Coincidences versus Divine Appointments 

8 01 2018

“There is no such thing as chance; and what seems to us mere
accident springs form the deepest source of destiny.” 

Friedrich Schiller

It was a gorgeous, steely morning in the Crescenta Valley. Los Angeles is experiencing its first rain of the season, so it added to the mellowness of this Monday morning.

Our Montrose Church Women’s Coffee group was meeting at Panera Bread. I don’t really like Panera, and don’t quite understand what makes it so popular. Because we are again flat broke after having to travel to Chicago, the last thing I wanted was to go someplace where I had to spend money; so between that and the rain, I could have had a convenient excuse just to stay home. But the goal, particularly during this new year and time of grieving, is to connect as much as I can—especially on mornings when I really just want to curl into a ball—and this was one of these mornings.

For a change, I left right after my voice lesson. Normally I dither around a bit, but I wasn’t sure what the 2 Freeway would look like with this first rain, and since I haven’t been firing on all cylinders lately, I wanted to take my sweet time and not feel rushed. So I arrived at Panera exactly at 9 a.m., and Jana, Sandy, Carolyn, and several other women were already in line, ordering their food. I gave them hugs, and then looked at the menu to see if there was anything I wanted to get. I decided to try a pastry (cheap), and had my eye on a pecan roll, when I heard a male voice say, “Hello!” behind me.

I turned around to see my friend Robert, with his gorgeous smile, opening his arms for a hug, which I gladly took. Robert and his wife Gina have been one of the great friendships we’ve developed since coming to Montrose Church, and they knew about Joan’s passing. He asked how I was doing, and I said I was hanging in. He said something distinctive: “You have a certain grace about you that makes you appear that you are handling the situation.” I took that as a positive. We chatted a bit more, then I got back in line to order my pecan roll.

I was happy that the pecan roll did not disappoint, and I was happy with my decision to get out the house. We had great conversation around the table about a variety of things, including movies, and the Faith & Film class a lot of us were attending. Our time together was winding to a close, and most of the women had left. My emotional bank was depleting, so I went to restroom, and then prepared to make my exit.

I came back from the restroom, and was saying my goodbyes to the remaining ladies, when I sensed a pair of eyes upon me. I looked in the direction of the gaze, and saw the beautiful face of Darlene Perry smiling at me! I knew Darlene from The Church on the Way, where we sang together in the New Song Gospel Choir. Darlene and her sisters are also recording artists, as part of the talented Peri Sisters. On top of that, Darlene is an incredible baker and chef, and her cupcakes are simply divine.

I walked over and gave her a big hug, and we caught up a bit on each other’s lives. She was in La Crescenta (all the way from Lancaster) to frequent a local bakery supply shop! She popped into Panera for a quick bite before heading back to the Antelope Valley. I introduced her to the remaining ladies, and then she collected her food and jetted off. We made a commitment to reconnect on Facebook.

Some people would think that both of those unexpected meetings of a new friend and an old friend were coincidence; I choose to believe otherwise. For whatever reason, God knew I needed those bookends to my morning in order to shore up my soul for the rest of my day. Pastor Dave talked yesterday about God hovering over the void that is the chaos in our life, and those divine appointments were most definitely from his hand.

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This is 50, Day 01: It’s My Birthday!

2 08 2016

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.
It’s the life in your years.”
— Abraham Lincoln

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The first day of 50 started out as any normal day. We woke at 6 a.m., Lynn wished me a Happy Birthday, I made him breakfast, we prayed together, and I saw him off to work.

In terms of money, my wad was pretty much blown. What I would have liked to have done is had breakfast at one of my new favorite spots in Montrose and then spent the afternoon at Color Me Mine. But I had an already fabulous lead up to my birthday, and more plans with friends this evening and later in the week, including a big bash put on by my friend and fellow Yogi Nancy Kane; so not getting what I wanted on the day was a pebble in the ocean; small and insignificant.

What I did was stay in my PJs for a while, something that I rarely get to do, but that always feels like a mini-vacation when I can. Part of that gift basket from Carrie contained some really good coffee, so I brewed it up, and had a cup with my leftover treats from Sweetie Pie’s in Napa.

While I am not big on reward programs (too many cards to lose, not a huge frequenter of the establishment, etc.), I am a loyal follower of CityWok, a Chinese place that I used to frequent when we lived in the Valley. They are always faithful to send me my free entree coupon for my birthday! So I decided to traipse into the Valley and get my favorite combination fried rice, all for free. Free food on your birthday tastes even better!

The birthday evening was booked in advance. Gina Harris, a new friend from church invited me out to DiSH, a newish La Crescenta restaurant.

She brought her friend Becky along, and we had a good time being girls and enjoying a fine meal. I ordered Braised Beef Short Ribs with Shallots, Carrots, and Celery, in a red wine reduction, over Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Asparagus. It tasted even better than it looked!

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After the weekend and all the sugar from Sweetie Pies, I said I was going to avoid sweets until the big bash on Saturday. The best laid plans… the waitress surprised me with a slice of flourless Chocolate Ganache. This was one of the best flourless cakes I had ever tasted. I definitely needed to get into a Hot Power Fusion class tomorrow.

Detox to Retox, because there is more celebrating to be done.

Happy Birthday to me!

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50 Days to 50 Years, Day 00: Bye, Bye Napa, Hello 5 Freeway, Goodbye 40s…

1 08 2016

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” — John Steinbeck

This could be said of the road trip to Santa Fe, this one, and the trip through these past 50 Days to 50 Years. While I did not manage to connect with 50 friends over the 50 days, it was a very fruitful, fun, and enlightening experience, which carved a new space in the year and in my life: a larger space of gratitude for the people and events who have shaped the woman I am today, and a new space of embracing the legacy of years. I am thankful that I approach the 50s with few regrets, and a beautiful bouquet of people, places, and memories, including my husband, our marriage, and our life together. So the journey up to now has been mostly sweet, and my prayer is that it will continue to grow sweeter.

I packed my things, gave my thanks to Gina for the use of her Air BnB, and said my goodbyes. Since we kept skipping a formal breakfast these past two days, I decided to meet Shawna for one last meal at Black Bear Diner before I hit the road.

Black Bear is another Shawna find, and they have some of the best comfort food west of the Mississippi. One of their specialties is sweet cream pancakes, french toast, muffins, you name it. The sweet cream adds an extra layer of richness to the already fluffy texture of the bread, that is only enhanced by syrup, more butter, and whatever else you want to top it with. Had I been smart, I would have bought some muffins or sweetbread to take with me—maybe next trip….

It was delicious fuel for the body for the 6-plus hour drive back South. The car needed fuel too, so I gassed up at the Fairfield Costco before hopping the 5 South for a mostly uneventful ride back to Los Angeles. This is Northern and Southern California after all, and the traffic is legendary; but for the most part, the drive was smooth.

I arrived home to ecstatic puppies and a happy husband, so perhaps a weekend getaway was a perfect solution to reset us. We would be celebrating 9 years married in two days, so a reset was a good thing.

I also came home to a couple of sweet presents: a personalized gift basket from Lynn’s sister Carrie, and a lovely photo book from my sister Joan.

The last day of 49 ended as desired: at home with the people I love, on a mellow note, with anticipation of things to come as I crossed the threshold into 50.

 





50 Days to 50 Years, Day 03: Napa Girl’s Weekend with Shawna Cypher!

29 07 2016

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving
for my friends, the old and new.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been so looking forward to this weekend, and thankful for my friend Shawna who helped to set it up.

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Shawna and I have known each other since 1994, when she came to Los Angeles as a nanny, and we have been the best of friends ever since. From weekends, to dinners, to impromptu road trips, she has been one of my best road dogs. I was sad when she moved back to Napa, but it also opened the door for trips up north to see her, with other friends and family in tow (as pictured above). This picture was taken the year before, when we went to Walnut Creek for the Foxx Family Reunion. We stopped in Napa on the way and spent some time with Shawna, and then Shawna crashed the reunion as our “sister from another mister”, and we all had a great time!

So when I thought of getting together a group of friends for a Girl’s Weekend, she was first on my list. Because of time, distance, and finances, some friends and family couldn’t make it, but I was looking forward to spending time with my cousin Donna and my aunt Everette, as well as my new friend Nicole, who was joining us on Saturday.

I had an amazingly smooth trip up the 5 freeway. Car rides are like a moving meditation for me, and also a moving prayer time. I have done my best praying and pondering on the road, and after the strains of the last weekend, it was needed. I enjoyed taking my sweet time, worshiping to my favorite Pandora stations, and listening for God’s wisdom and voice. Definitely time well spent.

I arrived at the Air BnB rented by Shawna’s friend Gina, and Shawna was there waiting for me. She and Gina helped me get the lay of the land, then Donna and aunt Everette arrived soon after. Shawna loved being navigator and chauffeur, and after 7 hours on the road that was fine with me. So we packed into her Rav-4 and headed to dinner at The Pear!

Shawna raved about this place, and since she has the same food tastes I do, I trusted her judgment. I was not disappointed! We started with Sunset Mimosas, Cheese Fondue, and Grilled Prawns. I love me some crustaceans, so I ordered Cheesy Grits with Prawns for my entree. It was melt-in-your-mouth, hearty goodness.

Shawna is a scrapbooker and crafter, so thanks to her mad skills, I received my first official 50th birthday card! Custom-made, no less.

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After dessert, we explored the Riverfront in Downtown Napa for a bit, and I realized this was the first time in a while that I had spent any quality time with my Aunt Everette. She is one of the last living Foxx matriarchs, and I wanted to soak up her presence as a living memory of that family and my mother.

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We saw all we could see of the Riverfront, so we headed back to the BnB for some conversation and a nightcap. Shawna had to go to work, and Everette went to bed, so me and Donna sat up a bit longer and had some good conversation about men, marriage, and how God wanted to use us as partners to the men we loved. Much needed conversation. My eyelids were drooping, so we prayed together, and both went off to bed.

Day 1 of the weekend had turned out fabulous, and I was looking forward to Day 2: Mani-pedis, and the Castello di Amaros Winery!





50 Days to 50 Years, Day 04: Breakfast at Bea Bea’s with Larry Oya

28 07 2016

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Bea Bea’s appears to be the favorite in-between spot for this Los Angeles city-dweller and my West San Fernando Valley friends. And why not? I can always go for some Thai Tea pancakes!

Larry Oya, his wife Shirley, and kids Jennifer and Allison are also longtime friends from the Congregational Church of Northridge. Larry was a pivotal part of Tuesdays with Transitioners, the career group I ran at CCN until 2014. He had weathered that particular career transition, and now he was going through another. Larry recently went through major spinal stenosis surgery, and was in the midst of rehab/recovery. He had attempted to go back to work, but corporate workplaces are all types of interesting when you’ve suffered a setback; so he stepped away again in order to continue his recovery. He had some time to come out to Burbank and hang for the morning, and it was delightful spending  Day 4 of my 50 Days to 50 Years over coffee, pancakes, and conversation.

We talked about his surgery and recovery, being on disability, and his career plans once he is able to get back at it. Larry is very wise, creative, and sagacious, and gave me some good insight into the male psyche and how to approach it.

We brainstormed about some entrepreneurial ideas that he had brewing, and I put on my Tuesdays with Transitioners/Reinvention hat to encourage him to pursue these avenues, especially since he had some space to explore.

Bea Bea’s was starting to develop it’s usual lunch crowd, and we had occupied the seats for some time. I had to prepare for one more class to teach, as well as pack for my fun weekend, so we said our goodbyes and headed to the different poles of the city.

Thanks, Larry, for being a pivotal part of my life, and helping me celebrate 50 Days to 50 Years!





50 Days to 50 Years, Day 06: Vacations

26 07 2016

“In matters of healing the body or the mind, vacation is a true genius!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

I have noticed that since the bottom fell out of our world in July of 2010, that I’m not much fond of the month. Starting in 2012, I have made a concerted effort to disappear from Los Angeles sometime in July—to make an escape from the current situation, if only for a few days and with limited funds. Here is where Lynn and I differ, and like many married couples, where the fodder for arguments crops up: money spent and money lost while on vacation.

Vacations were not a normal routine when I was growing up, so when I became an adult, I decided this was something I wanted to incorporate into my life; particularly since I was stuck in the corporate world, which I hated. So once enough vacation days were accrued, I did my best to use them.

Cambria Coast near Moonstone Beach

Moonstone Beach is my kind of beach–rocky, rugged, and powerful.

And use them I did! Once I got my own car, I explored Cambria, my favorite place on the Central Coast of California, many times alone and with friends. I drove up the California Coast to San Francisco, Napa, Mendocino, and Eureka. Thanks to the generosity of other friends with lodging, I visited Dallas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Kauii, Hawaii. My philosophy: “stay”cations suck, and are not vacations; if I can’t get away, then the Summer has definitely been wasted.

Lynn took vacations with his family, but as an adult, he never bothered to plan any for himself. His idea of a getaway is visiting his family in San Luis Obispo for the weekend. While not a bad idea, for me, this is not truly getting away; and what I most want in the months of July and August is to get away.

So getaway we have, and I dragged Lynn along for the most part. Some years were really great, others rocky. In 2012, we drove to Arizona and New Mexico to visit his brother Bob and his family, and his sister Joyce and nephew Evan and had a blast.  In 2013, we traveled to Chicago to visit my family, and I discovered the happiest Lynn that I encountered in our now eight years of marriage. And my family’s reunion in 2015 in Walnut Creek, California was also one for the books. We seem to do very well when surrounded by family.

The years 2014 and 2016 were mixed bags. Bad hotels/motels and a few tense situations (like the blowup of yesterday), served to put a damper on those events.

So a day on the heels of the last getaway, as I reflect on the past five years of getaways, I am hoping to make some changes for 2017, and the years to come. One of those changes may be I just take vacations by myself and with girlfriends, since Lynn’s need to constantly earn and not spend does not produce a conducive or happy partner; and part of the enjoyment of a getaway is that the person you are with is enjoying the excursion as much as you.

So as I cross the threshold of my 50th Year, and decide what to keep or what to cast away for the the next 50, a getaway vacation is one tradition on which I don’t plan to compromise. I even have the dream of one day having the means to completely disappear for the three months of Summer—hopefully Lynn will be in a place where he is willing to do that too. Things to hash out as I continue in my 50 Days to 50 Years journey…

 





Sister Glue

28 02 2010

Black Heritage is my heritage–embodied in the history of my family.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Sisters“, posted with vodpod

I could never love anyone as I love my sisters!
Jo March, Little Women 1994

My relationship with my sisters has been as individual as we are.  Often complicated, sometimes overly dramatic, but no less enriching and essential to my life.  The glue of faith, prayer, and family honor has held us together, when at times I felt we were irreparably parted.

These excepts are from different chapters of Fried Chicken and Sympathy.

Chapter 7:  Sister Interrupted.

During my young adult years, my contact with Barbara waxed and waned throughout the years as I sought to find myself and my life.  But I will never forget her constant love and worship of God, her childlike trusting faith, and her adherence to truth.

When I was a child, if you had told me I could get close to God if I stood on my head three times a day, I would have broken my neck trying.  During my time in Catholic school, I learned different forms of prayer, to saints and to Mary, that I used to say along with the other forms of praying I had learned at New Hope.  Barbara was walking past my room one day, and she heard me praying the Hail Mary.  She barreled into the room, in her blustery fashion, and demanded I stop.

Startled, I looked up at her.  “But I’m only praying,” I excused.

“You don’t have to pray to anyone but Jesus!  He is the only true God.”

That made an impression.  As loopy as other’s deemed her, and as convoluted as her thoughts sometimes could be, she was secure in who the Source was.  Despite the faulty teachings, and false hopes, she never lost faith in God that she would be healed, and she never got angry with God because it never manifested in this life.  She didn’t understand the whys, but it never stopped her from continuing to seek answers, ask questions, and trust God’s will and heart toward her.  I model much of my relationship with God from her example:  Unyielding faith, eternal trust, yet never afraid to be fully human.

Even when I thought I had stopped following her life, she was still committed to following mine.  Like Gerry, she loved her family, and was loyal to a fault.  When I would phone the Ferdinand house to speak with Bay, I would hear her excited voice in the background,

“Jennifer!  Oh yes—let me speak to my sister!”  Bay would surrender the phone, and she would ramble on about Lil Mike, Joshuah, Aimee, her job, or about nothing in particular; she just enjoyed the process of connecting with me.

I made a conscientious effort to be the “auntie” to my nephews and niece, particularly at Christmastime.  I made sure that Lil’ Mike, Joshuah and Aimee (who had the misfortune of being born on December 24) had something, even if it was only coloring books.  Barbara would exclaim, and ooh and ahh over the little gifts, as if I had given them college scholarships.  She was grateful for kindness, especially toward her children.

I didn’t understand the depths of her love for me until after she died.  At Barbara’s repast, a very thin and agitated young girl walked into the church hall where it was being held.  Joan greeted her, then brought her over to where I was sitting.  The woman was a coworker of Barbara’s, and she had traveled two hours by bus to pay her respects.  She was very apologetic, because she had gotten lost and missed the wake.  When Joan introduced her to me, her face lit up with recognition.

“You’re Jennifer!”  she exclaimed.

“Yes,” I replied, extremely puzzled at her highly familiar exclamation.

“Barbara talked about you all the time—how smart you were, and your clothes—and she used to tell me you wore these wild earrings!”  We all laughed, then she continued to go on and on about how Barbara talked about me.  I sat there and listened, and cried over this precious gift from a total stranger: a part of my sister that I never knew existed, and unfortunately, realized too late.  I mattered much to her, and was thought of, even in my chosen 3,000 mile exile.

Chapter 16:  The Law of Reflection.

Everyone has people who are mirrors in their lives; some render true reflections, others do not.  June’s mirror is a solid plane that has rendered an accurate reflection, allowing me to view myself and my world with some degree of normalcy.  I have never felt reduced in her presence, and I have never been made to feel as if I were “less than” in her eyes.  I know that I would not have had the courage to believe in myself, pursue my dreams, or move away from our family dysfunction had June not been in my life.  The mere fact of her acting as that solid plane has caused the direction of my “light” to change for the better.

Yet, while we share similar values, beliefs, and preferences, we are definitely opposites.  I’m more of a social butterfly, and she’s a homebody, preferring to sit in her place and read, or play her beloved computer games, than be in a roomful of people.  I’m extremely creative and innovative, enjoying projects that have a defined beginning and then moving on to the next task.  June is more analytical—she enjoys maintenance, and the mundane details and redundant tasks involved in it, where this type of work drives me insane.  She will often listen to my view on something, and she’ll say, “You know what, you’re a strange kid!”  But she means this with no malice, and it’s usually expressed with her dry wit.  The mirror defines our kinship.  Her positive reflection of me when I was younger helped me navigate what, for the most part, was a troubling and confusing childhood.  And now that I’m an adult, she still reflects a clear image, confirming who I have become and affirming who I can continue to be.  There are a handful of people who I know will love me no matter what I do, and she is at the top of the list.  She adores me and is among my true fans—always encouraging me to be true to who I am, to write, to not give up on my creativity.  Always reminding me that the dreams that I dream can, and will, come true.  She’s a great source of inspiration, an emotional support, and the epitome of what family means.

Chapter 15:  Enigma.

The intervening years had seen their share of divisiveness and rancor, and they has taken their toll on all of us as sisters.  June was always faithful to pray and hang on to hope of a restoration, when I had simply resigned myself to the fact that I lived on a different planet than the balance of my siblings, and had no expectation of any common ground for continued peaceable relations.

Two weeks before June died, Adrienne and Joan flew in from Chicago and took care for her.  This, as well as their concern for mine and Gabi’s welfare, reflected a stark contrast to the disregard and battling that had occurred in the past.  June was able to see us agree on ways to best care for her, and to see them reach out and sacrifice to ensure her health and well-being.  That was her prayer answered, and a promise fulfilled.

It was in 2006, that I began sensing the first thaw to the cold front that existed between me, Adrienne and Joan.

I received an email from Joan, inviting me to participate in this online movie site where you rate movies and chat with other people who have similar cinematic tastes.  I saw this as a hand through the door that I have left open, so I extended back and responded.  She’s shared snippets of her life (new cat, new job), then fully opened the dam, releasing a floodgate.  Sister is back in full swing, and we have chatted for hours on over instant messenger and on the phone, catching up on each others’ lives.  After June’s death, we have committed to spend at least one Holiday together each year, and so far that has gone well.

This recent development is as bittersweet as all the others—who knows when or if division may rear its ugly head.  But, I continue to hope that maybe this time, we are ready to actually be Sisters and that this will remain; no matter where we disagree, or what goes on with us.

With Adrienne, it began after a serious illness where she almost died.  June phoned me to let me know that she was in the hospital, so I tracked down the phone number and immediately called.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Adrienne, it’s Jennifer.”

“Well, hello!  How come you haven’t given me your new address?  I wanted to send you a birthday card!  It’s your 40th, right?

“Wow!  What a good memory you have,” I said.

“I have everyone’s birthday written down in my Bible, but I always remember yours.  Maybe because you were the last.”

“Well, thanks for remembering.”

“I have a pen and paper, so go ahead.”

I gave her my information, and we chatted for about twenty minutes about what happened at the Foxx Family Reunion, her condition, and what was going on in my life.

“Joan said she saw your writings on the Internet.”  I was initially shocked, then realized between my blogspot and my writing coach’s website, I could now be Googled.

“She must have happened on my writing coach’s website.  I’m finishing up my novel.”

She was impressed by this, and said she looked forward to when it was finished.  We talked a bit more, and then I decided to end the call.

“Do call me any time,” I said.  Again, she may never bother, but I still refuse to slam the door.

From the Epilogue: The Destination is There.

During their visit to care for June, I talked with Adrienne about things that we never shared in the past: challenges at their church, marriage, being a spouse and running a household.  In writing my memoir, I had collected many of the old photos of the Foxx and Oliver families, and Adrienne wanted a disc. Looking at the pictures together, we both noticed how our Aunts Allene and Everette had aged, then calculated how old our mother would be if she had lived.  It was 2008, so she would have been 77.  Adrienne marveled at this, then said, “Sometimes, I wish she were still here.”

I was quiet, as I had no immediate response.  In reflecting on this later, I realized what I did miss—the possibility of what might have been.  Surely the restoration and alteration of relationship would have extended to us as mother and daughter.  But that will never be in this life, though I am sure it will be in the next.








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