I Have to Stay Home Again

You cannot share your life with a dog, as I had done in Bournemouth, or a cat, and not know perfectly well that animals have personalities and minds and feelings. Jane Goodall

She left me again. When will she come back? One week? Three weeks? I miss her so much. I know she is leaving when I see the black suitcase. I always get nervous when I see it.

She and Anthony, my pet sitter, took me for a walk around the park. Anthony is from New Jersey. He likes to travel around and pet sit. He is tall and has a deep voice. I think I like him. I got my snacks and did my business as usual. Carol is going to Switzerland. She told me how long she would be gone. I can’t remember because I am a cocker spaniel who doesn’t comprehend time very well.
The night before, she secretly took the suitcase out of the closet. It’s the black one with the orange wrap around the handle. That is so mom doesn’t lose her suitcase. She doesn’t like to pack too early.  It makes me sad. I don’t see my blue traveling bag. The one that has all of my snacks, cushion, and dog food. The one Carol throws into the back of the car on a road trip.  I know I am not going. Dogs aren’t allowed to fly.
Anthony is a nice guy. I used to go to Raintree Pet Resort. It was nice. I could swim. I didn’t. I am afraid of water. I made some friends. I didn’t really like the other dogs. I liked the attendants. They took good care of me. I had my own room and bed. No cages. I hate cages. I was happy to go. Mom decided it was too expensive. She came home from Spain and had to pay $800 to get me out. “You are expensive Chloe,” she said. Mom likes to travel. She needed to find a cheaper place to put me. She loves me, she wanted something special. I know she wouldn’t leave me with someone who would treat me badly.
She found Trusted House Sitters on the Internet. It’s free. Now, I don’t feel so bad. She can travel more often. Not good for me. I have to stay home without mom more often.
I have had five sitters in the past 1.5 years. Mom lays down the law before she leaves. Don’t give Chloe people food. Just vanilla Ice Cream. Make Chloe walk every morning at 5:00. The last sitter didn’t do that. I won’t tell mom. Let Chloe sleep in bed with you.
Mom is happy. She doesn’t worry about me now. She knows the sitters are good. I miss mom. Don’t worry mom. Travel as much as you can. I will always be waiting for you to come home.
A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.

Josh Billings

Sixteen days later
I lay on the bed watching Anthony throw his clothes into his suitcase. He is not very organized. He just got a call from mom. She has landed and will be home in about an hour. Anthony has been running around the house all morning. Washing clothes, the sheets, towels and then making the bed. Mom told him she wanted the house to look just like she left it. He is cleaning the sink and the shower upstairs. He never used the shower downstairs.
He is making his lunch. Anthony is a vegan. Mom left him some things to eat. He ended up going shopping and buying Vegan food. I am not sure what a Vegan is. Mom will explain it to me when she gets home.
The doorbell rings. Anthony locked the door and mom didn’t have her keys in her hands. He opens the door. I am so excited to see mom. She came back. I pee all over the floor. That’s what I do when I get excited. I give her a lot of kisses. She calls me her “baby girl”. “How’s my baby girl?” I kiss her some more and follow her into the kitchen.
Anthony is still trying to clean up. He is in a real hurry. His Uber is coming soon to pick him up. Mom thanks him for taking good care of me. He actually let me eat dinner in the loft. I won’t tell mom. One of her rules is not to eat in the loft. It’s my secret.
I was sad to see Anthony leave. I hope he comes back again. Anthony leaves and mom closes the door. Now, it is just mom and me again. We go to bed at night. Mom puts her hand on my head and says she missed me. Mom, I missed you too. I love you! Goodnight!

A Democracy in Danger

 

July 4, 2018. I am not wearing anything red, white, or blue. No shorts, t-shirts, underwear, bathing suit, or socks that have a picture of the flag of the United States. I am not feeling proud to be a US citizen.

We have Americans trying to find happiness, wealth, and liberty in our country and they are being shut out. Yes, we are not the only Americans. There are three other Americas. North America, South America, and Central America. They are also Americans. That includes Canada, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and many others.

Children as young as four months old are being taken out of the hands of their parents at the borders of Texas and Arizona sent to far away states, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey. Parents are lied to by the authorities. Told their children are going to take a bath.  Mothers are told to put their children in car seats as the cars speed away without telling them where the children were going. Put up for adoption and a chance they will never see their parents again. Fathers are deported back to their home countries. Accused of the crime for seeking asylum. Their children are nowhere to be found. This is exactly the terror that these people are fleeing. How can this happen in the U.S.?

Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.

Charles de Gaulle

“This is the best country to live in. You have the freedom of speech, religion, and to be educated.” said my parents, teachers, and others who were in authority. I believed them until I was 18. I went to live in Mexico for five years. Why was the US the best country to live in? Of course, Mexico does have its problems. Most of them are with corruption. I know many Mexicans who were happy, had nice houses, good jobs, and a chance for education. There are not enough jobs for the people living in Mexico who don’t have an education. They come across the border to work for very low paying jobs. Many people go across the border two or three times a day. US citizens retire in Mexico, visit the beaches, and have vacation homes. They drive back and forth across the border.

Many of the border crossers are from poorer and more corrupt countries. Honduras: Political strife, violence, criminals extort money called a “war tax” for their survival. If the person can’t pay, a member of their family is killed. Guatemala: lack of economic stability, political instability, and natural disasters. El Salvador: Criminal gangs, poor economic conditions, and natural disasters. Most of the first immigrants to come to the US suffered from the same problems. Fear of death for their beliefs, economic poverty, and a chance for a better life.

In the US we have always prided ourselves on having the following three freedoms:   Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom to an education. There has been a change. The newspapers and reporters have been labeled fake. They are shut out of summits and meetings with the president. They are told to “shut up” when they ask too many questions. Most of the questions asked, don’t get an answer. The president of our country has asked that news reporters be jailed. Freedom of speech? You are still free to practice your religion as long as it is a Christian religion. Other religions are scrutinized and criticized by the president. Their leaders and some of their followers are killed by others who don’t agree with them. Freedom of religion? An education depends on where you live and how much money you have. The public education system is not supported by the government. Instead of promoting an education for all, it has become an education for the privileged. Those who send their children to private schools or charter schools. We do not have an education for all.

European countries have everything and more than what we have. A health system available to all. Yes, the taxes are much higher. One for all. All for one. Quality education is free to all until 9th grade. Young people choose to study as an apprentice or go to college and the various other higher education schools. In Switzerland, starting salaries for the service industry are $40,000-50,000 dollars.

Our freedom is slowly being taken away from us. The president acting as the only one making decisions. Telling black football players to get out the country because they don’t stand for the flag. Intimidating our long-term European and Canadian allies. Our senators telling the Prime Minister of Canada “You will burn in hell’” . .Cuddling up next to North Korea, China, and Russia. Kim has been given the honor of being “smart” because he took over North Korea when he was 12. He was given the job by his father. He murdered his half-brother. He throws people who oppose him in jail orders them killed. This is smart? He sent an American student who was tortured home in a coma. This is admirable? His people have a great “fervor and respect” for him. They don’t have a choice. He asks the people of the USA to do the same for him.

The US president makes decisions with the stroke of his pen. Not, knowing what he has signed. He doesn’t want to take the time to read it. Without asking the people around him for their input. What happened to democracy?

We have a Congress and a Senate elected by the people to serve the people. They don’t. They serve themselves. They hide like children behind the skirts of their mothers as if being scolded. They don’t want to fall out of favor. Afraid of their jobs.

We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

Barack Obama

We are slowly being changed from a democracy to a dictatorship. OK, maybe this is too much of an exaggeration. We are changing and it doesn’t look good. We need to make some drastic action. Democracy will not be here for the future if we don’t put the brakes on now.

Where is the US headed? What are we going to do about it? Someone do something now!

July 4, 2018. I am not a proud patriot of the US. I am embarrassed to be a US citizen. The president of the US does not represent me!

 

 

 

Am I a Failure?

I stand in front of the automatic sliding doors nervously waiting for them to open. I run back and forth because I can’t find the entrance. I am so excited. I am going to the only store that allows me to enter. My feet are sliding all over the freshly mopped linoleum floor. Where’s the snack aisle? That is my favorite. My feet are moving as fast as they can. I am going nowhere. Oh, I forgot. I am attached to a leash.

A middle-aged lady with a blue apron approaches me.

“Hi, are you Chloe?” she asks

How does she know my name? I look at her with my big brown eyes and wiggle my little butt.

Her apron has the name “Petco” printed on the left -hand side.

She leads me to a large blue enclosure at the entrance of the store. I am not alone. There is another dog sitting with its owner. He is bigger than me. I try to be brave. The lady is talking to Carol, my owner. She is going over the commands that I must master. I am here to take the Canine Good Citizenship test. I have been practicing at home for almost one month. Mom didn’t think it was necessary to sign up for the classes. She knows I am naturally smart and always obey the rules. She just gets annoyed when I whine.

Sit. Sit. Stay. Stay. Come. Good Chloe. I practiced these commands every day. I feel ready. I can do this.

The nice lady gives me the commands. “Sit Chloe”. I sit. She makes a checkmark on her clipboard. She leads me around the enclosure. “Sit”. She walks away. She turns around and says “come”. I come. She makes another check mark. Mom and I go out of the enclosure. We go down my favorite aisle. The snack aisle. I smell the food. That is a bad checkmark. We get to the end and Mom tells me to “stay”. I like mom. I do what she tells me. I sit. Mom turns her back on me and walks to the end of the aisle. I don’t like it when she does that. I am scared she will leave me. I sit and wait. The lady says I must wait for two minutes. I can’t wait any longer. I run after Carol. Another checkmark in the no pass column. We try it once more. No, I can’t do it.

We return to the blue enclosure. The lady gives Mom the bad news. I didn’t pass the Canine Good Citizenship test. I feel bad. Mom reaches down and pats my head. Is she disappointed in me? Am I a failure?

We walk out. I jump in the car. Sit in my seat. I didn’t get any treats. I lay my head down on the seat. We drive home. Mom stops the car. Wait this is not home. I jump out. Mom attaches my leash. We walk a few feet. Yes, we are at the ice cream shop. I am so happy. Mom only lets me have vanilla. I have the best mom. Thanks, Mom. I lick the ice cream off the spoon. Mom tells me I am the best. I feel so good inside.

I am not a failure. Mom loves me!

 

The Journey Continues

Day 1

He stands in the corner. Straight, jet, black, short hair, almond shaped brown eyes. He is 5ft. 7.5 inches. Not showing any facial emotion. Surrounded by ten women, 25-45 years old, ten different nationalities, chattering in varies different levels of English. He slices onions, potatoes, and carrots. He applies oil to the frying pan. The oil begins to sizzle. One by one he tosses in the onions, potatoes, carrots, and thinly sliced beef at a very calculated speed. The smell of the food fills the air. Some smoke arises from the pan and dinner is ready. He was invited by one of the women to cook dinner at our weekly Sunday event in our university dorm common area. He never said a word.

Day 2

The phone in my dorm room rings. I answer. I am not sure if I am being invited for a date or speaking to a foreign salesman who wants me to buy a new car. He speaks slowly and carefully. We meet at the fountain in the middle of the university. It is him. He opens the door to his red Toyota convertible and off we go to lunch. He knows exactly what to order, the only menu item that has a picture. He can’t read the menu. Our conversation is limited. We continue to go out every night for two weeks.

Day 3

December 8, 1980. We stand in front of a Christmas tree with two of his good friends and two of mine. We recite our vows. He has memorized them and requires some language support.  “… for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part…” We are now pronounced husband and wife. A quick kiss on the cheek and a celebration with our friends. No family members invited.

Day 4

January 20, 1981. I have been sitting for thirteen hours. A voice announces that we are landing in one hour. I receive a quick Japanese language lesson from the man next to me. I don’t speak any Japanese. We descend from the plane. There is a written message in Japanese on a bulletin board from him. My seat friend translates it for me. He is waiting. The smell of tobacco smoke overwhelms me. I begin to cough. He is standing patiently waiting for me to exit immigration. The doors open. Floods of people pour out at once. Everyone looks alike. He finds me. We have a quick embrace and head to the train station. A four- hour train ride to our destination.

Day 5

I enter the room. His four brothers, mom, and dad sit, legs folded back, and backs straight up. The table is small and only about 1 ft from the floor. The floor is a tatami mat. Sushi which is a ceremonial food served on very special occasions in Japan is in the center of the table. Everyone stares, emotional expressions hidden, and a great sense of embarrassment on my part. Mom gets up, bows, says something in Japanese, and my husband leads me to my seat on the floor.  Mom serves the food, dad makes a toast, and everyone eats. I am good at using chopsticks. Dinner ends and the family leaves.

Day 6

My phone is beeping. I look down and see my husband calling. I answer. We are 1,871 miles from each other. He is in Michigan and I am in Arizona. My job took me away from him after twenty-seven years of living in Michigan. The conversation did not end well. He is diagnosed with lung cancer. Given nine months to live.

Day 7

He moves to Arizona. We go fishing, camping, and travel as much as possible.

March 13, 2015 life ends. He goes to heaven. Five years of cancer, thirty-five years of marriage, one child, and an incredible adventure later, I am alone.

Day 8

The journey continues.

 

Am I Too Attached to my Computer?

I think it’s fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we’ve ever created. They’re tools of communication, they’re tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user.

Bill Gates

I think I am becoming too attached to my computer. I had to buy a new modem because mine was out of date. This was discovered during an online chat session with my carrier Cox. Where do the real guys hang out? The speed was very slow and I was confronted with the rainbow circle turning it’s colors over and over.

I installed the modem following the instructions on the box. In my next life, I want to be a computer programmer. The modem was still moving at a very slow pace. I was able to get ten minutes of work done and then the dreaded colored circle began to turn the colors of a rainbow, pink, green, blue.

I contacted Cox again. Have you ever tried to call your Internet company? It’s a secret. They hide the number somewhere. I was able to get in touch with them online. We have a “chat”. I answer his questions and he takes over my computer with his magic wand. He tells me that I need to clean out my Mac.

He turns me over to some other guy who doesn’t work for Cox. I find out later that I will have to pay him $100 to clean my Mac. I am desperate. He wants permission to take over my computer

I say yes. I just want the stupid thing to work

Computers can bully us. A slow and unreliable system will bring even the toughest soul to their knees as they find themselves completely defenseless against the erratic whims of their rogue machine.

Lou Ferrigno

He begins to run a package called MacKeeper. This takes about 10-15 minutes

I can’t do any checking of email, news, Facebook, or pretend to write an article.

Am I too attached to my computer?

It can do so many things in such a short period of time. Research libraries, read other blogs, check out writing retreats, reserve hotels, find restaurants, and buy airline tickets

Am I too attached to my computer?

It makes me angry, frustrated and disconnected when it doesn’t work.

Where else can I get information? I was raised at a time when there were no computers. We used encyclopedias, magazines, maps, and libraries. It is so easy to find information with the touch of a few keys on the keyboard, a question to Siri or Google on our smartphones, and a command to take us to the places we need to navigate by car. Apps that gave exchange rates, translate languages, get us transportation, and lead us around  cities we have never been before.

I handwrite while waiting for my computer to run “package scripts”. I realize that my handwriting is unreadable, it is sloppy, and not as clean when typed. I am trapped by my computer.

I stare at my computer waiting for something magical to happen. “Install time remaining: about a minute” Can I speed it up? No, it has control over me.

I sit here waiting and waiting. The screen goes gray. The blue line stops moving.

Everything is at a standstill. Do I go exercise, scream, touch my toes or start all over again? A message appears “Do not turn off your computer”. Nothing moves now. I start clicking everywhere. The annoying rainbow circle begins to spin around again. Turn off the computer. Start over the voice in my head whispers and is now yelling at me. I do what the voice tells me.

The “chat “is over.  Where did that guy go?

He didn’t help. The rainbow circle continues to move. How do I get that guy back?

He sends me a survey asking me if I was satisfied. No, I am not satisfied

I start again. Back to page 1. How do I get that MacKeeper robot icon to come back?

I found it. Now scanning. I wait patiently.

Mac Keeper is downloaded. Waiting for someone to pop up on a chat to help me activate it.

I wish I would have studied computers instead of becoming an ESL teacher. Not really.

I am waiting for the tech to get back online. He says he will return in a minute.

He is busy helping others like me who think computers should just do their thing without all of the problems. My computer is now protected from computer fraud.

Frank, the tech, found 295 sleeping processes. They were sleeping. Frank got rid of them. Thanks, Frank. Frank just charged me $119 dollars for a 3-month warranty. I have to agree.

OK, so Frank is not finished. He must get rid of all those programs that are sleeping.

Frank needs to remotely take over my computer.

I am trapped. If I say no, he won’t fix my computer. Do I know Frank? Is he honest? I don’t know. I wish I could see him. I could tell if he is honest by looking into his eyes. He is hiding behind my computer. I say yes.

Frank has passed me on to another tech. Frank needs to eat lunch.

The next tech will have access to my computer for the next 2-3 hours. I am going shopping.

My computer now flashes before me. Bringing up files I don’t understand. The remote arrow moves around operating on my files. I no longer have control. I hope my computer is not being hijacked

I return home. Turn on my computer. Yeah, my computer is fast. No more circling rainbows.

I change my password immediately.

Now, there is no excuse to write my article.

 

 

A Dog’s Best Friend

 

He can’t get the girls anymore, but he has the dogs eating out of the palm of his hand

Phil Volk was born October 4, 1925. He is a proud 92 and never misses a day at the park doling out treats to the dogs, ducks, and birds. He gives hugs to the owners.  He stands by the turtle, the mascot for the University of Maryland, at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, AZ.

Phil and the turtle

Phil arrives every morning at 7:30 a.m. at Fountain Hills Park with his side kick and best friend Kermit. Phil is 92 years old and Kermit is 82. His black leather designer bag hugging his left shoulder. He carries his “treats” inside the bag. He shuffles over to the turtle where the dogs are waiting impatiently for his arrival. The dogs tug at the leashes incessantly urging their owners to move towards Phil. Like children waiting for treats from the ice cream man. The dogs come in all sizes.

Linda wearing her black rim Ferragamo designer shades adorned with Swarovski crystals, and a floppy hat that makes her look like Ellie on the Beverly Hillbillies, comes running over with her dog Ted. Ted is a black and white Bichon/Shitzu mix with an under bite. Ted sports a colored Mohawk depending on the season. Orange for Halloween, red/pink for Christmas, and green for St. Patrick’s Day. Linda started walking around Fountain Park when there were no sidewalks in 1998.

Phil refers to Linda as “Peaches”.

 “Your skin reminds me of the peaches that grew in my orchard when I was young”. 

Linda says, “His smile warms my heart. Every time I see him my problems disappear.”

He greets Linda with a kiss on the lips, clasps his hands around her face and says, “You are a humdinger, be good, have fun, and enjoy life.”

I wear anything to keep me warm on the cold mornings, blue jeans, long sleeve shirt, padded vest, and a scarf. Ok, so I live in Fountain Hills, I still feel cold at 40F.  Chloe my reddish colored, no tail, stubborn Cocker spaniel is pulling as hard as she can to get to Phil. It takes her thirty minutes to go halfway around the 1.5-mile trail around the park and only five minutes for the last half. She knows that Phil is up ahead and is loaded with snacks. He will feed Chloe the way kids feed the ducks. Nonstop.

I reach over gently, touch his arm, and whisper into his ear “No more snacks for Chloe”.

He smiles and says “OK”.

As soon as I turn my head, he slips more snacks to Chloe. He refers to me as “Professor”. I used to teach at ASU.

Ruth Ann, also dressed for the cold weather is holding on to Teddy. Teddy a red Golden Retriever has more manners than some of the other dogs. Ruth Ann and Teddy have the same color of hair, red. Ruth Ann says that Teddy is the one who dyes his hair not her. Phil greets her with a kiss on her cheeks. Kisses from Phil are harmless and have so much meaning. He lost his wife almost seven years ago. He really misses her.

All of the dogs wait patiently for Phil to hold out his hand and slip them a long- awaited treat. As soon as the treat disappears, they want another one. Appreciative owners help out by bringing bags of treats. Treats include bacon, chicken, and salmon flavored snacks.

Phil attended public schools in Baltimore, Maryland. Graduated from High School in 1944. Trained as a pilot in the Airforce from 1944-1946 during WWII. Never got a chance to fly because the war ended. His best memory is graduating from the University of Baltimore with an MBA and joining the third- generation family business of shoe design established by his Bavarian grand-grandparents.  He held on to the business for 62 years. One of his proudest achievements. A peek into his closet reveals a collection of leather shoes that would make any female shoe connoisseur envious.

He met his wife in a choir in 1950. They both sang and were accomplished students at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. They were married for sixty-two years. One of his worst memories is the passing of his wife in 2010. Cancer was the cause.

Phil and his wife moved to Fountain Hills, AZ in 1994. He started going to the park every day to meet people. He walked around the park at least once. The park is 1.5 miles. He doesn’t walk the park now because he is not as stable. He worries about tripping and tumbling.

I ask him,” What makes you happy?” “Being with my friends, feeding the dogs, and waking up.”

He moved into an Independent Living facility near the park in 2016. He wasn’t sure it was a good decision. Now, he is satisfied and content. He spends his free time watching TV and taking naps.

“What is your secret for living so long?”  “Work hard and be happy.”

My journey through life has been an incredible story. Everything I tried from childhood to adult life seemed to work out well. Starting with my early days. My parents were very loving people who guided me and to this day left me with loving memories. Along the way, I have met many wonderful people and I have many wonderful memories.

Phil Volk

Phil grew up when times were different. No Internet, cell phones, computers, nor automatic cars. A picnic was a date. Money was scarce. Manners were strict. Mothers stayed home and had babies. The baby boom generation. Fathers went to work and brought home the money. That was their only responsibility. No babysitting, changing diapers, or cooking responsibilities. He tries to understand why things have changed. He is not shy about asking people what they think of politics today. “Why don’t more people fly the American flag? People should respect the president.” He doesn’t get into nasty arguments. His comments are more questions than answers. Your answer is respected.

Phil has a hearing problem. Everyone has to shout for him to hear or speak in his left ear. Hearing aids don’t work for him. He has tried many of them. He gets frustrated when he can’t understand what people are saying. We spend most of our time yelling, so he can hear us.

Kristi is a woman from Alaska. She is Phil’s favorite. Kristi met Phil in the summer of 2013.

She only comes about four times a year. The first time she met Phil she knew he needed some special loving.

“Hey, are you, new?” shouts Phil as a young woman with a blonde ponytail bobbing up and down walks by with her white Labradoodle, Ostin close to her side. He started out with the name Austin. The spelling got changed when her son went to elementary school and gave a report about his dog “Ostin”.

“Hello I’m Phil. I haven’t seen you around before”. The young woman shyly approaches Phil. Phil reaches out to Ostin and gives him a treat from his bag. Ostin barks for another one. Phil repeats the act three times. She will do anything to help him out. She calls him “darling”. He calls her “sweetheart”. Kristi is happily married. Phil tells her in jest “I will wait for you forever and if Dave (her husband) ever decides to trade you in I want to be the first to take his place”.

 “How can anyone not love someone who truly loves dogs. He used to call me his Bay Watch girl. Phil just makes my heart smile. He’s who I think of when I think about Fountain Park!”

Kristy owner of “Ostin”

To get ahead in life you must have a good education and a lot of enthusiasm.

Phil

Phil’s best friend, Kermit stopped coming to the park with him. Phil was seen driving down the wrong side of the street and Kermit’s wife was notified. She will not allow him to ride with Phil anymore. Phil now stands alone feeding the dogs and the birds. His best friend no longer keeping him company at the turtle.

How long will Phil continue to come and feed the dogs at the park? As long as God permits him.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hello God! It’s me, Sumio!

Friday March 13, 2015 there was a knock on the Pearly Gates.

The gates swung open and Sumio stood there facing God.

God said “Hello Sumio, welcome to heaven. I have been waiting for you. You fought a very long battle with lung cancer and you look worn out. Worry no more. You are safe here with me.”

Sumio asked “Are you God?”

“Yes, I am”

“I am sorry. I don’t know much about you. Everything I know I learned from my wife.”

“She has told me a lot about you too. You are not a religious person. She put in a good word for you. You are an honest husband, father, friend, and teacher to those around you.”

“I didn’t go to church on Sundays. I played golf and went fishing.”

“I was with you at all times.”

“Do I qualify to enter heaven?”

“Yes, you do. Your wife sent a letter of recommendation with special instructions to keep you busy.”

“I thank her for that. She has always taken care of me. I know the last two months were not easy for her. It was difficult for me to express my thoughts and feelings. I knew the end was coming. I couldn’t let her know that.”

“She misses you a lot and needs you to protect her. You will become the guardian angel of both your daughter, Lisa, and your wife, Carol. Your responsibility is to sit on their shoulders all day long. Protect and guide them.”

“Carol never likes me to tell her what to do. Will she agree with this idea?”

“She already has. “

Goodbye Pura Vida

 

My flight from Costa Rica arrives in Phoenix at   11:00 p.m. An airport shuttle picks me up and takes me to my car. I get into my car and drive home. I am exhausted and at the same time inspired. Exhausted from listening to a child cry for four hours on the plane. Inspired by the Writer’s Retreat I attended for 7 days at Pura Vida.

I approach the front door. I hear a slight whining noise. I insert the key, the latch clicks, and I open the door. Chloe, my cocker spaniel, long ears, short tail, and brown hair pees on the floor. She is so excited. She wiggles her little butt and gives me sweet kisses with her tongue on my cheek. The pet sitters have stayed up to wait for me. Richard helps me carry my bags into the living room. We agree to talk in the morning. I am exhausted. I put on my pajamas, brush my teeth, and lay down on the bed. Chloe jumps on the bed and nestles her head next to mine. She wants to be so close. I pat her head and soon we are both gone into dreamland.

I am just beginning my writing career. I taught writing to English as Second Language students for forty-two years. Elementary school students, High School Intensive programs, Business classes, and adult classes. I spent five years in Japan and five years in Mexico. I had a language school for ten years and spent 20 years teaching in colleges and universities. Now, it is time for me to write. It’s not easy starting a career as a writer. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Social media takes up so much time. I joined a Memoir group in my small town. We meet once a month. I need more writing practice. I need to be inspired.

I raked through all of the writing retreats posted online. Many of them were for experienced writers. I didn’t have the confidence to register. I stumbled across Ping Pangea. The pictures of Costa Rica looked inviting. Who doesn’t want to go to Costa Rica in February? I looked at the reviews, checked to make sure it wasn’t a scam and talked to Jackie the organizer by phone. I took the chance and registered.

It’s 7:30 a.m. Breakfast is served at Pura Vida. Orange chunks of juicy papaya, slices of sweet pineapple, fresh watermelon carefully sliced and displayed in a straight row. Homemade bread, cinnamon, glutton free bread, wheat, freshly made in the kitchen. Fluffy yellow scrambled eggs from the chickens nearby. Oatmeal, fried bananas, pancakes, homemade jams, and quesadillas. No bacon, sausage, or cereal. A freshly prepared breakfast greeted us every morning. Coffee, herbal teas, fresh water, and fruit are always available during the day.

Granola, cinnamon bread with chocolate chip honey, potatoes with green salsa, papaya, pineapple,

I wake up at 5:30 in Phoenix and I have to find my own breakfast. Where is all the fresh fruit? I look in my freezer and find frozen strawberries, blueberries, and cherries that I bought at Costco. There are oatmeal and some milk. I miss you, Pura Vida.

We are a group of twelve women. Young women with various writing skills. Some of them are writing books others like me just beginning on their writing journey. I am the oldest in the group and our experiences are very different. Women who had bad relationships with men, divorced, in the dating game, and happily married women. I am a widow who was married to a man that I loved and respected. He treated me well.

The retreat is held at a retreat center, Pura Vida. Activities include yoga, massage therapies, excursions outside of the retreat center, swimming, and sitting in the hot tub. Many of the younger women in our group choose to worship the sun at the pool and around the hot tub. I wasn’t interested.  I didn’t even bring a suit. The sun has already done enough damage to my skin.  Yoga is a popular event for everyone in our group and the other groups that are part of the retreat center. There is a group of twenty yogis who participate in yoga seminars for five of the days we are here.

The first day we meet in one of the yoga rooms. No chairs, we sit on the floor, legs crossed or spread out in front of us. The chairs have no legs. Like the chairs, I sat in for five years in Japan. Everyone is very comfortable with blankets draped over their legs. I am not as agile as the young ones. I am not comfortable. The doors to the room are open bringing in the fresh air. The room has a huge picture window looking out towards the volcano. One day we spot a rainbow. The reading sessions usually begin about 9:00 and last for two hours. Everyone would share the stories they wrote the night before. We make positive comments about the readings.

Excursions outside of the retreat center include a trip to the Wild Life Rescue Center. Paulo was our tour director. He was very knowledgeable about animals and coffee. He not only led this tour but all of the other tours. The Wild Life Rescue Center holds animals that have become instinct. Many of them are the only species left because of illegal hunting and trading. The animals are fed only natural food. The food they would find in the forests if people had not destroyed the forests by farming. He also led us to some waterfalls.

The tour of the coffee plantation included the process of drying the “coffee cherries”. Paulo tells us “The best coffee is sent to countries that pay the highest prices. Costa Ricans drink the cheap coffee that other countries don’t want”. He also tells us “The people who live in the US don’t know what good coffee is because we use coffee makers which remove most of the flavor from the beans.”  He also enlightens us by telling us that “espresso beans have less caffeine than the mild blends”. He gives his speeches in English with an accent. He has a good sense of humor at times. On the Skywalk tour during a tour of the forest, a white-faced monkey was ready to attack us with a stick. Paulo said, “Come on guys, don’t take any more pictures, the monkey is ready to attack us.”

 

The writing retreat comes to an end. I am inspired. I am ready to go home and write. Now, I have stories to tell. I really recommend writing retreats to all writers and most of all to those who are just beginning. My next retreat will be in Switzerland in June.

Goodbye Pura Vida

 

If These Castle Walls Could Talk


If These Castle Walls Could Talk

Today is a perfect day to visit a castle in Ireland. Grey, misty, damp, and a bit of mystery in the air. Castles are mysterious, secretive and overwhelming. Ireland never had any kings. They were under the kingdom and power of England. The Normans came to Ireland in the Medieval times and built castles that didn’t last long. They were trying to conquer Ireland. Many of the castles became ruins or were destroyed. Irish castles were built by foreigners trying to overtake and control the Irish people.

My four classmates, a married couple from New Jersey, two Irish women, and I pile into an old blue Ford van. Members of the Ireland Writing Retreat on Donegal held up in the inn for almost four hours. The weather is not being very cooperative. Then again it is Ireland. It begins to sprinkle as we travel about thirty minutes to our destination. The land is desolating. There is no one around. There are a few farmhouses, some goats roaming around and eating grass, and a lot of green. It is green everywhere. At home in Arizona, I see the desert. Cactus, snakes, coyotes, and bobcats. It is exciting to see such a different climate. I can put up with this rain for now.

We arrive at Glenveagh Castle located in Churchill, Letterkenny, Ireland. It is no longer sprinkling. It is pouring. We jiggle the door latch to open the door. The door slides open and out we jump. My umbrella refuses to open. Norma, one of my Irish classmate attempts to share hers with me. Norma is an author. She has written two books. She is a very happy woman in her 80s and we have become friends. Her daughter is the same age as mine and we both lost our husbands about three years ago.  She has become my hiking buddy. There is only one minor problem with the umbrella situation. She is much shorter than me. I slowly slip the umbrella out of her hands and hold it over both of our heads.  We share a laugh. We head straight to the information center. The room is very small. The receptionist is behind the information desk. There are at least eight other people squeezed into the space. A family with two young boys are sitting on the bench. The older boy keeps asking his father “Do we have to see another castle? Can I wait in the car?” This kid is castled out. We get our tickets and have to wait for about twenty minutes. I am not waiting in this crowded office. I want to go outside and take pictures.

I head outside. I have my trusty raincoat with a hood that I bought on Amazon one week before the trip. Thanks to the quick delivery provided by my Amazon Prime membership, it arrived two days before my flight. I am sure I will be protected. It is raining much harder now. My curiosity will not go away rain or not. I take out my camera. Cover the lens to the best of my ability and start snapping away. I am in the garden. The garden is walled and was planted and taken care of by the wife of John Adair, the original owner of the castle. Unlike her husband, Cornelia was a kind landlady and very generous to the poor. The garden was modeled after Italian gardens. There is a total of eleven hectares of informal gardens with a different theme. I wish I could see the flowers without the rain. The smell of the rain and the flowers are powerful for someone like me who sees rain twice a year. Yellow dahlias, pink and white roses, Japanese cherry blossoms, yellow osterglocken (daffodil) from Wales, white orchids from Panama (Holy Spirit Flower), and the pink Scottish Bluebell (national flower of Scotland). It is September and many of the flowers have reached their peak season.

 

I find a small bench and sit for a while protected from the torrential rain falling around me. I look around me and the mist has fallen and taken over the beautiful scenery of the garden. It is very mystifying. I find my mind wandering off and thinking what life would be in a castle. I look at my watch and realize our tour will begin in five minutes. I navigate my way to the entrance. I feel like I am walking in heaven. The rain makes me happy and gives me energy. It adds mystery to the castle.

John Adair was one of the most hated men in Ireland. Many Donegal natives would consider it a curse to even mention his name in conversation. Adair had a temper and felt a sense of entitlement that most people did not appreciate. He became a very affluent man by traveling to New York in 1850 and working on land speculation. In 1870, he returned to Glenveagh, Donegal. He began to buy up smaller portions of land the locals owned to create his large estate. The local farmers were struggling to keep their families fed and clothed. Adair was not interested in the problems of the people around him. He had no interest in helping them.

Adair had a dream. He wanted to build a castle that would be much bigger than Balmoral, Queen Victoria’s Scottish Retreat. In 1870 he built the castle on 16,958 hectares of mountains, bogs, lakes, and woods. Glenveagh Castle is four stories tall, rectangular, and made from granite.  The walls are 11/2 meters thick. The castle includes turrets, a round tower, and fortified battlement ramparts to keep out the enemies. Adair didn’t have any enemies to keep out. He wanted to keep out the Irish farmers. They were no threat to him.  Just a nuisance.

Our tour begins in the entryway. The walls are off-white and four pairs of deer busts with their antlers adorn the hallway. Two of them mounted on the wall and two on small pedestals. John Adair was an avid hunter. He replaced the poor Irish people with deer. This made me sad and I wonder how a man could be so cruel. We enter the music room. It is small, blue ceramic fireplace in the corner, blue/green plaid wallpaper on the walls (reminds me of my school uniform),  an antler chandelier hangs in the center of the room, and a big window opens to the lake below.

Our guide tells us this is where the men hung out, smoked their cigars, and shared hunting stories. We visited the oval bedroom. The guests slept here. If they needed anything, they had a little bell that would summon the servants. There were twelve indoor staff and eight gardeners.

One of the bigger rooms in the castle is the Drawing Room where the women would meet. They gossiped, worshiped themselves in their mirrors and worried that their makeup would melt because the room was so warm. They didn’t want to “lose face”. This is true and everyone in the group began to laugh. The women talked about their husbands, boyfriends, and children. They didn’t have any household duties. If they needed someone to attend to them, they rang the bell and someone would be at their beck and call.

I wanted to find out how the castle was built. Who were the laborers who carried the stones from the lake and painstakingly built the walls? Were they paid for their work? Were they the poor Irish farmers living on the land of John Adair? The guide didn’t give us this information. Another mystery.

The first thing Adair did was to evict the local families. Some say it was because he wanted to “improve the view from his castle.” Who wants to look at the poor?” The local families lived in homes with thatched roofs made of cereal straw and reed covered with wooden rafters. The walls were double packed with earth. The floors were flagstone or packed earth that didn’t help in keeping the home warm. A hearth was located in the central area of the home. There were neither chimneys nor windows for the smoke to escape. The people would have had to pay more taxes for the windows. The soot-blackened homes were known as “black houses”.

The locals became very upset and protested his hunting retreats crossing over their lands. They reported him as trespassing. He became furious and even more determined to get these people off of the land. Adair wanted to use the land as a sheep farm. He had brought his own shepherds who eventually got into a bit of trouble. One of them was accused of murder and having an affair with the dead man’s wife. She became pregnant and was sent off to Scotland.

Eviction of the locals began with Adair acquiring the necessary documents that would allow him to send his “crowbar men” house-to-house evicting families. The first house they came upon was the home of a widow and her seven children. After the family was given the news, their house was destroyed so that they could not come back and live in it. A total of two hundred and forty-four people were homeless including one hundred and fifty-nine children. Michael O’Grady paid for half of the people to move to Australia. O’Grady had purchased land in Australia for the sole purpose of providing land for the displaced farmers. Forty-two of the evicted ended up in workhouses in Letterkenny. These evictions were the most infamous in the history of Ireland.

John Adair passed away in 1885. His wife lived until 1921 and was remembered as being kind-hearted. Glenveagh was bought by a Harvard professor, Arthur Kinsley Porter. He led a very lavish lifestyle. Frequent dinner parties, deer stalking, fishing, and kept a wonderful garden. He disappeared from nearby Inishbofin Island in 1933. His death is a mystery.

Castles are pieces of European history. They represent the great divide between the rich and the poor. Who built this grand castle in Glenveagh? There is no mention of the men who carried the massive granite stones one by one up and down the hills. Were these men paid? How much were they paid? Where are the answers? I can only guess that some of the farmers left behind built the castle with no pay. They were slave laborers. There is no plaque or description of the builders. Could it be something that people just want to forget? It is important to remember history and to honor those who put so much sweat into this great castle.

I left the castle with these questions. We had some time before our van returned. We stopped at the restaurant in the visitor center. There were pies, cookies, chocolates, tea, and coffee. We all ordered something to eat and drink. I ordered coffee and a piece of cheesecake. I asked my group if they knew who built the castle. No one had the answer. The information desk wouldn’t give me an answer. Is it a secret? I want to know.

The van arrives. The rain slows to an annoying drizzle. I am disappointed. I would like to spend more time at the castle. We drive down the road and I can’t resist turning around and looking at the castle tower. It is so tall and profound. I can imagine what the life of the people outside of the castle and inside the castle was like. Two completely different groups occupying the same land.

The road we travel back is the same road that so many of the Irish walked to arrive at their ships taking them out of their country into a far and distant place. Places such as the USA and Australia, no longer in charge of their destiny.

This bridge was crossed by the evicted farmers and their families.

A message carved in Gaelic wishing everyone safe travels and mourning their loss

I look out into the vast green farmland. It is quiet and has an eerie feeling. There are no people in the fields, driving cars, or walking around. Was it always like this? It looks so lonely. No one talks as we make our way back to the Tec.

The countryside as it is today

Castles are mysterious. They hold secrets that we will never know.

 

 

How Important is Religion in India?

Cultures grow on the vine of tradition.     

Jonah Goldberg

Religion plays a very big part in the lives of Indians. There are mosques and temples scattered everywhere throughout the city of Delhi. Not many churches are visible. Hinduism is practiced by 82% of the population, Islam 12.8%, and Christianity 0.87%. People who are Hindus have altars in their homes. They pray every morning and night in hopes that these gods will bring them happiness and health. The altars are decorated in bright colors and are usually placed in their bedrooms. I did not feel comfortable taking pictures of gods and goddesses in the temples nor in the home of Hiroko’s friend.

If religion has given birth to all that is essential in society, it is because the idea of society is the soul of religion.
Emile Durkheim

Jama Masjid Mosque

This is my first time to visit a mosque. Jama Masjid is one of the largest Islamic mosques in India. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built it in 1656. I took eleven years to build. We arrive during prayer time which begins at 12:00. We must wait until 1:30 to enter. The mosque is in the center of one of the busiest marketplaces in the area. There were white-haired tourists taking their pictures while riding on the rickshaws. I am sure this was part of their tour package. Some of them have very nervous faces. Their rickshaw drivers are trying to navigate the traffic while these tourists feel that their lives are at risk. The air is thick with smog. Many of the stalls are firing up their gas stoves getting ready to prepare food for the lunch hour. The prayer at the mosque as ended. The people descend in groups down the stairs and pour out into the streets. It looks like a dam has let all of its water flow at one time. The streets instantly fill over their capacity. People stand in line waiting for food. I feel vegetarian and confused. I lose Hiroko for about 1 minute. It felt like a lifetime.

We finally emerge from the hoards of people and walk up the stairs to the entrance of the mosque. We are greeted by a young man who feels that he has a very important job.  He tells me I must wear a robe over my clothes. My forearms are exposed. We must also take off our shoes. We take off our shoes and carry them. We could have left them at the front entrance and paid a fee to get them back.  I didn’t trust the guy manning the shoe stand. Hiroko gave me the signal to carry them with me. We walk around the mosque barefoot. I must admit it didn’t feel very comfortable. The ground was not very clean and everyone was walking around barefoot. Hiroko gave me the heads up about leaving our bags in the car safely guarded by our driver. Bags and backpacks are not allowed into the mosque area.

Carol at Jama Masjid in my cover up

The mosque is completely outside. People are washing their feet, face, and hands. The men are in one area and the women in another. An Indian family rushes up to us and wants us to be in a picture with them.  The children are all smiles and ask us where we are from. Hiroko says, “I am from Japan” and I say “I am from America”. Most Indians can’t tell the difference between a Japanese and a Chinese. Hiroko is sometimes referred to as being Chinese. The country “America” has the same meaning as the USA. They can’t distinguish between North, South, or Central America.

Carol and Indian family at Jama Masjid

It was the first place that I didn’t feel very comfortable visiting. Most of them just stared at us and we didn’t spend more than 40 minutes walking around and taking pictures. We exited the mosque and I handed in my coverup for the next foreign tourist to wear. On our way out of the mosque, we were approached by a Canadian couple. The young woman was less covered than I was. They had their backpacks and cameras. I told them that they would have to leave their backpacks with the shoe guy and she would have to wear a cloak over her clothing. They asked if it was worth the chance. I said no. They decided to not go in.

Hiroko calls her driver and instructs him to take us to her favorite restaurant.

Vinod is our driver. He is employed by the company where Hiroko’s husband works.  He is 27 years old. He has been married for 3 years. His wife is expecting their first child in May. He doesn’t see his wife very often because she lives 8,000 kilometers from Delhi. Before becoming a “driver” Vinod owned a cigarette stall for three years. It was shut down by the police. Someone turned him in for not having permission to operate his stall. He says it was a disgruntled customer. He had to find another job. His brother taught him how to drive. He practiced four- six hours a day.  He obtained his license and applied for a driving position. He hasn’t had any accidents. I commended him every day for his driving skills. He was ready every morning with a huge smile and greeting.

Our driver Vinod

Claustrophobic Mandir

Understanding the Hindu religion is not an easy task. For this reason, I present you with a description of the goddess Kali. She is one of the most worshiped goddesses in India.

The idea that women are innately gentle is a fantasy and a historically recent one. Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, is depicted as wreathed in male human skulls; the cruel entertainments of the Romans drew audiences as female as they were male; Boudicca led her British troops bloodily into battle.
Naomi Wolf

It is partly correct to say Kali is a goddess of death but She brings the death of the ego as the illusory self-centered view of reality.

Hiroko’s friend Lily has lived in Delhi her entire life. She like many other Hindus worships in mandirs, temples. She accompanies us to vegetarian Mandir. It is one of the oldest Hindu temples in the world. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Lily has connections with the Chief Priest at this temple. We arrive and are led to the room where the Chief Priest will present himself. We are served masala chai and butter cookies. Masala chai is always presented to visitors and customers. We sit on long brown leather sofas. A recliner is sitting on a stage. A gold curtain is behind the recliner.  Very important meetings with other religious leaders take place in this room.

The chief priest arrives forty minutes later. We rise to bow before him. He talks to Lily in Hindi. They have been friends for a long time. I think Lily donates much of her money to this temple. We are led into the worship area. It is jammed. People are chanting mantras in very loud voices.

Kali Mantra for Worship

Kring Kring Kring Hing Kring Dakshine vegetarian Kring Kring Kring vegetarian Hiring Hung Hung Hring
The Mantra consists of three seeds, krim, hum and hrim, and the name ‘dakhshina kalike’ and ‘swaha’, which signifying offering. This mantra is used by the devotees of Kali, the preserver of Earth, who saves us from all the ignorance and the fear of death.

They are lined up and pushing each other into the worship area. We are led into the area and people are instructed not to push us. The people are so surprised to see foreigners in their temple. The statue of the god is hardly visible. Worshippers bring garlands of flowers to throw onto the statue. They throw some money and before they leave the area, they are given gifts to take back home. Most of them have altars at home. These altars have a statue of the god sitting in the main position. They decorate the altars with flowers and food. They pray every day for wealth and happiness.

We give our thanks to the high priest and I am relieved to be able to breathe air again.

Gifts are given to us at the mandir

Holy Cows

Cows are revered among Hindus. Most Hindus practice vegetarianism. They refrain from all meat.

SRI CHAITANYA CHARITAMRITA, Adilila, Chapter 17, verse 166,
Caitanya Mahaprabhu confirms:
o-ange yata loma tata sahasra vatsara go-vadhi raurava-madhye pace nirantar
Cow killers and cow eaters are condemned to rot in hell for as many thousands of years as there are for each hair on the body of every cow they eat from.
It is further written – Those who fail to give cows reverence and protection and choose to foolishly oppose and whimsically ignore the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures by selling a cow for slaughter, by killing a cow, by eating cows flesh and by permitting the slaughter of cows will all rot in the darkest regions of hell for as many thousands of years as there are hairs on the body of each cow slain. There is no atonement for the killing of a cow.

Cows are highly prized as gifts. Do you want to impress someone? Give them a cow for their wedding gift. There are more than 44,900,000 cows in India.  The highest population in the world. Cows in India roam the streets, eat garbage, stop traffic, and sleep on the streets. Most of them are not owned by anyone. They are dirty, smelly, and many of them are old and sick. There is relief for some of these cows. Gaushalas  offer a home for sick and homeless cows. They recieve medical treatment, a lot of hay, a clean place to rest, and music.

Happy cows at the gaushala

Hiroko and I are on our way to visit a gaushala. We travel down the street hitting various potholes, a mother pig with her six piglets trailing behind her and three dogs barking and running around going nowhere in particular. It is just another dusty day in Delhi. We arrive in front of the gate and are greeted by two girls who work at the “compound”. We enter the gate and the ground is covered with green grass. I haven’t seen green grass for three days. There is not visible grass in Delhi unless you visit a park. Even the trees in Delhi are dusty. There is a small courtyard very neatly taken care of. Flowers of various colors yellow, red, and white are blooming near the courtyard. No dust anywhere. Four older men are sitting on the benches sharing the news of the day.

Our guide, Manisha, shows us around. Manisha came to Delhi when she was seventeen. She received her B.S in agriculture. During her college years, she became very interested in helping others. She became involved with this project. The first stop is the gaushala. The gaushala employs people who previously did not have jobs to clean, milk, and feed the cows. These workers are provided housing, food, wifi, and electricity within the “compound ” they live. The compound is much cleaner and healthier than living on the streets

The gaushala is only a part of a much bigger program on this compound. There is a center for women to receive sewing classes. The women make bags and purses that are sold at the market. Many of them are just beginning to sew. The center also provides after school homework help for the children. The children are taking English classes as we walk in the room. They greet us with “hello, hello” and “konichiwa”.  Hiroko volunteers her time at the center by teaching Japanese language and Japanese handicrafts. Her Japanese friends join her to teach Japanese traditional songs and dances.

Sewing classes

Children getting help with homework

The center receives donations to help continue their work. It is part of a grassroots movement to help those in need.

We say goodbye to the children and the volunteers. We exit the gate to the dusty street and wait for our driver to retrieve us. He didn’t go too far. He was parked in front of the compound. I wonder what he does while he is waiting for us.

Please read the next entry coming soon: A trip to Jaipur

 

 

 

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