Of Insomnia (Or Family Stuff)

It’s after 11 pm, and I’m still awake — a state yet unaltered even after listening to a sermon podcast, a few carefully selected songs on iTunes, and an hour of Harry Potter on Audible. After all of my *valiant* efforts at relaxing, I gave up and got out of bed.

I really thought I was tired… but I guess not.

So, here I am now… pouring out my heart to the internet at nearly midnight on a Monday. (Note to self: I really should pick up that prescription for insomnia meds from CVS….)

I’m in a weird place, which is probably why I can’t sleep.

I have a lot that’s going well in my life: I have two dogs I love more than my own life, many close friends, and a wonderful family. On the flip side, one of my dogs is living on borrowed time after a cancer diagnosis two years ago, I don’t see most of my friends as often as I used to (distance, kids. etc.), and my parents are facing health challenges that come with age.

I’m not really complaining: I’m glad I have people and pets I love enough to keep me up at night. That said, some nights the weight of life and loss weigh heavier than others.

I’m presently preparing for a trip to Michigan to see my family at the end of the month, and as much as I’d like to think I’ve prepared for it mentally, I know you just can’t prepare for what I’m facing emotionally… or otherwise.

Without betraying confidences, I will just say I’m preparing to parent a person who once parented me, and that’s scary.

It’s a kind of real no one can prepare you to face.

I’m going into the situation with the faith that God will lead me (as he always has), he will comfort me (as he always has), and I won’t be alone because I have him and all of the people he has placed on my path.

I’m not saying any of this is going to be easy, but it won’t be impossible.

But also?

If I’m being honest, human, and absolutely real… I have to admit this sucks a little.

I didn’t ask for this, but most of us didn’t ask for our lot in life. We all just play the hand we were dealt. We’re absolutely allowed to complain a little for a minute, but then we need to play the cards we’re holding the best we can. (It’s probably important to mention that I’m a lousy poker player so perhaps this entire analogy is crap.)

Analogy aside, I think we just have to do our best with our circumstances… whatever they are.

And in my case, I can say without a doubt as hard as this next chapter will be in my life, I know I’m the only person who can do what I have to do.

My entire life has prepared me to fulfill the role I must play — both because of my biology and also because the man who made me strong enough to face this needs me now.

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I’m strong because I’m yours.

And?

He made me stronger because he couldn’t let his only child off of the hook; she had to be as strong as he.

I love you, Papa, and whatever we’re facing, we’re facing it together.

You and my mummy made what I am, and I’m strong enough to slug it out until I’m tired enough to sleep.

Tonight maybe that means writing until I’m tired….

 

Fruit Baskets and Other Thoughts (Or Please Help Luis)

I grew up in Michigan. I went to college in Michigan. During the summer after my freshman year of college, I lived in Santa Barbara, California.

The reason for my relocation?

I was recruited to sell books by a Nashville-based publishing company. I ran my own business cold-calling clients by selling books door-to-door.

They weren’t encyclopedias; they were study guides that were essentially like having a teacher’s guide for subjects ranging from English to algebra, and the books spanned kindergarten through high school advanced placement levels.

I carried a 25-pound case on my back and biked through the city of Santa Barbara six days a week, working 80-85 hours per week. To this day, it remains one of the most challenging AND rewarding experiences of my entire life.

(I’ll tell the story of my visit to the ER another time.)

While, I was handsomely compensated financially for my efforts, the lasting reward of that job was the human aspect: the people whose lives I touched, the people who also touched mine.

After selling the books, I personally delivered them to each family at the end of the summer, and showed each individual how they could access the information inside.

I lived in a primarily white and privileged neighborhood in the San Roque district of Santa Barbara that summer, but I canvassed every neighborhood in the city, regardless of its socioeconomic status. I spent weeks in a Hispanic neighborhood in the city. I remember “white” people warning me not to venture into the Hispanic neighborhoods — especially since I was carrying cash.

I didn’t listen.

I’m incredibly glad I didn’t.

Those “dangerous” Hispanic neighborhoods brought me the most joy that summer. I was welcomed into so many homes, and my hosts fed me lavishly. I met warm, honest people with an incredible work ethic and a strong sense of family — the kind of generous, caring people who made me feel at home even 3,000 miles away from my own.

These were people working two and three jobs to support their children.

I will never forget a white man telling me later that summer the “lazy Mexicans were ruining everything.” I was livid. I wanted to shout at him and storm out the door.

I wish I had.

I regretted not doing so that night when I went to bed, and I still regret it to this day. I’d like to think I would do that now.

One of my clients was a gardener in the neighborhood where I lived. We would wave at each other every day as I rode off for work, and I will never forget the day I sat down with his sons to show him how to find their algebra answers.

Sure, it was a business, but for me it was a service.

My dad flew out from Michigan, rented a car, and helped me deliver the books. He was by my side as I delivered the books to the families and showed them how to use them.

That summer is one I will never forget, and neither will my dad.

20 years later, I find myself managing a sports bar.

Most of our cooks are from the state of Oaxaca in Mexico and so are our busboys. I can honestly say the same warmth and generosity of spirit exists with our staff that existed in the families I met in Santa Barbara half a lifetime ago. We have staff who have been loyally serving for more than 25 years.

Luis is one of those men.

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Here were are mugging for the camera.

Luis has hand washed dishes, stocked produce, and bussed tables faithfully for the San Francisco Saloon for more than 30 years. He rides the bus to work each day.

Now he is experiencing a life-threatening health issue.

In his absence, a few of us have stepped up to do his job ourselves, and I know I speak for all of us when I say it is incredibly hard work. It is the hard, thankless work that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

Initially when Lou’s daughter told us he needed a few weeks off, I set out to make him a fruit basket because his diet has been restricted of late.

My coworkers stepped up to contribute, and I assembled a nice basket.

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Fruit

Like duh.

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Fruit with a card.

Per usual, my helper didn’t exactly help.

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He was too busy throwing shade.

He isn’t into anything that doesn’t involve meat — or scratches on his big, boxy Boxer head. (I love him anyway.)

Nevertheless, I persisted.

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I finished the basket off with a bow.

(Duh.)

I brought it to Luis yesterday, and I met his wife for the first time. Though she doesn’t speak a word of English, and my Spanish is lame at best, I was blessed to spend time with them. She made me feel welcome, and she even gave me gifts.

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The basket was made in Oaxaca, and the bag is meant for grocery shopping.

I left their home wanting to do more.

Luis was admitted to the hospital hours after I left his home.

The state of California limits us as his employer to only 40 hours of sick pay, despite his 30+ years of loyal service.

That is why I created a GoFundMe for his family. I want to do more for my hard-working friend than a basket full of bananas. While I’m grateful to my coworkers for chipping in for fruit, I want to up the ante.

In less than 24 hours, I am proud to say we are already at 40% of the goal. I would love to demolish that goal.

I know there are many worthy causes, so no pressure… I will obviously still love you even if you don’t contribute, but here’s the link just in case: HELP THE RAMOS FAMILY.

OK, that’s all.

Goodnight.

 

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I’m Not Afraid to Play (Or Fearless Creativity Forever)

This morning the dogs and I went on our old Hollywood Hills hike. It has been a long time since we set foot on those familiar trails, but it felt like time today. After our jaunt, we walked over to my favorite rock in the park. I’ve had many epiphanies while sitting in silence there, and it’s a comforting ritual.

While we sat listening to the rustling sounds of nature, a Native American man began singing tribal chants from a nearby hilltop. What his voice lacked in pure melodic beauty, he certainly made up for in fearlessness and passion, and that’s what drew me in.

Dogs on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Albus was super into the Native American singing. Woodley was super into her stick. #typical

I was a little lost in thought when our hiking buddy Bradley and his dog Romeo approached us.

“How are you?” I asked, finally looking over at them.

“Well, I’m not singing from a mountaintop this morning, but I’m alright,” he replied.

We both laughed for a moment before I said, “We probably should sing from mountaintops. I bet it would be good for us.”

“Probably,” Bradley said nodding in agreement.

We listened for a little longer before I let Albus off his leash so he could run around with Romeo. The boys took off after one another at breakneck speed, and we laughed again while we watched our pups run, punch, and play with joyous abandon. (Unaffected by it all, Woodley continued to covetously gnaw on her stick.)

After our friends went home, the dogs and I stayed longer to listen to the chanting. (Still, Woodley chewed.)

Stick Chewing Spaniel on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Get that stick, Woods. Just get it.

As the man sang, I thought about my late stepbrother, Noah. He had a deep and abiding love for Native American culture and attended many tribal gatherings over the years.

When we lose people we love, I think we look for signs they still exist somewhere else. We want to feel like they’re with us even though they’re not physically standing by our sides. I felt a little of that this morning as the man sang. I felt a little like Noah was out there somewhere, listening with me.

It felt nice.

I think it’s good to focus on those comforting feelings and not just the feelings of loss. Sometimes, though, I’m like Woodley and I get so intent on my stick (read: accomplishing goals/crossing items off my to-do list) that I fail to notice the joy around me. I get so wrapped up in perfection or what’s missing that I don’t see the good in my life. This sort of focus on lack makes me more fearful, less open, and less loving.

Losing Noah has somehow unlocked something in me that makes me want to shed the tyranny of fear. It makes me want to seek love.

It makes me want to dwell less on what I’ve lost and more on the joy that love brings instead.

I mean, just look at Noah and Grandpa:

Noah and Bumpa on Dogs Dishes and Decor

I want to dwell on the joy they brought while they were here. Also? I like to imagine them drag racing angels in some treelined corner of heaven ‘cuz that image makes me happy.

So anyway, what all of this has led me to believe is this: People really need to let go of fear and just love more, play more, and create more.

And by people, I mean adults.

As kids we loved more easily, played more freely, and we created without fear.

Like the playful pups and the man this morning with the less than perfect pitch, we were unfraid. We didn’t care if our art was bad. We made it anyway. Even if it was only a macaroni necklace for our mom, we proudly presented it like it was a Paloma Picasso. Somewhere along the way, though, we started to believe our art didn’t measure up. We started to believe WE didn’t measure up. We got fearful about our creations, about our feelings, about ourselves, and about life.

Everyone has their own story, but the underlying, unifying truth is that many of us lost our carefree creativity and our playfulness somewhere along the way. Maybe it happened at puberty when everything got tangled up and confusing — when all of our “creative” energy was directed at fighting the urge to make babies instead of art. Maybe it happened long before. It doesn’t matter when it happened. It doesn’t matter why. It just matters that we get it back.

So today I’m creating… without judgment, without fear… and with Legos.

See?

Legos and the Importance of Playing: Dogs Dishes and Decor

A large dog may have gone Godzilla on this situation once or twice today, but I’m not mad about it.

That’s my today: Legos. I’ll get to “I love you,” later.

May my creativity (and yours) come from a fearless place forevermore. And may my life (and yours) be lived lovingly and fearlessly… forevermore.

There’s no fear in love, folks.

None.

John Lennon said so… and so did that one Apostle guy.

#love

Blast the Billy Ocean and Create (Or Carrot Cupcakes for Noah)

Guys, it’s time for my Billy Ocean Pandora station. I can’t wallow anymore. I’m no good to anyone — particularly myself — if I’m wallowing.

Sure it’s important to feel your feelings. And yeah we need to acknowledge loss and embrace the sadness, but we also have to pick ourselves up and do our damn dishes… get off our couches and dance in our kitchens.

Tuesday and Wednesday seriously sucked. I’m not going to lie. I cried. So much. I still made myself go to yoga, church, business meetings and whatnot. But between those things? I cried. So much, in fact, that I could hardly wear my contacts because I screwed up the ph of my eyes. So I decided to start Thursday by hiking with my long lost Suzie who is finally back from Iran. Determined to stay in a good place, I’m now blasting Billy Ocean and blogging.

See, Billy Ocean makes me smile — and Suzie inspired me to create. Because she’s brilliant, she pointed out the importance of creating instead of consuming. (Creating has transformative potential for our souls and stuff.) So I’m doing that. I’m creating… this blog post.

Ta da!

And in this blog post? I’m giving you the inspiration to create carrot cupcakes. I made them for Noah’s memorial because my mom couldn’t find cupcakes she liked anywhere in East Lansing.

People loved them and stuff.

Carrot cupcakes from Dogs Dishes and Decor #carrot #cupcakes #fall

Oh, and for further inspiration, here’s the Billy Ocean song that’s making me smile today.

Crank it up and bake yourself some carrot cupcakes. Put frosting all over the pain and then give it all away. And by “all” I mean the pain and the baked goods; there’s no sense in getting fat because bad things are happening.

Just saying…

Noah’s Carrot Cupcakes

2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 C sugar
1 1/2 C vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 C crushed pineapple, drained
2 C finely grated carrots
1 C shredded coconut
1 C chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350.

Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a mixing bowl. Set aside. Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the flour mixture. Fold in the pineapple, carrots, coconut, and walnuts. Stir in the vanilla.  Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Allow the cupcakes to cool completely and top them with cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 C butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 C confectioners’ sugar (or to desired consistency)

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth.

The recipe makes about 24 cupcakes, so you’ll have a lot to give away.

Keep Swinging, Cupcake (Or I’m Coping)

I leave for Michigan in three days. During the seven days I’ll spend with my family we’ll say goodbye to my 31-year old stepbrother and celebrate my grandmother’s 87th.

I’m making cupcakes for both occasions. Carrot for Noah’s memorial. And lemon for my grandma’s birthday.

I have to admit it took me a long time to pick out the appropriate cupcake liners this morning. After basically swapping life stories with sweet Ben at Sur la Table, I selected these for Noah.

Fall cupcake liners from Sur la Table on Dogs Dishes and Decor

They seemed right somehow.

Then I did the thing I’ve been saying I’d do.

One way to cope with grief. Dogs Dishes and Decor

I went to the batting cages. By myself.

And I absolutely ripped about 60 softballs all over the Burbank Bat Cade. I can’t bring Noah back. I can’t ask for one more day so I’d have a chance to tell him I loved him. But I can keep swinging at life.

I can bake him cupcakes and hope he’s looking down from heaven smiling his big smile as he watches us eat them.

And maybe when I’m back? I’ll take up boxing…

‘cuz I’m gonna go one more round.

#love

Radio Silence Repeat (Or Another Loss Almost Knocks Me Down)

I have been absent for a month. I know. I know….

I have had some lovely adventures with people I adore. And I have so much happiness to share with you: About tailgates. And babies. And blue cheese potato salad.

But today?

I’m reeling. Again.

My stepbrother passed away on Sunday. And I’m bracing myself for another trip home with a black dress in my bag. The deaths in my mother’s family have been swift and vicious — and almost without warning.

Even so?

There is beauty in loss. There is hope. There is a silver lining. And I will share all of that in time. I promise.

But right now?

I give you this.

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Noah’s smile.

The world is so much dimmer now without it.

As I struggle to find my footing, as I look for inspiration and humor, I find comfort in unlikely places. Like signs on sidewalks…

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The author of Winnie the Pooh says things. Profound things.

And also in the obvious place I go when all else is lost (and even when it’s not)….

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

I’ve felt God’s presence in this grief, and he’s only starting to reveal himself… and his healing. More on that another time.

(I don’t mean to preach, by the way. We all have our ways of coping. I respect yours. This is mine.)

Birthday Party Playlist Part 2 (Or I Cry… Just a Little)

Guys, tomorrow is my birthday! And today I need to talk about the other people who inspired songs on my birthday party playlist.

There are so many people I love. Truly. And if I had my way they’d never go away. They’d all be here to toast the good times together. But since I’m not supreme dictator of the universe, it’s not the case. And that’s OK.

So, anyway here it goes:

Pharrell and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines is for Gilbylocks. It’s for that Sunday morning dance party we had in the Bronson Canyon Parking lot. The one Benito filmed. It’s for our sunny convent breakfasts after CrossFit. It’s for laughing with me about a flaming pink teakettle. It’s for going on this gut wrenching, heart-opening journey with me – and for understanding why it’s the thing that just might change my life. It’s for those talks we had in the back of a SXSW cab. It’s for instigating the birthday backbend test to see if we’re old. It’s for carving my name into a tree in Calcutta. It’s for making me her kohona. I love you, Suzie. Come home from Sweden soon.

David Bowie’s China Girl is for Gillian. It’s for being with me at Cabo Cantina when we put it on the juke box that Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It’s for knowing — really knowing — what this business has been like for me. It’s for our inside joke about my illegitimate children. It’s for almost setting ourselves on fire the first time we tried to light a grill. It’s for being one of my very first dinner party partners back in the day. It’s for bonding with me over a love of Laura Palmer. It’s for letting me be Ziggy’s dog sitter. And it’s for always calling when she’s back from making big box office hits.

Bertie Higgins’ Key Largo is for Sarah. She and her husband may be the only other people on the planet who also have this song in their iTunes library. It’s for always listening to the boy drama. For working with me until midnight on stupid soap opera recaps. For making me get on the stage to sing a little Garth Brooks on her birthday. For her thoughtfulness. For her encouragement. And for her sunny spirit.

George Straight’s Easy Come, Easy Go is for Pewther. It’s for finding it in my iTunes library the last time he stayed with me. It’s for offering to come down when my dog died even though I didn’t let him. It’s for making me laugh — easily and often. For making cuddling easy. For making frozen pizza and reruns of The Office seem like a night at the symphony. For the times he’d stop me from being bossy by just saying, “Hold Me.” He wasn’t easy to let go.

2Pac’s Thugz Mansion is for Dana. It’s because it blew me away when I first learned the sweet, soft-spoken girl sitting in the cubicle next to me at ABC loved her some Pac. It’s for our Maha Yoga dates and our bagel Sundays. It’s for that wedding dress shopping adventure in Orange County. It’s for celebrating my 30th birthday and her wedding together at the Mandarin Oriental. It’s for telling me about the best Italian restaurant in the East Village. It’s for her loyalty. And her honesty. (BTW, Happy Anniversary, Dana and Alex!) #gangstarapforever

Nelly’s Country Grammar is for, well, Nelly P. It’s for batting 1,000 on birthday party attendance in our 20’s. It’s for pickle tacos at Malo. For making me laugh over IM at 4 am when we were pulling our hair out over the marketing plans for our theses. It’s for bringing a bag of candy to my first Easter Dinner. It’s for saying, “We almost wrote, ‘you ARE hot’ on the cake instead of ‘Happy Birthday’” that year I’d been Bill Callahaned myself. It’s for coining the term in the first place. It’s for all the cigarettes we smoked outside every club in Hollywood in our 20’s. For letting me cry on his patio when I called in sick to work over a broken heart. For being the cell phone number I still have memorized.

Baby Bash and T-Pain’s Cyclone is for Danielle. It’s for making it my song – and making me laugh for the reason she chose it. It’s for our laundry nights during slumber parties. It’s for her big, big heart – the one that no matter how broken it is never seems to be too full for someone else. It’s for the encouragement she has given me to follow my dreams and follow my heart. It’s for the hours we spent on the phone the night Melissa’s dad died. It’s for somehow knowing Melissa needed that rose on September 11th… the one she saved when she was sad. It’s for getting why I have to put bows and sparkles on everything too. It’s for sharing the pleasure and the pain of being alive. And it’s for loving pink as much as I do.

Lil Jon’s Get Low is also for Melissa. It’s because one song isn’t enough. It’s because we danced to it so many times on a couch in Santa Monica that afternoon in August. It’s not just about the people we’ve lost since we met. It’s about the family I have because of her. It’s about making Suzie and me go to SXSW in the first place. It’s about making me take the tags off the Ted Baker suit when I was agonizing over it. It’s about the strength she had to just cry in the middle of a bar on Abbot Kinney — and about what I’ve learned from her loss. It’s about the day we cried on the phone when I walked her through her dog’s final hours. It’s about loaning him to me in the first place when I’d lost mine. It’s about the way somehow we’ve made each other do the tough stuff even when we didn’t want to. It’s about our honesty over tacos on Lincoln Avenue and hauling trash into the Albertson’s dumpster. It’s about the battle not to be broken laptops but shiny MacBook pros instead. Chris Rock says, “We should all be ashamed of ourselves for liking this song….” but we’re not ashamed. At all.

And finally…

Flo Rida’s I Cry is for my Bumpa. I know it sounds weird to say Flo Rida reminds you of your Grandpa, but it’s because the song makes me happy. And every time I hear it, I start skipping — or dancing in my car. The first time I caught myself doing it, I started smiling through the tears that came streaming down my face. It’s because my spontaneous skipping in the Hollywood Hills brought me back to a night with my Bumpa in Detroit so many years ago. He was carrying a picnic basket as we walked through the streets near the Renaissance Center. All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, he started skipping and singing, “We’re off to see the wizard,” and it was just infectious. His joy was contagious. And the world needs so much more of that. I’ve only started to scratch the surface when it comes to telling his story – of saying what he meant to me – but THAT might take a lifetime.

OK, I’m going to get into this mocha and bagel now because it’s my birthday week and I wanna.

Carbs on Dogs Dishes and Decor

My kitchen table is a mess. And Today? I don’t care.

Then I’m gonna dance in my kitchen, Bumpa style.

I might even make that face I make when I dance – the one that startles my aunt ‘cuz I do that thing with my mouth that he did when he danced.

#love