Mary Bogue

Mary Bogue is always wondering about how we walk through life, and sees it as a dance; sometimes we're wearing high heels and doing the tango backwards in a man's arms, other times we're line dancing in flats while picking up after kids, and when we're lucky, we're barefootin' it freestyle.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My New Year's Resolution - Make a Joi Filled Noise

Winter finally came to southern California, in the form of rain washed streets, trees blown over and the ever-present ringing of the Salvation Army bell outside the local post office. It's always an interesting time of the year for me, flooded with memories of living in upstate New York where you will learn the true meaning of cold, and literally turning another year older on New Year's Eve.

I have perfected a recipe for dark gingerbread with chunks of dark chocolate, crystallized ginger and dried fruits of apricot, mango, date, pineapple, pears, apple, plum, and even papaya, just meant to be eaten slowly with a cup of hot cocoa or a glass of cold eggnog. It is a “wow” dessert for those who enjoy the bite of ginger paired with the sweet of dark chocolate. I love the way my whole house is perfumed with the scent of comfort and a sense of happiness comes over me and all who enter.

To make this recipe, I always need a trip to Trader Joes to do some dried-fruit wrangling. Don't you just adore Trader Joe's? I do. I love that I can count on Hawaiian shirts in December, cool reusable shopping bags, pine wreaths out front, and things like their own gingerbread coffee which always sells out way before Christmas. One of the things I especially like about Trader Joe's is the folks who work there. In all the years I've gone for my Akmak crackers and peanut butter flavored dog bones, I don't recall ever seeing anything but a joyous countenance. Everyone wants to be of service, wants to know if they can help you find what you need and even offer up a taste of their French onion and gruyere pizza, a sip of their sparkling blueberry juice or a soupcon of coffee, while you fill your basket with whole wheat bread, flax seeded chips and lemon curd.

That's where I met Joi, who was slicing tidbits of something or other and placing them on napkins or scooping spoonfuls into a paper cup for customers to try. Somehow we hit it off, and always got into conversations that kept me there way too long. My daughter did some fine growing up in front of Joi's eyes, and Joi could tell you all about my love life - or lack there of, and what she thought of the current guy in my life.

Joi and I knew how to laugh at life and shake our heads while murmuring, "Mmmm, mmm, mmm!" Conversations always wound back around to our bodies and whether we loved them that day. You can't help but engage in those talks what with the contents of your cart on display. Inevitably, we were never happy with our female forms. Show me a woman who is.

A couple of years ago, my friend Al hosted a huge Christmas soiree at his home, and hired me to do the catering. This was a job for more than one woman, and my daughter had long ago left the house to pursue her teenage dreams of freedom. I called Joi, who even though she showed up more than an hour late, was happy to be well paid and in her groove helping me wrap cantaloupe with prosciutto, make an antipasta tray the size of Chicago, and enough Pannetone bread pudding to make all the revelers smile hugely. You can always tell the hard core cooks at a party - for they have forsaken any political debates, discourse of the weather or talk of New Year's resolutions in order to watch you create some kitchen magic. And Joi and I could entertain while dishing it up. We worked side by side with great grace and efficiency - a well-rehearsed ballet as it were, costumed in our black slacks and white shirts.

The last few times I went to Trader Joe's, Joi was no where to be found. And I reminded myself that in an attempt to cut back unnecessary expenditures, I had cut back the journeys to Trader Joe's. I had to admit, I missed our conversations about, eHarmony and whatever news I had about the "latest internet date." You should have seen her shake her head over the Mormon wrestler guy (my first blog here). Nonetheless, Joi would start in, while readjusting the white straw cowgirl hat she wore, "I need to get me on and find me a guy, but I wouldn't know where to start. First I got to lose some weight and you know I can't lose any of this big, black..." and she would lean in to me and finish the sentence with a whisper, "ass of mine!" It was true. Joi had a tiny waist which magically met with a very..."developed" derriere. She continued, "Now it's one thing to find someone who wants a gal THIS black, but girl, with this here butt, too...I dunno." I laughed. Joi's complexion was indeed the color of 85% cocoa dark chocolate, complete with a tempered shine. In my eyes, Joi was beautiful. No, not the Tyra Banks or the Queen Latifah beauty. It was Joi's approach to life that was so lovely.

So, like I said, I was shopping for ingredients to make my Christmas gingerbread treats, and couldn't stand that once again, Joi was not in her place. Maybe she had the day off again and Matt, the happy-go-lucky guy with a grey goatee, who was busy serving up triangles of ham, could tell me when she would be in next. I would have to come by and see her and just catch up. I wheeled my cart over, and while "White Christmas" played over the loudspeaker, I asked. "Hey, Matt! Where in the world is Joi? I haven't seen her in forever!" He gave me a weak smile and seemed to wait for the mother with the grabby-handed child to leave the sample table. "How well do you know Joi?" he questioned with his head tilted to one side.

How well do I know Joi? Internally I was saying, "Are you kidding? We've talked about security leaks and bladder leaks, children who back-talk their mothers and appear ungrateful and in her opinion need a good whooping with a switch. We talked about the world needing a little peace and a little piece of mind that a garage sale could bring. How well do I know Joi?" Iindeed.

"Well," I thought, “Enough that she's in my cell phone directory. Why?"

Matt hung his head, took a breath and then looked up to me. "I hate to be the one to tell you, but Joi is gone."

"Gone? You mean gone as in retired? Or gone as in moved to another store closer to her home?"

My heart sunk. I knew which "gone" he meant before he could utter it.

"Nah." his breath escaped like a whoosh from a hot oven. "Joi passed away almost six months ago. I'm so sorry...."

I was dumbfounded. Joi? There was only one Joi, so there was no need to clarify if we were talking about the same woman. I listened from inside my own head like a mayonnaise jar with the sounds kind of making a weird echo. "She hadn't come to work for three days in a row and so we called the police..." Matt's hand mindlessly obeyed him, doing his job while going on, "They did a welfare check and found her in her bathroom. She died of a heart attack. You know, she lived alone. She was there on that floor for three days, all alone."

My own heart sank. I could see her there; hear her last thoughts, "Lord, like this?" Her hand to her chest, not even able to get to the phone before falling. I could feel her eyes roll back, the pain of an elephant sitting on her chest and her acquiescing, making her peace, saying her prayer, asking for forgiveness, reliving her life and then it was over.

Matt broke my trance, "I'm so sorry. But a part of her will always be here." He looked upwards and pointed to the wall where Joi's hat was placed over her sample station."

I mumbled something, thanked him, mumbled something else and pushed my cart along. It all hit me when I got to the car. I wept all the way home. Joi was gone. She did not leave an inheritance, I was sure of that. She did not write any famous books or record a standard to be played over and over on the airwaves. Joi's legacy was her warmth, her desire to serve the public with a smile and a heart full of gratitude, motherly and sisterly wisdom and a genuine love for people. Her legacy to me was a roll of her eyes, the sistah-to-sistah talks, the hugs and laughter and her live-and-let-live take on life. I loved her.

For a couple of days, I thought of little else except for Joi's demise. How could she have been gone for six whole months and I didn't know or think to ask? Had I taken Joi for granted or expected Joi to always be in my life, but not IN my life? I had lots to think about as I whirred up my batches of dark gingerbread and realizing I needed to return to Trader Joe's for more crystallized ginger.

Matt was there again, and we nodded, and had our own little moment of acknowledgement. And then he remembered something. "Hey, look, she really is all around us. Look what someone brought in today."  From beneath the counter he lifted a tall white glass votive candle with a single feather tied to it. "And the lady who brought it didn't know Joi was gone either. She just brought it because it's Christmas."

“Yeah. Wow.” I said beneath my breath. I wished Matt a Merry Christmas, and once again left Trader Joe’s with my reusable bags and once again thinking about my friend. Here’s my take on it all: You see, when you're as authentic and as approachable as Joi, it's only natural that you should have a little Joi in your own heart and want to share it.

So, as 2009 comes to an end and 2010 is here in a matter of hours, I do believe that if asked what my New Year's resolution is, it will be to live with a little more Joi in my heart. No matter if your work is mighty or humble; be kind to others, smile a little and always be reminded that you're just fine the way you are right now, and your never too big. Everything is exactly how it's supposed to be right now. I wish you Joi.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Autumn Leaves Me Great Full

It's hard to be thankful for autumn when it's in the high 80's and the only crunch beneath your feet is not that of burnt orange and pale yellow leaves the color of the moon, but rather the strewn twigs left from a huge wind storm and brought in the house by a visiting spaniel and discovered by the instep of a bare foot.

There is no crisp air to invite a deep breath and a feeling of excitement for the holidays which will surely roll around sooner than I can imagine.  No need for a muffler tucked around the neck, or that coziness felt from nesting inside while falling leaves drift by your window, or the first fire inside to cast a glow of romance in your lover's eyes.

Instead of leaves tinted that of a first summer sunburn, I have noticed that the lacey, May-blooming jacaranda tree I planted in the front yard as a memorial to my late husband, has surprised me with a sprig of its lavender flowers - like a single wave to me from heaven.

Traditionally we see the loss of foilage as the benchmark of winter with spring waiting in the wings like an eager ingenue desperate to take center stage. Some will say that California has no seasons - or worse, that we do, but it is marked by heat, fires and then floods of mud when the rain does hit. I tend to think that it's all perspective. We will still have our bell-ringing Salvation Army soldiers of mercy posted outside the grocery store where we buy our holiday turkeys and pumpkin pies, and there will be the over-priced bundled firewood for sale in front near the un-manned customer service counter, and in my cart a big bag of cranberries to mix with wine, cinnamon, orange and sugar.

When I hear disparaging comments about climate, I always wonder if our perspective is skewed towards attitude instead of gratitude. Recently I was lamenting that I had to take a pair of my favorite high heels to the shoe repair man, as the sole was wearing thin and the heels soon to lose that little rubber tip that keeps us from rat-a-tat-tatting into a room, a friend reminded me of something too beautiful not to recall here. She told me that my shoes could not have been run down if I had not been wearing them. Lori claims it was a typo that made her refer to them as fun-down instead of run-down. Of course I had to wear them out in order to wear them down. That's a no-brainer at first blush, but I pondered that for a bit. Where had those shoes been worn to in order to wear the leather so bare? I seem to wear them infrequently. Then I remembered that I love wearing them at night when I go out to sing, to restaurants to dine with a dear friend, and even a wedding or two. Ah, yes! They were not run-down, they were fun-down.

I'm of course looking forward to trading in my bare feet or my Birkenstock sandals for the long black patent leather boots that I was lucky to score because they actually fit my calves. And won't it be nice to wear the red hand crocheted scarf that Mom made me for a birthday one year! How lucky I am that Mom, at 89 is still alive and in relative good health. How lucky I am, though thousands of miles apart, to be able to pick up the phone and hear her tell me the same stories as the last time we spoke, or remind me that my sister and her husband who live next door to her, bring her dinner every night. In the next breath, Mom will tell me like she has for the last ten years, that she doesn't eat much. The irony is not lost on me and neither is the subtext. Though she may not have the appetite she did in years gone by, is not the point. Someone cares enough to cook, bundle up in a jacket and rainboots and walk next door in the 30 degree weather with a Tupperware in hand. She may not eat as much with her mouth, but her eyes are still hungry to see her daughter at the door. My sister Diane will sit and listen to Mom as if it is the first time she has heard Mom say the same thing for the thousandth time; that it always rains in southern Illinois. I am so blessed to have her taking such good care of Mom.

I am so grateful for family, though it seems they have scattered like whirling leaves from our family tree. My daughter is now 19 and married, living hundreds of miles away with her new family and starting her own traditions. Dad is gone, my eldest sister Judy passed just after him, and like I said, my husband Rob is no longer here - all gone the same year. My youngest sister Barbara moved to Texas and has ex-communicated me from her life for what she obviously feels is a wrong-doing, though it defies definition to me. You can reach out to people, but you can't open their hands if instead of a extended palm you received a fist, the same they profess to use in prayer. Yet, I am thankful for her anger - because it means she is feeling. Of course I'd rather know her love, but I see blessings in the oddest of places now. Before our sister Judy died from a complication of strokes and a heart valve infection, other than pain, it was difficult to ascertain if she was cognizant at all. I'll take Barbara's discord as a sign that she is in the moment, and that, dear friends is kind of like winter. Even a bare, twisted and gnarled tree appearing dead in winter, will again sprout green come spring.

In the past, this time of the year found me planning a holiday menu for as many family members as I could fit around the table adorned with Mom's hand-embroidered tablecloth made to complement my Country Roses patterened china that Rob bought in 1981 as our first gift together. Now, not so much. My brother Paul called me yesterday. Paul, now in his 60's is finding his stride of soul. For whatever reason, and there are a few, I remain the only one to invite him to the holiday dinners. And this year would not have been any different. The table has shrunk in size from that laden with enough for an army to that more appropriate of an old couple with a friend or two to share a much smaller turkey. Imagine my surprise when Paul asked me for the pleasure of my company this Thanksgiving. Yup. He asked me. "I've been thinking," he started, "you know, you always work so hard and do all the shopping and the I was thinking I should take you out this year.  And invite Al. He's awfully good to you. Whaddya think?" Before I could say too much, he blurted out, "Of course I'll miss your cranberries..." I smiled. "I'll still make you cranberries and..." I was cut off in his excitement, "And I could bring one of those Honeybaked hams so we have something to pick on, whaddya think?"  I think my heart is filled with love and that what could be despair at the loss of what was, is filled with the joy of what is.

Maybe the collective symphony of my twenty-something year old wedding gift Waterford crystal goblets will not be so resounding as yesteryears, but three glasses will still ring out, and a smile will still cross my face as we raise them in a toast of a mutual blessing - "Happy Thanksgiving." and when all is said and done, and we return from a restuarant Thanksgiving dinner, before calling it a night, we'll enjoy a tad of my cranberries and a slice of that ham on a small china plate, use one of Mom's napkins, and  my heart and soul will have been nourished and my high heels fun-downed a little more.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Can See Hell From My Kitchen

If Sarah Palin can see Alaska from her kitchen, I can see hell. No, really. I have seen hell more than once from my view over the sink garden window filled with stained glass items and pictures of time spent in both a front yard of sunflowers and also the streets of Montmarte, Paris.

My first recollection of hell outside my window was when I realized that the foster child I had been planning on arriving would not be the little blond with spools of ringlets and bright blue eyes, clutching a teddy bear. No, my first foster child was 15 years old, had dirty hair streaming down her face, was wearing thick Doc Marten style boots, torn and faded once-black jeans, a chain holding an empty wallet to her body and a shirt with the welcoming message every foster parent wants to see, "Death and Anthrax." What else says "Look, Honey," to the reluctant foster dad, "our first kid is walking up the path to the front door, we did the rght thing," than a scruffy teen with a cigarette package in her hand. I sighed and prayed, concurrently.

Kathleen turned out to be just fine - especially since I gave her permission to smoke her cigarettes. Those of you who know me, are thinking, "WTF?" Ah, think again. You know me. Wait for it...wait for it. Here it comes: "No problem," I answered the question mark on her brow. " Nah, I'm good with that if you just follow my rules you can smoke as much as you want." The social worker looked horrified at me. Her mouth opened and before drool could form, I went on,"just walk out to the back of the property (a mere couple hundred of yards) and smoke behind the wall where the pool filter is..." She interrupted me, "Okay." Without missing a beat, I offered, "use the ashtray only, and when you're done empty the cigarette into the black trash bin, bring the ashtray in and wash it with hot water and soap," she started to speak again. I cut her off, "then walk out back and replace it, come back inside and take off all your clothes, do a load of laundry and take a shower and wash your hair, put on clean clothes and then do as you like. Her eyes were saucer-big. "And really," I finished, "I don't care how much you smoke as long as you do that and buy your own cigarettes. Go for it." Kathleen's eyes closed as she dropped her head to her chest, "I always wanted to quit," she mumbled. That was it, Kathleen never smoked again.

Hell came once or twice more down my front door path. It came one June afternoon when a tall stranger in a dark suit hand-delivered the box of cremated remains of my late husband Robbie to me. I looked down at the box and smiled. You see, I had already given them Rob's favorite hand carved stone box depicting a golden retriever, but the crematorium informed me that not all of Rob would fit. Dazed, I told them to just put the rest in a Ziploc. I think they were ready to faint on the the other end. But certainly Rob would have appreciated it. Good God, he used to joke that he should be stuffed, so he could sit upright in his favorite chair with a remote control in his hand. I thanked the stranger and sent him on his way. In my hands rested the "leftovers" of a man who had been bigger than life, reduced to ashes. There is no going back. You might think you can rebuild a similar man or life, but you can't. Here I am, eight years down the road, and I'm here to tell you it is ashes to ashes, and dust to dust. You can put a pretty bow on the cardboard box, but it still holds yesterday's happiness and tomorrow's uncertainty.

Once, hell came in the form of a "friend" of my late husband. I remember hearing the asshole quite clearly. He pulled up on his motorcycle disturbing the flittering buzz of a hummingbird which darted away. Mr. A-hole sauntered up the sidewalk, leather pants making a susshing sound which grew louder with his approach. He considered himself to be a great friend to my husband, and yet, I had to inform him that Rob had died two years previously. A-hole took it all in, and then, moments later said to me - the still grieving widow, "Ya know, I really didn't like him the last time I saw him..." A-hole left my house with my definition of what a real friendship is. Oh, there were other lessons to be learned that day, for sure. But I was happy to see Hell's personal "Mr. Outreach" leave my my kitchen sink window perch-like view and straddle his "hog," leaving a horrid screech behind.

Hell has also taken a more literal turn as well. We have been under attack by monster fires this last week. California is burning and surely some red-necked (so sue me, come on, really) illiterate is blaming the fires upon our gay population, the rights of same to get married if they should so choose, and let's not forget the right to choose abortion if necessary. Imagine the hell that is for any woman - what kind of a choice is that? But I digress.

I came in late last night from a night of singing torch songs on the other side of town, where the air wasn't heavy with particulates. Upon opening the door to my car, I stepped out and realized that the "snow" on the ground was the charred remains of people's lives, swirling around my lace high heels. It was furniture, jewelry boxes, teddy bears, abandoned shoes, walls, forests, creatures unable to out-run the blistering inferno, wedding memories and family photographs of happier times when children are frozen in time at the age of five wearing their take on a gypsy- princess Halloween costume. It was dreams up in smoke. It was the devil. It was breath-taking, and try as I might, I could not breathe a bit of fresh air. Looking up, the moon hung orange in a smokey black curtain. I tasted the air and as it settled into my hair and clothes in just seconds, it tasted like charcoal briquettes waiting to explode. It tasted like death.

So what's my point? I mean, I must have one, right? Good God, let's hope so! Here it is; we only have this moment which if we're lucky keeps regenerating. Take the time to create a breath of heaven today or tonight. Tell someone something to make their day. Today, I had a business meeting with a young man and I encouraged him to take the phone call which seemed to interrupt the flow of things betwen us. At the end of his phone conversaion he said to the person on the other end, " I love you, Sweetie." I promise, you can be standing in a mound of rubble and broken dreams, but when someone acknowledges or professes their love for you - you are lifted higher and your soul soars beyond the orange moon.

I love you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lemonade Stands, Hot Cocoa and Flaming Hot Cheetos

When I last blogged, I was in the midst of the ultimate Christmas joy, having heard from Charity. I was so completely wrapped up in the experience that I failed to return to the computer to share the greatness of what transpired. So, here we go.

I couldn't contain myself any longer (big surprise for those of you who know me) and ended up flying Charity out here. She told me that she was so excited that she was making arrangements to come for two weeks. Two weeks? I mean, I love her to pieces, but I hadn't seen her in more than a decade, and here she was, all grown up at 26. Who knows what could have changed in all those years? Look how much already had! Charity was so very excited that she put her own Christmas tree up, celebrated Christmas with her family and on the 26th the tree was down, decorations put away, and her suitcase packed for her departure from Denver on the 27th. Holy crap, talk about efficient.

What was to be a few short hours to get here, turned out to be an all day event with plane delay after plane delay, and our novice traveler knew not of her rights to book on another plane immediately because the delays were due to actual airplane malfunction and not an "Act of God," (which by the way, don't you just love that whole concept. I could go off on that right now with the Octuplet Mom's bullshit, but I'll spare you for the sake of this story). Anyway, by the time I arrived at LAX that evening, the airlines had of course lost her bag. Remember I said she was a novice traveler? Yeah. All of her meds and important belongings were in the big luggage and the carry on piece held junky incidentals. Let's just say that her first big lesson was learned through actual hands-on or hands-off experience.

I found her in the baggage claim area, wrestling with her jacket and carry on piece, whilst trying to fill out information should her bag be found. There she was! A woman now, with the same shock of blonde hair that she had as a girl. Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, it's not an Act of God anymore, but having said that, she looked pretty angelic to me. We flew into each other's arms and it was apparent that we needed each other to fill that long-emptied void. Family. Connectivity. Assuredness. Security. Safety. Unconditional love unlimited. We could hardly wait to get out to the car and get on the road.

The mind is a funny thing, you'd agree, right? And this is the good part. Somehow, in Charity's mind, I was still Grandma, but because of her own coming of age and now having four kids of her own, she had imagined for herself that I was, shall we say, no doubt a little more dowdily and age-appropriate for a "grandma." Read that, granny-ish. In her mind's eye, I was on a pedastle, the all-loving and all-knowing mother she never really had growing up and the only thing that could have changed was no doubt a dowager's hump, orthopedic shoes and tightly curled grey hair. Buzz. Wrong answer. Ah, not gonna happen as long as I can draw a breath and have my Amex card handy with a decent line of credit on it. As I told her, "Honey, I'm not going down without a fight.

Like tweens on a sleep-over, we stayed up, talking and laughing. There were memories of her high-tech lemonade stand built from fruit crates replete with wheels on casters, silver dollar sized pancakes just for her, and her favorite childhood memory of what we used to call "Hot Cocoa Baths." Basically, this was my attempt to drug an overly amped up kid with tryptophan to help them sleep. I would bring homemade hot cocoa to the bathtub and offer it butler-style to the non-suspecting child. See, ya gotta love that grandma wisdom stuff. Anyway, all the conversations began with, "Oh my God, do you remember..." and ended with tears, some from laughter and some from remembering her grandpa and missing him with all our hearts. She could not imagine that I have moved on, and coming home without him here to welcome her was incredibly hard. "Charity, we'll never get over losing him, but we just manage to get through it, and when you look up, eventualy enough time will have passed that you can breathe without choking on the memories and the dreams unfullfilled." I've found that when we dream for ourselves, we never interrupt it with the great "what if'" of life. What if that person I love so much becomes incapcitated, or what if something happens that I never realize just how much they mean to me and I never get to tell them. What if this photograph I'm snapping is the last one of them I'll ever have? Damn those what ifs.

In all of the times we had with Charity as a little girl, we had not taken her up the coast. The thing about California is, once you live here, it lives in you forever. It does. Where else can you sit on your patio with a cup of coffee, orange trees and birds of paradise in bloom all around you and a dusting of snow on the local mountains within your eyesight? Charity was jones-ing for California big time, so I made reservations at my favorite dog-fiendly hotel in Cambria, The Fog Catcher Inn. We rented a mini-van that could be accessed by Stallone, my aging golden retriever who had some serious mobility issues going on, and made our journey, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at Half Moon Bay, the vineyards and clean gas stations along the way. Gas stations can be a God send, and those with convenience store attached - even better. There, Charity was suddenly opting for water instead of her announced addiction to soda, but could not and would not give up the salty snacks of Flaming Hot, Limon Flavored, CHEETOHS. No. Orange fingered, I drove up the coast and our homemade sandwiches and cut veggies supplemented the "This has got to be made with crap" snack. Yum.

Cambria lived up to my expectations, as it always does. Garbo and Stallone loved the comfort of laying next to the fireplace at the foot of our king-sized beds, and seemed absolutely in bliss when Chari-boo (my nickname for the kid) would return from the dining room with left over chunks of fresh waffles, sausage and eggs. You have to admit, your eyes grow big with full expectations of being able to consume all you have managed to put on your plate, seeing as how someone else has made it for you. But that's another story. I digress.

For two nights we made Cambria our home, walked beach side, cozy in our jackets and mufflers and the new Uggs I gave her as a Christmas present. It was hard to believe, but we never even made it into town. Books lay with pages unturned and unlimited miles on the rental car were used instead to see everything on the way to Big Sur. Redwood needles crunched beneath our boots, rain washed away the miles of crust on the windshield and everywhere we went, we nested. It was sheer heaven- all of it - the way she gently helped Stallone in and out of the car, stopped to make sure both dogs were properly watered and of course, helped them find their perfect square of grass when necessary. I watched with the eyes of a proud parent, satisfied that if I died that same day, I would know that the world was a better place for having this woman in it. She is remarkable.

Back home, we moved through the house as we always had, but now grown up. It was a dance in the kitchen, the choreography in place of washing and drying dishes, preparing our next meals, feeding the dogs, and reaching for pots and pans to make new meals of homemade ablondigas and the favorties she remembered. I gave her my last copy of the cookbook I wrote and dedicated to her, so that she could continue making things like Firecracker Corn and her great grandma's Award Winning Chili. The recipes for life, she had apprently commited to memory. Charity knows that love isn't conditional upon ones gender or love for each other no matter if it is same sexed, that the meaning of Carpe Diem has greater weight now than before, and that old dogs need a little more love and time to get around. Yeah, she's cooking with gas, as my mother would say.

Come New Year's Eve and she accompanied me to Colombo's for my New Year's Eve show, helping the entire time, savoring the magic of it all. We are two old souls and the rhythm of our souls expression is like dessert - sweet, unexpected and satisfying. She seemed to love the standards we all sang, the people in my life who have become so important to me in the recent years and, of course, the scampi, calamari, steaks, eggplant, salmon and chocolate-chocolate desserts didn't hurt either.

To her husband back home, Charity couldn't get back soon enough - for several reasons, a few of them - well, I love Charity too much to talk about here - but for Charity and me, the time was evaporating quickly. Tears splashed against sunglasses, rolled down our cheeks and fell to our necklines. A cardboard box or two had to be sent home ahead of her because we knew her luggage would now be over by at least 30 pounds. There were clothes for the kids, souvenirs from our trip, new sweaters for Charity from my sister and Mom and a new 16 hour red lipstick in her carry on. Thankfully, we didn't have to pack the memory of procuring it. That went something like this:
"Hey Chari-boo, have you ever thought of wearing a red lipstick? I think it would be so pretty with your skin tone and blonde hair." Her eyes danced.
"Red lipstick. Oh my God, I'm so embarrassed."
"What? Over what?" I asked incredulously.
"Grandma, I feel so stupid. I don't even know how to wear blush. Here I am, going to be 27 in a couple of days and no one ever showed me how to wear it, so I don't."
Proudly, yes proudly, like a long ago programmed tribal dance between women, I showed her the apples of her cheeks, and also found the perfect orange-red, not blue-red color for her lips and helped her apply both.
"How do I look?" she asked, so jubilant in her reflection.
"Like you, all grown up. Beautiful, honey, just beautiful."
And I thought to myself, on the outside she is a flaming hot Cheeto, and inside, pure, sweet and yummy hot cocoa. She had learned everything she needed to from that Lemonade Stand - that when you smile at people and offer them a cup of love, they'll even pay for it when it tastes like a cup of lemonade.

Can you tell, how much I love that kid. And in the words of my late husband, "Did I tell you today how much I love you?" Well, I just did.