Posts Tagged ‘family’

Phil Provenzale: It’s about the Little Things; or Knowing a Person that you Don’t Know

My cousin and her husband Phil

My cousin and her husband Phil

How does one know a person yet not know a person? We all know so many people that we don’t know, and one day we will wish we had. But – is it possible? Perhaps not, at least in the current arrangement of our lives and our world. It’s all too big and too fast.  Two things happened last week at a funeral I went to: I finally got to know my cousin Andrea’s husband better, and he was the deceased. And I got a nugget to chew on regarding the current arrangement of my life.

My cousin’s husband Phil died last week.  He was only 61, but he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for many, many years and to say he fought this disease valiantly, with faith and spirit, with optimism and courage, would be an understatement.  He continued to work during his extended illness at his job as a senior vice president at 20th Century Fox International (  But other than knowing he had something to do with the film industry, I only knew him as Andrea’s husband Phil.  He was a person I knew yet didn’t know.

It’s funny how we all know people differently. I knew Phil as the handsome, tall young man marrying Andrea at one of the most beautiful weddings my husband and I attended.  Then I knew him as Andrea’s husband Phil, whom I spoke to in pleasantries about not much of consequence at family occasions – birthdays, weddings, celebrations, and, as the years passed, funerals.  Since we did not live in the same cities, we didn’t have day-to-day encounters where we would know each other in a more comprehensive manner.  We kept up with what was happening in the families but that’s it.

Until we went to Phil’s funeral and I got to know Phil better.  And I found out that his life was about the little things, and now I want to make the rest of my life about the little things too.  Here’s what I mean.

First, we know Phil was excellent at his job because if he hadn’t been he wouldn’t have had it, but no one mentioned that Phil was good at his job. No one listed his accomplishments.  No one talked about the blockbuster deals he made or the financial successes he produced. They talked about how nice Phil was. They talked about Phil the incredible human being. Over and over.  The words I heard were nice. Kind. Universally respected.  Good manners. Loved. Charm. Warmth. Gentle. Unconditional love.

Nice.  Not nice like, yeah, he was a nice guy. But NICE. A woman who had been with him for over 16 years at Fox and at Carolco Pictures before that said that he greeted every single employee in his division every morning when he got to work before entering his own office – every day. I got the impression this was not just a cursory hello. And that it was “required” that everyone say goodnight to him or he to them before leaving. Why? Because he genuinely thought it was important to take the time to know people and care about them and let them know that they were more than an interchangeable body at a desk. He thought it was important to treat everyone with respect, and in turn he was highly respected himself.

One person who spoke said Phil had a candy dish and found he couldn’t put it in the normal position on his desk because if his back was turned to the computer, people snuck by and took some quietly so they wouldn’t disturb him. He had to place it on his desk deep in his office behind the monitor, forcing people to actually come in and face him to take candy.  In other words, human interaction was important to Phil.  He was never too important or too busy.

These are all seemingly little things – good manners – hellos, goodbyes, respect, caring – that in aggregate add up to something bigger.  Like ten plus ten equals twenty, the little things add up to something bigger.

The priest officiating at the service talked about the tall, quiet guy who was always helping, ushering, cleaning up, doing what needed to be done.  He didn’t know his name.  The tall guy didn’t require that his name be known. Of course, as the priest later learned, it was Phil. Doing the little things.

And someone spoke from Phil and Andrea’s son’s elementary school.  Their son is in college now but Phil and Andrea will never be forgotten at that elementary school because apparently they have virtually created it. Andrea volunteered there when their son was a student, and when she saw a need, she told Phil, and the school would mysteriously find a new copy machine in the office, or a teacher would all of a sudden have something needed in the classroom.  All done quietly without fanfare.  And it continued long after their son left that school.

At the graveside service I talked to several of Phil’s colleagues and I heard the same things over and over – how absolutely incredible a person he was, how kind he was, how well respected he was, until I pictured him head and shoulders above everyone walking down the hall, and he was already tall enough to be head and shoulders above everyone. 

I think I could tell you some other things about Phil too, even though no one said them.  If anyone who worked with Phil is reading this, you can tell me if I’m right or not.  I would guess that Phil would do anything in the office that he would ask someone else to do from making coffee to fixing a paper jam in the copy machine. I expect he would do anything he could to assist an employee in a family emergency.  He probably acknowledged his employees birthdays. He was probably the first to arrive and the last to leave.  All the little things that add up.

What does all this mean besides the fact that Phil Provenzale was truly one of the finest people I didn’t know? I don’t know that I could have known him. Living in a different town, even not too far away, seems like a continent when you are raising a family and then having grandchildren, working, taking care of parents – all those things that make a life. 

I can, however, look at the people I know here, where I live, and ask myself if I know them.  I have a feeling I may know a few too many people that I don’t know.  And I can take a lesson from what made Phil so remarkable and polish up my manners.  I have the inner sincerity in caring about others but I think I trend towards impatience when it comes to showing it.  Or am just not present enough and forget to show it.

So then, if I can keep my head together, that’s two takeaways that will, I hope, make a difference.  But there is one more.  The aforementioned nugget to chew on about the arrangement of my life.  My husband and I are at that stage where we thought we had made our last move but due to some recent experiences are rethinking that.  And the question becomes – stay in Bakersfield or not?

The nugget to chew on is this.  At the funeral, the priest talked about this regarding Phil. He talked about the impatience and impermanence of our society, our need for the next fastest computer model, the most updated phone, the bigger house, the more upscale neighborhood, and so on. He talked about the lack of roots that keep people from knowing each other through the years, neighbors getting together over time, and so forth. And he talked about Phil’s constancy.  How long Phil and Andrea lived in their house without the need to move up, leading to continuity in the neighborhood and with neighbors; how they stayed committed to their son’s school long after he left and thus over time made a great difference in that school and especially its library; how a long involvement with the church made a difference there – and how all of that contributed to stability as a family.

So – leave Bakersfield someday?  Maybe not. We have some roots here. Our lungs have adapted. Something to think about.  We may for family reasons but it’s not a given. There are reasons for permanence.

Two takeaways and a nugget.  Lots to think about, thanks to Phil. I’m glad I got to know you this much, Phil.  It’s not enough, and it’s too late, but under the circumstances, it’ll have to do.


Thanksgiving merriment


Art Every Day Month continues even though I would rather be a slug today and recover from eating too much.  Not piggy-too-much, but more than usual.  I could make stuffing during the year and then not eat so much on Thanksgiving, but.  Here’s a little photo journal through parts of our Thanksgiving weekend.  Wednesday has been covered already –the adventure we don’t want to repeat. Yesterday the family arrived – at least part.  Kim and fam were in Colorado with Karen and fam, but between Jen, Matt and kids, and Anne, Kent, Cristina and Benjamin, there were 11 of us at Kamala Kabin – our place in Alta Sierra.  They all had a long trudge through the snow also.  This year is wicked so far – how early is this snow? The Mountain Parade had to be canceled.  Not usually this cold and snowy this soon.  We’ll see if that augers for a cold winter.

First, though, we had some celebrating to do!

Confession Time

This year’s dinner was provided largely by Trader Joe’s.  I bought their stuffed turkey breasts,  gravy, fresh garlic mashed potatoes, yams with pecans and other goodies.  I bought the huge bag of rolls from Costco because if we don’t have those, my grandkids will never show up again.  Dinner was delicious – as good as I would have made, or better even.  And we maintained our tradition of having party crackers and wearing our crowns during dinner.

We’ve been wearing crowns for as long as I can remember – and at least since Sarah was in a high chair (she’s now 15 1/2).

Although the kids have graduated to the “adult” table, we had to reinstate the “kids” table at the cabin.

We had many spirited games of nerts – or is it nertz – and I lost big.  I figured if I couldn’t win, why not lose with flair?  I also went down spectacularly in a game I cannot remember the name of but that’s no matter because I’ve christened it “The Pretty Game.”

Some of the men relaxed.

I insisted we have a group shot – no matter how good or bad anyone thought they looked, didn’t matter.  We were taking a picture.  I did not lug that tripod through the snow for nothing.  Plus, I had to amaze everyone with my remote.  Sarah took control of that and took so many pictures that we were laughing raucously.

We were a small but happy group and really did enjoy our Thanksgiving in the mountains.  Tomorrow I’ll post the “outdoor” part of the weekend – sledding and skiing.  Until them, I’m going to will away the effects of the stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie and all the rest.

Someone’s in the cabin with Gramser and August’s theme of FIRE


I told you my life is a song! Why does everything I think of match a lyric? Or a paraphrased lyric – “Someone’s in the cabin with Gramser, someone’s in the cabin I  know -o-o-o.”

But first, Creative Every Day’s August theme of FIRE is getting literal.  There is a forest fire in the town of Riverkern, moving towards Kernville.  I don’t think it will get near the cabin, but it is in the general vicinity.  So while we think about fire in all it’s manifestations, sometimes it is exactly that – fire.  On New Year’s Day I drove through Riverkern with two of the grandkids to enjoy the Kern River.

This is my granddaughter Ali and grandson Xavier standing looking into the Kern River just above Riverkern.  Of course I digitally manipulated it so it looks like they are shadow skiing.  You can see more pictures of the Kern River here.  The fire is really moving I guess, and jumped the Kern.  But let’s get back to who’s in the cabin with gramser.

Actually, 11 “someones” were in the cabin with Gramser.  All nine grandkids and two daughters.  Got home from Orlando on Friday instead of Thursday (the trip from Hell), stayed home on Saturday, and went to the cabin on Sunday to prep for the onslaught.  I say onslaught as if it were negative, but there is nothing I like more than being with all the family.

The Davies Three were visiting from Colorado (in November, they’ll be the Davies Four when Baby Boy Davies arrives).

They are sitting in the metal chair I refinished and painted (boy, that was its own adventure) waiting for blue jays.  Cooper is holding the cup that held the peanuts.  I told the kids they had to be still and quiet for the birds to come.  They had very carefully lined the entire balcony railing with peanuts!  The birds must have thought they were in peanut heaven.

I had a small slate of activities for this visit.  Not nearly as elaborate as last year, but we did tie dye again.  Actually, Sarah wanted to and she helped me pick out shirts.  We tried colored shirts instead of white this time.

Does anything strike you about this photo? The older you are, the more you will notice.  Cooper is sitting with her legs twisted like a pretzel, and Annabelle and Jackson are squatting.  When is the last time you comfortably sat like this?  I know, me either.

The shirts came out nicely.  Even if they hadn’t turned out well, they would have been good.  If you know what I mean.

Since one picture is never enough, we lined them up by height.

And to think, in November there will be another little one on the end.

Gramser took a walk with Things One and Two. (The shirts were a last-minute purchase at Universal Orlando.)  Cooper is carrying Crookshanks while Abbo has Fawkes.  Jackson did not bring Fluffy because he was currently not liking Fluffy and wanting Fawkes instead.  For some reason (silly me) I thought a boy who loved dinosaurs and crashing toy cars would enjoy having a three-headed dog.

A group played Catchphrase.

Sarah sat with the Davies Three.

You’ll notice Crookshanks in this photo.

We used big bubble wands.

The big girls painted tissue boxes.

Then they helped the little ones paint coat holders for their rooms.

We went down to Kernville and challenged the Killer Kern.

Seriously, it is called the Killer Kern by some.  Do you know Merle Haggard’s song about never swimming the Kern River again?  It is deadly – the waters run deep and there are all kinds of entanglements down there to catch and hold you.  Every year there are drownings and usually they are people from Los Angeles who came up for the day.  The signs tell people to stay out, etc. but no one believes them.  This is absolutely as far as I would let the kids walk out.  A few steps more and they would be in the current.  I told them ahead of time, “When I say stop, I mean it.”  They knew I was serious as a heart attack – no messing around here.

Annabelle, who is fearless, was more interested in picking up rocks this time.

Jackson made a tower of blocks and dared anyone to knock it over.  I don’t know what he was intending with his lizard – to balance it on the tower or destroy the tower?

It was a good cabin trip. Although I enjoy the cabin in solitude, there’s nothing like having someone in the cabin with gramser – especially when they are grandkids.

Bliss: The Highest Degree of Happiness


The Creative Every Day challenge for June is Bliss. (To learn more about this challenge click on the button on the sidebar.) Leah, who runs this blog, tells participants to completely ignore the theme, touch on the theme, adhere to the theme – lots of possibilities.  I frequently ignore the theme, but it’s a good mental exercise to think about these things once in a while.

I started thinking about bliss.  My first thought was it’s a scary word.  BLISS implies something big, something huge.  I think of Buddha, in the highest state of being, unruffled and untroubled, in a state of bliss.  The highest degree of happiness.  But in that happiness, you are so serene that you don’t need to define your state as bliss.  And it’s a constant state.  If you are always at that high, sustained level, the need to define the concept at all is irrelevant.  You are.

I know bliss as a small word, a lower-case word.  I don’t want to worry about achieving this elevated state of being; I just want to live with CSI – something I talked about in the post on courage.  And no, it’s not the crime show – for me, CSI is continuous self-improvement.  Maybe with enough of it, I’ll be in a state of BLISS, but now, my bliss is simpler,  composed of moments.

Being in a state of bliss may be akin to a state of grace.  I felt I was in a state of grace a few times, and I’m quite sure I can’t describe it.  I just knew it. It’s a sustained high level.  Maybe my bliss is just moments of happiness.

I pulled a few photos out of recent albums to illustrate what bliss is, at least for me.  Part of my bliss is being able to take photos.  Pictures tell the story.

Going outside today to take a look at the pond (I think I look for frogs as much as the cats do), I saw our first water lily.  It was incredibly exciting – a very small but very blissful moment.  You can dig deeper into it, however, extracting the pure bliss in seeing the wonders of nature – the complexity of flowers – shells – trees; the intrigue of the forest; the stillness of the desert.  Sometimes, when I’m in the mountains or at the beach and see something of extraordinary beauty, it’s too much to contain and I well up inside, shedding perhaps a tear or two.  Or more.  My dad understands this – it happens to him also.

My daughter sent this the other day.  Finally, in Colorado, it’s warm enough to bring out the wading pool.  Just seeing my beautiful, innocent, happy granddaughter is blissful.  The innocence hurts, but I know she’ll be ok when the day comes – that day that she discovers all is not well in the world.  But for now, what more can you ask for? Family, children, the blossoming of hope and love – it’s just doggone blissful.

This grainy cell-phone photo is on the top of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.  The bar revolves.  That’s me, two of my grandkids, and my dear friend Michael.  That’s bliss – being able to have friends like Michael, share experiences (we’d all been at the Black Eyed Peas concert).  Out of everyone I know, Michael is the closest to reaching the state of BLISS.  He truly is one with the universe, and I’ve learned much from him.  It’s also amazing and a little surreal that we can do things like stay at the Bonaventure, go to concerts, head out to Las Vegas for soccer tournaments, and order seven desserts for five people at a Japanese restaurant.  Food IS bliss.

The big sky days we’ve had in abundance this year in Bakersfield leave me in a state of pure, unadulterated bliss.  In fact, I’m thinking how to describe the feeling and I can’t – it approaches BlIsS.

This is a moment of bliss.  It’s my youngest daughter and her children with Jose, her ex-husband.  Lots of unpleasantness led up to their divorce, but it’s nothing less than blissful to me that they can come together as a family for Dax’s graduation, all smiles for the photo.

I gave a graduation party for Daxton.  The surprise guest was her eighth-grade language arts teacher, who had to stop teaching for medical reasons and couldn’t finish the year.  Pat and I have been friends forever.  Look at Dax – if that isn’t bliss, we’ll have to redefine the word.

This is my oldest daughter and her husband.  She earned her Master’s Degree last week.  But the smile isn’t just for that.  She and Matt are so in love that it’s almost painful.  He’s so tender with her and she with him, as they attend endless soccer games and raise great kids, that they are in a state of bliss – whether they know it or not  Which makes me feel overwhelmed with happiness.  Bliss.

Here’s some of the grandkids and friends in the casita, their little hide-out at our new house.  It astounds me that they all get along all the time and actually have fun together.  I think this makes me happiest of all – having the family love and like each other, through hardship and happiness.  It’s bliss.

More bliss – Jennifer’s graduation party.  How amazing is it to have a house like we do, be able to have abundant food, abundant laughter, fun, friends and family.  Bliss.

My parents at our house.  Mom’s 87, Dad’s 92.  Mom may repeat the same thing five times in a row, and laugh when she can’t remember the name of something (not realizing she can’t remember the name of almost anything), and Dad naps more than he’s awake.  But they are alive, healthy more or less, happy, and in love.  Married I think 68 years, they love each other more than ever.  This, to me, qualifies as bliss.

It’s total bliss to see something unexpected that takes your breath away – like this moon.  It’s blissful to not lose the sense of wonder.

That’s Jennifer, me and my friend Wendy. Wendy’s more than a friend, really – she and her husband and kids are family. We almost lost Wendy.  A couple of years ago she developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and our world collapsed.  Life without Wendy was inconceivable to all of us.  She calls her experience with lymphoma and a stem-cell transplant her journey to the 8th continent.  The bliss in this story overflows into gratitude, happiness, thankfulness – for Wendy, for medical care, for the sheer will to live.

This is bliss – four generations: three on the couch and the fourth behind the camera.

This, too is bliss.  Not just the visit from my wonderful friend William, but just being able to have a friend like William.  There’s 43 years difference in our ages.  But because of Michael, who taught me to be open to what crosses my path, and Ray Bradbury, who told me he didn’t consider it odd at all to have a friend so much younger, and because of my family who understand and don’t draw borders and boundaries to fence people in or out, I can have a friend like William.  All of the above are reasons for bliss.

Bliss.  Blissful and happy that we can afford vacations, bliss induced by the ocean, sand and sky, and bliss that we’ve been married 42 years.  We were laughing tonight, watching an ad for eHarmony.  I said we should register and see if we came up as matches for each other.  Mark said we probably wouldn’t, and he’s right.  But – we share the same values, and they are what keep us together.  Commitment, trust, respect, caring, and truthfulness.  That’s what love becomes, after all.  With both sets of parents as examples, I think we were destined to stay together as a couple, and it hasn’t been hard.  Hasn’t always been easy -we’ve had bumps and it hasn’t been pure bliss, but the concept is – the concept of a committed marriage.  With love.

I suppose my idea of bliss comes from family, friends, and nature.  If I can have this many moments in just the last four months or so, I may be closer to BLISS than I thought.  For now, I’ll take it in the lower case.

One last source of bliss – art.  Tonight I did a couple of still lifes – set them up and photographed them.  They came together quickly – by all appearances – but so much of the preparation is mental, running in the background, figuring it out, thinking, contemplating, that just the doing of the piece is almost incidental.  In fact, I was reading an article in the tub (I always read in the bath tub) about a retrospective of the artist Yves Klein.  Klein believed the idea behind the work was more important than the execution, according to TIME art critic Richard Lacayo.  Klein said, “My paintings are the ashes of my art.”

I had done the collage in the background but wasn’t entirely satisfied.  So today I put this rooster in front of it and photographed it.  This I like.  It’s called Rooster.  For now, anyway.

I jumped up to make this still life because of a beautiful purple turnip.  The turnip may not be evident in the finished product, but it was the catalyst.  You’ll all be glad to know that all the produce in this photo is organic and local.

So that’s it -moments of bliss that are compounded by the abundance of it all.  Little bites of bliss.  And now, I am in a state of blissful fatigue, and I’m going to bed.

Homes have anniversaries too – the cabin is two


As I sit here at the cabin waiting for paint to dry, I realize that Memorial Day weekend, two years ago, we moved in.  I think that has to be the strangest, funniest, and most unusual move ever.


My husband and I used to go for drives all the time – up Kern Canyon, to Gorman Post Road, Rancheria Road at dusk to look for animals – but we hadn’t done that in a long time.   So approximately two years five months ago, I said, “I’d like to take a ride up the canyon.”  We did, we stopped at Cheryl’s Diner for lunch, and here’s how it went from there.

The Surprise Quest

  1. We talk about how we’ll never leave Bakersfield, even though our kids and my sister and even we are always talking about escaping.
  2. We talk about how everyone wants a place close to nature, with wildlife, better air, etc.
  3. I have a V8 moment: we could BUY A CABIN close by that anyone in the family could use to get away!
  4. We quickly do calculations in our head to see if we can afford it.
  5. We start for home and pass Alta Sierra.
  6. We see an open house sign and go in.
  7. We go back the next day and make an offer.
  8. We start escrow and then pull out when we find out improvements were made without building permits.

The Right Place

  1. Once started, momentum builds until we find the cabin we want.
  2. Being us, it doesn’t take very long.  Why confuse ourselves with too many choices?
  3. To get to this cabin to see it, however, we hike about ½ mile in deep snow.
  4. Our realtor slips and slides behind us in her Uggs.
  5. We get there, stand on the balcony, look down, and see a plowed road.  All the hiking for naught.
  6. Mark gets the car and brings it to us.
  7. We make the offer and wait for the brand new cabin (ok, a two-story house) to be finished.

The Preparation

  1. Ikea becomes our best friend.
  2. We make scale models of the rooms and scale models of the beds we liked at Ikea
  3. “We” means my husband because I can’t make anything precise that has numbers involved.
  4. Goal – sleep as many people as possible.
  5. We move the little beds around the little rooms and find we can sleep 12 if we buy two bunks that are queen sized on the bottom and single on the top.  Plus four beds and regular bunks.
  6. We make trip after trip to Ikea in Burbank, 90 miles away.
  7. Once, we pick up my sister at the Burbank airport and barely have room for her in the car.  Yes, we’d been to Ikea.

The Move, Memorial Day Weekend, 2008

That’s the cabin way up there.  The U-haul is in the neighbor’s driveway.

  1. Rent the U-haul.
  2. Enlist as many people as we can to help, which is the grandkids, our daughter, and her husband.  My brother showed up for a while too.
  3. Drive the U-haul and crammed cars and find we can make it easier by parking the U-haul in the neighbor’s driveway.
  4. Begin to understand just how steep our driveway (which is dirt) is as innumerable trips are made to the car.
  5. Realize stairs would be very helpful.
  6. Finally get it all in, realizing that tired Mark and Matt have to assemble all the beds by bedtime.
  7. Have the grandkids assemble all the lamps so we’ll have plenty of light.
  8. Turn on the faucets and find out we have NO HOT WATER!
  9. Call the builder in a panic, leave a message, figure out how to configure dial-up internet and send the builder an email.
  10. Get no response.
  11. Call the electrician whose name the builder gave us.

And next

  1. Watch the ELECTRICITY go out, negating the rush to put the lamps together.
  3. Calm down
  4. Walk a couple of houses away, find out their electricity is out also, borrow candles, and go out to dinner.
  5. Laugh so hard on the way back from dinner, probably about nothing at all although cows figured in, that emergency restroom moments occur.
  7. The electrician has stopped by just out of kindness (Matt didn’t go to dinner) and says the hot water heater is no good.
  8. Send more panicked messages to builder.


  1. Listen to your daughter tell the kids that they CANNOT STAY all weekend and they’ll be leaving the next day.
  2. Endure general displeasure.
  3. Sleep.

Settling in

  1. Get up Sunday morning to find the Bakersfield Six (grandkids) have made PROTEST SIGNS and “chained” themselves to the beds to prevent leaving.
  2. Have mom waver on leaving.
  3. Continue unpacking, go to Lake Isabella to pick up some needed items from a city that has a good hardware store, a Vons, but not much else.  Oh yes, a McDonalds.
  4. Return to find the kids washing their hair in COLD WATER just to prove they can do it without hot water.

Walking down to the Greenhorn Grill for lunch

  1. Go to lunch, get seated, look at the table next to us, and it’s OUR BUILDER who has not returned any messages.
  2. He says, “after I finish eating, I’ll install a NEW HOT WATER HEATER I have in my truck.”  (He only lives about 4 HOURS away.)
  3. His name changes from BUILDER to GOD.
  4. The mood lightens.

Monday morning

  1. We see a deer.
  2. Even though it’s Memorial Day, it lightly snows.

The rest of the weekend proceeds smoothly, but wow, what an introduction.

AND THEN we proceed to enjoy the cabin.  Mark builds stairs, we get asphalt put on the driveway, and we spend quite a bit of time up there.  I love going up alone.  I don’t think I’d be doing art if it weren’t for the cabin.  The kids come up, we sled in the winter, laze in the summer, and do a whole lot of nothing.

We have our Chinese lanterns on the balcony and I have my Star Trek flag hanging.

This is the wildlife we’ve seen, mostly on the drive up and back.

Wild turkeys

Wild turkey chicks



Stellar jays

Western tanager

Rose-breasted nuthatch

White-headed woodpecker

Black-eyed junco


Other woodpeckers


Martin – it was amazing to see a martin


Wildcats – I’ve seen four!



Looking back at older posts, I see I’ve written lots about cabin adventures.  I don’t think my husband is enjoying it very much – yet – but this year we can work on that.  The rest of the family loves it.  During these years, retired but not old, family seems to be what it’s all about.  Giving your family good times and pleasure is everything.

Book report: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


Just finished an amazing book by Rebecca Skloot.  Non-fiction. It’s about cells – HeLa cells.  Cells that are immortal because they grow and grow and grow, existing in probably every lab in the world.  Where did they come from? The cervix of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman who died young from cervical cancer.  The tissue had been removed without her permission during a procedure and that tissue truly revolutionized cell culture.

Ok, so what is so compelling about a science story? Imagine being black during Jim Crow, having little education, living in a downtrodden area of Baltimore.  Besides all the ramifications to that, which this book deftly describes, you have children.  After you die, your children know nothing about you, have one image – the one on this book cover – and some 20 years later, they find out you are still alive.  Or your cells are still alive.  They find out about HeLa.

At first I thought, so what?  So your mom’s cells are alive in cultures, have been used in major scientific discoveries such as the polio vaccine.  But it’s not a “so what?”  To this family, those cells WERE their mother, and as Skloot delves into the mystery of who Henrietta Lacks was and unravels it after spending literally years gaining the trust of the family, I gradually began to understand.

I’m not sure I can explain how powerful the moment was when I realized the emotional complexity of sorting out your mother from cells, or knowing cells as your mother, which helps the children define themselves.  To them, HeLa IS their mother.

These are HeLa cells.  Henrietta’s daughter carried this picture for a long time before giving it to her brother.  To them, it was a picture of their mother.

Their story touches upon so many issues, many of which are with us today – issues of abuse, poverty, lack of education, striving without too much hope of achieving.  Racism is alive in this story and it’s unsettling because of what Skloot and Henrietta’s daughter discover.  It’s a story of greed also – from many sides.  It’s also a story of self-discovery and growth and amazing strength.

If you have time, or can make time, read it.  You won’t want to put it down, and you will start to see life in a new way.  What is that way?  I don’t know – I’m still synthesizing my feelings and conclusions.  But it has to do with knowing oneself, and how a huge, grounding chunk of yourself comes from knowing your parents, especially your mother. Even if all you have is a picture of her cells, cells that became famous without your knowledge.

Flip the coin and imagine how the scientific world viewed HeLa differently when they had a face and name to put to them.  Someone to honor.

Finding your mom and getting to know her through cells is just almost more than the mind can grasp.  It’s a powerful story, a non-fiction page-turner.  Read it.

#Best09 – The Gift I Gave Myself that Keeps on Giving? Time with the Grandkids – An Update


I’m updating yesterday’s blog post with three new photos.  These are from last night – Christmas at our house with our three kids, their husbands, and the nine grandkids.  This is the gift I gave myself that keeps on giving – time with this precious group of people

All the grandkids are here – The Bakersfield Six and The Colorado Three.  The Colorado group is the three littlest in front.

All of us – the gift that keeps on giving.  We blessedly like each other and love to be together.

I love this picture – the two little girls in red looking closely at the package their dresses are covering up.

Below is the entry before I updated with the photos.  Sorry – I was just too tired to put them in last night.

Gwen Bell’s Best of Blog challenge question for Christmas day is “What’s a gift you gave yourself this year that kept on giving?” At first, this was hard.  Partly it was hard because after a hectic and traumatic month, it seems I can barely remember yesterday.  But this morning, first at one daughter’s house and then the other, opening gifts with the grandkids, it was obvious.  It was the gift of time with the grandchildren this summer.  Mostly I’m talking about the Bakersfield Six.

I going to reference some older posts so you’ll know what we did to make the summer special.  You can look at The Bakersfield Six Plus One, or A Grandmother’s Dream to see photos and read about the beginning of the journey to the cabin this summer – just me and The Bako Six.  Then Glamberts, Treasure Hunts, Jean Luc Picard and Tie-dyed Shirts continues that adventure.  I had planned a very busy five days full of adventure and the best part was the FUN – so much fun and laughter!

We also went to the American Idol’s concert together – at least the girls and I did.

21 People at Disneyland is a new chapter – and finally, something I guess I didn’t blog about, the Roar and Snore.  I took the grandkids to a sleepover at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and it was such incredible fun that I should blog about it – but now, just take my word.  Here’s a post talking about some collages I made from those experiences.

Also, check out the animal photo gallery on my webpage to see some of what we saw.  BUT to continue…

I make some mini-photo books as Christmas presents for each of the grandkids because the summer was so special, and as they opened them today and we relived the adventures I realized that all the time and effort I put into being a grandma is paying me back a hundred fold.  The memories will live forever – if not in my mind, at least on paper and in photographs to refresh my mind!  Love and laughter made the memories.

This gift will give forever.  It’ll give past my lifetime and well into the next generations as my grandkids make the same kinds of memories with theirs.  Family, love and laughter.  The best gift ever and always.