Wednesday, March 28, 2012

As Usual...


Today I was in Downtown LA and, being a very habit dependent creature, I went to my usual spot to grab lunch at… 10 in the morning. Well, technically, it is a legitimate time for my lunchtime, because I get up at 5 and have breakfast at 6. And since my breakfast generally consists out of a bowl of cereal with soy milk and a cup of coffee, by 10AM I am starving!!!

As usual, I went to grab my favorite tuna sandwich but, because it was still early, the sandwich was not ready yet. Fine, I thought, I skipped Vegan Monday this Monday and, thus, I should order a Vegan sandwich this Tuesday.

“Are you a vegan?” waiter asked. 
“Not really,” I said. “I am a vegan on Mondays… sometimes…”
“In that case,” the waiter responded, “you should try our Caprice sandwich.”

Hmm, this sandwich has cheese, I thought, and I love cheese. Honestly, I did not ask for his suggestions, and now I started doubting if I should go for a vegan sandwich or a Caprice sandwich! So, eventually, I ordered the latter, and tea… and a chocolate chip cookie that came in a package of two. I was certainly splurging on my calorie intake today. But what could I do? I was hungry!

Fresh mozzarella cheese and basil combination was classic. Topped with Roma tomatoes and pesto mayonnaise on multigrain crunchy baguette, the sandwich was delicious.  Ah, this is the good stuff, I thought. So I called Varuzh and informed him that I will make a delicious sandwich today for him and Robert. He said that I was very sweet and that they would look forward to that.

On my way out of downtown, I got stuck in usual LA traffic. I also realized that we may not have mozzarella cheese in our fridge, and may be out of tomatoes, and I was sure we did not have pesto mayonnaise. I guess, the only ingredient I knew we had for sure was basil. So I stopped by a market…

By the time I got home, Varuzh had already had lunch because he had to run to work, and Robert was running off to play basketball with his buddies. I was bummed but thought that we could reset the lunch date to tomorrow…

…and when they both left, I made a Caprice sandwich for myself and ate it for dinner… It was a little different from the one at the restaurant, but still delicious…

Signing off till Monday…

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Birthday Present

I hope when Alex grows up, he will not be upset at me for this blog post. He is such a fun little boy and always amuses everyone around with his cute and bright personality.


Last weekend Alex was invited to little D’s birthday party. She is a creative girl with a head full of cute curly hair and a love for dance. Every time I see her, I remember Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy character.

So what should we give little D? I, of course, would like to involve Alex in the decision making process, but before that, I have to give him my input as an experienced gift giver, especially since I have hosted a kid’s birthday party where an entire class is invited.

So, I think, when many guests are invited, gift cards are probably the most useful presents.  Understand me correctly - I do not like receiving money as a birthday present, because, if I receive money, I will use it on groceries or other necessities.  But birthdays are such a special day of a year! The birthday girl should be treated accordingly! Birthday presents should be something I want, but don’t necessarily need… And if I don’t want to receive money as a present myself, then I don’t give money to others, unless that is what they want, of course.

I am not tough on gift cards, though, because when we buy them, we do take into consideration the store our birthday person likes to shop. After all, I don’t think anyone gives gift cards to shop at a grocery store as a birthday present! When I go to birthday parties where many guests are invited, I actually tend to buy gift cards, unless there is something specific I have in mind for this person. 

I was sure that little D would get so many presents, that she would not even get through them all before she got too exhausted. Meanwhile, I know that parents would appreciate a gift card that can be used later on to buy something for little D… or for the home. So I told Alex my thought process and asked him if he has something special in mind to give Little D, because if not, we should just get a gift card.

Alex was polite enough to let me finish talking and said: “Mom, we have to buy her a dress,” he said.

I am pretty sure my eyes opened wide as I looked at my seven-year-old’s face, and I don’t think he knew why.

“What kind of dress?” I asked.

“A Pink one. She loves to dance …”

Ah, I thought, my little boy certainly knows how to treat a girl on her birthday!.. 


At that moment I kind of wished to be little D. But, of course, I settled with just helping Alex find the right dress. We waited until Varuzh came home and drove together to a very pink clothing store for girls... I don’t have an opportunity to shop for girls, but it’s something I really love. As bored Varuzh sat on the couch waiting for us, Alex and I took our time to choose a dress. I showed several choices to Alex and, finally, we decided on a pink skirt that would be great for twirling and a pink hair band with a pink flower…

…I really hope little D liked her gift. I mean, how could she not?  It came from such a special heart!..

And I do hope that Alex will forgive me for this post…

With love, always,
xo Zuma A. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hair Appointment…


I have a confession to make, I am not a natural blond… not that you thought I was!


When I was growing up, it was very much in fashion and very appropriate for a girl to have long hair neatly pulled back into a ponytail. So, when I was six, my mom let my hair grow long, tied it in a ponytail, decorated it with a big white bow, and sent me to school. From then on, she thought that this was the look that fit me the most and that was that. Eventually, I got rid of the bow, but kept the rest, and long dark hair pulled back became my fixture…

…until one day about a year ago I went to Patrick and said: “I think this time I am ready for a change.”

You can probably guess that Patrick is my hairstylist. We met when I walked into a hair salon sixteen years ago and every month or two I would go to him saying that I wanted to change my hairstyle, but by the time he would settle me in the chair, I would get cold feet and ask him for my usual highlights. He knew I’d get cold feet all along.

Changing hairstyles can be a terrifying experience!

Don’t think that I am talking silly. Hair is much more than just a body part that protects our scalps from the sun. Hair is a personality and a life style. Hair tells others if we are artists or accountants, if we are flamboyant or shy, if we are tired and moody, or if we are happy and full of energy. And I came to the conclusion that sometimes, change of hairstyle is a reflection of deep feelings inside our soul.

So when I told Patrick that I was ready for a change, he looked at me trying to read my mind. But this time, to my surprise, he did not ignore my statement and go to mix my highlight formula. This time, he said: “Well, you look like you are ready. Lets chop them off.” 

Patrick’s duties don’t include just cutting, coloring and styling my hair. He is, kind of, my… psychic, therapist, an advisor. He knows everything about me… and everyone who sits in his magic chair. He can tell what I think, how I process life’s information. He always finds the right stories to tell and relates to whatever I’m going through at that point of my life. And then, he finds a way to keep me calm or just be there to share my moods with me… and all the while he is putting color mix on my roots. My! That must be exhausting… But Patrick is a natural!

So why did I desire a dramatic change for so many years? Have I been going through some kind of crisis? Not that I remember… I live life just like everyone, with its perks and challenges. So maybe life routine just got me to the point that I could not continue it any more. Maybe I was just desperate to find another self in me… Maybe I thought that grass is greener on the other side? No dramatic changes were happening a year ago, and maybe that was it! Sometimes we find our way of life, then we get used to the routine, and then we get stuck and feel desperate to get out.  Whatever it was, I guess I had been craving a change and, as terrifying as changing a hairstyle is, this was the only thing I could change…  and I finally dared to!
 
I am so happy I had Patrick handling it by being there for me, guiding me through finding myself and coloring my hair blond. I told you that hair is not just a part of our body, but it’s a reflection of our soul!

When I left the salon, I felt fun and flirty. I felt that this was a perfect day I should go home, dress up, grab Varuzh, and go out somewhere fancy. But it was weekday and he was at work, and I was supposed to be hanging out with Alex. And, before going home, I had to run to the market and get some groceries because our fridge was empty. Maybe, if I sleep on my back the entire night, I won’t mess up my new hairstyle and be able to preserve it till Saturday night…

Despite the fact that I did not go out that night, though, I still declare that blonds do have more fun. After I got back home, I stopped in front of the mirror and put lip gloss on. Believe me, I would never do that as a brunette.

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Get On Your Bikes...


I was so excited to celebrate the first day of Spring this week. Even though we, Southern Californians, are pretty spoiled with warm weather all year round, we too crave that special spring sun in the blue sky and that special fragrant breeze from blooming cherry trees.

In our household, the warm Spring weather also means the start of our bike rides to the beach. So early in the morning we stuck our noses outside to make sure that the weather was just as what Siri informed us the night before. Our noses confirmed that the day was going to be beautiful and, as I was finishing my coffee, Varuzh made sure the bikes were in good condition and ready to be ridden. Once we put sunscreen on, we were off to our ocean side bike trail.

I stuck headphones into my ears, turned on the iPod and I rode off. Luckily, after a long winter hibernation from biking, I still retained my riding skills and rode till I got to the top of the steep hill. I stopped abruptly. Oh, I totally forgot about this hill! I always walk my bike down this hill because, really, I always get scared to fall and hurt myself if I zoom downhill. Just the thought about it made my body almost feel the pain of the fall. As I was cringing, Varuzh and Alex sped downhill.

“Mommy, go! You can do it, mommy!” I heard.  I turned off my iPod and put it in my little bike basket.

Should I do it this time? Seriously, if everyone can do it, why can’t I? Scared? Scared of what? So what if I fall? Should I dare myself? What’s my reward if I do it?..

But just like everything I do in my life, I decided not to think much and also not to let my fears take me over. Besides, I knew that the sooner I got there, the sooner I would land into a beautiful scenery of a wild river streaming down to the ocean.

I took a deep breath and pushed the pedals…

As I was uncontrollably speeding, the wind was hitting my face with its rough but warm touch. I let my fear go and let the wheels of the bike guide me.

“Great job mommy!” both Alex and Varuzh applauded me.

I dismissed them as if it was no big deal. But somewhere deep inside I was a little proud of myself for not letting my fears stop me from doing what I want.

The trail was about six miles roundtrip and it was everything I remembered it was. The gorgeous warm and fragrant air embraced me during the rest of my ride. I never turned my iPod back on because the nature’s sounds and beautiful view were enough information for my senses.

I missed biking, I thought. I missed summer weather, the outdoors. I am so glad that spring has arrived. Maybe I should bike everywhere, I thought. I could bike to the market or to the post office, movies, coffee shop or local restaurants, or wherever else two wheels can go. I relayed my idea to Varuzh. As usual, he smiled and said that it was a great idea, if I would actually do it. Well, I thought that this is certainly a healthier and so much more fun to move around on a bicycle than driving a car to a place that is a half a mile away!

…On the way back I walked my bike up the hill… not because I was scared, but because I could not… But that was fine with me since there are no such steep hills on the way to my favorite coffee shop and farmer’s market…

So lets get our bikes and go places!

Signing off till Monday.

With love, always,
xo Zuma A.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Meet Robert

A day after I posted my blog about Buddy Bear, I got a fan mail... from my mom…

She started her letter with the following: “Dear Zuma. I am very sorry that you feel like you had a toy-less childhood, but I truly hope that all the books you read and travels we traveled made up for it somehow…”

I felt really bad that my mom thought that I was unhappy that I did not have many toys when I was growing up – times were different then so we would hang out with neighborhood kids outside, read, travel… Of course, mom would also never let my sister and I eat ice-cream before dinner, or indulge on chocolate, or stay at the beach passed noon…

Well, I am more relaxed than my mom, I think. Sometimes I let Alex buy useless toys or have a cupcake before dinner if he wants to… and once in a while I even let my boys to stay in the sun past noon… as long as they re-apply sunscreen every few hours…

Today morning, as I sat to do some work, Varuzh, who was organizing drawers filled with old stuff, turned to me holding an old VCR tape. “Look what I found,” he said. “This is our Christmas 98 home video!”  He then disappeared into the garage and fished out our old VCR player and connected it to the TV set. What a great excuse to delay my work, I thought! So Varuzh, Alex, our dog Lucy and I got comfortable on the couch ready to watch the video. 
 Varuzh, Robert and I 
I always get pretty nostalgic when I watch home videos, so I prepared a tissue box by my side, just in case.

1998! How did the time pass so fast?  Where were we then, and where we are now? And where will we be another decade from now? In 1998 I had dark long hair and Varuzh... had hair... We were so much more care-free and so hopeful that the future would somehow work itself out. Alex was not born then, so it was just three of us – Varuzh, myself and Robert…

…Meet Robert, our first baby boy who, in 1998, was six-years-old…

Varuzh and I were young parents, and raising Robert as we were growing up ourselves. We lived then in a small one bedroom apartment – the money was tight… very tight. But we did not really worry about it because the future was ahead of us! We were a very happy trio and did everything together. Following my mom’s example, we were saving money to be able to travel, we were teaching Robert to read and count from the age of three. And by six, Robert already earned the first place at the California Chess Championship…

Don’t judge me please, I was not a tiger mom! I never even thought that it was healthy for kids. Robert was just doing it all with such ease… and I, on my end, showered him with hugs and kisses and lots of love.

As I watched the old tape, my heart filled with warmth from Robert’s cute face and big curly hair. In the video I was giving him lots of hugs and kisses and placed three carefully wrapped presents under the tree. All three presents were for Robert. But what came next made me gasp – when Robert unwrapped the presents, and placed them in front of him, there I saw… three big thick books: a collection of classic folk tales, a science encyclopedia and a pretty technical book about astronomy.

Varuzh and I looked at each other with horror – Did we really do that? Did we really give these three books to a six-year-old boy? We did not give him a Paddington Bear book, or a toy, or a sweater! We gave him big thick science books!


I jumped from the couch and ran to Robert’s room and checked the bookshelf to find these books. They were still there… unread...

Phew!.. Thankfully, I never made him read those books...

…You don’t hear much about Robert because he only comes home for holidays – he is twenty years old now and will be graduating from university next year. Three years ago Robert decided that he wanted to study Astrophysics...

Hmm, maybe I got him those books because that was what he wanted?.. He told me recently that he had always wanted to see the Earth from the Moon… and still does…

Spring Break is around the corner. The thought that Robby is coming home fills my heart with an incredible feeling of warmth and love. I understand that parents of young children cannot really relate to this feeling, but to me it is similar to the feeling I had when I picked Robert up from daycare for the first time after missing him for entire three hours. And believe me, it feels as if it was just yesterday.

He is flying in tonight. Home will be whole again…

With love, always,
xo Zuma A.



Saturday, March 17, 2012

Vegan Mondays


Somehow, once I had my boys, I started to value health more than I used to. I did my best to feed my kids the most nutritious foods and drive them to tennis and swimming lessons. But once I turned 40, healthy living took on a whole new meaning for me –I too must eat healthy and exercise, I realized. Wait… wasn’t my mom telling me that all my life? Yes, but who was listening!

So what is healthy living? Eat well, be active, stress less, enjoy life… Here I go again with all these unrealistic thoughts and ideas! And yet, I’ve got to somehow make it happen, so I decided to look into becoming a… vegan. Coincidently, on my way to pick up Alex from school, I was listening to Chloe Coscarelli’s interview on Martha’s Radio – she shared some fun vegan recipes as she was promoting her new book. I was inspired to start this healthy adventure of cooking vegan and, after I picked up Alex, we made a little detour to a bookstore.

I do bake often, but I don’t cook. It has been few years already that my boys and I realized that Varuzh is a very good cook, so we kept requesting him to make different dishes for us, and pretty soon this became his daily responsibility. And thanks to Varuzh’s great cooking, I had completely lost my own cooking skills.
 
But today, after searching through Chloe’s book, I found a great recipe for Tuscan Bean and Greens Soup and decided to refresh my rusty cooking skills.

“I will be making a vegan soup today,” I declared to Varuzh, wondering why he smiled and rolled his eyes. So I asked: “Why are you smiling?”

“Why Vegan?” he answered my question with a question. So I explained him that we too need to take care of our bodies and that vegan food just may be an answer. And I know that he is not sure if I am seriously serious about becoming a vegan, but he, as usual, decided to wait and see: “Sure, baby, you can try. Do you need any help with the soup?” I rejected his help with pride and ran off to the market to grab a few missing ingredients.

… I heard that if we cry from chopping an onion, this means that the knife is not sharp enough. Well, I have to say that we must have a very dull knife, and never mind that it took me forever to chop an onion! My cooking skills became truly rusty. Alex, who likes watching his dad cook, got bored and left to play in his room a long time ago.

 “Do you need any help, baby?” Varuzh entered the kitchen. “No I don’t,” I proudly said. “The dinner will be ready in just a few minutes. You can call Alex,” I declared. While Varuzh was fishing Alex out of his room, I set up the table.

The soup turned out truly delicious!!! The hearty smell, taste, the texture, and the great health benefits were all integrated into one bowl.  Varuzh loved the soup. He said it reminded him that I used to be very good at cooking and should do it more often.

I hope he did not mean that his cooking responsibilities would be shifted to me, I thought. I needed to find a solution fast: “I don’t think I can do it daily, but maybe I can do Vegan Mondays.”

Varuzh could see right through me, but he smiled and said: “Sounds great, baby.”  

Then he asked if we had a second course. 

Oh, I was supposed to make it, wasn’t I…

Signing off till Thursday.

With love, always,
xo Zuma A.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Mammogram


As I was dressing up, I fished out of the drawers my lucky pink with black polka dots underwear. Today I have my annual mammogram screening appointment and, since too many relatives of mine had some type of cancer diagnosis, I do not want to take any chances. So, after getting some work done, I zoomed to my doctor’s office parking lot. As I am a big sucker for fancy everything, I go to a fancy breast cancer specialist. She approaches every patient in a very personal manner and I like that. Even though she sees me only once a year, somehow still remembers me and every member of my family by our first names, remembers little things I told her about my kids. I wonder if she makes these notes in her file…

After watching the delicious Food Channel on 55” screen TV in the office lobby, I was invited inside and taken to the individual dressing room with the white robe I was supposed to put on, laying on the brown leather cushion.  As I was putting it on, I thought about how many lucky or maybe not so lucky women wore this robe. If only it could tell stories of those women! And I wondered will I be one of the lucky or not so lucky ones today? If this robe could only predict!

By the time I was taken to the screening room, my heart was nervously beating. If we are a product of chemical reaction which quite often gets screwed up, how can we outsmart our DNA? Can we? Should we? Is it worth being stuck to a big shiny machine and squeezed until ready to scream? Do we even look in the right place?

As I was walking into the empty examine room, I saw my doctor talking to someone on the phone. Her eyebrows were drawn down as she was scanning through the papers in her hands. Somehow I knew those were not my papers, but they were someone’s. This made me wonder how many times she had broken bad news to her patients. Is it daily? Weekly? And then, how could she live with this burden? Does it get balanced by giving good news to others?
 
After the daunting waiting time, my doctor finally opened the door holding my file. She looked pleased, asked me questions about work, family and kids, made some notes, and sent me home for a year.  My lucky underwear did not fail me this time! 

On my way home I took a detour and stopped at my favorite spot overlooking the ocean. The sky was so blue and the sun was so bright! I took a deep breath, and it felt so good.

Simple pleasure – it is. Will try to hold on to that feeling the rest of the day.

Feeling lucky.

With love, always,
xo, Zuma A.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beignets Anyone?


Today I got up very early in the morning to be sure I had enough time for breakfast. There is a two-hour time difference between Los Angeles and New Orleans, but I was determined because no trip to New Orleans is ever complete unless I have my small order of Beignets and Coffee au Lait at Café Du Monde.


By 7AM Canal Street had already started its busy work day. But as I made a right turn into a narrow street that should lead me to the Café, I suddenly felt as if I stepped into a ghost town.

Even though the French Quarter is located in the heart of New Orleans, it lives in a different dimension from its city and, after its usual late and colorful night-life, its residents are nowhere to be found this early morning.

I passed the city’s the most beautiful homes that carry a mix of Spanish, French and American styles. I passed the restaurants and clubs that hosted legendary musicians within its walls. This intimate city charmed writers and artists since the time of Mark Twain! I hummed the tune of Sting’s Bourbon Street as I walked. 


Café Du Monde was also just waking up. I ordered a small order of Beignets and Coffee Au Lait with low fat milk.

“Its either regular milk, or no milk,” said the waitress. 

Oh my, this place hasn’t changed since last time I was here, I thought. I don’t have much choice but to agree to the regular milk. As soon as my beignets arrived to the table, the waitress presented me with the bill. As usual for this place, she did not want to wait until I’d finish my food. So I paid and tipped her, and turned my attention to my plate. There was so much sugar powder that I could barely see beignets under it, but I already could feel their sweet taste. As soon as I sunk my teeth into the sugary treat, I was not disappointed. It was everything I remembered, warm, chewy, sweet and satisfying. 



I actually am so happy this place has not changed!


…When I was leaving the café, the French Quarter was already awake. Filled with tourists, colorful horse carriages, street singers and funky stores, I could feel life in a full swing. I took a picture of myself and texted it to Varuzh, and, as usual, he took a picture of him and Alex and texted it back to me. I should find a beignet recipe and make it for my gang, I thought. 


I already know one of the ingredients I must need: powdered sugar!


I spent only one day in this charming city, and it was… sweet…


With love, always,
xo, Zuma A.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vanilla Cupcakes

As always, I woke up at 5AM. While my mind very persistently was trying to think about bills and taxes, I very diligently was brushing these thoughts away – I will leave non-fun thoughts to Monday. But today, I am determined to rest and do something fun.

So, I will bake cupcakes, a delightful treat for the taste buds and sweet satisfaction for soul.

While I would let Alex decide on the flavor, I got up to take eggs and butter out of the fridge – these are the must ingredients and need to be at the room temperature, so the book says.

My love for baking started about a year ago when my husband gave me a KitchenAid mixer for my birthday. Was that a hint that I should become a little more domestic? Or maybe he wanted to introduce to me the pleasure of baking? I pick the latter, and that is just what happened.

Being my usual intense and a impatient self, for about three months I was baking every weekend, trying to come up with a simple recipe on my own… Have I told you that I am not good at following directions? Well, I discovered that I did not have a natural talent for baking.  There was always something that was just not right – either too soft or too dense or too sweet… Have to admit: a lot of eggs, butter, sugar and flour were wasted. Eventually, I had to accept that I could not figure out the recipes without guidance, so I got a cupcake recipe book and carefully followed the directions. Turns out that baking requires a precision of what and how much is needed to be put in. From that point on, my baking adventures became much less challenging. As I continued baking almost weekly, I got comfortable with the basics, and even experimented a little with different flavors.

After taking butter and eggs out of fridge, I got back to bed fantasizing and almost tasting the buttercream.  As my feet got warm under the blanket, I heard quiet steps – that was Alex who comes to my bed every morning and lights up my life with his still sleepy eyes and crooked smile. To me, he glows the adorableness through every cell of his body.

Vanilla cupcakes with Vanilla buttercream, he chose. Great, that is basic enough!

After breakfast, I put my apron on Alex and put him to work. While I was separating the eggs, he needed to sift through the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt. Alex does not like to eat much, but he surely likes to bake, and we always have a great time doing it together. After all the ingredients were incorporated in the bowl, we used the ice-cream scooper to evenly pour the batter into prepared paper liners in the pan. There was enough for eleven cups, instead of twelve. I probably accidentally ate some of the batter when I was scraping down the sides of the bowl. Somehow, I always don’t have enough batter for the twelfth cupcake.

Here's the recipe:

Shopping list:
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
6 tbs butter (at room temperature)
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg and 1 egg white (at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk + 2tbs heavy cream

Directions:
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees F, and line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
Step 2: In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Step 3: Next, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and egg white, one at a time. Add vanilla
Step 4: Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk and cream in 2 additions, beating on low speed until just combined. Do not overheat!
Step 5: Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups, filling about 3/4th full. Bake for about 16 minutes or until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
Step 6: Transfer baked cupcakes to the wire rack to cool completely. Frost and enjoy!

After Alex and I completed all six steps, our home started filling up with that special sweet smell which never fails to trigger a little me inside my adult body. Cupcakes were ready and screaming to be eaten. Buttercream was smooth and fluffy… Maybe I should start a bakery and call it Cupcake Goddess, I thought. Maybe not - most of my friends urge me to keep my day job –whatever that means.

When tea time was finally here, we all gathered around the kitchen table. I peeled off the paper liner from the side of the cupcake and took a small bite. I think it tasted… heavenly…

I liked today… 

Signing off till Thursday night.

With love, always…
xo, Zuma A.
Watch here the Vanilla Cupcakes video


Friday, March 9, 2012

The Buddy Bear


I don’t want to sound like a cranky old lady, but when I was growing up, we did not have computers, or any type of electronics for that matter. For entertainment we had one television set with two antennas sticking out behind it; and after finishing our homework, we would usually go outside and play with friends, or stay home and play with the limited number of toys we had.

Apparently, the times have changed. The room of my seven-year-old has piles of toys, books, games, which he only plays with if I make him. Well… I can’t really blame him since somehow we allowed him to become computer proficient since age two, and later allowed him to take over his dad’s iPad and infest it with numerous Game Apps.

Last Friday, when I was outside the classroom waiting to pick up Alex after school, I was greeted by a cute bunch of toothless first graders who announced that Alex was chosen to be the Star Of The Week for the next week.  Oh my, I thought, does that mean we will have to spend the coming weekend doing special “about me” projects? I had other plans! 

My plans were instantly forgotten the moment I saw Alex coming out of the classroom. He had a big proud smile on his face and an old teddy bear in his hands. He felt so special. He was the Star of the Week!

Meet Buddy Bear, a stuffed toy that Alex’s teacher purchased from a toy store five years ago. Apparently, Buddy Bear was taken home by every week’s Star Of The Week… for the last five years!

That evening I found Alex showing his toys and games to the Buddy Bear and planning their week’s activities together, and the iPad was nowhere in their proximity. So what happened? Was it because the Bear was something new to play with? Or was it because Buddy Bear had a special story? Or was it because Alex just needed a friend?

I guess, no matter what times we live in, we are still the same social animals who crave personal communication, who respond to ideas and symbols. The Buddy Bear was not just a bear, he was a special friend who was visiting for a week… That is a special feeling which we, adults, somehow always forget…

As I hung out with Alex and Buddy, we talked about what we should write on the Star Of The Week poster, and what we should show our special guest Buddy. We thought about the kids who had Buddy in their homes as guests – they may be now as old as thirteen and most likely don’t remember Buddy. 

And even though I know that very soon Alex will forget this special day too, I will love spending my weekend creating the Star Of The Week posters and photographs with Buddy Bear, and will keep them in a special place.

Simple pleasure? I think so. And this one is to treasure…

With love, always,
xo Zuma A

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Not A Time For Fun Time…


Do you think that those who travel for business are lucky people? Please, never confuse traveling for business with traveling for pleasure. Yes, sure, those who travel for business can take a break from being stuck behind the desk in the office for a day or two, or take a break from the house chores, but it does not mean they are having fun.

“Whatever,” my friends say, “You are not getting sympathy from us. You get to see the world this way.”

So what do I see, and how do I feel when I travel for business?

Well, lets see. It was only few days ago that I was off to Seattle… for business.

As usual, when I go out of town, especially if it is a nice place, I feel guilty. Guilty, because my husband, who loves to travel and certainly deserves a break, stays home with Alex. Then, of course, Alex starts his usual:
“Mommy, why do you have to go?”
“Oh, baby, I have to go to work.”
“But I love you, mommy…”

So I leave home with a broken heart and the image of sad adorable face of my kid.

But once I close the door and leave the house, the marathon begins. Guilt makes me schedule trips with no room for entertainment, or long TSA lines, or airplane delays, for that matter. I get my cardio workout by running to the gate, which is usually at the last corner of the terminal. I jump into the plane and take a breath. As the flight attendants announce the safety rules, I settle in my place and look around – as usual, in the front of the airplane there are people in suits, and towards the back of the airplane there are people in jeans, some are with babies in their arms. This scene always makes me wonder - which one of these people would I want to be?

Seattle’s usual gloomy but handsome downtown welcomes me with people rushing on the streets with Starbucks cups in their hands, minding their own business. It feels as if I am a bystander watching others run around, living their lives, having their routines. Every place I had traveled to is so different! So, I guess, traveling for business is not so bad, after all. But I do feel sad that I don’t have anyone next to me to share this feeling with…

So I get a cup of coffee from a Starbucks around the corner and join the stream of Seattlers on the streets of downtown. No one would think I am the outsider. I spot a little café on the corner of Seneca and 4th. I think this is the one I have been to before and loved its delicious and buttery panini sandwiches. Should I go in after work? I have to reward myself for working hard… and I will not count the calories…

Once work was done, I didn't have time to explore the city or visit the famous fisherman’s wharf. I had to catch my flight back to LA. This trip was just a glimpse into the city's day-to-day life. As I was making my last ran through the downtown, I stopped to breath-in the city's busy air to memorize this moment. I wish I could share it with my lovely family… so I pull out my cell phone and dial home – it’s the perfect time for… face time…

With love, always,
xo Zuma A

Sunday, March 4, 2012

As I was speeding through the trail...


The day started very lazy and promising. After having morning coffee and cereal, I was very ready to take over my sanity and go for a walk with my gang.

It was pretty amazing to discover that just five minutes from my home, in the middle of the city, there is a wild trail leading up the steep hill. Great, I thought, I could even skip my trip to the gym tomorrow – extra bonus!

Our dog Lucy was having time of her life, no leash, no restrictions, just sweet freedom. Alex was having fun pointing out every bug on our way. The air was warm and fragrant.

Within a few minutes I noticed that I was ahead of everyone, including Lucy.  My husband could not help but ask: “Did you get stung by a bee or something? Why are you rushing?”  Good point. Why was I rushing? This was not a marathon with the finish line! The entire point of the walk was to slow down, enjoy the view, and enjoy the wilderness in the middle of the city. But I could see nothing – I was just zooming to complete the circle of the trail.

Is something wrong with me? Is there anyone out there who feels the same? 

So I slowed down… “Isn’t it great? It’s just us standing here.”  My Man was genuinely enjoying the moment with every cell of his body. I looked to the bottom of the hill where cars were passing – everyone was trying to get somewhere, must be important since they were all speeding through the streets… But did it really matter if I was on top of the hill standing or on the bottom of the hill speeding with them? I think we all know the answer to that.

The rest of the trail we walked all together, sharing Alex’s excitement when he would find caterpillars and see them curl if he touched them. I am not really a nature person, but truly, what could be better?

Simple pleasure it is – I don’t mind getting back home and, maybe making a delicious lunch for my family. Will not be working today.

Signing off till Thursday night.

With love, always…
Zuma A.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Me time" at 5AM


No matter what day of the week it is, I still wake up at my usual 5AM. Everyone is still sleeping, so I use this peaceful time as “me time”.  I close my eyes with a sigh of anticipation of bliss, only to hear my heart start beating faster – apparently my mind,  at the time of such quietness, decides to start loudly thinking about the Monday.
Rule No. 2: Be in the Now, if that makes any sense.
So I command my brain to think of the activities I should plan on doing today. The bargaining starts immediately after the command – there are only two days a week we get to ourselves (at least that’s what we think), and there is so much to do in so little time. But I don’t let my habit win the bargain, so I tell myself to choose ONE activity to do today. And not to forget that I have to enjoy it.
Enjoy?..
Yup. This is a word I used to know, but, as years have gone by, it has become pretty foreign to me. But I am determined to familiarize myself with that word and feeling again. So I searched in my brain for all the things I used to like – they should be somewhere out there. After a while, fun things started coming up, like reading or even flipping through a magazine, baking, sewing, traveling, or simply walking at the beach… and not necessarily in that order. Hopefully, you, my reader, (if you are out there), are not at the stress level like I have gotten myself into, but I just thought that doing all these things on their own may feel weird – too slow for my fast-paced life.
It is only Day 3, and I am not willing to give up my project, so I will pick something basic like a walk at the hills that are across the street from my house. After living in this house for seven years, I never took time to explore the neighborhood, as my usual route was getting to the garage to get in the car, and there I go...
As the household started waking up, I turned to my always-go-to man, who quite often takes Alex and our dog Lucy to the hills. So I ask him to join them today. He looked at me suspiciously and said, “of course, honey…”
… and I will ignore his suspicious look and will move on with my plan.
Will report my finds tomorrow.
With love, always…
xo Zuma A.

Friday, March 2, 2012

One thing at a time...


Organizing is what I do best!  Today my plan was to create my week’s calendar that would be filled with less multitasking activities and more simple pleasures!

So I open my existing calendar, a black book from an Office store, filled with numerous “to do” things daily, starting from work location, lists of people I need to see, reminders of future events I need to prepare for, weaved endless errands for home, Alex’s school volunteering hours, homework-times, game-times, rides to taekwondo classes.

Apparently, I am obsessed with details and having them all in my calendar, I feel I am on top of things, that I wont forget anything, and satisfaction when I cross them off the list.

Obviously, something’s got to be taken off the list… but what? Don’t I need to do them all? To answer this question, I turn to my “go to” man, my husband, who somehow manages to live without a schedule book.

Meet Varuzh – an easy-going kind of guy. So what do I take off, I ask. Proudly thinking that if he looks at my calendar, he will understand my stress level and will appreciate what I am going through… But this is not exactly what happened: instead of him being impressed with me, he looked at me as if I am… a little misguided… Why do you mix work work with house work with personal stuff, he asked me. And why do you put here that you need to read with Alex, or play games, or make a hair appointment?

Ok, this was a good point – even though I am lucky enough to be able to work at home quite a lot, it does not mean that I need to mix it with other activities and push my brain to jump from one activity to another activity back to the original activity. 

Rule No. 1: concentrate on one thing at a time - separate work hours from the rest of my activities and separate other activities from the work hours.

Cannot believe that I spent the entire blog post on just coming to this conclusion. But I’ve got to be patient with myself and look at it as the 
first step towards the success of learning to appreciate simple pleasures. My calendar looks less crammed already. Let see what I will discover tomorrow.

With love, always…
xo Zuma A

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What is it all about?

Just like any businesswoman, I have been hearing that I needed to create a blog. So I threw myself into the blogosphere to find out what it was all about and, boy, I was impressed. I found so many beautiful, creative and well written blogs about, pretty much, anything I could think of and not! So what could I write about? As I was sitting and thinking in front of the blank page of my computer, I looked at my little Alex sitting with his feet criss-cross-applesauce, chewing his sandwich and doing nothing… And then I felt that “ta-da” moment – I should write about life’s simple pleasures that we usually don’t pay attention to, but should…

In this age when multitasking is no longer considered a special skill but a norm, I have joined others in a marathon of completing a “to do” list – being the best mom and wife, a top professional, and not forgetting entertainment, spa times, quick weekend trips, gallery visits… But after doing all these things, somehow I still do not feel satisfied – why? Maybe it is because there are more things I need to do, like adopting a baby girl, or learning Chinese, or traveling to see the Northern lights…

I usually place my lunch on my knees and eat it while I zoom through the 5FWY trying to get from one meeting to another and, understandably, I feel no taste of my usual tuna sandwich for which I paid seven bucks.
I never complain about my life style, but I wouldn’t necessarily want my kids, or any kids, to lead this kind of life. I wonder why? Am I right, or do I need to learn a thing or two from them? Maybe I don’t need to do all the things I do, maybe I just need to learn... to be?..

Hmm… it is not as easy as one may think, but I will bravely take on this project of learning to appreciate life’s simple pleasures and will be sharing my finds with you…  Maybe the next generation will have it naturally…

With love, always…
xo Zuma A.