Why I Love Starbucks

Starbucks Peppy Barista

OK, now for some light-hearted, fun writing.  I love Starbucks.  People tease me for that, often saying, “But it’s so expensive!  You pay $6 for a cup of coffee.”

I try explaining that I do “star dashes” and gather little gold stars on my smartphone that count toward free coffee and food.  Plus, I get anything I want to order on my birthday!  People usually roll their eyes or shake their heads, not believing that it could be fun and not-so-horribly expensive to frequent a designer coffee business.  I don’t go out to dinner at restaurants, I argue.  Doesn’t that count for something?

Jessica, Mom & Jonathan 2010 2

When my kids were teenagers, we often went to Starbucks in Southern California, sitting together outside under a green umbrella, wearing our summer t-shirts, shorts, and sandals, squinting in the sun.  We talked and planned together, ate the Best in the World Lemon Cake, and got free house brew coffee refills because I have a Starbucks Gold Card.

Starbucks Couple

When I was teaching English in China, Starbucks was very important to me.  It was a SAFE, something-like-America place where I could hide away from crowded foreign streets.  I got a cute keychain with dangling golden stars from the Starbucks near Shanghai (my favorite Chinese city).  I took my high school students on a field trip to the Starbucks closest to their private school.  We rode a bus and walked together, practicing English all the way.  They ordered their food and drinks in English.  We sat at connecting tables and laughed and joked in English.  What better way to practice speaking like an American than in our own native coffee store?

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Selah and the Apocalypse Desert

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These are 5 of my 7 books on Amazon.  The one to the far right is my fantasy novel, “Selah of the Summit.”  On the cover, I am Selah, posing in an outfit I wore to the Big Bear Renaissance Faire.  Selah is a slave girl trapped in a desert prison.  One day, a stranger appears at a banquet where she must serve her cruel Master.  He gives her a snowflake, and everything changes.  Follow Selah’s journey to the top of the Summit, as she finds freedom, friends, enemies, and love–along the way.

Now I am writing a new Selah book, set in the California High Desert (which I call the Apocalypse Desert).  A thousand years after the first Selah lived, a new Selah works in a desert prison.  Five days a week, she drives across the Apocalypse Desert to teach inmates.  At Christmas, one of her students gives her a sweet Christmas card, and everything changes.

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“You can be walking down the same hallway you have trod for years.  Then, one day, you turn the corner, and everything changes,” is my favorite quote from my Selah books.  Do you think you are stuck on a sad, never-ending, doomed old road?  Do miracles still happen in our modern world as they did in the old days?  May you find help from The Maker, as Selah did!

Geo Prison

Here is Chapter One from “Selah of the Desert”

A Prison in the Desert

            The sun was not up yet.  Faint wisps of pink and orange clouds like feathers drifted above the eastern horizon.  Selah looked up at them as she stepped out of the house and braced herself for cold air. Wind blew down from snow-covered mountains that surrounded the high desert.  Selah wrapped her jacket around her and pulled on her gloves as she balanced 2 bags, a travel coffee mug, and the scarf she had not yet wound around her neck.  Her red-gold hair, annoyingly curly, peeked out beneath a black knit cap.

“It might snow today,” she mumbled to no one as she locked the door behind her and approached a white car that was covered with ice.  “Funny that they call this a desert when it snows sometimes!” she exclaimed, as if the silent auto could hear.  “Now I’ve got to warm you up and melt off all that ice so that we can drive to work.”

She unlocked the door and pushed her bags and coffee mug inside—then sat down on the cold driver’s seat, placed the key in the ignition, and started the engine.

“Good car,” she remarked.  “You don’t let the cold stall you.”  She adjusted her seatbelt, turned up the heater and windshield warmer, and drank a little from the mug.

“I still can’t make a good cup of coffee,” she mused, staring at designs the ice made on the windshield in front of her. It was beginning to melt.  She watched dark streaks overtake white crystals. Why am I so fascinated by ice? She wondered, leaning forward a little, taking off one glove, and touching the cold glass.

What’s wrong with me? 

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Apocalypse Desert

Please watch my new 6-part video series called “Apocalypse Desert.”  It tells about my job teaching in a California High Desert prison and how I found love in that most unlikely place, between the prison bars.  My story ties in with my Selah fantasy novel which is set in a desert prison.  Thank you, and God bless you!

If you liked my videos, please check out all my books.

Christmas in a Hotel

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My family is my daughter Jessica, the only one of my 4 children who wants me in their lives.  She is having a baby soon, the only grandchild I will see–unless things change.  Jessica spent Christmas with me in a nice (but inexpensive) hotel in Ontario, California. We stayed there before–during the Miss California competition and Thanksgiving.  The hotel has a cheerful, red-hued lobby; a pool; and walkways with a gazebo and rose gardens.  It reminds me of hotels I stayed in throughout China.  We gave away some of my books to curious staff members and enjoyed green tea, butter cookies, and a few wrapped gifts.  I am thankful that, though I do not own my own home, this year I was not homeless.  I have a good job and can afford a hotel near to where Jessica lives.

Jessica read the story of the first Christmas as written in the Bible’s Gospel of Luke.  As a Messianic Jew and a Christian, I could be criticized for celebrating Christmas, a holiday not well steeped in valid history.  However, I love Christmas for the songs whose words I memorized when I was a child, the tiny blinking lights, angels, and evergreens.  Jesus came as the “light of the world.”  He died on a tree, our sacrifice to wash away our crimson sins, and rose again to bring new life.  Somehow these ideas do not erase older traditions of Hanukah, but fulfill.

How was your Christmas?

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Christmas Book Tea

Lonna Christmas 2018

You are invited to drink tea, eat cookies, and get one of my books for free!  This Sunday, December 23, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., I will be in the lovely lobby of the Ontario Airport Hotel in Ontario, California.  Stop by.  Everyone who shows up gets a free book!  I have 7 books (my true cancer survival story, travel adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and journalistic-style coverage of the country of Turkey–with color photos, links, and interviews).

Instead of “bestsellers,” may my books be “bestgivers.”

Merry Christmas!

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My rainbow-colored books

Turkish Tea

Turkish Tea (in a seaside cafe near Istanbul, Turkey)

Remembering Nick (and the December 2, 2015 Terrorist Attack in San Bernardino)

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It has been 3 years since the terrorist attack in San Bernardino that left 14 dead, shot many times by their own coworker and his Islamist extremist immigrant wife at their company Christmas party.  The main target was my friend Nick, a Messianic Jew like me.  We attended Shiloh Messianic Congregation together, in the San Bernardino mountains.  I was just down the street from the scene of this attack when it happened, watching it unfold on the TV news in a restaurant.  I had just returned from teaching English for 5 years in Turkey, Russia, and China.

Oddly, I have stood in the exact spot of terrorist attacks in all 3 of those countries.  Two were in airports in Russia and Turkey, and one was in Tiananmin Square in Beijing.  My timing was good–before the attacks occurred–but I could have been a victim like Nick.  Any of us could be victims–as could any of our children.

May we, in the new year of 2019, stand against anti-Semitism and terrorism.  May we truly promote the peace that Yeshua–Messiah–came to give.  Shabbat Shalom.

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Jennifer Thalasinos with our Pastor’s wife Kathleen

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What I Learned in Prison

Geo Prison

I have been living in the California desert for awhile now, renting a room in a family’s home.  My almost seven-year marriage to a Turkish man broke up, and he is living somewhere on the streets of Los Angeles, stuck in his paranoid delusions that everyone is after him.  He leaves voice messages on my smartphone, though I had to get a restraining order against him, and he should not contact me.  I hope he goes home to Istanbul for medical help.  I feel alone, as the desert wind howls across rocks and sand, and autumn sun cools beneath clouds.  Better to be alone than yelled at, used . . .

Who would have thought that I, a free-spirited writer who has traveled much across this globe, would land in a regular job, from 07:30 to 16:00 Mondays through Fridays, 40 hours a week–teaching inmates in a prison?  I got the job after a 5-week background check (I had to list everywhere I lived since I was 16), a physical exam, and drug tests.  I drive to work across a desert Apocalypse landscape.  It is littered with rock queries, railroad tracks, and old industrial warehouses with broken windows and metal pipes.  Homeless people scarcely populate it, pushing metal carts or baby carriages without a baby.  I lost my three-level, wood-carved home in the mountain forest near a lake.  My children are young adults now, and I don’t see them much.

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My 2 oldest children have completely shut me out of their lives (and my grandchildren’s lives).  An enemy has much to do with this (an ex-husband who once laid me on a bed and strangled me, which I wrote about in my book “Fire and Ice”).  I don’t know what he’s said or why they listen and refuse to meet so that I may answer charges laid against me . . .  My few friends call me “Sweetie.”  I am not a serial killer or assaulter, some crazy grandma gone wild.  I can not understand how my own daughter, my firstborn, could take away my little remaining family . . . I lost my father at age 4 and my mother and only brother (that I knew about) not long after.  I never had a sister.

So . . . the best part of my life is the “Special Needs Yard” prison where I teach male inmates their high school GED course.  We cover mostly English reading, writing, social studies, and science (my inmate clerk helps with the math).  Most of the inmates are sex offenders who could not be in the general population; some are ex-gang members or ex-cops.  My classroom is the last one on the left, near the moving white-barred gate and blue door that leads to the desert yard.  I must have my special ID and my keys on a chain to enter the prison.  If I lose my ID or keys, the whole prison would be locked down until we found them.  I must wear professional clothes (like black slacks and a collared shirt, sensible shoes, my hair clipped back, with no identifying jewelry showing).  I walk through a metal detector, surrender my clear plastic bag for inspection, and pass through 9 gates.  A young guard in his khaki uniform with silver badge says, “Morning, ma’am,” as he holds the heavy door for me at Central Control’s Sally Gate.  I peer into the dim room filled with camera surveillance screens and many keys.

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Love Is Not from a Distance

tree in sunset

Love is not from a distance;

up close and personal, it comes close enough

to pierce us

like an arrow through the heart, a spear.

Can we get the hook out?

Love is the unexpected baby on its way to a stone-cold world.

How did you get in there, so soon?

I will try to love you, and I will often fail.

I feel you hiding in my secret place, moving

like a white swan’s feathers (or maybe black)

brushing up against me, about to take flight

over waters of a vast lake, splashes of yellow against blue,

ripples in growing circles toward the rising sun

too bright to look at directly, creating, consuming . . .

You are not really mine; I borrow you for a time (too short).

I will hold your small hand tightly, sad to think that

maybe after yours grows big enough to break away

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Letter from a Murdered Mom

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I bought a beautiful old handmade writing case at a thrift store in the California mountains.  A wildcat crouched in trees on it, yellow against green and brown, carefully stitched with leather.  The store clerk asked $5, but I talked her down to $4 because I always seem short of money.  I thought I’d use it to keep my part-time college English-teaching papers in, for classroom use or Starbucks.

When I zipped it open, I saw the old-world style of neat suede pockets for business cards, pens, and letters.  A small “Made in India” stamp marked one side.  When I reached into an inner, hidden pocket, I uncovered an old letter.

Typed with an old-style typewriter on faded yellow paper, it bore a date and names and details I felt unworthy to read, like a voyeur into someone else’s private life.  It was a letter from an American mother to her daughter.  It mentioned names, events, and details.  Folded inside it was a hand-written note about getting bifocals and a scratch-sheet of home mortgage calculations.  It also held a surgeon’s business card and a Retail Clerks Union receipt stamped with a full name, date, and social security number. Continue reading

My Brighton Heart Box

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I wrote some texts from my smartphone to my youngest daughter’s smartphone.  That’s how writing works these days.  I sent her photos, too, and tried to share my heart by showing her what hides in my old Brighton tin heart box.  I hope my 3 other children, from whom I never hear, read this too–and mothers everywhere, who save things for children in hopes of giving them bits of treasure gathered over a lifetime (and sometimes a world of travel).  Please enjoy this and feel free to share:

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Jessica, are you OK? Do you still have your phone? You know, I lost a lot of our treasures in my travels across the globe, but I managed to keep a few. The 1st photo is sterling silver and crystal, my ring from Turkey, official Arwen pendant and fern pin with matching earrings from New Zealand, Brighton crystal earrings I bought from a Lake Arrowhead Village store in the California mountains when you were little and we all lived together there. I am saving these for you. You are precious to me–and even more to Jesus, who made us and loves us and came down from Heaven to heal us–painfully–and rise again. He patiently polishes the tarnish, smooths out the tangles, and connects broken links of our lives–like this sterling silver necklace from Italy that I hold in my hand.

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