Words with Strangers.

The girls were “scootering,” they said as they coasted on wheels to the park. I pushed Abe in the stroller closely behind them.   

An old man in a red hat rode by on a bicycle. “Great job, girls.” He told my scootering children.

I gave him a grin but my heart sank as I read the words across his cap: Make America Great Again.

They were empty words. And I didn’t believe him.

A night or two later, we took the kids to Grand Central Market in Los Angeles for dinner. It is like a large gourmet food court/farmers market with restaurants and food stands. There were a lot of people standing in lines, eating at bar tops and tables with their family and/or friends.

Mark stood in line for the best carnitas tacos from Tacos Tumbras a Tomas. The kids and I stood nearby at a lowered bar for handicapped customers. There was a man with dark curly hair sitting next to us at a table with his large dog in his lap. I felt anxious as I positioned the stroller and Abe came face to face with the dog. “Is your dog friendly?” I asked.

“Yes.” He said.

I gave Abe some rice cakes to keep him happy while we waited. I relaxed, no longer worrying over the dog attacking him or his snacks.

“I ordered to-go.” The man said, “You can have this table once my order is up.”

“Thank you.” I said. “Did you order from Sticky Rice?”

Sticky Rice was the restaurant directly in front of us. Mark mentioned it prior to our trip. I wanted to order something but didn’t know what to order.

“Yes.” He said.

“What did you order?” I asked.

“The first item. The Thai barbeque chicken.”

The Thai barbeque chicken included a papaya salad and sticky rice (I forget the proper name for the order).

I had Alana ask Mark, who was not too far from us and still in line for tacos, what he wanted from Sticky Rice. She returned and said he wanted the beef dish. I walked up to order it but they had sold out.

The man and his dog left. There were two chairs at the table. I let the kids sit while I continued to stand. Another woman stood close by awaiting her order from Sticky Rice. She wore a mustard colored sleeveless blouse. “What did you order?” I asked her.

“Thai barbeque chicken.” She said.

I walked back to the counter and ordered the Thai barbeque chicken and a coconut (Mia asked for the coconut to drink from).

Mark finally returned with the tacos. The tortillas were barely visible under the mountains of carnitas. We all ate them with pleasure. Even Abe enjoyed the carnitas. I gave him a plastic fork to eat with and Mark gasped every time Abe would raise the fork near his face.

Once we finished the tacos, our Thai chicken was delivered to our table along with the coconut. The girls drank from the coconut out of two straws. They loved the coconut water and said it was much better than any other kind they’ve tried.

Alana always jokes about Harmless Harvest (our favorite coconut water). She says they aren’t “harmless” because they harm coconuts.

The food from Sticky Rice was excellent. The chicken was flavorful and juicy. I loved the papaya salad; it had a pickled taste to it. And the sticky rice was sticky, as was the sauce that came with the dish – an orange sweet sticky sauce.

We then headed to the Tostaderia where they served ceviche on top of tostadas – a fried crunchy tortilla. As we arrived there was a customer arguing with the staff at the restaurant across the way. He cursed loudly and people in the area shifted their attention to the scene. Mark pushed the girls back. I grabbed them and pulled them off to the side along with Abe in the stroller. We were afraid a fight would ensue. Luckily, someone had notified security and they arrived to escort the man out of the area. But first, he had a server box up his food for him.

Mark ordered fish ceviche. The girls sat at the bar and we stood behind them. Mark held Abe and we all shared a delicious lime infused fish tostada.

We then headed to McConnell’s Ice Cream for dessert. We decided on two flavors: Earl Gray Tea and Shortbread Cookies and Eureka Lemon and Marionberries. Mark stood in line with Abe for the ice cream. The girls and I stood in front of a Jewish deli whose barstools were upside down on top of the bar. I took a moment to observe the environment: the bright lights and restaurant signs; all kinds of people coming and going; couples sitting and drinking together; and families sharing food.

Mark brought over two cups of ice cream and four spoons. We huddled together and ate the delicious ice cream. I was surprised the kids enjoyed the Earl Gray Tea as much as they did. It was my first choice. 

 

The street was dark when we left Grand Central Market. All the lights were off at Blue Bottle Coffee across the way. We were disappointed because we had planned to buy coffee there before heading home. We walked as a unit, closely together, on the unfamiliar road. A man walked down the sidewalk perpendicular to us. He shouted: “That’s a beautiful family, man!”

Mark said, “Thanks man.” Or something like that.

I smiled and looked at Mark. He turned to me and said, “See, now that was real.” 

Californian.

There’s a torn out page from Country Living Magazine folded into one of my previous journals. On the page are several country homes for sale around the United States.

Mark and I often fanaticize about moving to another state. I dream of a house in the country surrounded by trees and Mark dreams of an island where he could run a taco shack, teach golf and surf.

California is where we were both born and raised. We created our family here. But sometimes I feel like I’m settling and maybe I’m just afraid of expanding my wings. Am I allowing fear to limit me? Am I just playing it safe? Will I be happy remaining in one place – one area – for the rest of my life?

We have begun a search for a bigger home. We currently live in a two bedroom condo. And with three kids our home is feeling a bit cramped.

So I’ve asked myself some questions in order to find the right house for us: What do you want? What are you looking for? Where do you want to be? How do you want to live?

I felt like sitting on the beach and eating something fishy.

The kids and I were in Santa Barbara. Our playdate at the zoo had ended but we were not yet ready to leave.

I looked up beachfront restaurants and found Shoreline Beach Café. On the way there, we stopped at a red light. A man on a motorbike rode by and a loud knock rattled my car. The impact was loud and alerted us. I believe the motorbike man struck the side car door mirror. I looked out the passenger window to assess the situation. A man in a red VW looked back at me. His window was down. He made a hand gesture signaling the motorbike man and mouthed something like “What the heck is wrong with that guy?”
I gestured in return and said, “I know. What the heck?”

The man in the red VW looked at my car and gave me a thumbs up. All was well. He then yelled at motorbike man to grab his attention. He made hand gestures and said something like, “You hit her car.”

Motorbike man looked back at me and raised his hand. “Sorry.” He said.

I raised my hand. “It’s okay.” I said.

The abrupt sound raised my heart rate but I was glad no further damage was done. And I was thankful for the kindness shown from my fellow drivers.

 

We arrived at the café and sat at a table in the sand. It felt good to sit in the cool ocean breeze and smell the fresh salty sea air. I felt relaxed. The kids were relaxed as well. The girls were calm and quiet. And Abe sat in my lap as I fed him black beans and fish. I drank a cold beer and enjoyed some fish tacos.

I overheard two men nearby discussing business matters. One of the men said something like, “This is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“That’s what they all say.” I whispered.

Abe stood up in my lap. He smiled and giggled at girl who sat in the sand behind me.

I thought of a question to ask the girls to strike up a conversation. “What is your summer dream?” I asked.

“To have fun.” Alana said.

“I want to ride a boat.” Mia said, “But not a wooden one.”

There was a large white boat in the ocean. Mia pointed to it. “Like that one.” She said.
It looked like a yacht or a small cruise ship.

Great, I thought. How am I going to make that happen?

I looked toward the sea. There were wind surfers out with their parachute sails in the air.

It was the first day of summer. As we sat and ate a late lunch on the sand I realized, I would never leave California.

 

On the drive home, I saw a family walk together along the beach road. My first thought was: they’re tourists. Maybe it was how closely they walked together or because they were all blonde with fair skin. I’m not sure, but I made a judgment in a glance.

A young man, tan with blonde hair, rode on a bike past them. His shirt was unbuttoned allowing his muscular chest to greet the breeze. As he rode by I thought: Is that how they see us? Californians?

I chuckled and drove home.

Two days later, I ran errands with Abe. We went to the post office. When I took Abe out of the car, I swung the car door open a little too far and hit the side mirror of the car beside me. I turned around to see a red car. I inspected the mirror. No damage was done but I felt guilty.

I moved quickly as the guilt spread across my face. I didn’t want everyone to see it. I purchased stamps and mailed a birthday card to my best friend in San Francisco. And then I fled the scene.

As I left, I considered the circumstances and found a common thread from what had happened in Santa Barbara. But what did it mean? Was the hit from motorbike man merely a warning? Was the universe trying to tell me to be more aware? I didn’t know.

But I knew it was synchronicity.

Someone once told me synchronicity means you’re on the right path, meaning: you are where you’re supposed to be and headed in the direction you are meant to go.

I believe I am where I’m meant to be.

I also believe: I should watch out for motorbikes and side mirrors, and eat more lunches on the sand.

After all, I am a Californian.

Wildflower.

I want more wild – more freedom – in my life. I long for more room to expand and grow. I want to be generous and selfless with love and be loved in my natural form.

It was the beginning of May. Mark made French toast for breakfast. I told him, French toast was one of the things I first learned to make. But I don’t remember the first time I made it or who taught me how. It might have been my mother.

I made coffee with the French press. I drink my coffee with coconut milk and honey. Mark prefers half-and-half and sugar. That day, we didn’t have either milk or half-and-half. So Mark walked to his parents’ house across the street and brought home Lactaid and pan de sol. I hadn’t had Lactaid in years. Over the past ten years Mark and I went from drinking whole milk to 2%, then Lactaid to Soy, and more recently, Almond to coconut milk. The Lactaid lacked flavor which worked because it didn’t hinder the taste of our coffee or toast. The French toast was delicious. The coffee was strong. And, most likely, we drank it out of a pair of big red mugs.

Later on, we watched La La Land at home with the kids and everyone seemed distracted. I was annoyed. I tried my best to absorb the magic happening on screen but there was so much noise around me. At some point, my family finally engaged. And by the end of the film Mark, Alana and I were crying. The girls and I knew how it ended (their grandparents spoiled it for us) but Mark was unaware. All he knew was it had a sad ending. “I thought someone was going to die.” He said. “This ending was worse.”

It felt like a death had occurred. The two stars made their dreams come true, but in their pursuit they lost something precious.

The next day, I felt hungover with sadness and the song “City of Stars” would not stop playing in my head. I would repeatedly sing the words while pretending to cry.

Mark and I had a few hours to ourselves that night. Normally, we would go out to dinner but I didn’t feel like going anywhere because I felt so down. We stayed in and lied in bed. I clung to him and cried in his chest. “I don’t want us to drift apart.” I said. “I want us to grow closer together.”

In the past year, we had another baby and Mark was promoted at work. We both took on more responsibilities. Mark worked to revive a golf course that had suffered through a drought and a summer brushfire. And I focused on being mom while developing an idea for a book and learning more about writing. We both worked to make our dreams come true but I felt disconnected. I felt like he didn’t see me any more: the person behind the roles of mother and wife. And I had trouble seeing him beyond the face of father, provider and husband.

We both agreed to work on our relationship. We understood what we have is precious. This is a huge part of the dream: our love story. I wanted us to continue falling in love over and over again, and never stop learning about one another and inspiring each other to become better people.

Mark said he’d seen how much I changed. I was a stronger person and willing to take more risks. He said our daughter changed because of me.

Mia, our middle child, was timid and a bit of a recluse. We worried about how she would react to no longer being the youngest child. But when she became a big sister, she grew. She blossomed into a more confident and vocal person. She performed in a talent show and formed a basketball team at school. She surprised us all.

But it was Mark who gave her the extra attention she needed. He took her on a date to a Lakers game. They wore jerseys and Lakers hats. And they’d regularly run errands together, just the two of them. Their bond grew stronger. Mark told Mia she was the cream of the Oreo. “The middle is the best part.” He said. She loved that.

However, I accepted the compliment. I pushed myself to grow as a person because I knew they’re growing along with me. I understood that we set the example for our children. We showed them how to love, how to live and be happy. And they will follow our lead. I want to set them on a path with a strong foundation that might crack at times but never will it shatter.

It was June. The fog was thick, parts of the road were barely visible. I felt nervous. The road we traveled down was narrow and winding around the edge of a cliff.

We arrived at Paradise Cove in Malibu. The beach air was crisp and it felt good to breathe in. We were escorted to a big round table on the patio of Paradise Cove Beach Café. Our chairs sunk into the sand as we sat down. We all wore flip-flops and let cool sand run through our toes. Alana sat quietly and appeared to be in a trance. “Are you okay?” I asked. She said something about digging her feet in the sand. The sensation seemed to sedate her.

Mark and I drank IPA’s. We ate family style and shared calamari, French fries, mini crab cakes with corn coleslaw, a baked potato wrapped in rosemary bread and coconut shrimp.

After lunch we walked on the beach. Mark held Abe. Alana and Mia ran up to the ocean. And I stood back and watched. As Alana inched out a little further into the water, I told her to come back. I didn’t want her to get her clothes wet and her pink sandals were adrift on the shore. I needed her to be dry with shoes on her feet; we had somewhere to be. The girls each had a role in their aunt’s wedding. Alana was the ring bearer and Mia was a flower girl. And we didn’t have much time between lunch and the wedding rehearsal at Calamigos Ranch.

The fog cleared as we drove to the rehearsal. Beautiful wildflowers were now visible on the side of the winding road. The girls pointed to them and Mark said, “Your mom is a wildflower and I picked her.”

I smiled and gazed out the window. I let his words linger. I liked how it felt to be called a “wildflower.” I wasn’t sure what it meant but I felt like Mark found something in me that longed to be seen.

There were a lot of trees as we entered Calamigos Ranch. In the trees were several glowing chandeliers. The wedding party and family gathered in the main entrance. Many of us watched as a stalky tan colored French bulldog struggled to walk up a slight stone slope. The small dog peed everywhere. His back legs were stiff and spread far apart behind him. He reminded me of Bubba (our beloved pug who passed away last year) and a bowling ball. I imagined him rolling down another slope and knocking over the people at the bottom.

We walked in a large group to the wedding site. We passed by a large wagon and a creek with a canopy of branches and leaves. The creek reminded me of Bouquet Falls, a local creek I used to visit as a child. Alana asked, “Is a creek like a small river?”

“Yes.” I answered.

I thought of how I’d like to take the kids there.

In my mind, I picture children attempting to catch fish with plastic grocery bags in the shallow water. Was I one of them? I vaguely remember my mother taking us to have picnics there. But I do remember a picture of us at the falls. The photo was developed in black and white. My mother and I sat on a blanket in front of the creek. We wore black tops and blue jeans and leaned toward one other.

A little further up, on the opposite side of the creek, was an old carousel. The animals on the poles were faded; the paint had chipped and worn off. And at the front of the carousel was a white rooster with its legs stretched in a run. It reminded me of the story I’m writing about a young boy who tries to out run his emotions and finds a wild rooster on the loose in the suburbs.

Near the carousel were cows in a stall and then rows of vines growing grapes for wine. And at the end of the trail was a large grassy field with a Ferris wheel. Beside it was a tall wooden structure with a ladder and a small platform on top. It looked like a high dive, but there was nothing to dive into but earth.

Finally, we approached the wedding site surrounded by little cottages and more trees with hanging rope lights. The girls gathered with the wedding party. Mark left to fetch us some coffee. And I sat down with Abe on the foe grass. I watched as he wobbled about and we listened to the birds sing.

We spent the night at a hotel near the wedding venue. The next morning Mark searched online for local breakfast spots. He found a place called “Wildflour Bakery.”

The restaurant was not too far from the hotel. We pulled into the shopping center and parked next to an old Ford truck. It was all white and had a hand painted umbrella on the side of the driver’s door. It was for sale. My husband might have joked about purchasing it, even though he had just acquired an old Ford truck of his own.

The bakery had a country feel to it. In the middle of the seating area was a big wooden table with bench seats. We sat there with the kids, Mark’s cousin and his friend. We ate pan de sol sliders with eggs, cheese, tomatoes and a chipotle mayo, eggs over easy on top of sliced bread with marinara sauce and arugula drizzled with a balsamic vinegar glaze and big fluffy pieces of French toast covered with bananas and berries. Mark and I drank coffee out of big red mugs and I was reminded of home.

The foundation of my home was built from a broken road. I am a childhood survivor of divorce (I endured three). Along the way, I acquired one biological brother, four step brothers and five half siblings. I am the eldest: the first born of the first marriage and the first test of a child’s resilience.

I am a wildflower.