Thursday, May 26, 2016


Every child enters the world with a story.  Their story highlights them as beautiful and special.

Harvey’s story is one of freedom and unexpected calm.  He was born one day after his parents, our son Joe and his long-time girlfriend, Ariel, were married.  A home birth, Ariel had a team of midwives surrounding her as soon as serious labor set in. One of these midwives was Joe's baby sister, Seantel.

 Mario and I arrived at Joe’s apartment only to be greeted by Seantel downstairs.

“She’s close, but it’s hard to say how long this will take,” Seantel told us, with a serious face.  It made me want to break out in the nervous laughter that always accompanied my excitement. 

“What should we do?” I asked.  “Come back later?”

“Can you go get snacks?” Seantel asked.  The midwives had been working non-stop and would be hungry after the task of delivering a baby was over.  As we would fawn and coo over the new life, the midwives would chart and be administrative at the kitchen table.

Mario and I headed to Safeway, holding each other’s hands tightly in nervous anticipation.  We bought drinks and cheese trays, chips and dip.  When we were driving back to the apartment, we talked about the challenge of another long-distance grandchild.  At least I did.

“Seattle is a long way,” I told him.  “I wish they could be in California.”

“It’s not so bad,” Mario said.  “It’s a heck of a lot closer than Africa.  At least we’ll see him more than we would have if we still lived there.”  Mario is an optimist—or a realist.  Both mindsets have a way of being fine with what we have and enjoying the moment.  I was already grieving the loss of time spent with a grandchild that hadn't even been born.

We got to the apartment in time for Ariel’s transition.  We met Cathy in the living room and silently prayed for the upcoming delivery.  I was in awe of the smooth, careful breathing I heard coming from the next room.  The Midwives’ voices were louder than Ariel’s soft moans of pain that would bring Harvey into the world.  I remember my own deliveries, and my impatient screams that cursed the painkillers for not being strong enough to mask the agony that wracked my body.  Ariel sounded nothing like that.  Instead, her cries were more like sighs,  and that calm amazed me.

Eventually, the sounds coming from the room became urgent and we knew that our Harvey would soon be coming into the world.

I stood in the doorway with the audio of my phone turned on.  Eventually, I heard the sounds of a baby, a soft cry that became a loud one.  Harvey was here!!  I held the phone up, with tears in my eyes.  No one, no matter how gifted with words, can prepare you for the incredible brilliance of a new life coming into the world.

Harvey was perfect. His face was light and beautiful and he seemed content from the moment he was born. Asher, his newly-turned-four-year-old brother delighted in him. Joe was on top of the world

The day was amazingly peaceful.  We all took  turns holding the baby, who looked like a perfect blend of his mother and father.

We left two days later, after sharing Harvey with his normally private family.  I got home and went through my mountain of pictures...sighing st the wonder of him.

The next time we saw Harvey was Christmas, where he had become a mobile baby, playful and engaging those around him.  He had a spirit of contentment and cooperation about him, constantly smiling.  While Asher is usually strong and charismatic, Harvey is relaxed and jovial.  He wears an expression on his face as if he knows a  secret joke that keeps the world spinning.

Today marks one year since he was born.  Just last month his mother sent us a movie of him walking!! What an incredible miracle life is!

Happy Birthday, Harvey.  You already remind me of your father—content in not being the center of attention, but being the center of attention anyway.  

We love you more than you could ever know.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


Graduate- 2016
On the hottest day of 2016, I arrived at the parking garage at American River College to practice “the walk” for graduation.  I ran to the stadium, which I had seen every day but had never formally visited, and made my way through a sea of folks getting complimentary Noah’s Bagels to hear the beginnings of the orientation.

“Congratulations,” Parrish Geary said through a bullhorn. “You’ve come a long way to get here.”  As ARC’s Interim dean of Enrollment went through the way we were planning to line up, process, and be seated, I shielded the sun from eyes and tried to pretend my tears were from its rays. 

In reality, it was hard not to get emotional.  This campus was my big cushy welcome back to the world of higher education.  Every part of it worked its way into my heart and now, only eighteen months after I started, I was graduating.

Back at home I tried on my gown and mortarboard and looked in the mirror.  Looking back at me was a nervous, hope-filled girl, the day of her graduation from community college.  Just the day before, I received news from my English teacher, Professor O’Brien, that I was also being awarded ARC’s English Student of the Year.  It was an incredible way to finish this part of the journey.

When I was eighteen, I graduated high school and had little or no interest in college.  At least, that was what I told people.  The real story was that college required a discipline I did not have -- and money that was not available.  My prospects were bleak but I was too proud to attend community college, Delta in Stockton. 

“Just go for one semester,” my mother pleaded.  “You will fall in love with it, I am sure!”

“No I won’t,” I said, as respectfully as I could. 

I was dreaming of getting out of Tracy, moving to some big city, and getting my own apartment. I would need to work to save up the money to do this, and would have to stay in the stifling constriction of my parent’s house.  Finally surrendering to my Mom’s wishes, I decided to enroll in CSU Stanislaus –and attend for exactly one semester.  I blew it off like it was nothing.  After my perfunctory semester I left college and moved out of my parent’s house.

My casual rebellion led me to the place where all rebellions do: disaster.  By the time I recovered my balance (and realized my parents were not so stupid) I was twenty-two with a baby boy.  Thankfully, Mario came along not long after and we fell in love.  I was also in the process of being swept off my feet by God, who in his infinite power and mercy, transformed me with His amazing grace and love.  Then came (like the childhood song) marriage, children, homeschooling, teenagers, grandchildren, Africa…. Coming home to America in 2013.

Serenity and focus led me to a season of reflection.  Could I live my life in complete satisfaction and peace without that college degree?

The answer was no –but there was grace to go and get it.

The Graduation ceremony was at 7:00 pm and came with a merciful breeze that took the edge off the long afternoon sun.  I kissed Mario goodbye in the parking lot, and as he headed for the stadium seating, I headed to the graduate’s meeting place.  The breeze blew my gown close to me, and I was glad I wore flip-flops, especially when I watched other ladies walking slowly in their stilettos.  I filled out a card with my details (including the pronunciation of my name) and carried it with me to the line of graduates, who stood in the shade of a vine-covered cyclone fence.

I saw Vanesa, a fellow Statway buddy and we stood together.  Soon we were joined by Jezelle, one of my beloved Statway angels.  Her Ethiopian friend was with her, a political science buddy was just ahead of us.  Surrounded by graduates of all shapes, ages, and sizes, we lined up and got ready to process in to “Pomp and Circumstance.”

“I think my cell phone is dying,” I said to Jezelle, just as we started moving.  “How can I text Mario through the ceremony?”

“I left mine with my kids, honey,” Jezelle said.  We laughed at the irony.  Without cell phones on this incredibly important day?  No pictures?  No fun texting during the ceremony? Would the world crumble?

There were about seven rows of graduates on each side of the aisle. I couldn’t count all of them, but out class was very large.  I searched the stands for Mario and finally saw him.  There he was, on an aisle seat half-way up the stands.  I tried to get his attention above the band, the air horns, the applause, the shrieks of other graduates like me.  

He finally saw me, and his face lit up.  I held up my cell phone and made a chopping motion at my neck.  “Dead!” I mouthed.

He didn’t seem to understand, or care.  He kept lifting the camera top take pictures, so I blew him kisses, stood on my chair, waved and smiled.  When he stopped taking pictures, he touched his heart and pointed to me.  I broke down into the happiest tears I have cried in such a long time.

All I could think was…” I’m finally here, and he is here with me!” My best friend and my biggest supporter –without him, none of this would be possible.  He is the one I strategized with when I knew I wanted to go back to school.  How should I do it?  Where should I go? How many night classes vs. day classes?  How many units should I take?  What should my goals be? 

As students have counselors, I had Mario.  My school counselor provided the HOW’s in the strategy.  Mario kept me focused on the real goal: to make this whole thing glorify God.

The speeches were great.  Our student speaker encouraged us as a community, as did the chancellor, and the Trustee.  Nevertheless, the students were anxious to walk onto the stage and get our diplomas.  The real diplomas will be mailed to us in six or seven months, after our grades are recorded and our records are reviewed, but our fake diplomas were waiting for us.  The walk, the handshake, the smile for the camera, and the strut back to our seats? That was what we were there for.

Jezelle, Vanessa and I hugged a lot more than we ever did during normal school days.  Nervous energy and incredible excitement made us overly-affectionate.  I was happy that I was with people I knew, and I absolutely loved that I was at Beaver Stadium. 

Finally, we moved our tassels from the right to the left, and we were pronounced graduates.  In celebration, I threw my mortarboard in the air with a joyous shout.  I think I was one of the few that did. 

“What did you do that for?” Vanessa asked me. 

“I wanted to,” I laughed.  Jezelle was laughing, too.  I guess no one else wanted to lose the mortarboard they had paid for and decorated.  I could see where it landed, a couple of feet past the first row.

As we stood up to exit, I saw a tall, statuesque blonde in the front row, a girl I knew from Statway named Karly.

“Hey, Karly!” I yelled. 

She looked up, and then scanned the crowd for the voice.  Eventually, she saw me and smiled. 

“HI!” she waved in triumphant celebration (I guess she thought I was calling out to Whoop! Whoop! with her).

“Can you get my mortarboard?  I threw it and it’s right there!”  I pointed toward it, and she retrieved it just as we started to exit.

I looked out for Mario, who pointed to the parking lot.  I nodded.
‘We were lost in the maddening crowd for awhile, but only awhile.  By the time I found him, I rejoiced.  I rejoiced and I rejoiced.

This diploma does not signify an end, only a transition, but I have slayed the dragon that used to be my biggest insecurity: I now have a college degree. 

As I type this, I cannot tell you how full my heart is.  Next to me is my red, white and blue tassel that has a hanging “16” attached.  In 2016 I graduated with an AA in English – and an honors certificate –and the distinction of being the English Student of the Year.

Grace beyond measure… the first stage is complete. 

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…”  Ecclesiastes 9:10

The only pic of me exiting the stage (It was pretty far away!)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Pirate Picnic --ENGWR 480 in front of Portable 611 

There are unexpected, tender mercies in life that are too numerous to count.  The sound of summer rain being drunk in by a dry earth.  The smell of coffee, clean sheets, and pink roses. The taste of aged cheddar cheese with a ripe pear.  Tears of joy. A bride and groom’s first kiss.  Being part of a college honors program when you are 53 years old.

In truth, I never thought I’d be part of any club or organization when I went back to school; it turns out I joined the Honors Society just by participating in classes.  I am humbled that I qualified for the Honors Program at American River College and never took it for granted. 

The Honors program is one that ARC classifies as “self-selecting” – a program in which you may voluntarily participate if your assessment scores allow you.  The classes usually require more reading and writing and classroom participation is a must.  No one is on their cell phones in an honors class.  I didn’t just participate in honors classes, I loved them.  I absolutely adored them.

Here are a few reasons why:
  1.  Students: Honors students are (unapologetically) the brightest, boldest, most competitive kids on campus.  Throw an older lady in the mix and they will keep that older lady on her toes just so she won’t fall behind.  Every honors class that I walked into were filled with nerdy goofballs. Students that are fun, funny, can juggle a full academic schedule, play a musical instrument, and participate in sports without breaking a sweat.  They reminded me of my friends in high school (I was on the Speech Team with a bunch of fellow nerds).  I loved them all—I dare say that they made me feel part of them. They are thoughtful, logical, passionate, and they listen to one another.  They taught me to listen.  They taught me to get over myself.  They taught me to study when I wanted to watch TV.  They taught me which foods to eat the day of a test.  If you asked me how I felt about the future of our nation, I would say that I would elect any of these honors students into office. 
    My English Writing Honors Class -- Blackbeard's Pirates led by our beautiful Professor O'Brien
  2.  Professors: Honors professors expect the highest level of participation, thought, research, attention, and cooperation from their students.  They do not listen to excuses (“I have another midterm on this day” or “My other Grandma died”).  They do not play favorites.  They push their students to reach their highest potential and give them oodles of opportunities to shine.  Each honors professor I had was either my age or younger than I was – and they cracked the same whip for me.  I am forever grateful.
  3. Classroom: Instead of rows of desks, most honors classes push their seats in a circle and have a round robin of conversation.  The classroom is filled with differing opinions, thoughtful insights, and respectful disagreements.  A classroom that is alive with thought is the most productive environment in which to learn.
  4. Convenience: I took five honors classes while at ARC.  They are offered in the day, at night, in the afternoon.  If you want to take an honors class, it is available.  ARC offers special recognition to those complete fifteen units of Honors classes while they are enrolled.  I thought that I would not be able to complete enough classes to graduate with the Honors Transfer Certificate, but I did.  And you can bet I went to the ceremony to get my flipping certificate!! 
    Getting our Honors Certificates! 

There are many things I will miss about ARC, but the Honors Program is one of the biggest.  It is the program that reminded me to run without complaining and do my best with the brain God gave me.  If I can do it, anyone can do it. 

The Honors Program dares you to be more than you think you are.

Friday, May 13, 2016


My friend, Nathaniel, contemplates statistics 

There is a an old saying that there are no atheists in a foxhole.   In the heat of battle, with bombs flying and active shooters, there is nothing else to do but shoot and pray.

The same thing can be said of statistics.

In the year and a half that I have returned to community college, I learned a few things about the rules of engagement:
  1.   I had to set an academic goal and then strive to meet that goal;
  2.   I had to fulfill requirements in “the golden four” –basic skills which are required of all university students before transferring to a four-year college:
  •  Oral and Written Communication  (An indescribable joy of life)
  •  Arts and Humanities (Beautiful disciplines)
  •  Social Sciences (History, Political Science, and all other things awesome)
  • Scientific Inquiry and Quantitative Reasoning (oh no…really?)         
  • These rules apply to all students.  There are no exceptions.

Statistics fulfills all the requirements of quantitative reasoning.  The “most necessary math” is the thing that kills most students.  There is a statistical probability that 60% of all college students will drop out of college, citing math as the reason.  For a girl who always struggled with math, the challenge of statistics stood in the doorway of my academic future like a ninja, poised with sharpened blades in his hands.

After researching my options, I decided to enroll in STATWAY, a statistics pathway for students who are liberal arts, humanities, and social science majors. The program promised to fulfill my transfer math requirement in two semesters – rather than three.  

I don’t have to be a math major to know that three semesters is more than two semesters. 

In Statway, I would learn how statistics applied to real life. American River College had a math professor that was part of its inception, available tutors that would help me, and a group setting that was designed to help me succeed.   
 When I bought my calculator, a TI-84Plus, I took a picture and posted it to Instagram.  The caption read: “Behold the very weapon that will slay me."

Statway proved to be everything it said it would be: labor intensive, filled with classroom activities, and chock full of  statistical concepts and skills.

Each day – and I went Monday through Thursday – we worked in groups and dissected complicated problems to find the right samples, the right methods, the perfect tests, the best wording…to compile statistics.

At least three days a week I went to tutoring and sweat it out with fellow students who were just like me—clueless in math and needing to pass this class to go on. 

David leads us in tutoring
Statway was the hardest, most exhaustive, most thrilling math class I have ever taken.  It took me two semesters, four days a week and twenty hours of study per week outside of a classroom --but I did it.

I write this after my last day in Statway: I took my final this morning.  When I said goodbye to Mrs. Brock, my teacher, I almost started crying.  

I just checked my Facebook as I was going to bed tonight and saw my Statway friend, Karen, had posted a picture of a celebratory tall, frosty coffee beverage from Baskin Robbins.  The caption said: “I'm so grateful and thankful for the people who have walked with me faithfully during this last school year.”

I laughed and texted her back: “Stats is like an army trench - it makes war buddies that last forever!”

All of my fellow students are classic war buddies.  I respect and love them all for their sheer determination and decision to face that ninja in the doorway.  Not only did we finish, but we learned how to fight ninja- style.  

Now, whenever I face math, I will be less frightened.  If I can finish STATWAY, I can do anything.

Friday, April 8, 2016


Vince - One day old

My first born son, Vincent, was born at 1:56 in the morning on April 9, 1985. I had been in labor all day and he finally emerged, a ten on the Apgar scale – a perfect birth.

He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen –  bright and peaceful, a son I didn’t deserve.  I held him in my arms and cooed like someone had given me the moon and the stars.  While was grateful for this new joy in my life, I was also a bit terrified.  What if I messed it all up?  What if I wasn't good enough to be a mom?

Vince grew quickly and displayed remarkable curiosity, taking forever examining books, globes, shapes, Legos – anything around.  It was the easiest thing to see about him: his fine mind.  

Mario and I  loved reading to him - an activity he could sit through for hours on end. He eventually caught on and was reading before he entered kindergarten.  His teacher accused me of pushing him in his first year of school.

Preschool Graduation - 1989
“Remember to let him be a kid,” she said, in true condescension.  “He has all the time in the world to learn at his own pace.”

“I don’t push him,” I answered, truthfully.  “He taught himself.”

She didn’t believe me and went through a lengthy explanation of how phonetic structure was impossible to learn by osmosis...blah, blah, blah. 


Eventually, Vince's power to teach himself new things took him in directions I wasn't prepared for.  He found trouble quickly and loved laughing about it later.  He listened to loud music; had colorful friends.  During his teen years we struggled and I wondered how to take control of my son; it was clear to me in no time that Vince was becoming his own man.  Almost immediately after he turned eighteen, Vince left our home.

The young adult years were rough, but God has a way of redeeming everything.  He met Rikki, our daughter-in-law, who seemed to appreciate him just like our family. I was present for the birth of his first child- a girl named Scarlett.  At one point, after I held her (the compulsory Grandma turn) I handed her back to him.  Rikki's cousin had been snapping pictures and I now have this one as a memory of that day.  It is one of my best memories - and images.

 Last year, Vince and Rikki moved from New Mexico back to California with Scarlett Star - a true replica of her father.  It is so good to have them near!

More and more of my prayers are now that I understand my own children – like God does.  So I now listen closer, knowing that I am not their only teacher. 

Every April 9th, I celebrate Vince and the way he changed my life.  He’s a good father, a hard worker and a fabulous cook --who  can make menudo just like my grandma's.

Today he turns THIRTY-ONE! 

I don’t care about getting older; no part of it scares me.  What I want out of life is to truly love and understand people for who they are - especially my kids.   I love Vince and he has taught me to enjoy many things – tolerance, respect, genuine love of people...even gaming. Even if he weren't my son, I’d still love hanging out with him. 

Vince, Rikki and Scarlett
Happy Birthday, Vince.  You used to be my baby, but now you're a man - and a Daddy.  I pray that your day is all you want it to be.  

Monday, March 7, 2016


Today, March 8, is International Women's Day.  It is the perfect day to tell you about the most important woman in my life - my Mom.

Her name is Jennie - an Americanized version of her given name, Juana.  She was the fifth child of seven, born to Ignacio and Juana Gonzalez, farm workers whose native tongue was Spanish.  She once showed me the first picture that was taken of her - a black and white snapshot of her and twin sisters when she was six years old.

"My first picture - and I was with my sisters," she told me, laughing.

"Oh, Mom," I said, indignant. "You have no baby pictures?  No single shots of you?  Where are you here?"

My Mom pointed to the bottle she held in her hand.  "We were going to feed the lambs.  That was our job, and they were so hungry they used to almost knock us over!"

She told me these stories without bitterness, about being raised in a poor family with a lot of love. She was born fifth and juxtaposed to her twin sisters, Molly and Emily; the spotlight was rarely on her.  That is, until she became Tracy's Tomato Queen.

That's the second black and white photo I remember: this time of my mother in her early twenties, a beauty queen sitting on top of an elephant, smiling broadly with raven-black hair.  "I had never even been on a horse," she laughed again.  "Now I was riding an elephant on Main Street!"

Then came the pictures of her wedding: the same beauty walking down the aisle with my father, the proud groom.  Then came oodles of family shots: Disneyland and Swiss Family Robinson.  Easter, Christmas, Softball, Mom pregnant and shopping; pregnant and cooking. Five children, like stair steps, one right after the other.  I was born second and refused to suffer the fate of my mother's childhood with too few pictures.  From a young age I made sure that my picture was taken- a lot.  

She took pictures of all of us, and soon the woman behind the camera disappeared from the film again.  All of her children in different sporting events, in their school uniforms, several surrounded by a sea of cousins.  I still have pictures of myself  at each prom, each speech team banquet, each event that I deemed important.  Mom even took the first picture I ever had with Mario – in front of the family room curtains before our first date.

The snapshots of my mother (or the lack of them) speak about who she is- unselfish, caring, the woman behind the scenes.  She gives inspiration to all of us, being a woman of deep faith and courage.  She is known as a sweetheart, but she has more grit and courage than most people I have ever met.  She has always been there.  She has been the unmovable stalwart, the unflinching love, the beautiful architect of her home. 

Today is her birthday – I’m not supposed to share her age, but she looks fabulous (and is fabulous) at the age she is.

Last weekend we hosted a birthday party for her, where all of her children connected at our house and celebrated her life.  Afterwards, they all  went to see Mario in the play, “ Man of LaMancha”, a long-time favorite of our family.  To think that my parents prepared me for the life I inherited is amazing – a sign of God’s incredible providence.

Mom (second from left) surrounded by family - as usual.

Happy Birthday, Mom!  I love you more than words can say – and for a writer, that’s hard to admit.  More than words can say….

My Mom with her twin sisters again!!
Auntie Emmy, Mom and Auntie Molly last Saturday, before leaving for the play

Sunday, March 6, 2016


Lauren tries on my glasses
Thank you to Hannah Joy Photography

Our son David and his wife Lennae have three girls in their family: Laila, Lilli and Lauren.  When people ask me what they're like, I sometimes say that they remind me of the girls in Despicable Me, the animated movie about an over-sized Eastern-European super- villain who has his heart melted by three orphans.  The girls, Margo, Edith and Agnes are sisters, but all have different personalities Margo, (like Laila) is the eldest is parental, protective and precocious; Edith (Lilli) seeks danger and adventure in her everyday life; and Agnes (Lauren), the youngest, is a shining example of all that is magical with childhood.

Agnes, Margo and Edith

There is something special about the baby of a family.  They are well-protected and learn confidence from family.  Lauren is trusting, hopeful, and filled with gigantic expectations of life.  Since she is the baby of the family, all of the love trickles down to her and she is consequently very loving herself.  The last time I visited them, Lauren and I had a game: passing a simple ball back and forth to one another without dropping it (we ended up getting very close to 200).  The simplicity of the game did not throw off Lauren, who was always thinking of how we could improve our record.  We must have tried this game six or seven times before I left.  I was so happy that she wanted to play with me – something I could actually do.

David and Lilli hold Lauren, only two days old.  
Lauren turns seven today.  

I still remember the day she was born – at home in a hot tub (my daughter in law had all her babies in the tub).  David and Lennae had two small girls already and I openly wondered about the addition of that third child.  Most young mothers can tell you that the third child is officially juggling .  I worried that the kids (David and Lennae) might be overwhelmed… with so much work.  There was little I could offer to help –we were living in South Africa.

We were living in Johannesburg when Lauren was born; she changed everything.  We had said goodbye to our family and moved halfway across the world.  I wasn’t sure how to process the birth of one of our granddaughters from such a distance.  Getting the pictures via email filled me with admiration, love and emptiness.  I wanted to be there to at least hold her, but it was near to impossible.

By the time we moved back Lauren was four years old and she barely knew us.  Grateful for her parents, who built toward us, we began the business of reconnecting.  Only one problem – we lived in Cali and the kids lived in Kansas.  We visited Kansas and spent good, purposeful time “giving the kids their rest” and selfishly kidnapping the girls to take them to fun places that we could remember later  as shared experiences.  Whenever we are together, Lauren wants to listen to my stories – she tells me some of her own.  She loves play of any kind and always invites me to be part of her world – a sparkling, glittery wonderland. 
One of Lauren's selfies, taken in January

Last visit she asked me if I wanted to tape her as she did “her funny dance”.  Of course I agreed and got my camera ready – she danced, like a whirling wind sock arms flailing toward the sky,  knees bouncing toward her chin.  I watched it, just today and remembered her beautiful, young  joy. 

There is a line from Dispicable Me, where Gru is putting the girls to bed and Agnes says something adorable.  He looks at her, sadly and says “Never grow up, Agnes.”  It is a temptation of a parent to not want the baby of the family to grow up.  It is even a greater temptation for the grandparent – to wish that the treasured child would stay golden forever.  As with letting go such futile wishes, I have learned how to be a long-distance Abuela.  So much of the experience is built on prayer – and I pray constantly for my grandchildren.

Happy Birthday, Lauren.  As you do grow up, may you take all of this family love with you and bless the world as you have blessed our lives.  You are the sparkles in the air, young lady.