My Adventures in Pokemon Go – Part 1

“Mom, slow down. I need to get some progress on my egg.” No, we’re not farmers. These are the words of my son when we’re playing Pokemon Go. Okay, and we’re cheating. Just a little. We’re in our car and we should be walking or biking. You see if you move too fast, your egg won’t incubate and you’re likely to miss all kinds of nearby Pokemon.

Let me pause and say whoever thought us this Pokemon Go is an absolute genius. It gets kids (and adults) off the couch and out of the house, all while still playing a video game. Imagine that! I thought I’d document my little adventures as I play alongside my sons, both very video savvy. As for me, I’m an absolute beginner and have never been a gamer, but we’re having a great time so far.

Yesterday, my son and I rode bikes around the Intel campus after dark on the hunt for a memorial plaque. I come to find out that there’s this beautiful little lake with trails I never knew about. We also found that someone around Intel is really scary with a lot of power. (I mean in the game, of course!) Right now, because my son and I are new to the game, we’re weak and so want to keep our distance.

We are also a bit too weak to contend with anything having to do with the “gym.” My son tried to fend off someone in a gym in the produce section at the supermarket, but was unsuccessful. You can easily recognize a gym on your phone. It’s a big and menacing, blinking tower.

Tonight, my younger son joined us. We drove to a reservoir nearby, a small body of water I haven’t been to in years, and had never seen at dusk.

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Willow Creek Reservoir. It’s a simple walk around the lake. Perfect for a short stroll.

So pretty.

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My younger son is hooked now and wants to play. Unfortunately, his iPad doesn’t have a data plan. We may resurrect an old phone and see about changing that. I think it could be worth it. Anything to get these kids outside. This is working! We’ve tried to get out in nature before, but it always seems to be a dreadful thing for my younger son. Tonight, he was skipping along.

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Looking at a screen, but off the couch and outside. The air was perfect!

And lo and behold, a Pokestop in front of another grocery story I frequent all the time. Pokestops are my favorite. Free stuff and more pokeballs to catch the Pokemon. And guess what? It has a compass in the front I’ve never seen before. Who knew?

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Are those ghost Pokemons? Nah.

I’m at Level 4, so I know we have many more adventures ahead, and I have to catch up to my son who’s at Level 10. He shakes his head at me, but he’s patient and explains things about the ever-changing Pokemon.

What about you? Have you tried it? Curious?

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Music Magic and “The Rhythm in My Head”

I watched my son’s middle school music concert with tears streaming down my face. I know what you’re thinking. Really? But it’s a middle school music concert.

I know, I know. But I also that know that my dad would have really loved this. He was a huge jazz fan. My dad played the clarinet and I grew up listening to him play and all different types of music, including jazz.

The funny thing is, my son was not a big jazz lover until recently after my father passed. Now he listens to jazz all the time with his earbuds in and attached to his iPhone, snapping his fingers and tapping his toes. Now it feels almost as if my dad is living through my son somehow or maybe it’s just in the genes.

There’s also another huge factor. My son’s middle school jazz band is top-notch. One of the best in the country, in fact, as rated by Downbeat Magazine. His music teacher John A. Zimny (his initials are JAZ!) teaches at both middle schools in the city of Folsom, close to Sacramento.

My son wants to play in the jazz band next year. His instrument is the baritone horn. This past year, he was in the Advanced Band. He plans to practice all summer and audition in the fall. I sure hope he gets in. I was absolutely blown away by the talent of these musicians at this concert.

Most of all, I was touched by their devotion to their band teacher and to each other, and to their high level of commitment. If you ever have an opportunity to support music in the schools, please do! It’s worth every penny and they need many more pennies.

Many of the students spoke during the concert to thank Mr. Zimny for giving them the best year of their lives. One even said she loved her jazz band more than her family. Sorry family! Kids from both of these middle schools traveled together by bus, competed against each other and, for the final concert, were on stage playing together. It was grand and what a sound!

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Music has such a unifying power. Mr. Zimny told the audience that when you set the bar a little higher, you would be surprised what these kids can do. They surpassed expectations and took things further than he ever thought they could.

During the concert, my son watched in awe, snapping his fingers as he does and typing in the names of the pieces he heard into his phone.

My son between listening to pieces, inspired and all jazzed up!
My son between listening to pieces, inspired and all jazzed up!

The next day, my son gave a presentation of a poem he wrote for his English class. I was such in awe, I wanted to share it here. 

The Rhythm in My Head

As I walk through the world
I see a rhythm to things
like a way of life
while with the snap of my fingers
and the blow of my horn
I form a picture of
the world around me,
A picture full of sound and
beauty where the rhythm just won’t
stop.
Then I open my eyes and realize
the world is just too quiet.

If you want to take a listen, here’s a bit of the jazz band with Mr. Zimny conducting.

Smack, Whack, the Ice Is Cold

Over the holidays (yeah, I know I’m still back there…still recovering), I spent some time with that fluffy, white stuff that falls from the sky. Snow! Lovely snow. Lovely cold, icy, slippery snow. In all its many forms, a beautiful sight and a great way to bring in the New Year.

A few years back, I drove with my sister and our kids for hours around the mountain in search of untainted, pure white snow. Ha. I  think we actually would have settled for brown snow. The fact is, where there should have been white there was only brown, and it wasn’t snow. We checked. Dirt and such.

This year, luckily, we saw plenty of snow thanks to a couple of recent storms. We had a blast sledding down the mountain, dragging our circles of snow behind us.

Here’s what I now label safe, hazard-free, predictable snow play. Notice the wide, gentle slopes, cushioned with a reliable amount of soft snow.

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Closely monitored. They tell you when.

Fast forward to our rockin’ New Year’s Eve bash. Here we are in the empty ice rink.

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The disco ball showered tiny green dots across the ice. There’s that.

Apparently, the guests were coming back pretty soon, uh….later. Like never.

A few other guests did make it, a mother and her two daughters. We talked for a bit and she revealed to me how her step-daughter was in the ER due to a concussion she suffered while sledding. Apparently, her step-daughter wanted to be as bold as her brother and followed him down the hill. I knew the place. We had passed it earlier and had already promised the kids we would go the next day.

The place, Little Sweden. It’s a former ski resort, closed down years ago and now a popular destination for snow play, so long as you can get a parking spot. We kept our promise and went on New Year’s Day. Big mistake! The place was teeming with sledding daredevils and, unlike the safe cushion of the soft snow above, this hill was icy and hard, and the wind picked up.

After successfully going down the bunny hills and the next level hill up, my son coaxed me into going down the big hill. The monster!

Here’s some pics of my son going down the mountain to give you a sense of it:

Top of hill (see red arrow)

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There he goes:

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Going:

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Still going:

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This hill is completely insane! How did I not notice? Do you see those little dots at the end of the hill? Those are people and those are cars that line the road. I hope you get a sense of the steepness. Add to this, the total chaos of bodies flying down in all different directions. Oh, it was madness.

Why I decided to DO this, I have no idea! My son and I went together on the sled, which is probably our first mistake. With so much weight, we had a lot of speed, hit a huge bump on the way down, went flying, actually got some air and BAM! I hit my head. Translated in haiku:

Smack, whack, the ice is
cold as my head rolled inside
stinging, swirling stars

The impact was pretty solid, like a cement block crashing into my skull. If someone caught it on video, I don’t think I could even watch it. I have no idea what happened. I do know I was scared to death. I didn’t pass out. I got up right away. My head hurt, and I was dizzy. My son was okay and asked me a series of questions, which I answered correctly.

Friends…I’m lucky to be alive.

I knew about the dangers of this hill and worried sick over my kids hitting their heads. Recall, only the night before I learned of a little girl laying in a hospital bed due to THIS hill! I saw plenty of accidents when I was there, too. What I forgot was that I was just as equally at risk as anyone else.

What’s completely amazing to me is after such a hard-hitting blow, I bounced back as if it never happened. I even drove 100 miles after on a windy road I had never driven before. “Kids, if I pass out, call 911. Okay?”

I bounced right back. That’s what we do. But I wanted to pause and reflect on it. I know I’m lucky and I’m so very grateful I’m here. It’s a rough start to the new year, but it also puts things in perspective for me. I don’t take anything for granted. Your life really can vanish in a blink of an eye. All the petty things just got squeezed out. It’s a reminder for me to linger a little longer in the moments that matter, making them as full as possible. I wish you a great new year, savoring the moments that count.

A Communication Tip for the Holidays and Beyond: “Me Time”

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Have you ever been in a conversation where you were so busy formulating a response that you missed what the other person said altogether? Sometimes I think life happens this way; life as a conversation where we are only half-way committed, half-way listening. Many times we are so fixated on predicting what happens next that we miss out on the actual moment as it happens. We miss what was said. We miss the moment. We miss the whole point.

I had an opportunity to attend a communication skills workshop sponsored by my son’s school called, “Communicating with Family Members During the Holidays” and how to have less stress and more cooperation. I can use all the help I can get, so I went. And I was pleasantly surprised.

First, the facilitator had us play a game. A volunteer told a story about a happy event in her life. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the volunteer, half of the room was told to ignore her. All I had to do was whip out my smartphone and become consumed. I didn’t listen to a word she said. I got wrapped up in my Internet world and tuned her out. It was really easy to do.

Her point? We, as adults, ignore our kids sometimes. How does it feel when someone is talking to you and, while you very well may be listening, are staring at your smartphone? Sure, you don’t mean to do it. But there it is! That smartphone is attached to your hand and you can’t seem to get rid of it. It’s like a leech, sucking the juices out of your brain. I know, because I do it.

Then, the facilitator introduced “Me Time.” The idea is very simple. You give your child your undivided attention for a scheduled time of 10 to 15 minutes. That’s not a lot of time, right? Anyone can do that.

“Me Time” is based on principles of play therapy, which may be more widely practiced with younger children. This session of “Me Time” could even be called “Mommy and Johnny Time,” for example, or whatever makes sense for your child. My 12-year-old son has called it, “The Dreaded Time with Mom.” So, whatever works. Really, it can work for anyone at any age, including your resistant teenager.

There are few parameters for a successful session of “Me Time.” They are as follows:

  1. Schedule the 10-15 minute period of “Me Time.” I know it’s only 10-15 minutes, but if it’s scheduled it may feel more special and purposeful.
  2. Your child chooses the activity. Got that one? Your child chooses! And you must do it no matter what! If your child wants you to hop around on one foot and blow bubbles, then that’s what you must do. If your child wants to watch TV, that’s what you do. If your kid wants to play on his smartphone and ignore you, that’s your activity.
  3. Considering #2, you may suggest that the chosen activity not break any family rules (like no balls in the house).
  4. There’s no need to spend money. The activity is for such a short period, there’s really no need. Still, if you to make certain the focus is away from money, you may want to state this up front.
  5. As the parent, you cannot correct or direct the activity. Also important, you cannot ask, “Why?” Your child may view this as judging.
  6. You can’t play unless you’re asked. Don’t assume your child necessarily wants you to be involved. This idea coincides with the idea of play therapy where the child may need time to work something out. This is best done without any interference. You are merely an observer if this happens.

Discuss these parameters openly before you engage in “Me Time.” There’s no need for secrets. Truly, I think this idea could work for any relationship, even spouses or significant others. Why not? I have yet to try that, but I did try this idea with my kids.

This is what happened with my 9-year-old. First we cuddled in his blanket cave and made funny faces at each other. Then, he did a series of musical numbers where he got up to sing and dance. I clapped and cheered. He was hilarious and clearly wanted to show off his dance moves. I had no idea. This is not something he does that often and, clearly, he wanted an audience.

When it came to my 12-year-old, he said, “I thought you were kidding. Really?” First, he wanted me to wait outside his room. His little joke. Come to find out, he needed help with his homework, so that’s what we did. To make up for that, we watched a few “Dear Diary” cat videos. Those are always a good laugh!

But the biggest eye-opener? It was so relaxing to surrender my time voluntarily to someone else. To not be in charge or direct. To just listen. To be completely present. It felt so refreshing and helped me refocus my energy on my kids when it goes astray as, of course, it happens even with the best intentions. I highly recommend you give it a shot, especially during the busy holiday season when you feel short of time and stressed. I bet the more often you share this experience with your kids, the more insightful it will become and maybe, just maybe, communication will improve all around.

Time, that thing we’re always chasing or running out of. Why not carve out a little space for the important people in your life and share the gift of time spent together?

photo credit: Merry Christmas! via photopin (license)

Thanksgiving Quandries

For this year’s Thanksgiving meal, I will responsible for cooking. This also includes planning. We all know that the secret to a successful Thanksgiving meal with numerous side dishes delivered to the table piping hot all at once is….more than one oven! Correct? But unless you live in a hotel or you’re just lucky, you’re like me and most likely have just the one oven.

So, in my mental preparations, I’ve determined what I need is one less side dish that requires cooking in an oven. In a quick Google search, I discovered the Pinch of Yum blog and this dish:

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Bacon and Brussels Sprout Salad. Image Source: Pinch of Yum

Doesn’t this look fabulous? The perks: it’s cold and crunchy so no oven is necessary, and it has bacon! Double win.

After discovering Lindsay’s recipes over at Pinch of Yum, I wondered if I, too, could be a food blogger. I’m sure I don’t have what it takes. Seriously though, I could just look at Pinch of Yum’s photos all day long. Everything looks just yummy!

I decided I want to make this recipe in place of the green bean casserole that everyone pretends to like. I’ve tried for years to consume the green bean casserole, placing mere spoonfuls on my plate and leaving them for the last possible moment at which point they were simply too cold to swallow. I have now solved my problem. It’s called Bacon and Brussels Sprout Salad.

If you make this salad, however, don’t be tempted to buy those chopped bags of Brussels sprouts you see at Trader Joe’s, because they are not, I repeat are NOT, the delicate shavings of Brussels sprouts you see in the photo above. And believe me, I’m tempted by the pre-chopped bags. How much of difference is there between chopped and shaved Brussels sprouts? Apparently, a lot. It’s all about the texture, darling, and texture is everything. It always is.

So, how does one accomplish these fine, delicate shavings of Brussels sprouts? I’m so glad you asked. You use a nifty, little cooking tool called a mandoline, which is also capable of crinkle-cuts and playing music if you strum it just so. Kidding okay. Please don’t try that at home.  I understand it’s sharp and possibly a good idea to wear gloves while using the mandoline, so now it seems this recipe has become a bit pricey and dangerous.

Be careful out there. Aside from my this splendid recipe, a tremendous storm is in the forecast in the Sierra Mountains, possibly preventing half our expected party from attending Thanksgiving dinner. While we couldn’t be happier that snow is in the forecast (go snowpack!), it’s coming all at the wrong time. I guess I can’t expect the weather to follow the holiday schedule. Personally, I think the weather knows exactly what it’s doing.

Will I make the Bacon and Brussels Sprout Salad? Will my family make it over the snowy mountain? I just don’t know.

In the meantime, do you happen to have a mandoline I can borrow? Do you eat the green bean casserole? What’s your favorite vegetable side dish?

Wishing you a safe, warm and Happy Thanksgiving if you’re celebrating the holiday. And if you’re not, I still hope you’re happy, safe and warm!

Aside

Embed from Getty Images

My sister said to me the other day, “I just want to know where Dad is.” I still feel like I can call him and visit him down the street. He’s definitely not there. I could consult religious texts about this question of where one goes after life. Heaven, I hope. With an online search, I found myself reading a post on a blog about this subject. What else is new? The post went on to some length with a detailed description of what comes after death. Commenters of this particular post wanted to know how the blogger could possibly have the answers to all the questions. “How do you know this stuff?” Many asked this.

I might be asking that exact question except that some of the stuff she said was the exact same stuff that a friend of mine told me not long after my Dad died. “Oh,” she said, “He’ll be having his debriefing of his life soon. It will take about three weeks.” The blogger said the same thing. My friend considers herself to be a spiritual person, often aligning her beliefs with Native Americans, although she has had a Christian religious upbringing as well. My point is this wasn’t based on any particular religion. My friend went on to say that in this debriefing period, my dad would get an overview of his life. I reasoned he could see what he did good, what worked, how he screwed up, how he spent his time and with whom. The whole shebang.

The analysis could be discussed on a couch in the sky or perhaps a Dickens’s Christmas Carol spirit takes you by the hand and, together, you observe your life of the past, present and…the future, I guess we can rule out. It sounds reasonable enough that an angel might sit with you and just talk it out. Perhaps it will be a deep sleep where we dream it all. Perhaps, something that we can’t describe. I just hope there’s food because everything is better over a comforting meal. I don’t see why the talk/analysis can’t be done over a leisurely seven-course dinner with wine, and dessert and coffee.

He’s ready for the debrief. Are you? (Source:  Flickr)

All kidding aside, what I found illuminating was that this blogger, who knows everything, said that in the debriefing you will look at all the good you’ve done in your life and the ripple effect of those positive actions. You would then feel this goodness wash over you. Likewise, in ways that you hurt or caused pain, you get to feel that, too. This part made sense to me.

Lately, I’m more aware of the mindful choices that I can make each day. We do have choices about how we spend time in our lives, at least in our leisure time. I’m pretty certain that when we do the debrief we won’t care about how much money we made or spent, what we wore or what our hair looked like. Appearances won’t mean a thing. Most likely, all that will matter will be who we spent our time with.

I wondered if I could get a midterm life grade, a kind of check-in. I suppose this might only be available to those who have the near-death experience. Most of us don’t get this opportunity. I’ll admit, I actually don’t really want it. I will take my chances with the three-week debrief.

It’s said after the debrief is complete, you walk through a cleansing ring of fire. Later, you can do the whole life thing over again and give it another try. A future after all.

The truth is we really have no idea. I just thought it was funny that my friend and this random blogger both mentioned a three-week debriefing as a matter of fact. Since this blog post is six years old (here it is) and my friend doesn’t blog at all, they couldn’t have collaborated.

Hopefully, no matter what, we get to fly.

Expect a Three-week Debrief

Aside

A good friend asked me, “Honestly, do you think you’re the first person to have regrets after losing a loved one?”

Of course, I’m not the only one. Regrets are universal and to be expected. Yet there is also the expectation and urging to let them go.

I’ve returned to this regret stage many times in my grieving process, now in it a little over a month since the loss of my father. Just when I feel I’ve made progress, it rears its ugly head. Because I was my dad’s primary caregiver, I suppose it is only natural that these regrets surface and I feel the need to own them. And especially because I never saw him again after his sudden heart attack, his death felt surreal like it never happened. It might even seem more normal to have regrets under these circumstances; I may be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t.

After his death, I read an article that suggested I list my regrets and then weigh in on whether on not they were truly valid. My itemized list of regrets, real or imagined, was three pages long before I decided to stop, knowing deep down it was self-punishing and negative. I’m not sure what the point of this exercise was really.

While many of these regrets may have been isolated thoughts taken out of the context of real life circumstances or truly couldn’t be helped unless I was perfect, living in a perfect world, they remained. I will spare you all the details, but just say the scope ranged from the management and quality of my dad’s care to an analysis of the priorities in my life. Death has done a number on me.

I was overwhelmed and shut my notebook and haven’t returned to that list since.

The senior population, who included some of my dad’s friends, had cautioned me, “Don’t. Even. Go. There,” with finger wagging included. My mother promised me, “I don’t want ANYONE to do this when I die.” She was most convincing. She has told me to distract myself and think of something else, immediately.

Lose the thought. Not so simple.

There is this lingering pull to resist letting go. Are the regrets keeping the reality of the death at bay? It has occurred to me that processing these regrets over and over may keep my dad more present even if the focus is on the past. I know that makes very little sense.

The truth is I wouldn’t want my dad regretting anything about his life, wherever he is. What would be the purpose of that? The same should go for me and the living.

The three-page list I wrote is now just one big blur of regret. I actually think that’s progress. Soon, I hope I can kick those regrets to the curb and replace them with loving memories only. Regrets begone.

My good friend, who wanted to remain anonymous, offered this beautiful poem to me. I wanted to share it because it gave me such comfort. Maybe there is someone else out there who needs to read this now. I hope it helps.

When I pass

When I pass,
Things might seem amiss,
No more phone calls, or emails,
Or a welcoming kiss

When I pass,
Cry not for me please,
Instead, think of our lives,
And all the fond memories

When I pass,
Oh please don’t you fret,
Wipe the tears from your eyes,
And live free of regret

When I pass,
And enter God’s gate,
You will see me again,
Take your time I will wait

When I pass,
Know this for it’s true,
There wasn’t a day in your life,
That I didn’t love you

Regrets Begone