May 2011

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Packing up for a road trip down to the Pretty Town by the Sea. We’re all so excited to see Grandma and Grandpa.

Last night, we went through some old pictures of previous visits:

Showing Grampa the sights.

Getting to know Captain.

Enjoying some fresh summer corn in "town."

Like a Wilson Cooper, guarding some cherished alone time.

We’re looking forward for a few days of soothing ocean waves, fresh sea air, and perhaps a visit to the grumpy old elephant seals.

I can wait to exhale across the water after a week that seemed scattered and unraveled for lots of us: texting, emailing, and chatting constantly with friends, many of whom had things come undone this week, or never really come together. By midweek, I had coffee with a friend who, like me, had to keep reminding herself what day it was, what needed to get done, where the kids were. It was just one of those weeks.

Surprisingly, one of the things that grounded me over the past few days was Oprah’s final show. Seriously. Not the pre-finale with all the hoopla and surprises, but the final-final show. She stood in her soft pink dress and just spoke for an hour about how we all owe it to ourselves to find our purpose in life. To shine. Whether it’s being a loving mom, a baker, the President, a teacher, a writer, whatever. She said that if she could bless us all with anything, it would be for us to find what makes us shine and give us the means to do it with all our heart. Can’t put that under a chair.

I watched the episode twice. It gave me comfort. I love that Oprah also reminded us to take responsibility for the energy we bring to any situation, because our energy affects every living thing around us.  Are you a nervous wreck? Are you walking into the room bitter, angry, your stomach in knots over what someone did to you? Or are you walking in with an open heart, willing to let your guard down and just be grateful for the people in your life right this minute? Gratitude is an anchor to the moment. Saying an inward thank you for (insert anything) makes my light shine. I can feel it. I was glad to be reminded to tap into the gratitude before reacting to drama. I needed that reminder.

I’m not sure what my life’s purpose is, but I am willing to sink into this very moment and be so grateful for everything I have. And while I’m here, I’m going to say thank you for all of those brave souls who’s calling is or was to put themselves in harm’s way. To put on a uniform and risk everything for a cause. To maybe lose their lives. Thank you for shining and risking it all.

Have a wonderful weekend, whatever you have going on.




Late last week, Dennis and I decided to invite a few friends over for an impromptu Friday night, family-style Italian meal.

Little J was going to a Star Wars sleep-over birthday party a few streets over, so I was excited to be able to talk at full voice into the night, maybe slap my palm on the table in fits of laughter, stay up really late, and then…sleep in. We did all of the above.

Terre, Mari, Ryan, and the lovely Cathy sat around our table with Dennis and me. We passed large, unmatched ceramic serving bowls of a simple penne pasta and Caesar salad, a dish of grilled asparagus, and a platter of Dennis’s famous grilled tri-tip. Bottles of red and white competed for the rest of the table space along with a few sweat-beaded carafes of water.

We sat down to eat at 7:30. We didn’t get back up until 12:30.

I don’t know what we talked about for five hours, but it was funny. When I close my eyes and remember the night, I see everyone with their mouths wide open, and squinting with laughter. I remember looking across the table and telling Dennis, (without words) “We are doing this a lot more often starting with tonight.”

So friends, get ready.

Like most parents of little ones, Dennis and I used to have friends over for dinner all the time in the PBE (pre-baby era). But after Little J was born, we found ourselves wanting to veg at night more often than not. And then with all the treatment, forget it. But I feel like we’re entering a different era. Treatment is more frequent, and yes, it’s on-going. But optimism, new furniture, and an evolving back yard are conspiring to invite friends over in spite of all that, even when we’re tired, even when it’s just a regular old Friday night. Why not?

Friday night so satisfied that, at one point I felt okay with the idea of a reckoning on Saturday, if Harold Camping were right. Before the ascension, we’d snuggle up with Little J on the bed and he could tell us all about his Star Wars party. Then we could tell him about our party, about Ryan imitating the eccentric public access TV guy, about Cathy’s stream of silent-laughter tears over the story of meeting Ryan and the stinky fish that nearly doomed their otherwise perfect first conversation. And ohh, Miss Terre’s soul-reaching laugh, like the sun cracked open and spilled light all over us. You lucky ones who know Terre know exactly what I’m talking about.

On Saturday, we went to Leigh’s daughter, Zabba’s first communion party.

The world did not end.

Instead, Zabba ate berries while her younger brother, Lil’ Salty, dressed in his handsome-guy clothes, surfed a two-by-four down the slide as grandma shouted to Ricky, “Look what your son’s doing!”

And frogs were hunted in white tights and ballet flats.

I got to hold a little baby with sweet, squishy arms that I wanted to eat. Dennis sampled all the pretty sweet treats on the table, confirming that whatever comes out of Johanna’s kitchen is indeed delicious and makes you thankful that the baker got the math right and that the so-called prophet did not. One more day for a few more chocolate and peanut butter ganache cupcakes, please.

It’s Sunday now, and past Little J’s bed time, but he and Dennis will not pull themselves away from the Lego pile in the living room. Heads down, matching hair cuts, they search and assemble, and now and then hum and sing Rockin Robin (tweet, tweet, tweet), and Little J announces, “Dad, we’re up deck and ready to sail.”

No one wants the weekend to come to an end. Most definitely not the world.

Should I be the one to say what time it is? To end the party? No way. Best to let times like this just stretch out. I reckon.

See you at the dinner table.




Little J wants to turn everything into art lately.

He climbed into our bed yesterday with a torn shoe box, and in his still sleep-froggy voice announced, “I’m going to make this into a diorama with Indians and a stream and stuff.”

The diorama actually made for a perfect Saturday afternoon project because the boy and I could avoid the crazy-making winds that have been rattling the windows here in Sugartown lately. So, while Dennis built raised beds for our backyard vegetable garden, Little J and I concentrated on the still and wind-free world we fashioned from glue and foam: a crayon stream and fake grass, a putty tee-pee, and a glow-in-the-dark Indian poised for attack from behind the shrubbery.

While we worked, I wondered, as I do a lot lately, whether Little J would remember that moment years from now.

I tried to think of memorable times I had with my mom when I was around his age. What was it that made me hold on to certains memories and return to them again and again? If I knew, I’d try to fill every moment with Little J with the magic ingredient, the one that makes memories stick.

I remember sitting at the piano with my mom, playing duets and singing, “Jeepers, creepers, where’d you get those peepers?” The smell of something simmering filled the house, so it must have been dinner time. I can also see her dress, a small red floral print, her simple gold wedding band, and I can feel her love of the music, our togetherness, anything silly, anything that could turn to laughter.

My mom worked full time. My brother and I probably got up a little earlier than most kids, but her being a working mom had no negative bearing on us. On the contrary, I was fascinated by her working life, by the fact that, after having graduated from UCLA before I was born, she went back to the same university for her MA and other credentials to further her career in the LA County School District. She was a teacher trainer and strategist for quality education for kids who spoke English as a second language.

She worked in schools in the rough parts of LA. She brought me to work with her on days I had off. I remember the holiday celebrations, the kids from Lebanon, Mexico, and Guatemala. “We are a country of immigrants,” my mother would remind me. All of us. We have to remember that.

I watched her get ready for work as she donned her classic skirt suits, made for her by a woman who lived nearby. “You pick the best quality fabrics and have them hand made,” she’d tell me. “You pay less and get more, the best quality, not quantity.” Simple jewelry, modest and clean-looking make-up, pretty little size five shoes. She was a cross between Jackie O and Catherine Deneuve in those days.

I think that, on occasion, my mother felt a bit of guilt, working every day instead of being a stay-at-home mom, like the mom across the street. But she shouldn’t have. To me she seemed more present with and more involved in our lives than that mom, who stayed at home and seemed to me, more focused on her own social life than her kids, always shooing them away to talk to her friends, share the neighborhood gossip, or finish a card game.

When my mom came home from work each day, she made a meal that usually combined ethnic Armenian food and seventies convenience “food.” So we might have handmade spicy meatballs (kuftas) with Minute Rice, and always a salad and a veggie. And then it was homework time, or piano, or a game of cards by the fire. Yes, there was TV: The Muppets, The Carol Burnett Show, and of course, ChiPs. But TV time was together time, too.

When I was little, there were no “play dates.” You played with the kids on the block or invited kids over, but it just all seemed less arranged. And I remember my mom often played with us. She taught a group of us to jump rope on the driveway of our house in Woodland Hills. We roller skated. We baked cookies from scratch so often that I can still do it with Little J and his friends without looking at the recipe. We did crafts, and danced, made popsicles, and went swimming. I think one of the things that makes certain memories stick is my mom’s genuine presence, seeing her laugh and enjoy herself right along with us.

More than anything, she was committed to our education. She worked, but like a lot of working moms, she was active in the PTA and met with my teachers regularly to discuss everything from my test scores to my math and reading progress. She worked with me on the things that gave me nightmares (FRACTIONS!!) and encouraged me to challenge myself in the areas that I loved, reading and writing. I fashioned little pop-up books with stories I made up, and she treasured them.

Since education was so important to our family, the few days that my mom took me out of school to go shopping for a graduation dress or a winter formal dress were beyond memorable. We’d drive down to the Sherman Oaks Mall and spend a day trying on Gunne Sax until I thought I’d pass out. Then we’d have lunch, sometimes at the Moustache Cafe in Westwood, my favorite. On those days, I knew I’d lucked out in the mom department, big time.

My mother was no doubt inspired by her mother, who was Armenian and one of very few women to attend the American University of Beirut. And I was, in turn inspired by my mother, not only to seek out the best education I could and to travel and live abroad, but more importantly, to work and to do what I love.

My Grandmother

Love, my mother always taught me, was the cornerstone of everything. “Marry for love,” she told me. Money doesn’t matter and can never ensure your happiness. If you don’t have love, you have nothing. Do what you love. Prestige doesn’t matter and neither does power.

“If you love digging ditches, I will support you in that, as long as you do your best at it,” she told me during the time I’d decided that I didn’t want to go to law school. “Working is good for the soul,” she said, “but only if you’re doing something you love.”

It was always so clear to me that my happiness meant more to my mother than anything else. Do what you love. Marry for love. Fill your days with love. She instilled these lessons in me by actions and words. If I could pass anything on to Little J as his mother, it would be those same lessons.

I try to surround myself with other moms who inspire me to be even more creative, to be more relaxed in my parenting style, to be present when I’m with Little J, to expose him to things that will enrich his life.

But overall, if Little J grows up knowing that his happiness is what matters, that he’s worthy of love and people who will treat him well, then that’s all I can really ask for. And when I look at all the love and loving people in my own life, the sweet diorama I’ve created, I have to thank my mom for the nurturing in me, more than anything, the capacity to give and receive love.

I love you mom. Happy Mother’s Day.



It’s been so nice to be back home in the arms of my loving boys. The weather was gorgeous this weekend. We celebrated Heather’s birthday in stylish hats, in honor of the Royal wedding, as Heather is our local English Rose.

And speaking of nuptials, and love, and things that sing to a girl’s heart so that she can get back on her feet…take a look at this swoony wedding video Mari showed me over the girls’ weekend. It’s by Vlad Chaloupka, artist, photographer, film-maker and dream-renderer extraordinaire. I promise it will make you smile. Be sure to keep watching after the screen goes black for a sec.

Viva amor!

Ben and Erin from Vladimir Chaloupka on Vimeo.