the most important valentine

“to thine own self be true”- william shakespeare, Hamlet

Whether you love or hate February 14th, this gentle reminder, lovingly sent by Living Lola, is the most important valentine wish that anyone can send you.

Do you love yourself? Do you love what you are doing? Do you love the possibilities of today?

Truth is love. And, if you are not ready to be true, to love yourself, you cannot be ready to truly love another: your spouse, your kids, your life, your job, your space in this world. You are cheating those closest to you, simply by not being true to yourself.

This is your life? What are you waiting for? You don’t need a journey. You don’t need a path. All you need is complete honesty. Now.

Anyone can say the words, “I love you.” But, can you look into a mirror right now and proclaim your undying love for yourself? Out loud? Do it. I dare you. I promise, at the very least, it’ll make you laugh.

We can all go through rough patches of self-doubt. We can look in that mirror and see all of the imperfections. We can lay in bed at night and think of all the chances that got away, where we were not at our best.

But, oh yes, Scarlett, “…tomorrow is another day!” And it is Valentine’s Day.

The day we will celebrate love, by loving ourselves first.

Now, pass the champagne!

for better or worse: a guide to 23 years and counting

In 1987, I was 21 and I fell in love. In a nightclub. Heavy on the fog machine and even heavier on “The Cure.” It wasn’t the first time I had met the 31-year-old Larkin, but it was the first time I “saw” him. The way we both remember it, through all of that artificial fog, we finally looked at each other and just fell.

Like many couples, you start dating and spending more time together. Lots of phone calls just to hear each others voice. Then you start to have those long amazing talks, swapping all of your stories over long, slow bottles of wine, finding that you connect on a deeper level. You realize you have never felt this kind of connection. And then, as I always tell my girls, you just KNOW.

Is there anything more wonderful, scary, brave, crazy, romantic, insane than falling in love?

We all grow up with an image of what marriage is going to be like or look like.  That image can be quite damning for those who feel a need to itemize qualities or define their future Mr. or Mrs.

For instance, I swore I would never marry someone with kids. And, Larkin said he would never marry again, after his first marriage. Did I mention that we actually made these statements to each other, on one of those aforementioned wine fueled “amazing, long talks”?

Obviously, like most imbeciles in love, we threw all caution, warning, parental feelings, sound advice and genuine criticism to the wind. How could we go wrong?! I was a “Model/Actress”, (which meant equally less in 1987) and he was a cool, nightclub owner. Wasn’t this exactly what Jane Austen was talking about? Or maybe I’m thinking Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. You can see where I’d get confused.

In six months we were engaged, six months later we were married and six months later we were pregnant. It was just like Han Solo making the jump to light speed with the “Millennium Falcon”. We didn’t just fall, we kicked it in to hyper-drive and dove in head first.

Today, we have been married 23 years. “Been married” sounds so casual, like “been there, done that.” No one says we’ve “achieved” 23 years. Or, “earned” 23 years.  Or, even “survived”. That last one may not look as nice on a Hallmark card, but truly, it is a bit more accurate in a world filled with challenges and temptations.

People have always complimented us on our marriage. Our own parents, have recognized our marriage as a standard for themselves. We are lucky, yes. But, it wasn’t given to us. Right off the bat, our chances as a “second marriage” were not good. But, Larkin and I knew what we had, even when everyone else had their doubts.

We’ve survived a near-fatal illness, a 12 step program, failed business ventures and even a fall off a roof.  We have blended a family and made Larkin’s ex-wife, Ana, a part of our family. We have four healthy children, that may or may not need therapy. Together, we’ve buried all of our grandparents. Last year, we lost our first parent and came close to losing another. We are currently making the transition to the “sandwich generation”, caring both for parents and kids.

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health. Yep, we’ve pretty much covered it.

There are no easy marriages. At every crossroad, there are two opinions, two personalities.  All of the romantic notions such as, “we are like one” or “two hearts that beat as one” will fly right out the window when both of your mothers want you for Christmas Eve. And, of all the challenges that lie ahead, THAT one is a level one on the tension scale.

Communication is key. But, here are a few of my own suggestions to help keep up a happy marriage:

Spend quality time together, but, give each other space for friends or “me” time. It is okay to have separate hobbies or activities. That is how you grow as a person and in turn your marriage will blossom. And, for God’s sakes, let him play golf. Sure, it’s four hours, but it is four guaranteed hours for you.

Keep up date night. Don’t become complacent and just assume you don’t even have to try anymore. There is a time and place for yoga pants and sweats. Make an effort for that NOT to be on Saturday nights, unless, of course,  you are in a workout class together.

Jealousy will annoy your spouse, but it will absolutely destroy you. Jealousy is your own insecurity looking for validation. How crazy is that? You have to love yourself before you can truly love someone else. (Lola voice: “Ya! Let it go!”)

You have to be a team. Together, you can face anything. Especially if you have kids. Don’t ever let them see you divided. They’ll sense the weak spots and go in for the kill. Don’t give them that power. Sometimes you will take turns being each other’s cheerleader. Pumping the other up, rooting them on, picking them up and dusting them off; never criticizing or belittling. Ever.

Best friends, lovers, best friends, lovers. You have to be both. Equally and creatively. (To our children, sorry you had to read that, but it’s true. You’re “adults” now. Get over it.)

And, my favorite, laugh together. Loud and often. Get really good at it. You’re going to need it. Someday there will be so much going unbelievably wrong, that the only thing you can do is laugh. And, therein lies the best part of marriage:

Your best friend is right there laughing with you.

 

loving, living and losing…or grace

What a Super Bowl Sunday! Just like NBC’s exceptional marathon coverage began early in the day, I started early, too. Everything turned out lovely except for the outcome I wanted. So, my dearly beloved Patriots lost. Heavy sigh.

Congratulations to the Giants and the fans of New York. But, I’ve ended up changing a lot of this original post due to the articles, tweets and news reports I have read and tried to digest today. Also, a quick thank you for all the nice emails, messages and tweets. I’m going to be fine.

(ADHD moment: AstroTurf makes a great tablecloth! I’ll definitely be using it for Kentucky Derby Day.)

As a follow-up to my last post, I feel that I need to add a few lines about every day sportsmanship, or as I like to call it, every day grace. Watching a close game like this can bring out the best or the worst in someone. It is more widely damaging when the worst is brought out in influential characters with a wider audience. A sports loss is disappointing and heartbreaking, but it is also where loyalty begins. When you choose to participate as a spectator and take it upon yourself to root for a specific team, you commit to being a fan. And, as with every commitment, there is a risk of disappointment.

 

Taking a risk is living. I would take disappointment, heartbreak and just the rush of putting myself out there and trying, over feeling like I never truly LIVED. (And, FYI, you can mimic that rush just by walking into your local “Zumba” class.)

Think of the great lengths we go through to create all of the Santa magic for our kids. Why not go to those lengths everyday for yourself? There is a great quote by Diane Ackerman , “I don’t want to get to the end of life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” I thought about this quote deeply as I committed to starting this blog. Living the “width” of life is one of the best descriptions I can give of “Living Lola”.

Why would I take the time to do anything and not add my own, special “Lola” flair. I am suited up. I am here to play full-out. And, dance at half-time!

Today, I am not embarrassed or humiliated by my team. I am disappointed by the finger-pointing, blame game that has ensued in the media.

The New England Patriots will endure the negativity. Even, Giselle is being criticized. “Vogue-ing” for 30 years, Madonna is never immune. But, you can’t say that any of them aren’t putting themselves out there. They are all living full-out.

The “haters” are out in full force. But, it is just so obvious that the haters are the ones that are stuck. They can’t take the risk.  They haven’t learned to live full-out. Sure, it’s easier to not suit up. It is definitely less scary.

Oh, but to live a wide life!

 Patriots, thank you for a great season. We got to cheer you on into February. Most teams were out of it by the New Year. But once again, we we’re AFC Champs.

And it was sweet!

I would be remiss if I didn’t share one Super Bowl recipe …

Lola’s Mini Corn Dog’s

1 cup course ground cornmeal

1 1/2 cups of Pioneer pancake mix

1 egg

3/4-1 cup of milk

2 TBS of olive oil

Heat oil to 350. (Larkin says peanut oil works best, we used canola) Cut hot dogs into bite size pieces. Dredge in batter and place into hot oil. Cook until golden brown.

Note: The batter was so good that Larkin and my brother-in-law, Tim, just had to deep fry a slider. Yep. They really did.

A Woman’s Ode to Football

I love football. And, this is the big week.

It is particularly big for me since my home team is playing. Well, my “other home”, New England. My love for the Patriots is no big surprise to my Twitter followers. But, many here in Houston, Texas just don’t understand. Also, it makes sense for me to cheer for a state in which we pay property taxes and will pay a total of 4 Boston universities/college tuitions.

I have been watching football as long as I can remember because my dad watched football. When I was 8, I started drill team. Until I was 20 years old, there wasn’t a football season that went by that I wasn’t dancing at a half-time show somewhere in Texas.

I still remember the head coach of our local youth football team, facing 65 little girls, explaining football fundamentals to us, just so we would know why we were showing up every Saturday morning, to sit in the bleachers in our sparkly uniforms and cheer on our “Space Bandits”. I was 10.  I knew all of the players, some were my neighbors, so it was easy to watch and cheer on my fellow classmates.

If you grew up in Houston during “Luv Ya’ Blue”, then you remember how we all had our hearts broken as our Houston Oilers fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1978…and again in 1979. I can still remember complaining to my dad that it was so “unfair” that we had to play in Pittsburgh with all of those cheering fans waving their yellow towels. That is when I learned about home field advantage.

My husband isn’t a big football fan, but he puts up with me as I yell at the TV every week in the fall. I only seasoned my kids with the big sporting events…Super Bowl, NBA Houston Rockets “Repeat”, the World Series, the Olympics…as they were growing up, but their own childhoods were too busy to really keep up with any regularity. But, still, I couldn’t believe it when Houston lost the Oilers in 1997. What was a Sunday without the background white noise of a distant stadium filled with muffled cheers and ref whistles? (Larkin, don’t EVEN say golf!)

Enter Drew Blesdoe and the 1997 New England Patriots. (Yes, I cheered for them before Tom Brady. So tread lightly before injecting some ‘UGG Model’ joke here.) I happened to see the game where they, too, fell to the Steelers’ “Iron Curtain” for the AFC divisional title. Those hideous “Terrible Towels” again.

When Jordan went to Boston for college in 2008, she was already steeped in “Patriot Nation”. But, I had no idea how the love of ALL sports would take hold of her in that perfect Boston breeding ground for sports tradition and loyalty. I just sat back and watched like a proud dad…I mean, mom.

I don’t need to waste your time getting you up to speed on what the Pats have accomplished in the past decade with Belichick and Brady. Let me just say, it has been awesome. And, okay, okay. Tom Brady is beautiful.

During the holidays, my stepdaughter Nicole and her recently engaged friends, Dorian and Griffin, were visiting from Austin. I was talking about my love of the game with this young man and he begged me to “please explain this to her!” gesturing towards his beautiful fiancee. So here you go, Griff. Consider it a pre-wedding gift.

To Dorian and all women who feel like the NFL is competing for your attention on Sundays, (and Monday night, and Thursday night) I would just say, go with it. There is so much more than just a bunch of guys tackling each other. There is sportsmanship, community building of cities large and small; there is a human story behind each one of those players, out on the field or on the sidelines. And, we all have a story.

That is what we are watching. That is what I am watching.

That, and Tom Brady.

 

Because I’m a Mom

From the moment my daughter Jordan walked into my room in pain, I was “on”. That is what moms do, it’s one of our strengths. I don’t turn into a panicky mom. I use humor and laughter to get through. We dressed in minutes, made it to the car and laughed all the way to the 24 hour ER clinic, in between breathing through sharp stomach pains, of course.

It was odd for me to have the admitting and attending nurses address all questions to my daughter, not me. She is 21, now. An adult. She was amazing to watch as she described her condition over and over to the various health professionals. After an hour and a CAT scan, it was determined she needed to have surgery…quickly. Now, the phone calls.

I am a Latina. From a long line of strong, Tejana women. Once the phone calls start, widespread prayers, candles and vigils spring into action. I am the ONE who has to keep it together. I don’t fall apart. There are others who will, but not me. Because I am a Mom, I am the rock. I am the comic relief. My husband and I opted to drive our girl to the hospital ourselves. My parents and my sister met us there. (Mexicans do not wait alone in waiting rooms.) The Boy, our son Joshua, waited with friends. My oldest stepdaughter joined us, as well. Everyone was concerned, but understood it was a routine surgery but, still…it IS surgery, as my mother reminded me.

Jordan and I had a few good laughs in pre-op, before they wheeled her away. Our “thing” is quoting movie/TV lines. We did lines from “Arthur”, “Friends” and to keep it a little dark, “Steel Magnolias”…”Open your eyes, Shelby…open, open open your eyes”.)  I’m sure some people think we can be inappropriate at times, but humor has ALWAYS been our default mode.

In the waiting room, my husband was way more unnerved than I expected. She is Daddy’s girl, alright. I had to keep him up. My parents, who have been through their medical nightmare this past year with Dad’s heart attack and surgery, were worried. My sister, the awesome “cool aunt”, was helpful and attentive to my parents, so I could concentrate on my husband. Separately, in the waiting room, there was a young woman, who upon receiving good news from a doctor in regards to her mother’s liver transplant, wept alone. She was not a Mexican. I quietly went and sat next to her and rubbed her back for support, because I am a Mom.

Thankfully, everything went well and, because I’m a Mom, I spent the night with my 21 year old girl. We had nurses and doctors check on her every two hours, through the night. I was hoping someone would check on the hospital AC…it was freezing.  Nothing like a hospital sleepover to A) help you appreciate your health, B) help you appreciate the comforts of your own home, C) help you catch a horrible cold.

My husband and The Boy were at the hospital by 7am the next morning. After 30 minutes of “The Today Show”, Joshua was hungry, so as the Mom, I insisted they go to the amazing cafeteria and have breakfast, where he thoroughly enjoyed biscuits and gravy and a plate of sushi…18 year boys! When they returned, it took about another 30 minutes before they were trying to get comfortable in the small room for a nap. So, as the Mom, I insisted they go back home, as we were hoping to be discharged by noon, anyway. Then, as the Mom, I cleaned and organized the room, got Jordan dressed, washed her hair, packed our belongings, watered her flowers, left notes for the fabulous staff and we were ready and discharged by 11am. I was already on my 3rd giant Starbucks of the morning.

We loaded her in the wheelchair/cart and we were off for home…to REST. We waited in the valet line with the other discharged patients (I know, Methodist Hospital in Houston is amazing). We took pictures, sent texts; and laughed to pass the short wait. Then, the 4 valet attendants appeared.

I went to push her chair, but the first valet politely swatted me away while he wheeled her towards the car and gently helped her in the seat. I turned to open the hatch of my Prius, but another valet beat me to it and wouldn’t let me help. I turned to start unloading the cart of our belongings and another valet insisted he had it covered. In utter confusion, I started towards the driver’s seat. I was face to face with the fourth valet. He took the Starbucks from my hand and the purse from my shoulder, placed them both in the car, turned, put his hand on my arm and said to me, “Mama, all you have to do is take her home and rest. We have this.”

I tipped and thanked them profusely, I got in the car and quietly drove off…it IS a Prius. And, because I’m a Mom, I finally had my cry.

And, then Jordan and I busted out laughing.

A Simple Thank You

 

Over the weekend, I finally got around to writing my holiday Thank You notes. If you read my previous posts, you know why. In the past several years, there has been such a push for “Gratitude”. But, I feel this gratitude movement became so inwardly focused with journals and online classes to practice being grateful. With all of the introspection, the act of just writing a simple thank you note has been lost with our “iiGeneration”.

Maybe it’s my southern-ness, but I truly feel that penning a thank you note is an art that our rapidly changing, high tech society needs to hold on to. It doesn’t take but a few minutes to write a quick note of thanks to someone, sending good energy out into the world. I save all the thank you notes I receive. Whenever I come across them, they always put a lift in my day.

I have raised my kids to appreciate the art of the TY note. My 3 girls are very good with ink and gratitude. However, it almost killed me when The Boy didn’t send his high school graduation TY’s. But, that’s a whole other post. He did, however, very eloquently acknowledge me:

“Thanks for putting up with my teenage bullshit. Your a Queen, and I love you.”

You, see? Your sentiment can be expressed in a few lines, that’s it. What more could a mother ask for? (I didn’t even mention the incorrect usage of “your”) Simple elegance.

My oldest stepdaughter types her 2-3 page heartfelt sentiments in a small font, then literally cuts and pastes them into her cards or stationary. If I were to put them all in a book, it would rival an Oprah read. And you need tissues to get through them.

Excluding said stepdaughter, a common excuse is, “I never know what to say.” All you have to say is “thank you”. That is why it’s called a “Thank You” note. Sorry. Spoiler alert. Here is one of my favorite TY’s, received from My Girl (our youngest daughter). Short, very sweet and very to the point. Easy. I love it.

For inspiration, check out Leah Dieterich’s www.thxthxthx.com for her beautifully simple gratitude examples. To pine for an era gone by, go to www.lettersofnote.com  and see just how far we have really fallen.

For 2012, how about committing to upping the gratitude with a little pen and paper?

Here are 3 easy steps to make Thank You notes perfectly painless:

1.  Keep an updated, complete contact list on your phone, computer or old fashioned address book. Not having the right address is the second biggest reason for not writing a 2.  When you see stationary you like, buy it! Don’t wait until you need it. At that point, nothing will seem quite right.                                                                                                                     3.  Designate a drawer or a decorative box to keep all of your stationary, favorite writing pens, address book (if your kicking it old school) and return address labels. And, most importantly, Stamps!;The biggest reason for not sending a TY note. Buy plenty of Forever Stamps and you’ll be golden.

Dear Blog Readers,

Thank you so much for reading my blog. I truly appreciate your time. Your nice comments fondly remind me of my elementary school report cards. Thanks for your encouragement.

Sincerely,                                                                                                                              Jackie

Simple. Gratitude. Done.

3 steps forward, 2 steps back

Your college freshman is home! You are so proud. Hell, he graduated from high school and got into college, all in this past year. Wow!

However, the first winter break for college Freshman is a very long, exhausting break. And, not just for the parents. These kids come home and try and reconnect with every friend they’ve had since middle school, cram in visits with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all while trying to catch up on their coveted sleep. You can try and set up dentist and doctor appointments, but don’t have your heart set on it. And, parents, get ready to roll out all of the old mantras all over again. “Don’t drink. Call me if you do. Don’t do drugs. We will come get you whatever time. Remember what happened to___________” (insert your local tragic teen story here…sadly, there are too many.)

It seems that many of these newbie young adults revert right back to that high school mentality of living in the moment and throwing consequence to the wind. Life is a party! Even worse, they don’t have jobs or school responsibilities to keep them on any kind of schedule. Over the long break, the college-ness begins to wear off. I keep wondering, where is that college kid we saw at Parents Weekend back in October? The one that knew his way around Boston, walked confidently through the school, actually woke up and met us for brunch? Will he be showing up again soon? Or does he only reside in Boston?

It has come up more than once, these past few weeks, the idea of which childhood relationships are real and which are just being kept alive through the magic and wonder of Facebook. Just because a “friend” posts a party on FB doesn’t mean everyone has to show up. The fact that we were having these discussion made me feel that these savvy kids know the difference. Every evening, I watch our kids’ beautiful faces illuminate with that bluish hue of their iPhone screens, as they scroll all of the possibilities for the night. Then, in a very non committal tone, The Boy: Well, ‘so and so’ is going to ‘so and where’ and there’s a bunch of people going, so I might meet up with them. Me: Oh? I don’t remember ‘so and so’. The Boy: Mom, remember? Sophomore year. That guy.

That guy. Oh, sure. THAT guy. Wow! With these communication skills, we are almost right back in high school. I will give credit by saying “almost”. He actually used words, not monosyllabic grunts. I have always tried to parent our teens with my memory of being a teen close at hand. I never wanted to condemn their friends, their choice of dates or any of their ideas. (Except for piercings and tattoos. 2 out of 4 heard me.) I remember what it felt like when my parents didn’t understand.”Oh, my God! You, like, have no idea of what MY life is like! You are so lame! I’m, like, so embarrassed for you.” (yeah, yeah… I grew up in the 80’s, whatever.)

So, I do remember being home on Friday nights, thinking I might be missing a party where the cute boy I liked might be. But with FB, you KNOW you are missing the party and you can actually see pictures of the cute boy you like, when you are reading it on Facebook…at home…on a Friday night…like some loser!

I get it, really I do. I guess I just want my super amazing parenting skills to wash over The Boy and have him mature now. I keep thinking I will have this deep conversation with him and he will have that Oprah “Aha Moment”. Everything that I am trying to protect him from: mistakes from poor decisions, speeding tickets, hangovers from cheap beer…they are exactly the experiences he needs to learn, to grow and to finally mature.

This morning, early for a Sunday, I picked him up at a friends house where he had “crashed” for the night. He got in the car and said “Mom, thank you so much for picking me up. I really appreciate it. I’m sorry it is so early.” We got home, made breakfast and then he asked his dad if he wanted to watch a movie with him.

3 steps forward.

2012

While everyone is making resolutions and lists for the new year, I feel somewhat hazy from the long holiday. In full automatic pilot mode, I will begin to take down, pare down and store my holiday decor.

Last year, we sold our big house in anticipation of our new “empty nest” life. Our new “grown-up” city home is a third of the size. It is more the size of the homes my husband and I grew up in. We always shared rooms, made pallets on the floor or slept on couches for sleepovers or when grandparents came to visit. But, when we started to raise our family, it was important to us for everyone to have their own space. More importantly, we wanted my husband’s two young daughters to feel that it was their home, too, when they visited on the weekends.

Now, that our kids are 28, 26, 21 and 18 and off doing their thing, we are left with the boxes and boxes of childhood and parenting memories. My job now is to gauge just how precious these memories are and do we need the physical proof taking up space! Downsizing is a tremendous challenge, but it is also very zen-like. It can be so liberating purging the miscellany and holding on to what is “truly important” is a big lesson in this culture of having “things”.

Our home has always been the gathering place; the home to host all of the holidays, the big game, the birthday parties, the showers, the home where all of the kids gathered. We realized that with selling the big house, we were giving up that privilege. It was obvious to us, that our little abode would not lend itself to big gatherings or big sleepovers.

To our kids, God bless them, not so obvious.

These past two weeks, we have not gone without having a guest or guests, of some sort for one day. And with 3 out of 4 kids over 21, can I just mention the hit my personal bar has taken?! (and when I say personal, it is…The Mr. doesn’t drink. It is ALL mine.) I kept asking myself, “Where is everyone going to sleep? How are we going to fit everyone? How are they comfortable?” Sharing rooms, pallets on the floor and couches. Just like when we were kids. It doesn’t even seem to occur to them that the house is so much smaller. To them, it’s still just “home”. Every night has been loud. The house filled with kids, friends, music, movies, food and laughter. And, this is what is “truly important.”

And, that they go back to college next week.

A Project for a New Year

A blog. Let’s do this.

I just realized that I signed up for an account in September 2009. That speaks loads about me. Oh, I’ve got ideas. I just need a little help in the follow through and time management department. In September, The Mr. and I took are fourth and final child to college. So, after being a stay at home mom for the past 21 years, you’d think I would have nothing BUT time. These first few months of “empty nest” have been overwhelmingly….(awesome!)…easy. Hence, when the two college kids came home for the holidays last week, I began to wonder how in the hell I did this for so long without becoming an alcoholic or addicted to Ambien. And, when did they get so loud?! Anyway, this blog may just be the “time management” thing I need to figure out what exactly I plan on doing for the next half of my life. Everything I have ever created has been from home. My marriage, my kids, our home; everyday life has been my life’s work. t is my industry. It is what I know. It isn’t glamorous or exciting, at first. But, it can be with the right attitude and, of course, good lighting and good champagne. I am not a writer. Or a chef. Or a decorator. Or a photographer. (That would be my stepdaughter in Austin, Texas: www.nicoleryanphoto.com ) But I’ve played one for the past 24 years.

So, i’ll wing this blog. Just like I did with wifehood, step-parenting and motherhood.