Caviar Dreams

No, this has nothing to do with Robin Leach and his “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” sign off at the end of the old TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” This is about honoring my mother in a way I think she would find thoughtful and meaningful. Five years ago today, my mom passed away. And tonight, my son and I will honor her memory by having a traditional Japanese meal that she often prepared for us: Tarako (caviar), gohan (steamed rice), nori (seaweed), shoyu (soy sauce), furikake (a topping for rice made of fish, seaweed and sesame seeds), cha (green tea) and red bean cake for dessert. She would love it! We will place a table setting for her with rice and the whole works, as she made an offering to her Holy Ones every day at a little shrine she had set up in her family room.

I miss her so very much. I wish you had known her. Toshiko was a woman of great Beauty, Courage, Love and Faith. Her Beauty is obvious in her photos—porcelain skin, black hair, great bones, perfect figure. But she was also beautiful on the inside and had an appreciation for the simple things in life. Mostly, that meant time with family. My dad, sister and I were her life and she was completely committed to us. She had an appreciation for beauty all around her, whether it was nature, clothing, jewelry, or art. She is legend in our family for the intricate bedspreads and tablecloths she would spend months crocheting for family members far and wide. Those gifts of love and beauty are cherished by loved ones to this day and, in fact, are being passed down from one generation to the next.

Toshiko was a woman of Courage. She met and married my father—an American soldier stationed in Japan during the U.S. Occupation after the Second World War. That was not an easy decision for her to make. She had been designated to carry on her family name because there were no sons—she was an only child. She gave up her family and her country to start a family of her own and adopt a new country. Once here, life was challenging. My parents married at the height of racism in our country and Mom said in the beginning of life with Dad, she often felt like a monkey in a zoo because people stared at her. She was different. So she said she stared right back—but smiled. I can’t honestly say that I would have the courage she did to leave my family and home to start a new life where I knew only one person and barely spoke his language.

Tosh would tell you it was Love that gave her Courage. She told my sister and me, “Love is blind. We made it work because we love each other. It didn’t matter that we were different. It didn’t matter that other people didn’t like it.” It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? Not easy, but simple. She chose love. I don’t know that anything more needs to be said about it. I thank God she chose love because without it, I wouldn’t be here right now.

Mom’s love was so deep that when Daddy died 17 years ago—shortly after they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary—she nearly died, too. We thought she kept having heart attacks, but testing revealed none of the blood enzymes present after heart attacks. Her doctors came to the conclusion that she was suffering from a broken heart. It made perfect sense. Her emotional heart was broken. Her soul mate was gone. However, Mom was a woman of Faith and she knew that she and Daddy would be reunited one day. She hung in there for 12 years without Dad…and then she just couldn’t do it any longer. She said it was time for her to go. We don’t know how she did it, but my sister and I are convinced that she planned to die as close as possible to the anniversary of our dad’s death. He passed on April 22nd. Mom passed on April 13th.

So April is a significant month for me. I am reminded every year at this time of the cycle of life. Birth. Death. Rebirth. April is a reminder to love deeply, speak my love, live in the now, and savor that love is eternal. I miss you, Mommy, and think of you every day. Each time I look in the mirror, I see you looking back at me…

Time now for that dinner and caviar dreams. Godspeed.


Please share your thoughts and insights below. Your participation provides wisdom that all can benefit from. Thank you.

Denise Yamada © 4/2012

We are Family

My Uncle Emil died last week. “He had 88 great years, one bad week,” was the family refrain as we laid him to rest on Monday. Funerals are such bittersweet occasions, aren’t they? They are full of happy memories of time shared with our loved ones and sadness for the reality that we will no longer share hugs and kisses. This funeral and family gathering was no exception…and it was so much more. I am blessed that I was able to reconnect with some family members that I had not seen in more than 17 years—some even longer. Even though much time and distance had separated us, Emil brought us all together again: children, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and friends. In an instant, I was welcomed into the family fold. I was aware of the love and history that bind us.

Our family patriarch, Milos, came to this country from Croatia in the early 1900s. He married my grandmother, Frances, and together they had four children: Mildred, Michael, Emil and Thomas. Thomas—Tommy—was the youngest, and my father. He was the first of that generation to die. He was only 67. My grandmother, who we call “Bubbie,” outlived her baby boy. She cried, “God took the wrong one! It should have been me…” But God clearly had other plans. Bubbie lived to be 103. Her third child, Emil, was the last to go…and it is he who we honor and remember this week.

As I listened to each of Emil’s children share their memories of him…as I watched his eight grandchildren serve as his pallbearers, it struck me that we are all connected, whether we are related or not; whether we live in our bodies or in spirit; whether we were born in this country or another; whether we are alive now or lived in another century. We are all connected. We belong to the same family—the family of man. It’s been said that it is in our DNA to love and respect one another. Science—quantum physics—teaches that we are born to be community. We are born to be our brother’s keeper. If science didn’t bear this out, how would we know this is true? Here’s how: All we have to do is hear the stories of acts of kindness and compassion, and that part of our DNA is activated. Think back to the aftermath of 9-11 and seeing the stories of how people from all across our country—all across the planet—came together to help us heal and rebuild. More recently, when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, how did you feel when you saw the news stories? When you heard the stories of people helping people, of triumph or perseverance? You no doubt experienced a feeling in your heart. It’s that feeling that connects us to the community at large; that reminds us that we belong to a whole greater than who we are as individuals. And that feeling is all the more pronounced when we are with our family, given or chosen.

This is the legacy that Uncle Emil and his generation, and the generation before them, leave for us: A sense of deep contentment and deep connection for having belonged to them. A knowing that we belong to something far grander than the eye can see. It must be felt by the heart and communicated by the soul. This is what I felt and heard as I walked away from Uncle Emil’s grave site on Monday. As I passed by one tombstone after another that bore the names of my people—Kovacevic, Luketic, Verbanovic, Matalski—a deep and abiding pride swelled up inside me: These are my people. These people were good, hard working, loving, family driven. These people built this community and contributed to its success. These people are part of the fabric of our great nation. I am proud to belong to these people.


Please share your thoughts, insights and questions below. Your participation provides wisdom that all can benefit from. Thank you!

Denise Yamada © 12/2011


Matters of the Heart

I spent the first weekend of December with my sweetheart and his parents in Pennsylvania. The visit with them did my heart good—both my physical heart and my poetic heart, the one that speaks for my soul. The weekend was an opportunity for me on so many levels. First, to simply pause, sink into my body, rest, and reflect. I had just learned a few days earlier that there’s a problem with my ticker. An annual physical exam revealed an irregular heartbeat. An EKG confirmed tachycardia. Because my doctor is not a cardiologist, she can’t tell me anything beyond that. I’m scheduled for an appointment with a specialist at the end of this month. Being a former medical reporter, I could not sit idly by for three weeks without doing something. So I did some research. Basically, my heart is beating too fast. I was and have been symptom-free, the doctor explains, because I have a naturally low resting heart rate. Now it’s up to the specialist to determine in what part of the heart the electrical problem originates. That will dictate treatment, which could be 1) do nothing—let’s watch it, 2) oral medication, 3) intravenous medication, 4) some kind of surgery which could include a pacemaker, or 5) the most extreme—heart transplant. I choose and intend option #1, thankyouverymuch!

The days immediately following this news were filled with a flurry of fear, concern and questions. How could this happen? Will I be okay? Do I have enough life insurance? What do I tell the children? What do I do now? In my business as a personal development and executive coach, we say that life is a series of events, people and circumstances. What gives us our quality and experience of life is who we choose to BE in the face of those events, people and circumstances. So I have myself a circumstance or event. Who will I BE? I will be calm, trusting and powerful in the face of the unknown. I will be transparent and authentic about my feelings. I will ask for and allow support. I will ask for what I need. (In fact, I just asked a girlfriend to come to my cardiologist appointment with me to advocate on my behalf.) I will get plenty of rest, exercise moderately, eat healthy, and de-stress.

And that brings me to my visit with my sweetheart’s parents. Scarlett and Bill are 90 and 91 years old, respectively. When you get to be that age, you don’t sweat the small stuff. What’s important is this moment right now. And now. And now. You cherish every moment. You relish every song, every conversation, every breath. You drink in the moon and salute the sun. You move slowly, deliberately, intentionally. You love deeply and with all your heart. And so that’s what I did, too…and continue to do. Because really, what guarantee do any of us have that we will be here tomorrow? We do not. We have right now.

My visit with Scarlett and Bill was like salve for my soul—and my heart. With my own parents gone now for years, I am so grateful to once again have parents to love and be loved by. In my book, there is no better prescription for a healthy heart.


Please share your thoughts, insights and questions below. Your participation provides wisdom that all can benefit from. Thank you!

Denise Yamada © 12/2011


Community and Contribution: It’s the Military Way—It’s the American Way

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I was an Air Force brat—and I say that with the deepest affection and gratitude because that experience has largely shaped who I am today. In fact, if it weren’t for my father’s military service, I wouldn’t be here—let alone writing this! My father was what we called a “lifer” in the United States Air Force.

My parents met when my dad was stationed in Japan during the U.S. Occupation after the Second World War. It was not love at first sight for my Japanese mother, but my father? He was a goner. After pulling out all the stops and courting my mother for a full year, he finally won. Mom consented to go out with him. Her initial reluctance was not only because he was an American G.I. There were also cultural traditions for her to consider. In Japan, if no sons are born, the designated daughter carries the family name. As an only child, the obligation fell to my mother to marry a Japanese man who would assume her last name, and give their children that name.

The romance was not ideal as far as my mother’s family was concerned. But once they got to know the character of my father and his country, they fell in love with him, too, and set aside a cultural tradition that had been practiced for centuries. On February 2, 1955, my parents were married in a civil ceremony by a Justice of the Peace. Three and a half weeks later, they had a traditional Japanese wedding. My mother wore a bridal kimono and lacquered wig, and painted her face and hands white, like a Japanese porcelain doll. My father also wore a kimono for the ancient daylong ritual.

My parents’ marriage is not unlike the military. They both are melting pots representing diversity and integration. While there was still much racial intolerance in our country when my parents were first married, the opposite was true in the U.S. Military. By virtue of their world travels, U.S. servicemen came home with foreign brides and started families of mixed heritage. By virtue of their service, they learned how to cooperate and collaborate. By virtue of their commitment, they contributed wherever they served.

My father served in small ways wherever he was, even when not in uniform. It’s the military way. It’s the American way. He taught me compassion, contribution and community, not with words, but actions. I remember so well when we were stationed in the Middle East—Ankara, Turkey. I was in the third grade. It was a hard time for us. There was no military housing for families, so we lived among the Turkish. The country was underdeveloped and the apartment buildings seemed to be built of sand. We couldn’t drink the water or eat the food. We didn’t speak the language. Frequent earthquakes rattled the ground and our nerves, and crumbled the buildings.

One particular summer weekend as my sister and I were playing on the balcony to stay clear of the large population of dogs and cats plagued with rabies, we heard the anguished shrieking of a baby. Scared, we looked to our parents for cues and comfort. They recognized these cries were not coming from a child simply wanting attention. They were the cries of a baby in acute pain. Dad raced down the apartment stairs, following the sickening sounds of devastating pain. We followed, too, and discovered that our apartment manager’s baby had been scalded. She had somehow managed to grab the handle of a boiling pot of rice and it toppled on her. I don’t know what happened in the panic that followed, since Mom ushered my sister and me back home. She told us that Daddy was going to make sure the baby was taken care of. And he did. Yosef, the apartment manager, could not pay for his daughter’s medical care, so my dad did. He bought them food and milk, too. Mom made and delivered meals to the family so they could devote as much time as possible to the care of their injured child.

Not long after that, a fire broke out on one of the bottom floors of our apartment building in the middle of the night. Dad helped Yosef with the orderly evacuation of the building and hauled and manned the garden hoses to spray down the flames while we waited for the arrival of firefighters. From that time on, Dad became the “go-to guy” when Yosef wasn’t around and sometimes even when he was!

Out of these experiences, it ceased to be the Turks and the Americans. It was no longer “us” and “them.” It was “we”—a priceless lesson that I carry with me today; a lesson in compassion, contribution, and perhaps most importantly, community. It’s the military way. It’s the American Way.

This is just one story of how my father’s military service has served me. My life is rich with them. I am proud of my father and his 21 years of military service. They will be in me and with me forever…in the way I live, in the way I love.

Please share your thoughts, insights and questions below. Your participation provides wisdom that all can benefit from. Thank you!

Denise Yamada © 11/2011


You Can Make a Life or Death Difference

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A name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. And each day, 18 people on that list die because compatible organs can’t be found in time. As I write this, a San Diego woman—Katrina Bischoff-Howell—is on that waiting list and hospitalized on a ventilator. (To the left is a photo of her taken during a somewhat “healthier” time, when she was on oxygen, but not yet on a ventilator.) Cystic Fibrosis has wasted her lungs and she now has a very small window in which she can receive a transplant…or never be transplanted. Her husband tells me that after two weeks on a ventilator, the body deteriorates and is weakened. He would know: He has CF, too, and received a lung transplant six years ago. Now it’s his wife who is in desperate need of one. You can read and watch her story here:

But rather than only read or watch her story, will you act to possibly save a life? Here’s a letter written by Katrina’s mother, which I share with her family’s permission:

Hello Friends and Family:

Yesterday, my daughter, Katie was moved to ICU at Thornton and was put on a ventilator. This means bluntly that we have only two weeks to discover two donated and fully vetted and qualified transplantable lung lobes or to have a cadaveric transplant and to successfully transplant those lungs. After two weeks on the ventilator there is no more opportunity for transplant. Moreover it is extremely tough for a CF patient to be able to live after being on life support for that length of time.

Here is exactly what you can do to help.

·· If you are under 55, have type A or O blood and are at least 5’ 9” and are willing to give up one of your five lung lobes to Katie, call my husband at (760) 579-8275 and we will get you tested to be a cross-match. Katrina is a very difficult match because of being transfused years ago and therefore her blood chemistry changed. The test to see if you are a suitable cross match is simple and painless. If you are a match, USC will take it from there.

·· Post the need for transplant donors to every friend and Facebook contact right now! Please ask them to consider giving one lobe to her IF they qualify. Please make certain that they understand how critical it is to act now.

·· Please ask your friends, family and congregations to pray for Katie now.

·· Because of the length of time it takes to find a donor…and now we have only two weeks to accomplish this…we can only identify potential donors for testing through this first week. Please understand that there is absolutely no time to waste.

Please I implore you to act now, right now. Please do not hesitate.

Thank you for your consideration in lovingly and prayerfully considering this massively bold request immediately. Please help me save my daughter’s life.

Do you want to know the amazing story of how I learned about Katrina’s situation? From my friend Sharlie Ross Kaltenbach—also living with Cystic Fibrosis. Here is a woman who is in need of a transplant herself, asking others to support her friend. I am not the least bit surprised that Sharlie is reaching out on behalf of her friend—that’s the kind of giving, loving and compassionate person I know her to be. Make no mistake, Sharlie is also in need—her lung function is at a mere 18%. That’s why those of us who love her have mounted a fundraising campaign to help cover the expenses associated with her needed lung transplant.

Here’s how you can help Sharlie: Buy a product from this website and personally ask three friends to do the same:

We believe in the power of three! Do you remember the movie Pay It Forward? The main character helped three people and asked them to “pay it forward” to three more people, so nine people would be helped. Then those people would multiply into 27. Then it would spread to 81. Then 243. Then 729. Then 2,187. And on and on. That’s the model on which we’ve based this fundraiser. We ask you to buy one product for $27 and ask three people to do the same and “give forward.” In a very short period of time, hundreds of thousands of dollars could be raised to fund Sharlie’s transplant and associated costs, with any excess going to others living with CF and to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for ongoing research for a cure.

All of the products offered will enhance your life, too! Please check them out here:, buy a product and ask three friends to do the same, to continue “giving forward.” Simple way to make a difference.

Another way to get involved is to sign up for the donor registry. You can do that here: Will you join me? I’ve been on the registry since I first met Sharlie and her family about 20 years ago.

If you live in another state, go to the US donor registry site and search for your state:

YOU can make a life-or-death difference. Will you?

Please share your thoughts, insights and questions below. Your participation provides wisdom that all can benefit from. Thank you!

Denise Yamada © 6/2011


Rest In Peace, Daddy

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Today I am a girl missing her dad.

I’m the 9-year-old girl content to be lounging on the lawn chair with her daddy in the backyard of their military housing.

I’m the daughter grateful that her dad set aside cultural differences in a time of racial unrest and married a Japanese woman to start a family.

I’m the career woman succeeding because her dad gave her the gift of words, both written and spoken…and the gifts of love and compassion.

I’m the mother blessed to have been raised by an involved, loving father who became the best grandpap in the world.

I’m the woman who will remember to laugh when the going gets tough because Dad said it would make it not so tough.

I’m a girl remembering to laugh through her tears…as she honors her dad, taken at the ridiculously young age of 67.

Today, I reflect on the 16 years without my dad…and know that even though I can no longer hug him and kiss him, you can no more separate me from him than you can separate rays from the sun.

Daddy, today, as always, I beam my love to you…

Denise Yamada © 4/2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom of the ages. From a brilliant 4-year-old: “God is something I can feel, but not see—like the wind.” That brilliant boy was born to this mommy 15 years ago this month.

What nuggets of wisdom have the little ones in your life shared with you?

Denise Yamada © 3/2011

Musings of a Granddaughter

Isn’t it funny the things we remember from childhood? We weren’t big vacationers while I was growing up. Vacations, when we took them, consisted of piling into the car and driving cross country to visit Bubbie and Grandpap. They were my dad’s parents; hearty stock of Croatian descent. In fact, my grandfather came to this country in 1913. I recently found his naturalization certificate—he became a US citizen in 1926. I remember him as a tall man who towered over me. His naturalization certificate lists him at 5′ 7″. Milos was a handsome man. And kind. I see him in my mind’s eye laughing, always with a grandchild on his knee while others play around him.

I remember Bubbie, short and stout, in the kitchen, cooking for the family. High, sweet voice and a distinctive laugh that you can hear echoing in my own. Frances was a determined woman. Family lore has it that Milos wanted to marry Frances’ big sister, but she married someone else. So he married Frances. It worked out perfectly as she adored him. And she outlived him by more than 25 years.

You always knew what was important to Bubbie; walking into her sitting room, it was obvious by what hung on the walls: framed photos of the Pope, President John F. Kennedy, and every single grandchild and great grandchild—and there were dozens and dozens of them! I am proud to be one of them…and look forward to the day when I become a Bubbie, short for “stutta bubba,” which my grandfather told me is Croatian for “old woman.”

Today, I honor my Bubbie. This marks the 6th anniversary of her passing. We’re not exactly sure how old she was she when died, but we think it was 103; most certainly over 100. At least I know I come from hearty stock and will be around for a long time, doing what I can to transform age and experience from liabilities to assets.

Godspeed, Bubbie. I love you and thank you for life.

Let Us Honor Death with Life

We are entering a season of rebirth, and yet, I often find myself thinking about death these days. This month and next mark the anniversaries of the passing of five people I have loved, including my mother and father. Two more family members died just this month. As I contemplate that, and the climbing death toll in Japan, I feel that a part of me has died, too.

My mother was a Buddhist and taught me that death is not the end of life; rather, it is the end of the body we inhabit in this life—and that our spirit remains. Some days that comforts me and I can even feel my loved ones near me. I call them my Holy Ones. Other days, I cannot feel them…and feel utterly alone. And then I remember what my dad—raised a Catholic—taught me. Daddy told me that even when people we love die, they are still with us—they are inside us. All I need do is look in the mirror and I can see this is true. I have my mother’s eyes, hair and skin. And when I look deep within myself, I see my mother’s dignity and grace. I see my father’s love of language and humor and sense of community. My parents live inside me.

But even those with whom I did not share genes are within me. When they passed, they bequeathed to me things more valuable than worldly goods. They left behind the best parts of themselves. Lexi left me love, faith and courage. Andi left me compassion and possibility. Ann left me fidelity and sweetness. Now, it’s up to me to ensure these parts of them live on forever through me. So I pledge to carry on these parts of my Holy Ones: I will be love, faith and courage. I will be compassion and possibility. I will be fidelity and sweetness.

In the face of death and destruction, the best we can do for those who pass before us—whether we are related or not—is to live in such a way that they continue in us. Will you join me in that?

I send you my love, peace and prayers.

The Secret to Expressing Your Love

I had to chuckle at the posting of one of my Facebook friends this morning: “Happy Hallmark Holiday to you!” Regardless of Hallmark’s marketing, I like the idea of setting aside a day to intentionally express your love. And there’s no reason why you can’t do this every day. Think of the possibilities! Imagine what your life—and the world—would look like if we each did this every day. It wouldn’t take much to do it. But there is a secret to expressing your love so that your loved one actually gets the message!

The secret is to speak the emotional love language that your mate, child, parent or friend speaks. In my work as a personal development coach, I’ve seen many breakdowns occur in relationships when one partner is speaking the equivalent of Mandarin when the other partner speaks English. I use as a resource a brilliant book by Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages. Chapman says different people express love in different ways, and distinguishes these five specific languages of love:

  1. Words of Affirmation – these can look like unsolicited compliments, expressions of love and appreciation—written or verbal. This is my primary love language. You can imagine the effect my sweetheart’s Valentine’s Day message had on me! He wrote: “Being with you is the best part of being me. I love you more and more each and every day!” I love him completely…and love the way he loves me!
  2. Quality Time – this means giving someone your undivided, totally focused attention. This means no distractions like television or sporting event in the background. This is my son’s love language. Now I understand why, when he was little, he just wanted me to sit with him and watch him play—I didn’t even have to play with him—just focus my time, energy and attention on him and what he was doing at the time.
  3. Receiving Gifts – this love language is not to be confused with plain, old materialism; it’s putting thought, love and effort in selecting a gift for your loved one. This has him or her feel known and cared for.
  4. Acts of Service – this is simply doing things you know your loved one would like you to do. It can be something as basic as taking out the trash, making dinner, walking the dog. But the power in the act of service comes when it’s done with love and a willing and positive spirit; not because you have to or else. This is my daughter’s love language…and even after many years of practicing it, I am still amazed at how little acts of service so positively impact her and our relationship.
  5. Physical Touch – this love language isn’t all about sex, although it is part of it. It also includes holding hands, hugging, kissing, stroking the face and other caring touches. This is my sweetie’s primary love language (followed by a close second in Words of Affirmation). I know that he feels most loved when I express it physically, but it’s important that I do it on his terms, or as Chapman says, when I speak his dialect. For example, some folks love getting back rubs or body massages. My honey isn’t fond of massage, so that’s not in my repertoire.

This is just a brief explanation of each of the love languages. I highly recommend the book. I’ve seen it transform relationships!

What’s your love language? Please write me a note below and let me know! And may you be loved fully!