Journey to Paradise Paula's Journey

The sweetness of Thanksgiving 2013 in Ecuador.

This year Thanksgiving took profound dimensions for us. As I wrote in ” A new beginning”, Nico, who was afflicted with cancer this year, received a chance for a new life , hopefully without cancer, because the cancer has been successfully removed. My house keeper who is Ecuadorian and does not celebrate Thanksgiving in Ecuador, said to me how wonderful it is to celebrate “Dia de gracias”, thank you day. She is a cancer survivor as well. So when she left after cleaning the house, she said: Happy thank you day (Feliz dia de gracias). I just loved the way she said it. I have called it thank you day as well, during this season. It is profound it its simplicity, and still conveys the message for everybody to understand, even if you have never heard of Thanksgiving.

Our thank you day was overflowing with thank you’s. How can one sufficiently say thank you for another chance at life? It is mind boggling to put one’s brain, heart and soul around the magnitude of what we want to say, to express the emotions of what thank you day means to us this year.

Family and friends came to our house to share our feelings of gratitude. Friends, I always say, are actually our chosen family. We also invited some friends who are new to Ecuador and have no family here. One couple told us that it was the first Thanksgiving with “family”. All other times they have spent in a restaurant. To at least enjoy a traditional meal, associated with the foods, the pilgrims managed to grow and harvest in the beginning, was a treat indeed. It amazes me often, to realize how easy it is to make somebody’s day. No heroic measures, no going out of one’s way, just including people in ways that we enjoy our selves. I am very happy that the turkey turned out incredibly well. Nico prepared it this year and soaked the beast for 36 hours in a brine of water, salt, herbs and spices. Yes my friends, it did the trick for us….. unusually moist and delicious. We will add this to our traditional ways of preparing the turkey.

Phone calls and Skype sessions from our sons and their families in America, always top off the day with sweet emotions and mental embraces. My son Peter, one day, a long time ago said: Who said that love is a many splendor thing….. no mama… it is a direct line from your heart to mine. How true it is with all my boys, and always will be. I was very touched by it then, and now. That was the reason I saved that letter, probably will take it to my grave with me. A nice and comforting thing to accompany me during the unknown journey to the here after. Not planning to do it soon though, but always good to be prepared.

Christmas is closely upon us, as I wrote before, bitter sweet….. bitter to be far from family, but sweet for the joys of new experiences, new friends, new learning’s (learning Spanish comes to mind), a new journey to be discovered and enjoyed to the fullest.
Christmas is widely celebrated in Ecuador that is predominantly Catholic. Decorations and lights will adorn the entire city, especially long strings of lights around the trees along rivers, that go through towns and villages. The magnificent old churches are decorated and filled to capacity with people dressed in their finest. Christmas music escaping from the huge halls of churches, and from different tops of government buildings. Shops displaying big barrels of sweets and goodies. It is customary to buy a little of every barrel, and make small packages to hand out to kids, any child, do not have to know them. Last year we went to an orphanage and gave the 29 kids one of these wonderful packages each. The nuns there also told us that the children were badly in need of pajamas, so we gave them that, as well as school supplies. The magic of Christmas for 29 sweet souls. Nico also went to a local BBQ place and ordered 5 whole BBQ chickens, which we cut up in the kitchen of the orphanage. We added it to their dinner and Christmas was complete. Not much of a novel idea, but it did make magic for the children, and us as well.

We have to wave our magic wand this year again, and bring joy to our farmer neighborhood.

For now, my beloved family and friends, and everybody who will stumble upon this blog; you are all uniquely created for your journey on this earth. In a special way you make the world so much better than it would be without you. Thank you for passing by, and sharing my world and journey. I wish for all of you, everything you need in this life and then some. I raise a glass of goodness and cheers for good health, peace and harmony in our hearts, and tons of loving energies from beautiful Cuenca, Ecuador.

Reunion with family and friends

I am interrupting my “Coming to Kauai” with a story about a reunion we had with our sons and family in Las Vegas. We choose Vegas because it was a central point that was easily reached for all of us at a reasonable cost.
When cancer announced its presence in our family, and Nico went through a life changing experience, I decided to arrange for a small reunion with our boys, family and friends. Cancer is such a cruel reminder of the finite nature of our existence. At the same time there is the other side of the coin that gives us the opportunity to finish unresolved problems, achieve unfulfilled dreams, and enjoy to the fullest, those things that have escaped our attention, when we thought that we would live forever.

My buddy and I!

My buddy and I!


We left Hawaii for Ecuador almost two years ago and Nico has not seen our boys for that long. I proposed to the boys to have a little reunion. They all generously agreed and on October the 10th Andre, Nico, myself, Peter with daughters Nikalette and Olivia arrived, the next day Paul, wife Tess, son Steven and daughter Haley came as well. Our nephew Pascal, wife Carrie and son Alex joined us also. Happiness has been described in many ways, this, coming together, certainly reached the top of the list. To feel the magic of emotional bonds, that time nor space can erase or diminish, is profound indeed. Sentences or stories that were not finished before, were recalled without skipping a beat. To watch my sons, included my nephew Pascal who is my other son as well, lost in a brotherly embrace was touching and endearing. My body was too small to contain the pounding of the heart, the soaring of the spirit that finds that spot somewhere in the universe, where gratitude resides in all forms and dimensions. The boys had arranged for their own hotels and transportation. We stayed with old friends, Rose and Richard Kliese.
Dad and the boys.

Dad and the boys.


Rose and Dick go back in friendship, or should I say family, as it feels that way, for more than 35 years. Our relationship is one of those treasures that comes once in a great while, as a privilege, to adorn our lives. We have raised our children, who were like brothers and a sister with each other, and experienced the valleys but also the summits in life, that child rearing brings with it. Stood by each other during tragedies that are part of living. We endured, worked hard, believed in the American dream and survived with flying colors. We have stayed in touch; after all these years we were invited to stay with them during our reunion, and what a joy that was. They live in a beautiful an large home in Las Vegas, where everything in the home is placed to perfection, beauty, and the flow of energy, that brings joy and harmony to those who are so lucky to stay with them.
Rose and Richards house

Rose and Richards house


Their generosity knows no boundaries. Our children felt so at home, as if nothing changed from 35 years ago; the parties and getting together at their abode was total joy for all of us, and no words can express my gratitude to them. I told them that if there is anything at my home that would give them joy, it is all theirs to take and keep. There were those moments of intimacy with the grand children who brought us up to par with their achievements, hopes and dreams. Also little secrets that their dad could not hear, all about boy friends of course!!! Little Haley drawing sweet pictures for my refrigerator in Ecuador. Moments, moments….. the creation of memories, that live forever for generations to come. Amazingly I noticed actions on the part of my sons that they despised when young, but now applying it to their own children. They should not hear me say this, but they have become us. What a concept….. that nobody can escape, no matter how hard we try.
My beautiful granddaughters, Nika and Olivia!

My beautiful granddaughters, Nika and Olivia!


As Nico is going through his healing cycle, his contact with Dick was just what the doctor prescribed. Their minds were so in tune with the enormous wealth of knowledge they both possess; they went on this journey through their life experiences that was vibrant, and exciting, it was a challenge to stop the massive flow of energies that have been kept prison for a long time, while work occupied them. But in retirement it finally found a place of mutual appreciation and respect, including total enjoyment for both men. We could only listen with amazement to stories of history, science, family, even personal defeat and triumphs. I saw Nico’s spirit rising to the vibration of a healthy life and excitement, and I knew that his immune system got a boost, better than the BCG treatments. What else would anybody desire more from life? At the time I could not think of a thing.
Rose and Richard Kliese with Nico

Rose and Richard Kliese with Nico


Time is merciless, it brought the visit with the boys to an end, since they all had to return to their work. The bitter sweetness of the unknown of what life will bring tomorrow or the days after that, as well as the promise that we will see each other again, is more bitter than sweet I must admit. Heart strings pulled to the limit, hopes forced to stay strong, but finally, good byes parted us again, as it had so many times before.
Family at Hot n Juicy Las Vegas

Family at Hot n Juicy Las Vegas


The next journey took us to Pasadena California where my cousin John, from my mother’s side, celebrated his 80th birthday. Family from all parts of the world came together to help him celebrate 80 years of achievements. Raising his 5 children to be productive citizens, maintaining a marriage for about 50 years, and be financially secure, has not always been easy, but he did it with humor, sometimes crazy humor, also with a laser sharp focus on family and their happiness. To see cousins who came from Holland for the event, whom I saw last when they were only engaged, but now have grown children of their own, was absolutely wonderful. The magic again, that everything continued without skipping a beat, as if we never left the last visit. We strengthened old bonds, renewed promises to see each other more often, understood how short life actually is, and blessed the moment as a gift to each other. We also spend a wonderful evening with my beloved friend Flo who was visiting Vegas from Kauai. To her we owe much gratitude for assisting with our finances in a manner that is the envy of many expats in Ecuador. No problem has been too much for her to help us with our financial transition to Ecuador. She still does it every time we need her.
My family on my mother's side

My family on my mother’s side


Knowledge is just that; but when we experience that which we know, it will become understanding. Understanding the importance of family and friends, understanding that life is not forever and should be lived to the fullest every day, as if it is the last chance we have. Relationships require hard work, but it is well worth the trouble. Give when you can, and you WILL be given when you need it. We all know it so well, but let us experience it, in order to understand it to the fullest.
My love flies to every person in my life who has made my journey well worth living; they are the golden threads in its fabric.
Cheers to our health, our families and our friends who actually are our chosen family.

Coming to Kauai continues

I visited Kauai by myself, equipped with up to date resumes for Nico and myself. Upon my arrival in Kauai, I requested an interview with the director of the emergency room at Wilcox Hospital; his name is Doctor Monty Down. It was surprising to me when I met Dr. Down, how informal he was; dressed casually in jeans, no suit or tie, just a short sleeve aloha shirt. It was a wonderfully stark contrast to the formal culture of physicians in Chicago.

We had a nice talk, and I found out as much about Dr. Down as he from me. Besides being a physician he also is a musician, and lassos calves in rodeos, for fun. He plays music in a local restaurant and at one point in his life lived on a boat while fishing for a living. What a wonderful life doctors could have here, I thought. He accepted our resumes, but was not too encouraging about a job opening. I remember telling him, that I have always believed in miracles; he laughed at that.

Life went on and we survived another cold winter in Chicago. But winters do not last forever and the promise of new life and renewed energies would soon be upon us, with the arrival of spring. Festivals celebrating the lilacs in bloom, and early spring flowers crowding the earth for a chance to be adored, in the botanical gardens of Chicago and suburbs, would keep us busy and inspired.

Sometime in February or early March 1992, I received a call from Dr. Monty Down. He started the conversation by saying that he should start to believe in miracles as well. There were two openings for emergency room physicians on Kauai, and we could have one of them, if we choose so. I actually never told Nico of my little adventure in Kauai, looking and applying for a job. I thought indeed that it was too good to be true anyway, to exchange Chicago for Kauai, only happens in fairy tales.

But low and behold the fairy lady waved her magic wand; we had two months to make the move. Convincing Nico to give up $100,000.00 of his current salary, in exchange for sunshine and the sounds of the ocean, was not going to be easy; but with the wisdom and the talents most women are endowed with, it was accomplished. Once again we packed the basic necessities as we had done many times before in life, locked our home, and drove to California from where our car was shipped to Kauai Hawaii.

Coming to Kauai, Hawaii

In 2005 I wrote about the journey I took from my birth land of Indonesia to America in a book titled Journey to Paradise by Paula Zina.
The journey included memories of world war two, life growing up in Indonesia; Indonesia’s struggle for their independence from the Netherlands that occupied them for 350 long years. They were rough and turbulent times, with human suffering and destruction running rampant all over the country. For people like us who were born out of a mixed marriage, Indonesian and Dutch, life in Indonesia became dangerous and impossible. Most of us left Indonesia to start a new life; many went to Holland, but Holland was recovering from the ravages of WW2 as well, and could not receive all those people from Indonesia. The Dutch Indonesians, also referred to as Indos, dispersed all over the world. Many of us ended up in America, the only country where we did not need to be Dutch or Indonesian, we found a place where we could be Americans like everybody else. And that was a blessing for thousands of Indos that came to America. During the Dutch occupation they could not accept the Indos, because they were not pure Dutch, nor could the Indonesians accept them, because they were not pure Indonesians; neither fish nor fowl was our fate.

The Indos in America are known to have made the smoothest transition in terms of integration and assimilation. America gave us an opportunity to keep all that is important to us, like our culinary culture, traditions and belief systems, norms and values, and share it with the rest of the nation. That new nation consisted of many cultures, it gave us an opportunity to enjoy those as well; but the umbilical cord that connected all Indos together to one nation was and is, our being American. Only in America did the Indo find a place of total acceptance, in my opinion. There might be people who will contest it because of their own feelings and experiences, that is fine. From family and friends who have immigrated to other countries, it is my feeling that their second homeland has given them legal permission to become citizens, but that feeling of transformation was often missing. I might be wrong there; but it is an observation I made over the years.

After living for 22 years in Chicago I had learned everything I needed to know to live and succeed in America. It was the University of Life’s schooling; shocking at times, after coming from a totally sheltered life in Indonesia, and now being exposed to the violence of urban living in the inner city of Chicago. But there was also joy and gratitude for the wonderful time we had, continuing our education at Cook County Hospital in Chicago; we saw every possible medical problem, state of the art technology, rich and poor being treated equally, the best physicians in the world who came to go through rotations of internship and residency programs; learning and learning, many doctors returning to their own respective countries to spread their newly acquired knowledge. In my autobiography, Journey to Paradise, I described my experiences in that great City of Chicago. But after 22 years in Chicago it was time to move on. All my five sons found their own destinations, with partners they wanted to share their lives, except Paul John the youngest who was still in college.
We needed to find a place with a warmer climate; long winters and the unbearable cold in Chicago, had to be replaced by a lot of sunshine. It came upon a very cold winter day that I received an invitation to attend a time share presentation in Kauai, Hawaii. On that dreadfully cold day, the idea of sunshine, the sounds of ukuleles and a vision of sun drenched white pristine beaches, was Hawaiian music to our ears. We packed our suitcases (all summer clothes) and were on our way to sunny Hawaii to explore a potential new adventure. It was December 2000.

The original visit was to attend a time-share presentation. Nico, my husband gladly took a week off to get away from the harsh Chicago weather. We left from an all white world of snow and sleet to go to Kauai Hawaii.
When we arrived at the small island, it was as if we arrived in a small town in Indonesia that had an airport. The usual chaos of cars and trucks coming and going at an airport, was absent. The place seemed deserted with our plane being the only one present. Besides the sugar cane fields that surrounded the area, there was the most beautiful ocean embracing the island with a white surf, breaking against the reef beneath and the shore above. We were very excited and hurried down to pick up our rental car to head for the Cliffs Club on the North side of the island in Princeville. It was starting to get dark and much to our regrets, we could not indulge in the beauty of our surroundings. As darkness consumed the sun’s last rays, we checked in and were assigned a large, comfortable and luxurious condominium.

Around 6:00 o’clock the next morning, we awoke and watched the sun slowly rise from the ocean. Lazily this huge orange ball moved up, spreading bright orange, and saffron yellow colors over the waves of the ocean like a blanket, following the ripples of the water. The horizon and the ocean were embraced in a union of a gigantic tapestry of colors. As the sun lost its laziness, it increased the speed of its climb to the sky, leaving the ocean and the horizon behind while changing its own color from a bright orange to a golden yellow. All of a sudden it hung there all by itself, clinging to nothing, while spreading its warmth over this beautiful land. It was a splendid awakening for us and filled us with so much energy that we could not wait to take on the new day.

We toured the island; Nico’s adventurous spirit took us off the main road to discover beautiful beaches where local boys were riding the waves. We were overwhelmed by the picture perfect views wherever we went. We noticed turtles swimming in the harbor area, which was unheard of for us city dwellers. There was just one highway meandering around the island so getting lost was not an issue. People were friendly and eager to direct us to places of interest. On one of our excursions, we visited Waimea Canyon, also called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The impressive mountain peaks and the deep canyons were overwhelming in their grandeur. Over millions of years they were carved out by rain and winds with artistic precision. The layers of earth clearly demanded recognition for its age. Strings of tiny waterfalls and rivers tumbled down the steep canyons, ending deep down the bottom of the ravines, where they were barely noticeable to the naked eye, but occasionally glittered in sunlight as a string of diamonds.

On another day, we took the one highway to the mountains of Koke’e, the ultimate display of Mother Nature, the Kalalau Look Out. The incline of about 4,000 feet took us through forests of evergreen and acacia trees. The air was filled with the fragrances of lilacs and white ginger. The Kalalau Look Out was spectacular. There were the high ridges with peaks descending precipitously to the ocean; stone pillars standing guard by the sharp ridges, to the imagination, simulating gateways to long forgotten castles and dungeons.
As the legend goes the two stone pillars used to be the son and daughter of Naiwi, who once lived in the valley. The children were only allowed to play at night. One day they had so much fun that they forgot about the restriction, they were startled by the first streaks of the sun. They ran for dear life but did not make it, and behold they turned into the two pillars. The legends we heard reminded us of very similar stories we were told as kids in Indonesia.

Another story we were told, was a true story. In 1893 Ko’olau took his wife Pi’ilani and their son Kaleimanu to Kalalau to live. Ko’olau suffered from leprosy and ran away from provisional government soldiers who were in the process of moving all lepers to Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai. All inhabitants of the valley were ordered to leave, after which action, their homes were burned. Ko’olau withstood the might of the government and lived in Kalalau for years. Eventually his son contracted leprosy as well and Pi’ilani ended up burying both of them in Kalalau. She returned to her own family.

As we stood there, the mist came down from behind the high cliffs. At first it separated us from the shadows of the ridges with a transparent veil of water drops. Soon the wind picked up its pace and brought more of the moisture in; and as if awakened from a dream, all of a sudden everything was consumed by the mist, and the valley was gone from our sight.
The day’s experience reminded us of Indonesia. The land, the culture, the people and their legends were familiar to us. As we drove back to the condominium it started to rain, the smell of wet dirt was preferable over the smell of wet concrete and we obviously savored it. The week went by in a wink of time, and returning to cold Chicago was not an inviting proposition. Needless to say Kauai had us in her grip. We returned a few more times, I returned to Kauai a few times by myself. To leave Kauai after these visits became more difficult; and the possibility of moving, became a regular thought. One day I decided to see if possibilities could become reality.

A new beginning

young nico

19 yr old Nico!

My dear and beloved friends and family,

The last month has been one of those challenges that reminds us that the road to heaven is not an easy one. While I was in America to arrange some business, financial and other stuff, Nico called me to tell me that he was going to the hospital to have some tests done. I was relieved because I felt that at this stage in our lives we should have those yearly check up’s which we have totally neglected. What were we thinking…… that we would enjoy good health forever???? Not with a body that has a certain life span.

The results of the test send us both spinning into a stage of shock, we were overwhelmed, in disbelieve and quiet scared. What happened here? Nico is a man with an immune system of a horse, worked for 50 years and took one day off for severe diarrhea, never contracted anything from his patients either. They found 3 tumors in his bladder and two constrictions in his urethra. Operation was recommended.

I flew home, arrived on Thursday and Monday April 9 he was operated on. Nico went according to him through the worse ten days of his life. Tethered to a catheter that gave him so much grief and pain we finally returned to the doctor on April the 17 to have that dreadful catheter removed and to find out the results of the pathology. Our appointment was for 4 pm. One day of total anxiety, stomach in knots, brains in turmoil, hearts in a stage of bargaining, but time is friendly at times and it somehow moved to 3 pm so we could leave for the doctor’s office.

The catheter was removed (pain, pain) but relieve once it was done. The doctor went to his desk, Nico, Michele ( who interpreted for us when there were language problems) and I sat across the desk. The doctor read the lab results, stretched out his hand to congratulate us ……… the tests were negative for invasive cancer!!!!!!!!!

Everything stopped for a brief moment which appeared like forever, a feeling of floating and emptiness came over me, then tears of joy and with it the removal of stress, anxiety, worries and fear……….

A SECOND CHANCE OF LIFE, JOY JOY JOY, GRATITUDE AND THEN SOME……….

I am very impressed with the medical care in Ecuador. The urological team consisted of a father urologist (the best in Cuenca) his son urologist who operated on Nico and a younger son who is a psychologist who all were with Nico in the operating room. The anesthesiologist was a good friend of the old urologist who decided to be part of the team to make sure that a colleague  would get the best care possible. This anesthesiologist usually only does open heart surgery. Yes my friends in our small St. Inez hospital they do open heart surgery at the rate of about 10 a month, it is amazing here. The small hospital that specializes in urology is across from the mother hospital St. Inez. It is privately owned by this family. An old mansion was transformed into this small hospital. It has a state of the art operating room, recovery room and only 3 private rooms for patients to stay one or two nights after surgery. During the operation there was a closed circuit television that send out the entire procedure to family who were sitting in a special waiting room. Can anybody in America imagine that the entire world can see and scrutinize what a doctor does during any procedure in America????? Except in educational facilities I have not seen it as a routine practice during my career. Nico received a spinal so he was awake during the entire operation and could discuss what was going on.

A two year  process of maintaining a healthy bladder was explained to us and I was more than pleased with it. They have treated us like family here, respected Nico as an elder with a lot more experience than the young docs, treated him as a professional that deserves the best, after having treated thousands of his fellow men respectfully. Living a good life in the service of others does not fall on the ground and disappears, it finds a life of its own, and a perfect and profound accounting system eventually will deliver the interest to its rightful owner, some people call it karma. What is in a name…….. in my life time I have seen this system works flawlessly, and I truly trust it to continue to work perfectly.

Doctors in Ecuador are send all over the world to become the best in their respective fields. The beauty of it all is that all of them come home to their home land to serve their own people and not for money. Doctors here work during the day for the public and make a pittance. In the afternoon and evening they see private patients who can pay. Our doctor’s bill was $1000. To me that is a pittance as well for the type of care we received. There definitely is something wrong with the medical health care in America. For anybody who need care but cannot get it or afford it in America I will share our blessings. Let me know what I can do for you here. We were guided to this place on earth for help and I will continue to spread the wealth to all of you.

I would like to thank the incredible support from all over the world that we received in the form of prayers, good wishes and positive thoughts. My gratitude has reached eternity….

Keep on smiling it makes you look good and here is living proof that a good immune system will defy all odds. And……. yes friends it is free!!!

Loving you all, always,

Paula

 

Vacation in Las Vegas.

After a year in Ecuador and having an abundance of fresh produce available, it is clear to me that there are things lacking for my Indonesian way of cooking.  Winging it does not feel right anymore. Not to my new friends who never had Indonesian food and do not know the difference, but for my self and family of course. Then tax time arrived, papers had to be mailed, signed and mailed back.  As I mentioned before with no address and mail service in Ecuador, we had a problem.  We have an  accountant for the last 40 years,  finding a new one in Ecuador probably is possible, but more needs and desires were accumulating and a trip to America seemed a good solution. Voila, a vacation was created; and I was taking it by myself.

I wished that all problems could be solved by taking a vacation to…….. where else…….. VIVA LAS VEGAS. I have very good friends living in Vegas but also a girl whom I have taken under my wings a while ago. As much as I have treated her as my daughter, she has treated Nico and myself as her parents  (who have passed away), with a dedication that has been indicative of our mutual Indonesian background. Truly a God given blessing for both of us. When we brought our young boys to America we took the chance that they would absorb the American culture, which they did. With no daughters of our own, the boys flew the nest to follow their wives and to live their own lives. To have met a young woman who needed us as much as we did her at this stage in our lives, is one of those miracles that life surprises us with now and then. Now Yenny is part of our family.

She insisted that I would stay with her and her fiance in Las Vegas. Vegas is a city that never turns the lights off; when driving home at night city lights in the distance glitter and glimmer like millions of true gems in as many colors as there possibly are in a hundred rainbows. Driving through the strip creates convulsing streams of energy. Energy that seems so overwhelmingly trapped inside us with not enough time to escape the body because of  the incessant external stimuli. Body heat of thousands of people merge with the warmth of another thousand neon lights that display images of allure, seduction, temptation, and beauty in all forms.

Casinos do whatever is necessary to get people in their claws of promise. Promises of a new life without any worries,  enough money for a life time, a promise of a free pull on that huge multimillion magic machine ( without saying that you have to spend $100 first), free dinners, free tickets for shows and anythings else one can imagine. With heart beats in high gear, the illusion that you are the chosen one tonight, definitely feeling that lady luck is leading you by her all encompassing embrace, you enter the casino.

The dimly lit, smoked filled, huge black hole is filled with hundreds of screaming machines that emit noises never heard by anybody before. Lights flashing, images of dragons, and any form that could shock the human brains are on display on those machines. In front of most of those monsters, that have just one reason for their existence, taking all your money, if possible your home and everything else you have to your name, sits quietly and patiently a human figure. A human being who is totally in the grip of that machine that has placed a spell on the greed that lives in all of us. Reason is nowhere to be found in the dark black hole we call casinos. Energies, mixed in a gigantic cocktail of anticipation, hope, despair, regrets, and addiction are present everywhere. An occasional scream is heard, maybe because a long losing streak has ended or an occasional temporary win is announced by the dreadful machines. Dreadful they are, because as sure as daylight will follow the darkness of the  night, these monsters will take back everything they have given away. With the exception of an occasional brave soul who has taken it upon her self  to defy the monsters and take all her winnings home.

As much as I would never live in Vegas or raise children in Vegas, it has turned in a big city with areas of family homes, schools, hospitals and all the amenities for normal living. The strip is now not all there is to Vegas anymore. There is a big China Town, international markets where oriental foods, spices and gifts are readily available. Huge high end and low end malls are spread  throughout the city. For a girl who lives in Ecuador it seems to be a place where everything on earth is available. Especially everything that is not available in Ecuador. I bought a third suitcase and it is reaching its weight limit as well. Human greed also. I am sure that I will survive happily without it, but to play Mrs. Claus in April just feels like a fun thing to do, so why not?

Life with Yenny and Ed (her fiance) has been just what the doctor prescribed. One of the highlights of my time here was seeing my son Peter with his two beautiful daughters. It has been 6 years since I saw them last, what a joy it was when they flew in from Colorado. There was also time for oneself, to do or not to do whatever it is. I found that in the heaven of retirement  there are still many obligations. A temporary relieve from it all is a gift from heaven that we luckily can give our self. Besides a gift I have found that in my more than fifty years of marriage it has been important, necessary and very beneficial for another ten year union at least. Long ago I dared to leave the guild behind and accepted the gift to myself  joyfully knowing that the benefits would be plenty for my entire surrounding. Thus have I made it a regular journey. This advise is mainly meant for my female readers, many of whom are still living the illusion that leaving whoever or whatever, is somehow NOT what we should do. The reasons vary from feeling selfish and guilty, to abandoning loved ones and responsibilities. My sisters in arms, hear it from a 73 year old lady (a smart one I may add); life will go on with or without you (sometimes even better when you are not around), the house will be a mess, but believe me it will  be cleared up before you come home ( dad Will  not have mom in a bad mood after all this time; everybody knows what I mean except my young grand children), in an emergency there is Mac Donald, after which they will appreciate your cooking more, except of course if you cannot cook and it is Mac Donald all the time anyway. In a nut shell when you come home happy, recharged and eager to take on your world again, everybody around you will be affected by your happiness, what more could we wish for……… cannot think of another thing.

Love your life it is designed just for you to make it as perfect as you possibly can or want.

A milestone: ” one year in Ecuador “

It was a year ago in February that we embarked on our new adventure and journey. We left Hawaii after 20 wonderful years and came to our new homeland of Ecuador. What a ride it has been and still is. When we flew over the majestic Andes mountains approaching Cuenca Ecuador, the huge mountain range was extremely intimidating; at the same time beautiful beyond words. Nico, my husband, and I held hands partly in disbelieve that we actually did this; partly to encourage each other that all will be well. Spanish we can learn, the cold weather at 10,000 ft high (after living at a sea level tropical paradise in Hawaii)  we can get used to. After all we are in as good shape as we can be at 73 and 75 years of age. What about the Latin culture? Do we know enough about it, we have never lived in one. How would we be accepted as foreigners? A little tighter squeeze of the hands that advanced in a full arm embrace sealed the promise that all would be well. So it started and so it was.

Our son Andre, his wife Michele and son Garin who moved to Ecuador a year before us, were there to greet us. Familiar and trusted faces smiled at us and welcomed us with joy and anticipation. How could we have doubted that here is where we should be. The first two months we stayed with Andre and his family because the remodeling of our own home was not finished. We also brought Andre’s son Pascal with us, who originally did not want to go to a foreign country, being the all American boy he is.

The months at Andre’s were a blessing in disguise. We drove through the city to find out where everything is, we were introduced to Ecuadorian drivers who were I am sure send from hell to intimidate us. At that time I swore never to drive in Ecuador. Downtown Cuenca, called El Centro, was charming and reminded me of small towns in Europe. Cobble stones paved the roads, narrow streets with homes that shared common walls but had balconies with flowers hanging down. I expected at any time a Spanish woman yelling to call her husband in for a siesta or something. That did not happen. Older men were sitting at outdoor cafes sipping very strong fragrant coffee. Bakeries at every corner of the street sending out aromas of fresh baked breads and all the goodies that can be transformed from flour, eggs, butter and sugar. Ice cream available everywhere better than in Italy, fruits in this country are in abundance.  Hundreds of small shops lining a maze of  streets. After so many blocks there were parks with benches, beautifully manicured with flowers, trees and bushes. Multi generations shared the parks; grandparents sitting to rest at the same time keeping an eye on grandchildren who were running around with ice cream cones in hand. On another bench lovers in an intimate embrace, most probably promising each other eternal loyalty………..who knows. My heart soared with joy, there was friendliness everywhere!! Even the old fashioned shoe shine men (often old men) and boys tried to get us on their chairs on the side walk, with a very effective smile and invitation. Nico immediately fell for the temptation, because he still shines his shoes as a good creature of habits. The 50 cents were accepted as if it was a million dollars; we were sent on our way with God’s blessings. It was absolutely wonderful to be back at the very basics of life.

During those first days I knew I would love it here. When we had lunch later in a restaurant and some people came in while passing our table, they stopped, each one of them, to wish us to enjoy our meal. I could not believe it, smiles everywhere………. We learned so much those early days; old people, handicap persons and mothers with little children, do not wait in long lines, there is a special line for them. At first we obviously did not know it. So when Nico stood in one of those long lines one day, one of the guards came up to him and said ” this line is specifically for your convenience sir” Groceries are brought to the car for everybody, young and old.  Most people give a tip, ten or twenty five cents, but it is not a must. I had a very difficult time to give anybody ten cents in the beginning.  That was before I knew that for ten cents one can buy something. When I started to go to the open huge markets I understood that 25 cents was what most things at the market would cost. A dollar would give you ten or twelve kiwi fruits, 25 oranges. So we stopped doing the dollar thing, everything was twenty five cents and when it is not enough you ask for another twenty five cents worth.

Nico immediately studied the lay out of the city; main arteries and branches of the road system, which he mastered in no time to everybody’s surprise. It was time to buy a car. Our first car in Ecuador was a big (seats 7) Hyundai Tarracan diesel engine. They do not make them anymore, but are still very popular here. That brings me to the insanely cheap prices of gas and diesel. I  want to say that is because Ecuador has oil, but so has America and I still vividly remember how expensive it is there. Diesel cost $1.03 a gallon, very doable for us. We heat our home, heat our water and cook with LPG and that cost us $1.60 per 20 gallon tank, we use about 3 tanks a week. It is quiet a difference in the cost of energy here, mainly because what the country produces goes directly to the people first, before it goes anywhere else.

As I end the first impressions of my arrival in Ecuador, one of the conclusions for us is that we cannot and will not for a moment regret making a very difficult decision. Winning a lottery is mostly an illusion, but just as that one person will win it, we gambled on a good life in Ecuador and we won.

December the month of bitter sweetness.

Since I moved to Cuenca Ecuador this year, February 2012, the month December has changed its image in my mind from Winter to Summer. When snow is falling in many parts of the world, leaves have left  branches bare and desolate, winds are removing a few leaves that have tenaciously clung to some of the stronger branches; yellow, brown and reddish in color, eventually they had to succumb as well to the cycles of nature and end their lives to make room for a next generation. Winter clothes are out, days relinquish their light earlier than usual, comfort is looked for in homes, lights in the homes are replacing warm sunlight, a warm cup of coffee or tea brings warmth in  hearts and minds after a very cold trip from work or school. Christmas trees, colorful lights and decorations in stores, regular homes and along the streets are spreading a promise of festivities, joy, togetherness of families and friends, gifts, surprises and sweetness.

That feeling of warmth, comfort and sweetness unfortunately is for many not a given. For those without a home there is no comfort and coldness persists, for those without family there is just loneliness and an unspeakable pain somewhere behind the chest bone.  Lights, decorations, joy, gifts have no place in the dark, bitter,  and lonely existence of many good people today. Keeping that in mind is as important during the most beautiful holiday season. There IS something we all can do, big, small, and every unique thing in between that we can imagine; all of it just to give some joy or comfort to that person out there who deserves it as much as we do. Is it not amazing, that just like chocolate, we can make it bitter sweet for someone?

In Ecuador the dark and cold days are gone. At the end of August we said goodbye to rain, storm and coldness. By September the land was plowed , dark and rich in general with different colors elsewhere depending on the level of various minerals in the ground. Seeds were planted and unseen by anybody nature did its work, perfectly as it always does.

It is December; warm with abundance of sunshine. The corn is about two feet high, potatoes ready to be harvested, cabbage bigger than basket balls, mangoes in full season and filling the air  with a sweetness that overwhelms some people, oranges/mandarins piled up high on side roads and carried in open carts through El Centro, our down town area. Grass must be mowed at least once a week or else…… Flowers in bloom, flower markets bursting by their seems with a sea of colors and fragrances. Friends visiting and cannot refrain from bringing bunches to the home for everybody to enjoy. We adopted an orphanage for boys and have been busy preparing gifts for the 26 boys.  The invitations from friends have started  the celebrations of this wonderful season. With all of our new friends here in the same boat as we are, far from some of our families and friends in home lands elsewhere, we formed a bond created by common threads of circumstance that are woven through our lives today. What a marvelous extended family we have, and how grateful we are for it. Volunteering together, planning gatherings, simple or extensive dinners where we all have a chance to present our specialties and receive acknowledgement for it (very often missing when cooking daily meals for family, ha ha sounds familiar doesn’t it?) Here again the sweetness of a new life and the bitterness of missing the old and familiar. How incredibly intelligent is the universe to balance it out this way. It is comforting to know that this balance  is designed to always be there, and thus preventing the need for desperation or hopelessness in any way.

In conclusion I want to wish all of my family, friends and every person who happened to stumble upon this blog a good life, with everything you need, if it is good for you everything you want as well;  peace in your heart and a smile to radiate it to the world.

 

Gratitude

November 2012 is upon us; Thanksgiving just around the corner. Each and every holiday has that special meaning, character, and emotion for all of us. Holidays are celebrated and adorned with specific trimmings that our culture has dictated  as long as we can remember. Christmas with decorated Christmas trees and gifts, Thanksgiving with pumpkins, scarecrows, turkey and all the delicious trimmings for the Thanksgiving meal. Family gathers and a fun day ensued with joy and happiness; we see everybody in the family again, until the next holiday when the ritual is repeated.

In order not to forget why we celebrate Thanksgiving I have made it a tradition  to form a circle with everybody present, before we start our dinner, and for each person to mention what specifically he or she is very grateful for. It is an intimate moment we receive and give each other by sharing something that has nothing to do with food or worldly matters. It is a display of  something that lives in all of us, but is often neglected, it is the mother of all happiness……….GRATITUDE

When we meet a person that seems to be happy, with eyes sparkling in a face radiant with a smile, we can be guaranteed that we are looking at a very happy person. My life has not only been a bed of roses nor a leisurely stroll in the park, it had its challenges, war, hunger, discrimination, poverty, a hurricane, and every challenge most people have endured in life, obviously in different degrees and places. It is exactly because of those challenges that I have developed a profound sense of gratitude. Still I find myself taking too much for granted. One of the few blessings of growing old is that there is more time to be grateful, and there have been more gifts and blessings that we can count. Life’s gifts and blessings also take a different dimension at this stage, they look bigger and more profound. Why is that? It comes from knowing that the smallest gift of life does not have to be there for us;  it can be taken away within a breath’s moment, or never reach us, for reasons beyond our control. With age we learn to see and recognize those presents, small and large, and be grateful for it.

An exercise  I practice, to remain in a grateful state; when I sit at the table for a meal, for example, I look at my food and for a moment I visualize every action taken by every person that has brought the food to my table. I see a farmer put a seed in the ground, a female farmer harvest it, a young man taking it to the market, mostly in an old rusted truck, myself buying it and bringing it home, my husband cooking a delicious meal and there it is……. I always follow this contemplation with a thought of gratitude and a blessing for all who have been instrumental in this process.  Over the years meals have come to life for me, with faces and characters behind it; they represented  gifts for good health and energy. It has become such a routine for me now, that the entire ritual happens in seconds, since time is just an illusion and the thought process happens instantaneously. It is amazing how life changes when you attach gratitude to every situation; sitting in a car and having gasoline to drive is one of thousands of reasons to be grateful for as well, while people in New York today are waiting 6 hours to fill their cars. You see, it does not have to be there, it is a privilege when it is, and a real reason to be grateful, not only during times when you finally, after 6 hours of waiting, come to the front of the line,……. but always.

When hurricane Iniki hit  the Hawaiian island of Kauai where we lived, and she took every roof of every home on the island with her,she also took down every electric pole, during the 6 hours the eye of the storm meandered over the island, we learned everything we needed to know about gratitude. We totally understand what New Yorkers, and everybody who is affected by Sandy the storm, is going through. Officials say”we understand” no they don’t. Understanding only comes by going through the same experience, otherwise it is just knowing. Through my medical back ground I know that patients with terminal cancer suffer enormous pains; do I understand exactly how that pain feels like? No, I have never experienced it and never felt it. Watching the effects of Sandy is painful, it brings back memories of Iniki,  with the consequences of Sandy, there still is a long road ahead. The good part of it is that this too will pass, which nobody can believe at this point, but it will; people will come out of this reborn, grateful for the next home they will built, the next car they will buy, the next warm meal and warm bath they will have, and gratitude will be  alive, recognized, and practiced again, bringing unlimited happiness to millions of people.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Words have true meanings.

One of those loaded words that mean so many different things to as many people is  “LOVE”  Puppy love, conditional love, unconditional love, love you to death, love you more than life etc……

To one person, unconditional love is keeping a child out of jail in spite of the fact that he or she deserves to be there. How about: I “love” him or her therefor I will stay in this (abusive) relationship; or….. I do it because I “love” my kids? What would happen when we start to call a spade a spade. For example: I am staying in this abusive relationship because………. I am afraid to be alone….. I need the money, ……what will friends, family or society think of me when my child ends up in jail,….. what will it do to my career,…… I feel sorry for my children because they will always be the victims of a divorce. All the things we do and say in the name of “love” that in fact has nothing to do with it, is sad. When I hear people  say it, I often asked myself: does it mean guild….or fear….  maybe shame or pity……. instead of love? I, and almost everybody I know are guilty of hiding behind  a word that “suppose” to hold all emotions and intentions that are kind, sweet, passionate, gentle, comforting and honest.

So what happened? We have fallen in the habit of “abusing” a beautiful word in inappropriate ways; eventually, as with everything else that is overused, it becomes acceptable practice,  in our social and linguistic culture. The reason I am thinking and writing about love today is, that I recently have been incredibly reminded of a touch, of that often eluding, unconditional love.

A friend recently visited me in Ecuador with 3 of her seven children. The youngest boy is ten months old. A good looking sturdy little guy, blond hair that shines like gold in the sun. What was amazing about him were his two big clear blue eyes, like the color of the Hawaiian ocean on a perfect, sunny, and wind-still day. Eyes that could look through  every soul and at the same time revealed his own. A soul as pure as a field after the first snow fall, without a footprint on it , obviously totally void of pollution of any kind……. I developed such a deep fondness for the little man and it was mutual with him. To give his mom a break I spend a lot of time with him,  obviously nourishment for the body or soul creates bonds. Every morning when I would come down to the living room, where he and his mom already had breakfast, he would stop everything he was doing, his face would burst in sun rays warmer than the sun itself, a big smile, eyes twinkling like a million stars,  he would crawl as fast as his little knees could carry him towards me (he cannot walk yet), kneeling in front of me on the floor both arms stretch high towards me and the message was: pick me up and let us start our fun day.

He left for his home in Texas last night. This morning there was no little man racing into my arms, telling me with no words that I was perfect, that I gave him joy and comfort, that he wanted to be with me all the time, that I made him laugh to tears, that he appreciated me for all of me, that he would share a piece of chewed up carrot dripping with drool from his mouth to mine, that he so enjoyed to sit on my lap, in an outdoor rocking chair,  watching my three dogs play around us; dogs that intrigued and scared him at the same time, especially when they would try to lick his little toes. The intense level of emotions that this little guy triggered in me, made me realize that the purity of sweet, kind, joyful, comforting feelings of total acceptance are the result of unconditional love,  with no expectations or intentions, other than feelings of all that is good. Are only children with the purity of their souls capable of giving unconditional love?

There was a big hole in my heart at the start of my first day without him, but there was as well a feeling that for a week I was reminded how unconditional love felt like, and how it should be.  A little pleasant thing happened after I washed all the guests linens; when I opened a bed sheet to fold it, a tiny little sock fell out of the pile, a sweet gift to remind me of the little angelic person that lit up  a week of my life, and infused it with true love.

%d bloggers like this: