My Love Affair With Chandeliers

It was just curiosity at first, a glimpse in my peripheral vision. I could easily have turned away, resisted. But I allowed myself a full view of what had caught my eye. There was no going back, I was hooked.

Have you ever felt like that?

That's how my love affair with chandeliers began. Now I look for them, as I do mandalas, wherever I go. And my all time favorite, most beautiful, most meaningful, chandelier has a history that unknowingly wove itself into my life decades ago.

What? When? Why? How?

My entire first chandelier collection, which you can see here, is especially meaningful for me, as I have wanted to travel to Russia since I was a teenager. Getting there was the very first item on my life wish list. Forty years ago to be exact, I read the non-fiction book, "Nicholas and Alexandra" - which I am now reading again - and through it I learned about the Tsar Nicholas II, his wife the Empress Alexandra (and their family), what they were like as people and as rulers.

Even knowing the outcome, learning about these real people of history fascinated me from page one. The Romanov Dynasty and Imperial Russia would come to an end during World War I, replaced by communism.

Sadly, in 1918, the royal family and a few members of their household were brutally murdered, their bodies dismembered, burned and buried deep in a mine shaft with acid thrown on top. That was the end of the story as far as I knew.

Years passed and I was thrilled when Perestroika ("restructuring") and Glasnost ("openness") resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Some day I would go to Russia!

My life dream came true in September 2015, when I spent two weeks in this huge and mysterious country. In only a sliver of travel, I encountered restored palaces, cathedrals, country churches and I savored past and present culture through connections with locals.

And I took LOTS of photos of chandeliers, the first collection of which you can find  here as a limited edition of special metal prints. You will fall in love with them, alone or as a selection.

My most memorable chandelier experience took place at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Simply stepping onto the cobblestone and seeing the cathedral with its 404 foot tall spire literally took my breath away. (I can count on one hand the times that's happened to me.)

pp fortress Cobblestone.png

Within the Cathedral, above ground tombs of the Romanov Tsars filled the side spaces. I stood among Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, most recently Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III, etc. Hard to grasp, I just soaked it up.

But it was when I looked forward and above that I was truly inspired and filled with awe. For here was and is my favorite chandelier of all time, partly because of what came next.

The most powerful moments of my time in the Cathedral were spent in front of the Catherine the Great Chapel. It was here that I learned that the remains of Nicholas and Alexandra, with their children and household staff, were discovered in 1998 and following DNA testing, had been interred in the chapel. Nicholas, Alexandra, Maria, Tatiana, Olga Anastasia, Alexis. All there.

I'd had no idea their remains had been located and treated with the dignity and honor they deserved. I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. Crying quietly with grief and relief, with the comforting awareness that somehow, this complex and loving family had found their way home.

The depth of this experience remains with me today.


I reflect now how reading can open the world for anyone.  I reflect too on the blessing of being able to travel to places of such rich history, to walk the path of the past, and somehow feel connected to those who came before.I Invite YOU to travel vicariously through my Russian Chandelier Collection. To transport yourself back in time, click the image below. 

Is there somewhere calling you? I also offer chandelier collections from Europe, The Castle (USA) and Chicago, with New York and Kansas City on the way.

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Bonus Blogpost: My New (Ad)Venture is Live!

Hello all,

Well, my brain and my body are so much in the habit of writing a blogpost, that here I am again!

There's been a rumor going around that I've been gestating.

Yes, it's true.

I've been growing something for a couple of months now, and I'm proud to announce it's a brand new...  website!

And notice my favorite little swirl on the left of the new logo? A nice bit of golden continuity with its blue cousin from my Abundance Art Logo.

Back to ShopAbstractPhotography, here's what's great about the first photographic collection featured on the new website. three of which are shown here to further entice you.

  • I know you'll love these twelve gorgeous chandeliers I captured on my dream trip to Russia as much as I do.
  • The images go through a special printing process involving aluminium - that's aluminum to you Americans, the only ones in the world who pronounce it that way.. but I digress -  and polymers that bring out the absolute luster and splendor of each piece.
  • The collection is a limited edition, which means each individual piece (signed and numbered by yours truly) may very well increase in value over time. Get yours now!
  • These beauties are perfect for a variety of residential and commercial venues.
  • For your convenience, you can purchase them directly from my Abundance Art Facebook page.
  • All shipping, domestic and international is included in the price. Woo hoo! Come on world!

In case you're wondering, abundanceart.com is absolutely alive and well, and continues to grow, as Candy and I progress with co-authroing our trauma recovery book. The chandelier collection that was there will be replaced with different photos in the next few weeks, along with some other changes to make it easier to navigate the website.

Plus, I added a link at the bottom of the Abundance Art home page that takes you directly to  ShopAbstractPhotography.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

One more thing. I have created a YouTube channel called Abundance Art,  and am in the process of  loading videos old and new onto it, including some of my trek/travel adventures to Nepal, Trauma and Somatic Experiencing education, and business and marketing stuff. Also, I'm still figuring out some of the features, so bear with me. Do let me know if there's anything particular you're like me to post. I can do funny. I like funny.

Because of all that's going on, I'm asking for your help and support. The good news is that it takes very little effort. I would be SOOOOOO grateful in you would share this in your social media and email circles, to really help me get the word out. Plus, get your friends and family to sign up for my email list. I'll be giving away a painting for free to celebrate the beginning of 2017, and you have to be on my mailing list to win.

Mailing list + chance to win free cool art = no brainer. :) Pass it on

I think that's quite enough for one day, don't you? 

Enjoy your weekend!

Peace and love to all.

I'm falling asleep!

Namaste,

Annette

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Growing Up With My Dad… These Last Three Years

For those of you blessed with fathers, do you have memories of growing up?

Some great, some good… some not so good perhaps?

What kind of Father's Day cards appealed to you?

What was the best of times?


My best of times is now. My Dad is 90 years old. And we have just - in the last three years - really grown up together. I'm so thankful he has lived this long, and I treasure every moment we spend together as blessing.

Like today when he called, confused about one of his medications. Living just a few minutes away, I went over and helped him out.

It wasn’t always like that.

As I child, I knew he loved me, but I didn't actually feel love coming from him. He was often fun and playful. And strict. I was a bit afraid of him.

After my mom died in 1991, Dad and I grew closer. We grieved together and supported each other.

Then he remarried. And the short story here is that he made his new family the priority in his life.

I write this next bit with great compassionate love for myself and my Dad.

I felt abandoned. Cast aside. I WAS abandoned, cast aside, with the exception of a monthly breakfast and occasional family gatherings. It was a very difficult, awkward and prolonged time, and still I was determined to somehow find my way through it with love and respect.

The year 2010 would be one of great change for our family. Dad and his wife had to separate for health reasons, neither one being able to care for the other's needs. From being largely on the outside for the past eighteen years, my in-town siblings - Kathleen, Mark, Laura - and I were suddenly responsible for his care. How does one person single handedly care for an elderly loved one? We, working collaboratively, couldn't fathom. And the short story here is that we managed, including getting him comfortably settled in a senior independent living facility apartment.

Fast forward to 2013. I'm wrapping up my time in Doha, talking with Dad by phone and crying. Interestingly, he always really showed up for me when I lived abroad, connecting and caring. His support of me during my year in the Middle East helped me decide to return to KC rather than London.

A number of things have happened since my return from there over three years ago:

  • I resumed taking Dad to church every Sunday, after which we go out to eat.
  • I continued my trauma recovery therapy and healing, now processing decades-long suppressed anger and abandonment issues.
  • I continued to find and use my voice, my power.
  • I learned and began to practice healthy boundaries. Scary!
  • Dad had a series of surgeries: fractured left hip hardware, to total hip replacement, to revision total hip, each followed by hospital and weeks-long rehab facility recovery.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It sure took a village to "raise" my father through these recent years. Thank you thank you thank you to Kathleen, Mark and Laura for all your love and sharing of the responsibilities. I think we make a GREAT team.

They also say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I beg to differ.

I doggedly (pun definitely intended) spoke my truth, little by little, over time, to my father, standing up for myself when I felt hurt by his words. It was important for me to be authentic with him, not putting on the life-long happy face. Coming from a generation with a completely different experience, he at first didn't understand my attempts to explain trauma and recovery therapy and my anxiety and depression. Yet he would eventually respond to me in a way that told me he was listening. And processing what I was saying.

And guess what? As I changed, he changed. Our conversations changed. He stopped saying hurtful things to me. He said please and thank you and I love you. And come here, give me a hug.

And over time I began to feel loved. I always KNEW I was loved. But now the little girl that is me FELT and BELIEVED her daddy's love. How affirming!

Know what else changed? I started remembering happy times from childhood, and I lovingly saw how the years had reversed our roles.

  • He taught me how to tie my shoes.
  • I help him put his shoes on.
  • He taught me to ride my bike.
  • I help him with his walker and getting in/out of the car.
  • Sometimes he surprised us with donuts on Saturday morning.
  • Sometimes I surprise him with donuts on Saturday morning.
  • He took us to church on Sunday.
  • I take him to church on Sunday. And he tells me he loves to hear me sing. (!)
  • On the occasion when Dad would take our large young family out for breakfast, he would buy us each a mint patty when he paid the bill.
  • Weather permitting (yet another reason to love the cold), I keep a bag of York mint patties in my car, each of us enjoying one after our Sunday meal out.
  • Sometimes, when he traveled for work, he would bring home a tiny little something for us.
  • When I travel to different places, I bring home a magnet for his fridge.
  • He was cool enough to play our favorite rock station on the car radio for us.
  • I'm cool enough to play the baseball or football game station on my car radio for him.
  • When I had surgery in 1992 for recurrent herniated neck disc, I woke up in my hospital room to see Dad sitting next to me and holding my hand.
  • After his repeated surgeries, I sat next to him and held his hand… when he let me.

My father is a strong willed, determined, methodical, deeply faithful and loving man, with a passion for life. Through the time I spend with him, he is teaching me about growing old gracefully, not giving up. Savoring every bit life has to offer, looking at the bright side.

I am so my father's daughter. And so proud to be so.

Dad and his sibs.png

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Inspired, Wired and Tired

I'm getting really excited now. With Thanksgiving barely behind, it's time to embark on a whole new adventure. In my faith tradition (Roman Catholicism), today marks the start of the Advent season (advent… adventure… hmmm), where we are encouraged to slow down in our hearts, wait, reflect, anticipate, and prepare.

A challenge, considering this to be a season traditionally very busy with shopping, get-togethers, decorating, etc etc etc.

Are you slowing down and/or preparing for anything unique in your life? The birth of a new baby? Recovery from surgery? What are you reflecting on these days? Anything special you're anticipating in addition to the holiday season?

Can you carve some space into your busy schedule to just be?

Here's how life is falling into place for me right now.

Inspired:

I've been collaborating with a graphic designer on an additional website in which I am showcasing my photography. Specifically mandalas, and starting off, specifically the most exquisite mandala for me, the chandelier. I'm feeling especially inspired right now because these aren't your ordinary reproductions. We're using a technology that essentially infuses the image on a metal background, creating a stunning result that brings out the metallic colors, light and splendor of each chandelier. The metal image is then mounted on a sturdy wood frame, ready to hang. And the smaller size (12x12) is ideal for mixing and matching:

 

We're looking at launching the website in the near future and you'll be the first to know.

Wired:

In the meantime, I feel very honored to have been accepted to have my own little corner in an online store, which launches tomorrow, Cyber Monday. I'll post the URL once it's officially open.

I'm offering the same chandelier products in this store as on my new website. And here's the really cool bit. The metal print chandeliers are being sold across both sites as a special limited edition collection. I'm offering two sizes, 12x12 (a total of 200 prints) and 24x24 (a total of 125 prints). Each one numbered and signed by me. When they're all sold, that's it.

Of course, I'll be adding other special limited edition collections, so there's always something to purchase. Just not that glorious Bolshoi Theatre as a metal print. (You'll still be able to order it on Abundance Art as an enhanced matte giclee print.)

Tired:

When I'm so inspired, I get wired, and therefore so excited and focused that sometimes I forget to eat or exercise or go to sleep at a decent hour.  I confess that I don't always listen to my body's wisdom.

Now is a good time for me to heed my advent intention to slow down in my heart and take a bit of time to wait, reflect, anticipate.

And how about you? Can now be a good time to slow down and enjoy my chandelier collection with a cup of tea or glass of wine? And anticipate coming back in the next few days to purchase limited edition metal prints. I'll keep you posted!

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Namaste, Namaskar, Namaskaram

Do you have a favorite word?

I do. It's Namaste. You may or may not have heard of it. You may use it regularly.

Also, did you know that this traditional Hindu greeting actually is one of several forms of the same word, all rooted in Sanskrit? Now, I once heard or read that Sanskrit is a dead language, meaning not in use today. I promise you that is NOT the case.

Sanskrit is alive and well and filled with depth and beauty.

Let's start with Namaste: In Sanskrit the words namah + te = namaste which means “I bow to you - my greetings, salutations or prostration to you." It's a sign of respect practiced by Hindus and people of many other religions. In fact, its simple gesture is the same as what I was taught- to fold my hands together, palms facing each other at the level of the chest - in prayer as a child during my Catholic upbringing. I love how I use it now in my ecumenical and Catholic practices. And in my encounters with Hindus.

A true Namaste greeting also includes a slight bow of the head, to convey respect for the intention behind the word, and to the person being greeted… or being said good bye to. Because it's one of those hello and good-bye multi purpose words.

I first learned Namaste here in the Midwest USA. Awkward at first, the more I've learned about it, the more I've grown quite comfortable, offering it freely and with deep intention and love from my heart and soul.

As I understand, Namaste possesses several levels of meaning:

  • "I bow to you, I salute you." The literal translation above.

  • "May our minds meet." More like a prayer, the bowing down of the head at this level is a gracious form of extending friendship in love, respect, and humility.

  • "I honor the divine in you." This recognizes the belief that God is present in all forms of life, human and otherwise, and conveys the deepest spirituality.

So what about the other versions? Not having any scholastic knowledge behind me, I will simply share what I have learned from my friends and encounters with many others.

  • The further north in India you are (or the person with whom you are speaking is from), Namaste is the commonly used word. This is what we spoke in Delhi and further north in the Himalayan Hill Mountains. This also applied in Nepal. Oh, Nepal! The children! This is a MUST SEE video.

  • As you travel south in India, Namaskar becomes more common.

  • In southernmost India, Namaskaram is more common, and there are other versions. 

I'm not sure if the differences are because Hindi is more common in the north and Tamil in the south.

What do you think? What kind of experiences have you had with these greetings?

On a respectful side note, while living in the Middle East, I learned from an Indian Muslim gentleman that just because he was Indian did not mean that Namaste was an acceptable greeting for him. He went on to explain that because Islam's core belief is "There is one God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet" it would be inappropriate to acknowledge that God is in another person. He was quite passionate about this, and I found myself wondering how other Muslims feel.

At any rate, I began to recognize names as being either Muslim or Hindu, and adapted my greeting accordingly, offering As-salam alaykum, meaning "Peace be upon you" to Muslims, and the appropriate version of Namaste to Hindus.

Yesterday as I was paying for a soda in a convenience store, I could tell the cashier was from Nepal or India, so I asked him. Learning he was from southern India and not yet knowing his name, I took a chance and offered Namaskar! Oh, how his smile lit up his eyes, his whole face, as he brought his hands together and replied with a heartfelt Namaskar!

What a small world it is.

Wouldn't it be incredible if all people greeted and really treated each other with such words and intention of love and respect?

Namaste, Namaskar, Namaskaram.

A Bit of Heaven in 2011

With all the reminiscing about Costa Rica this week, it came to me that I want to share the year 2011 with you. A unique year, mostly a personal sabbatical to more fully immerse myself in my trauma recovery and explore my creative side. And travel. Oh boy, and travel. Other things happened in my life that year, such that each month developed its own character. Having begun the year painting, by year's end I had decided to paint a mandala filled with mandalas, one for each month.

It's helpful to know that, back in 2009, when my world was crashing around me, I came up with an acknowledgement and intention:

  • Not so fine in 2009.
  • Alive again in 2010.
  • A bit of heaven in 2011.

The years 2009 and 2010 are stories for another time... suffice to say there was a LOT of darkness, fear, and anxiety in my life, and by late summer of 2010 I realized I really needed to step away from work to dedicate time to healing. I was blessed to have enough savings to do so. And I had begun working weekly that year with a therapist who specialized in anxiety disorders, which, in my case, turned out to be the result of very early life and pervasive developmental trauma. Which was triggered by my return to the US in July 2009 after living and working in London for four years. Welcome home...not!

The hopeful bit here is that my therapist was certified in and practiced Somatic Experiencing methodology, which actually retrains the nervous system away from old patterns into new healthy patterns. With twenty years of experience behind her, she was exactly what I needed.

And so the year 2011 began:

January

January

January brought a silent retreat, my first experience with process painting (I'll write about this some day), a trip with friend Linda to visit friend Jeanette who lived north of Chicago, where I had my first walk ever across a frozen lake. We spent a day in Chicago, the city of my birth, having lunch with my aunt and uncle, popping over to Navy Pier and Millennium Park, with Lake Michigan ever in view. We also spent a bit of time on the Magnificent Mile, and took the El back to near my uncle's home, where our car was parked. My friends indulged me by stopping in at the corner tavern for a beer. This was the area of my roots, where my parents grew up, met, fell in love, married, started a family.

As always, I felt the energy of the city.

February

February

February was spent in Costa Rica, which you can read about here.

March

March

In March, I visited my stepdaughter Annie in Phoenix. We took a side trip up to the Grand Canyon, which I'd never seen  in person. I loved learning about the geological history of the place. Imagine the impact of a trickle of water that became a river that created this grand canyon, With its now (for me) identifiable layer upon layer of sediment turned stone.

I took some time on my own, hiking down to a spot where I sat and soaked up the beauty of this immense space. I'd brought my journal and water color pencils and lingered, capturing my experience as best as I could.

I recall the silence, pure silence. The sun on my face, the stunning beauty of my surroundings.

God is good, nature is incredible.

April

April

April. Oh, April! I could write a book about you! From the US to London to Jordan to Israel back to Jordan back to London (on the day of Will and Kate's wedding!) then back to the US, this was the trip of trips. I actually created a spreadsheet to help me pack, because:

  • I was visiting in London before and after my other travels, and it was forecasted to be cold. 
  • I was trekking in Jordan for a week - to Petra - and I had a standard trekking "kit" that had to fit in a certain camping bag and backpack/rucksack. I would leave my large suitcase in London.
  • I was touring in Israel for 9 days immediately after the trek, and the clothes for that time also had to fit in my camping bag. Thankfully the weather in Israel at that time of year is typically mild, and I would also be able to wear some of my trekking clothes. After I thoroughly laundered them.

There's so much to share about this trip that I won't even try right now. Except to say that on the very last morning in Jordan, I developed traveler's sickness. Not too bad at first, and I was able to go with my bestie Anjana that evening into London and to Buckingham Palace. There were hundreds of people around, still celebrating the wedding festivities, and the mood was so happy and light. I keep London newspapers from that day as keepsakes.

Unfortunately, by the day of my return to the US, I felt so sick that I could barely move. My heart goes out to ANYONE who has ever had to travel ill. At the stopover in Chicago I was able to buy Pepto Bismal and Dramamine, which eased my discomfort just enough for the last leg home. Some days later I began to feel better. 

Just in time to succumb to severe reverse culture shock.

May

May

I spent most of the month of May reeling from the reverse culture shock, thankful to return to weekly trauma recovery therapy. Devoid of energy, I filled the pool in my backyard, blew up my raft, and floated the time away, easing slowly back into the reality of being back in the US.

Originally, when I started my sabbatical, I thought I would give myself six months, Somewhere in April I released that expectation. I was glad I did, because the end of May brought an unexpected and significant change. My father, married now for almost eighteen years to his second wife (my mother having died in 1991), had to separate from her due to health issues they each suffered, leaving them unable to care for each other. Just like that my in-town siblings and I became responsible for him and his many needs.

Short story - a major adjustment all around, with temporary accomodations for Dad at my sister's house.  

June

June

Early in the year, I had talked with my younger sister Maureen about what she wanted to do for her 50th birthday. Turned out that we both had the same thing in mind: an Alaskan cruise with all six sisters. And since she lived near Seattle, WA, it was fairly uncomplicated to arrange. And so, in early June, Kathleen, MarySue, myself, Maureen, Terez and Laura all gathered at Maureen's and we celebrated her birthday in style.

On a side note, Maureen had recently recovered from her last of many reconstructive surgeries after removal of an acoustic neuroma in 2006. She lived with chronic tinnitus, dis-equilibrium, left sided deafness, left eyelid and facial paralysis (partially corrected with the reconstructive surgeries). We hoped this would be a celebration also of her healing. But while the "outside" was sorted, her emotional and mental well being suffered, neglected. We would learn more about this on the cruise.

Leaving Terez and Laura in Seattle, the rest of us boarded the ship and enjoyed each other's company and the amenities and outstanding natural beauty of the cruise. Kathleen and I experienced sea sickness, and her skin color was actually almost green before she gave in and used medicine. Curiously, Maureen did not suffer from it... we joked that her dis-equilibrium countered the rolling of the ship.

We chose various excursions, during which  Maureen and I watched a sperm whale dive out of and back into the water, an maneuver called breaching. Later, on another excursion, Kathleen and I would be delighted watching killer whales breach again and again.

The month ended with me back home, deeply concerned for my beloved sister Maureen, wondering what I could do to help her. As well as continuing in my own healing journey and helping find Dad a permanent place to live.

July

July

July - wow, how do I explain this?

Easy part first. Thunderstorms - my very favorite weather.

Hard part second. I had been referred for adjunctive therapy with a very qualified local hypnotherapist (note the inclusion of the word therapist, so not just a hypnotist). In my first session I had the most unique experience of my life. Enough said. For now. In two subsequent sessions, we made what we agreed was great progress, even doing what is called breath work.

What I didn't understand at the time is that it was actually way too much way too soon.

August

August

I spent the month of August mostly in shock, severe depression and anxiety, longing to be back in London where I had been so happy. And also in therapy, often twice a week. My Somatic Experiencing therapist had been on holiday while I was seeing the hypnotherapist, and when she learned that we'd done breath work, she explained that my nervous system was not ready for it.

The end result was actually a re-traumatization. Well, shit...

September

September

September would bring a much needed respite. My friend Sheila (from our Costa Rican adventure), invited me to visit her in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We timed the trip for peak foliage. However, due to the weather conditions there, the color green still predominated. On the bright side, she had a house on Lake Winnipesaukee, and we spent several lovely days and nights there. It was warm enough to lie out in the sun and swim in the crystal clear COLD water - so refreshing for my body and soul. One evening we sat out, watching the sunset, lingering as the sky turned more beautiful by the moment, reflecting perfectly in the still water. 

We also traveled into Vermont and up into Maine so I could have my first Maine lobster (actually two firsts - Maine, and lobster). Check that off my list of things to do. 

October

October

October found me on retreat again at Shantivanum (Sanskrit for Forest of Peace). Beautiful wooded farmland, rolling hills, regular prayer and meditation times and homemade vegetarian fare deeply nourished both my body and my soul. I painted, journaled, slept, hiked, slept, slept, slept. 

And decided I was ready to go back to work.

November

November

I have always been blessed in my work life, essentially being recruited at every turning point into something different that would add to the foundation laid by previous job experiences. And so in November, I began contracting with a consulting firm, traveling most weeks to the client site. Figuring by this time that I would not be moving back to London in the foreseeable future, I adopted a sweet ten year old black cat named Shadow. Shy and affectionate at the same time, she was good company to have around when I was home, and she managed ok by herself when I wasn't.

That's the great thing about cats.

December

December

December, still traveling, getting worn out, developing bronchitis. I was so determined to have a Christmas tree, that when I bought one, I also bought a new Christmas tree stand, and asked the guys to place the tree in the stand for me. I hauled it like that into my house, and filled the stand with water. That might have been the year that the only decorations on the tree were the lights. It was still beautiful, and it smelled so good. The year ended with me on a two week holiday, thankful that as a contractor I was not limited by the company's vacation policy.

It also ended with me learning that I would likely be moving to the Middle East in a few months for a one year contract.

Surprise!

And so, having pre-proclaimed "A Bit of Heaven in 2011" and definitely having experienced lots of bits of heaven, I also encountered a good number of hellish experiences. But isn't life like that sometimes? We may be doing fine and suddenly without warning be knocked sideways with unexpected news, illness, etc. By the same token, we may experience unexpected grace, blessings, growth.

When all was said and done, 2011 certainly went down as one of the most remarkable years of my life.

I learned much, I suffered much, I learned more, I healed some more.

And I got ready for 2012.

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Rain Forest, Volcano and Flying, Oh My!

Ahhh, my thoughts have come back tonight to the delight and adventure that is Costa Rica. How curious that I would be scared of my own power, and yet not hesitate to fly through the sky hundreds of feet from the ground along a cable secured with a harness and some other safety features. I also once jumped out of a perfectly good plane, but that's a story for another time. 

To elaborate a bit on a the Pure Vida blog, my friend Sheila and I were staying near the Arenal Volcano, and fancied some more adventure, taking advantage of a nearby opportunity to go zip lining. Here's how it works:

  • Find a reputable zip lining  company and schedule a time
  • Show up and pay
  • Learn the safety rules and put on your gear
  • Get in a cage like lift and proceed up into and above the rain forest
  • Observe and take photos of the incredible views, flora, and maybe even some monkeys
  • Arrive at your first "jump" destination. Our package included five, the first time starting at the highest altitude, the cable ending at a lower altitude, and so on till we were done. Since the zip lines use a pulley system to reduce friction, the adventurer gets to go FAST. Yes!
  • Take turns getting hooked up and taking off.
  • Have fun "flying"
  • Land safely
  • Tip generously

I'm going to share two videos with you. The first was taken by me as I zip lined along a relatively long stretch. I'm experiencing it in my mind now. The sound of the zip line, the feeling of the air on my skin, the view of the sky above, volcano to the side, and the rain forest canopy below then around me. What an absolute thrill and sense of freedom, being one with nature - even if just for a wee moment in time. Notice how when I thank my landing crewman, he responds with "con gusto, amiga" (with pleasure, friend), not "de nada" (it is nothing).

This second video was shot with my camera by one of the previous jumpers, capturing my landing on a subsequent jump.

The entire adventure was over before we knew it. We'd had such a blast with each other and the crew, it was sort of strange to imagine them going through the process with someone else. Come to think of it, one of the young men did invite us to go partying with them that night. LOL and a real boost for me. I was old enough to be their mother! And no we did not join them.

Why am I sharing the adventure bits instead of photos of the beaches and flowers and other beautiful countryside? Well, hang on to your harness, I've got plans for content and images coming in the next few days that will make you want to book a flight, if you haven't done so already. And besides, I'm feeling adventurous right now. 

Costa Rica is a land of such great beauty and natural resources, there's something for everyone. Inland, at the coast, in the air, on the ground, near (but not too much so) the volcano and far away from it. The people are warm, the climate is lovely, and the outstanding natural beauty is soul nourishing.

What can I say? Pura Vida!

If you don’t see traveling to Costa Rica in your near (or far) future, you can have it in  your own home. Come see various print sizes and notecards of my Costa Rica Beach painting (below) on my website store, and see if you feel a tugging in your heart for a little Pura Vida.

 

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My Scary Power, My Beautiful Power

Several years ago, in my trauma recovery therapy, I was asked to repeat the words "I own my own power," I couldn't do it. I could not say the words. I did cry however, knowing there was much beneath the surface. This led to my "homework" assignment for the week: to reflect on why was I afraid to own my own power.

The truth came to me with great clarity.

Because of things that had happened in my life as a child, I believed that I was responsible for others. Specifically, I have memories of my beloved and overwhelmed mother coming into the basement where several of my preschool aged siblings and I were playing and making a mess (LIKE NORMAL KIDS DO). My mom, frustrated and without her own resources, would yell at us to clean up the mess. Then she would shout "You kids are going to put me in the hospital some day!" Confused, I didn't understand. She didn't look sick. What did she mean?

Years later, she experienced what was at the time called a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric unit for about a month. I was seventeen by then, and it hit me with great certainty that what she had predicted had in fact happened. I had put her in the hospital with my rebellious and disrespectful behavior.

I felt SO RESPONSIBLE for what had happened. From that, I believed that my power was a dangerous thing, a scary power. If it could cast my mother into the hospital, I'd better wield it very carefully. This is why I stayed in an unhealthy marriage for over 20 years. I felt responsible for my husband's happiness, and overexerted myself in pursuit of that. I compensated, enabled, etc, all the while losing my physical and spiritual health bit by bit. My faith life, family, friends, and work kept me afloat until I understood I was not meant to live like this.

The marriage ended in 2003. But I continued to carry the subconscious burden of responsibility for a long time. Once this was out on the table, my therapist and I worked to develop a sense of true power based on love, not subconscious lies.

Things began to change.

For example, when I was living and working in Doha, Qatar in 2012, it was not uncommon to take a taxi to work. On one occasion, I sensed the tension and negative energy of my driver as he sped up and cut off another taxi driver. Shortly after, we were stopped side by side at an intersection. My driver and the other driver shouted at each other, and my anxiety skyrocketed. I calmed myself with the affirmation "I declare peace and harmony dwell in and around me." I asked my driver to please stop.

Then I caught the eye of the other driver. He looked Nepalese, and instinctively I held his glance as I pressed my hands together in Namaste, bowing to him. Looking sheepish, he returned the greeting and kept his eyes on me. I then pressed my hand to my heart for a moment, and resumed Namaste, watching him and sending thoughts of "please stop, please be peaceful." Again he responded with a bowing of his head, his hands in Namaste, and finally a kind smile. And he stopped engaging with my angry driver.

I felt my energy shift, my anxiety drop, and a sense of love fill the space around me. And I knew, I noticed, that I had just used my own power. It was and is beautiful and passionate and alive and makes a difference in the world. 

How are you using your power? Remember that you own it. Don't give it away.

Nobody can take your power away from you without your permission.

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Pura Vida!

In 2011,  I spent the month of February in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. My first three weeks dedicated to volunteering and cultural immersion in and near Cartago, I spent the final week with my roomie and new friend Sheila exploring the rest of the country.

I learned several things right off the bat:

  • The country's cultural motto is "Pura Vida!"-  literally "pure life!" and the people are very proud to proclaim this.
  • While a Spanish speaking country, the way they respond to being thanked is not the traditional Mexican phrase "de nada" - meaning "it's nothing." Rather, they say "con mucho gusto" - meaning "with great pleasure." They really take pride in this as well, as it lifts up the dialogue between people to a higher, more respectful, purer communication.
  • The country does not have an army. They choose peace, even being right next to other countries with drug war lords and rebel activity.
  • Last and certainly not least… drum roll… the water in the entire country is safe to drink! Woo hoo! How wonderful to not have to worry about this.

Oh yes, and one other thing I found quite curious. Costa Rica does not use traditional address naming conventions. Instead, they describe where a building is in relationship to other buildings or landmarks. For example, A Chamber of Tourism has the address Costado Este de la Municipalidad de Cartago, altos de Tienda Arenas. Translated, it becomes Costado East of the Municipality of Cartago, highs of Tienda Arenas. You just have to know the name of where you're going and the SatNav will take it from there. A picture being worth a thousand words, here's the address of where I was located:

I volunteered through Cross Cultural Solutions. CCS's model is to establish a local office in the country, and have that group interface with the organizations in need of assistance. Plus, they place an emphasis not just on volunteering, but cultural immersion as well, so volunteers come away with a valuable understanding of the country, its history, its language, social norms and culture. Very well organized, providing room and board in a "Home Base" safe location, and I highly recommend them. In fact, I would go on to volunteer with them for six weeks in India (their very first location) two years later.

Anyway, during my first three weeks, (weekdays), we spent the mornings at our volunteer assignments, the afternoon with free time and/or a cultural immersion activity (Spanish lessons, salsa dancing lessons, outings to natural landmarks and into San Jose, etc), evenings relaxing and/or preparing activities for our assignment the next day. 

Weekends were filled with trips to the west coast, excursions in the rain forest, relaxation at a nearby resort. Adventures included zip-lining, parasailing, and rappelling. Take a peek at where we rappelled:

Yep. We kept busy. We had fun. We worked hard. And we grew in relationship. With each other, with the local staff, and with those at our assignments.

I was assigned to help at a child day care center. From little bitty babies to 5 year olds, age appropriate programs along with eating times and play times gave structure to the morning. I helped out wherever I was needed, which might mean clamoring with the older kids through elaborate playground sets (oh my aching back!), or helping one of the teachers with class, or feeding and holding babies and younger kids. Often I would prepare a game or craft activity to fill free time. 

The first week I was a fish out of water. Unaccustomed to being around little ones, my energy quickly waned. Knowing very little Spanish, I felt inadequate. I realized how wise it was that we only volunteered half a day. No way I would have made a whole day.

The second week, I had picked up some Spanish and communicated a bit better with both the kids (¡siéntate! - sit down!) and the staff (¿Cómo puedo ayudar? - how can I help?). I learned the kids names, and they recognized me, waving with a smile, running up to hug me. I became proficient at feeding several little ones at the same time, interacting with them and making it fun. Left to their own devices they would linger, and there was a time table to be kept!

The third week, I felt at home, connected with both the kids and the staff. I took photos and videos and put them on a cd, and the kids got to watch themselves playing. They loved it. I cried the day I left, sad for me as I would miss them, sad also that the kids had to say good-bye to volunteers over and over again.

As is the tradition with CCS in Cartago, volunteers are invited to paint a message on the Home Base wall, along with a stamp of our hand. Rather than place the palm of my hand on the wall, I decided to place both hands together in the Namaste position and stamp that on the wall. Out from that grew whimsical leaves and vines and colorful flowers that reflected my experience of my time there.

In the last week, Sheila and I headed to the east coast, which, though officially Caribbean, tends to be more stormy and rainy. This did not dampen our spirits, and we enjoyed body surfing in six foot waves. Heading back west, we spent a few days near Arenal Fortuna, the active volcano, and experienced a local naturally hot (as in heated by the volcano) water park. Even the water in the pool at our hotel was hot… little did I know that I was experiencing a foretaste of middle east waters.

Arenal Volcano, as seen from our hotel room

Arenal Volcano, as seen from our hotel room

Wrapping up our last night in San Jose, we headed north to the USA the following morning, me in first class, Sheila back in economy. (I had originally booked for three weeks, then extended to the fourth. And lo and behold a first class ticket was not much more than what I'd have to pay simply to change my travel date. Cool!). 

An amazing month behind me, our flight not yet taking off, I reflected on my blessings. Once in the air, I sent one of my five (they were quite small) mimosas back to Sheila, and took a photo of my breakfast to show her later. I ate every last bite. The movie The King's Speech was played for us. I felt like the luckiest woman on earth.

I hold the  the team at CCS and teachers (I still follow some of them on Facebook) of Shaday school in my heart and thoughts. And the kids, realizing the most of them have grown to school age, new ones taking their place. Peace and Pure Vida to you all. 

After my return home, my experience in Costa Rica would find expression in my painting "Costa Rica Beach" which hangs beautifully framed where I can see it in my kitchen, drawing me and others into its energy and beauty. It's a composite of several east coast experiences: one a three hour walk along the beach, two, the waves crashing against the rocks another day, and three the amazing sky on yet another day. This painting is my constant reminder of my time in that beautiful country., and brings me joy every time I look at it.

Costa Rica Beach

Costa Rica Beach

Your can find prints and notecards of this beautiful painting for sale on my website store.

And consider international volunteering as a way to get out and explore other cultures. Good for your soul, good for the world.

Pura Vida!

 

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Because We Are Friends

As I've often said, I find my greatest joy in connecting with people of different cultures and in different countries. I'm amazed at how much we as part of the human family have in common, regardless of our different circumstances. And how much we can communicate love and care to each other with and without words.

Today, more than six years since my trek in the lower Himalayan Annapurna mountains in Nepal, I'm feeling a connection with Jyoti, one of the village women who sold jewelry to those who passed through the area. She and her friend set up at our first day's end destination, and I bought some bracelets, one of which I wear to this day. A beautifully intricate design reminiscent of the lotus flower, it reminds me that I deserve to be happy.

It also reminds me of Jyoti, whom I met again the a last night of the trek.

She and her friend had set up, and some of the trekkers prepared to haggle for prices. I, having made many purchases at stops during our trek (people would come from nearby villages, and from those miles away in the hill mountains to sell their wares), was torn. I really had more than I needed for gifts for loved ones back home, yet this was Jyoti's livelihood.

Then something really cool happened.

I became the haggle mediator. Having learned the art of bargaining, I helped my friend and fellow trekker Mary negotiate a price for a beautiful and not inexpensive necklace she really wanted.

Mary was thrilled. Jyoti was thrilled. I was thrilled.

I spent a bit of time talking with Jyoti that evening, her command of English allowing conversation. She shared that they had missed the last bus down the mountainside to their village and that they would spend the night in the tiny village near the campsite.

The next morning, arising from the relative comfort of my tent, and accepting the tea offered to me, I wandered over to the village. There, in a three sided structure sat a number of adults,  including Jyoti, on wooden benches at a wooden table. Children played nearby.  "Namaste " followed "Namaste" as we greeted each other with smiles, hands pressed together in the traditional way. Handing out little heart shaped stickers, I learned that Jyoti had slept on the floor. As she scurried to set up for one last sales opportunity, I learned she had not had dinner the night before or any breakfast. I offered her the can of almonds I'd been carrying, humbled. Deeply humbled.

And then she said something to me.

After thanking me again for helping her with her sales, she told me that even though she would return down the mountainside to her home today, never seeing me again, she would always remember me. That every day she would think of me, because we had become friends. She gave me a lovely little necklace as a token of her appreciation and friendship.

I've never forgotten that experience, or her, and every day I think of her with gratitude. I hope she is well and happy.

Because we are friends.

My friend Jyoti is on the right.

My friend Jyoti is on the right.

How open is your heart to newconnections, new experiences? Traveling outside your own little space in the world?

It is in traveling the world that our hearts are opened to the world. 

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The Best Travel Story Ever

This, my favorite travel story ever, has been on my mind lately. I think you'll enjoy it.

Let me set the scene for you: Harrogate, England, 2008. I was there on business, staying in a lovely hotel, in a first floor (that's second floor to you Americans) room just off the grand staircase down to the lobby. It was 7:00am, I had just returned from my morning walk, and was ready to shower.

There was a knock on my door. Curious.

When I opened the door, there stood in front of me an elderly woman, a bit overweight, and stark naked. Shocked, I could barely listen to her as I rushed her into my room and pulled the bed cover off the bed so I could cover her. Only then could I concentrate on what she was saying.

She didn't want to be a bother, and would I just please call down to the lobby and ask someone to come unlock room 135 for her? She had accidentally locked herself out.

Didn't want to be a bother?!?!?!?

I called to the desk, made the request, and proceeded to escort her, now covered, back to her room. I noticed how she walked bent over with a limp, her toenails thickened and curled. She mentioned that she was "83 years old, you know" in her lovely British accent.

She then explained that she and her husband were checking out and he had gone on ahead. Their room had a small antechamber where their packed luggage stood, and she was trying to reach out for her suitcase when the door closed - and locked - behind her.

Buck naked, with no alternative, she had begun to walk down the hall, knocking at each door, hoping someone would be in. I counted. Twelve doors. I tried to image myself in her shoes. Or, rather, not in her shoes because she was naked. I couldn't fathom it…

Remember how I said mine was the door closest to the grand staircase?

What if I hadn't answered? Oh, I'm so glad I answered!

Anyway, when we arrived at her room, I saw what she meant, that there was a bit of a foyer with its own door before the door to the actual room. Standing in that space the two aforementioned suitcases.

Someone arrived with the key and unlocked the door, my new friend and I expressing profuse thanks. Once in her room and in her robe she returned the bed cover to me with words of thanks.

A bit later, back in my own room, now showered and dressed, I heard another knock on the door. I thought to myself "what is going on today?" as I opened it.

There in front of me stood a beautiful and dignified elderly women, impeccably dressed and coiffed, and leaning very slightly on an elegant cane. "THIS" she said proudly with a cheeky grin, "is what I look like with clothes ON."

Oh how I love Brits.

PS - and yes I made it to Betty's Tea House while I was there, for those of you who might wonder.

 

Do you have any great travel stories to share? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

 

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