Adventures in South Africa

As I write this, I am in a lovely 300-year-old renovated farm house in a small village, St. Vivien (click on the link for a googlemap of where we are), in the South West of France (the Dordogne). What, say you? Well, we had planned this 5-week adventure late last year, when the idea of staying for a lengthy period of time in another country seemed like a novelty. Our plans to travel to South Africa, which is the primary subject of this post, came later.

As a result, 2018 has looked like this:

  • 3 weeks in San Francisco,
  • 6 weeks in South Africa,
  • 5 weeks in San Francisco, and
  • 6 weeks between the east coast of the US (1 week) and France (5 weeks).

So much to share! It has been a very rich time for us. I also have to say that I am looking forward to being back in San Francisco in June for more than 5-6 weeks!

What follows is one of four final posts on our trip to South Africa, interspersed with pictures. Stay tuned, please, to those posts because there is a punch line coming, something quite surprising even to us that we initiated before leaving…I plan to get them up for your reading and viewing pleasure over the next two weeks. And I have to hurry so I can catch up on our adventures in France!

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We had numerous adventures while in South Africa. In spite of being there for six weeks, we wanted to go deep, instead of wide, in our experience of the country. As an important example, we consciously decided not to visit Cape Town due its historic drought, as well as being an additional 1000 km of our furthest excursion to the west. It just didn’t seem right for visitors to add to the water burden. We have saved Cape Town, considered one of the jewels of South Africa, for another trip. (And yes, there will absolutely be another trip!). We had a short list of things we really wanted to see, including the wild animals, and had wonderful experiences.

A few days after arriving, we piled into our little rental car with our hosts, Steven and Cindy, and drove into the Province of KwaZulu-Natal and towards the Drakensburg Escarpment (click on the link for a googlemap of where we were), on the other side of the mountainous (and landlocked) country of Lesotho. We stayed one night in a mountain lodge in one of the few remaining indigenous forests in South Africa, and had a terrific nature walk with a local expert. We also took a zip-line canopy tour that I was sure would first terrify and then kill me. I survived and even enjoyed it!

The following two days were spent in a cottage on Lake Naverone, at the base of the mountains leading up to Lesotho. David and I had a wonderful hike across rain swollen rivers up to several outcroppings with San rock paintings. The excess rain had made the trail crossings deep and/or swift, so we had to leap from one large boulder to another to cross the river. Gripped with fear, I jumped but held back (the way that fear can make you do!), and my iPhone and I went swimming when I didn’t quite land solidly on the other side. Only my pride was injured, and my iPhone still works, but throws shade every now and then (literally: half the screen goes a little dark…).

The San were nomadic hunter-gathers who lived and wandered throughout South Africa, tracking the many animals that populated the area. They painted their experiences on rock outcrops protected by overhangs, detailing tribe gatherings, group hunts, large (and very specific) animals. The paintings are remarkable, and relatively easy to access, assuming one doesn’t fall into a river and give up!  The San no longer exist as a people or tribe, essentially disappearing when the twin colonial powers of the Netherlands and Britain annexed land “no one was using,” and when other African tribes traveled down from Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

After Lake Naverone, we drove down to Durban (click on the link for Durban’s location), a vibrant, cosmopolitan city on the Indian Ocean. Many cities in South Africa host a 5 kilometer “park run” on Saturday mornings, and we watched people of all shapes, sizes and colors walk and run on the Durban beach boardwalk. We also enjoyed excellent food (Mozambique/Portuguese and Thai). David and I walked to one of the Saturday markets, delightedly watched a small group of students performing Zulu dancing, purchased spices at an Indian market and beaded jewelry from a Zulu woman’s stall.

Our next adventure – just the two of us this time – was to Kimberley (click for the link to googlemaps) in the Northern Cape Province, and the center of the diamond industry for many years. Although the mines still exist there, the local industry is diminishing in its scope. The Big Hole, which helps keep Kimberley famous, was created by miners digging by hand (and pickaxe) at the beginning of the diamond rush in the late 1800s.

The history of Kimberley is similar to many places in the world where mineral resources have been found: whites had the upper hand in establishing the business aspect of mining, and controlled how the mining was governed and profits shared. They essentially limited the ability for blacks to own stakes even though whites were dependent on black labor. For many years, the company owners even limited the ability to travel freely from the workers camps (to limit theft). Later in the 20th century, labor unions gained strength and were able to improve conditions for miners, setting the stage for important union participation in the ending of apartheid.

Next up? Our visit to Mokala and then Kruger National Parks. Stay tuned!
Love,
Susan

 

 

 

 

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A Joyous Time in South Africa

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My sister and I exchanged texts via Instagram (@dancingonthewayhome) a few days ago. She said she was enjoying my posts from South Africa and commented: “joyous life.” I have to say: she’s spot on. We have been here just over three weeks and have had the most wonderous, enriching time.

South Africa has been in the news lately, as the ruling party, the ANC (the party of Nelson Mandela) recently received President Zuma’s resignation after what many people call a scandal-filled 9 years in office. The South African stock market has surged, and the rand has gained 5% against the dollar in the last three weeks in anticipation of Zuma’s departure and the installation of his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is reputed to have a much more business savvy outlook.

We are here in South Africa at a very exciting time.

We had been thinking and finally decided last November to make this trip to South Africa. I have a friend, Steven, whom I’ve known since college, who lives here six months of the year with his wife Cindy. They retired to Memel, in Free State (province), after 30 years in service as part of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). During their careers while posted in Pretoria, and they fell in love with the beauty and potential of the country and its people.  They wanted to share their adventure with us.

Memel is a small, rural town that still shows the long-term effects of the apartheid era, which ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela. The residents of Memel are predominately white, and most are generally prosperous or at least receive pensions from the government. The municipality has established plumbing and sewer service, access to electricity, and the main road through town is paved. However, across a former golf course from Memel – to my mind established to create a wide border – is the township of Zamani. (town = white; township = black.) Most of the black residents of the area live there, some in Rural Development Project (RDP) homes (two room cinderblock houses built by the government), some in tin shacks with dirt floors and some modest traditional homes. Access to electricity and plumbing is mixed.

Cindy and Steven run an organization called Memel.Global, although it is more accurate to say they “live” the organization. Memel.Global is an umbrella for a range of social and economic development efforts, including:

  • running an organic Farm that in addition to providing jobs, provides fresh fruit and vegetables to the town’s schools, orphanage and creches;
  • overseeing an after-school girls program called SheWinS (a US 501c3 non-profit) that builds leadership, teamwork, and empowerment through sports;
  • supporting the three primary schools to establish libraries for the kids;
  • building rain catchment systems in the township, and helping establish home gardens; and,
  • focusing on development through the many ways that decent housing, education and jobs can change the community and people in profound ways.

Their Farm, Memel Organics, sits on 8 lots at the edge of town, and it is a healing, energetic place. In addition to the fruit and vegetables, flower, rose beds and ponds weave between the buildings. Steven has built three rammed earth “guest rooms” on the property as models for housing units he hopes to build for elderly black South Africans with government support. We have been staying in a lovely guest unit during our stay here at the Farm.

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The day we arrived, the 31 year-old coordinator of their SheWinS program, Shakes, took on a short tour of Zamani and the schools. As we chatted, he shared that he spoke four of the many official South African languages: English, Zulu, Xhosa, and Tswana. I asked if he spoke Afrikaans, and he roared with laughter. “I’m from Soweto! Of course I don’t speak Afrikaans!” I vaguely remembered that the beginning of the 20-year end of apartheid began in 1976 with the uprisings in Soweto, the black township outside of Johannesburg, that occurred when the government planned to require all schools to teach in Afrikaans.

We have become enamored of the country in our time here. We are considering – more to come in a future post – an investment that could be good for us and make a significant return for the economic development aspect of the Memel.Global vision. And not insignificantly, I have begun to draft a plan to host and lead – with my life coach hat on – two retreat/workshops based here at the Farm in early 2019. Steven is excited that I might use the Farm and its facilities in this way. Although he has hosted housing and economic development meetings here, he has yet to have a visitor say “I’d like to host a workshop at the Farm” and get on with the planning of it.

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It has indeed been a joyous time in South Africa!

Love,
Susan

Return to God’s Pocket

As I write this, the sun has just hit the island across Christie Passage. Our resident Great Blue Heron is fishing off the dock, and the Harlequin ducks are paddling and diving like synchronized swimmers, in circles and always together, aligned. The morning is peaceful, tentative, and full of potential. It’s warm here in the main house, and out in the channel the winds and ocean currents will decide how the rest of the morning will go.

We are back at God’s Pocket Resort, care-taking the closed-for-the-winter SCUBA and kayak resort on Hurst Island in British Columbia (click here to find us on Google maps) for our friends, the owners, Bill and Annie. This is our second time up this year, although it surprises me to realize that our time here in January through March ended just 7 months ago.

We arrived in Port Hardy on Sunday, October 22nd, hoping Bill would pick us on Monday and bring us to God’s Pocket. There were gale warnings, and so we deferred the pick up until at least Tuesday. David and I wandered down to Fort Rupert, the original settlement in Port Hardy, and where the First Nations Lodge and totems are. We first walked Storey’s Beach, a long curving coast line with eagles flying overhead, and sandpipers and plovers dancing on the shore. A large group of Canada geese floated just at the breaking waves, seemingly hopping over each new break.

                     

We came back from the northern point through the woods, David looking for mushrooms and I for eagle feathers. He was far luckier than I, collecting a range of samples to learn about and spore print. Our visit to Fort Rupert was intriguing: we could only visit the outside of the lodge, but the art work, both carved and painted, was stunning, as were the totems.

          

Bill picked us up on Tuesday morning (more than a week ago now), and as we rounded one of the islands towards God’s Pocket, we saw a humpback whale breeching in the distance. As many as five times, the whale thrust itself out of the water and fell back with a huge splash. It was a magnificent welcome. We have since seen what we believe to be the same whale, swimming and feeding up and down Christie Passage in front of God’s Pocket. We’ve also seen it several times near a cluster of small islands at the base of Browning Pass, a deep and fertile channel and home to some of the best cold-water diving in the world.

                

This visit to God’s Pocket may also be our last care-taking gig here, as the resort is up for sale. Although we’ll be sad to lose our connection to this place when it gets new owners, we are excited for Bill and Annie to gracefully wrap this 19-year chapter in their lives and move on to their next adventure. We are friends and the friendship will travel with us no matter where we all find ourselves. Still, I find myself trying to seize each moment, to ‘snapshot’ it my memory so it will live on with me. (We do have plans in September 2018 to come as divers and customers, but that’s a little tentative given that there may be new owners with other plans, or new owners who pick-up and proceed with the current book of business.)

You may have wondered where I and my blog posts have been since June 8. It has been a full year and I enrolled in the Martha Beck Life Coach Training in January. By April was launching my new business: Clear-Eyed Coaching and Consulting (more on that toward the bottom of this post). As a result, my commitment to posting to “Dancing On The Way Home” flagged. I have also wanted to launch a bi-weekly newsletter from my coaching practice, and that has been its own learning curve and journey.

But here I am, back in this beautiful part of the world, relishing the spaciousness and beauty of the place, and remembering the pleasure of observing, noticing, and writing. The neighborhood otter, a bruiser around 4 ½ feet long, keeps delighting me by swimming into the mouth of the bay, diving for a clam or urchin, and whacking it with a rock on his belly. He is always accompanied by a patient gull, hoping to grab any wayward pieces. Yesterday, obviously quite asleep, he floated far into the Passage on the ebbing tide.

When we first arrived, we’d fall asleep to the occasional sound of scampering little feet in the rafters above our head. Mice! We used a humane trap to catch one yesterday and dropped it off at another island. We caught a second one this morning, the sound of its munching on the nuts and crackers woke us up. We braved the choppy water today to relocate the second mouse to the island we’ve now nicknamed Guantana-mouse. We suspect there might be one more little critter in the walls and we’d love to give it a chance at a new life on a new island.

In the ten days that we’ve been here, we’ve had great luck with local food sourcing. We’ve gone mushroom hunting for chanterelles and boletes, and hit the jackpot on the chanterelles. We had six large male Dungeness crab in the trap we put in Harlequin Bay, on the back side of the island, of which we kept two. David caught three fish on three casts in one outing, and we’ve enjoyed ceviche and grilled rockfish over several meals. On the other hand, last night we roasted up a whole chicken on a bed of sweet potatoes and onions – sourced at the Costco down island!

                 

As I mentioned above, I launched my new business in April, a coaching and consulting practice for people choosing or responding to professional and personal change. I’ve been delighted at how well things are going: I have paying clients, interest in my experience and ideas, and generally positive responses to my website: www.cleareyedcoaching.com. I invite you to check it out, and to sign up for my blog posts if the topics appeal to you. (And of course I would welcome any inquiries about working with me!). The journey has been both challenging and fun, and occasionally easy. I seem to learn something new every day, including how to navigate with few pre-established markers for my path or my success. And I’m having a blast (mostly – I get a little frustrated by what I don’t know about the tech stuff behind the scenes)!

Working from God’s Pocket is a bit of an experiment, in part to see if I can practice from anywhere in the world with anyone, anywhere. We’ve had a few phone snafus but in general, the experiment seems to be working well. This is good news as David and I plan our travel for 2018, which will likely include a trip to South Africa in the early part of the year, and later, a sojourn of several months in France.

I will post again next week, using “throwback Thursday” as the vehicle for revisiting with you our trip to Scotland in June.

Love,
Susan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Whispers

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As I have in one form or another since I left my corporate executive role last January, I continue to search and experiment for the defining aspects of my “new” life. What does my ideal day look like? How do I want to spend my time? In what ways do I want to be of service? How can I engage, empower and release my creativity? What calls to me, brings me joy, delights and inspires?

The answers to these questions are, surprisingly, as elusive as they were when I felt I had no discretionary time to shape them. As I write my morning pages each day (a daily practice of writing three pages stream-of-consciousness), I recognize how much room I have to have any life I can imagine. My work is in shaping the life I want.

For a brief time in April and May, David and I engaged deeply on the notion of buying God’s Pocket. God’s Pocket Resort is a scuba and kayak resort on a small island in the Queen Charlotte Strait, north of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We have loved visiting there as guests, and in the last few years, as care-takers in the off season, and occasional help during the season. Our friends, the owners Bill and Annie, have decided, for various reasons, to sell. Over those two months, we thought about the enormity of such a decision, the pivot from the life we have here in San Francisco. We looked at numbers and considered the basics of the current business model, as well as what we would want and hope to develop if we were to be co-owners or partners.

Buying a business like God’s Pocket is much more than a business decision, it is a major life decision. For one, David and I would be business partners, not just financial partners as we already are. The purchase would be a stretch financially, but not impossible. And while we didn’t think we needed to live in Canada, we’d need to spend considerable time there. This was a big part of the draw for us: an adventure on so many levels, and the opportunity to live differently than we do today., the magic and beauty of this unique place. We never imagined that we’d run the business day to day – the princess in me didn’t want to be cleaning guest rooms everyday all season – and that put additional burden on figuring out our staffing needs. Our vision was to recruit someone who could captain the dive boat, as well as generally manage the day to day, and who we could put in a position to buy us out in 5 to 7 years. Our plan B was to get David certified to run a commercial 50 ton boat so he could fill in as needed.

While captains could be hired, working God’s Pocket is unique’ you don’t go home at the end of the day, you go to your room on the island. We needed to know that whomever we’d hire had a strong understanding of the place and the role. Our primary candidate, who had run the resort for several years in the past, wasn’t ready to jump in to our vision. Further, we discovered that a prerequisite for certification to drive a commercial 50 ton boat is Canadian citizenship or residency.

In the end, after much consideration, we realized that loving God’s Pocket and having a vision for its potential future were not enough to get us positioned for success as owners. We were sad to let go of this exciting potential picture of the next ten years of our lives, even while knowing that letting it go was right.

And in the lull after the decision to withdraw our offer for God’s Pocket, we have both felt slowly into the gap created by the loss of that focus. David is dancing on the cusp of retirement from his mechanical engineering work in the space industry, and I have been in that liminal space for a year and a half. Now we are letting things “resettle” so we can see what we might have learned from considering God’s Pocket, and what will inform what we do next.

In that space, the gray quiet after letting go of intense focus, I have wanted to have “the answer” come to me, clear and articulated. I want the ‘money idea’ to show-up full-born and ready for me, for us, to move it forward. I realized just yesterday that I was, in a way, waiting for the arrival of the purple unicorn, with a sandwich board for a saddle proclaiming the ‘money idea,’ and with a soundtrack of angels singing “ahhhhhhhhh.” (I know I am not alone in scanning my surroundings and interactions for the big and obvious signs that will surely put me on the ‘right’ path.)

In my experience, the call to next steps doesn’t show up as clearly and boldly as the purple unicorn. The call comes in whispers, and we are lucky to hear them. We have to get quiet and still to hear our own voice, let alone that which floats in the air, waiting for us to notice. Getting still is the last thing we are inclined to do when we are lost, seeking, or recovering from a shift in the foci of our lives, but is what we must to do navigate the path forward. That, and having more adventure and getting out to be in nature!

My prescription for us is a trip to Scotland. We will be there for almost three weeks, with time in Edinburgh and a few days in County Sutherland, where my father’s people come from 4-5 generations back. We have booked a self-guided walking tour, and we’ll walk from the East coast to the West coast along the Mary Queen of Scots trail over 10 days, ending in St. Andrews. (Our lodging is arranged, as is the daily transport of our luggage to the next inn.)

To my surprise, I am intrigued to realize – doh! — that my heritage comes together in Scotland. My father’s family comes from there, as noted. And many years later, from 1965 to 1967, my grandfather on my mother’s side, Alfredo Trinchieri, served as the Italian Consul General to Edinburgh. I remember, probably at age 5 or 6, being in his apartment. But it is a distant and snapshot-type memory, and we may not discover where he lived so as to walk by. Thinking about exploring and experiencing these family threads coming together in the weeks ahead is compelling and exciting. As is being in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by dramatic and subtle beauty and nature.

The way to shape one’s life are always found in doing the next right thing, adjusting if it doesn’t turn out to be what one wanted, and then doing the next right thing. What is next for me is Scotland. Stories and pictures to follow.

Love,
Susan

Home Again

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I am surprised that I haven’t posted in so long, although I know it to be true. I imagined that I had posted just before we left God’s Pocket in mid-March; the truth is my last post was in late February when David’s father died.

As the kids say: “OMG!”

This post will, therefore, be an “all in” update since life has been full since my last post.

We left God’s Pocket on March 12, drove down island and ferried across to Vancouver, and then headed to Whistler for a few days of Spring skiing with Richard and Jana, our good friends from Seattle. I had never been to Whistler – I know so little of mainland British Columbia – and was excited to be there. Driving from the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay to Whistler on the Sea to Sky highway was its own thrill. It is the Canadian version of California’s Highway 1: a spectacularly beautiful coastal drive.

We had a lovely time, but our friends didn’t fare as well: Jana fell and twisted her knee on the afternoon of the first day, resulting a fracture (discovered in the x-ray “after” she skied down the mountain!). Perhaps in sympathy, Richard fell a few times two days later (and our last day there) and his knees became swollen and black and blue. David and I were generally unharmed.

We drove to Seattle on Friday, and spent the weekend with our friend Elizabeth who lives in West Seattle, enjoying her company, the city and dinner one evening with David’s sister-in-law and partner. Truth: I always feel a little guilty not reaching out to my other Seattle area friends and former colleagues when we are there. I miss them (you know who you are!) and I’m not good (apparently) at balancing family and an extended group of friends.

We got back to San Francisco on March 22, delighted to see our cat, Ethel, who has become a gregarious love bug now that she is the only cat. We were also happy to sleep in our own bed after almost three months. It’s the little things that let you know you are home…

My coach training through the Martha Beck Institute is going well. As with any learning process, I’ve had a few frustrating and confused moments, but mostly the skills and guidance we are getting is wonderful and helpful. And I’m so taken with a program that honors intuition, the ‘magic of the universe’ and other slightly “woo woo” concepts while providing structured content, brain science and practical tools. Lately we’ve been concentrating on skills to help with “dissolving limiting thoughts” – and we start with ourselves and practice on each other. No shortage of material for most of us!

All this time, I’ve been working towards officially launching my coaching practice: Clear-Eyed Coaching & Consulting. That sentence was so easy to write, and oh my, have I come a long way for that to be true.  My “ideal” clients, which may evolve as I get more time in, are executives and leaders wanting to up their game at work, and individuals who just “know” it’s time for a change in their lives (maybe around work, maybe around other things). My consulting work, which includes coaching, expands the focus from the client to include his/her work environment, systems, staff, etc. I’ve also developed an interest in working with “solopreneurs” – small business owners who need and want some guidance in establishing, changing or growing their businesses.

It is at once nerve wracking and disconcerting to realize that I am my brand and my service, both inseparable. Unlike having a corporate gig, there’s no hiding behind my title or the bureaucracy if things don’t go according to plan. And that’s exactly why it is exciting and fulfilling to be on this path. I can’t wait for my website to go live, which – fingers crossed – should be in the next few weeks.  I’ve received great and supportive feedback so far, which helps fuel me when the doubts show up to play.

My niece Natalia, on the cusp of graduating from high school (and whom I’ve been helping with her college process) came out for Spring break. With her cousin Jason living in the guest room since September (while looking for his own place in San Francisco), we set her up on the Aero Bed in the dining room. Chaos all around, but fun to have the next generation hanging with us. (Natalia is my brother’s eldest daughter; Jason is my sister’s son.) We did a few ‘family of four’ things, including one spoken word with dance performance that had us all scratching our heads.

The two highlights of her visit were:

  • Shopping at the Nordstrom Rack for potential prom dresses: we found two beautiful gowns (and one ‘pretty good’ one) for a total of $164! We timed the Red Tag sale perfectly.
  • Driving down to see UC Santa Cruz again, this time through the eyes of someone who could go there if she wanted (she was pleased to have been accepted). We wandered the campus more fully than last summer, and we chatted with a few students on a beautiful day.

And then she went back to Maryland, where I’ll be over Memorial Weekend to see her graduate and enjoy an opportunity to gather with the family and celebrate.

And in the meantime, David is ramping down his NASA project, leaving him wondering what’s next. He has ideas, lots of ideas: his updated personal business card says “Rocket Science… always launching something new.” And some of those ideas may call him to a new level of engagement. He is thoughtful about what is next, as am I, and we both are likely to keep working in some form or fashion for the rest of our lives. We both like the stimulation and engagement; nice to have income as well.

There are other things afoot, but it’s too early to share, or too mundane to write about. Which leads me to this blog. I have decided I want to continue to post, but not on any predictable schedule (which I’m sure you noticed already!). I would prefer not to go two months between posts, so will endeavor to be more conscientious. With luck, I still have some followers who enjoy seeing Dancing On the Way Home in their email boxes.

Love,
Susan

Follow me on Instagram: @dancingonthewayhome!

 

Happy Valentines, Mama & Papa

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I  am writing today about my father-in-law, Efigenio Raul Mustelier, who died on February 14. I want to acknowledge his life and honor him. Writing about him and his life is perhaps the best way I know now to recognize his humanity, and provide him witness.  Sadly, in writing about his life, I realized there was so much about him I didn’t know. Papa was more than the facts of his life, as we all are, but part of respect is getting the facts right when we can. I asked David, my husband and his son, a lot of questions; there were a few he was not able to answer, or least couldn’t be sure.

Efigenio (pronounced ‘Eh-fee-heh-neo’ and more commonly called “Efi”) was born in 1922 near Manzanillo, Cuba on December 11, 1922. His parents, Miguel and Clara Mustelier, had 8 children (and a 9th, the eldest, a half-sister); Efi was the youngest boy, and elder to one sister. Miguel was a landholder, and involved in agricultural endeavors – sugar and cattle – and was reputed to be a tough father. The family worked hard but was economically comfortable.

From a young age, Efi dreamed of going to college and becoming a doctor. He met the love of his life, Angela Dionysia Ferrandiz (known as Gela, pronounced Heh-lah), a first-generation Spanish-Cuban woman, in Manzanillo the year before he left for college and medical school. Most of the 10-year relationship leading to their marriage was long distance. Efi attended medical school in Havana and in 1950 went to New Jersey for his internship, followed by Chicago for his residency in obstetrics and gynecology.

In 1952, his brother-in-law Manuel (Manolo) Remon Sr., came to visit Efi in Chicago where Efi gave Manolo his power of attorney. Manolo returned to Havana where in the office of an attorney, he completed Gela’s marriage to Efi by proxy. She left that same day to fly to New York. Efi took the train from Chicago and they stayed at the Hotel Pennsylvania across the street from the “Penn Central” train station. The picture above is of the two of them on their first night as newlyweds, celebrating with friends and family in Brooklyn.

Efi and Gela returned to Chicago by train.  Around this time, Efi was drafted into the US Army due to the Korean War (he was a Cuban citizen but also a US Resident).  Ten months later, their first son Raul was born in Chicago. Efi loved the United States and was very proud of being in the US Army, and made it his career. Their family grew as they moved from station to station during his 24 year career, and Efi and Gela evolved into Mama and Papa, which is what I knew them as, and what many people called them.

Papa’s first assignment was in Munich, Germany, where Miriam was born. They went next to Camp Leroy Johnson in New Orleans, where both David and then, two-and-a-half years later, Roy was born.  Their first tour – there would be three – at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, the headquarters for the Army Medical Service Corps, came next. They spent time at Fort Irwin (near Death Valley) before going back to Germany (Darmstadt) this time. Then came Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, followed by the second tour in San Antonio. The San Antonio tour included a year in Vietnam, obviously without family, where Papa along with his duties as a hospital commander, became popular for delivering babies for some wives of high ranking South Vietnamese army officers. Fitzsimmons Army Medical Hospital in Aurora, Colorado came next, followed by Fort Ord in Monterey, California (where Roy would meet his future wife Kristen Swanson many years later). The family then returned to San Antonio, where Papa completed his final tour with the Army and retired.

Mama and Papa, growing older, moved from San Antonio to Austin to be closer to Miriam (the “boys” were scattered: Raul lived in Seattle, David lived in San Francisco, and Roy in DC). They built an in-law extension on the house so Miriam could live there and help them.

Papa loved food and wine. One of David’s most formative memories is of his father taking over the kitchen on Sundays to prepare a large family meal. All of the Musteliers have an extraordinary appreciation for flavors, and fresh ingredients, and well prepared foods; they are amazing and creative cooks, and most of them also love wine.

I first met Mama & Papa in Tuscany, Italy in 2003. I had just become engaged to David, and so was included in the family trip to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. In fact, I met the whole family for the first time when David and I walked into the living room of the large refurbished farmhouse we rented. From there, the whole group took day trips to surrounding towns, and enjoyed meals outside under the trellises. We ate and drank wine, and lined the empty bottles against the terrace wall, honoring them as “soldati caduti” (fallen soldiers). Mama and Papa were welcoming and lovely to me in my first entree to the Mustelier family, perhaps in spite of being occasionally overwhelmed by the enthusiams of their adult children and their spouses.

Papa was garrulous and outgoing, and loved to tell his stories. In his later years, he charmed the Costco food sample purveyors, and chatted up anyone within earshot on his outings to the grocery store. Not surprisingly, for being a Cuban of his generation and a Colonel in the Army, Papa could be tough on his kids, especially as they came into their own adulthood and engaged their fierce intelligence. All said, Papa was extremely sentimental: he loved his family, and was very proud of his children.

Mama died in 2011, and Papa missed her terribly these last 6 years. They had been married just short of 59 years.

Papa had just turned 94 when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in late 2016, but he was otherwise extremely healthy and hale. He was expected to recover from the surgery to remove the tumor, but his digestive system never really worked again. A friend of mine said at the time: “Efi is full of surprises, and he has surprised people most of his life.” Still, after some time in the ICU and on a ventilator, and a week of trying to recover from both, Papa died on February 14.

Our thought was that Mama had come to get Papa to celebrate their love on Valentine’s Day. We think their eldest son, Raul, who died in 2008, made the reservations and ordered the wine.

David and I will leave God’s Pocket next Tuesday for a few days to join his siblings, extended family and friends for Papa’s funeral. He will be buried on March 2, with full military honors, at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Love,
Susan

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Splitting Wood and Other Second Chances

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I successfully split two fat logs into stove-size firewood this afternoon. This is no small accomplishment for me. Last year, when I recognized the daily “nut” of firewood that the wood stove required of us in order to keep the house (and us) warm, I gave it a try so David, my husband, wouldn’t have to do it all. However, first, I was afraid of the axe. I had been warned to watch my swing so that the axe didn’t miss the log and hit my shin instead. Second, I didn’t leverage my body in the swing because see Number One. Third, the log didn’t break into pieces with one of my whacks like it does in the movies, so I assumed that I must be doing it wrong. Two whacks and I was done.

Today, with the possibility that David might go off island for family health reasons, we both decided it was time to give it another go. What I learned was that firewood doesn’t magically split, especially if the wood is wet or damp, and if the log is fat. Splitting wood is about dropping the axe with momentum – which is where the power comes from – on the wood until it cracks. That can require any number of swings, creating tiny fissures in the wood. Eventually, the log will have several cracks, and a whack or two later, it will split like it does in show business.

So many lovely lessons in this afternoon’s work. And maybe life gives you a “do over” now and again when you’ve been a doofus. Or more kindly put: when you weren’t yet ready for the experience in front of you.

We’ve hiked more in our few weeks here this year than we did the entire time last year. And I’ve allowed myself to be more adventurous, stepping in to my qualms and realizing they make excellent company when you bring them along rather than arguing with them. We attempted a hike the other day to the highest point on the island, Meeson Cone, which requires scrambling up and back down several steep hills, over and under fallen trees and including a few spots with rope assists. It was mostly fine, if a little sketchy in a few spots, and I realized how much I was enjoying the experience. It’s like I was remembering that I love to move and I love adventure. I felt more right about being out than I had before we left the house, qualms gently placed in the backpack along with the water and emergency radio.

The biggest “second chance” so far has been our trip into Port Hardy. Last year we had wanted to take the hour long boat ride to town, David for adventure and me for a few supplies (okay, the truth is that we were out of bourbon and chocolate). But we never made it as the weather didn’t cooperate and water looked too lumpy. Oh, and I was afraid and very resistant. Last Tuesday, we braved the very cold, clear air and flat waters, and took the skiff into Port Hardy without incident. We saw a pod of dolphin in the distance about halfway there, but it was otherwise uneventful.

Once in Port Hardy, we enjoyed lattes at the little upscale coffee shop-book store near the Canadian Coast Guard pier where we tied up. I bought Liz Gilbert’s “Big Magic – Creative Living without Fear” which I’d been wanting to read. We ran some errands for our hosts, Bill and Annie, and then shopped at the Save-On for groceries. A few hours later, we loaded up the skiff, and headed back to God’s Pocket. As we neared the islands, we saw a large otter, which dove under as we neared, and a seal pup with large eyes which didn’t, clearly inexperienced with motor boats.

Last year, when we saw wolves on the shore of Harlequin Bay (on the backside of our island) and I hopped online to do wolf research, I found PacificWild and fell in love with the organization’s work and website. I became an admirer of the Executive Director, Ian McAllister, for his leadership and work trying to protect the habitat and wildlife of the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, for his photography and his books. Several weeks later, our hosts returned to God’s Pocket to begin preparations for the 2016 season, bringing with them two dive scouts and the cook. Overwhelmed by the sudden influx of people after five weeks of quiet with David, I snuck out to our room after dinner.  What I missed that night, a year ago, was a visit by Ian McAllister of PacificWild with the catamaran Habitat, along with a friend Paul Nicklen, a National Geographic photographer.

Apparently, I got a do over here, too. Yesterday afternoon, we had a lovely and rare visit. The Habitat docked at God’s Pocket and Ian McAllister and his team of three came up for a visit. He was in the area diving and filming underwater for his Imax film; one of his crew, Tim, was the caretaker here at God’s Pocket after the season ended last year until Christmas. We offered tea and chatted for a while before they went out, with David, for a dive just outside the Bay.

I got to tell Ian that I needed a “fan freak” moment about his work, his books and photography (I have one of his wolf pictures hanging in our guest bedroom/my office in our condo). (Click here for the gallery of gorgeous wildlife photos, videos, and documentaries.) He blushed a few times, but once I got that out of the way, I told him I was “done fussing” and we resumed our more relaxed chat. They came back up after their dive and dinner, and he gifted me a book of poems and photos, “The Wild In You,” that he collaborated on with a Canadian poet, Linda Crozier.  And as he left, he invited David and me to visit them on Denny Island, where he and his family make their home, and where PacificWild has its organizational base in the Great Bear Rainforest. We had made a new friend: in my book, that’s not a do over, that’s a do better!

For the last few days, we’ve had snow on the ground, and intermittent snow fall. Big floofy flakes have been swirling over the water and the deck, and resting gently to welcome more. Our coterie of birds and animals leave tracks in the snow and carry on with their routine not seeming to mind. I am filled with wonder, and gratitude.

Love,
Susan

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