Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Happy New Year!

As  much as I hate to say goodbye to 2013, I'm ready for a New Year with New blessings.  

Ten things I said GOODBYE to in 2013:

1. In March, we said goodbye to South Africa and flew "home" the USA.
2. Later that month I said goodbye to compulsive eating - 
3. Alcohol-
4. Bitterness-
5. Sugar-
6. White Flour.
7. Dishonesty
8. Excuses
9. Negative thinking
10.  Friends...

Ten things I said HELLO to in 2013:

1. Sacramento 
2.  Freedom
3. Tea
4. Raw vegetables
5. Kubel Circle House
6.  Owning my stuff
7.  Accountability
8.  Stevia
9.  Wheat Germ 
10.  Friends

Ten Things I stretch my neck toward (my "goals")

1.  Talk less; listen more
2.  Write more
3.  Read more
4.  Love more
5.  Be humble
6.  Maintain accountability with grace
7.  Love mercy
8.  Pray more
9.  Make new friends
10.  Keep my friends who I love and love me.

My kids and my husband - how much I LOVE YOU!!



Saturday, December 28, 2013


Tonight Mario and I went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant.  We were seated next to a party who were celebrating their 50th Anniversary, and I was tempted to interrupt them to ask for marital advice.  How does a couple make it to 50 years?

I decided not to (mainly because my Mama raised me with manners) and left, asking Mario what he thought was the secret to our happy marriage.  Tomorrow we will be married 26 years.

“Passion.  Sense of Humor.  We’re spiritually yoked.”  I was blown away by the strength of his answer.  Not only was I just treated to a gastrointestinal songfest, but now he wowed me with the beauty of knowing exactly the ingredients in our life-sustaining recipe.  

A rich answer from a man who is happily married to me. 

I don’t deserve him. 

When I met him, he was (as the saying goes) way out of my league.  He was tall and buff and tanned with confidence and charisma.  Several other ladies thought so also, and Mario had a few girlfriends. 

By the time we figured out we were right for one another, I was brutally honest about what I wanted from him: I was a one man woman and I wanted a one-woman man.  Things would have to change if he wanted me.  He dropped his heart’s anchor and said he did.  We were married and combined our families and had another child together. 

We loved each other madly, but we also knew that wouldn’t be enough.  Love is not enough to keep a marriage together in this world.  Even with two like-minded people who adore one another, love is not going to keep your boat afloat in the rocky rapids that are the reality of this world. 

We sought out Biblical counseling, attended marriage courses and had a strong church community.  Even so, Mario and I weren’t exactly an example of a stable couple.   It took years to work out simple truths that we want to share with you tonight.  We give them to you as a gift.  These are things that we can take for granted, but hold the keys to happiness in any relationship.

1. We Try to Keep Enough Emotional Money in the Bank for Eachother.

The way we are as human beings is that we need each other.  In a marriage, there are withdrawals constantly.  From “Can you pick up the kids?” to “I need you to fix the garage door,” marriage is reduced to a functional partnership without taking time to deposit love and respect. 

 Just like actual money in commercial bank, emotional money needs to be deposited in each other.  This is different for every couple – and I don’t mean flowers and chocolates.  Check out The Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman – it says it all.

2. We are Good, Good Friends.

In the midst of a deep and committed relationship, we both need a friend:  A safe place to process things and a shoulder to cry on.  Just like my other friends share my interests and care about my heart, Mario and I meet for coffee and have delicious dinners together.   We talk about books, play games together, tease each other. 

In covenant relationships, sex is seen as an indicator of intimacy, but friendship is even more so.  I say this because sex is always good if you love someone – but in this world married couples forget how to be friends, especially in the busy seasons.  

In tragic circumstances, friendships hold us together.  A couple I love and admire recently (8 years ago) were in a car accident.  She was paralyzed from the waist down and he survived with a serious brain injury.  

Through it all, they remained each other’s best friend and somehow got through the rehabilitation, recovery and life changes that followed.  

They are still happily married.

3.  We Strive to be Kind to One Another.

Manners are underrated.

“Please” and  “Thank You” go a long way.  Walking upstairs to talk face to face is better than yelling at my spouse across the house.  Asking if he needs anything if I’m going out to the store.

Mario is extremely kind to me, even when I don’t deserve it.  He is gentle and tender in moments when my happiness is threatened and I’m freaking out.  In traffic, when he is stressed and aggravated with other drivers, I shut my mouth and remember not to criticize him. 

In every life event we endure as a couple, we have a choice – am I going to be kind to my mate, or will I demand my way?

4.  We Protect Our Unity at All Costs.

This world is not designed for marriage,it’s designed for individuals.  It can be filled with contests where only the fittest and meanest succeed.  If I looked around and saw only gossips, back-stabbers and people who are cruel when they don’t need to be, I would need an ally who has my back. 

Mario and I have done a lot of couples counseling over the years and have seen many different couples in many different lifestyles.  Among the deadliest of threats is when an outside force doesn't respect the unity of a couple.  A trusted  friend, a beloved parent or even a church leader will try to drive a wedge between the couple by speaking badly against their spouse.  

Ten years into our marriage Mario and I made a pact that no person, not even the ones we held as sacred, would ever be able to say anything bad about the other in our presence.  It has held us together through many terrible times.  

We have never had a creedo that says “Me and You against the world!” but rather  “It’s us as a blessing to the world.”  

Together, US. 

Those are our little secrets.  They really aren’t all that complicated.  You never asked us, but we gave to you just in case you were curious.

If I were honest, Mario’s first answer to my question is what lights me up: Passion.  I have it in buckets for that guy. 

I honestly don’t deserve him.  

Friday, December 27, 2013


I used to have a tradition of running a minute for each year I’ve been alive on my birthday.  The last time I did this was when I was 44.  I ran for 44 minutes without stopping, sucking wind the last four minutes and nearly dying.

It occurred to me the absurdity of my birthday tradition.  I can’t imagine myself at 80 years old running eighty minutes without stopping. 

Today I turn Fifty-one.  I’ve lived fifty-one years and it’s taken this long for me to appreciate a word that has defined my year: Gratitude.

It seems a simple word, really.  It’s something we’re all encouraged to have, especially around this time of year.  But it has a different definition than thankfulness, indebtedness or appreciation.  

Gratitude, by comparison, is accompanied by a feeling of awe.  It’s the glow of a person that has been given a clean slate, a second chance.  It lives in the heart of a person who’s just beaten cancer or survived a gruesome car accident.

It’s a word that comes with an attitude of grace and a change of life.

At the beginning of this year, I realized I was slowly killing myself.  It would have taken awhile, but my journey into the 50’s was a depreciating, exhausting duty dependent on  exterior forces to bring me peace.  Each person battles deep within themselves to find significance and value, and I was losing that battle.  I believed wrong things about myself and made a lot of excuses for the way I was.  In short, I was becoming bitter and it showed on the outside and came out of my mouth when I talked. 

No matter how together people look on the outside, they can be in pain.  Inside they are warring to find a balance and a place where they can receive peace and change that lasts.  This year, I surrendered, fell through the narrow passage of the funnel and landed on my back.  What poured down on me was grace.  


I took a deep breath and began taking responsibility for my side of things.  My new way of life isn’t about eating or drinking, it’s mainly about how I’m processing things.  My new life and my new way of processing both joy and pain are so foreign to me that I have to keep practicing.   

So at fifty-one, I am being born all over again.  At the same time, I am dying.  

Today Mario took a picture of me getting ready for a run.  I am ready to go, my dogs nearby me.  I was tempted to photo-shop out all of the wrinkles and bulges, but I didn't.  

Instead, I looked closely at it and I was grateful.  The woman in the picture is precious and she’s full of flaws.  She’ll try her best to do a bunch of things that are in the end, too hard for her.  Instead of medicating her pain, she’ll feel it.

I love her and she finally knows I do.  

Happy Birthday to me. 

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:37-39 (NKJV)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


An imprint in my palm
From clutching for the last two days
A chip
So small, so mighty.

Beauty and tension
(shaken, not stirred)
a reminder that I hold

the value- the beauty
of moments of focus.
decisions strung together-
one after another.
each made in honesty.

I receive peace.
Decisions, like wars I stand victorious over.
Through deep breaths -
a focus
 its own reward.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Christmas in our family is split between two families.  My side (The Ryans) celebrate (as I grew up doing) on Christmas Eve, the air filled with the smell of beans and tamales.  After dinner, Santa comes and then we all sing Christmas Carols. 

Mario’s family celebrates Christmas Day 45 minutes away from where I grew up.  The drive is easy and after Christmas breakfast, we head to Cindy’s.  There, we have home-made egg nogg and a sit down dinner with all the Christmas trimmings.

It is the in-between that makes the Christmas holidays special.

I love walking in to a house where people scream for joy just because we’ve arrived.  I love looking out the window when someone else arrives.  I love seeing the glittery hope and wonder of the season in my granddaughter’s eyes. 

I love the four generation pictures, the laughter, the hugs, the cacophony of nephews and nieces and all of the delicious visiting that takes place with everyone in between.

I love the smiles and hugs and the love our families share.  I love waking up Christmas morning and smelling my mom’s coffee.  Knowing that Mario’s stuffed a stocking for me like I’m still ten years old.

I love how our families know the reason for our holiday.  I love how we collectively celebrate the birth of Jesus.  I love how we love each other no matter what’s happened during the year.  I love the absolute forgiveness and joy in the season that we all share. 

I haven’t spent a lot on presents this year, I don’t have a new outfit.  But I get to bring salads to the gatherings because I live here now and I get to make the drive from our home here in Sacramento.

We also get to see the boys and their families!  Just after the 25th, Mario and I will trek out to Kansas City to see David and Lennae and the girls (Joe will join us).  After that, it’s off to New Mexico to see Vince and Rikki and celebrate there with gourmet food and the latest gaming system. We’ll squeal and shout with joy and live in and savor each moment. 

My heart longs for our Southern Hemisphere friends, too.  Portia is in Zimbabwe.  Debbie is Natal with her children.  Somewhere in South Africa, Lulu and Wouter will braai for whoever comes over. 

I miss my family in South Africa, but I am happier than I ever thought I could be to be home for the holidays.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013


If you’ve never read a Christmas Classic out loud to your family, you're missing something that is truly amazing.   

In the age of video games and television, we can understandably forgo reading for the classics that are "easier to enjoy" after a long day.  Don't get me wrong, I love “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “Charlie Brown Christmas,” but there are greater classics your family shouldn't miss. 

Imagine your family reading aloud, maybe in front of the treeor in front of the fire, cuddled up on the same couch.  Some of these can be easily read in one sitting; some have to be done in installments.  Some nights are easier than others.  Some nights your family won't be able to wait for the story – some nights the kids might just want the TV.  

Eventually, the reader and the one being read aloud to will settle down for the tale.  

Half the fun is hearing the “voice” of who wrote it – and how Christmas becomes the magical time that everything works out. 

Tucked away on my bookshelf are the oh-so-readable classics that can never be neglected.  

Today, I recommend them to you and your family before it’s too late and the Christmas season is over.

1.  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.

Without a doubt – my favorite to read out loud to my kids was this one.  I tried to keep a straight face most of the time, but I couldn’t.  When I wasn’t laughing, I was crying. 

It takes place in a small town with an outlaw family: The Herdmans.  They are, as the sixth grade narrator calls them, “the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids.”

They invade church one Sunday – the same Sunday that the annual Christmas pageant is being cast – and decide to take over all of the roles.  Since none of the six Herdman kids had ever heard the Christmas story before, the director tells them the story  we all have heard and take for granted.  Mary (pregnant!) rides to Bethlehem on a donkey and can't find a place at the inn (What!).  Jesus (I wouldn’t have named him that!) having to be born in a stable (even Gladys had her own drawer!) the Wise Men (a bunch of dirty spies) and Herod (who needs a good beating) are all characters that should have acted differently.

What happens is miraculous.  The perfunctory pageant becomes the most unusual anyone has seen. 
Robinson, a former teacher, knows what makes kids laugh and takes them down a road of unbelievable bullying, tension and finally redemption. 

2.  A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house….  The long poem we all exploit is told here, and it is downloadable or available online free of charge.  

So are recipes for  Sugar Plums,  patterns for “kerchiefs” and “sashes”.  You can research reindeer (originally seen as pests to most children who first read the poem) and the origins of Nicholas, the patron saint of Christmas.

No child should not hear this poem. The celebration of wonder is different from house to house, but the poem belongs to all of us.

3.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Marley was dead…. The best lines in literature come from Dickens.

Not so much has changed since Dickens wrote of his Ebineizer Scrooge, once a “good man of business” who has lost love for everything.  This tale tells of a greedy man can very well take place in our city today.  

Scrooge has died slowly over the years and has come to treat mankind so coldly that it shrinks back from him.  He treats his one overworked employee, Bob Cratchit, so badly, that he cannot even provide for his family.  Without health insurance, his youngest  son is slowly dying.  

This is also the story of Scrooge’s wake-up call, an invitation to re-enter the world.  Dickens saw Scrooge   as the “embodiment of winter” – and we watch as he attempts to melt his heart to the innocence and goodwill he had known in his childhood with his beloved sister. 

Dickens is a master of creating characters – Scrooge, Jacob Marley, Bob Cracthit- and especially the three “ghosts” who endeavor to bring Scrooge to his senses, are all so real we can visualize them.  When all else has failed, Scrooge comes to realize that he is mortal and that all mortals are accountable to God, even the ones who don’t believe in his existence. 

A short novel, I read this book even when it is not Christmas. 

4. The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson

I cannot NOT recommend this terribly sad story of a young girl who sells matches on a freezing Christmas night.  It clearly reflects the author’s disdain of the way children were forced into virtual slavery in Europe in the 1700-1800’s. 

The girl, who was unnamed in the original story, freezes to death while selling matches, but not before she sees pictures and images that give her warmth in the flames of spent matches.

If you do buy this book, make it a vehicle where your family can talk about what they can do for the poor homeless when it’s cold.  The forgotten victims of homelessness are the children and need to be remembered during the coldest holidays. 

5.  The Gift of the Magi – O. Henry

One of the most selfless, romantic Christmas tales that tells of newlyweds who exchange the presents that they know the other wants. 

I love this story and read it out loud to a friends’ five kids the other day.  It begins this way: “One dollar and eighty-seven cents.”

I asked them all (under ten) “How much can that buy?”  Their faces were priceless and they said “Not much at all.” 

O. Henry is one of my favorite writers and most of his work is common property.  This is also a downloadable story if you want to read it out loud.  In fact, here’s a link:  

Christmas classics shouldn’t only be seen, they should be read out loud.  Most of these can be bought on audio if you want to play them on a long car trip.  All of them can be found at your local private bookseller.  

If you don’t know who that is, find out. 

Reading is power.  God bless us, everyone.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Christmas Story

Sharon received the nativity set as part of her inheritance when her Nana died, leaving her a set of china and the old Christmas set that she and Sharon used to admire together.  Nana understood what it meant to the girl, as she turned each piece over in her small hands, noticing each piece’s detail and shiny glaze over the pastel colors. 

Sharon unpacked it each Christmas with the same wonder, actually managing to pass on the same admiration to her three children, Rodney, Eric and Elsie (the only girl, named after Nana).  Each Christmas Ben would bring in the decorations, boxes of dusty baubles they had accumulated over the years.  Piece by piece, the family would unpack the stuff and transform their normal house into the lighted wonder that Christmas was. 

Today, Sharon unpacked by herself.  Ben was always working and the kids had long since grown and moved away.  Rodney was always on a ship, Eric closed commercial real estate deals in Nantucket and Elsie was busy with four kids of her own.  It didn’t stop her from working full time and paying a Nanny.  Sharon wished she were closer so that she could help.

“It wouldn’t matter,” Elsie told her one day. 

“Why do you say that?” Sharon tried hard not to be offended.

“They love their Nanny and they have their schedule.”


“Don’t take it personally, Mom.”

“I’m not.”

“I’m tired of you taking things personally.”


“Besides, you were the one who moved in the first place.”

She always said that to her:  You were the one who moved in the first place.  You were the one who left for Costa Rica.  You and Dad decided to follow your dream and work in international ministry.  Remember?

Sharon did remember.  She loved Costa Rica and the people, so rich in culture and vibrant.  Hungry for God and what she and Ben brought in their own small way.  

It turned out Ben was part of the well-oiled machine that brought the Gospel to the people.  He worked tirelessly to build up the local churches.  He was part of the well-oiled Gospel machine, cheered on by their wives, who made it possible for the men to travel.  The men thought Sharon was a curiosity when she wanted to come along. 

“Explain to your wife that it’s a men only trip this time,” she overheard the team leader say to Ben one evening at a planning meeting.  As she and the other wives laid out the mango and bread plate, she held back tears, knowing she would never really be part of the work they came to do. 

Eventually, Sharon longed for home, especially to see the children born to her own children.  She longed to reestablish relationship with her own mother and father, who were growing older.  She missed her siblings. 

Eventually Ben realized they were finished and they both returned home to Omaha, a city caught up in first-world pleasures.  Sharon wasn’t quite comfortable settling into life in America, but she didn’t want to seem ungrateful for their new home and the job Ben had returned to.

“Are you happy?” He asked her one evening as she finished cleaning the dinner dishes.  He was asking her after a day of visiting Elsie and the kids in nearby Dundee.  They had been happy to see her and were beginning to not forget her name: Nana.

“Yes,” she smiled.  Her own Nana had such an impact on her life and she wanted to have the same on her own grandchildren. 

Back to the nativity set.

Sharon unpacked it, turning each piece over in her hands, noticing the paint and glaze on each one. She now knew that it was a mass-produced nativity set, available at any Sears and Roebuck when Nana was still alive. 

Still, it was the Gospel. 

A baby was born to a mother and a foster-father, far from home in the most humble of circumstances.  He was given a strange bedroom and a manger to lie in after his mother wrapped in swaddling, the traditional Jewish way to papoose a baby.

That baby, with the halo around his head, was born for all people, do deliver them from sin and death. 
A tear escaped Sharon’s eye.  

When did it all get so polluted? 

After Ben and Rodney fought, their son had impulsively joined the Navy and now rarely called them.  She could count on one hand the times she talked to him while they were in Costa Rica. Each conversation was strained and Sharon knew it was all her fault.  

This year, their Christmas card to Rodney came back, unopened.  Sharon was unsure if she had the wrong address or if Rodney had refused it at the Post office.  She didn’t have any contact details for him and Elsie said she was told not to share with Mom and Dad how to reach him. 

Rodney had been badly burned by church, the people who were supposed to be safe.  They never quite looked at him with acceptance but only gave him funny nick names and a cold shoulder.  They encouraged Ben and Sharon to get counseling for their hyperactive son and they did, betraying his confidence as they subjected him to testing, analysis and the opinions of the most confused people they had ever met.  

It wasn’t long before Rodney’s rebellion started and then the open fights with Ben.  He asked Rodney to leave one night, saying that he had the other children to think about.  Rodney was only too happy to go, saying they were the ones who were messed up.

In the end, Rodney was right.  His own issues were nothing compared to the issues that were in their church: Judgment. Razors. Exclusivity.  In the end, Sharon could see that the church wanted to evangelize more people who looked like they did.  Businessmen; stock-brokers; lawyers. 

The manger holding the child with the halo grew warm in Sharon’s hands.

She placed it in the straw, covering the shiny legs with the curly shaved wood she bought from Hobby Lobby as soon as they returned to the states.  There was no Hobby Lobby in Costa Rica.

“There you go.” Sharon talked to the figure just like Nana used to. 

Nana would speak like the figurines could hear her.  To the donkey, as she lay him  in layers of cotton balls  in the stable: “There, there.  You've had a long journey!  Rest awhile here.  You’re safe and warm now.”

Sharon unpacked each piece and stopped at Joseph, the foster-father of the baby.  He was holding a staff; Nana said he used it for walking all that way from Galilee.   He was kneeling down and looking adoringly south-west.  Nana always placed him over the baby, and Joseph was happy to kneel with his hand on his heart looking at his savior. 

Did he know?

Did Joseph know, really that Jesus would eventually upset the government of Rome and be charged with sedition and shame his whole family?  Did he know, as he looked adoringly at the baby in the manger,  that he would be the pivotal person that would divide the  Jewish religion?  Did he know Jesus would make it possible for Jews to talk directly with God?  Speak his name?  Allow women in the Holy of Holies?
Sharon nearly dropped the figure when she heard the ringing of her cell phone.  It was Elsie, and she laid Joseph down to pick up her daughter’s call.

“Hi, honey!”

“Hi Mom, what are you doing?”

“I’m actually setting up Christmas decorations.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m calling.”

Sharon smiled.  “Really?”

“It’s the first Monday in December and we always did it then, didn’t we?”

“We sure did.”

“Are you crying?”

“No, why?”  Sharon wiped tears away, realizing only then that she was.  It was hopeless to try and hide from her intuitive daughter, who had always exhibited traits of a Biblical prophet. 

“Don’t worry, Mom.”

“I won’t”

“Have you gotten to the nativity set yet?”

“Yes.”  Sharon felt hot, fat tears leaving her eyes.  She knew better than to blow her nose or sniffle, giving away the grief she felt for everything.

“He’s going to call you today.”

“What?” Sharon reached for a tissue and wiped away her dripping nose. 

“Rodney just called me and said ‘Do you think Mom is setting up the house now that she’s back?’”

“Is he on land?”

“Yup.  He’s got a desk job now.”



“He’s going to call today?”

“Yeah, he said he would.”  Elsie cleared her throat and got to the point of her call.  “Don’t start apologizing all over the place for years of stuff, Mom.  That’s just gonna freak him out.”

Sharon didn’t know whether to be offended or smile.  “I won’t….”

“You will.  Take a piece of paper and write on it: ‘DON’T apologize for years of crap!’ and then when he calls take the piece of paper and hold it in your hands.  Do you hear me?”

Sharon nodded, saddened and weak.  “You still love me, don’t you, my girl?”

Elsie sighed heavily.  “Mom, there’s not enough assurance in the world to make you feel better.”

The statement stung.  Sharon grimaced and tilted her head.  “When’s the last time you talked to Eric?”

“Did you get his email?”

“Yes,” Sharon didn’t think Eric’s last email was anything special.  It was just a recap of the last three deals that closed.  It assured him, he wrote, that he would have a Happy Christmas.

“Well, you know he’s coming to Omaha for Christmas, don’t you?”

Sharon was nonplussed and shook her head.  “Really?” she said out loud, realizing Elsie couldn’t see her.

“Yeah, he comes and sleeps over at my house, usually.”

“Why can’t he stay here?”

“Maybe you can invite him.”  Sharon heard a shuffling on the other end of the phone and Elsie spoke up again.  “Mom, I have to go.   Remember to write that down on a piece of paper – right now before you forget.”


“Okay, bye.”

There was a click, then Sharon’s cat, Fifi appeared on the screen of her phone. 

“Paper…” Sharon mumbled to herself as she rose to get a spiral bound notebook from the kitchen.  She found one with an old grocery list on it – one from Costa Rica.  “Mango, tea, sugar, bags.”

She smiled and a stab of pain came into her heart, remembering the beach church they had; all their friends and their children running around mish-mash everywhere.  How much Costa Rica had changed her.

She wrote in big letters: “DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR YEARS OF CRAP!” 

She returned to the nativity set, laying her phone down on the spiral notebook, both within reach.  Later she would email Eric, inviting him to stay in their new guest room.  She knew she would have to clear a place for him; move boxes and clear off the old bookshelf.  Maybe when Rodney called she could invite him too.  It was a shame they didn’t have bunk beds anymore. 

Sheep.  The dog.   Mary.

Sharon held Mary in her hands and remembered Nana’s voice.  “You’ve come so far.  You were nine months pregnant and had to make that journey on the back of a donkey.  Now when you got here, it wasn’t like you thought it would be, was it?  Where’s your bed?  Where’s your baby’s bed?  Can’t you get a little privacy?  Why is that cow looking at me?”

As if a mist descended,  Sharon could feel her Nana with her.   She could almost feel her touch; almost hear her whisper: 

“Don’t worry, mija.  Everything will work out fine.  It’s Christmas.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Nelson Mandela Painting by Marc Alexander
available here

Some heroes lose their luster when you get closer to them, or you find they’re are revered only by a select group of people and are hated by others.

The only leader I have ever seen internationally revered is Nelson Mandela. 

I was a senior in high school (1981) when I first heard the cry of “Amandla!” (Power!)  The supplication of the people forming absolute resistance against Apartheid.  Later, it became the slogan of the ANC, the political party of Mandela. 

I never knew that years later I would actually live in South Africa, becoming inexplicably South African, myself.  In February of  1990, he was released and walked through the street with his (then) wife, Winnie, holding up his Amandla! Fist, signifying the beginning of a new South Africa.

We moved there sixteen years later, and instantly fell in love.  The South African culture is so unique, so powerful, in many ways it is like the U.S.A.   Most of the people were still in love with the liberator and the role model they now called Madiba (his Xhosa clan name).

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg has a permanent exhibit dedicated to him.  He loved knowledge and uplifted it, and the hall was a perfect tribute for him.  We toured it, once we arrived in Johannesburg and I lingered especially long.  There were so many displays, some type written papers of his, voicing his concerns for his people, explaining his understanding of God, searching for the words to motivate his country toward unity.

It was his example and strength that led everyone (his friends and former enemies) to unity. 
Fresh Starts. 
There will never be another like him. 

Today I received word that he died and it made me “homesick” for our adopted country.  I know that there is great mourning there today, even though his death was a long time coming. 

I will tell you a little international “secret.”  Madiba is joyful.  He loved to celebrate, but admitted many times that he was “no dancer.” He loved the celebratory culture of his people, the most natural dancers in the world, but said once that it exposed him as having “no rhythm.”  

To join in, he chose a very beautiful movement that everyone now calls the Madiba Dance – a little rocking motion of the hips and slight pumping of the arms, a genuinely lovely thing that all South Afircans love to do.  It makes us love him more.

Hamba kakuhle, Madiba. 

We love you.  


Monday, December 2, 2013


Victory for First Draft of Novel #2

My Blog has been a mass of cricket chirps for a reason:  November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, a challenge for any fledgling novelist looking to be published.

My second novel actually was constructed under the direction of a Writer’s Digest University Course, one entitled “12 Weeks to a First Draft” supervised by Mark Spencer, a professor of English and Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

It was a great class for me to take because it kept me on track and pushed me toward completion of the all-important first draft.  Today, as I celebrated with a tall glass of ginger ale, I read a friend’s comment: “I haven’t even read your first novel!” 

She’s not the only one – my first novel isn’t published yet.  I wrote this one because I love writing, not because my agent demanded it or my publishing house required it for a two-book deal.  I’m still an unpublished author, but hopefully not for long.

I am attaching my "back cover synopsis" of my novel, one I call “My Constellation Urion.” 


“I didn’t go out seeking the truth about my family, the facts started falling around me like ashes from Mount St. Helens, causing me to grow up and making me wish for childhood at the same time.  Sometimes I wish I could just go backward- back to  those good old days when my world was an illusion of happiness; a collection of comfortable lies.”

My Constellation Urion is a story told by Charlotte Brannon, the youngest daughter of a charismatic County Sherriff with a strong reputation for being tough on crime. 

Charlotte realizes as she approaches her twenty-fifth birthday, that her family isn’t as solid as she once believed they were.  Her fun-loving but secretive brother drains her parents’ savings account and flees the country with almost no explanation.  Only three months after, Charlotte’s beloved cookie-making Grandmother is arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder and burying human remains at her house.   In the spotlight of scandal, Sheriff Brannon loses a re-election campaign and returns home full-time, partly to take care of his wife, who has fallen into a deep depression. 

Charlotte’s sister and best friend, Katie, has moved across country to pursue her dreams of being a vegan chef.   Unable to process her family’s decline alone, Charlotte seeks Katie’s support and advice only to find her angry and unwilling to “get caught up in the family madness.”  In desperation, Charlotte makes friends with the junior DA who is prosecuting Grandma Brannon, hoping to find out more about the county’s highest profile mass-murder case. 

Set against the backdrop of the fertile farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley of California, My Constellation Urion is a tender story of disillusionment in a happy family and a quest for understanding that fluctuates between being painful and inspiring.  In her quest for truth in every area, Charlotte discovers powerful truths about herself, her ability to love and her capacity to heal.