Monday, May 30, 2016


Scarlett Star 5/30/14

Scarlett Star was born in a New Mexico birthing room that was perched on the top floor of the Farmington hospital and overlooked the whole city.  We had a view during the night, the sunrise, and a sun-filled day.  Thirty-six hours after labor had formally started, Rikki, unable to smile or pose for pictures sank back into her pillow, exhausted.  

Scarlett was immediately taken and put under a light, as the birthing staff tried to ascertain her health. 

Eventually, she was weighed, measured, and handed over to her father, Vince, my son.  Scarlett relaxed into his arms.  The scene will never leave me. 

Scarlett was finally here.

The birth of a child is wild and unpredictable—a perfect precursor of their life.  Scarlett had to stay in the hospital extra days to be treated for jaundice.  

Under the ultraviolet lights, she wore sunglasses and looked like a cool cat.  Vince held her on his lap so she would feel cuddled, rather than parked.  Eventually she came home and Bruno, the family dog, accepted her as his baby. 

Scarlett was the first child to be born after Mario and I returned from South Africa.  While I rejoiced that we were so close, the family still lived miles away in New Mexico.  I begged them to return to California, where I offered safe lodging and free babysitting.  The offer posed an interesting dilemma: California was Vince’s home; New Mexico was Rikki’s. 

Where would Scarlett find her home?  The answer, as it is for all children, is in the safety of her family.  The father and mother’s connection with a growing child is the most important thing in the formative years.  Vince and Rikki’s closeness to Scarlett was essential to the baby becoming a safe and secure person.  

When Scarlett turned a year old, we could see she was a secure and content baby. Happy, curious, and connected, she didn’t fear going out, wanted connection with others, and even exhibited a sense of humor.  Our favorite picture of her was in a knitted Yoda hat she loved to wear and wiggle side to side.

Last year, Vince and Rikki decided to move “back” to California, where we had set up the room upstairs for them.  Our prayers were answered!  After getting used to us, Scarlett started socializing regularly with us and we have actively participated in her growth.  Any grandparent can tell you that each step is a miracle. 

Today Scarlett Star turns two.  She is amazingly independent.  She is not a cuddly grandchild, but rather someone who wants to participate in every activity we are a part of.  From eating diner to washing the dishes, she engages like she is one of us – and she is.  At two years old she loves water, and finds it wherever she can.  Her outside pool, the dog’s bowls, the bathtub – are all invitations to splash and guffaw with delight. 

Now and then Scarlett wants a hug.  She cuddles into my neck with sincerity and tenderness, making me feel like I could die and go to heaven at that moment.  She is wonderful and special.
Happy Birthday, Scarlett Star!  You are an amazing little ball of JOY!!

Saturday, May 28, 2016


Jay-D Ornsby-Adkins
December 9, 1985 - April 28, 2007

Robyn Ornsby is a fairly new friend of mine and a Gold Star Mom,
a mother who has lost a son in the service of our country.  She’s not just any mother, she’s the mom of my daughter Alicia’s long time best friend, Morgan.

Like all Gold Star Moms, this weekend will be less festive
for Robyn than most Americans who will be bar-b-queuing. 
It is the official time for these mothers to grieve the child
they have lost in protecting the United States.  It is the one
day that they are joined in their grief by all of us, as we stop
our lives and remember the fallen soldiers that made
life in America possible for the rest of us.

“Ever since I lost my boy I have battled with why people
don’t celebrate this holiday,” Robyn told me.  “I have a
hair salon and if I ask a group of fifty people what
Memorial Day is, only one or two will know exactly
who we are remembering.” 

According to the most recent Gallup poll, only 28%
know that the holiday exists to honor those who
died in war.  Those who have died in war leave
behind families, and they remember the fallen

as more than just soldiers.

“My Jay-D was born a mischievous little
monkey,” Robyn laughed when she first told me
about him.  “Honestly, he was a little character
who found joy in challenging me!” Her laughter faded
and she sighed, “I would give anything
to have him here challenging me now.”

Jay-D was born on  December 9, 1985
and seemed to be all boy through and through right away. 

“He was mighty and tough, and he
wouldn’t tolerate anyone bullying him.  He’d give them a good fight.”  Robyn was always trying to teach the delicate balance of sticking up for oneself and self-control, especially when Jay-D started sticking up for his friends in the same manner. 

“I would get a call from the principal's office, and they'd tell me that Jay-D was in there for fighting a boy who was bullying someone else,” Robyn told me. 

“When he got home, I asked him 'Why are you fighting other people’s battles?' He answered me  ‘Well, it just didn’t seem right!’”

Robyn told me that Jay-D always seemed drawn to help the underdog.  “At a time when it was not cool for him to help the Down Syndrome kids in school, he would.  We were at the movies once and a man in a wheelchair was trying to gain access and the other teens were just watching. 

It was Jay-D who stood up and helped the man open the door and find his way down the aisles.  He was just like that, always helping someone.”

The boy who fought other people’s battles grew up, discovering
his own tender interior.  “He taught himself how to play guitar, he loved ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ which he played very well.”

After high school, Jay-D chose to enlist in the US Army, since career opportunities seemed more promising after finishing school.  “Jay-D wanted to get his life started,” Robyn said.  “He knew that if he enlisted he would be able
 to earn money for college and get other opportunities.” 

At twenty years old, he was enlisted, sworn in and enrolled in boot camp.  It was there thathe became a soldier.  “Once boot camp was over,” Robyn told me.  “Everything changed.  He was very focused on fighting for his country. 
Shortly after, he was deployed to Bagdad, Iraq, where he served as a tanker gunner.  While the main gun is what most people think of when it comes to tanks, Jay D was part of the crew that operated the machine guns mounted outside.

With a heavy heart, Robyn told me about the day
 her son was killed.  “It was actually supposed to
be his day off.  He wasn’t supposed to work that
day, but they needed him.  He agreed to go, not
only because he was part of a team, but also he
could apply that day to his next leave.”  Instead
of their usual tank, the team took a Hummer as
part of a convoy and made their way through the
streets.  On the side of the road, waiting, was the
enemy.  As soon as the company’s Hummer was
 in range, the enemy exploded an IED –
an Improvised Explosive Device.

It was a massive tragedy.  Of the four soldiers in
Jay-D’s Hummer, three were killed.  The enemy
was fired upon by the surviving convoy and killed. 
Retribution, or justice, does not satisfy.  War is truly hell.

“I was able to bury Jay-D in Sunset View, a
 cemetery in Jackson,” Robyn said, after she
 composed herself.  “It is a beautiful and peaceful place.” 

Each Memorial Day, this Gold Star Mom has a
cherished wish: that Americans would stop and
remember what this day really is all about. 
“I see the advertisements for the Auto Malls,
the shopping centers, and the grocery stores. 
All of them say “Memorial Day Sale!”  I wonder
 if they will honor any fallen Veterans there;
I think they won’t.  It’s all a money-making
 opportunity then.”

Knowing Robyn has changed the way I see Memorial Day.
 I think about Jay-D a lot.  His sister (my daughter’s bestie)
 has a young son that his Uncle Jay-D will never meet. 
He’s a beautiful bundle of joy – named Jay-D.

“I love little Jay-D!” Robyn says when she speaks of her
grandson, her voice lifting with excitement.  “Morgan
shares him with me and I watch him every Monday!”

Everyone who has lost a person close to them know the
painful reality that life goes on.  While it does, it helps
to grieve with others.  On Monday, we all grieve together.
 I will grieve with the Ornsby’s for their son; I will grieve
 for all who fell in battle.

Our soldiers are more than men and women in uniform.
They are someone's baby, someone's spouse,
someone's uncle or aunt.  I will grieve the fallen;
I will celebrate the freedom that I have inherited
because of them.  After all, that is what Memorial Day is.
(Uncle) Jay-D December 1985          Baby Jay-D   May 2015

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Every child enters the world with a story.  Their story highlights them as beautiful and special.

Harvey’s story is one of freedom and unexpected calm.  He was born one day after his parents, our son Joe and his long-time girlfriend, Ariel, were married.  A home birth, Ariel had a team of midwives surrounding her as soon as serious labor set in. One of these midwives was Joe's baby sister, Seantel.

 Mario and I arrived at Joe’s apartment only to be greeted by Seantel downstairs.

“She’s close, but it’s hard to say how long this will take,” Seantel told us, with a serious face.  It made me want to break out in the nervous laughter that always accompanied my excitement. 

“What should we do?” I asked.  “Come back later?”

“Can you go get snacks?” Seantel asked.  The midwives had been working non-stop and would be hungry after the task of delivering a baby was over.  As we would fawn and coo over the new life, the midwives would chart and be administrative at the kitchen table.

Mario and I headed to Safeway, holding each other’s hands tightly in nervous anticipation.  We bought drinks and cheese trays, chips and dip.  When we were driving back to the apartment, we talked about the challenge of another long-distance grandchild.  At least I did.

“Seattle is a long way,” I told him.  “I wish they could be in California.”

“It’s not so bad,” Mario said.  “It’s a heck of a lot closer than Africa.  At least we’ll see him more than we would have if we still lived there.”  Mario is an optimist—or a realist.  Both mindsets have a way of being fine with what we have and enjoying the moment.  I was already grieving the loss of time spent with a grandchild that hadn't even been born.

We got to the apartment in time for Ariel’s transition.  We met Cathy in the living room and silently prayed for the upcoming delivery.  I was in awe of the smooth, careful breathing I heard coming from the next room.  The Midwives’ voices were louder than Ariel’s soft moans of pain that would bring Harvey into the world.  I remember my own deliveries, and my impatient screams that cursed the painkillers for not being strong enough to mask the agony that wracked my body.  Ariel sounded nothing like that.  Instead, her cries were more like sighs,  and that calm amazed me.

Eventually, the sounds coming from the room became urgent and we knew that our Harvey would soon be coming into the world.

I stood in the doorway with the audio of my phone turned on.  Eventually, I heard the sounds of a baby, a soft cry that became a loud one.  Harvey was here!!  I held the phone up, with tears in my eyes.  No one, no matter how gifted with words, can prepare you for the incredible brilliance of a new life coming into the world.

Harvey was perfect. His face was light and beautiful and he seemed content from the moment he was born. Asher, his newly-turned-four-year-old brother delighted in him. Joe was on top of the world

The day was amazingly peaceful.  We all took  turns holding the baby, who looked like a perfect blend of his mother and father.

We left two days later, after sharing Harvey with his normally private family.  I got home and went through my mountain of pictures...sighing st the wonder of him.

The next time we saw Harvey was Christmas, where he had become a mobile baby, playful and engaging those around him.  He had a spirit of contentment and cooperation about him, constantly smiling.  While Asher is usually strong and charismatic, Harvey is relaxed and jovial.  He wears an expression on his face as if he knows a  secret joke that keeps the world spinning.

Today marks one year since he was born.  Just last month his mother sent us a movie of him walking!! What an incredible miracle life is!

Happy Birthday, Harvey.  You already remind me of your father—content in not being the center of attention, but being the center of attention anyway.  

We love you more than you could ever know.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


Graduate- 2016
On the hottest day of 2016, I arrived at the parking garage at American River College to practice “the walk” for graduation.  I ran to the stadium, which I had seen every day but had never formally visited, and made my way through a sea of folks getting complimentary Noah’s Bagels to hear the beginnings of the orientation.

“Congratulations,” Parrish Geary said through a bullhorn. “You’ve come a long way to get here.”  As ARC’s Interim dean of Enrollment went through the way we were planning to line up, process, and be seated, I shielded the sun from eyes and tried to pretend my tears were from its rays. 

In reality, it was hard not to get emotional.  This campus was my big cushy welcome back to the world of higher education.  Every part of it worked its way into my heart and now, only eighteen months after I started, I was graduating.

Back at home I tried on my gown and mortarboard and looked in the mirror.  Looking back at me was a nervous, hope-filled girl, the day of her graduation from community college.  Just the day before, I received news from my English teacher, Professor O’Brien, that I was also being awarded ARC’s English Student of the Year.  It was an incredible way to finish this part of the journey.

When I was eighteen, I graduated high school and had little or no interest in college.  At least, that was what I told people.  The real story was that college required a discipline I did not have -- and money that was not available.  My prospects were bleak but I was too proud to attend community college, Delta in Stockton. 

“Just go for one semester,” my mother pleaded.  “You will fall in love with it, I am sure!”

“No I won’t,” I said, as respectfully as I could. 

I was dreaming of getting out of Tracy, moving to some big city, and getting my own apartment. I would need to work to save up the money to do this, and would have to stay in the stifling constriction of my parent’s house.  Finally surrendering to my Mom’s wishes, I decided to enroll in CSU Stanislaus –and attend for exactly one semester.  I blew it off like it was nothing.  After my perfunctory semester I left college and moved out of my parent’s house.

My casual rebellion led me to the place where all rebellions do: disaster.  By the time I recovered my balance (and realized my parents were not so stupid) I was twenty-two with a baby boy.  Thankfully, Mario came along not long after and we fell in love.  I was also in the process of being swept off my feet by God, who in his infinite power and mercy, transformed me with His amazing grace and love.  Then came (like the childhood song) marriage, children, homeschooling, teenagers, grandchildren, Africa…. Coming home to America in 2013.

Serenity and focus led me to a season of reflection.  Could I live my life in complete satisfaction and peace without that college degree?

The answer was no –but there was grace to go and get it.

The Graduation ceremony was at 7:00 pm and came with a merciful breeze that took the edge off the long afternoon sun.  I kissed Mario goodbye in the parking lot, and as he headed for the stadium seating, I headed to the graduate’s meeting place.  The breeze blew my gown close to me, and I was glad I wore flip-flops, especially when I watched other ladies walking slowly in their stilettos.  I filled out a card with my details (including the pronunciation of my name) and carried it with me to the line of graduates, who stood in the shade of a vine-covered cyclone fence.

I saw Vanesa, a fellow Statway buddy and we stood together.  Soon we were joined by Jezelle, one of my beloved Statway angels.  Her Ethiopian friend was with her, a political science buddy was just ahead of us.  Surrounded by graduates of all shapes, ages, and sizes, we lined up and got ready to process in to “Pomp and Circumstance.”

“I think my cell phone is dying,” I said to Jezelle, just as we started moving.  “How can I text Mario through the ceremony?”

“I left mine with my kids, honey,” Jezelle said.  We laughed at the irony.  Without cell phones on this incredibly important day?  No pictures?  No fun texting during the ceremony? Would the world crumble?

There were about seven rows of graduates on each side of the aisle. I couldn’t count all of them, but out class was very large.  I searched the stands for Mario and finally saw him.  There he was, on an aisle seat half-way up the stands.  I tried to get his attention above the band, the air horns, the applause, the shrieks of other graduates like me.  

He finally saw me, and his face lit up.  I held up my cell phone and made a chopping motion at my neck.  “Dead!” I mouthed.

He didn’t seem to understand, or care.  He kept lifting the camera top take pictures, so I blew him kisses, stood on my chair, waved and smiled.  When he stopped taking pictures, he touched his heart and pointed to me.  I broke down into the happiest tears I have cried in such a long time.

All I could think was…” I’m finally here, and he is here with me!” My best friend and my biggest supporter –without him, none of this would be possible.  He is the one I strategized with when I knew I wanted to go back to school.  How should I do it?  Where should I go? How many night classes vs. day classes?  How many units should I take?  What should my goals be? 

As students have counselors, I had Mario.  My school counselor provided the HOW’s in the strategy.  Mario kept me focused on the real goal: to make this whole thing glorify God.

The speeches were great.  Our student speaker encouraged us as a community, as did the chancellor, and the Trustee.  Nevertheless, the students were anxious to walk onto the stage and get our diplomas.  The real diplomas will be mailed to us in six or seven months, after our grades are recorded and our records are reviewed, but our fake diplomas were waiting for us.  The walk, the handshake, the smile for the camera, and the strut back to our seats? That was what we were there for.

Jezelle, Vanessa and I hugged a lot more than we ever did during normal school days.  Nervous energy and incredible excitement made us overly-affectionate.  I was happy that I was with people I knew, and I absolutely loved that I was at Beaver Stadium. 

Finally, we moved our tassels from the right to the left, and we were pronounced graduates.  In celebration, I threw my mortarboard in the air with a joyous shout.  I think I was one of the few that did. 

“What did you do that for?” Vanessa asked me. 

“I wanted to,” I laughed.  Jezelle was laughing, too.  I guess no one else wanted to lose the mortarboard they had paid for and decorated.  I could see where it landed, a couple of feet past the first row.

As we stood up to exit, I saw a tall, statuesque blonde in the front row, a girl I knew from Statway named Karly.

“Hey, Karly!” I yelled. 

She looked up, and then scanned the crowd for the voice.  Eventually, she saw me and smiled. 

“HI!” she waved in triumphant celebration (I guess she thought I was calling out to Whoop! Whoop! with her).

“Can you get my mortarboard?  I threw it and it’s right there!”  I pointed toward it, and she retrieved it just as we started to exit.

I looked out for Mario, who pointed to the parking lot.  I nodded.
‘We were lost in the maddening crowd for awhile, but only awhile.  By the time I found him, I rejoiced.  I rejoiced and I rejoiced.

This diploma does not signify an end, only a transition, but I have slayed the dragon that used to be my biggest insecurity: I now have a college degree. 

As I type this, I cannot tell you how full my heart is.  Next to me is my red, white and blue tassel that has a hanging “16” attached.  In 2016 I graduated with an AA in English – and an honors certificate –and the distinction of being the English Student of the Year.

Grace beyond measure… the first stage is complete. 

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…”  Ecclesiastes 9:10

The only pic of me exiting the stage (It was pretty far away!)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Pirate Picnic --ENGWR 480 in front of Portable 611 

There are unexpected, tender mercies in life that are too numerous to count.  The sound of summer rain being drunk in by a dry earth.  The smell of coffee, clean sheets, and pink roses. The taste of aged cheddar cheese with a ripe pear.  Tears of joy. A bride and groom’s first kiss.  Being part of a college honors program when you are 53 years old.

In truth, I never thought I’d be part of any club or organization when I went back to school; it turns out I joined the Honors Society just by participating in classes.  I am humbled that I qualified for the Honors Program at American River College and never took it for granted. 

The Honors program is one that ARC classifies as “self-selecting” – a program in which you may voluntarily participate if your assessment scores allow you.  The classes usually require more reading and writing and classroom participation is a must.  No one is on their cell phones in an honors class.  I didn’t just participate in honors classes, I loved them.  I absolutely adored them.

Here are a few reasons why:
  1.  Students: Honors students are (unapologetically) the brightest, boldest, most competitive kids on campus.  Throw an older lady in the mix and they will keep that older lady on her toes just so she won’t fall behind.  Every honors class that I walked into were filled with nerdy goofballs. Students that are fun, funny, can juggle a full academic schedule, play a musical instrument, and participate in sports without breaking a sweat.  They reminded me of my friends in high school (I was on the Speech Team with a bunch of fellow nerds).  I loved them all—I dare say that they made me feel part of them. They are thoughtful, logical, passionate, and they listen to one another.  They taught me to listen.  They taught me to get over myself.  They taught me to study when I wanted to watch TV.  They taught me which foods to eat the day of a test.  If you asked me how I felt about the future of our nation, I would say that I would elect any of these honors students into office. 
    My English Writing Honors Class -- Blackbeard's Pirates led by our beautiful Professor O'Brien
  2.  Professors: Honors professors expect the highest level of participation, thought, research, attention, and cooperation from their students.  They do not listen to excuses (“I have another midterm on this day” or “My other Grandma died”).  They do not play favorites.  They push their students to reach their highest potential and give them oodles of opportunities to shine.  Each honors professor I had was either my age or younger than I was – and they cracked the same whip for me.  I am forever grateful.
  3. Classroom: Instead of rows of desks, most honors classes push their seats in a circle and have a round robin of conversation.  The classroom is filled with differing opinions, thoughtful insights, and respectful disagreements.  A classroom that is alive with thought is the most productive environment in which to learn.
  4. Convenience: I took five honors classes while at ARC.  They are offered in the day, at night, in the afternoon.  If you want to take an honors class, it is available.  ARC offers special recognition to those complete fifteen units of Honors classes while they are enrolled.  I thought that I would not be able to complete enough classes to graduate with the Honors Transfer Certificate, but I did.  And you can bet I went to the ceremony to get my flipping certificate!! 
    Getting our Honors Certificates! 

There are many things I will miss about ARC, but the Honors Program is one of the biggest.  It is the program that reminded me to run without complaining and do my best with the brain God gave me.  If I can do it, anyone can do it. 

The Honors Program dares you to be more than you think you are.

Friday, May 13, 2016


My friend, Nathaniel, contemplates statistics 

There is a an old saying that there are no atheists in a foxhole.   In the heat of battle, with bombs flying and active shooters, there is nothing else to do but shoot and pray.

The same thing can be said of statistics.

In the year and a half that I have returned to community college, I learned a few things about the rules of engagement:
  1.   I had to set an academic goal and then strive to meet that goal;
  2.   I had to fulfill requirements in “the golden four” –basic skills which are required of all university students before transferring to a four-year college:
  •  Oral and Written Communication  (An indescribable joy of life)
  •  Arts and Humanities (Beautiful disciplines)
  •  Social Sciences (History, Political Science, and all other things awesome)
  • Scientific Inquiry and Quantitative Reasoning (oh no…really?)         
  • These rules apply to all students.  There are no exceptions.

Statistics fulfills all the requirements of quantitative reasoning.  The “most necessary math” is the thing that kills most students.  There is a statistical probability that 60% of all college students will drop out of college, citing math as the reason.  For a girl who always struggled with math, the challenge of statistics stood in the doorway of my academic future like a ninja, poised with sharpened blades in his hands.

After researching my options, I decided to enroll in STATWAY, a statistics pathway for students who are liberal arts, humanities, and social science majors. The program promised to fulfill my transfer math requirement in two semesters – rather than three.  

I don’t have to be a math major to know that three semesters is more than two semesters. 

In Statway, I would learn how statistics applied to real life. American River College had a math professor that was part of its inception, available tutors that would help me, and a group setting that was designed to help me succeed.   
 When I bought my calculator, a TI-84Plus, I took a picture and posted it to Instagram.  The caption read: “Behold the very weapon that will slay me."

Statway proved to be everything it said it would be: labor intensive, filled with classroom activities, and chock full of  statistical concepts and skills.

Each day – and I went Monday through Thursday – we worked in groups and dissected complicated problems to find the right samples, the right methods, the perfect tests, the best wording…to compile statistics.

At least three days a week I went to tutoring and sweat it out with fellow students who were just like me—clueless in math and needing to pass this class to go on. 

David leads us in tutoring
Statway was the hardest, most exhaustive, most thrilling math class I have ever taken.  It took me two semesters, four days a week and twenty hours of study per week outside of a classroom --but I did it.

I write this after my last day in Statway: I took my final this morning.  When I said goodbye to Mrs. Brock, my teacher, I almost started crying.  

I just checked my Facebook as I was going to bed tonight and saw my Statway friend, Karen, had posted a picture of a celebratory tall, frosty coffee beverage from Baskin Robbins.  The caption said: “I'm so grateful and thankful for the people who have walked with me faithfully during this last school year.”

I laughed and texted her back: “Stats is like an army trench - it makes war buddies that last forever!”

All of my fellow students are classic war buddies.  I respect and love them all for their sheer determination and decision to face that ninja in the doorway.  Not only did we finish, but we learned how to fight ninja- style.  

Now, whenever I face math, I will be less frightened.  If I can finish STATWAY, I can do anything.