“I go where I am called. To discover this destination, I listen deep within. There, in that sacred place, the destination resides. There the journey to self knowledge is already revealing itself to me.” ~ Joseph DispenzaThe call to journey is an important one. It is also a call I used to dismiss as frivolous, a crazy idea, or a passing daydream. “For goodness sakes, I have to work!” I would reply when someone mentioned that they were off on some wild adventure. I used to be a person who viewed travel as a vacation, two weeks on the beach to unwind and gaze at blue waters and brilliant sunsets. I would scan the internet for bargains, book the trip and count the days. I’d type up itineraries, list the best restaurants and see all that was important according to the guidebooks. These trips were great, but when they were finished I slipped back into my life and continued on. Like hiccups in my routine, they were quickly forgotten and filed away in a box of photographs. Then, quite by accident, I learned how to turn travel into a journey of the heart and soul. I threw away my itineraries and began to wander through destinations untethered. Without a check list of places to rush toward, I began to notice life around me in a new, unhurried way. I noticed subtle details and nuances of culture, watched people communicate and listened to the musicality of their language, and breathed in the scents of ancient cities and pastoral locales. Wonderful things happened. Wonderful new friends crossed my path. I slowly realized that this sort of travel invited me to go deeper, to explore that which connects us all as human beings on this complex and beautiful planet. Not only did the destinations reveal themselves in their own time, my true spirit began to reveal itself to me like a long lost friend. It was through this sense of meditative journeying that I found a pathway to a peacefulness I had never before known. When I realized that travel can become a spiritual practice that can lead to self-discovery, I began to embrace adventure as a necessity rather than a luxury. Adventure redefined as a simple change of routine or as complex as a trip into the far reaches of Asia. The key to it resting in my ability to stay present in the moment and receiving the inherent gifts of such presence. In response to my personal call to journey, I want to share this profound experience with all of you. If you are feeling that tug, that soul call to journey, please consider joining me and travel writer Lynn O’Rourke Hayes for such a once in a lifetime adventure on the Italian Riviera this October 19 - 25!
Transformational Travel is a gift that we give ourselves!
I am delighted to be teaming up with various experts to create a variety of travel experiences within the US and abroad.
Transformational Travel - Tucson!
Yoga + Writing
The next retreat will be a Writing and Yoga Retreat held at the Historic Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch and Resort in Tucson, AZ 5/30 - 6/2 2013. I will be working with Yoga Master Karen Kalil Callan.
Go to www.yogaandwriting.weebly.com for details. We are accepting registration now! Space is limited so don't delay!! Early bird pricing through March 1st~
Transformational Travel - Italia!
The second opportunity is a seven day transformational travel experience with travel expert Lynn O'Rourke Hayes on the Italian Riviera. It is an amazing journey of the heart and soul. For info and photos go to www.italyretreat.weebly.com
We will be unrolling the 2013 Italy Adventure on March 1. Mark your calendars and check back then!
"I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world"
~Mary Anne Radmacher
It would be my honor and pleasure to meet you at one of these.
Take a chance...do what you love with your one precious life!
Valentine’s DayI placed a hesitant hand on the smooth metal door handle of the Hallmark store and pulled it open to the sound of tinkling bells. Ruby hearts hanging from the door jamb brushed the top of my head as I stepped inside and headed for the Valentine section, an explosion of pinks and reds. Crowded with last minute lovers like myself, we had to jockey for position as we searched for the perfect card. Studying people’s expressions with secretive sideways glances, I longed to hear the running commentary inside their heads. I have always been a last minute Valentine shopper because I dread it. I can only bring myself to buy something simple that says “I love you’. All of the other cards in the store are stupid. With every card I read, I have to add one more sarcastic sentence in my mind. Or at the very least, a clarifier. I can’t leave it alone. It’s very stressful. After a quarter of a century of marriage few of them ring true. Can we all please admit that many of these sentiments are, at the very least, stretching the imagination? I have long considered designing a line of Valentine cards the are grouped according to the number of years you have been married. I long for little ditties like this: Loving each other has been a long, hard road, but I still think you are cute. Or: Can’t wait to celebrate our love at Donovan’s Steak house because we got a $150.00 coupon from your client. Or: Let’s stay up past 9:00 PM and make out for eight minutes straight. Love is damn tricky. An enigma. So much has been written about it that I dare not add to the rubble. But if I had to, if Cupid put a gun to my head, I wouldn’t waste time composing an essay as it would never capture the layers, the nuances. I would take a thousand noble words and nestle them in pairs with their less than noble opposites. Then I would shake them in my cupped hands like dice and toss the whole collection off of Juliet’s balcony and watch them scatter and bounce on the cobblestone streets of Verona until they landed in a mish-mash mural of the language of love. Maybe I would even take a photo of it and sell it to Hallmark for next year’s selection. “Excuse me,” I said to a young woman with a sparkly diamond ring. She smelled of lavender and caressed a card like it held the whereabouts of the Holy Grail. “Just reaching for this one.” I grabbed one depicting a romantic table set for two. It unearthed a memory. My husband and I became engaged at Papa Pirozki’s in Atlanta on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Who chooses to propose to his bride in a Russian restaurant on December 7th? Looking back, I think he had a subconscious yearning to personalize the Cold War, to plant it as a seed in our relationship. Though the rest of the world was evolving beyond such ideology, it was apparent that he was some sort of fan. I hadn’t expected it to be a night unlike all other nights as we were rekindling a relationship that had been on a long hiatus. Neither of us expected the marriage proposal to play out the way it did. But maybe that was a good thing. Perhaps it’s the couples who do everything according to the Prince and Princess Handbook who don’t survive when the magic wears thin. In retrospect, I think it was better to start this union with our gloves on, in a boxer’s stance. One needs to understand strategy and battle maneuvers. It is vital to appreciate humor and build camaraderie in the unexpected foxhole. These are the necessary skills that keep a marriage alive. Flowers and chocolate are useless. I remember sitting alone enjoying the candlelight and crystal that adorned our table for two as I held a thumb-sized glass of fruited vodka, icy and thick with raspberries. I loved the way the color matched my fingernails, the stark contrast of them against the white linens reminded me of the raspberry and cream popsicles I ate as a child. Feeling relaxed and elegant I took tiny sips as I gazed around, nodding to other couples nearby who were beginning to notice that my date had disappeared. I wondered what was taking him so long as he had excused himself to go chat up the chef, whom he said was an acquaintance. A black door to the kitchen swung open and Tim burst back into the room, all smiles. At 6’8” he wasn’t known for quiet entrances. “Ivan’s going to send out a few freebies. Said he’d take care of us.” Tim plopped into his chair and smoothed his blonde hair into place. He downed his fruity vodka like it was Kool-aide and motioned for the waiter to bring us another round of drinks. “Great,” I said picturing all sorts of exotic Russian delights appearing on plates that were once served to the Romanovs. “So how do you know this guy?” “Met him at a radio event. He’s from uhm,” Tim snapped his long fingers as he recalled the information, “Moscow. Yea, that’s it. Moscow.” “What was the event?” “Does it matter?” “No.” “So what’s with all the questions?” “It was only one question. Why are you getting agitated?” “I’m not agitated.” He picked up the second fruity vodka and downed it. “Would you finish your first drink already?” “Fine.” I threw it back like a pro. Then I picked up the second one and saluted him. “Let’s just relax and enjoy this. We only have two days before I fly back. I missed you.” He took a deep breath and exhaled through flared nostrils. I put my hand over his drumming fingers. Something was up. “Are you okay?” I asked. A young waiter with Ricky Riccardo hair swooped over, handed us menus and then gave a run-down of the night’s specials. We each chose an entrée and Tim asked for another round of drinks. “Tim. Maybe we should slow down on the drinks.” “No.” “Fine.” What was wrong with him ? It seemed as if he had left his usual joking demeanor in the kitchen with Ivan. I threw back my second drink in one gulp and choked daintily into my napkin. We could take a cab home. “So how are things at the airline?” Tim asked as he took a piece of bread from a silver bowl. Thrilled to have some normal conversation, I started into an elaborate story about a new dad who tried to change his baby’s diaper on a fold down, jump seat. As I got to the part where the dad laid the baby on her back while he held the jump seat down with his knee, Ricky Riccardo came back and placed a small salad in front of me. “Zees is from Ivan,” he announced as he stood back from the table. I nodded to him and smiled. “Thank you.” “No problem.” He beamed as he retreated to the water station. It was ugliest, driest looking salad I had ever seen so I pushed it to the side as I continued my story. Tim stared at the salad and then back at me. “That’s your salad,” he said. “There’s no dressing. And what is this stuff? It’s not even lettuce. It’s cabbage or who knows what?” “Have some salad.” His voice held an edge. “I don’t want the salad.” I calmly stated, the words evenly spaced and heavy on my tongue. “Eat the salad,” he whispered through clenched teeth. Beads of sweat were forming on his brow. I gave him my most powerful defiant stare. “Eat - the - damned - salad.” “Fine.” I pulled the salad over and started to pick at it with my fork suddenly feeling other people’s eyes upon me. I looked around and noticed them, whispering in hushed tones. “What is up with you?” I could barely conceal by growing rage. “I thought we were going to have fun.” Blood was pumping through my veins, banging in my ears. I took a bite of one of the bitter greens and held up my fork as I chewed it. “This is disgusting. I thought Ivan was your friend.” Then I saw it. A velvet box of midnight blue half hidden under shreds of carrot and radicchio. Panic gripped me like a giant hand and squeezed tight. No, no, no. I did not want this to happen here. This was not what I had choreographed in my ten-year-old heart as I picked at my chenille bedspread on sleepless nights. I could see our waiter going from table to table alerting the others to our impending moment. “Honey,” Tim leaned on his elbows and bore into me with blinking eyes, "Stop blinking your eyes like that. Take the box out of the salad." “I don’t want to.” “Open the box, Susan.” “People are staring.” I attempted another defiant stare but it was difficult to pull off with tears plopping onto the table. “Open - the - damn - box.” Though I don’t remember willing them to do so, my shaking fingers pushed away the vegetables and picked up the small velvet cube. All eyes in the restaurant were on us. I opened the box and a diamond solitaire caught the candlelight. I looked up at Tim and stared as his lips moved without sound. I glanced at the staring eyes to the left and then I glanced at the staring eyes to the right, distorted faces like funhouse mirrors. “Well?” Tim asked with a face so vulnerable and earnest that I suddenly couldn’t imagine a life without him. “Will you marry me?” “Yes.” The room ruptured into cheers as Tim handed me a third vodka and held up his. And we burst into laughter, toasted each other and cheered along with them. The whole experience did not play out the way either of us had imagined. It was not the traditional down on one knee sort of proposal on the beach at sunset, nor was the ring magically unveiled on a covered silver dish as he had hoped. It was clumsy, unexpected, and filled with nervous emotion on both sides. It was real and heartfelt and awkwardly expressed the way marriage often looks on a daily basis. In retrospect it was the perfect engagement. “Must be a funny card,” Ms. I Smell Like Lavender commented as I giggled to myself. “Just brought back some memories,” I sighed as I put the card back in its place, “But it’s not the one I’m going to buy.” “I think I’m going to get this one,” she confided as she held up a photo of a sunrise on which was printed ‘Every sunrise means another day of loving you’. I forced myself not to add a sardonic comment and ruin her choice. She opened the card and pointed to a wall of poetry five inches long. “This poem says it all for me.” “How many years?” “One. Well almost,” she said with a shy smile. “You?” “Twenty-four.” “Wow. So, what’s the secret? What have you learned?” I plucked a simple white card with a simple red heart and opened it for her to see. “This is the card I get for him every year. Because after awhile, you learn that these are the only three words that matter.”
Part 2Sr. Kenneth Mary lived in the convent across the street from the school on the corner of Munn St. and Cottage Pl. When I passed it, I would walk quickly. It may have been a plain brick building, but it held mystery. It made my palms sweat. We had all seen Sr. Kenneth and the other Sisters of Charity go in and come out from to time, but for the life of us, we could not figure out what went on in there. Rumor had it that the sisters were on lockdown between the hours of 4:00 PM and 7:00 AM. They weren’t allowed to leave, and they never ate. Maybe they were allowed to sleep but they wore their full habits. Just trying to picture Sr. Kenneth in a flannel nightgown made us queasy. Not once did I ever see one of the Sisters around town, and believe me, I looked for them. Besides teaching us perfect penmanship, Sr. Kenneth loved tests. Not just spelling and math, though you could tell she thought they were thrilling by the way her voice went up an octave when she gave directions. She loved to trick us with tests of courage and moral rectitude, and we wouldn’t know she was doing it until someone was busted. The first time she pulled it on us was after a morning recess. She sat quietly behind her desk with a stenographer's notebook and a Bic pen. The rule was that we were to come in and fold our arms on our desk and put our heads down until the class was calm. Then she would give us the next direction. On this seemingly regular Thursday morning, we came in and put our heads down, but she didn’t say a word. The silence dragged on to an alarming extent, at least five minutes. Though no one was bold enough to raise his/her head to see what was amiss, I could see frantic eyeballs rolling in every direction. What was going on here? Kathy, a sweet girl with brown pigtails to my left, began to whisper to those of us within earshot that she had a few of those chocolate “Ice Cube” candies left over from her snack. She swore that they tasted really cold. The more she whispered the more I wanted to taste one to see if it really was as frosty as something that comes from a freezer. As Sr. Kenneth sat staring opaquely from her chair, Kathy began to slip them to her friends. My mother never bought such frivolous things for our lunch bags, so I slipped my hand across the aisle in a stealth-like fashion making sure that the rest of my body and head did not move. Kathy placed the Ice Cube, wrapped in shiny gold foil, in my hand. Continuing my stealth move to my lap, I promptly unwrapped the candy and slipped into my mouth as I fake coughed the way I had seen my brother Timmy do when he would sneak ribbon candy from a bowl at my grandmother’s house. Just as I silently declared that there was nothing even remotely cold about this chocolate, Sr. Kenneth announced, “If I call your name please stand.” “Kathy.” “Maureen.” “John.” “MIchael” “Susan.” One by one we stood, shaking and swallowing. Then she went on to deliver a lengthy sermon about the importance of trust and rule following and the reality of evil and its whispers all around us. Kathy and I exchanged shocked looks. Evil? The only whisper I had heard was Kathy’s. Then later that afternoon, Sr. Kenneth entered after lunch in an even more morose mood, if that was even possible. When an hour of The Palmer Method ceased to enliven her, she asked us to sit with our hands folded at our desks. There was nothing odd about that as this was our “go to” posture between subjects. After this morning’s humiliation I sat up straight and placed my palms together in the holiest way possible, lining up my fingers perfectly with those on the other hand the way she showed us. I didn’t move a muscle and refused to listen to any evil whispers that might be swirling about. After a few long, silent minutes she asked, “Is there anyone in the class that can tell time?” I had no idea how to read a clock, but when a dozen other hands shot up I joined them. Heck, I wanted to be seen as savvy and advanced. I wanted to redeem myself. There was no clock on our wall, and it wasn’t like she was asking anyone to prove it. She looked around the room slowly, searching the faces of the proud few of us time-tellers and said, “Susan, why don’t you go out to the hallway, see what time it is, and come back in and tell us.” “Okay,” I whispered. I stood up, gulped, smoothed my blue plaid jumper, pulled up my navy knee socks and started up the aisle. Faces of classmates loomed and smiled, growing distorted like those in a funhouse mirror. I was screwed, again. There was nothing I could do but leave the classroom and figure it out. I slipped out the door and leaned against the wall, afraid to move. I had never been in the hallway alone, and, suddenly it was the biggest space I had ever seen. Pale green walls the color of mucous punctuated here and there by varnished wood doors. Only a few steps to my left was THE OFFICE. I’d never been in there either, and I hoped I never would. My brother Todd had told me all sorts of scary tales about the principal, Sr. Maria Michael. She had something he called “a hairy eyeball” that she was always giving him. Todd spent a fair share of time in this hallway ‘gathering’ himself before Mrs. Docken would let him come back into their second grade classroom. As a matter of fact I knew he was sitting behind the last door on the left right now. The clock was a huge white orb that clung to the wall near the ceiling, its thin black arms like those of a traffic cop when he signals the lanes in front of him to stop. I looked around in a panic. Though I knew that time was ticking away, I had no idea how to name it. The whole class was waiting for me to come back and enlighten them. If I said the wrong thing, I would be doomed forever. I searched the hall for help. Nothing, not a soul. My heart pounded in my ears, I stepped toward the wall clock as if closer proximity would reveal the answer. I watched the second hand travel. I bent my head back and looked to the ceiling so the tears in my eyes could pool at the corners rather than roll down my cheeks. Things were not going well for me in First Grade either. I had such high hopes when I started. And then, just as I was about to pull the classroom door open in shame, an angel appeared. An honest to goodness eighth grader on her way to THE OFFICE with a note. “Excuse me,” I asked timidly, my voice but a squeak in the vast emptiness. “Can you tell me what time it is?” She stopped, her kindness like a welcome mist in the desert, and said, “Why, it’s twelve past one.” “Thank you,” I replied as I watched her sashay past me and disappear in a blonde swish into THE OFFICE. Obviously, my holy hands had not been for naught. I dried my tears with the hem of my jumper and opened the classroom door. Then I stepped before the class and announced, “Twelve past one.” Sr. Kenneth looked at me over her spectacles, checked her watch and said, “Thirteen past. But close enough. Fine work.” “Thank you.” These were the moments that made God real to a six year old. I walked back down the row, careful not to appear too proud, and resumed my seated position. Left hand against the right, lining up the fingers in the holiest way possible. ************************************************************************************************************************* Dear Readers: After this post I will be posting all Moments in Montclair pieces on my other WP blog called Moments that Matter. Please come over and join my mailing list if you'd like to continue receiving them. I am composing them for fun, nostalgia, and as a way to force myself to create memoir pieces that my children will both treasure and, as one of my present students said to me last week, read back to me at the end of my life when I may not be able to remember the rich and blessed life I have lead. (Her statement stopped our whole class in our tracks. In a good way.) The stories of our lives are important to share. In this busy world, it is a priceless gift to carve out the time to record them. This blog gives me a deadline. One tale every two weeks. Anyone can do that. I hope to inspire all of you to do the same. Please feel free to share your nostalgia with us as well! Susan~
The Palmer MethodThen, she’d call five or six lucky students to the board and show them how to correctly hold chalk, four fingers on one side, thumb on the other, so that the arm would be free to move about in a wide circle. (If you had the unfortunate “condition” of being a lefty, you were asked to take your seat. Bumping elbows or opposite motions were not allowed.) The rest of us at our seats would practice in our Palmer books. “Okay people, place the point of your pencil on the black line and proceed,” she would say, a tiny spray of saliva visible with each P. As she floated up and down the rows, she’d chant a three beat rhythm to which we were supposed to draw perfect circles with tops and bottoms that just barely touched the black lines above and below them. “One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.” The kids at the board, like happy window washers, would draw circles upon circles that would eventually resemble Slinkies stretched to the limit. We, at our seats, would fill page after page as Sr. Kenneth would stop here and there to lightly press our pinkies to the paper (Pinkies were made by God to anchor and guide the hand!) or wonder aloud if perhaps poor Paul would end up repeating first grade if his penmanship did not improve. (Poor Paul being one of those leftys who never got to stand at the board.) Weeks turned into months and practiced these circles endlessly until poor Paul had the nerve, one Tuesday morning, to ask (without raising his hand first!) when we might possibly be able to advance to an actual letter. The room fell to a dead quiet as we collectively held our breaths to see what Sr. Kenneth would do. A bit shocked, herself, at the audacity of such a break in our routine, she strode over to Paul, rosary beads jangling somewhere in the navy folds, and peered down at him over her rimless glasses. “And what letter do you propose?” she asked plainly. “Well,” thought Paul as he chewed on his pencil and pondered. “I can write my name real well. How about a "P"?” Sr. Kenneth actually smiled a half-smile, and the rest of us exhaled when it was apparent that Paul would would live to see another day. She picked up Paul’s Palmer book, thumbed through a few pages, sighed, and then replaced it on his desk slanted to the right to suit his left-handed technique and said, “We’ll start with "A" next Monday. Now, please, pupils, pick up your pencils and proceed with your practice.”