“You tell him”

July 29, 2009

I had all kinds of drama last week.

In the middle of consecutive 100°+ days, the Swedish air conditioner in my car finally succumbed to the Texas climate in the middle of traffic on the way home from work.

After a sleepless night thinking about the expensive-rattling sound my car was making (even with the air conditioner turned off), I drove the car to a repair shop near my office the following morning. The repair shop arranged for a shuttle to take me to the office while they worked on my car.

It was before 9AM but it was already a hot day. I had a headache from thinking about the repair bill that I would be paying later that afternoon. And the driver of the shuttle van that I was in seemed perfectly fine with setting his own air conditioner at somewhere between “uncomfortable” and “third-world stifling”.

So, we’re driving along and I am getting this panicky feeling when I realize that the windows in the backseat don’t open. And out of the blue, the driver asks me “have you ever been to New York”?

I immediately recalled a similarly hot, humid afternoon that we’d all spent just after Isaac and Alicia had moved into their house in New Jersey. While everyone was busy with projects worthy of an episode of “This Old House”, my mom and I escaped and took the train into NYC, just the two of us.


This was several years ago, before Tarceva and MRI’s. But mom’s energy level was never very high, and it was a very humid day so I was anticipating a short trip into the city, mainly spent searching for the next Starbucks.

As soon as we got off of the train at Penn Station, mom started to get really quiet. Her eyes were wide open and she was holding onto my arm with an iron grip while we took the escalator to the street level. New York City.

Our first destination was going to be the Guggenheim Museum. I suggested to mom that we take a taxi and I tried to act all “New Yorker-like” and hailed us a cab. I held the door open and told mom to get into the backseat first.  She looked at me and said nervously looking at the driver, “but you tell him where we’re going”. As soon as I got in the cab I told the driver “5th Avenue and 89th”…I thought that would make me sound more “local”. The guy kind of rolled his eyes and said “yeah, the Guggenheim”.

Our cab merged into the current of identical yellow sedans, like a glass of water being poured into a swimming pool. Mom and I looked around for our seatbelts. There were none. It took strength and concentration just to stabilize ourselves into the cushions of the backseat while the driver navigated through traffic as if we were in some ultra-violent video game.

I thought for sure that mom would be freaking out – but when I looked at her, mom had an ear-to-ear smile on her face. She was loving it.

Exhilarated from the taxi adventure, it was hard to dial-back the adrenaline as we entered the museum. But if you have never been to the Guggenheim, even if you aren’t into museums, you gotta go. Architecturally, it’s a work of art. But the art that is inside of it is also very unique…also it’s not an overwhelmingly large museum – it allows you to not just view the art, but actually kind of experience it.


For some reason, mom and I had stopped in front of a still-life of fruit on a table by Cezanne. I will never forget this painting. There were many, much bigger, more famous paintings all around us, but for some reason, we had stopped here. A curator walked up to us and explained that it was his favorite. He started to explain what was going on, showing us perspectives of the painting that seemed so obvious when he shared them but had been hidden just moments before. I think we ended up spending about 30 minutes in front of this one painting of peaches.

After the Guggenheim we walked along 5th Avenue, toured Central Park and had lunch at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It was an amazing day that I had forgotten about until this shuttle driver in Dallas mentioned “New York”. I told they guy, “yeah, I’ve been to New York”. My headache was gone and cool air had started streaming from the air conditioning vents of the shuttle van.

The "Before" picture. Stay tuned for the "After". This room is approximately 30x21 sqft.

The "Before" picture. Stay tuned for the "After". This room is approximately 30x21 sqft.

There’s all kinds of collaboration and brainstorming going on in the backwoods of Chole’s Quilt.

So far, the theme of the new Move Room is leaning towards an “ethnic-neutral, eclectic-jungle impressionism” kind of feel. The focal point will be a mural, lovingly designed by Chole’s sister, Mague (of beading and sparkly-jewelry fame). We will continue to post updates as we make progress, but we are far from done so if there any other ideas or proposals…

EPU Memorial Update

July 22, 2009

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with Marian Karian the executive director of Exceptional Parents Unlimited and Cindy Lopez, Chole’s former program manager when she worked at EPU, regarding the memorial project being developed in Chole’s name.  To date over $6100 has been collected toward the project.  We cannot thank all of you enough for your donations to this project.

The ideas discussed were very exciting and would have pleased Chole very much.  We had the opportunity to tour the “Move Room” and it is in pretty sad shape and in need of major refurbishing.  The money donated will allow the room to become a pleasant visiting experience.  It is a project that Chole had been advocating prior to leaving EPU last February.   She felt this improvement to be a major necessity at EPU.  It will be wonderful to see her wishes become reality.

For those of you who are not familiar with the layout at EPU, when children and their families come to the center for their appointments with their interventionist, speech therapist, physical therapist or support person they wait in the “Move Room’.  There is really no waiting in the reception area when you enter EPU.  Families are directed to the “Move Room” which is located in the central core of EPU where so many wonderful things happen for the children and their families.

This large room is used by the EPU babies, their siblings, parents, grandparents, caregivers and any other folks who come to the appointments.  It is a hub of activity everyday and gets much use by the hundreds of clients seen weekly. 

The room needs play areas and activities for children of all ages as well as seating for adults.  Since there is really no programmatic funding for this type of room, the room has fallen into disrepair and needs considerable help in making it fun, comfortable and useful for the families while they wait for their appointments.  Also, as you are probably aware programs such as EPU have experienced and will be receiving considerable cutbacks in funding so donations such as this are doubly important for EPU to keep a therapeutic, functional and attractive facility.

A key feature for the room is to be art, which of course was a passion for Chole.  All of her sisters have been discussing various possibilities.  Mague for example has done several children’s murals in California as well as in Mexico.  She has offered her services which will become a focal point from which many of the other refurbishing activities will flow.  We also discussed incorporating some of Chole’s wonderful paintings in the room.

We will keep you all posted as the project evolves.  If you have ideas please send them along.

Chole’s spirit remains alive and well!

All our love !

Howard Fresno

Weekend Project

July 20, 2009


I was trying to be very goal-oriented this weekend. I had one large pot to fill for the front yard…and all I wanted was something that was easy to maintain, heat/frost tolerant, nothing too “florally” (something befitting the front porch of my “bachelor’s residence”).

After wandering through aisles of various flora at the nursery, I was starting to become frustrated…and very hot (this is Dallas in July). And then suddenly, in the corner of the lot, I found it.

At my grandmother’s house in Montebello, in the same backyard that hosted my mom and dad’s wedding reception, there is a sago palm placed in a circular planter in the center of the patio. This palm has been there all of my life. Most of my life (as it is now), this palm has been taller than me (there may have been a few years back in the 80’s when we were right about even). But it is always there, standing proudly and elegantly with broad, dark green fronds.

Although we are all very different people with different styles and personalities, I like to think of this tree in my grandmother’s backyard as kind of a touchstone for our family; really, it is a very powerful tree.  I can’t explain it — but it has a special presence. Many of my relatives have offshoots from this particular palm in their own yards. Although my little palm in Texas may only be a very young, distant cousin, every time I pass by its new home near my front steps, it reminds me of my family and many happy memories.

My brother informed me that my recent post was a blog-buzz kill, so I’ve put together a slide show from our recent trip to Monterey to celebrate Sophia’s birthday.

Enjoy, and have a nice weekend!


July 15, 2009


Unexpectedly, I started to tear up while I was eating pho at lunch today (I pretended that it was the Sriracha sauce).

As of today, I have completed my first month of living on this planet without my mom.

It’s weird to get jealous watching sons rolling their eyes at their mothers at the mall, or watching my friends let their mother’s calls to their cell phones roll over to voice mail. Jealousy isn’t one of the 5 stages of grief. But so far, none of the other stages seem to apply.

Although it’s been a full month, my perspective of the events of the past few months is still coming into focus. And when I try to make sense of it all, it feels like I’ve shown up for the final exam without even glancing at my meticulously-written notes. I know the content, but the details have escaped me.

It may sound strange, but I don’t think that I really had time to absorb what was happening until after it had happened.  While people prayed, cried, processed and reconciled their feelings, the hospice situation required us to take a more pragmatic approach to my mom’s condition. We were always busy filling syringes with morphine and keeping her comfortable in any way that we could.

And we did it. Night and day. We did everything that we were supposed to do. And she still died.

It was like I had chosen not to recognize the meaning behind all of the flowers and the homemade meals from friends, the pills and and syringes that had filled our lives for some many weeks. Believe it or not, when she died, I honestly felt surprised.

I don’t think that this would count as the “Denial” stage. I think that my “grief whiplash” is a direct result of being so involved in my mom’s care. Like a doctor or a nurse who delivers compassionate yet objective care, hospice required that we set aside a lot of the emotional stress of the situation in order to be able to take care of my mom.

I am forever grateful for the opportunities that hospice provided to my mom and my family. But as I take time to process the journey that we all took, I am wondering if I missed out on just being able to spend time with my mom, or alone, with my grief. It feels as if the past month has been spent just catching up.

Da Boys

July 13, 2009


There are two new faces…and eight paws in the Jackson family.

The boys were rescued from tragic living conditions in Chowchilla (are there any other kind?) and are now “living large” by the pool in Fresno.

On top of what these poor Australian Shepherds were forced to endure prior to their rescue, they are now suffering through a complex identity crisis as just about everyone calls them by a different name: Slim and Jim (dad), David and Goliath (Alicia), Mo and Curley (Emma and Sophia), Dallas and Kansas (Isaac). Otherwise, they seem to be settling into their new home quite well (unless you count one unfortunate incident with some window coverings).

While we sort out the naming situation, please join us in welcoming the latest generation of Jackson Aussies.