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Black Friday

"Bring in an extra body at 5am," I was told. Originally I planned to do it myself, but at the same time I knew that I wouldn't get paid for it. I'm salaried. Instead, I gave it to a really good kid. I knew he didn't want to get up at 5am, but it will look nice on his next paycheck. Of that I can be certain.

I got in closer to 6:30 this morning instead. There were no lines. Two stores were open and I passed a total of three people on my way to the local Starbucks. It was a ghost town.

On this, the busiest shopping day of the year, I have an extra body on at work, I have the evening off (usually I work Friday nights) and I have no plans. I'm far enough away from the freeways to have a fairly slow day. That's something I'm certainly thankful for.

Last year people were actually killed - stampeded to death - running through a Walmart for some cherished toy or electronic gadget before someone else got them all. It happens EVERY year now it seems, and in pre-shopping interviews people brag on the news about how they plan to 'shove others out of the way' to get to whatever it is they're wanting. I find it all more than disgusting. Sales aren't worth it, I don't care how good the sale is. Black Friday, year after year, I find myself hiding from the public as much as possible.

For the last couple of years I've taken it upon myself to select a "Salvation Army" tree angel. The Salvation Army will take the names of children less fortunate and put them on these pictures of angels along with their clothing and shoe sizes if the kid is asking for clothes, or just check the "toy" or "Gift Card" section of the paper if that's all the kid wants. Year after year I look at the tree day after day, trying to figure out which angel I will take home and purchase a gift for. Year after year, I look for one that does NOT have the "toy" box checked. Plenty of people will give toys to kids. It's the young lady asking for a new pair of shoes or a boy who only wants a warm sweater for the winter that wins my heart every time. Year after year I finally select my "Salvation Army" kid on Black Friday.

I don't have much to give, but if there's some poor kid out there asking for nothing more than a new shirt, I'll make a personal sacrifice to get that for him. I've got my own bills piling up that need to be taken care of, but I'm at least warm and cozy at home in the evenings. The kid I've picked this year is a 14 year old boy named Jeffrey who only wants some new shoes or a new shirt. While it's been months since I've purchased any new clothing for myself, I can only imagine it's been years since this kid has had anything more than hand-me-downs or previously used items. I'll have to shop around, but I'll get him something special, something to keep him warm.

Most people would opt for the angels that are looking for toys. Shoes are hard to get for kids, they say. They ask what the kid would do if they don't fit. Well, if they're asking for shoes in the first place, I'm pretty sure they won't care if they're a tiny bit big to begin with. The kid is 14 after all. If they are to big, he'll grow into them.

My grandmother sometimes couldn't afford milk and bread, yet every year she would send whatever she could to St. Jude's Childrens Hospital. While I participate in the "Salvation Army Angel Tree" I also send a tiny bit of something to UNICEF by way of the Audrey Hepburn foundation each year. I've had a struggle to survive this year, but if anything I've been through has taught me a valuable lesson, that lesson would be that things could always be worse. There are MANY people out there far worse off than I am or have been. In some small way, I want to give back. I've made it. I've come this far. It's time to share that with others. So while UNICEF is world wide and Salvation Army is local, I guess it could be said that this year I'm trying to help near and far.

This is the season of giving. I'll share whatever I can afford to share. Will you?

Thanksgiving Traditions

When I was a kid we had a Thanksgiving tradition of going up to the military base where my dad would serve food to the young airmen away from their families at Thanksgiving. After they all ate, then we would get our own food and sit down to a nice meal together. We would wear our Sunday best and have a great time. Nobody was allowed to shout or yell at us because it was Thanksgiving. The most that would happen was Dad would give us a stern look if our elbows were on the table.

After everything was done, the leftovers from the feast at the Chow Hall would be loaded up in the back of Dad's big Ram Charger and we would take it to the homeless shelter on 25th street in Downtown Ogden, Utah. It was always my favourite part of Thanksgiving, being able to provide all that wonderful food to the homeless people. I loved my turkey and fixings, but those people didn't get meals like that very often. It meant more to me to be able to deliver it all with my dad than it meant to sit down to eat it. I was reminded year after year of how lucky I was to have a family and a home, warm meals at night and more than the clothes on my back for warmth in the mornings. Of all the traditions we had growing up, watching the faces light up when we pulled up to the shelter was my most favourite.

This year I found myself to be one of those people without a turkey, without a family, and barely more than the clothes on my back for warmth in the morning. Yet, I felt like I had the whole world. I wasn't sad or depressed the way I thought I would be. I had overwhelming springs of hope inside me. I knew that someone out there was delivering turkeys to the homeless shelters, mashed potatoes to their neighbors who couldn't afford their own. Even if that person wasn't my father, I knew that if he had done it, someone out there still did it. Someone out there was taking care of the less fortunate. I didn't NEED turkey. It would have been nice to taste stuffing and cranberry sauce on that most festive of National Holidays, but it wasn't a necessity. It was quite obviously a luxury.

I got no invitations this year to attend a Thanksgiving dinner. I got no Green Bean Casserole, my most favorite of holiday foods. Instead, I made a large batch of my own home made chili in my crock pot, bolted the lid on tight, picked up another girl with no Thanksgiving plans or invitations and drove to work. There we met up with two of my other employees (and friends) with whom we shared a small feast of Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, cooked carrots, chili with cheese and crackers, chips and pumpkin pie from the grocery store. It was a meager feast, but it was our Thanksgiving, and though it wasn't much, it was my way of giving back the way my father did when I was a kid.

I couldn't afford to buy anything for food, so I was lucky I had purchased all the things needed to make my homemade chili a couple of months ago. It was easy to toss together the night before, let it cook overnight to mingle the flavors, and take what I could afford to share with others less fortunate.

Michelle had eaten earlier in the day. She had cooked the meal herself for just her and her boyfriend. From what she said, they had quite a feast. Johnny's family didn't celebrate Thanksgiving, and his mother just gave birth to a new baby boy the day before. Even if they did celebrate the holiday she probably wouldn't have felt like cooking. Sage gets along with her family the way I get along with mine from what she tells me. It was finally my turn to share a Thanksgiving meal with those who had none, including myself. It may not have been turkey and gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce, but it was a feast none the less. I was stuffed in the end and full of spirit.

When I got home I was filled with a light I couldn't figure out for a while. Only 4 people showed up to the "Leftovers Feast" I had tried to plan for weeks, but it wasn't a failure. I was able to share what little I had with those who may or may not have had less.

When we look at the history of Thanksgiving, isn't that where the tradition started? The Pilgrims and Native American's shared what they had with one another. They gave what little they had to someone else and in return received friendship and peace those three days they feasted. Though our leftovers may last three days (I made a lot of chili) the friendships I've made here will last a lifetime. Who needs turkey at Thanksgiving? All we really need is the spirit of sharing.

Kinkos - Part 2

I had enough of Kinko's after Gavin's surprising death.

There had been so much happen since Kathy had come to be our boss. The worst part of it all was that I actually still liked her and enjoyed her company. After being turned down for the third promotion after being told I had it "in the bag" I decided to start looking elsewhere for work. I had eventually gone back to working at the Restaurant one or two nights a week without complaint from my then husband. The money was good, and Kinko's just wasn't cutting it for me. We needed whatever I could get.

I went to interview after interview. Finally I went to a job interview that went exceptionally well. At the end, they asked how soon I would be able to start and I informed them that I would need to give my proper 2 weeks notice. The very next day, that's exactly what I did. I had felt unappreciated at Kinko's since day one. Men got paid more than I did. Men got the opportunities I was told would be mine. Men were given promotions and raises and extra bonuses and opportunities, while I slaved away for barely more than minimum wage. I knew how unfair it was. I had broken company records for customer service, and yet the only recognition I got for that was a "FedEx Kinko's" key chain I didn't have to pay for, given to me by Kathy herself, after she DID have to pay for it. It was obviously a dead end job for me, and unless I grew body parts I didn't want, it would remain so.

I gave my two weeks notice and Kathy said she was sorry to see me go. She asked if there was anything she could do to change my mind, and I was so completely indifferent with her that she knew right away I was done. I wouldn't be passed up for any more promotions or raises. I wouldn't be looked over after working so hard. I had earned far more than I had gotten, and I wasn't blind to the fact. Whats more, when I gave my two weeks notice it gave several others the courage to give theirs as well. In the end, I tookquite a few from the store with me.

The store had changed locations, just up the street, a few weeks before I put in my notice. We all helped out on the project, moving desks and tables and chairs up the street by pushing them up the steep hill. Each of us helped out and had our own little party in the empty store. Not a copier, fax or printer remained in the entire office before we left for the day.

One man managed to barge his way into the store behind us on one of our last runs to get the tape, remaining boxes, pins and paper clips. He demanded loudly that we allow him to make a copy of his paper. He had one piece of paper he needed a copy of and he wasn't going to leave until he got his copy. Over and over Humberto tried to explain that we didn't have any copiers left in the store, that we were moving and were closed for the day. Still, he demanded that he be allowed to make his copy. Tired of the attitude the man was shoveling on top of his demands, finally Humberto spoke up.

"Well then, grab a pen and get to copying!"

By the time this gentleman left the store, Courtney and Humberto were laughing so hard they couldn't even explain what had happened. They practically rolled in the empty aisles. They clutched at their sides, laughing so hard the counters and walls shook. I just stood there in confusion, along with everyone else.

We settled into our new location and it wasn't long before the irate customers started to flood in through our open doors. Weeks went by with constant daily complaining about the smaller location, the limited parking, the construction on the street outside... the list of items we couldn't control seemed endless.

"Do you have any idea what a pain in the a$$ this place is to find?"

"Well hello to you too," I wanted to say but refrained. I had been biting my tongue for weeks over the negativity from strangers. Tensions were growing at work between the employees. Tensions at home were getting constantly worse too. I had been promised promotion after promotion but denied those advances in the end and blamed it on my lack of priority. I had gone to be on the Alias tv show instead of working, then did the same with Will and Grace. No, I didn't deserve a promotion if I didn't eat, sleep and think Kinko's.

"I'm sorry to hear that," I said to the obviously angry woman with more plastic in her than Barbie. Her overly plump lips looked as though they wanted to sneer at me, but the recent botox injections wouldn't allow her to. I was so sick of the Hollywood types, treating people everywhere like they were servants because we didn't have the money for boob jobs, lip injections, lipo, nose work and countless other idiotic surgeries. I swear the woman was so fake her eyebrows had been tattooed on.

"When are you going to get rid of the construction out front? I drove past here five times before I found the drive way. And another thing, I almost hit some stupid car outside because the parking spaces are too small. You have all that restricted parking under the store but no parking for your customers. Where am I supposed to park?"

"You can always park on the street in front of the store. It might be a bit easier for you actually."

"Are you saying I don't know how to drive? How DARE you?!" Finally I was convinced she had recent botox. She tried so hard to look angry, but no emotions were showing on her face. The whole thing grew comical to me but I refrained from laughing.

"No, I was simply suggesting a better location for you."

"Do you think I want to park my Bentley at a curb?" Wow - remembering back, she was a real piece of work.

She yelled at me for several more minutes about things that we didn't control before finally walking to the counter and asking for the manager. My heart was pounding and my ears were ringing. I was feeling my confrontational mode growing inside me like a disease. I had already put in my 2 weeks notice. I'd had enough of Kinko's and the insanity that revolved around the place. I had a total of 3 days left before I could say good bye.

The woman stood at the front and screamed at the manager (Kathy) for a long time about the same things I had taken from her. Kathy got what she deserved after what she had done to me. She took it like a good little obediant dog, nodding and smiling the whole time. She said sorry up and down, explained that we had nothing to do with the decisions to move or the parking arangements, and tried to make amends. Finally, when the blond plastic idiot had enough, she turned to walk out. Aparently she had come in only to complain. She didn't purchase anything, make a single copy or place an order. As she walked past my station I was still shaking with what had then become rage.

I smiled in an attempt to tell her have a nice day. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. What came out surprised even me.

I laughed. I cackled like a hyena, laughing and pointing at her as though Bozo the Clown had just walked into the room.I laughed like I'd never seen anything so funny. Her face grew red and I laughed harder. She still had no emotion on her face. She began screaming hysterically at me and I continued to laugh. I laughed so hard I had to grab the counter that my cash register sat on to stabilize myself. The bimbo left and I heard four very expensive tires burning rubber getting out of the parking lot outside.

Kathy was extremely angry with me, rightfully so. Everyone else just seemed amazed. Open mouths hung from one corner of the room to the other. All eyes were on me. I stopped laughing, but I didn't stop smiling. I marched straight to Kathy's office, handed in my plastic "Kinko's" name tag and walked out.

Kinko's Copy Queen

My ex-husband worked at FedEx Kinko's in 2004, so when he told me I wasn't allowed to work at the restaurant anymore because he thought my boss had a crush on me, naturally I applied to Kinko's. He was hired on at a full twenty cents an hour more than I was, but I didn't complain because I had a job. I would start out part time, completely open availability, and work my way into full time. I couldn't work in the same store as my husband, so they put me in another near by location run by the same manager. I never told my ex that he had been hired at a higher rate of pay than I had been. He had a temper. I never liked seeing that side of him.

Humberto was my first friend. We went through training at the same time and both worked really hard. He was a few years younger than I was and incredibly funny. People couldn't help but like Humberto.

Humberto and I both worked out in the "Self Serve" area, where our biggest challenge was trying to calm people down when they didn't understand that the paper was supposed to go face up on the copier. Their copies would pile up, hundreds of sheets of blank paper spitting out in a neat pile, nothing but the speck of dust on the glass screen copied onto their surfaces.

"Well why don't you have a sign that says that?" They would ask in a snotty, pretentious, snide, sarcastic and down right rude manner.

"We do," I would say at first, while pointing to the little picture. "I guess it's not as clear as it could be, but this shows that all the writing is one the front side, meaning to put the paper face up."

"It's not clear. I'm not paying for these." I got so tired of that. Eventually I just retorted with a simple line.

"It's there for people who look." I always said it as sweet as sugar though. Humberto would laugh at me every time.

Gavin was another of my favorite people, though he worked with my ex-husband rather than me. He was sweet and kind. He was highly religious, but he never pushed his religion on others. I always respected that about him. Nearly 100% Irish, he was a devout Catholic kid, extremely handsome and loved by all who met him. He never got tired of explaining the copier to the customers. He would gladly help them print their photos out on glossy paper if the customer didn't know how. He would practically bend over backwards to do whatever someone asked of him - and he wasn't on the self-serve side. He was on what we called the "production" side, where the Kinko's employees did the entire project for the customer behind the counter. Often that's what the "Self Serve" side started to feel like.

"I can't"
"I don't know how."
"I don't get it."

It's like teaching algebra to a bunch of first graders. Once in a great blue moon, one might actually pick up on some part of it, but don't hold your breath. Gavin never lost his temper with anyone, and he was always helping out even when he didn't need to.

Robert worked in the Shipping Department. He was funny, genuine and constantly chasing the skirts. He never had a girlfriend when I knew him, but he really was a charming guy. I just adored him, as he reminded me of my older brother. I imagine the two of them would have gotten along famously. The shipping department was rather close to the Self Serve department, and when Humberto was promoted to the "Production" side of the store, I started to talk to Robert a lot more. He became a pretty good friend to me that I could talk to about almost anything in the world. I would hug him before leaving at the end of the day if I left first, and he did the same with me. If we left at the same time, often we would stand in the parking lot and talk for an hour.

Courtney came to work with me out in the Self Serve area after Humberto switched sides. She was amazing. She was just like Gavin, she never lost her temper with the customers. Sure, we would laugh behind their backs about some of the stupid things they would say or do, but we never did it in front of them. That would just be rude.

Finally we found another manager for our store, and my ex husband's boss was no longer our boss too. Her name was Kathy and everyone liked her right off the bat. She was full of dreams and goals. Unfortunately it wasn't the only thing she was full of. I learned that one first hand.

She was nice, sure. Her biggest problem was that she didn't follow through. She would tell me about some promotion opportunity that was going to open up and she wanted me to apply for. She was going to make sure I got it, and then she would sit down and explain to me later why the MAN that was hired was far more qualified for the job than I was. That happened a total of three times in as many months. I became disenchanted with her and lost interest.

Courtney had announced she found another job. Humberto no longer talked with me because he wasn't allowed to. Kathy had rules against people on the production side talking with people on the self-service side. Robert and I had such a wedge built between us because of Kathy that work was no longer a fun place to be. Gavin; poor Gavin. Without warning one day we were all invited to his funeral. None of us could understand what had happened. There were rumors going around about him being found with a gun shot wound to the head. We were all completely distraught. We couldn't figure out who in the world would have broken into Gavin's home and shot him. He was such a kind person. Everyone loved Gavin. He was always in church if he wasn't at work or in school. He had friends everywhere. Quite literally thousands of people showed up to his funeral. With Celtic roots, none of us were surprised when Amazing Grace was played on the bagpipes. Most of us in attendance wept. By the end of the song, there wasn't a dry eye among those thousands.

Gavin wasn't murdered. It wasn't a robbery gone wrong. It wasn't even a gun cleaning accident. Poor Gavin; sweet, gentle and kind Gavin - he saw no way out of the stress, anger and depression. Gavin had killed himself. We didn't know for weeks after the funeral. It started to sink in when we realized there was nothing in the newspaper about a murder or robbery gone wrong. There was no autopsy. There was no investigation. There was only a funeral - a sad, quiet, lonely and crowded funeral.

Towards the end of my time at Kinko's, I started to loose complete interest in my job. The people got onto my nerves more. I was tired of explaining the difference between face up and face down. Life was too short, Gavin had succeeded in showing us all that simple fact. Finally, one day I snapped.


7 Years

I found a photo earlier today with a lovely caption on it. I thought I would share it.

"A Dad is someone who wants to catch you before you fall, but instead picks you up, brushes you off and lets you try again. A Dad is someone who wants to keep you from making mistakes, but instead lets you find your own way even though his heart breaks in silence when you get hurt. A Dad is someone who holds you when you cry, scolds you when you break the rules, shines with pride when you succeed, and has faith in you even when you fail."

All of the above could be said of a faithful Dad, a kind mother, or even a loving spouse. Is that not what love is all about?

For a long time now I've loved one man above all others. He's supported me in everything I wanted to do, even when it hurt him to watch it happen. Rather than stopping me from being shattered time and time again, he knew that there was nothing that could stop me from doing things my way. Yet, he has always been there to pick up the pieces, brush me off and put me back on my feet. Through a distance far greater than the human heart normally would have to endure, he's somehow reached across the miles and held me when I cried. He scolds me for speeding. He shines with pride when I've done something right. Above all, he's ALWAYS had faith in me, and even when I didn't expect him to care, he always loved me.

My life has been better during the times he's been in it. We've lost contact a couple of times, but somehow we were able to find one another time after time. When I lost my way, he found me. When I lost my hope, he provided his. When I lost my balance, he guided me with a helping hand. When I lost my patience, he grew even more patient with me.

He's a father, and a wonderful father at that. He's done an amazing job with his beautiful daughter and I adore her. He comes from a loving home where the family all cares for one another. They eat dinners together, they all live in the same town. They go on family vacations every year. Though I don't think there's anything on the Earth that can safely be called a 'normal' family, they're the closest thing to a perfect family I've ever seen. The love they all share for one another is the same love shown to me by each of them. Even through the thousands of miles, I feel like I'm a part of his family and I know that this year I won't be alone during the Holidays. All I have to do is reach out, and I know that they will send their love to me on swift wings. I know that he will never be far away, even over such great distances.

I met this man 7 years ago November 28th.

Favourite Things

"When the dog bites,
When the bee stings,
When I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember
My Favourite things,
And then I don't feel so bad."

What child from my own generation doesn't know these words? They've been sung so many times over by so many people, but the one version of the song that stands out in my mind more than any other would be Mary Poppins. It's since been turned into a Christmas song, but that's not how it originally began. If anything, I believe it should be a Thanksgiving song. After all, our favourite things are the things we are the most thankful for, are they not?

Egg nog.
The warmth of a fire place.
Brightly colored packages.
Christmas cards taped to a mirror
The smell of turkey cooking in the oven
Getting to peel the tatties (potatoes) for dinner
Ancient stories of Pilgrims and Indians, wise men and Santa.
Chicken Tikka Masala with Basmati Rice and Garlic Naan.
Lemonade stands in the summer time
A warm heater on a cold day
Audrey Hepburn movies
Ballet and Theater
Children laughing
Snow falling all around
Ice sculptures
The look of nice jewelry in shop windows
A new party dress and matching shoes
Salary raises
The love of a real family

One Full Year

Right now it’s about ten minutes after Eight at night and I’m sitting in my office staring at a blank computer screen. The internet is down and no pages are loading. The mall is quiet, even with the opening of the Harry Potter movie tonight. The Christmas lights are lit, the tree is trimmed, the children are freezing their little collective butts off waiting in line for the movie to start. My eye lids grow heavier by the second, and yet I know I won’t be leaving here until after 2am most likely.

I shouldn’t complain.

This time last year I was working Graveyard shifts. I was working any shifts I could get my hands on just to keep myself at 40 hours a week so that I could afford my brand new apartment I had just moved into.

It was a nice place. It had TONS more room than the other place I had lived in. The place I had before had a door, but no windows. It had a closet, but no electrical plugs. It had a cold tile floor but no security. I didn’t really care for living in South Central Los Angeles, but I survived it, and it was yet another story to share in my list of life’s events.

Boxes were still piled in my floor at my new place. I had moved in on November 16th and had been working so much that moving wasn’t fitting in to my schedule. I knew I would have to get it done eventually, but I didn’t have anywhere to put my stuff. I told myself that I would get a dresser as soon as I could afford it. It was December 3rd when I headed to Ikea and got myself not just one, but two very short dressers. I stayed up until around 3am building them, knowing I had to get up early the next day for morning shift. I didn’t mind a bit.

By the time they were built, I was so tired that I lay down in the floor and slept among the boxes. I didn’t have a bed yet so it didn’t really matter where I slept. I had no furniture except for the two dressers I had just built and the one heater in my place was down stairs by the floor anyway. I curled up next to it like a kitten would a fireplace and slept soundly on the solid floor. The next day after work I spent the evening putting the dressers up in the crawl space loft and filling them with the contents from the boxes.

It was a few days later when the television mysteriously ended up in my car trunk. It wasn’t long after that when another mysterious delivery was made – dishes from a closed down sushi restaurant magically ended up in the passenger seat of my unlocked car. Then came the Sake glasses, the bottle of champagne, the framed art and other odds and ends, probably from the same restaurant. Bill gave me a book shelf, another friend found a mattress still in it’s plastic sleeve that was to be discarded and delivered it to me, and soon thereafter I found several tables and an old wicker couch on the curb. In no time at all, I had an apartment full of things that made it look like a real home. I couldn’t have been happier.

I’ve been in that place for a year now, or a few days past a year. It’s been an incredible time of self discovery and a real challenge. Always before I had help from a room mate or a boyfriend. This time, I did it all on my own (with help here and there from friends and one very kind family member) and I’ve once more reached my goal.

Last year, on New Years, my New Year’s Resolution was to survive on my own for a full year in that place. I would eat better, I would work harder, I would take care of myself more, I would take a vacation, and I’d do it all on my own.

Well, that year is up.

It’s time to move on to what’s next.

Anniversary Wishes

For thousands of years people have been looking to the stars. Constellations were formed and charted down, not only giving the sailors a form of direction, but lending their brilliance to the stories of Greek and Roman mythology. Every child knows the song "If You Wish Upon a Star" made so famous by Disney in a movie long ago. Even I'm guilty of wishing upon stars.

"Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may,
I wish I might
Have this wish I wish tonight."

I've made many wishes on the stars in years gone by. Most of the time they were for very selfish wishes, like my own happiness, more money, for something I wanted for Christmas as a child. This time, tonight, something was different. I didn't wish for anything for myself. I wished for something for two people I barely know, two people who deserve it more than I do.

I wished on stars over the camp fire at Flaming Gorge as a kid. That night I wished that the boy I liked would kiss me. That wish came true. He kissed me that night. Then he grabbed my butt and I had to slap him across the face. He never kissed me again.

I wished on the stars while on a nature hike in the middle of the night at Camp Thousand Pines even before that. That night I wished my ankle would stop throbbing after the metal ladder fell on it. That was a rather selfish wish that did NOT come true. My ankle hurt for days.

I've wished for more money in times of need. I've wished for guidance when I was lost and didn't know how to survive. I wished on stars for years, gave it up when I didn't get what I wanted, and finally started to wish on stars again a few years ago. My wishes were always selfish though. The wish I made tonight wasn't for me at all.

There are two very kind, very wonderful people out there in the world who deserve all the good things life has to offer them. They raised two beautiful children who eventually had children of their own. They now have a total of four grandchildren that love them and whom they love equally in return. The devotion of the family shows in all of their photos. They would do anything for their family, and that kind of devotion deserves to be recognized.

While their 40th wedding anniversary is actually on Sunday the 14th, I felt it was more appropriate to share my wish tonight since it was tonight that the words crossed my lips. My wish:

May they (Ina and Robert) have many more happy years together and may love always bless their happy home.

Happy 40th Wedding Anniversary.
All my love.
Forever more... never forget.


One of the greatest failures of Mankind is to be misunderstood.

While I write in hopes of being better understood, I feel that I've accomplished that in some way. People tell me that they feel they have always known me with the stories that I share and they are able to read. It's a good feeling, being understood finally.

When someone doesn't understand what I'm trying to say, often it's frustrating for me. I'm usually quite articulate with my writing, or at least I try to be. Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I feel that I usually get my point across, and sometimes I end up making a point I didn't intend to make but certainly understood later on that it was something I believed at that moment. Every now and then I go back and I read my own writing and surprise myself. I grow a greater understanding of myself and what emotions I was feeling at the time of writing whatever it is I've just read.

Still, there are times that the written form fails me and my communication skills are in the toilet. Last week would have been a prime example of that. I was upset, emotional, depressed and more than ready to throw in the towel on life and all things in it. All it took was a bit of support and guidance to turn things around, now I've done a 180 and I'm back on track!

For all those whom I may have offended (they know who they are and will be getting private invitations to this blog) I am very sorry. I make a public apology to people I previously spoke about in perhaps not the most flattering of light. I never meant to portray anyone as a bad person, or selfish or any such thing. I was venting my frustration, and for my wrong doing I am truly sorry.

The world only goes round by misunderstanding, I heard someone say once.

Well, perhaps it's time I took a lesson from Albert Schweitzer.
"Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate."

Heart on a String

Day in and day out
I dangle by this thread
At times I want to scream at him
He’s messing with my head!

I don’t think he really knows
Just what I’m going through
He really has no idea
He doesn’t see it from my view.

I told him that I missed him
He said he missed me too.
I replied “That’s a good sign”
But he didn’t share my view.

I feel so like a yo-yo
He has my heart on a string
Will he ever feel the same?
Or am I just a play thing?

Is there to be a future?
Or is it just the past?
Maybe I’m being hasty
Or moving just too fast?

So there he stands. I know,
He’ll pull my string again
And when he does, I know,
This yo-yo will continue to spin.

An Electric Energy

At the top of this page, you should see the words :

The Blog Life of Lady Blackwood

Every Story, True.
Every Emotion, Felt.
Welcome to my World.
I'm the Liberated Lady.

While most of that is pretty self-explanatory, there are two lines that may not make perfect sense to everyone out there. The first one I will explain is the last line you will read.

I'm the Liberated Lady.

When I first took on this project, those words were not up on the top of the page. In fact, the only words that originally lined the top of the page is the actual Blog title, something about Lady Blackwood, yadda yadda.

Writing has become my savior. It's been the constant motivation for me to keep going. It's become a desire and need in me. I MUST finish this project, I say to myself each time I feel like giving up on something. Sometimes I'm amazed that I still have so many stories to tell with so many already having been written. Still, my life abounds with the fantastic, scary, heart warming and gut wrenching stories I continue to share with the world.

I was a walking book, wandering the streets and failing to find anyone who wanted to hear my amazing stories, or my simple tales, or even my pleasant thoughts. I had written and completed an entire book in only a year and a half. It was 850 pages, hand written and had so much of my heart and soul poured into it that when it was stolen (along with everything else in the Uhaul in July 2009) I swore I'd never do that again. I didn't know what I was swearing to.

I had put my life down in pages, written in Calligraphy and felt to the very core of my being. Mementos lined the pages, like a napkin, a hand written note or a birthday card. Each word was painstakingly intense. Here and there, the pages were warped slightly from where my tears had landed and dried. I spent countless hours writing my memories and stories, my gains and losses, my triumphs and failures in daily life. A piece of me was destroyed as I thought to myself about those three leather bound journals I had planned to someday publish being thrown onto a bonfire somewhere outside of Las Vegas city. At the time I never wanted to write again. Now I can barely think of anything else.

While it was wonderful writing that book and knowing that I had completed that task, it never meant as much to me as this blog does. Some of my posts are things I've stolen from my own past and reprinted here, but that doesn't mean they didn't hold much significance to me when I posted them. What I've come to realize is that nobody will ever read that book I wrote. Even I didn't read it from start to finish even once. I would write in the pages, read what I had just written, and close the book for the day. Nobody will ever know what those pages contained. Unfortunately, not even I can remember.

This blog is different. This has become not only a creative outlet for me, but it's a lot better than having to carry around a thick, heavy leather bound journal everywhere I go. I have access to it anytime I am near a computer - and when a person is in Los Angeles, when are we not near a computer? I can write at my leisure. I can point to other stories I told as a reference point to the story I'm currently telling. What's more, I can share what I have to say with the world this time, not just myself.

Some people call me brave for posting my life the way I do. Others call me stupid for sharing everything I've been through. Still others just think I'm silly. I'm not forcing those people to read my blogs though, and what it all boils down to is that my statistics show that my readers are growing by leaps and bounds. Even the people who think I'm silly for trying are reading my stories every day. I may not be brave for doing it. In fact, I lean more towards those who say it's stupid and dangerous. Still, I'm compelled to do it, like it's my form of Tourettes.

So there you have it. I have been liberated by my own desire to write, to be understood and to be finally heard for everything I have to say. I truly am the Liberated Lady.

The other line people may not fully understand is simple... An Electric Energy.

Someone I once loved very much once told me that I was full of an electric energy. I drew people to me like a moth to a flame. They wanted to know who I was, what I was about. People would once walk across a room and talk to the person standing next to me about the weather, just hoping for an introduction to me. Others would just introduce themselves to me right off the bat.

These days that doesn't happen anymore, but I still hope to inspire that spark in others, to show people that everyone out there has a story to tell, if we're all just a little more willing to slow down and listen. I didn't always know that myself until I became a self-proclaimed writer. This blog has in many ways changed me. It's been my driving force to get me through some of the hardest moments of the past brutal year. It's been my way of sharing great news and wonderful adventures with everyone. It's been my way of connecting with old friends, finding new ones, and loosing the ones I never needed in the first place.

Welcome to my world. I am the Liberated Lady.

Creative Writing, Part 2

Maggie opened up her laptop computer and placed it on the desk in front of her. She had an assignment she needed to finish up for work before the meeting the next morning and it was getting late. The television flickered in the background. An old Humphrey Bogart movie played out scenes of spies and beautiful blonds in the background. She clicked on a folder to find an old document, and accidentally selected the wrong folder. Instead she found herself looking at a thumbnail image of Oliver.

“Oh, Oliver. Whatever happened to you?” She wondered aloud. After a moment of just sitting there quietly, she closed the folder containing his image and opened the one with her project notes that she needed to work on. Her mind kept wandering as she tried to work, though. She couldn’t concentrate on what she was doing.

She reached over and picked up the remote to the television, intending to shut it off. It was nothing but a distraction. She turned to look at the set and saw Humphrey Bogart take Lauren Bacall into his arms and kiss her passionately. Maggie suddenly burst into tears and buried her head in the pillow. The movie was The Big Sleep, filmed in 1946. Maggie had grown up watching these old movies, and the women of the Silver Screen were her heroes. She studied the way they walked, talked, and even dressed when she was a child, and often she was told that she reminded someone of one of the black and white stars like Lauren Bacall or Shirley Maclaine, but never by someone of her own age. Those comments always came from people much older than her – until she met Oliver. Oliver had a lot in common with Maggie. They even loved the same movies, and for Maggie, that was a new feeling. He understood and appreciated the grace and charm of the times. He liked that the men always wore hats and suits while the women dressed in elegant gowns. Yet he didn’t mind that she would smoke an occasional cigar and drink Scotch, a typically male-dominated alcoholic beverage.

She sat up and dried her eyes, flicking the television off at the same time. She’d had enough of those old romance movies for a little while. They always reminded her of Oliver for some reason.

Oliver would often walk up behind Maggie and gently kiss her on the back of the neck, or just brush the hair out of her face. Occasionally he would cup her face in his hands and kiss her sweetly, the way Bogart would have kissed Bacall on the big screen. He was so romantic with her all the time. He was exactly what she’d been searching for! She made the mistake and jumped the gun, though. She scared him off. She let it slip through a letter she thought she had destroyed that she was falling in love with him. It was a shame he didn’t love her in return.

Maggie drained the last bit of water from the glass next to her computer and refilled it from the sink. Her head was beginning to pound with the pressure of the day. She knew that she couldn’t keep on going the way she was. Finally she gave up. Maggie reached over and shut off her mobile phone before plugging it into the charger. She closed the lid to her laptop again, turned out the lights, and headed off to bed.

It wasn’t long before she started to dream of Oliver. She remembered sitting on the foot of his bed one night, watching the moon come out over the harbor to the east. An orange glow surrounded Earths satellite, and the heavens were filled with bright stars. The door to the bathroom creaked open behind her and she turned to look at Oliver. There he stood in the doorway, the low lighting behind him outlining his body. She didn’t have to be able to see his face to know he was smiling at her.

She smiled back at him, and said in a low whisper, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“You’re beautiful.”

It didn’t seem like a corny line at the time, and it didn’t seem corny in the dream either, but anywhere else in the world, at any other time, it would have been the most cheesy line she’d ever heard. It never would be coming from him though. He was always sincere. She thought he always would be.

She woke up a moment later and left her eyes closed a minute. She didn’t want to open them and see the empty half of the bed next to her. Her eyes, now moist with fresh tears, flickered open. She cleared her throat.

Her gaze fell onto the mobile phone she plugged in by the lamp.

“I miss you, Oliver...”

Hitting Hard Times

I've hit some hard times recently, that's no secret.

All my life I've felt like nobody really knew who I was. A few years ago I decided to open up, at all cost. Last March I took on this massive Blog project, telling anything and everything to anyone willing to read. My hope was that people would finally understand me, get to know me a little better. Somehow I can't help but think it's worked.

I haven't always worn my heart on my sleeve. I've been closed off and emotionally damaged for a very long time. It started in childhood, where I would be told I was ugly if I cried, that I shouldn't be such a cry baby, that I wasn't any good to anyone if I got all emotional at things. It took a long time for me to open up, and even now I only seem to open up when it's in typed format. Otherwise I'm really good at putting on a brave face. Inside, I'm a mess right now. I can't share that or show that to the world though. I have responsibilities. I need to be a strong leader for my employees and a suitable fit for my job, lest I loose it due to being too emotional at work and bringing personal problems with me to the office.

It's been a hard week, there is no denying that. But I'm sitting here in the office smiling at the moment. I may not know deep down why I'm smiling, but I am, just the same.

When hard times hit, the one person I want to tell more than anyone else in the world is the one person I can't seem to tell. That one person has changed many times over the years, from my parents to my boyfriends to my husbands and best friends, but the situation never has. At my lowest, weakest moments I can't seem to bring the words out to tell the one person I'm really, truly wanting to tell. I find it much easier to find a sounding board - a friend willing to listen. I can then spit everything out on the wall and read it, make sense of it all, interpret it to the best of my ability and finally translate it for that all-important person. Sometimes that method fails.

When all is said and done, the one medium I've always been able to rely on to interpret what I'm going through has always been my writing. Far more people than I may have realized actually do read my writing from time to time. I've had so many people reaching out to me recently in emails, phone calls, text messages, Skype messages, get well cards and Facebook that I've been slightly overwhelmed. All of my communication forms have been over run with phone numbers, messages of prayer and support, and love from all across the world. I have so many messages that I couldn't possibly get to them all in one day, though I will make an honest attempt of it this week.

I stated just recently on Facebook that "I smile in the face of hard times. I laugh out at my own broken heart. I am triumphant, strong, independent, and free spirited. I am a REDHEAD!" Yet, I'm also weak, afraid and alone most of the time. I hide behind this smile like a clown does. I cower behind my laugh, wondering if I will ever find a true happiness. But I also know that I can't live my life hiding behind my smile. I'm not a clown. I'm not here for the amusement of others, though it has often felt that way. I'm here to be that triumphant, strong, independent and free spirited woman I have always been on the outside.

My readers have grown to know and understand me over the past 223 stories (I'm a little behind right now) and somehow these strangers from across the world, people I've never met, are my support system. They are the love that I've been needing and craving. They have always been there for me, though I may not have realized that at first. They are the family I always wanted - people who love me for who I am. They don't want me to stop crying because I'm ugly when I cry. They want me to stop crying because they don't like to see me in pain. They don't think I'm being too emotional, and in fact some are prompting me to write MORE, because they know that's how I'm able to vent my anger, frustration, fear and remorse.

Thanks to the great men and women of the world, my blog readers, my friends, MY FAMILY of the world, I'm in a much better place now than I was only a couple of days ago. I've been talked back from the dark abyss of the endless unknown.

"I smile in the face of hard times. I laugh out at my broken heart. I am triumphant, strong, independent and free spirited. I'm A REDHEAD!!!"

And I am loved.

I'm Done!

I've been through a lot.

I survived loosing everything I ever owned a little more than a year ago when my Uhaul was stolen with everything inside. I kept going when my family (except for my wonderful Uncle Roger) forgot about my 30th birthday with not much complaint. I'd been kidnapped, I've died once, and I nearly threw my car off a cliff when I was 19 years old. I've spent many nights laying awake because of hunger. I wandered through a strange country and stumbled over a dead body at 2am, but lived to tell about it. I survived South Central Los Angeles, a boulder nearly smashing my head in, stalkers and dog fights. Yet, of everything I've survived, the past 5 days have easily been the hardest I've ever had to go through.

I was laying on the bed in the Acupuncture's office with needles sticking out of my hands, feet, legs, arms and "third eye" while going over everything that happened in the past week. I couldn't believe how one week could change me so much, and yet I was laying there on the bed laughing. It wasn't just a little chuckle. I was laughing almost hysterically.

Wednesday of last week I had worked very hard to eat healthy. I was taking better care of myself in preparation for the changes that would be taking place in my life the following month. I had eaten nothing but good stuff and was feeling great. I had done my Yoga that morning and was feeling great! Driving home, I had taken the top off of my car for the first time in weeks. It was nice out, warm and comfortable. I was enjoying the leasurely drive when out of nowhere the guy hit me. He smashed into the side of my car from a dead end street, trying to turn left onto the major road I was on. I just happened to be in the way.

Though I will leave the details of that event to another day, that wasn't the end of the trauma. The guy tried to blame it all on me. The next day I was in so much pain that I went to the doctor close to where I work. It's the same doctor I went to a couple weeks before that to have them look at something that had been worrying me for the past two years. When I went in to have my back looked at, the doctor informed me that the results had come back on my other testing. Not only did I have three new prescriptions for pain relievers and muscle relaxers, but I now had skin cancer. It was the hardest thing I ever had to hear anyone say to me. I didn't want to listen. I didn't want to tell anyone. I was embarassed. I was ashamed. I was afraid. It just couldn't be. That night I took my prescription medications and grew severely depressed, to the point of being suicidal. I couldn't shake it. I tried to tell people, but I was so full of shame that I couldn't get the words out of my mouth, or out of my finger tips.

I went to a meeting with a Lawyer the next day. Everything moved so fast that I didn't really have time to think. I had to work that evening, so I went home afterward feeling lower than ever. Part of me couldn't believe the incredible pain I was in, part of me didn't want to feel it anymore at all cost. I tried to reach out to someone I needed, but I didn't get a response. I waited and waited, determined to tell him what was going on. When he didn't respond and a friend of mine wanted to see if I was ok, I welcomed the contact. My neighbor came over and we did a video chat with my foreign friend for a while. When she had to go, I suddenly broke down into tears about the time the door cloosed behind her. I couldn't help it.

I still hadn't told anyone about my face. I couldn't. As I sat there crying in despeation, wanting to tell anyone who would listen about what I was going through, I never imagined it would be the begining of the end. My foreign friend gave me the courage to not give up yet by the end of our chat, and I started to feel better. I was still destroyed on the inside, but I was willing to reach out one more time to the one person I needed more than anyone thanks to my friend. Unfortunately, during my weakest moment, that one person tried to contact me and I was so upset I didn't know how to deal with it. I didn't want to upset him, so I didn't tell him I was crying my eyes out and talking to my friend about him. I didn't want him to be angry. Instead, he was angry because I wouldn't tell him what I was doing. He ignored me for the rest of the night.

I finally grew the courage to admit what I was facing and share it with the world. I sent him an email first. I knew that unfortunately he wouldn't see it until morning. Still, I wanted to tell him first. He deserved it. Then I told the world.

That afternoon I went to the local Starbucks. I sat and wrote for a while. I was writing a note to all the people in my life that I love, and those I've loved and lost. I was planning to mail it to someone in particular when I was finished, but I knew it would take a couple days to finish. I was only a third of the way through when I finally decided to go home and go to bed after several hours.

My DVD player broke, so I couldn't even put in the "feel good" movie I wanted to see last night. I was as low as ever. I was at the end of my line of determination and hope. I turned off the TV and went to bed after much tossing and turning, painful moments and torturous tears. Now I was on my own. I didn't want to be alone for the Holidays this year. The fear gripped at my heart. I was so alone and desperate. I wanted to die.

Finally, the final words came.
"I'm done."

"Is it normal to laugh," I asked the Acupuncturist when he came back in.

"If your heart has been hurting, then yes. It's normal to laugh during acupuncture if you've had a heart full of water." He pulled out the needles one at a time.

Suddenly the pain stopped. My back and neck were still killing me from the wreck, but my heart didn't hurt so much anymore. It took a car wreck, cancer and severe depression on my end to open his eyes to what I needed to do, after too many years of trying to figure it out.

Well, now I'm done. I'm done feeling low and sorry for myself. I'm done with the pitty party. I'm done being depressed and pathetic. I'm done feeling like I lost all hope. I'm done with staying home every weekend, being anti-social. I'm done proving myself to anyone. I'm done working a job where I'm not appreciated. I'm done struggling to survive from one day to the next, never knowing when my next meal will come or if I can afford to fix my car the next time it breaks down. I'm better than that. I deserve better.


More than Too Much

Its true what they say, we are never given more than we can handle. Just when I think things couldn't get worse, something worse happens and I'm reminded that things can always be worse.

It's no surprise or secret to anyone out there that I've lost a LOT in the past couple of years. I went from loosing my home in San Pedro and my job in Palos Verdes, to loosing my uHaul with everything I owned inside it, to loosing even the occasional spot in my parents memories on my own birthday. It's been a really hard year for me, and even now the only piece of furniture I own that I actually paid for (in Lew of finding it on the curb) is the night stand / dresser I bought from Ikea, just so I would have a spot to put my clothes.

I've been really upset lately. I'm more than broke and my car registration is coming due. While that would normally only be a little less than $200 a year, this year it's much higher. There are a couple of violations attached that I swore up and down I had taken care of. This year my vehicle registration will cost me more than $600 and it's due by November 20th. I don't have anything left to sell in order to make that payment. All I can think of at this point is giving up my apartment and using the deposit money to pay for my registration. Which is the lesser of two evils? Either I loose my place and live with two cats in my tiny car, or I sell my car and the three of us starve to death as I look for a job within walking distance.

All these thoughts clouded my mind the past few days, as well as wondering what my future will hold in store, feeling a bit like a train wreck in the head. I'm in the middle of a silent political battle between two different opponents, neither knowing what's going on with the other. In the mean time, here I sit feeling very much like the rope in a game of Tug-of-war.

As I sat enjoying the breeze in my hair on a hot day, I thought about all of these things on my drive home. It was only yesterday, November 3rd. It was after 4:30 pm but before 5:00 by the time I reached Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach. I was following the flow of traffic easily enough, but up ahead some guy in a cream colored Jaguar was blocking the slow lane on the major street I was traveling down. He was turning out of a side street trying to turn left, and had come to a complete stop in the slow lane. Since I was traveling along in the fast lane, I continued on my way, slowing slightly in case anyone tried anything crazy. Instead, he inched forward a bit. I honked my horn and he stopped again. Then he inched forward again. I honked again. He stopped completely in the middle of the lane, still blocking traffic entirely. Just about the time I got right in front of him, he hit the gas suddenly and nearly launched the back end of my car into oncoming traffic.

I was stunned. I couldn't believe that he would dare hit my car the way he did. He was out in the middle of the slow lane, blocking traffic, and empty street behind him he could have stayed in until traffic cleared. There was the suicide lane in the middle of the intersection he could have gone into. Instead, he gassed it and nailed the side of my car, causing me to fishtail in the lanes. Right away I pulled off to a red curb and got out to look at my car.

I gasped. The breath I sucked in would have filled my lungs twice on a normal day. At first all I thought he hit was my back bumper, since all I saw was the black smudge all the way in the back. But as my eyes traveled towards the front of my car, I realized just how much damage had been done. My passenger side door was hit first, but the other car tore up the back half of my car from the door to the tire. It was dented in, scraped and bent far worse than anything I have ever personally driven. I'd never been in a collision in my life! I didn't even have any speeding tickets on my record.

I opened my car door and inspected the damage a bit closer. Tears stung at my eyes and my anger began to boil deep in my belly. I was still in my work uniform, and I completely failed to notice that a part of my badge was poking out from under the hooded sweatshirt I had on over it. I grabbed my keys and heading across the street to find the other driver. I had hoped to find a witness or two on the way, but not a single person stopped. Several possible witnesses looked at me as though they were afraid to speak up.

"You didn't hear my horn," I asked the other driver as soon as I identified him.

"Yeah, I heard it, but it was already too late." He paused a second as though he was rethinking what he had just said. "It was your fault anyway. You were speeding."

Outraged at his accusation, I yanked out one of my mobile phones and began dialing a number. My hands were shaking and I could hardly focus on the numbers. It was as though I were trapped in a bad dream and finding myself unable to scream. I dialed in 411 and hit the green 'talk' button. It immediately connected.

"Give me your stuff," the other driver said. "Where's your insurance information?"

"I'm calling the Police," I stated clearly. "You can wait a minute." It was obvious the guy was in some sort of a hurry. I had no problem giving him my insurance information, but he wasn't going anywhere until I had the Police tell us both who was at fault. It wasn't even about having to prove myself right to this pompous jerk driving his classic Jaguar. It was more about knowing how much damage was on my car and realizing he had metal bumpers and only a small red smudge for his damage. It was about not wanting the cost of my insurance to go up. It was about me wanting to cover my butt and still being able to tell the world that I've never been in a collision where I was at fault. And it was about proving to the pompous jerk that he was wrong.

In the city of Los Angeles, we abound with idiotic drivers who all think that everything is about them. Accidents happen daily with uninsured motorists, people without drivers licenses, BMW drivers cutting people off, Mercedes drivers pretending like they own the road and taking their half out of the middle, etc. Here I had always been a responsible, good driver, always defensive and watching for idiots. Here I had seen an idiot and had taken the time to warn him of his potentially stupid mistake, and here he did it anyway. He had the opportunity to change what happened next and failed to do it. There was NO WAY I was going to give my information (including home address) to this guy without the police present. It might as well be me letting him get away with thinking that what he had done was correct and he wasn't to blame in any way. I'm not the kind of person to roll over and take a beating. I've said it before to some of the men in my life, and it's a lesson I learned well from my father. "Hit me once and you'll never do it again. Hit me twice and nobody will ever find the pieces." The guy already hit me once with his car. I wasn't about to let him slap me in the face to go with it.


I miss....

I miss the feeling of warmth.
I miss the occasional hug.
I miss the home cooked meals,
I miss unconditional love.
I miss my blanket, home made.
...I miss feeling like...

Like I was going to be ok.

San Pedro Poltergeist

San Pedro is a nice, quiet little port town. Like most cities, it has it's bad side and it has it's good side. There are no train tracks dividing the two, but there's almost an imaginary line drawn right down the middle of 25th street. The southern tip from 25th Street to the ocean is quite well off (or think they are anyway) while the northern end of town, from 25th to 1st street and beyond in considered a rough neighborhood these days. There are exceptions to every rule though, and some of the nicest houses in Pedro can be found on the 'other' side of 25th street.

It became popular with the growing import/export business and military base in the 1950's and 60's, and most of the stories from Pedro (pronounced Pea-drow, not Pay-drow, even by the resident Hispanics) revolve around the ports themselves. The sailors used to tear up the town on the weekends, the dock workers and shipyard men would work hard all week and play hard all weekend. There were brawls out in the streets for years between the groups of people, the locals always trying to chase the Sailors out of their territory.

Pedro had it's own share of brothels back in the day. They turned quite a business with the ship workers and sailors coming in for the weekends. An old WWII military hospital stood on a hill all the way up until a couple of years ago, converted into a house and lived in by meth-heads, lab creators and squatters for years until finally condemned and torn down. Now a brand new home stands in its place, a small piece of Pedro history gone forever.

The "Sunken City" is an amazing story about Pedro. There was a horrible earthquake in 1933 that caused a part of San Pedro to begin sliding down the face of the cliff. All that remains is the rubble and concrete foundations to several old homes and businesses, and some of the original street. Everything else has been trashed by the local Skateboarding group called "Sunken City" or gangs that try to take control. Everything within the 6' high fence has been tagged up and trashed. Occasional murders, suicides and accidental falls from the cliffs have left the place with multiple "No Trespassing" signs and high fences, but nothing can stop the determined people from going through to the other side. I've been over there myself once.

Due to San Pedro's shady past and massive amounts of unexplained deaths, disasters and drama, ghost stories abound in the small city I once lived in. Speaking to some of the long-time residents when I lived there, I learned stories about Pedro most people won't ever hear. It took a lot of coaxing to get some of the stories out of people.

One of the old Brothels of Pedro was eventually shut down due to its illegal practices. The building was sold and eventually turned into a dentists office. While most of the office is quiet all day long, occasionally people will exit the Men's room with a look of horror and fright on their faces. When asked what had happened and why they were so visibly upset, they respond in the same way. Every one of them state that they could feel the long fingernails of a woman scratching gently on the back of their necks, brushing through the bottom of their hair and going towards the shoulders. Each person stated that it felt like a slight tickle; a gentle breath on their ear. Most of the men interviewed didn't mind, but a few swore to never go back into the men's room at that particular dentist's office. Some will walk down the street to a restaurant or a grocery store instead, if they do decided to ever use the same dentist again.

The old Hospital that had been converted into a home before being torn down was surrounded by horror stories. In my travels I eventually met someone that was best friends with a child who grew up in that house back in the 1980's. Often they would hear scratching on the doors, banging on the windows and an unexplained sound of footsteps down the empty hallway, always at 2am. Moaning could be heard throughout the house and the sound of the metal military cots could be heard creaking and clanking on the floor at night. Medical instruments would show up out of nowhere, like medical clamps and dried up, bloody gauze. One time an antique nurses uniform inexplicably showed up in the attic storage boxes. As if that wasn't creepy enough, every time the city of San Pedro would sound the Air Raid sirens installed in the 1940's, all of the lights in the house would turn off, one at a time as though someone was walking through the house and hitting switches room after room after room as the occupants sat in amazement.

One bar in San Pedro boasts of the nightly call of the Sailors as they sing out in drunken voices from an empty bar after everyone has gone home. Another claims to find broken beer bottles on the floor inside every day when they open up and took the measures of putting in a camera to see who it was getting in after closing each night. On the video as clear as day, a display beer bottle up on a shelf displaying the beers offered at the establishment, will suddenly tip over and crash to the floor. It's always the same brand and always around the same time, though the days are sporadic. The owners of the establishment even tried to move the display beers to another shelf to see if it continued to happen, and the exact same beer would still fall to the ground, leaving the rest untouched. They finally began putting the beers away at night, and within a week, a smashed beer bottle was found on top of the bar, more than half of the pieces missing. The owner now keeps the beers out at night, but has a hanging basket just below the beers filled with Cocktail Umbrella's. They just pick up the unbroken bottle in the morning and put it back in its rightful place.

San Pedro is full of it's own charming little ghost stories around the cliffs, whispering through the trees, in the catacombs that make up the old Fort MacArthur, and all through the hotels, restaurants and bars that have been around since the turn of the century. Still, all of these stories have been second-hand tales. I actually have my own experiences to share... stay tuned.

The Great Candy Divide

While to some families, the great Candy Divide would mean the Halloween tradition of the division of children to their separate corners or rooms to munch down whatever candies they smuggled into their pockets when nobody was looking, or the bickering and arguing that comes when one child claims another stole their Snickers or whines that their sister got more than they did. In our house growing up, it was something else entirely. Rather than the children being divided, the goods were instead dived up amongst all inhabitants. The Great Candy Divide brought us together in a strange way.

Sometimes my brother or I would feel the urge to be unusually kind to the other. Throughout the year, this would often mean I would give him the TV remote and tell him that I didn't care what we watched, it was his turn. He would in turn do the same for me. Other times it would be the lack of liquid soap in his tooth brush. There were other times when he would sneak out of the house and I would warn him if Dad was coming home. At Halloween, it was a tradition we sort of started on our own, without the prompting of parents, to have the Great Candy Divide.

We would dump out our loot on the floor, dead square in the middle of the living room, mixing it all together. We would divide the Snickers from the Butterfingers, the flavored Tootsie Rolls from the original, the red lollipops from the yellow. We would make a pile of Kisses and a pile of Caramels. Smarties and Bottle Caps had their own sections, too. In this way, we divided up everything we had gotten. Then we would inspect what we had gotten for open or bad pieces, separated it all completely equally between the two of us, then give at least one quarter of each pile to our parents. They always said they didn't want anything, but they usually ate whatever we gave them. Dad usually claimed to be going on a diet, but he loved his chocolates too much to ever do something like that around Halloween. It was his way of participating in the unusual "Good Will To Others" inside the house. He wanted us to keep the candy we had earned. All we wanted to do was share.

Caramels were always my favorite. I loved the chewy, sticky little squares of yummy goodness. I also knew that they were my Dad's most favorite candy in the whole world. Every year when we divided out the Caramels, I would take only two for myself when nobody was looking, stick them back in the plastic pumpkin bucket with the lollipops and Snickers, and give all the rest to my father.

"No, Honey, you keep those," he would say, year after year. Year after year I would protest and tell him that I didn't actually like the caramels, and that I wanted him to have them. Year after year, he would finally just give up, say thank you, and take the golden treasure I offered to him. I think he suspected that I had lied about not liking the caramels, but that was one lie he never bothered to correct me on.

Smarties were one of my mothers favorites. They were also one of mine, but that didn't bother me as much. Smarties were always plentiful, while Caramels were in short supply. I would usually split my pile of Smarties in half and give half of them to her. She would often stick them in a brown paper sandwich bag on top of the fridge and eat one every now and then, but every now and then I would sneak downstairs and put a couple extras from my own pile into the bag. She never knew.

My brother loved Snickers bars when we were kids. He liked the 3 Musketeers better, but the Snickers were always high on the list. The caramel and peanuts inside the chocolate made them one of my fathers favorites, too - so usually he would give half of all Snickers to my father. With my mother, he always generously shared his Twizzlers, something I don't believe he likes even to this day.

At the end of the Great Candy Divide, everyone in the house always had too much candy to eat in a night, so we would spend time after dinner picking through our goodies for three special pieces we wanted. Then we would put the rest away, and try to talk through the Caramel gluing our teeth together, the chocolate clinging to the corner of our mouths, and the powder of crushed Smarties on our lips. Each year at Halloween, the candies were always divided, but the family never was in those days.

Out & About with Roger Martin

Ok, so I recently had an INCREDIBLE adventure with my Great (as in awesome) Uncle Roger. The preview below was just shared with me and I wanted to share it with everyone. Watch for yours truly - several times!

I wrote a previous blog about the zip-line, my story about the snorkel tour is yet to come!