Thursday, December 31, 2009

to my Hayward family

I just learned that my Uncle Paul - husband to my mother's sister Ann - and father to some of my many awesome cousins Peg, Regina, Marie, Sally, Susan, John, Paul and Tommy, passed away earlier this week. It was only three months ago that I last saw my Uncle Paul, at the memorial service for my Uncle Bill. I caught a photo of Uncle Paul and Jim laying on the bed and watching a Red Sox play off game and you've never seen two 83-year old men, happier.

(That is - until the Sox lost.)

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To all of the Hayward family, we are holding you in our hearts and fondly remembering your Dad. My Uncle Paul was a very funny man and always made me smile.

We are with each and every one of you in spirit.

Please give your Mom our love.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

road trip 2009: second set of clues

More of Charlie's artistic photography...

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Points if you can name what that stuff is growing in our backyard...

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Double points if you can name what County we are in...

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Triple points if you can identify the geologic formation William is pointing out...

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road trip 2009: first set of clues

We left Sunday morning on a road trip.

The plan was to scoop the children up while they were sleeping, load them in the car in their pajamas and hit the road at 4 AM. But since we were up until 2 AM taking down our Christmas decorations ... and packing ... and cleaning ... and walking around in circles, we didn't actually leave the house until 8:00 AM. And then it took us an additional two hours to get to the freeway because we had to fill up for gas, stop at one grocery store - and then another - and turn around for "critical" items at home that we had forgotten.

(Even though the children had been up since 7 AM and absolutely could have been dressed before we left for the ride - they really wanted to travel in their pajamas because it sounded like SO much fun.)

(Henry's picking a winner!)

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When we arrived at our final destination 14 hours after departing our house ... we calculate that we drove approximately 37 miles per hour. We stopped at least once an hour for potty breaks. Twice for gas. Once for air in our tires. And we were caught in horrendous traffic. Not to mention, we befriended a few stray cats at rest stops because the kids are going through a crazy want-a-cat-need-a-cat-must-have-a-cat phase.

Can you guess who really wants a cat?

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Can we please take it home Mommy? (No)

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Please? (No)

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PLEASE? (NO)

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Anyhoo. We're traveling.

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And boy oh boy do we love traveling.

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These are some of Charlie's artistic shots from the road.

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Who can guess where we are going?

Friday, December 25, 2009

you can't stop Christmas from coming

Last night, Charlie and I were up until 11:45 wondering what to do.

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Do we push our Christmas celebrations back for one day? Do we return all but one gift per child? Do we stuff only our stockings and leave theirs bare?

What - oh what - should we do?

Borrowing upon the wise advice of my cousin Margaret who called at 12:30 AM EST and my advisory committee (aka: the kind people who left me comments late in to Christmas Eve) we reduced the children's gifts by approximately 25% (stashed away for next year) and added an onion to each of their stockings.

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We also left a note from Santa which read,

Dear William, Elizabeth & Carolyn:


This is Santa Claus. When I arrived at your house tonight, with a sleigh full of toys, my reindeer were very hungry. It surprised me that you didn’t leave any carrots out for them. When I spoke with your Mother and Father, they told me that they had to put you directly to bed without any dessert. They also told me that over the past few days your ears have not been working very well and you’ve been teasing each other. When I heard that you were acting naughty, I wanted to turn my sleigh around and fly right back to the North Pole.


But your Dad and Mom, who love you very much, told me that you would be so sad to wake up on Christmas morning and not have any presents. So at their request, I decided to leave you a few things. But I want for you to know that there were a few more toys that my elves had made especially for you that have been brought back to my workshop until NEXT year.


I hope that you enjoy the presents that I did leave for you. I hope that you take good care of them and SHARE them with your siblings. These toys aren’t just for YOU, they are for your FAMILY. And if I see that you are fighting over something, Rudolph and I will fly down and take them away.


Merry Christmas!


Love, Santa


PS: Vegetables are very good for you. I want to see you eating your carrots instead of spitting them in to your milk. Don’t forget … I am always watching. Ho! Ho! Ho!


Yeah. Yeah. I know what I said.

I know that I said I was going to lock the fireplace and tell Santa to skip over our house. And while I meant it at the time, somewhere around my second mug of eggnog and brandy, I very distinctly heard a little voice whisper in my ear, "RELAX."

So I did.

And when I looked in on the children and could actually see the visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, I thought what kind of monster would I be to deny my five-year-olds of the awesome experience that is Christmas morning? Or more appropriately, how awful would it be to deny Charlie and myself of experiencing Christmas morning with our five-year-old children? Because today and as far as I can see in to the future, this one decision of skipping Santa would bother us a lot more than it would bother them.

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This morning the children were up at 6:15 and were trying to climb over the baby gate that we had used to block off the bedroom "wing" from the rest of the house. Although we had been up until almost 2:00 AM getting things ready (because we didn't decide that to unlock the fireplace until 11:46), we were exhausted. But the children's excitement was contagious.

Carolyn said that she heard Santa's reindeer on our roof. William was convinced that he saw Rudolph's red nose in the sky. And Elizabeth said that she was sure today was going to be a better today for me (For me?! Not her? The little pyromaniac?!)

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This afternoon, we put all four of the children down for a much needed nap. Two and a half hours later, they are still sleeping so perhaps they really are exhausted and over stimulated by the almost non-stop festivities. As their mother and giver of life, I should have known better. But I didn't. Probably because I was exhausted and over stimulated by all of the non-stop festivities as well. Thankfully, today is a much better day.

Today is a beautiful day.

Today is a peacefully quiet day.

And while I know that Christmas doesn't come with ribbons, tags, boxes or bags... it certainly does make it a lot more fun.

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We hope that you are having an equally wonderful and blessed day.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

SOS: santa is turning the sleigh around

Our children have been absolutely, positively NIGHTMARISH.

They are ghouls haunting our souls with their terrible behavior. Over the past few days, their bad behavior has come to a rolling boil. The fighting, the screaming, the whining. I don't know if it's because they are so excited about Christmas and Santa ... or what, but it is bad.

Very bad.

The whole, "You better watch out, you better not pout" means nothing to our kids. You'd think the lyrics of the song were, "You better throw a fit, you better fight and yell, you better make your parents scream, 'WHAT THE BLOODY HELL!"

Tonight during what was supposed to be a beautiful candlelit Christmas dinner that Charlie and I spent much of the day preparing, in the midst of Henry screaming and Carolyn and William telling us how they don't like this - or that - or this or that on their plate, Elizabeth attempted to catch her paper popper hat on fire. I shudder to think what might have happened had she been successful. I'm imagining that the entire table would have gone up in flames once the hat ignited the tablecloth.

Everyone was sent directly to bed. There was no opening the one Christmas present that Charlie and I traditionally place on everyone's dessert plate. There was no reading, "Twas the Night Before Christmas." While I hate to use this word, the only word that I can think to adequately sum up their behavior is B-R-A-T.

Charlie and I told the kids that Santa is going to skip right over our house because we are planning to lock the fireplace. And yes. We are seriously considering filling their stockings TO THE BRIM with sticks, rocks and coal because I truly do not see any good that would come from condoning their terrible behavior. After the night that we've had, the last thing that I want is for our children to wake up to a house full of brand new presents.

But then - what in heaven's name do we do with our garage full of toys?!

Help.

'tis the season to be jolly

Would you please take a look at what I bought today...

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Because this is the most wonderful time of year ... and because these little cookies are one of the most wonderful things to ever be created (at least in my opinion) ... and because I feel like spreading holiday cheer here there and everywhere ... I picked up a few extra boxes for you, wherever you are.

But first - to score this awesome prize - you must answer these three questions:
  • What is your favorite Christmas song?
  • What is your favorite Christmas movie?
  • What is your favorite holiday tradition?
The day after Christmas we'll be heading out of town for a week and by order of Sir Charlie, I'll have limited access to a computer. So three (3) winners will be selected via Random Generator and posted on or about January 5, 2010.

(Whoa 2010. How did that happen? Are we in a time warp?)

Whichever three people win this chocolaty prize will receive their box of Joe-Joe Candy Cane goodness right about the time they're ready to crack on their New Year Resolution of eating no more sweets.

Totally unrelated, here are my quartet of preschool singers serenading our favorite band of neighborhood triplet boys.

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I think singing Christmas carols around the neighborhood might be my new favorite holiday tradition. At least while the children are young enough to think that it is fun.

Seeing as I'm caught in a crazy time warp, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they try to distract me from dragging them along on my caroling adventures, by throwing handfuls of Joe Joe's in the air.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

was she round or were they gathered a-round?

I'm planning to take the children Christmas caroling this week. We're baking up several batches of cookies and will bring them to a few of our senior friends in the neighborhood.

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Everyone will be dressed up in their most festive Christmas attire and I'll stick a Santa hat on their heads and hope that whomever we serenade will be so distracted by the adorable factor (and cookies), they won't pay much attention to the lyrics that we are attempting to sing.

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Last night during dinner, I was practicing for our neighborhood debut. They've got "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" down pat. As well as "Away In A Manger." But when we were working on "Silent Night" I was bombarded with questions. This is how our rehearsal went...

"Silent Night, Holy Night..."

"Mom? MOM? What is 'HOLY'?"

"Well, Holy means that ... uh ... God is really really present and it is very special because God is there and people could feel God's presence. Let's start from the top? Silent Night, Holy Night ... All is calm..."

"Mom? MOM? What is 'CALM'?"

"Calm means quiet. Like when I tell you to CALM down? That means I want you to relax and be quiet. So this song is about a quiet, peaceful night where God is really present. Let's try it again? Silent Night, Holy Night ... All is calm all is bright..."

"Mom? MOM? What is 'BRIGHT'?"

"Bright means that something is shiny and light. Like when you look at the flame on a candle, it is bright. The stars in the dark sky are bright. That's what we are singing about. On the night of baby Jesus' birth, everything was quiet and peaceful, God was present and the stars were brightly shining. Doesn't that sound beautiful?"

The children all nod yes so I start singing from the beginning. "Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright. Round yon ..."

"Mom? MOM? What is 'ROUND YON'?"

I had to hesitate here for a moment because I wasn't really sure. So drawing upon what I thought was the correct answer I said, "Round means Mary was round because she was expecting a baby and yon means she was young."

Charlie, the great linguist that he his scoffed and said, "That's not what it means! It means that everyone was gathering 'round the young woman who was carrying the infant Christ!"

"ALRIGHT. What. Ever. Can I finish my song. PLEASE?"

This time I tried to speed up the tempo to hopefully deter any more interruptions. "SilentNightHolyNightalliscalmallisbright. Roundyonvirginmotherandchild..."

My little audience was paying close attention.

"Mom? MOM? What's a 'BIRGIN'?"

I shot my husband a look before answering, "Alright kids, we're going to save this song until you grow a little older. Now everyone sing with me...

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... We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"

Monday, December 21, 2009

how is it possible?

Saturday morning, I woke up at 6:27 AM.

This caused an immediate rush of adrenalin since I was due to leave our house at 6:30 AM. But because my little alarm clock that "Never-Sleeps-A-Minute-Past-6:00-AM" didn't wake up, neither did I. Thankfully, I had packed my bag of supplies the night before so once my eyes fluttered open and I looked at the clock and quickly processed that I was supposed to depart in THREE MINUTES, I flew out of bed, threw on some clothes, raced a toothbrush across my teeth and bolted out the door.

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The purpose of our trip was to drive down to a village just south of Ensenada, Mexico and have a Christmas Fiesta with approximately 5,000 local people. All told, there would be a caravan of ten vehicles crossing over the border packed full of volunteers, supplies and individually wrapped Christmas presents for each of the children that were expected.

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The people that I traveled down with have an organization through which they send shipments of food and clothing to Mexico several times a week. One of the recipients of that food is a place called, "Village of Hope" (VOH), which is a camp located in the foothills of Ensenada that is funded by a consortium of California-based churches.

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The primary mission of the VOH is to serve the Mixtec people.

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What I didn't know - but learned on this trip - is that Mixtecos are indigenous to Mexico, predating the Spaniards by several hundred years. Mixtecs do not speak Spanish, but their own language, Mixteca. Infact, the Mixtec language and culture are as different from Spanish as Navajo is from English. Because they cannot communicate with people beyond their own community, they are culturally and linguistically isolated and disadvantaged. They typically live in extreme poverty and lack basic provisions such as clothing, food and housing.

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The VOH, or as it is known locally, "En Campo De Esperanza", was our first stop and is where the Christmas Fiesta was set to be held. I'd like to add that this place is so close to our house in San Diego, it actually takes me longer to drive to Los Angeles than it takes to drive to this camp. And I don't know how to describe this place except to say that it is an absolute oasis for the Mixteco people who live and work in the farm land, nearby.

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From what I could see, all of the people who work on the farms live in shacks.

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Although I doubt some of these 'homes' even meet the definition of shack.

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This is where the Mixteco people live.

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This is where their children live.

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This is the stagnant water that they use to clean, bathe and drink.

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This is their restroom (the small white structure in the foreground) that might service 100 or more people.

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This is how they wash their clothes.

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This is where they cook their food which typically consists of nothing more than corn tortillas and perhaps some beans.

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The farmers who own the land, pay the workers approximately $8.00 a day and if the workers are lucky, they are provided housing which might consist of corrugated metal walls and a roof. When I looked inside, all I could see were some blankets on the ground. No mattresses. No pillows. NO NOTHING. As if that wasn't bad enough, the cost for living on "the property" is taken from their meager pay.

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After we unloaded all of our gifts at the VOH, we drove around the countryside and made a stop at a place called ... Jon and Arlene's house.

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Jon and Arlene once lived in northern California. But several years ago, they traveled to Mexico to buy a boat. A 45-foot catamaran to be exact. But on that trip they met a woman who was running a children's program and they almost immediately felt their hearts pulled in to an entirely new direction. It took three months for them to decide that they needed to sell off everything and move to Mexico. Now they live south of the border full time and run what is considered a daycare. Arlene said numerous times that the sole purpose of their operation is to keep families together.

They recognize that people need to work - but what do they do with their children?

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One option is to take the children in to the fields with them. The babies are strapped on to their mother's backs and will spend hours upon hours in the field under the hot sun. Sadly, some babies spend so much time strapped on to their mother's backs that their muscle strength and development are severely delayed.

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Babies are placed on the ground where they will remain all day. And sometimes, babies are left alone in the shacks, frequently under the care of a three or four year old sibling.

(The women and small children in the photo below were picking carrots which are shipped to the United States where they will undoubtedly be refused by my children. The notion of throwing food out bothers me even more now than it ever did before.)

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Children any older than that are usually put to work. We saw this sweet boy who was no more than seven-years-old herding a flock of goats. In the background, the Christmas Fiesta was going on at the VOH. But he couldn't attend because he had a job to do.

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Quite often, people make so little money working in the fields, that they decide to migrate north. But it isn't quite so easy to cross international lines when you don't have a visa or work permit. Out of sheer desperation, people will leave their children behind. Sometimes with a smuggler, who might promise that they will eventually reunite the illegal immigrant with their child. Many of these children that are left behind either end up dead, in the rampant child sex trade, or if they are lucky, an orphanage.

That's what Jon and Arlene are trying to prevent.

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Jon and Arlene provide a true safe haven while the parents are off working. Currently, they have 10 children living at their home and watch 11 children every day. Surrounding their home are several shacks for the Mixtecan families that were built by a California church group that sponsors all of their activities. According to the people that I traveled with - this is a huge improvement over what was here. Up until very recently, the people that congregated around Jon and Arlene's lived on the property in 'homes' constructed of nothing more than shredded tarps and plastic trash bags.

In addition to providing free daycare services, they have a small school on their property and are able to provide basic food to the people who live nearby.

Food that it turns out, is also provided by the Hilarious Givers.

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After we visited with Jon and Arlene for a few hours, we returned to the VOH and helped to serve food and hand out Christmas presents to the more than 5,000 people that had gathered. There were games, music, a church service, and an opportunity for people to get a haircut.

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The VOH had posted fliers all around town inviting people to the Fiesta and they came in droves by stroller, bicycle, foot horse and bus.

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We left the celebration after the sun had set and took about three hours to drive home. We stopped along the way at a Mexican Costco for some supplies that cannot be purchased in the States. Then we stopped for gas. And then we stopped for fish tacos. I was extremely hesitant to eat the Mexican tacos, seeing as I had packed several Uncrustables and I have a digestive system more temperamental than a ... I dunno ... wet cat?

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But I ate them and oh they were so delicious.

And then, while we were stopped in line waiting to cross the border, we bought several bags of churros. And they too were oh so delicious. (At least for a few minutes.)

For the first time in the 15-years we have lived in San Diego, I have never before been so thankful that we live so close to the border. Because no less than 10 minutes after arriving home, the entire contents of my stomach were ferociously catapulted up and out of my body.

I cannot remember the last time I was as sick as I was Saturday night. The words "Death and Dying" crossed my mind no less than one hundred times as my body rejected every molecule I had consumed over the past six hours. And while I desperately held on to the toilet bowl with my feverish head resting on the nice cool seat, I kept thinking, "Why God, WHY ME?"

Why is it that I am so lucky to have been born in to such an abundantly prosperous country?

Why is it that I am so lucky to live in a wonderful house that although I might sometimes think is too small and lacks sufficient closet space, it keeps my family dry, warm and safe?

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Although I was violently chucking up my churros cookies, I could not stop counting my blessings about how lucky I am to have a house with a bathroom and indoor plumbing.

It is estimated that more than 1 billion people around the world live in shacks similar to what I saw during my recent trip to Mexico. So I'm going to go out on a limb here and draw the conclusion that despite whatever issues you might have going on in your own life ...

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If you are simply reading this blog - you're pretty dang lucky, too.