Monday, October 20, 2014


There is a tree outside my window that has leaves that are orange and red and yellow.  The tree is called Barney because when me and Daddy planted it he said we had to give it a name.  I said what about Barney and he said that sounds good.  It was right before he left us.

Barney was a green tree at first and had to be supported by big stakes, just like broom handles.  Daddy dug a big hole in the front yard and he was sweating.  I asked him if I could help and he said just hold that tree son and I did.  When it was time we put Barney into the hole and then covered him back up with dirt.  Mama came out of the house and said that the tree was planted too close to my window and not to be scared if the branches hit my window when the wind blew.  Daddy asked her how do you like the tree otherwise and Mama said its fine.  Then she went back into the house.

That was just before Arnie was born, my little sister.  I think she is cute and shiny but she poos a lot and Mommy is the only one who changes her.  I can’t change her because I can’t stand the smell of poo, even my own poo.  Daddy used to hold her until she pooed and then he’d hand her to Mommy.  She would say I sure would like some support around here she’s your baby too but Daddy said the smell made him gag.  I laughed at the face he made and I said it reeked to high heaven, which is what he usually said.   When I said that both Mommy and Daddy laughed and looked at each other, which was nice.  Then Daddy said you got that right son that diaper sure stinks but I love your sister. Arnie wiggled around while Mommy changed her and I went to find my tricycle.

Later Arnie learned to crawl and Mommie took me to a place called preschool where I met Ted and Tyler and we started a club that climbed on the monkey bars.  We are the climbing rangers, that’s the name of our club.  We like each other and we will not let girls join, which makes me a little sad because there is a girl Sarah who climbs the jungle gym all by herself when we are done.  I wish she could join our club but Tyler says no. 

One day I came home from preschool and Mommie said we need to talk Ben.  She only said that to me one time before and that’s when Rodent my pet hamster died because I didn’t feed him.  I thought I was in trouble but then I saw she had my snack on the table like usual so I walked over there and sat down.  She made me chocolate chip cookies without wall nuts that day and there was a glass of real milk not almond milk for me to drink.  All of a sudden I realized I did something good.  Boy I thought she was gonna tell me something good.

Then Mommy told me that Daddy had moved out and he was going to live with Pop Pop and Grandma for awhile until they figured some things out.  I thought she was joking, so I put down my cookie and went to the closet and all his work boots were gone.  I looked back at her and she was crying which I hate. When she cries it makes everyone in the house sad.  Arnie was wiggling around in Mommie’s lap and trying to reach for my cookies, so I ran back to my place and took a bite of one and pushed my face close to hers, just to show her that it was mine.  Mommie said don’t do that Ben she’s just a baby and so I said sorry and sat back down.  Mommie stood up and blew her nose in the bathroom.  When she came back she sat down and she wasn’t crying anymore so I asked her who was going to mow the lawn.  Mommie said Daddy is still, which made me feel better because Mommie never has the energy to mow the lawn and I don’t know how to.  Besides, I get to help Daddy mow the lawn and Mommie brings us iced tea and its pretty fun.  We stand up and drink it together and say cheers and clink our glasses.  After a few sips of iced tea Daddy says are we ready to get back to work, son? And I say I guess and he starts mowing the lawn again and I look for rocks in front of the lawn mower.  It’s pretty fun to work with Daddy  and I think it would be bad if we couldn’t do it together.

Now at dinner time we eat without him and Mommie cooks spaghetti like normal or sometimes she makes masanya which is really good.  I feel bad for Mommie because she has to watch the news all by herself and say things like how about that to me instead of Daddy.  I’m hoping that she doesn’t want me to start watching the news with her - I can’t because it’s just like poo.  I can’t stand it.
Baby Arnie is starting to take her first steps and Mommie called Daddy three times and said if you want to see her first steps you better get over here but he didn’t come.  Daddy lives far away at Pop Pops and he drinks beer with him and Mommie says Daddy is busy too busy to see his kids.  I know she’s mad at Daddy but she’s nice to me and Arnie so that’s the way it has to be.

Last night Mommie came into my room and said it was supposed to storm and howl and the tree might hit my window.  I looked at Barney and all his leaves were so pretty but they were falling off.  I asked Mommy if Barney’s leaves were losing their coloring fill and she laughed.  She said where did you hear such a thing and I told her that Miss Jenny told us at school.  The leaves on trees turn orange and yellow because their coloring fill goes away.  Without coloring fill they cannot be green and make the air nice and they will fall off the tree.  Miss Jenny said this is called FO TO SIN THE SIS and in autumn we see the leaves change color because they are already dead.

Mommie was smiling at me and she shook her head and said my smart boy are you paying attention in class like you are sposed to and I said yes and she kissed me.  Then she got tears in her eyes and said -everything changes Ben everything changes.  I didn’t know what to say so I said that a square has four equal sides just to see if she would smile again but she didn’t.  She said if you get scared just come into my room and tell me.  I said I would but I wanted to tell her that I’m pretty big now and I don’t get scared anymore.   

When she left my room I looked out at Barney and thought about how he lost his coloring fill and his leaves were already dead they were just hanging on.  They were good leaves but they had no choice – they had to die because trees have seasons and one day they’ll be back. 

There’s been so much change this year for me and Barney.  I think about Daddy and how he and Mommie are living in different houses now but that’s the way it has to be.  Mommie gets sad when she talks about it and Daddy says there’s nothing I can do about it son Mommie just asked me to leave and I had to.  I think I notice that he’s gone the most on Saturdays because that’s when he was a Daddy, not every other day.

I wonder if I’m like Barney, losing my leaves and not knowing it because they were dead already. Day by day I’m changing and now it’s almost winter and I better get a coat soon or else I’ll be cold.  I’m glad I’m not a tree like Barney because soon he’ll be naked like all the other trees on the street.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Saturday is the day that we get paid to read to the patients, at least the ones who don’t have family.  While some patients have the privilege of family members that live nearby and take the time to visit them, others are stranded without much human contact from the outside world.  Because all of the nursing assistants are usually saddled with all of the work of the maintenance staff, Saturdays we are relieved of basic housecleaning duties in exchange for visiting with the residents who are alert enough to know they have no family visiting and wish they would.

I try to choose one patient a week that I haven’t met before; I’m relatively new here so I haven’t met all of the patients.

“I’m Sophie,” I introduced myself to Wanda, a woman dressed in a dark blue dress and seated in her wheelchair.  As I held out my hand to shake, she placed hers lightly in mine, as if I were supposed to kiss it.  I wiggled the weak offering, her papery white skin shifting in my fingers.

“I’m Wanda,” she said softly.  Something told me that Wanda knew I was her compulsory reader; she wasn’t impressed.  “I am actually fine today, dear.  You can move on to someone else who needs a visitor more than I do.”

I sat down on the orange straight backed chair next to the bed, neatly made up with its harvest gold bedspread in place.  “Actually, I’m trying to meet everyone.  I’m new here.”

Wanda managed a little smile.  “Oh, well…”

“Do you mind if I stay?  I was hoping I could just get to know you.”

Wanda nodded, carefully examining my face for a motive.  She was a thin woman, probably in her mid-eighties, with pale skin and a shock of white hair, combed straight back.  That day she was wearing a pearl brooch, which looked carefully placed on the blue chiffon dress. 

“Is that a dove or an angel?” I asked, pointing to it. 

Wanda followed my eyes down to her brooch; she shrugged and looked up again.  It was then I noticed her eyes were blue.  “One of the nurses brought it back for me from her vacation.  I didn’t have the heart to ask her what it was.”  Her odd confession made us both laugh.

“Yeah, it’s the thought that counts, right?”

“Exactly.”  Wanda was eyeing the book I held in my hand.  “Is that what you’re reading?  Is that why you wanted to get to know me?”

I looked down at the brown hardcover I had chosen from the shelf in the main dining room:  “Murder at Glass River.”  It seemed as good a book as any and had a decent sized font.  “This seemed like an interesting title, do you like mysteries?  I think it’s a mystery.”

“It’s a murder mystery,” she said.

“Yeah, a murder mystery.  Have you read it?”

Wanda waited before she answered. “Yes.”  She was looking at me suspiciously, and it made me nervous. 

“I could go choose another one.”

At this point, Wanda put her frail hands on the wheels of her chair.  She looked like she was trying to turn toward me or maybe leave the room.  I started to stand up to help her when She pointed at the cover. 

“I wrote that book,” she said, wiggling her finger at the title.  “Is this why you wanted to read it to me?”

I looked down at the cover and saw the title again, then looked at the binding to see the author’s name: Wanda Ferris.  My face grew warm and I looked up at her again.

“You’re Wanda Ferris?”

She smiled again.  “Yes, I am.”

“This is you?”

She laughed a little.  “Yes.”

“Why are you here?” I blurted out, maybe a little too loud.  I regretted saying anything as soon as the words left my mouth. 

For some reason, the question didn’t surprise Wanda.  She smiled and put her hands back in her lap, straightening her dress as she did.  “Why am I here in this convalescent hospital, or why am I here in a Medicaid room with two other patients?  Why am I here on visiting day with no one around me?  Why what?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, my face reddening even more.  “I didn’t mean anything by that.  I just meant…” I shifted in my seat, which suddenly felt stiff and unforgiving.  “I ... I’ve never met an author before, and this is quite a coincidence.”

Wanda shook her head.  “I thought that maybe one of the other nurses told you I wrote that book and that’s why you came over here to read to me.  Most of them know that’s one of my books.”

I shook my head.  “Really, I didn’t know.”

“Oh, then it really is a coincidence.”  There was an awkward silence and I felt embarrassed for both of us.  The room that Wanda was in was a low-cost shared room, one where the Medicaid and social security were taken as payment.  It wasn’t like the nicer rooms in the east wing: private rooms where there was actually real furniture.  I also wondered where Wanda’s friends and family were; was she all alone?  How could I ask her?

“How many have you written?”  I finally got the nerve to ask her.

Wanda put her hand next to her ear.  “What was that?”

“How many books have you written?” I said, louder.

She smiled.  “Oh, about ten or so.  I’ve only had eight published, though.  That series there sold the most.  Everyone seemed to love that murder mystery series.”

“Well, should I read it aloud to you?” I was now curious to read it myself.

“Are you a student working here part-time?”  Wanda asked, out of the blue. 

I smiled.  “Yes, how did you know?”

Her eyes sparkled and she nodded.  “You’re young, like most college students.  This is a college town and jobs are scarce sao a lot of them work here.  I’ve never seen you before and it is October; you must have just started your fall semester.  Also, you seemed relatively impressed that I wrote a book, a lot of people wouldn’t care but students do.”

I couldn’t help but be impressed.  “Yeah, that’s about right.”

Wanda shrugged again.  Maybe it was a habit of hers; I didn’t know her well enough yet to know for sure.  “Why don’t you take the book home and read it and then when you work next we can discuss it.”

I nodded.  “I’d really like that.”

“For now, tell me more about yourself,” She put her elbow on the armrest and then her chin in her hand.  “What are you studying?”

I sat back in the chair, wondering if I was allowed to talk and not read.  For the moment, I didn’t care.  I was wondering if all of the patients were this interesting.  I doubted it; it was impossible to know for sure.

“Music,” I said, finally.  “In fact, I can play three different instruments.” 

And we sat there and talked for an hour or so before the sun made the long shadows that told me it was almost time to go home.

Friday, September 26, 2014


September 2014

Harmony will be five years old, meaning that she is filled with beauty and wonder and curiosity. On our “nature walks” (so named by her) she picks up items that we find and asks questions about them. Once we get home, she glues them to large pieces of paper and proclaims them to be her "work paper".  Her collages are starbursts of pine needles, leaves, pieces of pine cones and a red signature at the top: HARMOnY.

The collages will be with me at the moment of my death – that’s how embedded in my heart they are – that’s how important they are to me. 

Born on September 27th, 2009 - surrounded by love and expectation, Harmony didn’t breathe for her first minutes of life.  We watched, helplessly as doctors massaged her little body and I prayed for the Spirit of the Resurrection to breathe life into her.  When she finally took breaths and became rosy, we all breathed sighs of tearful relief and took oodles of pictures of her.  We haven’t stopped;  Harmony has to be the most photographed child in the world.

Harmony learned to crawl and then walk; make sounds and then talk; and finally call us Grandpa and Grandma – all while we were in Africa.  When we returned to the USA, Harmony was filled with love and joy that we were home.  It took a year of once a week visits before she stopped asking when we were flying “home to Africa.”

These once a week visits to Chico have been wonderful – all filled with the life that is found in a home of small children.  My daughter warns me (as I warned my own mother) to follow her rules with them and not spoil them.  I try my hardest, but it is a feat of note.

She loves to dance, sing, play games, dress up, talk to strangers (like her mother), play with kids her age (my friends!), and most of all - be read to.  My absolute favorite thing is savoring books that I used to read to her mother as we sit against her bed.  As we marvel at the words and illustrations, she finishes the sentences, just like her mom used to. 

“Oh, Grandma,” Harmony will say spontaneously, during our together times.

“What, honey?”  I’ll ask her.

“Oh, I just love you so much.”

That last part is said in her voice which I will never be able to capture with words, no matter how great of an artist I am. 

The love and joy she brings to our lives is irreplaceable and my heart is swollen at the thought of her.  Happy Birthday, Harmony – you are one in a gazillion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Some people are solid gold in your life. 

I met Sue in Los Angeles and right away we were laughing.  I was with my friend, Nicole and we already had the giggles.  I had turned to greet some other folks at the large conference we were attending and as I turned back , Nicole was involved in deep conversation with a petite redhead who seemed happy to have found her. 

I still smile, remembering our first meeting being swept into the most beautiful conversation with her – eventually being struck with terrible, uncontrollable laughter that called attention to ourselves.  We were guffawing so hard it made others stare…and eventually laugh along. 

That’s how I met Sue.

She and I became friends – good friends, although it doesn’t take a lot to love her and become good friends with her.  She is the kind of person who has several good friends.  I just like to think I’m one of her besties….

When  I lived in South Africa, Sue and I were confidantes, having deep, open communication that I thirsted for there and found rare.  If it weren’t for friends like Sue, I think I would have died.
With Sue, I just died laughing.

Sue is a JOY EXPERT.  She works as a Joy activist, a motivational speaker employed by corporations to encourage their employees to lighten up – and become more productive in the process.  This is a dream job for Sue – one that I never knew could exist …until she made it so. 

Sue has recenltly found herself among an elect few that have been given the chance to compete for their dream come true – sponsored by Vodacom (South Africa’s premier communication company).  Sue’s dream is to get Johannesburg laughing together – it truly is an incredible feat.  If anyone can do it, Sue can.  My favor that I ask of you today is that you VOTE for her here:

I am sure our votes can make her win this thing –  LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL!!!

Friday, September 12, 2014


Gran and I - October 2011

Her name was Gertie, but she introduced herself as “Gran”.

“I’m Gran to everyone here,” she laughed.  “No matter how old they are, I am Gran.”

“That’s not true,” my friend Joy said from across the room.  She was officially the leader of our Wednesday morning prayer group and therefore in charge of order.  “I will always call you Gertie and we are both Grandmothers!”

I smiled at the close bond they seemed to have.  Instead of contradicting her, it was a gentle reminder that they were long-time friends and in this thing together.  The other women in my prayer-group had also known her for a long time, as well.  I was the new one – newly arrived from America –new to the prayer group.

“I’m a grandmother, too,” I said quietly.  The ladies looked at me. 

“Well, you’re a young Gran,” Gertie said, smiling. "It's not the same as being an older woman, like me."

Gran knew the Bible well, especially the part about older women being "reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored." (Titus 2:3-5)

For some reason, Gran took this challenge seriously, and taught us all like she was commissioned by God Himself - and in a way, she was.  I loved listening to her stories of faith and words of comfort – older women have a way of looking back on time that’s passed and saying “Look how faithful God was there!  Do you see?”  

That’s what I love about hanging out with women who are older than me… They are patient with the challeges of today because they've lived through so many challenges already.

It didn’t take long for me to see that Gran was this way for many of the women in our church.  We all saw her as a pillar of faith – a woman who had been through so much and still shone with expectation of what was coming next.  She had sparkle in her eyes and warmth running through her veins.  She lived each one of her days. 

Before Mario and I moved away from South Africa, I visited her at the residence of her son and his wife – our dear friends, the Myburgh’s.  They had retired from Johannesburg and moved to a tranquil piece of land near George that had as much wild as disciplined gardens.  Queen proteas were everywhere, and Gran was able to see them as she sat in her favorite seat by the picture window.

“Gran, you look amazing,” I told her. 

“I don’t like all of these spots on my face,” she laughed.  “Other than that, I can’t complain.”  

We talked a little about her life at the farm, the way she had classic aches and pains and her readiness to go to heaven.  “I think sometimes that God has forgotten about me!” she joked.  “I have to remind Him that I’m ready to go on and be with Him.”

“I think he knows,” I tried to reassure her.

“Tell the ladies at prayer that I still can pray,” she said, emphatically.  I told her I would.

Today I received the news that God remembered Gertie and took her to be with Him, finally.  From my calculations, she was 97 and 5 months old.

I know she’s in a better place, I know she is finally out of pain, but the world has really lost someone special.  She was a classic “woman of faith” – a woman of prayer and a woman who believed God is who He says He is. 

She will always be an inspiration for me to live each one of my days.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


They say All Americans know what they were doing that morning.  My memories are here:  a new teacher, a worried mother and a robotic urge to continue...

It was the first week of school, and my first year of having a classroom all to myself (I was the “teacher” after spending years as a teachers' aide).  I had spent the summer getting  ready to host young gifted and talented kids, all who would call my classroom home for the coming year. 

That morning my own kids, Vince and Alicia, were getting ready for school and I was trying to not be late.  I had been getting ready in my room as quickly as possible, thinking of all the things I had to do that morning.  I had agreed give Justin, another student whose mother worked downtown, a ride to school.  I was busy thinking how I would get my two teenagers mobile, loaded into our van, and pick up Justin - and stay on schedule.

Somehow we were all  were in the van on time and as we made our way to Justin’s, we were fairly silent.  

Mornings have never been a chatty time for me - even after two cups of coffee.

My phone rang and I answered it – it was Mario. 

“Where are you?” he asked. He sounded panicked. 

“On my way to pick up Justin,” I said.  

"Pull over," he said.  My first thought was that maybe one of our grown children was in trouble, or had been hurt.   My second thought was that he was being called out to some riot or skirmish (he had a high-profile job with the Department of Justice).

“Are you pulled over?”


 By the looks on their faces, Vince and Alicia could hear what their dad was saying.  They were attentive to his voice on the other end of my small cell phone, since he was speaking so loudly.

“Okay,” I said as my van idled on a random corner that overlooked the back of Justin’s house. 

“The World Trade Center has been hit,” he said.  I didn't understand the magnitude of what he was saying.  Hit?  How?  My ears started ringing. Mario’s parents lived in New York City.  I thought of their safety, but I needed to know more….

“How?” I asked. 

“A plane crashed into the North Tower and then another one crashed into the South Tower,” he said.  

"A plane crash?"

"It was purposeful..."

A flash of information fluttered like confetti  in my mind: Attack. Terrorism.

There had been a similar attack a few years before- the WTC was targeted by Muslim extremists and a car bomb failed to bring the tower down.  The Jewish Banking System’s capital was there and things had been heating up between the oil dependent USA and the oil providing Middle East.   

I could hear a commotion from Mario's side of the phone, and he gasped.  “Both Towers have collapsed.”


What did that mean? 

I felt slapped in the face, but I faced the kids, who were looking at me.  “The World Trade Center was hit by two airplanes,” I said. 

“And the Pentagon,” Alicia said.  She knew something I didn’t and the news didn’t seem as surprising to her. 

“What!?” I asked, panic now in my voice.  Mario was still in my ear on my phone.  “The Pentagon, too?”  I asked both of them. 

“YES!” Mario said.  “The Pentagon, too.”  HE was distracted – I could tell he was watching news reports – probably with others in his office.    

“Were you watching TV this morning?” I asked Alicia.  

In the middle of this emergency, all I could do was to chide my daughter for breaking house rules that morning.  We didn't allow TV before school.

“Yes,” she answered.  I nodded, but I looked back at Vince.  The news seemed surprising to him, but he looked at the clock and then back at me.  We were going to be late for school.

“I have to go,” I said to Mario.  I was in shock but I knew I had to function for the kids.  I also thought about the kids in my classroom – and their families.  I had to pick up Justin.  I had to get Vince and Alicia to school.  I  saw the future as the next half-hour of my life.  Get Justin- get to school.

“I’ll be home as soon as I can,” Mario said before he hung up.  Translation: we will all soon be home- all of us together.  Safe or not safe – together.

Justin knew what was going on and started to talk about it in the van.  It gave us all license to speculate what had happened.  All of us seemed to know it was a terrorist attack and that it was most likely coming from Muslim extremists.  

This was not over.  

I knew school would be a good  place for them all to process this thing together.  Teens need peers to process.

By comparison, I was going to a classroom of kids whose main support were their parents.  I would be the “delivery system of normal and safe” that I was trained to be as a teacher.  Would any of them be there?

We had drills for fire, earthquakes and floods.  We even had emergency drills for school shootings now.  What we didn’t have was emergency drills for terrorist attacks coming from the sky – no one in the USA did then….

I drove to school, my heart in my throat and a feeling of wariness.  I had to get to school.  What would I do?  What would I say to the kids?  I drove, carefully.  I tried to react to everything carefully.  I arrived at school, the parking lot bustling with familiar scenes: kids dashing to the halls to chat with each other, parents dropping off...

I knew better than to demand my kids kiss me before they exited the vehicle.  I would check on them later....

I walked toward my classroom that morning, smiling at the kids on the playground. On the way to my classroom the principal, Pastor Greenfield, stopped me to see if I had heard the news.  

"I have!" I whispered, carefully.  "You want to give me some direction on how I should conduct myself this morning?  What should I say?"  I felt very scared and cautious.

"Why not follow their lead?" he said, rather comfortably.  "See if the kids bring it up.  If they do, explain that they are safe here and that it will be a normal school day.  Encourage prayer.  God is in control, as always."

He turned to another teacher who asked him the same thing; I walked slowly toward the classroom to begin the strangest, normal day of my life.  I was the one who was supposed to be calm and provide peace?  Tall order for me...

That morning I realized how vulnerable our country was to random acts of terrorism. 

That kind of feeling doesn't go away easily.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014


When you name a child, it begins as an idea in your head.  By the time it is associated with a person, that person is a baby that you are just getting to know.  As a grandparent, we have watched six children receive names from the heads of our own children – names that now flood us with emotion and images of a granddaughter.

Our first grandchild is Laila Willow.

Can I say that again?  Laila Willow – Laila Willow – Laila Willow.  There has never been a name so well suited to a child that I can think of - although I didn't always think this way.  Hearing it from David for the first time made me choke on a cracker. 

“Laila Willow Rodriguez?” I asked David over the phone (I have never been able to mask my surprise or disapproval well). 

“Yeah,” I could hear him smiling on the other end of the phone.  Either that or he was rolling his eyes.

“Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?”

“Janet…” Mario warned me from the extension.  He is very good at accepting news – even when his first grandchild was going to be given a hippy name in front of our traditional Spanish surname.

“It’s beautiful,” I finally corrected myself.  “I’m sure it will grow on all of us.”

Laila was born on the 31st of August, a day that changed my life. 

“Things will never be the same for us,” I whispered to Mario as we went to bed that night.  We kissed, and I felt very lonely for her.  She was born in Kansas City and we couldn’t afford the trip out to see her.

By the time I saw her in person (thank God for email and the power of digital photography) she was already walking.  She had the biggest green eyes I had ever seen and they were carefully watching me as she clung to her mother as they got off the airplane. 

“Can I hold her?” I asked, extending my arms.  Laila objected, shrinking back into Lennae. 

“Maybe later,” Lennae said.  “That was the worst flight.  I need a drink!”

We talked about their flight from hell as we drove home, Laila observing me with her huge eyes, not speaking at all. 

Later that visit, she finally warmed up to me.  She liked things like frozen blueberries, bubbles and hiding in the curtains.  She was a sheer delight and as soon as she spoke, I dropped everything just to hear her voice.  I cannot tell you how it affected me, other than to compare it to an adolescent obsession I had with the Bay City Rollers. Every time she spoke, I froze and listened closely, my heart in my throat.

She grew into a precocious girl, speaking in whole sentences and proving herself to be a brilliant thinker.  She became a great big sister to Lili and Lauren, who followed closely behind her, having a perfect balance of protective-ness and antagonism.  Early on we noticed an unusual genetic disposition to tell very corny jokes (just like her father) and we laughed that he would have to endure all of the corn we did as parents.

While we were in Africa, she entered school, made BFF’s, learned a musical instrument and became quite accomplished at gymnastics.  Now, when we talk on the phone she is always busy with a new hobby or business idea.  She is (honest to God) the most precocious child I have ever met in my life.

Today she is eleven years old. Whoever said “time flies” must have had grandchildren. 

I still remember the magical day she said my name.  We had been outside, blowing soap bubbles while her mother snapped pictures of us.  As the sun went down, I went upstairs to go to the bathroom.  As I ascended the stairs, she followed me.  

She turned to her mother and said, “Where is Abuela going?” 

I stopped where I was and my heart melted.  I didn’t care what happened in my life after that – my granddaughter called me Abuela.  It was like a bolt of sugary lightning that made my whole being feel loved. I was a grandmother to this wonderful little person! 

I admit, I still haven’t gotten over it. 

Happy Birthday, Laila Willow.  Your name is the perfect explanation of you - you are unique, solid and beautiful.  Everyday when I count my blessings, you are right there -a breathtaking picture of how much God loves me.  I love you so much, honey.