Celebrating Friendship

March was Women’s History Month, celebrated since the 1980s as a time to honor women and their influence on….well, everything!   Cleaning out old photo albums, reducing my collection of snap shot remembrances down to take up less space, and only keeping those which bring smiles, I’ve been thinking of the many women in my life, especially those I have some personal “history” with! Some are long gone, their life journeys taking them elsewhere. Many I see once in awhile, always an enjoyable connection, they are the ones whose lives take them in other directions but who are still carried in the heart.  Then there are the golden threads, friendships woven through 40+ years of life experiences, women I met when we were young and with whom I have ‘grown old’. The ones I’ve witnessed go through, and have often shared, birthings, deaths, marriages, divorces, broken hearts, graduations, kid’s lives, aging parents, our own aging.  Each came into my life, and I theirs, in different ways. There are, of course, outstanding women who are ‘newer’ friends, oh, maybe 25-30 years! And a few special friends I’ve had the pleasure and honor to meet in recent years. I’ve been blessed to know marvelous women, more than compensating for not having had a sister! Let me introduce you to a few.

Among the long-term ones is my friend Ke who I hired (sometime in the late 70s?) when she was a single mom, living in a log house (where she still lives), the teacher at the local pre-school. Needing a second job, she became the cook for the Senior Meals program at the Community Center where I was director. We quickly became friends, both with a weird sense of humor, we seemed made for one another. We became a comedic pair in the kitchen of the Community Center, if only to entertain ourselves. The laughter and wit bonded us in a friendship that has lasted through decades of personal challenges in each of our lives. It is a friendship that has at times drifted apart and yet over time grown deeper and closer.  Ke also does not have sisters (we each have two brothers), so we easily fill that role for one another, which includes not only love and support, but also the disagreements and differences that sisters have! Through it all, the laughter has held tight the bond.

Anne, who I met when she was pregnant with her daughter Kate, with Kate’s daughter.

Anne I met around the time she was pregnant with her second child (who became my god-daughter). Because her husband could potentially have been called to a forest fire at the time of the birthing, I became a birth-coach back up. Fortunately he did not have to be away, so my role was that of photographer, and baby-carrier as Anne was whisked from the operating room to make room for someone else (no birthing rooms ‘back then’!) That was the beginning of watching their family grow and grow up.  Anne and I gave moral support to one another when, fortunately at different times, we both went back to school and changed life courses.  My partner in many community schemes when I worked at the Community Center, our grandest venture together was organizing the first Community Fair, a tradition that has been carried on for decades since.  Our most meaningful collaboration was providing safe shelter and services for victims of domestic violence. She and Ke, both creative and talented, were my wedding party decoration committee!

Marsha and me at the Lavender Festival.

Marsha and I met when I first moved to the Olympic Peninsula and I owned a Jersey cow, one of many friends made through selling milk. Our friendship became closer when she moved into “town”, she being the only person I knew in “town” when I started to work there. Over lunch time visits, as her bookbinding business grew, we shared the changes and challenges we both were facing in our lives. Though she moved away for a period of years, life taking her on many different paths, Marsha, who still keeps in touch with her childhood Camp Fire girlfriends, easily rekindled ‘old’ friendships when she returned. Our mutual love of Nature, color, art, and history gives us much to talk about. She is a mentor and role model for aging with grace in a challenged body.

A rare visit a few years ago between two ‘soul sisters’.

Terra (Marsha’s cousin) also came into my life as a milk customer and neighbor. Soon we were both following the same spiritual ‘path’ and practice.  When I began a meditation group in 1979, she was my partner in getting the fledgling group going.  She was also my job replacement when I was out of work at the Community Center for months due to mononucleosis. A spiritual sister, though she moved away, our common life goals have kept us close through decades of life changes. Also ‘sisterless’, we bond not only as sisters with a deep sense of spirituality in our lives, but we both live with the challenges and benefits of ‘tallness’!

Shaun and I at my 50th birthday party, 2000.

The woman closest to being a biological sister to me (though with 3 sisters, she certainly wasn’t looking for a fourth!) is my friend and cousin Shaun, with whom I share half my genes! Shaun and I did not grow up on the same side of the country, she was just a toddler and I was 5 when my family moved from Washington. Though we visited her and her family in 1962 when we came to the Seattle World’s Fair, it wasn’t until we were in our late 20s  and I returned to Washington that we really ‘met’.  We quickly became close friends, maybe it’s in the genes! Our lives have followed different and diverse routes, yet having many shared values there is little we have not talked about over the years, from boy friends, jobs, family, politics, our passion and concern for Nature, our fears and joys. We’ve even played music together (see photo below!), she an accomplished fiddle player, me a novice ex-autoharpist! She was my last-minute bridesmaid, she was there two years ago when I had a mastectomy, she painted the faces of my other women friends at my 50th birthday celebration, she puts up with me talking too much on the phone! That is a sisterly quality!

I have tremendous admiration for these women.  All strong, intelligent, quick-witted women who do not suffer fools, have compassionate hearts, and are talented and creative. Women I’ve watched get broken-hearted, heal, grow. They are my mentors and teachers.

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This is not the end of the list of remarkable women in my life, these are the ones found in my 40-year-old album! My friend Carolynn, (who also has two brothers, no sisters) is another spiritual ‘sister’ with whom I’ve shared many of life’s ups and downs over 25+ years, and who I admire for her strength under-fire. A strength that has been tested too many times.

My sisters-in-law, Linda and Ginny, are both woman I admire and love (among the good things about brothers is they give you sisters!) This post would be too long if I wrote of all the outstanding women I’ve been blessed to know. Most the older ones are gone from this earthly place, and though I’ve no daughters, my nieces and younger women friends fill my heart with joys and heartaches as I watch them grow and go through their own challenges and delights in life. A month is not long enough to celebrate women and all they have accomplished in the world, in our countries and communities, it certainly is not long enough for me to celebrate and write of all the exceptional women I have known! Who do you have history with?

(click photos to read captions)

Animal Friends

Today, April 11, is National Pet Day, a day that sounds like an excuse for an indulgent society to celebrate one of its obsessions. But if you go to the ‘official’ website for the day, it gives a list of ways to ‘celebrate’ the day, and the list seems to reflect the delicate balance of our current cultural awareness toward animals, from indulgence, to fun, to humanitarian concern.

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On this National Pet Day I got to thinking about the pets in my life, especially in my adult life whom I had personal relationships with. Going through photo albums  (most of my animal friends lived in my pre-digital days) I found many sweet pictures to share. This is Leonard, a dog given to me for 'temporary' care and who stayed with me till his death on the road. He was my #1 guy when I began living in the woods alone.

On this National Pet Day I got to thinking about the animals I have lived with whom I had close relationships with. Leonard was a dog given to me for ‘temporary’ care in my late 20s who stayed until his untimely death on the road. He was my #1 guy when I began living in the woods.

Along with the booming industry of pet care products, from gourmet pet foods to ridiculous pet ‘outfits’, high-priced beds, pet supplements, ‘urban’ chicken houses, etc. etc., there is a growing awareness of the horrors and abuse of animals who are no more than a commodity to unscrupulous breeders or those in the illegal trade of exotic pets. Over the years cock fights have been outlawed, dog fights are illegal, the public is more aware, and angry about the fate of racing Greyhounds, there is more concern about the treatment of ‘retired’ racing horses, and pressure on circuses and marine shows to stop using wild animals as entertainment. There is a movement on both the local, state and national level to make it illegal for pet stores to sell pets from ‘puppy mills’. Many people wanting a animal companion adopt one from a shelter or rescue organization. Many states, Washington State being a leader, have animal abuse laws.

There is also a greater awareness of the benefits of living with an animal. The remarkable therapeutic value of companion animals with Autistic children, elder people with dementia, as well as the value of service dogs who bring independence and security to people with a variety of disabilities, is just a short list of the life-changing richness living with an animal brings to people.

Daisy. What can I say about her? A Jersey with a remarkable personality, I could write a blog just of stories about her

Dear Daisy, a Jersey with personality plus, I could write many stories about life with her!

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Pan

Societal attitudes toward animals have definitely shifted in the span of my life with animals, and while I think there is an unbalance on one end of the scale, with the personification of pets who don’t really care if they sleep in a purple velvet memory foam bed, I think over all attitudes have shifted for the greater good of both animals and people. Research into the intelligence and memories of animals has helped people understand that if animals have intelligence, they might also have feelings, perhaps not in the manner as we do, but of no less significance to their life experiences than our emotional life is to ours.

When Mike and I took a course in animal tracking years ago, we learned of cultures where animal and human lives interacted regularly and interspecies communication not limited to a few gifted people, but part of everyone’s every day lives. Where people were able to ‘read’ animals in the same manner animals can ‘read’ people (who has not had a pet who reacts or response to their human feelings of despondency or joy, or who knows when you are thinking of going for a walk or in the car?) The interspecies communications found in these cultures is not necessarily with ‘pets’, but with the animals living in the same geographic environment whose lives are interwoven with human lives. This interspecies communication was once more common but is lost for a wide variety of reasons in most cultures. I hope our current ‘obsession’ with pets is an indication of a deeper human desire to regain that lost connection. We have only to benefit from it.

Eliza & her brother Charlie were given to me as tiny kitties,

Eliza & her brother Charlie, given to me as tiny kitties, lived to a ripe old age.

If this day of honoring pets in any way can help bring into greater awareness the attitude that animals are the beings we share this little earth planet with, and to the degree we treat them with compassion is as much a reflection of our humanity as is the way we treat one another, then I think it is a day well celebrated.

Enjoy your animal friends today and every day!

Below are more pictures of my animal companions through the years. These were the ‘loves of my life’, in the manner anyone who has loved any animal companion knows. There were also ‘short timers’, animals who came for a time but who I found long-term homes for. (click on any picture to view larger)

Pan was a ‘yogi’ dog, as my brother once called him, who took care of all the 2-legged, 4-legged and feathered beings in his world. A friend to all, familiar and stranger, he was my best buddy on many camping trips and every day he spent with me.  He saw many other animals come and go, lost two of his own best friends when they died, my cats Charlie and Eliza, who left home when Pan arrived but were soon won back and slept with him and followed him everywhere. Also pictured above is Oki. Mike came into our lives with Oki, an elderly, deaf Border Collie/Australian Sheppard who had lived an adventurous life as a tree-planters companion. He was grumpy about getting old when we met him, but Pan guided him and cared for him with great patience. Pan was old himself when I brought Reggie the strong-willed, playful Corgi home, but he was patient and friendly during their few years together.  

Reggie, the playful philosopher and most strong-willed dog I've lived with, traveled many places with Mike and I and hated being left home even when we went to work! He was a working dog at heart and wanted his own job! He stunned everyone at his composed behavior when he was invited to participate in an animal communication class I took with Penelope Smith.

Reggie, the playful philosopher and most complex, strong-willed dog I’ve lived with, traveled many places with Mike and I and hated being left home even when we went to work! He was a working dog at heart and wanted his own job! He stunned everyone at his composed behavior when he was invited to participate in an animal communication class I took with Penelope Smith. His death from mis-diagnosed pancreatitis was wrenching on both Mike and I.

My life with chickens has been well documented in past posts (see below). Feathered friends are hard-working bug eaters, egg producers who provide endless hours of entertainment!

Tippy, an elderly dog who wandered into our yard from the neighbors, who didn't really want her, and stayed till her end.

Tippy was old when she wandered into our yard from neighbors where she’d been left by folks who didn’t want her. She stayed till her end, a mixed breed of happy, she was, we thought, our ‘last’ dog friend…..until Abby had other ideas.

And in the present......Sweet Abby, coming to live with us in her 'elder' years but getting a new lease on life as she hunts and runs 'free at last' in the woods! 

And in the present…Sweet Abby, coming to live with us in her ‘elder’ years, getting a new lease on life hunting and running ‘free at last’ in the woods, and being my self-appointed shadow! Our cultural shifts in attitudes allowed her to spent time with my mother living in care facilities and  accompany me to appointments at Swedish Cancer center.

Here are some resources about animals in therapy and communicating with animals.

Mayo Clinic “Pet Therapy”

PAWS For People Benefits of Pet Therapy

Penelope Smith Animal Talk

Mary Getten Animal Communicator

 

Here are a few of the many other posts about animals:

I aught to have my head examinedCoops and TransitionsAnimal LoveAnimal DancesHeart TugLast One StandingStuddly the Rooster

 

 

 

 

 

Plant Survivialist

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places!

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places as well as old!

This post is long with pictures, plant friends that have been around for years, most of them decades.  Enjoy their stories, perhaps on a day you want to sit, enjoy garden delights, and read about old friends! (Please do comment on your own long standing plant friends!)

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The history of gardening in our little spot in the woods is not a story of lush gardens overflowing with successive blooms,  beautiful four-season foliage, abundant vegetable beds, summer bouquets of fresh picked flowers, and perennials maturing into grand dames in a 32-year-old garden.  Nope, although there have been many little bouquets, and something blooming somewhere most the bloom season, it has been a story of survival.  My motto from the get go has been, if it survives, plant more of the same. I attribute the hodgepodge and weediness to clay soil and shade from the surrounding forest, which has been more successful in growing grand dames. Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples, tall thirty years ago, are still growing. While soil and shade are major factors, gardening ups and downs have also been parallel to my own health journeys, my own survival.

This year is not the first year gardening and yard work have taken a back seat for more pressing, time-consuming life events.  It is unique in that both Mike and I have been out of commission, he recovering from bladder cancer surgery, I, still adjusting to my own cancer experience and living with old chronic ‘issues’ that prevent me from doing heavier digging and lifting. Neither of us have had time to garden, except a little early season weeding. I hope it’s a one of a kind year, but there have been too many years when the body prevented the garden of my daydreams for me to hope any more for those lush beds of flowers and abundant veggies.

Last spring, in response to my threat, and wish, to tear down the dilapidated 30-year-old fencing around our veggie/flower DSC08288garden, and mow everything down, Mike promised to focus on rehabilitating our garden.  He worked hard, tearing down and replacing fencing, building new raised beds, hauling in our annual pile of ‘good’ dirt and store-bought manure to tease plants into growing here in spite of hard clay soil.  He worked diligently, until firewood, mom care, and other projects demanded his precious time away from the workplace.  We planted the new beds, weeded old beds outside the fenced garden, moved old perennials into new soil, put down fresh sawdust around bushes…it looked good, not lush, but closer to thriving than it had in a few years.  There were still areas yet to be revived…they were to be this year’s projects.

Now, once again, as other years when health challenges intervened good intentions, what’s surviving is doing so with no help from us. Last year’s efforts are buried in grass and weeds.  Up through the weeds bulbs have bloomed, Primulas magically appeared, the ever-reseeding forget-me-nots paint areas in robin’s egg blue, and hardy columbines make for happy hummingbirds.  Oriental Poppies and Geum are starting to show the promise of flowers, in spite of not receiving their annual dose of fish fertilizer. Today, after digging a small bed to plant some vegetable seeds, I looked at the weeds and plants around me and the usual feelings of frustration and guilt started but gave way for a deep appreciation for these survivors. I love these stalwart plants, some have been with me longer than I’ve known Mike. They have survived neglect, massive weeds, cold springs, wet summers….and pulled me through difficult times. Let me introduce you to some of “the survivors”. Long as the list is, there are others.

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This hanging Fuchsia has been with me more years than I remember. Long before Mike came along, so at least 25 years. Other fuchsias come and go, some lasting several years, but through many 20 degree winters and dry spells of forgetful watering practices, this bright friend comes back each year. I look with trepidation each spring to see if  tiny leaves are forming on the bare, dead looking sticks. So far it has not disappointed me.

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Though there are now few left that bloom, these daffodils moved with me from the rented farm house I lived in before moving here when I was 29. That’s 32 years ago. Who knows how long they had lived there. I will miss them when they all give up. My Mom loved them and always wanted to pick some to take home when she would visit in the spring. I bought her some similar ones several years ago for her garden, but they weren’t quite the same, too hybrid for her tastes!

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This bleeding heart has been around about 20 years, it’s been moved several times and now lives in a raised bed, but it didn’t bloom much this year. I know it needs to be replaced, but it’s hard to part with an old friend.

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Another oldie from the farm house of 32 years ago, these old columbines, in shades of purples and pinks, both seed themselves and come back as hardy perennials.

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When Mike and I married 24 years ago we received a nursery gift certificate and bought this pale pink camellia which has never thrived, not enough sun, but faithfully blooms in abundance each year. It’s planted where a few car mishaps have bumped it. Winter of 2011 heavy snow partly snapped off half the plant, we propped it up through last season but alas, the branches eventually broke off. This year it still blooms, but not this pale pink, it has survived by reverting to the hardy dark pink of its ancestors (see below).

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If you have explored this blog, you know my love of Primulas, partially because they like shade and seem happy to live here. These tiny lavender ones grow in an old enamel tub and have come back every year for at least 10 years.

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These red cowslips, another Primula favorite, also grow in a tub, putting them ‘out’ resulted in losses. The traditional yellow ones, a little patch in the garden, are the brightest yellow flowers I’ve ever grown.

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IMG_0943 More Primulas, these double petaled ones, began as one plant each in pink and yellow and now form a large mass in the garden. After blooming each year they put up larger leaves and compete with weedy buttercups, Mike diligently weeds them most years, but buttercup is tenacious!

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Lilacs aren’t supposed to grow here, they like lots of sun and sandy soil. I brought a few wild starts home from eastern Washington years ago. They don’t thrive, but they survive! Some years there is only one bloom, some a dozen, certainly not most people’s experiences with lilac bushes, which are usually covered with blooms, but I’m proud of ‘my’ lilacs for surviving against the odds!

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Another immigrant, I found this bush rose as a little start in the grass just before I left the farm house 32 years ago, it must have been pulled out years earlier and mowed over, as I had not seen it in the years I lived there. Moved here, and it proceeded to take over the front yard with highly scented little red roses  every June. Though a large bush it is not invasive, I’ve only had a few starts over the years to pass on. (see close-up of blossom below)

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A beau from the past, 27 years ago, bought me a peace rose. It did not survive (obviously the relationship didn’t either!) but from the root-stock grew a gangly climbing rose with floppy scented roses. Anything that survives here stays, it lives in a brushy corner and gets absolutely no care. A true survivor!

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I had a hydrangea for ten years or more that died, I felt like I had lost a pet. Hydrangeas also don’t like the growing conditions offered here. On the road to Quinault Lodge on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, a wet and shady place, there are hydrangeas that have gone ‘wild’. I picked a few, brought them home and stuck them in a pot, they rooted and became two hardy hydrangea bushes.

True geraniums have been a god send in the post early spring bloom season. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.

True geraniums have been a godsend in the late spring bloom season when bulbs, Primulas, and other spring flowers are through blooming. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.
Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lillies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting much water under the eaves, they just went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resilience!

Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lilies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting water under the eaves, they went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resiliency!

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I had red geums for several years, but they died and replacements of the same did not do well.  These orange ones, at least 10 years old, faltered slightly last year when divided and moved, but this year they are once again lush and just starting to bloom.

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IMG_6337 this little rhody got my thinking process going today about plants surviving. A gift from a dear friend many years ago, it has never grown big, but it has survived, been moved and a few years ago bloomed several blooms (top picture)!  A mishap broke a branch last summer and a few weeks ago a deer ate another. Down to one little stick of a branch, it boldly is putting out one bloom this year – determined! A miniature rhody, named Hummingbird, died this year after many years. I sadly pulled it out yesterday. So happy to see this one start to bloom today.

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Rhododendrons generally do well here, but about three years ago the buds of this one became the favorite spring food of a few squirrels. This year it managed to bloom before they remembered how tasty it was! A larger rhody had 50% of its branches removed by a mountain beaver a few months ago, it looks sad and weary, few buds remained to bloom, but it is putting up little shoots on each gnawed off branch! Might take a few years, but I believe the rhody will recuperate just fine.

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Not perennials, but these re-seeding poppies have also been with me since the farm house days 32 years ago. They come up where they want, some years in great abundance and I need to ‘weed’ them, some years they worry me by not showing in great numbers. Also in this picture is another long time plant friend, fever few.

Another hardy rose, this one from my parent's house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree they moved here 30 years ago, doesn't produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Another hardy rose, this one, from my parent’s house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree moved here 30 years ago, doesn’t produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Thank you for meeting my friends, the survivors who have taught me to persevere, to bloom in spite of the odds, to add what DSC01242beauty you can to the world, no matter the conditions, or mishaps life delivers.

DSC09064_2Happy Mother’s Day to the mother’s among my readers!  That includes those who nurture and ‘mother’ their plants and animals! Visiting my Mom Saturday, while the sun still shines, I will be spending Mother’s Day planting seeds into what promises to be wet soil and appreciating my long time friends as they soak up Mother Nature’s gift of water!

A Love Story ♥

An early Valentine bouquet from Mike makes a perfect Valentine to send all!

An early Valentine bouquet from Mike makes a perfect Valentine to send all!

This is a love story, a story some of you have heard in parts, but like all true love stories, it just keeps growing.

For Valentine’s Day, I am making a song list of favorite love songs for Mike’s iPod, (top among them: “Love Is In The Air”, haven’t heard it in a long time? Give a click, it will remind you of love in the 70’s!). As I listen to One Love, also a 70’s song written by Bob Marley, I’m reminded of where that song led me a few years ago.  What brought the song front and center to my attention was the awarding winning documentary: “Playing For Change: Peace Through Music”.  We have the DVD and every time I watch it, One Love makes my spirits soar. A song about unity and love (and anti-oppression), sung by musicians ’round the world, from cultures as diverse as South Africa, Italy, Israel, India, France, and The Congo, magically ‘spliced’ together to become a unified whole of musical talent and upliftment, is a song that instills hope. The tune moves the body, but the voices, deep with feeling, singing in many languages and dialects, stir the heart.

So one day I went to the Playing For Change web site and read the bios on the musicians included in the song.  One story was that of William Aura, a white guy from California, who in the video is playing an electric guitar on a roof top in Katmandu, Nepal.  What’s with that?, I thought.  Turns out Aura, as friends call him, is a jazz musician with a life long love of Himalayan culture (something we share), who, after his own experience sponsoring a Tibetan boy through a sponsorship program, goes to Nepal and meets another young man wanting to bring education to his village. The two hit it off, and Aura starts a sponsorship program to bring education to the remote Nepalese village of Tintale.  Tintale takes a bit of trekking to get to, through a raging river, after driving challenging roads to their end.

The day I called Aura he had made that trek from the end of the road quite a few times.  He sounded suspicious on the phone – who was I and how did I find out about his program?  I had my own hesitations, who was he, and was it a legit sponsorship program? He seemed to be discouraging me “if you want letters from your sponsored child and regular updates, there are bigger programs you can contact.”  He kept reiterating he was just ‘one guy’ doing this, I shouldn’t have expectations of a big organization.  This from the man who, hand over his heart, beams with love at the end of the One Love video. :o) We are all so complex!

So started my friendship with Aura.  Like so many relationships in this computer-age world, we have never met in person, but have exchanged emails, talked a few times, and shared a bit of our personal stories, (including his story of how he came to meet his lovely wife, who is from Thailand – but that’s another love story!).

So where is this love story going?  After a few email exchanges about different village girls,  (I wanted us to sponsor an older girl, having a passionate rage about sex trafficking, which naïve village girls in Asia countries are very vulnerable to),  I asked about a young girl whose serious, but calm, delicate face drew me in. It was the face of a girl who looked like she had already experienced the harder side of life.  And that’s how Aspara came into our lives.  Mike took one look and was immediately smitten.  We’ve since seen Aspara’s lighter side in videos Aura has filmed of  village children at play, and have pictures of her beautiful smile.  She does remain, in most pictures, on the serious, thoughtful side.  Will we ever see her smile in ‘real’ life? Not likely, but we are in love just the same.

It has been just over three years since we began sponsoring.  In those years we’ve watched, thanks to Aura’s excellent skills as a photojournalist, as The Aura Import Sponsorship program, with more sponsors and donors, built a school, built toilet facilities for the school, carried desks through the river for the school, carried harmoniums and guitars to the village, (from the Playing For Change Foundation, which supports music programs for dis-advantaged children throughout Asia and Africa), and have watched Aspara grow from a shy girl to a young teen-ager.  This month Aura made a rare winter visit to Tintale at the request of two Brazilian film makers wanting to include the story of Tintale’s school in a documentary. On this visit the first computers were taken to Tintale.   We’ve also ‘met’, thanks to facebook, the remarkable young Nepalese volunteers who go with Aura on his annual trips to Tintale.  They all have busy lives, but are dedicated to the village ‘kids’ and to helping Aura.  And they have expressed concern and sent prayers for me during this cancer challenge time.

Aspara and her baby brother.

Aspara and her baby brother.

I am in love with them all – the village, the crew, and of course Aspara.  I’ve made her three photo books of life in this far away place called Washington, USA, and Aura has posted videos of this magical paradise in Nepal, where subsistence living can be harsh and on the edge, but also joyous and loving.  The videos, which bring both smiles and tears to Mike and I, connect us to a place we will never go, but which feels like part of our ‘home’ on this planet. We’ve watched as Sujan, one of the volunteers, read my books to Aspara.  Mostly full of pictures, he translates the English words she will someday be able to read herself.  Sujan, who has sent me personal messages through facebook, is kind and patient with the village kids, a ‘big brother’. Did I mention I was in love with him too?

There have always been long-distance friendships forged, many of us had ‘pen-pals’ growing up, or connected with relatives in some other part of the country or world.  The visual opportunities of the internet and email add a timeliness and richness to this long practiced human trait of reaching out across the miles.  When such connections are made with open hearts, whether via the internet, ‘snail mail’, or dedicated trekkers, there is a mutual exchange of giving and receiving, there is truly hope, there is indeed One Love. (if you have not clicked and listened by now – do so and it will lift your spirits!)

Our little love story is one of millions, people connecting and helping across political and cultural barriers, through sponsorship programs, churches, non-profit organizations. It is, to me, what this thing called love is about – reaching out and touching another person’s life, near or far, making a commitment of support, making a difference.  Uh oh! There’s another song: Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand!

♥ Happy Valentine’s Day! ♥

PS  If you would like a Nature themed Valentine’s read, check out my post from last Valentine’s Day, Nature’s Heart, about the heart shape in nature.

PPS You can view pictures, videos and learn more about the Aura Sponsorship Program through the facebook page for the program. There are actually more postings on Aura’s facebook page – he is, after all, ‘just one guy’ and sometimes can only keep up one facebook page at a time!

If you have a sponsorship story to tell, please feel free to share it in the comments section.  We would all enjoy hearing such stories of love across the miles.

The Turtle and the Star

With the Solstice a few days away, Christmas nearly here, 8″ of snow outside, and howling winds breaking off trees (dashing my desire to go anywhere, until commitments demand it!), I find there is little time, energy, or focus for card sending and shopping….but I have this simple story I wrote last month.  Mike (my totally non-objective ‘tester”!) liked it, so I make it my gift to you…friends, family, readers, all of whom I am grateful for and to whom I wish a holiday season of love and peace. A short-short story, to be shared with a child, or read to the child within!

IMG_0443_2The Turtle and The Star

 “Come out, come out, see my brilliance!”

 “Go away, I am trying to sleep.”

Thus went the conversation between Little Star and Turtle.  Every night it was the same, the star wanting to show off how bright it was, the turtle pulling into his shell to shut out the starlight.

Little Star would plead and cajole.

“Pleeease…your green shell will shine like a knight’s armor in my light.”

Turtle would resist.  “It is night time, it is dark, it is time for sleep. Go away. I have no use for you.”

This last remark deeply hurt Little Star, already feeling a bit puny in a vast universe full of a gazillion stars, most far brighter than Little Star could ever hope to be.

Then one night there was a flood of light, so dazzling, it turned night into day.  The sleepy Turtle, seeing light seep into his shell, was ready to voice his usual grumpy complaint to Little Star when he noticed an immense star, far above Little Star, radiating down to Earth golden rainbows and sparkling light, making his green shell not only shine like armor, but reflect back the golden light.

Turtle’s friend Little Star was just staring, for once speechless, feeling both in awe and terribly inadequate.  This gigantic star with the golden light was not ominous, it was a warm, loving, grandmotherly star casting a steady glow throughout the heavens and over the earth.

Turtle and Little Star sat silently in the golden light throughout the night, sharing the love of this majestic star.  By morning Little Star and the Grandmother star both had faded from sight.  The following night Turtle looked forward to the golden light and return of the Grandmother star, but only Little Star showed up, a sad Little Star.

 “I will never be able to radiant such warmth, such love, such a golden light.  That was soooo awesome, but made me feel even more puny.”

Turtle felt sorry for his little friend.  He knew there was a special place for the friendly glow of Little Star, and he knew where that place was to be found.

IMG_0445After a trip to the forest, Turtle returned with a beautiful evergreen tree. The tree gave him permission to cut it down, for it had a ring of babies around it, seedlings from years of fallen cones.  The young trees needed more light than was filtering through the branches of the giant tree.  Turtle explained his plan to the tree who thought it a grand plan.

Once Turtle had the tree secure in its new home, birds decorated it with berries, flowers and IMG_0451bits of shiny bric-a-brac. Then Turtle asked his friend Bluebird to fly high as she could and invite Little Star to come down to a party.

Bluebird guided Little Star to the top of the tree, and from there its starlight shown down on all the forest animals, shining with warmth and love.

May the blessings of the season light up your life in the New Year.

You Are Remarkable! International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, now a UN sanctioned multicultural event blended into many cultures, yet started as a socialist political statement.  There will be events honoring women in science, history, government, and various other professions.  There will be joyous celebrations to simply bring women together, and serious discussions about the plight of women worldwide. In spite of this annual celebration of women, women still struggle throughout the world for equality in the workplace, basic human rights, and often for their lives.  Women are exploited everywhere.  It is a bittersweet day if you look closely.

However, I pondered this morning about the women in my life, a long list covering a broad range of ages, social-economic backgrounds, political leanings, religious beliefs, education and professions, moms and non-moms.  To be honest, it takes my breath away when I think of the women I know.  If they were in a room together it would be a room of power, energy, healing, multidimensional experience, love and compassion. Most of all of laughter!

Having not had my own children, I’ve been privileged to know many remarkable young women as friends, including my nieces. I have an ‘official’ goddaughter, but there are other young women I consider ‘goddaughters’ in that they are a blessing in my life. This group of women beam with energy and light, have creativity that is boundless, are full of hopes and dreams.  I stand back and marvel!

There is a cadre of women in my life a bit younger than me; I guess they might be considered in ‘mid life,’ who balance lives of motherhood, entrepreneurship, professional jobs, etc.  I am astonished at the vitality and intelligence of these women.

Then there are the women I have ‘grown older’ with or met at this time of life, women with a depth and richness to their very beings that comes with experience, hardships, joys and disappointments, heart aches and hearts that are full.  I notice many of them growing more open, more honest, with themselves and others.  They are my peers on this journey but they are also my mentors.

Sadly, my list of ‘elders’ grows shorter each year, and includes my mom, who, even with her changing mind, still exhibits a resiliency and strength that is awe-inspiring. There are a handful of elderly women I am blessed to know. They teach through example that in acceptance there is peace and strength.

Most the women I know will not be reading this, but those who do, (and I know who you are!) you should take this personal and know that I find you beyond remarkable, you are my role model, my inspiration, you play your part on whatever stage of life you are on with grace and aplomb I find awesome!  You have a story I would be honored to write, a story that would inspire anyone who reads it.

(Footnote: A few years ago I wrote a short bio for my friend Marsha, who needed a bio for her web site and press releases about her art.  I have interviewed and written about people for articles I’ve written, but the process of a focused interview with a friend, was something we both enjoyed.  I really would like to write your story, let me know if you are open to it, I would like to start a collection of short bios on the women I know. You can read Marsha’s bio on her web site: The Art of Marsha Hollingsworth)