Buy the Damn Rock

My sister was out visiting from Massachusetts.  She’s able to come down two to three times a year or so and on this occasion it was near my birthday.  We were both sitting at the kitchen table and I was showing her some Vera Bradley merchandise that I was lusting over.  I had been looking at the purses for quite a while and fantasizing over which pieces I would buy and which colors I would get.  I finally narrowed it down to three pieces: a tote bag, hair clips, and wallet (matching of course with the tote). I was showing her on my laptop at my kitchen table.  I had gotten some birthday money and was thinking about purchasing the items. The problem was that I was not used to spending so much money at one time, never mind spending it all on myself.  I simply could not click on the “place order” button on the screen.

My sister couldn’t understand why I was hesitant.  I had the money and I would enjoy them, wouldn’t I?

“But, Jen, it’s so much money.  I can’t spend $150 on myself!” I said.

“Oh, just buy the damn purse!” Jen said.  She reached over me and clicked the place order button on the check out screen.

It was done.  I felt strangely elated.  What had I done? I bought the damn purse, that’s what I did.  When it came I enjoyed it just like I knew I would. It was so pretty and the colors were so bright.

Some time later I was at the florist when I saw beautiful pink roses with purple tips in the storage fridge.  They had to have been the most perfect roses I’ve ever seen but they were $5 a bloom and flowers look best when in threes.  I looked at the carnations that were $1.50 a bloom. I debated whether I should spend $15 verses $4.50 on flowers that would die in about a week anyway.  The florist came around and asked if she could help me. I couldn’t rationalize spending $15 on flowers when I could spend $4.50 and get flowers that were also as nice.  

I heard my sister’s voice say clearly in my head “Just buy the damn flowers!”

“I’ll take three of those pink roses please” I told the florist.  I took them home and put them in a vase where they graced my kitchen table for a whole week with their beauty and elegance.  They continued to bloom in the glass vase and I could smell their perfume whenever I sat at the kitchen table. Money well spent for my pleasure.

My family went to Calico Ghost Town where they used to mine silver in the otherwise barren Southern California desert.  Now it’s a tourist destination where they show how life was like there in the late 1800s during the silver rush. I used to go there frequently as an elementary school student on field trips.   

Calico Ghost Town hasn’t changed in the past 20 years since I’ve been there.  There is still a shop that sells pretty rocks and crystals. I was enthralled with the deep purple amethyst rocks when I was there as a young girl.  I used to have one that I kept on my bookshelf in my room when I was a kid. I don’t know what happened to it since then. But when I saw the amethyst rocks at the shop in Calico Ghost Town, I thought how nice it would be to have one again.  I picked up the prettiest rock and was surprised at how much the shop wanted for one. They started at $15 and went up from there. I saw one that was about $400! The deeper the purple they were the more expensive they were. I didn’t want to spend that kind of money on a rock!  I moved on to look at other things in the store but I kept coming back to the amethyst display.

The third time I returned to the display, I asked myself if I would enjoy it.  Would I regret not leaving Calico Ghost Town with it? And then, quite clearly, I heard my sister’s voice say “Just buy the damn rock!”

So I spent $25 on a rock.  My amethyst is sitting on the kitchen counter where I can enjoy its deep purple color while I wash the dishes and cook meals.  Money well spent.

Throw-Up Soup

With the end of the holiday season my family is left with lots of leftovers.  The leftovers we have are just as seasonal as the Christmas ham. Ham and Cheese Casserole is my husband’s favorite seasonal leftover.  With all the extra ham from Christmas dinner I make a casserole with a white sauce baked to bubbling with carrots, celery, and potatoes.  It’s a good thing that he loves it so much because the rest of the family only tolerates it. We get a meal out of it and my husband happily eats all the leftovers of his casserole over the next day or two.  

While my husband’s favorite Christmas ham leftovers are tolerated by our family my favorite ham leftovers are down right hated.  I always make split pea soup for lunch two or three days after Christmas with the ham bone. My children see I’m busy cooking in the kitchen and ask “What are you cooking, Mom?”

“Split pea soup.” I reply, knowing what’s coming next.

“Eww!  Throw-Up Soup!” comes the expected response.

My kids call it “Throw-Up Soup” an account of when the one time they tried it, it made them want to throw up.  

My kids also call a Christmas cookie “Reindeer Poop” on account of the fact that the 1-inch ball chocolate cookie looks like the leftovers of a reindeer.  Throw-Up Soup is a holiday tradition but nowhere near as loved as Reindeer Poop. We make at least two batches of Reindeer Poop during the holidays and enjoy the whole process of baking the cookies.  When I make my after-Christmas batch of split pea soup I get harassed and my soup is called names.

My husband looks over my shoulder to see what’s cooking.  He see what it is and says “Oh. Making your puke soup, huh?”  There’s no love lost when it comes to split pea soup in my house.  

I make Throw-Up Soup for me and I look forward to having it every year after Christmas.  Where there’s a ham, there’s a ham bone and split pea soup. One ham bone and a pound of split peas makes a lot of soup.  I enjoy a bowl for lunch that day with saltine crackers and pour out another serving in a plastic container for lunch later that week.  The rest of the batch I put in freezer-safe containers in individual servings. This year I had enough for five servings to stash in the freezer for future enjoyment.  Warm soup and crackers makes a delightful lunch at work. I’ll sit at the table in the staff lounge and enjoy my split pea soup free of judgement.

A Semi-Charlie Brown Christmas

It was Christmas Eve and we just finished breakfast.  I was off for the holidays and was enjoying a leisurely morning with my children.  My 7-year old son asked me to sit on my lap after we both finished eating. His sister had finished her breakfast already and left the table.  I enjoyed some quiet alone time with my son sitting on my lap at the breakfast table.

“Are you ready for Christmas?” I asked him.

“Yes!” He replied.  He paused a moment and said “When is Christmas, Mom?”

“Tomorrow”  I said.

My son’s whole face lit up with joy when he realized that Christmas was finally here.  His smile was huge and genuine, a reflection of pure pleasure at the fact that Christmas was a day away.

I laughed and rejoiced with him as I hugged him close.  I marveled that he didn’t know Christmas was the next day.  His world existed in the immediate present and his concern was only for what is happening today.  He had no worry about tomorrow.

Christmas has been a worry for me since Thanksgiving.  Christmas cards, family photos, Christmas cookies, potlucks, and parties hit me fast and furious this year.  My days were filled with working my full-time job and my nights spent freezing on the flag football field watching my son play half the game and sit the other half out.  I’ve felt too busy to think about Christmas much. It snuck up on me this year. I finished my Christmas shopping only a couple of days ago.

I needed to heed the cliche and “Slow down and enjoy the holiday season” but I didn’t know how.  Every task seemed mandatory and impossible to drop. Even delegating tasks among my family members didn’t seem to alleviate my sense of drowning in the holiday season busyness.  My writing and running were pushed aside by household chores and holiday tasks. Instead of being frustrated by all the commercialism like Charlie Brown in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” I was frustrated with the busyness of the Christmas season.  Why do we have to do so much during the holiday season? Why couldn’t I be more like my son who was blissfully unaware of the fact that Christmas was coming and just enjoy the holiday?

“I guess I don’t really know what Christmas is all about. Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  Yelled Charlie Brown.

“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” said Linus  (Americanliterature).

Linus goes on to tell the Christmas story as told in Luke chapter 2 verses 8-14 and effectively reminds everyone of the true meaning of Christmas:  Jesus Christ. We celebrate Christmas to celebrate His birth into the world.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”  (John 3:16-17, NIV).

All the preparations and gatherings are all in effort to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  When I see that the reason for all my baking, wrapping, Christmas-card writing, is to spread happiness to others, I don’t see the need to “Slow down and enjoy the holiday season.”  I enjoy it in the midst of my baking cookies with my cousins, stuffing Christmas cards with my daughter, sharing Christmas present strategies with my husband, and sitting at the breakfast table on Christmas Eve with my son in my lap.  Smiling and rejoicing with him because Christmas is tomorrow.


Works Cited

“The True Meaning of Christmas (recited by Linus).”  American Literature.  https://americanliterature.com/author/anonymous/poem/the-true-meaning-of-christmas-recited-by-linus.  Accessed 26 Dec. 2018.

“John 3:16-17.”  Bible Gateway.  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+3%3A16-17&version=NIV.  Accessed 26 Dec. 2018

How Living in Twentynine Palms Has Changed Me

Living in Twentynine Palms has changed me in some ways.  I’ve adapted to quiet and non-chaotic desert nights. I’m accustomed to limited store selections to choose from when I shop.  The wide open desert spaces have welcomed me and I am confined in big cities with large buildings sneering at me from above.

It’s very quiet at here at night with the only occasional evening sounds being an adventurous off-road vehicle or the Marines blowing stuff up in the middle of the desert.  So when my husband and I exited off the 15 freeway and headed to the Las Vegas Strip for a weekend getaway, our mouths dropped open and our eyes bugged out, dazzled by the Strip at night.  We looked at all the shiny and flashy lights and were mesmerized. The sidewalks were teaming with people. It was all so busy and chaotic with the sidewalks being a rushing river of people and the lights continuously flashing above them.  We felt like country bumpkins out to see the big city. “Look at all them thar purty lights, honey!” I said to my husband with a hillbilly twang.

“Wow! Look at all them thar people!” He replied.

Living in Twentynine Palms has also changed my level of contentment.  I have become used to limited choices when it comes to shopping. The closest Walmart is 30 minutes away in Yucca Valley and the closest Target is 90 minutes away in Palm Desert.  Going to the store has become a big deal because of the amount of time involved and the cost of gas to get there. Our shopping trips have become very purposeful and I learned to be content with what choices we have.

I recently went to the Westfield Mall in Palm Desert.  Walking through the mall I suddenly realized how bored I was with window shopping.  I wasn’t interested in their products despite all the attractive displays in the many stores.  Now, I’m not sure how much of my contentment is from becoming older and wiser verses living in Twentynine, but living in Twentynine certainly helps.    Living here has helped me be more content with what I have because of the lack of choices and the hassle to drive to a shopping center.

One of the things I love about Twentynine Palms is the wide open spaces.  I didn’t realize how much I appreciated the open space until my husband and I took our kids to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.  We had a fun day at the Science Center and the adjacent Exposition Park Rose Gardens. It was getting late and the sun was setting so we decided to start the journey back home.  My husband was driving and I was trying to navigate him through the labyrinth of freeways to get out of the city. I told him to take a freeway exit that took us toward downtown Los Angeles.  I noticed my mistake as our van came off of the freeway exit and positioned itself in line with the Los Angeles skyline.

“This is the wrong exit!  You have to turn around!” I said.

“I’m trying to!” My husband replied.

The Los Angeles skyscrapers came closer and closer until we were right in the middle of them.  Large buildings towered on either side of us. Traffic zoomed around us and people in suits were walking on the sidewalks.  Everyone knew where they were going except for us.

“Take a right turn at the next street”  I said, looking at the map app on my phone.

“I can’t!  It’s a one-way street!”

I fought down claustrophobia and tried to ignore the buildings pressing down on me as I frantically tried to have my map app give me a new route to take out of the city.  We finally made it out of downtown Los Angeles and my husband and I both breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled back onto the on ramp that would take us eastward toward home.

The lifestyle in Twentynine Palms grew on me and I’ve adapted to it.  After my travels it is good to be in Twentynine Palms again where there are quiet nights, lack of shopping malls, and wide open spaces.  My travels have shown me how living in Twentynine Palms has changed me and for that I’m thankful as it means I’ve been able to see a variety of different places.  There’s a wide, wide world outside of our little desert city.

Trick-or-Treating Disappearing?

It was Halloween and for the past few weeks I haven’t known my ATM pin number.  I took myself to the bank to get it reset. I walked into the branch and saw Halloween decorations everywhere.  The bank tellers wore pirate costumes and there were bowls of candy on the counters. A pirate-teller was finishing a transaction with a woman and they were talking about what there is to do in Twentynine Palms for Halloween.  The woman said she was new to town.

“Well, last year my kids went trick-or-treating around the neighborhood but we had maybe a 50% success rate” I said.  Many of the houses were dark and some of them were obviously at home but ignored the doorbell. It was rather frustrating.  It’s Halloween,darn it, participate!

“I think a lot of them were going to the activities at local churches” I said.

“Oh yeah, the trunk-or-treats are pretty popular” another pirate-teller lady said as she opened another window to help me with my forgotten ATM pin.

“It’s so sad that it seems trick-or-treating is disappearing” continued my Pirate-Teller,  “I remember when parents would stay home handing out candy and the kids out went around the neighborhood trick-or-treating.   You can’t do that anymore – it’s just not safe to leave your kids alone like that.”

I was impressed with her trick-or-treating memories.  My Pirate-Teller looked to be around my age and I didn’t have the same experience when I was a kid when I trick-or-treated in southern California.  My parents never let me go out with a bunch of other kids. There was always someone’s parent with us.

“Did you grow up here in Twentynine?” I asked.

“I grew up in Washington” my Pirate-Teller replied.

I was disappointed that she wasn’t from Twentynine Palms.  It would have been interesting to know what trick-or-treating was like in Twentynine Palms maybe 20-30 years ago.  

Is trick-or-treating disappearing in Twentynine Palms?  We’ve lived in two different neighborhoods here and the first neighborhood saw zero trick-or-treaters.  Zero. When we took our small children to trick-or-treat, neighbor after neighbor said they “didn’t buy no candy” and we left empty handed.  I resisted the temptation to deliver the “tricks” when we got no “treats.” We ended up sneaking onto the base housing by Luckie Park to get good trick-or-treating in.

In our current neighborhood we got our first trick-or-treaters.  It was neat to hear the clatter of people coming to the door and knocking or ringing our doorbell.  

“Trick-or-treat!” a chorus of little voices would say.

There weren’t a lot of people but it was enough for me to run out of candy.  We shut off the porch lights and turned off all the lights in the front of the house.  I was surprised when the doorbell rang. My husband and I exchanged guilty looks. This was the first time we ever pretended we weren’t home on Halloween.

The next morning I went outside and saw that the last group that we pretended we weren’t home with had destroyed the jack-o-lanterns that my kids were so proud of.  I swept away the remnants of the pumpkins angry and bewildered that someone would do such a thing,. I was tempted before to dish out the “tricks” but to actually carry them out?

We had a few trick-or-treaters this year and they all came after 7pm.  I made sure I had plenty of candy so children wouldn’t have to carry out the “tricks” if I didn’t have the “treats.”  Some of the kids coming up the walk were driven by their parents. They’d stop the car to let out the kids when they saw a lit house.  I also had a group of kids come by that I hoped this would be their last Halloween trick-or-treating. Their voices weren’t little when they said “Trick-or-treat” and it was more a statement and not an exclamation.  

My husband took our kids around our neighborhood to those houses we knew and then went over to a housing development near our home.  Our young neighbor asked my son if he was going to base to trick-or-treat as he hopped into the car in his costume. People seem to opt for base housing where the homes are closer together and there are sidewalks or they head over to the church trunk-or-treats.  The City of Twentynine Palms offered a Halloween Fun Fest with games, candy, and a haunted house. They advertised it as a “Safer alternative to traditional door-to-door trick or treating.”

Trick or treating is not disappearing in Twentynine Palms, it’s just not happening around my neighborhood.  The idea of going door-to-door and getting treats on Halloween is very much alive in Twentynine Palms. It’s just not happening as much in the neighborhoods like mine where the houses are spread out and there are no street lights or sidewalks.  I will still make sure that I have plenty of candy, just in case.

The Cricket Wars

The sound of crickets chirping has always been a soothing sound to me.  It greeted me as I arrived home late at night and walked to the door after parking in the driveway.  The chirping crickets kept us company while we trick-or-treated in our neighborhood as we walked from house to house.  On the ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disneyland we floated past the man smoking his pipe while he watched the evening as the crickets were chirping in the make-believe scene.  The animatronic figure rocked back and forth in his rocking chair on his front porch of his house in the swamp.

I learned recently that the frequency of a cricket chirp can be modeled linearly.  The warmer the evening is, the higher frequency the cricket chirps. There’s even an equation that you can plug in the degrees in fahrenheit and predict how many chirps per minute a cricket will sound.

The sound of crickets chirping in the evening outside is a wonderful sound.  Crickets chirping inside is not soothing at all. A cricket inside the house is a trespasser.  

It started in the garage.  I would go in the garage to get something and hear a cricket chirping in there.  Huh, I thought, there’s a cricket in here. Wonder what he’s doing in here? A garage is not the optimal place for a cricket to live.

The garage was only the beginning of the cricket assault.  A few nights later I heard one in a storage closet that shares a wall with my 7-year old son’s bedroom.  We kept the cat boxes in there and and stored extra household items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies.  Huh, I mused, wonder why a cricket is in here? The storage closet is at the opposite end of the house from the garage and is not the optimal place for a cricket to live.

I didn’t think much of the crickets in the garage or storage room after that. But when my son said at bedtime one night “Mom, I can’t sleep, the cricket’s chirping too loud.” It became a matter of family security.  

I dutifully opened the storage room and was greeted with nothing but darkness and the almost constant sound of a cricket chirping.  I flipped the light switch to dispel the darkness but saw nothing but cat boxes and cleaning supplies.  It must have been hot in there to the cricket as he was chirping at a very high rate from some hidden position.   There was no way for me to see the cricket much less stop him from chirping.

War was declared between the crickets and I.  The crickets won that battle that night as my son took his blankets and set up his bed for the night on the floor of my bedroom so he could sleep.

Since then my son has relocated to our bedroom to sleep a few more times.  It was not every night but it was enough for me to recognize that I was losing battles in the Cricket Wars.  New measures had to be taken. I would give no mercy and appointed myself judge, jury, and executioner when it came to the crickets in the house.

I delivered the first verdict while reading in my favorite chair in my bedroom.  I spotted something scuttling out of the corner of my eye and I after I verified that it was a cricket and not a cockroach (my husband is the judge, jury, and executioner of cockroaches) I sprang into action.  I grabbed one of my sandals lying nearby where I kicked them off and carried out the execution. No mercy was granted to the trespassing cricket.

I have extended the duty of cricket executioner to my kids.  They were trained in the procedures after they came running down the hall “Mom! Mom!  There’s a cricket in the bathroom!”

“Go kill it!” I replied.

My son was too happy to comply with this command.  But my daughter wanted to grant the cricket probation by removing it from the bathroom and setting it loose outside.  I am still working on my daughter’s training in cricket execution.

The family cat has also joined in the Cricket Wars.  Every morning, an hour before everyone is up, the cat and I hang out at my little desk.  I sip my coffee while she’s curled up in my lap. One morning she jumped down from my lap and was interested  in something by the small bookcase nearby. She sniffed at it and I saw it hop. The cat found herself a small cricket.  She pawed it around the floor and pounced on it. When she grew bored of her game she gave one last jump on it and chomped down the cricket as a pre-breakfast appetizer.  Judge. Jury. Executioner.

I suppose I could look into hiring an exterminator but I’m leery about all the chemicals they spray around the house.  We haven’t seen a cricket for a few weeks now. I’m sure the Cricket Wars are not over but I think it’s safe to say that I’ve won this battle.  Crickets should keep their high-frequency chirping outside and trespassers will not be tolerated. I’ve got highly-trained cricket executioners and a guard-cat on duty 24 hours a day.

Pioneer Days Parade 2018

Saturday of Pioneer Days in Twentynine Palms is our favorite day of the 3-day event.  Starting the day with pancakes at the fire station and then watching the parade is the best part about Pioneer Days.  What began as a novelty for our 2-year old son to have breakfast in the fire station on Adobe Road has become tradition for us.  We love arriving to the fire station and being served by the fire fighters and seeing the huge fire engines up close. For $16 our family of four can enjoy a great breakfast with other members of the community.

Our parade-viewing strategy this year is a little different.  After trying to view the parade on Adobe Road and baking in the sun, we decided that Twentynine Palms Highway may be a better choice.  We parked the car in the public parking behind Papa John’s Pizza and walked a few blocks to the fire station on Adobe Road to have breakfast.

Once our bellies were full of scrambled eggs, sausage, and pancakes from the firehouse we made our way to the parade route.  On the way there we saw the Jelly Donut beckoning to us like the sirens in Homer’s “Odyssey.” The highway was already closed for the parade but we looked both ways before we crossed anyway.  We were greeted with the wonderful smell of fresh donuts. Once armed with our donut bounty we crossed the highway again to the shaded curb and settled in to watch the parade while feasting on donuts.  Parade viewing is more pleasurable with a donut in one hand and a coffee in the other.

Now came the hard part – waiting patiently until the parade starts.  This is difficult for kids of all ages. We were close to the beginning of the parade route and could see them lining up into position.  The wait was unbearable. My daughter couldn’t wait any longer.

“Can I see what time it is?” She asked for at least the third time since we’ve sat down.

I plucked my cell phone out of my purse and handed it to her.  She looked at it.

“It’s 10 o’clock!” She announced.

No sooner had the words left her mouth that the police car at the beginning of the procession lit up it’s lights and blared it’s sirens.  We all jumped, startled at the blast of sound. The parade began to move forward. It started exactly on time.

On came the parade.  We all stood when the color guard came and men removed their hats.  What followed was a representation of the community’s best. The Marines were first.  They rolled down Twentynine Palms Highway in a big LAV-25, Humvee, and MTVR. These large armored vehicles were impressive up close.  I never appreciated their size passing by caravans of them while driving on the highway.

“Look honey,” said a young mother to her son, “Marines, just like daddy.”

Palm Vista Elementary school and Joshua Tree National Park had representatives in the parade.  The Kiwanis Club, the Fraternal Eagles, and the Twentynine Palms Historical Society were also there.  The Sky’s the Limit tossed hand fulls of small buttons into the crowd with their logo on it from a fancy convertible.  There were also people in the parade who want to be elected to serve the community in November.

Everyone was waving and smiling to those watching them along the street.  It’s so neat to see all different members of the community come together representing our city.

This year there was a ton of goodies that were passed out to the audience by those in the parade.  My kids got fliers from Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, American Heritage Girls, Trail Life USA, and two Fall festivals put on by local churches Halloween Night.  Each flier was accompanied by a piece of candy or two. The kids got so much candy that I commented that we wouldn’t have to go trick-or-treating this year.  My children looked up at me in horror not recognizing I was teasing them.

People walked up and down the parade route trying to sell things.  The kids looked longingly at the man selling cotton candy and novelty toys.  Other kids were lucky because their parents bought them bubble blowers and plastic noisemakers from the cart.  My children looked at the cart knowing they couldn’t have anything from it because they chose donuts instead. On his return trip, the man pushing the cart slowed down as he walked past my kids.  Smiling at them, he tempted them with the goodies hoping their mom would cave in and buy some pretty junk. I smiled back at him and he kept walking.

We saw my children’s coaches and classmates.  I saw my coworkers and students – both former and present.  We waved and said hello and got an occasional hug. It’s nice to feel part of the community.

The parade ended, as parades usually do, with emergency vehicles blasting their sirens.  Like “the wave” at a large stadium, People stood up and put away their folded chairs as the emergency vehicles passed them by.  My large mom-purse was filled with all the goodies that were handed out from the parade participants as we stood and packed up our things to leave.  

“We’re going to trade your candy in for a toy, sweetheart” said a mom to her young son.

“That’s a good idea,” I told her.  “Otherwise mom and dad would eat it, right?”

“Oh no.  It would go straight into the trash!” She replied.  

When we got home we dumped all the goodies on the kitchen table and separated the candy from the fliers they were taped to.  This candy isn’t going into the trash because I don’t have it in me to be wasteful. All that candy on the table wouldn’t fit in our candy jar.  So I asked my kids which ones they liked the least and I took those and set them aside to take to work. My high school students will appreciate them.  Throw away your own candy, as for me, I will save it to be appreciated by someone else.

Next year’s Pioneer Days Parade will be just as enjoyable.  Especially now that we know that the optimal viewing spot is on the highway.  We also know to bring a bag to carry all the goodies and fliers as the parade participants are very generous to kids.  Until next year, Twentynine Palms Parade!