Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Brother

After his little brother Jeffrey died, Stephen became an only child again, which wasn’t in the blueprint of our family.  Steve was in first grade when I was born, so there are about
6 ½ years between us.  I don’t think he planned on having a sister either and I assume he would have liked another buddy to play with, but again, so many unplanned events brought us together as family.  As most little sisters, I worshipped my big brother and tried to emulate him in every way.  By the time I was old enough to have a sense of my self, he was mostly out the house.  In fact, when I was 14, he brought home his wife-to-be, Marilyn, who was to become my sister-in-law and best friend.  I remember feeling so upset that I would be losing my sibling to another girl, yet Stephen reminded me that he would always love me and that I would always be his sister. His words have stayed with me my entire life and I know he feels this way today.

Today, while we do not share many of the same interests (his are business, golf and sports and red wine while mine are teaching, reading and writing and white wine), we share our family history and our current families.  We are as close as a brother and sister can be, with our age difference unimportant at this stage in our lives.  We share the legacy of memories that define our family of origin and our personalities.  My brother got to spend more time with my parents by virtue of his age, but I can remember no sibling rivalry between us even when I perceived that he was the favored child by our mother. I was relieved for him that he didn’t have to feel less than in this way.  He was always loving and caring to our mother no matter what, a quality that I respect in him as a man and as a child.  He is strong in areas that I am weak and I so respect the part of him that worries less about what people think than the part of me that still cares.

If I needed my brother, he would be on the next plane, which is really all I need to know.  His children feel like my own and I would assume that mine feel like his.  When my three boys were little, my husband and I asked Steve and Marilyn to be their guardians should anything happen to us.  Of course they immediately agreed, but my brother in his joking way also added, “Just stay healthy, Barbara.”  I knew what he meant and we both laughed.  I guess that is one of the elements of our relationship that I love most.  We don’t have to say much or even talk every day.  I know how he feels without him telling me and I know how much he loves me and cares for me without such words.

My brother has given me his wife and his children, who I love so very much, but he has given me the gift of his friendship and devotion, which I am so fortunate to have.  We are the only two people in the world who share memory banks that reflect our origins: family dinners, babysitters, vacations, grief, and joy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


When did the transition happen from my gorgeous, stylish, incredibly 'blingy' shoes to the safe, comfortable, 'almost' grandmotherly types? So slowly did this change occur, over a period of years, that I never saw it coming. One day, I opened my closet and the beauties had disappeared. In their places were boxes of black, comfortable, safe walking shoes with various points of entry (slip ons, slide-intos, Velcro closings, and pull-ons)---all providing levels of maximum comfort and all quietly uninteresting, borderline boring. At one time, I was known as the Imelda Marcos of my family and friends (Philippine First Lady 1986-1991 who was supposedly known for having about 3,000 pairs of shoes).  "Where is Barbara today?" someone would ask? Jokingly (but not really), and they would respond, "Oh, she must be shoe shopping." 

My shoes once reflected my moods, from bright purples to deep reds, to maroons and grays---all very unusual in style and shiny colors with sequence, buttons, and jewels. They were exciting to put on and I readily sacrificed beauty for comfort for decades. Today, though, I quickly push my size 8 1/2 foot into a respectable safe shoe, not quite what 80-year olds wear, but never again what 20, 30, 40-year-olds choose either. I am in between Easy Spirit, Naturalizer, and SAS, marking the passing of time through my two feet. At times, I look down and see both my mother and mother-in-law’s shoes on my feet. Sigh.

I am just vain enough that I used to buy beautifully one-of-a-kind shoes to make a fashion statement, but not too lost in reality to deny my bunions and deformed baby toes. Still, I sure loved my shoes. I managed to pull off wedges and small heels and still looked like I could 'pass' with shoe fashion sense. One day, I realized that even a 2-inch heel made me feel as if I were going to fall off a cliff, with my wobbly ankles and a foot that would collapse on itself every once in a while, always while crossing the street in front of laughing motorists. My wardrobe, thus, is currently filled with British, Swedish, and German names, all purporting comfort. They try to sell 'modern elegance,' but I know and the salesmen know (and so do most of the customers who are not in denial) that they are just expensive versions of what grannies wear (without the support hose). I am resigned to the fact that I will never again look great from the ankles down and I am really OK with this—mostly.

I have outfits accessorized with 'safe' flat shoes and I acknowledge that my clothes would look even better with two to three more includes beneath my feet. It's a fleeting thought and, in acceptance, I go on with my day. I love the 5-inch heels worn by 20 and 30-somethings, knowing that even if I were younger, I could not wear them—ever. I have a few friends my age who still wear these amazing high heels and actually find them comfortable. They work, play and even walk across the street in these contraptions. I admire my friends and their feet, knowing I am closer to wearing slippers to the market than wearing these shoes. I have learned to let the longing for such delicious foot fashion go. Actually, I never could wear them, so it's not as if this part of my life is over. This phase really never started, so it's is easier to accept what never was.

One exciting fashion trend that I have been able to buy into (literally) is the flip flop craze (I used to call them thongs, but I realize this term is now relegated to a type of undies that I also never wore nor will I). I have 'fit flops' (helping me to stand up straight and walk better); flip flops made from a yoga mat (very comfortable); Swedish flip flops, Spanish, and British ones, too. They even make these beach shoes (even worn at fancy parties) with rhinestones. After adjusting to the piece of material, plastic, or leather between my two toes (and dealing with the blisters), these FF's are about the only trendy shoes that I can partake in and still look like I know I'm alive and walking in 2017.  

My reflections on the shoes in my life have helped me to understand that I don't really care so much for making such a statement anymore or for such shoes, probably because it's not so exciting to buy another pair of black orthotics (sour grapes, as they say). I have sadly buried my longing to wear heels along with my desire to wear bell-bottom pants and my ability to wear hot pants. Even more important is my gratitude for my feet and my ability to walk. Besides, I can now focus on purses.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

New Year's Resolutions in April

Perhaps it is strange to reflect on New Year's Resolutions in April, but by now, if I had made them, they probably would have been broken.  I stopped making New Year's Resolutions because for me they became trite and repetitive and even generic. I have been through the same litany of resolutions that most humans have: lose 10 pounds; don't yell at children (when they were younger); be kind (kinder) to my husband; be more patient with others; be a better mother, daughter, sister, friend, etc....They didn't work because they didn't really fit. So, if I were to have them, here are my New Year's Resolutions for every year--ones that actually fit me:

1) Look in the mirror and learn to accept, with love, what I see--warts and all.
2) If I can't do #1, I'll buy a new mirror.
3) Realize that I don't have to lose ten pounds any more and believe that I am fine the way I am--no matter what numerical size of clothing I am wearing.
4) Eat a hot fudge sundae and/or a donut at least once in 2017....and enjoy it the way I used to before I started looking in the mirror. (buy a new mirror).
5) Be kinder to myself--squelch the voices in my head that remind me of what I'm doing wrong.
6) Take more sick days when I'm not sick.
7) Take more photos of the beauty around me and then put the camera down so I can enjoy the beauty without the lens.
8) Listen more and talk less--to my husband, children, grandchildren, family, and friends.
9) Don't judge others. Accept them the way I want to be accepted.
10) Accept myself.
11) Realize that most things that have been done to me are because I have allowed them to be done to me.
12) Call my logistically distant friends more. It's not enough to believe they know I am thinking about them. I need to tell them so.
13) Let those I love know that I love them so much--often.
14) Remind myself not to continue to blame others for past transgressions. The past is the past.
15) Continue to keep my priorities straight: myself, family, friends, play, work.
16) Worry less when I don't hear from my children throughout the week.
17) Read, read, read--what I want to read and not what I should read.
18) Write, write, write.
19) Permit myself to carry this list over to my 2018 New Year's Resolutions.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


My life is a balance of negotiating priorities, which change as I do. While I have always cared deeply about my family of origin--my parents and brother, I also think that when I was young, my focus was on my friends, activities, and being included. Probably like any young girl and teenager, I assumed everyone I loved and who loved me would always be around. I took them for granted, plain and simple. As I have matured, I have prioritized my family (both my parents, sibling, and my own husband and children) in countless ways. In the midst of getting an education, raising children, and developing a career, maturity taught me that those whom I loved could be gone in a minute.

I lost one of my best friends, Marion, when she was 49. She had called me from her car on the way to the mall, just two hours before she collapsed. She wanted to remind me that if I needed anything that I should just call her. In retrospect (the way I learn so much), I somehow felt she was trying to tell me so much more than whether she could pick up something I needed at the store. I've always been the type of person who is busy, busy, busy...doing activities, projects, having a hard time sitting still. When the kids were little, I mistakenly thought it was important to have everything in place, to have dinner ready at a certain time, to have the clothes washed, folded, and put away, and to make sure everything ran like clockwork--including myself. I have changed over the years because I listened to my inner voice telling me that none of this really mattered.....I reviewed my priorities and made some changes. While this Martha Stewart-type-of-life was elegantly organized, and certainly enjoyed by others, I was fortunate to examine what it all meant to me before it was too late.

When one of my little boys would ask me to play a game and I needed to do the laundry or get dinner ready, I would feel the push and pull. I wanted to be with my son, but I really needed to do some cooking or empty the dishwasher. But a voice within me reminded me that I really didn't need to do either, actually. The only thing that mattered was the game with my son, for I knew that very soon, he would want to be with his buddies and not his mom. In a blink of an eye, my son would be driving and would be leaving the house. Playing the game with my son became essential in my list of priorities. My mental Rolodex of priority decisions has been so helpful to me, as it has enabled me to calibrate what I really want to do, not what I should do.

When my father had heart surgery and suffered a severe stroke right after his operation, I knew that I needed to put my Los Angeles life on hold in order to stay in San Francisco with my mother and brother. It was my priority. My children were in capable hands with my husband. I knew I needed to be there for my parents as we assessed the permanent damage and the decisions to be made in the days ahead after my poor father's stroke. As my father regained some limited abilities, he was forever left with huge deficits. A priority for me then became to fly up 3-4 days at a time to see him and play dominoes with him. Every day after his nap at about 4:00, I would bring out the worn brown leather box of yellowed ivory tiles, and spread them out over the kitchen table. While he couldn't talk, except for a few words, not always semantically correct, he still knew his game and his numbers and his smile would stretch from ear to ear as he selected his seven tiles. With his wheelchair pushed up against the table, my father was at his best deciding which tiles to place on the table in order to block my next move.

Thus, my whirling dervish-type-of life in Los Angles came to a screeching halt when I returned home to The City. My days there were focused on my father's walk with his attendant and our afternoon domino game. I made sure to spend time with my mother, who also needed my love and attention. This became my second life and my priority. Yes, countless times I was torn, split in half, screaming from within. I worried about my three children in Los Angeles...did they make it to their soccer games? Were they doing their homework? Were they eating enough? At times I felt that I was a horrible mother and a horrible daughter, torn between two worlds that needed me, providing less than quality pieces of myself in both.

Now, both of my parents are gone, but I have so many of the little bits and pieces of my cherished memories stored within me. The moments I embrace today aren't really the big parties, fancy dinners, or the vacations to Palm Springs every Easter vacation. Of course, these were fun times, but they were also so easy-- the effortless, taken-for-granted days, when I had three of my four grandparents and I was the center of my own world. Those times were simple and as calm as the water under my chubby little body, as I lay on my raft, floating in the motel's pool.

Today, what pulls at my heart, what means the world to me, was when my father was resting and my mother was napping; I was sitting in the olive green chair next to my mother's king-sized bed, the same chair my Nana Bea would fill every day upon my return from school; the same feather-stuffed chair my father would collapse into after a long day at the store; the same chair my brother would fold into during his visits home. In that special armchair, the material faded from decades of warm bodies enveloped within its weave, I would listen to the calming and rhythmic breathing of my elderly parents. The soap operas playing on the television, without any real listeners, became the soothing background music of those quiet afternoons, when I could have been working; could have been cleaning; and should have been cooking. Instead, I chose to close my own eyes and experience my own peaceful repose, knowing that one day, which sadly is today, I wouldn't have my parents' calming snores enveloping me. I am forever thankful for my inner voice that reminds me of what needs to be overlooked and what becomes essential to my own soul. In the silence of such reflection, my priorities speak to me with love. And I listen with gratitude.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

What I Do Well...

As someone who is more comfortable focusing on what I need to improve, I force myself to go  the other direction and think about what I do well.  Focusing on my strengths is the main antidote for being too hard on myself.  Here is my list, and believe me, it's not easy to always give myself credit, but still I do and the more I write these lists, the easier it becomes to focus on my talents and let go of the darkness and negativity swirling within.

In so specific order, for today, here is what I do well:

1) Being the best mother I could be with the tools I possessed
2) Working through a 40+ year marriage with love, humor and a short memory
3) Learning to let go
4) Making a great cup of coffee
5) Teaching my students
6) Writing
7) Being a good mom to a furry child, Emma
8)Drinking lots of water every day
9) Minimizing my gossiping
10) Listening more and talking less
11) Choosing not to give advice even when I want to
12) Typing. My father told me when I was in middle school that taking a typing
       class would be essential. He was right.
13) Learning to enjoy food a little more
14) Playing with my grandchildren...being a hands-on Nana
15) A loyal and loving friend
16) Kind
17) Acceptance of things as they are rather than how I want them to be
18)Enjoying my own company more and more
19) Being a lifelong reader
20) A wonderful sister to my brother and sister-in-law
21) A great organizer
22) Very responsible
23) Giving of my time and patience
24)I was a dedicated and loving daughter
25)Making people feel better

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What I am Grateful for......

I don't need the Thanksgiving holiday to remind me to be grateful. Every day in which I participate, I am thankful for being around. I have listed a few of the zillions of things for which I am grateful, in no particular order.

---At the age of 50, I began to grow  fingernails. What an amazing feat! For most of my life, then, I know what it's like to have the soft, bendable, splitting nails, trying gelatin (both swallowing it and spreading it on my nails), eating protein, wearing gloves, Sally Hansen's, everything! And now I know what it's like to have nails that are strong and actually need to be cut. A miracle!

---I still have a lot of hair. Granted, it's  turning gray at a faster rate every month, but at least I have hair.

---I had the amazing experience of pregnancy--3 times! As the 9 months progressed, being pregnant likened me to an obese whale (as opposed to a thin one). I was never one of those fortunate pregnant women who never looked pregnant from behind.  I looked pregnant from every angle.  I was even asked when I was due after the baby had arrived. Still, I feel so fortunate to have felt life from within--3 times!

---Lori is still my oldest and best friend and has been for 56 years. We are both antiques by definition and so is our delicious!

---My brother is alive and doing well after his heart attack. I get to have him with me for a lot longer.

---I had my father for 49 years of my life and my mother for 55 years. Some people lose their parents before they, themselves, have the opportunity to become adults. I was fortunate even though the loss is still profound. When you lose someone you love, however long you have them, it's is never long enough.

---I survived parenthood during the teenage years and my kids survived me. All the reading I did on parenthood didn't really prepare me for the on-the-job training. I just kept at it until they (and I) grew up!

---My sister-in-law has been my best friend since she came into the family 48 years ago. Sometimes I forget we weren't born from the same parents. How lucky am I?

---I got to dance at my son's wedding. Not everyone can say this because they don't have a son, or a son that got married, or the physical health of having legs that can dance. I have all three!

---My long-term marriage of  4 decades. While it's not always easy living with another human being, I always know I have someone wonderful who cares deeply about me and for me; he is in my corner at the end of the day, every day.

---Emma, my dog, who thinks I am perfect day in and day out no matter what I look like, what I say, and what I do. Her essence reminds me there is a Higher Power.

---Books. Any time I want to escape, I can do so either through my hard copies or my Kindle. By the way, I am grateful for my Kindle.

--A dream came true this year for me....My book was published! Oh, how I am so grateful!

---I get a paycheck in the field for which I was educated. Now that is down right lucky.

---My car is paid off. For today, I have no monthly car payments. What a gift!

---Chocolate. Nature's (?) perfect food. Milk chocolate to be exact.

---Country music... the stories, the words, the fun singing along to love and loss with a Tennessee twang.

---All of my sons are kindhearted with keen intellects. They are beautiful inside and out. And, they are gainfully employed and earning a living--an added benefit!

---I finally found a warm robe (happens to be red!)--the best robe I have ever owned! Cozy and perfect!

---Bamboo plants...I can't kill them and they look pretty and strong in spite of what I do.

---Quotations. One little phrase can change my way of thinking and set the course for the rest of my day. Here's a good one by Ethel Barrymore: "You grow up the day you have the first real laugh--at yourself." I've been laughing at myself for years.

---My IPhone filled with Country Music and 'apps' that I don't really use. At least I have them.

---Angels. I can't get enough of them. They make me feel peaceful and joyful.

---My Aunt Mary. She has been an amazing role model in my life. When I am her age, I want to be just like her with her attitude, grace, and elegance.

---My 'glass-half-full' point-of-view. It's the way I was born and I am so grateful for this way of thinking. It has helped me weather so many of life's storms.

---Chardonnay. I just love a glass of Chardonnay.

---My two grandchildren.   How is it possible to fall in love so deeply with these two little beings? Another example of divinity.

---The wonderful women that my sons with whom my sons fell in love.  I am also grateful that they fell in love!

---The color red and my eyes to be able to see this color. The color of passion, love, pain, power, and my new robe!

---Trees (along with Emma) definitely show me that a Higher Power exists. They are as vast and as different as people. Strong, stoic, gorgeous.

---Photography and my dear friend and colleague who has shown me my own potential as a photographer. Who knew I had such a talent?

---My writing which transports me into another world. It always has and always will.