Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Four Generations (L to R:  Alicia, Dad Harmony, Me, Alannah and Mario Photo-bombing)

When I think of my Dad, Jack Ryan, my mind is a flurry of information and feelings, a blizzard of emotion and memory.  Boston, cameras, books, Tracy, Mom, table tennis, church, Deacon, patios, gardens, bar-b-ques, and books.  Lots and lots of books.
I grew up in a house with so many books, I considered it a library.  My parents’ house had every room decorated with books; each had its thematic index: the family room’s classics, the living room’s encyclopedias and Holy Books, our bedrooms, with Childcrafts and Scholastic book selections, and then antique bookshelves throughout the house, with several hard cover books with spines in varied states of breakage. My Dad loved the Harvard classics, even though he went to Boston College.  Every night, my Dad and Mom would be reading in bed (like Mr. and Mrs. Brady) when we came in to their room to say goodnight. Dad started reading and collecting books when he was a child, and he passed this love onto me.  I remember borrowing a copy of James Joyce’s Dubliners and reading it with a flashlight under my covers. Once Dad noticed me borrowing, he started recommending books I should read. We still exchange opinions and reviews about recent favorites. 

He grew up in Boston, in the historic section of Pill Hill, near Brookline. An only child, Dad loved reading, writing and taking pictures with his Brownie camera.  Dad’s father died when he was young, so when he graduated from BC and moved to California, he brought his mother—my Nana, with him to Tracy. Dad’s stories of moving to Tracy—he took a job working at DVI, a prison in our small town—unfold like a disappointing movie. At the center of the San Joaquin valley, Tracy was (in Dad’s quick synopsis) “a cow-town” where he faced a sentence of boredom he hadn’t expected.  A devout Catholic, he started going to church at St. Bernard’s, and met my Mom at a YCW meeting. His boredom suddenly ended—sparks flew immediately—and the rest is proverbial history.
Dad and Mom Wedding

Dad grew to love Tracy. I was the second of five children, born in seven years, and we attended the same church they met and married in.  Dad and Mom were faithful in every way to bring us up responsibly and with a routine. In my young-adult years, I developed a rebellious streak, and Dad’s patience in the process of Fatherhood was tested often.  Many times, we’d disagree so much that I questioned if he really understood me, or loved me. When I married and became (gasp) a Born-Again Christian, Dad openly wondered why my Catholic roots weren't strong enough to keep me grounded in the “faith of my fathers”.  Mario and I had children, and Dad became a Grandfather like the one I had—a gentle man with time and coins and jokes.
Dad with Alicia
 All of these memories are part of the flurry in my head—all of them make room for new experiences and new memories that we still build together. Each day we have together is a gift.  
Part of our family
When someone asks me when I started writing, I tell them that reading and writing have always been a big part of my life, and my Dad has always influenced that part of me. He and Mom are the first readers of articles, stories, and even my homeless novel. The spiritual books Dad recommends encourage my spirits, as we share a common Christian faith together.

Christmas 2018
Today is my Dad’s 85th birthday.  To celebrate, he decided to go to Germany with my mother, a trip they didn’t tell us about until the last minute.  Maybe Dad thought I might object because of his health, or maybe I’d object because of his age…or object because I am his daughter who loves him and doesn’t want him to be too far away.  Especially on his birthday.
But…since he loved me enough to let me go on so many occasions, I need to love him enough to let him go to Germany.  Besides, I don’t have any choice.  He would have gone with Mom, even if I forbid them to go.
Happy Birthday, Dad!   I love you for so many reasons, a flurry of reasons that swirl in my heart like snow in a globe. If you’re reading this today, know that we love you and miss you.  If you read this when you get back…WHAT THE HECK, DAD! Germany? Are you kidding me?
Love you,

Monday, April 22, 2019


This is a recycled post from 2014 with up-to-date additions in red.  Today is my six year anniversary of being abstinent from sugar, flour and alcohol.  

I remember the moment I realized I was fat.  
It was a rude awakening to hear Dave Lamb infer 
it on “Come Dine With Me South Africa” and
 I was blown away by his cheekiness.   

I was in a room full of people who were watching 
the airing of the TV show and cheering me on, 
even though we all knew I hadn’t won.  At the very 
end of the show I declared “It’s over!” to which the 
narrator said “It is now!” as I laughed. 

We have a saying in America – “It’s not over until the fat lady sings.”  
I was laughing my melodic laugh, a song on most other days – 
Most other days where I’m not called fat on nation-wide TV. 

“Does he mean I’m fat?”  I cried out loud. No one knew what
 to say.  Not even Mario, who had been in one too many of these 
situations; it was no-win for him.  He could see I was hurt 
and just smiled, encouraging me (as did everyone else) that it 
was a joke about my laugh, not a crack about my weight.   
Shooting Come Dine With Me in our neighbor's backyard
Somehow I got over it, but it always stung  every time I 
re-watched the episode.  After all, I knew what the 
narrator meant.

Even after the episode of Come Dine With Me aired, 
my eating habits didn’t change much.  After all, my 
husband loved me madly, I had a lot of good friends 
who supported me, and I was still a great hostess.  
My family has always been very supportive of me and 
wanted me happy, no matter what.  Weight wasn’t a 
factor in me being loved or feeling loved, and yet, the 
truth was this: I was overweight.  My husband’s opinion 
would not change that.  Neither would my family’s or my friends.  

After moving back to America, I took stock.  
I left my personal trainer behind in South Africa, 
I was starting over in Sacramento, and I recognized the 
crossroads in front of me. I had never been ready admit 
to myself until April 22, 2013. On that day, I decided to
get the weight off, once and for all. So, I did. 

I’ll keep it off, God willing.  I know the patterns 
that made me overweight in the first place.  
I have the desire to beat back death and sickness 
and the lies that used to live in my brain.  I am currently 
in the process of being transformed and restored. 

I wanted to share seven powerful truths that caused 
this change in my head, which is really where 
I’ve lost the most weight:

1.  I got honest with myself.

I was overweight by anyone’s standards.  
Even though I’d never put a lot of faith in BMI charts, 
they are a good place to start in determining if I was 
truly overweight.  A healthy human adult should weigh 
a certain number of pounds (or kilos or stone) for their
height , unless they are a bodybuilder or a gymnast. 
I was neither. 

I was overweight on most days, using most scales, 
during every season. The reason I was overweight 
wasn’t because of my genes. It wasn’t because I was 
fifty and had an early hysterectomy.  It wasn’t because 
I had supreme cooking skills and a lifestyle of hosting 
so many people in my home. 

I was overweight because I ate whatever I wanted when 
I wanted it.  I had rules for my overeating and they made 
sense to me: I was allowed to splurge at parties, on special 
occasions, on Sundays, bar Mitvahs, etc.  My permission slips 
to overeat were surpassed by morning-after regrets, where I 
stood on the bathroom scale and vowed to eat clean, healthful 
foods from now on.  I tried to eat right, I really did.  I tried 
every weight loss program ever, and my weight loss was temporary,
returning once again, when I gave myself permission to 
eat what I wanted. 

I actually had a deeper problem – a terrible self-image 
and a nagging feeling that I didn't have enough of anything
I wanted.  Overeating was only a symptom of this problem.

2.  I learned about food and the power it had over me.

A person who is overweight usually has other health concerns.  
I had chronic asthma and took my inhaler wherever I went.  
I had antacids at my bedside, in the kitchen and near the TV. 

When I decided to follow an eating plan that fed my body 
(instead of my taste buds) I started taking care of the Janet 
who lay dormant inside of me.  I studied the body and hunger, 
watched movies on nutrition, shopped for organic produce 
and fresh, whole foods.  I started paying attention to which foods 
satisfied me most. I added gooey things, like aloe vera and chia seeds. 
I measured my portions and didn't get seconds, ever.  I ate three
meals a day and nothing in between. I had scientific proof that 
the food I was eating was enough to sustain me.

The first few weeks were brutal. My emotional response 
was very bad and I felt “hungry” all the time. The truth of the 
matter was that I was coming off white sugar and white flour; 
I was an addict to both–and the addict inside me demanded her fix.  

Most of the time I was “hungry” I was tired -  I needed rest.  
I tried to lay down every time I was hungry.  It was excruciating, 
but I did it. Once I admitted I was an addict, I was okay knowing 
that.  I had to start somewhere.

3.  Alcohol had to go.

Alcohol is a food.  It goes into your mouth and is processed by 
your several systems that keep your body moving.  When I decided 
to be honest with myself I that included that I would have to be 
honest about everything that I was ingesting. 

I suddenly was confronted with addictive patterns that didn’t belong
in my life.  I had been using food and alcohol to tranquilize my pain.  
I never processed the pain that was causing my compulsive patterns.   
Food I couldn’t eliminate, but alcohol I could.  I gave up the best red wine, 
the finest martinis--and said hello to water, tea, and kombucha.   

And I still haven’t said goodbye to Diet Coke.  A friend who has 
watched my transformation up close suggested that I watch a 
documentary on aspartame.   I groaned. Maybe she's right. 
Note: I still drink Diet Coke--they have Vanilla flavor now! 
Don't judge me!

4.  I had to process sources of pain that caused behavior 
that I didn't want in my life.

Read that again. 

If I had to be honest and weigh and measure my food, 
AND give up the hooch…. I had to begin a journey into 
the center of my soul and start dealing with emotions and 
pain that I didn't like talking about.  The journey of processing 
pain, forgiving, and then moving on, is not done overnight.  It's 
exhaustive and exhausting, but much better than plastering 
assorted wounds without paying attention to why they are there, 
and addressing why they're not going away. 

The funny thing about wounds is that they cause behaviors.  
I was stuck in these behaviors: acting angry or wounded when 
someone said something wrong, carrying hurts that I didn't 
deserve, needing attention at inappropriate times. I had real 
wounds inside of me that I wasn't taking care of, and they were 
bubbling up into my daily life.  If I had to be honest, I would have 
said that I don’t have time to take care of them, or I didn't  know 
how.  On top of that, I was taught that if I believed God fully, my 
wounds would just disappear.  

I've learned how to participate in a lifestyle of healing my wounds, 
which means working together with God, so I can fully understand 
the process. When I do this, I am less likely hurt others that I care about. 

My new lifestyle included a lot of honesty, humility and reflection.  
I'd lived a life that discouraged looking within too much, so I had 
to give myself permission to tend to my own wounds.  I'm a work 
in process.

5.  I had to be accountable to someone safe.

What would I do without friends?  I have so many who are lovely 
and loving – they genuinely care about me.   One of my friends is 
my official “bullshitometer” on this journey.  I can squeak past most 
friends with my old patterns, but not her--she had recently started a
 similar journey herself.  She had a similar moment of awakening and, 
like me, was confronted with painful patterns in her own life.  Because 
of her journey, she can relate to mine.  We both are becoming “filled 
with sanity” little by little. 

Because of her, I can be honest about my deep emotions 
and my food battles.  Even sobriety  and self-awareness can’t hold
a candle to the beam of the truth that comes from a good friend. 
She understands the truth behind the truth.

6.  I have rediscovered God.

Oh, boy...confessions of a missionary.  In all the years that I had
“served God” (and  I mean this in the most humble way) I had 
neglected my true love.  I loved being busy doing good things, 
but forgotten about the reason why I was doing them. He is my 
first love.  This rediscovery of faith has been very personal and 
private, but very real.  It's happened with grace and with love. 
I'm opening the doors of rooms I'd forgotten all about, by God's 
grace, and have been receiving with love…true love. 

I get shy talking about this, mainly because it's about such a 
personal thing of how I am intimate with God.  I spent years 
running around doing things for Him, even in His name, and 
now I realize that He wanted only me.  That’s refreshing.

7.  I started practicing gratitude.

The antidote for the poison of “never having enough_____” 
is gratitude.  It doesn't matter what you think you have too little 
of,  gratitude is medicine.  Gratitude allows us to count our 
blessings, be content with slow progress, and celebrate minor 

When I came home to the United States, I swore I would eat 
mounds of pizza and heaps of Mexican food.  My new lifestyle 
is in conflict with overeating, so this hasn't happened, but I'm 
grateful for raw and organic foods that abound here.  I'm grateful
 for a grandchild's smile and streams of sunshine. I have to remind 
myself that inhaling and exhaling are gifts I’m not entitled to.  
I practice loving things that before I would complain about. 

I adore raw red cabbage.  I love raw cauliflower.  I'm grateful for 
beans and legumes. I've got a long list of things I can't believe are 
mine.  I have to say it over and over again several times an hour.  
Thank you, God!  I am grateful. 

The journey has just begun, six years later, it's ongoing, but I can 
tell you this:  It has been three months since I started a journey of 
being kind to myself.  In those three months I have lost thirty 
pounds (13.6 kg’s) in six years, I've lost a total of 50 pounds  
(or 22 kg's) but more important than this, is that I've kept it 
off for six years. It's a day-by-day process, but I'm incredibly 
grateful.  I have a graveyard of unused inhalers, I don’t even 
know where Mario keeps the antacids and I haven’t washed a
martini glass for three months. I have not had a drink of alcohol 
in SIX YEARS--not one drop. Praise God!!

Instead of feeling deprived, I feel free.  If I were honest, the 
best reward is being free.  This is still true, even after six years. 
That revelation is an example of irony, a funny one, that makes 
me laugh--but now no one says that the fat lady is singing.  

Friday, March 8, 2019


This blog is about my mother, Jennie.

There is an old adage that seems to be true: mothers and daughters cannot truly see or know the other as a person. Because mothers and daughters are so closely connected, their mutual unknowability and inherent blind spot might come from proximity or having expectations. The normal personality differences usually result in a mother-daughter dance that lasts forever, a dance that unintentionally upholds the tender relationship where we share and protect our hearts with and from one another.

My mom is peaceful, serene, and logical.  She loves justice but also uplifts peace. She’s honored  first her parents, then her husband, and then her family.  In all of my years with my mother, she’s never badmouthed any of them—because she treasures these relationships. She rolled up her sleeves and shared her skills, recipes, stories, and values effortlessly while we were growing up. She taught me about proper boundaries before that word was even part of the female vocabulary. And most of all, she taught me how to be a good woman just by living the example right in front of me.

My parents, Jack and Jennie, on their wedding day

 As a young woman, she was Tracy’s Tomato Queen, riding on top of an elephant in the middle of our small town.  Not long after, she met and fell in love with my father, Jack Ryan, an Irish-American from Boston.  Together, they had five children—Patty, Janet, Steve, Shari, and Colleen—their first grandchild (my son, Vince) was born before Colleen finished high-school. Our children know her as Grandma and now my Grandchildren know her as Great-Grandma. Time flies! My Mom is a woman of endurance and peace, but she sure knows how to fire up the joy, especially when it comes to gatherings.

This past year I’ve been compiling a family memoir of my mother’s family, the Gonzalez family, immigrants from Mexico. In this process, I’ve been able to know more and more about my mother.  I am in awe of how carefully she’s navigated through life, how each step has been done with care and gratitude. There are many times I’ve watched her walk through things she never should have walked through…and she’s been faithful to stand up and walk.  My Mom’s beauty is much more than exterior—it’s a beauty that radiates from her heart.  

The days she’s given me are priceless, and when I look back, I see rivers of love, flowing from her heart and spilling into my life in every season.  She has given the same love to all of our family over the years, faithful to be there in every way.  She continues to surprise me.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you, and am pleased to dance with you!   

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


Lauren--Christmas 2009

There aren’t many guidelines for loving grandchildren, because it’s an easy love. It’s a love that suddenly cheers you, a favorite song that plays when you’re standing in line at a store, or the DMV. Grandchildren are the music of celebration, the dance of connection. Each grandchild is a unique symphony, with movements depicting different seasons, or stages in their life.  

Lauren Christmas 2019

Our granddaughter, Lauren, is a young girl who moves constantly, an ongoing narrative symphony, like Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf,. Sly, fun, mischievous, and expansive, Lauren’s life is filled with flutes and timpani, warning us that change is coming; something big is about to happen. This is Lauren.  She’s the something big that is happening—the tale well-woven into music.

March 6, 2009

I still remember the day she Lauren was born.  Like her siblings before her, she came into this world through my daughter-in-law, Lennae, when she was at home in a birthing hot tub. I saw pictures, in full color—Lennae and David cuddling, Cathy (mi comadre) close by, and the midwives ready to help—from our kitchen counter in South Africa.  The longing I felt as I looked at the pictures via email filled me with admiration, love, and a sad emptiness.  I wanted to be there—to at least hold Lauren—but I knew it wasn’t possible.

Static-haired, elephant-hugging Lauren - 2014

We moved back to the USA when Lauren was four-years-old, and even though we made trips home to the USA to see her, she barely remembered us, and so we began the business of reconnecting. It didn’t take long to realize that distance is distance—we lived in California and David and Lennae’s family lived in Kansas.  When we visited Kansas as often as possible, where I selfishly kidnapped my grandchildren, took them to fun places, bought them stuff, and prayed that we would later remember it as shared experience. 

The miracle of these times were our hearts opening to each other—a beautiful exchange of time and ideas in the minutes together.  We played, took pictures, told stories, colored, and made a big deal about being together.  Of all of David’s kids, Lauren was the one with limitless energy.  She could move faster than all of us, get brighter ideas for creations and games, and invent better ways to do things.  She was unlike any child I’d ever met.

In the years I have been her grandmother, Lauren has grown from a little ball of energy and fun to a bigger ball of energy and fun.  She is always, always ready to have fun.

One year, during a visit with David and Alicia’s families, we had family pictures taken. She was on the porch with me, and after I had put my glasses down, she picked them up and put them on.

One of my favorite pictures with Lauren - 2016
“Now I see what you see,” she said. The picture is on my wall—a memory of Lauren that is cemented in my heart.

 Lauren is trusting, hopeful, filled with gigantic expectations of life, and makes me smile when I think of her. Oh, and she loves gross-looking stuffed animals now, ones that freak out her sister, Lilli.  I wish she would give poor Lilli a break…just for one day.

I once read that the baby of the family is loving because all of the family love trickles down to her—and I find this true of Lauren. Today, Lauren turns ten.  I can’t believe it.  I cannot believe it.  She’s into the double digits? Really? 
December 2017

There aren’t many guidelines for loving grandchildren, but on their birthday you are forced to remember how quickly time goes by. The love I feel for Lauren swells in my heart (like the final movement of Peter and the Wolf) and spills over, breaking into bits at the thought of life and its many changes. 
Borrowing my glasses again...Christmas 2018

Lauren, as much as I don’t want you to grow up, I want you to know that you are a joy to all of us at any age. I love you!  You are unique and wonderful and see life as a beautiful challenge, calling you into it! May I please borrow your glasses?