Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year Celebration in the Philippines, by Noemi S. Rabina

For a few days before the New Year lots of sidewalk vendors will be selling different kinds of fire crackers. There is a ban on them due to accidents that have resulted in the loss of lives, limbs, or properties; still many people delight in following the traditional way of greeting the New Year. With the introduction of aerial fireworks in modern times, it became an art form. They are displayed in places where the people can safely see and enjoy.

December 31 is usually not a public holiday but most people are given the day off so that they can prepare for the New Year's Eve celebration. It is a busy day for all families preparing the food for "media noche," the midnight dinner. People are rushing to buy firecrackers.

The children have a good time blowing their toy trumpets, called "torotot." They enjoy their "watusi," a kind of small firecracker that, when rubbed on a rough surface and released, crackles into a little spark work dance.

There are some beliefs and practices that are believed to bring good luck, fortune and prosperity in the New Year:
·         The noise of the firecrackers is said to drive away the evil spirits.
·         Putting coins and money in the pockets will make the next year prosperous.
·         In the same way, wearing polka dot shirts or dresses symbolizes money.
·         Opening windows and doors, and turning lights on will make all the graces come into the house as the New Year is welcomed.
·         Some people pay off their bills at the end of the year in the hope that they will be debt free in the coming year.
·         Most people go to church before midnight to thank the Lord for all His blessings.

At the strike of 12:00 midnight, the noise becomes very loud. Fire crackers rule the sky; church bells ring; old pots and pans are clanging in homes; radios are turned on full blast as happy people sing the "Auld Lang Syne."

Blowing of cars' horns and ambulance sirens will last for full one minute. The loud noises and sounds of merry making are supposed to drive the bad spirits away. Children have to jump 12 times so that they will get taller the next year. 

When the noise stops, the air is filled with people's voices. The family starts to eat the thanksgiving feast. It is also believed that when much food is on the table, there will be sufficient food the year round. 

Some can afford to have a whole roasted pig, called "lechon" on the table. That is one Filipino delicacy. There could also be ham and homemade native cakes.  Twelve round fruits of different kinds must be on the table to signify 12 months of prosperity.

These are traditions that the Pilipino people carry along where ever they may be as they welcome the New Year. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Traditions, by Gloria Hannigan

Christmas with my grandfather always meant the perfect Christmas tree.  He would spend hours cutting off branches, drilling holes in the tree and repositioning each branch until the tree was perfect.  My brother, sister and I would sit and watch him, yawning frequently, sometimes falling asleep, and being poked awake by each other, waiting for Grandpa to get the tree perfect so we could decorate it. 

My Mother put on the lights and her prize ornaments from Germany.  We were then allowed to add a few plastic balls and hang the icicles which had to be hung one at a time.  When I would get up during the night I would find my Mother still in the living room repositioning each icicle until the tree was a work of art.

When I had my own family the Christmas tree lost much of its perfection.  We never quite got the knack of how to choose a tree.  One year we could only get it to stand straight by tying a string around the tree and attaching it to the wall with a tack.  The tack gave way and the tree ended up on the kitchen floor.  This was the end for many of my mother’s precious ornaments that I had inherited. The rest were broken the next year when one of my sons received a clown punching bag as a gift. 

Need I say more?  I started my own tradition listening to Dean Martin’s Christmas album while trimming the tree.  This caused a lot of moans and groans when the children became teenagers.  One thing remained of my mother’s traditions, I still insisted on the icicles being hung one at a time.  I often found myself doing this alone as everybody got bored quickly and disappeared until the next meal.

When the children were grown, one of my daughters invited me to come and help trim their Christmas tree.  When she opened the door, I was delighted to hear Dean Martin singing, “I'll Be Home For Christmas”.

After the tree was trimmed I was appalled to see my two grandsons, three and four years, throwing icicles on the tree.  When my oldest grandson handed me a bunch of icicles, I looked into his shining laughing eyes, said quietly to myself, “Forgive me Mother”, and threw the icicles at the tree.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Treasures of Darkness, by Evelyn Watson

“I will give you the treasures of darkness” Isaiah 45:3
It was Christmas 1973. My parents had both died that year during the summer, in June and July. This was my first Christmas with them gone. It was planned that we would spend that year in Connecticut for the holiday. I was not looking forward to going; in fact my heart was heavy with the idea. I wanted to be close to Christian friends who had known my parents and who had been there for me during this devastating time of my life. I was going to be without my parents, and not having my friends with me for the holiday magnified my sorrow.

For days I felt the weight of sadness and as each day approached closer to our departure, my spirit kept spiraling downward. I told friends and the Lord that I felt as though I was going into darkness. I didn’t know Dwight’s relatives really well, but I knew that their belief in God was mostly a ritualistic traditional doctrine without knowing a personal relationship with Jesus.

On the morning of December 13, I was in the shower once more pouring out my heart to the Lord when He spoke, “Read ‘Streams in the Desert’.” My daily devotional had been forgotten in my despair for several days. When I read the message that day immediately my spirit was lifted. It was a direct answer to my prayer. “I will give you the treasures of darkness” I wasn’t aware of that verse. The message was a beautiful story of what God does with us in those days when it is so dark. The last sentence read, “God is watching, and He will bring good and beauty out of all your pain and tears.”

As our plane rolled down the runway for takeoff, I thought of the song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. Yes, I still felt like I was leaving my heart behind, but I was no longer weighed down by it and was able to go through the holiday knowing God had heard me and was with me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Memorial Christmas Trees for Mom and Dad, by Charlene Farnsworth

My best friend, my dear mother, passed away in November 1998 at the age of 85.  This was a particularly difficult time as it was the week of Thanksgiving. 

With my significant loss, particularly at the holidays, I needed an extra push to accomplish the usual “much-to-do.”  To ease my loss and better my motivation, I decided to decorate a Christmas tree that would be a dedicated memorial to Mom.

I felt the most appropriate decorations for Mom’s tree would be hearts.  In my craft supply, I already had a variety of dainty doily hearts in red, white and gold.  There were many family members and friends who had comforted my Dad, brother Jim and me in our loss through beautiful flowers and plants and lovely cards and notes of sympathy. 

How could I use the doily hearts to acknowledge the thoughtfulness of so many?  With my own heart filled with love, it was easy to answer that question.  I went about decorating the hearts with various Christmas seals - candy canes, wreaths, snowflakes, etc. 

Added to each heart, in script, was the name of a person, family or couple who had lovingly remembered Mom and acknowledged our loss.  Fortunately, I took a picture of Mom’s unique Christmas tree to capture forever her special remembrance.

Two years later, in October 2000, our Dad passed away at the age of 88.  Again, Jim and I received a significant outpouring of kindness and sympathy from other family members and friends. 

Dad, of course, must have his own memorial Christmas tree in his honor.  Mom and I had learned how to make envelopes of various sizes when we were struggling with the art of origami.  That was the inspiration for Dad’s tree. 

I made colorful miniature envelopes of like size with a facsimile thank-you note peeking out from the top of each envelope.  These brief notes were typed in script and acknowledged each family member or friend’s personal contribution in offering comfort.  I had the good fortune to also photograph Dad’s memorial Christmas tree to reflect upon for years to come.

Although few of the people who were identified on the hearts and envelopes that decorated Mom’s and Dad’s memorial trees were present during the Christmas holidays, those who were present enjoyed the enchanting effects.  Personally, it was an immense comfort to honor and pay tribute to our parents who were no longer with us during the holiday season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christmas Treasure, by Annette Skarin

I stood in the middle of the second floor of the mall known as the Galleria. I was overflowing with joy as I clutched my purse with the sixty dollar Christmas bonus we had quite unexpectedly been blessed with that year. I was a single mother once again, but this time with three children instead of one.

The shoppers swarmed around me – many of them with lemony looks on their faces and empty glazed eyes. Occasionally someone would smile and say “Merry Christmas”, which would brighten my spirit and charge me with the energy of the season as I cheerily returned the greeting. Christmas tunes were dancing in the air and all the shop windows were dressed up and alluring.

I had been so poor in the previous years that I hadn’t been able to afford presents for Christmas. I already knew in my heart the special gift I wanted to purchase each one of my children. A special VHS tape (remember those) that had just been released showing shots of whales and dolphins underwater for my son. A pair of pretty earrings with turquoise stones for my oldest daughter. And last, but not least, a photo album for my youngest daughter.

I was pleased with my selection and had a little money left over, so I stopped at the candy store to get a few of my favorite jelly-belly jelly beans (my favorite was popcorn). I set my purchases down next to me and weighed out and purchased my treats and then quickly left the crowded store.
It only took a few minutes before I realized my bags were no longer with me. I hurried back to the candy store and saw the now empty spot glaring at me. I asked the person behind the counter if they had seen a bag or if anyone had turned one in. She said, “No, I’m sorry.”

I left the store in a panic and backtracked to every store I had been to. Every answer was, “No, I’m sorry” until someone suggested I report it to mall security. Numbly I found my way to the security booth; by then tears were beginning to form. I told my story between sobs and garbled speech. They tried to keep me calm while they called security personnel on their walkie-talkies but they all came back with the same answer. Sorry!

My heart sank and I wanted to scream out, why? I finally went home and lay there bawling uncontrollably. Our Christmas was ruined.

My children had been at school but when they arrived home they asked me, “What’s wrong Mom?” I told them what had happened and all of them said almost in chorus, “It doesn’t matter Mom, as long as we have each other.”

I have never forgotten that lesson. I am blessed to have such loving children.

* * * * * 
For more stories from Annette, please check her blog:  Annette's Blog

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Story, by Gloria Hannigan

T’was the week before Christmas

and all through Memoir class,

Not a person was missing, nary a lass.

The seniors were nestled snug in their seat

Waiting for the teacher, Bonnie, to greet.

When all through the classroom murmurs did sound,

Through the open doorway Bonnie did bound.

She opened her briefcase with a practiced ease,

Turned to us all and said,” Quiet, please.”

We went right to work our stories to read;

We laughed and we cried whatever the need.

Then promptly at the hour of three

A festive Christmas feast we did see.

We arose from our chairs to eat our fill,

Secretly hoarding that antacid pill.

On Mina, On Judy, Randy, Kasey and all

Come Evelyn, Margaret, Dora don’t stall

It’s time for this tale to come to a close

So from her chair, Bonnie arose.

We heard her exclaim as she drove out of sight

“Merry Christmas to all, and remember to write.”

For more of Gloria's fun, please visit:  Gloria's Blog:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

For Display Only, By Yolanda Adele

I was five years old the Christmas that my mother promised to take me to see Santa at the big store downtown. She said that all I had to do was to be patient while we first stopped at the appliance department.

As soon as we got off the streetcar I could feel and smell the fresh mist in the air, mingled with the scent of cinnamon churros, my favorite fried sweet bread sticks, coming from the vender’s cart. I didn’t dare ask Mama to buy one for me because today I was going to try to be on my very best behavior.

The multi- colored Christmas lights from the decorated street lamps reflected in small puddles of rain water. It looked magical to me.

As the sales person talked, talked, and talked some more, I could hear the sounds of laughter and Jingle-Bells coming from the main lobby where I was sure that Santa was sitting, waiting for me!

I quickly grew impatient. I made many trips to the drinking fountain. Mom was so enveloped by the prospect of owning a new wringer washing machine that she turned a deaf ear to my pleas and demands. I had to go "potty!" I was afraid if I had an "accident" Mama would have to take me home WITHOUT seeing Santa.

Minutes later an irate salesman approached my mother and asked in a loud voice, "Is that your child on the floor model commode?" He didn’t give Mama a chance to answer. “If so, remove her at once, and explain to her that that latrine is for display, ONLY! We have sanitation laws you know!" With that he handed my red-face mother a box of tissues.

That day I learned: what “displays only” are not for. I finally got to see Santa in person -- on my sixth Christmas.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Country Road, by Noemi S. Rabina

I am a country road stretching from town to a remote village. I am being traveled by all people from all walks of life. Employees from town will walk in groups to the end of the road where they work in a Power Plant. People from the village will also walk to town for different purposes; like selling their goods, or buying commodities they need at home.

Being in a rural place, I am not as attractive as those in the metropolitan areas. I look rugged especially where I have lots of turns. Wild trees have grown on both sides, their leaves as big as elephant ears.  As the wind blows, it gives a whispering sound. Who would dare walk alone on this lonely road?

However, I always look forward on Sunday mornings when five sisters will come out and joyfully walk together on my humble path. It is a joy for me to listen to their laughter, their songs of hymns, and their words of inspiration. I bet they are going to church, rain or shine. They will take off their shoes and walk bare foot to feel the cool earth on my side and the running stream of rain water. 

One will describe the beauty of the wild flowers unnoticed by other passersby, the dancing leaves of the wild trees, and the song of birds, big and small. Showers come and they were drawn closely together under a big black umbrella. Three heads drawn sided by side; one small head in front and another small head at the back. They move slowly as one, to my delight, as they scream with laughter that echo all the way.

Before sunset, they are on their way back home to where they call their paradise hill.  They started as five going to town and returned with gentlemen escorts from their church. The air is filled with brotherly/sisterly love. I am not a lonely country road after all. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Thanksgiving Flower, by Margaret (Peggy) Knorr

Today my husband brought me in a single flower from the profusely blooming camellia bush in our garden. Let me explain why that to me was such a momentous experience.

Joe, at almost 95, is in the netherworld of dementia. He pretty much lives wrapped up in himself and his own immediate needs and affairs, most of which are off balance with what we perceive as reality. His idea of thankfulness has never been very present in his psychological makeup, and at present he seems to have little or no awareness of the extent of the loving care and attention he is receiving. He is angry in moments when he realizes his entrapment and then his moods usually turn to helpless and hopelessness, but in between times his underlying sweetness often comes into play changing his behavior for a little while into child-like living.

Today, while he was wandering around the garden, he must have been awestruck when he came upon this glorious bush, covered with brilliant pink flowers. I would have loved to have heard his inner conversation. Was he drawn to the innocence of the blossoms, something like he himself, blooming for no apparent reason, or did he just have a sudden urge to pick one and bring it in to give to me? I wonder what tickled the remnants of his mind that prompted him to break a single branch and come inside the house, saying simply "I have brought you a flower. It's for you."

This may not be so full of wonder had he ever given me flowers before! He never had! He was just not that sort of a person. This was the first flower he had ever given me in all the 64 years of our marriage! My treasured thanksgiving flower speaks testaments of love and faith and thankfulness.

I wonder if he had caught the Thanksgiving energy that is circulating in our hearts at this season. Had it automatically seeped into his psyche? It sometimes seems to me that demented minds have keener sensibilities in different dimensions than those we ordinarily have. To me, that calls for us to dwell on lofty ideals. To do that has awesome power to work for good.

A post script, added at a later date:

Since writing about this happening, which lit Joe's mind with thankfulness and lifted my spirits so much, his recall of it became engulfed into the dark caverns of his unconsciousness to become yet another forever lost memory. It is now locked inside Joe's ever diminishing capacity of remembering....a sweet thing living where all the other orphaned memories reside. They call to me fervently to recreate them once again. My answer is that thankful deeds of kindness can never be forgotten. I tell them that my pen is the sacred instrument through which they shall live again.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks, by Gloria Hannigan

I am thankful for –

Time to remember the past
Health of body and spirit
Acts of kindness received
Nature’s colors revealed
Knowledge gained through living
Smiles shared with strangers
Generous spurts of humor
Intelligence still growing
Variety in friendships
Imagination in abundance
New days ever dawning
Gifts of shared laughter

For more of Gloria's stories, please visit: Gloria's Blog

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving with God, By Yolanda Adele

It was 1991. Getting together with the family for Thanksgiving Dinner was not something that I was looking forward to, having lost my father, whom we called Popi, just two months earlier. Yet I felt an obligation to my mother and the rest of the family to be there to help alleviate the obvious void that was left in my parent’s home.

On holidays before my dad died the house and neighborhood had been filled with the sounds of Mexican music blasting from dad’s reel-to-reel tape-recorder. That tape recorder could play non-stop for 24 hours and sometimes did, often times to the annoyance of the neighbors, and always to the frustration of my mother, who was hard of hearing. I could hear it the minute that I turned on to their block in Huntington Park, though their house was almost at the end of the street.

Popi enjoyed having lots of activity around him, especially since my eldest daughter Yvette made him a great-grandfather, first with Jaime, born in 1986, then with Brandon who was born in 1990.

It amazed me to watch Popi interact with his great-grandchildren in a way that he never could with his own children. I came to realize that both grandparenting and great-grandparenting were God’s way of giving parents another chance to get the bonding thing right if they didn’t fare well the first time.

Jaime loved her Popi. The last time that she saw him alive she was five years old. She came with her parents to visit with Popi in his bedroom where he lay on a hospital bed. My mom called us to the kitchen to eat. I told Popi to rest and that we’d return in a bit.

After a while Jaime left the table. I got up to look for her. I went to the living room where her toys were spread out on the floor; she was not there. I checked in the bathroom; she was not there either.

I walked down the hall to my father’s bedroom. There I saw the sweetest sight. Jaime had somehow managed to squeeze through or climb over the hospital bed’s metal side guard and was lying on her side facing her Popi. They were both smiling at each other as Jaime gently stroked the top of his head.

Now the family gathered without any lively Mexican or any other kind of music playing. In fact the only sounds beside our voices were the harsh clattering of the dishes, and silverware. I didn’t know how I was going to get through this strained family gathering.

We held hands around the table and said grace. Then, with a voice like an angel, Jaime proclaimed, “Popi is so lucky. This is his first Thanksgiving with God.” Suddenly I felt all the bent up tension leave my body. A smoothing peace washed over me. Someone turned on the radio, filling the house with a joyful noise… then I knew Jaime was right.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Let's Be Thankful Every Day, by Barbara Sparks

Recently my son decided, after listening to the CD series by Anthony Robbins, that we should start our morning walks by saying things for which we are grateful.  It has been a wonderful activity for us. Though Thanksgiving is a time when we think of our blessings, it is important that we think of our blessings every day not, just one day a year.  

As Thanksgiving approaches, I think about how I celebrated Thanksgiving 12 years ago.  I went to the store to buy all the traditional items for a Thanksgiving meal.  All of my life my mother had cooked the Thanksgiving meal. However, since my mother passed away three days before Thanksgiving I was to prepare the meal for my cousins who flew in for her funeral, which was to take place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  I, of course, said, “Don’t worry.  I’ll cook the meal.” Unfortunately. on Thanksgiving Day  no one was able to cook, so we all went to Hometown Buffet instead.

I remember what my mother said a week before she died.  She said, “Barbara you have to let me go.  God has blessed me with 80 years.”  In response, I said. “God has blessed me with you for 55 years.”  I think about that time and all the other times in my life when my mother had always found the bright side of difficult situations and made me remember that in all things to be grateful.  She was a continuous inspiration to me throughout my life. 

Since my mother is no longer here to celebrate Thanksgiving with me, I now have a new Thanksgiving tradition.   Every Thanksgiving my son and I travel to Olympia, Washington where I enjoy Thanksgiving with my uncle, three cousins and their children.  It is wonderful to share the holiday with family.  We enjoy a delicious feast that is cooked by my uncle, two of my cousins and my cousin’s daughter while we share family stories.   The house is filled with the aroma of turkey, dressing, green beans, mustard and collard greens, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato pie and the sounds of laughter and love. I am so grateful to be able to enjoy this time with them.

So as we approach this wonderful time of year let’s all think about our blessings which include family and friends. Each day, remember to celebrate life and the events that bring a smile to your face.

Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Faye, my friend of 35 years, is in a home for Dementia.  It is very heartbreaking, how she has changed in the last year. Faye was an excellent cook and loved making lunches and dinners at our Temple. Faye has traveled to many countries and collected souvenir spoons. We went shopping together and the four of us went to the movies and theater together. 

Faye tuned to a completely different person.  Her quiet personality changed completely.  Her husband had to call 911; she was put into the Hospital.  Now, she will be going to a facility in Anaheim.  Her husband Joe is selling their lovely two story home, he will be moving into an  apartment.  It breaks my heart to know this is really happening.

Joe is going through a changing lifestyle.  They were married for over 60 years.  I was thinking that "Life is not fair".  I wrote this poem for Joe.


Bless you, Joe for being such a caring husband.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Veteran's Day, 2005, by Charlotte Boquist

I salute you, the men and women who bought my freedom.  It is not possible to isolate one veteran.  The life I enjoy today is the result of two hundred and fifty plus years of determined and courageous protection by hundreds of thousands of men and women.  Many of whom paid dearly so that I can live the life I enjoy today.

I salute the handful of men who were on Bunker Hill and stood up to the English soldiers, and vicariously to King George, the most powerful ruler in the world at the time.

I salute the soldiers who fought for freedom, even when they were called to stand against their brothers in a conflict that nearly tore our country apart.

I salute the brave men who marched off to the “War to end All Wars”, and the many Johnnies who didn’t march back home again.  This terrible bloody conflict was ended on November 11, 1918 by the signing of an armistice.  For years, America celebrated Armistice Day, as a day to remember.

I salute the Veterans of World War II, the 1100 sailors that lie entombed on the “Arizona” in the waters of Pearl Harbor--and that was just the beginning,  the many, many lives lost on Omaha Beach and all over the world, and the service men wounded in body and spirit.

I salute the veterans of the Korean Police Action in which my husband served in the army--close behind that came Viet Nam when my son Paul put in his time.  Desert Storm next, my grandson Jeff was in the Coast Guard during that skirmish, and now Iraq.  There seems to be one for every generation.

 Somewhere along the way Armistice Day became Veterans Day--the day to remember ALL veterans who have kept us free and the Stars and Stripes flying.  Thank you, thank you all!!

Postscript added November 2010-
Still we are at war-now in Afghanistan.  And this year I have two Great-Grandsons in the service, Steven who is in the Air Force and Kelley in the Army.  Be safe!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

AUTUMN, by Charlene Farnsworth

When I think of autumn, I think of the magnificent “Autumn in New England” tour that my Mom and I took many years ago. That was when I felt as though I really was a New England transplant rather than a native-born Californian.

Of course, we were visiting the New England states -- Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- during the cool, colorful autumn as opposed to the hot, humid summer or snowy, slippery winter.

The people we met were delightful and greeted us “westerners” warmly. Their pace seemed to be less driven than ours and they took time to talk with calm demeanors, eye contact and cheerful smiles. We enjoyed their charming pronunciation of the English language, especially the “maniacs” from Maine. One tour guide was a third generation “maniac” and he gave us a lesson in speaking their language. He said, “If a word ends with an ‘r,’ take it away.” (“Car” would become “ca.”) He continued, “If a word does not end in ‘r,’ add one.” (“Saw” would become “sar.”)

It also seemed as though pretty posies peered from every window. And many of the restaurants, hotels and homes had bright red geraniums blooming profusely indoors. Many homes had harvest-colored decorations adorning their porches  corn stalks, gourds, pumpkins, etc.

At this time of year we could see the red, yellow, orange and green trees in every direction, as far as the eye could see. Many times a tree would have a combination of these colors as it progressed through the fall season.

The beauty of both the landscape and the people made for an everlasting memory of our trip to New England. Upon returning home, I wrote the following poem:


Fond memories that I recall

Are of New England in the fall.

Vermont, New Hampshire, coastal Maine --

Majestic scenes that never wane.

Rolling hills that stretch for miles;

Country homes that bring warm smiles.

Each within a lovely setting --

Something I’ll not be forgetting.

The colors, brightest I have seen:

Some red, some yellow, orange and green.

It is quite rare to see a fence;

The open landscape makes more sense.

And on each porch, a friendly touch;

The fall arrangements add so much.

With corn stalks and some pumpkins, too;

They certainly do welcome you.

And folks took time to stop and chat;

I always will remember that.

These memories give me a yen

To see New England once again.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Watching the Streetcars Go By, By Yolanda Adele

When I think of streetcars I think of the past, before plastic seats marked with graffiti, aluminum rails; and a time where air conditioning came by opening the windows. Imagine that.
In the summer when my parents and I visited my maternal grandparents in El Paso, Texas, my cousins and I slept out on the little terrace facing Main Street. From our perch we’d see the Red Streetcars pass. Each streetcar had a sign over the door that read: Ride a Mile and Smile the While-Only 5 cents.
The streetcars were noisy on the rails and had a high pitched horn that made it difficult to sleep. My cousins and I amused ourselves by making up stories or making fun of passengers scurrying to get on the streetcar. Sometimes people lost their footing as they disembarked, but there always seemed to be someone there to give them a hand.
On Halloween transportation inspectors watched for pranksters who may try to water down the rails with soap to cause the streetcar to lose traction. Twice we saw automobiles cross the tracks and collide with a streetcar. There never was a shortage of surprises to be witnessed on Main Street.
We saw a drunk, coming from the cantina near by, fall on the tracks while the approaching streetcar sounded its horn. We yelled, screamed and hollered until some good Samaritans pulled him to safety.
Watching the streetcars on Main Street provided “reality” entertainment for us kids, in lieu of television, which my grandparents didn’t have.  Sometimes in the afternoon our adult relatives sat out on the terrace to visit with each other, greet friends they saw on the street, as well as watch the streetcars go by.
A horrible experience relating the streetcar and my family came in the 1950’s, when my grandfather, Jesus, was working as a maintenance mechanic for the Red Streetcar Company. 
Streetcars are propelled by on board electric motors and require a trolley pole to draw power from an overhead wire. While at the junction just a few blocks from our ‘perch’ on our grandparents terrace, Jesus had turned off the electricity in order to work on the overhead wire of one of the two streetcars that were not in service. 
A new and inexperienced employee saw that the electricity switch was not turned on. Instead of investigating the reason it was shut off, he simply pulled the switch on. Consequently, my grandfather was electrocuted. Miraculously he survived, though he was so severely burnt that he had to have his right arm amputated up to his elbow.  He remained in the hospital for nearly a year.
The streetcar accident changed his life forever. He never returned to work again, he never complained… and he never sat out in the terrace to watch the streetcars go by.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Halloween Miracle, by Peggy Knorr

On receiving photos of my two out-of-state great-grand children, Logan and Kailey, in their Halloween costumes and hearing they would be wearing their finery in the school parade, I wondered if that event would be conducted in the same manner as it was in my daughter's (their Grandma's) childhood days, 56 years earlier. At that far off time, while the kids were excitedly hopping around showing off their fanciful apparel, the teachers were standing by, busily judging which costume was the "best."

Patsy, my daughter, was about 8 years old at the time, and we were living in East Los Angeles, (a very poor neighborhood.) She wanted to be "an old fashioned lady" so I shopped the Goodwill, and at very little expense, using my resourcefulness and skill, picked out likely pieces and sewed them into a nice little hooped skirted costume.

I had no idea that there was to be a judging of best costume. I was surprised and a little disturbed when I realized they were conducting the parade as a competition. One of my neighbors, afterwards, said Pat's costume clearly should have won first prize, which it didn't; even though it stood out from the circle of kids as a gem of color, it didn't even place! I have a feeling that the school thought I had purchased an expensive costume and that it was not fair competition against what the poor people of the neighborhood could afford. Actually, for the most part they were no more "poor" than we ourselves were!

I have always found competition in that sort of setting a little distasteful; a reward for work well done is one thing, but a prize for something to which the child probably had not contributed much, was another. I felt the concept of being judged "best" versus that of "never winning anything" often started lifelong patterns of negative character formation. I knew this from my own still remembered sensitive and vulnerable childhood feelings. How much better it would have been if the kids could have just partaken of the fun of an unusual event without any aspersions as to who "won" and who "didn't."

Pat's classroom teacher, though, told me how she had noticed a complete change in her posture when she arrived at school wearing her costume that morning. From a slumped, uninterested bearing, it had changed to one of poise and pride in herself. She was holding herself up tall, regally and proudly, actually becoming the imaginary personality which she was portraying.

I think that was a turning point for her in her feelings of self esteem and confidence which grew from then onwards. It didn't seem to matter to her that she hadn't won a prize, though in the end she did get one, but in a different form than any competition could have ever brought about. I am hoping Logan and Kailey will receive as much from their associations with costumes as their Grandma did those many years ago.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Thoughts on Games, by Margaret (Peggy) Knorr

From Bonnie -- This started out as a comment on my "games" story, but, as you can see, Peggy had a story of her own to share. We agreed that this deserves a post of its own.

Dear Bonnie,

I love your description of games providing "the setting for many of those ordinary moments that shimmer in the fabric of our memories." To me, games and play and child-likeness are the very attitudes which we need so we can experience the sparkling shimmerings which our memories have for us; and not only for our recollections but also for the enjoyment of the present moments in our living. Carolyn, this frail woman, so close to death, must have had a child like heart which allowed her to revel in the enjoyment of those game players whom she was watching. 

It brings to mind a recent observance I had regarding my 94 year old demented husband, Joe.  His normal bearing is one of dissatisfaction with his physical, mental and emotional state.... a grumpy old man!  For the most part his face and body have a dejected, depressed and often angry look, but one day I was incredulously surprised and absolutely fascinated to see his boyish glee and excitement return for a little while when three of our male friends sat down at our table and joined me in a game of dominoes.

Joe sat with us but could not participate because of degenerated eyesight and his faulty cognition did not allow him understanding of the game, but his actions and the obvious delight he was getting from watching us and hearing our bantering and loud explosive laughter, must have touched a playful shimmering spark from his memories. Not only was his face transformed into enjoyment but his whole bearing was rejuvenated.

The treat he gave us with his verbalizations of his reactions was to me, astounding. Joe was loving listening and observing and was allowing himself to enjoy an "ordinary" moment in the little reprieve he had been given that day and it was indeed a joyful spiritual moment for all of us.

Yes Bonnie, as with your homey and comforting feelings while listening to your family playing, which you describe so well, we do not have to look far to be drawn into the depths of the spiritual life.  Like the laughing Buddha's reverence, it is all importantly spiritual...   

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Life is an Elevator, By Yolanda Adele

My life is an elevator
It is often crowded with people,
And their psychological baggage.
Some play with my down button,
And the jerks descend me into despair.
The doors slide open;
People get off and others come in.
Some know to push my up button,
Which lifts my moods to a joyful level.
That’s how life is …Full of ups and downs.
Might as well learn to enjoy the ride.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Games -- for Carolyn, by Bonnie J. Mansell

Just a few hours before Carolyn passed away on Wednesday evening, I learned that she had gone to a Bunko game on Tuesday. It was hard to imagine that only 24 hours ago this precious woman, so frail and worn, had been helped into a wheelchair and taken by car from La Habra to Chino Hills to be at a Bunko game, where she couldn’t even play. Tim assured me that Carolyn had been well enough to go, though she had very little energy.

After I got past the shock, I started thinking about it. If I knew that I was dying, would I want to spend my last evening watching friends play a card game? Of course, Carolyn did not know that her death was only a day away, but she was well-aware that it was imminent.

Honestly, my first reaction was, “Are you kidding?” It seemed, I don’t know, frivolous or something. It’s just that -- if I knew that I was dying, wouldn’t I want to be at home, savoring every minute left with my family? Wouldn’t I want to do something, ahem, spiritual?

Then, as I thought more about this on the way home, I realized something. Yes, I would want to spend every minute with my family and those who mean the most to me; and yes, of course, games are a bit frivolous. But, truthfully, game playing has created some of the best memories I have.

I love playing peanuts or scrabble with Steve and the kids. And I’ve laughed so hard while playing Celebrities, Telephone Pictionary, and SCUM that I’m sure I’ve worked off some holiday calories (or “played” them off, I guess).

Games are certainly not the context in which you would expect to have a deeply spiritual epiphany, yet games provide the setting for many of those ordinary moments that shimmer in the fabric of our memories. And isn’t it, after all, the ordinary moments that add width and depth to our lives? Wouldn't we choose to savor those moments if we remembered how short our time really is?

As I reflected on all this, I began to appreciate Carolyn’s decision. Even now, while I am in good health and death is not often in my thoughts, I love to listen to my family sitting around the table playing games. I like to sit on my bed working a crossword puzzle as I hear them in the kitchen: playing, laughing, staying up later than I have any desire to do.

It gives me confidence that they are fine – that they enjoy being together, choosing, as adults, this healthy, interactive community, whether I’m a part of it or not. So, if I knew that I had only days to live, I can imagine that I would love to be in the room as my friends and family enjoyed games I could no longer play. Frivolous? Maybe. Spiritual? Absolutely.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

AUTUMN, by Mina Anne Chudilowsky

People say that we have no seasons in Southern California. Fall colors occur in the Sierras and along Highway 395. Up the coast, you see migrating birds, Monarch butterflies traveling south, apple orchards, and pumpkin fields. We also have migrating birds  especially the Canada Geese. We have migrating grey whales, and the Monarchs pass through.

Many people have planted liquid amber trees that turn bright red, orange or yellow, and they are beautiful. They are abundant around the Lakewood Mall and City Hall. There are also many deciduous trees around. Candlewood Street is lined with huge sycamore trees and giant leaves fill the lawns and streets.

In autumn, the days grow shorter and the air is crystal clear and sharp. You can see the mountains that surround us, and the breezes that blow through refresh everything.The nights start to get colder and the flannel sheets, blankets, comforters and quilts come out and go back on the beds. The smell of wood smoke wafts through the air as people start using their fireplaces and wood burning stoves. You smell dust when you finally turn the furnace on.

The nights sparkle with stars and the harvest moon returns, and Indian summer may make an appearance. Sweaters, jackets, sweats and hats make their appearance, but the people, being Californians, hesitate to put away their shorts.

Autumn is a time of smells and tastes. Spices come to mind: oatmeal cookies baking on a cool afternoon. Or gingerbread. Or pumpkin pie. Homemade soups, stews and chili are great meals on cool evenings. You trade in cool drinks for warm drinks. Cocoa, tea and spiced cider taste so good at this time of year. And cinnamon-spiced pine cones appear in the stores to scent your house.

As the days grow shorter, you tend to burrow into your nest and remain there until the sun comes out again, and the sun seems more brilliant.

It’s fun to drive to Julian or Oak Glen to visit the orchards and get juicy, crisp apples or cider. Pears, tangerines, pomegranates and tangelos appear in the stores as do Indian corn, pumpkins, candy corn and new crop nuts.

Spiders make their presence known by their large webs. You have to wave a stick in front of you (or walk behind someone else) to prevent walking into the webs and the spiders.

People who have lived where it snows and the trees bud out in the spring and turn into magnificent colors in the fall say that we have no autumn in Southern California. We have that season too. It’s just more subtle and you have to pay attention to see and enjoy it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Elementary School, by Nora Szechy

While I had an intense desire to learn, I hated school. I attended Goldenbridge Convent School in Dublin, Ireland. It was an all-girl school run by The Sisters of Mercy.  Some of the sisters were kind and others were mean to the point of cruelty.  We were caned if were late, if we talked, if we laughed or if we didn't know our lessons.  We were ruled by fear. 

There was no use complaining at home as my mother always sided with the nuns.  Classes were overcrowded and had an average of 50 students.  We walked to school in the rain and sat in wet clothes all day.  There was no place to hang wet coats.  The main source of heat was a small turf-burning fireplace.

The only classroom equipment was a blackboard and chalk and a holder for the chalk so that it could be used down to the very last scrap.  There were no overheads, slides or any of the modern teaching tools.  There was no cafeteria; we walked home for lunch.  There was no picture day - I have not one school picture.  There was no school nurse and there were no field trips. There was no P.E. - the walk back and forth to school four times a day gave us as much exercise as we needed.

Every class started with prayers and we had to know our catechism backwards and forwards.  We had to know The Ten Commandments, The Seven Sacraments, The Seven Deadly Sins etc. - all by heart.  Most subjects were taught through the medium of Irish. I still say my multiplication tables in Gaelic. History and geography were the worst.  How could I ever find cities and countries on the map or name events in History if I only knew the names in Gaelic? 

For handwriting we had headline copy books; nib pens and inkwells were built into our desks.  I would have enjoyed this exercise except for the fact my hands were always so cold I did a poor job and often got rapped on the knuckles.  We had a lay teacher for elocution and drawing and she was much kinder than the sisters.  We had cookery classes on Saturdays which I enjoyed very much.  We also learned sewing and knitting.

Children were required to attend school until the age of 14.  For many, that was the end of their education. Most had to leave school and find some sort of unskilled job to contribute to the support of their families. The sisters were aware of this and did their best to ensure that they left with at least a good foundation in the Three R's.

For more about Nora, click here: Nora's Website

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sister Week, by Gail Earl

My younger sister Jan, and I are best friends. We have always shared a special bond. We know what the other is thinking and always finish each other’s sentences. We are very lucky that we share every Saturday together. We just always have.

My older sister, Sharon, moved to Idaho a few years back with her husband. We miss her terribly but stay in touch via email and Facebook daily. When she moved we started a tradition called "Sister Week.” She comes down and stays with me. My sister Jan also takes a week off work and comes and stays with me. We plan every day ahead of time; the entire week is filled with laughter and adventure. It's a week long slumber party. We are all pretty goofy, love to laugh and be silly.

My husband, kids and Grandkids all know that they fend for themselves the entire sister week. My poor husband even sleeps downstairs and the girls get the upstairs (to be honest it's not really a sacrifice). I think the giggling gets old with him. He loves us all and is happy to give us our space. Sister week is the middle of October. So far we've planned a train trip downtown L.A. We like to go to the fashion district, the jewelry district, China town and the museum.

We have one day where we'll drive to Oxnard to see our brother. He is an eye doctor so he'll examine all our eyes and then we'll have dinner on the beach. One day we will be antiquing in the circle of Orange. One day will be spent cruising three different marinas and beaches (Hermosa, Redondo and Newport). One day we'll be at Farmers Market, the Beverly Center and Santa Monica. We'll visit our old haunts from when we lived there.

One day is our mani/pedi and spa day. One day will be a family dinner with the kids and grandkids. We do this family dinner every Saturday night, but Sharon is never here for all our chaos. We like to make each day a marathon day and pack in as much as possible.

As much as we love all the running around, I think what we like most is at the end of a busy day, all getting jammied up and jumping into my bed and laughing and giggling 1/2 the night away. It reminds us of when we were children and shared a room. Our father would have to yell at us to stop the giggling and go to sleep. After we laugh for as much as we can take, we all go to separate rooms to actually sleep.

I know we're silly together, but it even amazes me how utterly ridiculous we can get. Our conversations range from uncontrollable laughter to free tears. Nothing is off limits.

I know how lucky we are to have this time together, but I think the real luck is that we all know how valuable it is!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Our Special Centenarian Friend, Elizabeth, by Charlene Farnsworth

I wish all of you could have known our dear friend Elizabeth McEntee who celebrated her 103rd birthday on July 17 of this year. It was always delightful being in her company.

My friend Steve and his “harem” (Elizabeth, Donna, Clara, Phyllis, Wilma and I) enjoy a wonderful friendship and frequently dine out together. We especially celebrate one another’s birthdays.

Elizabeth celebrated her 100th birthday in 2007 at the Doubletree Hotel restaurant. It was a grand celebration with a private limousine transporting us to the special event. My gift to Elizabeth was a small decorative “Grandma’s brag book” filled with the happenings over her 100 years, 1907 through mid-2007. For each year, I included various discoveries, inventions, patents and Academy awards. If a child’s, grandchild’s or great-grandchild’s birth also occurred in a particular year, I included that information on the opposing page.

In 2008, Elizabeth celebrated her 101st birthday at her favorite Home Town Buffet. Can you imagine dining in a restaurant and glancing over to see a big balloon with “101” brightly printed on it? It certainly did turn many heads with accompanying whispers. One darling young girl quietly came over to our table because she wanted to meet Elizabeth personally. This time the little book I created for Elizabeth included cartoons and jokes, fun and interesting facts, cute and pretty pictures, etc.

In 2009, we all had another limousine ride to the Savannah on the Beach restaurant in Huntington Beach for Elizabeth’s 102nd birthday. I remember how difficult it was for her to exit the restaurant for there were many customers who wanted to meet a special lady on this amazing occasion. I made a colorful display of floral clip art with accompanying birthday greetings for Elizabeth this year.

For her 103rd birthday celebration, Elizabeth wanted all of us to join her at Spires restaurant in Orange. The excellent service by all the staff made for a wonderful celebration. Bright balloons were floating up from the table and tied to the back of Elizabeth’s chair. Again, curious patrons’ heads turned when they saw the brightly-printed “103” on the largest balloon. This time my project for Elizabeth was a birthday card/booklet with 35 clip art fortune cookies, all of which contained fun pull-out fortunes. Some examples of Elizabeth‘s personalized fortunes are, “You will enjoy a good movie soon,” “Good news is coming your way,” and “Sweet dream will be yours.”

Sadly, our dear friend Elizabeth passed away on August 16, 2010. The care provided by her daughter Donna certainly contributed immensely to her longevity. Elizabeth was a very special lady, and it was always an honor and pleasure to be with her.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Autumn in Washington, by Annette Skarin

She’s stolen my warmth,
Autumn with her shadows
She’s stolen the leaves
From my pondering places
She colors my lawn with darker hues.
Moody shifts draw me inward.
Decaying leaves lay a quilt
Steaming pavement hissing upward
Naked trees stand and shiver
Sipping fragrant pine cone lattes

Monday, September 27, 2010

Teamwork in the Middle of the Night, by Noemi Rabina

I worked night shift in an American Hospital in Manila, Philippines. I was expecting another long quiet night, but anything unexpected can happen even in the middle of the night.

There was a lady who had an emergency Caesarean Section in the afternoon. She was already resting in bed when I came. I noticed that her dressing was soaked with blood. I tried to change it and noticed that blood was oozing from the incision. Immediately her doctor was summoned who came without delay. The patient was brought back to OR.

The doctor tried to resuture the wound but for every stitch that he made, it became another source of bleeding. He made the conclusion that the patient had a blood disorder, a failure of blood to clot. He ordered all off duty doctors to come and help for the patient was already going into shock. Some were calling other hospitals and emergency units for blood, which was very rare type "AB" and for the medicine "Protamine" that will facilitate the clotting of blood. Red Cross and major pharmacies were closed at this time of the night.

The surgeon was saying, "We need blood! We need blood!" The OR nurses passed the word to those who were circulating outside the Operating Room. But there was no blood available. The patient was in desperate need of blood. I volunteered to give my blood since I am type "O," a universal donor. The doctor said, "OK.
X-match, if compatible, give blood."  And it was compatible.

I lay down and they came with big needles, massaged my arm and squeezed the blood from my veins. I had been poked several times and was able to fill only half of the bag. Immediately, it was transfused to the patient, but it was only like a drop in a bucket. She continued to bleed, and bleed, and bleed. Her blood was dripping from the OR table to the floor. They caught it in a sterile container and infused back to her.

We had done everything possible under human power and it was only a matter of time and the patient would be gone. . Frustrated, the doctor asked, "Has the husband been notified?" The forgotten husband was then called. When he arrived, he was allowed to be with his wife while the doctor explained all that has transpired.

Finally, somebody got hold of the US Air Force, about 100 miles away and the response was good. "Yes, we have the blood and the medicine and we will bring them by helicopter." In less than an hour, they were there. After the transfusion was started and the medicine given by IV, the bleeding ceased.

I was sure that everyone was praying all that time for if it were not for the Divine intervention, all efforts could have failed. The patient lived her new life.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Leo Dicaprio, by Kathy Cooper

A few years back I had surgery for a torn meniscus and was confined to a wheelchair for awhile. My father volunteered to push me around the L.A. museum and I literally jumped at the chance. (Well not literally.)

But that was the day I literally ran into Leonardo DiCaprio with my wheelchair.

Are you familiar with that famous scene of the two star-crossed lovers who are running towards each other in slow motion amidst a beautiful open field of soft yellow and blue poppies as dramatic love music is being played in the background? Well, it wasn’t like that.

It was more like the Teacup ride at Knotts Berry Farm, going round and round as your eyeballs are doing the same thing in their sockets.

I was alone, pushing myself around looking at Picasso’s work and trying to take in a little too much when it all happened. Oh, did I mention that Leo was also in a wheelchair? Yeah he was. I had run into him, but he was the one who kept apologizing. I couldn’t think of anything in response but, “So, what’re you in for?” (meaning the chair.)

He told me that he also had a torn meniscus. By then I knew it was fate that he and I had collided. Immediately I started telling him about the screenplay I had recently been working on. “Yeah, it’s all about this pack-rat guy and that’s the part I wrote for you. That is, if you like the part. But I can change it.”

Immediately my mind was bombarded with childhood memories of wanting to be a movie star. When I came back to reality I instructed myself, “Don’t act like a gawky fan and start drooling. Don’t act stupid and tell him about the screenplay you’re working on.”

Oops. Too late, stupid.

“Are you who I think I am?” was the only thing I could spit out after that. To this he smiled and shook his head affirmatively.

That day, Leo was in a wheelchair, with a torn meniscus, just like me. The only difference was he wore a baseball cap backwards. The truth is we are all alike; even if we are famous. It’s weird, running into a movie star. One might expect them to be something entirely different than us simply because they become so many different characters on the big screen. But truth is they are like us… Wait a minute. Leonardo DiCaprio was wearing a baseball cap backwards and he was pushing himself in a wheelchair. He didn’t have a torn meniscus! Sitting down, slouched over with a cap covering his face?

He was incognito! I believe it was that night that I realized how hard it must be for movie stars to hide their identity. I finally was happy I had changed my career plans and gone into screenwriting.

Disclaimer: Some of the events in the story have been changed to…spruce up the story.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Many Blessings, By Yolanda Adele

While on a road trip with our 25-foot travel trailer in tow between Utah and Idaho, my husband Vic (“Honey”) and I stopped at Bear Lake to camp for a couple of days. The campground was a private resort with many amenities, such as a pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, tennis court, golfing greens, showers, recreation, dining room, paddle boats, and more. (I enjoy “roughing it,” smoothly. I’m a city gal, after all). However, we were told by the camp manager that only the Jacuzzi and showers were available due to the off season. I could barely hide my disappointment, while Vic whistled a happy tune.

Honey expertly parked our trailer on a top level campsite, affording us a stunning view of meandering paths abundant with Queen Anne’s lace growing in wild profusion, and across from the resorts entrance we could see farmlands that backed up to the lake. Peace was in the air so heavy that I could almost smell it, along with the sweet scent of clover. I absorbed the peace; it entered my heart and grew until the quiet was pierced only by the high-pitched song of orioles flying overhead; their bright orange bodies were a bold splash of color across the clear blue sky.

That sight gave me pause for appreciation of the beauty I was witnessing. I felt like I was looking at a living painting. The scale of this enormous canvas that displayed nature’s art under a flawless azure sky immediately filled me with peace that comes from knowing that there is a grace more powerful than any mortal tribulation.

“Wow, Honey, this is a spectacular vista! Sadly though, when night falls our eyes will be denied feasting on such beautiful landscape.” I said mellow- dramatically.

“Let’s wait and see what the night will bring us.” He said.

“It’s going to bring darkness! Haven’t you noticed there aren’t any street lights around here?” I pouted.

There were few R.V. rigs in the camp resort, and no signs of people out and about the grounds. At midnight Honey and I put on our swimsuits and climbed to the highest knoll with the light from our flashlight to where a Jacuzzi was located. I turned on the switch that started the waves of bubbles percolating before we submerged ourselves into the warm comforting water.

Darkness seemed to blanket the earth around us and over us like a canopy of black velvet. The stars were like diamond clustered broaches in the midnight sky; they rivaled the moon in their brightness. If that were not enough, we were entertained by fireflies capriciously flitting about like miniature stars.

“Honey doesn’t this place, this night, make you feel as if we are the only people in nature?”

“Yes, it does. He said with a boyish smile, because we are.”

I felt privileged and humbled for the divine experience we had been gifted with. Midnight darkness brought out the galaxies to illuminate our many blessings.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Homeless, by Annette Skarin

I wrote this a shortly before my sister got in touch with me after she had been living on the streets for years.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Her shoulders were stooped and her head hung low, while her eyes continually scanned the ground. Her dull and unkempt hair had at one time held a beautiful golden sheen. Not long ago her skin had been as smooth and delicate as a porcelain doll. The pitted scars she now had were caused by staff infections after years of alcohol and drug abuse and exposure from living on the streets. Her hands trembled as she dug through the trash looking for a scrap of food like an old starving cur.

She wore an old stained and torn dress, two sizes too large, retrieved from a thrift store trash bin. Her belly was bloated from malnutrition, causing it to protrude. An old wool cap donned her head with its threads unraveling down her back. She wore combat boots with one sole separated from the shoe, causing it to make a slap-slap sound as she walked.

Her sunken eyes were dull and glazed over, not in touch with the reality around her. They had at one time been bright with twinkling humor and filled with intelligent alertness. Her lips were now constantly twitching rigid lines, when once they had been soft and pliable, often opening to reveal gleaming white teeth. She mumbled aloud to herself as she continued her journey through the alley. Her conversation was rambling and nonsensical, accentuated with an occasional sniffle or grunt.

I went to visit my sister on the streets of Oceanside. She showed me the homeless community and told me their stories. She told me horror stories that broke my heart because she talked so casually about the incidents. I wanted to take her back to that innocent child, who was desperately seeking to be loved.

My sister called me months later and said she was tired of living on the streets and wanted to quit drinking and doing drugs. I said she could live with me, but on the condition that she get into rehab. She never did.

One particular incident which had pushed her over the edge was when she eavesdropped on a conversation with my mother in which she was saying, “Why doesn't she just get it over with and kill herself?” She got high and tried to kill me that evening. I had the paramedics take her away; then three days later, I had to put her back on the streets.

One day I received a notice to appear in court on a theft charge. I had to prove it was not me. I appeared in court twice before finally signing the papers to have my sister prosecuted. I love my sister too much to enable her.

My sister has been off the streets now for ten years and is living with a care-taker. She has cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis C. I pray for her every day.

See more at: Annette's Blog

Friday, September 10, 2010

Summer Work camp, by Noemi S. Rabina

After graduation from college, summer in 1954, we were made to select the area of Nursing that we would like to practice more. It was one month experience and I chose Public Health Nursing.

At that time, the YMCA was recruiting young people from different areas of knowledge to join their work camps. We were four new graduates from our school who were eager to go out of the city and meet other people who could benefit from whatever knowledge we had to offer. With our clinical instructor, we were headed to a small village of Cotta, Lucena, Quezon province.

We were joined by other young graduates of Home Economics, Education, Agriculture and Fisheries, all ready to roll up our sleeves and do our jobs for the rural folks. It was about a 6-8 hour train ride, which we enjoyed as we were getting acquainted with each other and enjoying the beautiful scenery and country fresh air.

We were met and welcomed by public officials and were escorted to the school where we were supposed to stay for a month. Cots and kitchen utensils were provided. Ladies occupied one room and gentlemen another. The kitchen was separate and we took turns cooking and washing dishes.

We met the village people who were very eager to learn whatever knowledge we had to offer. Our teaching in particular was about health and sanitation, child care, nutrition, first aid, and lectures for expectant mothers. We were glad that in this place, the people spoke our national language, not another dialect, so that teaching was effective.

A doctor from the town joined us on Saturdays as we set up a clinic for physical examinations and minor treatments. We wore our uniforms as we ministered to the people in the clinic as well as in our home visitations. We were happy to see their respect, love, and enthusiasm.

We made several friends. We were invited in town for dinner, for church service, for dance parties. But of course we nurses did not dance. On our free time, we strolled around and enjoyed the beauty and peacefulness of the country and the simple living of the people. In the evening, we conducted a program where anyone could participate, campers and residents alike. Sometimes we invited guest speakers.

At the end of the day, we who have the same faith, would sing hymns of praise and thanksgiving for the Lord who used us to minister to His people.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tea and Shortbread -- with a nod to Proust

I’m having my first afternoon cup of (almost) fall tea - chamomile, sweetened with honey – and it is a moment to savor. The cool weather tricks me into feeling that it is fall, even though we are likely to have more hot days in the months ahead. And the overcast skies add to the illusion that the hot days are behind us. It is now almost 4 o’clock, and I can indulge in a few minutes of restoration with my chamomile, my Tuesday cup (which is rare in that it works just as well for tea as it does for coffee), and my shortbread cookie.

How many memories are generated by this single event? Memories associated with various senses jumble together to remind me of bits and pieces of my life. Unlike Proust with his tea and madeline, I cannot pull up multiple details of a single vivid memory. Instead, I feel a wash of memories, all detached from one another, yet somehow connected by the thread of my life.

The tea is its own pleasure in this moment, yet it’s also a reminder of countless other cups of tea which have brought comfort and connection on other afternoons. Tea alone enhances the pleasure of solitude. Tea shared with a friend is a ritual of community.

Uncle Cliff liked tea. Although I’m truly a coffee drinker, there are times when only tea will do. I remember times when the whole family was together and everyone else was drinking coffee. Having tea with Uncle Cliff set us apart just a bit, and created a link between us. I think he was the one who taught me to sweeten my tea with honey.

I have memories of tea with Uncle Jack, too. The last time I went to visit him, just months before he died, he was confined to a wheelchair and experiencing so many limitations. It was November, and it was Idaho cold. I wanted my afternoon tea. He had some with me each day that I was there, and we talked and shared as much as he was able at that point.

Most of my memories of Uncle Jack involve the two of us talking alone in a room while others were away or asleep. When we shared our cups of tea he still had some very lucid moments and was able to tell me stories of his friendship with my parents, his marriage to Aunt Elaine, and even some of the humorous things he had recently experienced in the confusion that surrounded that time of his life.

And the shortbread cookie? I remember my mom’s love for Pecan Sandies. She always had them in the house. I haven’t always shared her love for them. I could take them or leave them. . . until I began combining them with my afternoon tea. They then took on a whole new pleasure. Now whenever I have a shortbread cookie, I think of my mom, and I want a cup of tea.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Someone Special, by Barbara Sparks

It is really hard to think of just one person who has inspired me. I have met many special people in my life. Teachers, however, have had the most lasting influence on my life. They are why I chose to become a teacher.

English teachers introduced me to literature that broadened my concept of the world. My world before meeting them was limited to my home, school, city, and country. My eighth grade teacher introduced me to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and The Diary of Anne Frank. For the first time I discovered prejudice and hatred existed all over the world and throughout history.

My 10th grade teacher continued my love of Shakespeare and drama by having my class read Macbeth. We read sections orally and she also read to us. As she read I felt that I was there listening and observing the characters in the play. She took us on a journey to England, where Shakespeare’s works were first performed, by showing us slides from her trip there. I dreamed of going to England and because of her I travelled to Stratford-upon-Avon where I attended a production of Hamlet.

My twelfth grade English teacher introduced me to the Greek Tragedy Medea. She took me to see a performance of Medea. This was the first time I had ever gone to a live performance. My love for live performances was ignited. This love continues today. My favorite pastime is attending plays and musicals.

Teachers made history and politics exciting. We discussed newspaper articles in class. I realized that the world was right there at my fingertips. All I had to do was open the newspaper and read.

My teachers believed in me and my ability to succeed. I was chosen to go to a leadership camp where I met people of many cultures and religions. No longer was I reading about different cultures and religions, I was learning first hand about the beauty of our diverse population.

There was one event that changed my life completely and I am so grateful to Dr. Liljekvist. He took me to various colleges. He showed me his thesis and dissertation in the library on one university campus. He said that one day I could have my thesis or dissertation there. I later did attend graduate school on the same campus. He planted the seed. Without him, I would never have dreamed of attending that university. I became the first member of my family to graduate from college. Many of my younger cousins followed me and now there are many college graduates in my family.

These are just a few of the examples of how teachers impacted my life. Their belief in me and the eye opening experiences they presented led me to places I never dreamed I would go, to pursue experiences I never dreamed I’d have and gave me the skills I needed to succeed and interact in a world that was beyond the limited world in which I was raised.

Beach Boy Summer Days, by Annette Skarin

My oldest sister, Manon, was obsessed with getting a suntan. She hated what she called the “pasty white skin” and “fish ball eyes” of wintertime. When the sun had sufficiently warmed up to “cook” her just the right shade of toasty brown, she would be out there with her beach towel; baby oil; tin foil (for intensifying the rays), and donned in a bikini. She would have to sneak down to the beach by making up a story because my father didn't allow us to wear revealing garments.

Manon always spent at least two hours putting on her make-up. Her perfectly drawn on eyebrows; carefully etched eyeliner and gobs of mascara made her appear mannequin-like. Her features were Barbie-doll perfect with cat eyes, high cheekbones, straight nose and full lips. She had long blond hair which she would rat up at the top, smooth over, then flip up at the ends with a curling iron. She would lengthen her sessions in the sun by about 15 minutes a day, so as not to get the lobster look, which was not in vogue. The Beach Boys were all the rage then with their hit California Girl-even though they portrayed surfer boys but only one of them was a surfer.

My youngest sister, Becky, was fair-skinned with a curly mass of fiery-red hair and what typically accompanies that-the dotted mass of freckles. The adults all thought her freckles were adorable but she hated them. Since we didn't have sunscreen in those days; she stayed home a lot or hung out with friends down the block. My sister Becky also made friends with an elderly woman who she would help out during the summer months, running errands and cleaning. In return she was given gifts like a small intricately carved wooden table that she kept for many years.

We lived in the city of Orange which was located inland from the beaches. I always hated my body shape and refused to be seen in a bikini but I loved swimming. We had a pool at a nearby park where we took swimming lessons. Because my arms were so short, I didn't like to do any other stroke but the side-stroke and I could dog paddle like a true canine. I also loved to take a deep breath and dive underwater-moving my body with a mermaid-like thrashing-I would cross the pool lengthwise twice without coming up for air.
I loved the carefree, barefoot, book-reading, bike-riding days of summer and always dreaded when they began to creep away with the shadow of fall. Back to school and the dreaded teachers with their stern, “your days of fun are over”, look.

Annette's Blog:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All Shook Up, By Yolanda Adele

In the summer of 1969, it was Elvis Presley’s opening night at what was then The International Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. It was the first time he had performed in public for more than nine years. According to a Newsweek article dated August 11, 1969, the showroom was filled with 2,200 seats twice each day for four weeks; total attendance reportedly topped 101,509, a new Las Vegas record. The gross receipts were $1,522,635, also a Las Vegas record.

My husband made reservations six months in advance to be there for our seventh wedding anniversary; it was his anniversary gift to me.

The orchestra played the powerful theme from 2001 Space Odyssey to a reverberating crescendo when Elvis finally made his highly anticipated appearance and took command of the stage, wearing a white jump-suit.

The air seemed to fill with electrifying energy and euphoria as the audience stood and applauded with thunderous frenzy.

My husband bribed a couple of waiters and a maitre’d to sit me up front, center stage. I didn’t sit for long. I rose and pressed my body up against the platform as some women from behind me rushed the stage when Elvis teasingly pulled his scarf off his neck to wipe his brow before offering the scarf to his adoring fans.

I raised and waved my hand to plea for the priceless scarf. I screamed out his name. He turned and looked right at me, giving me his trademark, upper lip curled smile, and said “Hold on honey, I’ll get to you.”

One of his body guards pointed a flashlight beam on my burnt orange hot pants (shorts) and matching calypso blouse that I wore, that seemed to cue the lighting technician, because changing color lights washed over me repeatedly before panning the rest of the audience in the auditorium.

Then a single large spot light followed Elvis as he moved nearer to me and knelt down on one knee directly in front of me. I was mesmerized by his sapphire-blue eyes as he sang Love Me Tender. I was sure he was singing just to me. Slowly Elvis leaned foreword to slip his scarf over my head until it reached the back of my neck pulling me closer to him. I stood on my tip-toes, closed my eyes…then he kissed me on the lips softly and tenderly. Women shrilled fervently, but he chose me.

I opened my eyes feeling a bit shook up and disorientated. All sounds seemed muffled before everything went dim and I fell to the ground. I vaguely heard someone say, “She’s fainted, give her some room!” And I remember thinking, “if only Elvis could give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”

That was forty years ago, yet the images of that magical time in my life are vibrant in the recesses of my mind; where I visit from time to time when I need a break from the doldrums and I’m once again feeling vital and All Shook Up.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Remember When?

What are some of your favorite summer memories? Watch to video to refresh your memory!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Our First Home, by Nora Szechy

After many years of apartment living and having scrimped and saved every penny, we now had the princely sum of $1,550, enough for a 10% down payment on a $15,500 home. We looked at every home for sale and even in 1965 realized that all we could buy would be an entry level fixer upper.

We were becoming quite discouraged until one day Frank came home very excited with the news that he had found us a home. He said the realtor was waiting at the property and I should come with him to sign the papers.

The house was a small frame house and didn’t look too bad from the outside. Frank brought me around the back to where the realtor was waiting. The realtor was seated at a picnic table with a sheaf of papers in front of him. Lo and behold on this sunny afternoon in the backyard was a beautiful sparkling swimming pool! He said we had to act quickly because a house like this for $15,500 wouldn’t last long. He gave me a quick tour of the house and in my excitement about the lovely backyard and pool, I barely looked at the house. This agent was very clever having us sign the papers by the inviting Pool. I didn’t realize then that we had paid $15,500 for a pool.

This house was butt ugly. Whoever designed it never went to architecture school or wasn’t even a decent handyman. The living room was more like a long narrow hallway made even longer and narrower by the dark paneling on the side walls. It was impossible to decorate. Should we try the couch in the middle of the room to try to break up the length? Who ever heard of a couch in the middle of a room? Whichever way we tried to place our furniture, it looked plain awkward.

My ever-resourceful husband Frank decided to remove the dark paneling and with the use of mirrors and white paint, the room took on a wider appearance. He built a bookcase on the long end which helped balance the length.

He tackled the pokey little old-fashioned kitchen next. He broke out the wall facing the pool and extended the kitchen several feet. He also added a master bedroom and bath.

We had four happy years in our first home and often entertained yard loads of friends for BBQ’s and swimming parties.

The best part was when the time came to sell, we doubled our investment!

Nora's website