Tuesday, December 29, 2015


December 29, 1987

Mario and I have been married Twenty-eight years today.  I thank God for Mario who is a major fox and a hell of a lot of fun to be with… but I have to say that it has not always been easy.  After twenty-eight years we have a relationship that is beautiful and we have reaped it after years of hard work.  For years we both practiced sowing the seeds of love.  Our early marriage counselors promised us that sowing good seeds would bear good fruit.  They were right.

After you have been married for as long as we have, people ask you for advice.  We usually don’t give any – mainly because what these couples are really asking for is hope.  They want us to tell them that there is hope for their relationship, no matter how badly it has deteriorated.  All couples do – they want a good relationship.

Once a year I break out our best advice – and here it is.  Read on if you want to…this is the super-abridged edition of what we would tell couples if we really did give out advice.  

1.  Don’t expect your marriage to be like your wedding.

Please don’t take this the wrong way.  

I just mean that your marriage is not going to be like your wedding where everything is all about you!  Weddings used to be a church, a smattering of family, and the bride and groom dressed up in their “Sunday best”.  Now weddings are five-star affairs with big, fat dresses and tuxedos and tall cakes.  Grooms and their groomsmen dance in synchronized fashion.  Envelopes of money are given in celebration. 

Marriage is a MERGER, a legal contract, and a covenant that cannot be broken.   God help you if you think that marriage is one big party.  It is work! Often it is boring, tedious, and routine.  Only the best couples have the endurance to bring life into this arrangement!

2. DEPOSIT into your spouse’s heart.

Love is one of the key ingredients in successful marriages, but romantic love is not enough.  People who master marriage realize that the spouse has a “heart account” that must be filled.  Most people know how to make love withdrawals – but forget to make the love deposits.

Kind words, gifts, laughter, memories and special traditions that you celebrate together are all examples of deposits.  Figure out what your spouse likes and do that thing a lot.  

Let it be your idea. 

3.  Ditch your addictions.

Love is a seedling in an antagonistic world that is built for individuals.  Individuals have addictions. 

Alcohol, drugs and gambling are not the only addictions that kill relationships (although they certainly do a LOT of damage to plenty of marriages). Socially acceptable addictions like food, television, phone games, and work take their toll on more families than you would think.  

After years in full-time ministry we have heard too many partners confide that their significant other no longer values them as much as their ____________.  Fill in the blank with your addiction – that kind of behavior kills.

4. Relationships are worth protecting.   

In an effort to be polite or socially acceptable you may forget that the main relationship you are in requires a genuine wall of defense.  People may try to kidnap one of you for fun and games at the cost of the other’s happiness.  Others may be friends with your spouse but not care for you.  These people have a habit of asking if “just one of you” can work or play side-by-side with them.  There might be times when friends encourage gossiping about your spouse. 

Even well-meaning friends and family can make these mistakes.  We have had many of these in our marriage, but have always managed to remember that our partnership takes priority.  We are not joined at the hip, but we do value togetherness.  Most successful couples are genuinely friends who like to be with one another.  Mario and I keep our spiritual eyes open for the other’s welfare --protecting one another means protecting our relationship. 

5.  Love requires action and movement to continue. 

Love does not grow by itself – it’s not kudzu or phlox. 

Do something.
Guys, if you’re actually reading this, make her a card.  Tell her you love her.  When you’re wrong, say “I’m sorry, babe.” That last part, “babe” can be substituted with your pet name that makes her feel like she belongs to you.

Girls.  I know you’re exhausted, especially if you have kids, but make him a damn sandwich now and then.  Tell him that he’s smoking hot – and prove it.  Give him a memory that will wreck his concentration the next day at work. 

6.   Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

I didn’t author this – God did.  Learn how to listen (without your answer playing in your head).  Listen like it’s the first time you’ve ever heard what he/she is saying.  Listen more than you talk and get a reputation as a listener.  If you listen, you open one another’s hearts.  Each time you listen to your spouse you say “You are worth something to me.  What you have to say matters.” 

You may not agree with each other, but at least you have listened.

7. Use your manners.

This is your spouse, not your property.  Say thank you for everything they do for you.  Say please a lot.  Hopefully your mother raised you with manners - exercise them!!

Also, please tell your lady that you love her and that she’s pretty.  Do you know how important that is to her?  A lot important. Okay?

Also, please RESPECT that guy, alright? Do you know how important that is to him?  A lot important. Okay?

I can also tell you – if you’ve read this far that community and accountability is important.  For us, our church and our families witness to our union and our major life decisions.  This is important for the big life changing events that will affect your relationship.  It is also important for the little decisions that affect others. 

Be blessed and live in love.  We wish you the best in everything. 

Love rules!!

Sunday, December 27, 2015


I'm 53 today!

I will love this year.

I turn fifty-three today, an age that doesn’t mean much, other than I feel blessed to have such good health at this age.  What does appeal to me is that number – it is one that I have admired for years.  Isaiah fifty-three is one of the most significant pieces of literature in my life.    

Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet, specifically described the Messiah over 700 years before the birth of Jesus. Isaiah’s prophecy was so spot-on that it reads like an account of the sufferings of Jesus on the cross that someone wrote afterward. I remember the first time I heard it – in the living room of our Spiritual mentor’s house.  He asked me if it sounded like anyone I knew.  I went to bed that night and couldn’t get the chapter out of my mind.  How beautiful - that God would use these words to reach my heart.

I am a woman with a gazillion facets that can never be seen all at once, but God knows -and sees-every side of me.  I was a woman hell-bent on following my own version of wisdom when God penetrated my heart and injected life into me.  I was changed completely by His love and I am constantly amazed at HIS mercy.

I give this gift to you on my birthday –Isaiah 53.  Whether you are suffering or victorious, let these words wash over you.  Honestly, does this sound like anyone you know? 

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


In that day there will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, "HOLY TO THE LORD " Zech. 14:20

Breathe deeply. 

You have now prepared for Christmas and are now ready to receive, and participate in, the celebration of it.  Christmas is not only an event, it is the spirit of generosity and deep, abiding joy. 

No matter where you are in the world, Christmas is a special time.  I have been in the Dubai airport in United Arab Emirates and enjoyed the decorative red and gold lights whispering of the coming Savior. There are beautiful surprises that are hidden our traditions; they explain this holiday’s meaning.  Even the pagan celebrations involve an element of a hidden treasure inside of an obvious gift – but we Christians hold the truth.  

It is an amazing privilege entrusted to us - to be bearers of so great a  secret.  

I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,
Isaiah 42:6
All year long we can whisper of it, but Christmas is the time we can sing it out loud.

He is here, He is here…

The Messiah that we have been waiting for has arrived!  He was promised from the beginning of time and He is the perfect plan of God.  Jesus was born because everyone needed a Savior from our condition of sin.  

Here’s the secret: He is the perfect representation of God.  God invested himself into us, into mankind.

Because of Christ Jesus, the Messiah, we are reconciled to God, our heavenly Father.  He was born in lowly and humble circumstances, and gave us an example of how we should live.  No matter how much wealth we can accumulate it is nothing compared to heavenly glory, which is what He left to become incarnate. 

Love. Humility. Adoration. Joy.

The life we are now living is lit up by a Redeemer who came to us to fulfill a promise.  All other gifts are nothing in comparison to this one; all other joy is dependent on this. 

Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, October 31, 2015


Lilliana Grace 2014

There are some children that are glitter, like sparkles inside of soap bubbles - filled with desire and imagination.  This is our granddaughter, Lilliana Grace.

Lilli is artistic and dreamy, beautiful down to her soul.  She loves to cook, draw, do mixed martial arts and read.  She notices everything, has a memory that seems to last forever, and is a never-ending surprise to most of us that know her.  She is, in short, so filled with potential that it astounds most people. 

Since Lilli and her family live in another state,. we rely on visits and phone calls to keep us connected.  One afternoon, during one of these visits last year,  Lilli asked me if we could write a book together.  Naturally, I agreed. 

“What shall it be about?” I asked.  At the time, Lilli was a fan of the “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” books (a series that had proven how kids wanted interaction with characters on the page). 

After thinking awhile, Lili said “School.”  She had already assembled the blank canvas, folding 8”x10” sheets of copy paper in half and stapling them together, like a real book. 

I wrote a simple story, my text on one side of the fold, saving the other side for Lili’s drawings.  I expected the normal drawings of an eight year old, not the illustrations she returned.  Lilli's illustrations were brilliant, borderless and artistic. “Oh my word,” I shouted.  “This is AMAZING!!”

She smiled, but she seemed to know that her illustrations were good.  As good as my story, I dare say.  Deep down inside, Lilli knows she’s amazing. 

This isn’t just Grandmotherly admiration.  Last year, she painted a picture that was chosen for display by the entire school district: a butterfly done in pastels that looks as if it is a stained glass window. 
Lennae and David with their artist, Lilli

There is a special beauty that is in Lilli’s heart, partly because she was born second and is a middle child.  Second born children are  unique and special, making their entrance into an already formed family, sometimes having to clamor for attention (I relate to this because I was also born second).  Erma Bombeck once wrote that the second born is special because they cry less, have more patience, wear faded clothes and “never in your life did anything ‘first,’ but it only made you more special.”  

This is Lilli.  

As a second-born child, she has learned how to shine.  Her birth was a celebration of continuance, her family now had another child, and she had a big sister waiting.  Although she might have been known for years as the “quiet one”, partly because of her juxtaposition next to Laila, Lilli has learned how to shine in ways that have made her outgrow that label.    

Today is her birthday.  We are here in California and she is there, in Kansas City.  She is - at this moment - enjoying a birthday trip is to her favorite holiday place in the whole world with two of her best friends.  Last week, she wrote to me on SKYPE to tell me how excited she was. 

As I read our back and forth on our SKYPE conversation , I marveled at how time flies.  As a Grandmother, an Abuela, I have to remember that each day I have with her is a gift to be cherished. I still remember the phone call from David saying that he and Lennae were expecting again.  The pregnancy was hard on my daughter-in-law, and she had to be hospitalized at one point.  Mario and I prayed very hard for all to turn out well.  Lilli is the beautiful answer to those fervent prayers.  I can't help but think that is why she shines with such exceptional beauty.

Happy birthday to our beautiful and creative Lilliana Grace.  We love you so much, honey!  We are constantly amazed by how you're growing and changing everyday!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


David, Mario, Aunt Rose, Me, Jennifer and James
Tuscon 2010

When you throw a pebble into a pool of water, there are ripples that make rings around it.  They are quite beautiful and are proverbial examples of our actions affecting others.  I want to tell you about Mario’s Aunt Rose today, a woman of peace whose life was one pleasant ripple after another.

“My Aunt Rose is the baby of the family,”  Mario told me the day I met her. “She is the normal one in my Dad’s family.”

Mario’s father’s family was extraordinary; they could not be described as conventional.  His paternal grandparents, Joe and Amanda were from Spain and lived as immigrant business owners in the town of Hollister, California.  They had twins – Mario and Carmen; then Angelo (Mario’s Dad), then Rose. 

Mario was a professor at USC and wrote books (that I struggled to read) in academic languages; he was married to Aunt Mildred.   Carmen (whom Chev called the “love of the family”)was an intelligent, opinionated, stunning beauty – she married Uncle Frank.  Angelo (he later changed his name to Chev Rogers) was a Broadway actor who could sing – he married Mario’s Mom (Cynthia) then Alice (who Alicia is named after).  Then there was Rose, who I didn’t really know.  She lived in New Mexico and wrote letters by hand to us, she seemed so peaceful.

The day I met her, I realized that Rose (Tia Rose) was peaceful.  She had come for a visit with Uncle Frank and Aunt Carmen - they invited us to their place for an afternoon of family.  Rose was wearing a blue dress, made of light cotton fabric.  Her husband, a big man named Raul, was eating chilies whole (this action reminded me of my own Uncles who lived in Southern California). Rose greeted us and sat down to chat.  She asked questions about our lives and listened to us.  She took delight in our children.  It was like she was the keeper of family memories, and she explained about Mario, Carmen and Angelo in one sitting to me that day.  She said Angelo was always sweet and Mario was naughty and everyone thought it was the other way around.  She said her big sister Carmen really was full of love, just like Chev said. 

That day, we took family pictures and had maybe three or four hours together.  Later, she walked us out to the car to say goodbye.  She was unhurried and calm.  Peaceful.

Years later, I saw her again in Tuscon, her new home.  Uncle Raul had died and she was living by herself now.  We had a wonderful lunch and a family time with her son and grandchildren.  We cherished the time together and hold it in our hearts. She continued to write us letters, even when we were in Africa.  She emailed faithfully and even learned to master Facebook.

A few weeks ago, Aunt Rose sent us a different kind of letter: she had cancer and was not expected to live long.  "I am ready," she wrote to us.  "It's finally my turn and I'm ready to take it." 

The news hit Mario like a boulder.  He had just lost his last remaining brother; now none of his immediate family were alive.  In Mario's mind, his remaining family (that he felt close kinship with) was Alice, Cindy, and Aunt Rose. 

"I have to go see her," he told me.  

At first, Aunt Rose waved him off, saying that it wasn't necessary for Mario to make the trip out. She was exhausted most of the time and it was an effort to visit.  She had pain; she wasn't the best company.  Then, as if miraculously understanding his desire, she wrote: "If you need to come and say goodbye to me, then come."

He went with Shirley, my beloved sister-in-law (Anthony's widow) and her son, Evan.  The afternoon was magical; Mario said that Aunt Rose enjoyed the visit and had very little pain.  He sent me pictures of her.  

Today we received word that Aunt Rose took her turn and left this world.  It has been an unusually sad day.

Sometimes our caricature of family is happy people who spend a lot of time together.  I believe that a precious family is made up of many parts, including the gems that you hardly see.  Aunt Rose was one of those precious gems to us. 

Today, please hug your family.  Forgive past hurts and celebrate the love you have; you don't know how long it is going to last.  We all need one another; family is so important.  

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Mario with Joe and David (on bottom)

One of the most beautiful traits of David, our first-born son, is that he finds a way to connect with everyone. 

When I talk about him in the third person (like I just did), I always say that David is “our first born”.  I was not present when he was born; I had not yet graduated from high school.  Mario was married to Cathy, David’s mother when David was born.  He was happy and playful; a joy to everyone; smart as a whip; and generally the center of attention wherever he went. 

He was only five years old when Cathy and Mario separated.  I met him at the tender age of six, and I loved him right away. 

I had been working for his dad (Mario) in 1986;  and the first time I saw David I started laughing.  He looked just like his father, and I said so.  This made him warm up to me, and he walked into my portion of the office instead of Mario’s. 

“Leave Janet alone, she has work to do,” Mario teased.  David looked up and him and then back to me.  “Come on David…”

“He can stay here,” I offered, bringing out a ream of paper and different colored pens. Joe, his brother, kept his distance, but David seemed eager to connect with me.  “Do you want to color with us, Joe while your Dad makes phone calls?”  Soon, David, Joe and I were drawing pictures;  Mario was finished in about half an hour.  That was the first memory I have of meeting my future step-sons– coloring pictures at my desk. 

It took awhile, but David, Joe and I started seeing a lot more of each other. Mario and I were inevitable - destined to be together.  David and Joe were part of his package deal; Vince was part of mine.  Blending our little families together meant learning to love each other and live in harmony.
David at our first computer - the Kaypro 1987

Proficient at computers at a young age, David was also a whiz at math.  He loved the reasoning of patterned things, and I marveled at this.  He grew quickly.  We played games together, especially trivia games where we warred to see who knew more.  As a teen, he started riding bulls, which terrified me; I learned how to keep my mouth shut. He graduated from high school, went off to college and then learned UNIX, which changed his life.  A series of crazy girlfriends drove me nuts and caused my prayer life to take on new forms; then he met his wife, who I treasure.  His girls made us grandparents – Laila, Lilli, and Lauren – they stole our hearts and made us grow.   His career takes him all over the world; he has become kind of an export on software and hardware set-ups for international businesses.  I am proud, but not surprised.

With all of this life experience, both terrible and wonderful, David is not bitter.  He still maintains a playful, wonderful attitude that makes people love being around him.  He seems game to connect with everyone and can usually find something in common with anyone in the world. 

I always wanted to be the parent that was there for my kids; I don’t know if I’ve succeeded.  BUT God has done something amazing in David – he has made a son who is there for his parents.  This year, especially, David has shown us that family is more than just phone calls and holiday visits.  Mario lost his brother, Stephen, to cancer in June.  He decided to make a trip to Iowa to connect with Stephen’s family, to grieve.  Since finances were especially tight (we had just returned from seeing our Grandson, Harvey, be born), I could not go with him.  David quickly offered to accompany Mario and they set out on a road trip, driving from Kansas City to the Iowa/Illinois border.
David with Delaney and Kamryn in June

When I spoke with Mario over the phone,  he told me how well things were going.  “If it weren’t for David, I don’t know what I’d be doing.  He is the bridge.”

Apparently, my niece’s daughters are similar ages to David’s daughter’s and he knew every communication point, connection (and phone app) that interested them.  Just like David to connect us all together.

Not long after, he joined his Dad and Joe for a father-son backpacking trip, which nearly killed all of them.  "Thank God for David," Mario told me when he returned home.  "He kept cracking jokes, which made us all laugh.  Even when we were dying, we were laughing!"

My step-son is more than a step-son.  He is mine in a way that only other step-parents can understand.  He is a wonder and a beautiful part of my heart.

Today David turns 36. (WHAT???!!!)

 Thank God he is not riding bulls anymore. Thank God he found Lennae.  Thank God I love his mother and we are friends.  Thank God he loves me as his step-mom and always has.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Son!!  You are one of the greatest blessings in my life.  I am a woman that has been very richly blessed. 
 July 2015
David, Harmony, Alicia, Me, Alannah, Mario and Joe

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Harmony with her backpack, right before school

Harmony is turning six today. 

I can hardly believe it!  Even though it sounds cliché, the time has gone by so fast.  She was born one minute, celebrated her first birthday the next, and then a time-weighted snowball brought us to today.  She celebrated two of the biggest milestones in a young person’s life: she started school and lost her two front teeth.

“Look Grandma,” she said, when I picked her up from her kindergarten classroom yesterday.   “I got a smells good.”  She extended her hand toward me and I bent down to sniff the back, where a colorless mark symbolized a good week of behavior and attendance. 

“Yum!”  Her wrist has the sweet smell of grapes, most likely a stamp that the teacher saved for cooperation incentive.  

School is at the forefront of Harmony’s life now; September is not only her birthday month, it is her first full month of kindergarten.  As we drove home, I asked her if she knew all of her sight words; I had seen the books she put together with words that kindergartners should memorize, rather than phonetically sound out.

“Those are called heart words, Grandma,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “They are called heart words because we have to know them all by heart.”

I smiled.  Heart words: what a beautiful concept. 

When I think of Harmony, the words I connect to her sparkle and glitter, just like she does.  They are words she has spoken to me ever since she was a baby.  I remember the first time she called me GRANDMA, the first time she asked me for APPLE JUICE, the first time she said I LOVE YOU.  As precious as she is to me, accepting this growth is a bittersweet reality of life.  I can't keep her this age for any longer than I can my own daughter - who was just her age last week.  

The other day I sang a song to her, an old lullaby that my own mother used to sing to me: Turn Around.  It is a simple melody that always stuck with me, and Harmony liked it as well.  She was, however, a little nonplussed about the lyrics. 

"Why do you say 'Turn around and you're tiny, turn around and you're grown'?"

"I don't know," I shrugged.  "That's just what adults say when their kids are growing so fast.  It just means you are growing so fast that everytime we turn around you are bigger!"

She smiled.  "I am growing, Grandma!"

"Yes, you are."

"And now I'm in school."

"Yes, you are!"

"Turn around and I'm in school!"

“Why are you so clever?” I asked her. 

She thought awhile, and then answered:  “I’m clever because I’m smart.”

This made me laugh, which made her laugh.  We love laughing together and invent all kinds of ways to do it.

Harmony is among the richest blessings of my life; she is bright, fun, thoughtful, loving, tender and expressive.  I love every moment I spend with her and do not take any of them for granted.  For the rest of my life, I will be her Grandma.  It is one of the most important roles of my life.

Happy Birthday, Harmony.  I love you so much, my clever girl.  
Your Grandma

Me and Harmony -2011
To listen to the lullabye "Turn Around" click here


Sunday, August 30, 2015


Laila Willow (holding her cousin, Harmony)
June 2014
Photo by Hannah Joy Photography

The day she was born changed my life.

I remember turning to Mario and asking, “What is today?”

He answered, “August 30.”

We hugged and I whispered that he was now a Grandpa.  He laughed, casting off my romantic mood.  “Thanks a lot, now I feel really old!”

She was born in Kansas City, to my step-son, David, and his wife, Lennae.  We heard from David after the event was completely over – Mother and baby were doing well. It was a very intimate birth – a delivery by a midwife of our first granddaughter brought into this world in a hot tub. 

It was the first of many facets of unconventionalism.  Not only was Laila’s birth unconventional, her name definitely was.  “Laila Willow Rodriguez,” I kept saying to myself, over and over and over.  I was hoping that one day it would just roll off my tongue. 

Since we were not present for the birth, we didn’t meet the little one until she was about eighteen months old.  David and Lennae brought her to California (bravely) on an airplane, and when I first saw her, I thought that she had the greenest eyes I had ever seen.  “Oh she’s so beautiful,” I gushed.  Laila clung to Lennae, afraid to let go and be delivered over to the new person fawning over her.  I was advised (by Mario) to give her time and to dial it down a little. 

That week I started to do grandmotherly things with this new little person.  We walked around the grounds of the hotel and observed geese. She hid behind curtains and resurfaced, making us all laugh.  She ate frozen blueberries.  She had her own toys and books.  She seemed content to be around all of us adults, wide-eyed listening to our conversation.  Every time she looked at me I smiled; she started smiling back.

Near the very end of the week, right before they were all scheduled to go home, Laila finally warmed up to me. I asked her if she wanted to water my garden and when she agreed, we went outsode.  I found a bottle of soap bubbles and started blowing them.  For each one I blew, she popped it. 

I cannot explain in words the magic of that day.  I became familiar with the simple pleasures of grand parenting.  A grandparent loves a child just because they are; they don’t have to anything to be special, they just are.  My daughter-in-law took a snapshot of that day; it was before cell phones or instagram.    I kept it on my refrigerator all the years we were in Africa; it remains tattooed on my heart.

Today Laila turns twelve years old.  She is our eldest granddaughter, and for that reason she will always be the one we see as the catalyst - the one who changed our lives.  She continues to sail into unconventionalism.  She is brilliant and thoughtful and loves reading.  Recently she has taken up a love of fashion design and mixed martial arts.  Right before the school year she shaved the sides of her head and dyed her hair a bright red; it looks so cool.  Even better than how it looks is how it fits her.  Just like her name, Laila Willow, it is a fresh splash of beauty in this world.  And it now her name does roll off my tongue, just like it was meant to be.

Happy Birthday, Laila Willow.  You changed my life for the better – and I love you for that and for so much more. 

Your Abuela.  xoxo

Laila Willow - 12 years old

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

11:00 p.m.

At 11:00, in a small coffee house on the outskirts of Paris, France, Jean Sivoya waited patiently for his date, a woman named Louisa who was supposed to meet him two hours earlier. The stone walls and wooden floorboards of the Café seemed to breathe of deep history. The boundaries of the simple meeting place, situated so close to the Sorbonne, were alive with stories.

Jean considered the sidewalk terrace that looked out on to a tiny square, where a couple who had been here for hours danced romantically.  He had switched from coffee to wine twenty minutes ago and paid the eight Euro for the Chateau Morgan, throwing caution into the wind.

He had taken a taxi three hours earlier, not wanting to be late for his first date to the Café. Now Jean was getting ready to call another. He would have done so had he not been interrupted by the clacking of high heels running at an ill-advised speed, straight toward him.

He looked up and saw her, a vision of loveliness wearing a gold chiffon dress that billowed as she ran toward him.  Her face was an inverted triangle; her legs, two spindles in high heels and her arms steadied her like wings as she approached. 

“Are you Jean?” she yelled, trying to slow herself down. The romantic dancers released each other and turned toward them, gawking unapologetically at the young woman who disturbed the ambiance of their romantic evening.  Jean rose to his feet, arms positioned to catch her, lest she fall of trip. 

“I am Jean,” he said, nervously.  He bit his lip, embarrassed.  The entire café was staring at them now. 

She was breathless; Jean saw that the beautiful girl was flushed from her exercise; she must have been running for some time. She wore no makeup, but never had he seen such amazing eyelashes.  The color of her eyes was watery green; her skin, pearlescent. 

“You’re not going to believe what happened to me,” she said, trying to catch her breath.

“Please,” Jean motioned to a black steel chair, hoping the girl would be seated. 

She sat quickly, placing both of her hands on her heart.  He saw her delicate white hands settle like doves against the plunge of gold chiffon; she suddenly leaned forward and took his hand.  With intimate speed, she placed it between her breasts.  “Feel my heart beating,” she whispered.  

“Honestly, you will not believe what just happened.”

Jean’s lips felt numb; his own heart raced at the feel of her skin.  He couldn’t think of anything to say, and when she released his hand it fell, limply to his side.  He was embarrassed.  Her mouth, a cupid’s bow, moistened with a gleam of gloss, asked him if he would mind if she told him her story.  “It is the story, after all,” she said.  “That led me here.  Poor darling, did you think I wasn’t coming?  I am two hours late!  Nevertheless, I am here now, am I not?”

Jean nodded in agreement and looked over his shoulder for a waiter.  A tall, aproned man  dove behind a curtain, trying to pretend he wasn’t staring.

 “I was in Los Angeles just yesterday, you know,” she began.  “The city is very difficult to understand.  It has quite a lot of people living there and none of them seem to care much for one another.  Nevertheless, I was there.  Might I have a sip of your wine?”

Jean forced himself to stop watching her mouth.  “Yes,” he said, sitting up straighter.  “I was just trying to summon a waiter…” He looked around again and saw the waiter at another table.  Jean cleared his throat in an attempt to call him over.  The waiter walked toward them, but turned back to the bar when Jean signaled for another glass of wine to be brought.

She put the wine glass down and exhaled.

“That is just what I needed,” she said.  “You must think I am mad, carrying on like this.  Did Philippe tell you I was mad?  I might guess he did!”   She covered her mouth with her white fingers and giggled into them.  Jean smiled.

“Anyway, Los Angeles.  I was there yesterday.  There are so many things happening there.  I actually saw a talking hot dog, but that’s a whole other story!”  Jean smiled, catching sight of himself in the mirror and seeing a ridiculous look of smitten foolery.  He tried to wipe the look off his face, picking up the glass she just put down and lifting it to his own lips.  He could see the faint imprint of lip gloss on the rim; it made him fantasize about kissing her.

The waiter returned with a tall glass of white wine and placed it in front of Jean, who was staring again.  “Oh, it is for the lady,” he said, motioning to his date.

“I’m sorry,” Jean said to her, as soon as the waiter disappeared.  “I don’t even think I introduced myself,” he said, leaning forward with an extended hand.  “I am Jean.”

“Yes, silly,” she said, smiling coyly.  She had two dimples; one was deep set in her right cheek.

“And you are Louisa?” he asked her, knowing the answer already.

“Yes,” she said, picking up her own glass of wine and drinking.  She never took her eyes off of him.  He could see her mouth take in the golden beverage through the clear crystal.   He could smell the roasting of coffee beans, but he knew it would be the wine they would remember.  They would tell their grandchildren about the wine- the crisp beautiful Chateau Morgan that would bring them together.  He would speak into the microphone on their wedding day and tell their guests that he knew the moment he saw her, flying over the tiles in high heels across the tiny square.

“What happened?” he asked her, almost as an afterthought.  In truth, it didn’t matter what happened; it was all over for him.  He had arrived at his life’s destination. 

“Well,” Louisa said, with a dimpled glow.  She extended her lovely white hand to him and he held it in his.  The action stunned her; confused her. 

“Look, darling!  Look at my hand!”

Jean took his eyes off the green pools of water and into her delicate white hand; it was there he saw the ring.  A brilliant white diamond on a gold band rested freshly on her fourth finger; he froze.

“Did you get engaged?”

Louisa erupted in giggles.  “Yes, darling!  I am engaged!  My former boyfriend picked me up at the airport.  What a surprise that was!” She told Jean the rest of the story with delighted abandon.  He watched her mouth, a proud and demonic weapon, spew forth the happy story.  Her ex-boyfriend met her at the airport repentant for his actions and got down on one knee.  She accepted him; she never fell out of love with him.  They were meant to be together.

At the end of the story, she picked up the glass of wine and drank, never taking her eyes off of Jean.  He wondered why she drank like that; it had to be the tool that Satan used to contract desperate humans into signing their life away.  She was indeed his messenger; he had no patience for her games.

“Why did you show up here?” he asked, finally.

“Well,” she said, sighing.  “I couldn’t imagine the thought of you sitting here, abandoned and feeling like I had no respect for you.” She looked at him, her eyelashes curling like the burning legs of a spider thrown into a cauldron.

“I see,” he said.  With that, both stood up and hugged.  He mumbled a congratulatory something and she thanked him profusely for waiting for her.  It showed his character, she said.  His character was a strong one, she said. 

He sighed and called the waiter for the bill.  Again, he dove behind a curtain, pretending he hadn’t heard anything.   

Monday, August 24, 2015

10:00 p.m.

Geralda, a precocious fourth-grader, was alone for the first time ever in her life.  Mama had taken a job working nights in town and left her only daughter at home by herself.  Feeling both mature and excited, Geralda knew she was ready; her mother agreed after they practiced several trial runs.  

Geralda knew where the emergency phone numbers, first aid kit, and silent alarm were located.  She had enough milk, cereal, and tortilla chips (in case she wanted to make nachos).  Also in her possession was a Blu-Ray DVD of Princess Bride, her favorite movie.

At 10:00 p.m., the time when Geralda was supposed to be brushing her teeth and getting ready for bed, she was reclining in Mama’s chair, eating tortilla chips from the bag.  All the lights in the house were turned off and Indigo Montoya was sword fighting the Dread Pirate Roberts when Geralda felt the first wave.  She sat up straight in her chair; the screen image of the duel zipped into a thin line and then disappeared.  There was a definite wave beneath her: a rumbling of motion – and then screams from neighbors. 

Being raised in Los Angeles, she knew that when an earthquake hit – it was time to duck and cover.  She started to go under the dining room table (covered with Mom’s taxes and a printer), but then decided to open the screen door and look out.   She loved how Los Angeles glowed in the dark – but at this moment, panic seized her. There was no glow, only darkness and an eerie silence.

A hard knock was on her door.  She had been warned not to open it for anybody.  “NEVER,” her Mom had told her.  “NEVER open this door for ANYONE when I am gone!”

There was activity in the hallway, people talking excitedly.  Geralda felt a primal sense of wanting to be with her neighbors who were out there, but she was scared that if she opened the door her Mom might never leave her home alone again. 

She went to the door and pressed her ear against it.  Was that Mrs. Gutierrez? Was little Lupe still awake?  She could hear voices saying, “It wasn’t very big, but she’s home alone!”

Another hard knock, this time with an open palm, jolted Geralda back from the door.   This time she definitely heard Mrs. Gutierrez’s voice.  “Mija, open up the door, it’s okay!  Did you feel the earthquake?”

Geralda looked outside again.  She heard sirens in the distance.  Moving toward the sliding glass door, she could see that power had been restored to the blocks beneath her.  Wilshire Blvd. looked busy, as usual.  The distant freeways looked like they were moving.  She could see the towers of L.A. Central, lit up in places.  Perhaps it was going to be alright.

Beneath her feet, another rumble came, this time a shake that knocked her off balance. 

Aftershock.  That’s what she learned in Earthquake preparation at school.  After a major earthquake there will be several aftershocks.  That one seemed larger than the actual earthquake.  What was going on?  Tears welled up in Geralda’s eyes.  She looked around for her cell phone; the apartment was still without power.  Where was that flashlight?  Was it in the drawer?

Another hard knock.  “GERALDA!!”

“I’m here!” Geralda yelled from the kitchen.  “I can’t open the door!”

Mija, esta bien!  Open the door!  I told your Mama that I’d look after you in case of an emergency…”

From the recliner, Geralda heard a small rumble.  Her cell phone!

She ran to it and pulled it out from between the cushions, knocking the tortilla chips off the armrest and spilling them on the carpet.  She looked at the screen: Mama.


“Are you alright?” Mama asked excitedly.  “Mrs. Gutierrez said she can’t hear you in our apartment and you won’t open the door…”

“You told me not to!” Geralda felt a strange mixture of panic and anger.  She wished her Mama hadn’t taken the job downtown working nights; she wanted her here in the living room.

“You can open the door for Mrs. Gutierrez, especially in an emergency…” Mama’s voice sounded calm and watery. 

“Why aren’t you here, Mama?” Geralda gave way to her tears.  She wanted to be held by the woman that held her when she was sad or scared; where were those arms now?

“Geralda, listen to my voice,” Mama said calmly.  Geralda breathed deeply and forced herself to focus on Mama’s words.  “I will be home in three hours.  Can you set your phone alarm?”
“Yes..” Geralda sniffled, but knew that three hours wasn’t long. 

“If I get on the road right now, I will be joining the other panicked residents trying to leave the city…”

“Why are you working nights, Mama?” Geralda interrupted her.  “Why can’t you work at the El Huarachito anymore?”

She heard Mama breathe deeply and sigh.  “Mija, go to the door and open it. Mrs. Gutierrez says she is there in the hallway with Lupe.  Maybe she needs your help taking care of the baby.”

Geralda walked to the front door, slid the chain lock and undid the dead bolt and then turned the handle.  There, in the hallway was Mrs. Gutierrez, holding her two-year-old, Lupe.  At the sight of her, Mrs. Gutierrez fell to her knees and put the toddler down.  As she embraced Geralda, Lupe squealed with delight and began smacking the twelve-year-old’s elbows with glee.  From the phone, Geralda heard her mother’s voice.

“Okay, mija,” she said, gently.  “Go and sleep on Mrs. Gutierrez’s sofa and I will be home in three hours, okay?”

Geralda released Mrs. Gutierrez from their embrace and absent-mindedly nodded at the phone.  “Okay, Mama.”

“And don’t forget to set the alarm on your phone,” Mama said.  “I love you.”

Geralda wiped the tears from her eyes.  She breathed deeply and picked up Lupe in her arms.  “Okay, Mama.  I will lock our door.  Don’t worry.”

“I love you, mija.”

“I love you, too, Mama.”

As she hung up, a whirring sound alerted Geralda to the kitchen.  It was the refrigerator; the power was back on. 

“Oh, thank God!” Mrs. Gutierrez said, clapping her hands.  “Now lock this door, mija.  You will come to my place now.”

As she locked the door, Geralda looked around.  Crowding the hall were neighbors, watching her perform the simple task of turning the key.  They all seemed relieved that she was alright; she was a little embarrassed.  Holding little Lupe and following Mrs. Gutierrez, the girl went into the neighboring apartment as the hallway cleared and doors shut behind those who retreated into their homes. 

Geralda looked down at her phone.  It was 10:30 p.m. – Mama would be home in three hours.