Sunday, September 22, 2013


Photo credit

I have fallen in love with American names,
The sharp names that never get fat,
The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.
~  Stephen Vincent Benet, 1927

I live in Sacramento, the city of the Sacrament, named by Catholic monks who valued the spiritual value of communion with God.  It has never quite lived up to its name, trading agriculture for mining and then politics.  It was the capital of the 1848 Gold Rush, where everyone raced for the rivers to pan, slough, excavate the rivers by any means –fair or unfair.   Miners came from all over, trampling John Sutter’s agricultural paradise and stripping the land of its natural beauty.  Few got rich on gold- the ones who made money were those who fed the miners and sold them shovels.

 Next to us is Placerville, a town with a deceptive name.  Placerville’s roots are anything but serene.  Its real name was “Hangtown” – where they hung the murdering miners who drank too much and committed heinous crimes they never would have back home.

Whiskeytown was the name of a place close to what is now Redding, known for the lake next to it.  While historians can’t agree on the origin of the Whiskeytown name, tradition tells a story of Billie Peterson, a miner with a mule who had a mishap in late Gold Rush years. While hauling supplies back to his mine, the pack on his mule's back came loose and a whiskey barrel went tumbling down the hillside, breaking on the rocks below and spilling its contents into the creek. Although he was one barrel of whiskey poorer, the miners in the settlement revered him as a local hero, telling the story  of  Peterson’s christening of Whiskey Creek over many a campfire.  The small settlement next to the waterway would forever be known as Whiskeytown.

Years later, in 1960, the real gold that lay in Whiskeytown was finally dammed: one of California’s first tributes to water conservation.  The Lake seemed to be the perfect place to build a dam for the irrigation of nearby farms and so it was decided that construction would begin.  First, the site was cleared; then the construction of the spillway and outlet tunnels. By late 1961, over one-half of the dam embankment was complete. Finally, the dam was topped out on February 7, 1963, and the reservoir was allowed to begin filling.

On September 28, Whiskeytown Dam will celebrate its 50 year birthday.  That date commemorates its dedication and second christening – this time by the President of the United States in a very rare visit to Northern California.  

What’s remarkable is that the president at the time understood the need to preserve –not deplete – California’s natural resources.  He even began his address with a joyous remark about Whiskeytown’s name –reading  the Stephen Vincent Benet poem to a crowd of more than 10,000 people.

Just seven weeks and six days later President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  Whiskeytown Lake was the last he saw of California.  

Friday, September 13, 2013


Across time that stretched-
On metal wings
With engines.  Blissfully sleepy
I stretched my heart  (like
A stressed elastic) from
One end of the world
To another.
Those days
(sighing in the sun)
Those days…

When I returned to
Modern place of welcome
Poverty and wealth
(like warring cousins)
Stirred together
To make the marmalade
Of strength and beauty
Unbeknownst to itself.

Returned to bricks
That made our parlor
Cool and welcoming
With the curtains
Wild and free
Like me…
Like me.

Once I wished for it all.
Them all –
To come to one place.
Where I could live with both.
Now I wish the same.

From there to here.
Now I wish the same.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


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

It was my first year with a classroom all to myself (I was the teacher after a long stint as a teacher's aid).  I'd spent the last month getting a classroom ready to receive 13 gifted and talented kids who would call the room “my class” for the next year. 

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

Somehow we were all  on time and as we made our way to Justin’s, we were fairly silent.  Mornings have never been a chatty time for me - even after two cups of coffee.

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

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

“On my way to pick up Justin,” I said.  My first thought was that someone died.  My second thought was that he was being called out to some riot or skirmish (he had a high-profile job with the Department of Justice).

“Pull over.”

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

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

“The World Trade Center has been hit,” he said.  Hit?  How?  My ears started ringing. Mario’s parents were New Yorkers.  My first thought was them, then I needed to know more….

“How?” I asked. 

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

Okay…no accident. 



In a flash of information that fluttered like confetti  in my mind I remembered the attacks years before- the WTC was targeted by Muslim extremists.  The Jewish Banking System’s capital was there and things had been heating up between the oil dependent USA and the oil providing Middle East.   

That morning we realized how vulnerable we all were. 

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


What did that mean? 

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

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

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

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

“Were you watching TV this morning?” I asked Alicia.  Yep…there I was in the middle of a National tragedy, chiding my daughter for breaking the rules that morning in our house: No TV before school.

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

“I have to go,” I said to Mario.  I was in shock but I knew I had to be there for the kids in my classroom – for their families.  I had to pick up Justin.  I had to get the kids to their classrooms.  I really saw the future as the next half-hour of my life.  Pull the car away from the curb, pick up Justin, get to school, get the game plan from our principal....

“I’ll be home as soon as I can,” Mario said, breaking me out of my fog.  He was coming home...maybe I would be as well.  Either way, we would all soon be home- all of us together.  Safe and not safe – together.

Justin knew what was going on and started to talk about it in the van.  It gave us all license to speculate what had happened.  All of us seemed to know it was a terrorist attack and that this was just the beginning.  School would be a good and normal place for all of them  to process this thing together - teens need peers to process.

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

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

I drove to school, my heart in my throat and a feeling of wariness.  I had to get to school.  What would I do? What would I say to the kids in my classroom?  What had they seen already?  What had they heard?

I drove, carefully.  I tried to react to everything carefully - I was determined not to have an accident.

I arrived at school, the parking lot bustling with familiar scenes: kids dashing to the halls to chat with each other, parents dropping off...

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

I walked toward my classroom, hoping to somehow be given direction on how I should conduct myself that morning.  I felt very scared and careful.

That feeling didn't go away for about three months.  

Monday, September 9, 2013


Walter White
AMC's Breaking Bad Sunday Night 9 p.m.

There are three episodes left of Breaking Bad, a show I reluctantly watched once, only to be intrigued beyond measure.  Mario and I became BB addicts, watching the cat and mouse of good and evil play out in the series….

The summary of the series seems gritty and inappropriate: a multi-faceted high school chemistry teacher is diagnosed with lung cancer and realizes that his wife, teenage son, and unborn child will be unprovided for.  His dilemma becomes apparent quickly: what does he do to make a nest egg in a small amount of time?
He solves this dilemma by cooking meth.

To make a long story (six seasons) short, Walter White (said Chemistry teacher) begins the series as a good, faithful underdog of a husband and father that you watch break the rules to provide for his family.  His morals break down, his ego is exposed and he awakens a person inside that is…well, a tyrant. 

Three more episodes.

In the last three episodes the story will end and we will be left, like children at camp, with a finished story that is both satisfying and creepy as we go off to bed.  I know this because that is how the whole series has been. 

Tonight in the wrap-up show, “Talking Bad” the series creator, Vince Gilligan (who also created the X-Files) gave us a tease of next week’s episode.  It is called “Ozymandias” (OZ-ee-MAN-dus), based on the Percy Shelley's poem, "Ozymandias" which speaks of the inevitable decline of all leaders, and of the empires they build, however mighty in their own time.

So we will see in the next few episodes, a kingdom falling…  Walt’s threats (“I’m the one who knocks”) will be exposed as useless.   All earthly kingdoms fall, don’t they?

As we wait for the next episode, I wanted to make the poem available for an easy read here.  It is is also the theme of one of my favorite books- (A Shattered Visage, by Ravi Zacharias).


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said – 'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half-sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive (stamped on these lifeless things)
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

                                                             ~Percy Shelley  1818 

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Photo Courtesy of Ranella Photography

“We will shout for joy over your victories and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.”  
Psalm 20:5

Last Saturday my daughter, Alicia, got married to Brian Vosburg, making her Alicia Robynn Vosburg.  The next day she changed her name on facebook and I got tears in my eyes.

My friends have asked me if I’m going to write about it and (to tell the truth) I don’t know how to.  The day was such a flash of light, such a fast blur that I can at best, piece together all of the beautiful parts.  I also see it as my daughter’s day – the day of the bride.  Those clichés you always hear about the wedding being “all about the bride” – they’re true. 

But, since I am a writer, I will write.  I’ll do my best to encapsulate one of the most complicated days of my life.

Here are my memories of Saturday, August 31st.

1.  Alicia was beautiful.

Alicia was born beautiful; she’s lived a life of being beautiful.  But she’s the “pull my hair back in a ponytail and let’s go” kind of beautiful.  She’s casual and relaxed a bit on the tomboyish side.  

On her wedding day, my daughter looked like a Disney princess.  She had her hair and makeup done (thanks to her bridesmaids who whisked her away) and she wore her beautiful white dress that I had seen her pick out.  That day seemed so far away but had only been a couple of weeks before!

The dress fitting - David's Bridal

She had dark eyelashes that made her (already Mediterranean) eyes stand out and be the kind you see from far away. 

I walked into the “bride room” and saw her, surrounded by Ashley Z and Morgan and my heart melted.  She looked just like a bridal magazine…and no ponytail. 

2.  Brian was as cool as a cucumber.

Brian, my new son-in-law, seemed to take the day in stride.  He didn’t seem nervous or hurried or stressed.  He wore a tux with a white bow tie and shoes that made me think of the mafia.  He looked very handsome, and he was ready. 

“Are you nervous?” I asked him in the morning. 

“Yeah,” he smiled.  “But happy.” 

I smiled back.  Brian looked ready – like a kid about to go to Disneyland.  I wished for his composure… and was grateful for it at the same time.

3.  The bridesmaids looked so grown up and beautiful.

Photo Courtesy of Crystal Saxon

Pardon this point, but with the exception of three of the girls, I have known all of these eight (!) bridesmaids for quite a long time.  My niece, Renee, I have known the longest...:)  

 I would catch myself talking to them like they were still my former students, or they were Alicia’s friends coming over for a sleepover.   

In reality, they had all matured and grown and now came together for a reunion: all of them so different from one another;all of them holding special places in Alicia’s heart (and mine).  All of them looking gorgeous.  

Three of them brought their children who buzzed about the hallways and the grounds like their mothers once were – free and without care. 

It occurred to me as I watched them take pictures that they had all grown up.  They had all come together for Alicia.  It was a collection of personalities only Alicia could put together in one place.

The thought made me get tears.

4.  Brian and Alicia were surrounded by family.

Alicia and Brian have had two children, our most beloved Harmony and Alannah, who were the cutest flower girls God ever created.   The wedding was held in an orchard and the reception next door, literally at the home of Steve and Suzanne Lange, Brian’s step-father and mother.   

Steve officiated the service, which was beautiful.   The Lange’s even catered the food.  Brian and Renee Vosburg  (Brian’s father and step-mother)  were right there with us, bringing a special gift: wine with labels announcing the couple’s wedding.

Joe was the only brother who could make it and had come all the way from Seattle.  My sister-in-law, Shirley had come from Arizona.  Our beloved Alice (Mario’s “step-mother”) had come from New York City.  My parents were there from Tracy, despite having to leave the next morning at 4:00 a.m..  My sisters, nieces and nephews, Aunties and Uncles were there.   Ryans, Rodriguez’s, Harwells, Langes, Vosburgs…. 
Photo Courtesy Crystal Saxon Photography

Everywhere you looked were family, everyone in one place to celebrate.

5.  We got by with a little help from our friends.

“A little help” is only in reference from the Beatles song – in truth, we were flooded with it.  Thank God for the love of friends, who were there as soon as preparations started.  A local artist and friend of our daughter, Kim Ranella, did all of the flowers.   Her son, Tyler, and another friend of Alicia’s, Crystal, were the photographers.   

Our DeeJay was in a car accident and was hospitalized during the wedding.  Instead of the party being without music, a friend of Steve’s stepped in and set up a whole music system to save the day.   

People stepped in to do whatever was needed and there is so much needed to be done for a wedding.  Suzanne and her sister, Nancy, worked so hard that the food was served up hot and delicious.   

Thank you, thank you, thank you…..

6.  Mario prayed and I cried.

Mario was Mario, thank God.

When it came time for the toast, he faced the bride and groom and made his toast be more of a prayer.  He told them both how much we loved them and prayed for them.  He wished them the love and commitment that we had shared it. 

I was grateful for videography because I knew I couldn’t possibly absorb the true beauty of the moment.  Halfway through what Mario said, I could no longer keep back my tears and my granddaughter, Alannah, tried to cheer me up by being silly as I held her. 

Thank you, Jesus.

7.  Butterfly Kisses

The Father-daughter dance was to “Butterfly Kisses” where both Dad and Daughter cried and danced.  I was so touched and moved and joyful…  It had long been her dream to dance with Mario to that song and there it was – happening right before me. 

The Mother and Son dance came next and I don’t remember the song, but I do remember Suzanne being joyful.  It made me smile….

8.  We all danced – and danced!!

It was so fun.

My Uncle Jim used to say “I’ll dance at your wedding” when we brought him coffee.  I used to wonder what he meant.  Now I think I know what he meant:    “I’ll celebrate the day that will be one of the happiest in your life by making a total fool of myself on the dance floor”. 

Out came the the robot, the insane gestures, the shimmy and the kicks!  

We danced and danced.

Harmony and Alannah seemed to enjoy it the most, and Ashley and Morgan entertained them by dancing dance after dance with them. 

It was incredible. 

Crystal Saxon Photography

This morning I was thinking that we only have been back five and a half months.  We moved back to the USA from Africa, bought a repo-house and restored it, then married off a daughter.  Not bad…

I opened my Bible this morning and it fell open to a bookmark of Alicia in the eleventh grade, smiling at the camera.  It was Psalm 20, verse 5 – the verse that I began this blog with. 

I have been praying this verse for my daughter since 2005, the year she handed her package of school pictures, coming with a glossy bookmark.  “I hate this picture,” she said back then.  “I don’t want to buy them.”

I bought the whole package, thinking them to be one of her most beautiful shots.  I saved the bookmark for myself  and placed it in Psalm 20 verse 5 – for 2005.  I prayed this verse for her everyday- that God would fulfill every deep desire in her heart…  especially the one where she knows she is beautiful. 

Because she is, after all, so beautiful.  

And now I have witnessed so many of her victories, including her wedding.  

Crystal Saxon Photography