May 2013

WHAT A DAY

I woke up Sunday morning super excited. After taking my first cold shower of the day (the air conditioning in the house has been out for a week, and acknowledge that I have become a full-fledged California resident — 78 is too cold and 80 is too hot, hit the computer to check e-mails and hit Facebook before writing a prepared, light-hearted blog.

My last AChiO Pledge Class at San Diego State was graduating, and I couldn’t wait to see their pictures in caps and gowns.

And the “Bay to Breakers” race was scheduled San Francisco. There’s nothing like it in the world. Everyone races in costume (except those who wear no costume at all — though nudity was outlawed this year, no one stops it. Hey, it’s San Franciso.) By the time I logged on to Facebook, there were already pictures of teams from all four of my sororities dressed as Smurfs, in “All-American” red/white/and blue mismatched outfits, tutus topping striped leggings, and everything in between.

It’s more interesting because not all the people who “race” actually pay admission and sign up to run — they just jump into the race course whenever/wherever they choose. That’s where the nudity/semi-nudity/lack of costumes find their way among the Santa’s tied together in tandem and other outfits no one would wear outside a Bay to Breakers (B2B) race. It’s a celebration of Bay Area life at it’s best, and I miss it. Trying to get a team together for next year — maybe other house moms –we could dress as Donna Reed in white gloves and pearls, or fuzzy robes with cigarettes hanging out of our mouths and bottles of wine. But doubt if that will happen. People my age tend to be pretty old. Most don’t get me. No surprise there.

Then, the news from Oklahoma started hitting the Facebook posts, changing the day. My first instinct was to divert back to the Oklahoma tradition of turning the TV (in my case, computer) to Gary England’s Channel 9 OKC streaming feed, complete with storm chasers on the ground and helicopter pilots risking their lives in the air. And, as if I still lived there, was glued to it all day, sending texts to friends as the tornadoes ripped through or near their home areas. There was a post from Kimi Winkler, one of Abbi’s old cheerleading team members who lives in New York City. She, too, was glued to Gary England’s streaming videos.

If I had been in OKC, at my 1911 NW 33rd Street home just south of Penn Square Mall, I would be watching the weather channel in the family room we called “The Lodge;” it had a great fireplace, and the back wall was almost all glass, looking out over our 16′ x 32′ pool, deck with hot tub, and my beautiful 20’stand of 50 year old trees. I would be worrying whether I’d be lucky yet again and not have any trees uprooted, whether the neighbor’s tree would fall onto the deck outside my bedroom again or crash through the roof this time, how much debris would be in the pool — and if I could add enough chlorine to keep the water from turning to a green pond of algae sludge or have to drain, scrub it down, and start all over with fresh water.

Like all Oklahomans, the safest closet had already been cleared out in case I needed to revert to the closest thing to safety my house afforded. The safest is usually a bathroom — get down into the tub under a mattress…but both our bathrooms were on outside walls. The closet between the living room and lodge was my safest option. And not very safe at that because the house had a crawl space and the whole house could have been picked up or leveled.

I would be thinking back to the house we almost bought that backed up to Westmoore High School. I chose against it because the fence backed up to the school’s parking lot and my concern of liability if the kids decided to jump the fence to swim. And that was a no-brainer. That entire neighborhood, plus the house we would have purchased, was wiped out in not one, but two tornadoes a year apart.

And flashing back to the days when our shop, Greeks Bearing Gifts, was in the University Center at University of Central Oklahoma and we’d all head down to the basement to hunker down until the storm passed by/over the building. Jarrett Jobe, who was head of Greek Life, would be on a central computer watching the streaming weather and keeping us apprised of the storm’s location and velocity. We would all be worried about homes, friends’ homes, businesses, Abbi’s gym that was little more than a corrugated metal shell, if our cars would still be in the parking lot when we went outside, and if we would get home that night. As I sent out texts/FB posts to friends (ex “kids) in the area, I found that some who lived nearby had already gone to the basement of the UC for shelter.

When I turned on the Channel 2 CBS news at 6:30 pm here in Los Angeles, they mentioned the Oklahoma tornadoes as if they were mere hiccups. I sent them a website e-mail telling them to watch their sister station in OKC and keep up.

This storm was all over the place. First news was from Edmond; just north of Oklahoma City where UCO, Abbi’s cheerleading/dance gym where she both coached and was a member of 3 squads, and most of our friends lived. Then, another storm started up east of OKC on the I-40 — threatening Shawnee, the mall, the casino, and two recreation areas. The casino was evacuated, the shoppers were diverted to the shelter within the mall, and the twisters barely missed both. The Shawnee Reservoir and Lake Thunderbird weren’t as lucky. An entire trailer park was leveled. Why anyone would chose to live in a mobile home in Oklahoma is beside me. The helicopter crew watched as water was literally sucked out of the Reservoir. A housing development on the banks of Lake Thunderbird was wiped out — and in true tornado behavior, three houses in the middle of the development were untouched while everything around them was flattened. At one point in time, there were 6 circles overlapping on the video — 6 storms that could merge into one superstorm. I watched as two tornadoes merged with a “halo” around the top meaning it could become even larger. Where the tornadoes touched down, brown debree clouds whipped up forming clouds at their bases. We wouldn’t know what was in them until later — just trees? Crops? Homes? Livestock? That would have to wait.

The news came out that at least one life had been lost in the trailer park. From past experience, news about missing people wouldn’t be forthcoming for days.

The messages I sent out were answered over the hours — a pix on Facebook from one of my sorority nieces showed the tornado parallel to their car on I-40. There’s nothing you can do in that case except keep driving — you never know what it’s going to do — stay the course, turn onto the freeway and hurl you in circles then tossing you to the ground….you just keep on moving.

Others showed hail in sizes ranging from golf ball to baseball and sometimes larger. One newscaster claimed, “Just another softball-sized hail storm.” Only in Oklahoma.

Stories of near-misses — “It came within a mile of the house.” “We got home. We’re safe.” “My plane landed just in time.” “We had roof damage, but were OK.” “We’re in the shelter. The kids and dogs are all in my lap.” “The house is gone.”

Back to the news, I-35 and I-40 were hit hard. Cars that parked under bridges for safety were slurped out and tossed around. One tractor trailer truck was picked up off a highway bridge and pitched to the road below – smashed like a plywood toy. Another had been turned over and was perched precariously over the railing.

Tornadoes are so common, we often take them for granted. We’re outside taking pictures as the ground-touching tails travel straight towards us. Jokes hit the internet about grabbing a lawn chair and a beer to hit the lawn and watch. But there’s nothing funny about these things. They’re unpredictable.

Then, the word came that a storm was headed for Norman, home of the University of Oklahoma. The newscaster admonished “Don’t look for it. It’s wrapped in rain.”

The next from Prague and Meeker – east and south of the University. This day was never going to end. Again, a storm wrapped in rain that would be undetectable if someone was looking for the normal signs: Rain, hail, eerie silence, and the sound of an oncoming train.

At the end of the day, most of my friends were OK. A couple of houses sustained major damage. One family came out of their closet to find it was the only thing left standing. But no one was hurt. That’s what really matters.

Of course, that’s not the end. There was still the threat of more tornadoes during the night, when there’s no defense. And today will bring more tornado watches and warnings. These are never one-day events.

But Okies are a resilient lot. They know spring is coming, and with it tornado season. They know spring will be followed by a drought-ridden summer and winter will bring blinding blizzards and ice storms that will knock out power lines and send trees dropping through roofs. There’s always fall — time to breathe and watch football.

And, as the old song says, they’ll “pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.”

In times like this, no one cares whether you’re Republican or Democrat, whether you’re white, red, black, yellow, or green. Everyone comes together to make sure their neighbors have a place to stay, enough food to eat, a shoulder to cry on, clothes when necessary, and they’ll work together to rebuild.

Then, they’ll hit the back deck, grab a beer, grill a steak and live their lives until the next scare. They know it’s coming, but there’s no sense to worry about it until it happens.

Abbi and I spent 18 years in Oklahoma. It was an adventure. It still amazes both of us that most people never think of leaving. She had many friends who had never been out of the state. Most of them went to OU, OSU, or UCO. They go to Eufaula or Grand Lake for vacations, get jobs in Oklahoma and stay to raise their families…”Sooner born, Sooner bred, and when they die, they’re Sooner dead.” And they’ll always persevere. It’s who they are. It’s in their genes. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, until the next time, I’ll probably be switching “weather TV” off and on my computer until Gary England is no longer talking about tornado watches, warnings, and imminent danger, and go on living my life — knowing that an earthquake could come at any minute, but hey..I’ve been through tornadoes in Oklahoma and Nebraska, blizzards and ice storms in West Virginia, Ohio, Nebraska and Oklahoma, a tsunami, hurricane, and the only tornado to ever hit Hawaii (it came through Koli Koli Pass, just like the Japanese planes on December 7 — and a mile from our house), and earthquakes in California. No, I haven’t been in a big one yet, and hope I never am, but if it happens, that 18 years in Oklahoma will kick in. And I’ll be OK.

Take care of yourself. Every day of life is precious. Stuff is just stuff. Treasure your family and friends. Tell someone you love them today, and every day. And live life to its fullest.

See you soon.

WHAT WAS I THINKING?????

Most of you know my feeling about malls. I’m a real believer in supporting local business, and secondarily, buying pre-owned stuff….no sense killing more than one tree if you don’t have to.

I used to love to shop. Would get off work, change clothes, hit the mall for food-court Chinese and shop till the place closed down. Always found something cute for work, and never left the house without something cute on casual nights. Back in Charleston, WV were I kinda grew up, I caught slack because when I bought an outfit, it was always paired with matching shoes, purse and gloves. Yes, gloves. I got called prim and proper more than once.

Then life got complicated. Married, baby, stuff….you know. it happens.

But I’ve lost some weight and wanted clothes that fit. I need some tops that aren’t tee shirts, and wanted new capris. So, yesterday I decided to go shopping (something I now hate to do, primarily because I go during day hours instead of waiting till all the under-10-year old set is at home.)

My first thought was to hit up my consignment shops. My favorite is Haute Seconds on Wilshire between Brentwood and Santa Monica — they have great designer stuff and several production companies use them after films wraps. I scored Abbi the $3000 Loubitons Cameron Diaz wore in “Bad Teacher” there. And a couple equally good shops are within a couple miles. It seemed like a good idea until I reminded myself that it takes a dedicated day to find clothes for myself in consignment shops because I’m not a size 4. Never have been, never will be, and I would probably end up buying shoes for Abbi or a Fendi, Louis or Gucci purse instead of my intended purchases…and I’d still have to make another shoing trip for the stuff I needed in the first place. Problem Number Two is that I’m in Fullerton. Haute Seconds is anywhere from 40 minutes to 3 hours away — one way — and that would only be my first stop. To add to the frustration, there’s always construction on the 405. Logic dictated that drastic measures were in order, so in a moment of utter weakness, I went to the mall.

What I didn’t take into consideration was that Saturday, May 4, 2013, was “early shopping” day for Mothers Day, or maybe just the day that very large families decided taking their pre-pubescent crew to a crowded mall was more fun than a trip to the beach in 90 degree weather or Magic Mountain, Disney Land, or Knott’s Berry Farm where kids are both entertained and appreciated.

Not only was the place packed, it was packed with entire families, and evidently most families have 4+ children…..all running rapant, all in charge of their own little individual gift bags, and all ready for a) food, b) a bathroom break, or c) a nap. Mostly, they decided I was a target catch in their track meets, or something to use as blocking dummy. Not one parent intervened. I just wanted a peaceful day of putting together a spring/summer wardrobe that didn’t consist of jean capris and university/sports/hot spot tee shirts. Those of you who went to Myrtle Beach with me know I can’t resist a fun tee shirt. My all-time favorite is AJ’s in Destin, Florida. Down the sleeves are “Suck the Heads,” and b) “Eat the Tails.” The other favorite in Destin is Busters, an off-the-beaten path burger joint, and I can’t resist buying Cara Roy tee shirts that are copies of Seaside’s Spring and Fall wine festival posters.

But back to the mall, along with those tiny bundles of energy were at least one, usually two, and in some cases generations of adults…all in states of a) hunger, b) need of a bathroom break, c) in need of a good hockey game or a nap, and d) in serious need of a valium, xanax, or at least a beer. Mostly, they were in need of a couple hours with no kids. I’ve never understood why one parent couldn’t stay at home with the kids while the other one shopped. Men hate shopping anyway. Why should they be subjected.

Put those two classes of people together in a scenario that had been out of my frame of reference for over 6 years, and there I was…a) wanting to go up to some parents and say those words I used to utter on a regular basis before Abbi was born, “If you can’t control that thing, leave it at home,” b) still in re-coup mode from surgery when I really shouldn’t have been stressing myself out, c) in my usually-impatient state, and d) resolute to not leave until my mission was accomplished. I mean after all, I’d given up Haute Seconds (and probably a new purse) for this.

What (the f—) was I thinking?

Maybe I wasn’t. Maybe there are still some meds or toxins hiding deep within my body that made me less than lucid for just a nano-second. Maybe I forgot the frustration of going into a mall where I didn’t know the locations of the brands I like, the restroom, or my much-needed Coke for the first time. And on a Saturday. For whatever reason, there I was. There I would stay…..praying that I would find what I needed very quickly so I could get the hell out of there and finish the other things I’d planned for the day — filling the car’s tank and going grocery shopping for my 17 charges who go through snacks, Lucky Charms, apple juice, and toilet paper quicker than I can get them purchased and put away.

It seemed a logical move to go to Macy’s first. They carry both Ralph Lauren and Jones New York. Both brands have the butt to waist ratio.

I surveyed the first floor, which usually houses women’s clothes…..but after discovering only a warehouse full of cosmetics, perfume, shoes, jewelry, accessories, junior stuff and bathing suits, I headed upstairs, where I found nothing but “Women’s” clothes. A whole floor of “Women’s” (plus-size) clothes. Oh, and a sections of regular-sized suits and formal/cocktail wear. It made me wonder if that was the only assortment of regular clothes they carried.

There was no 3rd floor.

I headed back to First floor, asked about casual wear, and was directed to the basement. The basement? Really? But I was on a mission, so off to the basement I went. Mini-munchkins were still circle-eighting themselves around and between my legs or assaulting me with tiny gift bags. It amazed me that parents were letting their kids run wild. My assumption was they weren’t concerned about the kids being abducted — 20-minutes, and they’d be returned.

This made me long for the days when we dressed up to take a bus to downtown Charleston, wander through The Diamond, Stone & Thomas, Pecks, Frankenberger’s, and other stores where we could shop like ladies, pick clothes we liked with just enough staff to be helpful when needed but not obnoxious enough to want to establish long-term relationships, and could charge our purchases to our parents’ accounts before hitting The Diamond’s winding lunch bar, Valley Bell, or the Quarrier Diner for a hot dog with chili and slaw with a Coke in a coned cup (I’m thinking it was about 10 ounces, which was plenty).

But the good news was that the first thing I spotted in the basement was the Ralph Lauren department, where I picked out a couple pair of capris and some cute tops. The pants I chose were the size I thought I would wear, and they were a little loose, so I tried the next size down…and they fit. And the tops I’d always worn wear open with a cami underneath now closed all the way without leaving gaps between the buttons. It was then I realized that I’m only one size away from being where I was before my assault on December 7, 2007. It hit me that once the doctor gives me permission to exercise again, though I’ll have to take it easy for awhile, I’m scant months away from being back to my normal size. No, I’ll never be a size 4 — or even 6 for that matter. I don’t want to be. I enjoy being a real woman with a real body. I may get a mini-six-pack, and it’s great to feel my hip bones again, but I never want to be a “rail.” And I can get back down to my “fighting weight” well before the Writers’ Police Academy in September. That makes me really excited. Can’t wait to get my tee shirt with “WRITER” on the back. Even more excited to gain information that will make my mystery/thrillers more accurate and believable while meeting other authors from all over the country. They only accept 150 people, and I’m thrilled to be one of them.

But back to the mall. There wasn’t anything in the Jones New York section that tripped my trigger, and I was starting to feel a little light headed, so decided to take a break and hit the food court. Finding it was another matter, and brought up yet another of my pet peeves. Why don’t people understand that driving rules apply at malls. Drive/walk/push the damned 3-kid stroller down the same side of the walkway you’d normally drive on. We’re not in the freaking UK– not down the middle or and certainly not maneuvering the bus of a stroller with your stomach while holding a Coke in one hand and your cell phone in the other. And if the kid is screaming its head off, pick it up. Feed it. Change it. Take it home. Immediately. Not after you’ve finished trying on every bra in Victoria’s Secret while annoying the hell out of all the other customers.

And it was damned near impossible to find the food court, which was nowhere close to the picture on the huge map depicting where it should have been…..they should have made a note that there are TWO Macy’s stores — one for women’s crap, and one for men’s and house stuff. Telling me it was beside Macy’s wasn’t enough information.

Finally got there, ordered a taco salad without the shell and the obligatory Coke to get my body revving again, but it didn’t work. After eating, I still was light-headed and came home without filling the car or grocery shopping for my little piranhas. But that happened Sunday, so no gallows were erected and they’re still happy with food back in the cabinets.

And in spite of the angst, I learned a couple of lessons…..a) if possible, schedule time to get to the Santa Monica area where I can shop in the upscale designer consignment shops I love, and where the staffs know me, or b) hit the mall during school hours or after the dinner hour when stroller or over-active-cookie-propelled kids are behind the closed doors at home playing video games. And I came home with a killer new outfit that I can wear for business casual, another trip to the mall, or even a date if that strange event should ever come up.

Other good news is that my website is back. My year-long subscription had run out, and they hadn’t sent me an invoice so I had no way of knowing. I’ve written down the date for next year so I can be proactive. See, I’m becoming a responsible adult again. (At least in some areas, but don’t expect miracles. I still gotta be me.)

Until next time, take care of yourself, and know you’re important to me. I’ll be more proactive with the blog from now on; so much has happened in the last month, and we need to catch up.

Enjoy your day. Tell someone you love them. Complement a stranger. Hug someone. Laugh out loud. Live life as if this is the last day you have. And love yourself. See you soon.