Friday, December 29, 2017


Taken about 15 minutes ago.  Me and my love...

Mario and I have been married 30 years today!

Tonight, I asked him a question. “I’m blogging about our anniversary later. Are you in?”

He raised his eyebrows and looked at me.  “What do you mean?”

“Come on, babe,” I said, insinuating that he should have been expecting me to ask him about this.  I do this every year, for crying out loud.  “What if someone asked you the key to staying happily married for 30 years?  What would you say?”

Mario looked over his dinner plate—he was polishing off a lamb chop.  “That’s a loaded question.  Can I get back to you?”

I sighed.  “Alright.”

I started cleaning up the kitchen, since my daughter-in-law made dinner, and returned to my desk about fifteen minutes later.  Mario handed me a yellow post-it note.  “This is all I got, sorry.”

I looked down and saw a list, one that he had just written.  Mario is a list-man.  In response to my inquiry, he made a list of what he would answer if someone asked him for the secret to a long and happy marriage. 

“Thanks, babe,” I laughed.  I kissed him on the neck.

“That’s all I got,” he said, shrugging and trying not to laugh.

I should end this blog here, with that cute little story, but I won't. If anyone is curious, I'll explain the items on his list; it’s pretty cool.

Our family decided to use all the props at the photographer's for a humorous family picture

1.  Humor.

Mario and I make each other laugh—sometimes in response to terrible circumstances.  If you want to bond with your partner, laugh together.  Mario has a great sense of humor; I love to laugh.  This makes us a good team.    

Humor is a weapon of love; laughter releases endorphins. Whenever we share humor, we admit that we don’t take ourselves so seriously.  We laugh to connect with each other, but also because we’re both pretty damn funny. 

On a trip to Sudan --2008

2.  Service to each other. 

Mario underlined the word “to” twice.  We are servant-hearted people by nature.  We both believe in the love-language of service to people.  If he asks me to do something, I do it—gladly.  The same is true for him serving me, and I would probably say more so.  

Service gets your eyes off yourself—it is a chance to do something for someone else and in doing this, you invest in their life.  Who better to invest in?

Mario and I after running the California International Marathon --2002

3.  Admiration of each other’s gifts.

Mario is athletic and I have attended more than one wrestling match, track meet, and softball game.  I am his head cheerleader.  He thinks in lists and equations—I admire this tremendously and look to him for his organizational eye when I am writing. I am social and creative; Mario loves to hear me tell stories.  He is my first reader, editor, sounding board, and counselor.  He is wise; I am compassionate.  We know each other’s value and with each passing year, we are more and more grateful for the other’s  incredible gifts.

Our 5-year-old selves

4.  Pics of us at 5 years old.

This is one that I need to explain.  Mario and I have not always been happily married—in fact, we’ve come close to splitting up.  When we were in counselling (about twenty-three years ago) one of our counselors explained that we were essentially fighting with the person inside of our spouse—our inner five-year-olds.   She suggested we carry pictures of our spouse at five-years-old.

When I met Mario, he was my confident boss; I was his beautiful employee.  Once we exchanged pictures of the little kids we once were, my heart broke.  Mario’s portrait was of a careful, frightened boy with messy hair.  His eyes held the sadness of the whole world.  I looked up at him, and realized that my words had been wounding this precious child.  I have never seen him the same—and I carried that picture around for years in my wallet. 

So, the short story is, if you wouldn’t cut a five-year-old child down in your anger, don’t do it to your spouse.  Maybe the other part of this story is—get help if you need it. A good counsellor is worth their weight in gold.

On board the Queen Mary II - January 2017

5.  Forgiveness.

How fitting that this comes after the 5-year old pics. 

Once a fight is over—maybe while it is still going on—make the decision to forgive.  Forgiveness is not some magical feeling that descends from heaven, it is a decision, like love.  Forgiveness is not forgetting, it’s not excusing, it’s not even being nice to the other person.  It’s recognizing the other person said something wrong—or did something bad—and deciding to throw that thing into the sea.

This concept doesn’t apply to behaviors associated with addictions.  Addiction is the equivalent of acid in a relationship. If you have an addiction (to ANYTHING) ditch it.  If you have a negative pattern of doing something, break it.  If you need help, get it.

So forgive.  Often.  Forgive so much it feels like you’re the one doing all the forgiving.  It’s like medicine…

Before Opening night --Man of La Mancha 2016

6.  Humility

Mario wrote (eventual!) in parentheses after this. For those of us who like to be right, humility is a tough concept, but a necessary one.  Think of being on the same, level playing field with your spouse, since you are fellow travelers in this marriage. 

When making decisions, it is important to (eventually) agree.  Have the humility to admit that the other might have a better idea than you, or might know as much and have a different opinion.  So many unnecessary fights are started because one partner thinks they are right and the other is wrong.  Usually, Mario and I are both right—and both wrong—but we listen to each other thoroughly before deciding.  I trust Mario; he trusts me.  We are co-laborers in the same life—what good would it do for one of us to rise haughtily above the other?

7.  Devotion.

I am deeply devoted to Mario, and he is to me. I will think of him first above anyone else; I will never even consider another man the way I do him.  He champions every dream I have, even if it seems inconvenient at this point in our life; I support him in every endeavor. We are each-other’s cheerleaders, best friends, and greatest admirers.  I am loyal to him and he to me.  This devotion might seem sappy or old-fashioned in today’s world, but it works for us.  After all, it is genuine.

Our Wedding Day--December 1987
There's been a lot of prayer since then!

8.  Prayer.

Mario and I are Christians, so we share a common faith. We believe in a God who hears us and communicates with us.  Our prayer life is something that is private, between us and God.  And yet, when we join to pray there is something incredibly intimate and special—and powerful. We both feel very blessed to have this as part of our relationship--and we know it is necessary to our survival.  

So that’s Mario’s list.  I think it is a pretty good list—and to think he did it in just a few minutes makes me laugh.  “That’s all I got,” he said, handing it to me while trying to suppress a laugh. He knows very well that his list is awesome—written on a piece of yellow paper like it’s a simple note. 

In fact, it’s almost like a love letter, isn’t it?

Thursday, December 28, 2017


 55 today

I will love this year.

I still remember the day I called my father to wish him a Happy 55th Birthday.

“Hey, Dad!” I said, “Stay alive with 55!”

“That’s about it,” he chuckled. 

It was 1989, and major networks were saturated with the Stay Alive—Drive 55!” advertising campaign.  Our nation had been experiencing rising gasoline prices, but the Department of Transportation insisted that its focus was about freeway safety, hoping to minimize high-speed accidents.  Television commercials were everywhere, interrupting our favorite shows: “Stay Alive—Drive 55!”  Since these public service announcements were everywhere, I thought I was being funny and clever by merging my father’s birthday greeting with a nation-wide slogan.  Hilarious!

Today, I am 55. (How did this happen?)

I was born on December 28, 1962—a Friday.  My mother began that particular weekend by delivering me, her second of five children.  I was one of the babies born in the space between Christmas and New Year’s—a time where most people were catching their breath from the holiday gatherings or gearing up for one.  

I grew up believing that December 28th was an unfortunate time of year to be born, but when I eased into adulthood, it didn’t take me long to appreciate the sheer brilliance of being born on this day!  It is a relaxed time of year—and family gatherings are more frequent.

My 54th year has been amazing on many levels—I graduated from university and won two significant awards for my writing—but it has also been very painful. Mario and I have both lost dear, close friends.  It has been (as all other years have been) bursting with joy and pain, grief and celebration—chock-filled with life.

The “Stay Alive—Drive 55” campaign was designed to encourage drivers to slow down and enjoy their journey.  The concept never really caught on for Americans; we tend to speed through our lives, rushing from one place to the other.  It is quite easy to forget that along the way there is laughter and miracles in the seemingly mundane and ordinary steps in between. 

Today—on my 55th birthday—I will stop and reflect on the journey.  It’s actually an amazing one that I share with all of you. Today I told my daughter, Alicia, that I seriously am grateful for the life I have.  In fact, I feel undeserving of all the blessings that are in it.  I am grateful to God, my family, and friends for loving me. 

And I will love this year.

“But as for me, I trust in You.” 

Psalm 55:23

Saturday, December 9, 2017


My stole and cord--Ready and waiting

I am supposed to be working on a final paper that I will turn in on Monday—the date of my last final exam.  Instead, I am flipping through the web—random searches for news, Christmas gifts, homes in the area that are for sale….  I am putting off the paper.  Why?  I just arrived home from Chico and I am feeling a little dreamy.  There is nothing else for me to do but to write and write and write and write….
I am scheduled to graduate on the 16th of this month, at the Golden One Center downtown where I will wear a black mortarboard and gown and a gold tassel. Monday is officially my last day of school at Sac State (CSU Sacramento) and I am feeling a little exhausted—and sad that I am leaving such an incredible place.  Tonight, I found myself writing this—a blog about random numbers that relate to graduating with a bachelor’s degree at 54. 


120:   Academic Units required to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English degree—
                              I have 122.
19:   Maximum Number of units I have taken in one semester—
In my final semester at American River, I powered through five classes—one of them was six units, another was four (the average class is 3 units).  Three of these classes were honors classes, which meant more writing and a greater demand for class participation.  For every unit, the student is advised to reserve two hours of independent study per week.  21 units=42 hours per week of study.  You can see why students are considered to have a full-time job.  This semester I had a pleasant 18 units—all English classes with the best professors.

3: Years of my life it has taken to do this—
At 52 I returned to college.  I completed one semester of college when I was eighteen—right out of high school (1981).  I hated college back then.  It was lonely and hard work.  No one knew who I was—or cared.  When I returned at 52, I found the same loneliness on campus.  Don’t misunderstand me—there are plenty of people and I have made plenty of friends, but it became obvious very quickly that each student is on a separate journey. Unless you belong to a club or involved in a group project, students don’t really have a sense of shared purpose.  I had to remind myself that I was part of a family, a church, a marriage that valued what I was doing.  This way, I did not lose hope in the journey, which can be very lonely at times.

3: Average hours per day spent in the library or Learning Resource Center
Best place to study at ARC?  The Learning Resource Center.  Best place at Sac State?  The library.  I grew attached to the community of nerds that hung out in both places, typing away or researching on the AMAZING databases we got access to with the price of tuition.  Sac State’s library is so amazing—I have never seen its equal—and I’ve been all over the world and visited many libraries.  I like the NYC Public Library in Manhattan, but I like Sac State’s even more…

2 and 2: Number of Analytical Math and Science Classes I had to take—
I am an ENGLISH MAJOR—a writer who knows how to BS her way through most subjects—until it comes to math and science.  I took Geology (which loved) and then I took Biology (which I thought was the study of life but turned out to be the study of life systems and microbiology)—both in the summer where I got to sweat it out in summer classrooms for at least three hours a day.  The focus helped.  I had to pass Statistics –but ARC had a wonderful class called STATway—which is the hardest class I have ever taken in my whole life! Yikes! Thank God for my gifted, talented, and very sympathetic professors.  They genuinely wanted to help me—I genuinely wanted to learn. Every single student who graduates with a bachelor’s degree has to satisfy the compulsory general education requirement to show you have at least a working knowledge of science and math.   Ask me the odds that most students will forget what they learned.

550: Dollars I spent on parking passes—
Forget books and tuition, parking is expensive for students—and a pain in the butt.  Everybody complains about parking; everyone has to do it.  In my last semester at Sac State, the campus was at sixes and sevens because they were building two additional parking garages.  Just in time for me to leave.
4: Number of rolling backpacks I bought—
Take my advice, if you return to school and plan to lug around books for as many classes as I took (I averaged 15 units per semester), INVEST in a good rolling backpack.  My first two were actually rolling computer bags, but those things are meant for business people carrying a computer from the car to the office.  I went through those wheels like a 14-year-old acne-faced skateboarder—and found that a rolling backpack was the ticket.  My latest one is on its last legs, but it was a trooper: a black JWorld New York.

5:  Average number of times I cried my eyes out in total frustration per semester—
This can’t be due tomorrow!  I didn’t get published in Lit Mag again!  I won’t be able to attend a friend’s wedding because I can’t dig myself out of my massive amounts of homework!  This professor hates me! I talk too much! 
You get it.  Three weeks before the end of the semester is high stress, and I –like many of my fellow students—panic with the amount of work that has to be done in those last crucial weeks.  I think this semester has been the calmest—maybe because I expected the overload. 

1 guy who got me through this—my husband.

Without a doubt, I could not have done this without Mario.  Then again, that goes for most of my endeavors.  I cannot imagine anyone doing this while working full time or with a partner that does not support them.  It is a hard business that requires intense focus.  If your partner is not on board, it is virtually impossible to succeed.  I had all the support in the world from Mario—and it shows.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Liliana Grace is the grandchild whose face glows with wonder and excitement about nearly everything.  She is extremely artistic and has won awards for her paintings and drawings. Fiercely independent (like both mother and father) Lilli has a unique thirst for knowledge.  She also has a strong desire to see justice and fairness prevail. 

I miss her so much…

Because Lilli lives with her siblings (Callen and Lauren) in Kansas and Mario and I live in California, our relationship is not exactly traditional.  I wish that we could have our kids together within a one hour radius, kind of like my parents have it with their children, but it is not possible. Lilli has four sets of grandparents – and we are the furthest away. But love knows no boundaries.  Love has the power to skip over natural barriers as easily as stones skip over water.  Lilli is in my daily prayers and I carry her with me wherever I go.  Because she is so incredibly valuable to me, I will continue to learn about her and find new reasons to love her.

Today is Liliana Grace’s birthday, and we are here in California and she is there near Kansas City.  We will most likely call her on the phone, sing happy birthday and hear all about how her Halloween was.  We learn how to count our blessings, and talking on the phone is a huge blessing to a Grandparent who has lived in a foreign country for so long.    

Today, our Lilli will blow out candles on a birthday cake and the glow of her candles will light up her face like she lights up the world.

Happy Birthday, Lilli.  Today I walked through campus and thought of you—your beauty, your truth, your moral courage.  I love you and I’m proud of you.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017


4 Generation 1987 -- Mario, Chev, David and Joe
When I first met David, my step-son, I laughed out loud because he looked so much like his father—my boss, Mario.  He was wearing a striped shirt with a collar and shorts, and he marched into my office like he owned the place.   

“Leave Janet alone, she has work to do,” Mario teased.  David at him and then back to me.  “Come on David,” Mario persisted.  “Come into my office now.”

“He can stay here,” I offered, bringing out a ream of paper and a jar of colored pens. Joe, his brother, kept his distance, clinging to Mario warily.

“Joe, do you want to color with us, while your Dad returns phone calls?”   

Soon, David, Joe and I were drawing pictures as Mario talked in his office.  Now and then he would look and smile at me.  At that time, we were still employer/employee, but Mario would soon become my boyfriend, and then my husband. 

So, my first memory of David is this– us coloring pictures at my state-issued desk. 

Supposedly David is 38 today, but I’m sure that’s impossible.  It was only yesterday that I met him, dressed in a striped shirt and leading Joe into my dusty office at Carnegie.  He was beautiful, with brown eyes alive and seeking to know everything.  He was only six, but spoke with wit and humor that made me laugh.  He liked making me laugh.

Looking back, I realize that Mario and I were meant to be together (as corny as that sounds, it is true.)  David and Joe were part of Mario’s “package deal” and Vince was part of mine.  Blending our little families together meant we were in for some heart-stretching and learning to love one another.   

David at the computer - 1987
I learned to love David easily.  He never smart-mouthed me, ever.  He loved computers and math, solving puzzles that involved reasoning and figuring out recurring patterns of things.

“Do you have a math brain?” I asked when he was in Jr. High.  He shrugged like it was no big deal.
“I think so,” he answered, without boasting.  “I’m not a genius, but I just see patterns.”

He graduated from high school, went off to college and then learned UNIX, which changed his life.  A series of crazy girlfriends drove me nuts and caused my prayer life to take on new forms; then he met his wife, Lennae, a person I truly love and cherish.  His kids were the first to make us grandparents – Callen, Lilli, and Lauren – whose humor is so like their father’s.  

David is what people call my step-son—Mario’s eldest child with his first wife, Cathy.  A long time ago I dropped the “step” and just said son…David is our eldest son.  He lives in the Kansas City area, so we don’t see him as much as we want to.  When we do speak, there’s instant connection and a lot of laughter. 
David "fishing" 1985

Tonight, I am sitting here remembering him…and thinking of how blessed I am to know him—let alone have him in the family.

Happy Birthday, David!!  We love you!!

David and Mario Smokin' stogies --2014

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Once upon a time there was a girl who loved stories and her name was Harmony. 

Harmony loved stories so much that her Grandmother began writing them, just for her.  She wrote stories about silly things, like ponies made of ice cream that never melted.  Harmony laughed when the ponies were chased by two mad scientists who could never prove their existence and went crazy trying.  In the end, the mad scientists gave up trying to prove the ponies existed—and the ponies let them move in with them.

Of all the stories I write, the ones I like best are the stories I write for Harmony, my daughter Alicia’s eldest daughter.  She is a joy and a light to anyone who knows her.  She is kind to strangers, loving to her family, an eternal optimist and an incredibly intelligent child. 

Harmony has many unique, brilliant things that make her lovable.  She cares deeply for Alannah, her little sister, and shows her the way through the passages of childhood and growing up.  She loves her mother and is quite protective of her.  She loves to grow plants, make arts and crafts, draw freehand, and read.  She reads so well!

There are many things in life that I do, trying my best doing each one.  But being with Harmony is effortless.  We can do anything—anything—and it’s easy.  We cuddle on the couch, read or watch TV and it’s beautiful. 

Every Friday, I go to pick her up from school and volunteer in her classroom (or Alannah’s) for one hour.  Harmony greets me with a big hug, so happy to see me.  Last time I went, her new teacher asked her to introduce me to her class.  Harmony stood up tall and held my hand.

“This is my Grandma.  She’s a Christian and she was a teacher.  She loves to read and she says, ‘Reading is power!’”

I stood in front of those second graders, tears in my eyes and a big smile.  It might have been one of the proudest moments I have ever had in my whole life.

Harmony and her 2nd Grade Teacher, Mr. Mike
Happy Birthday, Harmony!  I love you and I’m so proud of you!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


My husband is Mario, a man you all know I treasure and love with all of my heart.  Last month, he had a dream about his best friend, Dave, whose sudden passing I have written about here.  He was deeply moved and touched by the dream--so much that he got up and wrote it all down.  I have asked him if I can post it here, which I do with the greatest of tenderness.  Many of you have lost loved ones--and sometimes we are fortunate enough to see them again--sometimes in dreams!  Enjoy!  Janet 
A silly pic of David (l) and Mario (r)  Before--AFTER!! 

It Was Good to See Him
August 2017

I dreamt about Dave Smith last night…he looked like my brother Anthony did when I last saw him – he was still a “big” man but the ravages of his disease had caused him to lose 40+ pounds.  In my dream, Dave looked “different” – like about 170 pounds (!), but, like Anthony, it was clearly Dave Smith.

I was visiting a sick and dying Dave Smith, like he had cancer or something…but anyone who knew Dave knows that NOTHING bothered him.  He might have been sick, but he was fully “Dave-like” in my dream…joking, not complaining, not responding to any physical pain...speaking in serious and affectionate words, then suddenly giving you a familiar tease!  He even made fun of himself.  It was so familiar.

Bottom line – It was good to see him! I started to think, “…it was good to see him…it was good to see him!  We’d come back from Africa maybe once a year (from 2006-2013), and Dave and his wife Terry would host us at their home as our USA travel “base” … they were often the first people we’d see when we got back to the USA, back to home.

It was always good to see them.  We’d catch up with “life” …it was like no time had passed.   

Last month I visited with my dear friend Russ Guiney in Los Angeles.  We both started our Ranger/Peace Officer careers on the same day in 1977!  We met at the Santa Cruz Mountains District Headquarters.  We hadn’t seen each other since 1996, over 20 years!  We both looked older, but our recent time together was rich…and fresh.  It was a wonderful time of reconnection…and he’s still the same man I used to admire and look up to.

I miss Dave Smith deeply.  I decided to go on a brutal backpacking trip over this past 4th of July holiday weekend with some young men.  Thankfully, Mike, a man my age, decided to go as well.  I barely made it…I know I slowed the team down…but I managed to survive the trip.    

Why would did I agree to make such a trip?  I went for one reason – in honor and remembrance of Dave Smith.  My first “camping trip” with Dave and his family was in the summer of 1977.  We made regular trips to the Mokelumne Wilderness until his sudden death last December. 

I awoke from my dream feeling like I’d had a wonderful time of “reconnecting” with Dave!  I felt refreshed; we got to catch up…as if to know it would be awhile before our next time together.  When we saw each other, it was like no time had passed – we “re-connected” in a moment.  It was good to see him.

Prayer – “Heavenly Father, let me have more dreams where I can visit and catch up with the people I miss the most…let me dream about being with Anthony next.  And thank you dear Lord for my time with Dave.”

Dave, Elijah, and I putting some of Anthony’s ashes in the waterfalls above “Big Hole” in August 2014.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Two guys followed Chris for sure, but he thought there might be more, so he quickened his pace.  He reached into the long pockets of his overcoat, feeling around for his knife, but he remembered that he had left it on his desk, so that his mom would not discover it in her new routine of checking his pockets.  Instead of the knife, he felt the stumpy, fold-up umbrella that his Abuela had given him for his birthday.  It was designed for a ninety-year-old, with an automatic-open feature and a slip-proof handle, but Chris knew he could use it as a weapon if he had to.
He passed the pretzel shop, the cookie kiosk, the Music-Stop (blaring Taylor Swift); he ignored the aproned girl trying to hand him a flier at the American Girl store.  The mall’s automatic doors were within sight, but he could hear the clicking of anxious footsteps behind him, as if his followers were running.  He turned to face them.
He saw them—Eddie and his crew.  They had tried to corner him in the bathroom that same day at school, after they discovered he was using the bathroom stall to urinate.  His heart thumped heavily in his chest –then and now. 
“Hey, Chris!” Eddie Young hollered.  “Wait up!”  Eddie wanted to appear friendly –maybe for the security tape—but his face was scarred with hatred and his crew had identical, hungry expressions.  Chris knew they wanted to force him into a dark corner outside and rearrange his face.  Their task had been curtailed earlier and they seemed driven to finish what they started.
Chris stopped, scanning the halls for any security or person of authority.  Only the aproned girl handing out fliers was there, but she just stared at the scene as if she were watching a movie.  He withdrew the umbrella from his pocket and held it high above his head with his right hand.   “Stay right there,” Chris said, his voice sounding high and nervous. “Just….”
“Just what…?” Devon shrieked with laughter.  His cronies burst out laughing too.  “Just let me be a girl-boy or I’ll hit you with my umbrella?”
Chris started to sway in panic, and then suddenly—without warning—the umbrella opened.

The trip to the mall was Mom’s idea, after she heard about the bathroom scene.  Chris hated telling her, especially since the year had been riddled with uncertainty.  The return to school had been a risk, after the haircut, the wardrobe change, the decision live his life as a male.  Even with the most supportive family, Chris knew that real acceptance would have to come from his peers—the ones with the true power to accept or reject him.
“Did you tell a teacher?” Mom asked him.
“Why not?  Do you just want them to get away with it?”
Chris didn’t say anything.  He was trying to keep the real horror to himself.  He was ashamed of his peculiar dilemma—and the words the boys used that afternoon:
“Why not come out here?” one of them yelled.  “Whip it out in front of the rest of us!”
“Yeah, we’re all guys, aren’t we?”
There was laughter and pounding on the door as Chris yelled for them to leave.  Eddie hoisted himself up on the metal swinging door, peering over at Chris as he sat down. 
“I see her bush!” he yelled. 
“Chris?” Mom’s voice broke him out of his trance.  “Answer me.  Do you want them to get away with it?”
“That’s what I thought!  I’m calling the principal right now,” Mom picked up her phone.  “I’m not going to stand back and watch my…”  Chris reached for her hand. 
“Mom, please don’t,” he sighed.  “There’s only so much she can do.”  Mom was seething, but she looked at  Chris carefully.  His close-cropped hair had been dyed blue and green.  His face, just the same as his father’s was worried, but resigned to such terrible treatment.  She put her hand on his shoulder.
“Want to go get some ice cream at the mall?”
Chris nodded.  “Okay, that sounds good.”
The trip to the mall was longer than what Chris felt like.  His music wasn’t connecting to the stereo.  By the time they arrived, it was pouring down rain.
“Would you mind if I just walked around by myself?” Chris asked, almost apologetically.  “I think I just need some air.  He waited for her reaction as she pulled her hands from the steering wheel.  She turned to him, dejected. 
“Are you serious?” she asked.  “I thought we were going to have ice cream.  It’s why we came all the way here.”
“I think I need to just be alone.  And I don’t have my license.  Maybe you can wait a few minutes and then come in…”
“Oh, just go!” Mom said, reaching behind her and pulling his overcoat into the front seat.  With ninja speed, she checked the pockets for questionable items.  She handed it to him and he put it on. 
“Sorry, Mom,” he said as he climbed out of the van.  Mom hollered something as he shut the door. He walked slowly to the mall, even though he was getting drenched in the rain.  It was refreshing and cleansing in a way.

As soon as the umbrella opened, Chris jumped.  From the inside, transparent balls, like bubbles, fell to the ground slowly.  Time stood still as Chris watched the bubbles, which slowly took shape into figures.  The bubbles elongated into translucent bodies that stretched and grew arms and legs.  The bodies became human—bipedal—and their translucent surfaces became flesh.  Seven people now stood next to Chris.  As suddenly as it happened, time became real again and Chris dropped the umbrella.
The figures of the umbrella crew were varied in height and size.  Two tall black men, dressed in the wrappings of Maasai warriors, carried clubs and stood, stoically, next to Chris.  Two other men, dressed in tartan kilts, ran out the mall doors with great speed.  Three young girls, holding lambs, knelt at his feet.  A man who looked like their father put his hand on Chris’ shoulder and then turned for the door.  At Chris’ elbow, a small man dressed in a long robe stepped forward and picked up the umbrella, which was spinning like a top on the polished marble floor.   
“What the…?” Eddie whispered.  The rest of his crew stood still, as if frozen or in shock.
The little man lifted his hand to Eddie and spoke.  “You have no business with this one! Leave him be and move along.”
Eddie appeared to be unable to move.  His face looked boyish now, as if he were twelve or eleven, rather than sixteen.  The other boys gawked at the figures, as if a Marvel comic had exploded with superheroes and they were there to watch. 
“I said, be on your way, you lazy Cretans!” the small man yelled at them.  This seemed to wake the boys out of their trance.  Without a word, the crew turned and walked away, like wounded children that had been denied a privilege.
 Chris watched them, and then turned to the small man, who struggled with the umbrella.  Chris took it from him and folded it back up. As he snapped the band in place, the two Maasai warriors looked curiously at the folded umbrella.
“They will not bother you again, not with this magic.” 
Chris shrugged and smiled, “I doubt it.”
He felt the hand of the tall man on his shoulder, but when he looked up, a strong light blinded him.  He heard a gentle voice whisper: “Your mother is probably worried about you.”
Chris nodded, and turned to walk toward the doors again.  As they opened,  he turned back toward the ramshackle crew, but the only one in the hallway was the aproned girl who had been watching him.  Her eyes were wide; her fliers were scattered about her feet.
As he walked into the rain, he opened the umbrella again.  Rain pelted hard against it, but Chris stayed dry underneath.  For a moment, he forgot where his mom had parked the van.  When he found it, he saw her figure: reading a book by the overhead light.  She looked peaceful and rested.  Chris was suddenly overcome by emotion.
As he opened the car, he smiled at her. 
“Want to come with me to get ice cream?”
Mom looked at him carefully, as he held the umbrella high above the door.  She closed her book and nodded.
“I’ll come if you promise to share that umbrella,” she said.  “It’s really coming down hard.”
“You’re telling me.”

They greeted the wide-eyed, aproned American Girl employee as they walked past her, wondering if it was too late to catch a movie.      

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Alannah in Kansas City --December 2017

The story of Alannah is unfolding rapidly, since she is at that rare, beautiful age where each day brings new challenges and promises.  She radiates excitement and as I type this, a thousand images of laughter and tears race through my head.

When she was born, Mario and I lived in South Africa.  We regularly SKYPED with Alicia, so we got to see Alicia’s tummy grow all from a webcam connection that spanned two continents.  Leading up to the date, Alicia could tell that this baby was larger than Harmony.  Soon, she was sure that she would not make it to her due date of August 1.  I changed my air travel to arrive near her birthday that year—July 28, 2011.  By the time I arrived in Chico, a very pregnant Alicia greeted me--ready to have the baby any minute. 
July 29, 2011 -- Nine days before Alannah was born

 Alannah did not come until August 8, and (just like her mother) came into the world after a long, hard labor.  Mario was with us via SKYPE hookup, and Alannah came out kicking and screaming.  Thank God!! Alicia was incredibly exhausted afterward, and had lost so much blood that the nurses told me she was in line for a transfusion.  The good news was that the baby was delightfully healthy—Alannah Litney Vosburg was 8 lbs, 5 ounces and 21 inches long.  She was pink and beautiful—lots of noises came from her. We all rejoiced in her beauty –and I got to hold her.

The morning after Alannah was born

 That Christmas, when we came home Alannah was four months old and I spent most of the days with her holding her.  It was all over too quickly… I remember the feel of her in my arms, the pain of handing her over to her mother and leaving to fly “home” to Johannesburg. 

December 2011 --Alicia, me and Alannah (4 months old)

Today, Alannah is six years old.  We have been “home” in the United States since 2013 (as I type this I can’t believe it’s been four years.)  Our lives are rewarding and happy, but the grandparenting portion makes me smile ear to ear.  I take advantage of the (relatively) close proximity by visiting with Alannah and Harmony once a week, usually travelling to Chico on Fridays.

Alannah with shaved ice--2 weeks ago

“Grandma! Grandma!” Alannah calls to me as I arrive.  My heart still skips a beat when I hear her voice—her sincere gratitude for me.  Alannah is filled with love and joy –and she brightens the world just by being in it.  She feels things in living color, with her whole heart.  She is either genuinely happy or extremely sad – very rarely in between.  Because she is so filled with emotion,  I wish that I could protect her from any kind of hurt and harm.  I remember thinking the same thing about her mother—and I couldn’t do it then, either.

Mixing Shopkins with Legos

Instead, I content myself with “fun Fridays” when Harmony, Alannah and I have outings.  Alannah loves to play with the exhibits at the Gateway Science Museum and plays with Calico Critters at Bird in Hand.  We visit Jon and Bons for frozen yogurt and splash through the fountains at the downtown plaza.  When we go to the library, Alannah puts on puppet shows with the other kids, making me laugh and marvel at her imagination. 

Alannah and Harmony show off a completed puzzle

Even at six years old, Alannah loves to get dressed up.  She is kind of a fashion plate, loving fashionable dresses as much as her sister loves jeans and shorts.  Her hair is usually beautifully made up, and she has to have earrings matching the clothes she has on.

“Grandma, do I look nice?” she asks me, shyly.  What can I do other that sigh?

Alannah, you are so beautiful!” I answer.

Alannah, Scarlett, and Harmony
July 2017

Last week, I brought Scarlett with me to Chico (I was in a happiness coma.)  At one point, Scarlett turned to Alannah and smiled.

“My favorite color is green.   What is your favorite color?”

“Hmmm…” Alannah tilted her head and scratched her chin with her forefinger.  “Mine is sparkly gold, but I also like sparkly silver!”

Happy Birthday, Alannah—you are as sparkly as any gold or silver.  You are even sparklier!  I love you, my beautiful girl--and I'm never ever mad at you!!

Me with baby and her babies --May 2017

Friday, July 28, 2017


Mario's Mother took this Polaroid picture on the day she "met" Alicia

Alicia was born 29 years ago, our only girl. Tonight, on the back porch, Mario and I shook our heads in disbelief…the time really does go by so fast. 

Alicia's One-year birthday Party --Arnold, CA

Alicia was born after Mario and I married--David was 8, Joe was 6, and Vince was 2.  Alicia’s birth in July of 1988 “sealed the deal and made us real” –we had ourselves a genuine “blended family.”  

Alicia did not come into the world softly and gently—she was born in living color, vibrant from a young age.  She grew up fast, right before my eyes, developing a genuine love for animals and people.  She jumped into everything that life had to offer and devoured it, always drawing a friends to herself.  She was a tomboy.  She loved to read.  She broke every rule that boxed her in.  

It all went by so fast.  

Sometimes I still wonder where the time with my little daughter went.
Today I looked back on the pictures I have of us—some in various stages of play, some posed, most candid shots where one of us is looking away.  Some are taken in the USA; others are taken in Africa; many on planes; some in amusement parks.  She is surrounded by friends, family, love, teams, her array of collections.  They show how Alicia did not ever settle down.  

And then…I came upon my favorite—one she took with my phone this year. 

I think she took this the day before Mother’s Day, when she held the camera away from us and clicked before I knew to smile. I look at it now, and realize that this is us. Alicia has a smile that illuminates the world –and the film that captures her. It also shows me, trying to be peaceful as the time ticks away.  Like most mothers, I feel like my baby is moving at the speed of light.  I wish I could slow down time, just for the sake of having more special times together. 

Today, on her birthday, I take a deep breath and remind myself to be grateful.  Kahlil Gibran writes:
 “Your children are not your children—they are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself.  They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you,  yet they belong not to you.…”  

Alicia has two beautiful girls of her own, children that remind her of the heartbreaking truth that we cannot hold on to them forever, even if we want to.  On this day, I want her to know that she belongs to God--and that is why I can relax.  He created her unique and special –and truly beautiful.

Happy Birthday, Alicia.  I can never tell you how much I love, but I can try.  
Love to you now more than ever,


Sunday, June 18, 2017


My new favorite picture of Mario -- June 2017

On Sunday, our house was swarming with honeybees.  They started to swarm on Thursday, outside the front door, along the ledge of our entryway.  Each day the swarm increased until today, where, as if to celebrate Mario’s birthday tomorrow, they are swarming outside and inside of our garage.  Not wanting to use pesticides, we called a local bee keeper who promised to pick them up tomorrow evening.

“You know we’ll be at communitas tomorrow,” Mario said, right after I told him.  We were in the kitchen, where I had just finished making chicken enchiladas and a cake for his birthday.

“Are we going?” I asked.  “I mean, tomorrow is your birthday!  We’re supposed to have a birthday dinner together.  We just got this new dog.  Now the beekeepers are coming…”

“I know,” Mario sighed, stretching his arms, “I just don’t want to miss communitas.” 

Communitas is a gathering of our friends, kind of a Bible study.  Together we decided to read the Bible all the way through in one year, using a structured and disciplined approach. We meet on Monday evenings to get together and discuss.  Communitas is a Latin noun, loosely translated to mean “a community of equals, friends who are experiencing liminality together.”  I love these friends…but really? 

As I sit here, writing Mario’s birthday blog, I realize that this is an example of Mario being steady and focused, even in the midst of chaos.

The night before we wed - 1987

When I met Mario, 31 years ago, this was one of the first things that impressed me.  He was steady and strong—calm under pressure.  This was a rare quality in a young man; it still is.  When we became Christians, Mario’s focus became even clearer.  Each decision he made is now measured by what will bring him closer to Christ.

Tonight’s conversation about bees, our new dog, enchiladas and birthday cake illustrate how normal people can sometimes feel overwhelmed by their lives.  In my world, I’d rather retreat, lay a nice table, provide a delicious blessing for Mario, and wave goodbye to that pesky swarm of bees.  But that probably won’t be the thing that that Mario wants to do tomorrow night for his birthday.   Mario will want to go to communitas because we’ll focus on God with our friends –and God is who makes Mario strong and steady.

Today is Mario’s 63rd birthday.  I cannot believe that he is 63.  Something must be wrong; time is spinning out of control.  Usually I blog about what a hunk my husband is and how I can’t believe he married me.  Tonight, I write about a piece of our lives, and the One who Mario looks to in order to keep his path straight.  Imagine living with someone who thinks like this—and then make him a hunk.  

That’s how cool my life is.