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