I was living somewhere called Hazerswoude-Rijndijk. No, I'm not making that up. It's a small, extremely quaint village in The Netherlands about five miles from Leiden, where my oldest daughter, Natasha, was born 23 years ago. In fact, her birthday was just two days ago, which made me reminisce about so many things, including how my sister scared the living daylights out of her when she was only three weeks old.


Now, you need to know that my sister doesn't "do" travel unless it's relatively short flights (six hours or less), so traveling from Houston to Amsterdam was a big deal for her. Of course, staying at The Amstel Hotel, one of the world's greatest hotels, made the "sacrifice" a bit more bearable. At the time, we weren't close, although we were always there for each other if needed. And I never had a single doubt, ever, that she'd be the most amazing aunt when the day came.

So, only weeks after Natasha was born, there she was at the door of our idyllic farmhouse along the Rijndijk River about 40 minutes, and countless miles of tulips fields, outside of Amsterdam. And how did she get acquainted with her niece? By gently tossing her up in the air, almost non-stop, for over six hours. Natasha was my first child, and as any first-time mom will tell you, we're overly cautious with the first one. So, how did I handle this? First, with horror, then when I saw she was being extremely careful and really not "tossing" her very much at all, although it just seemed like it, with some trepidation. (The fact she told me Natasha weighed far less than the weights she lifted daily might've helped.) But mostly, with appreciation as Natasha literally wouldn't stop crying, except for when her aunt gently "threw" her up in the air.

The following day Black invited Natasha and me to spend the day with her at the Amstel. She had arranged for what turned out to be one of the best days I'd ever have with her and Natasha – a private cruise along the Amstel River in a classic wooden Dutch boat, in and out of seemingly all of Amsterdam's beautiful canals, with a gourmet lunch prepared onboard. It was magical, memorable, and something only my sister would do. And Natasha, showing her first indication that she very much liked her aunt's "lifestyle", was a picture-perfect infant for the entire day. Well, almost, as the day didn't start well,

Black had left her room unlocked, and I walked into the most beautiful hotel suite I've ever seen, something out of a 1950s Fred Astaire movie. Natasha's blissful in her carry seat having slept quietly in the car, while I'm admiring the panoramic views of the Amstel River, lost in thought of how this is a perfect moment in time. Until my sister walks in from the bathroom, having just got out of a hot bath, and picks up Natasha. Who instantly starts to scream! But a scream I had never heard before – or since. A scream you'd expect if you saw an ax murderer coming toward you. And then I … laughed, uncontrollably. Because my sister had the biggest mascara "raccoon eyes" that I've ever seen in my life and was probably the scariest thing Natasha had ever seen in her (three weeks old) life.
Photograph of Jackie Aguilera courtesy of Jackie Aguilera


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I have a confession to make, which I’m sure will make you roll your eyes.


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Interesting caveat and probably true.


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Every time we meet with Jackie (Aguilera) from the Mayor’s Office of Adult Literacy and hear what she’s doing in the world of adult education, I feel like I’m back in school and having to take copious notes.


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I am more than happy to send you “homework assignments” as I come across relevant articles and research.


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Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to taking notes. But that does explain why you’re so knowledgeable about literacy.


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But, reading information is very different from being at the forefront of literacy innovation. And, if we had never met Jackie, I never would have realized how literacy is more than the dictionary definition, and encompasses more than just reading and writing.
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Photo by Lynda Sanchez on Unsplash

As Black knows, going to the movies is my escape (and even sends me research about it), but she also knows that it’s all about the popcorn. So, it should come as no surprise that’s how I like to celebrate my birthday. And even though she’s not one to “celebrate” birthdays, she does indulge (or maybe the word is “tolerate”) people who do, and whenever my birthday falls on a workday, she gives me “permission” to escape to the movies.

Which is what I’m doing today on my milestone birthday, and although the “rerun” part of this post (below the line) was from last November, some things never change. Except … this year, as I’ll be waiting for the movie to start (and waiting to start eating my popcorn as I refuse to eat even a single kernel beforehand), I know I’ll be wondering, “How did I get to be 60 years old?!”

It's a running joke in my family that the only reason I go to the movies is for the popcorn. And while that isn't 100% true, it's probably close as I can't remember a time when popcorn wasn't an essential part of the experience. (I'll admit I couldn't believe it when I recently read that South Korea's banning movie popcorn in the theater!)

I can still remember seeing "Young Frankenstein" when it was first released (in 1974) at the Massapequa movie theater, which was literally at one end of an old strip shopping center. It bore no resemblance to the multiplex cinemas of today, and the concession stand offerings were very limited. It was dark and a bit dingy, and the seats were old and uncomfortable. But I didn't care because the popcorn made up for it. And while I sat through multiple showings of the movie (hey, it's still one of my favorites), I was grateful that my dad had given me enough money to get multiple popcorns as in those days, there was no such thing as the big bucket, let alone free refills.

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Photos by Red


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I know you’ll roll your eyes, but it made me smile when I found not one, but two, of Daddy’s typewriters at Mom’s house. It just brought back so many memories.


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I remember the old black one, which is probably long gone, before Daddy “modernized” and got an electric one. I remember taking typing class. And, I remember pulling an all-nighter to write, or technically “type”, my M.B.A. thesis the night before it was due.


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I still can’t believe you did that. Too bad you couldn’t turn in the handwritten version.
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