Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Letter to Mama

Letters are intimate things. They are also often more informal. It takes the pressure off to allow myself to write letters here to those I love, and then I can more easily embrace the ideas and memories that are sitting on my brain at the moment. No need to make them perfect. Just let them go.

Dear Mama,

A couple weeks ago I was dreading the approach of Christmas - the shopping, the shipping, the "is this fair, is it all even?", and the constant decision-making. I love the idea of Santa Claus, but I laughed a few days ago wondering if I like the jolly old guy so much, because if he would truly just come around, it would take a load off, you know?

But then I perked up. Matthew came home with flowers one day at lunch. I spoke to my good friend Camille on the phone and now have the hope of seeing her family. And, with the magic that happens every year, I began to think about our lives in Tennessee, our Christmases there. Then I began to sing Christmas carols with Ana and to look at holiday decor catalogs, and my world was righted.

Do you know what I was remembering the other day? I was remembering that one cold night when I was eight, nine or ten. We were returning home as a family from shopping, and the car broke down or the bridge was out...or both...and we had to leave the car and walk home in the dark on the country roads, crunching leaves. It felt like an adventure to trek home in the dark. I was skipping in the cold breeze, because I had on a new pair of black booties you and Papa had bought me for school. I loved them. They had the little tabs on the sides, old-fashioned and charming. I still love those kinds of boots.

Later that night I got very sick, remember? And the space heater in my bedroom didn't work. So you pulled me into your room to sleep between you and Papa. All night you were up and down checking my temperature, very high, and making me drink glass after glass of water, bathing me with cool washcloths, then putting me in warm sweaters. It was like torture! But my fever broke. You took good care of me then and so many other times.

And today I suddenly remembered the time we went over to the Andersen's for a simple holiday gathering. (Perhaps it was the usual cup of cocoa I was preparing to drink this morning that brought back the memory.) We didn't have to go over the river and through the woods to get to them - though in those Tennessee boonies neighbors sometimes seemed like the next frontier - but down the lane and across the creek. I still can recall their little farmhouse quite well, perched precariously on that steep hill above the county road, their tractors and cows roaming in the field behind. I still see the narrow steps climbing from the road to their front door, and from there you could turn to look at our home across the creek between barren deciduous trees. As I remember, though, we went around to the back kitchen door to be let in.

Their home was very simply decorated, and the gathering was a quiet one as Mrs. Andersen stirred hot chocolate in a humble saucepan on the stove. I don't remember whether the cookies she served with it were homemade or store bought, only that they weren't as good as yours. I loved getting the hot chocolate, but for me there was no one to talk with as she had two big boys who liked my older sisters far more than they ever noticed me. I probably stayed around that little farm kitchen to listen to your conversation with that gentle woman. She had a very good heart but few and quiet words. Her kitchen was like her, warm and unassuming.

And Mr. Andersen, if possible, was even quieter than his wife. I think he and Dad mostly sat in companionable silence with every now and then a word floating between them.

I wonder now why that is such a persistent Christmas memory? But it is, and a very pleasant one. Perhaps it just breathes simplicity and purity and a time before Pinterest put so much pressure on celebrations. Ha, I say that, and I'm not even on Pinterest!

This letter didn't quite take the turn I thought it would. I thought I would talk about how I'm beginning to see this first year without my children at home as my "lost year", a time of rediscovery like a backpacking trip across Europe after high school. Maybe talk about my writing disappointments and how hard it is to be a woman. Maybe admit that sometimes I kind of want another baby.

But, no. I will say this, though: I miss you, and I do wish we could sit over fancy coffee or simple tea and talk for a long while. The more I grow in this parenting business, the more clearly I see all that you gave and gave up for our family, Mama, and I appreciate it.

And, boy, do I appreciate the memories! Especially now as Thanksgiving approaches, so many scents, sights and sounds remind me of what you did to make our home a home - all while working with Papa in the woods, too - and I am so grateful.

So rest assured that as I bast the turkey, whip together the sweet potato souffle, knead that dough for the Parker House rolls, and roll out the pie pastry, I'll be thinking of you, Mama Darling.



Monday, November 16, 2015


I used to hear about people who spent their whole lives in one small community, on one tiny parcel of the earth, working and praying, praying, their days away in mostly silence.

And I thought, What good is that?

How on earth can you help this world if you are cloistered with like-minded people? How is that working for the common good to hide yourself and your talents away?

I'm a little wiser now, and though I do not at all believe this is the only way to serve the way of truth, hope, love and life, I now believe it is one excellent way.

I don't think for one moment that I am the only one who has underestimated the power of prayer. Of silence. Of contemplation. But because I am naturally a restless person who detests sitting for too long, perhaps I have been more prone to underestimate it. My prayer reminds me of my son Berto"s gesture when the priest asks us to lift up our hearts, and we pronounce at Mass, "We lift them up to the Lord," and we all raise our hands palm up. For a while it was like Berto was tossing God a football with how quickly he threw up his hands and then dropped them: "Here! Catch my heart, God!" It made me smile. So, too, my prayer. I toss God footballs several times a day, prayers for that homeless man or my sick relative or of my desperate need for some spiritual buttresses to be erected posthaste. And I believe with all my heart that God catches those erratic balls, because my words are fervent. Well, most of the time.

I cannot imagine, however, really getting down deep with God in prayer. For an hour or more, for hours each day in and out of Mass. And, yet, I think how marvelous would be the results of such efforts, because prayer is, as my parish priest said recently, our act of being in the presence of God. Even if we nod off while doing it, it is our endeavor to walk and sit in his presence, to hold his hand, and to accept some real nourishment. What might we learn about ourselves if we made that decision more often, if we were very still and knew that he was God?

So I no longer think shallowly about contemplative lives. If I am honest with you, I think a community of nuns or monks praying for this world is doing a great deal more for us than all the words of politicians could ever do. I even think now - and this is shocking to me - that a community in God's presence by the exertion of their own free will on a routine basis, asking for his grace and love and guidance to be poured out upon us, can move more mountains than many actions.

But then we see the connectivity, don't we? For some of us life in a small community praying is our service to mankind, and for some of us the work in this fractured world to be God's physical instruments of peace is ours. The two ignite each other in faith, and God weaves us together, helping us bear good fruit.

photo by Daniel Hylton

Today I said a rosary for France. It is a very Catholic thing to do, I know, but something I rarely do. I only meditate in this way when I am rocked by some great tragedy and realize that I need to really pray deeply, to do something more than usual to let my Heavenly Father know that I care and want to help and that we all need a heaping helping of faith, hope and love from His table.

I say rosaries when I am aching for others.

So I am praying. I know many of you are praying. And we know prayer is more than general good vibes. Prayer is standing in the presence of our loving Father with all our might.

"I want to be only a poor friar who prays...Pray, hope and don't worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer...Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God's heart. You must speak to Jesus not only with your lips, but with your heart. In fact on certain occasions you should only speak to Him with your heart." - Padre Pio

"Everyone of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy - then we need an hour." - St. Frances de Sales

"For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy..." - St. Therese of Lisieux

Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, 'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.' For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, 'While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.' " The Lord said, "Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see that justice is done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" Luke 18:1-8

Thursday, November 5, 2015

I can see clearly now

I have a beautiful life.

There. It's November. Thanksgiving is approaching. And I'll just say it:

Berto, my oldest son, let me hug him on Halloween in front of his friends before I left him at a sleepover. Without embarrassment he accepts my, "I love you!" called out the car window by his school. He even lets me call him a variety of nicknames regularly without complaining. He still laughs with me when I'm laughing at myself. Usually. And he tries to cheer me up by his actions and with his words when I'm down. He will have long, deep conversations with me on everything from theology to astronomy to cinema to sports.

Oh, and he's a genius. Seriously, I have test scores and many awards to prove it.

My oldest daughter Ana never tires of being silly with me. It's like getting to goof off with a younger version of myself. When I was at the gift shop near the White Cliffs of Dover in England, I found a tin box with a picture of a crazy rabbit hopping on its lid. It spoke to me. I offered it to Ana when I got home, and she chose it for her keepsake. Every time she and I are being strange or goofy or singing and talking in one of the many silly voices in our repertoire, we end by doing a fist bump and saying exuberantly to each other, "Conejo loco!" It means crazy rabbit in Spanish. We have our own club.

She's a genius, too, and her beautiful heart shines for everyone. It's a gift from God.

My youngest girl, though a tomboy, still welcomes and invites my company and affection when I walk her into school. Ella offers me a kiss in front of all her friends who know how much she admires Batman, that Dark and lonely Knight. She hugs her ratty but loyal teddy Oonie every night as I sing her a bedtime song about her and Oonie being crime fighters in their dreams. She isn't tired of Mama or of Mama's small, imperfect gifts. And she has energy enough for all of us, especially when planning her birthday celebration. Everyone tells me now that she looks just like me. I have never seen it before, but almost from the day she was born, she reminded me of my Grandmama. I am honored.

She's a math whiz and a girl that will, I have no doubt, blaze a path in this world that others will want to follow.

Danny Sam, my baby, wishes he could still play games with me like we did each day before he started school. This past week he asked me several times until we finally played. I now know how he appreciated that time we had together. He wipes off my kisses in the morning but doesn't push me away before I plant them, His blue eyes are like an angel's; they are beautiful and make me stop and give thanks that such a little boy loves me, was given into my life. He still laughs like a little boy and still gets excited to share a story, classwork or his art with me. He's sensitive and not afraid to show me when he's mad, either.

My Danny Sam will always be my baby. Even when he's 62. But I have no doubt he will be a great many other amazing things, blessing others with his gaze from those great blue eyes and brightening the world with his talents and charm.

And my darling, darling, handsome man. I was amazed when Matthew came home for lunch Tuesday afternoon - something he never does because the commute is so long - with an armful of flowers and the few but powerful words I needed to hear from him. His thoughtfulness is all the more evident as the smell of eucalyptus from among those flowers permeates our home. He strongly dislikes that smell but got me those bouquets anyway; he knew I would love them, their vibrant colors and their heady scent. Taking me by surprise on a Tuesday afternoon is one of the most romantic things he has ever done. I'm in love with a steady, quiet, generous man.

And my life is good.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

We all need some manure in our lives

Stomping manure is not my favorite exercise, but it had to be done, and I was the girl for the job.

Last Friday I spent a great deal of time dancing on top of manure as if at a grape-crushing party. Of course, I didn't do it in my bare feet. That would be some kind of pedicure! I did it in an old pair of sneakers that are very likely to end up in the garbage can by the curb in the near future.

Why did I develop this intimate relationship with animal waste? I was putting in a winter lawn. And considering that I gave up on my summer lawn last winter - because I believe with all my heart that bermuda grass is what grows in hell - putting in fresh grass was quite the exciting if exhausting venture.

I scalped the demon grass by hand where it persisted in several patches across the yard despite the fact that I have neglected it for months. I used a hard rake to scrape up the disaffected soil. I spread seed and fertilizer as my Yorkie attacked my manual spreader, making the seed dump out in piles that I later hand-tossed. The flexible rake was then used to spread my seed and fertilizer more evenly.

Then came the manure, five bags of it. I knew pretty quick that a. I was dang tired already as I hugged the smelly bags and tried to distribute them evenly, and b. that I didn't have nearly enough excrement to go around my big yard. I tried my best with what I had, shaking out clumps of manure and the occasional wood chip and large rock. In the end my paltry if incredibly stinky supply of manure was not enough to keep the birds away from my seed.

So that afternoon after a shower that couldn't possibly make me feel clean, I purchased more manure, 15 bags of it exactly, to dump on my yard, keeping the birds, our neighbors and our neighborhood's roaming cats away.

My darling husband and son lugged the heavy bags into the yard, spacing them out nicely. And that evening I cut open the bags with my demoted kitchen scissors and dragged them in a snake pattern across small areas. Again I grabbed my soft rake and spread that manure out beautifully. As I spotted large miscreant clumps, I stomped on them mightily and repeatedly, figuring that if my arms could be so weary with this labor of yard love, then my legs might as well be, too.

It was my first time attempting a winter lawn. Would all my work be for naught?

This whole week I have watched my yard between deep waterings, waiting for some sign of new life. And this whole week I have been struggling with a loss of hope in other, more vital areas of my life. I needed to see the little blades of rye grass in an almost spiritual way. I needed some symbol of hope, some payoff for all my imperfect but valiant efforts.

And yesterday I saw them, appearing overnight it seemed, sage green, delicate sprouts. Gorgeous and very welcome they were! My hope was renewed with them. My heart swelled with pride for my work. I showed them to my kids and man excitedly, gratefully. I paroled the perimeter of my yard with my Yorkie, bending down to peer sideways into new, tiny life.

For days I had stared at a yard full of manure anxiously, seeing only that seed had not, and possibly would not, sprout. And now? Fulfillment of promise.

My yard is a lesson in life, I think. At least I got something deeper from it. As I reflected on my relief and joy in a new lawn yesterday, I realized that we human beings need seeds of a good life planted, too, by God, our parents, our teachers and other role models, and we definitely need the fertilizer of compassion, education, experience, and good relationships. But we also need manure, those often stinky and sticky situations, those many challenging and often unexpected times, that occasional or frequent interior turmoil. We need those things even if they obscure the seed and the fertilizer for a while, because in the end we spring up fuller and taller and stronger than we were before. We become resilient.

And we appreciate the little things in life, like a winter lawn, even more.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Turkey and Swing, Baby!

Train whistles and church bells make me grateful, because they take me away from myself and promise something fresh, bright, something more, grander. This post was originally published in November, 2011. And, yes, I know it's not Thanksgiving yet.

Thank God for Thanksgiving. No gifts to buy for the occasion, and if you're lucky, you have plenty of relatives and friends coming to help prepare the feast. But the biggest thing is this: the holiday is truly about remembering what you have to be thankful for even if you don't have the formal This year I'm thankful for.... series of monologues. Besides, your husband, dad, uncle, etc. will just be grateful when the fancy-schmancy sit down dinner can get to the pie, so he can get back to football. And, yes, you know you'll have eaten the equivalent of two sticks of butter fried in lard, but you convince yourself that all those cranberries, sweet potatoes (with marshmallows!), pumpkin ingredients, and green beans will protect your heart from the sucker punch it just received. Anyhow, they don't call it a feast for nothing, do they? And did I mention there are no gifts to buy?

I know what I'm thankful for, even if I complain more than I humbly acknowledge. I do recall what I am most grateful for often in prayer - Jesus Christ, my husband, our children, and all that we are provided for as a family, even this 1240 sq ft home that I could swear is shrinking as my children grow. But there's usually something quite specific each year for which to be grateful, because it gave me added joy. For me this year it was a dance with my husband.

We got one dance. Fast and short. For all the hours I spent last week begging him to practice with me, dragging him up from his favorite recliner after long weary days at work - making him swing me and twirl me and kick it up all over our laminate flooring - all we got was one swing song, one dance on our night out at his company's holiday party.

But the practice was worth it. When all the kids were in bed, we started bouncing, rock-stepping, and jiving to our swing CDs, grinning at each other even when I tripped in my heels, kicked him in the shin on accident, or got a playful smack on the bottom because I failed to follow. It was our dating years all over again, only there was no heavy self-consciousness, not with ten years and four kids behind us. There was plenty of perspiration, however, and more rhythm to be found together when the dancing wound down.

All week I was locked in anticipation of our Saturday night out when we would actually be performing our steps before an audience of his coworkers. It had been four years since I'd gone to the holiday party, and that year I had really bungled our dance, wrecking one of our more complicated moves called the bicycle; Matthew kept throwing me out and pulling me back in for another attempt until I jerked like a nervous tin man one time too many and urgently shook my head.

This year, after my long absence, I was not going to mess it up. As soon as Jump, Jive and Wail! erupted from the speakers, we trotted out. In my little black Calvin Klein dress and my schnazzy, zip-up high heels, I kept step even when my muscles began to ache and vibrate as Matthew picked up pace, spinning me and throwing me out with dizzying frequency. When I heard a spontaneous cheer burst from the crowd, I relished the attention. I only tripped up once, and Matthew quickly masked my mistake like a gentleman. We came off the dance floor laughing and trying to catch our breath, and I longed for another song to swing too. Sadly, swing dancing is no longer en vogue, and despite our desire to step out again, we were subjected to hip-hop until it was time to pick up the kids.

However brief our time in the lights was, I'm so thankful for a husband who loves to dance. When I told my friends before the party how excited I was by this once in a long while chance to go out dancing with Matthew, one of them said, "My husband doesn't dance" and the next pal sighed, "Mine doesn't either" and then the third finished, "Neither does mine". They all laughed, because the tone of voice had been the same, and I inwardly thanked heaven that my man was a smooth dancer and wasn't afraid to show it (he's better than I am - it's the little bit of Latin in him, I think).

So our dance is the thing of added joy this year. When you go out on a date as seldom as Matthew and I do, you really appreciate the opportunity when it comes around once a year or so, and dancing is a huge bonus to the usual dinner and a movie or lunch at the local brewery. Of course it wouldn't have been possible this year if it weren't for a very dear and trusted friend with whom we left our precious children while enjoying ourselves. She put them to bed and everything, so I am also grateful for her kindness.

And tomorrow as I slave over the turkey, stuffing, sweet potato souffle, rolls, gravy and pies I can remember our dance, be grateful for all the calories I burned practicing for it, and reflect on all those moments amid the chaos of our busy lives that I have to celebrate this year.

I hope all my readers, whether family, friends or strangers, have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for your support in my writing, and I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Our serendipitous October morning

Serendipity, I'm all about it.

This morning I took my kids to a gas station after my oldest daughter's orthodontist's appointment. We went to a brand spanking new gas station. I know it doesn't sound all that exciting, but it was something else, believe me.

I felt like going for a Starbucks coffee. It often happens with me in the fall; I have to be careful not to let money pour out of my ears. There's a Starbucks by the gas station I normally partonize, but the kids wanted to go to the new gas station by the orthodontist's. I pulled in, and everything was so lovely and new, bright and sleek. No gang signs carved into the touchscreens. No faded signs advertising donuts and cheap coffee and huge sodas. Even the pavement seemed to shine in all its freshly-poured splendor, untested yet by the Phoenix heat still oppressing us in the afternoons. And as I filled up the tank, I thought, I can get a coffee here much cheaper, and they have donuts for the kids, too. We can go in.

I don't take my kids into gas stations unless we're on a trip and have to use the potty or their Papa is agreeing to a quick snack or fast food lunch. Going into a gas station instead of doing a drive-by is therefore exotic, associated as it is with road trip adventures and alluring towns like El Paso, Texas and Gallup, New Mexico. There was that one time in Wakiki, too, when we stopped at the gas station for breakfast, because it was the only place with available parking.

So gas station = adventure in our books.

And I'm telling you, this station was sleek inside as well. Even I was ridiculously attracted to the donut and muffin display cases, the coffee bar, and the wide, non-sticky aisles. My kids ran around in a fit of excitement as I valiantly tried to corral them, and an older gentleman laughingly said to me, "You would think it's a theme park!"

I got a big cup of pumpkin spice coffee and snagged an accompanying pumpkin spice creamer. The kids joyfully scanned the pastries and picked out large, filled ones. We topped off a huge cup with coma levels of a sugary drink combo for Berto, my teenager, who had decided to stay home and play video games, missing all the fun.

When I paid, the attendant commented, too, on how much fun my kids had had, and I laughed and said, "I never bring them into the gas station. It's like Disneyland!"

It wasn't yet nine in the morning when we left clutching our pastry bags and syrupy drinks, happily walking out into the still cool October air, and I thought, It's going to be a great day!


You gotta love it.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Freewrite of sorts: Letter to Papa, because I can

Dear Papa,

It's been really, unexpectedly busy lately.

I know you're probably wondering why I'm not writing more, Papa....well, unless you're so busy writing your book that you haven't noticed my pitiful output of words. That's probably the case, so I'm good.

You told me to treat this writing business like a job and not to piece meal my time away. What you told me not to do, I did. I gave away a ton of my time. The kids' school needed someone to do copier pool this week, and the better part of three days I've spent there. Eventually while waiting for that mightier-than-thou copier to spit out 3,020,500,019 copies, I realized I should be using the wait time to write, so I scrawled on a scrap piece of paper. What I wrote wasn't very good, though. And the copier kept jamming and moaning, asking for more toner and begging for coffee, lunch, and nap breaks and just in general being an attention hog. We now have a toxic relationship, that copier and me. I hope I don't see it again for a while, but I'm not betting on it.

Oh, funny aside: that copier can copy several pages at once into a packet and staple each one, but I didn't know that, so I copied a bazillion two-sided pages for a teacher, and then had to sort them into individual packets by page number and staple each one by hand. 75 packets of several pages each, it took me a couple hours. Not very efficient of me.

Also, your grandkids have been terrible stinkers on and off. Berto is stressed out in middle school, and snapped at me all the way home yesterday afternoon about television and homework, mad because his siblings got a half day, and he didn't. Daniel throws fits, demands stuff, and tells me I'm mean for getting after him for treating me like carp. Gabriella smarts off. Ana is fine besides putting too much pressure on herself. I do alot for those little rapscallions; they should appreciate me more instead of complaining about what I pack for their lunches.

I still want to write that mystery novel, but I'm going to check out a book at the local library on how to write a mystery novel first. I never had your gift with plots, and it would probably be best if things happened in this book instead of everybody milling around and talking to each other or getting lost in their own heads.

Right now I have three humor posts I'm working on, but I may have to ask your help with editing. I can't seem to wrap any of them up or get the tone or punch of certain lines just right. I would really hate to lose my momentum there, and that's what I fear: that I can't perform again, that I'll backslide.

Annie's visit this past weekend was wonderful. She was awesome with the kids, even letting them each paint a part of her face and buying them craft supplies for Halloween costumes. They'll never forget that! I hope she got all that paint out of her hair. We went out to eat twice in two days which amazed the kids, because they're so used to their parents being cheap.

Annie gave me a wonderful gift. I'm sure she told you about it, but I was shocked when I saw what it was: an original Beatles Abbey Road record. I couldn't wait to listen to it, and I'm also thinking about getting a really cool frame for it, so I can stare at it regularly on the wall. "Oh Darling!" is on there and "Octopus's Garden" and "Here Comes the Sun" - do you remember when Freddy died, and I listened to that one all the time? Annie gave me some of our childhood back; we used to listen to that record constantly together. It was my favorite. I even called that beautiful maple in the field on the north side of the house my Abbey Road tree, remember?

(Why is it, Papa, that my siblings always give me such amazing gifts, and I just really stink at giving them something incredible back? I never seem to find the personal and memorable treasures they do. They spoil me, and I don't deserve it at all. Maybe I'm amazed.)

One last thing about Annie's visit: I bet you'll never guess what we did? We argued and debated and almost ran for our boxing gloves. And guess what we did after that? We made up, and we laughed our heads off about how we are as a family (it all comes from your side, you know). We were drinking some Muscadine wine, the kind that Vinca introduced me to and that tastes like those muscadine grapes we used to pick in the lane, and Annie kept cracking me up by imitating how our family is when we're together like some big, crazy Mediterranean family as in Big, Fat Greek Wedding. She was witty in describing how we take someone else's business and rub it into our faces (It's not uh my business? It's not uh my business?! There! *rubs hands all over face* Now it's my business!), and how we leave our business on the other's doorstep, waiting for them to step in it. I'm starting to laugh just thinking about it. Matthew couldn't survive the debating/fisticuffs phase, so he missed out on the awesome after party. I think he goes into a temporary coma induced by exposure to overly emotional people.

Well, now you know what I've been up to. Oh, that reminds me; I want to write a humor post about our crazy family antics during reunions, too. I might have to steal some of Annie's material; I hope she doesn't mind.

I promise to work harder on my writing. When Danny first went to school, I was beside myself, craving company in the silence, and now I just wish I had the time and the quiet back once more. We always want what we don't have in the moment, huh?

Give Mama a big hug and kiss for me and tell her I miss her and often wish I could talk to her about "woman issues". She's such a calming influence, just like Matthew, Dave and Keith - haha! We really need them, all of us passionate folk.