Archive for July, 2008

Monday through Friday, pen and ink and rubber stamps on graph paper, collage © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Such an ordinary thing. Days of the week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on.

Each has its own significance.

Monday can be tough because it starts the work week for most people. Tuesday is the day before Hump Day. Wednesday, Hump Day. My daughter says Thursday is the best weekday day, and I somehow know what she means although I can’t explain it. Thank God it’s Friday. Then, woo-hoo, it’s the weekend. And let’s not forget, Saturday or Sunday is holy day for many. Finally we start over, which sometimes causes a case of Sunday night blues.

No wonder we get so tired out each week.

There’s also the matter of unlucky days. Friday the 13th in some parts of the world — watch out. You’re liable to use your denture cream for hair gel. Yet, when I lived in Spain, Thursday the 13th was the unlucky day. Which was a real pain, because as an American living in Spain, I was doomed both days.

And still, days are days. One comes after the other, and then another, and so the cycle goes. The days keep rolling by.

In English, most of the days are named for deities.

  • Monday: Comes from the Old English Mōnandæg, which means “Day of the Moon.”
  • Tuesday: Comes from the Old English Tiwesdæg, or “Tyr’s Day.” Tyr was a god of combat in Norse mythology.
  • Wednesday: Comes from the Old English Wōdnesdæg, meaning the day of Germanic god Wodan. (I wonder if he had a hump.)
  • Thursday: Comes from the Old English Þūnresdæg, meaning the day of Þunor, who is known as Thor in Modern English.
  • Friday: Comes from the Old English Frigedæg, meaning the day of Frige, the Germanic goddess of beauty. (Hmmm, is this where the term “frigid” comes from?)
  • Saturday: Named after the Roman god Saturn. This is the day of rest in Jewish and Christian tradition, although for many Americans, it’s hard to rest while standing in check-out lines with the mobs at Walmart.
  • Sunday: Comes from Old English Sunnandæg, day of the sun. This is the first day of the week in Jewish and Christian tradition, although the Western work week and the notion of the weekend tends to render Sunday as the last day of the week.

The seven days also correspond to seven celestial bodies, each of which it is said controls the first hour of the day it’s named after. For example, Mercury corresponds to Wednesday, and so Mercury is said to control the first hour of Wednesdays.

This system originated in Mesopotamia, where astrology was practiced for millennia and where seven was a lucky number. Here are the seven days and their corresponding celestial bodies.

  Day   Celestial Body     Latin 
  Sunday   sun   Solis
  Monday   moon   Lunae
  Tuesday   Mars   Martis
  Wednesday    Mercury   Mercurii    
  Thursday   Jupiter   Jovis
  Friday   Venus   Veneris
  Saturday   Saturn   Saturni

Which brings us to a Writing Topic.

Many a day I will sit down to Writing Practice and simply write the date and day at the top of the page then write. That’s it. For 15 minutes.

Simple. Thursday. Then write for 15 minutes, no crossing out, no stopping. See what comes out.

Do it again Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. After a while it becomes its own sort of No Topic — an easy way to pull a topic from the air and get your hand moving.

Try it. Let us know how it goes.

Days of the week links (for the over-achievers among you):

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Truck Cojones, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I see them swinging underneath the back ends of trucks here in town, and I gotta wonder, what’s up with the truck testicles??

I mean, don’t we have enough stuff on our cars? Calvin peein’ on this thing or that thing, naked woman mud flaps, and bumper stickers for every bent in life.

Why do our vehicles need to start wearing fake genitalia?

I’m serious.

Are the balls to compensate for something? The modern-day version of toilet paper in the bra or down the pants.

This source says they are expressions of “rural chic.” What happened to cowboy hats and denim shirts with the arms cut off?

I figure those oversized swingin’ cojones are another way of saying, Don’t mess with me! If so, I prefer the good ol’-fashioned bird. Flip me off if you have to, but for Pete’s sake, put your balls back where they belong!

p.s. I would have taken a photo, except I don’t want to get in a wreck (my daughters already got mad at me for taking the photo below while driving).

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pecos yellow (one), first in a series of yellow flowers from the Pecos Mountains, July 24, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

There has been a spate of articles lately about how gas prices and the state of the economy in general are forcing many Americans to spend summer vacation at home or close to home this year. There’s even a term for it: staycation.

I guess my family qualifies as stay-at-home vacationers. During one of my two weeks off from work, we managed to keep our miles down to a mere 300, all spent right here in our very own Land of Enchantment.

Here are highlights from our “trip-ette” and some of the ways we cut costs:

  • “Flower-watching” in the mountains (although we didn’t have guide nor guidebook to tell us the names of the flowers).
  • The girls made “$aver-enirs” by collecting tree sap, letting it melt in the sun, then forming the sap into objects.
  • We took Jim’s childhood boat out for a cruise along the river.
  • Used the swimming hole at Pancheula Creek (and swam in our clothes so we wouldn’t have to splurge on new swimsuits this season).
  • Harvested and sautéed exotic fungus (a puffball mushroom, not pictured), although I refrained from sampling any in the event it turned out to be poisonous; designated driver rule.
  • Weiners and buffalo burgers on the grill.
  • Fancy s’mores for dessert every night.
  • Antique collecting.
  • Fossil hunting.
  • Simulated day-spa (i.e., reading an entire memoir in one sitting while lying under blankets the day it rained, a fire glowing in the wood-burning stove).

Where did you go for your summer vacation?

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anXiety, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I want to write about anxiety. Not panic attacks, since I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those, but rather, the general sense of dread that covers me at times like a veil.

I want to write about anxiety, but not in a medical way. I want to write about the days I feel like I can’t possibly smile, can’t possibly let myself get into a good mood, so shellacked into place is my heart that if I allow myself to feel it pulsing in my chest I might just burst open.

I catch myself increasingly more in this predicament, anxious and paralyzed and becoming the impatient, often enraged woman I knew as…my mother.

Yes, my mother! She suffered anxiety for many years, and there is indication that, like brown hair or Diabetes, anxiety runs in families. As one article put it, “More often than not, anxious women grew up in anxious households.”


Mom must have been in a near constant state of anxiety. There was a 13-year spread between me—the youngest—and my oldest sibling, which means Mom was living and breathing children from the moment Patty was born until I moved out at age 18. That was 31 years of dealing with kids through every stage, and it doesn’t include my niece, who was six years younger than me and who Mom eventually brought into the fold.

I tell the story of being five years old and walking into my house one day after having spent a few hours across the street with my best friend at her grandmother’s trailer. My eyes were lined in black; we’d gotten into Suzanne’s grandma’s make-up bag. I came in through the back door just as Mom was getting up from a nap. Usually she made me take naps with her but this day I got to play with Suzanne instead.

I can see Mom now, making her way to the kitchen to find her cigarettes and maybe a glass of iced tea. I am happy and proud; it’s the first time I’ve put on make-up, the domain of grown-up women. Mom crosses the living room, I’m coming up through the den. She sees me and I am smiling, about to open my mouth and tell her “Look what we did!” but before I can get out the words she raises her arm. WHACK! In a throaty voice she screams, “COCHINA!” “PIG!

Later on, when I started school and life became more intense for Mom, it was hard to separate her meanness from her Meniere’s Disease. When I think of her during those times I see her in bed or on the bathroom floor or the couch, a wet washrag on her forehead and a glass of water by her side.

I remember one summer we drove to Juárez, pulled into the parking lot of the Camino Rael Hotel. Its pink stucco and turquoise swimming pool shimmered like a mirage just beyond the asphalt, and there went Mom, puking into a brown paper sack. The long road trip with three of us fighting in the back of the Caprice, plus the heat, set off an attack.

Always sick, always throwing out certain expressions: “I can’t stand you!” “You kids are driving me crazy!” “I’m a nervous wreck!” There were good memories, too, a flood of goodness, and I don’t want to make my mother sound like a monster. She wasn’t by any means. I’m just trying to understand the cycles of anxiety, what they transform us into, and how I might break the pattern.

Which reminds me, my youngest jokingly calls me Momster. Am I?

If not, I suspect I am on the road to becoming one. Like it did for Mom, my life seems to be getting out of hand. At times my emotions, even my physical being, are hijacked by anxiety.

I sometimes find myself driving in my car and thinking, I shouldn’t have become a mother, I shouldn’t have become a mother, and then I retract it all, convinced that God will punish me by taking away my daughters. This is anxiety talking, taunting in its urgent whisper, That’ll show you.


My friend Deborah calls it “middle-aged rage,” and maybe she’s talking about something different but I tend to think it’s just anxiety in its angry incarnation. Deborah says it stems from the pressure to be good – good mother, good employee, good partner. She also says it’s the mountain of responsibility that piles up daily – bills to pay, deadlines to meet, cans and bottles and paper to recycle.

“Passions unmet,” I chime in, giving away that for me the crux of the matter is almost always this balance between being the solid matriarch of my family and being myself. Artist, writer, and individual.

I do agree that middle-aged rage is a symptom of our inflated expectations. Disappointments taken to the nth degree. The bald realization that we’re not perfect. We’re smart women. We may or may not hold down well-paying jobs. We might be great gardeners, mostly solid friends. Our parents need us more than ever and we’re struggling to meet those needs, never mind looking and feeling good and meeting the pressures of being decent role models.

For me it’s gotten worse in the past year. It’s the perfect storm. Daughter in mid-school with those funky dynamics, another in elementary (and I can always find something to worry about in her life – too skinny, too sickly, too talky). Aging parents, stressful career, big house, new dog. You name it, I got it.

Anxiety becomes worse as women take the long walk toward menopause, and I seem to have been stuck on that trail for years now. Given the physical changes in my body (temperature changes, night sweats, weight) I think I’m heading deeper into the forest, but I wish this body of mine would just squeeze through the eye of the needle and emerge, with all the apparent downsides, into the desert of post-menopause. I will give up any day the last of my so-called youth for that long moment of calm.

I tell Deborah that we were stupid to wait until our mid-to-late 30s (her, early 40s) to have children, but she reminds me we would have simply had longer periods of rage and be less equipped to cope. I suppose she’s right.

I feel fortunate that she’s opened up this conversation. Over this past year I’ve felt the anxiety growing like yeast in my belly, yet I’ve kept a lid on it. But once I get something out in the open, exposed to air and light, there’s no hiding from it. I will talk, write, treat it to its pretty death. My submission will lead to its submission.

My annual check-up is coming up this fall, none too soon to get the medical help I need to get my calm back. Mean time, I’m exercising, cutting out the crap I’ve been eating, setting boundaries, and holding on tightly to daily practice and prayer. 

The girls still tell me I’m a nice mom. But I tell you, it’s a thin thread that holds me to that reality versus being Momster 24/7.

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Death, paper mâché skull by Raymond Sandoval, Contemporary
Spanish Market, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

what demon inside
makes me feel not good enough?
that’s a sort of death

-related to post: haiku (one-a-day)

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Live Oak, Epworth By The Sea, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

breathtaking live oaks
hold centuries of secrets
red sassafras skies

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, July 26th, 2008

-related to post:  haiku (one-a-day)

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First, Rafael.

Oh, there’s the human taking my picture. Lemme give him this profile.

Oh no, my schauze looks big in that one. This side’s more flattering.

Wait, what am I thinking? Straight ahead is always the most dignified.

Next, Otis.

I’m here to save the day! Aha! I knew he’d love my Rin-Tin-Tin.

Finally, Sony.

Sony of the River. Strong, fast, deep. Wait, why don’t I get to stand in the meadow?

Way better. Man, mountain grass is good. Purple asters and daisies…yum-my!

I LOVE the mountains. Please, Mom, please, please can we move here??

Rafael, Otis, and Sony in the Pecos Mountains on July 22-24, all taken by Jim except for last two, photos © 2008 by Jim or ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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Savannah River (Georgia), between Georgia and South Carolina, July 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

river of my youth
350 miles long
Atlantic awaits

12,000 years old
bearing gifts on my birthday
half centuries pass

hummingbird hides – joy!
rain dances on the surface
tropical marriage

          Savannah River (Georgia), between Georgia and South Carolina, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.The Space Between, between Georgia and South Carolina, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Savannah River (South Carolina), between Georgia and South Carolina, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

-related to posts:  haiku (one-a-day), Memories Of The Savannah, and Out Of Chaos Comes Hope

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Susquehanna River, Central Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Susquehanna River, Central Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

old brown river winds
444 miles
to Chesapeake Bay

mile wide and foot deep
current flows to family
then turns South again

for J. and diddy
who love the Susquehanna
rest gently and heal

Bridges, Central Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Bridges, Central Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Bridges, Central Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Bridges, Central Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

-related to posts:  haiku (one-a-day) , Out Of Chaos Comes Hope, and Vote For Punxsutawney Phil!

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Pink, a flower in Mom’s garden (if you know the name of this flower, please let me know), photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Fifteen minutes, What I like about summer…

Another fifteen minutes, What I don’t like about summer…

Or, a haiku on summer vacation.

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poka dot, painting by Em made in Paint, © 2008 by Em. All rights reserved.

There is no such thing as coincidence.

My blog partner, QuoinMonkey, took off last Wednesday to Pennsylvania, one of the places she calls home. The trip was, in large part, to conduct on-going research for her memoir.

It turns out, though, that her brother J. had just gone into Intensive Care with an as-yet undiagnosed illness. He has been on a respirator in ICU since her arrival and is expected to stay there until the middle of next week.

Yesterday we ran a post by guest Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager, with monotype prints by her husband Paul. QM got much strength from that story.

One of the things that struck me from Laura’s story, both in the words and the imagery, was the idea that out of chaos comes goodness. Starting with Hope. In fact, Paul’s first piece was titled Swimming with Chaos, and his second piece Hope.

And so the image for this post, QM, is one that my youngest daughter had created. When I saw it, as I was searching for an image to use in this post, it reminded me of Laura and Paul’s story. It also made me think of you and your family, swimming in chaos right now, but holding on to one another, with hope and love.

QM, this poem is for you and your family: diddy, MOM, R3, all the others who come in and out of red Ravine. And especially for J.

My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Where Does the Temple Begin,
Where Does It End?

There are things you can’t reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.

The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.

And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.

The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily,
out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing
    from the unreachable top of the tree.

I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.

Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
    as though with your arms open.

And thinking: maybe something will come, some
    shining coil of wind,
    or a few leaves from any old tree–
        they are all in this too.

And now I will tell you the truth.
Everything in the world

At least, closer.

And, cordially.

Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed fish; the unlooping snake.
Like goldfinches, little dolls of gold
fluttering around the corner of the sky

of God, the blue air.

     -by Mary Oliver, in Why I Wake Early

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By Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager

Swimming with Chaos, monotype 1/1 etching ink on Arches archival paper,
print © 1990-2008 by Paul Fitzpatrick-Nager. All rights reserved.

I received a handwritten rejection letter in the mail. It was signed in a feminine, soft green script. “No,” the agent said. “No market right now for your book. There’s a cancer glut, too many books about being afraid of death, looking for hope. Like short stories, memoir doesn’t fly anymore. I love your writing though. Have you tried a novel? Good luck. J.”

Never mind that my memoir was about much more than where to find a doctor who will listen or a good hair salon while chemotherapy strips you bald. My rejected book proposal contained a real life love story about jumping into the deep end of the pool on my wedding day and treading water through cancer and healing, my own as well as my husband’s. I wrote about standing in quicksand after a recurrence of breast cancer and about all the waves of support we’d continued to receive. About the potting bench my husband built for me last spring so I could stand under pine trees in our yard and pot daisies without getting a sunburn. About our sex life.

And, in more recent chapters, I talked about what it’s like living in the land of remission for a couple of veteran survivors. I also shared this secret – that writing saved a life. Mine.

I threw away the letter and dabbed my eyes with a pile of tissues. I climbed the stairs to my writing desk. My laptop glowed in the morning light. My heart was on the sleeve of every page of my writing. I wasn’t up for more rejection. Surfing cyberspace I came upon a self-publishing house that built books for first-time authors like me. I started humming My Way by Frank Sinatra and crunched the numbers.

The world of self-publishing was unknown to me. I knew it was print-on-demand and that I wouldn’t get the wider distribution channels available to mainstream authors. I knew I’d have to sell my book myself.

That didn’t deter me. I’d survived cancer three times and had landed fully in my own Middle Ages. Surely I could publish a book my way versus letting it perish unread by my as yet unknown fans (the one or two that must be waiting out there…). Why bother with one agent’s opinion? How many zillion books on love are there? Cancer Schmancer. Oops, that title was taken.

Writing for me is like a ladder. Not the quaint, wooden paint speckled kind but the big monster Home Depot model that my husband used to shingle the peak of our cottage. It reaches corners not for the faint of heart. Real writing climbs.

Each day, I clambered up with my pen in hand to gain perspective on living. I climbed past the pile of junk mail on my kitchen counter and the cluttered spice rack, past the pantry stuffed to the gills with bags of cat food and kitty litter and empty cardboard boxes waiting for recycling. I stepped even higher to find out how little control I had over most things in my life. Like the spider webs hanging from the lacy kitchen curtain, or when yet another friend I cherished would meet her death from cancer. I wondered how I’d ever begin to say my goodbyes. Writing helped me face it all one rung at a time.

Self-publishing offered me control of my story. I had a voice in every step of the process — from what publishing house to choose, to the cover design, to the size and color of the pages. I only had to pay for it. There’s sadly no advance with this circuitous route to the bookstore. It helped, however, that my mother gave me the premier-plus literary package as a Christmas present.

Once I signed on, the clock was ticking. It took me five years to write the bulk of the book. Another six months of editing and revising drafts led me to my self-imposed deadline.

I pressed the SEND button on my birthday last year at 5 pm Eastern Standard Time. I had made a deal with myself. If I met my goal, I could have the biggest piece of Oreo cookie ice cream birthday cake I could find. Bribery worked. My polished manuscript flew across the country that evening on internet travel to an unknown but friendly person typing “Thank-you” to me from somewhere in Nebraska ten minutes after I started in on the cake.

Bundled into the top-notch publishing package was an editorial evaluation and a book manager named Michael who saw to it that every step on my checklist took place in a timely fashion. We e-mailed each other daily. Michael helped me through the maze of book editing (more money) to the art department to approval of the final copy. All in all, my book took six months to build from the day I sent off my manuscript.

The day I received my ISBN number in the mail I cried — and ate more cake. Wow, it even looked like a book. I sniffled louder. I flashed on my book being placed in the trim stacks at the Library of Congress. Or Barnes and Noble. Or Oprah’s bookshelf. My mind raced with the possibilities of print-on-demand.

My friend Alicia e-mailed me just before New Year’s. “Your book is on Amazon. I just ordered it!” I cried again and opened my computer. There it was, Swimming on My Wedding Day: My Cancer Journey through the Seasons. I surfed the net and found my new book on other less familiar sellers, too. It was listed among some of the strangest of book fellows, like Biotechbooks.com, Entrepreneurs.com, and Diesel books. I’ve never been an entrepreneur but maybe this was my chance. I was even listed on Weddings.com, sharing an on-line bookshelf with Princess Grace’s wedding day coffee table book.

My hallway is now packed with 500 books fresh from the publisher (more money). I never leave home without my purse and at least two cartons of books packed in the trunk of my Mazda. My calendar, too, is filled with book signings and book talks through the end of the year. If I sell 5,000 books in my first year, I was told by another agent, she’d be interested. What a ride.

Amazon woman hear me roar.

Laura’s Nuts and Bolts of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing websites are everywhere! My choice as a first-time author was iuniverse.com because of their range of services, worldwide distribution, quality of design and alliance with Barnes and Noble booksellers.

  • Publishing packages range from $500 – $1500 (and up) depending on services desired. Additional costs for advanced editorial services like line and copy editing.
  • Minimum number of books required – may be an issue based on publishing house.
  • Approximate cost per book is based on number of pages and industry standards. My book in paperback was priced at $12.95.

Self-publishing packages may include:

  • A legal contract (read it carefully!) with the publisher, which often includes a royalty agreement and initial number of books to be printed
  • One-on-one support, from design to production
  • Editorial evaluation and guidance
  • Editing services (line-editing, copy editing, proofreading, etc.)
  • Custom cover design
  • ISBN assignment
  • Formats, such as hardback, paperback, and ebooks
  • Free paperbacks based on volume for author
  • Worldwide distribution on-line with book retailers worldwide (e.g.: Amazon, Barnes and Noble)
  • Marketing support, from tips to website design and promotional materials


The self-published author provides:

  • A manuscript, usually submitted on-line (along with the guts to press the SEND button!)
  • Artwork, photographs (often an additional cost based on number of graphics and whether color or B&W)
  • Format (industry standards apply to size desired)
  • Copyright permissions to use quotes, etc.
  • Marketing and channel distribution support, which is about getting your book into readers’ hands (and you thought writing was hard — I hired a publicist to assist with this part of the book process)

Hope, monotype 1/1 etching ink on Arches archival paper, print ©
1988-2008 by Paul Fitzpatrick-Nager. All rights reserved.

Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager writes, teaches, and celebrates remission on the shoreline of Connecticut. Her newly released book Swimming on My Wedding Day: My Cancer Journey through the Seasons was self-published in January of 2008. Her husband Paul, also a cancer survivor, wrote the Foreword and included four of his prints in the book. (Two of those are featured in this post.)

Here’s what Laura says about writing her book: I began writing my memoir as fast as I could after receiving a third diagnosis of breast cancer in 2001. My husband’s treatment had recently finished and I was starting up again. It was a terrifying time. Having a writing project helped me to cope and heal from the fear of living with so much uncertainty.

I’d been a journal writer since high school and always taken notes on my life. Writing led me to find my own voice through the wilderness of cancer…and find hope along the way.

Self-publishing was another way for me to get my story out there on my own terms. I didn’t want to be side-tracked by searching for an agent. Now that my book is written, I feel such a sense of completion. And there’s so much more to write about.

Throughout our last eight years together, Laura has had cancer, I have had cancer, and Laura has had cancer again. We have been harbor to an emotional storm that rages and ebbs…and each time, we have found something to keep us in the world…something to work at. It was good to have a goal, but it would be the process that would take us away from cancer.

I painted, and with help from family and friends, built our house. Laura went from keeping a journal…to becoming a writer… We were going to build our future no matter what the obstacles were. Cancer would not keep us from living. Cancer would not keep us from being happy. Cancer was going to teach us about life… and about love.

I am so honored to be a part of this story. I’ve watched it progress from inception to completion… in all its phases. I’ve watched Laura grow in her craft, develop confidence in her abilities, and move beyond the trauma.

-Paul Fitzpatrick-Nager (excerpt from the Foreword to Swimming on my Wedding Day)

To read more about Laura’s story, go to the Swimming on my Wedding Day website. (And, from red Ravine editors: We hope you’ll buy the book. These two are special people, their story inspiring.)

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Jésucristo, retablo of Jesus Christ by Tesuque artist Juanito
, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Where to begin? There are so many authoritative sources on the origins of the retablo that I dread trying to give a historical overview. Truth is, I don’t want to. I’ll make a deal, though. At the end of this post, I’ll provide a list of the books that will do exactly that — give anyone who’s interested everything there is to know about retablos.

I’d rather talk about the power of the retablo for Hispanic Catholics in New Mexico. Oh, and here I should clarify — retablos are not unique to my state. They came with the Spaniards during the conquest of the “New World,” then flourished during the colonization of indigenous peoples throughout what was then known as “New Spain.” But the making of devotional art in general — and the retablo, in particular — has thrived for centuries in New Mexico, passed on from generation to generation.

Well, there I go. I guess I can’t get away from at least giving a layperson’s understanding of the retablo. Devout Catholics (and devout believers in saints) in this part of the world use them both as art and for altars in our homes. We pray to them for anything and everything. The retablos depict Jesus, Mary, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, and many saints.

Through the centuries certain attributes persist in each depiction of a particular saint. For example, Santa Verónica. According to legend, she was so moved by the sight of Jesus on his way to Calvary that she pushed her way through the crowds to wipe the sweat and blood from his face. The towel she used was imprinted with his image, and so any time Saint Veronica is painted, she is shown with a cloth bearing Christ’s face.

Certain saints are intermediaries for certain needs. San Yisidro is the saint of the crops; he figures prominently in the Rio Grande Valley. Santo Niño de Atocha is the patron for freeing prisoners. He is believed to have power to perform miraculous rescues for any person in danger, especially from violent acts and for travelers. Mater Dolorosa is invoked for pain and sorrow.

There are patrons for most ailments — Santa Lucía for blindness and clarity; Santa Librata for help with burdensome husbands or unwanted suitors; Santa Ana for the old and mothers, both (it just dawned on me, she’d be ideal for old mothers like myself); San Antonio de Padua to find lost objects, including husbands for unmarried women. The list is endless.


For Valentine’s Day in 1998, when I was seven months pregnant with my youngest daughter, Jim came home from running errands. He had for me a retablo he’d bought from a folk artist who’d set up shop on a vacant lot in our then-neighborhood of Albuquerque’s barrio Griegos. The retablo was new but made to look old.

“That’s why I bought it,” Jim said. He told me the artist had lots of pieces to choose from but that this was the only one that looked ancient. The saint was male, holding a staff in one hand and a three-crowned object in the other and wearing a red robe and golden cape.

The name of the saint wasn’t written on the back of the wooden board, as on most of our retablos, but we found in barely discernable lettering near the figure’s robe this notation: San Ramón Nonatus.

Neither of us had heard of San Ramón Nonatus, so I went to my bookshelves and pulled down a book on saints. (Jim had gotten into the habit of giving me for most birthdays or holidays a new book on saints.) On page 131 of Mexican Folk Retablos by Gloria Fraser Giffords, I found the entry (this saint is also known as San Ramón Nonato). Here is what I read out loud to Jim:

His last name Nonatus — “not born” — commemorates his caesarean birth at the time of his mother’s death. For this reason, he is the patron of midwives and women giving birth.

I looked up from the book. Jim’s mouth was open. Being the types to faint at the sight of blood and the smell of hospitals, we had already decided to birth our baby at home, attended by a midwife. This wasn’t our first home birth, but because I’d been thinking about the challenges of labor with my first child (especially the pain) I had become anxious about this upcoming birth.

As it turns out, when the due date arrived, the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around my babe’s neck. Our midwife guided me through pushing such that she could gently lift the cord around Em’s head between contractions. Em came out more purple than most newborns, but she was big and healthy and so very alive. She was perfect.


I have over the years given up my faith in the institution of the Catholic Church, much like one finds that a particularly strong yearning has over time finally and quietly faded to nothing. I don’t mean to offend practicing Catholics; my father, some of my siblings, several nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends all attend mass each Sunday. Being who I am — pragmatic and at times challenging of authority — I simply reject the notion that celibate men can understand my particular troubles.

But I have faith in the personajes — Mary, Jesus, and the saints — of my Catholic upbringing. Perhaps that is why I surround myself with these images. So that every day when I wake up, I am reminded of the miracles and protections they provide in this world. And that I know, always, that everything will be OK.

Garden of Eden, retablo by Juanito Jimenez, photo © 2008
by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


Books I’d Recommend if You Want to Learn More:

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Green on Brown, the elusive frog in the big irrigation ditch makes a rare appearance on July 15, 2008, photo © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.

green marooned on brown
or is it my ship that’s wrecked?
i wonder as you leap

related to posts haiku (one-a-day) and WRITING TOPIC – TOADS & FROGS.

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Befriending The Dragon, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Befriending The Dragon, hand-drawn mandala, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

ONE: Hand-drawn mandala incorporating the internal conflict and fight of the Dragon. Started as a blank circle, drawn with a black Sharpie, and colored with Crayola markers, Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, and Reeves Water Colour Pencils.

Eye Of The Beholder II, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Eye Of The Beholder II, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

TWO: The eye at the center of this mandala signifies the Ego, the part of you that you call “I.” The birth or rebirth of Ego happens many times during your life as the understanding of your relationship to yourself, and others, changes.

Eschers Dragons, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Escher’s Dragons, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

THREE: Dragon Fight brings about polarization of opposites: dark and light, male and female, angel and devil. Increased inner conflict creates energy that can be channeled into expansion of consciousness. The drawing is based on M.C. Escher.

Mother Earth, Father Sky, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mother Earth, Father Sky, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

FOUR: A new viewpoint emerges when you endure the tension of opposites during conflict resolution in Stage 6. Opposites are incorporated into one another as Mother Earth, Father Sky. Or the white and black of the Yin Yang symbol. Solutions to conflict bring something entirely new to the situation, something you may not have thought of prior to that moment.

Animal Spirit Guides, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Animal Spirit Guides, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

FIVE: Dragon Fight is experienced during adolescence and other transitional periods as a new phase in your life. Tribal peoples heighten the normal fear and stress of young people to intensify their initiation into adulthood. Initiates are given secret teachings about the animals that serve the tribe as helpers and guides to the Spirit World. This mandala design was inspired by designs on the creation of ancient pottery and based on an illustration by Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess.

June Mandalas — Stage 6 – Dragon Fight

I bet you thought I’d never get June’s mandalas posted. Here’s how it goes — I get the mandalas done, but then need to work them into the energy and timing for the posts; it’s time to publish June’s mandalas!

The theme for the 6th Stage of The Great Round is Dragon Fight. We began Coloring Mandalas as a practice in January, working with the archetypal circle, and following the twelve passages of Joan Kellogg’s The Great Round.  June’s mandalas are colored and drawn with Crayola markers, Portfolio water-soluble oil pastels, Reeve’s Water Colour Pencils, and a black Ultra Fine Point Sharpie (Sharpies are my favorite writing and drawing utensils).

      Totems, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Synthesis, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Dragon Fight takes you face to face with your own internal demons. When you are young, Dragon Fight plays out in adolescent conflicts and helps you separate from your parents, or the tribe or community in which you grew up. You find yourself wanting to break out of traditions; tension increases, issues are polarized, until a new psychological perspective is generated.

As adults, transitions in midlife can bring you around again to the stage of Dragon Fight. On the spiritual level, the 6th Stage is concerned with working through contradictions in belief systems, until your own spiritual footprint emerges.

Eye Of The Beholder (Dragon Close Up), Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

According to the book Coloring Mandalas by Susanne F. Fincher, the healing benefits of The Great Round: Stage 6 — Dragon Fight are:

  • learning how to confront self-doubt
  • facing temptations to misuse power
  • learning to incorporate and synthesize both sides of a conflict
  • learning the value of standing independent from tribe or community
  • working through contradictions between religious dogma and personal spiritual experience

With Dragon Fight behind me, Stage 7 falls at High Summer, in the month of my birth. I’ll be traveling over much of July and have a few mandalas left to color for the next stage. Maybe I’ll create a few of my own while I’m on the road.

        Swoop!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Avocado, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Polka Dot Curve, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, July 14th, 2008

-related to posts: The Void – January Mandalas, Bliss — February Mandalas, Labyrinth — March Mandalas, Beginnings — April Mandalas, Target — May Mandalas, and WRITING TOPIC – CIRCLES

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sun flower, July 10, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy, all rights reserved

Sun Flower, Bi-color Pro-Cut from Majestic Valley Farms on the
Tittmann property farmed by Aaron Silverblatt-Buser, Corrales,
NM, photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

My mother is a simple woman.

She has thin lips, and for that reason she will put on lipstick if she’s going out. She hates her eyebrows, says they end too soon, at the midpoint. She actually went so far as to get tattooed eyebrows several years back.

When my sister brought Mom back from the tattoo shop, I was alarmed. It looked like someone took a Sharpie and cleanly marked a thick black line above each eye. I lied and told her they looked fine, that the tattoos were, in fact, a big improvement.

Fortunately, the tattoos soon faded into a more natural-looking gray, and so in the end, I wasn’t such a liar after all.

My mom loves the sun. Not in one of those sun-worshipper ways. She never sat outside on a plastic lawnchair until her skin turned orange-brown. But she does suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or so we suspect.

Even one overcast day and she becomes melancholy. She might read in bed or sit on the couch, occasionally looking out the window and wondering if the sun will make an appearance.

If you call her on one of our rare overcast days, she’ll say something like, “Ew, I just hate this weather.” She hates the wind, too. It makes her irritable.

  eye, July 10, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy, all rights reserved   eye, July 10, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy, all rights reserved   eye, July 10, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy, all rights reserved   eye, July 10, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy, all rights reserved

Mom’s favorite flower is the sunflower. Big dark center surrounded by bright yellow petals. Native to the Americas.

The sunflower plant grows tall, taller than my small mom. In the bud stage, the sunflower is heliotropic — at sunrise the faces of most sunflowers turn toward the east, and over the course of the day they move to track the sun.

This year Mom decided to plant sunflowers in their small patio-home yard. My parents have narrow flower beds in every available space, and in those beds they plant all types of perennials and annuals. They also grow spearmint for iced tea, rosemary for cooking, and three or four tomato plants. Mom’s favorite food very well might be a homegrown tomato sliced open, sprinkled with salt and pepper.

My parents made room for the large sunflower plants, bought seeds, and in May put the seeds into the soil. The plants started blooming this week. They are sweet. The blossoms are not many. Just a couple, not even enough to fill a vase. Still, they make my mom happy.

Someone, somewhere else grew more majestic sunflowers than Mom’s. A young organic farmer, passionate and hard-working, is cultivating an impressive farm — Majestic Valley Farms on the Tittmann property in Corrales, NM. Heart of the Rio Grande Valley. The farmer’s name is Aaron Silverblatt-Buser, and recently his Bi-Color, Pro-Cut sunflowers were ready to harvest. They came early in the week, days ahead of the weekly Corrales Growers Market.

Emails went out. Beautiful sunflower bouquets for sale, reasonably priced. Many people responded. I was one of them.

      bouquet, July 10, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy, all rights reserved  bouquet, July 10, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy, all rights reserved

Yesterday, at lunchtime, I called Mom from my cell phone.

“I’m in your driveway, and I have something for you.”

“What do you have?”

“Open the garage door and you’ll see.”

Dad let me in. “Wow,” he said, and he shuffled from the door back toward the living room. His arms have gotten thin.

It was overcast yesterday morning. Mom sat on the couch, near the window, like a heliotropic plant herself catching whatever light she could.

“Oh my God, those are beauuuutiful,” she exclaimed, laughing as she got up off the couch.

I set the vase on the fireplace hearth.

“No, no, put them here, where we can see them.” She cleared a more central spot.

     bouquet purple sky, July 10, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy, all rights reserved  bouquet purple sky, July 10, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy, all rights reserved

The flowers fit Mom perfectly. I think we all have a flower that is just our own. Just like how certain colors complement our complexions, or how we feel kinship toward one animal or another. Mom is the sunflower; the sunflower is Mom.

Just today I remembered how in our dining room growing up there hung a reproduction of Vincent van Gogh’s masterpiece Sunflowers. I hadn’t put two-and-two together until writing this post. Mom also adored a poster I bought years ago for my oldest daughter, Diego Rivera’s Girl with Sunflowers. It sometimes take years to realize deep in your heart that something is dear to someone you love.

By now Mom’s eyebrows are back to their original half-bald, cut-off-mid-way condition. I doubt she’ll get them tattooed again, although I bet she toys with the idea. I’d take her in if she wanted a touch up.

Hell, I’d be the first in line to take her in if she suddenly declared that she wanted a sunflower tattoo on her shoulder. She’d look gorgeous with one.

A-Not-Terribly-Authoritative List of Sunflowers in Art & Poetry

-Based on a Writing Practice done for the topic post WRITING TOPIC – NAMES OF FLOWERS.
-Related to posts PRACTICE – Sunflower and More Sunflowers.

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Rio Grande Swimming Hole, July 12th, 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Rio Grande Swimming Hole, July 12th, 2007, outside of Taos, New Mexico, at a Writing Retreat with Natalie Goldberg almost one year ago to the day, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

cliffs rise, bodies howl
floating down the Rio Grande
swimming in July

  View From The Swimming Hole, July 12th, 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.     Toward The Bridge, July 12th, 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

  Leaving The Swimming Hole, July 12th, 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.     From The Bridge, July 12th, 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

View From The Swimming Hole, Toward The Bridge, Leaving The Swimming Hole, From The Bridge, July 12th, 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Rio Grande is 1,885 miles long, the third longest river system in the United States. This is for all of our writing friends in Taos this week, diving into her river wildness — screaming, floating, swimming, wading — walking in the mist, getting wet.

          Dive In!, July 12th, 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.       Dive In!, July 12th, 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.       Dive In!, July 12th, 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, July 11th, 2008

-related to post, haiku (one-a-day) 

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