Week 7: Ending the Year with a Bang!

I was nervous as I wrapped my hands around its hard touch. I adjusted my fingers over the grip, and I was ready to pull the sensitive trigger. The power of its release surprised me, and I had to take a step back. For the first time in my life…I shot a gun.

A 9mm Beretta 92 FS semi-automatic handgun to be exact.

Last week I spent time with my mom as she showed me how to make lumpia. So now it was my dad’s turn to teach me something I had never done. There’s no better skill for a father to teach his daughter than how to shoot a gun. It was about time.

My dad has always had a fascination with guns — we won’t go into details. After we put our names on the waitlist at the American Shooting Center in San Diego, we spent some time looking at all the weapons in the store. You can tell my dad enjoyed perusing all the available guns for rent and sale. Pointing out the differences to me as some were semi-automatic or revolving handguns, the different long guns of rifles and semi-automatic weapons. The intricacies of why certain guns are better for certain purposes.

Personally, I was looking at the pink camo items, I think I need a pink pepper spray gun. Every girl should have one. And they had some fun target shooting mannequins, the bloody clown one was creepy – I wonder if the boys would like that for Nerf gun practice.

Frankly, I was quite surprised at the number of people there on a Sunday afternoon. We were told it would be a 45-minute wait for a lane, and there were many more signing up behind us. I thought we were going to miss the Chargers game, and don’t these people watch football?

There were all kinds of folks there. Not really sure what kind of crowd I was expecting, but probably rednecky looking white people. (I’m being stereotypical again.) In fact, there were a rainbow of people. There were your crewcut military types with the camouflage rifles, the Latino with an AK-47 (talk about power), and the fathers with sons and daughters (like us). Some tough looking chicks that I would not want to get into a fight with (even in mud), whose male companions better not get on their bad side. And a few Filipinos — I could understand them talking in Tagalog. (Filipinos love their weapons.) Most brought their own weapons, some long, some small. All in well-maintained cases. You can tell they care about their guns.

Am I in the south here? I didn’t realize this gun business thing was so popular in San Diego; I guess we are a military town.

Once our names were called, my dad picked out the gun for me. He was worried at first it would be too much power for me, but I assured him I could handle it. We got our ammo, goggles, and earphones. When I first put on the earphones and goggles, I thought do I really need these – yes you do! After going through their two-door soundlock system, man it was loud, and I forgot those bullet casings ricochet. That is why my friends, I was happy to have those earphones and goggles.

indoor range

We were in lane 9, right next to the AK-47 guy. Standing there, when each time he shot watching a large spark escape from the barrel, especially during his rapid fire shots, the vibrations through my body felt like I was in a war zone. Plus he had his tri-pod, and a scope for shooting at the furthest distance. This guy was serious…I wonder what he does for a living. I didn’t ask, he didn’t tell.

Meanwhile, in our lane, this virgin shooter precisely tapes up the target – a basic black and white form, making sure it was nice and even, like it would make a difference. I let my dad show me how to load the bullets, and he points out all the parts of the gun – the grip, the barrel, the trigger and safety (careful because the trigger is very sensitive), how to load in the magazine, and when to know when you are out of ammo – no bullets come out right?

loading bullets

I let my dad go first. He takes his shots, brings back the target and is slightly disappointed. His vision is not as great and his grip not as steady. It’s been awhile since he’s held a gun in his hand.

dad shooting

My turn. Okay, I can do this. So I hold the gun out, with both my arms extended out, legs slightly apart for steadiness (I’ve watched a few police-type TV shows). I aim. I lightly put my finger on the trigger, what am I waiting for…and BOOM! Wow! I wasn’t expecting that kick. So I shoot again. More kick. Okay, I need to adjust my aim, because I could tell that after that much of a kick, I can tell my shots are going high. I aim a bit lower, and shoot some more. When my bullets were done, we bring back the target, and look at that – I did pretty good – most of my shots falling in that rectangle area of the chest. Huh.

Jemma shooting

My dad and I continue to take turns. My dad does better and does some rapid fire shooting too. I am doing really good but I stay in my same extended arm position, slowly shooting one at a time. I aim a few shots to the head, and make them. Too bad there wasn’t a pelvic region to shoot at…

My dad talks to a few of the guys who brought their own guns, admiring their weapons, some historic. There was a Colt 45, an original AR 15, a Winchester gold-plated repeater, and much more. There was basically a really nice group of people there, sharing their weapon’s characteristics info with my dad, and letting him hold their guns. I’m not into holding strange men’s weapons, so I didn’t ask to touch.

long guns

To be honest it was really fun, especially since I did well. I credit my accuracy to the times when the kids were younger, and we would go on the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride at Disneyland over and over and over again. You get to shoot with laser guns for points, and spin around for better targets. I usually got the highest ranking of Galactic Hero, thank you. One time the ride was stuck at a certain spot, but your lasers still worked, so I got to just stay at that stationary point and rapid fire shoot and rack up the points. As I recall, I accumulated the max of one million points. Now that was fun – not that I’m competitive at all, not even (insert sarcastic tone).

I guess this gun experience will further my fantasy of being some sort of undercover spy, or rogue agent. Which one of Charlie’s Angels would I be? Or maybe some non-descript suburban housewife looking private detective…hmm. I did attempt to take a Russian language class while at USC, thinking it would be a good asset to have if I applied for the CIA. They did recruit on campus. But that daily 1-unit class I was taking for fun, which gave me a 19-unit schedule, had to go. So my undercover agent dreams went into the trashbin. Can you go into those services at 50? Oh well, I think we all fantasize about that, don’t we?

I’m not planning to buy a gun, join the NRA or anything like that, but I really, really enjoyed shooting. I wouldn’t shoot at people or animals (unless they’re attacking me or people I care about – if I don’t care about you, well, we’ll see), but shooting at the target was fun. It’s like a game. Maybe like golf (although I don’t really golf), the fun is in doing better each time you play.

Shouldn’t that be a goal in life, trying to better yourself all the time. Whether you want to do better at your career, in your family life, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, volunteering for causes you care about, or making your bed. You don’t need one specific resolution this new year, just be a better person overall. You don’t have to be perfect, but in your heart just try to do better. Maybe that should be a morning mantra…”Today I will do something better.”

And since my dad only has daughters, I will take it upon myself, as the eldest daughter, to carry on the firearms interest. Oh, and also to make sure that everyday, I will try and do something better. I think that would make my daddy proud. Thanks for showing me how to shoot a gun Dad – love ya!

target w holes

Notebook:  American Shooting Center, 5590 Ruffin Road, San Diego, CA 92123, 858.279.7233, www.gotammo.com. Range rates are $15 per person, with additional shooters in the same lane at $10 (up to 3 per lane). Firearms rental $10, plus cost of ammo. Annual memberships and firearms training courses available. (I may have to take an Intro to Personal & Home Defense course.)


After our time at the shooting range, we had a list from my mom of items to get at the 99 Ranch market to make more lumpia. (We didn’t make enough for all the New Year’s celebrations.) Well, if you’ve ever been there on a Sunday afternoon, it’s crowded and some people just have no manners. So after my brief stint with shooting a gun, believe me, I did not succumb to crowd pressures and rudeness. I quickly found a parking spot, worked our way around the maze of people in the store, and finagled my cart to an open check-out lane. Not so bad. Hey, I’m a gal that can shoot a weapon, and I’m not afraid to snake around some little old Asian ladies — I’m so brave. The power is already going to my head.

Oh, and we got some freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice on the way out. So sweet.

making sugar cane juice

Week 6: Making Lumpia

Lita’s delicate nimble hands make quick work of the task laid before us – rolling lumpia.

Lita is my mom, otherwise known to my kids and their friends as Nana Lita. I consider her the lumpia queen, and she is teaching me how to make lumpia, the Philippines’ egg roll. I have never learned to make lumpia, or any other traditional Filipino food dish for that matter. Well, it’s about time don’t you think? I mean, I am almost 50.

Making lumpia around the table is much like making tamales, baking biscotti, filling empanadas — it’s best to share the preparations with others. The practice is both a traditional and social gathering. (And I would love to learn any of those mentioned dishes, if anyone would like to teach me.)

Whenever people ask for lumpia at office gatherings, or potluck parties, I have always asked my mom to make them. And she loves to do so. It is the Filipino way to always, and I mean always, have lots of food for guests. She is constantly making sure everyone is fed, and no one is to go hungry in our home. So requests for her lumpia is a sense of pride for her I believe.

Now, making lumpia really isn’t that hard, and you can vary the ingredients as much as you would like. It’s the prep time. There’s lots of ingredients, and for the most part, everything has to be finely chopped up into teeny, tiny cubes with about ⅛ inch sides. (I like exact measurements.)

First, you should know where to get the wrappers, everything else can be bought at your local grocery store. Find an Asian market and look for lumpia or spring roll wrappers found in the freezer section. In San Diego, we will either go to 99 Ranch Market or Seafood City Supermarket. (Both places are excellent sources in finding exotic Asian foods, and they will fry fish for you so you don’t stink up your house!)

lumpia filling

Now, getting started. I’ve prepared a recipe below, that you can follow, or adjust to your tastes. You will need to bring the wrappers to room temperature. Then take the time to finely chop all the veggies – onions, carrots, bell peppers, celery, green onions, and water chestnuts. My mom did it the old-fashioned way, by hand with a sharp knife. Me, I preferred using my handy dandy chopper. Her veggies did look neater. We mix them together after each veggie, in order to make sure all is well-mixed and everyone gets the full lumpia taste experience.

Then get into the mixing. I started to use a spoon, and I was quickly told, you need to use your hands. So I use my hands. Especially when mixing it all with the meat – ground pork, ground beef, chopped ham, and tiny shrimp (The ham and shrimp are my mom’s added ingredients, which makes her recipe tastier.). Season with salt, pepper, and option of MSG (Another of mom’s secret ingredients – it just makes it tastes better she says, and she was very hesitate to share this addition.) Add the raw scrambled eggs for binding. You feel the mushiness of the meat in your hands and squeeze it all together, making sure all the veggies get evenly mixed in. Gotta love the feel of raw meat.

Then the fun part starts. Rolling.

Get your table area prepared, as you will be sitting for a while. Bowl of meat filling in front. Pulled apart wrappers in between. Two plates for rolling (or more if you’re having a party). Bowl of flour and water paste for sealing. Wax paper lined platter for the finished product. Gallon freezer bags for storage. All ready.

My mom starts to show me how. Can you slow down please, and give me a step-by-step? Okay, place your wrapper on your plate like a diamond. Take a full tablespoon of mixture and place in the center, thin out side to side. (I am reminded it needs to be thin because it’s raw meat and needs to be fully cooked. Mom also says that some people pre-cook the meat, but it really just isn’t as good.) Fold bottom over meat and tuck in tightly. Roll once. Fold each side to center. Roll one time. Apply paste to edges of remaining wrapper. Continue to roll – tightly – until pointy tip is centered, apply paste to tip if needed.

rolling 1



rolling 2

rolling 2









Viola! One done, 99 more to go. It actually doesn’t seem to take that long. Of course, I’m told that I’m putting in too much meat, and remember to be tight. I need to be tighter. (Are there exercises for that?)

Making lumpia is actually calming. You sit and roll, and roll again. Prepping veggies is calming too. We are also preparing a vegetarian version, one with sweet potatoes, onions, green beans and bean sprouts. I’ve always loved peeling potatoes and chopping onions too – until I start crying because I forgot to do that lemon trick.

We sit and talk. Our conversation runs the gamut from catching up on friends, what is everyone doing for the holidays, health of relatives. We also talk about the past, and what we used to do during the holidays when we were younger. It’s nice to reminisce. And just sit and have a conversation. Even though kids and their friends were watching a show, in and out of the house, and dad was cooking in the kitchen too, we had a nice quiet time chatting.

During these hectic days, weeks, months, and years of our lives, a few minutes of one-on-one conversation is much more meaningful.

I should have learned how to make lumpia much earlier in life. My sisters make it, and my mom always made them for me, so I figured I really didn’t need to learn. But as I, and my kids, get older, I do start thinking about giving them some sort of cultural leanings. Forget trying to teach them the language. Food is always a great way to expose one’s culture. And there really is great Filipino food. I must say, I have always been a picky eater, which is probably why I never desired to learn how to cook Filipino dishes. But I do love the desserts…oh the desserts. You can’t imagine all the sweet things you can do with rice!

My mom says she will cook more FIlipino food in the next year. What are my favorites she asks? Pansit (rice noodles), Grilled Bangus (Milk Fish), Arroz Caldo (chicken rice soup), Chicken Adobo (chicken stew, which my Dad was cooking), and all those desserts. By the way, my family is known for their desserts. Once at a doctor’s appointment at Scripps Clinic, the Filipina nurse saw my last name and asked if I was related to the Samala’s of Cavite. I said yes, that’s my family. And she replied that she loves Bibingka Samala – a sweet rice and brown sugar dessert my family is known for. To be popular because of a dessert made an ocean away…who would have known…because me and desserts…well, you know.

Yes, mom will show me how to make all those desserts too. I can’t wait. I may have enough recipes for a tasty cookbook after this year.

I’ve enjoyed learning how to make lumpia from my mom. As a younger girl, okay last week, you don’t always want to listen to your mother’s advice, and you especially hate it later when she’s right. It’s that mother-daughter thing. But I like that she can pass on to me the intricacies of our family recipes. I’m learning from my Mom. When we are young, we tend to feel that our parents have nothing to teach us. I know my own sons think I know nothing – well boys, I know a lot of things you don’t think I know.

I’ve also learned from her that family comes first and sometimes you sacrifice for their benefit, you work hard for what you want (she worked two jobs at one time), you can do anything you set your mind to do, you take care of those in need, and everyone should have full stomachs. “Eat, eat,” she is always saying.

Being the role model that she is, is the best present a parent can ever give their child. During this holiday season and many more ahead, I hope to give my kids just as good of a present. Thanks for your time mom, I love you.

frying lumpia

Lumpia: Makes about 100

  • 4 packages of lumpia or spring roll wrappers
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 large carrots, skinned
  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 3 stalks green onions
  • 1 8oz. can water chestnuts
  • 2 pounds each of ground beef and ground pork (ask butcher)
  • 8 oz. cooked tiny salad shrimp
  • ½ pound of sliced ham
  • 4 eggs
  • salt, pepper, MSG (optional)

Finely chop all vegetables and sliced ham. Mix all together with ground meats and shrimp. Add salt, pepper and MSG (optional) to taste. Add in raw scrambled eggs. Roll wrappers with meat filling. Fry in cooking oil until golden brown and crispy. Drain and eat. Serve with sweet chili sauce. Lumpia can be frozen until ready to eat. No need to defrost if frozen.

Vegetable Lumpia:

  • 1 package lumpia or spring roll wrappers
  • ½ garlic – chopped
  • ½ large onion – chopped
  • Large camote or sweet potato – one inch french fry cut
  • 2 handfuls green beans – cut one inch
  • 2 handfuls bean sprouts
  • ½ cup soy sauce

Saute garlic with a little oil (don’t heat up oil first or garlic will burn), add onions until translucent. Add green beans, then sweet potatoes, then bean sprouts. Add pepper to taste. Add soy sauce. Cover with lid and simmer for about 5 minutes. Let mixture cool before wrapping. Roll in wrappers with about 2 tablespoons of filling. Vegetable lumpia can be thicker than meat lumpia. Fry in oil. Eat. Make a dipping sauce of soy sauce and vinegar to your taste. Can also be frozen.


Bonus recipe: Papa Elmer’s Chicken Adobo

  • One whole chicken cut up in pieces, cut breasts into smaller pieces
  • ½ garlic
  • ½ onion
  • 1 tomato
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste

Saute garlic, onions, tomatoes and chicken. Add vinegar, soy sauce, water, bay leaf, pepper, and salt, if needed (depends on type of soy sauce). Boil for about 20 minutes. Remove some of the sauce, and save in a bowl. Cook some more until chicken gets color like you’re frying chicken (my Dad’s instructions). Then return amount of saved sauce as desired. Serve with steamed rice. Fried eggs are a very tasty addition.


99 Ranch Market, 7330 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. #112, San Diego, CA 92111, 858.974.8899, www.99ranch.com

Seafood City Supermarket, 8955 Mira Mesa Blvd., Mira Mesa, CA 92126, 858.549.0200, www.seafoodcity.com

Week 5: Shelter for the Night

“Sorry, there’s no room for you tonight.”

What, there’s no room at the shelter, where am I supposed to go?

SDRM women's entrance

At first, I don’t know what to say to the woman handling check-in at the San Diego Rescue Mission’s (“SDRM”) Nueva Vida Haven Emergency Shelter for Women and Children. Then I remember to tell her that I’m expected. You see, I’m not really homeless; my mother-in-law Donna is on the board, and I thought I should stay one night to observe. I was inspired to do this after helping my friend Martin with his Thanksgiving feeding, and after starting to plan for our high school’s Adopt-A-Family program. I thought, hey, it’s the season of giving, and it’s good to give, but do we really know what it’s like to be in the shoes of those who we give to? It makes us feel good to give; we have the luxury to do so, and we should continue to do so. I know that one night is not going to give me a true experience of what homelessness is like, but any insight is helpful, right?


The week of my visit, I thought I should make some sort of preparations. I wanted to look like I fit in. So I ask questions about what I should bring (some bring everything they have, some nothing), what to expect, where do I check-in, where do I park my car (the street). And to show you my own prejudices of my perception of homeless people, I didn’t eat lunch (so I would want to eat whatever was served for dinner), I didn’t shower for two days (I wanted to feel like I really needed a shower), and I hadn’t shaved for a week (with the hairy legs and armpits, you’d think I was on Survivor). I also wore an old worn Erasure Wild! shirt (yes, I still have clothes from the 80s), non-designer jeans (7 for all Mankind would not be appropriate), and I left my reading glasses with its cute pink Kate Spade case at home. I make sure to take off my nail polish, wear no make-up, and hide my iPhone. Like anyone is really paying attention to me – they’re not. My own prejudices were that homeless people are dirty and wear old, torn clothing. Well, whatever I looked like, it worked because coming off the street I seemed to have looked the part and was initially turned away.


I start to think that I shouldn’t have come. I almost chickened out. I was more nervous about staying at the SDRM than I was skydiving last weekend. Why was I so uneasy? Possibly a premonition of what I would later feel.


As I’m shown to the women’s dining hall where most people wait before dinner is served at 7:00, I immediately feel out of place. There’s one table in the back that’s empty, and that’s where I sit, much like the new kid at school.


I feel like an intruder. A fake. Someone is going to find out and they’re going to beat me up.


As I look around, I immediately notice that there are much more elderly women here than I anticipated. Don’t they have family that will take them in? On the other side of the room, there are quite a number of women trying to keep their children in order. Back at the table next to me, I overhear some younger women talk about abusive men in their lives. Another talks about her application for beauty school. One discusses local services available. There’s women and children of all ages, all groups – Caucasian, African-American, Latin, Asian, Mixed.


Eventually, a woman with her dog sits at my table, and a couple other younger women with small children fill in the space around me. I usually feel pretty comfortable around strangers, but here I’m out of my element, what do we have in common? Then I start the conversation as I would with any other person – what a cute baby, how old is he, yes my sons were like that too when teething. What a well-behaved dog, what breed is he, I like your Christmas sweater. The dog lady later asks if I’ve read the newspaper articles about staying with the deceased until the Coroner arrives, because bodies are going missing, possibly a conspiracy – does she mean dead bodies on the street? When people ask if this is my first night, I just say yes and don’t elaborate. It seems to suffice.


Soon dinner is served, some sort of meatloaf thing with rice, a boiled potato, and salad. There were fruit bowls, but not enough for all. I hear a few grumblings about that. We give the dog some of the meatloaf.


Once dinner is over, those who are assigned to clean up stay back while the rest of us gather belongings to go up to the sleeping areas. We’re on a schedule.


I begin to notice some of the other people here. A male teen hides behind his hoodie, obviously not wanting to be around all the other younger kids, or all these women. And like most kids, there’s quite a few playing with their handheld electronic games, not wanting to be bothered by Mom. Most of the women get their mattresses ready so they can lay down and rest. And yes, let’s be real, there are a couple that acted and talked as if they have some mental illness, I decide it best to just avoid those women. Many others suffer from addictions.


As a newbie, and a single, I’m given a spot in the overflow hallway area. About 15 of us singles are out there. The nice former barber lady warns me that they keep the lights on all night. She suggests that I go to CVS the next day and get an eye mask and earplugs (luckily, I did throw in an eye mask into my backpack, one that I bring on planes). Actually, the hallway is much more peaceful than the main sleeping area – one big room with about 20 bunk beds along one wall, about 60 mattresses on the floor for the families, a corner play area for the kids where they are trying to decorate for the holidays, the kids asking to watch a video. The bathrooms (one for families, one for families with sons, and one for singles) and limited storage space are all located in there too. Although I’m in the sanctuary of the hallway, I can feel the chaos spilling out through the doors of the main room.

There will be almost 100 women and children staying the night, sharing the space. I’m a light sleeper, and I can barely sleep when there’s one other person in a room with me, how am I going to sleep tonight?

 SDRM main room

The shower sign-up list is passed around. Five minutes is all you get. Everyone needs to be done by lights out at 9:30. I get the last slot. As I wait for my turn, I think of the mattress as being everyone’s own personal space. A single-sized bedroom. I think of my bedroom at home – queen-sized bed, plenty of blankets and pillows, ensuite master bath with two sinks, lots of storage, a balcony that I never use, guest chairs where I pile on extra clothing, and my own TV. I take out my journal and try to do something. I hate just sitting, but I quickly begin mirroring what the others are doing, laying down and doing nothing – what else is there to do? My mattress is my bedroom for the night. One night.

 SDRM hallway

A list is being put together for Christmas. If the women want to stay with relatives that night, but want to save their spot at the shelter, let the staff know. I hear my neighbor say she will be at the SDRM on Christmas because she has no place else to go. Those words stab at my heart. I try not to get emotional.

 SDRM bunk beds

Another hallway lady starts a conversation about lotto tickets. She found some on the ground and wanted advice on whether it was morally okay for her to keep them, and if she did and won, what should she do with the money? We talk about finding rightful owners if possible, but if not it’s okay for her to keep them. She says she’ll share with us since we gave her advice, and we say she has no obligation to do so, it would be her winnings to do as she pleases. We continue talking about people who win and are even worse off, and what would we do if we won. I say it’s all confusing to me, all the different lottery games, but maybe I should start playing in the first place. It’s a typical conversation amongst most people, don’t you think? We all like to dream about winning the jackpot.


I still feel antsy. I want to go help with some sort of activity or go play with the kids, but that’s kinda creepy if I go in and just start hanging out with the kids. I do notice that all the kids want to play and the moms just want to rest – I’ve been there.


After my quick shower, it’s lights out in the main room. I put on my eye mask, lay down and think that there’s no way I’ll be able to sleep, I’ll be up all night. I begin listening to the snoring pattern of the tired women, from the left, and from the right, then together, repeat, it’s a comforting rhythm. And before I realize it, I am lulled to a deep sleep…


…4:00 am. Music is turned on to get everyone up and start the day. We’re on a schedule I understand, but to be woken up by a blaring tape of a combination of Gospel and Christian Rock music, is a little much don’t you think? I get that the SDRM is faith-based, and prayer was said before meals and bedtime, but 4:00 in the morning, really?


By 5:00 am, everyone is packed up. One young girl is practically picked by others to get her up and to put the bedding away. Those returning store some items in trash bags or in cubbies, some arguing about how much space families are taking. Again I am given helpful advice by others on what to do, I say thanks, but I am only here for one night. They don’t ask why, I don’t tell. I get to know a few other women and their situations. All of them remind me of someone I know. All of them have a story. And anyone reading this can easily be in their situation, including myself. And that is the scary part.


Everyone is back on the streets by 6:30 am. Some take the bus to a local fast food restaurant to hang out and feed their kids a bigger breakfast, others head on over to Rachel’s Center which offers daytime services, while others wander the streets of downtown.


The SDRM’s policy is that families with children take a priority for shelter over singles. And I agree with that. But when you’re told that there’s not going to be room for you tonight to make room for others, I can see how that news is not taken easily. A handful of women were given notice that morning. One begins to rant and rave about the male conspiracy watching the women in shelters through hidden cameras, deciding who they will target for prostitution and sex slavery. She is quickly told not to talk that way in front of the children. Others try to figure out what other shelters may be able to take them in.


Another woman makes a call, telling the person about her situation and that there’s no room at the shelter anymore. She continues to say that she is not going to call “him” and that they are supposed to be helping her. I’m embarrassed listening to her conversation, as I’m intruding on her personal life. There’s no privacy here. I can hear the shrilled desperation in her voice. “What about tonight? Or the next night? Or the next night? Where am I supposed to go?”




I walk up the hill to my car. As I leave, how do I feel? My own emotions spill out and I sit and cry. I feel sadness. And I feel hopelessness. There are so many people that need help, what can one person do? Should I feel grateful for what I have? We have all worked hard to be where we’re at, and we shouldn’t deny ourselves and our families from enjoying the benefits. But my eyes have been opened up and I’m much more aware that the people on the streets all have their own stories. And it’s not just the people you see on street corners. How many of us live from paycheck to paycheck? How many of us have medical bills piling up? How many of us have saved enough for retirement?


I know some argue that this is their choice. But I always think about the kids. They don’t have a choice.


These women I met don’t want to be there. Certain circumstances led them to SDRM, and they are hoping to make it on their own. Maybe if they realize that someone cares about them, it will give them encouragement not to give up.


They are just like us, they are us. Watching their children run and play, making sure they don’t get hurt. And the mommy network gives each other advice, as the more experienced ones have already lived through those same situations. Much like my high school moms who can give others advice about college prep, test taking courses, sports programs. And while kids are at school, they can work or make appointments for services. Those with younger children try to look for daycare. As the newbie, these women freely shared advice with me, and opened up their world to me. We’re all the same. We help each other, we have values and morals.


I was the dishonest one. I finally did tell a young mother why I was there and gave her my info. There was something in her that reminded me of myself. I asked her to send me her resume when she gets a chance and maybe I can help. I needed to do something.


My “observation” night is a luxury. I can go in, watch, and leave. I can go home and do the weekly laundry. I can do my grocery shopping without worrying about how much I spend. I have the luxury of going to volunteer meetings. So in that respect, I have a very luxurious life!


I have the luxury of a strong support system from family and friends. And parents that taught me to help others with what you can. I know I I’m safe from ever having to sleep out on the streets and having to worry about my safety.


But while I thought my idea of observing the women and children at the SDRM was clever, I’m a little embarrassed that I thought it’s okay to do so as if they are animals in a zoo. I intruded into their private lives without asking.


Again this week, I feel like I’m not sure what I was trying to accomplish. I do hope from my limited experience, and through sharing my words, it will do something. Anything. As they say, we may not feel that one person makes a difference, but if we all do something, anything, it all adds up. Maybe it adds up to something great. Another relevant reminder – put yourself in the other person’s shoes and treat them as if it was you. I’m tired of crying now. Action, not words please.


So I spent the night in a homeless shelter. Whoopee, check it off the list. But it doesn’t really mean much, if all it is, is a good story. It’s real life. Do something, anything.




The stories:

  • Mommy B with her 7-month old son, and expecting another. Her husband is in the men’s section. Sometimes they stay with family, or in hotels, or in these shelters. She wants stability. They hope to get accepted into the year-long program and get back on their feet. Her family says they are proud of her for trying to do something.
  • Mommy C with her son who looks too big to be in a stroller. Her boyfriend broke up with her and she had to leave. Sometimes to pass the time she’ll ride the bus all day.
  • Hallway neighbor, who was a barber, has children in Los Angeles and Alaska. She doesn’t want to go back to Alaska.
  • Veteran lady who at a very young age took in her nieces when their mother died from an overdose in front of them. She became a young mother who raised the kids and all graduated from college. They are in San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Maryland. She can choose where to go, but is giving herself 30 days to make it on her own.
  • Beauty school hopeful who brings in her own food.
  • Lady with teen son who’s worried about what’s going to happen to him once he turns 16. At 16, male sons can’t stay at Nueva Vida and she hopes nothing bad happens to him with the older men.
  • Texas lady with four kids, her husband is in the men’s section. They left the state for personal reasons.
  • Mommy Z with two young children, who came from Washington State after her husband got deported to Mexico. They followed him to San Diego so they can cross the border and visit him. She wasn’t going to abandon him while straightening out his paperwork. After ten years of marriage, they lost their business and their savings. She plans to get a job and find her own place soon. She had to endure a school who at first welcomed her to enroll her children, but once realized she was homeless said there was no room. Luckily she found the Monarch School. She didn’t look the part of a homeless mother.
  • Lottery ticket woman who hears our conversation and offers to help Mommy Z file payment deferment papers.


Flowers were donated from Trader Joe’s for the women, but most didn’t take any because they really had no place to put them. I hated seeing something meant to be cheerful, getting thrown away in the dumpster to wilt and die. I hope they all eventually find a place of their own to display bouquets and bring a smile to their face.



San Diego Rescue Mission – Nueva Vida Haven Emergency Shelter for Women and Children

P.O. Box 80427 San Diego, CA 92138 | (619) 687-3720




University City High School Adopt A Family –


During the holiday season it’s easy to think of those less fortunate during this time of giving. We plan feedings and gift giveaways. Let’s not forget them the rest of the year. And it’s not about just giving them a handout; they want to make it on their own, and to be proud of their accomplishments. Help give them all productive lives. It’s not only about Christmas, what about the next night, and the next, and the next – what happens to them?

Week 4: A Jump of Faith

skydive freefallOur connected bodies rush into the freezing air and are sent hurling down, down towards the cold, hard earth below. For what seemed like an eternity, we are free falling and I can feel the wind push against my face. Kind of like when you have a fan blowing and you position yourself in front of it and say in your best Darth Vader voice “Luke, I am your father”, but at a much faster speed.

Yes folks…I went skydiving!

Now, I have never been afraid of heights, but you have to admit that jumping out of a plane — on purpose — is not something done on an everyday basis. And I’m sure many people feel why would you even want to do that. Why not?


After some cleansing experiences during my first few weeks on my 50 Weeks to 50 journey, I knew it was time to do something a little more thrilling than meditation and colonics. It was time for some real fun, and what better than to take a jump of faith, to sort of speak, with one of my partners in crime, Lacy. We both had our emotions spill out from last week’s Tarot Card reading, which was somewhat exhausting, so we needed an adrenaline rush.


On the drive south to the Otay Lakes area where Skydive San Diego is located, I did notice some grayish looking clouds, but I thought nothing of it since at least it wasn’t raining like the day before. Once there we took our sweet time reading and initialing the liability waivers, asking to look at the case law they cited and making sure copies were made for our records. I also pointed out that although I do have high blood pressure and take medication, there wasn’t any place to actually waive the warning. (Lacy is an attorney and I was a litigation paralegal in past years.) So, by the time we actually finished the paperwork we were relegated to the last group…and was told the jumps were on a weather hold. Apparently there’s some FAA regulation that you can’t jump through clouds. WTF.


So we waited, and waited, then the weather hold lifted, then the clouds came back, and we waited and waited.


Skydive San Diego has their own private runway and grass landing area, so guests can freely come watch the jumpers and don’t have to drive around to follow the group. There’s a food truck available so while we wait, we eat. I have a tasty nutella peanut butter croissant – I will definitely need to try that at home. Lacy orders a BBQ beef sandwich. And we sit, and eat, and walk around, and sit in the lobby, and sit in the car, and talk, and think.

skydive food truck

The problem with idle time is you start thinking and over-analyzing everything. While we start to have some deep conversations, I also start thinking about the jump. (Lacy, I was listening to you too.) Why am I doing this? Because I can. Are you trying to prove something? No, not really. Did you totally empty your bladder in those porta potties so you don’t pee in your pants? Yes. Are you sure there’s no residual nutella or peanut butter on your teeth for picture taking? Yes. Did you make sure to wear nice undies, just in case of an accident? Yes, with lace too.


As I start to nod off into a dreamy state, I look up and notice the clouds opening right in front of me, exposing the once hidden clear blue skies. The clouds continue to clear as if beckoning us to come up for a visit. I’m chanting “open, open” and voila, the opening is there waiting for us to take advantage. Next thing you know, it’s announced that the next group is ready to go.


We rush over to put jumpsuits on – not the most flattering cut – and get strapped in very tightly, which is a good thing, right? I immediately try to remember the details from our tandem training hours ago: kick legs back, position your body in an arc, hands by shoulders, two taps then hands out in a U, when landing kick feet straight out, when told feet down on ground and stand up. Got it.

skydive calmly walking

No, I’m not nervous, I’m fine…just fine. Remember, I keep a strong exterior; while my interiors want to come out. Please do not throw up I tell myself, especially on my Tandem Instructor Joe. Next thing you know it’s time to go. The videographer/photographer Shane keeps us all in light spirits as I’m sure he notices that I really am starting to feel queasy about this whole thing – what the F am I doing! No time to think, I’m climbing up the ladder into the jumpship, seat-belted in facing the open door and away we go.


As we fly up to the proper jumping altitude of about 13,000 feet, we all make small talk to keep our minds busy. And when Joe tells me to sit on his lap, well ya. Oh, he’s just strapping me to his body – now in another context this would be very erotic don’t you think?


From there things just happened. The door opens up and you feel the pull. The instructor right before us has his seatbelt stuck, and Joe needs to help release him, as I’m frozen between both their bodies. Then they are gone, and somehow we are huddled next to the door…and we are out.


My first thought is that it is so frickin’ cold! And I quickly realize we are falling…it was only for about a minute in time but it felt like forever. Shane is right below us and I know he’s taking video and photos, but I really wasn’t concentrating on smiling for the camera. All I could feel was the skin on my face being pushed and pulled here and there. Boy, those are going to be lovely photos.


Then peace.

 skydive landing

As soon as the parachute is opened, you feel as if you are floating slowly down. Joe tells me he’s going to loosen up the straps so I’ll be more comfortable – no really the strap pressing down against my breasts are okay, really. But it does loosen me up and I was even more relaxed. Joe points out different geographic points: Tijuana, Downtown San Diego, Chula Vista Olympic Training Center. And the calm Otay Lakes mirror the skies above. The view – simply beautiful.


Just as soon as I feel like I’m in a dream, I notice we are heading towards the grass landing. We land upright – woohoo, no broken bones and I didn’t clumsily tumble over like I thought for sure I would. Wow. Shane, with cameras rolling, asks how it was – awesome! And if I would do it again – absolutely! Lacy was just as excited as she gives her instructor one big bear hug, and is soon reminded that uhh, other people are landing and she’s in their way, that Lacy!

skydive landing

Any profound insights after the jump? Skydiving really was about doing something fun and not waiting until I was 75, 85, or 95 to do so. But I will say that sometimes you just have to trust and have faith. If I can trust a total stranger with my life, I have faith that everything will always work out for the best. We all grow when new opportunities are provided to us, and with each new accomplishment we gain more confidence in ourselves. Now, I may never trust myself to jump solo, but when it comes to future challenges set before me, I have gained a little more “can-do” spirit.


When it’s time to jump into something, I will do so with my eyes wide open and peace in my heart.




Son: “Mom, was it sick!”

Me: “Oh ya, it was sick…and I got sick too.”


So after we hit the ground, went to take off our gear and collect our photo CD, I did start to feel a bit queasy again. You see, I do tend to get motion sickness, and quite frankly, the thought didn’t even occur to me that I might get so from the jump. Well it did. It may be due to that time when Joe decided to do some twirling moves (I didn’t dare ask if that was on purpose or due to some sort of parachute malfunction), and it felt like we were riding the Tea Cups at Disneyland.


Small sips of water should help, and since I was driving I thought I would be fine. Well, after moving along some S-curves, by the time we got to the freeway, I was hurling that once tasty nutella peanut butter croissant and my door didn’t open wide enough. It reminded very much of the one time we took a Helicopter Tour over Kauai and I got sick as soon as we landed. Hmm…we’re supposed to learn from mistakes, right?


My lesson here – keep a dose of Dramamine with me at all times.



Skydive San Diego, 13531 Otay Lakes Road, Jamul, CA 91935, 800.FREE.FALL (In California), 619.216.8416, http://skydivesandiego.com/

Tandem jump is $249, but check for special online and Groupon deals. Video and photo packages are extra, but worth the cost.

Nutella peanut butter croissant – $3.50. Cost of cleaning that awful smell in my car – thanks Dad!

Week 3: A Reading

What to do, what to do? It’s Thanksgiving weekend, family is in town, and I did not plan a Week 3 activity. Hookah lounge – no. Blingo – no. Shooting range – no. Frankly, I really wasn’t in the mood. I was feeling a little bummed about certain personal situations and felt I needed some extra guidance. I mentioned that to a friend and next thing you know, I’m booked for a Tarot Card reading at the Tree of Life Store in Ocean Beach.


As part of my 50 Weeks to 50 journey, I’m trying something new every week. And I had never had a Tarot Card reading. The idea of having a reading always had intrigued me, with its mysterious aura, which is both attractive and frightful. Will it be a fun, light-hearted session, or will it bring to the surface certain hidden emotions? A little of both maybe? Perhaps I never had a Tarot Card reading because not only that I don’t want to hear about my future, or myself, but do I really want to face it? I think for many of us, that is the scariest part — looking into the mirror. (Huh, I really do hate pictures of myself.)


My friend Lacy went with me after a brief catch-up coffee (hot chocolate for me) at Starbucks. We both had wanted to vent and after some caffeine we were in an easy-going cheerful mood as we walked into the Tree of Life. Immediately you felt welcomed and at home. After meeting the reader Luanna, we were reassured that having a friend sit in did not give out conflicting “vibes”, that the reading is based on the cards that we deal ourselves. So that’s how it came to be that Lacy signed up, and why we sat in on each other’s sessions. Luanna actually encouraged it, because the other person may hear things you don’t hear, or have a different interpretation. And it’s human nature to hear only what we want to, right? (This is why my kids don’t hear the phrase “Clean up your room!”)


We both felt very comfortable with Luanna, who by the way does dress like a gypsy as we may prejudicially typecast, but more like, well an OB gal. We were led to the reading room, which was decorated with colorful curtains, magical tablecloths, and a mystical stenciled design on the deep blue walls. Since blue is my favorite color, I immediately felt at ease, and looked forward to having some rollicking fun in there.


By the time my second card was dealt, I was in tears.


Before I got to that point, which was quick, I was asked to choose what deck to use, and I picked the dark blue deck with the circled pentagram. It reminded me of Dan Brown’s books, one of my favorite authors. You then shuffle your own cards (which I am horrible at, and will never be able to get a dealer job at the local casinos) until you sense the need to stop — I stopped when it felt like my heart skipped a beat. Now, note that I have forgotten most of the names of the actual cards dealt, because I was concentrating on the meaning of what was being explained to me, about me.


The first card basically told me that I keep busy in order not to deal with my feelings. Wow. Of course, that made me laugh because it probably explains why I volunteer for every frickin’ committee and board in my universe. It also may be the reason why that very morning I felt compelled to move furniture around, bag up items for our upcoming school garage sale, and start hauling out Christmas decor – so I don’t have to deal with my feelings at that time. I get it now; I am so busy in my life because I’m really just a basket case! That first card in itself explained a lot and told me this session was going to be a personal wrecking ball.


Take a deep breath, here it comes.


So the second card contains the answers to my questions. Well, since by now you know I’m not good about sharing my personal emotions, I’m not going to go into detail about what those questions may be. In general though — I need to better communicate my feelings. But at this point, I don’t have the clarity about what I want anyway, so it’s not the right time to share. I am halfway there, but not quite. Okay, hand me that tissue, because I have been so internally conflicted the past few days, and this was why. I’m not ready yet. I don’t know what I want. Will I ever? Does anyone know what they really want?


As I write this, I still feel the emotions in my chest, a sensation as if I’m filling up with breast milk. Is that odd?


Once that second card was dealt, the rest was somewhat of a blur. (Next time, I will record the session so I don’t forget.) I do remember comments that communication will end up being a gift to myself and those who I choose to communicate with, but I am cautioned not to let it linger and burn inside me. Also the practical person that I am was told not to be so realistic. It’s okay to aim for the ideal. (Does that apply to a much deserved raise?) I’m also warned that my desire to just go with the flow may be taking me in the wrong direction. I do want my boat to float towards an island paradise, not the cold waters of the Arctic.


Another appropriate reminder is that I need to surround myself with personal cheerleaders; and to walk around my home and place items that will uplift me when I look at them. Maybe I will get some motion-sensored Jemma bobble heads that cheer me on and say “go Jemma go!” But that is good advice for everyone, we all need positive boosts every now and then. I will make it a point to be a positive cheerleader for those around me too. And when we are all encouraged to do what makes us happy, our lives will lead in the direction that they were meant to go in.


I did pull up the Emperor card; I do remember that. It’s one of the Major Arcana cards of which there are 22 in a deck of a total of 78. I don’t remember in what context the card came up, but typical interpretations I read about associated with that card (thank you Wikipedia) is that it symbolizes the desire to rule over my surroundings and its appearance may suggest I need to accept some things are not controllable. Other keywords include stability, common sense, status quo, leadership, and organization. Very much me. I want to control the environment I’m in and project a vision that I am a pillar of strength. I’m the strong one in the family. I don’t cry. They say there’s no crying in baseball – well we are a baseball family (I was president of our local Little League for a couple years, you know.)


What do I take out of this? Don’t be such a cold bitch and open up my heart! And at this moment someone gave me a compliment and I couldn’t just say thank-you and accept it as it is – something nice. I had to turn it into something else! Damn me! (No more texting for me!)


Well, I’m sure there’s more to it than that. What I will say is that going to the Tree of Life and sitting with Luanna was what was meant to happen to me at that very time and place. Isn’t it funny how things work out? I needed guidance and I got it.


We’ve heard this many times, that maybe the answers are right there in front of you all along. Yet I think we don’t always want the right answers. The wrong answers are sometimes easier to handle. No conflicts. You naively go along on your smooth and straight path in life. But I did like Luanna’s analogy – walking through the twisted deep dark forest is a much more interesting life choice. I’m choosing excitement. (Next week is gonna be thrilling!) Because at the end of that forest, I know my personal Eden awaits.


I’ve decided that Luanna is going to be my personal therapist. The Tarot reading was therapeutic for me. Like children who don’t listen to their parents’ advice (until their junior year in high school when it might be too late – do you hear that boys?), us adults sometimes need to get guidance from those outside their world. We all have failings, whether we want to admit it or not, how we handle it determines our character. Is that why we are attracted to so many tragedies and scary movies? We would rather watch it affect others and not deal with our own demons. Strike those zombies in the head and make them go away in your own lives. And what does it say about me when I cry at every animated Disney film?


My first week I tried to cleanse my mind and soul, and the second week I cleansed my body. The readings gave us some emotional cleansings we didn’t realize we needed. (I’m keeping Lacy’s experience private, but we both felt it was life-changing.) The crying wasn’t good or bad, but was both a release and a healing.


We became aware of ourselves. And being aware of how you handle daily life situations is a positive. Our Tarot Card session was enlightening and has made a big impact on our lives already.


So as I think about what am I doing in life, right now, with this blog…I wonder — is it all part of some mid-life crisis? I would prefer to think of it as a mid-life awakening. Maybe I am now mature enough to handle life the way it should be handled…or am I just looking for an excuse to act silly and have some fun. Either way, I know the answer lies in realizing that I really don’t know what I want. Maybe the end result will be a nice surprise. I’m halfway across that bridge; how many steps will it take to get to the other side? Will I find myself welcoming me at the end of that path? Do I run a sprint or take a nice leisurely walk? Will it take a week, month, year, or longer? So many questions. And right now, it’s okay not to have all the answers.




The sunsets in our area have been entertaining us with all the elements — the brilliant fiery red and orange colors pushed around by swirling air, when suddenly the sun is swallowed up by the earthy beaches and the deep blue oceans beyond. The spirit of the new moon shines tonight, and I will savor every song the moonlight dares to sing.


47 more weeks – bring it on!



Tree of Life

4870 Santa Monica Ave., Suite 1A

San Diego, California, 92107



Lacy and I each had a 30-minute session for $35 with Luanna. She reads Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00pm, and will also give phone readings. The store is open Wednesday through Sunday, with other readers and healers available. Check their calendar for special events (the Winter Solstice is coming up).