Journey 

Sometimes it’s a matter of trust, but really, who am kidding? It always a matter of trust! Trust in the Divine presence, trust that there is a higher purpose for each of us. Trust that if we seek, we shall find; if we knock, the door will be opened. 

My former spouse moved to Montana three years ago, and said, “I think you’d really like it here,” I didn’t believe him, and thought he had an alterior motive of wanting to spend more time with our nearly grown children. But then the kids visited and said, “You know Mom, you might really like it here.” So I booked a ticket for early June. 

After living in Colorado for nearly thirty years, I knew a thing or two about beautiful places. But five years ago, I was asked back to Illinois, where I had grown up, and left the beauty of Colorado Springs, for the shores of Lake Michigan, where family and a “real job” awaited me. 

After attending another one of Laura Munson’s amazing Haven Writing Retreats, this past June, in Whitefish, MT, I took a road trip and journeyed through some of the most beautiful places in Montana and Idaho.  

It wasn’t until I drove through the canyon where sentry like pines stood at attention as I passed.  I stopped at the libraries along the way and continued writing the 100 year history of the family graphite company. Missoula, Hamilton, Salmon, Challis, Ketchum. 

I caught a seventeen inch brown trout just as I entered Montana. As I drove through the beautiful wooden canyon, it opened to the glorious valley, and I burst into tears, that I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I was home.

I needed to be there in every ounce of my being. It was clear and overwhelming and it was where I needed to be. I just had to figure out what was next. 

It sounded easier than how it has actually played out. I saw a bumper sticker today that read, “I plan, God laughs.” 

God must be rolling with laughter. 

Laura Munson’s Blog

I wanted to share Laura Munson’s Winter Haven Series Blog #9 as she nicely posted one of my blogs.

If you haven’t already signed up for one of Laura’s retreats, you should think about it, because it will change your life for the better. Think about attending her retreat in April, as it will be in Montana, at the beautiful relais & chateaux rated, Rock Creek Ranch. It’s kind of a big deal.

Regardless, please read her Haven Winter Series #9.

blog.lauramunson.com/2015/02/18/haven-winter-series-9/

Haven on Earth

Have you ever known you were meant to be, or do, something, and put it off, because you didn’t know where to start, much less how to start? Where would it lead you anyway?

I’ve always loved writing and at an early age, aspired to become a writer, when, in the fourth grade, I wrote a story entitled Timothy the Mouse, and filled an entire composition book with his adventures. In the eighth grade, I was called out of class and into the hallway by my English teacher who thought I had plagiarized a story.  The same thing happened after I turned in a poem I had written.

In college, I would have majored in English, had it not been for the thoroughly dismal, absurdly boring, dry-toast sort-of-a-professor,  whose class I would have needed for the major. Barely making it to the break, I ran out of the room, across the quad, down the steps to the “Precambrian Basement”, and declared myself a Geology Major instead.  My hopes were to become the next John McPhee, but somehow life has a way of leading you along a different path and you temporarily misplace those dreams, substituting them for other dreams, sometimes even for other people.

Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who didn’t fall for the trappings of love and security, and forged your own path, or maybe you were like me, who fell for all of it, only to find yourself many years later, looking at the big 5-O hovering on your doorstep, three beautiful children and one ugly divorce later, wanting to rediscover your dream. Having told your children they could do, or be, anything they wanted in life, and the only way of accomplishing it, was to be true to themselves, and listen to their inner voice, they were doing just as you taught them.

That’s where I was last April when I read Laura Munson’s email about having an opening in one of her Haven retreats in Cabo. At the time, I felt as if I were doing just the opposite of what I had told my children. They were the ones living life to the fullest. They were the ones being true to themselves.

So, with a valid passport, notebook and pen in hand, I headed south, away from frigid, grey Chicago days, and into the tropical bliss that is Mexico. Unsure if I could write anything more entertaining than a business letter, I began. Thoughts began to unwind their way across the page. With Laura’s guidance, my inner/sitting-on-my-shoulder critic, began to sit back and drink in the scenery, leaving me alone long enough to record my mind’s meanderings, sometimes soaring high above the canyon, other times deep within it. I waited, and I wrote, no judgment, only acceptance, only love.

I returned, transformed, more confident in my written voice, still somewhat timid in my actual voice. As with anything, practice makes perfect, and yet, my practice once again began to diminish. Packing, unpacking, laundry, graduations, work, business letters, dishes, life, started intruding into my Haven, my Utopia, and my practice ebbed a little further. There were never enough hours in a day, and yet I knew I had to write, but I didn’t, though I continued to tell myself I would, soon.

Fifty came upon me in September, and I had planned to hike part of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, at the end of October. In preparation, I walked as much as I could, knowing I had some pretty major obstacles (knees, feet, toe nails) to either overcome, or embrace.

While I didn’t exactly embrace the obstacles, instead, I created a blog, and though warned by my infinitely wise nephew, not to be so “plugged in” whilst on the Camino, I wrote, almost everyday, and the writing (along with some pretty intense prayer), is what pulled me through. I traveled all the way to Spain, walked 7-8 hours a day for roughly 9 days, only to discover that there are enough hours in a day, and that life can be set aside for 30-60 minutes to do something you truly enjoy, and that others truly enjoy as well, at least that’s what my blog readers told me.

Thanksgiving

Giving thanks! We have so much to be thankful for, not just this season, or this week or day, but each moment. We are on this planet for such a short amount of time, and what would the world look like if we were grateful for every moment, for every touch, for every hug, smile, greeting, nice word, for every breath, snore, snort, for every person, for every movement, every sound, harmonic or otherwise, for every sunrise, sunset, or for every drop of rain or flake of snow, for a bit of shade on a hot day, or a warm fire on a cold night, or a cup of cocoa to warm the soul?

My mind takes me to the man on the corner, asking for spare change, his missing tooth smile and eyes brighten when he sees me coming. Sometimes I give him money and sometimes I don’t, yet everyday he says, “God bless you Darlin, and have a good day.”

The other day, as the cold rain fell, I gave him a dollar and asked him if he’d like a cup of coffee, and he chose cocoa instead. We sat and talked and ate and drank our warm drinks, while watching the rain fall. I knew I’d be late to work, but I was so grateful that John took the time to have breakfast with me. He warmed my soul, when all the while I was only hoping to help him out, just a little.

I often say, “in a perfect world” because I love the idea of living in a perfect world, but if we were truly grateful for, and in, every moment, wouldn’t be doing just that, living in a perfect world?

I think about those who have left this world, for greener pastures and brighter days, and am so grateful that our paths have crossed at all, if only for a moment, because they made a difference in my life, and their memory still affects emotion in me.

For those still traveling this road with me, I am so eternally grateful for our time together, whether it be in person, via technology, telepathic messaging (which sometimes has poor service), or prayer (which always has excellent service, no matter where you are). You are with me in spirit, and I continually look forward to making memories together.

May your hearts, table and tummy be full of love and thanks giving. May your turkey be tasty, and tender, and may we all have a positive affect on those in need, whoever and wherever they may be. Happy Thanksgiving!!

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Headed Home

I have an early flight tomorrow, so should be getting to sleep, but wanted to share one last thought.

Today I took a tour to muxio and finisterre and it was lovely. It is hard to believe the trip is over and that I’ll be home tomorrow, and as I’ve heard, going home is where the Camino really begins.

At finisterre, I ran into Lynn, who had duct taped her knee for the walk downhill to Acebo. She asked how my feet and knees were doing, because she had been worried about me when she saw me hobbling into Acebo (I’m pretty sure I’ll be losing a few more toenails in the next few months). She asked if I would be doing this again. I had to think about it a little and while part of me wanted to plan something in the future, I want to stay rooted in the present. I suppose if I slip back, and lose that pilgrim spirit, I will come back and do more, but for right now (the here and now of the present), I’m going to savor this pilgrimage experience for as long as I can.

Buen Camino!

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Santiago!!

Never in a millions years would I have expected the happenings of today!

I suppose I should start with last night, at the place with the handsome host. I showed up for supper around 7, but supper wasn’t really until 8, but I could have some soup and lasagna, which was exactly what I wanted. Right at 8, two men from Maine showed up, Francis Xavier (Frank) and Jim. Jim’s brother, Tom arranged the trip for the three of them to walk the Camino, but Tom had plantar facitis (I know the feeling) and couldn’t go. Tom had arranged where they would stay etc, and they had been on he road since September 12, that’s 52 days at that point. Frank and Jim and I were talking about Maine and getting to Santiago, and the Pilgrims Mass at noon, while two other people showed up, a woman in her late thirties/forties and her father. I didn’t get their story at the time, but they were from Maryland.

I woke up and got ready to walk the final kilometers to Santiago. It wasn’t raining, but had been, and the view walking up monte de Gozo was spectacular, with the clouds covering the valleys against the mountains.

There are two things I haven’t shared with you yet and was reluctant, but you’ve seen the inside of my soul thus far, so you may as well see the whole thing. The second night in Spain, Frank said, “You just need to jump off the deep end.”

I interrupted this to mean you just need to put yourself out there no matter what, just be yourself and jump, otherwise you’re not really living.

The second thing is that when Denise and I were talking about guardian angels, I told her about my experience, which I rarely ever do. It was shortly after Eleanor had died, and I’ve been told I was a pretty grumpy, shy kid. One morning I came down for breakfast and my dad asked me why I was no longer grumpy and even had a smile on my face. I tried explaining what had happened, about four guardian angels surrounding my bed, letting me know that everything would be fine, but it sounded absurd, even to me, so instead, I told him I heard something on the radio and that changed me, which he believed me.

There you have it, the two things I’ve needed to share, but you get it how it’s sooo important to live and love life to the fullest and that’s there’s nothing to fear God and his angels are always with us. Anyway, back to Santiago.

So walking down monte del Gozo, I see the suburbs of Santiago and a rainbow. All of a sudden a song pops into my head, which I haven’t sung, nor thought of in, maybe 20-30 years. The song is called Today, and was played at Eleanor’s funeral 40 years ago. I couldn’t remember all the words, so I turned the data roaming on and googled it. It turns out that John Denver wrote it, and the lyrics summed up this whole Camino, and everything I’ve shared with you and how it was all part of that song, and that throughout my whole life, Eleanor has been with me, and I never had to worry about saying goodbye, because she is always there, as is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, especially through the Eucharist.

For those that don’t know the song, the lyrics are:
Chorus:
Today, while the blossoms still cling to the vine, I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine. A million tomorrow’s shall all pass away, ere I forget all the joy that is mine today.
Verse:
I’ll be a dandy and I’ll be a rover, you’ll know who I am by the song that I sing. I’ll feast at your table, I’ll sleep in your clover, who cares what tomorrow shall bring?
Chorus
Verse:
I can’t be contented with yesterday’s glory, I can’t live on promises winter to spring. Today is my moment, and now is my story, I’ll laugh and I’ll cry and I’ll sing.
Chorus.

I look down, tears streaming, and there was a huge patch of clover, the kind with the hearts inside, and I knew Elle belle was right there with me, friends for life.

Eleanor’s family gave me two things when Elle died, one was her baby pillow, which I’ve slept with every night, except when traveling, and the other was a prayer that I memorized probably at the funeral and have prayed often. That prayer came into my mind and I recited that as well, followed by Today again.

God, make me brave, help me strengthen after pain, as the tree strengthens after rain , shiny and lovely again. As the blown grass lifts, let me rise, with quiet eyes, knowing thy way is wise. God, life brings such blinding things, help me to keep my sight, help me to see all right, that out if dark, comes light.

As I got closer to Santiago, there was an even bigger rainbow and I knew it ended at the cathedral, but I had no idea what gifts were held inside.

I arrived at the cathedral around 11, found the Peregrino office and received my Compestella, and saw Kathi. We ran into Frank, as he was headed up the stairs to mass, but Kathi had heard that there wasn’t mass today, but we would all try to make it. Frank said the hotel was great and nearby and I should consider dropping my pack, so I did.

I barely made it back in time for mass, and when I got there, I just missed the priests entering, and quickly found a seat, if you can believe it, right behind Denise and Lorraine! Who was up among the priests? Father Frank!!!

There was a welcome and the main priest said, in Spanish, that this was the beginning of the Camino and if we can take what we have learned back with us, the world will be a better place, well, something like that. Then he said there was a Sponsor for the botofumerio, which is a huge incense burner, which takes 6 men to swing, so it’s typically not part of the pilgrim’s mass, unless it gets sponsored. It was awe-inspiring, with the organ playing.

We ran into Kathi again, and she was going to thank the people who sponsored it (I guess I missed some of the translation), and it turned out to be the father and daughter from Maryland. She had overheard the Maine gentlemen and me talking about the mass, and wanted to say something, but it was all a surprise for her dad’s 75th birthday. They had started in St. Jean, as most others do, on the anniversary of her mother’s death, and had finished on his birthday. The mass was her gift to him, and ultimately to all of us.

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So close

Just nine more little miles before Santiago. I’m overnighting in villamaior, thanks to a recommendation by Kathi.

As a side note, I thanked her for the recommendation and mentioned that the host was very easy on the eyes, to which she agreed. I then asked her, como se dice (how do you say), “What are you doing for the rest of your life”, without sounding too forward?

She said, and I quote, “You say – que estas hacienda para la toda de tu vida! with a big smile!
Then say – le gusta pescar? (Do you like to fish!). 😍”

Aaahhhh, texans have all the answers! As long there’s a big smile!

It’s also been raining on and off, with thunder and I’ll assume lightening, though I haven’t seen it, because as soon as I arrived, a gal was talking about how hot the shower was and how great the heater was, and it just sounded sooooo nice. The issue is that either the rain gear leaks, or creates so much condensation that I’m always wet and cold when wearing it, which I’ve been doing nonstop for 2-3 days.

I am in an adorable stone room that has a heater that was working for a while, but no longer. It also has a shower, but I’m not sure what kind of hot water the gal was referring to, because it’s nearly nonexistent. The warmest place I can find is in my sleeping bag, so I’ve been hanging out there for some time, reviewing photographs and thoughts over the past weeks and I will say that I feel stronger inside and out. I know that I am never alone, and that unfiltered love and wisdom is only an intentional breath away.

I don’t know if I could do what Father Frank has done, mostly by himself, almost twice now, across 500 miles, carrying his pack and the prayers of the parish. He is an amazing man, and we at St. Teresa are sooooo blessed to have him as our priest!!

We ran into one man early on and he had being doing sections of the Camino for 20 years. Denise has done 3 week portions of it for 4 years and now in her 5th year, she will finish. This is Kathi’s second time through, but with some detours etc. There is a man from Holland, who was in the transportation industry, where he was on call 24/7, sold his company and 3 and 1/2 months ago set off from Holland with a phone who’s number is only known by his wife. He’ll meet up with her and his eldest daughter tomorrow and said he would see us at mass tomorrow. The couple from denver will be at mass tomorrow, as will Denise and Frank. Everyone has their story and reason they have taken the time to be a part of this experience. It’s definitely not a vacation and definitely more than a hike. It’s hard to explain to those not a part of it, but really, it is simply, a Pilgrimage.

It’s strange being at this point, so close to the end, with such conflicting feelings (this would be a good time for Frank’s rendition of the song Feelings to come in). On the one hand, it will be nice not to have to wash your clothes every night, wondering if they will dry before morning, yet there’s the simplicity of wearing one set of clothes or the other, based on smell, dampness, or grunge factor. On the one hand, it will be nice to sleep in my own bed, where it’s warm and cozy, and predictable, yet the gratitude of finding a place to lay my head and tired body, each night, not knowing if the prospect of sleep is at hand or not, might be glossed over. On the one hand, it will be nice not having to walk so many miles in a day to reach a destination, yet will I miss the rhythm of one foot in front of the other and feeling so close to God, observing the changes in His landscape (both internal and external), the awareness of each breath, the centering prayer to take away the pain? On the one hand, it will be nice to see family and friends, yet I will miss the chance meeting of people along the way, like the man from Holland, the welcoming nature and acceptance of pilgrims in general.

The one thing I will miss the most, is the simplicity of each day. You get up, pack your bag, look for arrows to guide your way, knowing that if you go just a little further, there will be a perfect cafe con leche waiting, and a restroom. If you go even a little further, you will find a place to rest your head, and familiar pilgrim faces to welcome you to join them for supper.

Simplicity is one thing I want to take back and make part of my daily life. Letting go of the stuff I no longer have use of, including old thought patterns and being concerned about the future. It’s always been about the here and now. How simple!

It is with sincere gratitude that I thank you for following this blog and leaving your comments and thoughts which have carried me through many things and while it is becoming more apparent to me, that what I really enjoy, is sharing my thoughts with you, and what I think I hear you saying is that you seem to enjoy reading them as well, which encourages me to continue.

Buen Camino and peace to you.

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Wanted to include one more photo

There was one more stop along the trail yesterday that brought a smile. I told you about the km markers, well the one in the photo made me chuckle. The only 32 year old that came to mind was Peter S. , my birthday month buddy. Follow the signs my friend, follow the signs.

Thinking of Peter reminds me also that Frank is due for a shout out. What are you doing to take of yourself today? Which begs the question to all, what will you do today to take care of yourself? Me? I’m going to walk a few miles, prepare to enter Santiago tomorrow, the end of this road and live in this moment as I continue on the Camino waiting for me at home.

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All Souls’ Day and a little bit more.

Denise said when it rains on the day of a funeral, it is God crying. We decided that He must have been weeping for all the souls today, because it rained most if the day.

Yesterday when Denise and I were talking about the saints, and more specifically guardian angels, I told her about my dear friend Elle belle, who died so young. Denise said that when young ones pass on, they immediately become saints. So yesterday, I failed to mention Saint Eleanor. I know she is always looking out for us.

I also forgot to mention St. Christopher who’s medal hangs around my neck, and keeps me safe in travel.

We came across the 65 km marker and took photos of Kathi in Palais de Rei, in honor of her 65th, and did the same for Denise for her 55th, on our way into Melide, and found the 50 km marker for me, upon leaving the next day. Today, upon leaving Arzúa, my children pulled me through the unending rain, and sometimes downpours, as I searched for their km markers representing their ages, on the way into O Pedrouzo.

Yesterday, along the road, Denise and spoke about many things, but one was about my mother in law. I told Denise that after Jim moved out, I had the most amazing conversations with my mother in law, things she probably never even thought to mention to her husband, things had kept hidden for years. I started tearing up upon telling her, and didn’t understand why, after all these years, it still made me get all full in the eyes.

The answer came today, and created a model for me going forward in life. When I have that sensation again, where I tear up upon talking about something, it means that something is unresolved and the only way to rid myself of the tears, is to have a good walk (maybe not in the rain and maybe not as long as the camino), and delve a little deeper until a resolution appears.

Since I’ve probably over shared already, for those wondering what was resolved, I originally thought it had something to do with being told not to attend my mother in law’s funeral, but it wasn’t. I think it had to do with the time between the divorce and Jim’s second marriage. While Jim and I were separated, his mom and I had many conversations. After the divorce, the conversations ceased, but I could have gone up there, especially after the stroke, or called her, but I didn’t, and I never said goodbye, like I had to my father in law.

There is something about saying goodbye that helps the healing process, and I think that maybe the same thing happened with Eleanor, I never got to say goodbye. For a 10 year old, death is not something that’s easily understood, but maybe explaining it a little more and being given the opportunity to say goodbye, brings a little more closure, and with it, a little more peace, and a better understanding that death is a part of life.

What was also interesting today, was that while I had spent the past days talking with Denise about historical events in my life, it wasn’t until today that they felt resolved, and only when they were resolved, could I even think about current happenings in my life.

A couple of coincidental (ha, you should know me by now, there are no coincidences), ok, God winks, happened today, of which I was so grateful. The place Kathi and I stayed (though I never saw her), there was no heat. The rain started around mid morning yesterday and settled in, drenching all to the bone, and without heat, the fully saturated clothing of the day, never dried, nor did the apacka poncho, nor the pack, etc.

This morning, by the time I put everything on, it was already raining and so I just decided to start walking. I stopped a couple hours later, at an adorable place and had fresh squeezed orange juice, and cafe con leche, which they do sooo well here, that I may have already become a coffee drinker again. I had been talking with a couple from Denver, and we were all getting ready to leave, when up walks Kathi, followed closely by Denise! So, I stayed for another cafe con leche. When in Spain!

I got started again, and because I am still slow, knew they would catch up soon enough. I had been walking for quite awhile on my own, the road turned and there was a faded arrow on a post, near two men discussing something, and a big blue van parked, in what looked to be a driveway. I kept walking, past the van and headed down the road, when Kathi called out to me. Thankfully, they not only caught up with me at exactly the right time, but Kathi noticed that the van wasn’t parked in a driveway, but on the trail and was obscuring the view of the marker. God only knows how long I would have walked before realizing I wasn’t on the trail.

Kathi went on and will enter Santiago tomorrow (her birthday) and Denise and I are staying in O pedrouzo, but she’s having a tough time of it with blisters and bed bugs. She’s planning on entering Santiago on Wednesday and will meet her husband in front of the cathedral Wednesday evening. I hope to meet up with Father Frank on Wednesday and walk into Santiago together, but we’ll see what is meant to be.

Last thought for the day was, at the end of my life, when I’m hopefully chatting with St. Peter at the pearly gates, I would hate for him to ask, “So, what did you do with your life?”
“I did what God wanted me to do.”
“Really, did you ever consider asking Him?”
I’ll let you know how that works out mañana.

Buen Camino!

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All Saints Day

Today was All Saints Day and while it seems like just another day in the states, one where you may or may not attend Mass, though I’m petty sure it’s a holy day of obligation, it is a huge celebration here! The woman at the pension had her hair dyed red for the occasion and nearly everything was closed, including the wayside bars and restaurants. It was very quiet.

I walked with my new Camino friends Kathi and Denise, well Denise mostly, because Kathi is pretty fast.

From what I understand, the trail gets a lot more crowded after sarria, because you can walk that part, the final 4 or 5 days (I’m giving myself 6), and still receive the Compestella. Sometimes, toward the end, there are pilgrims without the best intentions, and today, I was so glad to be walking with others because twice there was a creepy guy, sitting in a car, in the middle of nowhere, at the edge of the Camino. It was always at those times when Kathi wasn’t too far in front, but all of us felt uneasy, yet grateful we were all together.

Today started with finding a four leafed clover, so I gave one to each of the birthday girls, Denise’s was on the 29th and Kathi’s is on the 4th.

I was going to tell you about my thoughts regarding the four leafed clover. In Ireland, I believe the regular three leafed clover is a symbol that is representative of the holy trinity. So, if that’s true, then perhaps, the four leafed clover is a symbol of the holy trinity working with us, or us working with the trinity to make something special, out of the ordinary, and unique. Maybe it’s a reminder that the more we envelop ourselves with the holy trinity, the more likely we are to become that unique, special being that is sought after and treasured.

Being All Saints Day, we called upon several of them. So St. Patrick was thought of today because of the clovers. Denise called upon St. Mary often today and St. Paul was discussed. We spoke to Kathi about the wonders of Sts. Joseph, Anthony and Jude, and how they have worked in our lives. It might have been a good idea to call a little bit more on St. James today, but toward the end, there was a big concentration on St. Jude and how he could not only help with family situations, but also for helping us get through those final kilometers, which are always the longest.

Mass in melide this evening was lovely, and well attended.

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