Monday, April 29, 2013


Spasms of memories invade me
From underneath a vapor
A living, breathing time still certain
In the core of me.

Now, removed but not
I see your face, so tender
So defenceless.
Was I mad?
Or was I living out
an ancient evil
lurking deep within?

Now you are a different one,
Are your memories the same?
Have you forgiven the guilt of my sin?
Do you recall my deepest shame?

Don’t ask for my head;
It’s taken.
Attached to me-
The solemn being
Sentenced to cross
A raging river of regret.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Alicia, Alannah and I at lunch in Sacramento.
 A beautiful part of re-entry.

There is no true way to entirely prevent culture shock, even when you are re-entering your familiar home environment.  In any society people are affected by cultural contrasts differently. 

Today was our first day back at our church’s main service.  Mario and I have been back for 48 days and after visiting the satellites decided to try the main.  It is where all of our old friends attend.  We jumped back into their lives – seeing them not much different.  If it weren’t for their KIDS who have grown like weeds on MiracleGro, we would hardly notice the difference in the people.

For the last six years we gave ourselves over to a calling of God that was beautiful, rewarding and definitely His will for our lives.  The first two years we did a lot of international travelling – we saw nineteen different African countries and two Asian ones.  The last four years were focused on the local church life in Johannesburg. 

Johannesburg is as diverse as Africa itself.  It is the melting pot of different cultures more than any other place in South Africa.  No city in South Africa can match the diversity of Johannesburg; there are 11 official languages. 

Sacramento is the capital of California, whose economy is the twelfth largest in the world.  The Spanish language is everywhere, but most people speak English. 

I stood in conversation with a friend this morning as he asked us how we were doing.

“We’re good, thank God,” I said.  “We just need to find a home of our own.” 

My thoughts flashed back to the last 48 days here.  We have shopped for (and found) a home.  We began the process of buying it, only to find that its title was not clear.  We shopped for (and found) another home that was in our price range and began the process of buying it.  This is the house we are now praying for.  The problem is, the loan company here needs bank statements from our South African bank – something that they will not provide.  Because of FICA laws, the statements have to be picked up in person by Mario – who is back at his old desk most days of the week, working full time.

“So, you don’t have a place to stay?” my friend asks, genuinely concerned. 

“We do,” I smile. “We have been staying with Nicole.”

“Oh, and how is that going?”  he asks.  

I think of the warm reception that Nicole and Summer have given us.  Their ease and acceptance during this time has been crucial.  We are staying in Nicole's one room garage apartment that has a half bathroom.  It has kept us from staying in a hotel and living out of suitcases.  Even with all of this, we still feel like we are "just visiting" the States again. 

“It’s going very well, thank God,” I say.

“So Mario’s back at work,” he says.  “What are you doing?”

I smile.  I am writing all of the time.  When I am not working out or visiting my daughter and her daughters I am writing.  I have started a new novel and will hopefully see the first one published soon.  I am grateful for the opportunity to write.  I still have not seen Vince, Joe or David (or their kids) since we have been back.  I have had little chance to see my parents and sisters, too.  Until we get a house we can’t spend much money.

“I write,” I answer.  I blog, I write fiction, I edit.  I even tutor a girl who is in Kansas City via SKYPE.  She has our dogs, Zuzu and Peaches.  They can’t come here until we have a house of our own.

We’ve got to get this house, I think. 

“You write?” my friend lifts his eyebrows and I expect no more questions.  

None come.  

Not “Have you talked to Portia and the boys since you have been back?” – not “Don’t you miss your church?” – not “What about the Ladies Prayer Group that saved your life several are they?”

He just smiles, good naturedly.

“Must be nice to be a woman of leisure,” he says, winking.  I smile.


Saturday, April 27, 2013


I still remember the day that David, our oldest son, met his wife-to-be.  I was upstairs on the phone and Mario was downstairs, and we were listening as he was telling us about a date he had with a pretty young lady named Lennae. 

I was standing up, making the bed and I rolled my eyes.  David, an astrophysicist computer geek, had the brains of a genius, and the worst luck with women.  His last two girlfriends had drug him to hell and back and I was not expecting him to date again until he had recovered.  His story, made me stand straight up and listen.

“We got into the car and I had Blue Oyster Cult, ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ on, and she said ‘I don’t know about you, but I could use more cowbell.’”

I held the phone in my numb hand and imagined a movie camera zooming in on my face.  I thought, “Oh, no...he’s going to marry this girl.”

He did.

For those of you that don’t follow Saturday Night live religiously (like the Rodriguez family), Lennae was referring to a “Behind the Music” sketch, where the male cast re-enact the infamous taping of the rock classic, directed by a superstar producer, played by Christopher Walken.   Will Farrell imitates a 70’s stereotype rocker, playing a cowbell through the song, and messing up the taping.  The spoof had Mario and I in stitches.  Later, when we talked about it with the kids, it brought comic relief to tense times.  

Lennae knowing the sketch was one thing, but she said a line that we used to say to each other as a private Rodriguez joke – when something was ridiculous or stupid.  If a cheerleading squad did a “cheer dance with spirit fingers at the end”.  Yeah, that was good, but I could have used a little more cowbell....

Mario went before me to meet her (David and Lennae lived in the Kansas City area) and came home with pages of notes about the visit.  Mario loves taking notes about things.

“She’s been through a lot,” he said.  “Her parents are divorced and she seems like she became an adult very quickly.  She used to dance – swing dance.  But since David doesn’t dance she doesn’t dance anymore.  She loves animals and rescued two that are with them now.”  Here he looked up and smiled.  “You have to hear this story...”

He told me the story that melted my heart for her: Lennae used to live in an apartment building that was pretty small; a downstairs unit that had a door facing another tenant.  The other tenant was a dodgy individual and kept a dog chained up by the front door.  The chain was long enough to reach his food bowl and let him poop in the bushes, but short enough for the dog to have no room at all to live freely.  He was put there, mainly to guard the entrance and was pretty mean and ferocious.  At first Lennae was scared of him, since she had to pass there just to get to her door, but she soon realized that this dog had no play, no company and no love.  She began to give him attention, and when she came home, he would shake with joy in seeing her.  She once asked the owner if she could take him for a walk or play with him, but he denied her, saying the dog didn’t need anything like that.  On the day she moved out of the apartment, Lennae turned in her keys to the manager, unhooked the dog, and took him to her new home.  He was one of the most loved animals in the world there. 

“So,” I said, trying to get a picture of her.  “Is she a Cathy or is she a Janet?”  This question, for Mario was a no-win.  Cathy is Mario’s ex-wife, the mother of David and Joe.  She is a blonde, blue-eyed “girl-next-door” type that is peaceful and loving and soft.  Janet (me) is a raven-haired opinionated, passionate woman filled with fire...and repentance when I have to remove my rather large foot from my even larger mouth.  Which was Lennae?

“She is a...” he thought, lookining up in the air and scratching his chin.  “She’s a Lennae.”

Crap.  Now I had no idea what to expect.

I met her two days before the wedding, where I introduced myself and went into my nervous story-telling thing that I do in order to explain myself.  She had the greenest eyes, like our son, Vince.  It was hard not to be mesmerized by them.  Her skin was a perfect peaches and cream and she was statuesque and lovely.  She also was very affectionate with David, and he with her.  I was a little uncomfortable around the two of them, but smiled at Vince and Alicia about the whole thing. (Another Rodriguez joke? Smiling and plugging your nose around open displays of affection...) 

When you are a “step-mother” at a wedding, things don’t work out as smoothly as you would think they do.  I prepared myself for the awkwardness, but was very honored that David and Lennae asked me to be part of the first row, with Mario and Cathy by my side.  The wedding was gorgeous, and Lennae was dressed in a silk, strapless gown that showed off the loveliest shoulders since Princess Di...and her tattoo on her back. 
The reception was in a stunning Victorian house, and we gave David and Lennae a copper cowbell that was engraved “I got a fever! And the only prescription is more cowbell!”  It was their favorite gift. 

It turns out Lennae was nervous about the day because she loved each and every member of her family, but they did not like each other and had a very hard time being in the same room with one another.  She had just lost her beloved grandmother, a peacemaker and a joy to her heart.  Looking back, I think Lennae was surprised that Cathy and I loved each other the way we did.  It was easy to – Cathy is a Cathy. 

They honeymooned in the wine country of California, where they graciously added us to their stay for two days.  I played a video of David and Joe singing “Kiss the Girl” to the Little Mermaid – as I promised him I would when he was ten years old and woke the whole house up with a slumber party.  Our cool, controlled computer genius hid red-faced, under the kitchen table, humiliated beyond belief as Lennae laughed her head off and held her arms open to him.  The memory is unforgettable. 

We vacationed in Kansas City with them as a family, where all of our techno-savvy kids played x-box together (we didn’t ever allow it in our house, and all of our kids had become pros).  Lennae was pregnant and unable to keep food down, sometimes even water, and I worried about her.  Even though she was in her last trimester, she never had the “morning sickness” pass, and the sickness lasted all day.  I was very worried about her and said so as we left. 

“Don’t worry,” she said.  “David takes good care of me.”  He did.  It was nice to see the marriage working so well, although they said they never fought.  I saw this as a danger sign.  I didn’t know that the word “fight” had the worst connotations for both of them. 

Laila came one day and changed our lives for good.  We were now grandparents.  The pictures that they sent us were of the birthing tub, a method of drug-free birthing that Lennae had chosen to do.  After looking at them, I felt the same awkwardness that I had felt seeing the open displays of affection that David and Lennae had with each other.  She and David were beautiful, almost sensual in the tub as Lennae gave birth to her first child.  Her face was that of a Raphael painting, not the contorted red devil face one usually associates with childbirth.

Laila Willow was perfect, with the same green eyes as her mother.  The first time she called me “Abuela” I thought I would die for joy.  It was like being fourteen and the popular cute boy says “hi” to you and says your name...but better.

Soon after Laila came Lilliana Grace, then Lauren Caroline.  All with the tub, all without pain meds.  I secretly called Lennae “Mother Earth”, mainly because of the way she championed the birthing process and breast feeding. 

Last Christmas she hosted all of us (except Vince, who couldn’t make it) and we all played Quelf and wii and drank Irish car bombs...and laughed our heads off.  We had tender, gorgeous heart-to-hearts and she showed me her pictures of each birth.  And when I got on the plane I cried....

In my mind’s eye, she is surrounded by confetti and children.  I think she is literally one of the most agreeable people I have ever met, and in a strange way, she has taught me to accept people in my life regardless of their beliefs or convictions.  She is, without a doubt, the best person in the world for my step-son – our son- David...and I would have never ever chosen her if it were up to me. 

For that reason, she is a gift and a blessing to me and to us.  Today is her birthday.  Happy Birthday, honey.   You are a delight and joy and everyone’s daughter-in-law should be like you.

Not like Cathy; not like Janet...but a Lennae.  You are genuinely your own person.

Cathy, Janet and Lennae

Friday, April 19, 2013


Last night I took a break from house shopping, thinking of loans and appreciating markets.  I sat down to watch TV with my beautiful husband and our roommates, Summer and Nicole.  On TV we were watching news (American news about American events). 

For those who have been sleeping under a rock (or live in Nigeria), the Boston Marathon was interrupted by a home-made bomb which killed citizens (spectators at the event) including an eight-year-old boy.  The terrorist act was seen as especially reprehensible because of this.

Last night as we watched TV could tell something new was happening in Boston so we watched, only to see that the FOX news channel screen was loaded up with “tweets”.  I am used to only seeing this on my new smart phone or my computer screen.

“What’s all this?” I asked. 

Summer and Nicole told me that there is now “real-time” reporting based on twitter feeds.  Many news stations relied on neighbouring communities to be the eyes and ears before cameras were at the scene.  Sometimes, because of restricted access for the press, even after.

Heck with TV.

As Mario went to bed, I signed on to twitter and streamed the police scanner.  It was like I was in Boston – specifically Cambridge.  There in the elite suburb of Watertown - not far from where my father used to live. 

This was better than news.  In my ears I heard the careful clear-text communication of squad cars communicating with central dispatch, eventually realizing that their communication with each other was being heard by the nation and becoming coded and careful.  For officer check-in they switched to a low band.

Below is an example of the twitteri from last night:

2.      RT @RT_com14h
BREAKING: 1 suspect dead, 2nd person on run - @7News reporter quoting source  #Watertown

Update: #Watertown: Multiple bomb units on scene. Unconfirmed number of suspects. Some sources say #BostonMarathon suspects, others won't.

That awkward moment when Twitter is WAY more updated than CNN. #Watertown

5.      zfnd @zfnd15h
Police have another scene a few blocks from #MtAuburnSt. We're hearing they've surrounded home. #Watertown 

Twitter + Boston police scanner is killing cable news. We may be witnessing the moment when the internet officially eclipses TV. #watertown

The Boston PD are risking life and limb for the people of #watertown tonight. Thank you, police officers everywhere, for your service.

possible #bostonMarathon suspect RT @JHolihan: This is weird. Missing Brown student from months back: #watertown

Useful -- @dannysullivan has curated a list of Twitter users on the ground in #Watertown - 

Update: #MIT says campus "safe" after officer killed - major US police operation continues in nearby #Watertown 
Followed by Natalie Fischer and 2 others

Twitter is wayyyyy ahead of CNN or any other breaking news. #watertown

If you're trying to catch up on all the #Watertown / #MIT developments tonight, here's our live blog: 
Followed by Tastemade and 2 others

Update: Hospital near #Watertown/Boston where wounded police is now under code black (bomb threat) via @MichaelSkolnik
UPDATE: Police in #Watertown, Mass. search for suspects in gun battle following shooting death of MIT police officer
Followed by Natalie Fischer and 2 others

#Watertown Local says 2 men threw what appeared to be "pressure cooker bomb" at police. Bomb robot still on Laurel St. (via @ravisomaiya)

URGENT UPDATE: Witnesses report loud blast at the scene just now #Watertown #mitshooting 

I really think that tonight will be remembered as the night Twitter changed news coverage forever. #Watertown

In my head I thought “I’ve finally figured out twitter…”  It wasn’t facebook  in a distant second place.  It wasn’t just a celebrity check in.  It wasn't just the literary agent networking site that I used to mistake it for. 

Twitter has become Paul Revere riding through the streets of Boston warning them that the British are coming.  It is the whispers of the French Revolution.  It is the undeniable voices of prophets, thieves and widows networking to become more and more powerful. 

Informed and equipped.

In one tweet I saw something that made me laugh.  It was the voice of a young man who I can’t remember, saying “The police have figured out that the suspects are following twitter feeds and are responding accordingly.  In that case, come out!  No one will shoot!  Free donuts!”