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Mardi Gras Fun
During the summer while refurbishing an old house, I met master carpenter Alfred Wombles. Pictured left of New Orleans city mayor in the above photo. As you can plainly see, Alfred is a Big Chief Mardi Gras Indian and can be seen sporting a new costume every Mardi Gras! Alfred makes his own costumes by hand and starts work on it the week after carnival is over. He hand sews all the bead work and puts the costumes together step by step. Well known in the community, he a pillar of strength and commands respect wherever he goes.
Alfred and I put our heads together and came up with an enriched storytelling program that shares five steps of how costumes are made, parts of which are embedded in a West African story from which the Mardi Gras Indians draw their roots. After hearing another tale, participants participate in an authentic Mardi Gras second line parade around the venue. It's fun for all ages!
We’d been warned for being easily lost in the largest medieval medina in the world with over 9500 alley ways filled with shops selling everything you can imagine such as jewelry, food, appliances, gadgets, colorful fabrics, shoes, candles, spices, belts, beguiling oils, bedding, wedding gear, ceramics, leather, a mosque, a university, and so much more. Our hotel was here in the midst of a complex winding path just off one of two main roads in the old city of Fez. The first night we stayed on the main road walking the narrow pathways lined with stalls on either side. My eyes widened as we passed by the goat heads lying on the counter of one stall and goat hooves and stomachs hanging by string from the rafters. A huge covered pot steamed sheep’s brains, while breads of varying textures were displayed next to each other. Spices and other smells aroused my senses. More than once, I stepped over poop falling from passing mules loaded with supplies or was nudged out of the way by owners pushing over full carts.
Little children ran playing, while nearly everyone was bustling in one direction or another. How well I remember telling the story of Moroccan born, Ibn Batuta, who traveled some 150,000 miles during the 1300’s —quite a feat for his time. He wrote that traveling changes you and you are never the same. Seeing the world through the eyes of another expands the mind. The next day, our guide, Khalid helped us to meander through the medina without getting lost and told stories along the way. We saw the weighted water clock built in 1357, an instrument for telling time, yet no longer in use and heard how a spider saved the life of Mohammed in one of several mosques in the medina. In this place with cardamom in its coffee and cumin in its eggs there is much considered sacred, even the ceramic tiles are laced with meaning. Many of Khalid’s stories were infused with his faith.
Surrounding this ancient city of Fez, was a giant wall filled with nesting holes for the sparrows, considered holy birds after saving the city from a siege. Khalid told us story after story and I was in heaven. Stories take us right to the heart of God. Eating a typical Moroccan meal of couscous, chicken and vegetables served in clay dishes, he told us how much he prefers being a guide instead of a teacher. But he didn’t need to tell us, it was obvious, he would do this work even if he wasn’t paid for it. It is wonderful when we love the work we do. In the medina, weavers wove, metal workers hammered, tiles and metals were chipped and chiseled, leathers sewed, ceramics and pottery were finely crafted. Here the business of life is work infused with labor that is good. Sweat of the brow and joy in living are one. We are wealthy beyond measure when the work we do is loved deep in our souls.
I wasn’t interested in quilts until I read a book that talked about the importance of quilts. I happened to be pregnant at the time expecting my first child. In the quilting book, the author mentioned when mothers first learned they were expecting, a quilt was started for the child’s protection. Intrigued, the author remembered being under the quilt commenting how much of a mother’s love went into the quilt that served as a protection for infants. Back in those days, quilts were a first line defense filled with powerful motherly love that served as a security shield for a helpless infant. The notion filled me as my maternal instincts kicked into full gear and I had to make a quilt full of motherly love for my wee one.
My friend Adona loved quilting and always had a bag full of patches waiting for her next project. So I called her up and subsequently showed up at her house to begin my first quilting project. After sharing with her my purpose, she decided to join me and make a quilt for her recently born grandson, Philip. Since I was enamored with birds at the time, I chose prints and a pattern that reflected my love of the winged creatures. We met often over the next seven months, to complete my creative drive. During those months stories ensued, as she mainly told me stories about her daughter and grandson’s births. This was pre-storytelling days for me, and would later form the foundation for my becoming a storyteller.
During one of my first storytelling festival gigs, there were quilts all over the stage area and little pieces of sheared fabric pinned to the clothes was the entrance ticket to the various events. So strong were the quilt memories, I shared some stories from my quilting days from that time period with the audience. One story in particular, told itself as it practically sprang from mouth fully formed and full of mystery. Somehow, a memory from the quilt book about a rooster took shape and form and the quilt covering my baby protected it from the rooster. It turned out quite comical as I recall. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact telling of the tale and no taping of the tale exists. However those story quilts are wrapped and waiting to hand over to my daughter when that momentous occasion comes. Perhaps when I have a grandchild, the story will come to memory once more.
Little Belgian Peeing Boy!
Stories unfold around us daily. Traveling through the Brussels airport in route to Holland, I came upon the artwork of Jerome Duquesnoy of a little boy peeing. A short time later I saw a Coke ad depicting the same little peeing child. I saw earrings and plenty little peeing mannequins in gift shops. I later found out the statue was representative of a famous Belgian landmark. There are several legends behind this statue. The first is of the young boy who was awakened by a fire. Finding no water he used his urine to put out the fire. In the end this helped stop the king's castle from burning down.
The most famous story is of Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-over-Heembeek). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.
Another legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city. There was at the time (middle of the 15th century, perhaps as early as 1388) a similar statue made of stone. The statue was stolen several times. In 1619 it was replaced by the current bronze statue, created by Franco-Flemish Baroque sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy, father of the more famous François of the same last name.
Another story (told often to tourists) tells of a wealthy merchant who, during a visit to the city with his family, had his beloved young son go missing. The merchant hastily formed a search party that scoured all corners of the city until the boy was found happily urinating in a small garden. The merchant, as a gift of gratitude to the locals who helped out during the search, had the fountain built.
Another legend was that a small boy went missing from his mother when shopping in the centre of the city. The woman, panic-stricken by the loss of her child, called upon everyone she came across, including the mayor of the city. A city-wide search began and when at last the child was found, he was peeing on the corner of a small street. The story was passed down over time and the statue erected as tribute to the well known fable.
I wondered how many times Belgian teachers have given the assignment to write about the little peeing boy. I also found out the statue is dressed in costume several times each week, according to a published schedule which is posted on the railings around the fountain. The costumes are managed by the non-profit association The Friends of Manneken-Pis. The costumes are on permanent exhibition and can be seen at the Grand Palace inside the City Museum. At any rate, when I am in Belgium again this summer I will look for the famous landmark.
Alexandra Writes & My Brother Plays Music!!
There is something about the spirit of Budapest that fascinates me as if I am immediately brought back in time. Slipping between the folds of time I get the sense of being in an ancient world. Stories are lurking there. Perhaps that is why 14 year old Alexandra, who has written some 700 books lives nearby. Autistic, gifted and inspired she was hard at work during the festival on her next book written and illustrated solely by her. Alexandra’s autism doesn’t prevent her from being very clear about what she likes and doesn’t like and in an odd way I was very glad that she decidedly liked me.
One out of every 100 children are born with autism, a neural disorder that shows up in the first three months of life. When my brother was first diagnosed as a child I never imagined that someday he would be able to live a healthy life in which he would be socially responsible and contributoring. A gifted singer and musician, at age 42 , he does just that. Like Alexandra he creates using music instead of words. He could play the piano by ear, long before he took music lessons! Today, we must view autism from a different standard than the one used when I was a child. Many autistic children, my brother included have amazing skills and gifts to share. What a delightful addition they are to our world. I look forward to the possibility when their collaboration with the “greats” of our time is expected, fostered and nurtured. I expect to see their work visible, appreciated and used.
A Gypsy Story!!
While driving back to the airport, my husband shared an amazing encounter with a captivating gypsy woman while in Budapest. Along the river bank with both hands stuck in his front pockets he walked upon a sprite of a woman with long flowing locks asking for a cigarette in English. He reached into his pocket using only one hand and in one long fluid motion produced the cigarette without ever removing his other hand from his front pocket where his wallet was stashed. Suddenly visible, a man also intoned the desire for a cigarette. Then he noticed just at his elbow a boy waiting behind. They obviously knew each other and were planning to pick his wallet. My husband never gave them the chance. I was as intrigued by his tale as I was by the five other tellers who were featured at the Holnemvolt Festival.
Budapest-Holnemvolt International Storytelling Festival!!
The labor was long and intense as Budapest’s first international storytelling festival was born. All manner of tales poured forth late into the night and we all heard the strong, feisty voice of the newbie fortified with a healthy, keen will to survive pulsed through the veins of every person present. Through the sheer audacity and will power of twelve women and one man, Holnemvolt International Storytelling Festival came to life.
What made the weekend remarkable was the individual style of each international performer and the teamwork exhibited by the planners who put the festival together. César “Wayqui” Villegas came from Peru and had an endearing, intimate way of including the audience into the story. It was as if we were sitting in his living room on one of those gorgeous Peruvian mats as he charmed us with love stories from his native country. I still remember the joy exuding from his eyes as he ended one of his love stories with “when man and woman come together in just such a way, their love makes everything smell of fruit,” ooooh, such deliciously told wonderful tales.
Csernik Szende, the Hungarian/Romanian/Transylvanian storyteller who told stories with her feet. A woman after my own heart, I watched delightedly as she climbed on top the cloth covered table in her long flowing skirt and enchanted us with the wolf perched on her foot hid under her skirt which had been transformed into a forest through which a nearby peasant balanced on her other foot, had to beguile the wolf in exchange for his safety. Each tale was woven with the dexterity of the Hungarian spirit she is known for in her country and we nearly fell out of seats laughing. Csenge explained to me she had words in her dialect unfamiliar even to Hungarians which she was able to elucidate in her story.
Norwegian teller, Tone Fløde, told hauntingly beautiful tales that took us so deep into ancient history, it was difficult to climb back out again. Her story of the beautiful Susanna who was attacked even as she bathed was portrayed with a tenderness and clarity that made us feel the event happened in the recent past. Her story of the pixy elf and King Olaf hailed from her Norse background and one had to wonder if she wasn’t an elf in disguise. Her forest green leggings, complimented her stories and she appeared to be camouflaged for the forest.
Birgit Lehner, from Austria, told complex folktales that took the listener from one extreme to another. Steeped in tales from the old school she never missed a beat to keep the audience mesmerized and entranced. Her voice sounded other worldly, so beautiful it was that she brought musical instruments to life between tales. Whether she was telling a ghost story or a folktale, her heart and spirit shone through.
When she wasn’t translating, Csenge also wove intoxicating stories that held us spellbound. The weekend rushed by much too fast. She the story of Solomon’s birth and the astonishing story Solomon told as a babe before Lila touched his lips banishing his memories, and the story of the Blue Rose during the closing ceremony. There were four official translators for the Hungarian audience and lots of unofficial translators for us storytellers to understand each other’s tales.
It was wonderful seeing Csenge’s mother and father again, who two summers before drove us all over the region. (Scroll down to earlier blog post: A Week of Hungarian Storytelling) Meeting Csenge’s cohort in producing the festival, kindred spirit, Petra for the first time, her face framed by golden Bohemian dreadlocks, proved to be the start of a budding friendship. Later we discussed ways I might return to Hungary offering workshops. My favorite part of the weekend followed a mixture of ghost stories as we coupled to receive a paper lantern. We trooped into the chilled night air, unwrapped, lit, and bid fond farewells to the traveling beacons that floated upwards and away lighting up the night sky. It was as if we were sending our stories out into the world for all to see and hear. Perhaps it was because we were still swooning from Wayqui’s love stories that the night seemed rampant with warmth, romance and magic. Or maybe it was because we’d all come together and offered our soul’s telling in a city that is full of climactic story. Whatever the reason, I was so glad my husband was there to share the moment. As tellers do, we bonded forming connections that will most certainly last a lifetime.
First my apologies, not writing anything for a very long time. Quite frankly, the bottom fell out of my world. I needed to write in a different way. So just about the time I stopped writing on my storytelling blog, over a year ago, I began writing a column called Weekly Uplift. It helped me deal with my life in a positive way. This past week, I attended the Hungarian storytelling festival and the mother of a storytelling friend lovingly chided me for not writing my blog regularly and this is my first attempt at restarting my blog. What to write about? A wonderful wish unfolded this past week. I finally visited the Egri Korona Borhaz in Eger, Hungary
Egri Korona Borhaz is a winery located an hour away from Budapest. I first heard of this winery when my husband’s friend gifted us with two bottles of wine five years ago. The first bottle we opened several months later when storyteller, Judith Wynhausen, and her family vacationed with us Holland. (see blog entry for August 5, 2007) Sadly, my friend, Judith is no longer with us. So I am very happy to have this wonderful memory of her family’s visit and this delicious wine we shared. Judith‘s husband, John, loves wine, and beer. So during their visit, we drove to Westmalle in Belgium where the monks play classical music for the cows who produce divine cheese. http://www.trappistwestmalle.be/en/page/brouwerij.aspx
Now I have never been a beer drinker. Instead I had a waffle covered with ice cream. Belgium waffles are quite simply amazing. John insisted I taste the three different kinds of Westmalle beer. I still am not fond of beer! Later that night, we sat around listening to more of my husband’s incredible tales and popped the cork on the red wine. The taste was out of this world! I have tasted many wines in my life, but this was the absolute best wine I have ever had in my life, bar none. The body, bouquet and aroma of this wine Egri Korona Kek Medoc came together to create the smoothest, finest wine I have ever had.
Having tasted a bit of heaven, I had to know more about the wine. I found out where the winery was located, and because the bottom fell out of my life, I couldn’t just pack up and go to Hungary. Everything in my life was topsy-turvy. There was no money for the luxuries of life and the necessities were stretched beyond their usual proportions. To the outsider, my world seemed frivolous I’m sure. After all, I was gallivanting all over the world seemingly without a care in the world. Truth be told, I literally traveled on a shoestring, kindnesses from others, credit, lots of prayers and too many miracles to list in one page.
It was an amazing ride of grace, trust and faith. I always managed to come right side up, and everything worked out, but I didn’t know it would at the time. So anyway, I get this invitation to attend the Holnemvolt (the word for storytelling in Hungarian) Festival in Budapest. What an opportunity presenting itself. It happened that my husband’s birthday is also in March, so with a bit of advance planning we wound up in this incredible place I’ve longed to go for these past five years, on an overnight leisurely wine tasting, that included breakfast and dinner! I was there! I lived it! In the mountains the air was cool, fresh and uplifting. http://www.koronaborhaz.hu/index-2.php
I am inspired. We’re bringing back six bottles. They’ve changed the name of the wine from Keke Medoc to Egri Borhaz Menoire, but it no longer has the same taste, though it is still positively wonderful. Traveling around Eger, we happened upon this wonderful place for exquisite Thai massages at a little place called Hunguest Flora Hotel. Every part of my body is working again!
I learned a lot of important lessons along the way. When you find wine you like, purchase more of it quickly. (I did try, the company didn’t ship outside of Hungary and the two cases my husband’s friend brought back for us from his next visit, curiously disappeared before we got back to Holland.) Be kind to yourself, no matter what. You need you. You are important and life is good even if it doesn’t always seem that way. I am in love with life and living. You see this week, my uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the same thing my mom had three years ago. My sister-in-law’s husband lost his battle with diabetes. And last night an email from a friend, her fiancé died.
I am alive, and loving life and loving you. I promise to write faithfully on my blog too—at least once a month, (thanks Detti!) and when it’s really good, I’ll write more! Now this is an order--go love your life! Live. What makes your heart happy? Do more of that! And if you can’t do THAT thing, then spend time believing and imagining you’re doing that thing at least you’ll be happy imagining. I am dong what I love–traveling with someone I love, enjoying life because I dreamed it and believed it before it ever happened, though for the longest time things were not quite right, yet life keeps on getting better and better. This is your time. This is your life. LIVE! Angela –the Yarnspinner
Feeding the Lambs!!
My in-laws live on a farm so I was delighted to see the many baby lambs that had been born in my absence. Four of them lost their mom leaving the task of feeding them a daily chore. I volunteered for the job on Monday evening. Mom gave me the warm bottle and pointed out each lamb should only get a third of the bottle. (One of the lambs had passed.) I walked to the fenced in area and though I was some distance away, those lambs knew it was feeding time and came running and baaa-ing up the fence. Because of the sheer exhilaration over feeding them, I felt a bit overwhelmed too and decided to remain outside the fence to feed them. They are fed three times a day.
Arjo, my husband, began snapping pictures. One third of the milk disappeared in no time! How to describe their enthusiasm, their eagerness as they sucked at the bottle, as all three of them chomping at the bit, jostling and bumping each other to get at the milk. It was pandemonium, incredible life! Not at all panoramic, but enormous in my mind as the lambs vied for feeding. I was in the middle of a feeding frenzy and was thankful they weren’t piranhas. I couldn’t help being amazed and awed by the delightful lambs. And just like that, the milk was gone. I wished I had more milk to give them.
Feeding the Heart!!
I am spending time in Holland and arrived just in time to celebrate my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary. Four offsprings and their families came together to a wonderful restaurant on the beach called Gravelingen not far from where we live. Celebrations are always nice because it’s a happy time as we flow through life’s amazing passages. Lots of love and joy abounds. Most of the talk was in Dutch, but it was clear to me, love was being celebrated. My husband had given me sketchy details of how the two had come together. Her mother noted if her daughter married a farmer she’d never be hungry or want for much (and in those days, farmers were indeed considered wealthy).
None of us can be certain what the future holds when we start out on the road of life. But one thing is sure. We will go. Fifty years later we look back and wonder did we make the right choices? It was evident to me looking around the table at the happy faces present, there was much to be grateful for. Sophie, the youngest grandchild at seven sat quietly across from us coloring, while the eldest grandchild Zonder, 21 with girlfriend at his side sat further down table discussing plans for the future. This amazing cycle of life continues in play out around the world. Families coming together to be together. In America, my own family was getting together in Dallas, Texas to celebrate my youngest brother’s house warming.
My own heart was warmed. Families celebrating each other. I looked at my husband sitting next to me. For this, I had traveled over 5500 miles to be with family. Careers and life demanding its toll, we had passed a time apart, major in many ways. Coming together again felt right. Will we live through 50 years together? Who knows? But each day I choose to live from a place of gratitude and joy. From this awareness comes the understanding that I can create a thing of joy and imbue it with more love. Marriage is a choice. My in-laws are bound by a faith that demands they do the done thing and their choices have not been unkind. Each moment we are faced with choices that lead to more choices as the fabric of time unravels. What joy!
The stories we tell can help us to uncover emotional freedom if we choose. Telling stories is what we do all day long! A toad in my mind’s eye saw a fly of a thought and faster than lightning snatched it into itself and the thought disappeared. It was hard to suppress the laughter that followed after imagining the mind eating itself! Every time a thought came that seemed less than wholeness, the frog devoured it. The mind is ingenious in creating exactly what you need to take you where you most want to go.
Our minds cannot be grabbed with the hands and handled. Yet our minds are responsible for all that we see. Every thing we see began as a thought in someone’s mind. All that we think are thoughts we choose to have and we never stop thinking until we decide. Mind hides our true self. But the mind can no longer hide from itself. Every where we turn, there we are. If we see the kindness of a loved one, it is our own kindness being displayed returning to wink at us. Conversely, when we see the sides of us in others we do not like, there again, is another wink. The mind longs for summer when it is winter; for whatever it thinks it does not have, there is longing. The mind is constantly telling us stories.
Our lives are filled with the stories we tell ourselves. Are we choosing to tell stories that make us feel good? I know a good toad story to share…I am laughing again. What a mind, what a world!
The one thing we can be sure of is change. It's time to downsize, with kids grown and on their own and living on two continents calls for rearrangement. A mixture of feelings swirl through me as this move has been happening in sporadic spurts for the past six months finally comes to a completion. I've been living in my new space for nearly six months now and though it took some getting used to, I've learned to call it home. It's quite and ordeal moving out of 3700 square foot space with room enough for everything you love, into a 1500 square foot unit that comfortable for two people who travel a lot. Deciding what to take and what needs a new home can be problematic.
It so happens my daughter and her husband are also moving, but to a larger space, so she's inheriting some of my most cherished pieces like the dining room set, the good china, a king size suite and much more. My son is also moving after completing his masters, to a space of his own and will be getting mom's library, a bedroom set and stuff he staked out as his. Problem is neither one can get their stuff until next month. So it's all going in storage until they come to retrieve it. We'll be freer to move back and forth between continents as life dictates.
Jazz Fest in New Orleans is fast approaching and after five years, I've been invited to tell again at the festival for the first time since Hurricane Katrina! I'll be praying for sunny skies and a cool breeze! Right after Jazz Fest I head back to Holland before Summer Reading kicks into high gear! It's going to be a busy summer with lots of exciting developments on the way!
The Martian is Here, The Martian is Here!!
Not aliens from out of space, but my dear friend Sylvia Barker is in New Orleans to check on her parents' post Katrina home and to share stories! Sylvia calls herself Martian, the Storyteller. though born in New Orleans, she lives in Rochester, NY. The first night she arrived she whisked me away to the infamous Palm Court Cafe in the French Quarter to hear fabulous jazz. Sylvia Barker is the only offspring of jazz greats Blue Lu and Danny Barker. We sat next to the stage and heard jazz music while stuffing our faces with great food. It was an evening to remember because everybody seems to know Sylvia! I met so many people. Even the terrific up and coming snazzy drummer, Kori Walters, asked to take pictures with Sylvia. Sylvia was introduced on stage and second lined like a teenager around the restaurant to her father's music and got many of the tourists to join in!
The next day Sylvia participated in a Seder Communion at our church on the Northshore and gave some inspiring information. At a local school, Sylvia wowed the kids with her original tale, "The Three Pig Brothers", an urban rendition of "The Three Little Pigs". I could not believe my eyes as Sylvia danced and performed like a twenty five year old something, though she is not far from being an octegenarian! Her joie de vivre is contagious!
Sylvia brings life, zest and youthful energy wherever she goes! That certainly makes her different and a whole lot of fun to be around. Her stories are always interesting and you are sure to learn something new if you hang around for even a short time. I think she's a national treasure in her own right. Her court case around her family's home was settled amicably and it will be hard to settle back down once she heads back to Rachester, where she's been transplanted for the past three decades.
Storytelling in the Classroom!!
Stories make me feel all kinds of emotions depending on the tale being told. Kids on the other hand, always bring out the sheer joy of sharing stories. This past week was no different as I told to a group of first graders at two separate schools. Their eyes are wide as imaginations follow along with the stories. This group can get antsy, so I usually have a few parts in my stories where they get to participate! In the story I shared, there were several questions which made their little hands shoot up in the air. Teachers giggled at the responses and I had to maintain composure whenever they responded in their joyfully, predictable silly ways. One kid was definitely in the ornery mode and decided he would answer differently from the others. Now ordinarily answering differently is a good thing. In this case, he maintained that he did not want to learn how to use his brain to help him. It was a perfect moment to send some love his way! Breaking protocol I asked the kids to send him a great big heart of love his way. Shucks, he enjoyed that little bit of attention so much, he continued his little game of disagreeing as the story progressed. Kids who love themselves don't hurt themselves or others. In driving the main point of the story home, he got the message. I really hated to say good bye when it was time to go, I'd had so much fun. It was lots of fun to read their hand written thank yous and and drawings. I've been invited back again next year, so I'll get to see them again!
Breathing in Joy!!
There are things in life over which we have no control. My neighbors make too much noise, I thought amidst crumbly feelings pervading my space like bad odors. A perpetual scowl on my face and wishing I was some where other than right here did nothing to improve my mental scape. I read a message from Maya Angelou and everything shifted exponentially into clearer focus. The noise continued, but it no longer bothered me. She spoke of a really low time in her life and visited a minister for help. She walked away from that meeting changed, inspired and uplifted. She learned to say, “Thank you God” for whatever showed up in her life.
I began thanking God for the noise and somehow the noise just didn’t bother me any more. Since that day, I’ve learned to thank God for so much I don’t like around me, but I also am grateful for the thousand and one things that are wonderful for my life. A kind of peaceful serenity has moved in. Shucks, I’m even grateful for the cold! Try it yourself. Start thanking God for everything that shows up in your life, and you too will witness a miracle unfolding within.
Weekly Uplift all Year Long!
Winter is here. Gone on the holidays and I wonder where the time has gone. The holidays were like a quick breath and the next thing you know, we are in a new year. A new year has begun! It is the year that I focus precisely on what is meaningful and beautiful. Stories abound at the cutting edge of life. Embedded in our very lives, are the stories we tell ourselves that will shape our tomorrows. I found an old notebook in which I’d written out my dreams.
Busy with life, I forgot about what I’d written. Imagine my surprise when I realized, everything I’d written had come to pass. We have the power to create a life like no other. Conscious thought leads to fulfilling actions. Simple, methodical, daily actions lead to the puzzle pieces of your life falling into place. Each Friday, I write a weekly inspirational blog cast sent out to a select group sharing uplifting information to consciously plot one’s direction in life. For me, writing inspirationally is a piece of my puzzle clicking into place. Though the picture is not fully clear, I feel guided to share from this enormous arsenal of information within. If you’re interested in receiving my “Weekly Uplift” column, email me with a request. Angela.firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's one of my favorite quotes to place into action any day this year: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
My daughter called to say she and her husband would actually visit for Christmas! It was great news for me. The holidays were coming together. My son in school in Washington DC had already informed me he’d be spending two weeks at home and bringing his girlfriend. With husband sequestered in Holland and me bound to the US, there was no chance he’d be here for the holidays, economics dictated. No longer badgered with thoughts of how to spend Christmas, it became very clear I would prepare Christmas dinner.
Son arrived with a friend, he neglected to mention. Girlfriend opted to arrive a couple of days after Christmas. My daughter and her husband arrived at 11:30, one half hour before midnight on Christmas day. No matter that it was almost midnight! We ate dinner, exchanged gifts and played Scrabble on the Diamond edition my kids gifted me with. Husband on Skype, laughter in the air, Christmas turned out to be quite memorable after all. When the holidays appear, I know what’s important is being surrounded by loved ones, tummies full…all safe and happy. Wish I could give that gift to the world. Merry Christmas all!
Thanksgiving Blessings in Holland!
"Go to foreign countries and you will get to know the good things one possesses at home." - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
This Thanksgiving proved to be one of the most memorable yet, even though I was in another country. I bemoaned the fact that my children who are celebrating the holiday with family in New Orleans, would be long gone when I returned from working in Holland telling stories. I would learn that blessings unfold wherever you are.
Thanksgiving in Holland is celebrated the same week in November usually the Wednesday before. Nearly everyone in neighboring communities celebrate by going to church. There are several different services to choose from as most people aren’t off from work on holiday. My husband and I went to the 6:30 pm service and it was all in Dutch. We usually sit in the organist area in the back looking over the church. The organist is a very good friend of ours as he was the best man in our wedding. I took the time to reflect gratefully on the many gifts God has bestowed on my life. Afterwards we went to the organist home to see his wife who recently had another baby girl. We stayed for a lovely visit snacking on skewered chicken and spare ribs while bringing each other up to date on our lives. I couldn’t believe it had been nearly a year since we‘d last visited since I visited during the summer too. It took me some time to remember, I was busy traveling most of the summer outside of Holland.
The next day, Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, I'd prudently invited my favorite auntie and uncle to share our Thanksgiving dinner. No large groups and no turkey carcass to contend with, I’d learned my lesson the hard way. I proudly served a goose complete with stuffing at another celebration only to discover no one would eat the food. Having been raised on a farm, no one could eat meat without remembering the suffering of the sacrificed animal. Subsequently, bones are forever banished from our family’s table. We had filets of chicken breasts steeped in gravy, cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing made with a little goose his mom had given me, green peas with mushrooms, okra gumbo soup and apricot pie with mango and apricot ice-cream, wine, coffee and chocolates. Superb in my opinion, since I had brought most of my ingredients like stuffing, okra gumbo and cranberry sauce from America, and auntie and uncle had several portions remarking how good the food was. Over the meal we recounted our gratitude and talked of Hungary! Tannte Aartje and Om Piet bought a second house in Hungary and travel there frequently. I couldn’t believe it when she spoke to me in Hungarian! Apparently, she has been taking classes and learning the language! We exchanged stories of Hungary and plan to visit them later this year in Hungary.
Afterwards, Tante Aartje and Om Piet gave us gifts--me a Rosemary bubble bath set and Arjo a photograph book filled with keepsake photos of grandparents, his mom and dad, family memories stocked with wonderful mementos from when they were children! A deeply touching moment, my husband brushed a tear aside. Luckily I had a stash of leftover gifts and gave them warm winter sweaters and a colorful wool pin I’d purchased in Spain precisely for my favorite auntie who liks to wear woolen clothing.
We were reminded how fast life goes by as Tante Aartje and Om Piet had to leave earlier than usual to drive the next morning to watch over their grandchildren so their daughter-in-law could attend her mother’s funeral. We have so much to be grateful for: earlier Thanksgiving Day, my husband got a job that started Thanksgiving night! After bidding the auntie and uncle adieu, I had to say goodnight to my husband too! He arrived home sleepy and tired this morning, happy yet content for our many blessings!
Wonderful me had the opportunity to share stories at the Rotterdam Storytelling Festival recently. The theme of the festival was: “What you get from far, is good!” Centered around the theme of food at the story fountain were workshops and stories. Sharing the stage on Sunday to tell stories from North America with Mary Sue Siegel and Nico de Verhalenman and Rik Bakker who played flute we had fast food. Not literally. Our session was called Fast Food. Mary Sue and I did a spontaneous storytelling piece about our family histories, while Nico told stories about coyote from the Native American tradition and I told stories about Louisiana. Michel Damhuis, also a storyteller, was our master of ceremonies. The Dutch word for storyteller is Verhalenvertaler. Here is the Dutch version of what was offered:
Here is a photo of the flutist: A photo of Mary Sue and Angela telling:
Grateful Life, Grateful Friends, Grateful World!
As the turkey season rolls around, our thoughts turn to being grateful. Grandmother held huge feasts every Thanksgiving. All the kids and grandkids and loved ones would find their way to grandma's house. She'd be cooking late at night and up before dawn on Thanksgivng Day to make sure everything was perfect. Seldom did the day go perfect. Looking back, I can see, like grandma, my Thanksgiving Day celebrations were anything but perfect: Family members would say they were coming and not show up, food burned, tempers flared, and few wanted to express their gratitude around the table, preferring to get a choice seat in front of the TV. Thanksgiving was a time for gathering to see just how well our family didn't work.
Looking back at grandmother, I know now she was happiest because she was giving of herself and it really didn't matter how it all turned out. She had done her part, providing the place, the food and the love. We could choose to partake of her goodness or not. For the past few seasons, I remember grandmother's wisdom and give of myself without worrying about who's not participating, or being concerned that everything is not perfect. Living on two continents make getting together for a grateful family feast difficult. Last year Thanksgiving started early, I gave the love inside of me away, as it showed up, wherever I happened to be. Delivering turkey boxes to needy families included lots of love as I checked on families throughout the year. When my family couldn't make it, the neighbors and I joined together to feast and be grateful. Year before last, I celebrated Thanksgiving in Holland with my husband's family. When visions of the gobbler being slaughtered prevented them from tasting the turkey, I made turkey salad--served them a generous portion and distributed what was left to neighbors and friends. I am grateful this year however Thanksgiving decides to show up!
A friend invited me to her Changes group that meets every Thursday night at a little cafe in New Orleans. Thinking it was the navel gazing variety popular these days, I begged off for weeks, until one night I decided to go with her and discovered a process called Focusing. The process uncovered by Eugene Gendlin has been around for a little over a decade and leads to greater clarity and understanding of one's self. It's a simple process of becoming aware of what wants to be heard /felt from within. While it is listening to yourself and others, my best take is, it is a form of meditation with eyes wide open.
There are very good reasons for focusing. My listening skills have improved, while my patience levels have increased dramatically. In the midst of all the chaos going on around me, I discovered an added advantage--calmness. Employing a modified practice with students, friends and loved ones, I find listening has become a priority that has improved my way of being mindful. Recently, I applied the art of focusing to storytelling and discovered a whole new layer of why I told stories. Not only was I sharing my talents, the larger picture showed I was healing myself and others. As more thoughts bubbled to the surface, it became clear that I had tapped into pay dirt. Storytelling sustains me in so many ways. Focusing, like storytelling, unfolds step by step revealing a more complete story.
If I have piqued your interest on focusing, you can find out more about Focusing from teacher, Rob Foxworth at http://www.robfoxcroft.com.
Friends have been telling me for years that when Mercury Retrograde happens, watch out! They swear that everything gets fouled up, lost and mistakes are rampant. Well, this past month has been a real doozy. My house flooded when a faulty washing machine went beserko. My car was vandalized, my laptop has been out of commission for nearly a month, my cell phone went to celluar heaven, and a Reiki session brought on a mammoth headache. It has been enough to make a person scream and it is not even Halloween yet! Things are slowly getting back to normal. The new carpet's been ordered. I am trying to figure out my new phone and while the laptop has been returned from the shop, it is still out of commission. In spite of all the hoopla' I did get to Thibodeaux, Louisiana in time for a Francofete L'ecologie celebration meant to heighten awareness to Louisiana coastal erosion. There was fine music, a nutria rat fashion show, storytelling and good food, but the weather was iffy on and off most of the day with lots of scattered showers interspersed. Thankfully my set was in the auditorium and I stayed good and dry along with the folks who came in out of the weather to hear the tales.
Friday marked another year of lessons learned as I celebrated a birthday and marked off my annual list of things to do such as update my will. On top of everything, we're downsizing-yep, moving. Aargh! It is not my favorite thing to do, but with kids all grown up and Arjo temporarily back in Holland, (He got a fab job offer, he could not refuse) it's time to move on to simpler digs that make for traveling around the world simpler and easier. Once my laptop's oakie-doakie again, I'll write more. Look for stories about our upcoming trip to Sardinia. For now, how about sending some good energy my way? And keep on telling those tales! Now there's something Mercury can't touch!
Storytelling in Sunny Holland!
We rode our bikes along the Sea all the way from our house in Wissenkerke, to Colijnsplaat in the Netherlands. The 5k trek was a breeze in the sunshine. People were outside enjoying the lovely weather. The wind blew my hair all over my head. The next day we went to Rotterdam to tell stories at the Galerie Kralingen. My friend, Mary Sue Seigel is also a storyteller and has lived in the Netherlands for 35 years. She recently went to Iran to tell at their storytelling festival! It was she who invited me to tell in Rotterdam.
I met her husband Rene, and after a lovely dinner she prepared we motored over to the site. I was surpised to see the area is used for so many events including storytelling. There was an enclosed courtyard garden, where I disappeared briefly to enjoy the calm serenity and beauty of the garden. Everything stopped for a minute. When I went back inside, a crowd had gathered and the stories began! What a fabulous opportunity storytellers have in this region. I met many tellers during the intermission and some I remembered from the storytelling workshop held in July. Too soon it was over and Arjo and I headed back to Wissenkerke.