And now a word from my sister on her life as of late:
One Year Later…
It has been a little over a year since I married my safari guide husband. We’ve known each other for almost 2 1/2 years, so in the grand scheme of things, we are much like other newlyweds, except, we are so not in so many ways.
The most obvious distinction is our meeting, which took place while I was on vacation in South Africa. We had 22 in the group and three jeeps, which means even my placement in his jeep seems almost fated. The first night he drove my friends and I around at dusk, chasing a lioness on the hunt. We prayed she wouldn’t catch anything, but how thrilling to see nature in action. BTW, did you know it’s the female lions that do all the work, catching and killing, while the male lion sits around and looks handsome. After the kill, the male gets first dibs and then females can join. Needless to say, we are NOT a lion household, but take our cues more from the matriarchal elephant herds.
Our relationship was seamless almost immediately. The laughs were continuous and I felt instantly at ease in his presence (which made chasing lions and having rhinos almost enter our vehicle all the more enjoyable). So much laughter came from our jeep that the others on our tour were starting to wonder. The joke was on me however, because while it was happening, I really didn’t know. I was on vacation for christ’s sake and who doesn’t fall in love with their guide when on safari???? On my last birthday, he gave me a card which read, ‘When I saw you I fell in love and you smiled because you knew’. I love that card!
So yeah, that happened. And then there was the logistical mess which needed tending. We lived approximately 11,000 miles apart, so someone had to pack their crap. Living in South Africa really wasn’t an option, so my new husband agreed to adopt a new country and he was down for that adventure. Enter the Department of Homeland Security, The U.S. Department of State, The South African Embassy . . . I’m sure I’m leaving someone out. The act of immigrating is not for the faint of heart. Lots of paperwork, rules, legal jargon, fees and did I mention the paperwork? We got through it with the help of a lawyer and are currently waiting patiently for our first interview together as husband and wife. This interview is so my government can tell me that my relationship is real and he can stay in the U.S. so we can live happily ever after. It’s all so romantic! Not to mention the fact that he couldn’t work for about 6 months when he got here (paperwork) and had to leave his previous job about 3 months before he came here because there is only one place immigration interviews are held in all of South Africa and only a few doctors that can do the physical, none of which were anywhere near the game reserve where he worked. Reading that doesn’t even make sense to me, because it begs the question, why can’t he just make an appointment the week before he wants to leave and to that I’ll just say, South Africa. Good times.
So he finally gets here and then the culture shock of moving to America from the bush and living in South Florida with the heat and humidity and dare I say some of the rudest people on earth? (Okay, that may be pushing it, but South Africans are a well-mannered bunch and he did not find the tone here at all amusing.) I’d like to say it’s been a bliss filled year because we are together and nothing else matters, but I’m not gonna lie, we struggled. Not about the being together part, but about the, now that we are together, how do we make this great again (no pun intended current admin) part. And this is where I really feel like we are NOT like other couples. Because early on I knew that no matter how much we were MFEO (made for each other), the nonsense of life would always be heckling us from the back row. I also knew that the only way to survive all the set backs and not give up 5 seconds before the miracle was to focus on us and why we dreamed up this crazy scheme in the first place. The goal has always been to be as happy as we were when we first met, some sort of living vacation experiment.
This concept of a living vacation is not foreign to me, in fact, I could argue that it has been the backdrop to my entire life. So not surprising that when I did find the one, it was in some way his guiding principle, albeit unspoken and perhaps unconscious, as well. It used to play out in my life as a constant, wishing I was somewhere else, but now it has become a catalyst to something extraordinary. Time will tell.
[photo of my grandmother, my mother and her siblings, circa 1940]
My mother did not have a green thumb. Growing up, we had maybe three houseplants, the one, a Philodendron that hung in the living room, its spindly arms hanging down in supplication — “won’t someone please love me?”, it’s leaves small and sparse. My mother dutifully watered the little plant once a week and when the vines got too long she would trim them and throw them away. While not sickly, the plant never looked happy, like it was missing a crucial mineral necessary for its growth.
There’s not a lot of green, generally, in a city, and my mother grew up in South Philadelphia. She liked things clean. Cleaning was a requirement, like going to Mass on Sunday except, while we were growing up, she did it every day. My childhood bestie, Stephen, called her Immaculate Rita because the house was never out-of-order. I think genetics may be involved as decades later when I myself lived in Queen’s Village in Philadelphia (almost South Philly), the old Italian neighbor lady down the block swept her stoop and sidewalk meticulously a couple of times a day while cursing the solitary black walnut tree that grew in front of her house. “What a mess,” she’d say, a refrain I heard my own mother cry on more than one occasion when my sister and I were young. My neighbor would sooner cut the tree down than deal with the mess so it’s possible that this cleaning thing is a genetic trait in Italians. I did not inherit this cleaning gene from my mother.
Contrast my grandmother who grew up on a farm in Italy and tilled the soil to grow vegetables, gathered eggs, and cut the heads off of chickens if they were lucky enough to be cooking one for dinner that night. In Philadelphia, she had a small vegetable garden out back where she grew tomatoes for her gravy and other delectables like zucchini and peppers that young Rita refused to eat. My mother relates that at one point growing up she ate only peanut butter and ice cream. I don’t recall her saying how long this behavior continued, but I’m pretty sure my grandmother eventually won. I am sure of this because once she was a mother, my mother always won, and that kind of mothering is definitely genetic.
I took over the care and feeding of my mother’s Philodendron when she sold the house. Philo was old and scraggly with but a few vines to it, but also wise, and I felt an obligation to a plant that had hung in there that long under such circumstances. I don’t have a picture of what the plant looked like hanging in my parent’s house, but today my mother’s Philodendron looks like this:
…leading me to believe that green thumbs skip a generation. If you need more proof, how about these:
This Ficus I got when I started college in 1979. Given how slow Ficus grow, it had to be at least five years old when I bought it so it’s now likely over 50 years old. We haul it out to the back deck in summer and back into the living room in winter. We had to cut a least a third of it’s height last year because it was too tall to get back into the house. Ficus can grow up to 98 feet tall! I briefly contemplated moving to a house with 10-foot ceilings, but a trim seemed easier and more practical.
And here’s the Norfolk Pine that my office gave me when my father died in 1994. It, too, has been under the knife —three times, and it’s probably lost at least three feet overall — but after each trim it sprouts a new doo and continues, undeterred. Originally, the pruning jobs for these three trees fell to my husband because I couldn’t bear it. Ficus are notoriously fussy and temperamental and Norfolk Pines with their heads hacked off seemed destined for the trash bin. I envisioned them all screaming with each snip as discussed in The Secret Life of Plants, and worse, dying from all the abuse.
The first time we cut them back, the oldest Ficus dropped all its leaves. I was horrified and disconsolate, but the bare branches didn’t last but a week or so before little shoots appeared. Adaptation despite inconvenience, I heard the Ficus say. Better to be smaller than in the trash heap.
Dr. Christine Northrup, a women’s health expert and visionary in the field, who combines mind, body and spirit in her approach to women’s health, talks about how women’s wisdom is passed down through the maternal line in her book Mother-Daughter Wisdom. Even if your mother or grandmother is no longer alive, you are still getting the benefit of that wisdom, Northrup says. You just need to be still and invite her in, an exercise she calls a matrilineal naming circle.
You name your mother’s line as far back as you know it so for me, “I am Pam, daughter of Rita, daughter of Yolanda.” That’s as far back as I know since my grandmother died when I was very young. My grandmother’s siblings moved in spurts from Italy to Canada and my grandmother was the sole U.S. immigrant so growing up, there really was no one to ask. In Dr. Northrup’s book she describes a workshop where all the women named their female ancestors and then invited them into the group. The room was intense, filled with the energy of all the women who had gone before, and many of the women experienced a huge emotional release — tears of joy, sadness, or just the ability to dump some baggage. Northrup believes that for a woman to understand her own body and mind, she needs to look to the past from time-to-time, to see where she has come from.
My mother believed this as she continued to look for alternative/eastern medicinal cures for her still incurable scleroderma, reasoning that whatever she could fix in her own body would be fixed for her girls. (Thanks, Mom!) My gardening proclivities go way beyond anything Rita ever did and certainly beyond what she taught me, and, but for an offhand comment my mom made, I would have never known my grandmother was an amazing gardener.
So mystery solved. Although I’m not yet an amazing gardener, I have potential, and my plants seem to adore me if growth rates are any indication. Also good to know that knowledge is fluid, possibly genetic, and available for download from the ethers even when people aren’t around. Next time I have a few moments, I’m going to ask Nana how to get my bee balm to stop overrunning my daylilies. I’m sure she’ll have quite a lot to say.
[Photos by Stacey Lazos]
Please enjoy this post by my sister, Stacey, about the beginning. To find out “of what,” read on…
Fumbling Toward Ecstasy
Be foolishly in love because love is all there is.
As a single woman of a certain age, you start to wonder, “Is this It? Will I ever again be struck down by a love so magnetic that all past romantic failures become a distant memory as we ride off into the sunset on a white horse?” The thought wasn’t a constant companion, thank Jesus, but merely an occasional tourist stopping to take a photo. There was a certain sadness experienced when I contemplated my capacity for love and how it was so much greater than what was currently being expended.
And then something happened when I totally wasn’t looking, and it took me by such surprise that I had to play catch up with the momentum I had generated during the years of waiting for my perfect lid.
I fell in love.
It happened in less than five days and I wasn’t even aware of the change until weeks later. Heartbreak and devastation are so much more of a dramatic read, yet this story is so awe-inspiring that in needs to be told and savored with enthusiasm. I make this distinction because in the past few days I have been the brunt of ridicule by my friends for championing love. The remarks weren’t all that terrible, but they struck a chord so deep in me that I disproportionately lashed out. And although I know my response was extravagant, I ask the question:
“How broken do you have to be NOT to believe in love?”
In fairness to my friend, I will say my situation is quite out of the ordinary and perhaps begs a bit of teasing. I will let you decide for yourself. The following is my statement to petition my boyfriend (and soon to be husband) to come to the U.S. on a fiancé visa.
“I met LJ when we arrived at the game reserve. I was on a yoga retreat with a group of 22. The group was split into three smaller groups for our stay, each having a ranger in charge of them for the four days we were on the reserve. LJ was the ranger for our group. We spent each day together (along with the others in our vehicle), with him taking us on two safaris a day and driving us to and from our villa, yoga, and meals. During that time, LJ and I got on very well. We shared a similar sense of humor and his commitment to making our trip a memorable and special experience was delightful. He had dinner with our group the last two nights and we became attached, even though I thought at the time nothing could come of it. I believed the fact that we had only known each other for a few days, the distance between us and the difference in our ages meant that this could only be a magical encounter on the trip of a lifetime. I was wrong. We exchanged contact info the last night of my trip and we immediately couldn’t stop talking (texting at first, thank you WhatsApp). We talked as I made my way home when wifi permitted and each and every day, several times a day, after that. In fact, there was only one day that we didn’t speak. We were trying to get a handle on the way we felt and how this relationship could even work. I told him to take some time to think about what he wanted. When I didn’t hear from him the next day I was beyond sad. Even though in the back of my mind, the relationship was doomed from the beginning, coming to terms with that reality was heartbreaking. Imagine my surprise then, when I received a phone call the next day. When I asked what happened, he told me he drove 11 hours to his mother’s to talk things out. And he was all in. “Wait, what?” It took me a minute to process.”
There are a million things I can say about this man and why I want to marry him. The fact that neither one of us has ever been married before and we chose this crazy situation to commit to, the way it feels like when we are together even though we are 11,000 miles apart and the feeling of having the perfect partner for me are just a few of those reasons. I look forward to cataloging the other 999,997 over the next 50 years.
stacey lazos 3.10.17
[all photos by p.j.lazos]
Okay, so it’s almost February, but it’s still a new year and never too late to make a few resolutions. Perhaps this post by my sis, Stacey Lazos will help you figure out what that looks like. So go ahead. Get your joy on. I dare you.
New Year, New You
Welcome to 2017! Every year, around the middle of December, I start to really look forward to the New Year. I think about all the ways the old year kicked my ass and how the new year will be so much more gentle, kind and loving. Something about starting fresh, wiping the slate clean, endless possibilities (and on and on).
The same stream of consciousness seems to be true for self-help tools, exercise regimes, diets or any type of make yourself better endeavor. We always start out strong. We want to succeed, to become the best possible version of ourselves. And at the beginning we fall in love with the way the new exercise or diet or whatever makes us feel. There’s a bit of euphoria around the new and improved us. We buy the cute tights, the equipment, the supplements and we think, this is it. I’m finally going to be the person I want to be. But a week or two into it (perhaps an hour or two), we start to lose momentum. We get a little tired. Our old patterns start to emerge and taunt us from the sidelines. “Dinner really isn’t complete without some ice cream for dessert.” “It’s probably better if I skip my run today because my ankle is a little sore.” And before you know it, the make yourself better activities become less and less because it’s just easier to fall into your old patterns. Yogis call these samskaras (mental and emotional patterns left on the subconscious mind by experience). Think of them as your default settings. Patterning is something that we learn at a very young age, but in the context of math, science and art. How often do you think of it in the context of your life experiences?
I’ve been a yoga student for many years. I LOVE to practice. I have friends that make fun of me because they wonder what I’m practicing for. Almost nothing makes me feel better than getting my sweat on for an hour and a half with a teacher I enjoy, some like-minded people and a safe and sacred space. And even though I would choose this activity over most others, there have still been weeks and even months where I have abandoned my practice because I was living my life. Sometimes it was because I was having too much fun, but most times it was because I was too worried or stressed or just caught in my own desperate mental loop and I forgot that I knew how to feel better. My samskaras led me to worry even though joy is so much more appealing and really, just as close as a shift in perspective.
Joy is always in our hands (our minds really), but our western culture teaches us that joy is a thing or a place, a person or an accomplishment. It is none of those things, but rather a state of being, a place of union inside ourselves, which is either simple or elusive, depending upon your vantage point.
This year of 2017, I choose to be my biggest fan, to be selfish in my decision to feel good and to delight in the world in general. I will do this with the help of some very special people in my life, but mostly I will do it by aligning myself to a higher perspective and staying there, no matter how my previous patterns impose. Which of your patterns are worth breaking this year?
stacey lazos 1.27.17
[photo by PJL, Landis Valley Farm Museum, Lancaster, PA]
I’m no expert, but I do know that the food we put in our bodies create the future for those bodies. To that end, the freshest, sustainable, most pesticide-free food we can eat is the way to go. Here’s what my friend, Sharon Wong, health and wellness practitioner (and kick-ass butterflier!) has to say about it. pjl 10.19.16
Because Food Matters:
A Voice For Change For A Generation In Jeopardy
by Sharon Wong
I’ve known Pam since childhood and have very fond memories of our time together swimming for the Dolphin Swim Club. Both of us loved swimming the butterfly which moves much like a dolphin in the water. I share Pam’s passion for raising awareness about our environment so when she asked me to write a post for her blog on what I do for a living, I agreed.
I’m a doctor’s daughter and a holistic wellness practitioner. One of my specialties is nutrition and, like my father, I strongly believe in preventive medicine. The difference is he practiced allopathic medicine (treating disease with drugs) and I practice holistic medicine (treating the whole person, not just the disease). Thanks to my dad I’ve been exposed to the best of both worlds. How does it get any better than that? What if the famous quote by Hippocrates going back before Christ (c.460 – c.370 BC) is true and “food is thy medicine and medicine is thy food?” Then what we eat becomes extremely important. My intention as a wellness practitioner is to raise awareness in this area and educate people in a way that will help them make good food choices.
But for real change to happen, it’s up to the next generation which is why I’m passionate about teaching them. Sadly, I’ve seen first hand how we are failing them. I taught Montessori pre-school in the public school district for eight years in Tempe, Arizona where the only nutritious meal was the daily snack that I planned for the month, provided by the parents. Needless to say, I was appalled by the cafeteria food being offered to the children. Canned fruits and vegetables. Everything processed with loads of salt, sugar, preservatives.
I totally understood. Many teachers would force the kids to eat their school lunch. Not me! I’d say “go have some more snack,” which consisted of fresh fruits, vegetables and some type of whole grain. That was four years ago. Now after more extensive research in holistic nutrition, I’ve learned that our processed foods have zero nutrition and are loaded with preservatives while our whole foods are laced with pesticides harmful to the body. No wonder most children wouldn’t eat it! Our food — so important to the human body — is causing health and behavioral issues like we’ve never seen.
I would definitely recommend buying 100% organic or SOUL (seasonal, organic, unprocessed and local) food or if you can, grow your own. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if school’s taught gardening and sustainability in early childhood like the Waldorf schools? Founded by Rudolph Steiner, the Waldorf school seeks to educate the whole child through holistic learning, intellectual, practical, artistic, and empathetic.
According to Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN) our next generation is in jeopardy and kids are on the frontline. There is ample scientific evidence that pesticides harm children, increase cancer and alter brain development. Many parents are not aware of this so I am delighted to be a voice for the children.
According to PAN:
Each year, more than 680 million pounds of pesticides are applied to agricultural fields across the country. This 2007 figure—the most recent government estimates available—climbs to more than a billion when common non-agricultural pesticide uses are included. We believe this is too much. Ever-stronger science shows that even at low levels of exposure, many of these chemicals are harmful to human health—and children’s developing minds and bodies are particularly vulnerable. It is also increasingly clear that alternative, less chemical-intensive approaches to farming are not only viable, but would strengthen the resilience of agricultural production. Put simply, there is no need for our food and farming system to put our children’s health at risk from chemical exposure.
Scientists have known for decades that children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful affects of being exposed to pesticides, even at very low levels. “Pesticide residues on food are a primary source of childhood exposure,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it will take an army to raise awareness. Are you in? “As we noted in our 2012 A Generation in Jeopardy report, the burden of protecting children from dangerous chemicals cannot rest solely with individual families; policy change is required.” PAN’s recommendations reflect both the increasing urgency of the challenge they face and the growing opportunities for progress. Check out the detailed report.
How can you help? First — learn more. Millions against Monsanto are challenging this biotech bully, the major corporation responsible for causing harm to our food supply, our environment and our next generation. “For over two decades, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness have exercised near-dictatorial control over American agriculture. Finally, public opinion around the biotech industry’s contamination of our food supply and destruction of our environment has reached the tipping point. We’re fighting back.”
Just like the dolphins & whales are not able to digest plastic waste found in the sea, humans were not created with the ability to digest toxic chemicals on land. Choose your food wisely.
~Love For Thyself equals Optimum Health~
I’ve been toying with the idea of expansion for some time now. After all, matter doesn’t exist in a state of stasis and neither should I. We’re either living or dying, growing or shrinking, thriving or decaying, joyful or morose, and even in stillness we’re always moving in some direction. The universe itself is in a constant state of expansion and I guess it will continue as such until it implodes into itself and becomes that single, sacred still point once again. In the meantime, may as well have a bit of fun and create something, eh? To that end, here is my next page on what what I hope is an ever evolving project in the blogosphere entitled, “On Growing Things,” dedicated to holistic, authentic, sustainable living. The first in what I hope to be a long-running series is a guest post by my sister, Stacey Lazos, an educational consultant who in her day job teaches wellness in schools, creating curriculum to address the whole person, mind, body and spirit, and in her other job walks the talk as a yoga instructor which just so happens to be her hobby and her passion.
So without further adieu, here’s post one of “On Growing Things”:
Because I’m Happy (or Actually Trying Hard to Get There)
I’ve been threatening to write something for my sister’s blog for almost a year. It started when I turned 50. I’ve always been a bit, how would you say, distracted, and the milestone, although not debilitating, did have its contemplative (and complicated) moments. Throughout this year there has been a budding (no pun…) force to step forward and grow something. Be patient with my initial attempts.
Happiness has always been a potent motivating factor for me. My ability to be flooded with delight is impressive and sometimes unparalleled. However, like an addict, I’m always chasing the high. According to the Yoga Sutras, the kleshas, of which there are five, are the obstacles to liberation. Attachment (raga) is third on the list. I used to call my ex at 3:30 everyday as we toiled in our 9 to 5 existence and ask, “When is the happiness coming?”. The day he told me never to ask him that again (not because he was dismissive, but because it was killing him that he couldn’t answer the question) was the beginning of the end for us.
Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist Monk and the happiest man on earth, suggests anyone can be happy if they only train their brain. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has done extensive testing on this man (hence the acquisition of his subtitle) and many other advanced meditation practitioners, in an effort to make this happiness thing a little more accessible. Turns out, ‘when meditating on compassion, Ricard’s brain produces a level of gamma waves — those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory — “never reported before in the neuroscience literature”, Davidson said.’
Impressive! Ricard himself suggest you don’t need 40 years of spiritual seeking to obtain results. For the beginner he recommends thinking happy thoughts for 10-15 minutes each day; concentrating on not letting your mind get distracted and keeping focus on the positive emotions. Of course the happiest man on earth would give these easy peasy lemon squeezy instructions for obtaining truth, consciousness and bliss.
And so, I will commit to practicing 10-15 minutes a day in my quest to grow things, anything, many things. And it will be good.