Sunday, August 28, 2011


My friend, Audrey, in Diepsloot

There is no gene for the human spirit.

Emily Dickinson is said to have lived a neurotic life, rarely leaving her home in her 55 years, wearing white and hardly speaking.  She is said to have suffered from  "Bright's Disease",  not really a disease, but a term invented to describe medical symptoms including kidney disease and hypertension.  In the days she lived, however,  she was a prolific writer of heavenly verse, penning words that have an other-worldliness about them, floating like clouds to describe everyday thoughts we all have had.  She explained, in poetry, eternity in a way that was beautiful and thought-provoking. 

George Washington Carver was born into slavery in Missouri, his exact birthdate unknown, since he was more property than he was a person.  When he was only a week old, he and his mother were kidnapped by night raiders.  His master , Moses Carver,  tried to get them back, but was only able to find the baby, George.  After slavery was abolished, Carver and his wife raised George their own, teaching  him the basics of reading and writing.  His schooling consisted mostly of reading, since blacks were not allowed into public schools.  After applying to several colleges, and being rejected because of race, Carver finally achieved a Masters Degree at Iowa State.  He then became a professor at Booker T. Washington’s college.  In his day, through much adversity, Carver developed  and promoted alternative crops to cotton, ( peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes), aided nutrition for farm families, published  44 practical bulletins for farmers,  developed and promoted about 100 products made from peanuts (including cosmetics, dyes, paints, plastics, gasoline and nitro-glycerin) and received numerous honors for his work.

Stephen Hawking is a physicist and writer, born with a motor neurone disease that is related to ALS.  In its progression over the years, this disease has left him almost completely paralysed.  Still, his interests in astrophysics and subsequent degrees and writings have called attention to his brain, and have inspired others to ask questions about the universe.  His strange and unusual curiosity of space, have produced many elevated theorems, including one that says black holes should emit radiation.  To this day, the radiation of black holes is called “Hawking radiation”. 

The eternal benefit of the lives of Dickinson, Carver and Hawking was not genetic.  It wasn’t especially passed down from their parents.  It was imparted from another source, squarely into their spirits. 

Today, I was reminded of this as I handed out taxi fare to people at church who had made their way to church and were now looking for the fare back home.  Taxi fare to church from the local township is eight rand, or in American money, about a dollar ten.  This is a lot of money in South Africa, and those who come to church are determined to get there, regardless of cost.  They inspire me. 

As I was waiting on the line of people, I was realizing that I had no help (my friend who helps every Sunday was expecting guests at home and had to leave early).   I asked my friend, Portia to help me.  She agreed, setting down her Jimmy Choo bag and letting her kids play soccer on the outside courts while she followed me upstairs to help.  Portia speaks four languages, and I value this, especially when it’s time to hand out taxi fare. 

“Are you part of a CMG?” she asked those in line as they signed for taxi fare.  The City Ministry Group is where the church meets in homes  mid-week,  supporting each other and praying for each other  like a family would.  The people who are not part of a CMG are given the opportunity on Sunday mornings, to connect with a CMG leader.  As Portia connected with folk, I handed out money, making the line shrink down to a few older ladies with children. 

I got to a woman who held out her hands to me, gnarled from arthritis and worn from washing.  She smiled and asked me to pray for her.  She had waited at the back of the line so that she could talk with me, after hearing that I had long ago been healed of arthritis.   We prayed together, and I hugged her, touched at such an incredible opportunity to get to know her better.  As we talked, Portia joined in, encouraging the woman not to give up.  The woman broke down in tears, and we all comforted her, telling her that we are all living with things that hurt, but we must go on. 

She left after awhile, a little encouraged, but in her face, I saw how tired of life she was.  The whole thing made me sad, and Portia could see it. 

“Shame!” Portia said.  This saying, ‘Shame!’,  is a South African colloquialism for ‘Poor thing!’ or ‘What a sad story!’     

I nodded, cleaning up the cash box.  Flata, our friend was with us for the whole exchange.  She agreed, “That woman is tired!”

“Yes,” Portia said.  “It’s difficult, living without a husband in poverty, but you must laugh and go on.”
I looked at Portia’s face, so young and beautiful.  She glows from optimism not seen in this world often.  It is sometimes hard to believe that Portia is poor, and living in a shack, and a widow at 31.  Her two boys are stars on the soccer field and in the classroom and she has favor wherever she goes.  She just looks like a winner, someone who will conquer life, no matter what it throws at her.  Why would Portia be this way, and that poor woman we had just prayed for seem so defeated?

We all walked downstairs to the Family Day we were hosting, saw kids bouncing around in Jumping castles and two fields of soccer games being played.  People sat on the patio under shade umbrellas sipping drinks and eating snacks, talking and laughing.  It was the most wonderful picture of a spring day: so colourful. 
My eyes scanned the scene for our lady who left weeping.  She was nowhere to be found.  I thought of her face, her eyes, her sideways wig and her painted on eyebrows.  What would make her feel happiness?  What would make her wake up in hope tomorrow?

The desire to go on is not a desire that is learned or is given genetically.  It comes from a different place.  I can only think that it comes from God, knowing that the next day will be better, possibly spectacular.  The human spirit is a powerful, amazing thing.  We can bounce back from a terrible incident and decide to go on.   We can live without things we never thought we could live without...and still laugh or find happiness.   We can think or create or read or write and bring beauty to the world.  

Or we can give up.

Depending on our spirit... and the spirit we take from God.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011


An Acacia Tree
Today I walked my dog our usual route around the dirt roads that surround the community where I live.  I was awakened from  deep thought by someone whistling at me:  whistling, like a man would whistle at a  hot babe.  
Looking up, I saw him: a myna bird, sitting on the top of an acacia tree.  Africa is filled with a great variety of birds.    It also is famous for the beautiful parasol tree, the acacia.    
When I first got here, I couldn't pass by an acacia without stopping to look at it.
 Today I almost missed it.   
We've now been here in Johannesburg for four years.  We've just become permanent residents, actually wading through the oceans of paperwork  that Home Affairs had for us, and giving us a new page and a new permit in our passport.  
Today, the whistle of this little bird woke me up.  How much beauty have I missed while I have been accolpishing ordinary short-term goals that I had allowed to dominate my life?  While I live my life in the purpose of helping others, had I forgotten how to deeply appreciate their beauty? 
Little details of beauty spotted my day today.  I visited a local preschool to take pictures for a newsletter we were circulating.  Its principal, Petros, is a friend of ours.  He works closely with us at our local church, and is a joy to be around.  

Petros - Mother Touch

Petros' life is pretty much taking care of the little details of children's lives in Northern Johannesburg, on a picturesque plot of land bordering a local township.  The preschool he runs is called Mother Touch Academy, dedicated to providing kids with low cost and high quality education for the children of working parents.  Because of its nature, it has evolved into a very strong spiritual influence as well.
In the effort to provide care for the children of working parents, Mother Touch has essentially accepted the fact the the low-cost offer of care will sometimes be "no cost" if the parents lose their jobs, or fail to have a contract renewed.  This is commonplace among the working poor here in South Africa, where you can be employed on Monday and out of a job on Thursday.  Rather than removing the kids from school, Mother Touch allows the children to stay enrolled, while the parents pay what they can until they find employment.   Reality: the school is not a money making operation, but more of a ministry.    
 When I got to the school today, it was naptime, and all of the kids were on blankets on the floor either sleeping or trying to sleep.  Usually, the swarming, noisy kids are erupting with life and posing for the camera, so I was touched by their angelic faces as they slept.  They reminded me of my own kids at that age.
Maybe that is what touched me.  
I realized, during the picture taking, that most of these kids were like mine, born in to a less than perfect world, but all wanting to have fun with each other and have a secure life.  Their friends were their friends and their families were their family.  There was no complicated facts that polluted their day to day life.  
What they did know, even at this age, was that their world was one of poverty, and many times their most nutritious meal would be here, "at school".  The formative years of these laying still were being changed by the small glimpses of safety and refuge, in the form of this nursery.


 I made small talk with Petros, who walked me out to my car as I left.  I exited the property and drove through the township, seeing the stark contrast between the quiet naptime of  Mother Touch and the noisy streets of Diepsloot.  
As I write, I am wide awake to the beauty of  Jesus' life, lived through us,  devoted to touching others with His love in the form of little acts of kindness. 

Monday, August 22, 2011


A candid shot of Vince and I, playing video games

From KFC I phoned Vince to tell him I arrived in the metropolis of Bloomfield, the largest city I had seen since Albuquerque. 

"Oh, good!" he said, "I'll be there in a few minutes."

I waited, knowing better than to get my camera out to take pictures of our reunion.  Vince hates pictures.  He also hates looking like a tourist.  He struggles with my desire to catch every moment of significance on film.  

It wasn't long before I heard the low, powerful purr of his exhaust system.  His silver Honda Civic, amped up with all kinds of goodies (young people today say "pimped out", but I can't get used to the description), was turning the corner into the parking lot.  I saw him, with Riki beside him, and got tears in my eyes.  For effect, Vince revved his engine, and raised his eyebrows at me, cigarette dangling from his mouth.  It snapped me out of it  - this was my grown son, not my baby.    

Still, it was awesome to see him, and I hugged him, thanking him for awesome directions and supervision.  He admired my rental car, like I cared, while I greeted Riki Jo, his girlfriend.   

We drove to his place, where I met his friends that I had only seen on facebook.  They were awesome, welcoming.  Vince said "This is the McGlassons.  They're my oldest friends in New Mexico."  They both objected at the same time .  "Hey," Nikki said, "We're not old!! We've just known you a long time!"  It was hilarious.  Since Vince moved to New Mexico from Sacramento, his work had mainly consisted of working the oil fields that I had just passed coming here.  Recently, he became part of the oil company's metal shop, and though he enjoyed the work, he did miss family.  Friendships become incredibly important when you are so separated from family.

I finally saw Vince's room from the doorway.  "Here it is!" I said, referring to the backdrop of most of our SKYPE phone calls.  The Chinese flag, a Nelson Mandella backdrop, the headboard of the bed, and the computer which was (strangely) against a wall - the porthole to seeing my son over the airwaves.  For some reason, it seemed smaller, and I never had seen the biggest thing in the room.  

"Whoa! Look at your flat screen!" I looked at the mammoth screen that dominated the wall opposite the bed.  

"Yeah, that's an HDTV," he said.  A must for any gamer or movie aficionado that Vince was. I laughed.  

"Have you told Riki about your deprived childhood?"  I joked.  Our kids were raised by us having one TV with rabbit ears antennae, and a very solid movie collection where we introduced them to fine film (all of them have impeccable taste).  While all of their friends grew up with Nintendo and X-Box, it was a banned entity in our home.  Their adult lives, now, are all filled with fine tech equipment from stereos, to X-boxes and laptops.   All of them are experts and tech-heads now.  We should have banned mathematics.

We decided to check in to my hotel and have Mexican food.  My first night was spent catching up with them over a plate of green chile rellenos (New Mexico is famous for the picante bite of a green chile sauce).  Great salsa, great chips, great conversation, sitting across from them and chatting over a sparkling purple Margarita.  I should have ordered the red sauce and the plain lime Margarita...other than that, the night was perfect.  

The Animas River from the road.
The next day we visited Durango, Colorado, a neighboring town in the neighboring state of Colorado.    

"As soon as you get to Colorado, the terrain changes," Vince told me.  It was true, Colorado became green and gorgeous with the Animas river (a challenge white-water river) coming in and out of the roadway view.  

Durango Center
We soon got to Durango, and decided to walk the streets of Old Town, which was like any American Old Town experience: a western-flavored streets filled with charming shops and great places to eat.  In its streets we walked and chatted more, shopping less than talking.  The city was a distraction for visiting.  

In front of an old time candy store

It was a blast, walking around.  Even the garbage bins reminded me of the stark contrast between America and South Africa.

The following day, Vince and Rikki adopted a kitten named Eddy (their beloved Blue Russian, Fred, had gone missing two and a half weeks before).  It was an interesting process, and seeing their affinity for cats reminded me of all of the ones we owned in the past. 

Eddy (a kitten and a sibling of three others available for adoption) cried all the way home, even though Riki soothed him the best way she could.  He adapted quickly, but we could tell he had been dehydrated in the kennel by the way he was reacting to food and water.  The new addition to Vince and Riki's life mant that our time together would have to be spent where they stayed, only venturing out a couple of times, once to go to a local fair and later to have dinner. 

It meant a lot to be part of their day-to-day lives, so full of "ordinary-ness" that I am not a part of, being so far away.  I felt like the time flew by, and when it was time to say goodbye, Vince comforted me (in the blazing heat of his front yard) as I teared up yet again at another goodbye. Three days in a year is not enough to see my son.  

That day, I drove to Albuquerque, bought an extra carry-on and repacked my (heavy) bags.   I returned my rental car the next day, and flew to San Francisco to board my flight home to Johannesburg.  That brings us to the first blog of this series called "Travel".  

It's been hard to say what the whole trip was like.  I have to focus on God and the calling He has for us.  His promises to take care of the next generation and my "kids" are promises that I hang on to.  I trust Him in an active, bleeding, dying way...unfamiliar to me in this lifetime.        

Sunday, August 21, 2011


The sky in New Mexico

My sister, Shari, is the most organized person I know.  She has four children with different schedules and interests, and still manages to stay on top of things.  This is why it was surprising that, on the day I was supposed to see Vince for the first time in ten months, she was taking me to the wrong airport.

"Shari, you know we're going to the Oakland airport, not the San Francisco airport, right??"  I asked my sister after we had crossed the San Mateo bridge.

"NO, you're not!!" she said, answering my question.

Actually the over-organized gene is in all of the Ryan girls.  Since Shari had her oldest's birthday party the same day as the party at my parents house, she offered to take me to the airport the next morning.  This would kill two birds with one stone: a visit with her African-American sister, and helping the family by transporting me to the airport.

I had been navigating from a map she downloaded from the internet, visiting and talking at the same time with her and her kids, listening to all of their life interests and twists and turns.  This was the more important of the two things I was doing, I thought, until I realized  that we were going to San Francisco.

After a few frantic phone calls and stopping in a mall parking lot to ask directions (a guy at the ATM pretended not to speak English until I answered him in Spanish and rephrased my question), she delivered me (on time) to Oakland International where I checked my overweight luggage curbside by skycaps who gave me grace because of my story.

The plane ride to New Mexico was short (two hours) and I lost myself in a new novel to ward off emotional overload.  I finally arrived in Albuquerque, to pick up a rental car so that I could drive three hours to the "four corners" where I would meet Vince.

The "budget" rental cars were all gone and they gave me a free upgrade and I drove the most incredible car for three hours through the most incredible terrain where I called Vince to tell him I was on the 505 North headed to where he lived.  He sounded surprised.

"Oh, then I guess you don't need directions," he said, sounding just like Mario.  "Call me when you get to Cuba," he said.

Cuba, New Mexico is half-way between Albuquerque and Farmington, near where Vince stays.  When he first moved to Farmington, he told me it was near the "four corners", which I had to look up.  New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah all meet in "squared-boundaries" to form a reference point that connotes a great wild area, suitable for oil mining and filming Star Wars.  The day I drove, there was a rainstorm, whose clouds streaked from heaven to earth in purple, dramatic fashion.

When I reached Cuba, I called Vince again.  By the time he answered I was leaving Cuba.  It was that small.

"What does your gas tank look like?" he said.

"I'm at 3/4 full," I said.  He encouraged me to keep going.

"From now until Bloomfield," which is where he stays, "you're in oil country. Call me when you see the Giant gas station."

He wasn't kidding.  A stretch of gorgeous land, committed to oil rigs and refineries was the last leg of my journey.  It was still amazing... and it reminded me of the Free State in South Africa, for some reason.

I had Christian radio, for the first time in years, and I loved it, avoiding the really religious stuff.  Getting there is half the journey, and that is why the post is this way.

I loved all of my travel, and I realized it was because I could engage my mind on the next goal ahead.  I once heard someone say that if you wanted to get to know someone, take a road trip with them.  Lose your luggage with them.  Be somewhere new with them.  I did this relatively alone, but I could see that the journey took my mind off of the aching loss of leaving California, my parents, my siblings, their kids, Alicia, her new baby...and Harmony.

It wasn't long before I would get where I was supposed to be going.   I chose to enjoy the drive.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Growing up in the Ryan house, you didn't need much of a reason to celebrate.  My family's dining room table had a long invitation to place buffet food around it and a special tablecloth for whatever we were celebrating.  The backyard of the house I grew up in had three sections: A large park with grass and tables and a gazebo; the rock garden (with a greenhouse); and the storage area where we won't supposed to play.  Needless to say, this area was our hide-out.

The night before my flight to New Mexico (to see Vince) I decided to spend in Tracy to rest and repack my bags.  My mom took advantage of the small window of time and scheduled a family party to welcome me and say goodbye in one swoop.  After leaving Alicia and Brian's place, I headed straight to Tracy.  Straight for the safety of my parents' arms and the home that always offered me comfort, no matter what my state was.  Driving to Tracy, after the birth of Alannah, was a tearful time, if you remember from my last blog, so I was looking forward to seeing them.

I knew that  the night was a celebration with the rest of the family I hadn't seen during my trip, so I was preparing myself for it.   I was armed with actual PRINTED PICTURES of Alannah, Harmony, Alicia and Brian.  The hot topic of conversation would absolutely be Alannah, whom they would all make plans to see after I left.

When I pulled up, I saw my mom waving at me from the kitchen window, like I was coming home from school.  I teared up just seeing her.  How much I "want my mom" even at 48 years old!.  A cool, level-headed, glowing woman of faith, she epitomizes everything I wanted to be when I grew up.  As I pulled up, I realize that my parents' home is a base that we all come home to.  It made me cry more.

As she welcomed me into their house, my dad joined her.  We all hugged, and regrouped.  Arriving meant the obligatory questions about the drive, my luggage (my dad and Uncle Walt offered to unload it, then teased me because it was so heavy).  I said hello to all who were there (My Aunt Molly and David; Aunt Emmy and Walt)  brought out pictures and we began to look at them, cooing about how BIG she was...and how beautiful.  Soon my sister, Colleen arrived, with Tom and all the kids.  We all busily chatted and hugged,  looked at pictures together as I told a quick version of the birth story.

I could smell my mom's beans.  I realized I hadn't eaten since breakfast.  .  The warmth of the Ryan house during a party is amazing: a beehive with people.  We soon prayed and sat down to dinner.  August 9, in the USA means a dinner outside at the picnic tables on the lawn.

Dinner was an assortment of my favorites: tamale casserole, beans, salad with home-grown organic vegetables.  Roasted chicken... red wine.  The slow roasted evening is even more delicious.  Dinner conversation is fast and furious, and full of laughter.  At one point, my aunts said the neighbors were all saying "Janet's home!" because they forgot how loud my laugh was.

The kids popped in and out for hugs and updates on what they were doing. "Have I told you how much I love you?" I asked Connor, my nephew.  He stared straight ahead and said "About a million times..." I squeezed him and said "Good!!! Now you won't forget!!" He squiggled to get away.  I reminded myself of my own aunt and uncles growing up.

The party was really about connecting.  The last time I had seen everyone here was last year for the 50th Wedding Anniversary party of my parents.  For that celebration, we had fun, good food, dancing and talking, but no real or private place to reconnect with everyone's life.   During this time, we talked into the late hours about life, all of our aunts and cousins, the latest happenings with the kids.  We sat in the night, lit by the patio umprellas with built-in fairy lights.  The girls climbed trees and the kids played hide-and seek.  While I darted inside to print out my online boarding pass, I checked my email and found out that my latest blog entry on was chosen as an editor's pick for that "issue" of the online magazine.  I was elated!!

We end the night by toasting my coming home, the miracle of Alannah's new life and a safe journey back...with champagne.

During the time of saying goodbye to everyone, my nephew, Garrett, walked with me to my room to put my camera away.

"Aunt Janet," he said, in his normal inquisitive manner (he once called me to warn me to stay away from baboons).  "When you lived here, you were my aunt that was so much fun and always wanting to have fun with us.  When you come back, it makes me miss you more."  It was like a javelin through my heart.  Spoken so tenderly from one of my favorite nephews (they're all my favorite), I teared up yet again.

I hugged him and said "If I don't go back what will Uncle Mario do??"

"Yeah," Garrett said, resigned to my leaving.  "He'll be prett-y lonely without you.  After all, it was BOTH of you that wanted to go to Africa."  I smiled.

From the mouths of babes.

Monday, August 15, 2011


I got to Chico on Thursday, July 28.  It was Alicia's birthday.  That particular day she turned 23. It had been 23 years since I had given birth to her (also on a Thursday) after 36 hours of labor.  I was hoping that her baby, Alannah, would come faster, maybe even a day after her own birthday. 

When I saw her I was amazed at how much she had changed.  There she was, very pregnant, ready for a party that night with Brian's family and with me.  Her hair was straight and hung to the middle of her back, flecked with highlights of auburn, even a few grey hairs mixed in.  She also was a mother.  Since I don't see it day to day, I loved seeing the exchanges between my daughter and hers: Harmony.  Even though SKYPE is awesome, it does nothing like the face to face, touchable meeting like the moment that Harmony ran out with Brian, her dad, to greet me.  She was a little hesitant, at first, then after encouragement from both mom and dad, she hugged me and greeted me  "Gamma!!"   It melted my heart. 

I had been looking forward to seeing Alicia, but I could tell she was in pain from the pregnancy.  "Alannah is right against my pelvic bone!  She is so waiting to come out," Alicia told me, not long after I got there.  I could tell she had a lot of discomfort, and the baby looked low and far forward in her thinly veiled belly.  To distract her, I showed her my suitcase, half of which were her birthday presents.  As she unwrapped them (I love giving a gift-giver gifts. they are so appreciative!) I remembered I had brought a small gift for Harmony: a stuffed an imal lion that roared when you squeezed its belly.  It actually scared her when I showed it to her.  Although very cute, the roar was pretty realistic of a lion cub.  Alicia said, "Here, give it to me."   I did. 

"Oh, baby lion!!" Alicia cooed to it, while Harmony watched, intently.  "Did you come from Africa??"  Alicia was stoking his mane and looking inot his eyes.  "Are you lonely??  Do you want mama to play with you?? You do??? Okay!!"  Then she handed the same little stuffed animal over to Harmony, who quickly clutched it to her chest, laughed and ran around the room.  We all laughed. 

The interchange was so happy, so beautiful....and stuff I normally don't get to see.  That Thursday I got to see it.  Grateful and happy, I delighted in seeing how I could be the "Gamma" of today, the one that is here for now.  I held her every moment I could.  I told her about her mom when she was little.  I read to her (Harmony loves books and makes a point to always "read  aloud", pulling her books off the shelves and reading in her little voice, beautiful, melodic, unintelligibe words that punctuate the pictures.      
Harmony the day Alannah was born
While Mom and Dad got some much needed rest, I would read aloud to Harmony, play games with her (she loved to play "telephone" where she would get a phone call and talk on whatever would be her phone. 

We went for walks arounf the beautiful treed city of Chico, mostly at 5:00 or later, when the shadows were long and the heat had died down.   While Harmony loved the stroller, she loved walking even more, power-walking with her arms pumping. 

My favorite times were bath and story times.  Her bath was a ritual usually taken care of by either mom or dad, who she cried for the first couple of days, but they did let me bathe her every single day I was there, a gift that I was grateful for. 

Since I slept in the same room as Harmony, I would hear her wake up.  It began with stirring, then a small chatter, then when she realized I was awake, she would say to me, "Oh no!!  Where's the lion?"  She would hold up her hand, in wonder, twist it this way and that, to punctuate the question.  "Oh no!! Where is the lion?"  She would mean for me to stand up and get her out of her crib to find it, which she always did quickly, even before I could change her diaper.  
To see the miracle of a toddler dancing, laughing, mothering her dolls, reading (albeit pretend) aloud is more than I can write down.  It is the most delightful part of a baby becoming a child becoming an individual.  While we all waited for baby Alannah, my greatest gift was to hold and carry and walk alongside of this precious person, this miracle, this peaceful, happy person who seemed happy to do anything yousuggested to her. 

In the many days I spent in the USA the days that I spent with Harmony seem  to be the truest, most incredibly special that I could ever have spent. 
Harmony holds Alannah, two days old.

I will never be Harmony's Mother, and I will never be her Nana, Suzanne, the grandma that lives so close by.  Who I will be to her is the grandma I was these last few days.  The grandma that loves and adores her.  The grandma who is in awe of what God does to her as He causes her to grow.  

I will always be there for her,  and she knows it.   


Alannah Litney Vosburg
Born August 8, 2011
8 lbs, 5 ounces
21 inches long

 "Mondays child is fair of face...."

That's what the poem says.

It's true.

Alannah came on Monday, finally, after waiting the last two months in a painful position.  Born 32 minutes after Alicia started pushing, she weighed NINE pounds and five ounces... and was 21 inches long.  After so long of a wait, she was here!!...and oh, so beautiful.  Oh, so fair of face!!

A week before, sitting in the doctor's rooms, I sympathized with both mother (being a mother of a two-year-old and in pain and physical agony) and dad (working hard and being a father - seeing Alicia in pain and physical agony).  Seriously, they both had had a long and stressful time this particular pregnancy and were ready to deliver.  The day that the doctor decided to wait one more week for the inducement (or induction, if you prefer) he was unable to get a proper measurement of Alannah's head because she was so far down.  "She's right up against you, Alicia," he said, pressing the sonogram wand into her tummy.  "You're probably really uncomfortable." 


Alicia liked her doctor, and trusted him.  Before we entered his office, she told me to be quiet when we were in the room with him.  So I did.  Barely.  When I told him the new date for inducing Alannah's birth was only one day before I was scheduled to leave, he shrugged and said "I'm really doing this for the health of the mother and the baby, I can't work around your travel schedule." 

Whoa, did I just get smacked??  My daughter, a type one diabetic, was about to endure one more week carrying her large baby low, while in pain and discomfort.  Her first daughter got caught in the birth canal and was born not breathing....  Was he actually insinuating that I was only thinking of myself?


Even so, I promised I'd keep my mouth shut, and I did. 

After the visit, we made our way to the Lange house.  Brian's mom, Suzanne, had the same reaction I did  about the doctor's decision to hold off inducing.  In a strange way, it comforted me, as if I had an ally.  Nevertheless, Brian and Alicia were accepting the news, so we all rallied around them as best as we could. 

Alannah Litney would be the baby's name.  Alannah, after the friend who was one of Alicia's friends now (she introduced Brian and Alicia) and Litney after our beloved Litney Fowler, killed in a car accident a week after we arrived in South Africa.  Litney and Alicia were childhood friends, always laughing with one another.  I still remember her as alive... and the baby's birth would be proof that she would live on.

Monday, August 8th, finally came, and Alicia, still in tremendous pain would go in to hospital bravely to be induced.  The drug they use to do is delivered through an I.V., and is called Pitocin.  It induces labor at a rapid rate, causing the cervix to dilate at a faster rate, making labor more painful and sharper.  (As an added trivia, Alicia was induced via Pitocin 23 years ago)

A few hours into the painful process, Alicia called a nurse and asked for something to ease her discomfort. I still remember the shot into ease her pain, put straight into the I.V., and instantly seeing Alicia...for the first time since I got there.

She relaxed; laughed; joked.  It was incredible.  Since she was feeling better, I asked if I could now take pictures.  She laughed and said yes.
Harmony kisses Alannah 

Throughout the rest of labor, Alicia was a trooper.  Brian, the baby's father, rubbed her back and offered the obvious comfort of being next to her through it all.   Alannah (the friend they would name the baby after) was there as well.   It was my first time to meet her, and I found her adorable, and full of love.  

It was obvious when Harmony came to "visit" with Nana Suzanne that "Auntie Alannah"  was already part of the family.

After hours of labor, Alicia transitioned and gave birth to Alannah, the beautiful, fat, screaming bundle that came naturally.  It was 9:21 p.m.  Her voice was so like her own mother's at delivery!!  While Mario watched via SKYPE, she was born and was measured.   "Oh MY GOODNESS!!!" Did she just come out of you?? :))

Gorgeous and Unbelievable.

And while it all happened, the nurses futzed int the background, calling for blood and vital signs.  It was then, amidst the flurry of happiness that I realized Alicia had lost too much blood.  She lay, crying and asking for pain meds on the gurney, as the doctors and nurses ignored the flashes of photographs to tend to the mother.

While the rest of the family focused on beautiful baby Alannah, my heart turned toward my own baby and began to stroke her arm and hip, as she lay on her side.  Even though she was in pain, my heart was determined to take care of her.  Her vitals were low, the nurses said that a transfusion would be ordered.

To describe what came next is embarrassing.  I asked Brian to get everyone out of the room.  Alicia decided that meant me, too.  We all left for the waiting room, where most of the family chatted about the little, cherubic new addition, all of them familiar with each other.  I was the only representative of "my family", and I felt outnumbered and alone.  I so wanted Mario.  I wanted to be with my baby, or at least know what was going on.  I walked up to the delivery room, where Brian was standing above the scale that would weigh Alannah.

"Do you have your camera?" he asked, coolly (Brian is a cool customer).

I nodded and exited.  I made my way to the waiting room, collected my things and came back.  I took a picture of Alannah being weighed (holy cow!! 9 pounds, 5 ounces!) and then made my way over to Alicia who was in the fetal position on the bed.   I stroked her side, and she felt cold.  Where was the doctor??

Little by little the family walked in (I objected, but Alicia corrected me).  They took pictures of the new cutie pie and Brian soothed Alicia.  There was no room for me there, so I left.

In about an hour, seeing that I could do nothing more\, I made a decision to leave with Harmony.  It was then I realized I didn't have a car (I had walked to the hospital).  Suzanne and Steve (Brian's mom and step-dad) offered to take me home.  I accepted.  It was Suzanne who took me in her car.

Not before her mother, Nancy, prayed for me.  It was then I broke down in sappy, big, fat tears.  I wanted to be inside with my own baby!! I was supposed to leve tomorrow, and would have to say goodbye to Harmony, to Alicia, and to Alannah... tomorrow.  I couldn't believe it.  I knew that God had called us to South Africa, but had He called us to this??  I wept into Nancy''s shoulders as she encouraged me, assured me that God was in the details.  I agreed and parted with Harmony and Suzanne.

I couldn't stop thinking of Alicia, my only daughter, the one who just had to have an induced labor; the one who might have to have a blood transfusion; the one who would now have two (not one) with a partner who was working and no one to stay with her after I left...tomorrow!!!  I was a little bit on the hovering side:   "Get out of here, Bud's with me!" she teased as I left.  I felt as if I had surrendered my right to be concerned, to fret, to be a mommie.

When we got home to Brian and Alicia's apartment,  I offered Harmony her favorite: "Apple JUICE??" I said, playfully.

"Bed?" Harmony said, pointing toward her bedroom door.   Harmony's normal bedtime was around eight-thirty each night I was there. It was now well beyond that.   I laid her in her crib with clean pyjamas and a fresh diaper, and she laid quickly, clutching her blanket next to her.  I watched her for awhile, only to tear up more, knowing that it was my last night with her for awhile.

Baby Alannah - Two Days Old
Taken By Auntie Ashley
As she lay sleeping, I cried in the living room, grieving for who I would be soon saying goodbye to: my only daughter, Harmony and Alannah, the new addition. Brian had been so hospitable and assured me all would be okay....  My concern went beyond reason and comfort.

Harmony and I awoke the next morning refreshed and rested, but it was ten in the morning!!!  I fed her quickly, bathed her and walked to the hospital with her in her stroller.

It was there we found the "new" parents with baby Alannah, so pink and beautiful.  It was there that we all held her.The nurses told me that Alicia had not needed a transfusion after all, being high enough in platelet count to spare the added trauma.  I was elated.

Meanwhile, Harmony played with her little sister, while "Aunt Claudia" cooed over her, taking picures and giving my camera (and hers) a workout.

 In two hours I had a mega-visit, then had to say goodbye.  I had to say a goodbye that would have to last until Christmas.   I finally left, saying a goodbye that wasn't planned or emotionally rehearsed.  The last thing Alicia said to me was "Don't worry, mom, December isn't that far away."  It only pulled at my heart-strings more.  Determined not to cry in front of her, I rode back to the car with Suzanne and Harmony, saying a quick goodbye to both, as my mom called to see where I was.

I told my mom I was on my way to her house (I was running late) and I would be there before dark (Tracy is 3 1/2 hours away from Chico).  After I hung up, I realized I had just cut off my mother, said  sloppy goodbyes to Harmony, Alicia, Brian, Alannah and Suzanne.  Goodbyes are not easy for me, so I usually mess them up.   I soon collapsed into a globby mess of tears as I headed to Tracy, back to my mom and dad's.

To end this story, I can tell you one thing: leaving family is no different for a "missionary" than it is for anyone else.  It is a faith-filled thing, where trusting God is active and excruciating at the same time.

Still, I have to rejoice in a healthy birth, a beautiful baby and the chance to be called "Gamma" all over again.  This time by a gorgeous little angel named Alannah.

Gamma and Alannah, August 9, 2011
Taken by Auntie Claudia


I am about to do something really stupid.  Actually, I'm going to do two stupid a row. 

I'm about to begin a series of posts breaking down my recent trip "back home".  I'm doing this because many of you have complained to me that my posts are too long and you are falling asleep in the middle of them.  I really was ready to say, "I'm not Leo Tolstoy, I'm just Janet, telling you, my friends and family, what's inside my heart!" Then, I realized you may have a point.  I think Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy (not that I compare myself to them) would have many more readers if they had shorter blogs (chapters in their books).   So okay, short, from now on.  Short and fluffy. my stupid act #2.  I'm about to do a covert operation here in the Silver Lounge of Emirates Airlines.  I'm secretly going to get asian rice snack crackers from the buffet, put them in a bowl and  bring them back to the station where I am typing, in all of its mahogany-look wonder.

I don't care who the hell sees me...I'm controversial.   Then again, it might be allowed.

I'm typing from a desk nicer than my own in the Emirates Silver Business Class Lounge (I have never flown business class in my life, they just let me in because of our frequent-flier miles; we really rack them up). I don't remember joinging the Silver Club, but I'm not complaining or questioning right now.  The flight from San Francisco to Dubai is 14 hours, and I have a seven hour layover before I have to get on another plane going to Jozi (8 more hours). 

Being a great airline, Emirates provides relaxing lounges for its patrons to eat complimentary finger sandwiches and eat complimentary cookies and drink complimentary filtered coffee while they wait for their next flight.  The "normal lounge" is situated in the Dubai airport (a city) overlooking a man-made waterfall.  When I checked into the "normal" lounge to relax, they looked at my ticket, then told me that I could go to the Silver lounge instead. As I walked in here, harps and choir music broke out in my ears.  There, in front of me was a large living room with low lighting and sofas, leather chairs, a computer room, a  full bar, gourmet buffet and a large bathroom suite with a shower. I have been travelling for two days and I need all of these amentites.

Back to the asian cracker caper : I must be careful.  Here in the computer room there are others around.  So if I do go get them the loud, crunchy chewing might actually call attention to me, causing others to look up and see a weepy, crunching woman in a flashy rose covered dress purging  her innermost thoughts.  I do want to remain stealth. 

I am on my way "home" after a three week trip "back home" to see .

My trip...  that I have just completed was 20 days long, and done without Mario next to me.  It is in my mind's eye, remembered for who I saw (my parents, my siblings and my daughter, her daughter (s) and my son and his girlfriend)and who I didn't see ( my brother-in-law and his family, my two step sons and four of my grandchildren).

The visits were portioned out to accomodate maximum benefit for such a short time back. Nevertheless, I am headed back to Joburg, feeling a little weary but refreshed with a "shot" of  visiting, if only for awhile, my very precious family.  I wish that the refreshing were enough to quelch the haunting presence of grief, which I have had since leaving New Mexico.  I wish that the calling to be planted in South Africa and spread the love and power of God would be strong enough to quiet the questions in my heart.  Here, I have been processing all of the emotions that I have had throughout the trip.   

Since we have traveled so much, I have learned that the anonymity of high-speed international travel gives me a chance to reflect and remember what was good, what was hard, what I would do differently, next time.

In International airports, no one stops and asks if you're okay while you're sobbing into a kleenex-filled hand, because everyone is passing in a hurry to get somewhere. No one talks to you on a plane and asks deep questions.  No one says things like "Don't worry, honey, it will all be okay," when you do cry because they know not to open Pandora's box on an airplane. If sharing does come, no one ever says "Oh, well, I have an answer: Why not just move home if you miss them this much?"  People used to travelling (or those used to dealing with travellers) are friendly, but not familiar. They are polite, but not comforting.

After a trip like this, I am surrounded by those who politely do not want to know me or what the matter is. Just what I need....

I slept a whole ten hours on my last flight, and now I'm in the silver lounge with a tall bottle of Evian and a french wine that tastes like grape juice.  I don't ask, "Whose watching?" I don't care...
Read whichever posts you want they will be posted in order, from start to finish. 

Any questions? No? Good. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011


In two books Margaret Wise Brown stole my heart. 

The first was a book I bought called Goodnight Moon where a chatty young bunny tried to go to sleep by saying goodnight to everything he could see and couldn't see.  After falling in love with this book, I read her opus: The Runaway Bunny.   I read them both, regularly, out loud to my children, smelling of soap, just after the bath and before bed.

Both books are illustrated by Clement Hurd, and both have the same characters: A little independent bunny and his mother, who seems an afterthought in his life. The Runaway Bunny begins with a sentence uttered by the baby bunny: "I am running away."  His mother, however, tells him that "If you run away, I will run after you". 

It is in this simple exchange where every mother is given an insight to a child's mind: your beautiful child does not know how much he needs you. The idea is meant to be charming and quaint. Instead of charm, it contained a tearful truth for me: the children that were my whole world lived in a world of their own" bright beautiful worlds that were constantly unfolding and expanding.  Worlds that would eventually lead them away from me.

My bunnies did eventually run away, and at first I did run after them.  I was unsuccessful in being the "wind that would blow them where I wanted them to go", and I wasn't quite "the tree that they would fly home to".  My bunnies ran away and left skid marks, punctuated with sharp reasons why they they couldn't stay: I was smothering them.

Looking afresh at the book, I see the mother bunny being a little stalker-ish...but I notice that the bunny she ran after was a little one: he wasn't eighteen or twenty or twenty three.  I wish I could have seen that then.

Today I read the book to my little granddaughter, Harmony, as her mom (my baby bunny) napped.  Harmony's eyes darted back and forth on the pages, and not being quite two years old, she quickly lost interest.  I actually remembered reading the book to her mom, and used the same tactic to revive her interest.  "Where is the Mommy bunny?"  "Where is the baby?"  It soon became a game, and we finished the book. 
 Seeing Harmony's eyes, so much like her mother's made me break down in tears. Harmony looked at the book, and then to me. She looked captivated by my reaction, and then hugged me, and puckered up her lips for a kiss. I couldn't believe it. So much like her mom, so beautiful and tender and so concerned that I not feel sadness. It touched a tender, raw place in my heart that will never be healed or whole until heaven.
Today my heaven is revisiting this small book, as good and touching as Dickens or Austen.  It is reading aloud to a two-year-old curly-headed girl who smells of soap and sits in my lap.  My revelation of letting go and letting my own bunnies grow is felt all over again today.  My tears and comfort (all over again) will be something I remember to the grave, and to heaven.