Reflections On The Last Night of Hannukah 9

Recently, my cousin and her family came to visit us. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and she came bearing cupcakes for one of my nephews who was turning 27, and some old children’s books for my grandson, Avery. These were books that had been favorites of her children when they were little, and one of these books utterly charmed me. It is called Mrs. Katz and Tush, written by Patricia Polacco. It tells the story of an elderly Jewish woman, an immigrant from Poland, who has just lost her husband of many years. Her neighbors, an African American mom and her son stop by to pay their condolences. Mrs. Katz cries in the mother’s arms wondering what she will do, she is all alone now that she has lost her husband, who in her words was “such a person.” They never had any children, so her future does indeed look to be a lonely one. But the boy, Larnel, decides that he needs to do something to help Mrs. Katz, so he decides to bring her a kitten. It is the runt of a litter born in the basement of his building. The kitten is none too pretty, and has even lost its tail, so nobody else wanted it. When Mrs. Katz sees the kitten, she is unsure what to do. She’s never had a kitten before, but Larnel promises to help her, so she agrees to keep the feline and names it Tush, because, without a tail, the kitten’s tush is quite a prominent feature.

As the story progresses, Mrs. Katz falls completely in love with Tush. She knits toys for the cat, cooks her special food, and often, when the kitten has been especially pleasing, Mrs. Katz will tell Tush that she is “such a person.” But something else also happens after the kitten comes into her life; she and Larnel develop a very close bond. They discover that though they are very different, they also have a lot in common, the cat is only the start of it. Over time, Mrs. Katz becomes a true part of Larnel’s family, and together they go through many generations of Tush’s progeny. By the time Mrs. Katz passes away, Larnel is a grown man. She has been a part of his life and his children’s lives, and she is loved and remembered by all of them. When they inscribe her tombstone, the epitaph reads, “Mrs. Katz, our bubbee. Such a person.”

The book really isn’t meant for a 13-month-old.  Avery’s tastes tend toward Boynton’s Barnyard Dance, and Donaldson’s The Gruffalo. Mrs. Katz and Tush is not even a board book, but for some reason, since Thanksgiving, Avery has asked me to read it to him on a couple of occasions. Maybe he senses how much I love this story.  There’s something about Mrs. Katz and Larnel’s friendship that really resonates with me. It touches on themes that I am currently exploring as I write Ahote’s Path. Like Mrs. Katz, Ahote discovers that life can surprise you. There are times for all of us when we think we can’t go on, only to then discover that not only are we stronger than we know, but there is so much more to life than we had ever imagined. We look at ourselves and see someone separate and alone only to find that with just the smallest opening of our hearts love will come pouring in. Unexpected acts of kindness and generosity of spirit are the antidotes for much of what ails us. For Mrs. Katz, it was Larnel and the kitten who changed her lonely future, for Ahote it was a shaman named Storm Singer, and a vibrant, young Havasupai woman named Lena.

In the scheme of the universe we are all so very small. Our conception of existence is made up out of knowable patterns, but patterns aren’t the complete truth of who we are or what the world is. The possibilities for learning and growth are so much more than we can ever fully realize. You could look at this as a bad thing, but Ahote and I, we see it as a good thing. It means that over the course of our lives there is no end to the ways in which we can learn, grow, love and know. There is no end to our ability to discover new things about ourselves, each other, the earth, and the nature of the divine. The way to start this process of knowing begins by opening our hearts, by reaching out to others, and by always remembering to be humble in accepting all that we don’t know. When Mrs. Katz lost her Myron, she thought her future would be a lonely one, but she was willing to open her heart to an ugly cat and a little boy with a generous spirit. From there her world just grew and grew past her wildest imaginings. Ahote does the same, he opens his heart to Storm Singer and the Havasupai people, and soon finds himself immersed in an adventure that changes the course of his entire life.

So as the lights of Hannukah flicker out, and with all the other holidays of the season just around the corner, this is my prayer for all of us. Let our hearts remain open. Let us be kind to ourselves, each other and to the earth. Help us to be more loving, accepting and generous of spirit. Help us all to be humble enough to discover more of what we are truly capable of every single day.

On the second to last night of Hannukah Avery had a sleep over with us. It was his first without his parents, having just been fully weaned a little over a week ago. It was a great Hannukah gift all around, for the parents, the grandparents and for this extremely loving, irrepressibly happy little boy. I will leave you all with a few pictures of our Hannukah with Avery. He loved this holiday, from the latkahs, to the candle lighting, to the presents, to the sleepover. He is really such a person!


Happy Holidays Everyone!


A story and a bit of family news 3


I am going to tell you a story. It’s one I’ve been saving, because I was looking for the right time to share a feel-good story about politics. Given the incredible turn-out during the mid-term elections, perhaps I have at last found the right moment. This story takes place in Flagstaff over a hundred years ago during a time when the town was going through some growing pains. I found this story in Platt Cline’s book entitled, Mountain Town: Flagstaff’s First Century. The book uses the town’s newspapers as its primary resource, going all the way back to the town’s beginning. In its early pages, we learn about lumber barons, successful ranchers, and entrepreneurial merchants who all shared a bold vision for Flagstaff.  They were men who were not at all shy about digging deep within their own pockets to help guide their new town along a path that valued education, scholarly pursuits, and creating an environment conducive to raising families.

During Flagstaff’s first dozen or so years, a town government was organized, a town hall was built, streets and sidewalks and a water system were constructed. While these were all notable achievements, there were two accomplishments the town council was most proud of. The first was being chosen as the site for the Lowell observatory; a decision that put Flagstaff on the map for scientific scholars the world over. The second was the successful founding of the Normal School (the forerunner to what is now Northern Arizona University, NAU) which helped establish Flagstaff as a center for higher education.

By 1906, many of the old guard (which included some of Flagstaff’s most notable families, such as the Riordans and the Babbits) had served multiple terms on the town council. Feeling confident that they now had their town on a well-established path, the council decided it was time for others to take their turns at governing.

The council had a couple of hand-picked candidates that they were very impressed with, but a third nominee presented himself who they hadn’t counted on. His name was Benjamin Doney, Sr., a farmer and a rancher who was fed up with all the restrictions the council had been levying on the brothels and saloons in their attempt to move the town toward respectability. Sixty-eight-year-old Doney did not appreciate the council’s attempts to tame Flagstaff. He had a feisty, combative, disruptive character, but he was also charismatic, and many around town found him amusing. Through sheer force of his personality, he was able to convince a section of the population that the council was not concerned with the best interests of the common people. In the end, it was enough to win him a seat on the council and to also carry along a couple of other like-minded individuals.

Doney’s contentiousness soon drove away some of his opposing council members. Each time a vacancy appeared, the growing Doney majority was able to hand pick a replacement. Soon Doney’s power was such that he began to feel untouchable. He started hiring people of questionable character, placing them in important town positions, so that they could help enable his self-serving agenda. He also decided to go after both the Riordan’s and the Babbitt’s business enterprises. Both these families had played prominent roles in making Flagstaff a more family friendly town and had therefore earned Doney’s especial ire.

The story played out in a way that many weary American’s today will find familiar.  Doney was able to disrupt and disband a lot of what the town’s founding fathers had put into place. Saloons and brothels quickly reasserted themselves in the center of town. Doney had just begun plans to force out Lowell and his observatory when events conspired to end what Cha’risa would have called koyaanisqati; the sowing of chaos and corruption.

Doney’s plans were starting to have an impact on the reputation of the Normal School.  The school now had a sizable population of young people enrolled in its programs. As the news of Flagstaff’s about face spread, parents around the territory started voicing concerns about their young folk being in close proximity to houses of gambling and prostitution. The territorial government of Arizona became involved. It first responded by making it illegal throughout the territory for saloons and brothels to be within town limits. It then began to consider removing the Normal School from Flagstaff.

What had once seemed humorous no longer was. Regardless of how the citizens of Flagstaff felt about the bars and whorehouses, none of them wanted to lose the observatory, or the Normal school.  No one wanted to put young people at risk, or lose the status the town had gained from their scholarly endeavors. At the next election, Doney and his cadre were soundly rejected. There was a mess to clean up to be sure, but within a year most of the damage had been reversed. Today, both the Lowell observatory and NAU (originally the Normal School) are still cornerstones in Flagstaff’s identity and culture. The old saloons and brothels of Flagstaff are now coffee houses, restaurants, and shops along a very charming and well-preserved historic downtown that runs along Route 66.

The moral of this story is, koyaanisqati happens.  But fortunately for Americans, whether it be in small towns or on the national stage, we have been given the constitutional right to vote. In 1908 the town of Flagstaff understood they were at risk of losing something precious, and they rallied together to put their town back on a path that advanced their common interests. In the 2018 mid-term elections our very divided nation did the same. We came together in large numbers and raised our voices for what we felt would best serve our country and our values. Here’s what gives me heart. While the process wasn’t without flaws, or errors, or outright attempts at silencing voters, we still managed to do something quite impressive. At a time when our President would like to erode our rights, we came together and created a House of Representatives that has come closer to truly representing our population than ever before. It was not just a blue wave, it was a wave of women, many of them coming from very diverse cultures and backgrounds. For the first time, there are Muslim representatives and Native American representatives. We even have the youngest person ever elected to office. What we also now have is a House that we can reasonably expect to be a check on any more abuses of power. I heard a congresswoman from California speaking on the news the other night. I think she summed it up well. She said if there was a mess, it was likely women who would be the ones to clean it up. Well, there is a lot of cleaning that needs to be done, but I do take hope from the tale of Flagstaff’s Doney insurrection. It is possible to put your house back in order.

Now on to some news from a more personal front. Many of you have been asking how progress on Ahote’s Path is coming. It is coming, albeit much slower than I had originally anticipated. Here’s why. This past summer, at my grandson, Jordan’s, first birthday, my east coast kids (which now firmly includes my daughter, Jamie, she is never leaving NYC) made a very strong argument for my husband, David, Natalie, Avery and I to shift our home base from Arizona to the east coast. After some soul searching we decided to make the move. Since then, we have been very busy looking for the right place to settle and finding a home, but now many of the pieces are falling into place. By sometime this spring, Arizona will become a winter getaway and the entire family will live in much closer proximity to each other on the east coast. It makes me very happy to have found a solution that allows me to have much easier access to all my children, and that will also offer my two grandsons a chance to grow up in the warm brace of family. 

Still, it will be a very big change for me. As I was walking back from an especially beautiful hike with Lucy the other day, the opening of a well- known song started to play in my mind. The words resonated so deeply that I knew at once it was both a cry of grief but also a blessing. The song is from Rogers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, the words are as follows:

My day in the hills has come to an end, I know,

A star has come out to tell me it’s time to go.

But deep in the dark green shadows are voices that urge me to stay

So I pause and I wait and I listen

For one more sound, for one more lovely thing that the hills might say… 

Whatever comes next, I promise, I will not forget Ahote. His story will be high on the list of finished projects for 2019. If people are interested in meeting some of the new characters peopling Ahote’s story let me know. I’ll start putting some of my character sketches into future blog posts 😊



In Search of the Gleaming Way 1


“With brilliant effectiveness, they navigated the knife’s edge of the linear present and triumphed over it – finding ways to re-build their societies. Their world view guided them along pathways of action and wisdom and enabled them to reshape their world without bending or breaking under the pressure of linear time.”

The quote comes from a book entitled On the Gleaming Way, written by John Collier. It is one of the books I’ve been using in my research for Ahote’s Path.” This quote really struck me, especially because of the times we find ourselves in now. Our linear present has become so rapid and intense, and our people have become so divided, that often it feels our society is reaching a breaking point. But unlike the indigenous cultures John Collier is describing above, main stream America has never truly known any world view other than a linear one. If you asked most Americans which organ is the command center of the body, most would likely answer the brain. But among many indigenous communities it is not the brain but the heart that commands. They believe it is the heart that has the power to change our bodies, the power to heal our lives, our families, and our communities.

I think somewhere deep in all of us we know this to be true as well. We express this intuitive understanding of the heart all the time. When we want to know the truth, we speak of getting to the heart of the matter. When our government decides to tear families apart at the border as a deterrent to illegal immigration many of us cry out that this action that lacks heart. When our country is run by people who place personal profit over the care and nurturing of humanity and of our earth, once again it is our hearts that are heavy. When more news happens in a day than used to happen in a month or perhaps even a year, our minds become numb. But even when our minds are exhausted, it is our beating heart that tells us we can endure more.

In Collier’s book, he describes the Hopi as a people who believe the universe by nature is a harmonious, integrated system that is shaped by the way we perceive it. It is our own creative impulses that set the direction. The Hopis concluded based on these beliefs that it was ideal to live your life for the benefit of your society. It was important to be morally and physically strong. It was important to have a balanced heart, free of anxiety, so that your mind could focus on thoughts that went beyond your own personal wants to encompass the needs of the many.

As I thought more about Collier’s words, I realized that I have experienced exactly what Collier is describing through my Reiki practices. The heart is where I feel the power. It is the center through which the energy flows. And when I send this energy outward to others I visualize it going from my heart to theirs. What I have seen over the years is exactly what the Hopis described to Collier. I have seen this energy heal my body and improve my relationships with my loved ones. It has changed me so profoundly that it impacts the way I relate to everything, everybody, the world. My words and my intent create ripples that I can see subtly influencing everyone and everything around me.

So, of course, I had to reflect on how the opposite is also true. If my words and beliefs have power to affect everything around me, then it follows that words that aren’t meant kindly, or compassionately, or with the best interest of others in mind can also shape the world.

Collier’s description of the Hopi world view reminded me of a song that I really love. I’ve mentioned this song before in an earlier post. It is Five For Fighting’s 2006 hit, “World.”  It’s the chorus that keeps running through my head:

What kind of world do you want?
Think anything
Let’s start at the start
Build a masterpiece
Be careful what you wish for
History starts now

The question has even more meaning for me now. My grandson, Jordan has just turned one. Avery, at ten months, is close behind him. Looking into their innocent faces, I can see what they see, they have faith that the world is something magnificent to know and explore. I want the world they will come to know to live up to that faith. I want it to be a better, safer, kinder world. This is something I pray for every day, but up until now it is something I have done in the desert silence, alone. Now I’m putting it out there so you can know what kind of world I want.

I want for all the people of the world to love and respect one another, to nurture and protect each other and our earth. I want us all to treat each other with kindness and generosity and build a happier world for our children and grandchildren.  #whatkindofworlddoyouwant?

I’m hoping that others of you will join with me. Use Facebook and Twitter and let the universe know what kind of world you want. Start now 😊

Got a package full of wishes
A time machine, a magic wand
A globe made out of gold

No instructions or commandments
Laws of gravity or
Indecision’s to uphold

Printed on the box I see
Acme’s build a world to be
Take a chance, grab a piece
Help me to believe it

What kind of world do you want?
Think anything
Let’s start at the start
Build a masterpiece
Be careful what you wish for
History starts now

Songwriter: John Ondrasik



Community Spirit

Now that Read Around Sedona is over, I wanted to make some final observations about this incredible experience. For nearly two months, Cha’risa’s Gift has been the center of attention all around town. It has been hands down the best experience I have ever had as an author, and I owe such a debt of gratitude to everyone at the Sedona Public Library for choosing Cha’risa’s Gift as this year’s community read. 

When you put your book out there, you have plenty of hopes and dreams for what will happen next. For me, my greatest hope was that my book would find its way to people for whom the story would have meaning.  Even though Cha’risa’s Gift is a work of fiction, I had wanted the book to highlight those things that had made profound and positive changes in my own life. These were things I had learned from my Reiki and meditation practices, and from my time alone in the quiet beauty of the desert. Ultimately, they became those things that I called Cha’risa’s gifts. We talked a lot during Read Around Sedona about what exactly these gifts were. For me, it was the first time I had tried to boil them all down to their essence. Laying them plainly out on paper, this was what emerged.

  • Generosity of spirit: giving to others is the key to personal happiness
  • Humility is the path to personal growth
  • The more we love, the more we heal
  • Anyone can rise above self-doubt and inner darkness to become a guiding light for others

One of the best parts of having my book be part of the community read was that I got to see how my story affected the people reading it. The response was everything I had hoped for when I first published the book. So many people related strongly to the story’s message. People showed up at the book club meetings and my two presentations with a strong desire to tell me how much the book had touched them. Some people wanted to do more than that. One woman reached out to me, sharing some of her own experiences with the Hopi, and offering to accompany me to the Hopi mesas to introduce me to a woman, a family matriarch, that she had befriended there. One of our community members, who had spent some years practicing medicine among the Hopi, approached the library to help organize a drive for hygiene products that we could then deliver to the clinic out on the reservation to help meet the many health needs there. I met her one afternoon when I was in the library and we immediately felt a strong connection. Since then, we have made plans to meet again so she can share more of her Hopi experiences with me. Many people shared titles of books with me, things they felt I should read given my interests, and as a result, my holds list at the library has become quite full! I sold lots of books, signed lots of books, realized I had actual fans, and through it all an incredible feeling grew within me.  Cha’risa’s Gift had become something of note, at least in my own home town.

During the final week of Read Around Sedona, I had an experience that perhaps explains best what this moment felt like for me. I was working the volunteer desk in the Village library when a woman approached the desk with a stack of books to check out. One of the books was Cha’risa’s Gift. Inside my head I was thinking, “this is a moment, I am checking out my own book to a library patron!” I was wondering whether I should share this information with her, when she points to my book and asks me, “Do you know anything about this book?” I looked up at her, the smile that had been growing inside me was now stretching ear to ear. “I wrote it,” I said. Well, now it was her turn to smile and be delightfully surprised. Just then, our librarian, Cheryl, who had witnessed the whole exchange, ordered us both to stay right where we were so she could run and get her camera.

During Read Around Sedona I didn’t always meet people who loved the book. Especially in the book club meetings, I would always meet a few who had wanted something different or something more from the book. But I came to see these conversations as some of the most valuable in this Read Around Sedona experience.   They gave me an impetus to really dig deep to explain my choices in the writing of the book. They also gave me a lot to think about, things I might do differently next time, which will be especially helpful as I move forward with book two.

My library put a lot of faith in me. The choice for this year’s community read ultimately came down to two books. There was mine, a book written by a local, self-published author, and the other was written by a well-known author from a mainstream publishing house. I am incredibly grateful to the library for taking the path less travelled. I think it turned out well for all concerned. The library had excellent attendance and community participation in all the scheduled events, I was brought into the spot light and had a chance to see my book through the eyes of my readers. It was a priceless gift, one that inspired and encouraged me immensely. As for the community, I think we all had a lot of fun. The community read brought us all much closer together. I now know and feel a fond affection for many more people on the library staff; I became a known quantity at our local bookstore, “The Literate Lizard,” where many of my books were also sold during the community read. I met and befriended other presenters, members of my community, other authors, and some of our distinguished war veterans. I feel a much deeper connection to my community now, and I think the reverse is also true, that they feel that same connection to me.

During Read Around Sedona, Natalie made a beautiful drawing of Cha’risa for me to share in my slide presentation. People liked it so much that they wanted to know if they could buy a copy.  Natalie and I printed out a small run, only 18 signed and numbered copies. We still have a few left and I am going to offer them up to you, my faithful blog readers. If you are interested, they are $15.00 each. Just email me or message me here in the comments section and we’ll get it arranged.


Here We Rest 4

This has been a hard blog to write. I started this post three weeks ago, thousands of feet up in the air on my 60th birthday, after having just finished an extraordinary trip to Central and Eastern Europe. It was a trip that began with spectacular sights in famous cities and charming towns all along the Danube River from Budapest to Vienna. That part of the trip was steeped in the finest luxury Europe had to offer. We ate amazing food, drank fine wines, and were shamelessly pampered all along the way. But there was a dissonant counterpoint to this journey, one that had us retracing the paths of our Jewish ancestors, following a trail that was defined more by what was no longer there than by what was. As we traveled along the Danube, and then later along the Vistula River in Poland, the scope of our tragic heritage enveloped us completely. We experienced quite vividly the violent, methodical rending of the Jewish culture from its long and richly entwined history with this part of the world. It was made more real to us than by any account we’d ever encountered in books, movies or news stories. My understanding of where I came from evolved as I walked down streets my ancestors had once traveled; as I saw the sights they would have found familiar, smelled aromas from the food they would have enjoyed, felt the warmth and joy of spring day as they might have, and as I heard the birds, the church bells, and the sounds of life that would once have accompanied their days.

All along the Danube and then the Vistula, we followed the path of the Jewish people from medieval times until today. We learned that there was so much more to the story than the parts we were familiar with; the religious persecution and pogroms that had driven our forebears from these lands. In the beginning, Jews were generally considered beneficial to the financial stability and growth of communities. They brought an understanding of currency with them from the Middle East that was often still unknown in this part of the world. They also brought literacy, and these two things together made them very desirable allies to those who were seeking to gain power. However, these connections weren’t always enough to spare the Jews. The common folk often resented the Jews’ elevated position, and it wasn’t hard for political rivals to use this jealousy to incite violence. But, when passions settled down, it was never long before some aspiring noble extended his hand in return for the assistance Jews could offer him. This repeating cycle of blame and acceptance followed the Jews through all of Europe, dating back as far as Roman times, but it became much more virulent in the nineteenth century after the Polish-Lithuanian Empire fell (an empire which had been known for religious tolerance). Anti-Semitism reached its darkest point with the Nazis’ rise to power in the late 1930’s. It was their intent to annihilate the Jewish people from all of Europe and beyond. It was a plan that came very close to succeeding.

As we traveled from Budapest to Vienna and then to Krakow and on to Warsaw, the memorials to the vanished Jewish communities mounted. We saw bronze shoes along the Danube in front of the Hungarian Parliament building. There, 4,000 Jews had been marched to the water’s edge and instructed to remove their shoes. They were then shot, and their bodies fell into  and were carried away by the river. When the shooting finished, all that remained were the thousands of pairs of shoes lined up along the river’s edge. Now the memorial signifies the loss of more than 400,000 Jews who lost their lives in Hungary during World War II. In Vienna, we saw an empty tomb, it’s square sides compiled of 65,500 books carved in stone, each book representing one of the Jews of Austria who perished in World War II. In Austria, the names of most of lost Jews are known; it is also known where they once lived. We saw plaques on homes displaying the names of Jews who had once lived there and what concentration camp they had died in. There could be no grave, so this was the only marker of a life once lived. We visited the home studio of an Austrian artist and Holocaust survivor Arik Brauer. Having narrowly escaped death as a young boy on Krystal Nacht, he spent the rest of the war hidden away by his mother’s Christian side of the family. His Jewish father was not so lucky. He perished in a concentration camp. Arik discovered the details of his father’s last day of life after the war. He learned how it had been cold outside; that snow was falling as Jews were lined up to wait their turn in the gas chambers. An SS officer had draped a blue blanket over his father’s shoulders to keep him warm as he waited. Two of Arik’s most haunting paintings focused on these final moments of his father’s life, one he painted not long after learning how his father had died, the other he painted many years later. Both depicted the same scene, the cold winter day and his father wrapped in the blue blanket. The early painting was stark, the yellow star stood out prominently on his father’s chest; a look of hopelessness and resignation was on his face. The second showed his father dissolving into the snow, a large snow flake now in place of the yellow star on his chest, and emerging all around him was new life, even as he dissolved like the snowflakes all around him. In this second version, his arms are reaching upward, his face serene, as he leaves his body behind. The Jewish memorials along the Danube were a lot like Arik’s paintings. There was remembrance and pain, but life was irrepressible, fully absorbing the rivers of blood that had been spilled here, reshaping them into something entirely new.

When we left the Danube, we made our way to Poland. There we met up with my brother-in-law, Bill and his best friend, Brian, as we continued this journey of discovery. We learned that the Jews first arrived in Poland early in the middle ages, fleeing from religious persecution in Central Europe. When they first saw the land, they named it Polin – Po means here and Lin means rest in Hebrew. They chose this name because the land was so green and fertile, and the people welcoming. In Poland, the Jews were initially valued for being learned people, and for centuries Poland became known as a good place to live. The golden era for Poland and its Jews was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when Poland was an empire aligned with Lithuania. It was an enlightened political system, a precursor to Democracy, with a legislature of the nobility that elected kings and helped effect political checks on the monarchy. The empire was known for having a large, ethnically diverse population, and for greater religious tolerance than other countries of that time. All that began to change around 1768, when the empire began experiencing internal rebellions and external pressures from Russia, as Catherine the Great began to have grand designs for Eastern Europe. By 1795, the political situation had deteriorated to the point that the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Hapsburg Monarchy divided up all the lands that once made up Poland and Lithuania, erasing the Poland Lithuania Empire completely from the map of Europe. Poland and Lithuania were not re-established as independent countries again until after World War I (in 1918).

Okay, that’s a lot of history, I admit, but suffice it to say there were good reasons why Poland had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe at the start of World War II. The Nazi invasion of Poland changed the equation dramatically. If you were a Jew in Poland in the lead up to World War II, there was no worse place to be. Of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, three million were from Poland, which was close to the entire Jewish population of that country. World War II wasn’t good for the rest of the Polish population either. The Nazis understood that the Polish people had a strong national pride, despite (or maybe even because of) the long years of being denied the right to have their own country. The Nazis determined they would break the will of these people so thoroughly that they would never desire independence again. No quarter was given to anyone who even remotely resisted or dissented. In the end, the Nazis killed three million non-Jewish Poles as well, so combined, there were six million souls who were extinguished in Poland.  The picture to the left is a portion of a wall riddled with bullet holes, where Nazis lined up people involved in the Warsaw Uprising and executed them. Many years later, an artist added the band aid you see in the center.

Mark Bill, Brian and I focused our time in Poland on Krakow and Warsaw. From the start, we were struck by some very beautiful sights. Despite the tragic history of World War II and the years after the war under communist rule, it is still a very green and fertile country. We stumbled into a farmer’s market and couldn’t­­­­ help but be amazed at the size and the vibrancy of their produce. Our grocery store displays are pitiful by comparison.  I can personally attest to the fact that not only can they grow food that looks beautiful, they know how to prepare it. Everything we ate in Poland was delicious, and very reminiscent of the foods my Grandmother used to make.

Our first glimpse of Krakow made us feel like we were walking back in time; so much of the medieval city is beautifully preserved. People remember the kings of old fondly, and with pride, not just for their warrior strength but for their love of learning and of the arts. One of Europe’s oldest universities is in Krakow, the Jagiellonian. Nicolaus Copernicus graduated from here, and some of Europe’s most notable alchemists learned their craft inside the university’s ancient walls. And, of course, what medieval city would be complete without a dragon? The story is told that the castle is built upon a hill where a dragon once lived. According to who is telling the story, the dragon was either killed by a farmer who got annoyed at how many sheep the dragon was pilfering; so he killed the dragon by filling a sheepskin with pitch and leaving it out for the dragon to find and consume; or, the dragon was killed by the first king of Krakow, Stephen Bathory of Transylvania.

The Jewish quarter of Krakow is now very much a tourist attraction, filled with restaurants and outdoor cafes serving traditional Jewish and Israeli food. From every establishment, you hear live Jewish folk music. It feels a little Disneyesque; a re-creation to delight the tourists, but the mood is festive and people come here in droves. What isn’t the least bit contrived within the Jewish quarter is the Remuh Synagogue. Here, a 16th century Rabbi, Moses Isserles is buried. In his time, he was a greatly revered man of learning and a very progressive thinker. He was also a renowned Kabbalist. Such was his reputation that from his death until World War II, thousands of Jews would converge on his gravesite on the anniversary of his death (or as near as they could get, the cemetery isn’t very big). They came to mourn his passing and to deliver their prayers. During World War II, when the Nazis were reducing all signs of Jewish life to rubble, they spared this synagogue and graveyard because even they were fearful of what the Remuh might do from the grave. I’m guessing the Soviets must have come to a similar conclusion, because they also left this place intact. When Mark and I showed up to visit the Rabbi’s grave, it turned out that we coincidentally arrived on the day of his death (the Jewish holiday of Lag-Ba Omer). When we walked into the cemetery, we found almost two dozen Hassidic Jews singing and praying. Their voices would alternate between joy and pain as they held their vigil. After following a trail of Jewish history where so much of what we’d seen had been memorials of stones and silence, here, in a cemetery, we were seeing something of the European Jewish experience that was life affirming. Both Mark and I walked away feeling like the Rabbi himself had wanted us to see, hear, and be a part of this moment.

It is still hard for me to reconcile that uplifting moment with what we saw next. The Jewish memorials in Krakow were beyond heart-breaking. The one that haunts me the most is the tour we took of Schindler’s Factory in Krakow (made famous in the novel and movie “Schindler’s List”). It was so intensely immersive, that from the moment we entered, we were living the nightmare that was the Krakow Ghetto. I was sickened and shaking as I walked through a maze that led us ever deeper into the life these people had been forced to live, and the inescapable death that eventually came to them all.

In Warsaw, the story of what happened during World War II took on an even darker shape and form. Warsaw’s Old Town Market is full of historic charm. But, while Krakow survived the war mostly intact, Warsaw bore the brunt of Nazi wrath. Many of you have probably heard of the plan Hitler had for Paris; to lay waste to the city with all its historical and cultural sites. He had given the same orders for Warsaw. While the General in Paris could not bring himself to enact such destruction, the orders were followed in Warsaw, and all its palaces, historic homes, and churches were severely damaged; many reduced to rubble. After the war, and notwithstanding the Soviet occupation, the Polish people raised the money themselves for meticulous reconstruction efforts. They salvaged as much of the ruins as they could, recreating as faithfully as possible the old town section of Warsaw. They restored it to a close semblance of what it had once looked like during the height of the Polish Empire. Objects of historical and artistic value that had been secreted away during the war years came out of hiding and were returned to their original spots. The heart of Chopin, which had been stolen by the Nazis from the Holy Cross Church, was returned to Poland and placed once again in the restored pillar of the church where it had once rested. For those of you curious as to why only Chopin’s heart is buried there, it is because Chopin, once he became famous and a source of national pride, was not allowed to return home to Poland. Chopin was alive at that point in time when Poland was no longer a country, but rather, an extension of Tsarist Russia. When Chopin died, the Russians were afraid of what kind of nationalism might be unleashed should the prodigal son come home for burial. Upon his deathbed, Chopin asked his sister to smuggle his heart back into Poland, so his heart could rest where he longed to be. She did as he asked. Storing the heart in a hermetically sealed jar of cognac, and then hiding the jar under her voluminous cloak, she secreted the heart home and delivered it to the Church for burial.

The Nazis were not the first to oppress the Polish people, but they were by far the worst. They waged a campaign of terror that placed no value on human life and cared nothing for human decency. Every act of bravery was responded to with crushing force. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising by the Jews, the Warsaw Uprising by the Polish resistance, they all came at a heavy cost, snuffing out the very people who embodied the best and bravest of the people of Poland. The picture to the left is of Mark standing beside one of the few remaining sections of the wall that once surrounded the Warsaw Ghetto.

There is too much painful history here for me to adequately describe what happened to these people, or how this experience affected Mark and me. Here’s what I can say, the Polish people have preserved their tragic history with as much care and precision as they used in restoring Old Town Warsaw. There is a museum in Warsaw called Polin – Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Even if you spent a week here, you could not uncover all there is to learn in this museum. We took a tour with a guide who spent three hours just showing us the highlights. She talked until she was hoarse. She was not Jewish, but she was passionate about the subject and wanted to help us understand how it came to be that a place the Jews had once proclaimed Po-lin, “here I rest,” became a final resting place for millions of Jews and Poles.

Here’s perhaps the thing that struck me most: we focus way too much on looking for the ways we are different from each other. The truth is that there is no such thing as “pure” blood among anyone, anywhere. Borders have changed so much, people have traveled so much that within our genetic code, we are all constantly moving toward a greater merging of all our differences. One of our tour guides told us that he had only recently learned that he was the grandson of a Jewish woman who had hidden her identity during the war by converting to Catholicism. He said his story is proving to be a common one. If you scratch just below the surface of a great many Poles, you will find Jewish DNA.  A former president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski also referred to this, saying “If a Pole says ‘he has not even one drop of Jewish blood in this body,’ then he is not right.” So, maybe those very first Jewish settlers were not wrong in the name they chose for this place. Jewish blood has saturated the Polish earth, and even now it flows along hidden pathways through Polish veins. It’s like that Arik Brauer painting where his father is dissolving as new life is emerging. We are all part of one greater whole.




On Being Thankful and Humble 4

This week was the launch of the second annual Read Around Sedona program, and as many of you already know, this year’s selection was my book, Cha’risa’s Gift.  From the moment I first published Cha’risa’s story, I had hoped that the book would find its way to people who would find meaning in its words. I have just had the incredible experience of seeing this prayer come true.Everywhere I have shown up to talk, I have encountered people who have been deeply moved by the book. Many have written down Cha’risa’s words of wisdom to make them their own. Many have bought books to share with their children or dear friends. I have sold every book I had in my possession and have had to order more as the library keeps telling me there are continuing requests from patrons. I’ve also seen a steady stream of sales of the e-book and paperback on Amazon. Thanks to my library taking a leap of faith in me and my book, I have been given the opportunity to be front and center, talking to people, sharing my thoughts with them, and hearing first hand their reactions. I have heard suggestions for improvements and I have heard from people who really didn’t love the story, but by and large, what I have heard is that my book is doing what I had hoped it would do; it is touching hearts and minds and inspiring many readers with its message.


Many of you know that Cha’risa’s Gift first began to take shape in my mind when I moved from Boston to Sedona. The desert wasted no time working its magic on me. Every day, I’d walk with my dog, Lucy, and I would marvel at how the desert was always so alive and beautiful. I was charmed by wild flowers in the spring and amused by jack rabbits who would taunt Lucy into a merry chase. I was awed by sightings of majestic elk, graceful deer and soaring hawks. I held my breath as inquisitive hummingbirds flew so close I could feel the wind of their wings on my skin. The desert wasn’t just beautiful, sometimes it was dangerous too. It demanded that you stay in the moment and be vigilant. There were snakes that I often missed, but that Lucy would alert me to. There were coyotes who could organize as a pack and use their wiles to lure Lucy away from my side. The sky might be clear when we headed out, but could rapidly change, catching us up in sudden snow squalls, driving rain, or pelting hail. We experienced lightening striking so close to us that the smell of ozone was sharp in the air, and we could feel the earth shake beneath our feet. Every experience in the desert made me feel so viscerally alive that it opened my mind to new pathways of discovery. I became so attuned to the desert that I could literally hear the red rocks vibrating, singing a song that rang in my head, my heart, and my bones.

Walking these paths, I began to wonder about the ranchers and Native Americans who had all trod these paths before me. I understood that there was something universal and spiritual about this place and knew that all who walked these paths would have felt its influence.  I drew upon my 20-year practice of Reiki and meditation to help me dig deep within myself for greater understanding. I also drew upon my library’s resources, and combed the web for clues to more research that might be out there. I interviewed old-timers still alive to tell the tales of Sedona’s early days. Through it all, I hoped to create characters and a story that would awaken in others what had been awoken in me.

This past week, I saw that I had accomplished what I set out to achieve. Of all the gifts that writing Cha’risa’s Gift has brought to my life, seeing people resonate so strongly with my words is by far the most satisfying. I felt the openness in their hearts when they asked me to sign their books, and when they embraced me warmly for a photo. I made new friends and strengthened bonds with old ones. I had new doors opened for me, new avenues for research, and offers of introductions to people who could prove invaluable as I continue my work on book two, Ahote’s Path. What can I say, other than thank you to this entire community for the wonderful and challenging conversations, for the enthusiasm and the open-hearted reception.

While I am thanking people, I have some people who deserve special mention. Carol Goldtooth very kindly helped by gifting me a large bag of her family’s hand gathered and painstakingly bundled green thread tea. She knew it was for my Meet the Author talk where I was hoping to serve Cha’risa’s special blend Hopi tea. She and her family offered the tea as a gift to support me in my efforts. The tea was a big hit at my talk. We served it with cookies, all homemade by some familiar faces at the Sedona Public Library who also deserve a big thank you: Kay Bork, Janice LaDuke, Anne Marie Mackler, and Cheryl Yeatts. Cheryl used the molasses cookie recipe from my book. I can personally attest that she nailed it. One bite and you suddenly understood why this was what Uncle Mike dreamed of all those years he was locked away in Cabanatuan prison camp.

Cheryl also deserves special mention because of the many invaluable ways she has supported me throughout this whole process. Many of you might remember that I’ve talked about Cheryl’s passion for connecting people with the best research resources possible. I owe her many thanks for that, but what I especially want to thank her for here is for nominating my book and for the way she championed it so enthusiastically. I believe it was her excitement that won the day. I would also like to thank the entire RAS committee. I am so very grateful Kay Bork, Anne Marie Mackler, Virginia Volkman, Cheryl Yeatts and Sophia Zarifis-Russell for being willing to take a chance on an unknown author.  I also would like to thank Meghan McCarthy who ran a very well-done marketing campaign for RAS and really helped get the word out to the community. As a result, Cha’risa’s Gift has had the chance to spread its wings and my words have now traveled farther than I could ever have done on my own. I am deeply grateful for the honor of being this year’s Read Around Sedona featured author.

The last two people I want to thank here are the two who have been by my side in this project since the beginning. The first is my husband, Mark. He has offered me moral support, technical support, editing support, publishing support, and it turns out he gives Cheryl a run for her money in his ability to get hold of rare, hard-to-find research materials. In short, he has been my jack of all trades and I literally couldn’t have done it without him. Lastly, I want to thank my very talented daughter-in-law, Natalie. She is the artist who created the beautiful book cover for Cha’risa’s Gift. She is also the creator of my website and spends more time than she bargained for helping me maintain it. When Cha’risa’s Gift was chosen for Read Around Sedona, Natalie decided to commemorate the event by making a sketch of Cha’risa as she would have looked that first day coming down from the mesa, leaving her Hopi life behind her. It is hauntingly beautiful, and I have had a great many remarks about how very special this sketch is. Natalie printed out a first run of 15 copies, all signed and numbered, and we have been selling them to people who are attending the Read Around Sedona events. If there are any left at the end of Read Around Sedona, I will make them available to any of you who might be interested.

I am going to end this blog with a reflection on why, of all the tribes here in the four corners region, I chose to make Cha’risa a Hopi. As is often the case in my writing process, it was really a series of events that led me to this decision. It began with an offer from our landscaper to sell us some illustrations of Hopi Kachina dancers. The illustrations had all been drawn by Hopi elders in the late 1890’s creating a record of knowledge, much of which was lost soon after when the U.S. government removed Hopi children from their homes, enforcing their attendance at the Indian Boarding Schools. The drawings were done at the behest of an anthropologist named J. Walter Fewkes for a report he was making to the Smithsonian. Over the course of the years, someone had taken one of the copies of the Fewkes report, pulled out each colorfully decorated page of kachina images drawn by the elders, and then had them matted and framed. There were 15 frames in all, each containing four pages of drawings from the report. It needed a rather long wall to display them all side by side. Upon seeing the gallery space within our home, our landscaper exclaimed, “I have just the thing for you!”

That was where Cha’risa began. I stared at these images and wondered about the Hopi elders who had drawn them and about what these Kachina’s represented. I began to do research and discovered how the Hopi were likely the descendants of a very ancient race of cliff dwellers, sometimes referred to as Anasazi and sometimes as Sinagua. They were the first Americans; their arrival in this land going back some 12,000 years, or as one Hopi elder put it, “Before Christ, before Columbus.”

As I continued my research, I ran across some literature that spoke about how humbleness was a foundation of the Hopi way of life. That made me pause and wonder. While it is an admirable quality, why was humility one of the most important qualities within their culture? I thought about it a lot. In the end, it was my experiences looking out at the desert’s night sky that made the answer clear to me. In the scheme of the universe, we are truly infinitesimally small. No matter how far we come in our journey to know ourselves and understand the world around us, it is only the tiniest possibility of what we can know. Or put another way, for as long as we live, we will never come to the end of the ways in which we can learn and grow, love and know. For the first time, I came to understand how incredibly generous God, or the Great Spirit, is. How much might we miss out on if we believed we knew it all? And if the Great Spirit was so abundantly generous with us, shouldn’t we also do our best to embody this kind of generosity of spirit? Within that seed of thought Cha’risa was born, not a perfect being, certainly she battles her inner demons as we all do, but her inherent humility and generosity are what truly defines her in the end. I consider her an example of the best we might hope to be.

Read Around Sedona 5

Hi Everyone,

I know it’s been too long since my last post. Lot’s of exciting things have been afoot keeping me very busy, and one very wonderful piece of news centers around Cha’risa’s Gift.  In December, I heard from my library that my book had been selected for a program called Read Around Sedona. The month-long program is just in its second year in our town, but it has quickly become a much-anticipated community event. It is made possible not only by the tireless efforts of our librarians, but also by the Arizona Community Reads project, which is funded the Arizona State Library, with additional federal funds coming from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

This year’s Read Around Sedona will begin with a community read of Cha’risa’s Gift. Then in April and May there are several wonderful speakers scheduled, who will all be talking about subjects that are explored in my book.  I will also be giving two talks. The first will be a Meet the Author talk that will launch the program on April 9th. The second will be a workshop on how to research a work of historical fiction. I have the pleasure of doing this presentation with one of the best resources at my library, my favorite librarian, Cheryl Yeatts.

The library has launched a very well-done publicity campaign to help spread the word, part of which entailed sending me off on my first ever professional photo shoot. That was a new and interesting experience but was also a lot more work than I ever would have guessed. I liked Jordan, the photographer, right from the start. Admittedly, the fact that my first-born grandson is also named Jordan worked in this guy’s favor, but also, I was impressed with his dedication to making art.  It was this very dedication, however, that nearly proved to be my undoing. Jordan was going for a scholarly look, wanting me to hold my glasses in a way that suggested I’d just taken them off after finishing my work. I struggled for nearly an hour trying to attain that natural posture. And no, the trick is not to just take the glasses off your face. I tried many versions of that strategy to no avail. But somewhere as we headed into the second hour I finally met with success!  In the end, Jordan’s perseverance paid off, but you don’t have to take my word for it, see for yourself 😊 

Since the news came out about Cha’risa’s Gift being this year’s community read, all 60 copies at the library have been checked out, and there is now even a waiting list. A local book store has purchased a dozen copies, wanting to have a supply on hand for the event. I am not sure I can begin to describe what it means to me to know so many people now hold Cha’risa’s Gift in their hands and are reading its words for the first time, but I will try. When I first published the book, it had been my hope that my story would find its way into the hands of people who would feel the thrum of the desert in its words, who would respond to the generous and humble spirit of Cha’risa and her family. I wanted to share with others what the desert had awoken in me. Nothing could answer such a prayer more directly than the being the community read for my own town!

Without further ado, let me share the schedule of events for this year’s Read Around Sedona. If you’re in the area, I hope you can join us. All the programs are free and open to the public.  I am even planning to brew some of Cha’risa’s special blend Hopi Tea for the Meet the Author Event, so come have a cup with me! 


Read Around Sedona Kick-Off Event. Monday, April 9, 1 to 2:30 p.m., community room at SPL:  Meet Ilana Maletz, author of “Cha’risa’s Gift.” Following the program, the author will be available to answer questions and sign books.

Community Book Discussion of “Cha’risa’s Gift.”  Tuesday, April 10, 2 to 3:30 p.m., quiet study at SPL.  

Arizona Stories:  Frontier Characters and Communities. Thursday, 19, 1:30 to 3 p.m. Sedona Heritage Museum, 735 Jordan Road. Presented by Jim Turner.

The Golden Era of Movie-Making in Sedona. Monday, April 23, 1:30 to 3 p.m., Church of the Nazarene, 55 Rojo Drive in VOC. Presented by Janeen Trevillyan.

Community Book Discussion of Cha’risa’s Gift.  Monday, April 30, 6 to 7:30 p.m., quiet study at SPL.


People and Plants from the Land of the Colorful Corn. Thursday, May 3, 1:30 to 3 p.m., community room at SPL. Presented by Phyllis Hogan.

Vintage Arizona: The Growth, Death, and Rebirth of a Local Wine Industry. Saturday, May 5, 1:30 to 3 p.m., Church of the Nazarene, 55 Rojo Drive in VOC. Presented by Erik Berg,

“How I Wrote My Book” Writing Workshop. Saturday, May 12, 2 to 3:30 p.m., community room at SPL.  Author Ilana Maletz will discuss her writing process and research methods, and librarian Cheryl Yeatts will provide an overview of research tools.

Tour of Special Collections and Archives. Wednesday, May 16, 10:30 a.m. to noon, NAU’s Cline Library in Flagstaff. Learn about the treasures found in Cline Library’s special collections and archives, including letters, diaries, vintage photographs, and maps. Preregistration is required for this free tour; transportation to Flagstaff not provided.

Before I end this post, I’d like to tell you about one additional activity that the library has initiated to go along with this year’s community read of “Cha’risa’s Gift”. They will be collecting donations of new personal hygiene items that they then will deliver to the Hopi Reservation.  I love the idea of Cha’risa’s generous spirit finding life beyond the pages of the book.

For those of you who live in town, suggested items for this drive include bars of soap, liquid soap, tooth paste, tooth brushes for children and adults, dental floss, lotion, moisturizers, razors, shaving cream, combs, and hair brushes. Gift cards and monetary donations are also welcome, so for those of you reading this blog from farther away it is still possible to participate in this endeavor.  You may leave your donations at the main library or the Village library.  You can also contact Sophia Zarifis-Russell, 928-282-7714, ext. 114, or Cheryl Yeatts, 928-284-1603 with questions or for more information on how to make a monetary donation.

Thanks for bearing with me over the long delay. I promise the next blog will not be so long in coming. Perhaps as a special treat, I will share a section of the companion novel to Cha’risa’s Gift now currently in the works. It is called Ahote’s Path.

So Much To Be Thankful For 4

It has been over month since my last blog entry, and so much has happened. Some of it was so terrible I could hardly register it was happening to us, and some was so amazing that I truly felt as if we were being held closely in God’s hands. In October, our first grandson, Jordan Biron, was just ten weeks old. After a somewhat dramatic and unexpectedly early birth, Jordan was now growing beautifully, and was constantly delighting the entire family. He certainly had no idea that his first cousin, Avery Isaac, was about to make his entrance into the world, or that his family was about to have a much too close brush with death.

Avery’s birth began with a very long, hard labor for his mother, Natalie. It was one that started on Monday night around 10 pm, continuing all through Tuesday. By Wednesday morning labor was not progressing in a way the midwives were happy with, and it was determined that Natalie should be moved from the birthing center to the hospital. Mark and I went to meet them there. As I drove up the mountain, I was understandably worried, and to calm myself I began to sing. I chose a song called “The Prayer.” It was one I had been working on for an upcoming concert, but the way I sang it on that morning was different, it was a much more urgent supplication. Something deep inside me must have realized we were going to need some divine intervention before the day was out.

For the next twelve hours my daughter-in-law continued to labor. With each contraction, Mark, David and I would surround her with loving support and Reiki. Natalie took what she could from us, and then proceeded to show us all just what she was made of. She powered through those long hours with no medication other than the IV Pitocin they gave her to speed her labor along. It was after nightfall before Avery finally arrived. Natalie had been so strong and determined through all of it, almost super human. I was so proud of her. It seemed as if no obstacle could stand in her way… until one did. An hour after the birth, the placenta still hadn’t delivered and the doctors took Natalie to the Operating Room for what should have been a simple procedure.

What happened next, I can hardly describe. I have never before experienced such highs followed so suddenly by such lows. We were watching David hold his newborn son, all of us marveling at Avery. He was still a bit smooshed from the birthing process, and wrinkly, but already he was studying us with these intense, dark eyes, and my heart swelled instantly with love. You could see on David’s face that he was still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was now a father. But mostly he was waiting for Natalie to come back to the room so he could share all this newness with her. The clock ticked on, and still she didn’t return. Our joy in Avery suddenly shifted to worry for Natalie. At long last, a doctor and a midwife entered the room. One was somber faced, the other visibly shaken. They had come to tell us that they were now in a fight to save Natalie’s life. One look at my son’s face said it all. His world was crumbling before him and ours along with it.

Fortunately, we averted that worst case scenario. Between Natalie’s impressive strength and a very skilled Ob/Gyn, Natalie fought her way back from the brink of death. She survived multiple blood transfusions and two very uncomfortable days in the ICU. David never left her side. Mark and I were checked into the hospital so that we could stay with Avery up in the maternity wing. Being ripped from his mother’s arms was a rough start for Avery. He struggled at first to feed and to hold his body temperature, but we held him, and sang to him, and told him stories, and soon enough he figured out the basics. Twice they let us bring him down to the ICU, and the reunion of mother and child was more than good for all our souls.

Three days later we brought Natalie and Avery home. The worst was behind us, but we were cautioned that it would be a long recovery for Natalie, and we were told she might not be able to nurse the baby. A few days after leaving the hospital, Avery was nursing well and getting plenty to eat. A week after that, Natalie told me she thought she was ready to get by without the extra help from Mark and I. So we stepped back, let them take the wheel, and they proceeded to navigate this part of their life’s journey beautifully.

Since then, we’ve enjoyed a return to normalcy. We celebrated Halloween together, Thanksgiving together, and just recently we decided to risk going out for breakfast with the baby.  It was Avery’s first time in a restaurant. He slept mostly, but when he did wake, his eyes first settled on the big picture window where cars could be seen driving down Historic Route 66 in Flagstaff. While his interest lasted longer than I expected, he’s still a baby; it wasn’t long before he began to cry lustily for his mom so he could nurse.

What I love most about our happy ending is that we can laugh easily once again. We can take joy in watching David and Natalie raising their son side by side. Their days and nights are full of the challenge of being new parents. I’m not sure they have much time to stop and reflect on what almost happened. Sometimes I still do. I have to pause and let myself feel that sense of relief and gratitude. I understand so much more intimately now how great a gift is each and every one of these moments.

That was my October, by November I could once again concentrate on a very different kind of special event. While both my daughter-in-laws had been hard at work growing my two beautiful grandsons, I had embarked on a very different kind of creative endeavor. I mentioned in an earlier blog that in March I’d met another singer, Shira Fitzpatrick, and that we’d been working together, building a repertoire of songs. But actually, what Shira and I were working on was something more than singing. At our first rehearsal, we discovered that we had something else in common; we were both deeply engaged in energy work.

I have been a Reiki practitioner for twenty years now, and Shira, while relatively new to Reiki, is a very experienced practitioner of Chi Kung. As soon as we opened our mouths to sing, we could feel the energy coursing through our bodies and flying off our fingertips. I have used Reiki in my singing practice and in my voice studio for many years, but what I was experiencing with Shira was stronger than anything I had ever felt before. So we listened to what the energy seemed to be urging us to do. Shira began to instruct me in Chi Kung practices and I began to show her the ways that I used Reiki to enhance my singing. We both began to notice changes immediately. We were more open, more aligned, and our breath support became an even stronger foundation. As we sang, our hands could not remain still, so drawn were they to the currents all around us. Soon, we concluded that when we put together our first concert it had to also be about using Reiki and Chi Kung energy more openly.

I have thought a lot about the timing of Shira and I coming together. By the time Natalie went into labor I was well established in my expanded Reiki and Chi Kung practice, and I used these combined techniques actively during Natalie’s labor and delivery. But even before Avery’s birth, it seemed to me that what had happened between Shira and I had to be more than coincidence. The energy had opened so wide for us, I felt like we were being strongly encouraged to take this opportunity to grow as healers and as singers. The world is changing rapidly, and uncertainty seems to weigh heavily on so many of us. Perhaps in troubling times, one of the best things we can do is to raise our voices to sing of love, to give thanks, to honor the divine that exists within us all, and to give each other strength and joy.

In mid-November, (Avery’s one month birthday) Shira and I held a concert in my barn where we unveiled our work together. About 26 people came to hear us sing and experience the energy. People loved it! Based on their reactions and comments, I think we achieved what we set out to do. You don’t have to take my word for it though. I have put the concert up on YouTube. If you’re so inclined, give a listen to some or all of it and let me know what you think.

October and November have flown by. It is now December, and Mark and I are on the road. We are currently in Brazil where we have already traveled to Chapada Diamentina, a remote location of exquisite natural beauty that spans out as far as the eye can see and beyond. The river beds there are filled with deep, swirling holes of water carved by diamonds tumbling around inside them. Once upon a time, people could just reach in and locate a diamond, but now the diamonds are few and far between, it is only the stories of lucky locals that are plentiful.

Before we head home again we will stop in NYC to see Jamie, and then in Philadelphia to see Jeremy and Julie and our other new bundle of joy. We will be arriving in time to celebrate Jordan’s first Hannukah together. He will be four months old by then. Already, he has a ready smile and tries to “talk” to us on facetime. There has definitely been a lot of change these past months in my family, lots of uncertainty, but also so many blessings, so very much to be grateful for.  

What’s In Your Library? 3

After my last blog, I got several comments from people who were curious to learn more about my librarian, Cheryl Yeatts. I have mentioned Cheryl in several of my posts, and people are beginning to realize that I have an amazing resource at my disposal. Cheryl represents the best of what it means to be a custodian of information for the public.  The moment we walk into our public libraries and speak to our librarians, we are talking to someone who is deeply committed to connecting people to information. Cheryl tells me that there is a saying among librarians: “Librarians are the original search engines.” It is both a catchy and an accurate description of the job. For any kind of research you might be interested in, be it a little known historical figure, unusual weather patterns, or a rare car part, librarians know how to get you that information.  In this information age we often find ourselves flooded with so much data that it can be overwhelming. But Cheryl, has been exploring library databases for so long that she can navigate them with a high degree of sophistication. And, the more specific one can be in giving her search parameters, the more likely she is to turn up gold.

I have a great story about exactly this phenomenon. Recently, as I was doing my research for my second book, Ahote’s Path, I ran across the name Frank Cushing, an anthropologist who had written extensively about the tribes in the Southwest during the late 1800’s. I was particularly interested to learn that there was an ethnography he’d written about the Hopi. I went to Cheryl to see if she could find it for me, or at least some of his writings on the Hopi from that period. Cheryl immediately went to work and found several promising leads through the ILL (inter-library-loan) database. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ILL, this marvelous database is what makes it possible for me to live in a place  as remote as Sedona and still have access to books in every library throughout the U.S.

After Cheryl finished her search, she showed me the list of possibilities she’d come up with. Some were already in libraries in our network and I checked out several of them. One of them, however, could only be obtained through the ILL. I ordered that book and when it arrived, I saw a very thin, unimpressive looking blue book. It was battered with age, and had come from deep within the stacks of a library in Ohio. But upon opening the book, I found that I had hit pay dirt. It was volume 24, no. 3 of a periodical called American Anthropology, dated July – September 1922. This particular publication was titled Contributions to Hopi History.  It contained the observations of three anthropologists, Frank Hamilton Cushing, Jesse Walter Fewkes and Elsie Clews Parsons. The articles by Cushing and Fewkes focused on a very critical point in Hopi history, when the Hopi culture came into direct conflict with American values and demands. This conflict resulted in the Hopi’s main town of Oraibi splitting into two factions. The faction that saw the white man in relatively positive terms remained in Oraibi, and those who wanted to limit the white man’s influence on their lives spilt off from Oraibi and founded the village of Hoteville (this is the village Cha’risa and her father were living in during the opening scene of Cha’risa’s Gift.)  I had read about the events at Oraibi before, but never from a primary resource, from people who’d actually been there.  In this small pamphlet I heard the voices of these two anthropologists who had been among the last to see and document this village before the Hopi way of life was fundamentally changed by U.S. policies.

Cushing’s account describing his attempts to trade with the Hopi in 1883 was the first article presented. He had come to Oraibi hoping to bring home Hopi articles of interest for the National Museum of History in Washington D.C. In his account, he describes a town that is still practicing a lifestyle and art forms that have already disappeared from the other Pueblo cultures in the Southwest. At the time of his visit, Oraibi is a strong, prosperous town, living a lifestyle that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. But Cushing’s visit unleashes disagreement in the village. There are those who do not feel any trades should be made with him, and there are others who don’t see the harm in it. Cushing does eventually leave the village, lucky to still be alive, and with a few artifacts for the museum, but with very little understanding of what his visit and other American attempts to interfere with this culture unleashed within this community. His assessment as he rides away is that the people in Oraibi are “foolish” and “bull dozed by their wizards.”

The Cushing article gave me a lot of data that I had not found anywhere else. His words gave me a very clear image of life in Oraibi just as it was beginning to be pressured by both outside and inside forces of change. Cushing’s words also clued me into what kind of man he was. I have to say I didn’t come away with the best impression. He came off as arrogant, as more concerned with preserving artifacts than preserving a living culture.

Just to illustrate a point for you, I’m going to show you what I would have known about Cushing had I only used Wikipedia for my information gathering:

Frank Hamilton Cushing was an American anthropologist and ethnologist. He made pioneering studies of the Zuni Indians of New Mexico by entering into their culture; his work helped establish participant observation as a common anthropological research strategy.

Because of Cushing’s outstanding work at Zuni, in 1882 Powell assigned the anthropologist to an expedition to the Hopi village of Oraibi. His mission was to council with Oraibi’s chiefs and get permission to trade goods for a collection of artifacts and crafts for the Smithsonian expedition. The Oraibi Governor approved the visit and trade, but the ultra-conservative Oraibi Traditionalists held special council and refused to trade. The expedition was forced to leave without trading.[2]

Jesse Fewkes’ observations (the second article in the journal) were made less than a decade later. During this period of time, the situation between the Hopi and the U.S. government deteriorated significantly. There were two primary reasons for these worsening relations. One was the opening of the Indian School in Keam’s Canyon and the U.S. attempt to force Hopi children to attend. At the time of this account by Fewkes, several of the children that the soldiers carried off to the school had run away and returned to their villages. The second reason animosity was building between the two cultures was that the U.S. government was trying to redistribute Hopi farmlands, assigning a specific parcel to each family. The Hopi had been managing their farmlands for hundreds of years under a very different system, one where clans owned plots of land rather than individuals owning plots. It was a very sophisticated system that had worked well for the Hopi. It even contained provisions for the indigent and unfortunate among the Hopi. In addition, the Hopi, having descended from the Sinagua Indians, had a vast and ancient knowledge of how to farm in the desert. The Hopi clearly understood the many ways this government plan would be disastrous to their way of life.  The Hopi angrily resisted an attempt made by six cavalrymen, the school teacher from Keam’s canyon, the Indian agent and their interpreter to come and arrest six of their chiefs for failing to go along with the government edicts.

Fewkes was living among Hopi at the time, in the town of Walpi, so he had a front row seat for what happened next.  The six Calvary men were met by a large show of force at Oraibi, which included a Hopi man dressed as a God of War who proceeded to sprinkle the soldiers with liquid from a bowl he carried. When the Calvary men were told that the next God to appear would signal the commencement of hostilities they wisely decided to leave the mesa. The soldiers then contacted Fort Wingate saying that they needed reinforcements because the Hopi were extremely hostile.

The Hopi could never have anticipated what was soon coming their way. Two regiments of Calvary with heavy artillery, including four canons, headed toward the mesas. The army was joined by more than a hundred Navajo warriors who, having heard of the conflict between the US government and the Hopi, had joined forces with the Calvary.  Fewkes describes the procession, saying it wound out of the hills and into the valley below the mesas like a giant snake. The Hopi immediately understood that they had miscalculated. The people of the village were all huddling outside of town along the point of the mesa when the army finally came upon them. The Calvary held them there, placing the six chiefs under arrest, and causing the entire population to watch a cannon fire, so that the Hopi could fully understand what it would mean to go to war with the government of the United States. It was during this time that one of the chiefs managed to jump over the edge of the mesa and escape. Soldiers and Navajo warriors gave pursuit, but he was never apprehended. According to Fewkes, what was discovered by the Navajo during that search were hidden caves below the cliffs containing most of Oraibi’s accumulated wealth.

A very sacred object also went missing during this time, never to be found again; a stone that was an ancient deed to the Hopi lands. The Hopi had brought it out when the soldiers first arrived to prove to the soldiers that they had an ancient and legal claim upon this land. Fewkes himself states that he saw them show this stone to the soldiers, but it was never seen again after that day.

I realize I’ve gone on quite a bit about this periodical, but I’m sure you can imagine my excitement in finding such a document.  Cheryl uncovered something for me that was nothing less than buried treasure. 

While librarians are all trained to be experts in finding information for library patrons, Cheryl sees her job as going one step further. She believes it is important to empower people to learn how to manipulate the databases for themselves. During my interview with her, she got very excited when she learned I wasn’t aware of World Cat, which is a catalog that grants access to the contents of all the libraries of the world. She immediately set out to show me how to access this catalog from the library’s homepage. I’m a pretty active user of my library. I’m even a volunteer at the library, so I assumed I knew a lot about what was available. Imagine my surprise to discover such a powerful tool so easily accessible, right there under my nose. It took only a minute or two for Cheryl to show me how it worked and for me to find a book that looked promising.  It was called On the gleaming way; Navajos, Eastern Pueblos, Zunis, Hopis, Apaches, and their land; and their meanings to the world, written by John Collier. Sounds perfect for me, right? I am currently number one on the hold list.

Before the interview ended, I asked Cheryl if there was anything she wished more people understood about libraries and librarians. Her response was very impassioned. She said she wants people to be good consumers of knowledge. The times we’re in concern her and she wishes that more people knew about the databases and how to use them. Children and adults all need to know how to access information and determine the accuracy of that information.  This is something any librarian would be happy to do for you. They can help you find nearly anything if you ask them, and if you can’t find it, and they can’t find it, they will know someone who can.

Before I end this post, I want to share something with you that Cheryl shared with all the volunteers at our library.  It is a link to Fodor’s Guide to the nineteen best libraries in America. It includes fascinating little known facts about each one. I’ve been to a maybe a third of these libraries. Now I’m kind of wondering if this needs to be a bucket list item, looking for hidden treasures in the stacks of all 19 before I die.




Bombs and Bridges 4

One of the things I love most about living in Northern Arizona is that I am always discovering aspects of its history that completely thrill me. One of my best sources for new discoveries continues to be my local librarian, Cheryl Yeatts. Cheryl works tirelessly to bring our community some really incredible and informative programs. The latest one she organized took a lot of extra effort and several months to arrange because it involved getting permission from the Arizona National Guard for a tour of Camp Navajo (a World War II era ordnance depot that is now run by the Arizona National Guard). The facility is located just ten miles west of Flagstaff in the small town of Bellemont, right alongside Route 66. The town is surrounded by ponderosa pines, with the San Francisco peaks towering over it. The tour was led by Dr. John Westerlund, author of the book, Arizona’s War Town: Flagstaff, Navajo Ordnance Depot, and World War II. The book has won numerous awards for its role in preserving Southwest culture. I read the book just before going on the tour and found it to be both illuminating and inspiring. I was sorry when I came to the end of the book, but consoled myself that I had the tour to look forward to and a chance to learn even more about what Flagstaff was like during World War II directly from Dr. Westerlund.

John Westerlund has lived a life that is itself the stuff of stories. He was a career army officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel after twenty six years of service. His tours of duty included Vietnam and three tours in Europe. His final tour of duty brought him from the Ecole Superieure de Guerre, the French army war college, to Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Arizona. There, as a professor of military science, he was charged with overseeing the ROTC program. Immediately following his retirement from the army, John began a doctoral program at NAU focused on the history of the American West. When searching for a subject for his doctoral thesis, he began investigating the history surrounding the old ordnance depot just outside of Flagstaff. What he discovered was a gold mine; an incredible story that told of what happened to Flagstaff when it suddenly became a boomtown during World War II. The book begins with Dr. Westerlund deftly setting the stage, giving the reader the context needed to envision how very different cultures would need to come together to achieve a nearly impossible goal.

The Navajo Ordnance Depot was commissioned just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The War Department chose Bellemont, because of its proximity to Flagstaff, and also because of its easy access off Route 66, its proximity to water, and because it was right along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe rail lines, which provided direct access to the Port of Los Angeles. The War Department believed they had discovered a perfect setting for their needs, but they were not the first ones to realize there was something special about this area. The large clearing in the ponderosa pines, with a spring fed directly from the volcanic peaks of the San Francisco Mountains, had a history for attracting early pioneers and Indian Fighters with the First California Volunteer Infantry Regiment. But long before the white men discovered this area, these peaks, were sacred to the Native Americans of the region. For the Hopi, whose presence in the area dates back 12,000 years, the tallest mountain among these peaks, Mount Humphreys, is the place where the supernatural Kachina people live. For the Navajo, Mount Humphreys is one of their four sacred mountains. It is their Sacred Mountain of the West, defining the western most boundary of their homeland. With the United States’ entry into World War II, these mountains did what they have done often over the centuries; they offered a sheltered place for people to come together. In 1942, against this sacred backdrop, there began an undertaking of vast proportions.

The Navajo Ordnance Depot was to be a key storage facility for the Port of Los Angeles, and as such, became the major supplier of weapons for the entire Pacific theater. At the time the depot was being built, no one in the military was certain if the Japanese were planning an attack on California, so placing the ordnance depot six hundred miles east, in a fairly isolated mountainous terrain, seemed prudent. Flagstaff was excited to be the recipient of this huge government contract, but they were soon to discover that there were many challenges ahead. Almost overnight, Flagstaff’s population jumped from five thousand to twenty thousand, as construction workers and their families poured into town. It had been hard for the army to find enough people to work in such a remote location, and so they had turned to the Navajo and the Hopi to help make up the needed work force. They had a timeframe of only seven months in which to build a base of operations that included a depot of 800 bunkers (each the size of a two thousand square foot home). Equally as difficult was finding the means to house and feed such a dramatic influx of workers and their families. The fact that it was completed on time and without any loss of life was nothing short of miraculous. Once the depot was completed, the facility still required more than two thousand full time employees in order to keep up with the tons and tons of munitions pouring in and shipping out of the depot regularly. For most of the war years, the depot struggled to even get above 1,500 employees.

In his book, Dr. Westerlund carefully explores how several thousand Navajo and Hopi came to be a part of this project. It probably should have been a harder sell than it was, for there were still Navajo alive who remembered the “Long Walk” and the subsequent harsh years of incarceration at Fort Sumner. And, in even more recent tribal memory was the U.S. Government’s forced livestock reductions during the 1930’s. These reductions ended up destroying the main source of Navajo currency (sheep and goats) leaving much of the Navajo nation impoverished. But, while the Navajo had many reasons to be disenchanted with Washington, they instead took a firm stand against America’s enemies. Even before Pearl Harbor, the Navajo had come to clearly understand the German threat. Germany had been unable to break a secret code in World War I that had been based on the Choctaw language. In the build-up to World War II, the Germans tried to avert a similar scenario by sending anthropologists out amongst the Native American tribes to learn their languages. The Germans also mounted a Fascist propaganda campaign designed to turn the hearts and minds of Native Americans away from the United States government. Not only did they fail to prevent another unbreakable code from emerging (a code developed in WW II based on the Navajo language remained unbreakable), but their propaganda campaign also failed dismally. The Navajo council disdainful of the racial overtones apparent in Nazi propaganda submitted a resolution to the U.S. government pledging their loyalty to “the system which recognizes minority rights…” The Navajo clearly took this pledge very seriously, and evidence of this was very apparent at the ordnance depot. During war bond drives, the generosity of the Navajo was legendary. Many often spent their entire paychecks on bonds, setting an example of patriotism that inspired all base personnel to dig deeper into their own pockets. As the war progressed, the munitions flowing in and out of the depot increased dramatically. Work shifts often ran fourteen hours or longer, but the Native American laborers never complained. Instead, they tirelessly lifted and sorted tons of munitions by hand each day. They became an example of dedication, efficiency, and courageous spirit.

The stories about the Native Americans at the depot are not the only ones Dr. Westerlund describes in his book, although for me, they were the most inspiring. A close second were the stories he told about the Austrian prisoners of war who were interred at the depot to help with the labor shortages. Their arrival riled up the town folk, but the army was in need of the extra manpower, so despite many vociferous town hall meetings, the POW’s stayed. Dr. Westerlund delves into the experience of these POW’s. He talks about their reaction to the beauty of the mountains, and the relationships that formed between the POWs and the Native Americans. Many of these men missed their families, and the time spent at Indian Village, also located within the confines of the depot, allowed the men to feel part of a family again.

Dr. Westerlund’s book is a five star must read. It moved me deeply to read about how in the worst of times it was possible to build something more than weapons; it was possible to build bridges of understanding and community. Working through cultural differences was not just necessary for the day to day functioning of the Navajo Ordnance depot, it was a key element in making the depot the highest performing in the entire country. It was an impressive accomplishment. Daily, they all worked together to make nearly impossible goals in order to keep the troops in the Pacific theater well supplied. While Dr. Westerlund’s book is focused heavily on life at the depot, it is also the story of Flagstaff itself, chronicling its transformation from a sleepy, prewar mountain town to a vibrant boom town. The depot’s presence brought a lot of growth to Flagstaff, both economic and social, and helped shape the town you find today at the base of that sacred mountain.

The tour conducted by Dr. Westerlund was wonderful as well. There were about twenty five of us, some from Sedona, some from Flagstaff, all of us united by a keen interest in the history of this region. It is something that I wish everyone could see, but the only reason we were allowed into Camp Navajo was because of Cheryl’s perseverance and Dr. Westerlund’s status as retired military and a noted local historian. As I mentioned earlier, this is now an active Arizona National Guard base, and it isn’t open to the public, and certainly isn’t set up for tours. There isn’t a visitor center, so there are no restrooms, no snack bar, and sadly, no gift shop (I was not able to buy a t-shirt proclaiming that I was blown away by Camp Navajo). As I walked the grounds of the old ordnance depot, I felt the history of the place surround me, especially because of what I’d read before the tour. There was very little left to see from the World War II era. Some things remained, such as the original army headquarters and the chapel. The underground bunkers all remain, although being covered in earth they are harder to detect and we were only allowed to view them from a distance. The bunkers still serve a purpose; they are now rented out to commercial interests. The department of defense rents many of them, storing some interesting items, such as the motors to the now disassembled ICBM missiles.

As you walk the grounds, you can still see the old foundations of the Indian Village. There is a board with pictures on the site describing some of the history about Indian Village, but none of the buildings still stand; you won’t find the trading post nor a single hogan. The site of the old POW camp is even more spartan. The barracks are long gone; only remnants of their foundations poke up through the weeds. There are no plaques demarking any historical significance to this place, but there is one artifact that has survived; an alter built by the prisoners that they had used for their outdoor chapel. It stands alone in a field, facing out toward the mountain, bearing testament to the fact that these men had been here. From the way the alter is placed, it is clear these men had felt the majestic pull of Mount Humphreys. From Dr. Westerlund’s interviews, we were made aware that these former POW’s had realized they were part of something unusual. They had formed strong bonds with both the people and the land. They had worked hard within this very diverse community of Americans to help bring an end to the war, and many of them had been sad to leave. For many of them, life in the POW camp had been much better than what awaited them at home; which had been nothing less than the complete destruction of their former lives.

Before I end this post, I would like to mention one of the women I met on this tour. Her name is Marilyn Hammarstrom, a Flagstaff resident, and also director of the Fort Tuthill Military Museum. Marilyn caught my interest because I heard her talking about the museum’s recent expansion. Fort Tuthill, now a county park, sits just a few miles south of Flagstaff. It was built in 1929 and was the summer training facility for the Arizona National Guard. The fort had a reputation as one of the finest National Guard training facilities in the United States. The museum’s focus is to cover more than 100 years of Arizona military history. Beginning with the history of the first volunteers who came to Northern Arizona in 1865, a mixed militia that included Hispanics as well as Pima and Maricopa Indians; and continuing with General Tuthill’s long career with the National Guard; beginning in 1917, presiding over the formation of Arizona’s first infantry, (the 158th Infantry regiment) and lasting all the way to 1951. He is often referred to as the father of the Arizona National Guard. The museum also showcases the history of the Arizona National guard all the way through the war in Afghanistan.  For Marilyn, her involvement with the museum began at the urging of her grandson. They had both gone to hear the National Guard Army Band play its traditional 4th of July concert at Fort Tuthill County Park. At the end of the concert the National Guardsmen announced that they were looking for volunteers to help with the museum. Her grandson told her quite plainly that she simply had to do it. I am hoping to go see the museum before it closes for the winter in October. Whether it’s this fall, or when it re-opens next spring, I will be sure to share the experience in my blog. In the meantime, if you are intrigued, here is the museum’s website:

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Westerlund or his book here is his Amazon link:

Dr. Westerlund has recently written an article for the autumn issue of The Journal of Arizona History on the 1887 murder of six year old Johnny Elden. Cheryl has arranged for Dr. Westerlund to return to Sedona to speak about this story as part of the Arizona Humanities program. The talk is scheduled for Wednesday, January 10 at 1:30 p.m. at the Church of the Nazarene, 55 Rojo Drive in VOC. The presentation will be entitled Flagstaff Pioneer John Elden:  Murder, Mystery, Myth and History. It will focus on Johnny’s murder, one of the most infamous in Territorial history. Today, the boy’s body rests in a lonely, rock-covered grave at the base of the mountain named for his father. A Forest Service interpretive panel nearby describes the awful crime. The murder has been part of Flagstaff’s lore for more than a century. Dr. Westerlund examines the life of pioneer John Elden and the murder of his son, attempting to separate myth from history. In Dr. Westerlund’s talk, he will explore the question, did it really happen? I’ve already got it in my calendar. Maybe I’ll see you there J