Sunday, September 28, 2008


My husband and I didn’t get much of a vacation this year. We wasted all of our get-away money and time on other frivolous things, like making our house payments and keeping our jobs. Now that the summer has evaporated like a drought-impacted swimming pool, I find myself missing that all-important break from these same four walls.

Feeling sorry for me, my husband offered me on a short cruise to a small island, complete with “incredible views and a colorful history.” I snapped up the chance to take this mini-vacation, envisioning pina coladas and half-naked men dancing with fire.

We ended up on Alcatraz.

“It’s all we can afford,” he said as we gathered around the park ranger to hear tales of prison escapes and solitary confinement. Apparently my husband thought trading in our same walls for prison walls would be a nice substitute. Maybe for Martha Stewart. (The place could use her decorating touch.)

At least I learned something on the trip. When I travel, I like to go to local museums, explore historical buildings, or take a tour of the important landmarks. Unfortunately, all I learned on Alcatraz was how to make a shank, avoid bird poop, and watch my back at mealtime.

The next day my husband headed for a business trip. He called when he reached his destination. “You’d love it here!” he said. “I’m staying a cute little cottage in Pismo Beach, two blocks from town and two blocks from the ocean.” To be honest, he did invite me along, but after helping out at my grandson’s first birthday party in the park with 50 guests (and 25 babies), I was too tired to go anywhere. Ever.

So I stayed home. Alone.

I was actually looking forward to my husband-less time. I made plans to get take-out from my favorite restaurant, rent a bunch of chick flicks, and stay up late. But I was so tired from playing with two dozen babies, I slept most of the day. I only woke up that night because I my stomach was grumbling. The giant Costco cupcakes had finally worn off. Too tired for that gourmet meal and those hot videos, I microwaved a bag of popcorn (fiber), sliced some apples (fruit/veggie group), and spooned a clump of peanut butter on a plate (protein). For dessert I ate one Sees chocolate (all I had left from the box I’d recently bought) and I washed it all down with a glass of wine (or two.) I enjoyed it all on the couch in front of the TV.

After watching a couple of scary movies on Sci-Fi channel, (“Snakes on an Island” and “Snakes on a Beach”), I fell asleep without doing the dishes, folding the laundry, or locking out the raccoons. I did remember, however, to turn on all the lights throughout the house—for safety, of course.

As much as I enjoyed my home-alone time, I missed my husband. I missed him bringing me the newspaper in the morning. I missed the latte he makes me before he goes to work. I missed waking him at every bump in the night with “What’s that? Go kill it!” I’m glad he’s back.

Next time I’m going with him—even if it is to a decrepit prison on a desolate island. Home alone time is only fun if you have someone to share it with.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I was recently asked to contribute to a new anthology just published called Writin’ On Empty: Parents Reveal the Upside, Downside, and Everything in Between when Children Leave the Nest. The book, written and compiled by three Oakland writers, Joan Cehn, Risa Nye and Julie Reynalds, is loaded with personal accounts of that half-dreaded, half-welcomed day when the first—or last—child leaves home.

It seems like yesterday that my firstborn, Matt, and my baby, Rebecca, left for college. To keep busy, I removed all the childproof locks, turned Matt’s room into an office (a write-off!) and Becca’s room into a spare bedroom (just in case they came back). I think it was getting rid of all those cabinet latches, protective gates and drawer guards we’d installed years ago that it really hit home. The kids were gone. We’d kept them safe for all those years, and now our cats, plants, and knick-knacks would be safe once again.

I thought, when we unloaded the kids, we could finally toss out all our child-ravaged furniture and start fresh. I looked forward to living my Empty Nest years with a clean, new nest, filled with white leatherette La-Z-Boy chairs (with cup holders), objets d’art such as bird houses that look like beach houses, colorful wall hangings that read “Keep Your Feet Off the Couch,” and fine collections of wine with labels like “Mad Housewife Merlot” and “Reddish.”

Now that the kids have kids of their own, I find it’s time to pimp our pad once again. After an awfully short period of empty nesting, we now have two grandsons who visit us on a regular basis—and the house looks like it’s been decorated by Ike rather than Ikea.

When Bradley, the three-year-and-a-half-year-old, comes to visit, he heads for the living room where he dumps out several box games that he doesn’t know how to play. Next he runs to the toy chest where toys are stored for only moments at a time until they can be flung around the family room. That’s followed by extreme bouncing on the new bed because the expensive pillow-top makes it extra fun to use as a trampoline. When his tornado winds down, he turns on my computer when I’m in the middle of a column to play “Diego” with the sound full blast.

But he’s a piece of cake to clean up after, next to one-year-old Luke. His M.O. never varies. He pulls out all my scrapbook supplies and throws them in the fireplace, sucks on the remotes then hides them under the couch, wads up my papers into drool-soaked balls, and then goes after my cats who run for their lives. When he’s finished, he heads outside to play in the dirt with wormy apples and my breakable frog collection, instead of all the clean, safe, and educational toys we bought him.

Apparently it’s time to baby proof the nest again. Time to put up gates, lock up cupboards, cover doorknobs, turn off cell phones, hide the cats, set the remotes on the mantel, and keep a handyman on site to repair all the damage. Once I’m done, maybe I’ll have time to enjoy all the amazing things those two busy boys can do to my nest with, say, a permanent black marker ….

Join me and the authors of Writin’ On Empty October 6 at 7:15 pm, at Towne Center Books, 555 Main Street, Pleasanton.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I thought I was earthquake prepared until the “Big One” hit the other night—a 4.0 centered in Alamo. Talk about a wake-up call—I had dozed off reading in bed around 9:00 pm when the first warning came. It took me a second to realize that the rolling bed was not a result of a cat leaping up on our waterbed—we didn’t have a waterbed any more.

My first reaction was to just lie there, frozen to the spot, and wait for the roof to cave in. Seconds later came the big loud BOOM that finally shook me out of my stupor. Frantically trying to remember the latest recommendations for what to do in an earthquake—stand under a doorjamb, run outside, find the “Triangle of Life”—I panicked and rolled off the bed.

My husband, who surfed the whole thing from his permanent place on the couch, spotted me from the window and came to see why I was lying on the floor.

“Did the earthquake knock you off the bed?”

I looked up at him. “No, I rolled off on purpose. I was planning to roll under the bed.”

“Did you forget that the bed is on a pedestal?” he asked. “There is no ‘under the bed.’ Maybe you were thinking of ‘tuck and roll’ instead of ‘duck and cover.’”

I hate when me mocks me with references to car upholstery and A-bomb responses.

“I know that now!” I said, as he hoisted me up.

“Besides,” he continued, stifling a laugh, “all that’s going to do is squish you even more if the roof caves in. Which it’s not. That’s why we have building codes.”

“So I should have gone for the door jamb?”

“Nope. If the roof caved in, the doorjamb would snap like a twig. Doorjambs are for securing doors, not saving lives in earthquakes.”

“What about the ‘Triangle of Life’—that space supposedly created between, say, the bed and the fallen roof?”

“Urban legend. Disproved by the American Red Cross.”

“Then what should I have done? Lie on the couch and watch TV like you?”

“Next time, run outside.”

Seemed logical, now that the temblor was over. In fact, that’s exactly what my three cats did. (“Save yourselves!”) I scanned the room for the closest exit. It was two feet away. If I had kept rolling, I could have rolled on outside.

Determined to be prepared for the next Big One, I searched the Internet for the latest information. Apparently I was close with “Duck and Cover”—finally all that A-Bomb training would pay off. Only the new version is called “Drop, Cover, and Hold on!”

The theory is, if the Big One hits, you may not even have time to run outside and will probably be knocked to the ground (ie. “rolled off the bed?”), so find something like a table to get under that will protect you from falling debris (ie. “roofs?”).

It’s also recommended that if you’re in bed, instead of rolling off, just cover your head with a pillow. But I plan to buy a bunch of tables and place them in every room—just in case.