The Secret


Last Friday, we went to happy hour. 

We sat indoors. We stared at screens. We ate small pizzas with mini nitrate pepperonis. Before our movie, there was time, so we walked across the street from Lazy Dog to Craig Park. It was sunset. Magic hour. We got farther in to the grassy knolls and the road noise lessened then almost disappeared. The baseball game cocktail hour after work glass clinking bustle of the restaurant seemed hours away instantly. 

I stood for three minutes staring at a bird on the water, poised to spear his dinner, then he did and the fresh little minnow wriggled down his throat as I looked on in delight like a person seeing something illicit they were never supposed to witness. Eric climbed the play structure and we laughed. We paused as the last melted ice cream drips of the sun dipped below the surface, and wondered why we’d spent any time inside at all when this beauty was right out here for free, for the taking. For the inhaling. 

This Friday:  We skipped happy hour. We went straight to the park. We parked one in front of the other on the street and exited our cars and smiled wryly like some kind of golden afternoon rendezvous. Eric produced a backpack and a picnic basket from the trunk and my stomach and heart swooned at the very sight of them. 

We found the proper little knoll. It had a view of dog walkers and joggers and meanderers. We threw out little blankets and opened up the treasure chest. 

Pesto, prosciutto, and mozzarella sandwiches on toasted baguette, tied together with little strings like Christmas packages. Panzella salad with old crusty bread soaked in tomato based vinaigrette with corn and avocado. Aged cheddar, chèvre, water crackers, and caviar. All rinsed down with a local rosé.

The sun descended in and out of cracks in the branches of the oak tree before us and engulfed the whole hillside with speckles of gold. French music played. I put my phone inside a mug and it made a little crappy echoey speaker that sounded like a phonograph. 

We made jabs at each other and pretended to be offended. The laughing gave us away. 

Eric produced croissant and marionberry jam and warmed, spreadable butter from his backpack of surprises. Then he opened a canister and steam curled out and he poured coffee, fresh roasted and brewed. “It’s Burundi”, he said. I asked where Burundi was and he said in Africa. I asked what country and his face crinkled up with enjoyment and he said “Burundi IS the country.” I laughed hard and said I’d never even heard of Burundi. He looked it up on his phone and said, “Never mind. Burundi is apparently a Punjabi city in India.” So I laughed and laughed at how he thought it was a country in Africa and no wonder I’d never heard of it because it’s just a city in India. 

The trouble is, I looked up Burundi in order to spell it for this story, and it is certainly a country in Africa, west of Kenya, North of Tanzania, and I am an idiot. And he was right all along. 

We sipped the Burundi coffee and also the rosé, and snacked on crackers with chèvre and caviar, and I physically felt the struggles of the week rolling off my shoulders and into the fescue grass beneath my blanket. 

We thought about seeing a movie, but when no movie times or locations suited us, we just…. stayed. The sun set, unremarkably, and we carried on with our wise cracks and sang “Champs Elysees” in silly voices along to the old mug iPhone phonograph speaker. 

We laid back with our heads together and watched the first star appear, and I imagined what I’d say if the park ranger approached us in the shadowy dusk as we lay there next to each other. “Oh no, sir, you have the wrong idea. You see, we’re married. We sleep in the same bed. We’re not trying to get frisky in a park because it would be unnecessary for us to attempt such a silly and frankly, scratchy, grassy endeavor when we are, in fact, going home to the same home. Sorry for the misunderstanding.”

Eric said he counted six stars and could I point out all six of them, so I squinted across the ombré evening between the carefully placed pine trees and tried to find all six amongst the shadowy light pollution. 

We saw the international space station pass overhead and waved to them, and I didn’t say so out loud for fear of being teased but I felt confident they were also waving at us. 

As my goal in life turned into pinpointing new stars in the dimming sky I realized how far I’d drifted. Here in this rosé caviar Burundi star-spotting trance, my classroom was an eon away. The 57 freeway with its fender benders and moto-cops, though literal steps from the position of our heads on the grass, was worlds away. Happy hour with its screens and nitrates and ranch dressing was millennia away. Kavanaugh was in another space and time. 

It was then that I realized – remembered, rather – when you take the time to watch the daylight fade into inky skies, and you watch the stars turn on one by one; when you sip products of the earth – bean to fire to cup; soil to grape to glass – when you scoop little fish eggs onto goat cheese and close your eyes and taste, not with your mouth, but with your whole self, and let it be a minnow, wriggling alive down your throat – when you do these things, you come back to a perspective of your place in the cosmos – how shockingly, pleasingly small you are. You remember that empires have risen and fallen and the world kept turning, and this will be so after you’re gone also. It soothes you to your very soul.

So by the time you stand up, and “Champs Elysees” is no longer playing because your phone has died, and you have to feel around in the dark to clean up dinner, and your fingers are sticky with jam, and you have to quick step to the bathroom because you’ve had to pee for forty-five minutes – after that, you stroll back to the car a different person than she who stepped out. You’re a sage. Wisened in mere hours. 

You and he slip back into your respective cars and drive away, blinkers blinking, merging back into the masses of Brea, of Orange County, of the Greater Los Angeles area, carriages returning to pumpkins, two more needles sliding into the haystack. You glide unnoticed onto the 57 freeway the same as how as the sun set: silently and without fanfare. Hall & Oates wafts through your car. You’re just another silver Honda Civic running the rat race; merging in to insignificance.

But you’re not. You know the secret. 



(Muir)eflections and the dilemma of poppies as tourist attractions.


I went with Eric a couple weeks ago to the Walker Canyon California poppy super-bloom in Lake Elsinore, and the number of people there to see it was just below Disneyland at full capacity.  If I had to guess, I’d say there were about as many spectators as there were innocent poppies being trampled.

As fascinating as the number of people, though, was the variety of folks who showed up for this once-every-several-years show put on by God and Mother Nature. During the two mile in-and-back jaunt, I spied people in head-to-toe hiking gear, complete with neck-shade mullet hat, hiking poles, and mid-shin lace boots. Then, on the other end of the preparedness spectrum were those I can only guess had come directly to the hiking trails from church. Skirts, bejeweled sandals and even high heels were spotted along the rough gravelly incline.

I observed people wearing so many articles of clothing to block out the sun, they had essentially invented the burka of hiking apparel – eyes the only visible humanness beneath sweat drenched Northface attire. There were also girls wearing next to nothing, in sports bras and dolphin shorts, soaking up the first ninety degree day since early November, and sporting the pink shoulders and gawking men to prove it.

Dogs were also out in full force. Some just as you’d expect – leashed and bouncy and taking their owners for walks along the bunny-scented trail. What I wasn’t ready for was the dogs inside of backpacks: dogs too small or frail to walk along the trail, but whose parents KNEW they’d simply love to be brought out to the wilderness in a satchel to witness the poppy bloom from the safety of a Doggy Bjorn. Perhaps these were ailing “Make A Wish” dogs who had to see a field full of poppies a la Wizard of Oz before heading to canine heaven. It’s hard to imagine what else a Lhasa Apso would want with a poppy bloom, unless the blossoms have Pupperonis for stems.

My favorite dogs of the day were two brown teacup poodles – one boy and one girl. How did I know their genders at a glance? The girl was wearing a lace-trimmed gingham dress, and the boy was wearing lederhosen, obviously. These groomed, clothed dogs had to have been mortified being brought to a location where coyotes regularly romp and drag possum carcasses along the very same trail. It was a sad moment for evolution.

Our attendance at this event of nature was able to provide an answer to a pressing existential question: if wild poppies bloom on a hillside, and activewear-clad women don’t take twenty selfies in front of them, did wild poppies actually bloom on a hillside? The answer, according to what I witnessed, is unequivocally “no”.

I couldn’t help but wince a bit each time another girl lay down in a patch, friends hovering above with their iPhones, telling her “putting your arm above your head” and “turn your face toward the light” as a hundred and fifty poppies allowed their stems to give out under the weight of her body, never again to turn their faces to the sun.

In the masses of spectators, I pondered whether natural phenomena and the hordes they attract are advantageous or detrimental for our Earth. It conjured memories of the hundreds of cars I witnessed, lined up to enter Arches National Park, bumper-to-bumper traffic created by the beauty God and nature and time and weather had crafted. Or likewise, the thousands on the trail up to delicate arch, just waiting to snap their own photo in front of the famed piece of God’s handiwork – turning a feat of nature into a veritable county-fair backdrop with a face cutout.

Is nature glad to be observed? Even when it becomes a tourist attraction? When it becomes Niagara Falls on the Canada side, with mini-golf and Ripley’s museums and poutine restaurants all competing with the natural wonder? Am I justified when, for a moment, I hang my head in dismay at how we’ve cheapened creation?


I imagine Muir in a canoe in the Alaskan wilderness – the lone witness of ice shards cracking off turquoise blue glaciers. The single audience member to meteor showers and howling packs of wolves and towering sequoias. As my mind pans back to “Poppyland”, I ask myself, “Is this what Muir envisioned?” When he arranged for essentially the first Alaskan tourism boat trips- thus paving the way for the Alaskan cruise industry, and when he forged trails meant for others to follow – was his goal for thousands of selfie-stick wielding men and women with chihuahuas in backpacks to witness these wonders?


In the end, I do believe nature is for everyone, and that whatever woos us outside from our NCIS stupors, be it a geyser that sprays sulfuric waters every hour on the hour (give or take), weathered rocks forged into arches, or even a poppy super-bloom, I have to call it positive – maybe even wonderful.

I become disquieted, however, when we all show up at once, creating a circus spectacle from the wonder afforded by natural miracles. The lesson, I suppose, is to see every wondrous natural event one can, and rub shoulders happily with the hiking pole users, selfie-takers, and dog costumers alike – appreciating that Mother Earth still draws theme-park-sized crowds. But – and as PeeWee would say, it’s a BIG “but” – one should also seek the solitude creation waves tantalizingly before us. We should press on past the crowds – to the Muir Moments – creamsicle sunsets viewed in seclusion, a caterpillar inching across the road with no one around to mistakenly trample upon him, the stillness of the night beyond freeway cadences and power line buzzes – nights so quiet, that rustling in the grass could be a sparrow or a grizzly – because every noise is deafening.

Then, and only then, will we know whether the tree that falls in the forest makes a sound, and how deeply the Earth can restore our weary souls.

“The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” – John Muir




*Photos by Eric and Miriam Bernard

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.


“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

– Portion from The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus, inscribed at the foot of The Statue of Liberty

Today, a photo was released of Donald Trump with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Secretary Kobach is holding in his hands a document entitled “Department of Homeland Security: Kobach Plan for First 365 Days”. We know this because he failed to place the document inside the folder he is also holding, thus revealing its contents to the camera. A quick zoom and you can see a good portion of the plan, straight from the man being considered for the role of Secretary of Homeland Security.

I’m going to skip over the blaring irony that the potential Secretary of Homeland Security is posing with such a document visible in a photograph, and instead I’m going to focus on one particular bullet point on the accidentally shared plan:

“Reduce intake of Syrian refugees to zero using authority under the 1980 refugee act.”

Obama accepted around 12,500 Syrian refugees in the 2015-2016 fiscal year, of about 100,000 refugees total. Trump’s plan is to bring in zero. I’m unaware of what will become of those already here.

With three days until Thanksgiving, I need to declare how thankful I am to be lying in a bed in a safe home in a safe neighborhood in a safe country. I am exceedingly privileged and blessed to have the luxury of ‘safe’. But I have to say, Americans and Christians have turned safety into an idol, and safety is not what Christ has called us to.

A radio interview aired today on BBC World News of a mother in Aleppo, desperately describing how she is stuck in the city and doesn’t know how to get out. Audible in the background is gunfire and bombs. This is the hell in which Syrians are living. Tears came instantly when I saw the boy, a victim of a chlorine gas attack ask, “Miss, will I die?” It’s been one too many radio interviews and one too many torturous videos. To quote Brooke Fraser, “Now that I have seen, I am responsible.”

Last weekend, I sat on the beach watching the sunset, eating oysters and drinking wine, laughing with my friends. It was beautiful, but there comes a point when the contrast in one’s life to our brothers and sisters in Syria becomes so blaring, so stark; that you grow sickened by the luxury of your own existence, and sickened by the adamancy of your country to protect your ability to suck oysters on the beach to the extent that people desperately in need of help are being largely ignored and barred from “OUR” safety.

I’m tired of hearing about the inherent dangers of accepting Syrian refugees when the danger THEY face moment by moment is imminent – a true matter of life and death. We are sending the clear message, “Our lives are more important than your lives, and our safety is more important than your safety.” I am an American, but far before that, I am a follower of Christ, a citizen of this world, and a sister to my fellow man; with a job to find the exiled and the unwanted and to tangibly help them. Today, there is no one less wanted than the Syrian refugee. I want them.

In Biblical times, the enmity between the Samaritans and Jews was fierce. It was five hundred years in the making. Hatred is the appropriate word for how these two groups viewed each other. Yet, when Jesus was asked by an expert of the law, “Who is my neighbor?” He didn’t answer, “The nice family living next store!” Jesus, as He always does, confounds us yet again with a call to something greater. A call to audacious, offensive love. The kind that breaks down barriers between people groups who hate one another.

Is this screaming Christian vs. Muslim to you yet? Oh, good. Because Syrian refugees and oppressed Muslims are precisely, exactly the Jew lying bleeding and dead on the side of the road, and we Americans, in our refusal to help them, are actively living out this story as the Priest and Levite who cross to the other side of the road to pretend as if no one is having the shit bombed out of their city, with doctors fleeing town, and people starving within, and convoys full of aid being bombed so that literally no help is reaching these people.

“Bringing them here poses too many risks,” we say. We, living in a country built on rescuing the homeless, tempest-tossed and emulating a religion that calls for Samaritans to tend to the broken Jews on the side of the road, are being cowards. And we’re cheating the world of the love of Jesus in the process. Hoarding it for ourselves and our precious safety.

I will do whatever it takes to stand in solidarity with what Syrians and Muslims and ALL marginalized groups are facing right now – be it a safety pin on my shirt, a hijab on my head, or a freakin’ ticket straight to Aleppo. If I sit here and do nothing any longer, I’m going to scream. I want ideas and actions, so if you have any of those, please tell me, because I’m ready to get off my privileged ass and start living the words of Emma Lazarus and Jesus Christ.

Matthew 25:35-40 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

And this is why I believe.


Ten years ago, I was 19 years old and an ocean away from my family for the summer, experiencing a homesickness I’ve never known before or since. Especially at the start, this absence from my family and boyfriend was all-consuming.

In the midst of chasing around the girls for whom I nannied (the reason I was abroad), I’d sometimes sneak off for a moment to shed a few tears of despair, before putting on my big girl panties again and going back to work. Tears seemed to be always at the ready – a cup of water on the edge of a table, ready to tilt at any moment and spill homesickness and inadequacy everywhere.

My room was at the bottom of the large home, isolated from the rest of the family. I went there pretty much only to sleep. For a homesick person, night time, alone, in bed, is like the boss you have to fight at the end of the level in Mario Bros. It’s the big one and you don’t want to do it.

For three months I went to bed alone in a little room. Alone with my thoughts. Alone missing my family. Alone with nothing to do but lie in bed and cry.

Do you want to know how many times I cried in that room? Zero. Not once.

I’d seep out stray tears all day long, but when I stepped into that solitary space each night: Stillness. Quiet. Peace. I was met there by a strange, deep-breath, emotionless, calm; bestowed on me, I’m convinced, by God, through my prayers and the prayers of my family. It was weird. Backward, even; but It took me through every single night – deep sleep and all – straight to a brand new morning.

In the tumultuous journey my faith has taken since those ten years ago, my beliefs have ebbed and flowed in various directions. But those nights in Italy in my little room have been an anchor – holding me down to a deep trust in a God who sees His children when they are most vulnerable, and meets them in that place with an inexplicable serenity, the likes of which only He can provide.

Tonight, as I settled into bed, I blinked tear-brimmed eyes, cup teetering on the edge again, ready to spill out politics and melancholy and life and injustice and nothing at all.

I clicked on my Bible app. Today’s featured verse: “The Lord is near to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.” Psalm‬ ‭145:18-19‬‬‬ I devoured the next three chapters as both the tear-blurred iPhone screen and the cloudy skies of my mind grew clear once again.

Stillness. Quiet. Peace. The ceiling fan whirrs above my head. The dog breathes in a hypnotic rhythm. “He hears their cry and saves them.” “He hears their cry and saves them!” And even when your cry isn’t audible or even visible, He still knows what echoes in your soul, and reaches out His hand to pull you up from the current.

Tonight, as He always has, He steps out across tumultuous waters, and calms the stormy seas of my heart. And this is why I believe.

Home Sweet Harlem

Today, my blog has been commandeered by my majestic, and, as it turns out, completely ludicrous husband, who, while in college, found himself wandering the streets of Harlem in the middle of the night. I’m really glad he didn’t get murdered, because if he had I wouldn’t have gotten to marry him. Take it away, Eric!

“Home Sweet Harlem”

A story by Eric Bernard

I took up trombone at the ripe old age of nine. I didn’t know then my music career would take me around the world on concert tours, nor that one of these tours would land me in Harlem at 2am, playing the part of a deranged coke addict.

On my first music tour as a Junior in high school, our band director dragged our wind ensemble to nowheresville California, somewhere near Sonoma. The brilliance of his decision to take us ten minutes from some of the world’s best wine didn’t dawn on me until years later when I had my own experience teaching high school band where I realized it was a wonder there were any band directors who weren’t alcoholics. At the time, however, this group of over-eager, rambunctious, 90210 wannabes couldn’t figure out what in the world we were doing in a city whose only accolades included the prize winning heifer from the county fair and one stop light. I could see them arguing at the barber shop as to which one was actually the greater accomplishment.

On this particular tour, as would be the case on many more tours to come, we were staying with host families. A couple students would be sent off to stay with a family from the area; all an attempt to save a couple bucks under the guise of “community building” or some nonsense. My hosts had a son who was roughly the same age as me, and realistically we weren’t that different, except I’m pretty sure he was betrothed to his cousin down the street. One night we got into a rather intense conversation about driving. We were both new drivers, and he made the claim that if one could drive in his town, then they could drive anywhere in the country. Well I had seen his town, and if he had been color blind, I see how that stop light could have given him some fits, but other than that, I could not for the life of me figure where the difficulty lay. I had grown up in suburban Los Angeles; I reminded him that we have roughly eight million people which translates into at least 100 million cars on the road at any given time. I don’t know if that math is accurate but it sure seems right. I had to educate him to the fact that there was just no way that his experience driving in Placerville was comparable to driving in Los Angeles. He was not willing to concede and we parted ways with the discussion unresolved.

A few years later in college, I found myself on yet another music tour that involved traveling to strange parts of the country, and staying in the homes of volunteer hosts willing to endure at least 12 hours of the most awkward living room chats imaginable. You can imagine how excited we all were, all 150 choir and orchestra members, to know that we had a small stop planned in the middle of our three week tour in New York city. We were going to spend three days in America’s Big Apple and this was the first time in my memory that they were not sending us to host homes.

We arrived at our lodging destination late in the evening after a concert that we had just done in Brooklyn. We looked around, but couldn’t figure out where the hotel was. Confused, we followed our director into what seemed like a lobby of sorts, but one unlike any other I had been in before. I said to a friend, “I don’t think I have ever stayed in a hotel like this one.”

He replied, “This isn’t a hotel, this is a hostel.” I quickly pulled out my itinerary and scanned to find the typo. I knew I read it to say “Jazz on the Park Hotel”. I was wrong. A hostel it was.

I didn’t know anything about hostels, and honestly had never even heard of one before that day. I started to scan the building to figure out what to expect for the next few days. The first thing I noticed was that in lieu of art work on the walls, they had graffiti, with the names of popular jazz artists and album covers. It was done in a way that you really couldn’t tell if a vandal had broken in last night or if they hired a famous urban artist. Maybe it was both.  It wasn’t the ritz, but it was interesting and kitschy. I figured, “I’m a musician, this place is called Jazz on the Park. Maybe Miles Davis stayed here. Or maybe a different coke addicted jazz musician. Or maybe just coke addicts. Yeah, definitely just coke addicts.” I resolved to make the best of it, and enjoy living the bohemian life. I’d just sidestep any stray needles.

I was snapped out of my daydream about past residents when the tour manager instructed all the guys out to the busses to help unload the luggage. This was a normal, nightly occurrence. We unloaded the busses and got the luggage into the lobby and started looking around for the elevator. It seemed like it had been camouflaged by all of the graffiti because we couldn’t for the life of us find it. The clerk calls out, “Guys, this place costs $10 per night, we don’t have an elevator. We just have stairs.” Okay, no big deal. We ask the tour manager,

“What floor did you say we were on again?”

“We are on the eight floor” he says.

The guys all look at each other.

“Did he just say the eight floor? As in, eight flights of stairs.” We let the weight of the task ahead sink in. We had 100 girls in our group, so, you know, roughly 800 pieces of luggage that had to go up eight flights of stairs at 10PM after a full day of travel and a concert. All I could think was “I’m sure Miles Davis didn’t have to deal with this shit when he stayed here”.

Me and a few buddies finally get the luggage squared away and we arrive at our room, all 16 of us. The lobby clerk gave us the run down:

“The bathroom is down the hall, don’t waste time in there it is the only one for the floor. This is your room, under each bunk there is a locker built under the mattress, use the lock you brought and lock your stuff up every time you leave the room.” I speak up for the group and say,

“Sir, we didn’t really know to bring a lock, but we’re all from the same group so we will probably be okay, right?”

He shoots me a look like I must be crazy. He pines back a response straight out of the movies, “Where do you guys think you are? This is Harlem. Lock your shit up.”

I think to myself “Harlem? Did he just say Harlem?” 

The next day, a small handful of us had planned to go catch a baseball game at the famed Yankee stadium in the Bronx. The Yankees were playing the Seattle Mariners that day, both of which were league rivals to my Anaheim Angels, so I had a decision to make as to who I hated more. I went back through recent memory and remembered far more bad beats at the hands of the mighty Yankees, so today I was going to be Seattle Washington’s favorite son. Normally when I attend a sporting event, I keep to myself, because I get too wrapped up in the game to spend much time heckling or cat calling. But I didn’t have as much invested in these two teams, so I took full opportunity to let all the Bronx natives in section 450 know just what I thought of their beloved Yankees. I started my chant:

“Jeter sucks A-Rod!!” followed by “They must make you wear those pinstripes to remind you of the zoo where they found you.” My support for the Mariners did not go over well. It could have been my words or it could have been my all around look: a mix of 90‘s boy band clothing, shorts, flip flops, wire rimmed beatnik glasses and so much gel in my hair I am pretty sure I created my own hole in the ozone layer. While most of those around us gave me dirty looks and the occasional finger gesture, one fellow decided he had a quip for me.

“Go back to Seattle and drink some coffee!!!” Really? That is the best they have? “Go drink some coffee?” All I could do was laugh at the hilarity, but if I had been wiser I would have realized this fellow clearly did not believe “the pen is mightier than the sword”. He would have been far more comfortable typing out his thoughts on my skull.

The game that day was a tight one, and the crowd grew quite upset when the Mariners pulled out a win with a homer in the top of the 11th inning. Our celebration was short lived as the eyes of everyone in the stadium seemed to be fixed on us. We quickly gathered our stuff and headed for the subway. Since our schedule had some flexibility, our group started to split off to head to our different evening plans. My brother and I hopped on a subway down to Times Square where we were meeting up with his girlfriend and her sister. My brother’s girlfriend was also in our music group, but her sister happened to live in New York, so arrangements had been made for them to stay with her sister in Brooklyn rather than our Harlem Hilton. The girls met us in Time Square and we were all going to take in a show.

It was a fine evening at the theater. We chose to see something “affordable”, so I can’t say it was the best thing I had ever watched, but it was probably for the better considering I had not brought a change of clothes. I was lucky they even let me in looking like I did. The night was getting late and we figured it was time to part ways and call it a night. I was going to need to figure out how to get myself back to our hostel on my own. Our New York native tried to convince me to take a taxi seeing as it was around 1am, but that was not in my budget and the summer night seemed so nice that I wanted to go on my own. She gave me very specific instructions, “It is 1am and this is New York, so follow my instructions exactly. Take the D train to 109th street. Then walk two blocks east to the hostel.” I memorized her instructions, said my “good nights” and took off to the subway.

I had only been waiting for a couple minutes when the first train arrived. I look at the front to confirm that it is my train and see that it is actually the A train. No big deal, I’m sure the D train will be along shortly. 15 minutes pass and I grow anxious. Why isn’t the train coming? When the train does finally arrive I casually step aboard, but when I glance up and read “A Train,” I barely had enough time to jump off before the doors locked me in. What the heck? Where is the D Train? Now I have the task of identifying the person in my vicinity who is least likely a murderer, so I can ask what’s going on. The man informs me that the D train only runs during the week and this is a Saturday.

I stay calm. I can handle this. No big deal.  The man gives me new directions.

“Take the A train to 112th street, walk four blocks west and three blocks south and you will arrive at your destination.” With my new directions fresh on my mind, I get to achieve my lifelong dream of following Duke Ellington’s instructions: I “Take the A Train.”

I hear a faint announcement over a speaker. Surely, one last desperate wire in this speaker is the only thing keeping oblivious tourists from ending up in New Jersey.  I hear him say “Next cop gets all the wealth.” I figure that Ed Koch has not created a new program to distribute the cities funds so I decipher that he must have said “Next stop, one hundred and twelfth.”

I start up the stairs, ready for a nice 2am stroll through Harlem. When I pop out to what is supposed to be a warm clear summer evening, I realize that during my hour underground, a massive summer storm has arrived out of nowhere. It is pouring, but I have no option but to head out into the rain. Of course I don’t have an umbrella, a rain jacket or any other appropriate clothing. I was dressed for an afternoon at the ball park with my shorts and flip flops, but I figure, what’s a little rain going to do?

Bumbling down the street, things were not going smoothly. I was told to head four blocks west, but I have absolutely no idea which way is east and which way is west. I try to analyze the road signs but the gel in my hair is now quickly looking for an exit off my head and the easiest way is right over my glasses. I try to wipe my glasses clean but everything I have on is now wet, so it is a losing proposition. I smear hair gel all over my glasses. I might as well be looking through a couple coke bottles. When I don’t wear my glasses I can’t even see the alarm clock on my night stand, so with the coke bottles and the rain, I might as well walk with my eyes closed. I make the wise decision to just take them off, pray for the best, and head in the direction I think I should be going. Foolproof.  On the bright side, now I couldn’t really make out all the boarded up storefronts, graffiti, and broken windows, so I felt safer already.

A few soggy blocks later, I develop a new problem. Back in drought-stricken California, leather flip-flops are the way to go, but here in the rain my feet go sliding from side to side as if I’m on ice skates. I realize I’d rather risk stepping on broken glass than break an ankle, so off go the sandals. I am now in Harlem at 2am, soaking wet, meandering in an unknown direction with no glasses, no shoes, and praying I don’t run into anyone who was at the game earlier who will certainly recognize me and show the Seattle boy where he can put his coffee.

I figured the only way to keep from being a target was to look crazier than the people who were also out there with me. I slumped over and put on my best drug addict act. The people of Harlem were certainly used to seeing freaks on the street this late so I would just blend in. I started to regret having seen Thoroughly Modern Millie earlier that night. I had “How the Other Half Lives” running through my head and it is incredibly difficult to look deranged while humming show tunes. Why couldn’t we have seen West Side Story? At least then I’d be prepared for an impeccably-choreographed gang fight.

After four blocks, I turn down. Or up. I have no idea, really. Then I traipse the instructed three blocks north. Or was it south? I arrive at what I think should be the hostel, but the rap music and yelling coming from within tell me I should NOT try the door knob.

People often use these moments to give some romantic line; “I thought I was lost in Harlem, but really, I was found.” That was dreamed up by some halfwit who has never been in Harlem at 2am. I could feel I was minutes away from being a morning news story. I see a blurry form of yellow traveling in my direction and I figure it’s either a school bus or a taxi, and either way, I want it to take me far away from here, back to happy Harlem with its Jazz albums and fewer stray needles per square foot.

I flag it down and tell the driver, “Please take me to 109th central park.”

He says “Is that east or west?”

“Oh so you don’t know your directions, either, huh?” I mumble to myself. I can’t figure out what he is trying to ask so I say “What does that even mean?” He is losing patience with me.

“109th street goes on both sides of the park, which side are you on?” Since I don’t even know the answer to that, I just say “I am staying at the Jazz on the Park Hostel.”

He had been looking ahead, but now he slowly turns around and looks me up and down like a girl in a club dress. He shakes his head and we speed off.

I see a broken neon sign that boasts “Jaz  On  he  ark Ho tel”, and have to resist clicking my heels together, I’m so glad to be home. I carry my soaking wet skinny ass up exactly eight flights of stairs. Somehow, I still have to wait around for the floor’s one shower. Clean and exhausted, I climb into my bunk trying not to wake the other 15 guys in this room that looks like an all-male version of Annie. The events of the day start to play like a movie in my head and I smile: the baseball game, the heckling, Taking the A train, the lunatic walk through Harlem. Then, unexpectedly, my mind drifts to that conversation I had in high school back in California wine country. I suddenly realized that kid and I were both wrong: the hardest place to drive is actually walking in New York.”

Saying Goodbye to my Twenties


The first day of my twenties

I turned 20 years old to the tune of “Tanti Auguri a Te” – the Italian birthday song – sung by people I barely knew, as we gathered around a tiled patio table covered in vine canopies overlooking Italy’s Ligurian coast. I blew out a candle on a perfectly woven, pastry style pie filled with preserves, and was offered my first taste of champagne, which I politely declined. A pink and purple sunset sunk itself into the Bougainvilla shrouded Mediterranean below. The evening smelled of star jasmine and ocean spray.

As my newfound friends, Sandra, Elettra, Maddalena, Alessandra, Angela and Luca sang their foreign tune, I fought back tears. This was the first birthday I’d spent away from my parents, I was half the Earth’s circumference from my boyfriend, and no Italian coastal lullaby could soothe my aching heart.

That 20th year held my first international adventure alone. My first time away from my family as a nanny in Italy. I eventually stopped crying, learned Italian, and acquired a collection of adventures and memories which are now so treasured to me, they have become the happy place I go in moments of melancholy.

When my boyfriend, Eric, came and we toured some of the world’s most enchanting Italian cities, I had my first sip of alcohol, a glass of Italian Pinot Grigio, at an outdoor cafe beside the Rialto Bridge overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal. My first red wine, a Chianti Classico, was enjoyed with Maduro cigars while standing among the Chianti vines at a villa in Machiavelli, Tuscany. Little did I know then the oenophile I would one day become.

That fall, I returned home basically broke, in need of a job, and accepted a position I vowed would be temporary, but it turned out to be the last job I ever took. Ten years later and still at the same school, I love teaching and it loves me right back. It’s also brought me some of my closest friends.

Age 21 brought my hard-earned bachelor’s degree, and my engagement to a person who to this day is still the man of my dreams.

At 22, I changed my last name to Bernard and moved out of my parents’ house to Fullerton to begin a new and exciting stage of life. I taught science with enthusiasm, and loved coming home to Mr. Bernard.

At 23, I was given a classroom full of fourth graders three days before the school year began. Now deemed “The Crucible”, I weathered the storm of that year and came out on the other side wiser, seasoned and feeling ten years older. I almost quit a few times. I’m glad I didn’t.

At 24, we toasted to paying off over $63,000 of car, credit card and college debt, becoming fully debt free and earning our right to eat something besides mac and cheese or bean burritos for dinner.

At 25, we bought our first home – a condo in Yorba Linda we loved dearly. We made it our own, and I still miss the curtainless windows and wide open sunset views, as well as the kindest neighbors on Earth, Fati and Poora.

At 27, we hit the road with our Hyundai Santa Fe packed with a tent, some maps and my way-overstuffed suitcase, to spend 40 days seeing America and Canada from the front seat of the car. We witnessed and did unforgettable things, and I will forever cherish the hours of podcasts, stimulating conversation, breathtaking views, and silent, content, side-by-side togetherness of those 13,000 miles.

At 28, we purchased our first bit of Earth, a 1927 craftsman bungalow on 8,000 square feet of dirt that’s all ours. We’re chicken owners, garden growers, have heirloom tomatoes about to turn red, and are proud residents of the colorful city of Pomona, CA.

That year, I also watched my first class of fourth graders graduate from 8th grade and enter the world of high school as poised, exuberant young men and women who I am so proud to have had even a small hand in guiding.

At 29, I said goodbye to my trusty Santa Fe, Jack Kelley, on the side of the road in a small town in Oregon during another comically crazy road trip up California’s enchanting coast. I also earned my 10 year pin as a teacher, making me feel, officially, like a grown up.

I closed out the decade by taking a personal hobby and turning it into a public one: I entered a storytelling contest and won on my first try the day before my 30th birthday. It is the first step toward a dream of storytelling to larger audiences, possibly on a podcast, and maybe someday making something out of my writings.

My twenties turned me into a fiancé, a wife, a teacher, a homeowner, a dog owner, a wine lover, a mixologist, a volunteer, a reader, a writer, a devourer of podcasts, an NPR enthusiast, a skeptic, a deeper lover of Jesus Christ, and a better lover of myself.

If 30 year old Miriam could go back to baby 20 year old Miriam and tell her all that she would accomplish, the many ways she would grow as a person, and the unbelievable amount of FUN she would have in those ten short years, her jaw would have been on the floor. But it was more fun as a surprise, anyway.

As I wave goodbye to a decade, I realize my thirties have some big shoes to fill. Something tells me they’re gonna do just fine. ❤️


The last day of my twenties.

Lessons in Mercy

About twelve years ago, I was leading worship on stage at church one Sunday morning, when I looked into the congregation to see a young girl, maybe 15 or 16, stealing money directly out of my purse. She was a teen who had come on the bus ministry from another city. She had been invited to sit near my family by my kind and welcoming mom. We were partway through the chorus of something like “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” when I watched her sneakily flip open my wallet and slip out several small bills. My eyes widened as I helplessly watched it happen from up on the stage. I tried to keep my face from giving my panic away, and caught my mom’s eye, gesturing to the side of the platform. My mom, seeing the urgency on my face, discreetly came to the side, out of view, and in the low lights I crept over to quickly whisper to her what was going on.  She tiptoed back to the pew where the young girl sat, and sat down next to her, inching very close. I watched the girl’s face become strained and uncomfortable. My mom whispered something in her ear, and it was clear that she knew she had been found out.

After church, there was an awkward meeting. We all sat around a table outside; my mom, the thief, and me, and we told her about how stealing is wrong and that she needed to give the money back. She apologized, head hung low, with appropriate meekness, and I don’t recall what my mom or I said in return, but I feel like it was something along the lines of, “Let’s not do it again.”

In the musical Les Miserables, there is a scene in which Jean Valjean, paroled prisoner, is welcomed in from the cold by a kind bishop, and offered a place to stay for the night. Valjean gratefully accepts, but in spite of the charity offered him, he can’t resist the opportunity to make off with some of the church’s finery. Soon after, Valjean is caught in the town and dragged back to the church where he committed the theft, likely to face another sentence such as the one he just completed – 19 years of hard labor.  He is face to face with the bishop from whom he stole, and… well… read how it plays out.

Tell his reverence your story
Let us see if he’s impressed
You were lodging there last night
You were the honest Bishop’s guest.
And then, out of Christian goodness
When he learned about your plight
You maintain he made a present of this silver –

That is right.
But my friend you left so early!
Surely something slipped your mind.

[The bishop gives Valjean two silver candlesticks.]

You forgot I gave these also!
Would you leave the best behind?
So Monsieurs you may release him,
For this man has spoken true.
I commend you for your duty,
May God’s blessing go with you.
But remember this, Valjean,
See in this some higher plan.
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man.
By the witness of the martyrs
By the Passion and the Blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have bought your soul for God.

And there it is. Christ’s love in a few simple rhymes. So plain and so straight-forward, yet so difficult to carry out. Because when you’ve been wronged, anger and justice are the expected responses. No one will fault the person who demands a consequence for those who have done them wrong. No one bats an eye that the girl who had the audacity to steal directly from my wallet in the middle of a church service deserves a scolding and should indeed hang her head low.

In the musical, Jean Valjean, after being shown such mercy, goes on to become wealthy and successful and provides care for a destitute woman and her daughter, serving almost as an angel, lifting them up out of the direst of circumstances to a life of peace. I think what Jesus wants us to experience when he asks us to “turn the other cheek” is the surprising and incredible chain reactions that can arise from just one step of mercy in place of justice.

Every single time I listen to that scene from Les Miserables, I weep. I weep over the beauty, but also out of consternation that something so beautiful is so exceedingly difficult to achieve.  As I continue to smooth this thought over in the rock tumbler of my mind,  I’m beginning to learn that such a mindset can only be present in someone who has abandoned their attachment to their posessions and who, like Jesus, views the human soul as the ultimate treasure.

Oh, the dozens of times I’ve thought back about that girl. What was taking place in her life that caused her to feel the need to take a couple of five dollar bills from a teenager’s wallet while worship songs played on? It’s true that the Bible sitting in the pew holder inches from her that day says “Thou shalt not steal.” But it also says this: “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”  Luke 6:29-30.

If I could do it all again, I’d like to think I would call my mom to the side of the stage, tell her what was taking place, and ask her to take my entire wallet from my purse and place it in the girl’s own purse. Later, I would take her hand and ask what I could do to help her. Yet, even as I type these very words, when I imagine the same situation today, my gut reaction is the retention of my belongings, shame on whomever would dare try to take them, and  unmasking their dishonesty. Human nature runs so deep.

In a world where religion is being peddled like skincare products, and the world is slowly going deaf and blind to it all, audacious mercy is still here to act as ice water to the face of the bystander, instantly awakening those around, and forcing them to wonder what kind of crazy person chooses forgiveness when the obvious choice is justice. If Jesus was preposterous enough to extend mercy to all of mankind through his seemingly senseless death on a cross, it is my job to actively work day by day to show reckless, nonsensical mercy to those who wrong me. I can’t go back in time and show it to that girl who stole from me. All I can do now is let her serve as a catalyst – an ever-present challenge – that the next time this takes place, I might respond with more of that rare love Jesus so boldly proclaimed and lived out through his death on the cross. I start today.

Stories of mercy in action:


Food and Me.


I managed to reach my early twenties before ever experiencing “food guilt”. You know, it’s like that feeling after you’ve just eaten a big, delicious, gluttonous meal and wind up thinking, “This food is inevitably going to make my body look worse, therefore I feel sad.” Up until that point, my life had been one giant, blissful, guilt-free smorgasbord of Kraft Mac N Cheese, Tommy’s chili cheese fries, sour belts, peach gummy rings and tacos of every possible shape and size. I grew up with an incredibly high metabolism and had nicknames like “Toothpick” and “Skinny Minnie” through much of my life.

In college, when many girls were busy gaining the “Freshman 15”, I got home one day to have my mom pull me aside and legitimately ask me if I was healthy – because apparently I looked so thin she thought I was not taking care of myself. When I ran down what I had eaten that week – McDonalds, Del Taco (multiple times), grilled cheese at the school grill, Coldstone’s Ultimate Bucket (their biggest size – it comes in an actual bucket. With a handle.) and all other manner of God-awful sustenance – the finished list was so appalling, she quickly dropped the issue with a laugh, assured that I was still her normal piglet daughter with the hollow leg.

As a big-toothed, glasses-wearing ‘tween, I was blissfully ignorant of weight issues, and even most general appearance issues. My friends would ask me things like, “Look at that girl walking over there. Is that sort of what I look like from behind? Or am I smaller? Or BIGGER? Please don’t tell me I look bigger.” I would respond by shrugging and saying, “I don’t know, I’ve never noticed before…” because I honestly wasn’t even aware that girls were thinking about their size in such a way. Me and my spindly, knobby legs were just skipping through life without a single concept of size. It was a lovely time, and it was due in large part to my parents, who never even bothered to introduce me to such ideas. My mom would constantly remind me that it was the condition of my heart that mattered, and not remotely what I look like on the outside. I suppose that vibe perpetuating through my life couldn’t have been anything but positive. But also, I wasn’t struggling with my weight, except to keep it on, so the problem never really presented itself.

My summer as a nanny in Italy at age 20 was the first time I discovered the concept of “eating one’s feelings”. I was viciously homesick, and for the first two weeks, I could barely touch the bowls of freshly stewed, garlic-laden chunky tomato pasta and crusty bread being placed in front of me. I’d push the bowls away, no appetite in sight, and would go to bed missing Chipotle Mexican Grill and my boyfriend (not necessarily in that order) immensely. Then one day, over a heaping bowl of fresh pesto e penne, eaten on a garden patio table overlooking the Mediterranean, something in my brain clicked, and I realized that what I was putting in my mouth was some of the best tasting food I had EVER HAD. From that moment forward, I became a veritable bottomless pit. I had never had such a love affair with food before then, and I likely never will again. I ate such astonishing quantities of bread and pasta, it got to the point that I would regularly feel ill after dinner, and would be sent by the scolding Italian grandmother of the family, out to walk around town on a “passagiata” (evening walk). I’d waddle down the narrow streets heaving and doubling over with heartburn and slap-happy gluttony.

To give you an example, my dinner in a single evening would consist of three or four large slices of fresh baked bread drizzled with olive oil and course salt, then steak carpaccio also drizzled with oil, then a giant bowl of THE BEST thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, the grandmother’s own invention: Pasta con formaggio filante (Literally – pasta with melty cheese – some special type she’d get from the cheese monger next door that I’ve never again tasted since leaving their home) and then I’d go swiftly back for a second bowl, before a healthy portion of minestrone soup that had been stewing on the stove since eight o’clock that morning. I’d wash it all down with a giant glass of fresh whole milk that went down just like cream. Dessert would be a walk to the local gelateria for two scoops of Straciatella, and no joke, I’d go back to my room and get in bed, and lean down to a little bag of cookies I’d become fond of called Pan di Stelle (bread of stars, I think?) which were these little chocolate cookies with star-shaped sprinkles. AND I’D EAT THEM IN BED. As I dozed off to sleep. Ugh.

Meals in those weeks became a sacred ritual – like a tally mark placed on a wall with a piece of chalk. I’d count the time by how many hours until lunch, then how many lunches until next week. It was almost an experiment to see how much food I could fit into my little twiggy body. I even got into the habit of eating breakfast – something I’ve never managed to do in the states. But when breakfast consists of Twinings Earl Grey tea, perfectly crumbly chocolate biscotti, and the most luscious farm-grown peaches dripping with nectar, it’s a habit one could form about as easily as shooting up heroine.

To put it all in perspective, at the start of my trip I went on a shopping spree in Milan for cute Italian clothes, and by the end of the summer, I couldn’t fit in ANY of them. I gained 15 pounds in two months.


My favorite Italian food buddies eating pizza and Coke – breakfast of champions

Then I got home and gobbled up like 20 In N Out burgers in a matter of weeks, but rather quickly, the pendulum of my eating habits swung back to a balanced place. I ordered eggplant and anchovies from restaurants here in the states, and was so appalled at their flavor, I quickly realized our food here is just simply NOT as good. In N Out or no, the 15 pounds kind of just fell off, and within a month I was wearing the clothes I had bought at the start of my trip. Bodies are weird.

It was several months into marriage when I first discovered my body’s ability to gain weight. Like, a legitimate ability, not the Italian love affair blaze-of-glory type of weight gain. I’m talking about the little bits of pudge that started to accumulate around my tummy and make my pants feel tight when I went to Red Lobster. It was a foreign phenomenon. I didn’t like it one bit.

For the first two years of marriage, Eric and I forced ourselves to live as if we were in poverty while devoting every spare penny to paying off our debt. In turn, our dinners consisted of LOTS of Mac N Cheese, burritos, frozen microwavable lunches, and two-dollar bottles of wine. Also, it wasn’t just the money. It’s that mac n cheese is really REALLY good, and don’t you dare ask me to share a box with you; each of us gets our OWN. A couple years of eating that way will put a couple of pounds even on the sprightliest of metabolisms.

When Eric had had enough of the slow and steady gain, he decided to get serious about his health and we began to change how we ate. I was riding on the coat tails of his dedication, much like I have through most of our marriage, so I ate better too, and I lost much of that icky weight. Then I slooooowwwly gained it back. Then summer was coming so I lost it again. Then the holidays approached and I sloooowwwly (but not quite as slowly as the first time) gained it back.

Thus began the slow and meandering four year roller coaster of weight loss and gain that I’d imagine many people have experienced, with which I am becoming acquainted. It has brought with it a lot of firsts, such as – keeping “fat” clothes and “skinny” clothes in my closet so that I have something to wear regardless of my size. When I was younger, I just kept on wearing the same exact clothes for over a decade. Not quite so, anymore. I’ve also picked up staring at myself in the mirror while cringing, and disliking clothes shopping (and dressing room mirrors) more than ever before. And yes, even looking at other girls and being tempted to ask my friends, “Look at that girl walking over there. Is that sort of what I look like from behind? Or am I smaller? Or BIGGER? Please don’t tell me I look bigger.” I also unbutton the top button of my jeans an awful lot.

Regardless of when in life it comes, the day one experiences “food guilt”, an innocence has been lost. There is a knowledge of what food does to a body, and once you comprehend that knowledge, you can never un-know it. The days of the guilt-free smorgasbord are no more. With every box of Kraft blue box and every bottle of wine, your insides cringe a little and scold, “You naughty girl. You shouldn’t be eating this.”

But here’s what I’ve realized. The knowledge of food and the damage it can do is a GOOD knowledge. Yes, while it may rob you of your happy childhood gluttony, I suppose we should discuss that IT SHOULD. Young and old alike should know concepts like moderation, smart eating and avoidance of sugar. Someone should have told thirteen year old Miriam that when ordering tacos cooked on a questionable grill in downtown Ensenada, and then drizzled with equally questionable un-refrigerated crema, ordering and eating TWELVE of them is probably a BAD idea. (I’m not gonna lie, though, that was a really good day.)

Here’s the rub: (Mmm that kind of makes me want barbecue… good GOD, Miriam, focus!) We can all learn something from both the young, carefree, twiggy version of me, AND the older, wiser, plumper version of me. First, we should strive to be moderate – to notice what we eat and put whole, real foods in our bodies MOST of the time. We should stop eating when we’re satisfied, and never reach the Italian heartburn, doubled-over “passagiata” status of old. We should put down the slim-jim and eat a freakin’ carrot instead. BUT we should also go to The Hat at midnight every couple of months, and just revel in pastrami and mayo and fries so greasy they’re nearly see through. Every once in a while.

And here’s the most important one: We should strive once again for a mindset like our adolescent  selves. A mindset that has no concept of scrutiny of one’s size. We shouldn’t be looking at that girl over there and wondering if we look the same as her from behind. Don’t do that. Comparison is the thief of joy. When we look in the mirror and want to cringe or cry, we must work to muffle and eventually silence that ugly voice telling you how much better you looked before. Just simply, turn off the light, walk away, and go climb some grassy hill til you’re huffing and puffing and looking out at a beautiful sunset. Skip the whining about it and jump straight to the doing something about it. Because every moment we spend lamenting over our looks is a moment wasted. As Amy Poehler wisely says in her book, “Yes, Please”: “Just imagine your ninety-year old self is talking to you. She would say, ‘You look great and you are beautiful. Can you walk? Stop Complaining. Stopcomplainingstopcomplainingstopcomplaining. Ignore what people think. Most people aren’t paying attention to you.’”

When you start to get down on yourself about your looks, it helps to think of how massively insignificant they are to your personality, brain and heart – the things that really matter. When you hear that voice reminding you how much you hate your cheeks, or that your thighs touch now when they didn’t used to, or that your wedding ring is getting tight – SKIP the lamenting, the self-deprecation and the self-loathing, and go read an article, then text a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, then go outside while the sun is setting and take a very long walk – the kind where when you get back, your legs are doing little twitches for the next twenty minutes. That’s where it’s at. Life is too short to spend another single minute on self-hatred.

So I still love food. Not an Italian type of love, anymore, but still the type that leaves me ready to salt and eat my own arm in a ravenous frenzy when I’ve had a pithy lunch of sweet peppers with hummus as I did today. I’m learning to love me, and learning that part of loving me is feeding me well. And the other part is eating The Hat chili cheese fries late at night. Every once in a while. And that’s the skinny (and chubby) on food and me, so far.




The Clock Radio


This is the clock radio I was given for Christmas around the year 1994 by my late grandpa Bill Morten. On that day, I learned that it was going to be time for me to start setting my own alarm to wake up in the mornings. Still interested in dolls and toys, a clock radio shouldn’t have been a gift that would excite a nine year old. But for whatever reason, it did. Maybe because it was from my grandpa, whom I didn’t see often, or maybe it was because I was starting to grow up, but I recall being very happy to receive such a shiny, new, sleek electronic device. After all, now I had my very own radio AND cassette player. Cha-ching!

A little-known kids’ station on the AM dial called Radio AAHS filled my room every day. I loved to call in requests, even though I hardly knew the names of any songs. One day I liked the song I heard playing, then, to my good fortune, the deejay said the name after it concluded. I called in immediately, “Hello, I have a request. I’d like to hear the song ‘Great Big Animal Picnic’.” The deejay informed me they’d JUST played that song, and they couldn’t play it again back to back. I felt stupid, but I also didn’t understand why you can’t play a song twice in a row if you like it a lot.

One morning Radio AAHS had a contest, and if you were the 78th caller you’d win a prize. My mom and sister and I were excitedly calling in hoping to win the prize. “You’re the 39th caller! Try again!” they said on one of the calls. “You’re the 72nd caller! So close!” said the next one. Finally, “Hello! You’re the 78th caller! Who’s this?!” My mom threw the phone to me and we all seemed to be running around with excitement like we’d just won the lottery. I won an Easy Bake Oven video tape. Not the oven itself, mind you, but a video tape series that went along with Easy Bake Oven about three friends who loved to hang out and bake things with their Easy Bake Ovens. It was clearly created to push excitement over the huge girl obsession of the day, the object of which I did not own. Even the very first time my 10 year old self watched the video, I could tell it had poor production value and the acting was terrible, and why would I even spend time watching a show about a toy I didn’t even own? But I kept watching, because gosh darnit, I’d won it on the radio.

Not until later, when I was an adult and called in to try to win other prizes on the radio, did I realize what a tiny listenership Radio AAHS must have had. In one call-in contest, our family was caller 39, caller 72 AND caller 78?? There must have been a total of nine people calling in for that silly little contest. But boy did I love winning it all the same.

After I’d saved a few weeks’ of allowance, my mom took me to the Christian book store across the street from the Brea Mall, to buy some tapes of my very own. I browsed their tape section for what seemed like hours, listening to tape after tape on the little boom boxes they had stationed in the corner with stools for people to sample music. I settled on two: Crystal Lewis’ Greatest Hits 1995, and a virtually unknown Christian band called PFR (Pray for Rain) who were like a lesser Savage Garden, but their lyrics were about God instead of women. I knew both tapes backward and forward within two weeks. I’d go to my friends’ houses and we’d lie on the bed and listen and replay our favorite bits and feel cool, even though the rest of the world was listening to Greenday and the Beastie Boys. I suppose on the Hipster scale we were the ultimate in cool, because we were sitting around listening to music that literally no one else had heard of.

As my music interests began to grow up, I started sneaking and listening to KIIS FM while doing my homework in the afternoons. I’d keep the volume low so that my parents couldn’t hear, since I wasn’t allowed to listen to that type of music. I will never forget the first time I heard The Cardigans’ “Lovefool”. Oh, how I waited and waited for each time it played to get my euro-pop beat fix. I loved Madonna singing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” so much I could barely stand it. I called in to request it a half dozen times over its radio air play months. I discovered the Spice Girls and Eagle-Eye Cherry and R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”, and man, did I adore late nineties pop music.

When my family moved to Chino Hills in 1999, my clock radio came with me. 13 years old and desperate to know what all the cool kids were listening to, I became a faithful listener to LA’s biggest hip hop station, Power 106 (105.9??), and through that was able to partake in the release of what I consider to be some of the best hip hop in history. I became well-versed in Notorious B.I.G, Bone Thugs N’ Harmony, and Tupac. Yes, me, a thirteen-year-old Christian white girl living in Chino Hills. But that was all of us, anyway, wasn’t it? My little friends and I gathered around the CD player in a friend’s room THE DAY Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001 came out, and we all listened with such rapture to Eminem’s “Forgot About Dre”, you would have thought the winning Power Ball numbers were hidden somewhere in the lyrics.

Fresh off playing with Barbies and Mall Madness, there we were, all head-bobbing to Snoop and Dre singing “I’m representing for the gangsters all across the world, Still hitting them corners in them low low’s girl, Still taking my time to perfect the beat, And I still got love for the streets, it’s the D-R-E.” Meanwhile, the only “streets” we’d ever seen were the well-manicured, equestrian neighborhood streets of Walnut and Chino Hills where we pretended to know how to skateboard in hopes that the boys would think we were cool. In those days, I’d listened to Tupac’s “Life Goes On” so many times, I memorized every lyric, and would impress my friends by rapping it alongside Mr. Shakur when we’d listen all together. To this day, I can still remember a good two-thirds of it, but generally need a few cocktails before I start giving any performances.

I discovered KROQ’s “Loveline” with Dr. Drew and Adam Carolla, and would go to sleep some nights getting a hilarious and probably too-thorough education on sex, all the while listening intently for motion in the house – terrified that my parents would walk in and discover the abominable things to which I was listening. Although I likely could have asked the same questions to my parents and gotten a straight answer, I later realized how many kids I knew whose parents didn’t want to approach those subjects. I’d imagine Dr. Drew prevented a lot of unwanted pregnancies, STDs and drug addicts. And boy, did Adam Carolla make it all so stinkin’ funny!

As I grew close to finishing high school and starting college, God really got a hold of my life and I began taking my time with Him more seriously. A worship music station called KSGN became my alarm radio station, and it surprised me how calming it was to wake up to the sounds of the worship of God. Hearing things like, “Holy, holy, holy” as you turn over and press snooze just one more time changes how your day begins.

When I got married in 2008, long past the death of cassette tapes, and far into the era of iTunes and online music, my clock radio still came with me to our first apartment. I knew its dials and snooze button by heart, and it didn’t seem plausible to let go of something so useful. It sits next to my bed to this day. Now, instead of Ryan Seacrest, or Big Boy (who’s not so big anymore), I awake to the soothing voice of classical KUSC’s Dennis Bartel, as he selects works by Mahler and Vivaldi to woo me from my slumber.

For a while, about a year ago, I switched to using my iPhone alarm, in hopes that forming a new habit would free up the huge amount of space my clock radio inhabits on my tiny night stand. It didn’t stick. The maneuvers required to set and turn off a phone alarm just proved too difficult in my half-asleep state, and after 20 years with it, setting the clock radio felt natural and easy. Besides, in the middle of the night, when you’re disoriented and your contacts are out, big, red, glowing numbers remind you of the time much more readily than tiny iPhone numbers.

If it sounds like I’m justifying the costly nightstand real estate the clock radio occupies, it’s because I probably am. It is, for all intents and purposes, obsolete. Sitting right next to my clock radio, in the form of a phone, I have a clock, a radio, an alarm, and the world’s music at my fingertips. No dials to turn or buttons to click. No need to reset it after a power outage.

But my iPhone is not a time capsule. It has not watched me get up every morning for twenty years. It has not provided the varied and hilarious soundtrack to my childhood and my adolescence. It has not seen me at my very worst, drool-covered, bed head state. It didn’t wake me up on the first day of school as a fourth grader, nor did it wake me up on my first day as a fourth grade teacher. It didn’t watch my head pop off my pillow on my wedding day, reminding me to go marry the man of my dreams. My clock radio did. And for that reason, paperweight as it may be, it will remain at my bedside, big and old and faithful as ever, for the foreseeable future. So if anyone has any cool cassette tapes they want to loan me, I’m more than ready for them.

Old Devil Hate


Wednesday December 2nd had been busy grinding through how to turn decimals into fractions with my class. When I said goodbye to my last tutoring student at 5pm, I exhaustedly plopped down at my desk, work for the day finished, and heaved a sigh that signaled the passing of another happy day in teacherdom. I clicked on Facebook to see what the rest of the world was up to.

14 people were killed and 21 people were injured in San Bernardino.

The computer faded out of focus. There it was again – that September 11th sick feeling in my stomach. I sat staring across my classroom. The ticking of the clock came into focus. More people dead. This time, 32 miles from the chair where I sat. My eyes fell into a distant stare as tears welled in my eyes. After a long minute, my sharp, shaky inhale broke the silence. I gathered up my belongings and drove home, red lights blurred through tears, feeling the weight of a world that sees so much darkness. Victims’ faces flashing across the screen: People who will never have another cup of coffee or hear another song, or laugh with their families ever again. I felt overwhelming grief for the brokenness of humanity. Fear for the safety of those I love. The world screeches to a halt again.

I’m not sure how you remember 9/11, but I remember a nation’s collective tears. How no one took their eyes off their screens. We all did what I did after hearing about San Bernardino: just sat still and cried. We put our arms around our family and just lowered our heads, allowing the gravity to wash over us. We stared in silence as firefighters dug through an Everest of rubble, praying for even one to emerge alive – to give the slightest flicker of hope in the blackness.

Then, something remarkable happened. Almost at once it seemed, everyone got up. They lit candles and raised flags. They took hands with strangers and walked to street corners, and bought markers to make big giant signs that said “United We Stand”. They bought flags that clipped them to car windows, and honked in support through intersections and demonstrated that we stand for something greater than fear – that we were unwilling to bend to the devastation. That we would not disrespect the dead by giving up our efforts and our lives to those who want to destroy. That we would allow good to prevail. Together, in our own myriad of tiny ways, we sent a message to evil: You will not beat us. You may beat us up, but you will not beat us. Our spirit is too strong; the good of the many is greater than the hate of the few, and we WILL WIN.

The news stories began to shift. In between ongoing footage of that pile of rubble, we began to rebuild our hope. I recall the flame in my heart watching on the news people standing together on street corners in Tallahassee and Buffalo and Portland, just like we were in Chino Hills. Togetherness was the first step toward our collective healing.


The Facebook news feed world in which we now live has provided a very different response to these smaller versions of 9/11 tragedies which keep occurring in the form of mass shootings, dead black teenagers and hostage-held Planned Parenthoods. The street corners on which we meet are no longer physical, but virtual, and it is clear something has been lost. Instead of looking into the eyes of another human being and seeing his pain, our friends have been reduced to their ideals, logged away in the filing cabinets of our minds as conservative, liberal, pro-gun, anti-gun, pro-Muslim, anti-Muslim. We’ve stopped allowing the grief to unite us, because the humanness – the sameness- of others is too far away – beyond the networks and wires and screens – in a place that is not real. And it’s tearing us all apart.

We hurl articles like grenades, monger with ideology , bully prayer and spew gun statistics. We are all the man who has lost his job, comes home, and takes it all out on the dog. Anger and sadness are fine – they are the CORRECT reaction – but they have been placed in error upon our brothers and sisters, when they should be directed at the true enemy: hate.

In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis, writes as a demon named Screwtape instructing his nephew, Wormwood – also a demon – how to best corrupt his “patient” – a young man trying to make his way through life. When the “delightful” news of world war has been discovered, Screwtape explains to his nephew the bad news that in war, Europeans wielded only a “mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats”. In other words, though they proclaimed an intense hatred for their enemies, their kind hearts would offer aid to the first German pilot who landed in their fields. In an attempt to help Wormwood foster the hatred in his “patient’s” heart, he offers the following advice:

“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day, and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.”

By all means, maintain your views about whether guns are the hero or the villain. Feel how you wish about cops, or Muslims, or Trump, but friends, those ideas and the people who tout them are not the enemy. Hate is. And the antidote is love. It is literally ALL that matters. It is the rope reaching down into the pit that we must grab hold of to perpetuate the good left in this world. Now is the time to love, not in the remote circumference, but in the real, immediate world around us, and we must let it flow out of us without faltering and without discrimination. Let it become habit, for Screwtape says, “It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us.” They are fatal to hatred because the active beneficence we show will mean the difference between the broken state of our world today and a better world tomorrow.

Hug your kids. Call your mom and tell her you love her. Send a letter to your childhood best friend. Look at the eyes of the person checking your groceries and comment on what a beautiful day it is. Invite a stranger to your Christmas dinner table. Watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Find the children in your life and teach them to love, too. Sit down next to a homeless person, look in his eyes, and ask how he’s doing, then listen. Put your grocery cart back in the cart corral. Tape change to a vending machine. Let that buffoon who has no idea how to merge into one lane go ahead of you, and then SMILE at him as he passes. (Not that I have any experience with this…) Send a private message to that person who’s driving you crazy with their gun posts. Ask her how she’s doing and if she’d like to get together for coffee like old times. Then go and TALK with her, and LISTEN to her. Say you’re sorry to whom you need to, and mean it. Love the refugee and the Muslim, yes, but love the Trump supporter and the outspoken Bernie supporter just as fiercely. Love the “Coexist” bumper sticker owner, and the Gospel Coalition member. Don’t cheapen your benevolence by offering it only to those you feel have earned it.

Hey Miriam, your incurable optimism is showing.

Yeah. I’m not sorry about it.

Somewhere along the way, between political memes and righteous reputation smearing, we’ve stopped looking at people’s eyes and have lost a level of human connection. We need to find our way out of blog warfare and back to the candlelit street corners of late September 2001. Those of us with love in our hearts have nothing short of a RESPONSIBILITY to demonstrate that love as emphatically, strategically and zealously as those so effectively demonstrating their hate.

Old devil fear, you with your icy hands
Old devil fear, you’d like to freeze me cold
But when I’m sore afraid, my lovers gather round
And help me rise to fight you one more time

Old devil hate, I knew you long ago
Before I learned the poison in your breath
Now when I hear your lies, my lovers gather round
And help me rise to fight you one more time

From “Old Devil Time” by Pete Seeger

Hear the song here.


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