Monday, May 21, 2018


Dad at Easter - April 2018

Today my father has another birthday.  Even though he is in his eighties, his health is fairly good, and he enjoys his life.  At this writing he and my Mom are on a mini-vacation, where they are planning on kicking up their heels and eating good food.  Instead of staying home and quietly celebrating his birthday, he’ll be seeking out new adventures with the love of his life. 

I love my father.  He’s fun, funny, reads a lot, and listens when you talk to him. He understands the power of a good movie, a good joke, a good friendship, and a good wine.  Many of you know my Dad as Deacon Ryan, an office he held in the Catholic Church for years, until he recently retired.  Yet, after so many years living a public life, I am pretty sure that most people still don’t know all the secret wonderful things that make my Dad special. 

I decided to do a mini-trivia game about Dad—even if you don’t know him, see if you can score 100% on this:

1:  Jack’s favorite sport is:
               a.  Baseball
               b.  Hockey
               c.  Basketball
               d.  Football (American football)
               e.  All of the above, as long as the teams are from Boston.

Answer:  A.  As much as he enjoys all sports, my Dad loves baseball the most—he can remember stats and averages of his favorite players for years on end.  He makes friends with random strangers if they can hold their own talking about baseball.  Some of you fell for “e” because you have seen his devotion to the teams from his home city of Boston—especially his beloved Red Sox.  Growing up in our house, I believed in my heart that sports teams from Boston were “just better” than all the rest, simply because they came from Boston.  I also believed that God hated the New York Yankees – and their owners.   

2:  Before he goes to bed each night, he and Jennie have a routine of:
               a.   Setting out their clothes that they will wear the next day
               b.   Saying vespers (evening prayers and scripture reading)
               c.    Watching the Tonight Show
               d.    Having a piece of candy and brushing their teeth.

Answer: B.  Not only do my parents have the same routine every night, they invite me to join their prayer time if I am traveling with them.  These prayers are sacred and the routine reminds me that their life has been a series of many purposeful, steady decisions.  

3.    True or false:  My father is known as “Deacon Ryan” to many of his friends, but the title is an honorary one.  He was asked to help St. Bernard’s Catholic Church with their ever-increasing pastoral demands, and since he was going to be a priest before he met my mother, he decided to become a Deacon instead.

Answer: FALSE!  My Dad was ordained as a Catholic Deacon, a permanent minister of the Church, in 1981 after he and my Mom discerned that calling in his life. It involved schooling at the level of a graduate program, and a commitment that involved the input of his wife, family, program directors, and especially the leaders of our home church, St. Bernard’s.  He met many inspiring friends, teachers and mentors along the way and served the church community tirelessly. After years of participating in this vocation, he retired after 35 years.  He still visits the sick and ministers where he is needed.  The calling is still in his heart. 

My parents with me at my graduation - December 2017

4.   There is always room in my father’s schedule for:
               a.    Organizing newspaper clippings
               b.    walking his dog
               c.    shopping for bargains
               d.    cleaning his glasses with q-tips

Answer:  C.  The joy of finding a good deal, of not paying full price for something that he needs, is nearly immeasurable for my Dad.  I have seen him take great delight in cutting out coupons or watching the sale ads, lighting up like Moses when he finds my Mom’s favorite cereal or a good frozen pizza on sale.   Scoring a bargain, especially when someone near him has paid twice as much for the same thing, proves to my Dad that he knows the secrets to .

5.   The surprising technological joy in my Dad’s life is:
               a.   his iPod
               b.   his Fitbit
               c.    his gaming keyboard
               d.   his e-reader

Answer: D.  Since hardcover books line the walls of the Ryan house, I was surprised that my father found a new slice of tech-heaven in an e-reader, something I never thought he'd embrace.  Although I love my kindle, especially during travel, my Dad surpasses my kindle yearly activity in a month!  He reads primarily on a screen, rather than on the page, like I do.  Dad has learned to love the convenience--and bargains--that are found with his e-reader. 

And so, that's just a sampling of the trivial things people never think to ask. How did you do?  Post your results here! I hope you learned a little bit about my Dad, who is still surprising—even at 84! 

Happy Birthday, Dad!!  I love you!


Monday, May 7, 2018

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo Dancers
(Public Domain Image)

I used to teach elementary school, which colors the way I see most holidays.  In the classroom, my favorite thing to say was: "Let me tell you something the other teachers won't tell you."  It made the students pay attention, as if they were in on a secret.  In a way they were, because our history is full of secret truths.
Cinco de Mayo is a holiday I like to talk about, since it has been so misunderstood over the years.  It has also been a holiday that has deeply affected my heart, forcing me to make peace with my own culturally mixed heritage- my mestiza identity.  
 This starts with my childhood in Tracy, California. 
I grew up with a Mexican mother, Juana, who had her name "American-ized" to Jennie when she was entering school.  I never sensed any conflict in this, and there was not much discussion about how she felt when it happened.  She grew up happy, eventually becoming a secretary for the U.S. Government. My Irish-Catholic father, Jack Ryan, blew into the little cow-town of Tracy from Boston and met my mother, where sparks flew and wedding vows were soon exchanged.  So, Jack and Jennie had five stunning little kids, all completely clueless of how the rest of the world can be.  I inherited the Irish soulfulness from my father, and a beautiful Mexican heritage from my mother.  
In grade school, all of my friends were Mexican.  The first boy I ever loved--with all of my fourth-grade heart--was Mexican.  As I grew, my friends became more white and so did I.  Soon, my heritage was lost inside a myriad of activities: band, guitar, track, writing, speech and debate.
In high school, a few days before Tracy's famous Cinco de Mayo parade (if you've never been to a Cinco de Mayo parade, you are missing a true slice of Americana) I found out, via the Tracy Press, that my sister Shari's friend, Melissa, had been crowned Tracy's Cinco de Mayo queen.  She would preside over the parade as she rode on a convertible surrounded by festive color and flowers.  I was livid...what the hell!  She was like me, an English-speaking girl from an English-speaking family. What right did she have to be Cinco de Mayo queen?  Now she would be adored--like our Lady of Guadalupe--a real Mexican girl.  
I threw the paper down and got ready for school.   What did I care about a stupid Mexican parade anyway?  But as I got my makeup on, tears welled up in my eyes.  It was the first time I felt conflicted about my heritage, and part of me felt orphaned. Besides my perpetually tanned skin and my straight black hair, how much did I show my Mexican heritage?  
In the carpool on the way home, Melissa's reign was the subject of conversation.  
"Did you see that Melissa is going to be Cinco de Mayo Queen?" one of my friends said.  "She definitely was the prettiest one of all the girls who were running."
Everyone agreed, all of us knowing that Cinco de Mayo queens were ornamental--no speeches required or talent exhibited--just sit there and be a beautiful real Mexican-American girl.
"Hey, Janet," one of my other friends said, "Why didn't you run for Cinco de Mayo queen?" He meant it as a compliment, really.  He didn't know how much the whole thing bothered me.  
"I don't have enough Cinco in my Mayo."  I replied flatly.  Everyone thought that was funny, even Mom laughed.  
Even in my attempt at humor, I recognized a strange, misplaced identity.  I didn't know how to do it: be a real Mexican-American.  At my school,  most of the kids I saw as real Mexican kids were Spanish-speaking.  Some were migrants who got free lunches because their parents were working the fields.  They kept to themselves and didn't really seek out my friendship. Real Mexican guys wore cowboy hats and drove trucks--the vatos drove low riders. I could count my real Mexican friends on one hand.  This disparity was killing me.  
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has become a Hispanic Pride Day, where all of the real cowboys get out fancy black suits, big sombreros, and carry Mexican flags as they ride atop horses . All the pretty Mexican girl dancers wore over-sized skirts and made hypnotic circles with them while they danced.  
When I researched the history of Cinco de Mayo, I understood why it was a holiday worth celebrating--why it was the one that Mexican-Americans claimed as their own. 
In 1862, Mexico's recent civil war had caused a national monetary crisis and Mexico was forced to suspend paying the interest on European loans they had taken.  Several European countries had  interests there - France, Spain and Great Britain. The three countries, decided to unite and force the new Mexican Government (led by Benito Juárez ) to pay back the money it owed to them. By the end of the year, European ships occupied Veracruz, Mexico's largest port.  While Great Britain and Spain were there only to negotiate repayment of loans in full, the French Army, under Napoleon III's French orders, took to the land and pursued the Mexican army, hoping to defeat them and make them surrender to Mexico to France.
After several skirmishes with the French, on May 5 in Puebla, a large city between Mexico City and Veracruz, that the French officially underestimated the spirit and the power of the Mexican army and were defeated, badly.  The "superior" French army retreated, losing almost five hundred soldiers while the Mexican army only lost eighty-three. Benito Juárez declared the victory at Puebla significant for Mexico and deemed Cinco de Mayo a national holiday. 
News of the Mexican victory spread to the western US, where Mexican gold miners in northern California were so overjoyed at the news they celebrated by firing guns and singing patriotic songs. Thus, the first Cinco de Mayo party was born.
The Mexican Army's great show of strength on Cinco de Mayo didn't end the war with the French--neither did it scare off their creditors.  It took a lot of time, and many years of battle, for the world to realize that Mexico was not going to stop fighting until they had genuine independence.  After the American Civil War was over, President Johnson, in order to protect American interests, sent the US Army to the Mexican border, in order to show our official support.  It wasn't until 1866, when the French decided to withdraw ("This isn't a surrender, Mexico, we just miss home!") and Mexico was un-officially sovereign.  
Cinco de Mayo Battle in 1862
(Image: Public Domain)

I love strength and beauty of the Mexicans--my ancestors--who are generally underestimated, even now.  The real story of Cinco de Mayo  has a moral: never underestimate the Mexicans!  We are a people who will do more with their hearts than most people can do with their heads.  
As an adult, I have tried to reconnect with this side of my heritage, which is done all year-round. I am currently writing and reading more Spanish than I ever have in my whole life.  Speaking it involves great bravery--I am still so nervous as the words of my heart come out of my mouth.  Español es la lengua de mi corazón...
Yet, it is in the kitchen of my house is where I really become Mexican.  It all started when I learned the secrets of a good enchilada sauce from my grandma, who taught me how to cook all the Mexican staples.  I connect with my heritage when I make masa and roll tortillas, assemble tamales and chop onions.  When I eat menudo, I am Mexican.  
On Cinco de Mayo, I wear a colorful Mexican dress and ribbons in my hair.  I don't have to be the Cinco de Mayo Queen to know I am a real Mexican-American, I already am. 

Monday, April 9, 2018


Vince's First Picture--April 9, 1985

Vincent was born on April 9, 1985. 

He was my first-born son, so his birth changed my life completely.  As most mothers can attest to, the human heart swells to gargantuan proportions after the birth of a child and from that day forward, your life is forever defined as “before” and “after”  that  baby.  One moment, it’s all about you and the next moment, everything is about them, them, them.  I was twenty-two years old when I became a mother to this baby—who is now a man. 

Vince's First Fish--Lake Alpine

I got out my calculator today and figured it out—because I don’t believe it. Today Vince is thirty-three. When I gave birth, I was twenty-three, ten years younger than he is now.  I was oddly unprepared for the task of raising a man, and he grew so quickly, taking big leaps that made my heart swell and break at the same time.  Today he is mechanical minded, strong, and wicked smart.  He owns—and maintains—a big monster truck that scares me.  He is a good father to Scarlett, our beautiful granddaughter, and a wonderful partner to Rikki.  It is a pleasure to see them together as a family.

Vince,  Rikki and Scarlett --Thanksgiving 2016

The cliché that life goes by so fast is very true.  I am grateful for every moment we have together, because the blessing of family is one that I will never take for granted.   

Happy Birthday, Vince!  I love you, my dear son.  As long as I’m living…well, you know the rest.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


At the Cairo Hospital...looking at my true love.

February is a month when couples measure their love by romance:
“He took me to a waterfront restaurant and serenaded me with violins;
presented me with a two-carat diamond; long stemmed roses,
got down on one knee when he proposed. 
We went home and made love in front of a roaring fire; afterward he rubbed my feet.” 

Measures of love that are compared—their spurred talons and greased feathers glittering.

My love resists comparison. 

He stopped taking me to waterfront restaurants after a messy incident when I ordered lobster at market price; and I hope he will never buy me a diamond.  Not after what we’ve seen.
He prefers rosebushes over long-stemmed and his idea of a roaring fire is at the end of a good cigar, but he puts the seat down and replaces light bulbs.

His serenade has stronger arms. 

He once supported my weight as I tried to act normal, walking up a flight of stairs in Cairo
—uneven stone steps that were littered with small candy wrappers and beggars, too afraid to hold out
their wrinkled hands, thinking I might be cursed.  

They stared at me, with frightened expressions that made me believe I was going to die.

 That day, I couldn’t walk by myself, weak from blood loss and dehydration. 
It took all the strength I had to steady myself on my true love’s arm, which stabilized me; his other hand clasped over mine, holding it in place.
We were there to meet a qualified surgeon, who said he could stop the bleeding. 
My love kept whispering, “a few more steps, just a few more steps…”
Even though neither one of us had ever been there.
His whispers, nevertheless, comforted me.  

My measure of romance will always be in the way my true love steadies me,
up the bleak and stony steps that are too difficult to scale alone.   
On steps like these, weak and bloodless with nothing left to give,  I measure my true love’s heart.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


On Sunday, the 4th of February our long-time friends, Matt and Shannon, will take the reins of Capital City Church (CCC) in Sacramento, from our long-time lead elder couple, Rick and Kathy, to become our official “lead elder” couple.  Rick and Kathy are Matt’s parents, and the handover service is the culmination of years of training and preparation for our “new Martinez’s” to lead the people in the way.  

As I thought about writing this, I wanted to find scripture to punctuate why this is so important, finally deciding on Deuteronomy 31, when Moses instructs Joshua in the way he should lead the Israelites…but I realize that particular blog would be better written by someone else.  I’m not a theologian; I’m just Janet.  

I stand here, at another crossroads in my life, bearing witness to a change that will happen right in front of me, one I am excited about and so grateful for. My gratitude is not the kind that floats on the surface, it is more like a submarine gratitude that explores the depths of my soul like a littered ocean floor. 

Rick Martinez has been our pastor for most of our Christian lives.  We met him when we first attended Vineyard, twenty-four years ago, a large church held in a warehouse off of highway 50 and Bradshaw Rd, where we worshiped in passionate joy with  about 700 other folks we called brothers and sisters.  When we first started going, Alicia was four-years-old and Vince was seven.  We grew up there, spiritually and physically.  My friend, Jane Ritzema, taught me how to teach Sunday School and later became a mentor for teaching in general.  We met friends that we are still close with today.  Several new churches were started out of that particular Vineyard.  

Eventually, our eldership—led by Rick—decided to leave the denomination and we became “Journey Christian Fellowship,” worshiping in the same location, but with less people.  Our kids became teenagers during this time.  One year, Rick and Kathy visited South Africa to attend leadership training with a group called New Covenant Ministries.  When they came back, we all went to Brea for a Leadership Training Time (LTT) which led to us meeting Hennie Keyter and Ray Oliver.   They invited Mario and I to go with them on a trip to Malawi—which we did—and our lives changed.  Our church changed its name to Capital City Church International, about the same time that Mario and I  began traveling with teams in and out of Africa and Brazil, all the while growing in Christ.

The only reason Mario and I ever left our church was to move to Johannesburg, when we finally settled it in our hearts that we should live there full time and work into the continent in whatever way we could.  Our church family at Capital City Church sent us away with a grand party, and Rick and Kathy gave us their blessings.  We came back, seven years later, our church family welcomed us with open arms.

We have always been challenged; we have always been safe.

Here’s what I’m leaving out: All those years of attending the same church, being part of the leadership in some way—all those years of living and dying in so many ways—would have been disastrous had it not been for strong leadership and counsel.  I am no different from any bum on the street who does not want to leave their comfort zone and live for anyone else but myself.  It is by the grace of God that I want to be near Him.  It is by God’s grace that Mario and I have enjoyed strong friendship and strong leadership with Rick and Kathy. Every season of our lives have been dangerous in some way or another, and every season has been filled with my own self-pity and self-righteousness in some way.  

Our lead elder couple has taken turns in recognizing our gifts and correcting our path when we start to stray away from God.  Rick and Kathy have lived lives of selflessness and sacrifice, but have never complained or acted like this lifestyle was any kind of hardship.  This is the example they have set; this is what we have seen without fail.

Visiting from RSA -- 2008

So, communicating what it is like to have a lead elder who you love and trust, is a challenge.  There are no words to express the magnitude of the importance a couple like this in our lives.  In truth, the handover would be a sad one if it were not for this: Rick and Kathy will be handing off to Matt and Shannon.

We have faith in this decision, but not just because we hope it will all work out.  In a way, it has been happening for years.  Matt and Rick are truly like Moses and Joshua, and we know that more than just strategy has been exchanged.

Mario and I like to say that we knew Matt and Shannon before their five kids entered the picture—and their eldest is 14.  Part of me feels like proud parents of our cool, young friends who will now be our lead elder couple, but in truth, we are equals and friends before we are anything like parents.  Even after we moved to South Africa, we maintained close contact via email. Mario and I would come home for two weeks a year and visit with only a few friends—usually ones we needed to catch up with on more than one level.  We had what we called “the Martinez day,” which was lunch with Rick and Kathy and dinner with Matt and Shannon.  We would always leave feeling encouraged, always equipped to go on, knowing that they knew our hearts and loved us.

Taken at Burns night 2018--Matt in full beard and suit, Shannon in yellow sweater

Last Sunday, I was kind of verklempt after Rick’s sermon.  I went up to him and said, “Was that your last sermon as our lead elder?”

He just shrugged and said, “I don’t think so.  Besides, I’ll still preach.  Matt better let me preach now and then!” 

Kathy smiled when he said this.  “You know,” she said, “we’re not going anywhere.  We’ll be right here.”

And then we went to a side-room in the church so we could have a planning meeting about our upcoming trip to Mexico. 

On Sunday there will be no sacred ring that is passed from Rick to Matt; there is no holy scepter transferred.  No one will wave loaves of bread in the air, nor will they sacrifice bulls or goats.  There will be a formal exchange, so we can point to the day, like a pile of stones, and say, “That was the day the handover took place.”  On Sunday, there will be service like any other—but we’ll eat afterward and celebrate as family.

That’s right…I have to bring a fruit platter.  Or veggies…Kathy said I could bring veggies.

In a world where churches change leaders like companies change CEO’s, we feel fortunate to have been shepherded so carefully by the same lead elder for most of our Christian lives.  We trust that Matt and Shannon will be up to the task and delight in it as much as Rick and Kathy have. 

While I have been writing, Matt published his own blog about the handover —complete with scripture! 

Thank God.

Click here to read Matt's most excellent blog about what this handover means!

Sunday, January 14, 2018


The SPPOAC Legislative Team with Lt. Governor Leo McCarthy: (l to r)
Mike Lynch, Vic Trevisanut, McCarthy, Lisa Beutler, and Mario Rodriguez

I usually remember most things—especially meeting iconic people—but I cannot remember meeting Vic Trevisanut.  That is why it is ironic that he takes residence inside my important memories of the 1980’s, when I was a young, idealistic girl who wanted to change the world.  Vic was a State Park Ranger and union organizer—a personal friend and colleague of my roommate, Lisa Beutler.  They had the same birthday, and worked together to organize SPPOAC (State Park Peace Officer’s Association of California). Vic and Lisa also had a close friend whose name was Mario, who I would later work for, fall in love with, and marry.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In 1982, Lisa B. and I worked for the Lieutenant Governor, Leo McCarthy.  Lisa was a consultant with her finger on the pulse of the Law Enforcement community and women’s groups—making her invaluable to the office.  I was an accounts payable clerk, thanks to Lisa, who recommended me for the job.  It was my first time in the big city of Sacramento—I came from the small town of Tracy—and most of the time I went to work bubbling over with enthusiasm and gratitude.  Because Lisa and I shared a house, many times I got to hang out with her legislative/law enforcement friends simply because I was around.  It was a wonderful time in my life, being part of an eclectic crowd that included peace officers (mostly rangers), legislative analysts, lawyers, and lobbyists.  Inside of this think tank was Vic Trevisanut. 
Vic seemed to know every legislative bill coming through the California Assembly, especially if it affected law enforcement agencies or their budget.  He worked full-time as a State Park Ranger, but he also gave a lot of hours to the ranger’s union afterward. 
“So, how do you know Lisa?” Vic once asked me.
“I used to work with her,” I answered.  “I was a park aid at the same place where she was a ranger.”
Vic nodded as if he understood, and turned to Lisa.  “Hey LB!  You brought your Park Aid to Sacramento so that she could be your private secretary?”
Lisa shrugged.  “Doesn’t everybody?”
Vic was always making jokes—often about himself—and I liked him.  He made us all laugh, even during intense conversations about legal issues pressing down on the law enforcement community.  That’s how I remembered him.

Fast forward five years, and I was back in Tracy trying to start my life over, with a new baby.  The relationship with the baby’s father ended disastrously, and I was devastated.  I reconnected with Lisa one day, over the phone, and she encouraged me to go get my old job back—at the same State Park where we met. 
“You know who is supervising that park now?  Mario!  You remember him.”
“Kind of,” I answered. Mario, Lisa, their friend, Bartlett, and I shared a dinner together after the Lieutenant Governor’s inaugural.  But Mario was Lisa’s friend, not mine. 
“Go back to Carnegie and apply,” she said.  “Tell them how good you are—or better yet, show them.”
I did.  In my interview, I convinced the new staff that I could do the job better than anyone else.  I also mentioned that I knew Mario and Lisa.  I was rehired, but when Mario— my boss—returned from an extended vacation, he neither remembered me from the legislative crowd in Sacramento, nor approved of my swift re-hire. 
“You were hired illegally,” he told me when he first met me in the kiosk.  “We’re supposed to hire only AFDC recipients.”
“I need this job, please,” I pleaded.  “I have a baby and I need to work to support him.”
He thought about this for a moment, and then, straight-faced and through his mirrored sunglasses said: “You’re out of uniform.  You need a black belt.”
I was able to keep my job, but Mario proved to be a silent and distant employer, compared to the other rangers who had supervised me in the past.  I felt like I was always trying to prove my merit around him.  It wasn’t until Vic called that things changed.
I was sitting in the main office one weekday afternoon when the phone rang.  I answered it, and a man asked for Mario.
“It’s his day off,” I told him.  “Can I take a message?”
“Yeah, just tell him that Vic called.”
I grabbed a message pad (fifty points if you remember those) and wrote it down.  “Alright, Vic, I’ll have him call you back?  Why not give me your last name just in case.”
“I’ll spell it,” Vic said. “Because no one ever gets it right.  It’s T-R-E-V-I…”
“Is this Vic Trevisanut?  Vic?”
“Yeah…” Vic sounded nonplussed on the other end.
“This is Janet, I don’t know if you remember me.  I am Lisa’s friend, her roommate from Sacramento…”
Vic suddenly became animated. “Janet!  The park aid that came with her to Sacramento? How are you?”
“I’m good,” I answered.  This was only half-true.  I was alive. I had a job and a healthy new baby, but I was a city hollowed out from a bomb blast.  I had extremely low self-esteem.  “How are you?”
“Yeah, listen, Janet.  You need to get Mario to campaign for this guy in Daly City who’s running for state assembly.  His name is Mike Nevin; he’s a good guy—really important to Law Enforcement.  Just give me Mario’s number—I lost it somehow.”
I thought for a second.  Giving out peace officer’s phone numbers is strictly forbidden—I was trained to never do this.  It was hammered home several times; a violation of this might mean losing my job.  I needed my job.
“I know you’re not supposed to,” Vic said, reading my mind.  “But you know me and you know that Mario and I are friends, right?”
I did know Vic—and I knew he was friends with Mario.  Vic was also a Ranger. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to, but gave Vic Mario’s phone number anyway.
“Don’t worry, Janet,” Vic said, laughing.  “I promise I won’t tell him you gave me his number—but on one condition.  You have to convince him that he needs to campaign for Nevin.  And you need to come, too, alright?”
“Alright,” I agreed.  I was no stranger to campaigns, and I relished the thought of reconnecting with the crowd I once knew.  I smiled as I said goodbye.
Five minutes later, Mario called the office.
“Janet, this is Mario.  I just talked to Vic Trevisanut.  He told me you gave him my phone number.  I’m pretty sure you have been briefed about this.”
I froze.  I had the sudden urge to release my entire bladder.
“In this case it’s alright, Janet,” Mario continued.  My heart started to beat again and I almost relaxed.  “I know Vic, and we’re friends, but I am a sworn peace officer and you are not supposed to give out private phone numbers to anyone, even if they say they know me.  Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” I said.  “I’m sorry.  I know Vic from Sacramento…”
“Yeah, that’s what he said.  He also said that you were going to help the union by canvassing neighborhoods in Daly City.  He told me that you suggested I be a part of this?”
I shook my head.  Vic was known for assembling an army on short notice using any means necessary.  “Umm… he asked me to ask you.”
“Alright,” Mario said.  He seemed to be putting things together. “I guess I’ll call him back and tell him that I can’t be part of this.  You can do this, but I have too much on my plate right now.”
He hung up; I was pretty sure I was in trouble.
Five minutes later Mario called back.  After pleasantries he sighed. “You know, Daly City is pretty nice this time of year.”
We both laughed.  Vic had talked him into it.

The canvas was well-planned; it was still hard work.  Mario and I covered several neighborhoods together, delivering small house plants to supporters of Nevin.  “Thank you for your support,” I would say, handing a potted plant to a pleasantly surprised constituent.  After a long day of scaling stairs up and down steep hillsides in Daly City, we were exhausted. 
And hungry.
The after-party was at a fancy banquet hall, where a campaign fundraiser was being held for the candidate.  The cost of one plate for the deluxe buffet was ridiculously expensive, but the volunteers were given an appreciation plate.  Vic, Mario, and I (like everyone else who worked the campaign) were given small plates, about the size of our hands.
“What the hell is this?” we asked each other, comparing our little saucers to the normal-sized dinner plates on the donors’ tables.  We were granted as many trips to the buffet as we desired and we definitely made use of this.  I made three trips to the sumptuous buffet, shamelessly mowing down food.  Vic and Mario made several more, all as we relaxed at a comfortable table of eight and caught up like old friends.
I looked up to see Pat Johnston, San Joaquin County’s Assemblyman, walk in and start greeting people.  I gasped. 
“Look, guys!”  I whispered to Mario and Vic.  “There’s Pat Johnston!”
“Yeah?” Vic asked, as if I was overreacting. 
“He’s our assemblyman!  He’s a wonderful representative!”
“Do you want to meet him?” Vic asked.  “It looks like he’s making his way around the room.”
Before I knew it, I was shaking hands with Pat Johnston, smiling and gushing about how I thought he was doing such a good job for our district. 
“You were actually the first person I ever voted for,” I told him, beaming with unashamed admiration.  “I turned eighteen and voted for you as an assemblyman!”
“Thank you,” he said, graciously.  He wore an expression of guarded confusion, as if he wasn’t used to such attention by smiling young women.  It was then, over his shoulder I saw Vic and Mario looking at me.  I could tell that something was wrong by their expressions—like football coaches when a quarterback throws an interception.  It was Mario who pulled me out of the game.
Without even thinking of its effect or awkwardness, Mario interrupted my gushing admiration by whispering loudly in my ear: “You have a big green piece of something stuck between your teeth.”
I froze.  In that moment, I imagined that I could see it, sticking out of my teeth like an olive tree on the side of a cliff.
Without so much as “Oh, please excuse me,” I sat down and dove into my purse for my mirror.  By the time I had pulled it out, I had run my tongue over my teeth at least five times.  When I opened my mirror and smiled, it was gone.  When I looked up, so was Pat Johnston.  I had never before been so embarrassed…and I do embarrassing stuff all the time. 
Mario and Vic came up to me, trying to suppress their laughter. 
“That was the biggest piece of greenery in between someone’s teeth I have ever seen in my life!” Mario said—pity mixed with admiration.
“Yeah,” Vic agreed eagerly. “It was there for ten or twelve smiles!”
I couldn’t help laughing.  It was so embarrassing, but Mario and Vic now were having a good laugh.  Throughout the campaign—which Nevin did not win—I was sentenced to be part of an embarrassing story that Vic retold to anyone who met me. 
Vic recruited, but also united, Mario and I to the Nevin campaign—and others after that.  On the trail, I fell in love with Mario.  Once outside the office, I saw him as a person, not just a boss.  He eventually saw the same humanity in me.  We were destined to be a couple.
Sue Trevisanut, Vic’s wife, was also a person who told good stories.  Their tales were about normal happenings, but were transformed into extraordinary events simply because of the way they retold them.  One story I remember was about the fate of their family pet—a rabbit.
“The rabbit was old,” Vic told Mario.  “It was time for her to go and so…” He made a motion of a quick cut across the neck.  The gesture made me laugh—I thought he was joking.  “So Sue made a big, beautiful stew!”
Sue was laughing as he told this, but also shaking her head.  “The kids came home from school,” she said.
“And they figured it out!” Vic leaned forward to punctuate his surprise. “My daughter came right out and asked us, where’s the rabbit? That’s her, isn’t it?”
“None of us ate the stew,” Sue laughed.  “We had to throw it out.”
Remembering the story through the week made me break out in laughter. 

Last week we got an email telling us that Vic had died.  He had been living in Missouri and had remarried.  His beloved Sue had died before him and their children were all grown with children of their own. It made Mario and I shake our heads in disbelief—and think of how fast time passes when it comes to friends and memories.  I recount all of this as if it happened last week, but when I look at pictures of us back then, Mario has light brown hair and I have big 80’s patterns in my dresses.  We were so young when we socialized with Vic and Sue—and now we have grown to be a couple of our age, wondering where the time has gone.  On his obituary page, fellow rangers share stories like this one and memories they shared with him.  We even saw a message from Vic’s daughter (maybe the one who called him on cooking the family rabbit), a heart-felt thanks to the people who were sharing.  It made Mario and I remember how Vic was so important in the formation of our relationship—even in our lives.  He was a man who meant so much to so many people.
To me, he will always be the guy out in front, bringing everyone together, with that infectious smile on his face and a great story to tell.  If you are going to make friends, make sure they are stand-up fellows whose memories endure the test of time.  
Like Vic.

Vic’s obituary can be accessed here for the next few days:

Friday, December 29, 2017


Taken about 15 minutes ago.  Me and my love...

Mario and I have been married 30 years today!

Tonight, I asked him a question. “I’m blogging about our anniversary later. Are you in?”

He raised his eyebrows and looked at me.  “What do you mean?”

“Come on, babe,” I said, insinuating that he should have been expecting me to ask him about this.  I do this every year, for crying out loud.  “What if someone asked you the key to staying happily married for 30 years?  What would you say?”

Mario looked over his dinner plate—he was polishing off a lamb chop.  “That’s a loaded question.  Can I get back to you?”

I sighed.  “Alright.”

I started cleaning up the kitchen, since my daughter-in-law made dinner, and returned to my desk about fifteen minutes later.  Mario handed me a yellow post-it note.  “This is all I got, sorry.”

I looked down and saw a list, one that he had just written.  Mario is a list-man.  In response to my inquiry, he made a list of what he would answer if someone asked him for the secret to a long and happy marriage. 

“Thanks, babe,” I laughed.  I kissed him on the neck.

“That’s all I got,” he said, shrugging and trying not to laugh.

I should end this blog here, with that cute little story, but I won't. If anyone is curious, I'll explain the items on his list; it’s pretty cool.

Our family decided to use all the props at the photographer's for a humorous family picture

1.  Humor.

Mario and I make each other laugh—sometimes in response to terrible circumstances.  If you want to bond with your partner, laugh together.  Mario has a great sense of humor; I love to laugh.  This makes us a good team.    

Humor is a weapon of love; laughter releases endorphins. Whenever we share humor, we admit that we don’t take ourselves so seriously.  We laugh to connect with each other, but also because we’re both pretty damn funny. 

On a trip to Sudan --2008

2.  Service to each other. 

Mario underlined the word “to” twice.  We are servant-hearted people by nature.  We both believe in the love-language of service to people.  If he asks me to do something, I do it—gladly.  The same is true for him serving me, and I would probably say more so.  

Service gets your eyes off yourself—it is a chance to do something for someone else and in doing this, you invest in their life.  Who better to invest in?

Mario and I after running the California International Marathon --2002

3.  Admiration of each other’s gifts.

Mario is athletic and I have attended more than one wrestling match, track meet, and softball game.  I am his head cheerleader.  He thinks in lists and equations—I admire this tremendously and look to him for his organizational eye when I am writing. I am social and creative; Mario loves to hear me tell stories.  He is my first reader, editor, sounding board, and counselor.  He is wise; I am compassionate.  We know each other’s value and with each passing year, we are more and more grateful for the other’s  incredible gifts.

Our 5-year-old selves

4.  Pics of us at 5 years old.

This is one that I need to explain.  Mario and I have not always been happily married—in fact, we’ve come close to splitting up.  When we were in counselling (about twenty-three years ago) one of our counselors explained that we were essentially fighting with the person inside of our spouse—our inner five-year-olds.   She suggested we carry pictures of our spouse at five-years-old.

When I met Mario, he was my confident boss; I was his beautiful employee.  Once we exchanged pictures of the little kids we once were, my heart broke.  Mario’s portrait was of a careful, frightened boy with messy hair.  His eyes held the sadness of the whole world.  I looked up at him, and realized that my words had been wounding this precious child.  I have never seen him the same—and I carried that picture around for years in my wallet. 

So, the short story is, if you wouldn’t cut a five-year-old child down in your anger, don’t do it to your spouse.  Maybe the other part of this story is—get help if you need it. A good counsellor is worth their weight in gold.

On board the Queen Mary II - January 2017

5.  Forgiveness.

How fitting that this comes after the 5-year old pics. 

Once a fight is over—maybe while it is still going on—make the decision to forgive.  Forgiveness is not some magical feeling that descends from heaven, it is a decision, like love.  Forgiveness is not forgetting, it’s not excusing, it’s not even being nice to the other person.  It’s recognizing the other person said something wrong—or did something bad—and deciding to throw that thing into the sea.

This concept doesn’t apply to behaviors associated with addictions.  Addiction is the equivalent of acid in a relationship. If you have an addiction (to ANYTHING) ditch it.  If you have a negative pattern of doing something, break it.  If you need help, get it.

So forgive.  Often.  Forgive so much it feels like you’re the one doing all the forgiving.  It’s like medicine…

Before Opening night --Man of La Mancha 2016

6.  Humility

Mario wrote (eventual!) in parentheses after this. For those of us who like to be right, humility is a tough concept, but a necessary one.  Think of being on the same, level playing field with your spouse, since you are fellow travelers in this marriage. 

When making decisions, it is important to (eventually) agree.  Have the humility to admit that the other might have a better idea than you, or might know as much and have a different opinion.  So many unnecessary fights are started because one partner thinks they are right and the other is wrong.  Usually, Mario and I are both right—and both wrong—but we listen to each other thoroughly before deciding.  I trust Mario; he trusts me.  We are co-laborers in the same life—what good would it do for one of us to rise haughtily above the other?

7.  Devotion.

I am deeply devoted to Mario, and he is to me. I will think of him first above anyone else; I will never even consider another man the way I do him.  He champions every dream I have, even if it seems inconvenient at this point in our life; I support him in every endeavor. We are each-other’s cheerleaders, best friends, and greatest admirers.  I am loyal to him and he to me.  This devotion might seem sappy or old-fashioned in today’s world, but it works for us.  After all, it is genuine.

Our Wedding Day--December 1987
There's been a lot of prayer since then!

8.  Prayer.

Mario and I are Christians, so we share a common faith. We believe in a God who hears us and communicates with us.  Our prayer life is something that is private, between us and God.  And yet, when we join to pray there is something incredibly intimate and special—and powerful. We both feel very blessed to have this as part of our relationship--and we know it is necessary to our survival.  

So that’s Mario’s list.  I think it is a pretty good list—and to think he did it in just a few minutes makes me laugh.  “That’s all I got,” he said, handing it to me while trying to suppress a laugh. He knows very well that his list is awesome—written on a piece of yellow paper like it’s a simple note. 

In fact, it’s almost like a love letter, isn’t it?