I want to take this time to express my appreciation for all of you whom I have come in contact with this year. You each bring beautiful gifts of your writing with poetry, stories of your inspirational lives as well as stories of the lives of others, and fantastic fiction and nonfiction books. And there are those of you who teach us and who share your travels with us and those of you who provide services for us without which none of this would be possible. I am sure there are other things I am forgetting to mention, but know that all of you have contributed so much to the lives of all of us in many ways. I think that you each bring a microcosmic world to us, something that we would not be able to have with the world spinning so fast and the days zipping by.
I am sure as each of us understands, we are in for some major worldwide changes in the coming year, and perhaps a lot of it will seem negative. Certainly the political arenas of the world are poised to make huge changes that may or may not benefit us and this is happening throughout the world. We can choose to be fearful of another potential war, or we can see the political upheavals as essential for people to awaken to the fact that we cannot just watch our cell phones and see only the things that please us.
Regardless of what may come in the future, live life fully and see what you can do to create positive change for all of us. One tiny candle in the dark can provide enough light for many. While it will be easy to focus on the negative, remember to understand that it is essential for all of us to wake up and not take our world for granted. No matter what holidays you celebrate or if you do not celebrate, I wish the very best for each and every one of you.
Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico and Central America any time from October 31 thru November 2, and has been throughout Mexico and Central America before . It seems to be celebrated in other parts of the world too, though in different ways, and I am not certain of the timing. In some cases, the skeletons of ancestors are taken out of their resting places, wiped clean and prayed over, sung to and libations and food are consumed in the name of the beloved ones long since gone. In Mexico, the people themselves often put on the masks of the dead, sugar skulls are made and consumed, and it is a time of praying, dancing, singing, eating and generally remembering the dead with elaborate shrines set up for the occasion and filled with all kinds of offerings.
It was originally celebrated in the 9th month of the Aztec calendar (early in August) and lasted the entire month approximately 5,000 years ago, some time before the Spaniards showed up. In the Aztec belief system, there were several planes of existence which were separate but interrelated to the one on which they dwelled. They envisioned a world consisting of 13 overworlds or layers of heavens above the earthly terrain and nine underworlds. Each of these levels had its own characteristics and particular gods who ruled it. When someone died, they believed that the place their soul would go to was determined by the manner in which they died. Warriors who died in battle, women who died during childbirth, and victims of sacrifice were considered to be the most fortunate, as they would be rewarded by achieving the highest plane in the afterlife. Archaeologists have found evidence of elaborate burials beneath homes, suggesting that the Aztecs wanted their deceased ones to be close to them.
Later the festivities were dedicated to the goddess known as the “Lady of the Dead”, corresponding to the modern La Calavera Catrina. The Day of the Dead has evolved over the centuries and continues to evolve from year to year, with the Catholic Church now behind most of the celebrations.
November 1 is El Dia de las Angelitas Pequeñas (the Day of Little Angels) and November 2 is El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and corresponds with All Saints Day or El Dia de Los Fieles Difuntos (All Souls Day). The holiday actually begins on October 31, and ends November 2.
Probably the most important part of the celebration is to set up the often elaborate altars with offerings representing Nature (earth), Water, Wind, Fire (the Candles), and Flowers (generally orange to represent the sun). Fruits or other treats and memorable offerings are also placed on the altar for the dead. In some cities, children go from home to home in costumes asking for treats for the dead, and the people give them things from their altars.
Whatever the reason you celebrate the Day of the Dead, I hope you will enjoy the days of what we refer to as Halloween or Samhain. Blessings be upon you as the nights grow cold and long.
It is easy to fill our lives with our “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s. I suspect that most of us do this at some time or other in our lifetimes.
I was born in an era when women were still struggling to be women who had a lot of choices in life. When I was starting high school, my mother took me to register for my classes. There was a choice to choose a college route or the regular route. I wanted to go to college and become a nurse, likely a military nurse since I had grown up in a military family that went way back. My mother said no. She said I needed to become a secretary and find a man and get married. Really! It is hard to imagine, but that is what she believed. She had gotten married and I don’t think my mother or father finished high school. She had some problem with her mastoids when she was about my age, and in those days, was in the hospital for awhile and had surgery for it. So she and my father got married when she got well.
My father had come home from school one day when he was I think 16 or 17, and his family had moved away and abandoned him. He had other brothers and a sister who had killed herself. I really don’t know the whole story, but he lied about his age, because it was during the Great Depression, and he joined the military. He got his room and board, but in order to be able to join, he had to give all his money to a poor family who never ever thanked him.
That is most of what I know about my mother and father. So I did all the things I was supposed to and hated every minute of it. Secretaries in those days took shorthand, typed letters and used carbon to make copies and a machine I can’t remember the name of to make copies. They fetched coffee for their bosses every day and for meetings they fetched it for all the men at the meetings. And once in awhile, men treated women disrespectfully, touching them in ways that were inappropriate, and getting away with it because it was the times.
Then suddenly women’s lib came along, and so did wearing pant suits, and women were threatened with being fired if they wore those in the office. Gee, no more legs to look at or exposed body parts to be touched. But women persevered. I divorced an abusive husband, but I suppose in reality he was no more abusive than most men who believed their women should stay at home and have dinner ready for them when they walked in the door, raise their children and do their washing and ironing, and stay in the home except to take the children to the playground. Money was given to the wife to get the groceries, and sometimes the woman might get money to buy a donut or small toy for the children but there was no money for anything that might have taken care of things she might like to have.
I DID get to go to a University finally. And I DID get a degree in Archaeology. And I did work at interesting related work in Mexico and Arizona until I became ill with Valley Fever and Paratyphoid, and then I decided to do other less physically dangerous work. But I had a lot of fun along the way. One day somewhere along the way I grew up and became a bonafide human being who could buy things for herself, and who could dream of things she wanted to do and to become, and she could actually do them. She could say no to men who did anything inappropriate, and she could be her own person in general. I got married again a couple of times over the years and had some really interesting and accomplished men – an archaeologist and an anthropologist. And I learned more of the world and who I was as a human being. No more Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda. I grew into a woman who had exciting careers and who had her own businesses. And step by step, little by little, I became a fully evolved human being.
It has not been easy along the way, but that is what gives us strength in the end result. I am now 77, and I have a man in my life – my significant other, Richard – and he is none of those men I married before. He is a human being – a simple man with simple tastes and a really big heart. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, what he says is real. And he has shown his goodness in so many ways without even saying anything about it. He is not a Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda man. He lives from day to day, happy with the simplest of things. I am free to be who I am and he is free to be who he is. Sometimes the simplest things are the best things in this lifetime.
I will never live in the Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda world again. I decided to get another degree at 74 and graduated in 2016, the same year I had breast cancer. It was Criminal Justice. I was going to be a mentor/advocate for juvenile delinquents (and I have worked with them before in other ways) but other things changed all that, so instead I am a CASA court-appointed volunteer mentor/advocate for foster children. I don’t have an assignment currently, but when I am not a caregiver for my Richard, I can do that if I choose. I am who I am and I am happy with that now. I don’t need to blame anyone else now for what I did not become. Perhaps that was never meant to be. Perhaps, just perhaps I was meant to be on the course of life I am now. It is all good, even on its worst days. I will look back on them tomorrow and be glad that I have seen many sides of life. I will be glad for the little things – a beautiful sky, a gentle breeze, a hand that reaches out and holds mine . . .
In this world, we tend to see things according to what we are taught, or by things we think we know because we have seen them with our eyes. But our senses are not always giving us the whole picture, or the correct picture. A lot of times we are afraid as adults of many things that don’t make any sense at all. We are afraid of others we do not know, especially if they are not the same color as we are, or they don’t speak the same language. We fail to see that they are human beings just as we are, and with the same fears and dreams and hopes, the basically same ways of relating to the earth that we do, or perhaps different, but they are still human beings as we are.
We all arrived on this earth by some factor beyond any of us. Whether it was God or Gods or some ancient power we may not understand in this lifetime, we all arrived here. That means that we are all meant to be here, and each of the cultures has its own area where it has chosen to live. We fight over property perhaps because it is rich in resources that we think we need. We don’t try to invent new technologies or new products that don’t require those resources. Instead, different cultures in the world attempt to show how powerful they are and how they can destroy any other cultures in the world. But is it altogether possible that without these other cultures, the aggressor culture will not survive for long? Is it possible that each culture helps to create a balance in nature by caring for a different part of the earth? Is it possible that even the very air we breathe is affected by the different cultures and helps to create another balance that is critical to all those who live on this earth?
We fight over the earth’s properties and resources instead of working together to get to other planets to discover what resources might be available there. Are we even intended to go to other planets, or is it our responsibility to learn how to live together on this one first? Is it possible that there are cultures living on the others also trying to learn how to live together? It is so strange because there is so much uninhabited land here on earth that could well be considered and perhaps utilized for living. And there are ample resources available to feed all the people on this plane if we all worked together.
Perhaps indeed, we are not so afraid of the darkness as we are of the light.
As most of us prepare for the Fourth of July, with its fireworks, barbecues and picnics, vacations, and joyful gatherings with friends and loved ones, perhaps we should take a few moments to set forth some prayers for those who have not yet fully gained or even partially gained their freedom throughout the world.
Frederick Douglass had it right when he delivered a famous speech on July 5, 1852, in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York, addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. The speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” In the speech, he brought out the contradictions to a celebration of liberty, citizenship, and freedom as an offense to the black slaves, who had none of those things. The Fourth of July was supposed to be directed to ALL citizens of the United States.
The times have changed, but the inequality has grown out of proportion. Today, as we prepare for the Fourth of July, let us offer a prayer for those living under modern slavery, which encompasses more than some nearly 30,000,000,000 enslaved people (as of 2013) – adults, children and babies alike – no longer black slaves alone, but all colors, races, political, religious or spiritual or other beliefs – in every manner of slavery imaginable. The highest number of enslaved people is in Asia, but the United States has a huge number as well. No matter where these human beings are located or how many of them there are, we cannot blindly celebrate without remembering those who are not as fortunate as we are.
“Oh Lord, thank you for this freedom that you have bestowed upon me and those I love. I know how precious it is when I see how many people in this world are suffering every day because they have no hope. I have difficulty understanding this inequality, and I honestly don’t know what I can do to help except to offer this small and perhaps inadequate prayer. But what my soul cries out is WHY? Why must innocent people suffer in this manner when you have provided enough for all of us? I have no answers, Lord. I want to believe that there is some power in this world that is good and that can nourish and care for people who have done nothing to deserve what they are suffering. Thank you.”
Ah, that first bloom of love, when everyone is on their best and each of us seems like the perfect person that we have been looking for. They are, at this point in fact, exactly how we have imagined a lover.
That bloom can last a day, a week, a month, and sometimes even a year or so. But it seems that all of a sudden we are looking at them with different ways. We could not have seen that the male perhaps needed a mother and caregiver more than he needed a girlfriend, or that the female was such a horrible person to deal with – never giving a fellow a break, and expecting too much of him related to sharing responsibilities around the house, and in bringing in money to help with shared expenses.
Relationships are seldom equal on both sides 100% of the time. The scales are often unbalanced for one side or the other part of the time, but it works out fine if the unbalance seems to equal out.
And sometimes unforeseen things happen to all of us – an illness, a heart attack, an accident or some sort of disaster. It can happen to both people at the same time, or one can suddenly have the issue, and the other one has to make a choice to become a caregiver or be in charge of one.
There are people who give the rest of their lives gladly to their mate, taking are of them and helping to advocate for and to protect them from others who might take advantage of them during that time.
Others, the minute the mate becomes ill or has some sort of catastrophic event that is going to require being a caregiver, find it necessary to withdraw their support for whatever reason. Many women who have been dealt the cancer card encounter this situation, but I am sure as many men also have similar experiences with other physical or mental issues.
Those of us who try to follow through and take care of our significant others often run into problems. Sometimes the other person doesn’t really want to get better. For whatever reasons, that person may keep trying to remain an invalid even when in reality he or she could get better with a little effort. Perhaps that person had to take responsibility for others most of his or her life; or perhaps the person just wants to have a form of control over his or her mate. At any rate, this is when one of the other person has to make a decision whether to stay or to walk away. It is never en easy decision in either event; the longer the two have been together the more difficult it can become.
How long should a person stay and try to work things out before walking away? At some point in our lives, many of us will encounter a similar situation. There is no easy answer. But we have to respect and honor our own selves first and foremost. If we allow ourselves to keep doing something that provides no nourishment of any kind for our souls, pretty soon we will not have any soul nor any energy left to support our own selves. And the other person will not be benefiting from this either. Something’s gotta give . . .
In the early 70’s, my brother returned from Vietnam. He is five years younger than me, and he was a young kid when he left to be in the Air Force as a Demolition Expert. He spent most of his service time out near the end of the runways, where the planes would come in, sometimes with bombs they did not drop, and one of his jobs was to neutralize and unload them until they were needed again.
When we had the first family reunion after he returned, I could hardly recognize him. He is now considered 100% disabled, though when he returned he was considered 40%. He had a TBI and had multiple surgeries to try to put in a plate, but none of them worked and they made him pass out repeatedly. He also had a spinal surgery that was blotched and so he could not walk well at all, and spent a lot of time sleeping because of pain. And then he had PTSD like so many others, his from having to shoot tiny children who came onto the runway, wired with bombs. It is difficult to imagine how people become so brainwashed or terrorized that they could ever harm their own children and babies.
Seeing him again like that when he had still been a big kid in his mind and spirit when he left, full of mischief and the joy of being young was almost too much. It gave me a heart to work with physically, developmentally and emotionally challenged children and adults, something I have done for the rest of my life.
I first began to work with special needs children in the Torrance and Redondo Beach school districts in California as a substitute, and I worked every single day and absolutely loved it. Many if not most of my children were preschoolers, kinders and middle school aged then, and had multiple challenges. I did this work throughout Southern California for more than 15 years, always as a substitute Paraeducator, Aide, or Teacher (uncertified). I think over the many years, I learned more from my children than they did from me, though I was always an innovator with the ways I did things.
I do not believe that special needs children who are likely to end up living at home or in a group home or other special facility need to be tormented by having them do repetitive work unless they really show an inclination to like that, and yes, some of them are very good and very happy and excellent workers doing repetitive work. My belief is that every child should be given an opportunity to do something that makes them happy, even if it is making beaded necklaces or weaving or whatever else they enjoy.
The book above is the cover of a book by Barbara Williamson and me. Her name, though not on the front of the book, is on the back with the other authors. Besides telling her own story, she made major contributions in the way of decision making and adding creative input through the journey of the creation of the book. Just ahead of the time I was working as a substitute, I decided to start a nonprofit to assist physically challenged fiber artists (art quilters, though many of them work in many mediums besides quilts). Because I too was involved with art quilting, I realized how difficult and expensive it was for them to enter juried shows, often to not get accepted after paying an entry fee that most could little afford. So I wanted to find venues that gave them a lot of excellent exposure and at the same time wanted to teach them professional development. Barbara Williamson and I became excellent friends and she became the Secretary of the nonprofit. We ran it successfully with just her caregiver, Rob as our treasurer, and no money in the kitty, which made running the nonprofit very simple.
The first exhibit we ran was called My World in Black and White, and we had s121 participants from various countries and the United States. The exhibit had some 10 live venues in one year (what we call traveling venues) and the exhibit museums, galleries and quilt shows were only too glad to help us send all the quilts as a group show for free. I only had to get the quilts to the first venue, and from then on, everything went from one venue to the next seamlessly. At the end of the last venue, the quilts were returned to me and I was able to ship them all back home to the ladies. If the venue was local, I was there to help hang the quilts and take care of other chores and greet the visitors as needed.
We ran the nonprofit for some ten more years, with back to back exhibits the entire time, and we did a lot of things besides that, helping after provide school projects and materials for the children of migrant workers, providing donated used sewing machines for other ladies who could not afford to get one on their own, donating quilting materials to the American Indian ladies on Pine Ridge and other things. During this time, Barbara grew her own art and developed her fiber arts as a profession. She is successful in everything she does now even though she is confined to a wheelchair.
We have changed our focus now as we are both older. Barbara lived in Paradise, CA, where the entire town burned down November 2018, causing her to lose basically everything. She has started life all over again and is busy settling into another home in a different city and working on her continuing career. As for me, I am studying a fantastic correspondence and event class called The Silent Eye Mystery School led by Steve Tanham, Sue Vincent and Stuart France. I still tutor special needs children and adults as well as ESL adults, and I will likely be a volunteer in some capacity the remainder of my life. I am currently a volunteer court-appointed volunteer advocate for CASA (a nonprofit located through the U.S.) for foster children. So life is never dull and when not doing these things I am working on more books and caregiving for my significant other, Richard, taking care of my garden and our six chihuahuas, a cat, two huge goldfish and two alien catfish. I am 77 now and intend to stay busy for whatever time is left. Although I have very little in the way of material goods, I have been immensely rich in life experiences and lifelong friends, and for that I am eternally grateful.
This is who I am. I love to recycle things that have meant something to me. I found these shoes in a thrift store years ago. I fell in love with them because the shoe brand was something like Sam and Jane and they were about the most comfortable shoes I ever had with a soft sole and leather that seemed to breathe. The original shoes were brown, not gold. But one day as I went to get my shoes to go someplace, the sole of one was literally falling off of it. Of course I was heartbroken, but then I had this idea to make a play on words and to give one of the shoes a whole new life, so I came up with this idea.
The “wings” are on a base which is made from the sole of one shoe, and I found the most wonderful colored organiza with a nice stiffness to it that allowed me to cut out the little leaves. The leaves seemed appropriate to me because shoes wouldn’t tend to go up in the air (except for the kids who throw them over the telephone lines). And I remembered in the compass of my soul how much fun it was as a kid (and ok, I confess, as a grownup too) to jump in a pile of leaves). And I had to make her a happy and bright color full of life, for that is how I remembered those old comfy shoes.
It’s so many years later since I made her, “My Shoe’s Got Soul.” She’s still with me, and I imagine that she will still be when I take my last jump into those leaves. And it’s funny because she led me to write a story called “Tenshoes and the Skittyfoot” about ten orphan shoes who live in a trash dump, and every Saturday, the animals up in the meadow above hear “sootspeak” because the dump is putting out ugly smoke and it is mixed with the angry and sad words from the ten orphans arguing because they were just thrown away like they never mattered after living lives with adventure. They were never appreciated for who and what they were, and the dump is a horrible place to live.
The Skittyfoot is a little boy with red (really red) hair who comes to visit the creatures in the meadow every day, and the little boy can talk to them and they to him. They tell him about the Tenshoes, and that they want him to go and rescue the Tenshoes from the ugly dump and bring them up to the meadow where they can live safely. But before they can come up to the meadow, they have to find things and fix themselves up as best as they can. Just because they are orphans doesn’t mean they cannot have pride in themselves.
So the Skittyfoot goes down to the dump, and ultimately gets the tenshoes to clean and fix themselves up, and help each other, which they do. Ultimately they go to the meadow with the Skittyfoot, and the little creatures in the meadow all make them welcome and they will have a forever home where they are loved and treasured.
No, I never published Tenshoes and the Skittyfoot though I guess I could have. Some things just live on in our hearts and in the compass of our souls. I’ve been a sort of orphan too, and it took me awhile, for I didn’t have a Skittyfoot or other orphans like me to help, but I fixed myself up nice and clean (there is not and never has been anything related to drugs or other similar things but a transformation from being a childhood orphan), and now I can make things like “My Shoe’s Got Soul” to help others to feel good about themselves too.
Isn’t it strange how life brings little things into our consciousness to help us learn to grow and to care for ourselves, even if we were a kind of orphan in our younger lives? And using art to fix up an old shoe that brought happiness to a life can be a symbol of that. We don’t have to find fancy things or to do anything special to make it up to the meadow from the dump. The recognition of value in little things is what brings a true transformation to us in our lives. Your life, no matter how small you may think it is, is a miracle. Live it like the true gift it is.
Today after a doctor’s visit, I was sitting out on a little circular border surrounding a large tree. It was just about the right height for a bench so I sat on the concrete flat area that seemed made to sit on. Inside that was a ring of rocks. To look at them at first, they were all about the same size and most were round and there was a bit of change in color. I picked up one and began to study it carefully. This one seemed to have one end cut or broken off, and it revealed a much darker and varied , somewhat smooth surface, as if I were looking into it. Down one side of that top area, extended a crack that seemed as if another part of it might split off. And crossing that seemed to be attempts to cut it with a sharp object diagonally.
Something drew me to pick up other rocks in that circle and to look at them. I guess sometimes it seems that, for example, perhaps all grains or sand, or in this case, all rocks in a group are similar in size, shape, color and texture. But in this case, the more I examined the rocks, I saw how distinctly different each one was. And I began to think about how each rock might have formed and what must have transpired to make it so different from all the rest. In my mind were so many questions coming forth, seemingly spilling out like a dam that was overflowing. How could it be that stones that likely all came from the same source/location could all be so different in texture, colors, shapes and sizes. Where was this magical place and what other surprises did it hold?
As I was pondering all these wonderful mysteries, my Lyft showed up and honked for me. I grabbed the one rock with the top seemingly cut from it and put it carefully into my pocket. I wanted to look at it once again at home and I wanted to ask it questions. One thing I learned today was that we should never even take a tiny grain of sand for granted. There is mystery and magic everywhere in this world.
Oh God, today I looked out into the hail and the sleet and the thunder, And I felt safe and warm inside with my animals. But then I thought about all those who are without homes or shelters. I thought of all the people in this world who go to bed hungry and cold, Or without something to help their thirst. I thought of the little children, who live in rags, dirty, and perhaps without shoes. And I felt ashamed, God. You created this world full of people of every color and culture, every language, every political and spiritual or religious belief system. You created all the creatures on this earth, and all the plants, and everything including the tiniest grains of sand. And it was good. We were all meant to be on this earth and to help it survive, or we would not be here. But instead, we hate those whose languages we cannot speak, whose cultures and spiritual or religious beliefs are not ours, and we seek ways to overcome every enemy, when in fact, our worst enemies are those in the compass of our hearts and our minds. We want to destroy those whom we believe are against us, and worst still, we create people who are invisible to us. They cry out in the streets, and in the bare spots along the train tracks. They look up with hope, but instead find empty stares, or people who don't even look at them. God, we have done shameful things to our fellow human beings, and to the creatures and the plants, and perhaps even the tiniest grains of sand. As we looked past the invisible ones, God, we looked past you. We go to churches and cathedrals and to our places of worship, and we proclaim loudly that we love you and we praise you, but we look right past you as you sit in the street with an empty cup, or we turn away in disgust at a mother with nothing to feed her child. We perhaps throw a rock at a stray animal, and God, you are in all of us, so we cannot say we love you when we have made you invisible. You created us ALL in your image, and so God, you are all the people who live on this wonderful earth, and you never told us that you loved everyone but the invisible people. Help us to truly open our eyes, God, and to open our hearts and our minds. Help us to see that every human being, every creature, every plant, and even the tiniest grains of sand are you, God.