‘Tis The Season…for scammers

Image result for scam

I am writing this post after a long absence, because I feel it necessary to take the time I haven’t had, to hopefully help someone else avoid disaster.

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a person through this site. “He” said he loved my paintings and wanted to buy some art for his wife as a surprise gift for their 20th anniversary.

We artists love what we do, but often feel that it is for naught, with long periods of no sales, yet we keep creating, because our soul dictates we must.  This person gave me a price range, which made me suspicious, I mean, who does that? The range was from two to thirteen thousand dollars. My inner voice said, “red flag,” but my need for appreciation, not to mention money, overrode that quiet voice.

We communicated back and forth several times, he finally picking out a couple pieces he wanted and adding on a third that was small, but which went with one of the other two. I quoted him a price several thousand dollars less for the paintings than his top parameter, plus shipping of approximately $340 to Virginia, where he said he lived. He was very happy with everything, which he should have been, since I didn’t gouge him.

He is, he said, an “ocean engineer,” and in the North Atlantic now with 12 trainees. He would be returning to Virginia soon and they would be moving right away to the Philippines.  His wife, “Gina,” loved art and he was anxious to get them in time for their anniversary. Problem was, he was on a ship and also his wife handles all of the finances, so he was going to have an associate handle the money to be sent to me.

He told me he was being given $2,600 for moving his things, and that he had his own shipper that he’s used in the past, and if I would have the paintings boxed for shipping, this person would pick them up wherever I arranged.ll

Along the way, with prompt emails, and many of them, there seemed a few inconsistencies or changes, but nothing that set off a huge red flag, though I was still wary.

He FedExed an overnight check to me including his $2,600 he was being given for moving his personal items to the Phillipines in overage, and asked that he could entrust me to – after verifying funds and having the check cleared, of course, do a cash bank transfer of the remainder, after boxing costs. He asked me to let him know when I received it, which I did, and when I deposited. He said it shouldn’t take more than 2 days to clear and he hoped to get the shipment picked up by Friday (on Monday). He was concerned about getting it to his wife in time. The check was for over $6,000.

His emails were courteous, professional sounding, but every once in awhile there would be a flag for me. He was well-spoken with a good command of the English language, but then he would say something like “I wanna..” Wanna?? Red flag.

The check I received was from “Rita Lopez,” and drawn on Sun Bank as an Official (cashier’s, or registered) check. There was no address of the bank, but I thought, okay, I’ll play, and took it to my bank.

The teller immediately asked me if I know this person, and I said no. She asked if I was sure it wasn’t a scam. I said, “No, to be honest, I wonder if it is.” She got the manager.

He told me immediately, “It’s a scam,” and pointed out something that even my sharp artist’s eye had missed: The Sun Bank was ever so slightly slanted down on the top of the check, almost indiscernible, but I did notice when he pointed it out. He then called Sun Bank’s corporate office, which is headquartered in Florida. After he gave the numbers on the check, he was informed that the particular branch it was issued from was in Georgia, in the Atlanta area.

He then called that branch. This man was a pillar of patience, taking at least 30 minutes of his time between the two calls, endless menus, hold time, etc, before he reached a representative. After a hold time that seemed to never end, he was informed that the check was indeed, a fake. It was never issued from that branch, and there is no Rita Lopez on their files.

He was a true angel for me, protecting me from not only losing money, (Even if the check is shown as a deposit in your account, it can still not be cleared, and usually isn’t!) but he also told me that if I had deposited the check and it was a scam (which this one was), the bank would immediately cancel my account, ban me from further dealings, and in effect, I would be on a permanent shit list. I would not be able to go to my branch and close out my accounts, because I would have to wait for corporate to send my final closing balance.

Me! The injured party!! A persona non grata to my bank of many years, because they couldn’t be sure I wasn’t in on the scam. Plus, I would be out another $2,600 that I would have forwarded to the criminal, assuming it was all cleared and hunky dory.

This is humiliating. As a modest person, I have come to believe in my talent, after 45 years of painting, and many of teaching. This nice sale would be renewed affirmation that my art is valued and appreciated, and though I have made many sales, and do, this was really coming at a time I could use it, emotionally, and monetarily. But it could have been so much worse!

I reported this person and submitted all correspondence to the government scam reporting and my AZ attorney general’s office.

The name this person used is “Steven Green.” I tracked all of his emails and have the dates, time, and places they were opened from.

Everyone, BE AWARE. They are out in droves, and the scams are elaborate and complex.

There’s a special place in hell for scammers, but in the meantime, we can refuse to be fooled.

Be safe!

 

 

Surrealistic Mardi Gras

SAD CARNIVAL*“She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.”  


Surrealistic Mardi Gras

We found each other in a hall of lights
and electronic sounds, where
others had come
to lose themselves.

I was a woman who yearned
for my youth,
while you were a man
with none worth remembering:
Two sad leftovers from
days long past, searching for
our missing parts.

So we moved in slow motion
through a mannequin crowd, and
spun our dreams like
cotton candy,
then sealed our bond
in the Tunnel Of Love.
We savored each other like
corn on the cob,
sucking the juice, and gnawing
the kernels, licking the sweetness
from each others’ lips.

The calliope played a
premonishing tune;
The gray horse I mounted was
festooned with ribbons that
wrapped all about me as
the carousel turned, and bound
me in place, so high
in the air.

We slowed to a stop, and your
White steed was down.

Venturing out to the seamier
side, shows so macabre
beckoned us to partake.
Siamese twin dancers thatSAD CARNIVAL MAGIC
hypnotized; a magician within
made them vanish before you,
into smoke that became
a vile yellow fog.
When you gagged for
air, the fat lady found you,
offering solace in
her ample bosom.

Unyielding, repulsed, you went
To the weaver, who wove you a
dream, with fragile glass threads.
A python encircling a raven-haired
lady went crazy and choked all
the life from her body.
It touched in me a chord that made
my skin crawl, and chilled me
to think of a snake
wrapped around me.

Rain began falling with such a vengeance;
lightning struck all the carnival lights,
exploding sharp fragments in
colors that stung.

We could only find refuge in
the great hall of mirrors,
staring sadly at images
we’d never seen.

©1988, Olivia Wilder -All rights reserved.


“A spider lives inside my head
Who weaves a strange and wondrous web
Of silken threads and silver strings
To catch all sorts of flying things,
Like crumbs of thought and bits of smiles
And specks of dried-up tears,
And dust of dreams that catch and cling
For years and years and years . . .”  

(* excerpted from “Every Thing On It,”  © 2011, Shel Silverstein)

Who’s on First, Anyhow?

5cc08-christmastrolleyI thought I would share one of the crazy scenarios of my daily life that occurred yesterday.
I was in a department store of sorts. I say “of sorts,” because it was a TJ Maxx store. (I am not ashamed to be labeled a ‘Maxxanista.’) Anyhow, I was perusing the handbags, and a woman passed me in the aisle. We looked at each other and smiled.

Several minutes later, we met up again in the housewares/gourmet food section (surprise!) and the conversation that ensued I will try to reconstruct as close as my brain will allow. Bear in mind I can remember details of having my tonsils out when I was under two years old, so my long term memory is pretty good):

Her: “Do I know you?”
Me: “I don’t know. Do I know you?”
Her: “I think I do…..but where…..?”
Me:  “Me too you. Hmmm…..”
Her: “You think you know me?”
Me:  “Well, I wouldn’t go that far……I mean, not KNOW-know, just, you know…(laughing at the verbiage)”
Her:  “Yeah. Me too. I mean (laughs) I guess I know me. I should by now, being as old as I am!
Me:  “So we’re talking about you knowing you, then?”
Her:   “Well, I probably don’t really know YOU. I mean, you know. KNOW-know. But still…….”
Me:  “Who’s on first?”
Her:  “First? On what?”
Me:  “It’s an old Abbott and Costello bit…….”
Her:  (Looks very confused)
We both stand in awkward silence for 30 seconds)
Me:  “So, are you ready for Christmas?”
Her:  “I’m Jewish but we have a Christmas tree every year. I call it a large, pointy Channukah bush.”
Me:  “Oh, that’s funny. My ex-husband was Jewish and he always had a tree and presents hidden under the bed on Christmas morning as a child.”
Her:  “Where’s he from?”
Me:  “Brooklyn. Lived on Ocean Parkway.”
Her:  “I know Ocean Parkway. My father lived there as a kid. ”
Me:  “Maybe your father was my husband. (laughs)”
Her:  “Wow- now that’s something to think about……”
Me:  “No, no, no- I was just kidding, of course! (laughs) Because then you’d be my daughter, and I’m not that old, and we wouldn’t be wondering if we knew each other. Or if we knew ourselves.”
Her:  “Oh yes. That. I feel I do know you. Maybe I’ve just seen you around…..”
Me:  “Well, that’s a distinct possibility, because I get around (smiles).”
Her:  “You just look so familiar to me…..”
Me:  “I can also get familiar. In the right circumstances, of course.”
Her:  (Totally not “getting” my witty banter) “Maybe…… do you ever go to California?”
Me:  “Every summer. And used to live there. Do you think……..?”
Her:  “Yes. Yes. I’m sure that’s it. It was in Long Beach.”
Me:  “No, that’s not where I go. In fact I’ve only been there once, when I took a cruise to Mexico. That was in 2002.”
Her:  “Celebrity?”
Me:  “Me? Nooooooo……”
Her: (laughing) “I mean Celebrity Cruise line…”
Me:  “I knew that. (I didn’t) I was joking. Yes, Celebrity.”
Her: “No. That’s wrong.”
Me:  “No, that’s right. Celebrity.”
Her:  “I mean that’s not where I saw you. It was more recently. Are you sure you don’t go to the Long Beach area?”
Me:  “I kind of know that about myself. I mean, you know, as far as I know me. Which is pretty well.”
Her: (sigh) “This is driving me crazy.”
Me:  “It’s probably that we’ve just seen each other around town. Do you live here?”
Her:  “No. (offering nothing further)”
Me:  “Where do you live?”
Her:  “Me? (duh) I live in Scottsdale.”
Me:  “Um. I thought you said you don’t live in Scottsdale….just now….?”
Her:  “Oh! (laughing) Of course…”
Me:  “‘Cause I doubt you live in this store….”
Her:  “I have it. It was last year at this time at the Friedman’s holiday party in Paradise Valley!”
Me:  “What was?”
Her:  “That’s where I met you!!! You were with………”
Me: (interrupting) “No. I don’t know them and I wasn’t at their party.”
Her:  “Are you sure? Because I’m almost positive that’s where..”
Me:  “I make it a policy to never drink so much that I forget where I am. Or where I’ve been.”
Her:  “Dammit. That was a great party, by the way. You would love Dodie.”
Me:  “Dodie?”
Her:  “Friedman.  She is so like you! Very witty and lots of fun. And I have a feeling you’re a fun gal.”
Me:  “I’m nothing if not fun. Personified. (laughs)”
Her:  “They’re on a cruise this year, but when they come back, we have to get together. I mean, you and Dodie and me. Lunch, or something.”
Me:  “Well, I love meeting new people. Sure, let’s do that.”
We exchange names/numbers.
Me:  “Well, nice talking to you. I have to run…”
Her: “Me too. Can I give you a hug?”
Me:  “I’m a hugger, and ’tis the season, so, sure.”
(Hugs)
We head off in opposite directions as she says:
“I’m so glad I ran into you again!”

“Again?” I thought.

Who’s on first?

(Reprint from another blog of mine from Dec. 2013)

The Circle Continues

FLOWERS 112014

In helping others, we shall help ourselves.For whatever good we give out completes the circle,and comes back to us.”  – Rumi, in ‘Essential Sufism

Everyone who knows me, knows I love to give: Hugs, smiles, laughs, a helping hand, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on. It makes me happy, and by being happy, I can better make others happy. And the circle continues.

This is a (true) short tale about being in tune with your spirit, open, and allowing yourself to truly connect with, and therefore follow your spirit (gut, intuition) and not remain in your head (thoughts, ego).

I have been feeling like a head cold is trying to catch me all day today. So much so that I took a Benadryl – which I never do, except at night. It made me so tired, I thought I would try to lie down for awhile this afternoon, although napping, for me, is an impossibility. I only lay down for five minutes when something told me to go out and complete a couple errands, all of which could have waited.

I went out and stopped at Safeway to pick up a couple of things and heard this sweet voice behind me as I was leaving, saying in her Indian accent, “Hello, my dear……how are you?” I turned around and it was this (east) Indian lady who works there that I’ve seen off and on for years. She is older than I am (ancient), and has the most beautiful spirit that just shines as bright as the diamond stud in the side of her nostril. She helps collect carts, bag items, and carry out groceries, (which I let her “assist” with – pushing my cart, at her request, so we can talk occasionally). I once saw her walking home at least a mile from the store and felt even more impressed with her gentle spirit, always a smile, always a good word.

I said, “How are you? I haven’t seen you for so long!” impulsively hugging her, something we have never done. She hugged me tightly back, smiling. I spurted out, “You look so beautiful!” which I meant, but it made her smile twice as big and she gave me another hug, thanking me, wishing me a happy Thanksgiving, as I did her.

I then went Trader Joe’s, my home away from home, and as I was going in, I looked at all of the beautiful fall flowers, thinking of buying some, but deciding not to. There was a young guy there buying roses, and he asked me which color I preferred. I said, “Well, my ex-husband, many, many years ago used to buy me my favorites- ‘Oldtimers’- which were orange, so of course I’d go for the orange ones.” He said he was thinking maybe those too, that the red are too ordinary, and his wife was anything but. (All together now: “awww…”)

I said, “What a lucky lady! I can’t even remember the last time a man bought me flowers! Happy Thanksgiving to you both!” He thanked me and wished me the same.

He had just checked out and I was in the same line he had been in, 2 people behind. He smiled and waved as he left the store. When I got up to the cashier and paid for my five items, the girl said, “These are for you.” and handed me a bunch of the flowers (pictured)- orange, of course.” I said, “For me? From Trader Joe himself?” laughing. She said, “No- a man who just left bought them for you and told me to tell you that ‘you deserve them too,’ and you’d know what he meant.”

Made me a little misty that I never found a man like that myself, but the bigger emotion was marveling at how you truly do get back what you give out, always, in all ways.   Something easy, give a kind word, a gesture to others, and they come back to you 100 times over. Love will always beget love.

Fragile..

DRIVING HOME ON 29 

This was the view as I drove home from St. Helena on Saturday morning. I’d been visiting my sister and brother-in-law in the beautiful Napa Valley for a couple of days. I left hours earlier than originally planned, a surprise to both my sister and to me equally.

I’d awakened with a start, sleepy and wanting nothing more than to retreat into a couple more hours of needed slumber, but something told me I should just get ready and head out.

As I drove down Highway 29, I took this picture of the moody landscape, heavy with clouds, which are a welcomed relief to the Valley heat of August, but a surprise, as the mornings had been bright and sunny. I remember thinking how all at once mysterious, ominous, and beautiful they were. 

I went to bed Saturday night around 12:30, totally exhausted from a normally three hour drive-turned-five by weekend traffic. In the middle of a dream, my mattress started bouncing. It was as if a child were jumping up and down on the bed. It didn’t fit anywhere in the dream about meeting a friend at the Hog Island Oyster Bar in Napa, where I’d been on Friday. For a split second I had a deja vu feeling of the same exact thing happening when I lived here in 2002. And in that split second, I was confused and thought it was then, and my eyes shot open on the last 2 bounces. I grabbed my phone and checked the time: 3:20 a.m. I held my breath for a bit, waiting to see if something more were coming, or if it had, in fact, been a dream, When nothing happened, I went back to a fitful sleep.

When I turned on my computer a few hours later, I had all kinds of concerned questioning and a link to the earthquake on my Facebook page. Was I all right? The 6.0 quake that was centered near the Napa Valley in American Canyon had occurred at 3:20 a.m. At this writing, 120 people were injured, 3 critically. 

Everything can change in a second. Businesses and homes destroyed. Lives potentially lost or challenged. We are not in control. 

I am grateful that my sister and her husband suffered very minor damage and no loss. But it reminds me of that song by Sting, “Fragile.”  

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star, like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are, how fragile we are ..

We must not become complacent in our lives, in the rote of day-to-day activities, that we forget that nothing is guaranteed us. Not even the next moment. 

And in the fragility of this existence we are residing in, we are connected. We are like a grand network of ivy, one to the other, over continents and sea.

An earthquake in the Napa Valley with family or friend potentially injured is no less- should mean no less to us than an earthquake in Chile or China. A tsunami in Japan. A hurricane in Florida or the Caribbean, a tornado in the midwest. 

Isn’t it time to put our collective hearts together and be one?

One planet.

One humanity.

One life.

QUAKE1

Happy Birthday to me!

 

BIRTHDAY CAKE

It is said that life has seasons.

We are born on the green bud of Spring
to blossom in the summertime of days.
Autumn finds us wiser, older,
certainly more colorful.
Winter is suspended life, frozen,
Serenely waiting to be born again.

I suppose I have entered the Winter season
now, as far as numbers go. But still I have
the wonder and awe of my budding days;
the untamed spirit of my summer,
and the rich changing colors of my autumn.

I am all seasons, wild, unbridled,  opening
growing, ever-changing.

No season can define nor contain me.

And on this, the anniversary of my day of birth,
this is what I celebrate:  I am

Alive.

 

 

Spiritual Upgrades

(The following post is a reprint from December 13, 2013, from my old blog. Circumstances with the world as it is inspired me to re-post it here. It’s a long one, but heartfelt. If it touches a cord with anyone who reads it, I will be humbled.)

These days, it seems, we are inundated with reminders to “update,” “upgrade,” “renew,” “revise,” “replace” everything. You can’t sell a house that isn’t “updated” anymore. When I was a kid, updating meant we got our tattered old sofa reupholstered. Today it means we’ve simply changed our taste as easily as we breathe, and we want a “new look.” So, not only does the sofa go altogether, so does the whole living room! Every single corner of the room is made sparkly new again from flooring to window coverings to paint to furniture. And then, after an unknown period of time, we change our minds once again, and spend money we don’t need to spend, and probably really can’t afford, to make the room all “new” again.

(This was posted online, not my home)

This is done with every room in the house, top to bottom, inside and out, mostly on whim, not born of any real need, but stemming from boredom with the choices we may not have made that long ago.

But what about our souls? Where, in all of this need to redo, revise and make new again, do we work our spirit into the equation?

Looking externally for a shot of adrenaline is like eating a chocolate bar for energy when you are tired, and your body simply needs sleep. 

I have been on a never-ending spiritual growth quest for a long time, but never so much as the past few years. Last year was hard on me. I lost people I loved through death; I had bizarre falling outs with close friends. My daughter and I became estranged for nearly 9 months. None of it made sense to me. I mean, of course, people will pass from their earthly bodies; it’s inevitable for us all. And it was hard, as it always is, to lose ones you love from being in your life as they have been. There were times I was so completely depleted, that the old me of 20 years ago would have looked for band aids in the form of purchases I couldn’t afford and didn’t need to give me that instant, albeit quickly fleeting, lift. Let’s face it, to buy a new outfit, jewelry, – whatever ones particular weakness is, makes you feel happy again.

But like that chocolate bar for energy, it gives you an instant high, but a quick lower than low. And you’ve slapped a band aid on the real cancer of your life.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, I raged and cried. “Why me?” I asked over and over again. “I’m the least complacent and most grateful person I know!” I remember the morning I was awakened at 7:30 am from a pleasant dream by a phone call with a voice that had the power to change my life saying simply, “I’m so sorry. It’s cancer,” from the doctor who had biopsied my breast 2 days earlier.

It was a Saturday. She had called me the night before and said, “Have a glass of wine and relax. I’m sure it’s not cancer,” promising to phone me the next day as soon as the radiologist got back to her. I had questioned, “On a Saturday?” She had assured me, that yes, it was actually a good sign that he wanted to do a “second smear.” It portended good things.

I cried so hard that day, all day, that by the time I went to bed, my face was puffed and my eyes red and swollen to allow mere slits to see through. I looked into the mirror that night and said aloud, “Why can’t it be yesterday? Everything was perfect yesterday. Everything was fine. Why me, God?”

After a very fitful night of dozing off and awakening with a racing heartbeat and a stuffed up nose, I shot up in bed early the next morning with a start, apologizing to God. I realized that nothing was perfect the day before. Nothing was fine. The doctor has said it was Stage 1, and it that it was 8-10 years old. That I found out at stage 1 after eight to ten years of it growing in my body was a blessing, not a curse. I didn’t find out I had cancer, which was always there anyhow, to die. I found out because it was time for me to do something about it so I wouldn’t die. It was, again, a blessing. And I got on my knees and gave thanks to God for allowing me to live.

Along the way, I had continued blessings throughout the process. When I was informed that they would have to remove the “sentinel” lymph nodes- or the nodes closest to the cancer which are draining the cancer, identified by a radioactive marker, and biopsy them, I was scared to death. There can be dozens of sentinels, and if any showed suspicious cells, it would mean the removal of all lymph nodes under my arm, and a myriad of resulting problems and ongoing potential discomfort and swelling the rest of my life.

I had but one sentinel. It was clear. 

Then, my surgeon told me that when she “got in there, there was a nasty 3-inch ball” that she didn’t know if it was all cancer, or what, so she had taken the whole wad with margins, and in the center, was a small grape-sized cancer, with “fingers” that reached within mere centimeters to escaping the mass of tissue, which, she said, was scar tissue.

My body had been encasing my cancer with scar tissue all that time, to prevent it from spreading. 

After what seemed an interminably long wait for the report (due to having my surgery 3 days before Christmas), I got the call that they had gotten it all. I would need radiation, but no chemo.

Before I had my surgery, I had conferred with different doctors I would be seeing along the path, including a radiation oncologist, who had, to my taste, a very dismissive and unsympathetic manner, so when I called the group to make an appointment to consult about my radiation in several weeks, I requested another doctor.

In the meantime, I did research online about radiation choices and decided I would like, if possible, to get the mammosite implant, or brachytherapy, an application that was relatively new and involved implanting a balloon into the vacated tumor site, pumping it up with saline solution, and then going in twice a day for five days for high-dosage radiation to be administered to the specific site of the tumor and its surrounding area, as opposed to the tried and true external beam radiation. It did have a lot of criteria to meet to qualify for that procedure, however, so I wasn’t sure I could get it. I kept reading the name of the doctor who rejuvenated an idea of a Dr. Geoffrey Keynes of 1920’s London,  fifty years later in New Orleans, a Dr. Kuske, who currently resided in Chicago. (History of Brachytherapy LinkI printed up a list of questions and references, and headed for my consultation, six weeks following surgery.

A man with a kindly face in doctor’s jacket, walked into the examining room, hand outstretched. “I want to thank you for choosing me for your radiation oncologist,” he said. “Dr. Walker told me you are one of the funniest people she ever met, that you had the whole O.R. laughing until you went under. I can’t tell you how vital that is to the healing process!”

I shook his hand, and said, “Thank you…..but you have me at a disadvantage here! I don’t know your name yet!” He laughed and apologized, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Dr. Kuske.” I looked down at my papers and said; “Are you related to the guy who invented the mammosite implant?”  He smiled, “That’s me.  I just moved here 2 months ago.”  Were he still in Chicago practicing, I would have had to wait six months for a consultation, negating any chance of getting the treatment, as I needed to start immediately. He warned me in advance that he didn’t think I would be able to qualify, since the tumor was close to the skin and the radiation would burn my skin from the inside-out. So he did the ultrasound to see.  As he was looking at the screen, he exclaimed to the attending nurse, “My goodness, have you ever seen anything like this?” (I love how they forget the patient is there!) She responded that it was amazing. I said then, “Patient here! Worried patient present and listening!” Dr. Kuske apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, do you notice anything about this area?” I was looking at a huge black egg-shaped cavern, and responded, “Other than it’s the size of Cleveland?” He laughed and said, “No. That it is smooth and with perfect edges. Dr. Walker must be the best surgeon ever. It looks as though there is already an implant inside!”

It was, he said, “Textbook picture-perfect for a mammosite implant.” 

There were countless miracles following, but you get the idea..

I tell you all of this because every single person has some sort of struggle they are going through at any given time. Physical, emotional, financial, mental, spiritual. And if I can help just one person to feel better or see their lives in a new perspective, lighten their burden in any small way, I will be happy.
                  ☆¸.•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆¸.•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆
“A great king summoned his wise men. He ordered them, ‘Create for me a saying that will stabilize my inner state. When I am unhappy it will bring me joy, and when I am happy, it will remind me of sadness. It cannot be too long as I want to keep it with me always.’
 
The wise men consulted and contemplated deeply the king’s command. Finally, they returned to the king, bearing a small box. In it, there was a ring. And inside the ring was inscribed the following words:
 
“This, too, shall pass.”
 
(A Sufi tale, in “Essential Sufiism”)
What does all of this have to do with our collective need to forever update, upgrade, renew, our home environs? I could have followed the path I historically followed when faced with unpleasantness, discomfort, fear: Buy something, do something, eat something that will take the hurt and fear away, even for awhile. Fortunately, I have not been cursed, if you will, with a propensity for drug, alcohol, gambling, etc., addiction. But I did formerly stuff my emotional well with food during my unhappy marriage, and it took me a long time following my divorce to recover from those implications. Buying things used to be my personal addiction. To excess. Things I didn’t need or necessarily even want. Things that made me happy for various fleeting amounts of time, until I needed another band aid.Rather like upgrading, updating, replacing, modernizing, our living spaces. What about our true homes: our souls?Instead of looking for an instant “high” to cope with my cancer, just as coping with the end of a 25+ year marriage earlier, I turned inward. I sat with myself, looked inward, and as a surgeon would with a scalpel, carefully dissected all of my emotions, fears, failings, faults,- and forgave myself all of them, one by one. After my divorce a few years before the cancer, I had started that painful process. It wasn’t easy; worthwhile things seldom are.  But I had already started the work in earnest then, learning to forgive, accept, and (yikes!) actually love myself,  and now it was time to continue my education.

And work I have, beginning with my A, B, C’s:
Acknowledging that flawed though I may be, it is perfectly all right, as long as I am willing to not only accept my failings, but forgive them, and learn and grow from them.
Bowing, or surrendering my ego and letting my spirit lead the way. We can manipulate almost anything to make it happen in our lives, but it’s so true, “Be careful what you wish for,” for in most cases, you won’t be happy with what you get.
Continuous expression of gratitude for the abundant blessings in every minute of my life. If you are reading this, you are blessed in this moment. You’re alive. You have your eyesight. You are not in terrible pain or need (or you’d not be reading this!) and you have material things many don’t have- such as the computer or phone or tablet to read this on. The list goes on and on, but I’m sure you follow me.
(¯`’•.¸¸„¸.•¨*••*¨•.¸¸.•¨*••.¸¸•¨*¨•.¸¸„•*Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ
Fast-forward to a last year at this time.  I had lost 3 friends to death. A few others from bizarre falling outs, and my only daughter and I were completely estranged. I was not happy.  I realized that the holidays were just around the corner, and as I always spend my Thanksgiving and Christmas at my daughter and son-in-law’s home, I was going to be alone. And miserable. Again, I realized that this was a time for more “higher education,” and I looked inward, then outward to know what to do. The first thing I realized was that I needed to get out of my ego, my own “poor me” syndrome, (which I call the real PMS!) and help someone else who needed help more than I did, and I volunteered to serve Thanksgiving dinner at St. Vincent de Paul’s charity dining room, for working poor families. It’s almost as far as Tucson (yes, I’m exaggerating) and in a bad area, but I felt good to have that to look forward to.
Right after I had signed on for that, literally, perhaps even the next day, I was leaving my house at 3:15 in the afternoon with four errands to do. It was late, and I got into my car with my mind full of a million things, and thinking and planning what and where I would go first, and in what order.
A bolt- that’s the only way I can describe this- came into my brain, penetrating through all of my jumbled thinking, telling me to “check Fandango for a movie” at a nearby theater. It was so forceful, so bizarre, that I said aloud, “Whaaattt???” and proceeded to go back to ordering my errands. The thought blazed through once again. “Fandango. Movie. Check.”
I literally turned off my engine, and talking to myself all the way, went back upstairs to get on my computer and look at the offerings at this particular theater. As I scanned the list, I was frustrated and annoyed at myself for doing this, but I kept on. “Saw that.” “Not interested in that.”  and thinking also that I had seen two movies in the past week already! Then I saw it: “The Way”- at the bottom of the list. I’d never heard of it, so I quickly went to see the synopsis, noting that it started at 3:50 pm. “Man learns of his son’s death in France…blah blah blah” I quickly dismissed it as probably a war film, which I don’t like. And, as I said, it was starting at 3:50 and now it was 3:30. I could make it, but I’d have to hurry.
I got back into my car, and reordered my list of errands I needed to do, chiding myself for wasting yet more time. I had determined that I would head to Trader Joe’s first, and started down the straight shot street to go there, when I suddenly realized that I was on the 101 North, which is the way I take to go to that theater! It was like an out-of-body experience. I had no recollection of turning onto the highway, yet there I was, headed to the theater, and out of the way of my first planned destination!
Scolding myself all the way into the lobby and to the ticket machine, I still did not want to see that damned movie! So, after purchasing the ticket and being told “last screen to the left,” I immediately headed to the right. It was now 3:45 pm, and I was mad at myself. First of all, I had no time or interest in seeing a movie that day, never mind that one, but now I had probably missed half the previews. And I never do that. I finally decided to see “Ides of March” (again), which was starting at 4 pm. I went into the auditorium and there was not one living soul there. It was a big screen and dark, and well, just plain creepy. Resigned and disgusted, I headed to the last one on the left, to see my ticketed film.
When I got there, I was shocked to see quite a number of people there – and for a 3:50 pm movie that I’d never heard of on a Wednesday! I settled into my seat in the back row and watched what was, for me, the best film I saw last year. It moved me so, I sat for a few minutes after the end titles and credits to just absorb it all. (See a clip for this fabulous movie, below).
 I realized then and there that I needed to go on a spiritual retreat.

(As an aside, I did an interview on my podcast with the wonderful Yorick van Wageningen, who played Joost in the movie, and we became fast-friends. Hear that interview here:
I went directly home following the movie, knowing that I simply must go on a spiritual retreat, and it had to meet several criteria. First, it had to be in an older-than-the-United States country, and it had to be spiritually driven, not disguised as spiritual, when it was more about money. Then, it had to be reasonably (read: cheap) priced, happening over Christmas, AND I had to be able to use my Delta Skymiles for the airfare. All seemed pretty insurmountable, but on the long list of spiritual retreats, one popped out, no big ad, not even bold type, simply stating: :”Silent Stay in Assisi.”
Geographically challenged, I wasn’t even sure exactly where Assisi was, but I thought maybe Spain or Portugal, and it sure as hell was old, so I clicked on it and read further. (Of course it is, in fact, Italy.) Before this truly ends up being a novel rivaling “War and Peace” in length, I will tell you now that it was reasonably priced, there were 2 spots left for the next one, which was over Christmas, and I could get a ticket to Rome and back using my Skymiles, albeit of the highest tier of miles there was – 175,000 air miles. Still, I felt it was meant to be, and made a plan to go, all by myself.
I was second-guessing myself right up until the 21st of December, when I left, because not only was it a spiritual retreat thousands of miles away from Arizona, but it was a silent stay. No TV, computer, phone, or even much talking! And the travel- it ended up being a nightmare trip- over 30 hours to get there when my plane was changed to going through Salt Lake City to Paris, then on Alitalia to Rome, then another 5 hours of train rides to Assisi. But I got there, and it was absolutely magical, serene, spiritual……life-changing.
(Door to my room in the 300 year old restored farmhouse)
(Assisi street at Christmas)

During my 8 days there, I learned so much about myself and peace and gratitude in, and for my life. I learned how to center myself in each moment, to exist there, nowhere else, through assimilating our daily silent meditations and spiritual yoga. (I will tell you about this at the end). I was relentless in baring myself to the core level and letting my spirit come through, overriding my ego. I met wonderful people. Ate wonderful food. And, no, I did not – to my surprise and shock- miss my phone, computer, TV or constant communication. I found a quiet confidence, serenity, and wholeness that I didn’t realize I had been missing.

When we are constantly seeking extraneous measures to fulfill our emotional needs, we are stifling our very souls, which are being muted by our living in our egos (brains).

Each and every precious moment is our life, past, present, and future. Everything is in the now, the moment. And if you realize that and allow yourself to experience each moment fully present, you truly live, not simply exist. In most moments of ones’ life, there is nothing truly needed. 
To follow your spirit, not be a slave to your ego, you live your life exuberantly, out loud. But it all starts with learning how to be alone. To ruthlessly look at what you would like to change about yourself, and change it. Not by looking outward toward things to ease and cover the pain and fear, to be emotional band aids on the cancer of our lives.

 

Here are some suggestions for making that happen:
1. When you feel anxious, frightened, lost, angry, – any negativeemotions,- find a quiet place and open yourself to spirit. What I do is that I lift my hands as high as I can over my head, forming a pyramid or triangle with my thumbs, forefingers, and other fingers touching, feet slightly apart and center myself in the moment by breathing in through my nose, 3-5 long, deep breaths, and slowly exhaling through pursed lips, only through my mouth. I then say the following:
I am present.
I am listening.
I am grateful.
Then I simply listen. 

 

You will hear nothing and everything. But you will be intent on doing nothing but listening. Nothing. And no other random thoughts can come in. If you find that they are, you aren’t intent. Imagine that you were told that you were going to die if you didn’t hear a pin drop at an unscheduled interval. Believe me, you wouldn’t be thinking or worrying about anything else but listening for that pin to drop. Make it that serious. In a few days or a week of doing this exercise at least twice a day for five to 10 or more minutes, you won’t have to scare yourself into listening anymore. But what you will find is that you will have more “gut feelings,” “premonitions,” and hunches coming through that all work to your advantage. That is your higher self, your spirit. When we get so busy in our busy-ness, our spirit or higher self often can’t make it through all of the jumbled cross-currents. Doing this one thing alone will help you find immensely more peace and reduce stress in your life. If you are out in your car or somewhere and you find yourself getting stressed, say it and do it there, (without the hand/pyramid thing!)  right where you are.

Next, start your day off before you ever get out of bed with what I call “gratitudinals”. First thank you should be for allowing you to wake up another day. It can go from there, thank you for my good health, thank you for my eyesight, that I can breathe clearly, that I am awakening in this nice bed, in a home or apartment with a roof over my head. Thank you for the birds singing, the sunshine, the beautiful blue sky, the rain that the earth needs to grow, etc., etc., continue in the shower. Thank you for this water that cleanses me, the source that delivers it. Thank you for this nice hot coffee to wake me up, thank you ………you get the idea. Don’t stop till you have said at least 50 nonstop “gratitudinals.” Or for at least 10 consecutive minutes. Continue giving thanks throughout your day and evening. Thank you for an easy commute. Thank you for this beautiful sunset. Thank you for the nice person I met at the store- whatever. And do it often. End your day with more “gratitudinals” in the form of prayer, but don’t ask for things, just give thanks for what you have and what you want to have as though you already do.  God/the Universe is limitless. Nothing is too much or impossible.

Be humble and look to serve others every day, even in some small way. Let that person ahead of you in traffic. Surrender your place in a checkout line to the person behind you who has 3 items to your 25. Look for ways to help brighten someone’s day, even with just a smile and a greeting. Strive to be more selfless and less selfish. And that extends to all living things, and to the earth itself.

 

Forgive your offenders. Easy to say, sure. But even easier to do. We are all human, let’s face it, and sometimes someone will hurt or offend us in some way. Some forgiveness is more challenging than others. Those are the ones that count the most. Show the character and spirit you have by being the bigger person and letting it go. We are not here to judge nor punish. We are simply here to learn and practice unconditional love. Forgiveness is the first step to that end. I say to myself, “He’s (she’s, they’re) just doing the best they can.” And I let it go. Bygones!

 

When you forgive others, make sure you have also forgiven yourself. Love yourself as much as you love others, even more. You will no longer have the desire to compete with newer, bigger, better, “things.” You will have serene self-confidence and approval from your spirit essence for being true to yourself.

 

Each night when I go to bed, before I say my “gratitudinals” and prayers, I go over the day and try to pick out 3 things I learned about myself, others, or life that day. They can be profound or just kind of logical. If I can’t come up with three, I’ve wasted precious time on this earth.

 

We all have a shelf life on this earth, and we all have the choice of how we want to live, what we choose to make a priority and what can take a back seat.

 

For me, I love my funky decorating style. No one comes into my house that doesn’t feel like they could fall asleep in any chair; they are that comfortable. I am years behind in many “updates” and “upgrades” in my decorating, but it’s home, and I’m serene and confident enough to let that be enough.

 

At the end of my life, please let me look into a loving pair of eyes, not be surrounded by things with no soul that will “outlive” us all, but who can’t love me back.

Cafe Gratitude

DSCN0738 copy

I give thanks constantly. All day. Every day. I believe that grounding myself in gratitude within my faith makes me appreciate more the everyday things….the things we take for granted.

We wake up each day. (Gratitude) We can think, see, feel, hear, touch, taste (our coffee!), smell…..(Gratitude). On and on. I think that once we make a conscious effort to realize that every precious moment of life is a miracle, we will be more grateful, and through being more grateful, and extending kindness and love to others, more blessings will come our way. It’s a well that never stops giving, never runs dry.

heirloom vegetables

While in Santa Cruz in the summer, I count the days between the farmer’s markets. The Central Coast of California has such rich volcanic soil that many bountiful crops are harvested and brought by farmers directly to the outdoor markets. I relish these so much for not only the healthy organic fruits and vegetables they provide, but for the colors, smells, textures, – experience of meeting and talking to everyone, learning about them, making new friends.

One such friend is Serene, from whom I’ve been getting a dollar-a-minute massages from the past couple of years. She has such a gentle and beautiful soul, which combined with her talent for finding every single knot and pain I didn’t even know I had, makes her just a fabulous human being.

SERENE1

 

Yesterday while getting my weekly 20 minute massage, which – no pun intended- I “sorely” needed, I was wearing my bluetooth, something I never do, as I certainly want to tune out the world while getting my massage, but which was necessary for an important phone call I was expecting from the USPS as to why I haven’t received my forwarded mail in a months’ time. I took the expected call to find it was a local friend reminding me that “our” birthdays were coming up. (I wish I could forget!) His, in a couple of days, and mine a week from yesterday. I told him I hadn’t forgotten and would call him back, then explaining and apologizing to Serene for taking a call.

At the end of the massage she hugged me (as we always do) and said “The massage today is on me, for your birthday.” I told her no, I couldn’t accept that, but she insisted. It was then that I told her- which I don’t normally point out to people who are on my “list”- that I had been naming her in my prayers the past couple of years for added blessings in her life, which of course is true. She thanked and hugged me again.

Life is a circle. We may lose our “groove” at times in our lives, but the circle will continue. What we give, we always will get back. Perhaps in other or unexpected ways, but always the circle will continue. What we choose to put out to the world is just that: choice.

I choose to start and end my days in “Cafe Gratitude,” – which, by the way, is a real place, a lovely cafe in Santa Cruz, but even when I’m back home in Scottsdale, a place my heart and soul reside in.

Every day.