lighter fluid, and left it beside the fire pit for later.

Camping 1

Once everything was set up, I decided to go on my first hike.  I was tempted to start off with the big, scary bike trail but decided to leave it for the next day since by this time it was already 5:30.  But I didn’t do the Duck Pond trail either.  Instead, I did an equally easy one, a little further north.  I took water, some grapes, and a couple of apples with me.  I went ahead and threw a compass and flashlight into my bag, too, just in case, and even though I had sworn off my phone for these two days, I changed my mind at the last minute and grabbed it so that I could get some pictures.  So it was a camera I took along, not a phone.  Just to clarify.

The hike was nicer than I expected.  On the map it said the loop was two and a half miles, but I’m pretty sure that’s an exaggeration.  It was nice and secluded out there; I only ran into a total of about five people on the trail.  There were lots of places in which I could have stopped just to sit and enjoy the sounds and smells, but I continued on my way.  I was beginning to get hungry by this point, and the thought of those fajitas had me pretty excited.  I did take a little detour route to get to a “scenic overlook” just as the sun was beginning to dip toward the horizon.  There was a family there when I reached it, so I talked to them for a little bit, then hung out a little longer after they’d left.  Finally got back to my site around 7 and started making dinner.

Which.  Was.  Spectacular.

camping 3

Yummm.  Two pounds of fajita meat sounds like a lot for one person, I know.  And it looked like a lot, too, when I spread it out on the grill.  And it was a lot, truth be told.  But I ate it for dinner that day, breakfast and dinner the next day, and breakfast again on the last.  All I came home with was a tiny strip of it, about two inches by three, if that.  Anyway, I used my little gas stove to boil the four potatoes and heat up the rice.  I warmed up the tortillas on the grill, and everything was delicious, holy hay.  I feasted for a good thirty minutes, and afterwards I cleaned everything up, putting everything that smelled of food back inside my car.  Then I added a couple of logs to the fire and sat “around” it for about an hour.  (Kinda hard to make a circle with only one lawn chair.)  By this point, the sun had set and it was getting downright chilly.  I took out my blanket and draped it over me and just enjoyed the crackle of the fire, the breeze rustling through the bushes, and uh, the sound of the highway a couple of miles away.  If I closed my eyes and used my imagination, it sounded kinda like one endless ocean wave that never really crashed.  Hehe.  But it was nice.  The moon, even at half-mast, was pretty strong.  I didn’t need a flashlight to see my way around.  When I looked up there were a few stars twinkling, but really nothing more that what I would have seen from my own back yard.  I was just too close to town for all that.  But it was still relaxing.  I swung on my hammock for a little bit, but by 9:20 or so I was ready to crash.

And then about two hours later I was up again.  Brrrrr, it got cold!  I woke up no less than five times overnight, even though I was wearing my warm pjs, a sweatshirt, and extra socks.  I wasn’t shivering, so it was bearable, but between the cold and the over-squishiness of my mattress every time I turned over, I wasn’t getting much sleep.  Still, I was able to get a couple of weird dreams in there, so I know I did get some rest, even if it wasn’t ideal.

The next morning I woke up around 8 but stayed in “bed” until almost 9:30 writing, daydreaming, just putting off going into the cold.  When the sun finally knocked on my tent, I got up and began the day.  Heated up some leftover meat and potatoes from the night before, and made some coffee.  Ahhhhh, hot, fresh, sweet, delicious coffee.  I was so excited to have it that I even offered some to my neighbors from across the way as they walked by my site, but they turned me down on account of being “non-drinkers.”  Poo.

camping 2

That second day was full of hiking and hammocking, and not much in between.  I probably put in a good seven miles of hiking in one day alone, including the terrifying bike route, which was really nice and a great little workout.  I did not get run over, as the signs clearly stated that hikers were to travel counter-clockwise, opposite the bikers, and I was able to see them with plenty of time to get out of their way.  It ended up taking me almost an hour to complete the entire 3-mile loop, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Some places were covered heavily in trees, which darkened the trail, made it nice and spooky like a fairy tale.

camping 6

And others were bright and cheery, already starting to show signs of pretty spring.

camping 7

In the early afternoon I just swung in my hammock and read my magazine–Cosmo, of course, the staple of every truly independent woman–and ate my yogurt and crackers.  It was soooo relaxing!!  Not having to worry about anybody else but myself was absolutely amazing!  No activities to plan, no schedule to adhere to, nobody else to feed or bathe or please.  It was liberating, man.  It was “me time” to the max.

In the evening, however, things took a turn for the worst, if only slightly.  See, a family came and set up camp in the site right next to mine.  A mother, a father, a mother-in-law, and children.  Loud ones.  Ugh, I can still hear them in my head.  They arrived just as I was having my dinner, and no matter how hard I tried to tune them out they still managed to infiltrate my happy place.  The mom was the worst, with her Northern accent (Minnesota, maybe?), all whiny and nasal.  She was—ugh, I really don’t want to speak badly of her, but let’s just say that her camping trip and mine were complete opposites in every possible way.  A cranky husband, out-of-control, demanding children–three of them–and a mother tagging along who was accused of f-ing up the entire trip.  Way more information than I or the other campers within a two-mile radius cared to know.  Anyway, they stayed up until after midnight and I think the last of them finally passed out around one.  Peace and quiet for a few hours until around 8, when they all started up again.  I stayed inside my tent for a long time trying to tune them out.  Got some good writing done, read a little.  Finally at 10 I got up, went to the restroom, and had breakfast.  I had planned to go ahead and start packing up early, since I had pretty much already done everything I’d set out to do.  But then I headed back to my hammock instead and got some more reading done… finally finished White Oleander, this amazing book I’d started back in October.  (You know it’s good when I was able to get lost in that beautiful writing even over the noise of my next-door neighbors…)

At noon I finally started to pack up, and within one hour I was heading out of the park.  A little sore from hiking, a little scraggly looking from having gone without makeup the whole time and having done absolutely nothing with my hair today, but feeling totally empowered.  Strong, capable.  Accomplished.

camping 5

48 hours without electronic communication (except for a couple of calls from my daughters), without returning texts, without checking Facebook, my emails, dating websites, or Google.  48 hours of Me Time, without help from anybody at all.  Sure, it wasn’t really the wilderness.  Sure there was electricity and clean water, paved roads and neatly trimmed hiking trails.  But you know, it was roughing it, in a way.  Just me, myself, and I.

And who knows?  Maybe next time I’ll go primitive.

Counting Down the Days

Image

A few years ago I packed up the girls and took a short road trip down to Waco, Texas to visit one of my dearest cousins, who was attending art school.  We had a fantastic visit!  She took us to the local coffeehouse–a quirky, multi-roomed affair with creaky floors and teetering tables, mismatched upholstery and a whole lot of charm.  She showed us her apartment, a small place she shared with three or four others, and the little corner of it she called her own.  This corner, I should note, consisted of an enormous arrangement of art paraphernalia–papers and brushes of every size and texture; a wide assortment of paints, pencils, markers, and pastels; sketches of dancers and chubby-cheeked creatures, milky white clay sculptures, and dazzling watercolors of tulle and ribbon–with a little twin-sized bed tucked in for practical purposes.

It was a lovely space, and she took the time to show me its contents, piece by piece, as if introducing me to each of her closest friends.  From a small drawer she pulled a journal she referred to as her idea book.  Pages and pages of doodles and scribbles, with photographs tucked in here and there, preliminary sketches of scenes that would someday become full-fledged, canvas-worthy paintings.  And lists!  I found my name in there, and the names of my daughters.  Tiny moments, little stories that had triggered visions in her head.  It was a beautiful book.  A work of art on its own.

And then, among the other wonderful things she showed me that evening, a tiny little leather-bound book popped up.  She held it lovingly in her hands and showed me: a weekly planner.  A small rectangle sectioned off for every day of the year, and her neat little bird-like markings on every single line, on every single page.  She told me she’d started the tradition a while back, and it gave her peace.  She simply jotted down the things she was grateful for, or her thoughts, or her adventures or her worries on any given day.  No room for fluff or analysis, just a bare-bones account of her life on a daily basis.  I loved it!

I didn’t steal her idea right away, though.  To be honest, I never even intended to steal it.  It was mid-summer when I visited, after all, and this was obviously a beginning-of-the-year kind of project.  As faulty as my memory is, I figured that by the time winter came along I would have forgotten altogether.  Besides, this was her thing.  And just as it would never feel authentic for me to incorporate her magical fairy scenes or ballerinas into my own work, I would not feel authentic copying this.

But somehow, the idea still stuck.  And on a chilly afternoon, during one of the very last days of 2012, I happened to find myself strolling along the aisles of the local Barnes and Noble.  I noticed an endcap with lots of colorful little books.  Weekly planners.  On sale!

And thus resulted the theft of my cousin’s cute idea.

I chose a tiny, hardbound one with a fancy cover.  Seven lines for every day, though I didn’t always use them all, and at other times the words on the seventh line overflowed, crawling up or down the edge of the page like little caterpillars.  Most days, I kept the book on my bathroom counter for easy (albeit potentially unsanitary) access.  I took it along when we went on road trips.  And I always, always, always wrote in blue.  I won’t claim to have written in the book during every single one of the year’s 365 days, but it was close.  And on the few days during which I didn’t, I made sure to go back and fill in the missing day before going on to the current one.  So the result is a pretty accurate record of my 2013.  The joys, the frustrations, the miserable Monday mornings, the late-night Saturdays, the boring nothing days.  The friendships, the accomplishments, the romance, the fears.  More often than not, the accounts are positive.  Lots of happy faces sprinkled throughout.  Lots of exclamation points.  Fewer scribbles than one would imagine, I guess because when you only have seven lines (and no backspace button) you really have to think about what you’re going to write before you write it.  You want to use your space wisely.

To give you an idea of what these pages hold, here’s a random sampling:

January 31.  One day away from our first month of this new AM routine, and we’re still loving it!  Today I made pancakes, checked my email, and painted for 30 minutes!  Plus everybody’s happier in the mornings… at least after the workout.  :o)  Excellent teaching day!!

February 8.  It’s getting harder and harder to get up on time every morning.  Need more motivation, but at least we’re still doing what we need to do.  Had an AWESOME girls’ night in with Claudia & Andrea.  So much fun & laughter & warmth & acceptance.  I can’t believe we pulled an all-nighter.  :o)

February 23.  Spent the whole day w/ David.  BBQ, hiking, watching the sunset together, UFC (which I mostly slept through again), and bonding.  Got to hear him drum a bit, too.

March 12.  It was c-c-cold overnight, thank goodness for Patty’s heater and the tons of blankets we packed.  Slept pretty well, considering.  The girls made casts of footprints, more hiking & fun, and then I got a ticket on our way home.  :o(  Peanut butter cookies with my babies.  YUMM!!  :o)

April 12.  Excited about Oklahoma!  :oD  Left work early, glad I got a lot ready last night & this morning.  Left at 1:30 PM.  Arrived at 4:30, not bad.  The cabin was fantastic.  So comfortable.  Had fried catfish & mashed potatoes, then a big campfire, jokes & stories, new friends.

May 28.  Ughhh… so hard to get up… god, snap out of it already!!  I miss my perky, happy self.  I hate testing.  Ugh, just don’t know how to combat it, how to perform.  I want my kids to succeed.  But I also want them to learn, and love learning!

June 14.  Breaking up sucks.

July 19.  A new baby!!!  Yay, Olivia is teenie tiny and perfect.  I ❤ her!  Zumba with Carlos in the evening… man, my body had missed him!  Afterwards, Dexter and I watched Reservoir Dogs.  Wow.  I remember liking the movie a lot, but damn.  It was awesome.

July 29.  We left El Paso around 9AM and took the scenic road to Taos.  Stopped at White Sands, hiked among ancient petroglyphs, and enjoyed a quiet, private country road.  This trip has been so peacefully slow-paced.

August 3.  Woohoo!  Soccer this morning was an unexpected & happy surprise.  Spent a wonderfully quiet day at home–bought a window for the first time ever… sang, napped, surfed… and then I went to karaoke, all by myself!  I was pretty scared, but it turned out fine.  Next time it’ll be easier.

September 8.  Lazy, quiet day… until the end, when the Cowboys’ defense TORE UP that NY Giants team.  :o)  Yippee!  I hope our line (and Romo!) stays in tact all season.  DeMarcus Ware is a beautiful man.  <3…

October 15.  Yay, cool weather, more rain, and another good day at work.  I love self-sufficiency.  :o)  I was bad regarding food today, but had 4 good parent conferences… including making a very serious father laugh.  Man, he was tough to break!

October 26.  Feelin’ pretty darn good… still not sure about everything.  Life is so unique for everybody, and at the same time, it’s all the same.  Just gotta find what’s right for you, I guess.  Loved spending time with Claudia & Liz.  <3!  Getting drenched and laughing like little girls.  :o)

November 2.  Feeling artsy and athletic.  Played my violin for hours today and it sounded great.  Made me feel empowered.  I ❤ making music.  Tomorrow is an unknown.  Every tomorrow is.  Rescued another set of blogs today, though.

December 18.  Ugh… I hate getting up early.  Yesterday was so nice.  Today, not so much.  My kids bombed their writing test.  They’re getting in trouble, being disrespectful to each other… I’m burned out.  Glad Carina is feeling better, at least.

December 24.  More last-minute shopping & gift-wrapping.  It’s nice to have so many loved ones.  Girls had a Hernández Christmas & I went to celebrate with Nancy & Joel… just the right people to have a fantastic night.  Laughter, dancing, merriment.  I ❤ Nancy Schmancy.

And there you go.  2013 in a nutshell.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking.  It’s basically a schoolgirl diary.  But I disagree.  There’s something about the dates being pre-printed, about the year being contained so precisely, the limited space for your thoughts.  The physical pages, the concreteness of it all, the routine.  Because, really, the important thing is not the finished product–it’s the process.  It’s the sitting down and pausing to think about your day each and [just about] every day, the choosing of which of the day’s events and feelings merit writing, the actual formation of the words and phrases.  I’m telling you, this little exercise is therapeutic, fulfilling, and manageable.  And I’m deliberately posting this entry today, while there’s still time for you to run down to your local Barnes and Noble to pick up your own weekly planner!  Do it.  They’re on sale!

Run For Your Life!

shoes

I decided to peel myself out of bed at 6:30 on this beautiful Saturday morning for two reasons: one, a friend of mine had invited me to participate in a 5k in honor of her late husband; two, I’ve been a very naughty girl (food- and exercise-wise) over the past few weeks and have got to do something about this new flab that’s creeping up on me.

So I get to the race venue expecting a relatively small turnout, but instead there are a ton of folks already there.  Whole teams of people.  This is big!  Apparently it’s an actual, full-fledged high school cross country meet, and our 5k is just the precursor.  They call it a “Fun Run,” haha, but when that gun goes off and I start to run with the other 40 or so participants, it feels anything but fun.  The first mile’s a killer, man.  I’m feeling those damn donut holes, every French fry, every Coke I’ve had over the past few days, and it hurts.  I get to the first mile marker in 9:48, but I know I can’t possibly maintain that pace for two more miles.  Sure enough, halfway through the race I’m wiped out.  I want SO BADLY to walk, but always there’s that little voice in my head.  The voice of my senior year cross country coach, good old Coach Lipscomb.  That woman freaking lives there, I swear, inside my head.  “Don’t walk.  Look up.  Breathe.  Imagine how proud you’ll feel at the end.  Use your legs.  Don’t stop.”  And yadda yadda yadda.  She won’t let me quit.

So I run.  My pace gets slower and slower until I’m barely lifting my feet above the grass, but still I manage to maintain that bounce, the rhythm, the breathing.  Two in, two out.  I remind myself that I’m not running for the man whose name is on my t-shirt and whom I never met, but for his wife, my friend.  And for me.

I keep going.  Around the two-mile marker, a guy who’s been breathing down my neck the whole way finally passes me on the right and I see that he’s an older man, going at a snail’s pace, barely lifting his feet off the ground.  I feel a little ashamed, but I force myself to shake it off, and I keep going.  The last half-mile is the hardest, holy hay.  I am so ready to throw in the towel.  I don’t know how my legs are still going.  I can’t even feel them anymore.  I’m so out of shape!  Damn you, carbs and cookies!!  And I think, this is my punishment for all the crap I’ve eaten, all the missed gym sessions.  I deserve this.

At one of the stations, there is a group of high school girls handing out water in tiny cups.  I recognize one, and then another and another.  They are students I had in fourth or fifth grade several years ago, and they recognize me too.  “Go, Ms. Hernández!” they shout, and as I pass them they hold out their hands for high-fives.  Their cheers fill me with renewed energy, but not for long.  Within seconds I’m pooped again.  I see the finish line, but it’s still so far away!  I pass the 3-mile marker at 34:20.  Pathetic.  In high school I would have sprinted that last 2 tenths of a mile at top speed, but that was then.  I’m 39 now, and though I normally don’t feel it, today I do.  So I continue to trudge along, still technically “running” but not going much faster than a walk.  Then I see my friend on the edge of the chute, and she’s calling my name, telling me how I great I’m doing.  I smile at her and wave, feel her sense of appreciation, and it’s enough to get me through the finish line.

The End, right?  But there’s more.  I walk around to give my legs a nice slow recovery (something else Coach taught me), though what I really want to do is throw myself on the ground.  And as I’m walking, I notice there are a whole lot of schools here now.  Public, private, some from far away towns… and I think hmm, I wonder if Garland High is here.  I look and look at all the little groups sprinkled around me.  Blue, purple, red, green… I keep walking, keep looking, and then suddenly I see them, in their black and gold like silent wasps waiting to attack, and my heart skips a beat.  My beloved Garland Owls.  I walk up to a group of girls stretching on the ground, scanning the area around them for adults.

And then I see her.  Her impossibly blond hair, her muscular calves, and her stance–like a drill sergeant, preaching to her girls, always motivating, always pushing.  Good old Coach Lipscomb.  I haven’t seen her in over twenty years, but she’s exactly the same, and before she even turns around, I know it’s her.  I wait until she’s done talking to her team before approaching, and then it’s like I’m the same little girl I was at age 18.  Little girl, yeah.  Scared, confused, hurt.  The memories come rushing back, and so does the feeling of comfort and stability she always projected.  I go up to her, give her a hug, and begin to gush.  I tell her how her words are always, ALWAYS in my head.  It’s not just about running but about everything, every difficulty, every hurdle.  I start tearing up, and so does she.  We talk for a few minutes and vow to keep in touch.  She invites me to come to her school and talk to her girls.  Then her friend takes our picture and the announcer comes on to say it’s almost time for her team to start their race.

When the gun goes off, I watch them, her girls, running in a pack like she always taught us to do.  Their pace is good, not rushed.  Their legs are strong.  Their eyes are calm.  I think of how lucky they are to have her, think of my own team mates when I was their age, and how lucky WE were, too.

Suddenly it’s not about the flab or the guilt.  It’s not even about my friend.  I run because I can.  Because I’m alive.  Because god gave me legs and arms and lungs and breath.  Who cares what place you get, right?  Who cares about your time, or whom you beat, or who beat you?  None of it matters.  It’s just you.  You and the universe.  You and god, however you wanna see it.  I mean, respect your team mates, sure.  Encourage them.  Love them.  Heck, love your opponents too, why not?  But in the grand scheme of things, there’s only you and the life you choose to live.  So for god’s sake, get up.  Get out!  Run, dance, sing, whatever.  You have a life.  Live the heck out of it!

Extra! Extra!

It feels wrong to post a blog about my volunteer activities since the very idea of volunteering means to do something for no personal gain whatsoever (and by posting about it here I’m sort of glorifying it)… but on the other hand, my volunteer activities do take up a whole lot of my time, so it’d be wrong not to include them in a blog about how I pass the time.  Still, though.  I’ll keep the horn-tooting to a minimum.

The vast majority of my volunteering endeavors occur at the school where I work.  I helped out with a lot of programs and activities before my daughters went to school there and I will continue to help after they’re both out (although when they’re gone I’m hoping to do a lot less–or at least that’s the plan).  I grumble and groan sometimes about the time it takes to work on all this extra stuff (especially putting together that darn newsletter every month–see above), but in all honestly I love the fact that I have the ability to help with programs and organizations that improve the overall school experience of our kids.  Sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true.  When I see kids eagerly flip through the papers in their Tuesday Folders to pull out that newsletter and stick their noses in it, it makes my heart happy.

Outside of school, I volunteer formally for an organization called CASA, which benefits children who have recently been placed into the foster system through Child Protective Services.  This is something I had been wanting to do for a very long time but never really looked in to out of fear that maybe I wasn’t qualified or that it would take too much of my precious time.  Well, three years ago I finally signed up for the training and upon its completion was sworn in as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate.  I’ve had three cases (approximately one per year), and I’m very proud of the work I’ve done through the program.  The goal of this organization is to have one advocate for every child (or group of siblings) in the foster system in Texas, but so far less than half of the children in foster care have a CASA.  Here’s my plug for them.  The initial training takes about twelve days (you can go once or twice a week for a few months or churn it all out in one three-week chunk during the summer like I did), and then when you’re on a case the time involved ranges from two to five hours per month, really depending on the amount of time you’re able to give.  My first two cases involved very young children so I didn’t get to see the impact of my work as clearly.  Now I’m working with a group of three school-aged children, and with every single interaction it’s obvious how valuable the CASA program is for everyone involved in the process.

Okay, that’s all.  I’m not posting this for self-glorification but only to point out that even when it feels like every second of every day has been allotted to something or other, there is always a little bit extra you can give of yourself simply for the sake of giving.

Down and Dirty

I love to sweat.  It’s one of my favorite things to do, as long as I’m deliberately trying to.  When I was little my absolutely favorite day of the entire school year was Field Day, when we got to race and compete against each other in all kinds of events.  But it wasn’t so much the competitive aspect I enjoyed–it was the all-day running around.  And of all the events, my favorite was always the obstacle course.

After elementary I guess I pretty much came to terms with the fact that there would be no more obstacle courses in my life… but then about two years ago a friend of mine with whom I had run several 5ks told me about a race called The Warrior Dash, which was being held here in the area.  It’s basically an obstacle course and a 5k cross-country race rolled into one.  Brilliant!  I was super excited for weeks before the event, but when we actually got there that morning and started running in it, slipping on the mud, struggling through the obstacles, pushing each other on, oh man!!  I was in heaven!!  It was even more awesome than I had dared to imagine.  Climbing ropes, walls, muddy hills.  Submerging myself in murky, nasty water.  Balancing on planks over a 3-meter deep pit.  In the middle of it I remember thinking how much like life the race was.  Overcoming obstacles.  Talking yourself out of quitting when things get sticky or difficult.  Enjoying the ride instead of just the destination.  By the time we finished the race we were bursting with endorphins.  I remember coming home, pulling out one of my journals and adding it to the top five events of my life:

1. giving birth to Ayiana

2. getting married

3. going to Europe

4. turning 15

5. running The Warrior Dash

Yeah.  It was that fun.

I was really wanting to run at least one muddy obstacle 5k every year after that, but a few months later I injured my knee playing soccer so all athletic shenanigans were off limits for a whole year.  Back in May, though, one of my cousins asked me to join her in the Rebel Race.  A 5k obstacle course almost identical to The Warrior Dash and in fact it took place at the same location.  I was a tiny bit nervous about the possibility of getting injured–my repaired knee is at 100% now but the other one is starting to fall apart–but I figured, what the heck?  That’s what my body is for, right?  To use it.  So we signed up, and a couple of Saturdays ago there I was, slipping on the mud and maneuvering through the obstacles once again.

This time wasn’t nearly as exhilarating as my first, but it was still highly enjoyable.  And the after-pain I suffered for three days afterwards was both surprising and welcome.  Just proof that my body works.  That I’m using it up, as I should be.  You know that quote that says that at the end of your life you shouldn’t be strolling in to the finish line all nice and clean but skidding in at full speed full of bumps and bruises?  Yeah, that’s totally me.

More Than Words

It’s hard to tell, I know, but I happen to have a bit of an obsession when it comes to words.  I mean, I appreciate all of the Arts–self-expression in any form is always good–but for some reason I really have a special soft spot for words.  They’re just so tasty and fulfilling!

I’ve written a lot during my lifetime–notes, letters, essays, school papers, stories, poems, a few magazine articles, my crazy blogs–but the writing I’m most proud of is contained within the pages of a handful of journals I keep in my bedroom.  Two of them are on my dresser so that I can write in them regularly (though often I let entire months go by without opening them), and the others are inside a metal box that used to hold a flame-retardant blanket.  Someday I’ll buy an actual fireproof safe big enough to hold them, though, because of all my possessions those journals are the only things I would really want to save if tragedy ever struck.

So what’s so great about these journals, you ask?  What could they possibly contain that’s so important?  Well, to put it simply, words.  Thoughts.  Memories.  Little fragments of life that I’ve been recording since November 11, 1997:

Tonight your father and I went to the most beautiful bookstore I have ever been in.  That is where I bought this book specifically to write you in.  I’m not sure yet what it is I would like to tell you, but I have to start somewhere, so I will begin by introducing myself.  I know that by the time you are old enough to read this you will probably know me pretty well.  But you’re going to know the “me” of the future.  The only way you will ever know the me of today is through this book.

I was 23 years old when I wrote that.  I wasn’t pregnant.  I wasn’t even married.  I just knew that we’d have children someday, and I was eager to communicate with them.  I went on to describe different aspects of our life, our jobs, what we liked to do for fun, trips we took, and just random memories.  Three years later when I did become pregnant with my first child, I began a journal just for her.  And thus began the series.  Once the girls came into existence, though, I no longer wrote about myself or their father but about Us, the family.  And more often than not, I wrote about them.  The kids.  Cute little things they did, the first time they noticed their own hands, their first words, funny mispronunciations, things that used to upset them, times they got sick or got boo-boos–just random stuff.  These journals are so much more than official “baby books” (which seem so rigid and impersonal) and so much more than photo albums or scrapbooks because they contain the stories behind the pictures as well as descriptions of moments that were never photographed at all.  I think that’s the key about these books, actually.  Most of the moments I’ve recorded in them are ones that I’m pretty sure I would have forgotten about entirely had it not been for my pen scribbling the words down shortly after they’d occurred.  That’s what makes these books so precious to me.

I do have drawings tucked in here and there among the entries, and also little mementos taped to the pages–ticket stubs, brochures of places we’ve visited, stickers, business cards, a couple of medical bracelets, pressed flowers, drawings and notes the girls made–but the real focus of these books is the writing.  Those sacred, irreplaceable words.  Descriptions of moments that can never, ever be recreated.

A couple of years ago my daughters actually discovered the stash of journals in my room.  They wanted to read them then, but I told them I was saving them for when they were older.  I thought that if they read them while still children, it would somehow ruin the magic, you know?  I guess when I started this crazy idea, I had envisioned giving the books to the girls when they reached a special milestone in their lives.  Their 18th birthday, perhaps, or their wedding day… maybe after the birth of their first child.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how silly it was to keep the books from them since, after all, they are written for them.  :o)  (And how presumptuous to assume they’d get married and have children anyway, right?)  So this year when they asked me again if they could read the books, I conceded.  I pulled out the original one, which we read together, and then I gave each girl her own stack and let ’em loose.  They absolutely loved it!!  It took them almost two whole days of what seemed like nonstop reading for them to get through all the books, and I loved how excited they were about them.  They’d giggle out loud, they’d ask me about stuff, they’d tell me when they actually remembered the moments about which they were reading, and it was so neat to hear their perspectives.  What a wonderful experience to share these journals with them.

I can’t wait to do it again, which is why I really need to push myself to keep up with them.  And I encourage anyone else with kids to do something like this too.  It doesn’t take that much of an effort, it’s really just a matter of setting aside a few minutes every few weeks.  I find it helps to jot down a quick list of the moments (I use the notepad app on my phone) so that when you go to sit down and write your mind doesn’t go completely blank.  It’s such an easy thing to do, and the results are priceless.

Here’s one of my favorite entries, from March 14, 2003.  The girls were 20 months and 3 months old, respectively:

Today I bought you guys some really cute summer outfits, (it was sunny and 75 degrees) and we all hung out in the front yard while your Daddy cut some bushes down and raked some leaves.  Yes, I know, you’re not supposed to do that in the spring.  Anyways, you guys looked soooo adorable in your dresses.  They weren’t exactly the same–in fact, they were different colors, but the same kind of material, and very similar styles… and I was so proud of you guys.  Man, I wish we had had film in the camera, cuz you guys would have come out so cute!  But the most exciting part was that you were trying to stand up!  It was so adorable!  You had your chunky little legs all stiff, and I was holding your arms, and you were just standing there, trying to balance.  Even your Daddy thought it was funny.  He said, “she’s so short!”  I think you had a good time out there.  We all did, even though it was just for a little while.  But FINALLY, you really started to act more, umm, human.  :o)  More like an older baby instead of a tiny infant.  I love you!!  And then when it was time for bed I made sure your tummy was full and you had burped.  I put you in your crib and you just lay there smiling!  I turned on your fake aquarium and turned off the lights, and you went to sleep all by yourself, without a peep.  :o)

When I reread this page just now, the whole memory came back in full-color.  But then I turned the page and found this:

It’s a nice supplement, but sometimes I question whether a picture really is worth a thousand words.  I think I’d rather have the words without the picture than the other way around.

Outside the Lines

Our dining table has been getting lots of use this summer… but we rarely eat on it.  Instead, it’s usually covered in newspaper, plastic, tubes of paint, cups of brushes, rolls of paper towels, boxes of markers, all kinds of paper, crayons, pastels, pencils, charcoals, pens, glue, magazines, scissors, and any other art material we’re currently using.  What’s funny is that somewhere under all that stuff we still have a napkin holder and salt and pepper shakers, too.

We actually have an official art and music “studio” now (which was previously the girls’ playroom), but since it’s upstairs it’s just not as practical, at least for me.  I like to have easy access to my stuff, and the dining table is perfect.  It’s also just more of an intimate space where the three of us can sit together and work as a family.

This whole art business wasn’t always so complicated and space-consuming.  I used to have a few different-sized drawing pads, a handful of pencils and charcoals, a can of spray fixative–and that’s about it.  Easily stored in a bright red canvas art bag I got for free from a textbook vendor at work.

Over the years, though, I’ve started branching out to other mediums, and as a result my collection of art supplies has been expanding exponentially so that now I carry the “essentials” in an old pleather camera bag and store the rest in miscellaneous baskets when not in use.  Except lately it all seems to always be in use.

From pencils and charcoals I started experimenting with colored pencils.  I was never really comfortable using them until I heard this one artist talking about his technique for producing amazingly vibrant drawings: using colored pencil over a light marker wash.  The results are breathtaking–you can produce the same gradation and shading as with a pencil or charcoal, except with color.  And the marker layer can be replaced with watercolor for even more dramatic results.  This discovery was a spectacular breakthrough!  Having that kind of control over color gave me the courage to keep going.  I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to the use of color, but it’s actually fun to experiment now that I have that pencil-over-wash technique in my back pocket.

As for paint, oh, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it ever since college.  It just takes so much time and so much effort to create something I’m satisfied with, whereas with pencil and charcoal the process is pretty much second-nature to me.  Paint is wet and gooey, sometimes runny, sometimes sticky.  Always so hard to control.  Watercolors are too light, acrylics dry way too fast for me, and oils require way too much maintenance.  I was happy to discover water-based oils, but even with those the drying time is paaaaiiiiiiinnnnffffffuuuuulllllllyyyyyy slow.  Still, when it comes to painting, those water-based oils have been my top choice.

Right now I’m in the middle of trying something completely new: layering using paint, paper, oil pastels, and possibly some fabric and other stuff as I come up with ideas.  So far it’s been a really great experience.  I’m more of a realist when it comes to my work, and this summer is the first time I’ve had any real success with creating something entirely out of my imagination.  My goal is to get into more of a combination abstract-realist zone, and I think with this layering bit I’m starting to move in that direction.

To be honest, the idea to branch out from just pencil and charcoal really came from the desire to possibly make my work a little more marketable.  I’ve always felt weird about the thought of producing art for money, as if the selling of it would cheapen it, you know?  But I don’t know… I think that as long as I keep creating pieces I love–keep loving the process itself–I won’t mind losing the pieces themselves to paying customers.  Really it’s not much different from giving away my work, which is what I’ve always done.  The people who buy my stuff will still enjoy it.  It’s just that I won’t really know them personally.   I can live with that.

Post Navigation