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

The Lear Avenue Lights

I was driving the 20-minute commute to Joshua Tree from my home in Twentynine Palms. There was a meeting for work that I had to attend.  Most of the ride is on Highway 62, a four lane highway with a turning lane in the middle. It’s an uninterrupted cruise of 70 mph until I reach Joshua Tree and make a right on one of the light signals.  A traffic light turned red and I slowed to a stop. I looked around expecting to see the familiar landmarks of Joshua Tree. Instead I saw that I was still in Twentynine Palms and was stopped at Lear Avenue.  Lear! The stoplight that was approaching mythic status because of how often it’s installation kept getting pushed back was working. And I was stopped under it.

As I waited I looked at the house on the northwest corner of Lear and Highway 62.  It’s been freshly painted a terracotta shade and its bordering oleander plants have been cut back.  This house has been on the corner of Lear and the Highway for as long as I’ve been coming to Twentynine Palms.  My parents would take us kids out to our cabin in the boonies of Twentynine Palms in the 1980s. Dad drove on Highway 62 with the three of us crammed in the back seat of our 1984 Toyota Tercel for what seemed like an eternity.  The only thing to look at through the windows was desert and an occasional abandoned homestead cabin. When I spotted the house on the corner of Lear and Highway 62, the first sign of civilization since Yucca Valley, I knew we were finally turning off the Highway and were almost to our cabin.

This house is a landmark for the turn-off onto Lear from the Highway.  The owners mounted a pole wrapped with white lights on the top of their chain link fence .  It was the only beacon that marked the intersection of Lear and the Highway in the dark desert night.  It served as a marker for all the Marines turning left onto Lear towards MCAGGC in their caravans at night and a lighthouse for those who turn left on Lear to go home.  Lear is well-traveled both by civilians and the military.

Cars travel fast from Joshua Tree into Twentynine Palms.  Lear is the first major road in Twentynine Palms and cars must slow down from 65-80 mph to make the left turn towards MCAGGC.  The berm on the corner of Lear has many scuff marks and gouges from vehicles over turning the left and hitting the berm instead. A fender or a bumper might be resting over the berm in the dirt as a testimony of an accident.  As the population of Twentynine Palms grew so did the amount of accidents on the corner of Lear and the Highway. It was good when the city announced plans to put up a traffic light. Months turned into years as one obstacle after another got in the way of a traffic light on the intersection of Lear and the Highway.  Wrong parts were ordered and the correct safety equipment such as warning lights weren’t installed. For a long time the lights were erected but they were just there, looking at the oncoming traffic with a blank stare.

Now the lights are working.  On the intersection of Lear and Highway 62 I wondered how long the red light would last.  The light was red but there were no cars on Lear anymore. Why am I still waiting here? The light turned green and as I accelerated I reminded myself that I am not in Joshua Tree but in Twentynine Palms still and I have about 15 minutes travel time to get to my meeting for work.

Winter Winds

The winter winds bring us our version of cold-weather living in Twentynine Palms.  The wind brings character into our otherwise predictable and sometimes boring winter days of endless sunshine.  When the winds blow it is not with gentle breezes but with consistent gales. It rushes through the palm trees with a distinct rustling sound.  Flags flap and flutter, furling and unfurling, as the wind whips them around. Open trash can lids hit against the side of the can in an inconsistent rhythm.  It whistles through the holes in the stop sign poles and hums through the electrical wires. It is a cacophony and not a symphony of sound.

Being outside in the cold wind for any length of time is tough but doable.  At a park and rec flag football game during a recent windy evening, the sidelines were filled with parents wearing beanies, sweatshirts, and their biggest jackets.  Some had blankets over their laps as they were watching their sons and daughters play. A few even had a kerosene heater set up in front of them, cranking out heat at the highest setting.  These were the people who have lived in Twentynine Palms for a while. Those who just arrived to Twentynine Palms from much colder climates were watching the game in a sweatshirt and baseball cap.  

When the winds blow we prep our house for them.  Windows have to be shut throughout the house otherwise a layer of dust will be on the windowsill and surrounding furniture.  Garden flags need to be brought in because the wind will work them off their pole and blow them east to Wonder Valley. We had a shade umbrella for the children’s small outdoor picnic table but lost it because we didn’t bring it in and the wind lifted it and took it somewhere over night.  When setting out trash cans for the trash truck to get them the next day we learned from our more experienced desert-dwelling neighbors to put a large rock on the lids so the wind wouldn’t blow them open and carry our trash all over the desert.

Windy nights make for good sleeping weather.  The sound of the the wind blowing outside in the cold makes me thankful that I’m inside my warm home.  It makes me appreciate my blankets that much more. My young daughter doesn’t appreciate the windy nights.  The wind whips especially loud passed the corner of the house that forms her bedroom. She can’t sleep while the wind blasts past the outside corner of her bedroom.  My daughter usually ends up sleeping on the floor of my bedroom on those cold and windy nights when its windy chaos outside and warm peace inside.

Roses in the Desert

My Dad would give my Mom a dozen roses throughout their marriage.  All of them would be red to represent “love” but there would always be a lone yellow rose to represent “friendship.”  The only yellow rose blossom contrasted against the sea of red. Both my mother and her mother had rose bushes in their backyards.  I could see my mom’s yellow roses through the living room window, the blossoms swaying in the wind from my favorite armchair. I’d sit back and watch them.  My Grandma had a much larger variety of rose bushes. She had all sorts of colors and would display large bouquets of them on her kitchen table.

Roses can even tolerate the scorching desert heat with enough water.  Yucca Valley has a lovely rose garden by their community center with a surprising variety of roses.  I enjoyed walking among them when we first moved to the Morongo Basin, being very watchful over my 18-month old daughter as she trotted among the thorny bushes trying to find the biggest and prettiest blossoms.  She’d point each one out to me before burying her little nose into the blooms, inhale deeply, and say “Ummm, is good!”

When I finally got my own home with a yard I knew I wanted to have some rose bushes.  Walmart was selling bare-root roses and I splurged one day and bought two of them There were no leaves or flowers on either of them.  They were just a couple of sticks with roots wrapped in plastic wrap. The label on one of them promised a yellow rose and the other a red rose.  I read the directions on the wrappers carefully and planted them in my backyard. The yellow rose was planted underneath my dining room window. I hoped that in time I would be able to look out my window and see the yellow blossoms swaying in the wind.

They both quickly had leaves and soon blossoms but the red rose didn’t seem to be doing was well as the yellow rose.  It’s blossoms were shaped weird and it didn’t bloom near as much as the yellow rose bush did. My dog discovered he enjoyed the taste of rose bush and chewed up the red rose so much that I put the poor bush out of its misery and uprooted it.  The yellow rose survived the mauling and my husband put stakes and a chicken wire fence around it for protection against our fury rose-killer. When my husband was installing the stakes he discovered why the yellow rose bush was doing so well.  He drove the stake right through the washing machine run off pipe. When ever my washing machine drained, my rose bush got watered. What a happy accident!

I’ve learned how to take care of my surviving yellow rose bush.  Youtube and Google directed me how to prune it. When I noticed the blooms weren’t frequent and unimpressive I asked for the advice of a more knowledgeable rose-grower.  My Mom told me that roses are heavy drinkers and feeders. Well, I had the watering down but my rose must be hungry too. I started fertilizing with rose food and my little rose bush has flourished.  

My yellow rose bush is doing well surrounded by its protective fence.  It’s watered by the washing machine and the leftover water in the dog’s water dish.  I write on my calendar when it’s time to fertilize it with rose food. It’s not big enough for me to look out of my dining room window to see its blooms but I think it will be with time.  I’ve enjoyed harvesting it’s blooms and displaying them on my kitchen table. When I sit at the kitchen table I get whiffs of the roses perfume and it smells sweeter than the other roses because it came from my own backyard.

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.