Monthly Archives: August 2012

Good Books Come In Threes

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I had bronchitis this week and it’s the only time that I get to read one book after another. My first choice was a surprise delight called “The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service” by Beth Kendrick. Lara has just moved in with her boyfriend only to find she is in over her head after bringing home stray dogs. The word is out that she has an uncanny knack for matching up rescue mutts with the perfect home and she has become VERY popular. With her boyfriend? Not so much.

She and the dogs end up moving in with her high- maintenance, workaholic mother. This book is sweet and funny, with mild romance, and has really good tips on dog behavior. The characters, and dogs that show up on Lara’s doorstep are hilarious and real. I love her BFF who has just become a new mom and you’ll like the surprise ending. I enjoyed this from beginning to end! I love finding an author that I really like who has other books I haven’t read yet. Too bad I’m feeling better.

My next book  is a favorite author of mine, Adriana Trigiani again, explores her Italian roots in “The Shoemaker’s Wife”. I liked it but felt it was a tad too long and wish she would have spent more time on Enza and Ciro’s relationship. My favorite of all her books, still remain the Big Stone Gap series.

None the less, you still feel transported from the Italian Alps to behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Inspired by her grandparents love story, this is a book filled with war, loss, family and destiny. Amazing, is the lengths immigrant families were willing to go, to obtain their dreams.

I ended my trio with “Home Front” by Kristin Hannah, who I am also a big fan of. This was a novel about what happens to families torn apart by the war in Iraq. Jolene is a stay at home mom/ helicopter pilot in the reserves who gets deployed. Her husband Michael was unhappy and is now resentful  because he is suddenly a single parent. Family roles get turned upside down and it’s messy!

I admired Ms. Hannah’s gritty but poignant portrayal of PTSD and the stark realities it presents if left untreated. I LOVED this story and it shows, yet again, that war is hell, and returning home is often the hardest part. That is when the true heroics begin.

What Makes A Fairy Godmother?

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Fairy tale books, silly! They are all described, in great detail. They flew in the face of (no pun intended)great danger, despair, and abandonment. “Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Wizard of Oz” were all about women who were handed a raw deal but got coated with fairy dust for their troubles. These stories are all about women who had the power they needed, inside them, but they needed a push. It wasn’t waving a magic wand that got the job done. It was that Fairy Godmothers SHOWED UP when the chips were down! They were there!!

These mom’s of mine, put on a wedding shower, and a wedding reception. They provided all the food. I didn’t even have to ask. After it was decided by Alma and Toni, that my wedding dress was better hidden in it’s box (the day before my wedding, on a holiday weekend), it was Beverly who provided me with a dress to wear to the ceremony. Her daughter had gotten married a couple months before me, and lent me her lovely, handmade, wedding dress to wear the next day. Being a curvy size 12, I would have had trouble finding samples off the rack, even if, I had found a place that was open.

This dress was completely different than the one I had initially chosen to be made. This life preserver, was empire-waist, chiffon, with a matching veil and looked wonderful on me! It also had identical lace on the collar and cuffs that matched my three bridesmaids. And it fit perfectly! Hmmmmm.

But, more than rescuing me with a dress, (which was amazing), they trooped in behind me, the day I had to take said seamstress to small claims court, to get a refund on my original wedding dress! Judge Judy would have been proud.

They all filed in, all six. Bev asked to approach the bench when my name was called. There she painstakingly went over the construction of the dress (that had cost only $50 in materials to make), with the judge. He then held out my exhibit that had cost hundreds more, and compared them. Bev had this little-girl voice similar to Melanie Griffith, but she packed a punch with her Pillsbury dough figure and halo of curls. The judge was putty in her hands. She even forgave me for sharing, in a packed courtroom, (from nervousness) that I was grateful that her daughter had been pregnant when she got married so that I could fit in to the last minute substitution. We still laugh about that one. I know Bev does, and of course we won.

This was just the beginning: a life filled with these incredible women, banding together, to remind me that I was well loved and would never be alone. Isn’t that what God intended? I have seen them grow gray; age has made them slower, but nothing has dimmed their spirit of love, laughter, and giving; despite their losses. They leave a trail of sparkles where ever they go. Thanks for picking me!

Marian

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I met Marian the same way I met the others, but my relationship with her blossomed later. She was tall and elegant with eyes that were mesmerizing. Stunning in fact. We were always good friends but she had younger kids and was busy raising four boys. At that time her husband Joe, was a fireman, and on his off hours he worked another job as well. Marian had her hands full with a house full of jocks. It was raucous, noisy and loving. They were involved in everything.

One of the reasons I love Marian so much, is that she is the opposite of me. She is more quiet than I, and an introvert. She is the most restful person I know. She doesn’t require as many words to say things as I do, I take a really, long, paragraph to say what she can sum up in a sentence. She is wise, uncomplicated and divine. She is like a sister to me. We have traveled many of the same paths and I am sure we were mermaids in another life. We worship at the altar of the sea… the beach. It’s a healing place for us. She inspired me to start a collection of heart shaped, beach stones, brought in on the tide. 

When Marian and Joe decided to retire, they built a home in the hills, between Santa Cruz and Monterey, California. It is paradise! When I experienced my surprise divorce, this is where I drug my wounded, battered heart. I love the mists that roll in off the ocean, the smell of salt in the air and watching the surfers off Pleasure Point. I was welcomed like the prodigal son by both Marian and Joe. I desperately needed that at the time.

Marian left me alone to cry and grieve. She listened. She let me dig in the garden. She fed me. She hugged me, and she showed me that my divorce couldn’t do permanent damage if someone in the world loved me this much. She loved me through a time when I couldn’t love myself. Both Marian and Joe did that, and all of my Fairy Godmothers have done that at one time or another. How lucky am I?

Marian hosted a landmark birthday-slumber-party for me, at her home, with all of my Fairy Godmom’s. It was the most fun you could have and still be legal. No drugs or alcohol involved. With these women,  alcohol wasn’t necessary, or encouraged. My heart left there, filled to exploding!  It’s a birthday that I’ll never forget.

These women are very busy and it took months of planning (Marian’s an expert) to get them in one place on the same weekend. That was a gift in itself. It was a magical night.

Sadly there were two Fairy Godmothers that were not there. We lost Sandy and Bev to breast cancer and miss them terribly, still.  Sandy hosted my wedding shower and she was a live wire  along with the rest. She had a sense of humor, more on the wild side. One time she hosted a church dinner, fund-raiser and served X-rated fortune cookies that still have people talking. She loved to shake things up and had a heart of gold. She hosted my bridal shower and I was goggle eyed at one of the gag gifts, but that is one of the characteristics that made her so wonderful.

These wild women of faith, were earthy and real and I grew to adore them more and more.They broke the mold when Bev was born. She was so, very, funny. She could work a room like no other. When I first met her she was rotund at five feet. She played Snow White in a  fund-raiser play they put on, and when the young prince woke her with a kiss, her chubby legs kicked up a frenzy. It brought down the house!

Everything with Bev was a little more fun. Like… the time we went to small claims court about my ruined wedding dress, (see Alma blog) and she asked the judge if she could approach the bench. Sandy and Bev haunt every get-together. Our memories about them, liven every reunion, and I know they miss us as much as we miss them. Those were Halcyon Days when we were all together.

Find out about why I named these women Fairy Godmothers and what I wore to my wedding, in my next, and final, Fairy Godmother blog.

It Takes A Village

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I thoroughly enjoyed “Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes” by Betsy Woodman.  A fictional book about a small village in India during the 1960’s, full of color and character. I really enjoyed the glossary for the language of India in the back of the book. It is frustrating in books when you don’t know the word meanings.

This author spent ten years, as a child in India, with her sisters and diplomat parents. Ms. Woodman’s best  childhood friend was a Muslim princess and they also lived next door to neighbors who kept a tiger in the back yard, as a gift for Jacqueline Kennedy! Her father’s approach to diplomacy was to make friends, and make friends they did! Her colorful life will be the foundation for a promising new series.

Jana (Janet) Laird decides to retire in a faraway Indian hill station, left to her by her grandfather, rather than Scotland, where her son resides. She moves in with her cheeky parrot, Mr. Ganguly and a cast of endearing villagers. I found the book a bit slow in the beginning. This isn’t a page turner, but more a meandering read. Pull up a blanket, a cup of tea and enjoy.

Speaking of which, I also enjoyed “The Color of Tea” by Hannah Tunnicliffe. A married couple transfers from London to Macau, China, loaded with emotional baggage. Grace and Peter are forced to tackle infertility, infidelity and the ghost of Grace’s mom, in a culture far from their own. Grace decides to open a small cafe to escape her unspoken grief and meets a wonderful cast of female characters. The only thing I didn’t like were the letters to her mom that are intermingled throughout the story, I found them distracting.

This author writes in tight, short sentences but is wonderfully descriptive about the sights and sounds of Macau. Both stories reminded me of how important the people we surround ourselves with are; and how much they can influence our experience… if we let them. It was a nice trip around the world!

“The Evolution of Faith” by Philip Gulley was as good as I expected. I’ve read all of his other work and really admire the way he cuts through all the crap and gets to the point about the problems most people have with Christianity today. If you have ever had questions about what it is to be a universalist, this is the book for you.

Alma

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After connecting with Alice and Toni, my circle of women mentors grew. They loved to socialize and I was invited to numerous pot-lucks and charity fundraisers. This is how I met my next Fairy Godmother, Alma. She is a little ball of fire and people love to be around her. She could easily rival Lucy Ricardo for the situations she finds herself in. I’ve been known to cry my eye make-up off, with tears of laughter, when she talks about her adventures. Is there anything more magnetic?

One of my early memories of her was at a party. We were chatting and when I went to hug her goodbye I commented that she smelled wonderful. She digs through her purse and hands me a spray bottle of Lutece cologne. “Here” she said, “keep it”. That is Alma in a nutshell. She is the most generous person I know.

It surprises me even now, because she battled to raise four kids on her own. Her first husband abandoned her with three young children and one on the way. No job, no money, and a baby to birth. But still…you don’t dare tell her you like anything of her’s, because it will end up in your purse or car.

She raised her kids with tenacity, love and laughter. It’s hard to be around Alma and not smile. I know her second husband Mike, would agree with me. He had four kids of his own when they married, so their house was packed to the rafters. It was one of those houses that all the kids in the neighborhood wanted to be at. In fact one young man came to visit and stayed. Mike and Alma welcomed everyone with open arms. Bedlam never had it so lucky.

Alma was petite, curvy, and a woman that usually get’s second looks. She is pretty but she packs a punch. You had a tiger by the tail if you messed with anyone she loved. A case in point was my wedding dress.

I hired a seamstress to make my dress three months before the wedding date. I had numerous fittings, but the dress was never put together, so I never saw it finished. I was getting nervous but the seamstress assured me it would be ready on time. Our ceremony was the day after a major holiday, and when I got the call that my dress was ready, it was the eve of this holiday. Everything closed early and would be closed the next day as well. I picked up the dress, in a box, took it to my friend Toni’s house, and tried it on. I was horrified to find that it was nothing like I had ordered! Too short, not finished, chalk markings on the seams. Just a few of the things that were wrong with this dress. I cried when I saw myself in the mirror. Toni began to see if she could somehow fix it, when Alma showed up.

They tried a couple things but efforts were fruitless. There was no saving this train wreck of a dress. She sat me down, looked me in the eye and said “the dress has to go back”! “You make them return your money,they ripped you off” she said!  I couldn’t believe this was happening! How was I going to find another dress in time?!  By now I was almost catatonic.

She volunteered to return the dress for me, that night, and I numbly agreed. The seamstress refused to take it back, so Alma had a “chat” with her about honor. I would have given anything to hear that conversation! When she returned with the dress, I realized I would have to go to small claims court to get my money back. It was a horrible night and I couldn’t have gotten through it without these two kind, amazing women.

Alma was now, forever cemented in my heart as an icon; along with her partner in crime, Toni. We still laugh about this story today, and it’s still making the rounds at parties.

I’ve seen Alma stand-down men three times her size and win. She lost a son tragically early, he was one of the lights of her life; and her beloved Mike is valiantly fighting Parkinson’s. She has worn down a bit.

She is adored by her grandkids and all those who have known her kindness. I adore her bawdy sense of humor. She is the woman I would want to be stranded on a desert island with…because NOBODY is going to keep her from life or loved ones!

Everyone has their sorrows. Crap happens. But it is the laughter, love and faith that I have seen these women embrace that sets them apart.They are all fearless, Amazon women. They rise above challenges. They are powerful and mesmerizing. Picture Cleopatra sailing down the Nile. Man… they are something to see!

Find out about the wedding dress that wasn’t. Follow the next Fairy Godmother blog.

Pass It On

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My friend Pam asked me to ride along with her on a “holy-roller mission”. I am definitely not the “holy-roller” type but I was intrigued, because my friend isn’t either. My friend is Jewish and had volunteered to “roll the Torah”, so I found myself on the way to her synagogue. Entering, really took me back in time. Here, I sadly attended the funeral for her husband Fred who died prematurely (in his forties) of kidney disease. Fred was not of the Jewish faith, but this small  temple community embraced him as if he were their own. I happily attended her youngest daughter’s Bat Mitzvah there as well. Life is a such a mixed bag of happy and sad.

She talked as we approached the altar where the Torah’s were housed. There were three. One of them came all the way from Prague in honor of those lost in the Holocaust. For those who don’t know what the Torah is; they are the first five books of the Jewish Bible, or the old testament. It is written on a scroll in Hebrew and is unrolled every week during synagogue. The passage is marked to enable the readers and Rabbi to find it quickly.  I was fascinated by the ancient, pen and ink language, the tiny detail. The power of tradition!

The song comes to mind… “Tradition” sung by the Russian peasant, Tevye as seen in “Fiddler on the Roof”. The music is heartfelt and powerful, just like how I felt on that altar, listening to my friend, enraptured with her traditions. I am not Jewish but it touched me. It changed my whole day. I think God touches everyone, no exceptions, and there is something to be said for tradition. Whether it be in 1905 Tsarist Russia, or today. We all come from someone, somewhere.

We cruised by the post office to mail my resume, and I ran into a mentor of mine that I haven’t seen for 10 years or so. We hugged and chatted briefly and when my friend dropped me back home I marveled at how a simple errand could transform twenty- four little hours, (isn’t that another song)? My heart expanded with joy. Life is full of sadness and loss. What we do with it, how we react to it, makes all the difference. Time and faith helps, but LOVE is what remains. Tradition is about sharing, or passing it on. Passing on the love.

Toni

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Toni is the second, pivotal, Fairy Godmother that I met as a result of my relationship with  Alice. She also attended the same church regularly, and we also began to chat afterwards. Toni frequently attended with an elderly man who I later learned was her father. I was struck, at first, by Toni’s beauty. She is Italian and had a curvy, exotic, Sophia Loren, look about her. I soon learned that her beauty extended from within. She welcomed me into her family as easily as Ken and Alice did, but with Toni I had the added bonus of connecting with two of her off spring that were around my age.

Rich was her youngest son and Judy her middle daughter. They died much too soon and they could make me laugh like no other. I wrote about them in “Legacy of Laughter” and they both, truly live on in Rich’s three sons.  At the time I met Toni they were full of life and mischief. These three, enfolded me in a journey with their large Italian family, that has lasted decades. Toni became the mom I never had. Always there with love, encouragement, and consistency. Judy and Rich, a cherished sister, and brother.

Toni was a single mom before it was fashionable. She divorced young, after the loss of her first born daughter Karen, who was killed by a car. She was four years old,when  someone learning to drive lost control of their car. Divorce was not a popular choice in her family, but she raised her children on her own under challenging circumstances only to lose these two tragically early as well. Those remain two of the saddest trips I ever made home.

How does a mom recover from losing all three of her children before their time? Her family, her life… forever changed. For a long time after, when I would visit, Toni had a frozen look. Like someone just existing and I frankly thought she would never come back to us emotionally, but she did. It’s taken years of dedication to prayer, volunteering, therapy and her faith but today she is living a life that all three of her children would be proud of. I am BEYOND proud of her and have been a lucky recipient of the love she has shared so generously She has always taken me in.

In her eighties now, she looks decades younger than she is. She told me it was her good-old-peasant-stock. She still remembers my favorite foods and worries about my life. Her yard is crammed with rose bushes and angels. Her home has been an oasis for me- where happy memories and pictures of her kids, abound. My family of angels.