Monday, December 21, 2009

Barnyard at Bedtime


Pig Smelling a Lily by Karen Thomas, The Angels in Pastels

Barnyard at Bedtime by Butternut Squash

“Hush,” said Rooster at the end of the day,

“I have to rise early. This is not time to play.

Dog chasing cat and cat chasing mouse,

It’s time to be quiet!” He continued to grouse.

“I’m not tired,” squeaked mouse. “Me either,” mewed cat,

Dog ran round the corner, and knocked them both flat.

“Oh no!” groaned the donkey, the pig and the cow.

Cat and mouse cried, it was a terrible row.

“I’m sorry,” woofed dog, “We were playing a game.”

No use in explaining, his head hung in shame.

“Alright, settle down now,” mother cow said.

“It’s dark out, and time that we all went to bed.”

Mouse sniffled softly as she curled in her nest.

Cat licked himself clean preparing for rest.

Dog yawned and stretched, then plopped on the floor.

But donkey was wide-eyed, and stared out the door.

“I can’t sleep,” brayed donkey, “I’m afraid of the dark!”

“Quiet!” crowed rooster, you’ll make the dog bark.

All the barn animals began to complain

“Knock it off! Shut your mouth!” was the noisy refrain.

“Shhhhhhhh!” said the pig to the rooster, and then,

he nosed open the gate and walked out of his pen.

“When I’m very tired at the end of the day,

Or when I’m not really sleepy and I still want to play,

when something scares me, or I’m troubled somehow,”

said the pig to the donkey, the cat and the cow,

“I just think of my day, and I try to recall

some things that I’m grateful for, both large and small.”

I think of my home and my family and friends.

I think of the flower I smelled at day’s end.

I think of the frog that I saw by the pond,

And Ladybug sunning herself on a frond.

With all of these beautiful thoughts in my head,

I find it much easier to relax in my bed.

“I’m thankful for cheese,” squeaked the mouse from her nest.

“I’m thankful for yarn,” purred cat feeling blessed.

“I love each sunrise,” the rooster then crooned.

“I’m happy in clover,” cow sweetly in tuned.

“I’m grateful for blue skies and oats and for hay,”

Donkey had had a wonderful day.

“Thank God for my supper!” said the dog on the floor,

He nodded, breathed deeply, and started to snore.

“Good Night,” said the pig going back to his pen.

“Good Night, and Sweet Dreams,” said his animal friends.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hunger in America?


Feasting at our house.

Did anyone read this headline?

USDA: Number of Americans going hungry increases
11/16/2009, 2:14 p.m. EST
HENRY C. JACKSON
The Associated Press
(AP) — WASHINGTON - More than one in seven American households struggled to put enough food on the table in 2008, the highest number since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began tracking food security levels in 1995.
That's 14.6 percent of U.S. households, or about 49 million people. The numbers are a significant increase from 2007, when 11.1 percent of U.S. households suffered from what USDA classifies as "food insecurity"-not having enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.
The USDA said Monday that 5.7 percent of those who didn't have enough food experienced "very low food security," meaning household members reduced their food intake.

7 Haiku
By Butternut Squash

Twenty-one children
In our classroom, three are thinking
Only about their lunch

Grandpa…Grandma…Mom…
Dad…Brother…Sister and Me
Someone does not eat.

At school with the nurse
“My stomach hurts,” I tell her.
“Did you have breakfast?”

Dollar store Ramen
Peanut Butter, Canned Chicken
Seven year old soup

Grandma said she’s full.
Mom said she would eat later.
I eat by myself.

Bored, sitting in class
Dreaming of a feast, I doze
Teacher calls my name

1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
6, 7, one child starving
She goes to heaven

Give Generously this Thanksgiving. There are a lot of people counting on you in the US and around the world.

Don't forget, http://www.freerice.com/

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Chair

A Short Fiction by Butternut Squash


She was beautiful when she was first carried across the threshold. I saw a picture of her once that was on a lampshade. She looked just like a movie star. Her hair was piled up on her head, in a Grace Kelly French twist. Her make-up was drawn to perfection. Her smile was wide and contagious with pencil rimmed red lips around dazzling white teeth. An intricately detailed Dior wedding gown draped her voluptuous form. It was hard to find photos of her. There weren’t many from her youth and there were fewer taken as she grew older. That photo must have survived because it was one from their wedding, or maybe because she had it made into a home decoration. She loved interesting home dĂ©cor and furniture.


When they met, I imagine, it was like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 'The taming of the Shrew' where the man with the lascivious smile has to tame the wild beauty. She was creative and independent and said ‘silly’ things, which he found amusing. “He knew what he wanted from the first,” she once told me. With firm and constant pressure, he guided her in the direction he intended to go. After a half feigned struggle for her independence, she submitted to his will. She was proud to have caught her prince charming in the end. I thought that was a funny way to for her to put it--from the stories she told, it seemed so much the other way around.


When I was very young, she still had an amazing sense of style. It was not just the fashionable clothes and impeccable make-up. She always had piles of decorating magazines around and pored over them, as if embellishing her home was a job. As the curator of her personal museum, she cut out the perfect pieces of furniture from magazines and laid out potential rooms on a grid. Then she would meticulously place tiny swatches of paper and fabric neatly around her model of perfection. She turned my father’s house into the flower of his success, a glittering palace no less magical than OZ.


Cooking, ironing, cleaning, being a gracious hostess, making a beautiful home, these were all ways to help your husband succeed, she informed me. Having studied home economics in college, she spent hours educating us on matters of etiquette and style. But of all the things she knew, her real forte was in antique furnishings. She could look at something as ordinary as a Windsor back chair and tell you if it was antique or a reproduction, where it came from, and even give you the probable creator and date of birth. I suspect that she might have had a brilliant career in home decor if my father hadn’t had other plans for her.


His children were born between her sturdy legs, and with each child born, her shape changed a little. It became softer and rounder. The house work and romping children turned her hands and feet broad and coarse. A looser fitting yet still fashionable fabric now covered the lumpiness of her new shape. I liked the softer shape. Her lap was warm and comfortable, a perfect place for a tired child curl up fall asleep.


I don’t think she was fond of the changes though. Eventually, she gave up the designer cloth and covered herself in durable denim, strong, easy to clean, a color that would hide stains from cooking, cleaning, and the chocolaty palms of small children. She stopped going out as much and spent more and more time looking at the decorating magazines, arranging her home and waiting for her children to come back from school and jump into her lap. Eventually, she didn’t want to go out at all, and the details of her personal decoration became completely unimportant to her.


Her husband had his work and the children had school and activities. And she would say, “I’m living vicariously through the stories you bring me.” Sometimes she listened intently, and her children could imagine a deep concern for them in her eyes, and other times she drifted off to sleep as they prattled on about their daily happenings. There were a few occasions when she would start to say something, but dozed in mid sentence, her hands falling limp at the end of her resting arms. And the more sedentary she was, the less she wanted to move, the broader her back became, the wider her seat, her arms filling up like soft pillows.


Eventually, she became indistinguishable from the room around her, except that the rest of the room was not quite as worn. Her blue denim covering was becoming thread bare. This really bothered my father. “I don’t care what covering you choose, as long as it isn’t blue denim!” he demanded. I felt sorry for her. Somehow she stopped wanting to make decisions about her own coverings. In a sort of last desperate plea for help, she begged me to make a decision for her. I tried to help by choosing a pastel blue fabric with light floral buds. I thought at least it would lighten the atmosphere.


Not long after that, we children each left home one at a time to follow our own desires leaving the two of them behind. Her limited existence became almost inanimate. Occasionally, she would call just to hear us speak, but she never had anything to tell us.


If we contacted him, my father didn’t mention her anymore. It remained that way for years. That’s why I was so surprised when he called me a few weeks ago. “I have something for you,” he said. “I think you used to like to curl up in it when you were a kid. If you want to come pick it up it’s yours.” And then he added, “Just remember that whatever you take out of the house you can’t bring back.”


He probably didn’t really remember why I loved it so much, but I was delighted that he offered it to me and I went to pick it up right away. The tiny bud print on the pastel blue fabric had split wide open and the stuffing was oozing out. Too many years of use and neglect, I guess. The frame was still good and the legs still sturdy, so I have just had it recovered. It is now clothed with flowers in full bloom and is looking beautiful again. It’s still wonderful and warm to sit in. I often climb into it with my children and read them cautionary tales of princesses who are willingly enchanted by smooth tongued princes promising happily ever after in perfectly appointed castles. Sitting there together, my children and I dream of all of the things that we might someday become.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Horror


How do festivals translate across cultures?


Isn't it obvious what's happening here?


American's have some kind of squash fetish. I know I do.


They celebrate the miraculous appearance of faces in pumpkins.


Bigger is always better in America. Isn't it? Yum.


Until it's all consumed.



"Trick or Treat?
And, oh, by the way, I'm collecting for Unicef."

............

If you would like to read some of my ghost stories try A Spooky Tale of Treasure, Heavy Footsteps, Haunted Bells and Bowls, or the Dream of the Lost Souls series.

Happy Halloween!

The pumpkin photos were taken by me at the Circleville Pumpkin Show in Circleville, Ohio.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One Good Deed Rings


My shipment has arrived. There are marvelous new pieces that I hope to be putting up on our website soon http://aworldofgood.com. In this shipment are the 'One Good Deed' rings that I had made again. If you would like to read the story you can find it in Dream A World of Good parts one, two, and three. Inside each ring is inscribed with the words 'One Good Deed.' If you are interested in having one you will have to contact me by email and let me know your ring size and where to ship. I have decided that this ring will sell for $22 retail and all of the profit will go toward education in Nepal.

Peace to you.

I will get back to story writing next week.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The True Tale of My Life as a Geisha

'Butternut Squash made a spectacular entrance at Willow's Ball. It is highly unlikely that her sumptuous silk robes will be trend setting, but in true Butternut fashion, they will leave and indelible impression.'

The True Tale of My Life as a Geisha

Yes, this is an actual picture of me, in 1990. In the US we have body image issues usually having to do with our weight. In many other countries the issues seem to have more to do with skin and hair color. In the 1990's, while I was living in Japan, fair skinned Western women with blond hair and blue eyes appeared to me to be the ideal image of beauty for the Japanese. Advertisements of all kinds would feature fair skinned blue eyed people for even the most traditional Japanese products. During this time, I quite easily picked up a few modeling jobs just for fun. The Japanese telephone card above was made as a gift to me for participating in a bridal fashion show. In this show there were at least ten western women and no Japanese women modeling antebellum style white wedding gowns and Japanese kimono on a runway. The audience was entirely composed of Japanese women and their mothers choosing gowns for weddings. In my opinion, I make a rather frightening looking Japanese bride. The make-up artists seemed very disturbed that they could not paint my naturally blond eyebrows black and create an acceptable expression. Pretty as I may have been in my natural state, the result of changing my hair and brows was rather grotesque. When I sent this card home to my grandmother in Lancaster, Ohio, she said, "My how you've changed!"

I'm sorry to tease you with the Geisha bit. I did study tea ceremony, flower arranging and traditional dance in Maiko Villa where they have Geisha in training, but I have always aspired to the art and corresponding meditation of these practices, for myself, and not for the entertainment of men.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Adrift

Woman in Nepal carrying a heavy load

Usually, I pick a point on the horizon for my landfall, set my course, and steer my vessel to my destination. Except for the occasional storm, this seems to work very well. Lately, the seas have been tumultuous. I have had a series of shows for the past four weekends with children and their needs in between. Two weeks ago I went to Richmond, VA came home to Cleveland, got the flu, and had to leave four days later still suffering fever and chills to get to a show in Vienna, VA.

While I was gone, our family adopted an 11 month old black Lab. He's gorgeous. But my husband and I have never owned a dog in our lives and we have all sorts of things in our house that we don't want a dog to chew on. After several hours on the Internet learning about doggy separation anxiety, we have discovered that there are no Alpha dogs in our family. We seem to be an assemblage of lone wolves that make decisions by cordial negotiation. 'Pardon me dog, would you mind stepping aside so that I can get out of the door?'

I have also been dealing with a lost shipment to Nepal and insurance claims. Plus all of the legal and tax aspects of moving a business from one State to another. All of this while training a new employee and working very hard to get a shipment from Nepal before I leave for Virginia Beach, VA this coming Thursday.

Suddenly, I feel as if I am floating adrift in my life rather than steering my course. Some people, either by choice or circumstance, live their lives tossed from one event to the next. And I suppose there is a great lesson to be learned in acceptance. But for now, I choose to fix the rudder on my boat and get going again.

Forgive my absence. I will be back again soon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fancy, Very Fancy!

Fancy Suitcases from Nepal

Warning, the following is not appropriate for easily scandalized adults or inquisitive children; it is perfectly acceptable for mature women and sensitive men.

I was sitting in a circle of three women on the floor of a tiny, one-room shop on Cape Cod. Crystals and pendulums, hanging in the windows, caught the morning sunshine and cast dancing rainbows on the dream catchers, singing bowls, giant minerals and exotic jewelry around us.

I was on a sales call where intuitive women were carefully selecting new jewelry for their shop from my elaborately decorated Nepalese trunks. Suddenly, a fourth woman burst through the door of the shop in tears and unable to speak.

"I," she started and wiped away some tears. "I just took my mother to the gynecologist," she finally blurted.

Our faces were turned up toward her with great compassion.

"It's been years. She's in her late seventies and I thought it was time." She took a few deep breaths. More composed now, almost mirthful, she was ready to tell her tale. "So I just went ahead and scheduled an appointment for her. Last night she was staying at my house, so I told her we were going to the gynecologist, and that was that! She got up early, bathed, and I drove her to the doctor's office. She didn't want me to be too far away from her, so I stayed with her just on the other side of the screen in the doctor's office. The questions were very routine at first. Then at the most sensitive of moments, the doctor burst into booming laughter and said, 'Fancy, very fancy!' Well, I was more than a little surprised, but my mother didn't respond and so I didn't say anything.
"After the appointment, I had to ask my mother what happened. She didn't know. She had no idea why the doctor laughed. I asked her if she had done anything unusual and she said no. But I kept pressing her and asked her how she got ready for the appointment. She told me that she showered and used the feminine deodorant spray and dressed. I said, 'Mom, I don't have any feminine deodorant spray, where did you find it?' And she said, 'It was on the back of the toilet in your bathroom.' When we got home, I went upstairs to the bathroom and found the can she had used. It was my daughter's gold hair glitter!"

Tomorrow, I am off on another sales call. Thursday I will be at a store in Washington, DC, called Transcendence Perfection Bliss of the Beyond. I kid you not! Peace!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Taking Chances

Walking on a ridge top path in the Himalayan foothills.

Sagarmatha, the mother of the universe, as it is called in Nepal, or Everest, as it is known in the West, is the tallest mountain on the earth. It is more than 29,000 feet high. If you happened to be floating on your back in the sea it would be 5 ½ miles straight up in the air. It would be higher than most clouds that you might see passing by as you floated there and just about as high as Jumbo Jets fly.

The Himalayas, are topped with snow year round. As spring turns to summer some of the snow melts from the mountain peaks and the water collects into icy streams which become rivers. The rivers plunge over the edge of the mountains in dazzling waterfalls. The rivers continue down past tiny villages where mothers bathe their children and wash their clothes. It continues down to the valley past large cities where millions of people live, then down, down, down to the low lands called the Terai where there is never any snow and it is hot and humid all year round.

If you could fly as fast as a small plane from the top of Sagarmatha to the Terai, it would take you less than an hour and you would still be in Nepal. The Terai is nothing like the city of Kathmandu and bears no resemblance to the foothills of the Himalayas. It is a subtropical jungle only about 300 feet above the ocean. It is the home of tigers, rhinos, crocodiles, snakes, giant spiders, monkeys and elephants. Once it was so full of malarial mosquitoes that it was virtually impassible.

If you stroll in the jungle you must keep all of your senses alert. There is no telling what manner of beast could be lurking behind the tall grass watching you silently as you pass by. I know this because I have been there. I have seen the tracks of tigers in the dust across my path; I have been bitten by a monkey at the Monkey Temple; I have contemplated which tree to climb before the rhino charged… There are many dangers that dwell beyond the familiar, and that is something that one should never forget, no matter where they travel in life. Yet, if I had not traveled beyond the safety of what I already knew, neither would I have been able to soar between the highest peaks on earth.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Letter to my Boys

A Pendant by the Qazi Brothers

Sherpa Coral
Dear Boys,

Last night I took a hot shower before I went to bed but I didn't get my hair wet. Then, I stuffed all of the next day clothes into the bed with me so that they would be warm in the morning. I found an extra wool blanket and covered my head to sleep. Still, I had a really hard time sleeping because I was shivering so much. Every time my feet slipped toward the end of the bed they were icy cold. It made turning over difficult. In the morning the windows were dripping with the condensation of my breath. I put on my clothes and decided only to wash my hair in the sink because it was too cold to take my clothes off.

I have been very productive already. I got about 13 kg of mixed Sherpa Coral at a decent price. It was from our old supplier the Shauji (shop keeper) with one veiled eye. He moved from KTM durbar square right next to our shipper's office making it very convenient for me. I haven't bought from him for a while only because he didn't have what I wanted. Unfortunately, I can't communicate with him well, so I think his feelings were hurt. Ah well... He has old glass necklaces and tantric drums also. Do we need any of these things? (I may end up buying even more Sherpa coral because I ordered some from another guy also. He doesn't know if he can get it though.)

Qazi's shop has very little in stock that I want. They are making some more large beads for us in turquoise and coral. I'm also thinking of asking them to make labyrinth pendants for us. Could you send me a picture from the labyrinth website?

I saw Karma Dolma and she is making cat pillows for us. The biggest problem is getting the synthetic stuffing. She is actually buying pillows and tearing them apart for the stuffing. I heard from some other people that getting synthetic stuffing is a problem. I'll see if Raju has a suggestion when he gets back from Chitwan.

Last night I met Pemba Sherpa who will arrange our trip to Lhasa and elsewhere in case I should take a tour group. He is wonderful. He was very organized and had a complete estimate drawn up and waiting for me. It's a little more expensive than I guessed, but he thought of everything, he even has high altitude decompression bags in case someone runs into an altitude problem. He's a real pro and has been doing this kind of thing for 18 years. We talked for about 4 hours. He has taken people above 7,000 meters before and has dealt with people from 4 to 70 years of age. I questioned him carefully about illness and accidents and it sounds as if he reacts quickly and competently to crisis. I feel confident that the trip will be smooth and highly entertaining. We're ready!

We spent a good hour talking about the Yeti, black and white ghosts and other spooky stuff. I have a feeling that everyone here has a few good spook stories. My friend is going to try to help me find some books written about ghosts in Nepal.

I love you all. Mommy will be home soon!

Many people have asked me to write about my trips. This is a very ordinary example of what I do. It is an excerpt from a letter written during a January buying trip in Kathmandu.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Streets of Kathmandu

Kathmandu City Street Scene

I'm on the back of the bike on the right. My friends are Western women and Nepalese men.

If you were in Gainesville, Florida and you jumped on your magic bicycle, which could ride across the water, and you rode straight east or west until you came to the spot precisely halfway around the world, you would be in a country called Nepal, very near the city of Kathmandu.

You would be greeted with great white smiles beaming from light-brown people. Some of them would look a bit Chinese others would look Indian. They would invite you into their shops and offer you a hot glass of milk tea. Then they would ask you if you would like to buy a mask of Hanuman, the monkey king, or a statue of Ganesha, the god with the head of an elephant. Perhaps a shaman's ritual dagger or a Gurkha soldier’s knife would be more to your liking?

Everywhere that you would go you would smell burning incense. Dust, dirt, smoke and exhaust fumes would be swirling around you turning your hair shades of gray and your face black with dirt.
Shrines and temples would be all around you, and the ancient homes so ornate with carvings that you could not be certain whether they were dwellings for people or for spirits of a time long past.

No longer able to ride
down the narrow rocky streets, you would push your bike past fruit and vegetable vendors, cows, salesmen, and goats, as hundreds of people would crowd around you trying to get past you and your bike. They would be ringing the bells on their own bikes and beeping their car horns very near your ear and then they would pass you. And you might think to yourself, "That car passed me and it was only half an inch from my handle bar!"

When you looked over to your right, you would see that you had almost knocked into a butcher as you were jumping out of the way of the car. Staring vacantly up at you from the butcher’s outdoor table would be a bloody goat’s head. Its body cut into legs and ribs and other sellable quantities. Flies would be buzzing around around it and dogs nearby would be hoping for a scrap to fall off the table and into their mouths. Other goats, in the process of being butchered, would be on the ground in an alley around the corner.

The movement and noise of the people would be constant, like the ebb and flow of the ocean. Behind you, barely audible, a boy would whisper "Hashish? Change money?" You would put your head down, and walk a little faster. Someone else begins to follow you. "Your shoe is broken!" he says. He follows you for blocks while you are still walking at a determined pace. Thinking that you have escaped you turn a corner to find that you are surrounded by open palms... a woman with an infant, a crippled Sadhu on the ground, a child with his drawing for sale.

And you would have to decide, shall I stay and explore this foreign land or shall I get back on my bike and pedal home as fast as I can. And then you would lift your head, and look up above the crowd, and find and opening between the temples. There you would see a golden light illuminating the most enormous white capped mountain range you had ever seen in your life. You would pause to fix the beauty of that moment permanently in your mind. T
he mystery of what could be waiting for you just around the next corner would compel you stay a little longer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Golden Fish




When the dogs begin to bark and the shrine bells ring with vigor, I know that the valley is emerging from its dark but colorful world of the dreamers into the cold bright mists of another day in Samsara. It is too early to find an open restaurant or shop, but by the time that I walk from Thamel to Naxal, just beyond the Narayanhiti Royal Palace, Mike's will be open for breakfast. It is winter, so a young man shows me to a table inside what looks to be a hundred year old palace and he pulls a space heater close to warm me. There I dine alone with my pad and paper and a real cup of coffee. My hand in a fingerless glove, I take notes about my dreams, I sketch new designs, I plan my day, and I wait with anticipation for tourists to arrive and tell me the stories of their lives.


It is a long walk back to Thamel, but I would like to explore Nag Pokhari, 'Snake Pond' on my way back. I wave off the motorcycle rickshaw and walk the unpaved road. Cows and cars and pedestrians whirl around me with great purpose. Nag Pokhari hides behind a wrought iron gate and low dusty shrubs. Inside the gate, is what appears to be a large and ancient rectangular stone swimming pool. In the center of this murky green brown pond is a 25 foot post with a beautifully carved copper serpent's head.


A man arrives with some food in a bag and tosses it into the water. Immediately the water begins to churn and boil and splash about as dozens of carp fight over the crumbs. Suddenly, I no longer see a peaceful pond but a writhing horror of insatiable desire. The ravenous carp are the embodiment of the sea of suffering. Each leap from that pond is the symbol of the soul's emancipation...


I have been busy moving boxes from here to there. We are now nearly settled in our new home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, next to Cleveland. Soon, I will be emerging from my current murky pond.


Peace

Friday, July 31, 2009

Kathmandu Guest House, Kathmandu, Nepal

Water Fountains (useful decoration)
Inner courtyard
Hotel Restaurant
Inner courtyard close-up
Inner courtyard
The very polite and friendly staff
I will be super busy the next 3 weeks. I will miss you all and look forward to catching up on your blogs when I return. I am leaving you with photos of the Kathmandu Guest House. This is where I usually stay when I am working in Nepal. All of these photos were taken in January which is winter in Nepal. Imagine more green and more rain and less clothing in the summer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ransoming My Brother


One sweltering summer day, mother opened the back door and told us to go out and play and that was that. We had the run of the neighborhood and we wouldn’t be expected back home unless we were hungry or in tears.

First stop, Mrs. McClannahan, who was always doing laundry because her husband didn’t believe in electric clothes driers.

Bang, bang, bang, “Hello, Mrs. McClannahan, do you have any pretzels?”

She came to the door smiling with four pretzels in her hand. “Turn this way,” she said, and we shuffled around and rotated our ears toward her pointing our chins up to heaven. Mrs. McClannahan would only give us pretzels if she could pull our ears through the holes of the pretzel. The salt scraped our tender little ears and sometimes left painful welts. It was very uncomfortable, but still worth a couple of pretzels. We turned so that she could admire our pretzel earrings. “Thanks!” We took off across the street.

Bang, Bang, Bang, “Hello, Mrs. Jones, Do you have any cookies?”

“Come on in kids. I’ve just finished a batch. They are still warm. That’s the best way, they are soft and bendy when they are warm.” She dumped a chocolate chip cookie into each of our hands with her spatula. We had to toss them from hand to hand because they were so hot. She gave us glasses of milk too.

“Thanks Mrs. Jones.” The screen door slammed behind us.

My brother, John, who had chocolate smeared around his face, followed me to the sand box in our backyard. “We are going to build a tunnel,” I directed. “I’ll go get some water.” My brother was only 5 but he usually took my instructions pretty well. If he didn’t, I would put the pressure on until he saw the wisdom of my plans. I was 2 years older than he was, after all, ergo the boss of him.

Bang, Bang, Bang, “Mom, I need to get some water.” My mother who was washing dishes while watching us out of the back window filled up a plastic tub of water and handed it to me.

“I’m mopping the floor so don’t come in for a while,” She said.

“Thanks Mom.” I carried the water back to the sand box.

The tunnel was a success. We built a couple of roads and poured water into moats, drove some little cars around the tracks...

“Let’s go get some mulberries!” I suggested. The berries felt slimy and got stuck between our toes as we tried to knock more of them out of the tree over our heads with branches.

“I want to go in,” my brother said. Our feet were purple with smashed mulberries, our toe nails black. There was no way mom was going to let us into the house like that. Anyway, I didn’t want to go in. I had to think quickly to keep my brother happy.

“I have some money,” I said. “Let’s go to Shoey’s.” His face lit up.

Shoey’s was a candy store about three quarters of a mile from our house. We hiked past the apartments, down one hill, and up another. The sidewalk burned our bare feet, but we could jump into the grass to cool them down. I was careful to point out the broken glass and bottle caps to my brother, but our feet were pretty tough from a summer of no shoes. We still had to run across the asphalt streets, though.

It probably took us 25 minutes to get to Shoey’s. I hadn’t bothered to mention to my mother where we were going. I thought that she might not agree with my plan, and I also thought that we would be back before she ever noticed that we had gone. She would have thought that we were at a neighbor’s house. I had 10 cents and that was at least enough to buy us some penny candy. We could even get a small chocolate bar and split it. While I was busy making the decision for us, my brother seated himself on the floor behind me where he found the Hostess display. There were Ho Hos and Ding Dongs and Cherry and Apple pies and so much more. Deep in thought about a tootsie roll versus a tootsie pop, I didn’t notice my brother opening a package behind me. He had a quarter of a pie consumed before I realized what had happened.

Mr. Shoey, looked sharply over his glasses at me. “I think that your little brother has made the decision for you,” he said.

I looked around and said, “NO!” but it was too late.

“Mr. Shoey,” I said very worried. “I only have 10 cents.”

“Well, I think you are going to have to get your mother then,” he said. “OK, John,” I said to my brother. “We have to go home and get Mom now.”

“No,” said Mr. Shoey. You need to go get your mother and your brother will stay here with me until you come back with her.”

Darn that John! He just ruined my great plan. I ran most of the way home but I made sure to work up some good tears before I pounded on our back door. Mom was always a bit softer if I looked really distressed about my sins.

Mom dashed out the door with pocket book in hand and drove me back to Shoey’s to collect my brother. When we arrived we found him surrounded by a pile of at least a dozen opened packages of partially-eaten treats.

The pain of my mother’s tongue lashing was far worse than the couple of whiffs with the paddle ball paddle.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Froggy Synchronicity


My friend, Jan, wanted to have a good-bye drink with me but it took us weeks to find a day that I was home and not too busy with my work or my family. Last night she came to pick me up at about 9:00 pm to take me out for a drink. We had decided to go to a bar in a little village about 15 minutes from the farm. Halfway down our quarter mile driveway, I saw a frog leap in front of the car. Jan said, "Did you see that frog?"

"Did you hit it?" I replied.

"No, I saw it hop away," she said.

We continued on way, but the closer we got to the little town the more repulsive the air became. It was an overpowering stench. There is a chicken processing plant in the town, and when they render the chicken fat of a thousand chickens and open the vents on a humid summer night, the smell is something like urine and rot. We decided to head further down the road to the next little village.

There were two bars in this second village. The first had no cars, so we didn't stop there. At the second bar, we walked to the door and peeked in. A rush of cigarette smoke curled out of the door and settled thickly about our hair. A cardboard sign written in crayon and taped to the door warned, "This is a smoking bar." A dozen grizzly men shifted nothing but their eyes in our direction... "Nah," we said together, and returned to the car.

Back in the car, I had been telling my friend about this blog, 'Synchronicity,' and about the Edgar Allen Poe synchronicity, which I thought was a wonderful gruesome story. My friend, who is a psychic, was fascinated. She has dreams of murders and has helped police to find the criminals. She also has a blog, but isn't quite ready to devote much time to it. She says that she will soon. "I had another murder dream recently," she told me, "I called the police but they didn't pay much attention to me."

About that time we arrived at another little bar. This one had 3 tables of men and women happily playing poker and no smoke, so we went in. I know that Jan told me where we were, some hollow, but I wasn't paying attention. We drank and told stories for about an hour. Jan kept writing post-it notes for me and stuck them in my pockets so that I would remember to write down the stories on my blog.

Up on the kitchen door behind the bar there was a snack menu with 'Froggy Balls' as a featured item. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. I knew that Jan didn't want them so I resisted. About 5 minutes before the kitchen closed, I had to try some froggy balls. They were wonderful, deep fried cheese, chicken and jalapeno, no frogs. I ate them all. As I was munching away, I overheard someone talking about Frog's Hollow. That's it, that's where we were. Of course, they would have 'Froggy Balls' in Frog's Hollow.

I had a blast with Jan. That was the first time I've been out to a bar in more than two years. Jan returned me home safely and not too late.

Today, I took a walk down the driveway with my husband. He pointed out a dried smashed frog carcass and then the synchronicity struck me. I had forgotten all about the frog crossing our path when we went in search of a place to say goodbye.

*Note: Tibetans consider frogs repositories of sacred wisdom.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Doing the Right Thing

Last night I listened to President Obama give a speech and answer questions on health care reform. I don't think that I have heard any one say it better or more completely. We have to make a change. We have one of the most expensive and least comprehensive health care systems in the world.

When I was sick in Nepal I paid $3 for the same antibiotics that cost me $70 in the US. While I lived in Japan, where I had nationalized health insurance, these same antibiotics cost me $5 and the doctor's visit $15. When I was sick in Tibet/China the visit to the hospital plus the antibiotics cost me $3, I had no health insurance while traveling.

We are not so different from each other. Every person is born and gets sick and will eventually need health care. The differences between us have to do with the circumstances into which we are born. We all need to contribute to health care and we should all have equal access. Anything less is immoral.

Health Care Tragedies I have experienced in the United States:

One of my friends gave up everything including her home and her profession so that she could receive medicaid for Myasthenia Gravis.

My 52 year young neighbor died of Breast Cancer because she didn't seek help quickly enough. Leaving her teenage children without their mother. Uninsured, she waited too long to seek help.

I ended up with no health insurance during my first pregnancy because my husband's employer let the insurance lapse during a financial downturn for his company. We didn't know that we were uninsured.

Our baby sitter had a catheter left in her for over a half year because she couldn't afford to have it removed. She had to spend all of the money she had saved for her son to go to college to take care of her kidney stone. The hospital put in the catheter in an emergency situation, but would not remove it until there was another emergency. She was told she was poor but not poor enough.

...

I don't know anyone who doesn't have a similar or much worse story to tell about the American Health care system. It is not that people can't get good health care, but they may have to lose everything, fight in court, and suffer a great deal of unnecessary pain to get treated. In the end, the public already pays for the uninsured, but they pay too much for this care and too late.
Let's do the right thing and get everyone the help they need now without the stress, fear, and the total destruction of their wealth and family well being.

Here is a link to Bonnie, a Canadian's first hand experience of universal health care. Also, you can visit Wikipedia's comparisons of different countries' health care systems.

(My brief moment on the soap box.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Hand On My Heart


I was gasping for breath and my heart was pounding at an uncomfortable pace so I stopped for a minute by the side of the path. Surrounded by a quiet green forest, on the side of a mountain, the Himalayan peaks were no longer visible from where I stood. There were no houses, or fields, only a still forest, an empty path, and the heavy sound of my own breath. For most of the day, I had walked up hill, with with a 30 pound pack on my back. Three days' walk behind me was the airport up at Jomsom where I had begun my trek, and 4 days' walk below me was the nearest paved road that led to Pokahara in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas. I was starting to panic. The hikers that I had been tagging along with that day were far ahead of me and it was getting late in the afternoon. When the sun drops behind the mountain peaks, there is a sudden drop in the temperature in the valleys. Packs of wild dogs and the occasional leopard, might also be roaming around up there at night. Not wanting to be cold and alone in a completely unfamiliar place, I picked up my pack and started up the dirt path again.
I had intentionally let my traveling companion go on ahead of me. Neither of us was feeling well. She had a headache and wanted to get to a place to rest as quickly as possible. I knew that she would be alright with the trekking group that had adopted us. We were not part of their group, but their friendly group leader was a bit surprised to see two completely unprepared young women hiking alone in Nepal for the first time... or maybe he just thought we were cute. He encouraged us to stay close to his group.
I had some digestive problems and wanted a little privacy. There are no public rest stops on Himalayan treks--you just squat behind a rock--so I dropped back from the group. By the time that I reached that quiet place in the forest where I stopped to catch my breath, I hadn't seen anyone on the path for about an hour and I really wasn't sure how many hours I would have to climb before I would reach our planned resting spot.
The path led me over the crest of a hill and to a wide flat area among a very small cluster of mud and stone homes. Two boys, about 13 and 8 years old, were standing on a hill above me on my right. I hardly noticed them because I was focused on putting one foot down after the other. The older boy called down to me, "Please help my brother."
I looked up at the boys and saw the older brother with his arm around his younger brother supporting him. The younger boy had sliced his leg from mid inner thigh to mid calf. The wound was not fresh, but it was an angry red with thick yellow puss oozing out of it. I inspected his leg more closely and asked the boy if there was someone in the village who spoke English. The boy shouted for a man who came quickly. With paper and pen in hand, I carefully explained that the boy's leg needed to be washed, very thoroughly, with water that had been boiled and soap. Then I pulled a full course of antibiotics from my pack. In Nepal, anyone can go to the pharmacy and buy antibiotics. You do not need a prescription. The pharmacist often knows the normal dosage for your weight. For about $4 US, I had bought one full course of sulfa antibiotics, for myself, just in case I got into trouble on the trek. I explained to the village man to cut the pills in half and give them to the boy morning and night until they were gone. If the boy became more sick, then he should stop taking the pills and they should take the boy to the hospital.
As I was explaining all of this, a small crowd from the village formed around us. There was an old lady who repeatedly put her wrinkled hands to her eyes and then stretched out her arms to touch me and pull at my dress. There was a man who was limping and another pointing to his elbow. Everyone had a malady. Everyone needed help. I was surrounded by at least a dozen outstretched arms and open palms. I opened my pack again and pulled out a very large bottle of Centrum vitamin pills. Putting a few vitamins in each open palm, I pressed my hands together and acknowledged the god within them. Then I lifted my pack and continued on my way.
An hour later, I was climbing another steep hill. The sun had already gone behind the mountain and I was feeling very ill. I stopped, almost in tears, with my heart pounding out of control. Behind me a porter appeared. He was a member of the trekking group that we had been tagging along with. He was the 'sweep,' the last person who collected the straggling tourists. Strapped to his head was a 200 pound load of tourist gear. The man, who was only about 5 feet tall, reached up and put his warm callused hand on my heart. He smiled. Then he stayed with me until we arrived at our resting spot about a half hour later. He didn't speak to me, but knowing that he was near was all that I needed to take my fear away and to keep me moving.
*On another trip, my husband and I slept one night in a remote village hospital on the very same trekking route, because we didn't make it to our destination before nightfall. The hospital was no more than a large barn with no equipment or electricity. The beds had straw mattresses and no one came or left while we slept there. I still think about the boy with the wound and wonder if he was all right. Could I have done any better? I regret that I didn't give them my bar of soap, or money to pay for a donkey to take him the 4 day trip to the hospital. These things simply didn't occur to me at the time.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dream A World of Good, Part 3

This picture is from the path that leads to the boy's home village in Dhunche.


In April I wrote about a dream that lead to a life time connection with a family in Nepal, 'Dream A World of Good, Part 1,' and 'Dream A World of Good, Part 2.' Many of you wanted to know what happened to the boys that I gave rings to. It has been a very rough six or seven years since I handed out those rings. The boys didn't always know if they were going to be able to get through high school because of the unstable government and the numerous strikes and violence. This morning I received a letter from one of the boys that we have been helping through school
.................

Dear Aunt, Uncle, and our brothers.
How are you all? We all are doing well over here and we wish that you are doing well over there.
Finally! Monsoon is here... Farmers have already planted rice in their fields. Some years back, maybe about 6-7 yrs, we had a different Kathmandu... Big stretches of paddy fields gave life to this once beautiful shrine. But now there are only patches of those just giving those memories some fuel. We had a very dry spell this year and farmers are worried that they will not be able to yield anything at all.

My brother has left for Dhunche today to make his passport. He is currently taking classes on IELTS and working in one of our uncle’s travel and tours offices. He plays football in the morning with his friends and spends his whole day working and learning. I am also spending my days learning and working... I wake up at 4 in the morning go for a nice morning walk and come back to spend one hour on yoga. In the day, I go to the shop and help father in his work and sometimes I manage to go to our uncle’s office as well.
Last week, I visited a youth forum. It’s called Today’s Youth Asia and I was delighted to see all these young people from high school discussing many social issues. The youth forum is making efforts to bring changes to the society... they already have two TV programs and some more programs in the pipeline. I suggested to them to use 'inter phenomenon' like 'Twitter' and 'YouTube' and TV programs like 'iReport' in CNN. I saw a different side of the younger generation of Nepal totally different from the youths affiliated with some political organizations of the past. They were there not trying to revolt but to be a part of the change.

Yesterday, I managed to watch Barack Obama giving his speech and I was delighted to hear his message for the younger generation. We all are an active part of our society and each and everyone can be a part of the story of change. Every time we watch him giving his speech he makes us realize our dreams.

Aunt, after a long thinking and working I have decided to pursue my further education in Bangalore, India. I am choosing Biochemistry as my major and I hope I will be able to pursue my Masters in the United States. My brother is now working for his application to US, he is looking for colleges and I am here to help him with his application. I have already started working on my application in India and I hope I will be there after a month or two. My brother is really good in mathematics and I hope that he will be going for Business as his major subject. When I joined my high school I already knew that I would pursue further education in biochemistry so I am really excited.

We don’t have any words to describe how thankful we are to you. Our cricket team is not active at the moment... some members are in the US and some are busy with their own life but they still have those rings you made for us and I don’t know how many have passed the rings on to other young people. We all love you a lot and there are no words to describe how much we are thankful to you. We all love you all.
Love from Nepal
...................................
I am so proud of these boys. They are full of hope and promise. As many set backs as they have had, they have always forged ahead. Both of the boys have taken an active part in their communities. If they couldn't go to school or work, they volunteered for the Red Cross and they contributed to the development of a new school in their home village.
I am planning on making the 'One Good Deed' rings again, so let me know if you would like to pass one on.
Peace!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

On Pride and the Wisdom of Sameness

A groundhog being himself. Sorry about the reflection, I shot it through the back window.

When I was 11, in an attempt to discover the meaning of life, I picked up a the Bible and read it cover to cover. In the beginning, I wondered if my destiny was to be the next Virgin Jeri (My real name). Could I be good enough and devout enough to give birth to Christ's second coming? But, by the time that I reached the end of the book, I had decided that there were a few bits that I would have written differently. I won't go into details, but simply refer you to Elaine Pagels.

Throughout my life this search for purpose and meaning has been a recurring theme and has led me to some interesting adventures and explorations into different religions, but I am a real Jesus fan, and so I have always returned to his teachings as my foundation.

Recently, I was walking on the farm and looking at the sky and wondering about what my purpose in life was when a sign appeard in the heavens above me. It was a goose, and I had to laugh at myself. What a silly goose I am. I am so wrapped up in my own ego. The geese come and go with the cycles of the seasons. They don't spend time trying to be more important than other geese, they simply try to survive and care for their families and their communities. No time is wasted on wondering about God's divine plan made especially for them.

There have been times in my life when I have been stuck. I thought that if I didn't know my purpose I would not be able to fulfill it. Instead, I have discovered that all I really need is to decide what I want to do and what I am capable of and then go for it. My purpose is my choice and if I choose poorly, I can always try again.

Just my thoughts. I know some of you may think quite differently. Peace.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A World of Good, Inc.






This is the other part of my life. When I am absent from blog ville, I am usually selling jewelry and beads at trade shows. This is how I earn a living, it is part of my creative outlet, and how I help to support people in Nepal. These pieces are traditional Himalayan designs or abstractions of traditional designs. I do modify some of the designs to fit American tastes. Usually, I just have them shrink the designs for us. When I come up with my own designs, it takes a Nepalese crafts person to interpret my idea and make it beautiful. You can see much more including some very modern designs at http://aworldofgood.com/.

beadshows.com

I'm busy placing orders this week, but I will get back to story writing soon. Peace.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Spooky Tale of Treasure

I had no photo so I made a picture for you.

After the death of Clark H. Van Dervoort, a paper which recorded the following incident written in his own handwriting was found in his lock box.

I was born in Clarksville, Ohio July 10, 1829, where my father Jonathan Van Dervoort, was a successful Merchant. During the panic of 1838 he lost his business and we moved on to a farm nearby. Soon after this my mother became helpless with inflammatory rheumatism and remained bed ridden for fourteen years before her death. My father and my brother, Jefferson, worked in the field and I did the housework. In the fall of 1842 we decided to move to Tippecanoe Co. Indiana where my Grandmother Ruland, my mother’s mother, lived. We had but little money, one team of horses, a small amount of household goods and one wagon. My brother Jefferson and I walked and drove sheep all the way. My Grandmother Ruland let us occupy one half of her double two story log and frame house, the old homestead. My Grandfather Ruland had been dead for many years. My brother Wilson and I slept in a trundle bed which was pushed under my fathers and mothers bed during the day time. About midnight on December 23 my brother Wilson woke me up crying. He whispered to me that grandfather Ruland had been talking to him about some money. I told him he must be dreaming and to go back to sleep. About five o’clock he woke me up again and said grandfather had returned and that I must get up and do as he said. So we slipped out of bed and went into the kitchen and dressed by the fireplace. Wilson said that Grandfather told him there was some money in a box under the last step of the stairway over the closet back of father’s bed and he wanted us to get it and give it to my mother. Wilson commenced to cry and said he was scared but I told him he must see me through. I lighted a candle and we crept into the closet without waking father or mother. After turning things upside down and moving some boxes stored there, we found a wooden box, it was quite heavy. Wilson was holding the candle and he commenced to cry. I thought he was going to faint. I took him in my arms and comforted him. He wanted to give it up, but after quieting him I told him we must do just as Grandfather told us to do. I took the box and we slipped into the kitchen. I soon had a good fire in the fireplace and started breakfast. I called father and he said it was too early for breakfast. I told him I had a special reason and wanted mother to have her breakfast with us as soon as possible. She said she did not think she was able to sit up but I took some hot water in to father and he gave her a warm bathe, and we carried her out to the table. We put her in a rocking chair with pillows around her and brought out the box and placed it beside her plate. We told her about grandfather appearing to Wilson and telling him where to find it. W opened the box and inside found two buckskin bags filled with silver money. Mother burst out crying and the rest of us were soon all weeping with her. We all wept for some time as there seemed to be such a strange presence in the room. After we quieted down father and I counted the money. There was $265.00 mostly in French and British coinage in the two bags. It was certainly a God send to us as we had less than $5.00 in the house, and a hard winter ahead.

Now I have told my story and every word is true. The last time I talked with my brother Wilson not long before he died in 1892 he said he still had the buckskin bags and the wooden box.

Signed, Clark N. Vandervoort
I found this treasure of a tale in my own grandfather's belongings after his death. Clark H. Vandervoort was my great, great grandfather. I did not alter the story except to correct the spelling.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Atlas Quest

These are our treasures!

Greetings everyone! I'm so sorry that I have been out of touch. In the past two weeks I have driven, with my boys, to Cape Cod, MA, and to Boston, then back home for one night. I dropped off one boy so that he could go to camp and took the other to Durham, NC, to do a show with me. In Durham, a friend introduced us to atlasquest.com. It is the perfect hobby for a globe trotting family. Much to our surprise, there are secret treasures hidden in parks and alleys under rocks and in tree stumps all over the US and in several other countries as well. They must be found by following clues, some of which are incredibly cryptic. We discovered 6 treasures in Durham. On the way home we found another in the Outer Banks, NC, and looked for one in Kitty Hawk, NC, but never found it. Then we drove straight up the coast to Rehoboth Beach, DE, and found one in a pedestrian through way. We found another near our home back in Lebanon, PA. And we accidentally found a, geocache, which is treasure that you find via GPS, in our local park. Treasure hunting is thrilling. The treasures that we find and leave are hand-carved stamps. You should check it out and see if there are any hidden near you.

I have been thinking of lots of stories during my journeys and promise a true spooky story of real hidden treasure when I return. I'll be working at a bead show in Newark, DE, this weekend and I have to leave in the next half hour. Peace.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wagamama

Student pants with split toe construction workers shoes.

Here you can see the weird curve from thigh to ankle.

While I lived in Japan, the students wore uniforms which were very strictly monitored and which severely limited their self expression. The girls had certain hair styles that they could choose from according to their age or grade level. They were not allowed to wear jewelry or make-up. At certain times throughout the year, teachers would measure the length of their skirts to see if they were either too high or too low. The boys also had restrictions on waist height, cuff length, and so on. But it was the girls clothing that most annoyed me. As a teacher in Japan, I was disturbed that male teachers would have their hands on these girls legs measuring the length of their skirts. Why should girls be forced to wear skirts in the first place? Skirts are so limiting. I could go out and play hacky sac with the boys at lunch but not with the girls because they wore skirts.

There were no restrictions on the teacher's clothing, so I went to the student uniform store and ordered myself a pair of boy's student pants that pushed all of the boundaries of the school restrictions. It had the longest thinnest waist, the widest possible thighs, and the most narrow cuffs allowed by school rules. In this way I demonstrated my solidarity with the students.
None of the teachers ever mentioned my pants, but several of the students made sure to let me know they admired my outfit.

Wagamama is a Japanese word meaning something like, independent minded or strong willed. I did not get the impression that it is a positive thing to be called, but it seemed to fit me. I can not tell you how many times people in Japan told me the Japanese expression, "The nail that sticks up, gets hammered down." I guess it is just my nature to stick up.
This post was prompted by The One Minute Writer.
On the road again next week y'all. Go make some trouble while I'm gone!