Melissa the Trash Rescuer

Every morning in Puerto Vallarta, on my daily walk on the beach to town, I pick up trash. Sadly, I don’t need to bring a bag; I always find a plastic bag, or two, or three. I pick up plastic soda bottles and water bottles and cigarette buts and chips bags, and those little pieces of plastic that are left over when you tear open a bag of deli meat. And bottle caps. Lots and lots of bottle caps.

This is not something new for me. I am obsessed with picking up trash. I look at it as an easy way to keep the environment clean, something as simple as closing the cabinet doors in your kitchen to help keep your kitchen tidy. It’s so easy, I don’t understand why more people don’t do it, and that makes me sad, and worried. Very worried. When I pass a styrofoam cup lying on the street, I think, “If not me, than who?”

A few years ago, we spent a week at the Northern California beach that I grew up on, Stinson Beach. I was horrified at how much garbage I found on the beach. We didn’t even need to buy plastic beach toys for the kids because I found so many discarded plastic buckets and shovels. We found two pairs of flip flops for our 4-year-old, and I filled plastic bag after plastic bag with bottles and cans and chip bags and bottle caps and everything else that humans leave behind. I became obsessed. I couldn’t even enjoy the beach because I was so distracted by all the refuse.

We learned that the weekend before we had arrived was an abnormally warm, beautiful weekend for February in the Bay Area, and on top of that it was Presidents’ Weekend, so the masses descended on Stinson Beach with all the plastic that normally follows us humans around. It gave me hope that maybe the beach that I once loved and had spent so much of my childhood and teenage years at was not normally this dirty, that it was an anomaly. I was almost embarrassed to show my kids. Was there this much garbage when I was younger and I just didn’t pay attention?

I think of myself not as a trash picker-uper, but a Garbage Rescuer, like Dora the Explorer the Animal Rescuer! In Mexico, I am rescuing each plastic beer cup, each Coke bottle, from being dragged into the Ocean. It breaks my heart when I cannot reach a piece of trash because of its precarious position perched on a ledge or on the shoreline near dangerously crashing waves. No Trash Left Behind is my motto, but I can’t rescue it all. There is just too much. And every day, more is left behind to replace what I have picked up.

Even in my relatively clean home of Tahoe, I find trash on my walks. Fortunately, not that much, but especially after a busy holiday like Fourth of July, I stroll my neighborhood streets, and, as usual, find a plastic blag floating on the road and use that to hold the bottle caps and candy wrappers and plastic food containers and straws that I rescue from a life on the street, and in our creeks, forests and meadows.

I have two theories about why people leave trash in their wake. The first is the Accidental Theory. I think of humans as the Peanuts character Linus, who is followed by a trail of dirt everywhere he goes. Us humans cannot escape plastic. Everything that contains anything is made of plastic, so wherever we go, there it is. And we forget things. When we have a picnic in the park or on the beach and we go to pack up, we leave behind a bottle cap that slipped under the blanket or that skinny piece of plastic we ripped off the bag of chips to open it (we need a name for that piece of leftover plastic, don’t you think?) that got caught in the wind, or that dirty diaper that escaped our attention when we put everything back in the bag. Or we get drunk after a big party at the lake and those beer bottles and beer cans never get picked up, or that piece of circular plastic that remains after you twist off a bottle cap or milk carton cap (another thingamajig that needs a name) goes unseen in the grass. Humans just leave things behind. It’s just our nature. But now all our Things our non bio-degradable.

Theory Number Two, which is the more disturbing theory, is that some people don’t care. Or they don’t know. Or they think They will come pick it up. My friend Ryan Salm made a fantastically funny film, Kharma Bums, about his SUP travels in India, and there is a scened in the movie that really stays with me. In one town on the Ganges River he and his friends find trash floating everywhere in the sacred river. When they ask a local about it, he tells them it’s no problem, the river will carry all the plastic out to the ocean and the salt will dissolve all the diapers and soda bottles and plastic bags, like some super duper magic trick.

In Puerto Vallarta there is an ad campaign that really hits home for me. It is an image of a child picking up a corner of the ocean, as if it were a floor rug, to reveal all the garbage hidden underneath. Just because we cannot see all the trash being dragged out to sea doesn’t mean it’s not there.

One of the most impactful documentaries we have shown at our movie theater is the highly educational but disturbing film “Plastic Paradise” (which has a great list of four things you can do now to reduce your plastic consumption.) Even a year after that movie I find myself stumped when I go to the grocery store. How do I give my family milk if I want to avoid plastic? How can they have orange juice or potato chips or chicken if I don’t want to buy anything with plastic? It’s overwhelming. Because one movie I don’t want our world to end up like is “WALL-E,” which takes place in a time where humans have had to flee Earth because it was covered in garbage and no longer inhabitable.

So, for now, I walk. And I pick up trash. And I hope.

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Looking for Holiday Cheer at the Airport Starbucks

When you are in a bad mood, there is nothing worse than cheery people. And when you are in a bad mood on Christmas, at the airport no less, there are cheery people everywhere. There is the barista at the airport Starbucks, dressed in an ugly Christmas sweater, who says things like this when he hands you your Gingerbread Latte: “Merry Christmas ma’am. Hope Santa brings you something nice. Besides this awesome caffeinated beverage, of course.”

First off, don’t call me ma’am. I may look over the age of 35, but let me continue to live the lie that I am still in my twenties.

Second off, this beverage may be caffeinated, but calling it ‘awesome’ may be going too far. And I desperately need it since I had to wake up at 4 am to make my flight and I don’t even normally drink coffee.

Third, do you have to force your holiday cheer on me? Can’t you see I am feeling rather Scrougish today? After all, I am stuck here in travel purgatory at the Phoenix airport for FIVE hours, my least favorite airport in the country after last year’s holiday experience, when I got stuck here overnight with half my family suffering from Montezuma’s Revenge because the customs and TSA lines were so unbelievably long we could not make our connecting flight. Bah humbug!

So far on this trip, I have killed only one hour out of five – I perused the tabloids, got caught up on Brad and Angelina’s divorce drama (Brad doesn’t get the kids for Christmas!), bought a soggy $14 turkey sandwhich that was worth about $3, found a Christmas present for my mother (chalk that one up for holiday spirit!), tried to change our flight to Mexico to an earlier flight. Response: “Sorry, ma’am, you have checked a bag and your bag must travel with you for all international flights.”

What I wanted to say: “But you usually lose my bag anyways. And if you think by calling me ma’am you are making this situation better, you got another thing coming.”

Four hours left to go. Grrrrr.

What really sets me over the edge is when I spot a woman wearing a tacky Christmas headband, the kind with little fake Christmas presents perched atop her head, along with red and green rhinestone cat-eye sunglasses. I want to slap her with a twig of mistletoe.

I am still fuming when two women in their twenties walk by wearing red reindeer headbands. For a split second I think they are Playboy bunny ears, so I am actually slightly relieved when I realize they are just antlers.

But what really takes the cake is when Santa and his Elf come breezing through the terminal, a group of small children following them like they are the Pied Piper, including my 6 year old, who are beside themselves with glee that Santa has decided to make an appearance at the Phoenix airport, the one place I would think Santa would most definitely want to skip.

I assumed that Santa would be handing out small gifts for the kids – you know, key chains with sayings like,”God lives everywhere, but He vacations in Arizona.” But instead of a big red velvet bag, Santa is only carrying a black JanSport backpack, and instead of gathering children around him, he is rushing toward gate B26. Oh my god, he is going to Mexico! In a thick red velvet suit! On the flight I wanted to be on!

What makes normally sane people completely lose their minds over the holidays? What makes sensible people feel compelled to put on every red and green piece of clothing they own and sport ridiculous accessories that would normally get them laughed out of the room?

I think it must be something in the Eggnog Latte.

For a moment I think about going back to Starbucks to see if I can find holiday cheer at the bottom of an Eggnog Latte when behind me I hear: “Excuse me ma’am, are you in line?”

I turn around to find a young man dressed in one of those ugly Christmas sweater suits that looks like a Christmas card exploded on his clothes. He is smiling at me.

I grit my teeth. “Nope. And I hear the Christmas Cookie Latte is to die for.”

What finally puts me in a better mood is when I see a frazzled young mother scoop up her toddler (dressed in red and white striped pajamas, no less) when she notices his pacifier is still on the ground. She stares at it for a moment, and I can see the wheels turning in her head. Finally, she stands straight up, the toddler on her hip, and proceeds to kick the pacifier across the dirty airport carpet all the way back to her seat. It takes about three good kicks. A minute later, the little boy comes toddling back, the pacifier in his mouth.

At last, I think, someone not striving for Christmas perfection. Silently I whisper to her across the plastic seats at Gate B26, “Thank you, ma’am.”



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What I Didn’t Do Before 8 am

Do you remember that commercial for the U.S. Army with the slogan: “In the Army, we do more before 9 am than most people do all day?” Well, most days I can top that. This morning I did more before 8 am than a lot of people do all day (I won’t say ‘most’ since I know many moms are in the same boat). Here is how this morning went:

5:30 am: Dog wakes me up from rare, deep slumber with a loud bark and slobbery lick to face. Look at clock. Dam it, I had another hour to sleep! Curse dog. Open door to let her outside but screen door is blocked by snow. Curse husband for not taking off screen door. Dog manages to squeeze outside, barks once, and comes back in and promptly goes back to sleep. I, of course, am unable to fall back asleep. Curse dog again.

6:25 am: Wake husband up by scratching his back and apologizing for being cranky the night before. He goes back to sleep. Curse husband.

6:30 am: Go upstairs, grab plunger on the way as gentle reminder to husband to plunge upstairs toilet that 12-year old son is constantly clogging and husband neglected to do last night. Make coffee. Make lunch for 10-year old who has decided to do before-school eco-class. Praise 10-year old for helping the earth and being ambitious, then curse her for making us take her to school 1 hour early.

6:40 am: Wake up 10-year old. Put her clothes in laundry basket. Go outside in snow and freezing wind to search for 10-year old’s lunch box in car. Find the dog has gotten into her lunch box again and destroyed all containers. Heavy sigh. Curse dog.

6:50 am: Wake up 10-year old again. This time I mean it.

6:55 am: Make her lunch. Decide she won’t notice moldy grapes and put them in her lunch anyways. Open lunch boxes for two other kids. Find lunches intact from day before. Wonder why they complain I don’t pack them enough but they never eat it. Close lunches back up and tell myself if it was good enough for yesterday’s lunch, it’s good enough for today.

7 am: Make oatmeal for 10-year old that she only half eats of. Sigh.

7:02 am: Watch husband plunge toilet while he gags. Clean toilet when he’s done.

7:10 am: Say good-bye to husband and 10-year old. Wake up 6-year old and 12-year old. Throw Poor, Neglected Guinea Pig some hay. (That is my official name for him although kids call him Oreo.)

7:15 am: Empty dishwasher. Go downstairs to get dressed to find dog has puked in our bedroom. Heavy sigh. Dog looks at me with sad eyes. Give her love. Run upstairs to get cleaning supplies. Clean up puke. Start emptying dryer and tell myself to stop trying to be so dam productive in the morning. Get dressed. Put on leggings backwards. Try again with success.

7:30 am: Shout at kids to hurry up.

7:40 am: Have talk with 12-year old about need to learn to plunge toilet and develop better eating habits. He gets mad at me.

7:45: Husband comes home. Says he will take other two kids to school. Rejoice! With 15 extra minutes I pull out kids’ ski clothes and boots and helmets and look for gloves that match. Find three matching pairs out of 20 gloves Make kids try on stuff. Nothing fits 12-year old. Heavy sigh.

7:55 am: Make pile of ski gear to donate. Watch 6-year-old try to tie her shoes while watching clock slowly tick. Tie 6-year old’s shoes and usher family out door.

8:00 am: Look around at empty house. Collapse on living room couch for 30 seconds. Get back up. There is still lots to do. It’s only 8 am after all.

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The Time I Chaperoned My First Dance

There is so much I want to write about, dear Reader, it’s been too long. I am just starting to catch my breath after a crazy busy three weeks at the movie theater. I have wanted to tell you about the baby and momma bear I ran into on my hike a few weeks ago with Coco (my very large, very sweet German shepherd, who is the size of a small horse) after just thinking to myself that I hadn’t seen any wildlife on my hikes in a long time. Sometimes I think the Universe likes to jinx you like that. I would have missed the bears if it wasn’t for Coco barking, which makes me wonder how many times I have been watched in the woods by animals without my knowledge before I had a dog. Kind of eery if you let yourself think about it too long.

I caught sight of the baby bear peaking out behind a tree, like a child playing hide-and-go-seek. He seemed scared to be seen but then his curiosity got the better of him. I thought to myself “How adorable” before catching sight of the watchful Momma Bear behind him, about the size of three of the biggest linebackers you can imagine. She didn’t move a muscle, only starred at Coco and me. I took off in a hurry, trotting down the trail like an Olympic speed walker and checking behind me to make sure we weren’t being followed. Coco was right there beside me, as if to say, “Let’s get the heck out of here, Mom. That’s the first animal I’ve seen that’s bigger than me.”

I have wanted to tell you about the joys and pitfalls of running a Night Business, how our children love that we own a movie theater (i.e. personal candy store) but sometimes they pay the price. Like when we have to take our 6-year-old to the theater and she ends up watching three hours straight of ‘Mako Mermaids’ on the office computer while we are busy downstairs managing 150 people trying to get through the doors at one time to watch a ski movie premiere. By the time we pry her hands from the keyboard to go home, her eyes are glazed over and she has completely lost her mind and turned into some kind of pint-sized monster. She shouts “Just 5 more minutes!” and “I didn’t finish my Skittles!” before we sling her over our shoulder and placer her in her booster seat, where she pouts all the way home. It’s like she was a guinea pig for a scientific study on the affects of screen time and sugar on children. Note to self: feed child before subjecting her to three hours of ‘Mako Mermaids’ and sugar influx.

But what I really wanted to tell you about, Dear Reader, was that I chaperoned my first middle school dance. Being asked to chaperone is essentially being given free reign to spy on your child in their own environment. This is how I told my 12-year old I would be at his dance:

Kaiden: “My school dance is Friday.”

Me: “I know, I’m chaperoning.”

Kaiden: “No you’re not.”

Me: “Yes I am.”

Kaiden: “No you’re not.”

Me: “Yes I am.”

We did that for about 5 minutes before I finally wore him down and he threw his hands up in the air and conceded. But I had to rub in my victory a little.

“Can I come up and hug you at the dance? Maybe give you a kiss?”

“Mom, no!”

Being an adult at a middle school dance means that you stick out like a soar thumb while at the same time being invisible. Kids eye you warily as you approach them while they are dancing, yet when I would try to talk to kids, half the time I was ignored. I was stationed at the bottom of the stairs where kids came screaming out of the “haunted house” (a dark girls’ locker room where high school kids jumped out from behind lockers to scare them), and my job was to make sure the kids went back to the dance, as opposed to taking it upon themselves to explore unsupervised areas of the school. As a group of 12 and 13-years olds would come barreling down the stairs, I would ask: “Was that scary?”

Response: furtive eye contact, followed by no response or a quick yes or no.

I eventually convinced my friend Lola (who seemed to be the only one making requests to the DJ) to trade positions so I could be closer to the action and really spy on my kid. Middle school is still an awkward, innocent time. To my disappointment, I didn’t see any boy-girl slow dancing action, only groups of boys and girls dancing together. And then the song “Cha Cha Slide” came on, which I guess is this generation’s version of the ‘Macarena’ or ‘Achy Breaky Heart,’ because all the kids started busting out the same moves and I started to feel really old because I had never heard of that song.

I was just starting to feel sorry for myself – at how long ago my own middle school dance was starting to feel (hello, ‘Stairway to Heaven!’) – when my friend Amy told me she had holed up in the girls bathroom so she could eavesdrop on her own daughter, and brought back this little gem to me that she overheard: “Don’t let a boy ruin your night. You paid $5 to be here tonight!”

All of a sudden, I didn’t miss middle school that much anymore. I much prefer being a Momma Bear spying on my kids.

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Procrastination Station

See these two bins full of winter coats and boots? I pulled them out of the garage more than two weeks ago, and there they have sat ever since, in our living room. I am not sure why I am having such a hard time hanging these coats in our mudroom, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I sit at our dining room table and stare at the boxes and get more and more irritated that they are cluttering up our house. I tell myself, ‘Tomorrow is the day. Tomorrow I will definitely do it.’ And yet tomorrow comes and I get busy with other things and I don’t touch the bins, and those magical elves don’t come in the night and put everything neatly away like they are supposed to. And now my family is getting used to those boxes in our living room and they are starting to pile their sweatshirts and jackets on top, like that is the appropriate place for them.

It reminds me of when our poor cat Cozmo (God rest her soul in kitty heaven, may she have endless couches to scratch) used to throw up on the floor, and my family got so used to it they would step right over the puke, never once bothering to clean it up. The puke would sit there for days, staining our carpets, before I finally cursed those dam elves who, once again, didn’t do their job before finally buckling down and cleaning it myself. It’s like the bins full of coats and the cat puke becomes a permanent fixture in our house, a new piece of furniture or a nicknack, that becomes so normal no one questions why it’s even there.

My 10-year old, Kaya, has recently become obsessed with cleaning the house, and will throw a fit if all the blankets in the living room aren’t perfectly folded and the pillows aren’t just so. This is a wonderful development. I can’t express in words how amazing it is to come home at night and find the living room looking as if we were expecting the Queen of England to pay us a visit. There is one caveat, however. Kaya likes to hide things. All my papers and mail that I have carefully laid out on the dining room table to remind me to deal with them will suddenly go missing, only to be found days later in a pile on Siig’s hurricane of a desk or tucked under a chair.

My favorite sweatshirt has been missing for three weeks, so yesterday I decided to do the only thing left to ensure its safe return: I offered a reward – $5 to whoever finds it. I know it’s in one of two places: somewhere upstairs where Kaya unconsciously hid it in her flurry of tidying, or, even worse, in my bedroom, where I deal with the opposite problem – a husband who has massive piles of clothes littering our room. Drawers and closets don’t seem to work for him, so I let him have his piles. But I treat his mounds of clothing like I am fighting the Cold War. I am the United States and he is the Soviet Union and I am just trying to contain his piles so they don’t spread their evil communism to the rest of the house. We are currently in a state of detente.

If I could bring myself to open those bins stuffed with our winter coats, maybe I would find my missing sweatshirt. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kaya put it in there to get it out of the way. And yet, sometimes, procrastination just feels so dam good. Have you ever skipped going to the grocery store purely because it was the last thing in the world you wanted to do, and it felt positively luxurious? We may have nothing in the house for dinner, but dam it, driving right past the grocery store feels like a small victory. A victory against what, you ask? Responsibility. Being responsible all the time can be exhausting. And so, I fight my battles where I can, like avoiding going to the store or booking that flight or making that doctor’s appointment. Or unpacking boxes of coats.

And that’s when I realize: I am not a procrastinator. I am a warrior.

But before I go off to battle, I need to check Facebook first.



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Dam You, Facebook Memories!

Hello, blogosphere, I am back! It’s been a long time, about five years to be exact. I last had a blog from 2009 to 2011 (MountainMommaMusings), and it was very different times back then. Back then, I was a mother of two little kids and pregnant with my third. It’s funny what happens when you feed your children – they actually grow! Now I am the mother of two tweens and one 6-year old, and it’s a completely different world. Gone are the days of bottles and diapers and sippy cups and disgusting car seats covered in milk and animal crackers. I have transitioned from a mother busy with kids at home to a mom with kids busy outside the home. That’s fancy talk for basically being a chauffeur. By morning, I have my life to myself: I hike with my dog, I try to work on my book or better yet, avoid working on my book, I am busy doing stuff for our movie theater, the Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema. But once 2 pm hits, game over. I get into my limo (i.e. permanently dirty Honda Pilot) and prepare to schlep my children around for the next three to four hours to dance, gymnastics, soccer, and in between all that, I basically keep every local ice cream shop and bakery in business as we kill time in between pick-ups and feed my increasingly hungry 10-year old with our weekly dose of croissants, muffins, and cookies (Sugar Pine Cakery, I’m looking at you!).

They say as your kids get older you have more time to yourself, but I actually find the opposite to be true. I have more mornings to myself, but back in the day when the kids were in daycare I had until 5 pm to work! Today I am lucky if I make it to 3 pm without having to stop what I am doing to get in my car to take someone somewhere to do something. On the other hand, something absolutely glorious has happened in the last year – we can now leave our kids alone, no babysitter needed! We don’t, of course, leave the 6-year old by herself, but if one or two of the older kids is home – FREEDOM! Being able to say: “Bye kids, back in an hour. Going to take Coco for a hike. Please don’t kill each other, watch too much TV, or use the oven while I am gone” is an amazing feeling of pure liberation.

This has come none too soon since Siig and I now own a night business – a movie theater. It would get really, REALLY, expensive if we had to get a babysitter every time we had to run to the cinema for an hour or two. Of course, this does not mean that I don’t get a frantic phone call every 10 minutes when I am the theater that goes something like this: “Mom, when are you coming home? Nakita is bugging us!” or “Mom, can I have a piece of candy?” or “Mom, Kaiden won’t let us watch what we want on the TV.” The phone is an amazing invention, it allows us to check in on our kids and lets our kids feel we aren’t far away, but it’s also annoying as shit, especially since my 6-year-old learned how to dial my number and calls me with any and all questions and basically just needs to hear these 10 words, “OK sweetie, I’ll be home soon. Tell her to stop” which, translated into adult speak, means, “Stop calling me! I am watching a movie, dam it! Leave me alone!”

Time moves quickly when you have school-age children, and sometimes I can’t believe that I am already out of the baby and toddler phase (which seemed to last forever!) and am getting ready – Lord help me! – to enter the teen years. And dam those Facebook memory posts that pop up on your page and remind you just how fast time is speeding by: “Melissa, we care about you and the memories you share here. We thought you’d like to look back on this post from 5 years ago.”No, Facebook, no I don’t really need to be reminded of how fast time is flying by and that sometimes I can barely remember when my kids were little and that I have no idea how my babies are now almost teenagers! And I definitely don’t need to be reminded of what this all really means – that while my children are growing and getting older, so am I. If you really cared about me, Facebook, you would post things like this: “Age is just a number. You are as young as ever. Savor this moment. And, by the way, you are looking hot today.”

Now excuse me, I have to go drive my kids somewhere.



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