Tag Archives: gratitude

the soft song of the white beauty

Searching for the sacred in the midst of my second cancer diagnosis

“The sound we hear when it snows is the soft song of the white beauty!”
~ Mehmet Murat ildan

My mother, I think, realized that I was falling into a kind of despair. I professed that I had lost my faith, though I had not become someone who hates faith – it was just gone.  She had noticed my flailing to make sense of my world, again and suggested a trip up north. A trip that included good food at The Turquoise Room at La Posada in Winslow and drives up to Hopi.

I pondered her offer, and thoughts of how I always loved going up to Hopi as a child were recalled.

I grew up in a magical place, there is a reason it is the birthplace of magic realism. My move to the USA (because I refuse to call it America, because frankly there is North America and South America and the USA being called America has never sat well with me) was not an easy transition, the USA doesn’t understand that kind of magic. There are exceptions to that. One such place was on my regular visits to Hopi as a newly transplanted child. There were two Hopi women who brought me back that magic. One was Helen Sekaquaptewa and the other was Elsie James and interestingly enough I just learned that they were related.

Elsie was local, and I got to see her more often. knew my great-great grandfather from when they both were at the Indian School in Phoenix, as a matter of fact he apparently introduced her to her husband. Whenever I would see Elsie, she would smile and tell me how much she loved my grandfather. She taught me how to make fry bread, often sitting with me at festivals at the heard Museum – teaching me the right consistency of the dough and the best way to pat the balls into a good piece of fry-bread, poking your fingers just so in the middle to prevent it from getting too puffed up when put in the oil. I cried deeply when I went to her funeral, she was extremely special to me.

Helen was the person that showed me that the special kind of magic from my youth in the Andes was present in the USA. I was relatively new to the USA, when my family went up to Hopi for a snake dance (probably back before non-Hopi were banned from freely joining them). I remember sitting on the roof, watching the most amazing ceremony – if you ever get a chance to see a snake dance, you should – they are memorable. I remember being in her kitchen, helping her fix food, and then I remember her taking me outside with her great-grandchildren to forage for wild spinach. Pointing out things that she thought I would find interesting as we walked to the edges of the village on the mesa.

So it was with these two influential Hopi women in my life that gave me a tie to my ancestors and the ability to see the magic in the land that I said yes to my mother, regarding a trip to what I could call my most local sacred space. It was a pilgrimage.

The drive up to Winslow was nice, we took the route through Heber-Overgaard and Holbrook. The Hotel La Posada is a fabulous space, designed by Mary Colter. I have a friend who claims, and rightly so, that it is a space full of feminine power that one can draw upon. We dined at The Turquoise Room.

I struggle as I write the next parts, as I want to honor Hopi guidelines on etiquette and yet share my experience as it relates to coming to greater peace with my own mortality and my hopes that I am of a Pahana clan. I met a Hopi prophet once.

We drove up from Winslow through to Second Mesa and the Hopi Cultural Center (HCC), stopping at the Little Painted Desert (in Navajo) on the way.  One of the things I like about visiting the Hopi Cultural Center is that there are carvers at the edge of the park next door.  There is something special about meeting the person or their family when purchasing something from them. You can find baskets, teas, rattles, bows and arrows, sculptures and Kachinas. I was able to bring to my life, five Kachinas; Crow Mother, Grandmother & Long-Haired. and Snow Maiden & Warrior Maiden.

I didn’t bring Snow Maiden to me at first. We decided to drive to K-town and see what was going on. The story is that a bunch of MIT student drove through once and fixed up a bunch of their computers, promising to return only to not be seen again.  One of the people with me has a son that teaches there and so we went to take pictures to share with them and see if we could get some MIT students to return. The whole ride, the image of her was in my mind, she was beautiful. We drove back to the HCC and held in my heart that she was still there. She was. I talked to the artist and his friend (who made my Warrior Maiden). They shared that the dances were happening this week and that I might see the Snow Maiden if I visit the ones at Shungopovi.

Front and back of my Snow Maiden

There was some discussion about going, but I was given the ability to decide and I did, I chose to go. If you are unfamiliar with attending ceremonies, revisit my link  above for etiquette. We drove to Shungopovi and looked for people standing on a roof, and headed that direction. We found a place to park and walked toward the sound, following people who were headed toward it. W walked through half-finished houses, through water puddles and made our way to the ceremonies.    There were not many white people there, maybe four aside from the three of us.  We sat on a door step and watched the ceremony.  It was special, oh so very special. And it was more exciting that I actually did see the Snow Maiden.

One of the things I learned from my friends on Hopi is that in a ceremony, the Kachinas are the gods… so, being able to see the ceremonial Kachina of the one that called to me was extremely special.

I ended my trip with four female Kachinas and one male.

Another goal of the trip was to find my tumor rock. This is something that my boss entrusted upon me.  When she got cancer she was in Sedona and saw a colorful iguana-esque lizard on a rock.  This was a message to her and she kept that rock, it was a representative of the cancer experience she was going through.  She came back and told me about the experience. I was in a shop a few days later when I found a lizard that could be put on the rock, as a representative of the experience.  When I was diagnosed with my second cancer, many years after hers, she brought me the lizard and said it was time to entrust it to me, that I had to find my rock.  So, I looked for my rock. I actually found two, one just outside Winslow and the other near  Heber.

My tumor rock while Warrior Maiden and Crow Mother watch.

I feel more optimistic about everything now. Instead of saying, for example, “my appointment tomorrow will tell me if I have metastasis” I am thinking in terms of “tomorrow I will learn if we can rule out metastasis”.   A simple exchange of words, but they have so much power.

 

 

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Last “good” thing that I ate? 2/365

Eating is an incredibly social event. So my best memories of food are related to events that had other people present.

After a one year hiatus, we were finally able to host Christmas dinner again and it was as wonderful as I wanted.

We had schnitzel, which has become the family expectation for the family Christmas dinner.

However, there is one part of it that I look forward to every year and that is the desserts that my friend Deborah brings.

Holy cow, this woman has mad baking skills, and the time with which to put hem in action. She brings a selection of these delectable culinary delights that make me unabashedly happy.

She brought four items that meet everyone’s dietary needs (she is THAT awesome). This year she brought a basque pear cake (that she has made before and my husband found memorable enough to request), a bourbon custard pie, some candied pecans, and a chocolate salted caramel tart.

That chocolate tart was awesome!!!

So the last “good” thing I ate was Christmas day food… from the soup to the schnitzel to the amazing desserts.

When I did the search of the tart to try to find a picture of the tart I ended up seeing a picture of my least favorite dessert ever; the Sacher Torte.

You try being married to an Austrian and finding this dessert unpalatable.  I told my husband this shortly after we got married and his sister had the hotel send us a torte in the mail (they serve her wine there).

 

(from here)

whose boat is on the running stream…

“What should I possibly have to tell you, oh venerable one? Perhaps that you’re searching far too much? That in all that searching, you don’t find the time for finding?”
~ Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

ecbracletred22-020

We are cleaning house to host Christmas. And as is often the case on such endeavors (at least in my life) things have been found that elicit powerful and profound reactions.

I was tidying up our mantle and found a stone jar with a fossil lid. Curious, and willing to delay the tidying up to explore, I opened it up only to discover something I probably needed to find.

It was a 5 foot long string of red beads.

as i pulled the strand out, I thought back on when I must have bought it. 17 years ago, when I was in Quito and roaming one of the many folks selling things in the parks.  I remember picking this one out because it had two “gold” beads in it.  I twisted the string of beads onto my wrist, feeling a simple pleasure as I felt them wrap around.

It is a simple standard of beauty that has carried with me. Many of the indigenous women, of varying tribes, in Ecuador wear them. It is said to ward of evil and to protect the wearer. One will see these wrapped in various widths and on various ages of the women in Ecuador. Red bracelets are actually something pretty widespread and come in a variety of materials.  It is a familiar one to me, and I have worn it on my wrists for these past few days, a certain level of comfort in seeing its length wrapped around my wrist. I touch them, roll them against my skin, admiring the variety of sizes the beads come in.

Last night, I was in the bath tub and wondered if the string would suffer from getting wet. I rolled and untangled my bracelet and gently laid it out to dry.  This morning I picked it up and twisted it back on my wrist.  There was such a comfort in that ritual. I wondered how many other women had gone about starting their day by twisting these beads around their wrist, in a mix of superstition, habit, and because of the gentleness of it.

 

red beads
This is my red bead bracelet.

“For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

ignoring my limits

​In our society, the women who break down barriers are those who ignore limits.
~ Arnold Schwarzenegger​
I would hope that women get exposed, personally, to women who break down barriers. Actually, I hope that men get exposed to women who break barriers too, because this is still something that needs to happen.  I am lucky, in 1980 my cousin was the second best archer in the world. Amazon comparisons aside, this was HUGE. Women have been slinging arrows for eons, but to get to a level where you are second best… in the world… wow, she is pretty impressive in this respect (and many others).  How wonderful is it that we live in a world where we see more women breaking barriers and becoming awesome at what they do.

This took a long time to come for me. Born in an era that was just starting to feel out the women’s rights movement.  Add to that the fact that I was born and raised in countries that have very “traditional” roles for women. So, breaking barriers was not something I even thought about until, that is, I moved to the United States. Before that, I think my most adventurous aspiration was to be a flamenco dancer.

Now, please know that I do not mean to demean flamenco dancers by that statement.  There is a ton of back story to that. My father bullfights. I spent the first ten years of my life either watching him bullfight or helping out at our ranch that raised fighting bulls. Bullfighting is the glue that hold my relationship together with my father. I live in a world where I both hate it and love it. My more intimate knowledge about it provides for this. Like many things in life, it is both beautiful and brutal.

My father is well-respected among bullfighting circles around the world.  I went to visit a friend of his when I was an adult and he told me how he met my dad. My dad had been trying to get a chance to bullfight right after we had moved from Spain to Ecuador, but it is not something one can just go to the park and find a pick-up game.  So this friend of my fathers recalls that he ans his friends kept getting these calls about this silly American that wanted to join them in a bullring. After several months they realized that they were not going to get rid of his persistence so they had him come along.  At this point in the conversation, my father’s friend looks me in the eyes and tell how he and all his friends saw my dad get in the ring and were stunned by how good a bullfighter my father was.  He is still good. Anyway, I grew up with enough privilege that I really believed that I would end up a mother of many children with a wealthy enough husband and live in a country other than the USA. Needless to say that did not happen.

I recall moving to the US just at the start of the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. Which was the same time that my cousin was an Olympic archer, my aunt had won Emmy’s and was becoming an artist. There was something empowering and horribly frightening about this. So, at this point in my life, my tweens and early teens, I realized I could be anything I wanted to be if I wanted it hard enough.
So, I hung on to my dream of having lots of children (I have always wanted six, for what it is worth) but now I could be that and do anything. In high school I was stunned when a friend stopped me after me describing my future self and said that it was great I had these ideas about what I would do with my children, but she had noticed that I never mentioned their father or a husband. I am sure that my mother had to work so very hard and had to fight to provide for my brother and I after my father took off with another  woman and left us high and dry was the impetus for this visioning I was doing.
So, I chased dreams.
It wasn’t until I was thirty that I was able to revisit my father and his bullfighting passion. I was back in the US and newly married and he invited me to join him for a special convention in Texas.  Through a random series of events I was able to share a room with a female bullfighter. I had never even really imagined this. I was aware of women like  Conchita Cintrón and Bette Ford, but hadn’t really thought about it in terms of how many crazy walls they had to tear down.  To put this in perceptive, in 1998 I attended the bullfights in Ecuador and on the last day I asked the man who was our former veterinarian if I could join him in the callejon (the inner ring, where the bullfighters and their assistants hang out in a bull ring). His reply was to tell me that I could because that the ban on women being there had been lifted a few years ago… which makes the ban on women in the inner circle to have been lifted around 1997!!!
So, here I was in a room with a woman bullfighter by the name of Raquel Martinez. A petite and beautiful blond woman. I felt like her opposite in everything, I was tall to her short, brunette to her blond, squishy to her toned, make up less to her flawless make-up. I was in awe. Never in my growing up as my father’s daughter had I ever considered this, and now in the presence of a woman bullfighter I was in awe. She was kind, gracious, gentle… had a great sense of humor, she was both strong and vulnerable. It was an amazing time. She was the first woman I ever asked for make-up advice. We talked about the men we had loved, and how crazy it was to try to be a woman bullfighter. I have not seen her since that time, but she has remained on of my treasured experiences. She was part of a group of women who were tearing down walls, and she was amazing.
For the record, I do not want to be a bullfighter… I would much rather dance the flamenco.

a moment, but not the dream… a reflection of a gentle experience

“some moments are nice, some are nicer, some are even worth writing about.”
~ Charles Bukowski

I am reflecting on the gentlenesses that life has a tendency to bring.  Those moments that are often soft, quiet… almost imperceptible.  Moments, though, that are imbued with something that makes them stand out from other moments… not because they are nice, nor because they are even nicer, but because they somehow separate themselves from the other memories and cast a soft glow where they stand.  They don’t have to be personally significant, often one is a mere observer or pulled in by the experience.

I love those moments. I should write about them more.

This past March, sufficiently recovered (physically) to travel, my son (Squink) and I set off to Mexico to meet his student exchange family. A formal program through my son’s school that introduced kids to foreign travel and boosted their language skills. It was a delight. I got to know some parents much better and was reminded why there are parents that I would do best to avoid!

So, Squink and I hopped on a luxury bus with a ton of other parents and their children and made our way south to Old Mexico!

I had a glorious time, met some wonderful parents. Our Mexican counterpart (the parents) hosted us at a wonderful beach party. There was loads of laughter and fun. There was a lot of food, and chasing, and merriment.

A mother, one that had been Squinks soccer coach in first grade,  on the trip with us revealed that this was her first beach experience. She had never seen one before and how delighted she was to have the experience. She was a little timid about getting in the water though. She and another mom and I had all laid our towels on the sand together (me for protection from a mother in our group that I find to be insanely manipulative) . We shared our snacks and laughed… this was in and of itself, a great moment… but it was destined to be greater. We walked along the water line with the mother and managed to get her to put her feet in the water and seemed happy to stay there… but the other mother and I insisted it was not the full experience.  She was nervous, did not want to do it alone.. so the other mother and I looked at each other and declared that we would go in with her… and nervous exchange and we were tossing off our t-shirts and getting down to our suits, and we all ran towards the water and jumped in, all the way in.

We all raised our head from the water at about the same time, laughing and smiling. checking into how the others felt. Our kids had seen our mad dash into the water and we had them swimming around us.  In terms of being a mom, it was a rare experience, especially with  women who are not close confidantes. There was a purity in that moment that made that simple act of jumping in the water together something magnificent, something to be treasured. I equate that experience for the mom who had just had her first ocean experience with the first time I saw snow.  It had a magical mystery to it, and that first time I saw snow was magical.

While there are many wonderful memories from that trip, the one I describe here was magic.  On the long bus ride back home, I told the mother (with previous ocean experience) that was with us when we jumped in the water that it was my favorite part of the trip, she looked at me across the aisle and said to me “mine too”.

I know not to question it too much, to just accept that it happened and treasure it like I do.

This is of Squink and me just after the event, in Mexico
This is of Squink and me just after the event, in Mexico

“I like the posture, but not the yoga. I like the inebriated morning, but not the opium. I like the flower but not the garden, the moment but not the dream. Quiet, my love. Be still. I am sleeping.”
~ Roman Payne

Ten things that make me happy… tempered with a healthy dose of bitter

Sometimes it helps to list shiny, happy things out especially when I am feeling dark and curmudgeonly…. as a clue as to how dark and curmudgeonly I am feeling I am fighting the instinct to start out this paragraph with “Some people have told me that this is a stupid thing to do but sometimes it helps…”

It seems like I am one angry mother fucker as of late. Just ask my mother, she would agree.

1.  My son, when I feel all dark and evil inside, I look at my son in the eyes and there is so much goodness in there that he saves me from myself (at least in terms of letting the dark win), I also feel really guilty that I do this, seems like a lot of pressure to put on him though he has no idea what goes on inside my head, So, my son, he makes me happy.

2. Giving – giving of my time mostly, since I don’t have a lot of money. My husband hates this part of me, told me the other night “I wish I were a charity so you would be with me”

OMG – I am two in and already they are deeply tempered with crotchety…. how do I fix this?

3.  The color orange. It makes me happy. This is in spite of the fact that I was told by an “wu-wu” artist that orange is the low color on the totem pole and that only real cool people love purple – what a douche!  I still love the color orange, purple reminds me of mean old ladies that hit you with their umbrellas.

4. Stupid games on my phone; Yahtzee anyone? How about Draw Free (I play this with my son, which is actually awesome), Cascade, Smurfs 2, Criminal Case, Words Streak, Words with Friends, or Trivia Crack.  It is treasured mindlessness.

5. My Fitbit – love it for its reminders of how crappy I sleep when I am in a uptown funk!

6. Meat. I love meat. It is something dead.

7. Boots, I love boots. It is cold out now, they help keep my feet warm.

8. Friends, they always manage to come out when I need them most. I can’t imagine that I am an easy friend to have.

9.  Coffee. I have brought myself to the point where I only take one cup a day, and I take it with cream only. But it is a glorious 12 minutes of so of my every morning!

10. My husband. Paragon of patience with me.  He reminds me to be happy, even when he is his grumpiest self!

 

volunteering yet again… (day 8)

This day I brought in my fellow members of the Junior League of Phoenix to come help! They saved me, most of the other volunteers did not show up!  I did, however, bring my son. He was actually a good volunteer! 

My co-chair showed up in the afternoon and I told her to go watch traffic, she only had to do it for a couple of  hours – but  still.  I am so relieved the experience is over, but I am still so proud of the event!

volunteering day 2 … (day 7)

The next day was open tot he public, and again traffic needed to be managed. MY co-chair had left me in the dust and canceled her shift to help out for the day. One other volunteer helped with traffic, yay for awesome volunteers who will do even most unpleasant work!

This is my friend, she was adopted into the logistics team and was super valuable! 

This woman is a heritage and preservation (and arts) human of awesomeness! 

This is a picture of what we called our “chair” when we volunteered to manage traffic! Not pleasant to sit on!

I talked my husband and son to join me at the end of my shift!

and we got one of those fun picture things taken too!

Volunteering at the gala… (day 6)

I have been serving as logistics co-chair for the grand unveiling of a historic home in Tempe, AZ.  Doing so has been a labor of love for me for several different reasons. It was a historic home, and since my family has ties to Arizona back into its territorial days, keep that alive is important to me. The other facet is that it is a water conservation project as well. With my maternal grandfather building and working on many of the dams (in his era) and helping to make sure that Arizona got its fair share by giving testimony to the American Congress as it tried to deal with water rights for the Colorado River, this project seemed like a perfect storm for me.

The day of that gala came, a wonderful party that showcased how beautiful the house was to those who attended. The idea being that it will be rented out to the community for events. The home is an adobe house built in the 30’s, and it looked stunning on a hilltop with lights.

One of our needs for the event was traffic management. Since I believe that one cannot take on a job without being willing to do it, and no one wanted to volunteer for it, I went down and was traffic controller. It was a quiet time, but I had fun!  I was able to get a glass of wine to keep me warm and took a lot of selfies. I tried to photograph the house, but the phone did not really capture how beautiful it looked! 

There were fun shadows and I played with those instead:

I went back tot eh party only to be told that all the water conservation toilets were stopped up. Actually what it was is that the buttons for the flow were stuck and thus no one was able to flush – still, it was gross. Of course, it took 4 people to fix this issue, me to clean it, two men to look like dorks and watch, and my co-chair Debby to photograph it!

 

In the period where I had to live the life of a citizen – a life where, like everybody else, I did tons of laundry and cleaned toilet bowls, changed hundreds of diapers and nursed children – I learned a lot.~ Patti Smith

I did have a wonderful time, the grand majority of the volunteers were awesome and I  am proud of the event and my role in it!

 

the sleepers in that quiet earth… (day 4)

I woke up this morning in a jolly mood, probably because I was able to get relatively uninterrupted sleep for over 7 hours… considering I was averaging 4 – 5 hours, it was a vast improvement.

I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.
~Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights

When I woke up, I listened to the silence in the still dark house, then took inventory of my body… which is a silly way of saying I paid attention to all my parts to take a chance to notice anything… usually it is the things like “headache”, “sore feet”, “happy heart”… Today it was just jolly, not from or at a certain spot, but just jolly.

I love silence, I love it very much. When I can be in silence with people is when I know we are good friends. Now, it isn’t that I demand we not speak, but when those moments that are silent, which can be as awkward as they can be beautiful… those moments are like a big reveal.

I love having a house full of people and waking up that next morning and taking my moment of silence, and being able to hear the love from the previous day still resonating off my walls.  I love those moments.

As I sit here writing about it, I realize that somehow I have forgotten this habit of mine this past year. How wonderful that it has returned.

A quiet moment
Let’s all sit, silently, and feel the magic in the room, the possibility of connection and the optimism we gain when we know we are in it together.
~ unknown

 

Another day without the dark tinge… sometimes, I imagine that the tinge looks like the gravelings in Dead like Me.

gravelings – creepy little shits