Saturday, October 7, 2017

Listen to the Birds

Listen to the Birds
The morning my mom passed away, still dark out, I returned home from the hospital and collapsed into bed, reeling in shock yet exhausted. Clutching my pillow, body resting, eyes closed I fell asleep, oddly in tune with every sound and sun beam and speck of dust. It was as if for the first time I heard the birds chirping outside my bedroom as they sang boisterously, deliberately in a  sweet staccato, calling to me directly, conducting my dream-state. I immediately felt my mother speaking to me through this distinct birdsong  and slowly I came to consciousness feeling silly for having thought so. 

Since that moment, I feel my mom has connected to me so many ways, in so many forms, from repeated number patterns, starting with waking up at  4:44, to house clocks flashing these patterns in moments meant only for my children and me to notice -- when literally the clock should have read otherwise, to feathers appearing in places that could  not be missed, like the driver's seat of my car, stuck on my dog's nose so firmly that after identification it had to be literally peeled off, the soccer field, midgame, my son, Giovanni, stopping to grab it and holding it up knowingly. 

Then there are the birds, black crows dancing suspiciously in front of my moving  car so that I have no choice but to stop and watch this show delivered in these precise moments to say, "I am here!", a humming bird tattoo (mom had an affinity for these birds) presented in her favorite colors, pink and green, on the back shoulder of the person wearing the right cut, sitting in the pew in front of me at a funeral ...

I leave the above sentence unfinished with an ellipsis purposely, not because I'm tired of writing. I believe you too know these moments. I no longer default to thinking how  weird or coincidental, I now understand, we humans,  in physical form, are wired to receive if we are open and present. 

Enter Monica the Medium--I knew of her from her two season reality show, that aired on ABC Family, then began following her on social media to include Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  It was there I began to notice connections to my mother as well. She was following 444 people on Instagram, her Season One Show, Monica the Medium, premiered on August 25th, my mother's birthday, one of her Instagram posts was of a beautiful poem called Death is Nothing at All, by Henry Scott-Holland which she posted on September 19th, my father's birthday, the very same poem my neighbor had sent me the year before to comfort me after my mom had passed.   

I tried to direct message her to no avail, but soon learned through Facebook that she would be doing a live event, Messages from Above, in San Mateo, CA, which is pretty much the county I grew up in before moving to Clearlake as an adolescent. Of course I had to go!  Intentions set and tickets purchased, I hooked up with two of my best cousins who had also lost loved ones and my sister in law, Angela, who really is just my sister (in law is a formality) and off we went to explore the spirit world with a gifted medium. 

Incredibly, out of the few hundred people who attended this event my mother, Gloria, who goes by "Cookie" made an appearance, and again as with her death, I found myself in shock.  I mean, you wish for it when you participate in a gathering as such, but when it actually happens...mind blown.

 I won't go into a play by play, but I will tell you earlier that day as I stood in front of my mom's photo, placing her silver hoop earrings in my ears, I spoke to her. I told her where I was going, who I would be with, that I was wearing her earrings and that I wanted her  to come through.  Well guess what? She heard me.  My mom followed two husbands that had passed, the first one, named Jerry spoke of his two sons through Monica and so  his wife recognizing such, stood up in acknowledgement of the the messages  being sent. Her name was Cookie. The second spirit had his daughters stand in validation that the messages were meant for them when he spoke of his grandchildren and a bit later in the reading he acknowledged his wife, who was also sitting by her daughters' sides.  Her name was Gloria. 

Of course, Angela, my sister in law, and I looked at other and confirmed that we had indeed heard these names correctly, a wife named Cookie, followed by a wife named Gloria.  So weird, we agreed. Then, as  Monica closed with the second family, she began describing a Gloria coming through that went by another name! I immediately raised my hand and stood. The next  thing Monica said was, "She keeps talking about these silver hoop earrings."  

Whaaaaaaaaat? Crazy town.  She went on to deliver many more messages to us and I stood answering mostly yes to all of them.  As Monica translates for your loved one, she asks that you only respond  with yes or no in validation so she can continue to hear them and not be influenced by your details.  We had some laughs, and to be honest some of the content that she delivered felt undesirable to me, as in not what I wanted to hear and not being what I thought my mother would say.  Monica matter of factly explained why this would happen as I  projected resistance in my words. She elaborated that in the spirit world, one lets go of grudges and views people/things once held in disdain through a new lens absent of judgement.  

In the following weeks, I opened my heart as best I could to "allow" those messages which unsettled me, and decided  to pass them along. But the most wonderful news we received that evening from our dear Cookie, happened when Monica placed her hand on her hip, standing proudly as if showing us what she saw, and revealed that my mom says she is  the best version of herself! What more could we ask for?  

Happy two year anniversary on your angel status mom! Since I now know that you hear me -- I love and miss you more than ever, I am aware that you surround us and present yourself in many forms and I promise to always listen to the birds.  xoxoxo 444 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Promise From the Heart: A Mother's Eulogy by Her Daughter

Exactly one month ago today, I took my mom in for heart valve replacement surgery.    She didn't come home with us in the form we expected.  This is the eulogy, I wrote for her and read at her memorial service yesterday, November 4, 2015. 

I said I love you…and that’s forever.  This I promise from the heart.  I begin with a little thievery from Billy Joel, mom, one of your favorite songs, “Just the Way You Are”.  I hope you are looking down and listening as I try my best to tell your story.  I promise to be nice.

We are gathered here today to say our farewells and celebrate the life of Gloria Ann Zahra, affectionately known as “Cookie” by her family and friends.  I am lucky enough to have called her mom, along with my brother.  We met for the first time, eye to sparkling green eyes, in the delivery room of what was then called Mary’s Help Hospital in Daly City.  My brother, Eric, having met her a few years earlier in this same fashion, in this same place.  And so it was, we were blessed.  

Sadly, as life has its way of circling around, my brother and I would also say our final goodbyes to our mother in the hospital.  Though this time the hospital would be Queen of the Valley, in Napa, where Gloria Ann Zahra, our beautiful mother was not able to overcome the trauma of her open heart, valve replacement surgery.

Cookie received her moniker from her older brother Charley, when as children, he would often climb up to the cookie jar and offer a Nilla Wafer to his baby sister, arm outstretched, chanting cookie, cookie, want a cookie?  And no name could have been more perfectly coined to describe this sweet soul that we all loved so dearly. 
Mom was born August 25, 1943 in New York State.  She came to San Francisco as a baby of just a year and half, so that her father, Gerald Bowker, could participate in the war effort working in the shipyards. Due to his poor eyesight, he was not eligible to join the service.  Cookie was accompanied on this trek across country with her beloved mother Anna Cecilia Bowker, her older siblings Joyce, Marie and Charley as well as their Aunt Sissy.  Yes, my mom was once the baby of the Bowker Family!  Aunt Sissy joined the party to help her sister with the children, as they traveled by train to meet my grandfather, Jerry, who had arrived prior to establish a residence in which to welcome his family to their new life in San Francisco, which would begin in Hunter’s Point.

She is remembered as a child, by her older siblings as being joyful, cute and affectionate.  Flitting along from lap to lap, and tagging along on movie dates, as she constantly tried to find her place among the group that began to form as their lives in SF took root.  She was even lovingly referred to as the flea by her cousin Jimmy Fanelli.

Mom often recounted special memories of family outings to the Sutro Baths.  She always loved the water and swimming.  Though in the early years in SF, the Bowker Family did not have a car, I’m told that when they did have rides they enjoyed family days out to not only Sutro Baths, but Playland, and the zoo, as well as picnics at Ocean Beach.  Mom, was always happy to be out enjoying life with her loved ones in the family friendly city that SF once was.  

At the age of 12, my mom’s place in the family as the  youngest changed to middle child, with the birth of her younger brother Steve followed by Linda a few years later.  As the older kids were out and about living their teen lives and embarking on adulthood, mom often took care of Steve and Linda and in this way she developed strong bonds with the youngest of the Bowker Crew.  Just as when she was the youngest, and accompanied her older brothers and sisters to movies, she now began this tradition with her little brother Steve.  Something they still enjoyed doing together up until the time of her passing.

Mom married young, at just 19 to Rene Zahra, my father.  They met as children in the city through mutual friends.  It is told to me by my father that on a return trip from a picnic with her family he put his arm up on the back of the car’s seat, whereupon she sweetly rested her head on his shoulder.  And so it began…it wasn’t a perfect love story, not the middle or ending she had envisioned, but it was hers and it began purely, so this is what she chose to keep in her heart.  In all their years apart, if my parents could agree on anything it was that the greatest aspect of their union, was the gift of the children they shared.

Years later mom gave us the gift of being a grandma/nona to our children, Isabella, Julia, Sophia, Vincenzo and Giovanni.  Her innate sense of play and spontaneity made her the perfect match for these wild things! She knew each of them individually, their strengths, talents, faults, and wit, taking  any opportunity that presented itself to speak pridefully about these special little people she loved with all her heart.  

I can’t put into words accurately the loving presence my mom provided us as children and adults.  She always worked hard and sacrificed for us, welcomed us back home whenever the need arose and emotionally fed us until the our bellies protruded.  She was strong, but open minded in faith, a great cook, had admirable work ethic having served in  office work, grocery, chocolate making, bookkeeping, daycare and elderly care. She had a talent for drawing and decorating,  enjoyed word  puzzles (always intent on keeping her mind active), loved movies, swimming and meals out with family.  

Phrases such as, so much fun, that smile, her sparking eyes, you had the cool mom, her laugh was infectious, she was so proud of you and Eric, and I remember when your mom and I …followed  by a delicious story which guaranteed a laugh.  All of these sentiments dance in my head as friends and family who hear of her passing remind us of the special person she was and how she touched their life in her unique way.  I’m forever grateful to you mommy.  I hope I can continue to hold your torch up, that your light will continue to shine through us, your  children, and grandchildren.  You will never be forgotten and  so very sorely missed.  Bless your soul sweet Cookie, sister, mother, aunt, grandmother and friend.  May you rest in peace forever and always.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Waste Not Want Not

Oh broccoli stems, I hate to throw you away, but my children do not like to eat you.  To compost you go, but then I hear a little voice in my head. It's Jan Bruns, my second mom, saying, "Waste not want not," in her Jan Bruns voice and I picture her turning that ketchup bottle upside down to salvage every last drop, before it hits the waste receptacle. So, crunchy green stems you live to see another day!


If your kids are like mine, and don't eat their stems and you are like me and enjoy scrambled eggs, save those stems!  I cut off the majority of the stems while prepping our dinner veggie.  Then, using a pairing knife, I peel off a thin layer of the outer skin.  After that, I slice those stems into 1/4 inch discs and throw them in a Tupperware for later.  

One of my favorite breakfasts I treat myself to after seeing the kids off to school, or post work out, when I have a few minutes to myself, is a veggie egg scramble.  These little broccoli stem bites add a little crunch and color to my mommy breakfast.

 I usually sauté up some onions and garlic in olive oil first adding appropriate spices, then toss in the broccoli discs along with whatever other veggies I find in my fridge. Next, I scramble in two eggs and finally a little cheese please.  I finish it off on my plate by topping it off with a dollop of salsa or a nice squirt of Shiracha.  This meal keeps me satisfied throughout my morning, well into the afternoon, but best of all it saves those stems!  Waste not want not people.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Every once in a while in get this must have craving for a shawarma, or falafel, or both and can't decide which middle eastern bliss to order once I actually can!  I'm terrible at making decisions and more than not, wind up experiencing obsessive buyer's remorse immediately following said decision, but that's another story.  

The problem is, I am back on topic now btw, while there may be some delicious options on where to feast on these tasty delectables in the Bay Area, they are not right down the street! ...Well, at least not mine.  If you are in the same boat as me regarding the craving of such yumminess and the location of your residence, I would like to share my quick fix.

What You Need:


Not pictured, but also included in my home version was red onion.

Where to buy:  Most items above are easily sourced, however this Lavash I found at Safeway and the ready made Tahini Sauce I found at Trader Joes.

How to Prepare:

~Preheat oven to 350
~Mix the Tahini sauce with water to thin it to a consistency which is desirable to you \\  Scoop out the amount needed and do this in a separate bowl or pourable container like a measuring cup.  (I did doctor mine a bit with the lemon and some vinegar, but it is not necessary)
~Take a few romaine leaves at a time and slice them into thin ribbons from the top of the leaves to the bottom \\ At his time, also shave a little purple cabbage off and very thinly slice red onions
~Peel and cut cucumber in half lengthwise as pictured, then thinly slice needed amount 
~Thinly slice ripe tomato and cut slices in half after that
~Pull apart your rotisserie chicken

Next Moves: 

~Mix lettuce, cabbage, red onion with the thinned out tahini sauce \\ drench it
~Very quickly warm up the lavash in the preheated oven
~Assemble \\  Chicken, Drenched slaw, Tomato slices, Cucumber slices, A squiggle of Siracha if you 
like spice
~ Wrap that bitch (you are on your own here!) 

If you are like me, and my craving is also yours, I hope you will try this and let me know if it left you satisfied.  And if not, let's do lunch in Berkeley soon and get the fer realz shit!  Peace out.  I'm suddenly hungry.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

My "friend" Facebook

As a woman with hormones, a mother of some crazy but oh so loveable little bastards, and a wife of a hardworking, big-hearted, but extremely non-empathetic man, I find fb a very important outlet in my life.   At first, I was very resistant to join, knowing my addictive personality and acknowledging the many other literal vs. virtual places my time would be better spent.  Better, meaning: I would be knocking things off of my to do list, or attending to my children more closely, rather than following them around with my camera phone, but not necessarily fulfilled. 

Pressured by Smellee, one of my oldest and truest friends--I distinctly remember her persistent encouragement after numerous negative responses by me, " You gotta try it Ann, I really think you should."  I succumbed. Hard. 

Well, here is why I like it.  Here's why fb is my "friend." When, in that exact moment, I have an urge, an observation, a strong emotion, a sarcastic remark, when I feel as though my head might explode, I can shout it out! And chances are there's someone out there in Facebook Land that hears me, and feels me, and validates me.  Acknowledgement feels good.  

As a person who likes to write (and stopped keeping a journal after marriage), it lets old friends and new, maybe even strangers, peek into my life and gives me a voice. And sometimes...people like it. And sometimes they tell me so through a comment, a like, or a Goddamn LOL.  And that feels good.

So, while Facebook can be perceived as  a disconnect from life or a silly waste of time  by some unnamed, non-empathetic people, it's also a loyal "friend" and a connection builder.  I can share instantly, a darling photo of my boys being amazing or silly or amazingly silly, and in the next moment I can cheer on a friend's child's accomplishments or commiserate in a similar frustration, I can appreciate a meal well cooked and presented or a well deserved drink in a fancy place with a simple press of a like button. And, we are supporting each other positively, in a way that is pretty incredible.  I could go on and on, but I think you get it. So, thank you Facebook and thank you Kelli Bruns.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Another $4.00 U-Turn

Dear MacArthur Maze, cluster fuck of interstate 80's, I accept that I will never confidently navigate your roads; however, today I found peace in my misguided misfortune of such. After successfully, finding my way from Point Richmond to Lafayette in the morning commute traffic, no less, I felt that the return trip to Point Richmond from said location laid in my driving prowess, as long as my 3.5 year old in the back seat remained silent (fail), and my Google Maps Bitch kept me in the know (double fail). screechy record scratching back up sound bite. That's the effing Bay Bridge approach! Another $4.00 U-Turn, I must confess, it's not my first time in this predicament. Thank God for Treasure Island. Annoyed at myself, calling out self deprecating remarks and expletives, soon parroted relentlessly in the back seat, I must succumb to the fact that I suck at navigation. I take the exit into Treasure Island stressed and hungry, yes, I skipped the most important meal of the day too! When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a hot dog cart, a free, open parking space, and the below view of our beloved City by the bay.

Giovanni, my backseat passenger, and I grabbed a dog, and took in the view, as I recounted to my youngest son,that this is the spot where daddy asked mommy to marry him. Giovanni asked me to lift him up above the railing to spy more carefully this location and responded that it was a dangerous spot and maybe our feet could have gotten stuck in the rocks.

Long story short, it's not so hard to turn shit into treasure, when it's viewed from a different angle. And...I still made it on time to Volunteer at my oldest son's school walk-a-thon. Life's not so bad, even if you have to make a $4.00 U-Turn to realize it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tiny Little Seeds

Valentine's Day, lying in bed (technically doing laundry--the machine is on), Giovanni, my three year old, sitting on my back, rambling on about boats,while I simultaneously blog and play Words With Friends. Mother guilt tells me take the boy out for a bike ride, wife guilt tells me clean the house, teacher guilt tells me prepare those lessons, but my old friend, Lazy, wins. After all, Giovanni repeatedly reminds, he will sink without me, so I remain floating in this sea of blue flannel, a life boat of sorts.

I remember vividly, my life before this one. The freedom, the deep lonely, the joys and the ultimate heartaches. Aloneness is a blessing and a curse. While there, I longed so desperately for the opposite. Yet, it afforded me opportunities to explore myself and the world, forced me into experiences, tapped my creativity and carved my independence.

Today reminds me that God granted me what my had heart pained for in my aloneness, a person to love and share the mundanities of life with in my husband Chris, the tiny little seeds of Vincenzo, Giovanni, and those souls in between that were named but never known. So,out of bed I must jump to embrace the laundry, the passenger on my back, the outdoors and all life's blessings that surround us. Goodbye for now my old friend, Lazy. I do adore you.