Tuesday, June 26, 2012


When I first fell in love with Mario, I believed that our love was so precious and sacred that no one that had lived before us had ever felt such passion and love.    We had both recently been involved in committed relationships that had failed, and we were not exactly relationship experts.  Seeing this, our family counselor suggested we attend a marriage conference. 

We weren’t even married yet. 

So, without even saying our vows we attended our first of many marriage conferences.  We didn’t have time, or the extra money, for a marriage conference.  Still, we were realistic about our chances of staying happy together without some kind of help.  It was obvious that the odds were stacked against us. 

We were parenting young children, who were around us constantly and rightly demanding our attention.  We had schedules and commitments and duties that were counter-romance, almost.  I could see in the distance, the possibility of life happily-ever-after, but the reality of our everyday life was different.  It was busy and stacked with stuff that wasn’t... fun.

 At church, we had friends who made their marriage unions look effortless, the same way that couples figure skaters sail across the ice together at the Olympics.  I wobbled around on my own marriage skates and got sore ankles from trying to keep myself from falling down.

Marriage is work.

It is also the closest thing on earth to heaven, if it’s working.  A few years ago, Dido had a hit song “Thank you”, where she sings about a terrible day she’s having, but it is all made perfect by seeing her beloved’s face when she comes home.  Who doesn’t dream of this?

In truth, a couple’s relationship can take a back seat in marriage many times.  It is replaced by work commitments, responsibility and duty.  Even after a few weeks of this, a healthy couple can feel drained or neglected.  I’ve talked with young mothers who tell me of their over-exposed nerves, raw from a lack of sleep and their breastfeeding schedule.  Later, the kids grow and school and schedules threaten to topple any normal family time, and that’s not including the demands of a normal work week.  

Some couples struggle through years of infertility and would love to have such scheduling problems; instead, a wall of silence goes up between them.  Most couples will be confronted with money problems of some kind that threaten to topple them.  Some survive the inexplicable and searing pain of losing a child, a parent, or a sibling.   

Life is filled with unpredictable tragedy.  By the time you sit down to dinner, you may glance at the one you married, under a cloud of love and roses....and not recognize them. 

In truth, this is why marriage conferences exist in the first place.   They are here for a reason- to take time out for the most important commitment that you have ever made.  You literally schedule time to spend on your relationship, which may help with the things that are challenging you.  Some couples (like us) realize the need for help through difficult issues, but see marriage conferences the same way they see visits to the dentist for oral surgery.  Many conferences open wounds that are too deep to be resolved in one week, let alone one night. 

The Marriage Course, in our opinion, is a good course for any couple.  It begins with a meal for two (we provide the ambience, you provide the conversation), followed by a private evening that focuses on a couple’s life together.  Sex, family and spending are just a sampling of topics.  The exercises are fun and light, but give opportunity for deeper discussion (if the couple wants) later. 

Mario and Janet - 25 years later.

The last time that Mario and did The Marriage Course, we had our first exercise be a runaway disaster.  We couldn’t agree on anything!  Guess what?  We were leading the class.  When the time was up and we had to move on, we confessed to everyone who was there that we “failed” our first assignment.  They laughed, in relief.  It brought an instant bond to the whole class, and we felt like we didn’t have to be “perfect leaders”. 

As a wife, I am more than a business partner or a life-mate to my husband.  I am the bay who he come home to and rests in.   I am the one who sparkles at the very thought of him.  I am his best friend, his dream partner and his girlfriend.    

These are what dreams are made of.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Mario with his police dog, Dux, around the time we met.

I met him when I was nineteen years old, working with my friend, Lisa Beutler, the inaugural celebration of Leo McCarthy, California’s new Lieutenant Governor.  He doesn’t remember meeting me, since we were in a group of friends, and we were unknown to each other before. 

It was two years later, after my life hit a new rock-bottom, when I went to beg for my old job back at a local State Park.  He was the supervising ranger, and had just hit rock bottom himself: his marriage had fallen apart and his wife and kids had moved to Kansas.  He was in Kansas, trying to reconcile with Cathy, when I was re-hired, out of a nostalgic mercy by another Ranger who felt sorry for me and knew I could do the job.  I had just had a baby: Vince.  I was determined to get my life back on track for him.

By the time Mario came back to work, I had been on the job for a whole week.  I was insecure and wobbly, and (as it turns out) so was he.  The reconciliation didn’t work and he and Cathy had decided to divorce and share custody of the boys.  He drove up to the kiosk in a state vehicle: a GMC 4x4 with nubby tires and light bar on top.  He couldn’t have been more intimidating.  He looked like a caricature of a police officer: like Chuck Norris but taller and handsome. 

“You’ve been hired illegally,” he told me, his thumbs hooked into his heavy black belt (between the mace and his gun).  “It’s a shame, but I’m going to have to let you go.”

“Please let me keep my job,” I said.  “I have a baby and I need to work.”

“I”ll see what I can do,” he said, flippantly.  “By the way, you need a black belt.  You’re out of uniform.” 

“%&^# ing   +@(#ard!!!”  I thought...

Later, in the office, I saw a softer side of him.  While all of the staff were approaching quitting time, I cleaned up and listened to them yucking it up with their cop jokes. 

“Hey, Janet,” he smiled.  “You can keep your job.  I’ve pulled some strings.” Everyone laughed at his joke, and then clapped.

“Yea!!  Janet can stay!!” they all cheered. 

I smiled and said thank you.  

Then I went back to cleaning. 

This new boss had two sides: the rough and tough cop and a fun, happy guy.  I’d have to be careful.

I respected him, admired him, and eventually fell in love with him. 

It was only after all of these emotions that we hugged (as friends) and then I felt the explosion of every great force in the universe.  This is what poets call chemical attraction. 

We married, and couldn’t believe how well suited we were to each other.  I couldn’t believe I had scored such a hunk for a husband.  I didn’t even have to be in the mood for sex to acquiesce!

We faced a myriad of challenges. 


Blending our family.

Making room in our hearts for everyone....  It was not an easy road those for those first few years.



Custody battle.

Teenage rebellion.


I type this, twenty seven years after that first meeting.  I am still in awe of him. 

In the years I have known him he has been marked by  goodness and calm and mercy and friendship. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest gift God has ever given me.  I can never be worthy of living next to this man, this man who loves sincerely, tries his best in everything he does, maintains friendships and focuses on loving people with respect and compassion.  Everywhere we go he makes me proud.

It is not easy to say, after 25 years of marriage that your husband is your best friend.  There has to be oceans of forgiveness and starting over constantly – from both sides. 

I woke up this morning and realized that I hadn’t gotten him a gift.  I hadn’t even bought him a card.  I stretched and remembered that the night before we fought and he went to bed early and I stayed up and had a martini. 

Sometimes life isn’t  as good as you need it to be.  In my heart, I pray desperately that God would help me love him especially for today.  Love that would make him feel special and miraculous. 

“Good morning, babe,” he says as I emerged from our room.  He was at his desk.  He will be teaching a class tonight. 

“Good morning, Happy Birthday, babe!” I say, and I can smell my own morning breath.

“Thanks,” he says. 

Preaching in Mozambique
I go to the bathroom and brush my teeth, then go to hug him.  He is in work mode, and he has a chart of all of the Biblical Foundation stones spread out on the table.  Still, he is receptive to affection, and I prepare myself to be the best wife I can be today. 

I kiss him good morning, and we begin our day. 

Tonight for his class, he’ll be well-prepared and he’ll have great love and authority in his subject matter.  I’ll be proud and serve chocolate cupcakes to everyone who comes, but he doesn’t much care for his birthday.
Later, we’ll come home, and I’ll give him the surprise gift of passion that cannot be wrapped. 

A chocolate cake that I've baked just for him.  

Monday, June 11, 2012


The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre 

It was 1987 and I weighed 135 pounds.  Those were the days...

I was also an insecure girlfriend of the hunkiest guy I had ever met in my life, and was now in New York City meeting his family, a collective Broadway genius pack, and we were sitting in front of the TV watching the Tony Awards.  I had never watched them before.

My (soon to be)father-in-law had been in several productions of Man of La Mancha and Sound of Music, my (soon to be) “step-mother-in-law” had been in several productions of Sweet Charity and Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and I was in their living room with another friend who I recognized from television.

“Oh!  Get a hook!” they shouted at one ingénue as she lagged her way through an acceptance speech.  I giggled, star struck by my future in laws and their friend. 

“Get off the stage!” they continued, saying that the girl was someone’s neice who had invested big money in the show. 

Today, my internet newspaper had news of the Tony’s:  a bittersweet romantic musical “Once” was the unexpectedly dominant winner at the 66th annual award show,  held to recognize achievement in live Broadway theatre.   It made me remember the day I watched the Tony's in New York... and I smiled.

I was refreshed to see that I had to look carefully to see the unknown stars of this year's winning shows.  I thanked God for the roles for these guys. 

Broadway is becoming more and more dominated (like Hollywood) with “names” rather than actors.  This year the trend went the other way:  “Once” and “Peter and the Starcatcher,” seemed risky but brilliant in the end, with their ensembles of little-known theater actors, instead of the big-budget or star-driven productions that often prevail on Tony night. 

While Philip Seymour Hoffman played Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman this year, and Andrew Garfield, who took on the part of his son, Biff, just after shooting the title role in the forthcoming “Amazing Spider-Man” movie, neither of them won a Tony for their performance. 
It made me smile to see that the winners were solid stage actors, James  Corden won best actor for One Man, Two Guvnors and Christian Borle, for Peter and the Starcatcher, as best supporting actor in a play. Both were unexpected upsets.

Back in Chev and Alice’s day, there were no microphones, and the art of projecting your voice and getting a line across to touch the back row or the standing room was a challenge.  Their voice excercizes and warm-ups were so state-of-the-art and successful that Alice was known for her “training tape” where voices were prepared for shows.  Nowadays, lighting, staging and sound are part of the new stage, and actors are not required to be the voice giants that they used to be. 

As the stage becomes less of what it used to be, the Tony’s are still the gauge of what kind of a year it was – and this year was big, fat musicals with stage actors and voices. 

It makes me happy to see. 

In my back pocket of my identity is my relationship to Broadway.  I would roll my eyes as my parents played the soundtracks to the original Broadway Cast of Man of La Mancha while we were in our car driving around town.  It used to embarrass me, being so “show-tunes” loving.  I had no idea that much later, when they played the same record during dinner when they first met Mario, he would say,

“You’re probably not going to believe me, but that’s my dad singing.”

All of those years of not appreciating Broadway melted away and I realized that I had been prepared, in a secret and special way, to understand the beauty and majesty of Broadway.  I suddenly became a fan.
The day I saw the Tony Awards with my in-laws was one of the most memorable days of my life.  I got to hear their perspectives on theatres, stages, actors, directors and “what’s being put on” these days.  It made me an insider to the vigor and joy; the flattening rejection; the dark and the glorious life of the New York stage. 

My beloved father-in-law is no longer with us, after making his final curtain call a few years back.  Alice, my beautiful larger-than-life- mother-in-law, still sings on stage, and delights clubs in upstate New York when she goes back home....  I will call her later to see what she thought of the awards. 
I can guarantee that I will giggle, still star-struck at her reactions.  

My brother-in-law, Stephen with Chev Rogers, and Alice Evans, my Broadway in-laws 

 Chev, Me, Hechter Ubarry, and Mario after a La Mancha cast party


Alice and Chev, after a Sweet Charity cast party

 Me and Alice, just after Christmas last year 

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Yesterday, my Aunt Emmy and my Uncle Walt left South Africa after a two week visit.  It is the first family who have made the trek out here from the States, besides our two children, Vince and Alicia who lived briefly with us here. 

The visit revived me, bringing in the much needed injection of family life into our house – our own little Johannesburg cottage hosted my Aunt and Uncle!  I made a lemon meringue pie one night with my Auntie in my own kitchen, and while I made it, she snacked on small pretzels like she does in Tracy, and we chatted about family events casually as I cooked.   It struck me that she was snacking in my kitchen, and I became happy in a way that was incredibly satisfying.  My Auntie was eating small South African pretzels, and walking around my counter like all of the other counters she walks around “back home”.

I loved the fact that they hung out with us on our back porch and we chatted over chicken and salad and had to watch for mosquitoes together.  I love the fact that they saw the silliness of the neighboring geese who squawk for nothing.  I loved how they met our friends and witnessed part of our life’s work here.   Most of all, I loved my Aunties random hugs, which she gave me constantly.  

It reminded me of my own mom....

Just before they arrived here, an interesting thing happened.  One of my “heroes” (an American editor I admire) accepted the project of editing my first novel, which was almost finished.  Since she’s rather old school, she asked to have a hard-copy manuscript (double-spaced, bound) that she could mark up and read at her leisure.  It occurred to me that the novel had to be finished, bound and sent back with my auntie and uncle before they left, and I rose to the challenge. 

A view of Joburg from the Carlton Building 
The greatest challenge was that I was 4 chapters short of perfection – I knew the chapters, they just ...weren’t...written...down.

Writing involves time and a certain amount of concentration.  My “office” is in the center of the house, a barstool on the kitchen nook that overlooks the kitchen and dining room.  Besides, my Aunt and Uncle were here!!  They were well-deserving of all of my attention!!

Weren’t they?

A first draft is like a first coat of paint.  Very few paint jobs look good after one coat, but you can tell what the color of the room is going to look like.  In writing the first draft, I was happy with it until I realized that my aforementioned hero was going to read it.  It was so raw, so amateurish that she may laugh...or not want to keep reading. 

A Hoopoe just outside my window at Sun City
Already planned into the visit was a trip to Sun City, our mecca of rest that we wanted to show to my Aunt and Uncle.  

A one-week stay there meant a trip to the Pilanesburg, one of the most rewarding game parks in South Africa, where my Auntie and Uncle would be treated to the Big Five sightings they looked forward to.

During the trip there, I fit in to minimal (gorgeous) activity with everyone, holing myself up in my room and finishing two and a half chapters.  

While my Aunt and Uncle braved a second day at the game reserve, I hung back with my laptop.  Later Mario worked out at the fitness center (alone) and I typed a frenzied finish. 

Mario and I at Sun City
Once back home, we all relaxed, and I felt a little more content with finishing.  The second week with us, we dutifully put Auntie Emmy and Uncle Walt on a plane bound for Cape Town.  Our friends here said that we would be doing them a disservice  if we did not force the west coast and the beauty of the Cape into their trip.  Of course they were right. 

I found out wonderful things about my Aunt and Uncle during the trip: they think of most things as “on purpose” – as an adventure unfolding piece by piece in front of them.  Getting lost didn’t make them angry, having a trip all planned out for them seemed fun... and they did Cape Town right.  Not just Cape Town, but the whole peninsula that is the great Cape, including the Southern tip, the Cape of Good Hope.  Every day we heard updates of new adventures and we laughed at their friendly, adventurous spirit. 

Also while they were touring the Cape, I was making last minute adjustments on the manuscript.  I rewrote a whole chapter, since it didn’t gel with the rest of the novel.  I went through the last minute changes that my South African editor, and friend, Kgaugelo, had said to fix.  She has yet to see the last four chapters.   

The day before my Aunt and Uncle came home from Cape Town we bound the first and rough draft at our printers, who admired the concept.  One copy was double spaced and bound for the editor.  Another copy was single spaced and bound for my parents.  Both would travel home with my Auntie. 

Auntie Emmy at the Cape of Good Hope

When I picked my Aunt and Uncle up from the airport, I heard their stories of the Cape.  We came and downloaded their pictures.  My Auntie has a magnificent eye, and a sense of humor as a photographer, and I “borrowed” some of her shots for potential wallpaper on my computer.  We had a relaxed time, and people over for dinner (more of our friends that loved them). 

The following day, our church leadership team had a night meeting and we left them to pack as we socialized (and were richly blessed) with Wally and Shirley, our friends from the Cape.  The following day, our church had a morning meeting with them as well, and we all were again...richly blessed.  Especially me. 

I was overwhelmed with thankfulness to God, and so grateful for his love and grace for me.  I was able to receive a rich blessing from Him during a time of an incredible rich blessing... I was so blessed.

When we got home, my Aunt and Uncle had strategically packed their bags and even impressed Mario, the international packing champion of our team.  My Auntie was in a hurry to get near the airport.  There was a mood of satisfaction and gratitude that we had such a wonderful trip together, despite the “distraction” of finishing the first draft of my book.

“Hey! I got an idea!” Uncle Walt said, after they weighed the suit cases.  “Let’s all go out to lunch...someplace really South African!”

A flash of delight ran through my head.  Should we go to Moyo at Zoo lake before they leave?  The place was so touristy and South African cliché...it was irresistible. 

At Moyo, our table was outside and we were given steel menus and complementary bread and a beautiful lady painted my face like a Xhosa.  Her name was Faith, and it turned out she was a twin (like my Auntie) and they bonded and took pictures together.  It was the most beautiful farewell to them, and for them to our country.  The perfect ending.

When we came back from the airport, Mario looked around and said, “We’re going to miss them.”  It made my heart ache.

He was right.

Elvis has left the building....