Wednesday, October 4, 2017

David


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

Harmony

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

tribute

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

umbrella



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.
“No.”
“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?”
“No.” 
“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

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!!

Grandma
  
Me with baby and her babies --May 2017



Friday, July 28, 2017

Alicia

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,

Mama

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Mario


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.










Joe

At Mario's for dinner - 1986


The first time I met Joe he was wearing a green-striped shirt and following David, his elder brother, into his father’s office.  He looked over the counter and smiled at me.  His father, Mario, was my boss who I would marry...eventually. 

“Boys,” Mario said in a voice reserved for his children.  “This is our new Park Aid, Janet.  She’s brand new so don’t bother her.  She’s still trying to learn how to type.” Mario thought he was funny.  So did the boys.

Instead of “not bothering me” the boys walked over to my desk.  David was tanned with brown hair and brown eyes; Joe was blonde, with glowing blue eyes.  They both looked at me when the spoke—even though David did most of the talking. 

“We just got here from Kansas,” David said.

“That’s where our Mom lives,” Joe said, dreamily.  He had just turned six;  David was seven, but quickly told me that he would soon be eight. 

I liked them immediately.  They were filled with wonder and questions.  They wanted to use my new electric typewriter.  They told me they had just ridden a horse the day before and Joe actually fell off.
“But I got up and got back on,” he said, proud of himself.  Years later, Joe would become quite an accomplished horse rider—a cowboy, if you will.  Both boys would learn to break and care for horses with great skill.  Both boys would become so woven into my life that I would refer to them as “my sons.” But that evening, I didn’t see any of this coming.  

I went to Mario’s house for dinner that night (more at the invitation of the boys than of him) and got to observe their family dynamics a bit more.  Both boys basked in the glow of their father’s attention.  At some point, I picked up a book and started reading to them.  It was beautiful and magical.  I read four or five books that evening before I excused myself and went home.

“Why are you leaving?” Joe asked me as I packed up my purse. 

“I have a baby,” I answered above their father.  (Mario was laughing, saying: “Because she doesn’t live here!”)

“A girl baby or a boy baby?” Joe asked.

“A boy.  His name is Vince.”

“Can you go get him and bring him back here?”

I looked up at Mario who was smiling. 

“No, honey,” I said.  “I’m going to go home and give him a bath and put him to bed.”

I left that night and did exactly what I intended to do--I went home, gave Vince a bath and put him to bed.  I didn't get any ideas about marrying Mario (my boss) or becoming a step-mother to his children--those came later.  
David (hogging the scope) and Joe at the observation deck of the Empire State building.
Notice the Twin Towers in the back?

David gave me lots of chances to get close to him; Joe took a while longer to accept me.  He was careful and watchful.  On a trip to New York City, David agreed to hold my hand when we crossed the street or walked crowded sidewalks.  Joe permitted me to hold his wrist.   David shared his heart and mind with me; Joe watched me closely.


Two years later, Mario and I married.  We all lived in one smallish house and welcomed baby Alicia soon afterwards.  We became what psychologists were calling “a blended family” –a trend that was becoming more and more common.


Eventually Joe and I became closer, mainly because he could see that I was someone who wasn’t going away.  As he grew, I saw that Joe’s heart was the most like his father’s: steady, mighty, tender.
Years past and Joe is now a man with a family of his own.  

Joe, Ariel, Asher and Harvey Christmas 2015

Two years ago, Joe married Ariel, his long-time girlfriend.  Ariel came with a young son named Asher, about the same age that Vince was when Mario and I married.  They had Harvey one day after they tied the knot—a perfect little son that looks just like Joe—who looks like Mario. 

When I see Joe today, he glows with the same, careful light that he exhibited as a boy.  He loves being a father to Asher and Harvey; he loves being a husband to Ariel.  To watch a son being the leader of his family is precious and inspiring.  Joe seems to have been reborn with fatherhood and the occupation makes him glow.

March 2017 --Three Generations: Mario, Joe and Harvey

Today is his birthday –Father’s Day.  I watch Joe now as he used to watch me; I see him alive and sparkling in full bloom.  A husband, a father and the proud pappy of a new baby, Harvey.  As a man, he has come into his own.

Over the years, I have amassed thousands of memories and thousands of words to describe Joe, but the way I usually describe him to strangers is that he is like Mario.  He’s intelligent without being arrogant, kind to strangers, loves his family, and thinks he is funnier than he really is.  He is tender and strong.  He thinks before he acts, is a great team member, and make decisions cautiously and carefully.  I am so proud of him.

Happy Birthday, Joe!  I think you know this, but I love you very much.  Your steady love and understanding has been greater than I could have ever hoped for.


 To me, this is proof that God has a greater plan than any of us can ever see.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Asher


My favorite picture of Asher and Mario


Over Easter vacation I learned how to make Pokémon card booster packs, simple packages of paper-wrapped Pokémon cards, decorated with pictures of the magical creatures that populate the Pokémon world.  My teacher was my grandson, Asher, the step-son of my own step-son, Joe.  Asher taught me how to fold the white sheets of paper around the cards he would give me, and then glue them together.  I also learned to draw Asher’s favorites to scale, but not without some helpful advice from my grandson who watched me. 

“It’s important that you show his webbed feet,” he told me as I drew.  “Do you see that color?  That’s a mutation that is important.  It makes him powerful.”  Asher is an expert on the assembly of these packs, he knows which ones to put in a single 10-card pack.  He also is an expert on how they should be drawn—which made me nervous as I was trying my hardest to draw the strange little creatures. 

“How’s this, Asher?” I asked him, holding forth my pencil drawing. 

Asher examined it carefully.  Then he pronounced his verdict: “I’ll take it.”

“I’ll take it” became my favorite catch-phrase of our Easter vacation.   Asher’s life is pretty sweet because he is grateful for the simple things that come his way. “I’ll take it” meant that he was happy with my effort, even if the finished product was not perfect.  He thinks like this about most things, and I marvel at this part of his personality.  Asher is happy enough to hold the paper packs for a while –and then open it.  This starts the whole process over again.

Today Asher is six years old.  For some reason, he seems older to me.  Ever since he was a toddler, I called Asher the “little man” –a nickname I gave him because of his serious persona.

Asher last Christmas--right before bed

When I met Asher, he was eighteen months old.  He was already speaking in complete sentences, although he did not speak them to me.  He was wary of strangers because his whole world seemed to be wrapped up in his mother, Ariel, my daughter-in-law Lennae’s sister.  Ariel and Asher occupied one room of David and Lennae’s house, so when we would visit our kids and grandchildren, we would see Ariel and Asher.

The same was true with everyone who visited, including our son, Joe.  Joe visited David and Lennae enough times to become rather close with Ariel.  It wasn’t long before I noticed the attraction between them.  When Joe and Ariel started dating, I wondered about how it would go over with the small, territorial little man in Ariel’s life.  After a brief warming up period, Joe and Asher got used to one another and began a relationship that looked like father and son.  A little while later, Harvey was born and the family blended quite nicely.

When you see Joe and Asher together, you see a unique closeness in their relationship, one that reminds me of how things are between Mario and Vince.  WhenMario and I started dating, Vince was 18 months old; when we married, Vince was two and a half.

The blessing of a blended family is that everyone in it has a heart that makes room for each other.  While not always ideal, the children learn that they have parents on all sides.  When it’s working properly, the child feels loved on all sides.  While not ideal, the blended family has a special beauty, with  members that can adapt to newcomers easier.  Ours is such a family, where we are scattered and different, but we all love each other.  Asher helps me remember that life is pretty sweet –if we make it that way. 


Happy Birthday, Asher!!  You are truly a beautiful little man and I am so grateful that I am part of your family!!  Blessings and love today and always!  Abuela.

Learning to draw Pokemon --Spring 2017

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Joanne


Joanne at the ranch --her favorie place when we were younger


Joanne Griffith Amaral was one of my besties in high school.  We shared a locker all those years, remaining friends through a lot of ups and downs.   Years later, she and I had children at the same time.  The relationships  with the kids' fathers did not work out, but the kids saved our lives.  When I returned home to Tracy, Joanne and I reconnected.  We went shopping together (for them), shared mothering tips, and babysitting services.  Years later, when we both lived in suburban domiciles, we reconnected again.  While Mario and I lived in Africa, Joanne and I kept in touch.  Joanne had many ups and downs in her life but loved her career as a nurse.  We both shared intimate secrets about the secret parts of our hearts, just like we did when we were fourteen. 

That was Joanne- my touchstone friend.  Last week –out of the blue—I saw on Facebook that Joanne was sick.  Janet Langley (another friend from high school, and Joanne’s long-time bestie) messaged me that Joanne was in the hospital  with sepsis.  I was in shock…and promised to pray.  The next day I was walking around, praying a lot, but remembering Joanne and who she is to me.  She was a friend to a lot of people.

Everyone has a Joanne story. 

I have several, but the one I will tell you here is a bit dark and (quite frankly) one I think twice about sharing publicly.  When we were very young, about fifteen, Joanne and I were at “the ranch”—her Grandpa and Grandma’s house—when we decided to get drunk together.  We opened a fifth of Jack Daniels (I don’t remember how we got it, but we got it) and drank it all in one afternoon, with me drinking the lion’s share.  Later that night, Joanne held my head as I hurled into her grandma’s toilet, swearing that I would never drink again. 

You all know that promise—many of you made it before.  Like most of you, I lived to drink another day.  It wasn’t until adulthood that I remembered that story, when I was in counselling, sorting through a truckload of emotionally messy baggage.  At one point, I said to my counselor, “It’s like you’re holding my head as I throw up in a toilet!”

Then I remembered Joanne. 

The day we decided to get drunk was an emotionally messy day for me as well.  My boyfriend had just broken up with me, and Joanne’s boyfriend never really was there for her anyway.  We decided that our guys weren’t worth crying about and could go to hell as we drowned our sorrows.  Up until the throwing up part, we were having a really good time.  Joanne was my friend who was there for me during many emotionally messy times.  She was the calming presence in my turbulent teen years.  She was a true friend.  I told my counselor this story, and she smiled.  “We all need those friends who hold our heads over the toilet as we puke our guts out, both literally and figuratively.”

A few days after that counseling appointment, Mario and I saw a stranded female motorist as we exited the freeway.  Her car must have broken down as she pulled over.  We stopped, since she was alone and her hood was up. 

“You approach her,” Mario (ever the cop) told me.  “If she sees me approaching her she may get scared.”

I got out of the passenger side door and walked over to her on the grassy part of the off-ramp.  The motorist got out of the car, seeing me approach.  I heard her say, “Janet?”

It was Joanne.  We hugged, completely in awe about such a strange "coincidence."  After we recovered, Mario and I drove Joanne to a nearby garage and arranged for a tow.  While she waited to rent a car, I told her all about my recent counseling and how I told my counselor the story about us partying at the ranch.

“Oh, Janet,” Joanne said, smiling. “You were so wasted!  I was afraid you were going to die.  You kept saying ‘Just let me sleep!  Jst let me sleep!’ but I said, ‘If I let you sleep you’re going to die.’”
After this side-of-the-road “coincidence” Joanne and I kept in touch.  

Joanne and her friend, Joyce Cunningham--Nursing was so important to her!!

She struggled with many things, but loved her life.  She was flawed, but was genuinely beautiful and grace-filled.  She absolutely loved her children…and those of us with adult children know all the challenges that are attached there.  But most of all, Joanne loved her grandchildren—they made her young again. 


Joanne as a grandma.  Her oldest grandchild is now a teenager!!

When I heard that Joanne had contracted sepsis, I knew exactly what that meant.  I had seen many people die of sepsis in the third world.  It kills people fast—it’s ruthless.  I thanked God we lived in America, where the care is exceptional and doctors usually catch it before it gets out of control.  But this case was a particularly terrible strand that was relentless.  

As hard as the doctors worked, as hard as Joanne fought, and as hard as we all prayed, Joanne left this world in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.  Her beautiful mother and children left behind, devastated. 

Janet Langley and I texted each other (like the fourteen-year-old girls we felt like) on Wednesday morning.  She stayed home from work; I went to school, unable to sit still.  This can’t be happening. I kept thinking.  Joanne was one of those friends who was always there…she was always there.

These days I don’t drink anymore, I live one day at a time—and some of you know what I mean. The news of Joanne passing hit me hard--but I have to confront the pain rather than turn from it.   I am sad that the world lost such a person. I have no doubt that Joanne is in heaven now.  From the conversations we had, most of them pretty deep, I understood that Joanne's faith was in God alone.  She was not heavily religious, but I never met a more grace-filled person.  Never.


My beloved friend…without Joanne I would not be here.  Literally. 

One of Joanne's favorite pictures, with the love-of-her-life, Kevin (KSJ)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Zuzu


Zuzu--the morning after she came home with me.


The story of Zuzu is one of a rescue.

Mario and I had been in South Africa for three years, but we had a sudden change in ministry.  We went from being a couple who travelled all over sub-Saharan Africa to one who worked in a local church.  We travelled less, but were just as involved in ministry.  The change triggered a longing in me to go home—or at least to feel at home in South Africa. 

“Can we get a dog?”  I asked Mario.   

“Tell you what,” he told me, “we’ll get one when we become permanent residents.”  

Mario had said no on more than one occasion to a dog –we were in a foreign country, we still were travelling, we were not yet permanent residents…  The truth of the matter was that we had applied for permanent residency a year earlier.  The application was still not processed; I felt it never would be.   

I went to the SPCA thrift store in Northriding (just outside of Johannesburg) to look for a good, standing lamp.  They had none, but on my way to the car, I could hear barking….and I went in just to see the dogs.   I walked through the aisles of adoptable dogs, maybe because I was looking for a friendly face; maybe because I liked to torture myself. 

I passed the kennel where a small dog was sitting in the sun, I saw her face and she saw mine.  I can’t explain the unusual connection I felt with this dog –she wasn’t even the kind of dog I normally liked.  She looked like a Chihuahua, with large brown eyes.   I looked at her name on the outside of the kennel: XUXIA/Miniature Pinscher. 

I knelt down to be next to her.  She put her little paws up on the grate and I stroked her fur through the bars.  After about five minutes of just sitting together, I got up and left…but not without asking about her.

“She’s going to go fast,” the SPCA lady told me.  “Min-pins are a popular breed.”

I went home and researched Min Pins–miniature pinschers.  “Assertive and proud, athletic and agile, the Miniature Pinschers act like they are the biggest dogs on the block, and are often called ‘King of the Toys’.” 

Of course I said nothing to Mario….

The next day I went back to the SPCA just to see her cute face.  The next day I went back again, just to be near her, but this time she looked at me like, “What are you doing?  Adopt me!”

I went home and confessed everything to Mario.  “Please, babe… I really want a dog.”

He relented.  “Alright, go back and if she’s still there, you can adopt her.”

The first day I brought her home she slept in my lap, groggy from being spayed.  She slept next to me as I sat on the sofa.  Mario and I renamed her “Zuzu” –which sounds like Xuxia, but had a little American George Bailey in there. 


Every morning Zuzu went on a walk with me.  In the evening when all our work was done, we came home to her cute little face and she acted like I was her favorite person in the world.  Mario pretended not to like her, but he wasn’t fooling anyone.

As much as we learned about Minpins, we had much more to learn.  First, they are not loner dogs—they like to pack. 

“She has social needs,” a fellow owner told us.  “She needs friends!”

We took Zuzu outside to play with all the dogs on the property, but she was kind of bossy and didn’t make friends.  She was territorial and hilariously jealous.  She nipped at the heels of the bigger dogs, who stayed away from her afterwards.  We decided to adopt another dog who she got along with better, but after several failed compatibility tests with other peaceful dogs at the SPCA, we decided to get a puppy for Zuzu to call her own. 

Zuzu ignoring the new puppy - Peaches


The Puppy’s name was Peaches, but Zuzu ignored her for the first week.  Finally, they became friends.  Zuzu and Peaches –they were our four-legged kids in South Africa that made us feel like we were home.  Zuzu had a supernaturally brilliant mind; she knew the difference between right and wrong, good and bad.  She hunted moles and rats on the property and eventually became friends with every dog on the property. 

Peaches, by comparison, was not the sharpest tool in the shed.  She followed Zuzu everywhere and seemed to have a great time prancing around, doing whatever Zuzu did.

When it was time for us to leave South Africa, the dogs came with us.  They were professionally moved by a company who packed them up in wooden travel crates and shipped home to friends in Kansas City.  They offered to keep them until we could buy a house and make a home.  It took us three months before we saw them again.

I remember the day I was reunited with the dogs.  It is as clear in my mind as the days I was reunited with family.  Zuzu could not control her yelps of excitement—and I admit…neither could I. 


The dogs moved three times with us –the last of which was at the house we live in now.  They seemed to be good with moving; they learned to adapt in many different situations.  

Moody and sweet, bossy and tender, nervous and often constipated--Zuzu was definitely my dog.




It wasn’t until Sunday that we realized something was wrong.  She was staggering around and falling down.  She had no energy.  She threw up a good deal and when we took her to the vet they looked at her gums and told us, “This is a very sick dog.”

I looked down at her and she looked at me, and as always we connected.  Those eyes were the eyes of my most faithful companion through a myriad of changes, the eyes of a beautiful little dog who had been with me no matter what.  Those were the eyes of a dog I loved with my whole heart.

One last photograph (the vet suggested this...even though we knew what was coming)

In two short hours, our lives changed.  We were forced to make fast decisions--after the vet showed us test results of an especially aggressive, fast-moving auto-immune disease.  We decided to put her to sleep, since it was more humane that watching her suffer.  We decided to cremate her body, instead of bury her in the backyard.  We decided to leave her bed behind when it was all over, unable to look at it without Zuzu in it.

I type this in tears, unable to really articulate how much this dog impacted my life.  I also realize that most of you know what I am talking about—that dogs are more than pets.  They sometimes really are our best friends.

We animal lovers like to call it rescuing—especially when we adopt a dog or cat from an animal shelter.  “This dog is a rescue,” we say proudly.  But the story of Zuzu is all in the beauty of how she rescued me.  She literally pulled me out of a depression, and made me feel like I was home in a foreign country.  Every day she was alive, she made me feel like the best mother in the whole world.  She brought joy, play, exercise, silliness, awareness, and love into our lives—and kept it there.


We will miss her far more than words can ever say.