Friday, December 20, 2013

This has been our Advent...

Chayo, after baptism yesterday

Beuatiful Roberto and friend of the family, Katya
The last post was the beginning of the Advent season.  The recent weeks since then have been full and rich.  It has been a time of preparation and also of waiting and that is what is meant by Advent. 

Specifically, we have been preparing for Chayo and Roberto's baptism.  This is a process that began back in February and propelled us into a new career, that of being spiritual parents.  Wally and I were earnest in assuming this for Leah, our 2 year old goddaughter, but then there were her older brother and sister who were floundering in the aftermath of their mother's death.  The answer at the time seemed to be the church, the center of life in their village.  The church could become the family and structure that they were lacking.  That's where we began this journey.  Chayo and Robert wanted to be baptized but they had not been to catechism which begins when children are 6.  They were too old to join the classes but the priest said that if they were to be tutored and tested monthly, that if they came to mass weekly, that he would baptize them.  So I said I would do it.  Had I given it a lot of consideration I would have had plenty of reasons to find someone better suited.  I hate to drive, I hate to leave my home, I don't speak Spanish well enough for exegesis and I already have a full-time occupation on the farm, but everything in me said "YES".  So we began meeting each week for study and again for mass and at the end of each month we met with the priest.  In these months of preparation we have been knit together.  We have grown famil-y-ar.  We are family now.

Earlier this week in preparation for their baptism they made their confession.  As I sat in the back of the church looking at the backs of their heads, the way they leaned forward to listen and speak to the priest, how beauty rested gently on them, I saw them through their mother's eyes.   I felt the fullness of hope and expectation.   I felt peace.

The baptism was a concentrated gathering:  the priest, Chayo, Roberto, their father and grandfather and us, the god-parents.   It was a perfect coming together that tied the yarn off of what had become accomplished. It was good.

Each week in Advent a candle is lit to represent an aspect of preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  Last Sunday the pink candle of joy was lit.  Before that the candles of hope and love, and this Sunday, the final week, peace.  As a whole, these candles represent the coming of light into the world. 

This has been our Advent experience.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent - a meditation on hope

The Annunciation by Henry O. Tanner
This painting moves me.  I have a book of paintings of the Annunciation.  I am drawn to the renderings of something so powerful and mysterious as an encounter with a call to purpose.  There is no inkling of the cost.  It is the beginning of great and terrible expectations, a swelling of spirit.  I particularly love this painting because it shows Mary of Nazareth as a teenager, just awakened from sleep and on the brink of saying "yes" to God.  How far and deep that "yes" would resonate began in one awe-full moment. 

How can anyone know what is ahead.  This is how I am feeling these days.  I am waking up to a compressed longing  for things to be better in the world and in particular for a few loved ones.  Perhaps the answer is in timing, like pregnancy.  Things are ready when there is ripening.  So much has to happen and be coordinated and that is where the waiting and expectation come into play.  First there has to be hope and then there is preparation with the expectation that it will come to pass.  

I am having a baby shower for something birthing in my soul...I don't know what the baby is yet, but I feel this stirring anticipation.  I want to be ready, I want it to be good so there's preparation: cleaning, beautifying, refining, joy to cultivate into booties for my hope when it comes.

Yesterday I heard of a woman giving birth 4 weeks early.  The baby was taken by caesarean because of fetal distress.  The mother hadn't been eating and she and the baby were dehydrated.  The baby was long but very low in weight and having to start its fragile life in an incubator.

Is this what happens when we don't care for our hope, does it slow the time of ripening, could it shrivel to death?  Doesn't hope, like a fetus, depend on daily nurturing?

And this makes me wonder:    is this what is lacking and why the world is not getting better?   s the second Advent on hold for more hope-ers so that the world's hope can ripen? 

Wait, hope and see. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Another Thanksgiving - how comforting to make another cycle around another year and we are still here, still thankful.  I hope this is how you are feeling too.  It is the simple daily blessings that nurture us and keep our hearts topped off with gratitude.  God's ways are so perfect:  with the overflow of thanks we become givers ourselves and grace overflows onto others making more thanksgiving.  I imagine that this is what is meant by Glory, that God's goodness is perpetual.

This has been a good year with the farm growing in ways that we can see and enjoy.  The trees are maturing and making flowers and fruit.  Wally made an addition to our guest house and made it so much nicer.  We made changes to our house too, making our living room into an art studio for me and a bedroom for our god daughter, Chayo - yes, our family has grown too.  A new source of water coming from the mountains and crossing our land has been another great blessing.  In fact, this has been a year of expansion.  We are feeling a kind of happy anticipation but we don't know what could be ahead, only that now is full and we are thankful.

New art studio
Studio and Chayo's room - a shared space

Wally has become the go-to-guy for everything that doesn't work in the gringo community.  That keeps him on a learning curve with man's high- tech toys.  If he isn't familiar with it he figures it out by studying it on the internet and now he often knows more than the experts because his experience is much broader and hands-on.  I am exceedingly proud of him because I see him behind the scenes teaching himself how to repair and rebuild things better.  From computers and satellite antennas to converting his fuel-injected Porsche to a basic carburetor - he always sees how things could be better.  But then he is a special genius.

My week has a more predictable routine.  I pick up Chayo for the weekend on Friday.  Saturday we prepare for selling at the farmer's market which is every Sunday morning and attend church.  I am teaching Chayo about finances through a hair bow business.  She works long hours making beautiful bows while I bake and she sells them along side my cakes at the farmer's market.   On Monday I take her to the school bus and then later in the afternoon I teach catechism to 10 lively kids between the ages of 12 and 14. 

December will be a busy month.  Christmas is celebrated in a big way throughout Advent and also Chayo and her brother,Robert will be baptized on the 19th.  There are extra church and school activities too and our tradition of gifts for the children on our road. 

Today we had a new young veterinarian come from San Blas to treat all 10 dogs and surgically care for a large hematoma on the ear of Sparky.  It is not the first time or the last that my dining table has doubled for surgery.  Dr. Marcos volunteered as a surgeon for a couple of our monthly clinics so I had assisted him before.  It would be maddening to take 10 dogs for a visit to a vet.  This is a great new development and I feel the prospects of a lasting friendship growing.

And so we are looking to a new year with hope and expectation.  Which is what we wish for you.  Savor this season.   I end with a poem:

I have been trying to read
the script cut in these hills—
a language carved in the shimmer of stubble
and the solid lines of soil, spoken
in the thud of apples falling
and the rasp of corn stalks finally bare.

The pheasants shout it with a rusty creak
as they gather in the fallen grain,
the blackbirds sing it over their shoulders in parting,
and gold leaf illuminates the manuscript
where it is written in the trees.

Transcribed onto my human tongue
I believe it might sound like a lullaby,
or the simplest grace at table.
across the gathering stillness
simply this: “For all that we have received,
dear God, make us truly grateful.”. 

---Lynn Ungar,  Bread and Other Miracles

Monday, November 4, 2013

Joining the saints...

I have been experiencing life very intensely lately.  It is a combination of the loss of close companions and relatives in juxtaposition with the lively, lovable, presence of Chayo, our 13 year old goddaughter and Leah, her 2 year old sister.  I am simultaneously letting go and embracing something new.  The letting go is not the easy part.  I don't want to rush forward.  I want to take time, contemplate and sit and savor what these precious ones gave to me and I want to find new ways to live with them so that they live on in my life, inspiring me to live beauti-fully and in that way be a living memorial.  Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote in Bread for the Journey:

"As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us. It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved. Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives. They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys. Parents, spouses, children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died. Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life. Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship."
This week we celebrated the Day of the Dead, or All Saints Day, an important solemnity in the Catholic church and in the culture of Mexico.  It was a good opportunity to reach out to Chayo in regard to the death of her mother.  A couple weeks earlier I had made a memorial in our home to honor my uncle Toshi who passed on October 20th. So the week before November 2, I added photos of Chayo's mother's along with photos of my father, my beloved old dogs, and my friend Jeanne.  I had gathered a few other meaningful things to add to the altar.  I wanted to show Chayo how we can use symbols for what is intangible as ways of honoring and staying present to the real.  It is also satisfying and comforting to express ourselves with these meaningful tablescapes.  In my house, they change and move like seasons, they speak life and lessons to me.

My family in Japan is closing the residence of my grandmother and this is another "letting go".  It is an exercise similar to painting from memory.  I train my eyes to take in as much information as I can hold and then commit it to a multi sensational impression in my cells - light, color, shape, composition, mood, feeling, taste, sound.  This is something that moth and mold cannot destroy and can always be revisited to savor over and over again...much better than a photo. 

This is what I hope to pass on to Chayo:  the awareness that we are shaped by others -  good and bad.  We know the bad is there, but we can be deliberate in concentrating the good and develop, celebrate and honor that.  

We are a complex brew of tea.  We are deepened and enriched as we steep in the qualities and characteristics of the ones who loved us.  We are tea to be savored, giving back in our way what others have added to our lives.  When we do we become fully ourselves.  We move into our own sainthood.

I like how Christine Valters Paintner expresses it:   "To become a Saint doesn't mean to be some contrived image of holiness, practicing your faith in ways that imitate others, but to find your own unique expression in the world. You are a revelation of the sacred, and there is only one revelation just like you."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Word for the day: BUBULUBU

Chayo and Leah, our god-daughters
Chayo turned 13 this week.  She is one of our god-daughters.  We had a family celebration at her Aunt Rosa's with roasted turkey, fried rice and a giant Bubulubu birthday cake (it's more fun to say "bubulubu" than to read it).  In Mexico, a Bubulubu is kind of junk-food cake like a Twinkie but it has either strawberries or pineapples covered in chocolate. 

All week, Chayo has been anticipating her birthday.  During mass, prior to her party, she was so antsy, her eyes shining and twinkling, her patience strained.  A couple of times she said "Amen" a little too loud before a prayer was over.  I took it all in, this shimmering, happy anticipation.  It was infectious.

Children have this ability to experience joy in anticipation.  As adults we often forget how to do that, but if you can remember waiting for Christmas or a birthday and claim that back with a child's joy this makes the fulfillment of wishes all the better. Let us anticipate with excitement all things lying ahead of us!
Chayo and cousin, Izak

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A few thoughts about Penny...

We lost Penny on Friday to old age.  She was my dog from Virginia.  Her passing was as gentle and quiet as she was in life.  Her friendship has been a constant for the past 12 years.  I savor what she has taught me.

When I first rescued Penny, she was a pup with a broken leg.  I was impressed at how stoic she was.  The boy who owned her had no means to pay for her surgery or give her the care for her recovery, so I told him that I would pay if he would let me have her. 

God gives us what we need even when we are oblivious to what that is.  Those were dark and difficult days for me, I moved through life like a robot,  but after Penny's surgery I cared for her as a good and responsible nurse.  One night after carrying her outside to do her business, I happened to notice that she sniffed the air with pleasure.  So, I sniffed the air to check it out.  It was cool and crisp and green-smelling of life.  She looked around, so I looked around and because it was a big sky, I looked up.  The stars were bright and twinkled.  Penny caused me to look up and out of myself...It was an awakening. I began to see the world through the eyes of a pent-up puppy anxious for mending, and over the next 3 months Penny shared her ways with me and we both got better.

One night, during her recuperation we lay in the hammock together bundled in a sleeping bag to watch a meteorite shower.

Penny had a special bed in my bedroom where I hung a little painting at her eye level to make her space like mine - art-full.

Penny and I were two black-haired, brown-eyed, Eastern Shore girls and we thought each other beautiful.

I entered her in a costume show for dogs as a benefit for cancer.  She was a pit bull/chow mix and her costume:  a pink faerie dress with gossamer wings that flapped!  I just knew she would win - how adorable is a pit bull faerie pup!  For me to enroll in a doggy pageant was a small feat of courage, but she inspired me to a new boldness.  She lost to a boy scout terrier, but in this case, we were winners too.

Time and time again, God used Penny to get a message through to me.

I've come to understand that choosing to care for her was an exercise in caring for myself and more than that, it puts one in the habit of not turning away from what is wrong in the world. 

Penny was my first dog-love.  She was a gift every day of her life. Twelve years times 7 is a long life of friendship in dog years.  I am embracing what I've learned from her:  Love and live. It helps make things better for yourself and for the world.   And you can practice on a dog.

Friday, October 4, 2013

For my friend, Jeanne...

A couple of weeks ago a dear and precious friend who shared a long history with me left this world.  She lived a full and long life with great spirit.  Some of my most special friends are gathering for a little memorial on Monday.  I'd like to share my thoughts about her.  Her name is Jeanne.

Maybe I am in Mexico because of Jeanne.  She’s definitely a factor. I could write a missal on the many ways Jeanne opened my heart for more life to enter in, but now I will tell you just a little of the beginning and what it is like to live with her now.

As I breeze about my day, I am not alone with my thoughts. I find it is Jeanne who I converse with the most.  She is easy to be with and we always talk about lovely things.  I love the way she pronounced my name:  Aah-maranth, the first syllable like aah.

I met Jeanne in the 90’s.  I was living on the Shore and working during the week in Virginia Beach.  I hadn’t had time to make friends and my life was all work.  One weekend I visited the combination frame shop/candy shop on the main street of Onancock…that business had to have been Jeanne’s brainchild.  That day she educated me on the art of framing while she fed me pear and buttered-popcorn jelly bellies. That was the beginning of our friendship.

We are taught beauty.  Someone stops us and gets us to crouch down to look at the beautiful backside of a zinnia and we awaken to wonder and beauty and joy.  Jeanne was relentlessly enthusiastic for searching out the beautiful, her heart brim-full of a child’s wonder.  That was Jeanne’s gospel and she made a convert.

I once had a dream that Jeanne and I were upstairs in her house in Onancock and we were standing before a full-length mirror trying on hats.  She was standing behind me placing hats on my head and I could see her face reflecting a playful, feminine attitude for each hat.   I felt that dream as an encouragement to experiment, to push out the pegs of my tent further, so to speak, to enlarge myself.  Jeanne was a model of all that.  As I age I think of what it is to age with grace, those attributes of ageless beauty:  true-feminine, courageous, wise, confident in a hat.

Maybe I am a hat-maker because of Jeanne.  She’s definitely a factor.  I’ve crocheted 70 hats from plastic-bag yarn in the last 3 years – no two alike.  Each one for me is a work of art and a prayer.  I’ve come to think of a hat as an everyday-halo since my husband told me that my hats are my glory.  All the hats that I’ve made are halos on the heads of other women and girls. The ones who wear them don’t know that there’s a little bit of Jeanne in she loved angels and faeries and gave wings to love.

So for the many things I could not put to words, I made a hat, a simple, joyful hat, a hat that will make you smile and think,  “Yes, red for passion, a rose for a queenly friend, yes, Jeanne.”

These days I wear more than one hat.  Life keeps expanding me.  My capacity of heart grows larger too.  This I’ve learned from Jeanne: to live life well at every age, to learn what we are meant to learn and to give back what we are meant to give back…with beauty and passion to the last day. Aah-men.