Touch the Sky

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Swinging is pure joy! As a kid, I loved to swing. If I saw a swing, I’d run for it, sit on it, kick off with my feet, and get the momentum going until I knew I was touching the sky. The higher I’d go, the better it felt. Swinging higher, I could feel the breeze pat my face and the wind whip my long braids about as I soared skyward. I would try to swing so high that I would fly over the top. Never did; but I loved that exhilarating feeling of taking off, leaving the ground behind, and flying high. Swinging while standing up was a whole other over the rainbow, flying high adventure. That’s when I would burst into song, singing my favorite, “Would you like to swing on a star?” Felt like I was doing just that. Whee! Pure glee!

To this day, I can’t resist having a good swing to relax and loose myself to that feeling of joy–letting go of everything that holds me back. Unfortunately, the old swing set (shown above) had a broken seat so I wasn’t able to swing on it when we visited our friend Jerry on his farm for a typical Uruguan asado last weekend. So I sat on a chair nearby instead and imagined swinging to my heart’s content. I swung so high, I touched the sky.

Over the years, I’ve been interviewed about my writing, my books, and life in general. A couple of my favorite questions remind me of why I like to swing and imagine.

Who were you as a child? (Were you the shy, demure child, or did you always have that adventurous spirit)?

Shy? Never. More of a tomboy type. Always adventurous, I had a wild imagination. I was the second child born into a family of eight children. My father became a Pentecostal preacher months after I was born (was I to blame?) and my family moved from Los Angeles, California to Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and then to Arizona.

Most of my childhood was spent in Tucson, Arizona. I used to sit out on a hot rock in the desert with my dog and wait for the space ship to pick us up. I was convinced they had left me with the wrong family.

If you were an animal in a zoo, what would you be and why?

An orangutan. They’re gentle and quiet, and swing when they get bored. It would be a good way to study people and observe their strange behaviors.

If you were an animal in a zoo, what would you be and why?

Bookcases Speak Volumes …

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Centuries ago, books were written by hand on parchment paper. The earliest literary works (preserved in a manuscript tradition) date from the early Iron Age. Ancient writings were kept in small boxes which owners of the works often carried with them.

As volumes accumulated in homes and places of work, the flat books were stacked, back side down, on shelves in cabinets. In large libraries, doors were often installed to protect the fragile, original manuscript.

With the invention of the printing press, more and more people could afford to own copies of printed books and the modern bookcase idea evolved. Bookcase doors were discarded, books were printed with the title of the book on a spine. The spine made it easy for the book to sit upright and allowed the reader to view a particular book title from the shelf before removing it.

Modern bookcases are now used to store books in an orderly fashion, or not. My husband and I once visited a new-age bookstore on the Oregon coast where he recommended they find a better way to organize their books. He then suggested placing them on shelves by the color of the book cover since “new agers” were looking for answers without knowing the question first. The owner wasn’t keen on that suggestion. I remember thinking the “color system” wouldn’t work well for color blind readers. But it was fun to imagine an all green section without any books about money or gardening. Years later, I read about an independent bookstore in San Francisco where a local artist arranged every single one of the 20,000 books by color. Readers loved it. Makes perfect sense to me.

As you can see from my photo, our living room bookcase holds books plus a few little extras things. My favorite cookbooks sit together on the top shelf, to the left. Our language and travel books occupy the bottom shelf. Literary works fill the spaces in between. There’s no rhyme or reason, but there is a good explanation for the extras. Rescue Remedy? It’s in a convenient location when I need to calm an over-excited dog on his way to the groomer. Mosquito repellent? Yes, the bookcase is just inside our front entrance and is easy to grab and spray before taking a walk during mosquito season. A nail file? Easier to find than in my purse. A bookmark? Always handy to have near a bookshelf.

Can you spot a slim black book-looking device, without writing on the spine? I store another entire bookshelf filled with dozens of books on this unit. I’m curious to know what treasures your bookshelf holds. How do you organize your books? Do you keep non-book items there?

Día del Patrimonio

04-05 October, 2014

This weekend is Día del Patrimonio (Heritage Days) in Uruguay and many buildings are open to the public. Our quiet beach town of Atlántida, Uruguay has a significant collection of quirky, cool buildings featuring a variety of innovative architectural designs.

One of the most famous structures was designed and engineered by Eladia Dieste, an architect who made his reputation by building numerous elegant structures from grain silos to churches. His buildings are a fusion of cutting-edge design and functionality featuring self-supporting double curved arches, built without any structural columns. We see this fine example often as it’s located near the butcher shop we frequent. It’s a must-see to share when we have visitors from abroad.

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Iglesia del Cristo Obrero, designed by Elasio Dieste was built in 1958.

Another must-see favorite for originality is El Águila – The Eagle. In 1945, Italian millionaire Natalio Michelizzi, commissioned an Uruguayan builder (Juan Torres) to build him a statue of the Virgin Mary. Tores instead built a place where Michelizzi could read, paint and entertain. This meeting place for friends has given rise to several legends—from a Nazi observatory, a cosmic energy center, to a smuggler’s hideout.

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We have, over the years, viewed several of the fine, old and restored buildings in Montevideo during Día del Patrimonio. So this year, we decided to venture inland, along country roads, and visit some unusual buildings in villages nearby.

Our first stop was lunch at the Parador (truck stop) Fito. Next we drove along a dirt road to see the offerings in Soca. We followed signs to a strange, wing-shaped private Soca Family Chapel. It was designed by Catalan architect Antoni Bonet Castellana in 1959. Although it was scheduled to be open to the public, a handwritten sign and padlock on the gate indicated it wasn’t. We took photos from the dirt road and drove on.

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Next stop, Santuario Virgen de las Flores. It was open and warm, welcoming us inside to view its spacious beauty.

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While there we discovered why the Soca Family Chapel was closed. Seems an infestation of honey bees were busy buzzing about inside the chapel. Perhaps the family will consider setting up a sanctuary for honey-bees.

Creative Dance

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Living most of the year in Atlántida, Uruguay, I seldom see a McDonald’s except in the heat of summer when one opens for four months, in the center of our sleepy beach town, to serve the throngs of tourists who flock here from December through March. I’ve never stepped inside, but our son often hung out there with his friends when he lived here. He said he loved their fries (papas fritas). I suspect he also loved girl-watching from that strategic location.

Each time I walk past the now-shuttered building, I’m reminded of an exchange of vibrancy I experienced years ago while visiting my friend Michael in LA. Yes, it involved McDonald’s.

Michael was close friends with an artist who created original murals for the McDonald’s restaurant chain in the early 80s. Knowing I was also an artist, the friend invited me and Michael to visit his warehouse studio one afternoon. I remember walking into the immense space and being in awe of the feeling of vitality surrounding me. As I walked down the long aisles I saw dozens of apparently identical paintings. I noticed some were unfinished and the blank canvas spaces had tiny numbers written on them. I stopped to ask.

“Paint by number,” he said, smiling. “I design and paint the original and then other artists paint the copies by duplicating the design and colors I’ve used.”

“Wow!” I said, wondering exactly how that worked.

He showed us his latest design and then invited us to join him for tea time. As we sipped our tea, he and Michael talked about their involvement with an intense personal development program called Silva—a meditation program to help people visualize and tap into their greatest potential. I was looking forward to attending the Silva weekend workshop that Michael was teaching.

We talked about the process of being creative. The mural artist said that he knew as a child that he would become an artist.

“I did as well,” I said. “As a kid, I dreamed of being an artist, a writer, a singer, a song writer. I always dreamed of creating original things.”

“And now you are,” Michael said.

“Destiny,” Michael’s friend added.

We talked at great length about the ‘rushes of pure energy’ that go into creating works of art, literature, and music, and how artists pour their most intense vitality into an original piece.

“An original painting is the first telling of a story,” he said. “It’s filled with passion and zest.”

I remember getting goosebumps with those words, knowing it to be true from my own experience. “Total awareness,” I said. “Being aware of a deeper knowledge and knowing you’re on the verge of making something magical happen through a creative endeavor. I always had a need to express myself after discovering new information. My inner voice encouraged me to take the information, stir my imagination, and create something unique.”

“Being able to go with that flow of energy and follow one’s passion to action is glorious,” he said.

I agreed.

“Come with me.” He stood and motioned me to follow. “I’ll bet you can pick out my original paintings from a line-up.”

I followed him to a large group of identical-looking murals. I walked up and back down the aisle, in a relaxed meditative state. I stopped in front of one painting and felt sparks pulse up through my body. The colors vibrated with light. “This one,” I said. “It’s dancing.”

He smiled and nodded.

I followed him to another row of murals and again picked his original creation.

He beamed.

I did this a third time and looked around the warehouse filled with identical colorful paintings. On the surface they all looked the same–same size, same design, same colors. But the original had a natural flow of vibrant, focused energy–it danced with attitude and spontaneity creating something magically unique.

Helping Hand

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As early as I can remember, I’ve felt a presence of protection around me, someone assigned to assist and guide me during my journey on earth. A helping hand. My very own heavenly representative. Mine never appeared as a chubby cherub but she did have wings, a long flowing robe, and moved like a graceful dancer.

One time, she appeared as a playful dog scampering through the woods with me one late night in Germany. I had just missed the last tram home and decided to walk a short-cut through the woods to my apartment. The dog joined me as soon as I entered the forest path, licked my hand, and stayed by my side until I arrived at my apartment. I turned to pat her head and say thanks but she had disappeared into the night. I never saw her again, but I was aware of the protection she provided. It felt like the same energy I had known as a child with my all-knowing, winged spirit guide.

Shortly before my first art exhibit in Frankfurt, Germany, I received a telephone call from a woman who collected art. I asked her how she knew about my upcoming exhibit. She said she saw a poster plastered around a column in a local U-Bahn station and found herself drawn to it. She found my name and telephone number in the local telephone directory. She asked if she could view the paintings before the show’s opening night. I agreed and she came to my studio immediately to see my work. Exotic looking, she arrived in a beautiful pink Indian sari, I noticed she also had a red dot painted on her forehead. After viewing the paintings, she asked if she could purchase the one titled, “Helping Hand.” I, of course, was delighted and told her it was my guardian angel’s hand. She nodded and insisted on paying me before the opening. She agreed to send a check and promised to collect the piece after the exhibit was over. She smiled and said, “It’s good to have a ‘SOLD’ or ‘ON LOAN from a private collector’ sign on a work on opening night. Helps sell art.”

Knowing I was down to my last pfennigs, and wondering where the next money was coming from, I agreed. The entire time she visited me, she seemed familiar. As though I knew her from another place or time. Perhaps it was déjà vu.

That night, I dreamed of my guardian angel from childhood, the one with the long flowing robe, sort of sari-like. When I was little, she was much bigger and better at everything than me and always got me out of tight spots and often helped steer me to safety over an old swinging, rickety bridge. As a storm stirred overhead, dark shapes lurked in the raging river below. This time I realized that I was crossing the bridge alone. When I turned my head to look behind, I saw myself as a child and the guardian angel of my youth fading away. I heard a voice say, “You’re almost there. Follow the moonlight.”

Just as I reached the other side and landed firmly on solid ground, I watched the bridge collapse and crash into the river below. By heeding her advice, I had saved myself. I awoke the next morning feeling grateful to all who helped me in life. I had a long list of helpers.

A check arrived in my mailbox three days later, to pay for the painting, I was elated and invited a friend to lunch to celebrate.

My first art exhibit was a great success. By evening’s end, every painting had a red dot on it showing it was sold. My eyes searched the crowd for the red dot on the Indian woman’s forehead but she wasn’t there. A man collected the painting a month later, after the show closed.

Circles of Light

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Bookmark by Joy Hughes

This beautiful piece of ‘hand-tatted’ art arrived in the mail a few weeks ago. It came with a card stating “Life’s Special with friends,” from a Facebook friend who lives in New Zealand. We both belong to a wonderful Facebook group called “We Love Memoirs.” Sometime earlier in the year several of us from the group decided to join the “Pay it forward” movement and surprise someone with an act of kindness.

Joy Hughes had a tough year with health issues where brain and eye coordination became difficult, so I was surprised and thrilled to receive this gorgeous gift. Joy’s rendering of a crocheted bookmark showing light and bright yellow circles entwined together weave a flow of light around a satin ribbon edged by gold glitter. It’s brilliant. And lucky me, I still read ‘real’ books.

One simple act of kindness is a great way to help yourself and others heal, and lead happier, healthier lives. Try it. Pay it forward.

My Magic Mirror

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While living in Frankfurt, Germany in the late 70s-80s, this glass head was my magic mirror, reflecting the world around me. It was purchased in late 1971 before my first husband and I set sail on a cruise from Venice, Italy to our new home in Cyprus.

We hopped on a water taxi near St. Mark’s Square for a short ride to Murano, an island in the Venetian Lagoon where glass has been made for more than 700 years. We followed small groups of tourists in and out of several large factory showrooms where glassblowing demonstrations were short, but fascinating to watch. Ambling down a side street, we came across a smaller art gallery. We entered and looked around, eyeing the colorful art on display. Within a few moments, a salesman joined us and asked if he could be of assistance. Seeing our casual attire (we were dressed in jeans and sweatshirts), he directed us to the “affordable” section of the shop where glass goblets, clown statuettes, and other glass trinkets were displayed.

“We’re actually looking for something unique. One of a kind,” I said.

He looked at our casual attire again, tapping his chin.

“An original piece of art,” I said.

“We do have original works,” he said, “but they’re quite expensive.”

“How expensive?” I asked.

“Very,” he answered. “They’re one of a kind done by glass masters.”

“That’s what we’re looking for. Something unique for our new home in Cyprus.”

He hesitated, then motioned us to follow him.

As we entered a large, dark back room, we saw glass sculptures sitting in rows on deep wooden shelves. He excused himself then switched on lights.

“Oh my,”  I exclaimed, seeing the brilliance of glass on display flooded by light.

He nodded. “These are the finest works of glass art anywhere,” he announced, inviting us to look around.

“I love this one,” I said, walking toward a smokey black solid, glass head sitting atop a amber colored solid glass pedestal. “Is it for sale?”

“Yes,” he answered, lifting the heavy piece off the shelf and placing it carefully on a table near a window. He took a cloth from his pocket and wiped it clean.

“Wow!” I said, watching the African shaped glass head reflect its surroundings. Like a magic mirror the image changed each time I shifted my angle of view. “It’s exquisite!”

“It is, but quite expensive,” he said, knowing I really wanted it.

“How expensive?” I asked, eyebrows arched.

The salesman scribbled some figures on a a piece of paper and showed us the final figure.

I looked at my husband. He nodded.

“We’ll take it,” I said smiling.

“You will?” he asked, looking surprised.

“Yes. Definitely!”

“I’ll get it boxed for you,” he said leaving the display room.
While my husband signed numerous travellers checks to pay, I turned the head to reflect different angles and stroked the smooth surface of the glass.

The salesman returned a few moments later with a box and packing material. Before placing the head in the box, he showed us the artist’s signature on the bottom of the pedestal.
Siguoretto Pino, 8-8-71

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“Wow!” I sighed, rubbing my fingertips over the signature.
“Would you like to meet the artist?” he asked, smiling.

“The artist is here? Now?”

“Yes, he’s working on a new piece.”

“We’d love to,” I said.

“Follow me,” he said, inviting us into the hot furnace room. A smiling young man walked toward us.

“Venetian maestro, Siguoretto Pino,” the salesman proclaimed.

“Your work is beautiful! It will have a special place in our new home in Cyprus.” I said, beaming.

He bowed. “Grazie! Buon divertimento!

Waiting on a water taxi to take us back to Venice, I asked my husband to guess the age of the artist.

“He’s quite young,” he answered.

“Looks too young to be an Italian master glass artist,” I said.

Years later I learned that Siguoretto Pino was born in 1944 in a small town near Venice. In 1954, at age 10,  he began working in a chandelier factory.  In 1959 he apprenticed for the great master Alfredo Barbini and others, and in 1960, at age 16,  he became a master Italian glassblower. In 1978 he opened his own studio in Murano. Today, Venetian maestro Pino Signoretto is recognized as one of the preeminent glass sculptors in the world, universally recognized for his mastery in sculpting glass while hot.

Following the Cyprus War in 1974, the glass head was removed from our home by a neighbor for safekeeping (the same wonderful neighbor who looked after our cat Sam when we were evacuated from the island). The head was later packed and shipped to us by our Turkish friend, Sabri Tahir. Sabri (a main character in the book, Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell) became the new mayor of Kyrenia/Girne when the Turks captured northern Cyprus.

The glass head continues to brighten my life and home. I feel a surge of creative energy each time I look into its magic mirror–reflecting light and life around me.

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Kleftiko

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I love Mediterranean cuisine and when our weather here in Uruguay (Southern Hemisphere) changes from the hot days of summer into the cooler days of fall, into winter, I find myself wanting warm comfort food. The kind of dish that cooks slowly in the oven for hours (until the meat falls off the bone) with the sweet smell of rosemary, oregano, or wild marjoram wafting in the air, Mediterranean style.

When I lived in Cyprus in the early 70s, I had a wonderful cook book titled “A Cyprus Cook’s Calendar.” It was written by a British writer, Sue Lennane, for the British Forces Broadcasting Service in Cyprus in 1969.  A delightful month by month cook book, it provided recipes based on fruits and vegetables available and in season. I used it often and was sad to lose it, along with everything I owned, following the Cyprus War in July 1974.

Years later, while living in Frankfurt, Germany, a friend who was my neighbor in Cyprus, sent me a copy of the cook book (the original First Edition 1969). I was thrilled because it had so many of my best-loved Cypriot recipes in it.

One all-time favorite is a recipe for slow roasted lamb, called Tandir in Turkish and Kleftiko in Greek. Lamb Kleftiko, roughly translated, means stolen meat. Legends say that thieves would sneak onto a remote Greek hillside and steal a lamb or goat, and cook the meat for hours over coals in a hole sealed with mud to prevent steam escaping and alerting the shepherd who previously owned the animal.

In Cyprus, Kleftiko is cooked in a sealed earthenware pot with a narrow opening buried in the earth, with a fire under it, and left to cook very slowly for hours. Kleftiko pots are still sold in Cyprus. (See picture on the front cover of the cook book.) Since my Kleftiko pot was also left behind in Cyprus, I’ve reverted to using a large, deep casserole dish, covered with aluminum foil and a tight fitting lid.

Lamb Kleftiko (Serves 6)

Ingredients:

2 lb. lamb (a piece of leg or loin cut up)
salt and pepper
2 T.  olive oil
oregano or wild marjoram
juice of ½ lemon
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup red or white wine
1 large onion (peeled and cut into quarters)
1 T. peeled and chopped garlic

Preparation:

Place the meat and olive oil in the Kleftiko pot or casserole dish. Add the onion and garlic. Sprinkle with oregano, salt, pepper,  lemon juice, and red or white wine. (A glass of wine is also recommended for the chef and any helpers.) Cover the top with aluminum foil and place the lid on top. Cook in a moderate oven, No 3, 325º, for 3 hours. Turn off oven and leave simmering for an extra hour.

Kleftiko is rustic, delicious, and finger-licking good. Serve over a bed of al dente pasta or rice. It’s extra delicious when served with eggplant ratatouille.

ENJOY!