Monday, May 26, 2014


“Do you mind if I turn on sports?”  Mario has cooled the room down to 60 degrees and I’m wearing a jacket now.  My side of the bed (and my desk) is next to the cooler, which he has graciously shut off.  

We’ve just returned from a big bar-b-que party at Vince’s house (he smoked lots of meat and Rikki even made her potato salad – even though she’s so pregnant) to our hotel room, a simple suite that I am grateful for.

“No, I guess not,” I manage to sound frustrated.  Watching sports is not a pleasurable thing for me and unfortunately it shows. 

“I don’t have to watch it,” he offers.

“No, go ahead.  I’m not writing, so the noise won’t bother me.”

After a drive-by of twitter and facebook (my phone has no service so instagram has been a no-go), I can’t help but pull up word and spill.  Spill what’s inside of me on to the page.  Spill out the day and the desires and dreams inside.  It’s just a blog, I think.  Just a quick note about my day; a journal entry that others can view...  just a blog.

In this blog I will say that my first-born son is about to have his first child be born into this world.  Her name will be Scarlett Star.  We’ve just come from Boston to celebrate with my Dad – 80 years - and now I’m about to have a baby granddaughter.  I feel like I’m walking down a hallway between Mars and Jupiter and am able to touch both planets – able to see my life stretch out on both sides and smile.

I want to be truly vulnerable and say that there is no way in the world that I should have been given the gift of travelling with my parents to Boston and celebrate Dad’s eightieth birthday.  Because of my history with him, I am blessed that my father even talks to me.  Instead, God has given us so much grace that we had a vacation of love and beauty.  I came away feeling privileged.

On the other side of the hallway is my son Vince.  Because of my history with him, my son shouldn’t even want me around while Rikki is getting ready to give birth to their first child.  Instead, I am welcomed, like an honored guest and am given the gift of being here – being alive and wide awake for this beautiful time.  

Again, only by the grace of God.

I am here with my husband, the best guy I have ever met in my life.  He loves sports and our room is freezing cold because he likes it that way, but he is beautiful and tender and he adores me.  Why?  The grace of God.

God’s grace is elastic and beautiful.  It goes on and on after rejection and tragedy; pain and bitterness.  It goes on to hand us long-stemmed rose bouquets after terrible defeats – it brings us full circle in relationships because God is all about restoration.  I am flexible because of it; and others around me love me because of it.  It truly is the best gift I can ever receive.

For that, I am grateful.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Dad watching from The Wall

I’ve just returned from a five day trip I took with Mario and my parents to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday.   He was born and raised in Boston and went to Boston College before moving to California, so he still considers it his home town.   Mario will turn 60 in June - so shortly after we arrived home from Africa last year, both he and my Dad decided it would be “a good thing” to go see the Red Sox play at Fenway Park.

It had been ten years since my Dad had been to Boston, when he went back for a couple of days and saw the Red Sox play at Fenway.  For a girl who knows little to nothing about sports, this makes very little sense, but it makes my Dad happy and for that I’m glad.

So they bought tickets first – to see a series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Sox, May 20, 21, 22.  The first two were evening games, the last one was an afternoon match.  Also joining them in the last game was an old college buddy of my Dad’s Paul Buckley (a man who I grew up knowing as the man who sent us postcards from all over the world with one-line salutations: “I found no Ryans here – Paul” “How would you like this view? – Paul”).  So they were happy – a vacation built around seeing the Red Sox play.

My Mom and I were bound and determined to do Boston right – the guys even agreed.  They would do the town with us when they weren’t attending games and actually took part in planning.  Most of the outings were no-brainers: Boston Commons, the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum (Dad had incredible memories of this museum growing up), Boston eateries and shopping areas, riding the trains and buses, and (of course) seeing my father’s original home and neighborhood.  Mom and I even trekked out to Dorchester and had chicken fingers in a real Irish Pub- Peggy O’Neil’s.  There, we sat at the bar and told the locals our story of Dad turning eighty and coming back home to see the Sox (O’Neil’s’ marquis has the Boston Red Sox logo interwoven).  When we told them we were hoping they would win “just for Dad on his birthday”, one of the bar patrons lent us his view:

“Your Dad doesn’t need the Red Sox to win, he just needs to see Fenway!” 

It made my Mom and I agree in sincerity.  That statement was indeed true.

This morning we drove from the San Francisco Airport, reflecting on the trip and how much fun we all had; it was very close to perfect. 

“What was your favorite memory of the whole week?”  I asked my Dad.

He thought awhile and then answered:

“I think it would have to be sitting at the Green Monster and watching batting practice,” he said.  “It wasn’t that great of a view, and the seats weren’t even that comfortable; not as comfortable as the ones we sat in during the game.  But just the legend of the monster and the fact that I got to sit there… that was my favorite part.”
My favorite part was seeing my Dad’s birthplace; his old neighborhood.  I enjoyed seeing Boston College and seeing where he grew up.  I even liked strolling the streets of Brookline and haunting a bookstore there with everyone. 

I missed out on Fenway (purposefully) but my Dad reconnected with the most nostalgic thing about his birthplace: Fenway.  My Dad remembers the Wall (the Green Monster) when it was just a wall.  The Green Monster wasn’t even painted green until 1947; before that it was covered with advertisements. The Monster designation is relatively new, and most Bostonians knew it as “The Wall".  Dad’s memories of the park are filled with senses – the park was involved in every stage of his growing up.  He used to walk to Fenway from Brookline as a child (a feat of note) and later drove there with family and friends.  He left Boston and now California is his home, but Fenway will always hold that quiet place of honor and home in his heart. 

Since a picture says a thousand words , this is a smilebox of our trip.  Enjoy.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Everyone has one Dad.

Mine had a distinguished voice, read more than he watched TV, lisened to classical music and insisted on dinner at the table ever night.  He was also pretty religious.

“Do you think Dad would have been a priest if it weren’t for Mom?”  I asked my sister, Patty one morning as we got ready for school.

“Yes, dummy.  Everyone knows that.”

We all assumed it.  We were more Catholic than the Pope.

Dad came home at 4:45 every day, and since we lived in a court, I could look out the front window and see his car make a wide left turn and slow down before it hit the driveway.  Every day the same time.  He’s come in, kiss my Mom, look at the mail and then greet his kids.  We knew that no matter what we were doing we had better stand up and greet him like we meant it.

Dad had a working knowledge of calculus, physics, English and American literature and most music.  He never got into Rock and Roll, to our dismay.  We usually drove everywhere listening to Mozart or some kind of jazz. Nevertheless, Dad worked as a correctional counsellor at a State Prison.

During baseball season, Dad watched the Red Sox (when it was televised) or else he listened to them on the radio.  Dad was pure Boston, even though he had lived in Northern California since he married my Mom.  Californian and a husband because of my Mom....

Today my father turns eighty.  Mario and I are on vacation with him in Boston.  Today we’ll see the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; tonight he and Mario will see the Red Sox at home.  I’m not supposed to tell him, but the screen in Centerfield will say “Happy 80th Birthday John Ryan” right before everyone sings Sweet Caroline. 

It’s one of the rewards of living his whole life as a Red Sox fan...and for living in California, I guess. 

Happy Birthday, Dad.  

I love you

Saturday, May 10, 2014


In honor of Mother's Day, I post this story of of a sixth grade memory of my Mom.  I don't have memories of a smothering, doting mother - she was never over-protective or too involved.  Sometimes I mistook it for her not caring as much as some of the other Mom's.  Now I know how strong she is.  She wanted me to be the same, and I am.  Thank you, Mom.  I love you.  

Mom and Me - 1982

In the sixth grade there were two crosses in my life I had to bear:  Garrett Mitchell and my mother. 

Garrett Mitchell was the boldest, whitest, most popular kid in the class that all the boys were afraid of and all the girls secretly wanted to marry.  He hated me, and said so several times a day.  If there was a moment of dead silence hanging in the classroom, Garrett was sure to fill it with a jab about my looks (ugly), my brain (deficient) or my popularity (severely lacking).  This usually was received by my fellow classmates with laughter…because it usually was funny.  For everyone but me.

When I would tell my mom on the drive home, her pep talk was limited to “Just tell the teacher,” or “So what?  Just ignore him”.  This would sometimes be followed by a story of Eleanor Roosevelt not being insulted by someone because she had not given them permission to insult them.   I had heard about Eleanor’s response too many times.  I usually collapsed into a rumpled heap in the seat and sometimes moaned, “You don’t even care, why do I even tell you?” 

What I have learned as I have grown into a woman and an elementary school teacher is that Garrett knew how to bully me in innocuous ways: ones that the teachers wouldn’t bother with, even if they heard him.  Even if others laughed.  He wasn’t hitting, kicking, destroying my property, threatening my safety or racially slurring me.  He just was “teasing” me, they would say.  I was encouraged to ignore him, even if I were not equipped with the ignoring skill.

In the world of bullies, Garrett was a stealth one.  In the world of mothers, mine was a silent one.  I noticed her hanging back when all of the other mothers socialized in a chatty group when they were supposed to be keeping order on the playground or supervising hot lunch.  Mine was gentle, quiet, occasionally friendly with the others, but not like the others.  My best friend, Kim’s mother gave Mrs. Hughes an earful when Kim’s homework had been turned in and lost.  I thought all the other moms were the same: always sticking up for their daughters.   Neither Garrett nor my mother fit into my world of extremes- I was an emotionally-driven, noisy child that demanded attention and a response in every situation I found myself in.  Hence my status as perfect target for Garrett’s bullying.

One day my mother came to school to serve on yard duty, supervising a lawnful of students eating their sack lunches behind the school, either on benches or in circles cross-legged on the grass.  Because Kim was absent from school that day, I ate my lunch by myself on a bench against the classroom wall.  Next to me was my clarinet (all the pretty girls played the flute) and my music stand.  I was due at band practice in ten minutes and the lonely lunchtime would soon be at an end.  My mother wandered close to me, her whistle dangling from her thumb and forefinger, but she knew not to approach me to talk to me- a sixth grade rule: only losers talk to their supervising mothers at lunch. 

I was about finished with my lunch when Garrett sauntered up the lawn, a good distance away from me, but close enough to mumble something about me being by myself all alone at lunch time.  I glared at him, then cracked that he seemed to be alone as well.  For some reason, this angered Garrett – a reaction I was not used to seeing.  He approached me carefully, then grabbed my music stand and flung it against the fence.  “Now fetch, doggie,” he said, smiling. 

That’s when I heard the blow of the whistle.  My mom, completely out-of-character, yelled at the top of her lungs, “MITCHELL!!  Get back here!!”  Garrett (as well as most of the students on the lawn) faced my mother with a look of surprise and fear on his face. He suddenly realized that his actions were just witnessed by my mom- a not-so-silent version of her.  He froze, then walked toward her.  “Pick that up and give it back it back to her!!” She said, pointing authoritatively at the music stand, propped against the fence.  Garrett transformed his walk from sixth grade cool to obedient robot, something that made me both smile and feel sorry for him.  After all, to be corrected on the lawn by a parent was the most humiliating thing that could happen at school.

Garrett brought me my music stand, and just so that I could witness it, he glared as he got close to me, just to show me that things were still the same in our world.  I accepted his offering with a smile, and glanced over at my mom, who was still watching.

That's when I realized she always had been.  

Me and Mom 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014


The view of the sunrise from our back porch in Johannesburg

The massage oil is lost; I’m hoping in no permanent sense.  We had it when we moved here; I remember assembling our night stand when the furniture was unloaded from the large container they parked on our driveway.  It was literally a boxcar and looked foreign in the neighborhood, announcing that we had moved here from a foreign country.

“¿Donde estas ir?”  One of the movers asked me, to which I answered:

“Back bedroom”

I had fallen out of practice speaking Spanglish.  There was almost no need of it after being separated from California for seven years.  That’s how long we lived in South Africa.  Seven years straight, if you don’t count the four month trial move we did before the permanent one.  For the seven years I lived there people referred to me as a white lady.  I am Hispanic – a race that doesn’t exist in South Africa.

After the mover unloaded the nightstand, I adjusted the drawers.  That’s when I saw the Arnica rub, the analgesic massage oil.  I used it to message Mario’s shoulder with it at the end of the day, especially tough ones when we helped someone move or had a church clean-up day.  Next to it was the Neutrogena Massage oil, one that was designed for simple back rubs – one that didn’t have any analgesic properties, but smelled like fresh cucumbers.

I held it the bottle of oil my hands while I heard the din of furniture being moved all around me.  The small rooms of our new home soon became filled with disassembled furniture and cardboard boxes that all were marked “South Africa” just to remind me where they came from.  The furniture was loaded into the same container that now choked our driveway, two months before.  It was there we watched hopefully, as eight men from the Johannesburg-based moving company fit our possessions into it as if it were a large Jenga puzzle; some boxes were removed and unpacked, then fit in again.  Our gardeners watched and waited, then accepted the possessions we decided just could not fit, no matter how hard we tried.  My maid got to keep our guest room mattress after all.  Portia would get the mattress set we slept on just the night before.  Our beloved landlords would get to keep the refrigerator we bought at Game, the nicest fridge I ever owned.  I had no tears; they required too much connection and thought.  By the time the container drove away, I was devoid of both.  Mario and I ambled across the street, exhausted.  We collapsed into the waiting beds that our friends, Bonnie and Terry had for us, after some dim conversation and good red wine. 

This morning I looked for the massage oild when Mario rubbed his troublesome neck.  Mario attended University on a full scholarship because he wrestled competitively.  His tuition was paid for because he made the school look good with a significant amount of wins for the program.  He paid for it with neck and shoulder injuries, like a modern-day gladiator. I’m the gladiator’s wife. 

“Let me rub that out for you,”  I tell him.  He is at his computer and I’m at mine.  It’s impossible to ignore that he’s in pain and needs help.

“You don’t have to,” he answers, insincerely.  Mario loves it when I rub out his neck or aching back. 

I go into our bedroom and start searching the drawers for the massage oil and I can’t find it.  I decide to ask him if he’s seen it.

“Where is it?”

“Babe, I haven’t seen it since we’ve moved.  Maybe we didn’t bring it.”

“I saw it when we moved in.  It was in the second drawer of your nightstand.”

“Well…  I don’t know.”

I return and look in every drawer of the nightstands.  Mario’s top drawer has the books he’s reading.  The second drawer has a cache of candy that I’m not supposed to see.  I’ve given up sugar and have lost fifty pounds since we returned (I started taking responsibility for my compulsive patterns.)  I recognize the Payday candy bar and salivate.  I close that drawer quickly. 

The last drawer has a deck of cards, an ashtray, a jumprope and several airplane gift bags ( the ones that contain socks, earphones, a blindfold and a small toothbrush).  I didn’t know he kept those there.  No oil. 

I decide to look at my nightstand again. It is covered by three stacks of books, all of which I say I’m reading.  The stacks are impressive and invite me to abandon my search and curl up with one of them before dinner.  If my husband were not in pain, I would.  Top drawer is eyeglasses, inhalers, combs and hair ties.  Second drawer is a vanity kit, Kleenex, more books (!) and random pictures that I have scanned and forgotten to put away.  The bottom drawer is a lot of business cards, the wallet I carried in South Africa, my South African phones… and a pile of greeting cards. I move the stack with my index finger and fan out a pile of cards (many of them hand-made) from our South African going away party. 

One of the top ones is from Gill and Stewart, our previously mentioned South African landlords.  That’s really not who they were; they were more like our parents while we were there.  We lived next door to them and they were on NCMI’s apostolic team.  The “rented” us our cottage, a home beautifully situated in a beautiful, park-like setting at a rent so low that we knew it was a gift to us.  On the back porch of that home Mario and I would sit and watch violent thunderstorms with Peaches and Zuzu on our laps, breathing air that was deliciously moist.  Within fifteen minutes, the storm would leave and be replaced with a rainbow.  Sometimes we’d spend all evening out there.

On that back porch we had many parties; many gatherings.  We hosted out of town guests and had Christmas parties with the servants.  In the last months, we wept there together, unsure of how to proceed.  Unsure of how, when, and why we needed to exit the beautiful, complicated land.

I remove the card that Gill and Stewart gave us from the stack and examine it closely.  Gill knew how much I loved African prints; this one is a masterpiece.  A Xhosa pattern frames the card: bright geometrical shapes outlined boldly in black.  The frame surrounds a woman placing a handmade water jar at the foot of a thorn tree, decorated in gourds that hang from its branches like Christmas ornaments.  I remembered the stand that sold both decorative gourds and the homemade water jars, just around the corner from our cottage on the way to Cosmo City.  The woman who worked the stand had a swollen foot from time to time and we prayed for her.  I wonder now why I never bought a gourd or a water jar from her.   I regret it now, almost to the point of bitterness.

The woman on the card is smiling slightly.  She is dressed like a Xhosa Mama, a traditional wrap on her head that matches her fancy dress.  “The Xhosa ladies always like to look smart,” Monica once told me.  The field that is the background of the card looks like any typical African field: filled with grass and hills in the back ground.  You never know what can pop out of that tall grass at any moment, but you should be ready….

I start to put the card back and shut the drawer, but I can’t.  Yesterday was voting day in South Africa and I can’t pretend my heart isn’t missing home.  I miss Stewart and Gill and our back porch.  I miss Bonnie and Terry and Lorraine and Portia.  I even miss being called a white lady; something no one calls me here.  After all, here they get it right. I am Hispanic.

“I couldn’t find it,” I tell Mario as I come back into the office.

“Yeah, well.”  He’s distracted by his work, but for now the ache in his neck has passed.  Tonight is Communitas and tomorrow is the Prayer meeting I host at my house.  Friday I’ll go see my granddaughters and take them to the park.  Sunday is Mother’s Day, for heaven’s sake; I’ll see my Mom! 

I haven’t talked to Portia in more than a month.  I scan the card and decide to do the only thing I can during times like these, I pray.  It was all I could do when I ran across something that made me homesick over there.  Here is family, familiar, the USA.  There is wild, passionate worship,  Diepsloot ... and the piece of me that I can’t extricate from the land. 

So I still haven’t found the massage oil.  I’ll keep looking.  Part of me thinks it’s in that drawer with all the candy that I closed quickly.  Sometimes you have to have to move stuff around to see where something is hiding.

Friday, May 2, 2014


David, Mario, Aunt Rose, Me, Jennifer and James 2010

When you throw a pebble into a pool of water, there are ripples that make rings around it.  They are quite beautiful and are proverbial examples of how there are affects of actions we take.  I want to tell you about Mario’s Aunt Rose today, a woman of peace whose life is one pleasant ripple after another.

I met her at Uncle Frank and Aunt Carmen’s place when she came for a visit.  She was wearing a blue dress and radiated peace.  Her husband, a big man named Raul, was eating chiles whole and reminded me of some Uncles of mine in Southern California.

“My Aunt Rose is the baby of the family,”  Mario told me that day. “She is the normal one in my Dad’s family.”

Mario’s father’s family was extraordinary, but not normal.  His paternal grandparents, Joe and Amanda were from Spain and lived life as immigrant business owners in the town of Hollister, California.  They had twins – Mario and Carmen; then Angelo (Mario’s Dad), then Rose. 

Mario was a professor at USC and wrote books (that I struggled to read) in academic languages; he was married to Aunt Mildred.   Carmen (whom Chev called the “love of the family”)was an intelligent, opinionated, stunning beauty – she married Uncle Frank.  Angelo (he later changed his name to Shev Rogers) was a Broadway actor who could sing – he married Mario’s Mom (Cynthia) then Alice (who Alicia is named after).  Then there was Rose, who I didn’t really know.  She lived in New Mexico and wrote letters by hand to us, she seemed so peaceful.

The day I met her, I realized she was.  Aunt Rose (Tia Rose) was peaceful.  She listened and asked questions.  She was interested in our children.  It was like she was the keeper of family memories, and she explained about Mario, Carmen and Angelo in one sitting to me that day.  She said Angelo was always sweet and Mario was naughty and everyone thought it was the other way around.  She said her big sister Carmen really was full of love, like Chev said. 

That day, we took family pictures and had maybe three or four hours together.  Later, she walked us out to the car to say goodbye.  She was unhurried and calm.  Peaceful.

Years later, I saw her again in Tuscon, her new home.  Uncle Raul had died and she was living by herself now.  We had a wonderful lunch and a family time with her son and grandchildren.  We cherished the time together and hold it in our hearts.

Sometimes we think that family is close if they spend a lot of time together.  I believe that a precious family is made up of many parts, including the gems that you hardly see.  Aunt Rose is precious to us, even though I have seen her only twice in my life. 

Happy Birthday, Aunt Rose.  You are an example of a family gem and we cherish you.