Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Doesn't Get Much Better Than This - Part Two

Letters make the best Christmas presents.

Especially when they are from your 24 year old son who is making his way in the world. He shares a 1920's house in historical Flamingo Park, West Palm Beach, is finishing his engineering degree, has a catch of a girl friend and loves Jesus. He's got the whole package. The world on a string. He's lassoed the moon!

What more could a mother ask for? What else would be on her Christmas wish list?

Absolutely nothing. But I got it anyway!

It wasn't the handkerchief or Stephen Sondheim New York City musical tickets gifted me that made my Chrsitmas morning. It was the note in a little red envelope that brought the holiday glow everyone longs for. The "this is what Christmas is all about" revelation amongst twinkling lights, candles and shiny wrapping paper.

It read like this:


The more people I meet and know, the more thankful I am for you. Thank you for being so loving and caring. I don't know how you did it. People always assume that as a middle child of five siblings that I might have been neglected. But never once have I felt so. 

I love your adventurous spirit and your appreciation of the little things. Thank you for being the best mom ever.


Merry Christmas to me!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Doesn't Get Much Better Than This - Part One

Of all the Christmas scenes that come to mind, I think the fireplace hung with stockings and garland is the most iconic of all.

The experience was never realized here in my modern Florida Mediterranean stucco home. Prior to this, we lived in a string of apartments and a duplex. None possessed a fireplace. Only my childhood California ranch home did. That was my last Christmas with a burning fire to roast chestnuts over. Well, not chestnuts really, but tangerines, yes.  Dad would peal a juicy tangerine and throw the rind into the flames predicting an imminent roasted citrus scent to invade the living room. The fruity flambe was intoxicating.

But my daughter in Virginia got the goods, mantle and all, and decorated so beautifully this Christmas.

She started a new Advent tradition as well. Instead of a calendar with little windows to open, like the one I had growing up, she gave her kids Advent books - one each day to read.

Usually the boys rough and tumble their way through their day, driving my daughter crazy. But something unusual took place one day.

It was a Christmas miracle!

The boys were sitting quietly in front of the glowing fire poring over their day's book, engaged in an heated, yet civil, adult-like conversation about Santa's  descent into the chimney of every little boy and girl in the world.

"Why do you think Santa doesn't mind getting dirty from all the fire places?"

"Maybe he loved playing in dirt as a boy?"

This unprompted event sent mom running for the canon camera, so as not to miss this rare moment of sibling harmony around the family hearth.

Snap away, young mommy. This warm picture will burn in our memory for years to come.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thanksgiving and Stargazing

A friend modeled this grand idea of cooking everything ahead for Thanksgiving to preserve one's holiday cheer and emotional stamina for the actual day. So, Monday night I chopped up the 5 pound butternut squash and started my soup recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook. It's a decades old book, but so chocked full of delicious recipes from 2 New Yorker girl friends and their gourmet food shoppe.

photo credit -
Still exhausted from the day, postponing cooking was quite tempting. Forcing myself to face the skillet, I sauteed chopped onions in butter with 5 teaspoons of delectable Pendy's curry powder for 25 minutes.

While the squash was boiling in chicken broth I took the dog for a walk on this balmy 78 degree November night. The silky breeze felt lovely against my face and bare shoulders. A walk down the curved sidewalk and I felt the great desire to lay on the dewy St. Augustine lawn and look at the glittering stars.

The tiny orbs were abundant and bright. I tried to count them and noticed the familiar constellations. I randomly wondered:

If Orion unbuckled his belt, would the stars fall down? 

A sirius-ly odd thought. I had no clue where it came from. (I hear the reader begging 'Stop!') There's the little dipper, looking like the teaspoon I just used for curry. There's the big dipper that I will use to ladle my soup.

Oh, that I could rest here all night!  By now every star was twinkling ferociously, like rubies and sapphires set in silver. What energy in those stars! A million leaping molecules making them burn and shimmer.

Surely some of that energy could be redirected to this tired woman facing the marathon cooking day of Thanksgiving. Squinting, I stared past the stars imagining the inky depth of the universe, though it appeared a one dimensional backdrop. Could I have a little bit of inertia God used to create the great expanse? Just a 1/4 teaspoon of the power He employed to speak it all into existence?

Pass the energy, please.

Back to the hot kitchen (AC out again) and my potatoes, green beans, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry salad, and pies.

Just a little stargazing with my Turkey Day cooking, thankful for the strength to cook and love on my family this Thanksgiving.

Daughter, April cooks her first turkey; all with 3 kids under 6. She looks perky!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Princess and the Sheets

Edmund Dulac - Princess and the Pea illustrator - 1911

Taking in two Chinese international students this Fall has proven an interesting cultural experience, to say the least. Desire for a new adventure being one of the reasons, we would be lying if gain wasn't also a motivating factor.

Life has changed since these girls came to reside in my sons' former bedrooms. The boys moved out to live with house mates during these, their college and career years. I thought I wanted girls again after the long stint of raising four boys. I longed for tea and conversation, for compliments on my decorating changes and house cleaning; things to which boys are usually blind.

And that I got, sort of. The tea was wonderful long stemmed green tea and delicate chrysanthemum. The girls comment on new dish ware, notice my dress, hair and nails. It's nice in that respect. But I hadn't been prepared for the female fringe benefits, if you will, that come with teenage girl life.

Like the bickering and cold shoulders because one allegedly didn't flush the toilet, and one played her music too early on a Saturday morning. The online postings flew -  this 2014 version of note passing and phone gossiping, sometimes qualifying as bullying. Now the girls do not speak to each other, after having started out as BFF's. This is sad, I think. But we are managing to live civilly as a blended international family.

I also didn't expect the only-child entitlement a well-off Asian beauty might expect. Things like $200 sheets and $400 down comforters. This comes after I had purchased new linens, from mattress covers to quilts. The quilt ridges bothered her and the cover was too thin. Sheets weren't quite up to her liking and made her itch, she said. Well you are welcome to head off to the mall and purchase the sheets of your choice, I offered. Mr Shaw took her to the mall with instructions for the size and store. They returned sheetless.

Mysteriously, a set of 500 count sheets showed up at the school office with princess' name on them. Lucky for my wallet, I realized I already had a down comforter she could use. We're all happy now, I think. And the itching has long stopped. After a hasty trip to urgent care for fear of an unknown allergic reaction, medication and absences from school, we concluded the week-long rash came from swimming in an ill- treated pool.

Photo credit -

Keep in mind these only-child, Chinese girls have multiple caretakers back in Beijing and Qingdao ready to meet their every whim. If one can't fulfill a request, there are 5 other parents-in-waiting.

1. Their parents
2. Their paternal grandparents and
3. Their maternal grandparents

Note the robust ratio of six adults to one child! And now they have us, their host parents, which makes 8 to 1. So when Princess #1 needed new sheets, mom in China found some family friend in Florida to buy her sheets and leave them anonymously at her school - even though it took a month and the itch had long ended.

Likewise, when Princess #2 ran out of shampoo, she asked if I could get her some the next day. Sure, I said,  She proceeded to write down the shampoo brand and the mall store called Lush, where it could be found. Well, honey I might be able to pick up some Herbal Essence or Pantene at Target while I grocery shop, but I don't have time to go the the mall tomorrow in the middle of my workday. I'm sorry. I reminded her there was shampoo under her sink. She reminded me it was not very useful. The following weekend she goes to the mall and comes back with handcrafted soaps, her fancy-shmancy shampoo and a variety of other designer toiletries totaling $88.

According to my childhood fairy tales, the proof of a princess was in the pea. A girl of royal blood felt the pea through a stack of twenty mattresses. For these girls, the proof of a princess is in the thread count of her sheets and the price of her shampoo.

Ponder that Hans Christian Andersen. And it's no fairy tale.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Warrior Falls Forward

It was my first staff meeting as a new employee. We were celebrating the past week's events in the upstairs choir room; celebrating Char's first victory of cancer. Her smile spread across her cherub-like face with her hair in the short curls that new hair takes on after chemo treatments. She was radiant and those who knew her early struggle cheered her on.

I remember prayer requests every 6 months for the dreaded blood tests that would reveal whether the victory was permanent.  We prayed. She tested. We waited. Sometimes it would be a shining report of 'negative' results. Sometimes it would be 'positive' with more treatments to follow accompanied by days off work and stories of nausea, extreme fatigue and the physical misery cancer patients come to know as common, everyday life.

Seven more years followed of this pattern. Yet, Char continued to work, lead hundreds of women, events, classes, LifeGroups, nurturing her teams all along the way. She did not esteem her condition as an excuse to not serve God, or a reason to stay home, to give up. But she pushed through obstacles.and discomfort for which many would call in sick. She worked from a couch at simulcasts, emailed from her bed when therapy forced her there, innovated when it was inconvenient, to say the least. She coped and survived to do her job and lead women to walk closer to Jesus.

She returned from lunch one day to say she had asked the employee cafe to offer hot meals, something other than cold sandwiches. She wanted comfort food.

A few wild hormones can put me over, give me an excuse to sit on the sidelines for a spell. But despite years of deviant cancer cells racking her body, Char never quit or faltered or threw in the towel.

Last week, Jesus said, 'That's enough, Char. You've run the race, finished the fight. Well done, my good and faithful servant."

And now they are sharing victories at the big staff meeting in the sky. 

Her smile is like the stars, her hair is grown and gleaming.  Heaven is celebrating in that upstairs choir room. Celebrating a life well lived and a child of God finally home, the ultimate victory over her battle because of what Jesus did on the cross.

Let's celebrate along with all of Heaven!

Photo credit -

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Day My Son Came Home

Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal

Having wandered through the Forest of Seventeen for several years; having had my fill of cell phone stalking and ATT online phone bill reviewing for clues about friends and true whereabouts;

having waited up till early morning for too many nights to see a curfew-breaking boy skulk through the front door;

having prayed, fasted, pleaded with God, worried, cried and agonized over his return;

having argued with my husband about how to handle a wayward teen; having enlisted as many good people to reach out to him as I possibly could;

 I can finally say with great relief and gratitude that

my son has come home.

We have emerged from the confusing fog of the forest and can see the shimmering glow of noon day sun.

It was an ordinary summer holiday home from college, but we had an extraordinary conversation. As soon as he walked in the door, I could see it had returned. The light in his eyes had come back.

If the eyes are the window of the soul, then someone flung them wide open. The murky darkness was lifted. My son had come home; back to being himself again; back to Jesus.

The holiday was 4th of July, Independence Day. We celebrated with chicken shish-kabobs, barbecue and flag cake. There were the traditional Roman Candle wars in the side yard, goggles worn and onlooking neighbors aghast!

Before bedtime, I said good night to my son who was sitting on the guestroom couch. I noticed his eyes were welling up.  

What's wrong?

I just feel so bad for some of my friends who are so messed up.

A tear spilled down his stubbled, young man face. He wiped it away as I sat down on the floor, and put my hand on his knee. He kept talking.

Mom, I know you've forgiven me for all the times I was out there. But I have to ask you again. Please forgive me for the lies and the running around, the late nights, everything.

Of course, I forgive you. I just didn't want you to hurt yourself irreparably. I knew what was going on, but I feared you would launched some hard consequences. 

Yeah, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do.

Head on his knee now, I felt the wedge of dishonesty and hiding and shame lift. We connected as mother and son, human to human -  something I had prayed for, for years.

He continued to cry and admit to all the things I had suspected, the pain of rebellion releasing.  Love and forgiveness purifying, freeing us both. It was his Independence Day;  a day of sweet reconciliation.  A coveted conversation that blanketed our hearts and souls with healing and restoration.

I knew what youthful mistakes could do to a life. Mine follow me to this day. I am still working through them.  There was nothing more I wanted than to help my child avoid the same mistakes.

This was his day to raise the white flag; the day my prodigal son come home.

Photo Credit: The Leftovers

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How I Finally Ended My Weekend Affair

My attraction began in 2004. It starting with a furtive glance, then a lingering look that grew to  all-out desire. Every time the object of my affection crossed my path, full blown passion was ignited. I fantasized about our first meeting, me with my hair flying in the wind in a gauzy blouse, sunglasses and a cooler-than-you expression.

In 2007, we had our first weekend rendezvous. The spontaneity of it only augmented the excitement. I booked a hotel and car for a 2-day songwriting conference in North Carolina and tagged on some sightseeing  before the conference. We met after the flight landed. The rental place aided and abetted when they offered me a deal of $5 a day more just to have you.

We had the quintessential weekend fling in the  Carolina smoky mountains including a visit to the Vanderbilt Estate and wine-tasting, culminating in the drive up the winding road to the Vanderbilt, top down, towering emerald pines rising above my head with nothing between me and them but wind and azure sky.

After that illicit weekend, I went back to the minivan and small sedan of my real, boring life. But I wanted you for my own and thought about you endlessly. It was my goal to not only meet again, but to share my life with you.

Years passed.  Another weekend liaison in California occurred that fired up my passion again.

Finally, I had the chance to meet you and buy you for my very own. But it was 10 years later and when I went to see you I saw you for what you really were. Torn, old and dated. You were dirty and leaky. Your top didn't even work.  How did I spend so many years wanting an illusion? So many years not appreciating what I had.

It's over.

It's finally over.

My affair with a Chevy Sebring convertible is over.

I will never look outside the four walls of my garage again.

Although, I do have my eye on a VW beetle. And it's a convertible.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

When Faith and the Sex Industry Move in Together

The car sputtered, jerked and shook before it completely stalled just outside my neighborhood. The "check gauges" and oil icons came on. Oh no! The engine's seized for lack of oil, I thought to myself! Speed dialed hubby, who didn't answer.  I was late for work.

So I did what anyone else would have done. Rather than hit redial, sit and wait for husband to pick up, I got out of the car, jay-walked the highway, hopped the chain link fence, machete-ed my way through the hedges, emerging with spider webs trailing from my black slacks and twigs jutting from my hair, walked through strangers' backyards and made it home in 5 minutes.

Hubby hadn't left. I briefed him on my vehicle mis-hap and we were planning our repair when he smacked his forehead with palm of hand and said, It's the gas! You ran out of gas! I forgot to fill up for you last night. I'm sorry.  I let you down.

For the first time in my life, I didn't want to wring his neck. He constantly drives on empty and leaves nothing but fumes for me to drive on, usually late to my next appointment.

This time I was elated. After all it wasn't a seized engine! We just ran out of gas! Nonetheless, I was late for work. We found the gas can, filled up the car and I was off, even later than ever. I pulled in and walked in with another latecomer whose car I noticed as one of those cute VW beetles. I wanted to ask her how she liked her car, because we are in the market for one, but she was busy talking on her cell phone all the way into the class I was coordinating. Thank God for dependable volunteers.

Coincidentally,  after class the very same girl lingered by the coffee pot as I was clearing it.  I asked her how she liked her VW beetle. Wow, was she ever ready to tell someone that answer! A waterfall of words gushed out about complaints with dealers and manufacturers because the body was falling apart on her newish car.

Then the conversation turned to her personal life: how she has 6 yr old twins with an absent dad. How she works in the 'entertainment' industry, but was debating showing up today. She puts her kids in Christian school while she works in a gentleman's (what an oxymoron) club and can't seem to find a nanny to take care of the twins at night.

Age 2 is too young to encounter the adult body. But that was when she was first physically violated.

Then it was a string of violations. No relatives or church members dared to expose the perpetrators. Nor did they come to her defense. Yes, she admitted to rebelling later, and took responsibility for part of her situation.

Her name is not Candy or Star or any of the typical names those girls have.

 Her name is FAITH.

I realize I  never would have met her if I hadn't run out of gas as she sits in front of me at a table in church and tells me she is a trained beautician, but hates the field and really wants to be a therapist, but can't afford school and needs the money from her current occupation, which made her $1400 just yesterday.

Then I tell her my story of having an unwanted pregnancy at 17 and how I adopted out. How God redeemed my mess and allowed me to reunite with my adult daughter recently. And how He can redeem anyone, no matter what.

I am reminded of what I read that morning by Oswald Chambers:

Watch the kind of people God brings around you and you will be humiliated to find that this is His way of revealing to you the kind of person you have been to him. Now, He says, exhibit to that one exactly what I have shown to you.



A second (3rd, 4th, 5th) chance.

A clean slate.

No remembrance of wrongs.

That's what we give to those who come to us sitting in the midst of their shredded lives. We see them whole again. Pure again. Lovely again.

No labels and stigmas. Not that kind of girl.

Still, how do Faith and the sex industry co-exist? Like oil and water, they cannot mix for long before the molecules will vehemently repel and separate. How many of us in the church are just like her? How many men partake and wrestle with their contradictory lives. How many Faith's sit among us? 

She says she feels better after attending bible study and wants to skip work.

And could I get her in touch with our human trafficking rescue ministry director for her, she asks?  Sure I will.   She says goodbye and 

Oh, don't forget, if you know anyone, 
I still am looking for a night-time nanny.

Faith misses class next week and the next and doesn't show up to meet the director.

Will Faith have enough faith to trust God to make a different occupation? Will she have enough faith to believe she can be a different person? Do self-hate, guilt, and the inner turmoil of knowing what is right, and not believing there is an escape, keep her away?

It's a fact that Faith and the Sex Industry will never co-habitate peacefully.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mr. Music Leader

I didn't want to believe it at first, but I suspected.
I suspected there was a moratorium, an age moratorium on singers.
On singers who have lines on their faces, traces of age.
Age formerly indicating wisdom, but not many care for wisdom.

I didn't want to believe it for years, but I suspected
I suspected that only the young get sung.
Pimples preferred over creases.
And then I heard it straight from the Music Leader. I don't think he realized it, but when I told him I applied for the job, he said, oh we give those jobs to the young guys. I heard it first person.

But I can't blame him on one hand,
because who wants to look at neck-strings and other hanging things?
Who wants to see bags and jowls when they worship?

Or 'snow on the mountain' during a pop song? Just doesn't fit.

A very talented man is learning media because they don't want 'snow on the mountain' on the platform. He can sing and lead a choir with finesse and gentleness.
He can lead a great choir.

But wait! There is no choir!

First it was real notes and three parts. Then 3 parts became 2 parts to sound more modern.
Then the notes were replaced by scale numbers. No need to read notes. Years of training are the same as none, now. Who needs staffs or rhythm or dynamic markings, or phrases or staccati? No one. We just listen and watch numbers to learn our
unison choir pieces.

The former choir now sings with the congregation to inspire them to sing, sitting next to them. Not a bad idea, but we do that anyway when it is not a choir weekend.

But, oh I miss the heavenly sound of voices blending in dissonances and harmonies and counterpoint.  And I think everyone else does, too. Why did we all go crazy with delight to hear the female quartet sing an accapella arrangement of The National Anthem? Why did we salivate at the  arrangement dripping with passing tones, suspensions and 4 part harmony? Because we are all starved for variety of timbre and musical texture. Dry toast gets old. Sometimes a buttery croissant is due. Choral music is soon to be a lost medium, or perhaps relegated to Presbyterians, a more learned denomination.

As is choir directing .
And the youth rule.
They look cool.

And the age moratorium alienates anyone older than 40.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Summer Daisies and Chrysanthemum Tea

I know it's Fall, not summer,  and daisies are not seasonal at the moment, but our house is currently full of both. It has helped cure my empty nest syndrome. Two Chinese girls named Summer and Daisy are being housed in the empty bedrooms our sons recently vacated.

Decorating in more feminine styles after decades of boyish blues, action heroes and alternative band posters was a pleasant change. Now the decor is shabby chic, distressed white with soft green hues. Asian flower panels adorn the walls.

The girls study, shop, cook, swim at the neighbors and otherwise add a sweet atmosphere to the house.

They are great gift givers. I've received an book on the Chinese Opera, a red coral necklace and recently two lovely canisters of chrysanthemum tea shipped halfway across the world.

I nearly cried when I saw the tiny cream colored miniature blossoms, dried and pale yellow in the canister. Memories of the graceful petals floating in my piano teacher's tea cup washed over me.
I was 19 again.  While playing Mozart or Milhaud, I would watch her pour the tea from a thermos and was mesmerized by the octopus-like slender petals floating in the yellow gold liquid.

The flowers are farmed in a special part of  China, on the top of a hill over looking an equestrian area. The climate is perfect and produces the finest chrysanthemum blossoms for tea making. Much like areas of California and France that grow premium grapes for great wines.

With barely contained excitement I fixed my first cup last night, of music, memories and a bouquet of buds pivoting and spinning in the silky sea of lemony green tea.

Something as elegant as chrysanthemum tea should be carried in a Lenox carafe or a silver tea pot.  But Miss Jennie Wong would bring it to the university in a common thermos. In between pieces she would pour the tea into the plastic cap or a stained mug. The graceful petals danced in the amber liquid to the music of Beethoven's Pathetique, and Brahm's Intermezzo in D.

Today I gave Summer, my Chinese guest, a piano lesson. I felt a sense of music legacy coming full circle. My Chinese teacher taught me the finer points of piano, and I am passing it on to another Chinese 'sister.'

I know it's Fall, not Summer,  and daisies are not seasonal at the moment, but our house is currently full of summery daisies, chrysanthemums and lots of music.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cannabis Nation

With the legalization of Mary Jane on the November ballot, it's time folks.

Let's talk about pot.

There's no more ignoring the big green elephant in the room.

And it's BIG. 

The left coast, Washington State and California, my beloved home state, have led the way with Colorado following. Now Florida will vote on the issue before we can say, "Whoa! That's some bad stuff!" (Picture stupified look behind a billow of smoke).

There are so many questions to ask about this issue. The first one is Why is the seedy substance is in such demand?

For medicinal reasons, some say. Medical Marijuana is the biggest justification for decriminalization. Pot is management for chronic pain. The magic weed could cure cancer and so many other heinous diseases. Did that many people just get sick all of a sudden? If it's purpose is for medicine only, why doesn't it stay in the doctor's office or pharmacy,  instead of popping up in every little head shop along the side streets of LA?

No, marijuana is the heinous disease upon our nation; our Cannabis Nation.

Can't argue that it is a pain reducer. It eases the aggravation of daily life for so many. We can feel good for a moment with less chance of addiction, side effects, and physical risk than using harder drugs.

But that's a Lie.

The moment's escape from our soul's ache doesn't cure its problem.

Pot is a window drug. After a while it gets boring. We look for the new high, the new drug of choice; a harder drug. The universal law of Diminishing Returns applies.

Pot is an ambition killer. That's bad for personal and economic productivity.  The pot head's vocabulary is boiled down to 3 words.  "I Don't Care." With maybe a "Whatever, man!" thrown in.  Because you don't care. You don't care about anything but the next buzz.

I wish I could say I never experienced the mind-numbing wave that wafts over your brain at the first ecstatic toke. But I do. And I did. Inhale. Swept up in the teenage culture of the 70's, I tried and partied with the stuff. It's delights were known and appreciated.

My boyfriend did harder drugs and wanted to take me out to the desert to take more serious substances. Thankfully that never happened and I was rescued by Jesus out of that culture.

But the boyfriend? He was in and out of drugs his whole adult life. Even after marriage and buying a home, he was arrested for cooking methadone on his driveway at age 39. Afterwards he lost his house and separated from his wife. His grown son runs a marijuana dispensary in California.


That's not the occupation I would wish on any of my sons. But it's lucrative, some argue. In fact I read an article stating 12 reasons why we should legalize pot and they were ALL monetary.

If money were the object of life, then we would all be prostitutes, pimps and pushers.


Personal economics is not the only criteria in choosing a career. Benefit to family and community should be a consideration. Our jobs should contribute to society, not tear it down. Life isn't all about the money. God save us if it is.

Pot has dark side that no one seems to want to address. It's not a harmless drug that will reduce drug related crimes. Yeah, you might argue, look at Prohibition. Crime thrived during Prohibition, so if we decriminalize pot, crime will go down. Has it? Has drug related crime shrunk in those states?

Is America escaping from the plague of depression? Why are we all so messed up? Is it the emotional wreckage that broken families have caused? Why are we all clamoring for quick relief?

Feeling good is not an objective. It is a by-product: a result of doing good, of righting wrongs, of mending relationships. When we pursue feeling good for the sake of feeling good, it usually ends up in destructive behavior, adding to our discomfort rather than reducing it.

Jesus took the pain and righted all our wrongs. When we lay it on him, should we not feel better and free-er and happier?

It seems so simple. Yet, there are chemically deficient people who really battle depression solely from imbalances in levels of dopamine and other enzymes that produce the feeling of well being. We all get tired and it feels like depression, the blues, being down.

But pot is not the answer.

Let's debate and consider the long term implications of our national attraction to weed. Let's wrestle the facts before we vote rather than just float on the sweet smelling cloud of popular opinion.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Seven Swimsuits

On a recent beach trip, I volunteered to take the little ones to the restroom. Waiting for them to finish their business, a young girl emerged from the stall and complimented me on my bathing suit. Her friend called her Cloe and she had bright blue hair. Stunned I thanked her and couldn't believe that someone young enough to have blue hair would compliment a middle aged woman' s one piece.  Not sure what caught her eye, but the print was a bright pink hibiscus pattern on a lime green background.

Cloe with the blue hair made my day! She liked my swimsuit.

The Greeks were the first who recorded wearing swim suits. They made two important contributions to our society: A Republic form of government and bathing suits. A brilliant civilization! With the President's monarchical (dictatorial?) reversal of laws void of congressional due process, it appears our republic may be crumbling. Good thing one of the Greek contributions still stands strong: Bathing suits! Alive and well on our golden shores!

I used to think owning more than one swimsuit was excessive.

Until I moved to Florida.

Swimsuits are a lot like like shoes. You have to have more than one pair;  a pair for every occasion in multiple styles for multiple functions. It's a fact for water wear and footwear alike. Here are the wardrobe must-haves:

1. A skirted suit to play with the kids.

2. A husband-suit (bikini) made of the least amount of fabric.

3. A church-suit, one piece which uses the most fabric.

Ha! I'll never forget at a pool event after church, one African American mom sent her daughter to call home for her bathing suit. After her daughter had left a good distance, she hollered after her in earshot of us all, "Make sure dad brings my church-suit!"

4. Board shorts and surf shirt for kayaking and volleyball.

5. A fashion suit for resort wear and cruising.

6. A bandeaux for optimum tan lines.

7. A tank-ini for family beach days.

And then of course, one must have coordinating cover ups and flip flops for those spontaneous strolls down West Atlantic to browse the art galleries or pick up a cup of Starbucks.

Maybe seven swimsuits aren't enough.

Much like shoes.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Endless Beach Day

We arrived just before noon, deposited our $4.00 in the meter for two parking hours, anticipating the dependable afternoon thunderstorms would chase us off the beach by 1:30.

Laden with umbrellas, a pack 'n play, towels, baby in stroller, beach chairs, a cooler and 2 rambunctious boys yanking at the end of our arms, we finally made it to the sand.

The walk was worth every heavy step as Lake Worth Beach greeted us in it's mid-summer glory: aquamarine waters, gentle waves, low tide with a nice flat sand bar for the kids to play on and a pulsating blue sky.

Ahh! This is what summer should be like.

Sitting in a chair, massaging the sand with your toes in the shade of your Tommy Bahama umbrella.




Except eating lunch and  baby-talking to the most beautiful 9-month old baby Charlotte, who was happily content in her pack 'n play.

And jumping in the 78 degree water to teach your g-sons how to catch a wave on their boogie boards; quite a feat on the east coast, compared to the waves in Huntington Beach I grew up with. The waves break weakly, disorganized and scattered. A few managed to take the boys all way to the sand.

1:45 came, but the showers did not. Took a trip to the meter to pay for another 2 hours. Did I mention we got a great spot right by pier. The planets were aligned - for a while anyway!

Applying more sunscreen, we decided we would stay all day, invited the uncles, their girlfriends and  and g-pa to come after work to have pizza on the beach for dinner.

3:45 came and we added another $4 - a small price to pay for our beautiful day at the beach.

The boys snacked on ice cold mangoes, the syrupy juice dripping down to their elbows. A quick rinse in the ocean took care of the gooey golden mess.

My back on a sand chair,

a book in hand,

the sea is stretched out to the sharp horizon like a cool 400 count bed sheet

in graduated shades of aqua deepening to dark teal, inviting me to dive into the watery bed,

spinning, rolling in its soft caressing folds.

Wish I could take these liquid linens home to my sleigh bed to loll in their creamy

current every night.

Uncle Brandon joins us after work.

Seldom is a day perfect. Every holiday has its hitch.

Like the time we lunched in Old Town, San Diego while every stitch of luggage was stolen from our minivan. Or the time son, Elliot broke his finger playing capture the flag in his uncle's back canyon and we spent the afternoon in emergency while everyone else watched baseball at the Padres' stadium. Or the time a July hurricane tangled up the flights so badly we missed our connection and slept in the Atlanta airport - me with 5 kids on a hard carpet, trying to make pillows out of lumpy backpacks with security warnings blasting every half-hour.

On the walk to pick up pizza to feed ourselves, we forgot to feed the meter for the last time and found a parking ticket awaiting us. Our twelve dollar parking fee jumped another twenty-five bucks. (Sorry, April). 

Oh well, other than that it was a flawless day.

Too bad it had to end,

just like summer did.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

3 Weddings - None of Them in June - Number 3

My grandfather, Sherman Alden Allen, left copious diaries and some amazing photos of life in turn of the century Northeast. In the early 60's, as an octogenarian, he transcribed his journals to carefully numbered report folders on a manual typewriter.

His was not an illustrious life, but one of hard work, adventure and occasionally, romance.

Graduating from Brown University in 1903, he sailed off to teach at a University in Syria and Lebanon, where he took expeditions to famous ruins, fending off marauding Bedouins and skinny-dipping in remote desert pools. Returning to New York he took classes in German and French at NYU,  got a master's at Princeton,  and later shipped himself off to France to really learn their language.

He wrote in short sentences of his job as professor, his daily recreation, boating, skating, concert going, with very little emotional or philosophical entries.

My favorite story was of his courtship and marriage, though it took some piecing together of trip records and photos.

On a voyage to France he met a young stenographer named Herta Schenk, a Dutch born girl, with an accent to prove it. Her father was a successful baker. They seemed to hit it off well and he appears very star-struck on his trip home aboard the freighter.

If I were Herta, I definitely would have been taken
by his stout and healthy handlebar mustache!

Just the other day, I saw a young hipster at Sub-Culture coffee shop in West Palm, sporting the same upper lip adornment.

Funny how styles recycle themselves a century later!

Sherman here at age 28 would have looked a lot like the West Palm hipster, without the skinny pants, long hair and tattoos.

No. My grandfather had no tattoos.

Given his inscription on the photo back, he was certainly taken by his new Dutch love.

But, reading his 1909 entries, I almost miss the proposal to Herta.

He says he wrote "the" letter to Herta and shortly after he is booking European passage again.

This time to Holland and England.

The trip included meeting her family in Rotterdam, and buying her a ring. He, not the betrothed bride, books the wedding chapel and lodging for Herta, in London.

And on August 15th, 1910 the couple wedded and made an appearance on a London balcony with wedding party attending.

I never saw him much, separated by the space between Massachusetts and California, but felt a connection because we both shared a February 8th birthday.

He passed in the 70's and when his trunks came, it was like treasure had arrived. They were the same trunks that Herta used, bearing travel labels saying "Rotterdam."

His was not a life of fame, but certainly adventure and


The newlyweds settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and later moved to Worcester, Massachusetts.

1915 - Walter, my dad, brother Ralph and Grandma Bertha (English for Herta).

First came love, then came marriage, then came a baby (my father)  in a baby carriage.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sometimes words pour like poinciana blossoms

In early summer the blossoms fill the air with red flurries that pile up in ankle-deep scarlet snowdrifts. Vainly I try to hold them in my arms, catch them, but they spill over onto the driveway.  I bend to gather them and the wind snatches them in rosy gusts. Down the street I run to save them, so they are not lost forever.

Sometimes words pour like poinciana blossoms. I can't write them down fast enough. They slip through my fingers, swirling away like mutinous feathers on my writing ship. I chase them feverishly.

Nothing, not even imminent danger deters me from my syllabic quest.

Danger, such as driving and (gasp) texting sudden inspiration on the Florida turnpike. It's the fomo (fear of missing out) on a thought, phrase, lyric or idea that might escape like a canary from its cage. I type these words in my iphone notes section while driving to work behind an 18 wheeler.

Mid-sentence, a mindless person parked on the right shoulder opens his door into traffic. The truck breaks suddenly in front of me. Out of nowhere a wasp randomly lands on my bare left knee. I shriek, spring off the driver's seat, frantically brushing the venomous insect away, still catching words like fireflies. I break behind the truck in time.

Where's that wasp! Crawling the floor ready to fly up and stab his stinger firmly in my flesh? I have no choice but to keep driving.  Resigning myself to the fact that the worst the bug can do is cause a moment's pain.

I'm going to freaking kill myself and someone else, trying to capture these fleeting words!

Some days there is not a letter to be found and blogging death looms surely.

Like the first year we planted the sapling poinciana tree and Hurricane Wilma came through and shredded the young branches and tender leaves, pulverizing every plant in its path.

We thought it was dead. Killed by 120 mile an hour winds.

You think the stories will never come back to life and the brown, bare branches of thoughts will never spring green again.

(That's why a studied gardener plants the tree behind the house, not in front. It's deathly barren during our warm winters next to the proud palms, evergreen. But my husband insisted the poinciana be in the front yard so he could view it from his office window, and remember his brother Jimmy. Friends had given us the tree in honor of his brother's untimely death at age 50).

The tree was not dead, only dormant, regaining life, hidden to viewers on the outside, but alive and well on the inside, resting, recharging to soon revive itself.

And after winter's barren cycle, the tiny leaves bud and the blossoms pop out green and firetruck red soon after.

June comes and  poinciana petals fill the driveway again. Thoughts resurrect from the grave of the blank page. And once again, wading through ruby blossoms, I gather up words in a basket.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Oh! A mother's heart when her sons are in the House!

Mothering is a strange thing. From the moment the babies are born, you fall headlong in love and are inextricably bonded as in no other earthly relationship.

All five senses are one hundred percent intertwined with theirs. Your ears are listening for their smallest peep at night or nap time. Your eyes are watching every move on the video monitor or in the the pack 'n play. Every pore is feeling for their body heat, cleanliness, catering to their physical comfort. Any change of odor is detected faster than you can reach for the Pampers and bath supplies. Your voice sings, teaches, scolds, yells, whispers, counsels.

And your heart, I guess that's not one of the 5 senses, but perhaps we have 6 as mothers. The heart is the seat of intuition, the well of deep abiding love that initiates actions only a mother would do. Your heart is wrapping itself around theirs 24 hours a day. Are they happy, sad, disappointed, embarrassed, insecure, frightened, exuberant, rowdy, conniving, hurtful, compassionate? We monitor their emotional echo cardiogram as if it were our very own. Not sure which is greater for mothers: the physical or the visceral out pour.

But then, in keeping with the strangeness of being a mother,

there are days when you want to escape like crazy: Like a life-er locked up in Alcatraz eye-ing San Francisco with a shovel and snorkel in hand.

The news of baby number 4 and number 5 hit like the loud, reverberating slam of a jail door. Would I ever have a life of my own? Ever see my dreams fulfilled?  Ever make my mark in this world? I felt trapped in the day to day battle of beating back the toys and the messes. All just for an ounce of order, a semblance of organization in my schedule and household.

I dreamt about escaping to a bed an breakfast by myself to Santa Barbara, without kids and husband. Just to stare out window with no one wanting me. Just to play a song on the piano all the way through. Three uninterrupted minutes was all I asked for. The routine of mothering felt like a cave I would never be rescued from, the light of day I'd never see. Solitary confinement.

With the last few positive pregnancy tests, my husband would assure me raising 4 boys and a girl was the best thing I could ever do with my life. (Easy for him to say, I thought). Active parenting lasts a long time - 25 years for us.

It was the ultimate emotional tug-of-war. Clutching at my individuality and letting go of theirs as they matured. The listening, counseling, watching, never stopped, the physical care gradually released as they left the nest one by one.

Our heart never leaves.  But theirs will eventually be divided by another - as it should be. And guess what?  My husband was right. It was the best thing I could have done with my life.

They are all grown now. I can attest that any sacrifice is far outweighed by the lifelong delight, the

            fuller than full, 
                                happier than happy 
                                                          feelings I have every time 
                                                                                              we are all together 
                                                                                                                       in the house. 

My chest fairly explodes when they are gathered around the table.

When their friends and girlfriends join us, the table lights up even more.

Instead of singing "Happy Birthday" at my son's 24th birthday dinner, everyone broke out singing the National Anthem instead!

The latest news about "Happy Birthday" is that the owner of the song, Summy-Birchard is clamping down on copyright infringement.

So lucky for us, one of the goofy boys (probably the very funny Vine-celebrity, Marcus Johns) lead out and we all went with it, singing the Star Spangled Banner instead. Whew!





My joy is no greater than when we sit on the same bench in the House of God.

Oh, a mother's heart when her sons are in the House!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shazbot, Robin! Why'd You Have to Die?

We were all fans of yours, from Mork and Mindy to Hook to  Happy Feet. Our feet will never be as happy as when yours walked the earth with us. You made us laugh. You made us think.

In Dead Poet's Society, we were captured by your believable work as professor, connecting with the hearts of students and with us. We chanted along with Whitman's

O Captain, my Captain! the fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought was won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring.
But o heart! heart! heart!
     O the bleeding drops of red,
             Where on the deck my captain lies,
                                         fallen cold and dead.

We. Just. Didn't. Think. You'd. Leave. This. Soon.

How could someone so funny be so sad? Someone with such knowledge be at a loss to live? Someone with so much - in so much pain?

If you needed your audience with you everywhere, we would have come, if it meant you knowing you were appreciated.  We needed you to make us laugh.

Didn't anyone ever tell you there was One who never leaves? One who adores you more than any of us could. He was your biggest Fan.

But you/we get trapped by addiction and shame of past mistakes. Of being alone. Being forgotten. Of a bleak and pointless future.  If that was your illness, than we all suffer from it just the same. And we all are craving to feel better. To feel 'warm and wonderful,' as you describe addiction's good side.

God help us run to the right Shelter, the right kind of 'feel good.' 

 Mork from planet Ork!  We met you first then. And we lost you yesterday. With your own Orkan swear-word, we say, Shazbot! Robin, why?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The President and Katy Perry

I keep trying to find ways to boost my respect for this administration, but our head of state is making it very difficult for me. I mean between his discarding of Israel, ignoring the violence on the borders, lying  about us being able to keep our doctors and health plans, releasing terrorist leaders, and sending millions to terrorist organizations, I'm finding it nearly impossible.

Every night another outrageous account jolts and short circuits my oval office expectations.

Just when my esteem could get no lower, a new report comes out.

According to the Huffington Post and Washington Post, the President has stated that one of his favorite people is... oh, you take a guess.

Teddy Roosevelt?

Winston Churchill?

Jesse Jackson?


Mahatma Gandhi?

Ella Fitzgerald?

Nelson Mandela?

Mother Theresa?

Bill Gates?

Martin Luther King?

Alisha Keys?

No, none of those.

The president said she was 'a wonderful person.'

'She' was none other than the bra firework shooting, albeit, very good singer,

Katy Perry 

After I picked my jaw up off the floor and searched for my disintegrated respect in the street grate, I had to think again. Even though his choice was just so un-presidential, he wasn't the first Chief of State to do such a thing.

JFK invited Marilyn Monroe to sing at his birthday party. That really wasn't much different than President O's admiration for the pop-y Perry.

But still, please, couldn't he idolize an artist that might have just a smidgen of substance or character?

The next morning I heard this simple ditty milling around in my head, mixed with dream remnants, as I woke up.

Oh no! The President says he likes Katy Perry
Not Diana Krall or Norah Jones, but Katy Perry
Oh no! The president says he likes Katy Perry
Hold on everyone, the country's goin down the drain

Oh no! The President's idol is Katy Perry
I-kissed-a-girl-and-I-think-I like-it -Katy Perry
Oh no! The President's idol is Katy Perry
Hold on, everyone, the country's goin down the drain

Oh no! The President looks up to Katy Perry
Not Teddy Roosevelt or even JFK, but Katy Perry
Oh no! The President looks up to Katy Perry
Hold on everyone, the country's goin down
Hold on everyone, the country's goin down the drain.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dinner, a pile of records and my new jazz idol

It wasn't on YouTube or through google, but in my disorganized shelf of Lp's that I discovered my new Jazz piano mentor.

Hubby said, "Let's have some music for dinner."

What do you want to hear?

Simon & Garfunkel? Gershwin?

"No, something different"

Then I spied it: Oscar Peterson Trio plus One. Hmm, that must have been one of my thrift store finds.
So after Tim blessed the food,  I dropped the needle on and we were treated to the best jazz I'd heard in  a long time. It was clean and sophisticated. And the pianist was incredible!

While listening and eating, we talked about a children's book idea that I was collaborating with an local artist on. We argued about stupid stuff.

But mostly over our bean soup and salad we talked about the great music playing  on the turntable!
Wow, I didn't know we had this. The 1964 album gave us an amazing menu of pieces and my new jazz mentor. Later I remember being introduced to him at Dick Grove Music school in Van Nuys, CA years ago. I still have the charts we studied by him.
Our feet could hold back no more. We flipped the vinyl to side two and my husband did something very uncharacteristic of himself and out of the ordinary. He grabbed my hand and led me to the family room to dance.

And I followed. I mean, I actually let him lead.

Not like our first dance lesson debacle.

It was a little bit 70's random arm jerking, 50's swing and fox trox. Spinning me forward and backward then back to front, we sidled and swirled and giggled our way through that bass improv, the piano licks and flugelhorn riffs. We'll be ready for Cody Johns' wedding next week. We'll be tearing up the dance floor!!

Then we lay on the floor exhausted in the pile of records.

What a great night!


A new/old  jazz mentor - Thank you Oscar Peterson.

Dancing, and it was only a Thursday night.

And a pile of records.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

3 Weddings - None of Them in June - Number 2

The 1940's were Hollywood's golden era.

After a few stabs at college, a WWII tour in the Middle East and a trip to London, my father, Walter was ready to go west, young man, with an itch to act. It wasn't gold that attracted him to California, but silver - the silver screen.

So, Walter traded the Middle East heat and desert sands for California palms and rolling hills; he exchanged the four seasons of Massachusetts and a disappointed father, for two seasons in the Golden State and a chance at Hollywood.

1943. What a head shot!

He had studied acting at Clark University and was ready to give it a go, despite his professor father's urgings to finish college.

Yes, these were the golden days of Hollywood. And he had that 24 karat look.

His quest for stardom only led him to a day job as a taxi driver.

I don't know how many scripts he read, auditions he had or interviews he made, but the closest he ever got to becoming a movie star was driving Lucille Ball and John Wayne in his cab.

While in Hollywood, though, other things were brewing that would soon change his life. A mutual friend introduced him to a young woman named Isabel who lived, ironically, back in Massachusetts, not far from Walter's hometown.

Isabel MacDuffie - visiting her dad, E. 57th, NYC - 1940

So they wrote letters cross-country. For 2 years they wrote letters. Love letters that stoked their chemistry enough for a meet-up to be planned.

If it was 2014, they would have connected online and then decided to meet their mystery friend. Here it was a pen-pal connection. My father booked a flight to New England.

The first woman he saw debarking the plane was fat and he got scared for a minute. But then he laid eyes on a young woman with dark wavy hair, crystal blue eyes, thin and poised. He was pleased and very much relieved.

When he met her family, not so much.

All they did was talk about money, he said. I don't think Isabel's family was too taken by Walter either. He was what? A taxi driver? For a girl brought up in homes with names like 'Marimonte' and 'Lordvale,'  the disparity of pedigree was as glaring as a Timex next to a Tag. (Sorry, dad).

Whether it was Walter's dashing looks or the need to escape her family, or the fact that she was 28 and unmarried, she followed Walter out to California.

But wait, I forgot the proposal.

Their first visit was nearing an end. Walter was headed to the airport and he realized he was 34 and missing the chance of a lifetime. Strange family or not, this was a good woman and he needed to act fast.

So he headed for the nearest phone booth. He waited in line and called her and right then and there, asked her to marry him - over the phone.

Unbeknownst to him, two little old ladies were in line behind him, watching  and listening to his conversation. He hung up and turned to catch his plane. They stopped him abruptly.

"Excuse me, sir, did you just propose to that young lady over the phone?"

"Why, yes I did!"

"Well, I hope she refused you, " they said indignantly.


How gauche it was, in their minds, to offer marriage any other way than in person. Today, it would be the equivalent of proposing by text.

Yet it didn't bother Isabel. As you know, she accepted and Walter flew back to LA to plan his wedding at the Wee Kirk of the Heather chapel in Forest Lawn.

They were married October 17th, 1949.

"We were forty-niners," my mother would tell me with a twinkly smile, when I was a little girl.

Yeah. Forty-niners who struck it rich!!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Dangling Conversation

Some song lyrics bear remembering. This is one of them written by Simon & Garfunkel released first in "The Big Bright Pressure Machine" and later in the "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" project of 1966.

It’s a still-life watercolor 
Of a now late afternoon 
As the sun shines through the curtain lace 
And shadows wash the room 

And we sit and drink our coffee 

Couched in our indifference 

Like shells upon the shore 
You can hear the ocean roar 
In the dangling conversation 
And the superficial sighs 
The borders of our lives 

Art Credit - Kaito x Gakupo by LikeaBoss78

And you read your Emily Dickinson 

And I my Robert Frost 

And we note our places with bookmarkers 
That measure what we’ve lost 
Like a poem poorly written 
We are verses out of rhythm 
Couplets out of rhyme 
In syncopated time 
And the dangling conversation 
And the superficial sighs 
Are the borders of our lives 

Yes,we speak of things that matter 
With words that must be said 
“Can analysis be worthwhile?” 
“Is the theatre really dead?” 
And how the room is softly faded 

And I only kiss your shadow 

I cannot feel your hand 
You’re a stranger now unto me 
Lost in the dangling conversation 
And the superficial sighs 
In the borders of our lives

It never was a hit, probably due to its heaviness, surmised the author. But the lyrics and the topic are universal and lasting.

It's a hit in my book.

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