Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Fifteen. On Eze, Nice and Unrequited Love. Angels, Part 2

Living in fifteenth century Eze village must have been hard. It’s a medieval village outside of Nice, about a twenty minute drive toward Monaco. the ruins stand overlooking the sea, next to the Fragonard perfumery. It’s all hewn rock, and the top is like a aerie overlooking the sea.

We walked up to the top of the village, and were treated to this.

The exotic garden at the top of Eze. Filled with ruins, wonderful plants and statuary.

The exotic garden at the top of Eze. Filled with ruins, wonderful plants and statuary.

WHAT a gorgeous place to live. Standing on these rough hewn rocks, the wind in our hair, you wonder about things. It’s all so much smaller than what we have now. The doors in the ancient village are barely five feet, the rooms, which are now shops, of course, tiny little spaces hacked out of rock. Or, enclosed spaces with uneven bricks mortared together against the elements.

But where would you get your water? And imagine hustling up and down all those steps to the baker, the winemaker, or the tanner. Narrow stone corridors everywhere. Now, it’s a stop for Spanish cruise ships. An interesting evolution.

We climbed and climbed, and  got the fun of this. A good place to keep an eye on the bad guys, all the way up here.

The mediterranean from the top of Eze village.

The mediterranean from the top of Eze village.

Keeping the bad guys away from the fortified top of Eze.

Keeping the bad guys away from the fortified top of Eze.

Fragonard is at the foot of Eze, and was fascinating. It’s a lot smaller of a perfumerie than I would have thought, and they employ one single perfumer who works all of two hours a day. The job specs for this position are kind of incredible. This man spent three years training his nose, and can distinguish between several thousand fragrances. After a seven year apprenticeship, he can be a perfumer. He can never, ever smoke, drink alcohol or eat spicy food. Forever. AND his nose is insured for a million dollars. Can you imagine?

We spent hours just doing this.

We spent hours just doing thiUS dollars. Can you imagine? Such commitment!

Part of this sabbatical is also for these children. My goal here is to help them built an experience base, and a comfort with the world.

Such a vast amount of space!

Such a vast amount of space!

It’s hilarious to watch mountain children interact with the ocean. Quote of the day: “Mom, I know this makes me sound stupid, but the ocean is so BIG!”

Nice was a very mixed bag. People ask me if the French are as obnoxious as their reputation, and after barely a week, I like to reserve judgement. However, last night all three of our tour bikes were stolen. They were bolted securely to the railing outside the hotel. We went to dinner , and then made to bring them into the building. All three of the bolts were cut, and sitting on the ground where the bikes were, mockingly. The owner of the bike shop? “I told you to bring them in after dark!” And how would we have gotten home? Hmm, methinks obnoxious stereotypes might have some basis in reality. Thank heaven for insurance.

Thieves in Nice notwithstanding, it was a pleasant stay. The ocean always seems to evoke thought, at least in this mountain dweller.

It also still cracks me up to see the neurons blazing new pathways like this:

The perfect stone is here somewhere.

The perfect stone is here somewhere.

just sitting and gazing.

After a day like today, a movie was in order. Rachael had just finished Anna Karenina, the Tolstoy doorstop. Really, those of you who like Tolstoy, realize that what King Solomon said was true. There is nothing new under the sun. Anna is a  tale of  brainless, obsessive love that ultimately ends in self destruction. Stephanie Meyer was wise not to kill off Bella in the Twilight series, she would not have sold as many copies. But Twilight is a Tolstoy ripoff, and Tolstoy no doubt was friends with Romeo and Juliet. 

Obsessive and unrequited love doesn’t do it for me any more. This part of the trip has been strangely challenging. It’s funny, after two years, I would have thought that the grief of losing a husband would be a chapter now, but it is not so. As I walked through the flower market, and took the kids down a Christmas street, a little achy part of my heart reminded me that yes, it would have been better if Chris were here.

I wrote about it to a friend of mine. Catherine is familiar with loss, this is what she said.

” …wouldn’t we want our loved ones to keep a little token of us in their hearts should the roles have been reversed? Be patient with yourself. You’ll find your feet again, and Chris will have left behind a little legacy in that you will be little more empathetic for others who are going through the same thing. Don’t fight it those sad moments when you think of him. Embrace the fact that he deserved to have someone grieve for him  here on earth.”  

It’s a lovely thought, and true. Were I the one gone, I would want my loved ones to think of me. Not be stuck, or paralysed, just to think of me, and wish I were there. Perhaps he is, somehow.

Lest we end on a completely morose note, here is another chapter of Angels Among Us, fellow Visitors. It is Christmas, after all, the season to give. I hope you enjoy it.

Much love,


Chapter Ten: Layaway Angels Christmas-layaway-1

It was a late night, and I was tired. It had been a long day at work, and dance was just killing my feet. My private coaching time had gone well, but I had never done Quickstep. I was looking forward to it, but it was difficult at eight oclock at night after a long day. Thirty minutes into the lesson I just gave up.

I motioned to my coach. “I’m sorry,Scott, I’ve got to give it up. Long day.”

Scott, ever the understanding coach, sent me home with a warm hug.

“It’s OK! We’ll see you Tuesday! “He went back to teaching the class.

I changed out of my dance shoes and was about to leave when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Victoria! Victoria! Are you leaving? “ One of my favorite dance partners wanted my attention.


“Yes, Randy, I’ve had enough. How long are you staying?”

“Oh, probably for everything. Listen, I was wondering, do you want to go with me to the Mercury Café next week? Thursday is tango night!”

I thought about it for a fraction of a second. Rick was built like a whippet, and enough older than me that he didn’t mind being called a hippy.

But he was an excellent dancer, and made me laugh.

“Randy, that sounds like a lovely invitation! Let me give you my card with my number on the back, and you send me the details.”

“Great! Sounds great! “ Randy went back to quickstep.

Two days later I got an email from Randy. We met later that week and had peanut skewers at Tokyo Joes. Randy was funny, and kept me on my toes, verbally.

We went to the Merc and took over a table.

‘Say, Randy. What do you say. I’m a Christian, right? And we believe in tithing. So I’ve got some extra money in my tithe budget. It’s getting near Christmas, and one thing my husband and I used to love to do was to be ‘Layaway Angels.”

“Layaway Angels?” Randy’s Jersey accent always made me smile. I’ve never heard of such a thing!”

“Check it out. This is how it works. I brought three hundred dollars in small bills. Let’s dance for a while, and then before we go home, let’s find the nastiest, dirtiest K-mart in the area. I don’t know this area much, so can you find one? “

“I think so. Then what? “

“Well, you have to find a clerk that will let you do this, because some people get squirrelly about privacy. But, the idea is, you find a clerk in the layaway department who will tell you who has stuff on layaway for small children. It’s getting close to Christmas, so you know if someone has 75$ worth of toys and kid clothes on layaway, and pays like ten dollars a week on it, it’s probably for Christmas. So we go in, and pay the balance, and ‘poof!’ someone thinks they’ve been visited by an angel! Heh, it’s really fun.”

Randy looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

“You do that? Give perfectly good money to someone you’ll never even see?”

“Well sure, Randy! Don’t you ever give anything away? You told me yourself about going to volunteer at the Denver Rescue Mission and the Denver Hospice. How is that any different?”

“Well, it’s money, for one thing. But that’s kind of cute! No, I’m not a Christian, but that sounds like fun. Your money though, right? I didn’t bring any more than I needed tonight, and besides, I’m not sure that’s my cup of tea.”

“Hehheh, It’s OK, Rick. I used to do it with my husband before he died, and since then I’ve just lost the heart for it. But Christians are supposed to help each other, and it really gives me a lot of joy. So, are we on?”

“You bet.”

Randy  and I spent the next two hours dancing to the music at the Mercury Café. It had been ages since I had been there, and I didn’t recognize a soul. Rick introduced me around, the consummate gentleman, ponytail and all.

When the crowd started to thin, Rick and I gave each other a knowing nod. Soon, we were on the road into some of the less affluent parts of Denver.

We found a K mart in the Five Points area. It was past midnight.

“Gah, this is it, Randy. Call me a Nervous Nellie, but I’m glad you’re with me! “

We walked through the flickering light of the sodium lamps and entered the store.

“Ok, “ Randy’s gravelly Jersey voice rasped. “Maybe customer service?”

“Heheh, I think so. “

We went to the back of the store and explained what we wanted to do to one of the clerks behind the counter. She was a tired looking teenager, and blew her bubblegum in our general direction.

“Huh. A coupla do gooders, huh? I guess so.” She went to a different computer.

“Let’s see. Here’s one with a ‘Tickle me Elmo’, a size thirty six month overalls, a pack of socks the same size, and a little dress. Total, 87. 58 , total paid so far, 25 dollars, balance 62.58$. “

I turned to Rick. “Perfect! Let’s do it. “ I counted out the bills.

“Next? “ The clerk seemed surprised. What a pity.

“Ok,” she seemed to be warming to the task. “Here’s one. Matchbox car set, with six matchbox cars and four sets of tracks. Size four overalls, size four tennis shoes, baseball cap. Total, 72.33, total paid, thirty dollars over four weeks. Balance remaining, forty two dollars and thirty three cents. “

Randy chimed in. “Matchbox! I loved matchbox! I used to play with that very same set with my son when he was a kid. This is fun!”

I was delighted that Randy shared the same sense of joy in giving that I had. We continued for a few more minutes until the balance of the money was spent.

Chattering like bluejays, we left the store and Randy walked me to my care.

“Thanks! That was more than what I bargained for, but a lot of fun! “

We exchanged a warm hug, and promised to see each other next Thursday at Scott’s next practice party. I grinned all the way home, happy to recruit another member into the party of angels.


Dancing With The Stars

Orion. What I would give to go visit.

Rachael got out our telescope tonight. This thing is enormous. I don’t know the specifications of this beast, but the 8 x 50 on the little lens on top gave me a clue that the bigger one must be darn powerful. We fooled around with it quite a bit before getting it to work, and were treated to dazzling views of the stars in Orion’s belt.

She started to bounce around the deck, babbling on about the Pleiades, Castor and Pollux, Venus, Mars and both of the Ursas. I watched this kid, delighting in her delight, and felt the wonder again of the gift of parenthood.

The Pleiades. I wonder who lives there?

The Bible says that “Children are a gift of the Lord”, a crown” a “grace” and all kinds of other complimentary things.  Mine are rocketing toward adulthood, heading for unknown galaxies far, far away. It’s just the coolest thing to watch.

I’m grateful for you people, because I feel the lack of a partner acutely in times like this.  Chris was as much into parenting as I am, and sometimes we would just look at each other and shake our heads. What a riot, what an amazement this whole gig has turned out to be.

I mean, four kids? What the hell were we thinking? Actually, I wanted to adopt a fifth, but someone was too chickenhearted to take the plunge. (You listening up there, honey?)

Those of you who started with me know their stories, and I know  you are all holding your breath a bit too, wondering how this is going to play out. Traumatized children can easily go bananas, and I was warned. They were so brave during Chris’s ordeal, treating him with love while watching him undergo this horrifying transformation.

When he died, everyone I respected warned me, as gently as they could, that they would probably crater in some way or another. While I have found that too be true to a limited degree, the bomb really hasn’t blasted us apart.

The past six months have been very intense for us on many levels, mainly because the girls are going to college. Gracious, certain words are just giant buttons for me now : applications, early decisions, roommate, Ivy, financial aid, FAFSA (Oh, just writing that one incites an inner desire for violence) and lastly, tuition. ARGH!

The Lierheimer ship is beginning to right itself now, though. Abigail is four for 4 on her first choices, the most exciting of which is admission to Boston University School of Fine Arts. Imagine this, people, forty four THOUSAND young people applied for thirty nine HUNDRED  freshman spots. Abi got one of them! Isn’t that fabulous? The kid’s a rock star.

Both of them got into DU, with a sizeable basket of merit scholarship cash handed to them, thank God. Both of them have worked so hard, they deserve every penny, and I’m grateful.

So, here we are. Part of me is dancing for joy for these kids. I am thoroughly delighted to see them gathering the fruits of their labor, particularly given the events of the past two years.

Part of me though, the part that walks down my father’s driveway alone, the part that scuffs the crack in the pavement and misses my mother, part of me is very sad.

She’d be thrilled, the poor coal miner’s daughter from Pennsylvania. The only one in her family who went to college. I so wish I could tell her.

I wish I could go with them, I wish I could learn about medicine with Faith, about art with Abi, and understand the Swahili that Christopher speaks in Fluid Dynamics, whatever that is.

But it is not to be. The tendrils of family stretch tight, and farther than I thought possible. They will always be my kids, these wonderful young adults, but they’re not children anymore.

It’s all good though. Sickness and death have taken a reprieve from our household, and the possibilities are endless. Just like God, the universe for them seems eternal. They are dancing among the stars, and I get to clap. How great is that!

Much love,


Making Connections

   I went dancing last Friday, after a particularly difficult week. It was glorious. My usual partner was there, as well as several other partners who are just a joy to dance with. My coach Todd, of Todd Munson Studios, is like a little yapping terrier. Annoying, until you realize what treasure he is, and how much you’d miss him if he weren’t there. Todd has group lessons twice a week, and then a social event afterwords, mainly to practice new skills.

As a group, we continued to refine our tango skills. Todd flitted around from couple to couple, nitpicking posture here, lead there, and rhythm all around. During the hour, we rotate partners, and stay out of the way of the beginners, who are learning basic patterns behind us.

I noticed an attractive woman in the beginning class. She was tall, blonde and slender, but her shoulders were hunched, and her steps were tentative. Something about her body language pinged my memory.

Not for long, though, because tango is hard. Concentrate! I also had Rick whispering funny comments in my ear, so it was hard to dance the patterns without cracking up. After the lesson was over, I went to the table to get a drink.

“Hi! I’m Victoria. Are you new here?” The music started to play.

“Yes, my name is Maria. You look like you’ve been dancing a while.”

“Oh, it’s a long story. How about you? Have you been dancing long?” I sat beside her.

“Actually, I’m just trying to be less of a hermit. A year ago last July I lost my husband, so I’m trying to get out more.” Chills ran down my arms.

“Really? You lost your husband? I’m so sorry.”

“Yes, me too. He had colon cancer, so young for something so tragic. He died on July 17, 2010. ” I could feel my face start to go numb.

“Maria. That can be Hebrew for ‘bitter’. Do you ever feel bitter?” She looked at me, startled. “Well, sometimes. But I’m really very lucky, I have three children and great friends. Dance is something to help me feel normal again.” Tears started to gather in my eyes.

“Samba, Victoria?” Rick stuck out his hand.

“Of course! See you in a few, Maria!” Rick and I danced across the floor. Rick is perhaps 5 foot 9 and 150 pounds, all muscle and piano wire. He’s also very fluid, and a blast to dance with.  He’s very funny, a great dancer, and a very kind man.

He led me back to Maria after the song concluded. I sat back down.

“Maria, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I lost my husband the day after you lost yours, also to colon cancer.” Her mouth dropped open, her eyes were shiny with tears. I took her hand.

“You’re going to like it here. The people are friendly, and it’s a lot of fun.”

“Tango, Victoria? More practice?” Rick appeared again, big grin on his wiry face. Rick led me onto the dance floor, and I whispered into his ear. He looked at me and nodded, a sympathetic smile on his face. My three hours were almost up, and my chariot was about to turn into a pumpkin, if I didn’t get back home.

Rick led me off the dance floor, and winked at me. I changed my shoes and put on my coat, just into time to hear Rick say:

“Tango, Maria? It’s ok, we can just practice the basic steps. Everyone always needs work on the basics.” I smiled goodbye to Rick, got into the car, and drove home.

Men of a Certain Character

I had sharp disagreement with a friend of mine the other day. Some of you who have been on this journey with me for a while know of him-Brook Metcalf, my dance coach.

I don’t really remember the content, or even how it started, but unfortunate words were exchanged. I believe he used the word ‘abrasive’, and I used the word ‘overbearing’.  Looking back, it seems that both of those words had some truth to them.

We stumbled around in a murky, unpleasant linguistic forest for a while, until he had to get on a plane to return to Colorado. The conversation did not end well.

I sat at my desk for a bit, and mused. Well, that was it, I guessed. Brook and I are only student and coach, and neither of us owed the other much. I composed a what I thought was a conciliatory email, sent it off, teared up a bit and went on with my day.

I continued to ponder the situation as the day wore on.

I find myself more and more an observer of human interaction these days, and it is endlessly fascinating to me.  What do we owe each other? What does God ask of us? How should we treat each other, really? What’s the difference between how spouses, friends, parents and children, bosom buddies or lovers should talk to each other?

In one of my previous posts (since moved to the “Wounded Soldier List”) I frosted over because a friend of mine who laid claim to the words of Jesus Christ acted in a way that I perceived to be dismissive.

Well, he was dismissive. But what did he owe me? Like Brook, my other friend and I are neither lovers or family, so one would think that going the extra mile really isn’t necessary.

Unless it is.

Later that afternoon my cell phone buzzed and “Brook Metcalf” appeared on the caller ID.

Hoo, boy, what did I do now, I wondered, cynically.

Understand that Brook is a performer, vocally musical as well as lyrical in dance. He has a tremendous speaking voice.

“Victoria,” he asked kindly, “what is going on here?”

I was stunned into silence. (Hard to believe, I know.)

People often say that stutterers like me sometimes have crashing torrents of words in their brains that get ahead of their tongues.  The result, like then, can be utter speechlessness. Brook’s opener had rendered me speechless.

I couldn’t believe my dance coach cared enough about a simple friendship to take the time to make it right. Who does that?

Well, it turns out that all of us should. Here’s a good quote from the Apostle Paul in his letter to church in Rome-

Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The Ten Commandments…finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.

I’ve always maintained that English is not a very good language as far as the word ‘love’ is concerned. It’s very limited, and we have to embellish it. I ‘love’ my girlfriends unconditionally, I ‘love’ my children ferociously, I ‘loved’ my husband romantically, and I ‘love’ other friends gratefully. Given preschool administrator job, one could even say I ‘love’ children professionally.  I also love Brook, as his hands were part of a long series that has helped lead me out of a very dark place.

Brook and I are not the same kind of children of God. He has a very colorful history, quite divergent from mine. We share a certain degree of cognitive ability, and a great deal practice and skill in our respective fields.

His past includes all kinds of people, my friend set was fairly homogeneous. His past includes brushes with destiny, mine was insular. But both of us have this burning desire to make a difference in the world, one single person at a time.

Like the Apostle Paul says,  the Ten Commandments simply adds up to ‘love other people as well as you do yourself.’ If you think about it, that’s a tall order. We often love ourselves pretty well, especially to the exclusion of other people.

I took a deep breath, and tried not to stutter into the phone. I was fully aware that it would have been much more convenient for Brook to write this whole thing off, and go on about his business. It showed a certain character, a certain sort of  bravery and risk taking to pick up the phone and call. And much more in line with what the Apostle Paul would have all of us do.

“Well, Brook, …..”

About thirty minutes later, we had made our way out of the dense forest of misunderstanding, and into the clear sunlight of friendship.

I had a lesson to look forward to, a friend to cherish, and another one of a long list of very cool people who have influenced me positively and I am very blessed to know.

Be well, Brook.

Much love,


Victoria’s List of What Makes a Real Man
1. Someone who treasures me more than himself. One might almost think that’s Biblical.
2. Courage. Take heart. Never, never give up.
3. Must Love Kids.  The greatest strength is shown through gentleness. Jesus himself had a special place in his heart for children.
4Cheerfulness!     Make me laugh, and I’ll follow you anywhere.
5.Be a true Warrior Prince, Son of the King of Heaven.  
6. A Certain Depth of Character. Taking the time, especially when it could cost you.

Victoria Loves Chocolate

It was a simply gorgeous summer day. The Central Park Mall was unlike any other place to visit. The trees formed an enormous golden green canopy over the forty foot wide walkway, and the pedestrian street was lined with buskers and performers of all sorts.

What to do? I had a whole day to myself,a pearl of great price. I had packed a picnic, with the idea of going to the Central Park pond to row a bit and people watch.

God’s creativity never failed to make me smile. A placard wielding college kid stood in the distance. What-a war protester?  Pro lifer? Gay rights? No- “Jokes, 1$, Laughter guaranteed!” A true American entrepreneur! I pulled out a dollar and tossed it in the bucket.

“Ok, buddy, I’ll bite. Make me laugh and I’ll give you two.” The handsome, clean-shaven college kid faced me full on. Just the size of his ears made me chuckle.

“Did you hear about the hostile Republican who sent a memo around that Obama’s parent’s were monkeys? Clearly they were elephants!” Bada bing.

“What do you call a cane for a blind cow? Hamburger helper! ”

“What kind of guns do honeybees use?BB guns!”  Oh! I laughed at the lameness of it all, and got out of there before he could do any more damage.

Next stop was a little boy juggling. First balls. Then plastic bats. Then giant sticks. Then, things got really interesting, he pulled out a unicycle.

“How old are you, kid?” He jumped on the unicycle, rode around like mad. He made a quick, graceful dip and grabbed five of the plastic bats.

“Eleven! I’m eleven!” He started to juggle the bats and flawlessly kept them all in the air as he cavorted around on the unicycle.

I felt the smile spread across my face as I continued down this street of goofy dreams. An elderly black man offered me a bottle of ice.

“For you, a dollar, pretty lady. Usually 2!” I chuckled and pressed the ice against my forehead. “Thanks!”

The mall widens at the Naumberg Band shell, between 66th and 77th streets. Dozens of park benches line the mall there, and a crowd was gathering. I sat on one of the benches, trying to peer into the excitement.

“Who’s the best?” (We are!)

“Ima the best!” (Indeed you are!)

“Ima the Powerhouse” (Yes he is)

“Ima gonna give you da best show in Central Park!” (Yessa we are)

Black English! It galvanized my attention. Black English gained recognition as a legitimate American dialect in the eighties, when linguistics was still fascinating to me.

I stood and bounded over to the edge of the crowd. A group of five men stood in front of a late eighties boom box. One of them was white, sort of, but the other four were so black you would lose them in a dark room. The leader stood in front  of the group, and as he spoke, his gleaming patois was echoed by the rest of the group.

“Mah name is Powerhouse!” (Yes it is! )

“If you wanna see a show, you gonna hold your babies and show us yo love!” (Not yo hate!)

He held up a twenty. “Yo love!” He held up a five. “Not yo hate!” Ha!

“Do you wanna see a show?” The crowd started to whistle and stomp. ‘Powerhouse’ took off his shirt. He started to mug his chiselled physique to the audience.

He cranked the boom box, and the boys started to run through their paces. Each one had a combination. One would break dance, and end with one armed pushups in time. Another, a series of backflips, handsprings and layouts. Another more current kid, looking like a spastic stork, krumped like a madman to the delight of the audience.

Finally, for the grand finale, Powerhouse lined several women and children up side by side.

“Now! You must give us yo purses and yo sunglasses!”

One of the skinnier boys gathered all the gear. He leered at the audience, and took off down the mall trailing purses,  only to be tackled by another krumper, and flattened to  the pavement.

“Nahw! Na stop that! We don’t do that any more! ” Powerhouse winked at the audience. The dancer put the purses in a bucket.

Powerhouse layered the verbosity on like paint. Back up! We were told. Stay Still in line or You Gonna Die!

He walked several yards up the mall.

“Yall watch it! I don’t know if I can do this! Ima Forty Five! ” (Yes he is!)

“Rilly! This is a black man runnin with no cop chasin him! No woman at home, so I just chase ladies all day!” The crowd laughed. I grinned at the self-deprecation.

Then I gaped as Powerhouse raced down toward the quaking line of volunteers. He was fast.

He ran full tilt toward the seven standing people. He punched the ground, executed a perfect front handspring, and flew over all the people with a flawless forward twisting layout, and stuck his landing lightly.

I was flabbergasted. No Cirque de Soleil for me.  I had Central Park. The crowd went wild, and the boys took their cue to pass around the sacks.

Powerhouse made the rounds to me. I pulled out a twenty.

“Say, Powerhouse! Great show! How about twenty bucks for a picture with you and the boys?”

“Yo know it! Boys!” The men materialized around me at lightspeed.  I gave my camera to a passerby, and put my arm around Powerhouse. He put his arm around my waist, and told the man

“You ready? You ready for a special picture?” Suddenly, I was tossed into the air like an armful of autumn leaves.

Decades old training took over and I pointed my feet, positioned my arms and laughed like a child. He caught me lightly, and set me carefully down on my feet.

“Gracious!” I gasped. ” You really are a powerhouse! ” He chuckled and moved on to the next customer. I sat down under a shade tree to recover.

How amazing is that? These boys don’t just develop that kind of skill on their own. They had to have been taught for years, and work out regularly somewhere. I had to get to the bottom of this.

The crowd slowly dispersed, and Powerhouse toweled off.

“Powerhouse! Thanks for the picture! Are you really forty five?”

“Yessm. Work hard every day”.

“Well you look pretty darn sharp. What’s your real name?”

“Martin. These dudes are my cousins, except for the white one. He’s just a friend. We work here every day, during the warm weather, and it’s a pretty good gig.”

We continued to talk, and Martin’s speech began to morph into something more like mine. Martin was amazing, linguistically. He was what people like me call a ‘situational code switcher’.  That means he could speak one dialect for one reason, and switch to another one pretty much instantly, given a reason.

Within about sixty seconds, all of the “Ima’s” and “Yo’s”  and “Yessms” completely disappeared. In their place was what I deemed to be perfectly normal, nearly accentless speech. It was quite a feat. He told me about years of gymnastics training as a younger man, and how he and the boys rehearse as much as other men do pickup basketball.

“Well, it’s been a treat talking to you ,Martin. Are you really single? You have to be kidding me, here.”

“No, I’m single. I have a son, but I’m single. Why, do you like chocolate?” He pulsed a two handed heart off his chest toward me.

“Very much. Ha!” I pulsed right back. Victoria loves chocolate!


Much love,


Breathing with Brook

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Author’s note: When Chris was at his sickest, a trusted friend of mine asked me if there was any part of the scripture I still believed to be true. I thought about it, and had to answer her honestly. “No.”

Another friend of mine encouraged me to write down any singular scrap of good that has come to me as a result of this catastrophe.  Jesus’ friend Paul assures us that all things work together for good, for those who love Him and who listen to his call, after all. 

That was a little easier. Here’s one. 

Breathing with Brook


Brook Metcalfe muttered under his breath.  I was in the middle of a very demanding and frustrating tango lesson, and had just settled into the proper position in my instructor’s arms. Tango with Brook was a very different experience than what I had learned with Chris, when we first started coaching together, over twenty years ago.

Communication in Amercian Smooth Dance is puzzling to a beginner like me. There are four dances in American Smooth.  My coach and I are spending a lot of time on three- Waltz, Viennese Waltz, and some American Tango. There is an enormous amount of back and forth that goes on as dancers become more advanced. All kinds of complicated vocabulary and requests are exchanged, by both the men and the women. All through 3 points of contact-the upper body, the hands, and the man’s hand on the ladies back.  It is very much like learning another language.

For me, this kind of dance  is a lot like tunnel flying. As I have described here before, sometimes it is just great to put yourself in a situation where you must empty your mind, and can’t think of anything else except what you are doing in the moment. Tunnel flying is a uniquely non-distracting experience. If I don’t concentrate utterly, I don’t make any progress. Not only that, I might get hurt!  Both of these are  truly undesirable outcomes.

Coaching with Brook is also a focusing experience. Not that Brook isn’t distracting.  In fact, Brook is an archetype. A mythical model of the perfect male that American women want, or at least say they do. Brook is accomplished and fit, his manners and dress are impeccable, his communication style is authoritative but generous and firm.  He is dominant without being domineering, and amenable, within boundaries.He always smells faintly of Armani, and is supremely comfortable in his own skin. Other people’s too, if my tumbling into him during tango is any indication.

And, unfortunately for me, Brook is also very funny. Distracting!

He drives a 1998 Mustang  and is a very much into cars. In the brief time we have coached together, I actually have made some progress. I now can get a glimpse of what an advanced couple might look like and to me the unity of purpose is energizing. To Brook, it’s like a well oiled machine. Gears, in fact!


When we start a number, sometimes I get the stance right from the beginning. Brook will sometimes say “Click!” and it is all I can do to keep from cracking up. Of course! It makes perfect sense from the masculine, mechanistic point of view. Two dancers fitting together correctly is a lot like an engine working properly, a beautiful thing, even poetic somehow.

When I tell people about this coaching experience, I often show them some of the performance pictures my coach has on his website. Inevitably at least one obnoxious question comes up, can you guess?

“So, is this guy straight, or what?”

Our perceptions of masculinity are so rigid sometimes.

I am much tempted to tell my friends to look at some of his performance videos. Chris and I were always intrigued by gender differences, whether they are inborn or nurtured. How fascinating is it to know someone like Brook,  who can wear masculinity like a jacket, to be altered at will.  Brook has the amazing ability to morph into all kinds of masculine incarnations. Brazilian caballero? Got it. Proper Englishman going to see the Queen? No problem. Cowboy line dancing at the Little Bear? Nailed. Even a Lindy-hopping WWII buff swinging his partner around, grinning the entire number.  It is just a riot to go through some of his performance videos, almost impossible to see the same man.  Truly a remarkable ability.

I am so thankful for this whole experience. Before Chris and I had children, we coached for several years with an old Arthur Murray warhorse named Dolph Sands. Dolph had long since departed the Murray franchise and made a name for himself in Albany. Dolph advanced dancers at the pace they were capable of, and Chris and I were always challenged.

Chris was a marvelous pianist, and we discovered we had an affinity for  waltz.

“Click.” We fit together beautifully.

Brook describes each dance as a story, and waltz is one that is marked by longing and pursuit. I  am long past pursuit of my partner. We had a long history of pursuit, attaining each other, and pursuing goals together. But I don’t think I’ll ever be past longing, perhaps that’s part of true love lost.

I’ll be with Brook for as long as I am able, as it is hugely enjoyable for me to take master classes from an expert. That he is personable and friendly is a bonus.

Waltz and Viennese Waltz are my favorites, and I just about beyond the need to soak my partner’s shoulder with tears. But waltzing from one end of the studio to the other with Brook? It’s like breathing again.

Much love,


PS- Join me! You have my contact information. Here is Brook Metcalf’s- 702-493-5147.