Family Treasures

This post is a part of my 10-Minutes Tuesday collection, written today on the prompt “family.”

85670316F034We found out I was pregnant after 4 years of infertility treatment right around if not on Father’s Day itself. How ironic and sweet is that?

15 weeks later, after we thought we were safe and had told our friends, we discovered that our baby had not made it past about 6 weeks. I didn’t have any sign of miscarriage until that day.

Not knowing whether we would ever be able to grow our biological family was crushing to us. But now, as I sit here and write this, I gaze upon the pictures and portraits of our 3 kids that grace the walls, shelves and pretty much every horizontal surface of our home.

Now almost 22, 19 and 16, my kids are my treasure. The thought of them ever moving far away from me where I won’t see them frequently squeezes my heart, and even more so now that I also have a grandson that I care for 5 days a week. But I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

DSC00247_2I myself moved across the country from my own family of origin. My parents have passed away and my sisters live in Colorado and Washington State, and my brother is still in California where we grew up. I don’t see them nearly often enough.

Family is a complicated, hard, beautiful thing. We can either thrive or flounder in our relationships with those we should hold most dear. Just a few years ago, my husband’s sister and her family moved from Texas to Florida, to a house right across the street from us. Just this week, that sister and her husband signed divorce papers after more than 30 years of marriage.

She doesn’t live across the street from us anymore, but her husband, 15-year-old son, and 27-year-old son who is about to get married, do. We value these last 3 years with them so close by. It means the world to me to be able to see them and know them and be there for them, especially during this hard time. My father-in-law is far away. But my mother-in-law lives with us. See what I mean? Complicated.

fullsizeoutput_1e0Many people complain about Facebook, but I’m thankful for it because of the connection it has given me to my faraway family. I can see pictures of my great nephew and great niece that I’ve never met, and know that my oldest sister is loving being Mimi to her new granddaughter. I long for my grandson and her granddaughter to meet. They would be super good friends. They are 2 months apart.

But for now, we treasure our family both far and near. Keep up as well as possible, and build an extended frie-maly here. You know, friends who are like family. They mean the world to us too!

With the holidays right around the corner, I know many people will be facing family situations that will be uncomfortable, hard, ugly even. I pray that you can find peace and maybe even that some relationships can be repaired.

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Not My Burden to Bear

IMG_2281As the last couple of years have been heavy with heartache, I have struggled with anxiety and feeling out of control. I want things to be “right.” I want everything to work out so that everyone is happy and nobody struggles and flowers and rainbows pop up everywhere.

But you know what? Rainbows need the rain. And flowers have to push their way out of the deep, dark earth to struggle their way to the surface where their beauty can be seen.

IMG_5810There are burdens we simply aren’t meant to carry. That’s been my mantra for the past several weeks as we’ve struggled with the choices of one of our children. “Not mine to carry.”

I picture a small child walking side by side with his dad. But on the child’s back is this huge backpack that is bending him low and causing his feet to stumble and his steps to be slow and painful. His father is right there, asking to carry the weight, but the child, willful and stubborn says in his small voice, “I can do it myself!”

How many times do we hear that from our small children? “Do it myself!”

But when we let the Father reach down and take that burden from us, our backs become straighter, our steps lighter, our eyes on the goal rather than the ground.

The consequences of that child’s choices? Not mine to carry.

The fear of the future and what might be in it? Not mine to carry.

FullSizeRender 5If that father with his child chooses to hand him a notebook to carry from that big ol’ backpack, then that’s the father’s choice, and it is to help make the child stronger. But what he gives his child will never be too hard because he’s got the lion’s share. On his strong shoulders the burden is borne.

My job is to pray, to keep my eyes on Jesus, to hope in Him, knowing that He is sovereign and loving and kind.

God wants me to give Him my burdens. He longs for it. He’s so much better at carrying them than I am. I find freedom. He gets glorified.

Win, win.

This post is a part of the Five-Minute Friday linkup. To read more on the prompt “burden” go to www.fiveminutefriday.com

FMF button

 

Faith in an Ocean

I’ve been in the fiction writing mode for the month of October, so I set aside my regular Tuesday and Friday posts for the month, but I’m back! Today’s 10-Minute Tuesday post prompt is “Ocean.”

IMG_1856I grew up in Oakland, Calif. The Pacific Ocean was always a part of my life. Our house had a view of the San Francisco Bay, but just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, on a clear day, we could just see the ocean.

Some of my favorite sites are the craggy shores of Northern California. I loved the tide pools and the jagged rocks. The ocean was a peaceful, powerful place to see.

Then I moved to Florida. Bleh. The beaches just didn’t have the same appeal. The waves still ebbed and flowed, but the water was way warmer and the landscape was much less dramatic.

I used to say that I was more a beach person than a mountain person, but I came to realize that it wasn’t the beach itself that drew me—here in Florida I get way too hot and sunburned and sandy—but it was the power and the peace of the waves. I like watching them and hearing them. I know of their danger, and I am fascinated by the creatures the oceans hold.102_1116

I don’t get to spend much time at the beach. We live about 45 minutes away from the nearest shore, but we just don’t make the trip out there very often. I miss it. I miss being able to look out my window and see the vastness in the distance.

There is a popular Christian song called “Oceans” by Hillsong United that I like, even if it is overplayed. The idea is that we can rely on God even if the oceans rise. These words soothe me:

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.

Through every trial and hard season, God is there. My soul can rest in His embrace. He is my anchor. He won’t let go.

Rest in Him as you listen.

Chapter 21—Start

As I’m nearing the end of the 31-day challenge, this will be the last chapter I post here. My goal is to eventually work it up to a publishable book. If I don’t get that far or those I ask to evaluate it for me don’t think it has potential, then I’ll finish it here and let it stand as is.

Thanks for commenting and for following this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read. I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether or not you think it can be beefed up and turned into a book. Meanwhile, don’t forget this is unedited! You can start chapter 1 here.

Chapter 21

Start

As they cleared the table and put away leftovers to have for dinner, Erin started filling in the family on what she and Scott had uncovered that morning. There were many “Whats?” and “No ways!” and other assorted exclamations as she unveiled the curiosities of Hazel’s home and what appeared to be her hidden life. They made their way back out to the deck to continue the discussion in the sunshine.

Finally, Gordy couldn’t hold it in any longer and exclaimed, “I’ve known Hazel for 30 years! I mean, after the accident, things really changed with her, but how could I have missed this?”

Tyler sat on the wicker love seat on the far side of the deck with his arm around Liz. “If someone doesn’t want to let you in, you can’t force your way in, Dad,” he replied. “Breaking and entering isn’t just for criminals, you know.”

Gordon put his head in his hands as he sat next to Ellen opposite Ty and Liz. “I really considered Bernie and Hazel friends, but I actually can’t think of one time when we were invited to their house. They were a pretty normal couple, and ecstatic after they had Bryan.”

Erin said, “Hopefully Scott will uncover some things as he investigates. I’m anxious to do more searching in that house myself, but I don’t think he’s going to give me that chance.”

Cory took her hand. “It’s probably best you let the pros do the work anyway, babe. If somehow organized crime is involved, it’s best to stay out of the way.”

“Anybody want to spend a nice day at Green Glass Winery?” Erin joked.

Everyone laughed to ease the tension a little, and conversation went on to other topics. Sarah being one of them.

Ellen said, “I saw Sarah on campus the other day. I waved and called her name, but she didn’t hear me, or at least didn’t acknowledge that she heard me.”

Gordon grimaced, well aware that his youngest daughter wasn’t making the best of choices these days. “She’s being pretty distant with me these days. I’m worried about her.”

Erin loved her little sister to pieces, but she knew there had been a string of boyfriends in the last several months and Erin wasn’t at all comfortable with the sorority involvement she was having. She knew she was stereotyping again, but parties were just too much a part of that life. And she knew that her dad didn’t know the half of it.

Suddenly Erin jumped as her phone vibrated in the back pocket of her jeans. She pulled it out and saw a message from Scott, pulling her right back into the saga that was never far from her mind.

“Interesting stuff turning up. Want to talk?”

Erin quickly thumbed her reply: “Can you head up to my dad’s? We’re all here.”

“Yep. Be there in 15.”

She turned off her phone and told the group, “Scott’s got some information. He’s going to come over and fill us in.”

Just then Liz heard baby TJ babbling in the guest room, so she got up to get him while Ty said, “So, Scott and Pepper? Any progress in that arena?”

Cory laughed heartily at that comment and Erin groaned. “No, dang it! She’s so stubborn. That man is a gem. I’m gonna have to give her a long talking to.”

“Oh no you don’t” Cory added. “They’ve got to work this out on their own. Scott’s no pushover. He’ll wait her out. He can be pretty persuasive.”

Scott and Cory had been best friends for years, ever since playing basketball together in high school, though Scott was a senior when Cory was a freshman. Although they had gone to different colleges, they had stayed in touch, and after graduating from the Police Academy, Scott had settled in Clairmont. He had just recently become the youngest detective in the history of the Clairmont police force.

His family life had been rough when his police officer father had been killed in the line of duty, and his teacher mother had to raise him and his three brothers on her own. His mom lived in nearby Alameda while his brothers were all married and living in other cities, and one in the Seattle area. They were very close and he was proud of all of them.

A few minutes later, they heard the sound of Scott’s weekend ride, his bright red Honda Shadow Sabre motorcycle, pull up in the driveway. Erin opened the front door to let him in before he knocked, and there were hugs and handshakes all around.

“Congrats on making detective,” Ty said as they sat down on the deck with everyone else. “We haven’t seen you since that happened.”

“Thanks,” Scott replied. “I’m really excited for the opportunity to do some good out there.” He laughed. “That didn’t sound cliché at all, did it.”

Settling in to his seat, Scott said, “Well, I won’t beat around the bushes. In just a short time, I learned a lot about our friend Hazel Hodges.”

Out of the blue, Ellen gasped. “Wait, you guys have talking about Hazel Hodges this whole time? Hazel Garzetti Hodges?”

Gordy took Ellen’s hand with concern, “I actually never knew her maiden name, but maybe it’s the same person. How many Hazel Hodges can there be out there?”

“Oh, my dears,” Ellen said, “Hazel Garzetti is the heiress of the Garzetti news empire. And her husband, Ruben Bernard Hodges, didn’t just work for the government, he was an agent for the DEA.”

 

 

Chapter 20—Audience

I feel like things are really ramping up in this story. I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far. Please leave me a comment or criticism or suggestion. Remember this is unedited, so I’m sure there are some loose ends or continuity errors that I need to know about. Start chapter 1 here if you haven’t read the beginning. Enjoy!

Chapter 20

Audience

 

Cleaning her apartment and picking up some groceries filled the rest of the morning before Erin headed to her dad’s place. She was looking forward to the family time. Her brother, Tyler, his wife, Liz, and their baby boy TJ (Tyler Jr.) would be there as well as her dad’s lady friend, Ellen. Erin wasn’t one of those daughters who never wanted her father to remarry, thinking it would sully the image of her mother, or that the new woman would try to take Erin’s mom’s place in her life. Ellen was a gift. She was sweet, smart, funny and a great match for her dad.

Gordy and Ellen had met at an economics summit in San Francisco two years ago where Gordy had been one of the session speakers and Ellen was in the audience. She approached him after his session to ask some follow up questions and they ended up in one of the hotel restaurants, talking and laughing the night away. The next day, Ellen was returning to San Diego, but they exchanged contact information and promised to stay in touch. It helped that she had grown kids in the Bay Area; one in nearby Silicon Valley and one a little further out in Sacramento. She tried to make the trip north at least once a month since flights were fairly inexpensive. Erin hadn’t asked her dad his intentions, but she was hoping there would be a wedding soon.

At a little after noon, Erin jumped in her Bug to make the short trip up the hill to her dad’s house. He still lived in the house she grew up in, along a sparsely populated stretch of Skyline Dr. that offered an amazing panoramic view from the Dumbarton Bridge on the south that spanned the Bay from Fremont to Menlo Park, and the iconic Golden Gate to the north. She never tired of that view. Her parents had bought the place soon after they married in 1986. Being an economist helped Gordy when it came to buying real estate in such a beautiful area. He played his cards right, and they were able to get the 3500 sq ft fixer upper for a steal and then slowly work on it themselves over the years, until now it was a showcase of warmth and beauty that Erin was loathe to leave.

If it hadn’t been for her great desire to be independent and not be in her dad’s way, she would have stayed forever. As she rounded the last curve before his driveway, Erin gave thanks for the closeness of her family, which in turn made her sad that Hazel didn’t seem to have anyone. She made a mental note not to forget to ask her dad all the questions that were running through her head after her morning adventure.

As she pulled into the driveway, Erin’s dad opened the garage door, having heard the distinctive Beetle engine. “Go ahead and pull in,” he called. “It will leave more room for the others.”

She obliged, pulling in next to his silver BMW, careful not to open her door too wide lest she bump his prize possession, and then jumped out to hug her dad. “Ellen’s not here yet?”

“No,” Gordy replied as he led the way into the kitchen from the garage, “she was stopping off at Italian Colors to pick up our order for lunch.”

“Oh, yum!” Erin exclaimed. “I love that place. When are Ty and Liz getting here?”

“Should be any minute,” Gordy answered, bringing plates, utensils, cups and napkins out onto the deck facing the Bay. It was a gorgeous day to be outside, and even though the dining room offered just as spectacular a view, Erin preferred to be outside. Inside, the dark wood dining table sat in the middle of the large dining room facing the Bay windows. At the moment, the French doors were thrown open to let the 70-degree day flow in. Erin stood at the rail of the deck, looking out over the sunlit Bay, remembering what it was like to live here.

The entry level of the house was all open concept with the kitchen, dining room and living room all flowing into each other with a breakfast bar with an island range separating the kitchen and dining room. Susan and Gordy had remodeled that kitchen just a couple of years before she had gotten sick. Erin was sad that her mom hadn’t gotten to enjoy it for very long. She was an amazing cook.

Also on the entry level were Gordy’s office, a full bathroom and a guest room. Upstairs, there were three more smaller bedrooms including the master bedroom with full bath and another separate bathroom. When she lived there with Sarah and Tyler, those were their rooms, and sharing the bathroom wasn’t very much fun, but they got it done.

Downstairs was a big open family/rec room with a pool table, wet bar and theater system. It opened up onto a beautiful brick paver patio that was screened from the neighbors by tall green hedges of juniper and boxwood. There was a fire pit as well as a hot tub. Her friends in junior high and high school thought they must be the richest people in the neighborhood, but Erin knew that her parents just knew how to find bargains and do a lot of work themselves. It was an idyllic childhood.

Right up to the point where her mom got sick. Erin was in high school, Ty had graduated from college and was working, living in an apartment in Berkeley with a couple of friends, and Sarah was on the cusp of being a teenager. It was a tough time for everyone. Mercifully, because pancreatic cancer is a quick killer, Susan hadn’t lingered. Within five months of the diagnosis, she was gone.

Erin shook off her reverie as she heard voices in the kitchen. Ty and Liz always came with laughter and a whole lot of love. Tall and slender, Ty towered over his five-foot- five-inch wife. His strawberry blonde hair exactly matching hers. He held up two bags brimming with fresh produce from his job at Berkeley Bowl, one of the premiere grocery shopping experiences in the East Bay. Erin loved that place. She joined them in the kitchen and began emptying the bag. Artichokes, asparagus, yellow spaghetti squash and short round acorn squash, apples and a beautiful baking pumpkin. Her mouth watered just thinking about what she could make with those.

“Arm wrestle you for ’em” she told her dad, laughing, then turned to take baby TJ out of Liz’s arms. He squealed in delight as he saw her. Nothing like a baby to melt an aunty’s heart.

Soon, Ellen arrived with copious amounts of food from their favorite Italian restaurant in the Village and Cory came soon behind, bearing two bottles of red wine. “I guessed Italian,” he laughed as he set the bottles down and gave Erin a quick kiss before TJ grabbed his hair.

Laughter prevailed as they quickly set out all the food containers and sat down at the table, TJ in a booster seat between his parents. He knew he had an audience, so he regaled everyone with his antics of throwing absolutely everything they gave him onto the deck. There was a lot of catching up to do, since the family hadn’t been together in several weeks. All they were missing was Sarah, and it was empty without her.

When TJ began rubbing his eyes, Ty went to set up the portable crib and Liz got TJ out of his chair to change his diaper. He would sleep for a couple of hours while the adults continued to converse.

“So,” Erin began when Ty and Liz came back to the table. “I have some interesting news about Hazel.”

Chapter 19—Who

Welcome again to my 31-day writing challenge where I am attempting to write a fictional story in just 31 days. I’m sure I will be doing a ton more after October ends, but for now, this is a purely unedited, freely written story. Start here if you’ve missed the beginning. Every other chapter can be accessed by clicking the “previous post” link at the bottom. Comments are welcomed!

Chapter 19

Who

 

“I feel like I’m in an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone,’” Erin said out loud, but mostly to herself.

Scott looked up, “I know what you mean. Come look at this.”

Erin scooted back around the bar, walked to the desk and looked over Scott’s shoulder as he navigated the mouse on the computer. “Weird thing is, there wasn’t any password. I was able to get right in.” Erin tried to make sense of what she was seeing.

“I’m no cyber expert,” Scott admitted, “but it looks like she was doing a lot of research on Green Glass Vineyards and Winery. By the looks of it, she was also hacking into their computer system.”

Erin didn’t think she could be shocked by anything anymore, but she was shocked. “Hazel? A computer hacker? What in the world?”

“I know, right? People aren’t always what they seem,” Scott acknowledged as he continued scrolling and searching on the computer. “I loved my cyber intel classes at the Academy, but this is beyond me.”

Erin turned around to peruse the folders and books that were neatly lined on the shelves behind the desk, her blue eyes wide as she digested what she was seeing. Most of the folders had names she didn’t recognize: Manny Mancado, Ralph Spanoli, Eddie Franco. She hated to stereotype, but these sounded like mob names. She continued, finding more names: Joey Randall, Michael Powers, Ken Cramer. Those names didn’t mean anything to her. She looked at the spines of the books. “Barry & ‘the Boys’: The CIA, the Mob and America’s Secret History,” “American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power,” “The Grim Reapers – the anatomy of organized crime in America,” “Mafia: The History of the Mob.”

 

“Scott,” she said over her shoulder, “what do you make of these?” She read off the titles to him. “Could Hazel have uncovered something going on at Green Glass Winery?”

“Bernie worked for the government, right?” Scott asked.

“But I thought he was just a data analyst,” Erin answered. “Could he have been more than that? I mean, all the wine bottles over there, “ she pointed in the direction of the bar, “every single one, is from Green Glass Winery. Something is definitely going on.”

“Agreed,” Scott said. “I think it’s time to do some digging back at headquarters.” He glanced at his watch. “Whoa, it’s almost 11:00. I’m supposed to meet Cory at the park at 11.”

Erin was loathe to leave with so many more questions instead of answers. “Can I stay and keep looking around?” she asked Scott.

He stood, turned off the computer and shook his head. “Not a good idea, Erin. We need this to be completely on the up and up in case we discover criminal activity. I will report everything we did and saw, but I can’t leave you alone in the house since you’re not family.”

“I understand,” Erin said, “I’m just so intrigued and worried and, and, I don’t even know what else I am.” She followed him out of the room, switching off the light, and headed back up the stairs. “So where do we go from here?”

“I wonder if there’s a key around here somewhere,” Scott said as he made his way to the kitchen. “It would be nice to not have to break in next time.” Both of them started opening drawers, finding the normal silverware, cooking utensils and potholders. Erin thought about where her dad kept his spare key and headed to a door off the kitchen that looked like it might lead to a walk-in pantry.

“Bingo,” she said, as she opened the door and stepped in. Just to the left was a series of hooks on which were keys neatly labeled: garage, Honda, front door. Grabbing the key labeled “front door,” she strode back to the entry hall to try it in the locks. It fit in both the knob and the deadbolt.

They stepped outside into the warming morning, locking the door behind them, and then heading to Scott’s car. “I’m going to meet Cory for our game,” he told Erin, “and then I’ll head to headquarters and start looking into some things and talk to Lt. Griffin. Let me see where it gets me at this point.”

“My family is getting together at my dad’s place later this afternoon for the rest of the day,” Erin said. “I’m going to pick his brain about who exactly he thinks Hazel Hodges is.”

“Good luck with that,” Scott laughed as he backed the car out of the driveway. “But if we can’t figure out ‘who,’ we definitely need to figure out ‘where’ for now.”

 

 

Chapter 18—Search

We’re coming down to the wire with this 31-day challenge! I hope you have enjoyed following along on this journey. If you’re new around here, you can start chapter 1 here. Also, I’ve made a few little changes to the story. I felt it worked better for Scott to be just slightly older and a detective instead of a rookie cop fresh out of the Academy, so you’ll see some of those changes reflected from here on. Let me know what you think!

 

Chapter 18

Search

 

As Erin followed Scott down the wide carpeted stairs leading to the lower level, she couldn’t help but wonder what they had been missing all these years. From Hazel’s outward appearance and persona, she was pretty certain no one would have guessed that she lived like this. Everyone in the Village thought the accident that took her family had caused a mental breakdown. She always wore the same clothes no matter the weather. She did not speak much to anyone, but when she did it was very polite and quiet, and she never opened herself up to deep conversations with anyone. She never let anyone come and help repair or keep up the outside of the house, that was obvious from its run-down state. Erin wanted nothing more than to find her and then sit with her and learn what was going on behind the façade. She was absolutely certain at this point that it was a façade.

Entering the downstairs living area solidified that belief. As the staircase took a turn to the right, the typical laundry room appeared. Nothing unusual there. Top-loading washer sat alongside a front-loading dryer. Nothing high end or fancy, but good quality, looked like it had been around for a long time. Ironing board with an iron waiting to be used hung in a special nook in the wall above a wooden dryer rack. An empty laundry basket stood on the tile floor next to the dryer. Out of curiosity, Erin opened the washer and then the dryer. Both were empty.

To the right of the laundry room, through an arched doorway was a playroom that would have been heaven for any small kid. Surrounded by a plastic removable gate was a ball pit filled with colorful balls about three inches in diameter each. There was a large TV and a VCR with stacks of kids movies underneath. Low white shelves lined the far wall filled with books to be read and games just waiting to be played. Like Bryan’s room, this one didn’t look like it had been touched in twenty years.

Giving it just a cursory glance for the moment, Erin turned toward the opposite side of the laundry room where Scott had flipped on an overhead light and was now standing and staring. Erin moved to his side and saw why. A modern office that would be the envy of any tech geek stood out as an anachronism to the untouched 90s of the rest of the house. State of the art computer equipment sat on a glossy black desk. At least three monitors, none of which were currently on, faced a high-back black chair. Shelves lined the wall behind the desk with neatly labeled file folders and books in immaculate order covering every inch.

“I’m ceasing to be surprised by anything I see,” Scott said as he moved to turn on the computer and begin a search of what he might find.

While he did that, Erin walked over to the wine bar in a corner by a plywood-covered picture window. She walked behind the bar and, unlike Scott, was again stunned by what she found. Every bottle of the hundreds she found in every cubby of that bar was from one place: Green Glass Vineyard and Winery.

The plywood all around the house began to make sense. Hazel didn’t want anyone to see what was going on inside her house, just like she didn’t want anyone to see what was going on in her head.