Monday, March 30, 2020

measure

"Measure" is a poem about my true love, Mario.

At the Cairo Hospital...looking at my true love.

February is the show month, when
some couples choose to measure love:
“He took me to that waterfront 
restaurant with candle-light and violins!
He gave me long stemmed roses! 
 A two-carat diamond!"
 He knelt when he proposed! 
We made love in front of a roaring fire...
Measures of love, compared and pitted,
spurred talons sharpened,
greased feathers glittering.
I don't want to play. 

My true love doesn't like waterfront restaurants,
not after a messy incident, when
I ordered Maine lobster at market price.
He doesn't do diamonds, not after seeing the mines.
He gives me potted, living roses,
and says he's "not gonna fall for that
overpriced crap that'll be dead in a week"
and means it.
His idea of a roaring fire
is at the end of a good cigar.
But, he puts the seat down,
replaces light bulbs,
and has strong arms. 

These arms once supported me,
all of my weight, as I
tried to act normal, plodding
up stairs in Cairo—uneven stone steps,
in front of the hospital—littered
with candy wrappers. Women in
black-wool hijabs looked up at me,
their eyes begging me not to touch
them, their hands tucked beneath
their dresses, not outstretched
(too afraid? too wise? did they think I was cursed?)
leaning away from my shadow
as we passed.
Those arms around me, he pulled my
weight up so my feet
would be lighter. The women, with
those expressions made me believe
I was dying.

Weak from blood loss, no fluid
would stay, no water in my eyes
or my body. It took all the strength
in me to hold on to my true love,
whose arms were around me, supporting me.
The primal scent of perspiration,
his one hand clasped over mine, holding me up.
So many stone steps between us and
the surgeon and we had to stop twice
and when I cried the women hid
their faces. We had to (could we?) stop
the bleeding. 


He kept whispering: “A few more steps, just
a few more steps…” And it was one up, and
two up and neither one of us had ever
been there. He whispered, "Just a few more..."
I pleaded to stop and lie down. He shook
his head and didn't feel sorry for me, and the
hospital was there, at the end of the steps,
just like he said it would be.

My measure of romance will always be this.
The strength of his arms and his whispers.
When the self is a weak, bleeding, staggering
thing, and the world is a bleak place with
long, stony paths, all uneven, he steadies me.
Even more, he believes I can do it and tells me,
and I get there with him, one step at a time.
He knows my pain and walks beside me
anyway.

On steps like these,
too weak and bloodless to stop crying,
with nothing left to give, he asks for nothing
and expects nothing. He never leaves.
That is the measure of my true love’s heart.



Sunday, December 29, 2019

32




Mario and I have been married thirty-two years today. When we met, he had two young sons—David and Joe—and I had a toddler, Vince. Less than a year after our wedding, we had Alicia. The family we had together was wonderful and I love our kids (and now our Grandchildren) but the early years of marriage were also the early years of parenting.

Tonight, over dinner, Mario said, “It seems to have all flown by.”

When you have children—especially when you have a blended family—the rules of marriage are constantly changing. As a couple, you have no choice but to change with them. We’ve been lucky because we have been surrounded by friends and family who strengthened us when we needed it.  
People often ask us for marriage advice and we RARELY give it. The reason why? Most couples don’t want marriage advice. They want to know they’re going to be alright.

Our Engagement Party - November 1987

I’ve decided to list three pieces of humorous marriage advice. It’s all going to sound ridiculous, but this is actual advice we’ve received, and it worked. Have fun reading...and remember, you’re going to be alright.

Our Wedding Day--December 29, 1987


1. “Trust you’re okay.”

I was raised in a culture that sold romantic ideas about marriage: If you married the right person, you would sing duets in gazebos as it rained outside. If you keep up your appearance, your husband will chase you around the bedroom. If you share good ideas, you could both spread your passion to others and change the world. Anything less was a ho-hum marriage. I wanted to be the physical, intellectual, and emotional partner of Mario's dreams. I did my best to be like a bride in a movie, and often felt rejected when Mario was tired or working.

“I think Mario and I need help,” I once confessed to my friend, Hilary. “We have no real time together and when we do, he says there’s a lot of pressure to be romantic.”

Hilary didn’t even blink. She asked, “What would you like to have happen?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I want to be together more. I want to feel like a priority to him. Sometimes I think he cares more about his work than he does about me. I don’t even know if we’re okay.”

Hilary shrugged. “Marriage is a partnership, and you’re working together. Most of the time you have to trust you’re okay with each other, especially since the kids commandeer so much of your time.”

TRUST we’re okay? I thought. That sounded like a pat answer. How was I supposed to trust we’re okay if I didn’t feel okay?

Looking back, Hilary gave me the best marriage advice for that day. I wasn’t in the middle of a crisis, or being threatened by anything more than our hectic schedule. The truth is, Mario and I were okay during that season. Hilary, one of my close friends, could probably see this. She also could see that I thrived on attention—especially Mario’s—and demanded quite a bit from my husband. I had to trust that Mario and I were alright and stop demanding more than he could give, just so I could feel like the bride the media had portrayed. 

Even though Hilary's simplistic answer didn’t satisfy then—if I am being honest, it still doesn’t satisfy—I now know it's one of the greatest truths of maintaining marriage.

Here we are, husband, you and I. We love each other, even though we don’t get a lot of time alone. We don’t tell each other “I love you madly!” several times a day. You and I are here, walking toward the goal of raising our children into adulthood and being part of a functional community. Today I will trust that you and I are alright.

There have been times when we were facing a battle that was too much for us—and for those times we have definitely taken action by getting formal counseling. We’ve somehow been able to save our overturned canoe on more than one occasion, with a little help from our friends. We’ve been able to cling to each other during terrible times. I also had to get over my unrealistic picture of what a healthy marriage should look like.

~

Family Portrait just after we got married


2. “Don’t Fight.”

As a young married couple with a blended family, Mario and I would sometimes argue when we should have been working together. For some reason, the fights were more intense when we were supposed to be somewhere at a certain time. If we were expected at a family dinner, a holiday, and (most commonly) for church on Sunday mornings, Mario and I would sometimes arrive looking like two cats that had been through a car wash. We might have looked fairly put together on the outside, but we really struggled with the other person when we were under pressure to perform. 

Most often, the behavior would surface on Sunday mornings. We would fight over seemingly trivial things: Which clothes should the kids wear? What should they eat? Why aren’t you helping? Who opened the peanut butter and spread it on the cat? Where is the baby’s new car seat? Once we were all in the car, Mario (who hated being late) would speed off to the destination, while I (who didn’t like to be rushed) would sit in the passenger seat, looking out the window. The kids knew better than to talk.

Other people pulled into the church parking lot in shiny vehicles, unloaded their children (who always seemed to be wearing matching outfits), and entered the building, ready to be happy.

“How are you guys doing?” our pastor, Rick, greeted us one day.

I was ready to say some bullshit thing—like Great! —but my face wasn’t cooperating.  Mario blurted out: “We’re fighting again!”

Not just, We’re fighting, but again.

Rick looked sympathetic. “Oh, guys. Don’t fight.”

It was the most absurd thing to say. I looked at Mario, just to see if he thought the same thing. Instead, Mario looked at me and shrugged.

“Okay,” he said.

So, we dropped it.

I didn’t bring up later how I couldn’t just forgive him like that. I didn’t point out how I did most of the work, even though he was more alert in the morning. Nope. I just dropped it. Maybe it was a miracle, but I did.



Despite some really complicated personality differences, Mario and I rarely fight. I think we have moments of severe disagreements, but we’ve stopped attacking each other and speaking our mind without a filter. I have to remember that this is my guy, and he’s on my side. I also have to remember that he likes knowing what he’s supposed to do long before I want him to do it.

So, “Don’t fight” is actually pretty good advice. Disagree, yes. Fight, no.

 ~
January 2018

3. Share Your Dreams  (BTW, I have permission to tell this story 😁)

A friend of mine (Cindy) told me, at a BBQ, that she wasn’t talking to her boyfriend (Jake) because he’d taken apart the engine of his old Indian motorcycle that he was restoring, and spread it out on newspapers in the living room. She was almost crying, and I felt like clobbering Jake myself. 

Later, Jake explained how he was only doing this because they had no garage, and he had chosen a spot in the house they never used (their pristine living room). He had taken great care to sort out the engine parts and lay down cardboard boxes and newspapers underneath them, so the grease wouldn’t stain the carpet—and it was only until the replacement engine parts were delivered.

What Cindy didn’t tell me is this: the Indian used to belong to Jake’s father, who had died the year before. It was Jake’s dream to restore the bike, so he could take a trip to the coast and spread his father’s ashes. What Jake didn’t tell me is this: he used the money he saved to take Cindy on a vacation to restore the bike. Now, without a vacation, and feeling less important than the Indian, Cindy had to look at the disassembled bike every day until the parts came.

Mario and I didn’t offer any advice to Jake and Cindy. They never asked us what to do, but I remember asking if the Indian restoration was a dream project.

Cindy answered, quickly: “Restoring that motorcycle is his dream. Not mine.”

Jake (a huge man with a full beard) suddenly looked five years old. “But I want you to support this dream,” he said. “That’s what you promised to do.”

Cindy looked at him and shook her head. “I will,” she said. “But the motorcycle is lying in parts all over our house. I wasn’t planning on that. That wasn’t part of this dream.”

Jake moved the parts to a friend’s garage until the parts came (which, btw, had to be flown in from the States and took three months to be delivered). After that, everything was better, kind of.

ARC Graduation- June 2016
Sac State Graduation December 2017




















I decided to go back to college when I was fifty-two, for a variety of different reasons, but mainly because I always wanted to get an MFA (a Masters in Fine Arts). This meant I had to get an AA and a BA first. Mario and I agreed it would be a good time to go back to school. He supported me one hundred per cent and loved me at every turn. I had to work twice as hard as my younger classmates, whose brains were all beautifully elastic.

Here’s what Mario wasn’t planning on: the speed at which I attacked these degrees. I had seen (at 52) what interest-bearing student loans did to our children and I knew the faster I got the whole thing done, the better off we’d be. The pace of the combined degrees commandeered much of my energy, and it shows. The house is not exactly littered with greasy motorcycle parts, but our relationship, our social life, and life in general, has definitely changed.  

Tonight, as we were eating tapas at a reserved table at Aïoli Bodega Española, a Spanish restaurant in midtown Sacramento, Mario said so.

“I can’t wait until this is all over,” he said.  “The next six months are going to be critical.”

I agreed. We enjoyed our evening, but as I was writing this blog, I decided to go out and ask him if he feels like my dream has taken too much out of our family, our relationship, our lives.

“It’s not just your dream,” he said. “It’s our dream. We decided to do this together, and we’re doing it.”

“So, you don’t you feel cheated out of my time?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “But there are days where you’re exhausted. There are days you don’t feel good about yourself. Those are the days I don’t like. Those are the days we need to pray harder.”

I agreed. I kissed him—and took a puff on his cigar—and came in to finish this.

There have been times when Mario has decided to go after a dream, and I’ve supported him. There’s something rewarding about the process, something that is key to happiness in a partnership. In his mind, this MFA is our shared dream.

It makes sense. Mario is wonderfully diligent in achieving the things we call dreams, so much so that he’s inspired me to realize my own. I feel blessed to share my life with him. I feel grateful that our time of dreaming has been clear and realized.

~

So, there it is. Mario and I are in our 32nd year being married on this earth, and this is the advice I’ve listed: Trust you’re okay. Don’t fight. Share your dreams.
Shoot. That’s pretty good advice...but it looks like nothing. In fact, it looks so simple, it’s almost irritating.



Saturday, December 28, 2019

57

Tonight, at my desk

Today I’m 57 and I will love this year.

Because my birthday comes so near the end of the year, I take stock of my life the same way all of us do at the year’s end. Because this coming year also represents the beginning of a new decade, it’s easy to reflect on the last TEN years. A lot of us are comparing pictures of ourselves—pictures taken in 2009 and others taken in 2019—and we see time is seldom kind, especially after a certain age. I admit that I love comparing pictures of me in 2009 to one of me in 2019.

Ten years ago, Mario and I were living in Johannesburg, but travelling all over the continent of Africa. Our beautiful dream of working with a network of churches spread out all over the world had come true, and we were becoming more and more familiar with existing churches all over the continent of Africa.

I found a picture today of me in 2009. I was part of a team that was visiting an orphanage in Upper Egypt. I remember that I felt fortunate to be part of the team, but it was sweltering that day, and I had just had surgery, only one day before. Here I was, fresh out of the hospital, and I was back to work because I didn’t want to miss anything.

The work we were involved in was lovely, as were the people we worked with. I often missed my family, I often felt stifled, and I desperately wanted my life to matter—and I really wanted God to be proud of me. My dissatisfaction started to show—I was thirty pounds overweight in this picture.


Looking back, I want to hug this girl. I want to tell her to take it easy and maybe reconsider her definition of living for God. The woman I am today is truer, less guarded, more surrendered and less tense.

Shortly after Mario and I returned to Sacramento, I collapsed. I slept for a year, I tell people. I re-evaluated my life and my purpose. I visited family, and I wrote like crazy. I toyed with the idea of going back to school and getting my college degree. I finally took a deep breath and started in January of 2015. In June of 2020 I am scheduled to graduate with a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I really look forward to the completion--I've done seven years of college in five years.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll read a similar blog, written by me ten years from now, about wanting to hug the 57-year-old me and tell her everything is going to be okay.

Every year, I read the corresponding Psalm with the year I am turning. Today I am 57 years old, and Psalm 57 encourages me that God has steadfast love, and faithfulness that reaches to the clouds. With this assurance, I can rest.

And I will love this year.

~



Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
    for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
    till the storms of destruction pass by.
I cry out to God Most High,
    to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
    he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
My soul is in the midst of lions;
    I lie down amid fiery beasts—
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
    whose tongues are sharp swords.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
    Let your glory be over all the earth!
They set a net for my steps;
    my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
    but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah
My heart is steadfast, O God,
    my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
    I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
    Let your glory be over all the earth!
Psalm 57 English Standard Version (ESV)


Friday, October 4, 2019

David




David's 1st Picture--October 4, 1979


Today I got an invitation from Mensa. Okay, it wasn’t a real invitation, it was one of those mass-emails that organizations send out to people, and I got one. They invited me to take the test to see if I were one of the people who can meet and mingle with others in the upper 1% of thinkers (actually the upper 1% of scores on IQ tests). I didn’t respond, mainly because I’m not Mensa material and I'm smart enough to know it. I have a wickedly precise memory and a mind for languages, but I’m “challenged” when it comes to directions, patterns, maps, statistics, and numbers. In other words, I am a right-brained person. The left side of my brain is carried by the right.

David—my step-son—could be in Mensa. 

David is one of the smartest people I know, understanding patterns and equations into the fourth dimension. Before becoming a programmer/web designer/ hardware systems expert, David majored in astrophysics.


“I used to smash protons together in these closet-sized labs at school,” he once told me. “Until I had enough of it.” He was smart enough to study astrophysics, and smart enough to leave.

David on his first computer--a Kaypro--telling Joe his turn will be in about two hours

When I met him, he was six years old, and he loved everything. I used to tell him (and his brother, Joe) that he was the best step-son in the world, and I didn’t deserve him. I deserved a step-son who hated me, one who stormed out of the house and called me a bitch under his breath...but David never said one unkind thing to me—ever.


At the New York Public Library 1987

As he grew, David reminded me more and more of his Dad—especially his weird and obscure sense of humor, followed by a funny, squeaking puppy laugh—which is a good thing.

He grew and grew and grew. Eventually, he got married and had children. Just the other day, Mario told me that David was going to be turning forty and I had a heart attack from the realization (I’m not good with math).

Family Portrait 1994

I still remember him dancing around the living room in his new karate pajamas, playing the slide trombone, and singing “Kiss the Girl” with his friends. I remember him holding Alicia when she was born. I remember him holding his firstborn child, then his second born child, and then, his baby. 

David, holding baby Lauren (Lilli looking at camera)

I remember the night he showed me what an Irish Car Bomb was, and I remember drinking it, and laughing my head off. I remember all the love, all the love. All the love I don’t deserve and never could deserve.

My favorite recent pic--Grand Master Samarai Jedi Master Rodriguez (with his bride, Lennae)

David, in every phase of your life, I remember you. I remember you smart. I remember you funny. I remember you being so kind to everyone—especially me. Because you are such a wonderful man, I am filled with love for you. I refuse to remember that 2019-1979=40. BUT on October fourth, your birthday, please remember that I love you!

David met us in L.A. at my December 2018 Residency



Friday, September 27, 2019

Harmony



Harmony 2019


Thinking of Harmony is like entering a museum of art and science, while eating a three-scoop-ice-cream-cone, and holding hands with your true love. Are you with me?

Being with Harmony means feeling love and admiration. She appreciates people, no matter how familiar or random. She loves Mexican food. She reads fantasy literature and science fiction. She asks deep questions about God and the Bible. She loves technology and will most likely learn to program soon, if her math and computer skills continue.  She paints with feeling, writes interesting stories and poetry. She is exceptionally warm-hearted, a team-player, and remarkably humble. She has no idea how smart or beautiful she is. She is a friend to everyone in her classroom, asks interesting and intelligent questions, and is kind to strangers.

I’m not saying all this about Harmony because she’s my grandchild—it’s really true. It’s also her tenth birthday today, and I want to celebrate the girl she is becoming. Not many ten-year-old girls are like this, so finding one is like striking oil, and having her in the family means we can love and appreciate her openly. She lights up our world and gives us hope for the future. 

I always said that love took on new forms when I had kids. Suddenly, I prayed more, listened more, my motivation to do things changed, etc. It is a reward to have grandchildren, the ones who make your life seem illuminated. My prayer life has been one of thanksgiving.

I decided to end this blog by showing you a picture of us at Casa Ramos, one of her favorite restaurants. I took out my phone and said, “How about a selfie?” Harmony and Alannah obliged, and this quick pick kind of makes me feel like I always feel when I am with her. I am not trying to be anything, not trying to do anything, I am just me with my granddaughters...little globes of light and love.




Happy Birthday, Harmony! You light up my world and today, I pray that you will know the height and width and depth of God’s love for you!
Grandma

Friday, August 30, 2019

Callen







Callen

The best of me was born the day I had a grandchild—
lovely and amazing, green-eyed and perfect. The
layers of lushness in their soul, the reflexive
desire for their mother’s breast. Inside a distrust for
humanity, as if wisdom were downloaded already
from heaven. In their eyes I became abuela—carrier
of magical foods and story—having purpose, fragrance,
love, with outstretched arms. As they grew, they loved
me (still), no boundaries, expectations, sudden changes—
I discovered shades of agapē  I hadn’t seen before. When this
child became his own, I celebrated with the love, mined
from deposits he put into me—his sowing returned
a crop of heroic love—the perfect example of a soul
returning truth; a beauty invested and momentum stored inside
of me. I dream of living up to this, the love of a grandchild:
to be the one who is loved without question; the one
who will love without question. The one who is celebrated,
who will celebrate every voltereta in life with the same joy,
the same love we inherit from a God who loves us both.


For this day and forever, I love you and am so proud of you! 
Abuela

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Alannah



At the pumpkin patch 2015

In a few days, Alannah will begin another school year—and it’s all she can talk about.
“I’ll see all my friends,” she says, breathlessly. “I’ve missed them so much and they’ve missed me.” She has a beautiful way of delighting in the sweetness of friendships. She loves her friends the way that her mother—my daughter, Alicia, used to. When I volunteer in her classroom, Alannah is a shining star, hard-working, but also very friendly. She has lots of friends and is genuinely warm and welcoming to all of her classmates.

At the Discovery Museum with a walking stick 2019

Alannah is curious and loves to learn about so many things.  Science is fascinating, cooking is fun, but art is where she excels. loves to watch plays, ballets, and singing.  She paints, draws, and writes poetry. Like her sister, she loves reading and being read aloud to.

For an early birthday present, Alannah chose a sleeping dog—it’s called a Perfect Petzzz, a stuffed animal—for her collection.  When we took it home, she set up a shelf for him to sleep, collected a few family members for him, and then made the sleeping dog a mother as soon as she found a  stuffed animal small enough to be a baby.  It was such a wonderful day, watching this, and playing with her. There's part of me that is always hoping she will stay this age.



When you’re a grandmother, there are few things in your life that equal the love of a grandchild—the love I feel for Alanna is enormous. It swells in my heart, like a wonderful wave of surf, and she makes me feel like I can actually stand up on a board.


The love I receive from Alannah is like a taste of  heaven.  There’s not one condition or string attached to our relationship—it’s all just about love and discovery.


Every day I’m with Alannah, I’m grateful. Every day she’s in my life, I stand up straighter, take deeper breaths and learn more about life and why it's so worth living.


Happy Birthday to Alannah! You are a glittering ray of joy and hope.  Let’s celebrate!!