Sunday, May 20, 2012


My favorite pictures of my Dad and me are decoupaged to a canoe oar that is in my parent’s entryway.  The pics were chosen by sister, Colleen from the wealth of camping pictures we took every summer on the Ryan family vacations.

It was our time. 

One year, we decided to buy and inflatable raft and we had to have an oar, so we bought a wooded one that didn’t even fit through the loops of the raft, purposefully put there by engineers that realized that kids drop the oar while they are rowing – often.  The raft didn’t last, and the oar became a tattered artefact in the storage shed, until my artistic sister decided to make it a memorial of our many camping trips together as a family.  I look at it every time I am there. 

My father was born in Boston, an only child, in the first baby boom.  The only child of a mother over forty, he was destined to become the focus of all of her attention.   My grandfather (whom I never met) was a Boston fireman, and died when my father was entering his teen years.  This made his mother even more attached to him.

There are memories of growing up that obstruct a good view of him.  My Nana (his mom) lived with us; he had five children; he was busy with work; he loved sports and watched them often.  My dad wasn’t the active, engaged parent that my mom was.  Mom’s role was all about relationship, connecting and dealing with the day to day nonsense of all of us: five kids seven years apart. 

Dad came home from work, every day at 4:45 (he stopped working at 4:30).  He would come in, kiss my mother, greet all of us, turn on his stereo and get a beer and peanuts.  He’d sit for a half an hour and read the paper in the living room and my mother would come in and debrief with him.  If any of us had anything to ask him, this was the time to do it. 

We would have dinner at 6, and afterward my dad would maybe watch TV with us for an hour and we would be sent off to bed.  Years of this routine...years. 

When I was fifteen, I began a season of rebellion that lasted for about eight years.  Those words, “season of rebellion” are the ones I use to speak about how I systematically broke my parents hearts with one decision after another.  I acted as if I were insulated from all pain, while I shot it out of myself like lightning bolts to lesser beings.   My father’s reaction was to make sure I knew it would not be tolerated, and that lasted for years. 

This made me see my father as a regimented, stern fellow (which he probably was, to some extent).  At work, he was a supervisor, in a management position that demanded strength and strong decisions.  At home it was not much different, but he softened a lot around my mother, who became kind of a translator for him. 

My Uncle Jim, a larger-than-life mayor of the city was easier for me to relate to.  Even Uncle Jim was a little unnerved that I had a skewed view of my dad. 

“He has a bigger heart than I do,” he once said, candidly.

I looked at him and raised my eyebrows (imagine an eighteen-year-old with an attitude).  The everyday routines and disciplinary experiences blocked my vision to see my father  truthfully for who he really was inside.

 Who I’ve grown to know him to be.

Thank God, my  father has unfolded into a better picture of himself before me.  There has been a lot of health and forgiveness and genuine desire to understand each other between us.  I have grown to see him as a sacrificial, kind, and genuinely compassionate man who can relate to most people.  Instead of the stern prison warden, he has become an approachable man who has known the pain of loving and releasing those around him, as they are called elsewhere.  Even me.

Yesterday, at the Pick and Pay, I was conversing with my Aunt and Uncle who are here, visiting us.  Hearing us speak, in our heavy American accents, she turned to me and said  “Have you ever watched ‘Extreme Couponing’?” 

I laughed, thinking of my father, who cuts coupons and lives (proudly) knowing that he has beaten the stores at their own game.  “Know it?” I said loudly.  “My dad LIVES it!”  My Aunt and Uncle laughed with me.
It reminded me, walking away from her, that today is my father’s birthday, and my heart sank.  I will not be with my dad for his birthday for the sixth year in a row.  I miss him, and wish I could be there to hug him. 
I would tell him that, despite my rebellion and my attitude, I have good memories of growing up.  I would tell him that he was a strong example of discipline and self-control.  He provided a safe place to call home, and has made me wish I could have done the same thing.  I would tell him that his influence in Spiritual, musical and intellectual matters have been the greatest influence that any man could have given a daughter.

Even then, it would not be enough to encapsulate the love I feel for him... the deep and profound respect that can only be gained from years of seeing a man of noble character, trying to live as a woman of noble character.  I think God has played a big part of this, and the gift of seeing my father as someone greater than my Dad, and someone as tender as a Daddy  is priceless. 

Happy Birthday, Dad.  I love you.  

Dad and Alicia 1994

Monday, May 14, 2012


My excellent friend, Pindai, a woman of statuesque beauty and honourable reputation posts things on her facebook page that makes me think. 

Today, an unfortunate press release from a Zimbabwean senator, Morgan Femai , woke me up and threw me against a wall.  He said, Friday while addressing a parliamentary HIV awareness workshop in Kadoma, Zimbabwe, that in order to curb the infection rate women  must bath occasionally, shave-off their hair, dress shabbily and get circumcised to make them less attractive to men.

I’ll give you a moment to digest that. 

If it doesn’t make you mad as a hornet for content alone, let me introduce you to what the Senator is representing:  a government mandate in favor of women disfiguring themselves and become unhygienic in what used to be the most educated country in Africa. 

“What I propose is that the government should come up with a law that compels women to have their heads clean-shaven like what the Apostolic sects do,” Femai said, adding that “They should also not bath because that is what has caused all these problems (spread of HIV).”

Femai also recommended circumcision for women – becoming the latest in a long line of  lawmakers who have pushed bizarre proposals about how to curb the spread of HIV.

“Women have got more moisture in their organs as compared to men, so there is need to research how to deal with that moisture because it is conducive for bacteria breeding. There should be a way o suck out that moisture,” he said in comments insinuating that the virus which causes AIDS breeds better in women than men.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries  that is most  affected by HIV,  but has seen a decline in new infections.   Because of superstitious teachings like this, the tables could turn and years of work being done by reputable organizations could be erased.  There are several public officials that have advocated sleeping with a virgin in order to rid yourself of the virus.  Sometimes these virgins are their young daughters, whom they end up infecting. 

Another Zimbabwean Senator recently suggested that Zimbabweans must be limited to one sexual encounter per month. She also said that men should be administered a drug that reduces their libido.

Another legislator, Thabitha Khumalo, is also campaigning for the legalisation of prostitution claiming this could help the fight against AIDS.  How?  Who cares that no one knows.

Pindai, my friend, is from Zimbabwe.  So is my best friend, Portia.  If these men and women who are elected into office have their way, they could be forcing incredible, thinking women into a new form of slavery.  These superstitious teachings turning into legislation, make our American debates over birth control and gun rights pale in comparison. 

This world has come a long way, but there is no joy in seeing an idiot come into power.  By injecting senseless propaganda into the lifeblood of a great country, Zimbabwe is being torn from the inside by its own leadership.

God help us all.  

My thanks to New Zimbabwe Magazine, for detailed and accurate quoting

Saturday, May 12, 2012


This week was the National Leaders Time Away for New Covenant Ministries, International, and we went to Pietermaritzburg to be a part of it.  It was a wonderful, reflective and exhausting time, and I'm ready for a break!!  

Before I went away, I wrote about each child, and blogged them, youngest to eldest on

Today, Mario read all of them and loved them.  He asked why I hadn’t posted them here on Brazen Princess.  So, I will link them now. 

I must say that Mother’s Day has been a hard day for the last seven or eight years.  It is the time when I no longer get cards done in crayon, letters written with ball pen on lined paper, or any other kind of greeting, for that matter.

It is a day when I miss my mother, the best mom anyone could ever hope for.  I miss her smell, her voice, her cooking.  I miss all of the kids and my grandchildren.  Two weeks ago, Alicia’s computer broke and I can’t see her or the girls on SKYPE.   

So while it is a hard day, I thank God for His mercy, which I believe you’ll see through these stories.  You can click on any link, and it will take you right to the story.  Please read them and enjoy, at your leisure.

God bless you, and Happy Mother’s Day.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Northriding in the Morning

From time to time, people ask me what my day is like.  I thought this “day in the life” would interest some of you... it is thoughts on a random day: written about this day, Monday, May 7, 2012. 

Before I begin, may I say that last night we had very good, new friends over for dinner and we talked until 10:30, then they left and we cleaned up and went to bed.  This will explain why I was still in bed at...

8:00 a.m. – “Honey, get up, I have to go.” It’s Mario’s voice, and I hear it in my dream before I hear it in my bed. 

“I’m up,” I said.  Figment of Mario’s imagination: thinking I’m sleeping when actually I am wide awake, lying on my tummy with drool coming out of my mouth. 

“Raine called and asked if you were meeting this morning...” Why is he still talking?  I haven’t even had coffee, and how am I supposed to process this?  Oh, yeah.  He has to leave for a meeting. 

I get up out of bed, realizing that he is still talking to me, and as I dress for gym, I realize that he is relaying important information.

“I’ll call Raine right now,” I say, finishing up in the bathroom. 

“Yeah, and what about Lorraine?” Mario asks, leaving with his own gym bag.  He realizes he hasn’t kissed me and comes back, smiling and gorgeous, as if he’s been up for hours.  I’m so loved and blessed....

What about Lorraine??

8:30 a.m. – Raine, my friend who I have been trying to schedule time with,  has decided to come over at 9:00, and I have now had two cups of coffee and I feel normal. 

Lorraine, our lady who helps us (I do not call her “my maid” which connotes a full-time housekeeper) is coming in the back sliding glass door.  She has been gone for a week, visiting her family in Zimbabwe and Zuzu and Peaches, our miniature pinschers, bark at her like she’s an intruder.

“Hi Lorraine!” I say, “Welcome home!”

“Hi Janet,” she says.  Something is wrong. 

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, I am well.”

The charade lasts for about ten minutes when, as we are catching up and chatting, I remark that she is a very lucky woman since she was able to bring her 5-year-old son, Thembani home with her.  Inside of this discussion, she breaks down in tears. 
Lorraine and Thembani

“I had to,” she weeps, “he was starving there.”  As she explained the situation to me, I could tell it was a dilemma that is not easily remedied: Thembani stays in Zimbabwe with Lorraine’s other children, Sithembekhosi (a girl, 13) and Sithandekile (girl, 9) who are able to cook for themselves, especially the eldest.  Since the community supervision of children is very common in African cultures, it is left to the Granny to cook for the younger ones, unless they are supervised by someone else.  

Lorraine’s granny reported to her that Thembani is often shepherding with his uncles.  She found him very thin, and recognized the signs of malnutrition.  It caused great concern, especially since Lorraine sends money every month for food. 

“He is so thin now,” she wept, as I listened, “you can see his bones.”

She told me her resolution to the problem: that he would stay with them for a month while she fattened him up (I sent a pecan pie and custard home with her, along with her normal lunch) and then hire someone to make sure his needs are met.  The system of child care throughout Africa is a great concern and dilemma. 
I gave her special vitamins for rebuilding children’s bones during a time of malnutrition and said that I would pray, promising that we would help as much as we could. 

She thanked me, but I could tell her heart was breaking....

8:50 a.m. – A call from my friend, Bessie, who stays in Diepsloot, the township north of us.

“Janet, are you busy?” she sounded panicked. 

“No, what’s the matter?”

“I have been delivering a baby this morning, and the woman has struggled and struggled and now the afterbirth is not presenting...”

“Where are you?”

“I’m on my street,” she is panting, and I can hear a baby crying on the other end.  “The ambulance is not coming.  They have been called out and they are still not here...”

“I’ll be right there,” I said, knowing that I am expecting Raine any second.  Raine prays for Diepsloot and maybe the idea of going in will please her. 

As I hang up the phone, I realize I know nothing about delivering babies, afterbirth or getting in the path of EMS workers.  I called my doctor friend, Rebecca. 



“Are you busy?”

“I’m at the clinic.” She pretty much volunteers all over Northern Joburg.  She is supposed to be paid, but sometimes clinics budgets go toward things like medicine or paper... She’s awesome, and I love her.

“Guess what? Bessie just called me....” and I explain the whole thing.

“She needs to get to the nearest clinic and she needs an I.V. as soon as possible.”

Raine is at the front gate and I let her in. 

“Thanks, bye.”

“Bye.”  We don’t care that much about pleasantries.

I tell Raine the situation and she says she’d love to go into Diepsloot.

 We get in my car and we drive to Bessie’s house.  On the way there, Raine and I talk about very deep things, and I thank God for her as she is talking.  For such a young lady, she has her feet planted firmly on the ground, and as she speaks, I remember how hard life is sometimes for young ladies.  I appreciate the time we have on the way to Diepsloot.

I have told Bessie to call me when the ambulance gets arrives, but she must have forgotten, because as soon as we pull up to her street, the ambulance is exiting the rocky road that leads to Bessie’s house. 

“Hmmm...” I say, and Raine laughs.  We thank God he found the place, but delayed response time is a common occurrence with the township calls.  It is one of the saddest realities of working with the poor in any country: emergency response into poor areas. 

I park my car and we walk to Bessie’s house, greeting her neighbors as we do.  I find out from a group of ladies sitting on their porch that the baby and mother were delivered to Coronation hospital, and that both are well.  I am relieved. 

“Do you know where Sis Bessie is?”

One of them motions toward her house.  Raine and I walk toward her house, and we greet her. 

“Ay!” she says, as soon as she sees me.  “The ambulance has just left.” She is washing out the towels that she brought to deliver the baby.  

“We just saw him leave,” I said, “Do you know Raine?”

Bessie is dressed in a beautiful wrap and has her head tied like a proper South African mama.  She doesn’t look bad, like she’s been up since two a.m. delivering a baby. 

“Come in,” she motions toward us. 

Bessie and Raine
“Thank you,” we say, and we enter.  Bessie talks about everything from chairs she needs for her table to her coin operated washing machines that are new and waiting for a business place to set up her laundry.  Raine sparkles, and takes it all in. 

We pray for her, and chat for awhile, but Raine has to work soon, and we are too late to transport the mama of the new baby to a clinic.  God had a better plan.

“Do you want to greet the baby’s auntie?” Bessie says, as we are leaving.  I say yes, and we wind down an alleyway toward the place where the baby was delivered. 

“Congratulations!!” I say, as we meet the Auntie who is mopping up her place.  She is surprised to see our faces (I have never met her before today) and as Bessie explains why we are here, her face softens and she thanks us, looking exhausted. 

We leave, spending little more than an hour  in Diepsloot, but an important visit, showing my sister Bessie that she is a valuable voice in my life. 

Raine and I have pleasant conversation as we drive home again.  Still the deep, deep things of God. 
When we arrive home, I have another coffee, Raine has grape juice, and we pray together.  We say goodbye, and I decide to work out.

12:30 p.m.
I start to jog to Mistry’s, an unfinished wood furniture place about 2k’s from my house, with Zuzu and Peaches, who love our jogs together.

Before you get impressed, let me say I make it to the 1K mark and begin to walk.  My dogs are ashamed of me, and look up.  “Is that it?” I see in their eyes. 

At Mistry’s I buy two bottles of furniture finish, and take it home to refinish two items of wood furniture that desperately need it.  The ladies at Mistry’s like my dogs, and ask about the breed, which I say, has become my favorite of all breeds. 

“What are they called?”

“These are miniature pinschers,” I say, but quickly add that they are mixed breeds, one from the SPCA, one from our mechanic. 

“Do they like people?” the lady behind the counter asks. 

“Yes, they do.” I say. “But they are very territorial.  If they think someone is threatening me they will bark. 

They were originally bred to hunt vermin, but sometimes they get in trouble with snakes.”

“SNAKES?” all three ladies have the same response.  “Where do you live?”

“Just here in Northriding,” I say, but quickly add that most of the snakes are non-poisonous.

“Doesn’t matter to us,” they say, smiling at each other.  “A snake is a snake!”

1:30 – I arrive home, and make a chicken salad and eat it while our dogs pant and act as if they’ve run a marathon, instead of run 1K and walked 3.

I eat and relax.  Mario arrives home and tells me about the elder’s meeting.  I listen, knowing that the minutes will probably be on the email by now. 

“Did anything happen here?” he asks.

First coat
2:30 –  I refinish both pieces of furniture, which require more sanding than I thought.  Bessie calls to tell me that she has heard nothing about the condition of the woman in the hospital.  Raine sms’s that Lauren and she are going to pray for my eyes (for restored vision).  Bright sms’s to ask for Bessie’s number.  Mario gets into deep study. 

As Lorraine irons I ask if I can share about her and Thembani.  She says yes, then asks to have their picture taken together.  As I do, I can see that Thembani has grown thin.  It makes me sad. 

I ask Lorraine to take a picture of me, and before I’m ready, she shoots it, while I am typing. 

5:oo – I decide to write about my day.  I put thoughts on paper without editing.  In writer’s circles these are called “Warm-ups”.  I call it a blog.  A snippet of my life, one that is recorded for looking back on.
I put black beans on the stove to cook and complain to Mario that the picture that Lorraine took of me makes me look fat.

“Babe!” he says, trying to encourage me.  “At least we’re not as fat as we used to be.”

Hmmmm.   Exactly the kind of thing I want to hear.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cinco de Mayo

My history as an elementary teacher usually colors the way I see most holidays.  In the classroom, my favorite thing to do was to say "Let me tell you something that the other teachers won't tell you..."  It made the students pay attention, and made them feel that they were in on a secret: the secret truth that is history.
 I love bringing light to things that I find interesting... Cinco de Mayo is one of them.  My post can be a little deeper, if you are seeking history.  But what I am about to tell you is how this holiday has affected my heart, and how awkward it was to grow up Hispanic in a farming town in the 70's and 80's.  
 It starts with my my childhood in Tracy, California. 
I grew up with a Mexican mother, Juana, who had her name "American-ized" to Jennie as a small girl.  I never sensed any conflict in this, and there was never a discussion of when it happened.  My father was of Irish descent, and came from Boston - his name is Jack.  So, Jack and Jennie had five stunning little kids, all delightfully beautiful... and not "too white".  
I was not Irish only, but I had the Irish pride.  I was not Mexican only, but I had the Mexican coloring.  No one told me that if I ever left American soil and moved to Africa, I would be known as "the American" and no one would ask about my heritage.  
In high school, a few days before the Cinco de Mayo parade in town (if you've never been to one, you are missing a true slice of Americana) I found out in the Tracy Press that my sister Shari's friend had been voted Cinco de Mayo queen - the parade beauty that got to ride on a convertable surrounded by color and flowers.  I was livid...what a faker!  She was like me, only half-Hispanic.  What right did she have to call herself a Cinco de Mayo queen?  Now she would be paraded in front of the whole town and worshipped, along with our Lady of Guadalupe, like she was a real Mexican girl.  
I threw the paper down and got ready for school.   What did I care?  I didn't want to be in a stupid Mexican parade anyway...but part of me felt orphaned.  Inside of me, I was the faker.  I had an Irish surname, that identified me as a proud Irish girl, and I had a perpetual tan that made me the envy of my friends.  But how much did I have pride in my Mexican heritage?  
In the carpool on the way home, Melissa's reign was the subject of conversation.  
"Did you see that Melissa is going to be Cinco de Mayo Queen?" one of my friends said.  "She definitely was the prettiest one of all the girls who were running."
Everyone agreed, and said even her picture in the paper was gorgeous.  Cinco de Mayo queens are not known for making speeches, just looking good.  
"Hey, Janet," one of my other friends said, "Why didn't you run for Cinco de Mayo queen?" He meant it as a compliment, really.  He didn't know how much the whole thing bothered me.  
"I don't have enough Cinco in my Mayo."  I replied flatly.  Everyone thought that was funny, even my mom laughed.  
In my head, I didn't know how to do it: be a Mexican-American.  After all, Cinco de Mayo, while celebrated in Puebla like a bomb, is not such a popular holiday in Mexico.  In the States, it was a Hispanic Pride Day where all of the real cowboys of California got out their black suits and big sombreros and rode atop horses carrying Mexican flags.  It was when the pretty Mexican girls dressed up in big skirts and made hypnotic circles with them while they danced.  
In school, the Mexican kids got free lunches because their parents were working the fields.  They spoke Spanish before they spoke English and the drove low riders or shiny big cars while the rest of the kids drove Trans-Ams.  Not me, but the rest of the kids who mattered.   I could count my realMexican friends on one hand, and my personal hypocrisy was killing me.  
 In the kitchen of my house is where I became  a real Mexican.  It became the way I worked out who that half of me was.  As a teen, I learned the secrets of a good enchilada sauce from my grandma.  I made masa with her and tried to roll tortillas, but they came out "like maps" my grandma said.  
Eventually, after the challenge of the teen years, I became less shallow, and less consumed with myself.  I began to read quite a bit and what I found out that the history of Cinco deMay helped me.  After all, the holiday had to be about more than the perfect margarita wine cooler, right?  
In 1862, Mexico was huge, but the army was not as advanced in Military strategy as the Europeans who had interests there - France, Spain and Great Britain. The three countries, decided to unite and force an uppity Mexico to pay back the money it owed to them, its foreign investors. By the end of the year, Spanish ships from Cuba sat at Veracruz, Mexico's largest port, joined soon after by ships from France and Britain, in a not-so-subtle threat to Mexican sovereignty.
After several skirmishes with the French, on May 5 in Puebla, a large city between Mexico City and Veracruz, that the French officially underestimated the spirit and the power of the Mexican army and were defeated, badly.  The Battle of Puebla, while a great show of strength, didn't end the war.  It took a lot of other battles, and slowly the world took notice that Mexico was more than what they thought it was.  President Johnson, in order to protect American interests, sent the US Army to the border to show our official support, and in 1866 the French withdrawl (not exactly an official surrender) spoke volumes to the world.  Mexcio was un-officially sovereign.  
 News of the Mexican victory spread to the western US when Mexican gold miners in northern California were so overjoyed at their compatriots’ success that they celebrated by firing guns and singing patriotic songs. Thus, Cinco de Mayo, the party, was born.
As a Californian, I can honestly say that I never struggled to learn how to celebrate and drink margaritas... that came naturally.  
I have struggled to be a good representation to the people that have gone before me and given me their love and hearts and their faith.  I still want to know truth and strength and the beauty of my people, who are generally underestimated, still.
 In my kitchen, I am Mexican. In South Africa, where I am known as a white American lady, I will cook tamales with a killer sauce that will make me cry and miss my family.  
And I will wear my colorful Mexican bata, and be the Cinco de Mayo Queen of Johannesburg. 
 Or at least my house....