Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Things That No Longer Exist

Mara here: Ok, the title of this blog is possibly more dramatic than it needs to. I'm not thinking on a global scale. I'm not referring to dinosaurs.

Right now I'm dealing with the fact that recently several products that my family and I loved are no longer being produced by the manufacturer. What? Why? I hate it when companies do this. They sell us products that we get used to and that become part of our daily lives and then they just stop making them.


This is partly why I think I'm a bit of a hoarder. I'm always afraid when I find something I really like that I won't be able to get it at some point. Make-up manufacturers do this all the time. They like grow and evolve as companies, but I just want them to stay the same!!! I'm kidding. Kind of. I want the things I've gotten used to.

So here are a few things that my family loved that no longer exist:

Trader Joe's Thai Noodle Boxes

These were delicious. And they were super easy to make. And cheap! They were Pad Thai, Kung Pao, or Satay flavored noodles in little take out style boxes, and they cooked in just a couple of minutes. Brad, my husband, loved to have them on the weekends. But they stopped making them. And our house feels the loss greatly.

Kraft Fat Free American Cheese Slices

I can already hear people saying this is not food. And I will fully admit that it was a bit like eating cheese-flavored plastic. But you can stop the flow of hate because my family loved them. We don't care if they were mummifying our insides. They were only 25 calories per slice and we put them on everything—eggs, sandwiches, potatoes, wraps...everything. It's a bummer. I've been to several different stores to try and find them. They've disappeared. It's a tragedy.

$5 Pants. So, when we went to Mexico this summer I wanted some pants that were light and airy. I found these amazing culottes on that were exactly what I was looking for, and they were only $5. What? Amazing. There was $3.40 for shipping, so I bought two pairs because it seemed ridiculous to pay almost as much in shipping charges as the actual product cost. I thought about buying more, but what if I didn't like them?

So the pants arrived and I LOVE them. They are perfect. They feel like non-pants pants. I can't really tell I'm wearing them. This might not sound ideal to everyone, but remember I'm the person who has worn the same fuzzy pants for a decade.

So I put off buying more because I've been trying to break myself of the habit of buying more than I need. But I just looked and they're not selling them anymore! And it's not just that I'm sad because they were so cheap. I actually tried ordering a similar pair of pants from a different online place and I didn't like them nearly as much.

So I will have to love and protect the two pair I have because I can't get more. I might start's so sad. I even e-mailed the manufacturer to see if there was somewhere else I could buy them, but they don't make them anymore.

Toni here. That was fun to read, Mara! Now, here are three things that no longer exist that I miss.

Actual people answering the phone when I call a medical office or most businesses.

I'd like, just once, for an actual person to pick up the phone when I call one of my many doctor's offices or clinics. And, I don't just get put on hold but have to listen to awful music that's way too loud. If I try to compensate for the noise by taking the phone away from my ear, then I miss when a real person comes the phone...and wind up with a disconnect. I can't seem to win on this one.

Fireworks without music.

I don't go to fireworks in person anymore, but I sometimes watch them on TV, and when they're set off in my small town I can hear them from my house—that is, if the extremely loud music that now accompanies them doesn't drown out the sound of the fireworks exploding. I like that sound. For me, fireworks are exciting in themselves. I don't need music to help me enjoy them. 

A slow news day.

I can't remember when we had one of these, but they seem to be a thing of the past.


So what about you? Have you had products or other things that were near and dear to your heart disappear?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Birthdays and Your Date of Birth: When They're Not the Same!

Mara here. The day before this post gets published will be my 43rd birthday.

Yay, happy birthday to me.

But for me, "birthday" is a concept. The day that's designated as my birthday—August 26—is not my birth date.

Because I don't know when I was born.

I literally do not know what day, month, or year I was born. This means I don't actually know how old I am.

I know it's shocking (and it seems to freak some people out), but we'll get back to that later.

I have a love-hate relationship with birthdays. It doesn't have to do with getting older because that has never bothered me. I’ve always felt very old. When I was younger, it was a relief to get older because it was hard being a 12 year old who people thought was 18. It always felt awkward.

Now that I’m really older, well, I still feel old so it just seems as if it’s all happening the way it should. As I mentioned above, I don’t mind getting older. I’ve lived a pretty full life already and I don’t have the desire to be younger or have people think I’m younger.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a huge fan of my body wearing out. This body weirdness that happens as we get older sucks. But telling people I’m 43 doesn’t upset me.

It's the obsession with birthdays in our culture that's tough for me. It's a trigger for my anxiety. And it's not just my birthday that stresses me out, it's my family member's birthdays too.

There’s so much expectation and pressure built up from when we’re kids. It’s supposed to be “our day.” And “our day” is supposed to be special and exciting and full of presents and parties. And now, with social media, we’re supposed to get showered with birthday messages and text messages. And on television, people are always being surprised with fancy parties and balloons and vacations.

In addition, I don't really like parties and, to be honest, I don't like the pressure of feeling like I have to throw parties for other people. And I really don't like making other people feel like they're supposed to throw a party for me.

So I tend to have quiet birthdays. My birthdays are pretty much like most other days except with a few presents added in. (I am a fan of presents, so they are always awesome.) 

I think part of it is that we are conditioned from when we are kids to make a big deal out of birthdays. As a parent, your kid’s birthday is a huge deal! Let’s face it—we all feel as if our kids having been born deserves a major celebration. And it’s easy to do fun things for kids. We take cupcakes to school and all the kids sing happy birthday. And we throw a party and rent a bounce house and our kid feels like as prince or princess for the day.

Now that my daughter is older and a $10 board game and a popsicle don't make her wild with excitement anymore, it's hard to keep building on that expectation we cultivated that each year would be bigger and better than the last.

As we become adults and have to make that birthday amazing-ness happen for ourselves, it’s just not the same. There’s not the magic. Much like buying your own Christmas presents, throwing yourself a birthday party doesn’t have the same effect. But that feeling of expectation never goes away. Deep down, I still want someone to force me to wear a crown and have everyone get a cupcake on my birthday.

And now back to that teensy little detail of not knowing when I was born.

I’ve written previously about being adopted from Korea. The history of my adoption starts in Seoul, South Korea, where I was left at a police station with no record of who I was or when I was born. Unlike in the movies, where kids always have a note pinned to their shirt with their name and birthday on it, there was no information about me. I was a mystery.

Based on physiological factors, it was determined that I was around two at the time, so that was set as my legal age by the adoption agency in Seoul. By the time I was adopted, my legal age was three. After a couple of years in the U.S., based on my behavior and the fact that it was proposed that I was possibly small because of lack of nutrition in my early development, my mom and dad had my birthdate legally changed from March 26th (the day I was found at the police station in Seoul) back to August 26th of the previous year, so that I'd be old enough to start school.

Two birthday parties within six months of each other must have been pretty exciting for me, but I don’t remember them at all.

Let’s face it, none of us would remember the date of our births if we weren’t told about it by our loved-ones. And we are conditioned to believe our birthdays are special days because it is nice to commemorate the day that we were born into the world. 

But if you're like me and you don't know when you were born, then the celebration really does become simply a celebration of existing instead of commemorating a specific day.

And many people, even those who do have big celebrations for their birthdays, rarely have them on their actual birth date. They schedule them for the weekend or when a venue is available, so the birthday as a celebration is separate from the technical birth date.

The importance of birthdays is that they're an appreciation for having being born. It's a way of showing thanks for having managed to keep ourselves alive and, if we're lucky, accomplish a few things.

I guess if we really wanted to be crazy about it, we could celebrate every day the same way we celebrate our birthdays—because it's kind of miraculous that we manage to survive each day in this big wide universe. However, that would get expensive and exhausting. So we have chosen to celebrate birthdays and mark the years as they pass by.

But my birth date was selected for legal purposes, so my so-called birthday is a observance of that date, not my birth. And I love that my friends and family want to celebrate with me and put candles on my cake. But it doesn't change the reality, which is that I don't know how old I am. 

So I imagine my birth date doesn’t hold the same meaning for me that it does for everyone else. And while I don’t feel a gaping hole in my soul over it, I’m sure that my feelings about my “birthday” are not as sentimental as they are for people who know all the details about when and where they were born.

Plus, there is the added side-effect of having no way to appreciate astrology. When I was younger, aside from the fact that I thought astrology and astronomy were the same thing for an embarrassingly long time, I loved to read my horoscope in the magazines. I identified as a Virgo, even though I never put much stock in it. 

Then, at some point, it dawned on me that I might not be a Virgo because I don’t actually know when I was born so it really was pointless. I still read the Virgo horoscopes because habits are hard to break and it’s fun.

Okay, now here are some questions I asked my mom about my birthday and her birthday.

What went into the decision to change my legal birthday?

It was simple really. We realized that you'd soon be ready to start school, but your ability to do that was tied to your age. The only way you could meet the public school cutoff for age was for us to make you older. So we made you six months older. We hired a lawyer friend and went down to the Yolo County Courthouse and met with a judge in his chambers. The judge wrote a court order that changed your legal birthday.

Our plan to was make you about six months older. In Korea, they had set your birthday as March 26th because that's the day you were left at the police station. We asked the judge to make it August 26th, which we chose because that's a day that's meaningful to us. It's the day we flew to Los Angeles to pick you up, so that's the day you turned us into a family of four!

Because that's the day we first saw you, it's always felt as if it's the day I gave birth to you. In fact, August 26th feels the same to me emotionally as the day I gave birth to your brother. It just happened differently. It was the day a flight attendant carried you off the plane and put you into my arms. It felt right that this should be the day to celebrate your birthday since we had no way of knowing the actual day you were born.

There's a funny side to the story that goes along with the court order to change your birth certificate. The judge was supposed to make your birthday August 26th, 1974, but he got confused and put the year down as 1975.

We were walking out of the courthouse and I was reading the court order, and suddenly yelled, "Oh my god, the judge made you younger not older!" Our lawyer, Bob Black, took the court order from me and said, "He put down the wrong year!" He ran back to the judge's chambers. Luckily the judge was still there and made the correction.

Does it feel weird to you that you don’t know when I was born?

No, it doesn't feel weird. Once in a great while when you were younger, I might think to myself, "Maybe she's older" or "Maybe she's younger." But not knowing for sure doesn't feel weird to me because (and sorry if it sounds corny but it's true), it feels as if I gave birth to you in the airport when you were handed to me by the flight attendant. So it really doesn't matter to me what the actual date of your birth is.

My only concern over the years was whether or not it would matter to you. But it seems not to. And personally, I don't think the actual date of a person's birth is particularly important. For some people, it's very important,and that's fine, but it's not to me.

In fact, it seems as if it bothers people you know more than it bothers you.

[Mara: Yeah, I think it's because people can't imagine not knowing the date of their birth. But I've never known. And I think part of the reason it doesn't bother me is it's not something that ever comes up unless I bring it up. It's not like I tell people it's my birthday and anyone ever says, "Oh is it your actual birth date?" People don't question it.]

How do you feel about your own birthday? Do you attach it to feelings about getting older?

I have to admit that I have started doing that. I used to love my birthday. Just like you described, I felt like a "princess for the day." I loved the cake and all the presents. But since I became chronically ill and mostly housebound, a lot of "special" days have lost their meaning. For example, it doesn't matter to me if it's Thursday or Saturday. And the same goes for holidays.

And now it's become true about my birthday because your dad and I don't really do anything special. Sometimes we'll go out to an early dinner. But even that has lost some of its luster after, three years ago, we went to a fancy restaurant for my birthday and your dad ate something that made him so sick that we ended up in the emergency room.

Recently, I have had some sad thoughts associated with my birthday, because I am noticing more that I'm getting older. I didn't notice it when I was younger. Maybe it's because as we get older, it occurs to us that we don't have unlimited time left. But it's not something that I dwell on.

So my overall relationship to my birthday has changed. It started when I got sick, and the day has continued to become less important to me as each year passes.

That said, a couple of years ago, you made it a truly special birthday by giving me a bonsai tree. Growing bonsai turned into a enjoyable hobby for me. I now have a little bonsai forest in my bedroom so I have a wonderfully positive memory of that particular birthday.

Most importantly, what’s your star sign?

I am an Aries. You know, though, I hardly know anything about what that implies. I've never been into astrology. Maybe it's because my father-in-law was an astronomer and he once told me that you can't really be sure of your star sign anyway because the earth's movement on its axis over the years means that it aligns differently to each of the constellations that we use to decide our signs.

All I know about Aries is that it's supposed to mean you're a born leader, which I've never felt like anyway. So I've never really identified much with it.

So what about you? How do you feel about birthdays? How do you usually celebrate?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How Was Your Eclipse Experience?

Mara here. So did you see the eclipse? 

Did you get a chance to look up at the sun and see it partially blocked? Or were you lucky enough to live in the totality zone or did you plan well-ahead of time and travel to see the total eclipse?

If you read this blog regularly, then you know that I looked up what time the maximum eclipse would occur in Los Angeles, so I had 10:21 a.m. in mind for eclipse viewing. But around 9 a.m., I wandered into the backyard to see where I should prepare to view and to test out my glasses—and to my surprise the eclipse had already started! The sun already had a little bite-sized piece blacked out.

Somehow, with all of life's other distractions, it hadn't occurred to me that there would be almost a  two-hour span where I could watch the eclipse as the moon passed in front of the sun. So I sat down, with my dog keeping me company, and just stared at the little orange blob in the sky. And in the same way as I'm often surprised when I notice clouds moving, the eclipse was happening quickly, I just sat and watched the moon move in front of the sun.

The universe is so big that we often don't think about the big picture. We we forget, for example, that we are constantly moving. We are so busy and distracted most of the time, we forget how small we are and how quickly things are happening.

I had the news playing on my phone, and it was amazing to listen to the reactions of people across the country as they experienced the eclipse. 

If you were in the path of totality, the experience of the eclipse was pretty spectacular. Hopefully, everyone watched some television footage of it. The sun became a miniscule sliver, then the sky went black. And, for a moment, people were holding their breath and wondering if the sun would ever return. And then they saw a burst of light as the corona, the fiery atmosphere of the sun creating a silhouette of the moon, became visible. Then there was another burst of light as the edge of the sun became visible and then, once again, people saw the crescent shape as the eclipse passed.

People reacted with so much emotion and jubilation. We all were able to recapture some childish wonder. The groups of people I saw on the news would become hushed and then excitedly react with ooh's and aah's when the corona appeared.

It was like the ultimate magic show.

Because it is magical.

And it's something that we as a species have shared with our ancestors for thousands of years.

Today, we know the science behind the eclipse. Imagine the experience of people who didn't know the cause of such a phenomenon, for whom eclipse was truly magical—and likely scary.

For me, even though we only got around 80% of totality, it was still a special experience. It gave me an opportunity to think about the earth's tiny place in the universe. And I loved how, with all the other nonsense happening in the world right now, people all over this country and the world stopped to share an experience that was bigger than us.

I hope everyone had a chance to at least take a moment to experience it!

So what was your experience?  Share with us how it made you feel!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

To Eclipse or Not To Eclipse

A long long time ago...okay, maybe not a long long time ago, but at least a year ago, my dad excitedly announced that he was taking a road trip to see the 2017 solar eclipse. I remember vividly how he sat at our dining table and described his plans to find a hotel room near the path of full eclipse and make his reservation ASAP because when people realized the eclipse was coming, there would be a mad rush for reservations. 

He excitedly told us that he'd wake up early, leave the hotel, drive to the total eclipse zone, and wait by the side of the road so he'd avoid the worst of the traffic. He knew about all the different possibilities for viewing, depending on what percentage of eclipse you wanted to see. Then asked if we wanted to come. He was positive we would want to take Malia to witness it. 

I know this reflects poorly on me, but I think I laughed. I hadn't heard a peep about the eclipse. And I knew that trying to explain to our teenage daughter that we were going to take a road trip that would involve driving for hours and hours and then getting up in the middle of the night—all at the beginning of her school year—in order to see a solar eclipse would be an exhausting exercise in frustration for me. (Again, I realize this may reflect poorly on our family because my dad rightly understands the importance of nature.)

I insisted the eclipse wasn't going to be a very big deal, but he insisted it was going to be a very very big deal—a huge, once in a lifetime event. And while it hasn't become quite the big deal my dad was imagining, it in now being covered on the news. (In fairness to my dad, I don't think any of us could have predicated the political climate of 2017. I imagine had things been different, there might be more news coverage of the eclipse.) 

And he was right about finding a hotel room because they're all full now. So, although he was right, I am a little bit right too since I'm not seeing a constant barrage of news about the eclipse. I admit that he was more right than me. For one thing, people who are science-minded seem to be very excited.

We were in London in 1999 when there was a solar eclipse, and I don't remember it being a huge deal. (I could not be remembering it correctly though.) I do remember buying some paper eclipse-friendly glasses for a pound at the Oxford Circus tube station the day before the eclipse, because people were talking more about going blind from looking at the eclipse than they were talking about the excitement of the eclipse itself.

And I remember, in typical London fashion, that it was overcast on eclipse day. It must have been on the weekend because my husband was home, so we went outside with our glasses on and stared up at the sky and just saw a wall of clouds. So we went back inside, turned on BBC 1, and watched the news coverage of it. 

Mostly what I remember about the eclipse was that it got dark. It was like a normal sunset but it happened faster. I also remember how weird it was that it was dark in the middle of the day. And I remember being surprised that the darkness didn't feel any different from nighttime darkness. 

It was a bit magical, and it felt like there should be scary movie music emanating from the universe to accompany the strange darkness. Then, as it started to get light again, it was just like sunrise in fast motion. There was also a hush over the city that I hadn't noticed had occurred until it was broken by the tweeting of birds who (not having watches) reacted as they always do to the appearance of rays of light in the dark. 

Then, before I knew it, it was light again—like a regular day—and it was over.

I hadn't thought about the upcoming eclipse much until a couple of months ago when I started seeing some news articles pop up about it. And again, I'm seeing more warnings about the possibility of retinal damage from the eclipse than I am seeing stories about the actual event itself.

A couple of weeks ago, after seeing a Facebook news article on it, I checked for some eclipse glasses only to discover that all of the available packages in quantities of less than 50 were sold out or backordered. Fortunately, I found another distributor and was able to order a more manageable 5 pack, so I have them waiting. On eclipse morning, I will shove a pair into the hands of my daughter and husband so they don't go blind.

Even though it's not something that is particularly important to me, I do want to experience it. I have no idea what percentage of eclipse we we'll get in Los Angeles, but I want to share in the experience of knowing that so many friends and family will be standing under the same sun and, if the skies are clear, will be staring up with their goofy glasses to watch the universe do something magical.

I asked my mom some questions about this upcoming event.

So, were you as excited about the news of the eclipse as dad was?

No. But I think that's partly because I already saw one. There was a total eclipse of the sun in Nova Scotia in the 1970s and we were living there at the time.

In addition, your dad has always been interested in astronomy because his own dad was an astronomer. His day job was as a newspaperman, but he also worked at the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco—one of the great planetariums in the world. He was one of the lecturers for the planetarium show. He lectured on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons. He was so good that, when there was a new show, people waited for one of the two times he'd be lecturing to go and see show. He also wrote a book called The Handbook of the Heavens and recorded some LPs.

So, your dad grew up in that environment and astronomy runs deep for him. As a matter of fact, he's going with his brother to see the eclipse because astronomy is something they share from their childhood.

If you saw the eclipse in Nova Scotia, didn't dad see it too?

Yeah, he did. Actually, his mom and dad came all the way from California to see it. We had to drive a couple of hours north from where we were living, near Halifax, in order to see the full eclipse. I remember pulling off to the side of the road and watching it. Your brother was still a toddler. It was really exciting.

For your dad this new eclipse means, "Great. Now I can see another one!" For me, well I can't travel anyway, so what's the point in getting upset. I'm just glad he's going.

Have his initial plans changed?

Oh yeah, several times. You mentioned in your piece that he was going to get a hotel room. Well he did. A year ago, he got a hotel room in Pocatello, Idaho. He was going to stay overnight there and then drive to get into the path of totality on the day of the eclipse. But then he got concerned that there'd be too much traffic and he might miss it.

So he found a campground that's in the total eclipse path. It's actually a dune buggy RV park, so it's basically a concrete parking lot where he's reserved a spot to camp. It's pretty funny because he's not much of a camper, but he bought a tent and a cot and he and his brother will be camping out there for two nights.

Are you concerned about his trip?

Well, I guess my concerns are the same as his concerns. First is that they could run into too much traffic to get there. He's plotted a route that he thinks most people won't be taking because it's not the main route from Nevada or from the Salt Lake City area where there are a lot of people. 

His and my main concern, though, is gas because once they get into the eclipse zone, they'll be in a pretty remote area with only a few small towns around—and lots of people needing gas. He's devised a strategy which is to top off the tank every time they see a gas station while on their way to the campground. That way, when they start to drive home, he should have a full tank and be well into Nevada before needing gas. 

I know things won't go exactly as he's planned, but I hope he gets to see the eclipse and that he enjoys himself.

Most importantly, did you get the goofy glasses so that you don't blind yourself trying to see the eclipse?

Yes. Actually your dad bought the ones that NASA recommends. He thought he was buying four, but it turns out it was four boxes with five in each box, so he's been handing them out to people. He mailed some to your brother.

Will you go outside and see what you can see?

Absolutely! I'm going to go online and find out exactly what time it will be happening here. It will be partial, but yes, I will watch it. I loved your comment about how nice it will be to share the experience with friends and family no matter where they are because we'll all be doing the same thing—looking up at the sky. 

Mara note: If you want to see what time and what percentage of eclipse you will see you can go here: 

Photo Mara took of the London eclipse in 1999 off of the TV because it was too cloudy to see outside.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Things That Irritate Us Even Though They Shouldn't

Mara here. I try to be a reasonable person. I'm sure my daughter will disagree, but generally I feel as if I can handle most of life's everyday little disappointments. But sometimes my brain absolutely just explodes with frustration when I encounter little setbacks. 

I know that, logically, I shouldn't get upset when these things happen. And, somehow, by exercising all my powers of control and by deep breathing, I manage to contain the fireworks that threaten to shoot out my ears, even though I want to throw myself on the ground and throw a tantrum.

I can deal with most things that don't go the way I planned. I can deal with a flat tire or someone showing up late or an unexpected errand I have to go on. But there are some strange little things that make me crazy. And yes, I realize it's ridiculous I get this upset about these things...but I still get upset. At least I realize that it's ridiculous.

Here are a few:

Gas pumps with no way to keep the handle pressed

I'm sure there's a technical term for the little thingy on gas pumps that make it so I don't have to stand there keeping the handle pressed to actually pump gas into my car. But I don't know what the name of that thingy is...and I don't care. I just want it to work. And 99.9% of the time, it does work, so I can pretend I am anywhere but standing at the gas station waiting for my tank to fill up.

But there's that rare occasion when that thingy is either missing from the pump or is broken and I have to actually use my hand muscles for the entire 5 or 6 minutes it takes to fill my tank. It drives me crazy. It honestly feels like an injustice when this happens. It's pretty miraculous that I manage to get through these ordeals without ending up in a viral video of a crazy middle-aged Asian woman throwing a fit at a gas station.

When the hamburger place has no chicken for their tacos

We have a hamburger stand near our house that we've been walking to ever since we moved here about 14 years ago. And although it's called a hamburger place, they have amazing tacos. The tacos are available with beef or chicken. The beef ones are okay, but the chicken ones are incredibly tasty! They're savory and spicy. And, having been grilled on the same grill as the hamburgers are, the flavor is extra greasy. They're like street tacos, but they're about three times the size of normal street tacos. 

But sometimes, when I try to order chicken tacos, they're out of them. It's a culinary crisis because the chicken tacos are my favorite thing. And I usually don't want anything else from there. I think I've been dreaming all day about eating one of those chicken tacos. It's a major bummer.

When there's only Coke Light and no Diet Coke

In all fairness, this has only been a problem when I've been in other countries. But seriously world, is too much to ask for Diet Coke in all the major cities of the world? Coke Zero and Coke Light just aren't the same thing. I don't care how many times my husband tells me he thinks they taste the same, nothing is the same as Diet Coke. Nothing. 

Okay. Toni here with my own list of things that irritate me even though they shouldn't. [P.S. I laughed out loud at your list, Mara]:

When someone says, "Have a nice day." 

Okay, if they really mean it, it doesn't irritate me or if I think their boss has instructed them to say it so they have no choice, it doesn't irritate me. But when people say it just to say it, it irritates me!

My husband

He maintains that he couldn't possibly irritate me, ever. But I have to give him the bad news: sometimes he irritates me, even though he's the best partner and caregiver a person could ask for.

Watering my bonsai in the summer

This definitely shouldn't irritate me but it does because, in the summer, I have to water them every third day. This involves taking the plants outside (which takes three trips), filling two water pots to the top, performing the task, and then, after a bit, bringing the plants back inside. 

On watering day, I wake up and say, "Oh no!" which is why I include this task here. But is it worth it? Absolutely. I love having five little trees growing in my bedroom. It's just irritating to have to water them so often in the summer.


Hopefully all you readers are calmer and more rational people than we are! But if you aren't, what are things that make you irrationally crazy?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Sad Side of Social Media

Mara here. I’ve written before about social media, and for the most part I really enjoy being able to keep tabs on people at a distance. I love seeing photos of people’s families, and I like to hear people’s good news, like weddings, the birth of babies, pet adoptions, and graduations.

However, the other side of social media is that it means I'm sharing people’s sad news too.

This week I found out that two people I primarily stayed in touch with on Facebook passed away.  

They weren’t people I was very close to. One was a woman who was the relative of a close friend, whom I had had over to our house for a holiday meal a couple of times. The other was a woman had been involved in the television production my daughter was in, but I didn’t stay in regular touch with her. (Shortly after I saw it on Facebook, I was contacted by a mutual friend with confirmation of the sad news.)

This is not the first time I’ve had this happen. I've found out on social media about other friends—and even a family member—passing away. But there was something about having it happen with two friends within two days that has made me think about the impact of finding out sad news in this way.

It’s difficult. It’s a bizarre combination of something being incredibly personal and incredibly impersonal at the same time. And it's so sudden. In addition, it gets mixed in among the jokes and vacation photos that pop up in my Facebook feed. It’s like biting my tongue when I’m eating something. It’s shocking and seems unreal. 

It caused me to flash back to a memory of when I found out about the death of one of my best friends from high school and college. Her mother called me. I knew as soon as her mother identified herself that there was something terribly wrong. In nine years of close friendship, my friend's mother had never called me before. But even then, I had that second to prepare myself—that second between her telling me who she was but before she tearfully relayed the news that my friend had died.

On Facebook, there's no time to prepare.

And I find the fact that the pages of people who've died live on without them to be a bit haunting.  For me, seeing their familiar avatars continue to show up in my Facebook feed, as friends and family post memorial messages on their pages, makes it more difficult for me to accept that they've passed away.

Facebook is regularly asking me to update things in my profile. It likes to remind me that I only have 20% of my personal information filled out. And they're constantly doing updates, so there are always new features they want to highlight. Last week I was a little startled when Facebook asked me if there was someone I wanted to designate to be able to post on my profile page in the event of my death.

Although the obvious people for me to designate are my husband and my daughter, I didn’t. I hesitated. It's logical as with any other piece of property, Facebook wants someone to be able to take ownership of pages of people who are deceased. Maybe family members wouldn’t want pages to be left out there in cyberspace. And like me, I’m guessing most people want to know if something has happened to their “friends,” so it’s practical for someone to be able to post and make an announcement that everyone in the friend's list would be able to see. 

But I didn’t want to fill out this new request. I’m not afraid of death, and I’m not someone who doesn’t want to think about dying. But somehow the thought of giving someone the responsibility of notifying everyone on Facebook felt uncomfortable.

People feel differently about the role that social media should play in their lives. Some people feel as if you shouldn’t post things that are too personal (like relationship problems) or that you shouldn’t post things that are political. And maybe it’s a generational thing. Perhaps my daughter’s kids will not think twice about having all their life details preserved on social media. I’m somewhere in between. People should post what they want. But when people die, should their social media presence live on without them? Is that what I would want? I’m not sure.

The web makes our ever-shrinking world even smaller. People I would never have maintained any contact with twenty years ago, are now a regular part of my consciousness through their social media posts. I guess that means there are more people who will sadly be lost to me as the years pass by. And in the end, I’m glad that I am able to have the information so I can say my own goodbye and provide comfort to people who are still alive if I’m close to them.

But it is an aspect of social media that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to. Here are a few of the things I have asked myself over the past two days that I thought I would discuss with my mom:

Have you had experience of finding out about the death of friends on Facebook?

Yes. I have several times and it can be traumatic. The most traumatic time was learning in my Facebook feed about the death of you and your brother Jamal's elementary school teacher, Marla. If I add together the years for the two of you that she was your teacher, it comes to 5 years. I used to tell Marla that she helped raise the two of you. In addition, we became good friends and hung out socially. I loved her very much. 

The way I found out was that I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and her daughter, whom I was friends with, had posted that Marla died in an auto accident. When I saw the post, it felt as if I'd been kicked in the stomach.

I will say that because I'm mostly housebound, in some ways, I was glad to find out that way because, otherwise, I might not have known for several days.

But as you discussed, finding out on Facebook was startling because there was no time to prepare. And it felt so impersonal. Even getting an email about someone's death doesn't feel impersonal because at least the email is addressed to me.

So I have had that experience on Facebook and it's pretty jarring.

If it’s someone you’re not super close to, do you think in some ways you would prefer to simply not know that they had died?

No. I like to know what happens to people. And sometimes I learn interesting things about them I didn't know because people share their memories of their deceased friend. Obviously, hearing the news of the passing of people I'm not close to doesn't have the same traumatic effect as it does when it's someone I am close to. Instead, it's just sad information—part of life.

Have you given any thought to how you would want your social media accounts to be handled in the event of your death?

That's an interesting question because I have accounts on a bunch of social media sites, even though I'm only regularly active on Facebook. I have a couple of Google accounts, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin, and some I've probably forgotten about. 

I've seen two approaches on Facebook. Sometimes when a person dies, his or her page disappears. But other times, the page stays up for a couple of months or even a year, and people post their condolences and memories of the person. That must be comforting for family and friends to be able to see, and they probably learn new things about their loved one. So I think it's nice when a page becomes a kind of memorial to the person who died.

But for me personally, I don't have any preferences. I have two pages on Facebook that are very active: my personal page and my professional page—I call it the page for my books but I post a lot of photos—mostly of flowers and birds and paintings. Whatever is done with those pages after I die is fine with me.

Have you gone out of your way to make sure that someone knows all of the passwords?

No, but I guess I should. I know this can be a problem because when a friend's husband died several years ago, she didn't have any of the passwords to their financial accounts that were online and it was a mess to sort it all out. So, I think your dad should know my passwords. That's something I should probably take care of!

Mara and I would love to hear your thoughts on "the sad side of social media."

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What Are You Afraid Of?

I'm reading Stephen King's book It.  The movie is coming out later this year and I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie. For those of you not familiar with it, it's a story about a group of kids and their experience with an evil presence (that normally takes the form of a clown) in their home town.  The story spans a few decades covering their childhood and subsequent reunion when they are adults. 

It's pretty creepy. There aren't many books that have made me uncomfortable while I'm reading them. There have been a few that have given me strange dreams: The Golden Compass by  Philip Pullman and The Windup Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami are two that I can think of off the top of my head. But they didn't trigger a fear response.

It is definitely creeping me out.

In general, I enjoy being a little creeped out. I enjoy horror movies. I like that little rush of adrenaline and suspense. And most of the time, as soon as the movie ends, I'm not afraid anymore. But I do have my limits. And for some reason, It is pushing them. I have a couple of times chosen not to read the book late at night, and there have been a couple of times I've thought twice about running to the bathroom when the house was dark. 

As soon as I realize this is happening, I am able to shake it off and remind myself I'm being silly, but it has definitely made me think about what I'm afraid of—not afraid in a phobic way the way people are afraid of spiders. I'm talking about things that I don't like to think about if I'm sitting in a dark room. Here are a few:

Ghosts. I'm not afraid of running into something covered in a white sheet in my garage. I just don't want confirmation of the existence of a supernatural presence. I don't understand the people who like to stay in hotels that are haunted because they want to see things flying around a room. I am pretty happy believing that those things don't exist. Same thing with aliens. I'm not saying that I don't think aliens and ghosts are possible—I actually do think they are possible. But I prefer to be ignorant of their existence for as long as possible.

Dolls. I've never really liked dolls. I'm not sure why. I just find them creepy. When my daughter was young, I was really hoping she wouldn't want dolls because I have such a hard time with them but, of course, she was obsessed with American Girl Dolls. She would have them strewn about her room, so late at night when I would check on her, it looked like there were little dead bodies scattered all over. Macabre I know, but this is why I don't like dolls. Something about their lifeless eyes that stare at me. In a similar way that I prefer to believe ghosts don't exist, I was always afraid I would see a doll move and that I wouldn't be able to ever unsee it again. 

Clowns. I could have lumped clowns in with dolls, because they're creepy to me for the same reason. But where dolls are pretend in a physical way, clowns are pretend in an emotional way. I have a hard time laughing at them. Perhaps it's because we're supposed to laugh at their misfortune. We're entertained by the fact they fall and stumble. Or maybe it's because their makeup is meant to deceive. It's exaggerated happiness painted over sad faces. I don't know. But I find clowns super creepy. And clown dolls are the worst. The clown scene in Poltergeist definitely gave me nightmares. 

Toni here. Mara and I recognize that most of us have fears in relation to the safety and well-being of our loved ones, so we don't address that. This is intended to be a more lighthearted piece. And so, here are a few things I'm afraid of:

My car not starting. There's a simple reason why I'm afraid of my car not starting. For many years after I started driving, that's exactly what happened sometimes—and not just to me. Once in a while, everyone's car simply wouldn't start...and not because of a dead battery. Today's cars are much more reliable. Still, whenever I turn the key in the ignition, I think, "I hope it starts."

Pit Bulls. I know that a lot of people have pit bulls who are great pets. I simply had an incident that happened to me and I've been afraid of them ever since. I was with my dog, Rusty, at a small park. I had a "chuck-it" and was throwing a tennis ball for him to retrieve. Two pit bulls approached and then separated from each other, taking up a position with one slightly to one side of us and other slightly to the other side. Then they started slowly walking toward us. There was no way for us to walk past them and there was a fence behind us. All I had was Rusty, a tennis ball, and that chuck-it. Not knowing what else to do, I held the chuck-it up as it it were a weapon. I held it up, facing one of the dogs and then the other, and went back and forth. They stared at me and then, after about a minute, they turned and walked out of the park. Maybe one day, I'll meet a friendly pit bull and won't be afraid of them anymore.

Being pecked by birds! Ever since I saw Hitchcock's movie The Birds, I've been afraid that a bird will swoop down on me and peck at my head. This fear wasn't helped by my husband coming home from a jog many years ago and telling me that he'd been attacked by a bird. (They evidently will aim for your hair when they're building a nest.) Whatever their reason is...they scare me.

Mara and I would love to know what you're afraid of!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Do You Need a Vacation From Your Vacation?

Mara here. I just got back from a vacation and, for the first time in my life, I didn't feel like I needed a vacation from my vacation.

I don't have a lot of experience with vacations as an adult. I've done a lot of traveling, but most of it has been for business in one way or another. I can only think of a handful of trips I've been on that were 100% because we just decided to go somewhere. Usually it's associated with a job or a family obligation. 

And, as should come to little surprise to people who regularly read the blog, I find traveling extremely stressful. No amount of planning can make me feel prepared. After three years of almost constant travel, I finally feel as if packing is not cause for a complete nervous breakdown. I pretty much know exactly what I will need, and a lot of it is now pre-organized and ready to throw into a suitcase.

But the actual traveling part still causes a lot of anxiety. Physically, I am fidgety. I have a hard time sitting for long stretches at a time. I am the person in the movie theater wiggling around, trying to find a comfortable position every ten minutes. And mentally, well, I am anxious when I'm sitting in my living room, so dealing with travel schedules, airlines, strange cities, and hotels is definitely cause for stress.

And the thing is, it would be easy for me to simply not go places. In fact, there have been a lot of trips we haven't taken simply because the stress of traveling makes the trip not worth it to me. But as I'm getting older, I'm realizing I really do want to see a lot of places. I don't want to stop experiencing things. 

As a kid, we'd go on trips almost every year as a family. When I was in elementary school, we'd go to Disneyland each summer. When I got older, my parents started taking us to Hawaii. Those trips were fun, but they were never as much fun as I thought they would be. I had visions of vacations that I'd seen in movies or on TV, and somehow my actual experience never measured up. I never felt as relaxed as it seemed I should. I never met cool people who would become my best friends. I didn't have money to go on big shopping sprees.

When I got married, we went on a couple of trips, but the stress of worrying about travel plans and money and having high expectations ultimately made those trips more stressful than enjoyable. I still have great memories from those trips, but I never had the feeling of escape or relaxation. I came home exhausted.

Once Malia was born, traveling took on a whole different meaning. Trips were more focused on how to accommodate her. The strain of being responsible for making sure she was taken care of and entertained made it impossible for me to think about my own enjoyment. Traveling with her for three years while she was working (as an actress) was incredibly stressful. During that time, the thought of going anywhere just for fun was out of the question.

But now Malia doesn't travel for work anymore, and she's old enough that my husband and I have the freedom to travel on our own some. When she decided to do a summer academic program where she'd be living in dorms for three weeks at Cornell University, Brad decided we should take a trip on our own.

We had recently discussed how strange it was that, even though we both grew up in California, neither of us had ever been to Mexico even though many Californians vacation there. Brad likes to plan trips, and he knows I do not like to plan trips, so he took on the responsibility of planning our short getaway. He chose Cabo, on the Southern tip of Mexico because it's a relatively short, direct, flight from Los Angeles.

I was apprehensive. I wanted to be excited, but I felt nervous. I kept my anxiety to myself though. I handled the stress mostly by pretending we weren't going. I've discovered that if I just don't think about things and let them happen with little or no interference from me, they tend to go more smoothly. So I didn't think about the trip very much. I didn't tell people we were going, and I didn't try to imagine what the trip would be like.

It turns out that this is the key for me to having a relaxing vacation.

I am lucky that Brad does a great job planning trips. He knows me pretty well by now, so he goes out of his way to pick places that he knows I'll like. Not everyone has this luxury. If I had to plan the trip, I'm not sure I would be able to enjoy it as much.

I'm guessing that most people don't feel this way but, for me, just allowing the vacation to happen with no expectations and not really even knowing what the plan was, made it possible for me to enjoy it. Brad booked us into a wonderful resort where we didn't need to worry about where to get food (there were several restaurants on the property) and because we were only there for a few days, we didn't plan anything. 

I guess that's actually not true, we planned to do nothing.

We didn't want to feel constrained by activities. We didn't want lists of have to's and schedules. If we wanted to sit on the beach, we did. If we wanted to sit by the pool, we did. If we wanted to sit in the hotel room and read or take a nap, we did.

And that was the beauty of the trip. There was nothing we felt we had to do. We purposely decided we wouldn't pre-plan any sightseeing. We didn't pre-book activities. We went armed with several books on our Kindle's and with sun screen. 

And we both had a great time. 

The "me" of a couple of decades ago would not have been able to handle this. I would have wanted to plan things, to do things, to see things. And the result would have been stressful and exhausting. 

This time, we didn't plan anything and there was no expectation that we would do anything. It didn't mean we couldn't do things. In the end, we decided to take a quick trip into the city of Cabo to check out the marina, but it was easy and we didn't feel pressure. 

"Be open to everything. Expect nothing." This is a phrase I learned from Wayne Dyer and I really tried to have this approach to our trip. And it worked.

We came home feeling relaxed. It was the first time I've ever taken a trip and realized that I could travel somewhere and feel this way.

It's not that every trip we take will be this way. We want to go to China and Machu Pichu, where we'll plan a lot of sightseeing. But I think we both now realize that it's also important to have trips where we don't plan things. It's important to have trips where relaxing and doing nothing are the focus.

Maybe (hopefully) other people already know this secret to having relaxing vacations.

I know that before she became chronically ill, traveling for my mom was very different than it's been for me. She really enjoyed the planning. She liked to do research and look at maps and read guidebooks. For her, the planning was part of the fun of the trip.

Here are some questions I asked her.

Did you enjoy traveling, or did you find it stressful?

I loved it. As you said, part of the fun for me was planning the trip. I remember buying a book called Hidden Hawaii. It was supposed to have all the spots that were spectacular but that others didn't know about. I marked up that book so much! And I did indeed take us to many of those places—especially some beautiful deserted beaches—deserted by tourists, that is, but often frequented by locals, who were fun to talk to.

Traveling has changed so much since I stopped being able to go places due to illness. (Once a year, we do rent a cottage for a few nights at a beach that's near us. If you'd like to see a piece I wrote on what it's like to vacation when you're chronically ill, click here). I got sick in May of 2001, right before everything changed at the airports. I can't imagine waiting in long security lines. And I've also been told that the airline seats have become incredibly small and uncomfortable now. So I don't know how I'd feel about traveling now if, suddenly, I could do it.

By the way, I'm so glad that you and Brad had a great time on your trip!

How did you feel about our family vacations? Were they fun for you or did they just feel like work?

A little bit of both. One of my colleagues at work used to say that a vacation with your kids wasn't really a vacation—that you should plan a separate one just for yourselves. That's a nice idea, but we could barely afford to take you and your brother on vacations (and sometimes we couldn't go at all for money reasons), so a separate vacation for your dad and me wasn't possible. 

I did enjoy our family vacations, though, although we didn't get away from conflicts arising now and then that were ongoing issues in the family. They happen at home and they happen on vacation! I imagine that's true for everyone. But on the whole, I enjoyed them. And, I liked it when the four of us were together, something that didn't happen that often at home when you and your brother were teenagers.

How did you guys discover Molokai?

Ah, Molokai. The place I miss going to the most. Thinking about it reminds me of a memorable airplane ride. The tiny aircraft that we took from Maui to Molokai was so old and in such bad shape that, once aloft, we could see the ocean below through in a hole in the bottom. Seriously!

I chose Molokai because I wanted to go to an island where hardly any people went. It was as simple as that.

What was it about Molokai that made it so relaxing?

Part of it was that it was so empty of tourists. It definitely wasn't a place to go if you were looking for night life or even a good restaurant. We loved so many things about it that we tried to go back every year once you and your brother weren't living at home anymore. Molokai has the largest population of native Hawaiians and so it feels like authentic Hawaii. 

Of course, I don't know what it's like now since I haven't been there for over 16 years. That said, I doubt it's changed very much because, unlike the other Hawaiian islands, Molokai doesn't have a lot of great swimming beaches and that's what most people are looking for. 

For me, all I needed was one great beach...and I found it. It's my favorite beach anywhere: Maké Horse. I spent hours on end in the water. Sometimes I was the only person there. Other times I'd visit with locals, often young children. We'd chat as we floated up and down in the gentle waves. Oh, how I miss it.

Maké Horse Beach, Molokai, Hawaii

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Phone Calls That Make Us Cringe

Mara here. In the interest of full disclosure I will state up front that pretty much every phone call I get makes me cringe. I'm not a fan of the phone. But there are definitely some calls that are more cringe-worthy than others.

It's August. This means a few things: it's hot, it's my birthday month, and back to school stuff is in the stores again. Nowadays, many schools start their fall sessions in August. When I was growing up, school didn't start until September, after Labor Day, but because of the emphasis on state testing, schools are starting their years earlier and earlier.

So, this evening I was jarred to see Malia's school pop up on my incoming calls. Six weeks off of school, and I'd kind of forgotten that school existed. But here it was, the first week of August and they were calling me. 

A phone call from Malia's school always makes my heart stop. It's a knee jerk reaction from when she was in elementary school. She's old enough now that she can call me herself from her cell phone if she has a problem, so phone calls from the school are mostly perfunctory. They're calls about absences or school announcements. But when she was younger, a phone call from the school was always bad. It meant she was injured, she was sick, or she had lice. (There were several bad lice outbreaks when she was in kindergarten.) 

So, even now, almost a decade later, when her school shows up on my incoming calls, it causes me to catch my breath. Tonight when they called I actually froze for a moment—as if they could see me sitting there not answering the call, which is extra silly because almost all the calls from the school are automated robo-calls. 

People who know me, know that I don't like the phone in general. I am super self-conscious talking on the phone. So for the most part, I'm not a huge fan of getting phone calls, but there are a few phone calls that I particularly dread getting. Here's the top three:

Malia's school. As I explained, it always freaks me out because I assume it means there's something wrong with her. However, nowadays it usually means she's tardy which, while annoying, isn't really a cause for concern. I can't seem to get my nervous system to realize this.

The doctor. We have Kaiser health care. We really like our coverage, but the way they work, they don't call unless there's something wrong. So after I've had any kind of tests done, getting a phone call from Kaiser usually means bad news. If it's good news, they send a letter. A phone call means they need to get ahold of me quickly. 

Malia. Malia knows I don't like to talk on the phone [Toni note: so do I!]. So, 99% of the time she texts me. But when she's sick or upset (or rear ended in a parking lot), she calls. So when I see her name pop up on my incoming calls, I know there's a good chance it's not good news. Sometimes she's just calling me because she can't be bothered to type out what she wants to say. (She has actually called me from her bedroom to ask for a salad.) But the worrier in me always fears the worst.

Runner up: Reverse 911 calls. This has only happened twice. Both times were about shootings in our neighborhood. It's unnerving to get a phone call from the police telling us not to leave our house. Now that we don't have a landline anymore, I'm not sure we can still get these call, but they were very scary when they happened!

Toni here. Here are three phone calls I dread getting:

A call on my cell phone from one of my kids. They know I'm one of the few people who doesn't use a smart phone. I have an iPhone, but it sits in my purse so I have it when I go out. It's there in case of an emergency so, for example, I can call someone if my car breaks down. So, if one of my two grown children shows up on my caller ID, my heart sinks. So far, it's been a mistaken "pocket" dial on their part. Whew!

A call from my primary care doctor. The reason I dread this call is that all of my communications with him out of his office are either by email or on a website called My Chart. So, if he's calling, it's always bad news, such as an unwelcome test result (just as Mara said about Kaiser).

That phone call about a free trip I've supposedly won to see a condo in Florida. I get this call every single day right now. It fools me because my caller ID indicates it's coming from a phone number in the town where I live (our area code covers a small area). I always take the bait in case it's someone who needs to talk to me. Instead, this cheerful voice starts in with "Hello! This is your lucky day!" I don't think so.

What about you? Are there phone calls you dread getting?