Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Ryan's Reach

One evening, when I was in my mid-20's, I turned on CNN right at the moment my extended family had asked America to pray for my cousin, Ryan Corbin. He had fallen three stories through a skylight at the top of his apartment in Brentwood, CA on June 19, 2001. He was rushed to UCLA Medical Center in critical condition with multiple internal injuries, severe internal bleeding, broken bones, and a serious brain injury. He was not expected to live through the night. But he did, and was moved to ICU while in a coma for weeks. After existing in the space between life and death, multiple surgeries, being treated in six different medical facilities, and with specialized treatments, he has has continued to progress over the years physically, with speech, memory, and in many other ways.

A team of care givers and therapists help him day to day, and he still requires around-the-clock care. He has fought for his life, and is a strong person who gets stronger by the day. He has a divine warmth and kindness that radiates until your heart feels whole just by being in his presence. My faith is stronger because I've been allowed to witness the miracle of his life. This Thanksgiving weekend, I was fortunate to meet my cousin Ryan for the first time. Ryan and I are 5th cousins, both of us are the 6x great-grandchildren of Daniel Boone, and we are both Generation X.

That evening, back in 2001, when the family asked for prayers on CNN, I prayed along with millions all over the world. That day almost 20 years ago led me to this day, when I had the honor of getting to visit Ryan at his home where he lives with his amazing mom, Lindy, and his lovable stepfather, Mike, in Orange County, CA.

The Boone family is deeply rooted in faith. Ryan's grandfather, Pat Boone, sang gospel and other music, had thirteen gold records, and acted in multiple movies. I remember many weekends in my growing-up years when Pat Boone was in a movie on TV. I also remember many mornings getting ready for school and hearing Ryan's Aunt, Debby Boone, singing on the radio.

In those early weeks after the accident back in 2001, Ryan was surrounded by love and words of life from parents, grandparents, siblings, and others. One of the very first signs of hope he gave his family while he was emerging out of his coma was a kiss on the cheek, a display of his intrinsic love. The road to recovery continues to be long and hard, and yet, the story has been full of redemption and hope.

People often think of LA as the place where movies are made, record deals are signed, and the magic happens. In reality, struggle is present, both seen and unseen. People often associate the freeways of California with the coastline, the crashing waves, and endless sun. Further inland, driving along I-5 through Central CA, it's a whole other world: the rough terrain, the open, empty spaces under the power lines, the farmland. About halfway between where Ryan lives in Southern CA, and where I live in Northern CA, is a town called Lost Hills. I looked out on the way home after the visit while a storm slowed down traffic and thought about all the times in life we feel completely lost.

A traumatic brain injury completely alters a family's life. Sometimes people have to give up a career to take care of a loved one every day.

Sometimes the raindrops on the window make the landscape look blurry. 

Sometimes the clouds are so heavy we have to drive with the headlights on even in the middle of the day.

My copy of Heaven Hears
On the way home, I sent out prayers into the rows of the almond trees, and in the vines of the vineyards, and in the spaces above the golden grasses for Ryan. He led by example throughout his growing-up years, from student body president in middle school, to captain of his basketball team in high school, to president of his fraternity at Pepperdine University. He wrote a screenplay, he traveled, and he was starting a career.

And now, even as he works for each milestone of recovery, it may be that his life is even more full. His light and leadership reach out to others on an even larger scale. He had an abiding love for God before the accident that remained with him all the way through - it is here with him now, maybe even more fully as he transitioned into this new life.

Earlier this year, I came across the book, Heaven Hears, by Ryan's mom, my 5th cousin Lindy. It was amazing to hear her tell the story in person,  and what has happened since they first asked for prayers on Larry King Live in 2001.

Lindy has done an incredible job of seeking out every kind of therapy possible for Ryan, and she coordinates a team of care givers for him even as she runs the nonprofit Ryan's Reach. She believes that there is no limit to the way people with TBI can continue to heal, if they have the resources.

Lindy, Ryan, and his grandparents

Each day of our lives is a miracle.

To speak life, to choose light as we walk into our darkest nights, and to use our struggle as a source of strength for others when they go through the same struggle is to fight the good fight. To do all of this with love is to experience redemption in each new sunrise.  In one hand we hold the fragility of life and the questions, in the other hand we hold eternity, we hold hope.

If you are in the LA area, each September you can participate in the annual fundraiser for Ryan's Reach, the Dove Dash Race.

If you are looking for a non-profit to donate to this holiday season, or are looking for a new one to begin donating to in the new year, Ryan's Reach helps people in profound ways. In short, the money donated goes to:

1) Providing financial assistance for brain injury survivors to participate in the High Hopes Head Injury Program in Tustin, CA

2) Supporting the operation of Ryan's Reach Group Home

To make a secure, easy online donation:


Ryan's Reach Rest & Respite Home in
Tustin, CA 
Ryan's Reach creates scholarships for people with brain injuries to attend High Hopes Head Injury Program in Tustin, CA where Ryan has also benefited from their therapy. As Ryan's Reach has grown, they have set up a residence and respite care home for people with brain injuries and their families, and a second group home is scheduled to open in the coming months. Funds raised assist in providing rehabilitation and home care, as well as respite relief for caregivers. 

Ryan's Reach is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization honoring Ryan Corbin who suffered a severe TBI in 2001. Although Ryan personally is financially secure, his experience into the world of TBI brought attention to the fact that most families are not as fortunate and once the insurance runs out, TBI can use up all of a family's savings which also affects the loved one's ability to recover. 
These are the families Ryan's Reach helps. 

(c) 2019 - I-5 photos by Chloe, other photos and logo via the Ryan's Reach web site, used with permission

Sunday, November 17, 2019

JBJ Soul Kitchen

As the fall air gets chillier and the holidays get closer, this blog will focus on non-profit organizations that are in some way connected to Generation X. The holidays are a time when we are often the most generous. My hope is that some of these stories will spark generosity. I've been inspired by the stories I'll be sharing, I hope to pass on a spark of that inspiration by starting with the JBJ Soul Kitchen.
Picture credit: JBJ Soul Foundation 
Jon Bon Jovi has been a mainstay in the music collections and memories of Gen Xers and is a first wave Gen Xer himself. With the other members of Bon Jovi, he has received a long list of awards over the years for songs, albums, and videos. So much of his music reverberates in the background of many of my Gen X memories, from cassette tapes to school dances, and into my adult life. His albums have continued through the decades, and a lot of social consciousness has emerged in his music. He'll be releasing a new album in the coming year.

In 2011, the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation, which focuses on the issues of hunger and homelessness in the U.S., opened JBJ Soul Kitchen. This restaurant serves both paying and in-need customers, where there is a focus on volunteering, community, and dignity. All are welcome. They use locally sourced ingredients and even grow some of it in gardens on the grounds of the restaurant. Their fall menu includes all kinds of seasonal comfort food, like ginger squash salmon and green bean cranberry salad. Now there are two Soul Kitchen restaurants, one in Red Bank and one in Toms River, New Jersey. Both have a warm, happy, and cozy setting - it's a great place to have a hearty meal if you are in NJ or passing through, and an awesome foundation to consider if you are looking for a charity to give to this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Retro Halloween Treat Bags

I had a teacher in my elementary school days who would give us candy corn and little candy pumpkins as rewards in class. As she got older and her hearing started to diminish a little, she would give me rewards even when I had the wrong answer! I remember a day just before Halloween when she brought our whole class little treat bags full of popcorn and candy. We were the happiest kids you've ever seen. Sometimes it's the smallest things that bring us joy. 

I love to make these treat bags for Halloween parties, and a basket of these is easy to throw together. When people see these, they instantly smile and light up! Many Gen Xers have memories of these kinds of retro treat bags from when they were kids.

Happy Halloween, and may your day be full of little candy pumpkins and all the good things of the holiday!

(c) 2019 -  popcorn popped and picture taken by Chloe Koffas

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Pet Rocks at the Pine Derby

We invited the pet rocks to our pine derby races....

Everything started out normal - they sat in their seats, watching excitedly. Well, mostly watching. Rocky started getting ideas about how he could start driving one of the cars.

The next thing we knew, Rocky and Chippy were riding the cars. Pet rocks always need to be reminded to wear their seat belts, as you can see below, they "forgot".

Of other things pet rocks enjoy, playing cards is a favorite pastime. They don't actually know how to play, they just act like they are playing. It keeps them happy, so I guess that's all that really matters.

My Godson bought these mini cards during one of his summer visits. This past summer, he made a new pet rock, Chippy. Chippy and Rocky are relaxing and playing a game they "made up". Nobody really knows who wins, or when the game is over. Chippy's smile is even bigger than his other pet rock, Skippy.

As it turns out, pet rocks also enjoy dominoes. This would be yet another situation where they don't follow (or even know) game rules, they just kind of move the dominoes around and put them on their face. Here, Rocky tried to throw his domino off the side of the table, only to realize that the it was magnetic and the table was metal, so it just kind of stuck there.

Another favorite pet rock activity: walkie-talkies.

Pet rocks enjoy secretive conversations with each other. As you can see in the picture above, Chippy is spying on his surroundings from a folding backyard chair. With his walkie-talkie tuned to channel 8, he mentions seeing beach balls, pool noodles, and forgotten badminton rackets. He is reporting his findings to Rocky. As you can see below, Rocky is camouflaging himself in a nearby plant he spotted on a very important backyard pet rock mission. Semi-hidden under the leaves, he thinks he is being really clever.

(c) 2019 photos above and story by my daughter and Godson - Light from a Pixel - all rights reserved 

P.S. While the original pet rocks didn't have eyes, sticking googly eyes on them is pretty fun. Christmas of 1975 is when many first wave Gen Xers got these as gifts. When I was a second wave Gen X tot in the early 1980's, my neighbor had one in its original pet carrier box with "breathing holes." I would look through the holes at the rock in his little nest, wondering if he needed to be taken for a walk!

Pet rocks will always be one of the favorite toys of Generation X. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Pet Rocks at the Pool

Sometimes a pet rock just needs to take it easy....

Here's Rocky, relaxing in what used to be a floating pool beverage holder. Now it is his favorite place to hang out. Pet rocks often like to swim at dusk so they don't have to worry about putting on sunscreen.  They like to spend about an hour at the pool. They call this "swimming".

When Rocky floated to the side and asked for a snack. He wanted crackers and cream cheese with a garnish of fresh dill on top of each one. And a Slurpee from 7-11.

When Rocky's mom got seasick - her pink flamingo kept tipping from all the tiny waves

 When they both got scared after an orange butterfly flew overhead...

Our pet rocks always get distracted by fluffy clouds, especially when they are hanging out at the pool.

Our two pet rocks - just floating under the blue sky, taking in the wonder of it all, and then asking for two tiny towels so they could dry off and go back inside.

(c) 2019 writing and pics by Chloe Koffas (with help from my daughter!) - all rights reserved. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

When Pet Rocks House Sit for Retro Fisher-Price Little People

Our pet rock, Rocky, and his mom, Roxanna, were asked by a family of retro Fisher-Price Little People if they would house sit while they went on vacation. It's a house with a lot of amenities, so they happily agreed. When the rest of the little family was packed up in the car, Fisher-Price Mom gave a few final instructions on picking up the mail. Then, she put on her favorite red outfit, and headed out the door....

If you are ever going to house sit for someone, I would highly recommend doing this for retro Little People circa 1969. Their houses have double ovens, and as you can see here, they left a roasting turkey for their guests in the lower oven and baking bread in the top one. The only reason Rocky was sinking behind the table was because his mom told him he was going to have to eat some asparagus with his dinner.

After dinner, Roxanna went upstairs to see about unpacking her suitcase. When she turned on the light, she realized the closet was already pretty full of late 1960's styles clothes, including some Jackie Kennedy style hats in boxes up on the shelf. She decided just to keep her clothes in her suitcase.

Meanwhile, Rocky was upstairs checking out the kids' room where he was going to stay. He had so many questions in his mind...was it okay to play with their toys? If so, did the sailboat need to go back to the exact same spot on the shelf?

Just then, he remembered he had left the garage half open. Any good house-sitter knows, you have to close the garage.

It was the end of a long day. They decided to relax by the fire as the sun went down. Every day is an adventure when you are a pet rock, especially when you are friends with retro Fisher-Price Little People....

Happy 50th anniversary to the little blue Fisher-Price house that so many of us Gen Xers played with in our pre-school days! My earliest childhood memories of the late 1970's are full of the images on the walls of these rooms.

(c) 2019 Chloe Koffas  


Note! We recently stumbled across some info about how certain retro Fisher-Price toys are toxic. Be careful about letting kids, especially little kids who chew on things, play with your old toys. Some of the pieces have been found to contain mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic substances. Link here to Tamara Rubin's blog: Lead Safe Mama. She sends in toys to a lab to get them tested and blogs about it. We're all about the new Fisher Price vintage toys that have been made in recent years with the same style and graphics of the older toys. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Meet the Pet Rocks

The list of Gen X things loved by the Gen Z kids in my life is pretty extensive - Atari, Rubik's Cubes, fiber optic lights...and one thing they really love is pet rocks. We've decided to bring out the pet rocks for the summer and maybe adopt some new ones.

Last summer, we took some photos of Rocky (my daughter's pet rock) and Skippy (my Godson's pet rock). We'd like to share them with you now....

Skippy, who is always smiling, and Rocky, who is often in a state of surprise, talked about going for a swim. They brought out the pool toys, but then got concerned about sinking. They decided just to sunbathe instead. Then, later, they decided they did want to swim after all and got onto a tiny inflatable raft.

Rocky and Skippy, on their skateboards, hanging out on a hot summer day. The plan was to do some cool tricks, instead they starting zoning out, and stared straight up at the big, fluffy clouds passing by....

Rocky, after Skippy flew back home from his visit. As you can see, he wants to be flung from the launcher to score points. He's all about arcade ball, and he's a big talker, but he doesn't really know how to play.

Pet rocks like to give hugs, but they don't have arms, so they just snuggle comfortably on your cheek.

More pet rock pictures on the way soon...it's going to be a very fun summer!

(c) 2019 photos and writing by Chloe Koffas

Rosebud Entertainment currently holds the U.S. trademark rights to the Pet Rock. 

Friday, February 1, 2019

Visiting the Wonder Years House

The Wonder Years created a brilliant parallel between generations and time -- it aired from 1988 -1993, yet took place from 1968 -1973. The story was set against the backdrop of that turbulent era, focused of the coming of age of late-wave Boomers in the suburbs and covered the life of Kevin Arnold, as he grew from age 12 to 17. Danica McKellar played his girlfriend, Winnie Cooper, and was born (in real life) the same year I was, and all the actors who played these characters were late-wave Generation X. By design, from the history to the soundtrack, there was a strong connection that Boomers had to this show. And even if also by design, there is something universal about teenage angst, and it created a bond between people my age and the show's characters. Fred Savage, a young Gen Xer, made the show even more relevant to both generations.

Here's The Wonder Years house in Burbank, CA as it is now. I took this photo in late December 2018 when we came to visit this house with a friend. It brought up a lot of coming-of-age, deep emotions for me, as it probably does for anyone who stands in this space. The mild Southern California weather causes this majestic tree to drop its leaves at each passing Christmas even as the early spring buds sprout out at the same time -- like some literal symbol of family trees, and time, and generations. This tree keeps its roots exposed above ground like it has nothing to hide. And what we know of the suburbs and the human situation is that each story is ultimately the same story. The broken souls of Vietnam came home to the suburbs of America, and their own scars often became the scars of their children, just as their fathers, the soldiers of WWII, came home to the suburbs and did the same a generation before.

The soft light of the afternoon sun shines on the front of the house, warm and gentle, as it came through Harper's Woods, a symbol of firefly-catching childhood innocence in the show in 1988 as it depicted 1968. As the last days of 2018 turned to the days of 2019, the last of the leaves fell from this tree.

Of history that would unfold on this street in real life, and on any suburban street in America, an enormous rift would take place between the Boomers and Generation X that, for the most part, has never really healed. When the final episode of this show comes to an ending, Kevin's older sister, a Hippie Boomer, has a Gen X baby in 1973. Sometimes I hear of a Boomer who bought into the Me-Era of the 1970's or sold out to the Greed is Good Era of the 1980's who later apologized to their Gen X children who were often left to raise themselves, but it seems pretty rare. The current of culture can be alluring, and life is hard for any generation; maybe this show was a pause that we took once a week, for a few years, where we could momentarily empathize with each other. In the episode where Kevin goes to work with his father and sees the depressing job that makes him the tense and angry middle-aged man he is, it is a reflection on understanding as a path to forgiveness that spans the experience of all generations. As a person who often finds myself in generational conversations, I have noticed a pattern in our lives: when someone can actually just say the words, "I'm sorry" it speeds the forgiveness process by a lot -- reducing it to months or years rather than decades or lifetimes.

To quote the end of the pilot episode about growing up in the suburbs that applies to the way the 1960's yielded to the 1970's, and the way the 1980's gave way to the 1990's:

"We know that inside each one of these identical boxes, 
with it's Dodge parked out front, 
and it's white bread on the table, 
and it's TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, 
there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love,
there were moments that made us cry with laughter, 
and there were moments...of sorrow and wonder." 


(c) 2018/19 photos and writing by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Visiting the House from E.T.

The house from E.T. backs up to the steep and extraordinary San Gabriel  mountain range in Tujunga, CA. We had the chance to see it recently under a blue afternoon sky which was more than exciting and a little surreal. This picture was taken the week of Christmas 2018.

Whenever I am visiting one of these iconic Gen X places, like one that I first saw on the silver screen in my most formative years, my heart speeds up and I feel like some kind of electricity is connecting time and space in the ground below my feet.

Below is me in my Atari shirt in front of the house rocking it like it's 1982. I was born the same year as Drew Barrymore, so I looked a lot like her with the exact same string-tied blond pigtails when I saw the movie. She and Henry Thomas became a part of our hearts the first moment we all saw them in this house.

Decades have passed and the house hasn't changed much. These trees were just seeds in the ground as the film was being made - this was a brand new neighborhood at the time of the filming. These trees grew up as Gen X did. 

When we arrived at this suburb, it looked instantly recognizable as the place where Elliott and company trick-or-treated all those years ago. It felt strangely and unexpectedly bittersweet, like I was visiting one of my old neighborhoods. 

After we went and saw the house, the kiddos watched a viewing of E.T. in our friends' Burbank home theater while we had dinner and wine. On their tree was an ornament that was bought right after the movie came out. Another little unexpected snapshot of history to end a perfect day.

This was the gift box I put together before the trip to thank our friends for inviting us over (and for the kids to snack on during the movie). I took an empty box that had been full of Hallmark Christmas cards, put in some Reese's Pieces, and small cans of soda. I put in some microwave popcorn and my daughter drew and colored a Speak & Spell and taped it to the front. I cut out a white piece of construction paper for the moon and used a black marker for the trees. 

Here's to every magical moment we experienced as a generation. Here's to the greatness of story and how our own stories are a part of a greater collective story. As the last light-filled moments of the holiday season linger on, and as a new year begins, here's to hope that at any given moment, between the flicker of the stars, the universe may reach out to us in a way we never would have expected. 

For M.B. 

As a fun tidbit: 

Later the same year the movie came out, the Atari game for E.T. wasn't exactly what everyone had hoped for since the programmer didn't have much time to work on it, and the overstock of hundreds of cartridges were buried for years in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. A few years back, many of the games were pulled back out and sold on eBay.  Read more here: CNN Article on buried E.T. Atari games

(c) 2019 all rights reserved, pictures by Chloe and Telly Koffas