Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Ma’s Deep Pockets

February 18, 2017

I solemnly took her coat, a beautiful leather coat. A memento of sorts, the coat was something tangible to remember her by.

I claimed it as my own, a coat I’d probably never buy for myself. I still can’t imagine my mother wearing it and found no photos to prove she wore it. I must have had it in my possession for about a year after her death before I thought to actually wear it. We were headed to see a play. It was a cool Seattle autumn evening. The coat fit as if it were tailored for me.

Ma's Leather Jacket

Ma’s Leather Jacket

On our way to the car, I discovered pockets, deep pockets, to keep my hands warm. It was when I thrust my hands into ma’s deep pockets that I made my discoveries.

In the right pocket, I found a handkerchief. Perfectly clean, starched, and ironed. Instinctively, I put the hanky to my nose, as if to search out a trace of my mother’s smell. All I smelled were mothballs. Those of you reading this, who knew my mother, are laughing. I know you are, but it is no laughing matter! My mother had this thing about mothballs. Or, more accurately, she had a fear of moth infestations so she stuffed mothballs in closets, dresser drawers, coat pockets, and between our folded sweaters. My mother knew that mothballs would keep moths away. What she didn’t know was that mothballs are made of naphthalene, an insecticide, which gives off highly toxic fumes and vapors harmful to insects, wildlife, and humans.

The handkerchief

The handkerchief

In a split second, nose to handkerchief, I was back in my childhood home. The handkerchief transported me to a small brick house in NW Indiana, where the heating and AC vents carried no-longer-secret private conversations between my parents. Conversations about their monetary worries, concerns over the safety of their children, their health, our health, our futures carried through the vents with a frightening and embarrassing clarity. I remember once confessing to a priest about eavesdropping on my parents’ private conversations. I felt that guilty so as to bring my dark shame to the confessional box! I remember the priest taking an unnatural interest in my confession! Ah, the smell of that darned handkerchief!

Back to the autumn theater night in Seattle, my fingers next touched a tube of lipstick. Ma’s coral red lipstick! My mother didn’t wear make up, but on certain rare occasions, she’d put some lipstick on. For some reason, I hardly remember this. It’s a dim memory, only brought to the surface when I found the tube of red lipstick in ma’s deep pockets.

Ma's Coral Red Lipstick

Ma’s Coral Red Lipstick

For some reason the lipstick made me sad. I am trying to understand why it makes me sad. Maybe it’s because the lipstick is a testimony to the life my mother once lived. The tube of lipstick I found bears witness to my mother’s all-too-human life, one in which she wanted to feel more feminine, more beautiful. The tube of color to redden her lips unveils a woman, my mother, who was alive for a brief time. Holding the tube of lipstick makes me sad because I am reminded of her earthly existence, and all the complex feelings we humans may have about measuring up and concerns about how we should look and present ourselves to the world. I see her applying the red lipstick, perhaps in search of a boost of confidence and I continue to feel overwhelmed with sadness.

That same autumn evening in Seattle on our way to the theater, I found one last item, the most significant one, in ma’s deep pockets. I found my mother’s beloved saint card.  I couldn’t believe I now had her treasured prayer card in my possession.

Santa Rosalia, Patron Saint of Palermo

Santa Rosalia, Patron Saint of Palermo

My mother loved Santa Rosalia. Santa Rosalia is also affectionately known by Sicilians as La Santuzza, or The Little Saint. I used to see my mom pull out her saint card, covered in a clear plastic card holder. She’d lovingly caress La Santuzza, flip the card over, and I’d watch her silently lip the prayer on the card.

La Santuzza (1120-1160) is always depicted wearing a crown of roses. She is sometimes shown wearing dark thick fabrics because she cast off her riches and lived a monastic life in a cave. Her story is unusual: Rosalia was born in Palermo, Sicily, to Sicilian aristocracy (Frankish aristrocrats governing Sicily). Her father was Sinibald, Lord of Roses. Rosalia was a descendant of Charlemagne. Rosalia was a beautiful noble woman, who at a very young age, experienced a calling to devote her life to God. At age 13, she moved to a cave near the town of Santo Stephano Quisquina and devoted her life to prayer. She later moved to another cave on Mount Pellegrino, near Palermo. She lived entirely alone and died alone.

Always shown wearing a crown of roses, here La Santuzza wears the clothing of a hermit.

Always shown wearing a crown of roses, here La Santuzza wears the clothing of a hermit.

As a hermit, she was not venerated by her neighbors, royalty, or family. No one came to visit her. She died completely alone.

In 1625, during a period of plague, she appeared in a vision to a hunter near her cave. Her relics were discovered, brought to Palermo, and paraded through the street. Three days later the plague ended, intercession to Rosalia was credited with saving the city, and she was proclaimed its patroness. The traditional celebration of Rosalia lasted for days, involved fireworks and parades, and her feast day was made a holy day of obligation by Pope Pius XI in 1927.

Her festival is an annual celebration in Palermo, but I also found the following:

Rosalia is deeply revered as a saint to this day.  Her festival is a big bash, not only in Palermo, but also in Bensonhurst (a neighborhood in Brooklyn) and other Sicilian communities.  Monterey, California has a three-day fishing tournament and Italian heritage festival in her honor.

Santa Rosalia, La Santuzza, beloved saint of Palermo

Santa Rosalia, La Santuzza, beloved saint of Palermo

My mother must have gotten the card from Sicily because La Santuzza’s prayer is in Italian. On the way home on the cold autumn evening, I dug my hands into ma’s deep pockets. Perhaps like my mother, I found myself caressing the card covered by clear plastic. I didn’t read the prayer until I got home that night.

Below is the prayer on the reverse side of La Santuzza’s card (translated from Italian to English).  This is the prayer my mother lipped silently every day:

Santa Rosalia, pray to God for my family and me.

Through your powerful prayers, may we obtain health, life and salvation.

I also pray for this special need and intention

(make your intention


O St. Rosalia, I promise henceforth to remember and follow your example of faith and love.

Pray for me and mine.


In Ma’s deep pockets, I discovered a cornucopia of treasures transcending time.

Christmas Growing Up: Indiana 1960s

December 27, 2016

When I was growing up in Indiana in the 1960s, Christmas meant time off school, time to play in the snow and make a snowman. I always received Perfect Attendance Awards in school, mostly because I was healthy, but also because, even if I had a tummy ache, my mom ignored my complaints and sent me off to catch the bus. Unfortunately, as soon as Christmas vacation came around, I usually got sick and spent the first day or two in bed with the flu.

Christmas time meant a family drive to Chicago to see the Christmas decorations in the shop windows along the Magnificent Mile, a one-mile stretch of shops on North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River. I loved my Dad fiercely as he fearlessly drove alongside big trucks and thick traffic to get us safely into the heart of the big city. We splurged on paid parking, but we saved on meals: mom packed her homemade impinialata (olive onion bread) and had prepared plenty of hardboiled eggs. In our family, there was no driving adventure without at least a dozen hardboiled eggs in tow. (Years later, the first time Rick went on a road trip with my family, when offered a second hard boiled egg, he asked me, “What’s with the eggs?”) In the big city, bundled up as I was, my little feet always got painfully cold and my dad had to give me horseback rides up on his shoulders! The Christmas decorations looked especially beautiful from up high.

Christmas meant having the whole family together. It meant dad coming home early from work at the Indiana Toll Road on Christmas Eve. He entered the house, bringing in snowflakes and a gust of freezing wind, holding a gigantic basket filled with jam, cured meats, mustards, nuts, various types of cheese, crackers, fresh pears, dried fruits, and deluxe chocolates. He proudly handed the basket over to us as we unwrapped it and inspected its rich contents. He won a gift basket year after year for being one of Indiana Toll Road’s best and hardest working employees.

We loved Christmas because it meant my dad had a few days off work and we got to spend every waking moment in his lovely company, all of us! We played his favorite opera and Sicilian folk music records on the turntable. He told us stories of the old country, he sang for us, and he smiled his beautiful contagious smile as he and mom made homemade sausage. The sausage meat mix was ground pork, flavored with salt, cracked pepper, oregano, aniseed, and red pepper flakes. I begged for bits of raw seasoned meat before it made its way into the sausage casings via the hand-crank machine. Again and again, mom and dad patiently swatted my little hands away. Those were the happiest of times.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Stephen’s was packed with other large Catholic families. Some families were so big, they took up a whole pew. My family -seven of us always arriving late- took the back row. Why were we late? Because mom always had one more chore to do, one more dish to prepare, one more item to put away, one more daughter to dress, one more door to lock. Dad waited patiently in the car. He sat rubbing his gloved frigid hands together and kept the engine running, the car warming up, the windows frost-free.

No one saw our new outfits at Midnight Mass. We kept our heavy coats on during mass because it was so cold. I felt like an Italian-American Eskimo, but at least I could snuggle deep into my coat and doze on and off, unnoticed, during the long late-night mass. The priest, rather than celebrating the many people attending midnight mass, scolded those who only showed up for the holiday masses. I counted the seconds for mass to end. Mom stood at her full height, which was not very tall at all, proud of her well-dressed, bundled up daughters and her handsome husband, proud of the fact that my family never missed a single Sunday mass throughout the year. We were not the ones being scolded. Dad had a smirk on his face as he remembered Midnight Mass of his boyhood at Santo Rocco back in Grotte, where he, the cute blond prankster, tied all the widows’ black shawls together so when they made to leave, their shawls fell off their shoulders in one big tangle! What a commotion! He dared repeat his prank every year and no one ever figured out who the prankster was!

After mass, we came back home and opened gifts under the artificial silver Christmas tree that we, as a family, had proudly assembled and decorated with tinsel and mom’s ancient Christmas ornaments from Grotte, Sicily. The ornaments were hand-painted, made of delicate glass. How carefully we handled them, knowing they were mom’s treasures. She’d certainly kill us if we broke one.

The other treasure was the nativity set my family had brought over from Sicily. On the days leading up to Christmas and for days after the holiday, I loved to say goodnight to baby Jesus before going to bed. I could stare at the tiny figures for a long time and study the faces of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the three kings, the sheep and the cows. The figures of the nativity cast a spell over me. Their faces held magic, a mystery that was too profound for me, a mere child, to understand. The nativity set, I knew, represented the rock that held my family in a steadfast knot of faith.

After midnight mass, we were each handed a wrapped gift from under the tree, while an electric light-gadget facing the silver decorated tree went round and round, magically casting colors and turning the silver tree and tinsel into a spectrum of red, blue, green, gold, and orange.

When I was little, my big sisters told me that Santa was a hoax and that the gifts from Santa actually came from mom and dad. I cried because what they told me was dreadful. How could they have come up with such a cruel story? I told my mom what I had heard. My mom sternly told me that if I continued to believe in Santa, I’d keep getting gifts from him, but that if I chose to believe that he did not exist, Santa would then stop bringing me gifts. It didn’t take genius-brains to figure out what I was supposed to do. I continued to receive gifts from Santa until I was 12.

I received dolls and toys until I lost interest in them. Most of the dolls came from Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily did not have children, so she splurged when it came to gift giving for her brother’s children. She was my godmother and adored me! She brought gifts for all my sisters, but I thought my gifts from her were always super special. I secretly believed she loved me more than anyone else in the world. When I lost interest in dolls, I started receiving practical gifts: underwear, socks, a winter coat, boots, a sweater, scarf, hat, mittens, flannel pajamas, slippers, and long underwear. We children received clothing items to keep us warm during long Indiana winters.

Mom cooked and baked for days before Christmas. We children were given the difficult jobs, like cutting onions and peeling garlic. Can’t believe I am divulging this embarrassing detail, but she made us girls wear hairnets in the kitchen! Serious eating began for my family on December 24 and continued for the next 24 hours. On Christmas day, Mom put a sea of fold-up tables together in the basement and then came the tablecloths, one tablecloth overlapping another. Out came her finest plates, the best glassware, and polished silverware. The concept of potluck did not exist in my family. If my mom was hosting Christmas, she made the entire meal. My dad’s sisters came over and helped with the finishing touches.

The gathering was no fewer than 20 people. We began with a pasta dish, usually lasagna or spaghetti with meatballs, followed by Italian Sausage with roasted peppers and onions. There was always a potato salad with hard-boiled eggs, a baked ham, salad, homemade bread, olives, and dad’s homemade wine. The meal went on and on. I will never forget those Christmas meals!

We ate with gusto and we all drank wine, including the children. Everyone talked and laughed at the same time. The noise level kept going up. My boy cousins could really tuck the food away into their bellies. Watching them eat pleased my mom to no end! The adults and the children all sat at the same table and we all interacted with one another.

At some point, eventually, my mom and the other adult ladies would clear the table, quickly do the dishes, and pull out the baked cookies! Someone started a pot of coffee. Even though I was allowed to drink wine, I was not allowed to drink coffee. A well-kept secret was that Aunt Lily let me drink coffee when I spent the night at her house. I kept my word to Aunt Lily and I never told my mother. I loved how the coffee made my heart pound! I always loved the smell of coffee. It smelled of comfort, warmth, of happiness. It smelled of home. My home.

And out came the desserts! Mom’s Sicilian Fig Cookies were the best. Mom called them cucciddrati. I think she made them from memory because I never found her recipe for them (recipes are below, just before the photos). The best part of cucciddrati is that they are topped with a frosting made of butter, confectioner’s sugar, and milk, and topped with colorful nonpareil sprinkles. Mom also made Anisette Cookies. Nonna Licata used to send a box of baked cookies for Christmas. The treasure in Nonna’s box sent to us from Grotte was the cobaita, a pure-goodness-almond-brittle that my grandmother made with sun-roasted almonds from her orchard. They tasted of Sicily!

Mom also made Sesame Seed Cookies, which are called giugiuleni in Sicilian. These hard cookies were delicious dipped in coffee. When in my mother’s house, I dipped them in milk. At Aunt Lily’s house, I dipped them in coffee!

Don’t forget we lived in Indiana, so a bit of the Midwest came into the dessert scene. Alongside the almond cobaita, the dried fig filled cucciddrati, and the sesame studded giugiuleni, mom presented her freshly made Hoosier delicacies such as potato chip cookies, or jello embedded with either cottage cheese or miniature marshmallows.

And NUTS! Christmas was not Christmas without a huge bag of roasted nuts. By the end of the evening, there were piles of nutshells on the table. My dad would crack nuts for me because I didn’t have the strength to crack a single nut. I couldn’t even crack open my favorite almonds and hazelnuts! As my dad cracked the nuts for me, he’d tell his stories!

After the gargantuan meal, the adults played card games. Sounds of coins, banter, laughter still fills my ears. It feels like yesterday when I watched the adults become as playful as we children were. Sometimes we all formed a circle or a train and did Sicilian folk dancing. We’d move the tables so mom and dad could dance the tarantella. They were so light on their feet. Sometimes we children played “chase” and if you got caught, you nearly got tickled to death. The adults told jokes not meant for children’s ears. We were sent off to play, but we hid nearby and listened. We had a hard time understanding the play on words and the various puns in their slurred fast-clipped wine-dipped Sicilian dialect. The jokes went over our heads.

My mom would tell her animated played-out funny stories for all of us to hear. Every year, her bawdy stories grew more embellished, more dramatic, more comical!  She told her entertaining stories about flatulence happening at the most inopportune moments.  One of her stories, which took place at the Italian-American picnic grounds, was about an unfortunate elderly Sicilian immigrant lady, about to sit on a toilet seat, surprising a bird that was taking a dip in the very toilet she was about to sit on.  Mom also had a pocketful of stories about the many colorful characters back in Grotte.  Her stories filled every corner of our humble home with resounding laughter. Every Christmas, our house became a palace, complete with a banquet hall, a ballroom, and a court jester!

My Christmases as an adult are now quiet, the way I have grown to love them. This year, Rick and I spent three exquisite days at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The weather treated us well. We enjoyed cold crisp frost-and-sun-filled days, took long walks, enjoyed each others’ company, caught up on sleep, read books, watched the sunrises and sunsets, and savored life as it is today. I find I do not yearn for the Christmases of my childhood, but every Christmas I do say a silent prayer of thanks to my parents and my aunties for giving me the gift of Christmas memories I will carry in my heart for as long as I live.

And below are photos from our fabulous Christmas this year at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula.

Haystacks in the sea

Haystacks in the sea

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick

Selfie: The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick at La Push

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle II

Ice Puddle II

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Mist and Sea

Mist and Sea

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand (unbelievable naturally occurring colors!)

Reminds me of my family's "steadfast knot of faith".

Kelp Strand: Reminds me of my family’s “steadfast knot of faith”.

The road leading to La Push

The frosted curvy road leading to La Push

Sunset at La Push

Sunset at La Push

Quintet of Daughters

October 1, 2016

I am one of five daughters.

My mother was one of five daughters.

My mother’s mother was one of five daughters.



I come from a lineage of five daughters born on my mother’s side of the family for three generations in a row.  Too bad it’s not five generations in a row.  It would have made for an even better blog post!  There may have been five generations of five daughters, but the fact is that I don’t have knowledge of my mother’s family past my great grandmother, Mamma Rosi.

there are five great lakes: erie, huron, michigan, ontario, superior … i was born in gary, indiana, which borders one of the five great lakes, lake michigan….my birth town, gary, indiana, was also home of the jackson five, there are five points in a star, five cups in a sake set when purchased in Japan, five arms in a starfish, and an earthworm as five hearts. there are five senses: hearing, smelling, taste, touch, sight…five vowels in the English alphabet, five players on the the court in basketball, five olympic rings symbolizing five continents, in the yoga tradition, there are five layers of a human being, which are known has the koshas in sanskrit. there are five toes on each foot and five fingers on each hand, five elements in chinese tradition: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water,  five elements in the hindu tradition: earth, water, fire, air, ether or space, and five primary colors: green/blue, yellow, red, white, black

And there are FIVE photos I’d like to share with you.

These family photos are my treasures.


My Grandmother, Antonia Tirone Licata, and her sisters!

FIVE SISTERS: My Grandmother in the middle, Antonia Tirone Licata, and her sisters, on their family vineyard in Grotte during the grape harvest (la vendemmia).

Who thought to bring a camera out to the vineyards to photograph these five sisters at grape harvest time in Grotte, Sicily?  Back then, the concept of smiling when being photographed was absurd.  Instead, you looked straight into the camera and acted your dignified best.

My grandmother is the petite woman in the middle.  She was the smallest of the five, small but powerful.  She ruled the roost.  I once overheard my mother and one of her sisters describing their parents, “La mamma ficiva lu pappa e lu pappa ficiva la mamma.” Mother wore the pants and Father was the one we went to for coddling and comfort.” (Literally, “Mother played the role of Father and Father played the role of Mother.”)

My grandmother and her sisters enjoyed long lives.  My grandmother birthed and raised ten children. She also worked as both midwife and undertaker in the village of Grotte.  She helped the villagers enter the world and was there to wash and prepare their bodies for their burials.  Death did not frighten her.  Her nickname among the villagers was Sant’ Anto (Saint Antonia).  Even today, when I go to the village, I introduce myself as the daughter of Pina di Sant’Anto and immediately I carve out a place for myself in the village.

Three of the sisters are wearing black, the color of mourning because they are widows.  One of my great auntie’s has her hair covered in a white scarf, typical hair attire at harvest time in Sicily.  The white scarf served as a hat-like covering to keep the scorching sun off her head. She also is wearing a white medallion pinned to her dress.  We can’t see it up close, but it is a photo of her deceased husband.  My grandmother wore a medallion like that, too, pinned to her dress for over 3o years of widowhood. Even today, the widows of Grotte never forget their deceased husbands.  They rarely re-marry, even if widowed young, and they go to the cemetery often to wipe dust from the headstones, to water the flowers around the grave, and to pray.  One of my great aunties in the photo above has removed her white scarf, probably for the photo, and has it slung over her shoulder.  All of these sisters wore their hair long, wrapped in a tight bun.  When I visited my her, I used to love watching my Nonna undo her hair at night.  Her hair was wispy long and steely gray.

The sisters are proudly displaying bunches of picked grapes.  These magnificent women are Earth-Women.  I love how they stand, firmly rooted to the earth!   I love their strong ample bodies.  My grandmother is holding, nearly hugging, a typical woven basket from Sicily.  In the Sicilian dialect the woven basket is called a cartedda, a word derived from the Greek (from kartallos), because Sicily was a Greek colony in ancient times.  I had an uncle who used to make such baskets during the winter months, when he wasn’t busy tending his farm.


Grandmother Antonia Licata (Mamma Anto') with her sisters and two brothers.

Grandmother Antonia Tirone Licata (Mamma Anto’) with her sisters and two brothers.  These are the adult children of my great grandmother, Mamma Rosi (Rosa Zaffuto Tirone).

Another priceless gem!  Again, my grandmother is in the middle with her sisters and her two brothers.  In fact, the sisters have all taken the same standing position as in the grape harvest photo! They are older in this photo.  Now there are four women dressed in black, four widows. Their hair is definitely thinner.  I love how the sisters all carry brand new purses.  What on earth did they carry in their purses?  I never knew my grandmother to carry a purse.  She carried her enormous skeleton key, tied on a long string, tucked and buried deep between her breasts.  The image left an indelible impression on this author’s ten year-old girl’s brain!

The photo was taken inside a house.  It is not my grandmother’s house.  You can see the wooden doors behind the family and the sheer lace curtains that cover the door.  And you can see a fancy doll decorating a sofa.  Maybe it is the village photography studio.

I was lucky enough to meet my grandmother and her siblings!  The five sisters and their two brothers all lived to be in their 80s and 90s.  Mostly I remember “Tsa Ve” (Zia Veva), the woman with the half smile whose hand is on my grandmother’s shoulder, because she immigrated to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada to live with her son and his family.  I met her on several occasions in Canada when I was young.



This is a great family treasure: a photo of  my grandparents, Antonia Tirone Licata and her husband Vincenzo Licata and their ten children, five girls and five boys.  My mother is one of five daughters. My mother is the one with her hand on her little brother’s shoulder. This photo was probably taken in the same place as the previous photo, which makes me think this is the village photographic studio.  Look at the floors!  But this time, there is a sheet covering the wall behind the family. I love how in the two “studio” photos, almost everyone is given a prop to hold.  I bet the photographer handed out handbags/purses to the ladies, newspapers and scrolls to the men, and toys to the children.

When I go to Grotte, every aunt and uncle present in this photo has a copy of this Licata family portrait.  My aunts and uncles keep a framed copy of this photo at their bedside.  As long as the siblings live, before going to bed, they say goodnight to their beloved mother and father who are long gone.  I have seen them kiss this photo before retiring for the night.  Five of the siblings have died (my mother being one of them) and five are still alive.  Two of the sisters are still alive.  Rosa, the eldest of all ten children, will soon celebrate her 100th birthday.  Maria celebrated 97 years of life just a few days ago! There is a 26-year span between Rosa, the eldest, and Decimo, the youngest, whose name literally means “tenth child”.


My mom and her sisters and their mother

My mom, her sisters, and their mother

The photo above was taken in 1972 at my grandmother’s house in Grotte.  My mother is wearing white.  Three of the aunties wear their long hair in an old Sicilian traditional style, tightly pulled back and knotted in a bun. This is the only photo I have of all the sisters together in their later years.

PHOTO NUMBER FIVE: My mom and her five girls!  This was taken in Gary, Indiana.  I am the baby. I love my purse!  The tradition of holding a prop in one’s hand while being photographed continues!


Jumpin’ Above Hoops

September 25, 2016

He goes by the nickname Dream Caster and I am lucky enough to be graced by his towering and gentle presence three times a week, when he comes to my yoga classes at Seattle Athletic Club.  He always arrives early, rolls out his impressive “runway” mat, which is long enough to accommodate his 6’7″ height.  Once his mat is rolled out, he proceeds to set up his yoga oasis with two bolsters, two Gripitz (props used to protect wrists when doing yoga), four blocks, two straps, an eye pillow filled with beads, and a few blankets.  Intrigued by and respectful of this giant of a gentleman, I asked if I could interview him and write about him in my blog. He happily agreed.

His name is Vester Marshall.

Vester lives his spirituality.

“I’ve been a student all my life. School, education, and society try to put you into a box.  Life is much greater than what we learn in school.  You’ve got to go out on your own and explore! Surround yourself with mentors, people who offer opinions you can respect!  Be a seeker! Be a seeker and have enough trust to go to a counselor, a therapist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist for help when you need it.  Being a seeker has taken me out of the box.  It’s what takes you outside of being black or white.”

Vester Marshal was a former Seattle Sonics player during the 1973-74 season. He told me once that as a forward he was known for his ability to jump high and now, in his late 60s, his knees are fairly worn out.  That doesn’t stop him from walking.  In fact, he hasn’t owned a car in over 25 years.  He lives in the heart of Belltown in downtown Seattle and walks everywhere.  He has been sober and clean for well over 25 years.  He is the kind of guy you can’t categorize in any way.  He is a father, a street minister, an herbalist, a certified yoga instructor, a visual artist, a fisherman.  As a teen, he was a political activist and marched in support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. He was active in registering blacks to vote in the 60s. Later he was a grunge band manager in Seattle! He has been active in the anti-nuclear movement. He worked at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Diversity is the name of Vester’s game!

He was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  He went to the University of Oklahoma on a scholarship and played basketball for the university. “Basketball was a path which allowed me to follow the path to greater knowledge and wisdom.”  Playing for the Sonics led him to great connections, such as meeting governors, senators, and legislators.  He used to go to Olympia to take state politicians fishing!

Dream Caster with his salmon

Dream Caster with his salmon

Vester is a visual artist.  “I’m capable of doing what I want to do.  When we do art, we create. We produce.  We work our way through different problems and become connected.”

What are his words of wisdom?

“You have to know yourself.  You have to be real!”

Warrior I

Warrior I

How do you make a difference in this world?

“By just being me, by making good choices, by being responsible for myself.  Be an example.  You see what I’m saying? You’ve got to be an example for the world to witness.”



How has yoga changed you, Vester?

“I’d be dead now if I hadn’t taken an inventory of my lifestyle. Drugs and other hippy addictions were killing me. I looked around.  My friends were dying all around me.  All the people in the rock ‘n roll scene around me in Seattle were dying.  I felt like there was a strong invitation for me to get clean. I made a decision to clean my life.  I went through a detox program with medical help. Shortly after that, I found yoga.  Yoga taught me how to be mindful, how to be kind.  Yoga IS all about kindness and friendship. Yoga is unconditional love.  Yoga has taught me to be a part of a community where everyone is working on becoming their better selves.”

Warrior II, Spiritual Warrior

Warrior II

What are your keys for good living?

“I always have enough.  I live within God’s means.  Because of this, I’m in a beautiful place and I live a beautiful lifestyle.  I walk a path where life becomes divine.  I never worry.  Yeah, I’ve got issues with my knees, but I seek advice from the right people, the right doctors.  I take action and I never worry.”

Vester Marshall has class!

Vester Marshall

Stewards of the Earth

April 27, 2016

We had our 15th annual Earth Day Retreat last weekend!  We have been running Earth Day Retreats every year since April 2000.  Since April 2000, there was one year in which I took a hiatus from holding yoga retreats at our coastal home and sanctuary Little Renaissance and that was when my mother was very ill and at the end of her life.  Other than that time, we have held steady since the first retreat we held in the autumn of 1999.

Brent Matsuda has come to Little Renaissance year after year, all the way from Vancouver, BC, Canada, to serve as our resident biologist for the Earth Day Retreats.  He is a great asset to our annual Earth Day Retreat.  We met Brent in the early ’90s while trekking in Nepal and have been friends with him since that time.

Below you will see photos from our lovely lively weekend, as well as poems the retreat participants wrote, inspired by Haiku writer, Rick Clark!

Buying flowers at Pike Place Market in Seattle! Part I

Tulips: Buying flowers at Pike Place Market in Seattle for the retreat, Part I

Buying flowers for the retreat in Pike Place Market, Part II

Peonies: Buying flowers in Pike Place Market in Seattle for the retreat, Part II

I'd say my lilacs are fully matured and enjoying spring!

I’d say my lilacs are fully matured and enjoying spring!  You can almost smell them in the photo!

Silent night
Owls calling –
Who cooks for you?

-Brent Matsuda

Of course, the inevitable rain at Ocean Shores! Spring equals rain, sunshine, and flowers!

Of course, the inevitable warm (sometimes cold) spring rain at Ocean Shores! Spring equals rain, sunshine, and flowers!

dedicated to Rick Clark:

The old alder trees
Grounded firmly in the earth
Give yogis Balance

-Brenda Seith

Firmly rooted on the deck

Firmly rooted on the deck (our traditional goodbye pose)

The following was written by Katy Hanson, inspired by a Neil Young Concert she attended:


Written by Kay Hartzog:


Breakfast at Little Renaissance

Breakfast at Little Renaissance (scones still in the oven!)

By Butch Hartzog:


All the garden sculptures got a flower hat!

To further celebrate Earth Day, all the garden sculptures got a rhododendron flower hat!

Four haiku by Lena Hanson:

Green retreat


Warm souls


Blooming yogis

Stretch away

Souls deepen


Sweet stillness


wisps of clouds


Green leaves

alight in fire

the dragon’s mouth


Mr. Frog happy to wear his flower hat

Mr. Frog reverently wears his flower hat

Otter wearing her flower hat

Otter happy to wear her flower hat

Chris Hanson read the inspirational essay, We Were Made For These Times, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  Estes is the author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, which is really about the healing power of stories. The essay  starts out with, “Do not lose heart.  We were made for these times.”  It is a letter written to a young activist during troubled times.  It is so appropriate for all of us during the times of Climate Change.  What can I do?  The question and the answers are so bewildering, but Estes gives us a great foundation in which we gain courage to move forward and do our part in becoming stewards of the earth!  You can read the complete essay on this link.

St. Francis sporting his flower hat

St. Francis sporting his flower hat

Serene, he did not seem to mind his flower hat at all.

Serene, he did not seem to mind his flower hat nor the insect on his chest.

And lastly, Ann Fraser read We Have Not Come to Take Prisoners by Hafiz (born in Shiraz, Persia in 1320 AD).  I have included the poem below. Ann recently completed a yoga course, Yoga Behind Bars, a program which brings yoga to prisons across the country.

We have not come here to take prisoners,
But to surrender ever more deeply
To freedom and joy.

We have not come into this exquisite world

to hold ourselves hostage from love.

Run my dear,
From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.

Run like hell my dear,
From anyone likely
To put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart.

We have a duty to befriend
Those aspects of obedience
That stand outside of our house
And shout to our reason
“O please, O please,
Come out and play.”

For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wondrous spirits,

But to experience ever and ever more deeply
Our divine courage, freedom and

After the retreat, Rick and I headed to Iron Springs to visit friends Gail and Dave and to see a beautiful Earth Day Sunset!

After the retreat, Rick and I headed to Iron Springs to visit and have dinner with our friends Gail and Dave and to see a beautiful Earth Day Sunset!

Sweet ending to a perfect Earth Day Weekend (Iron Springs)

Sweet ending to a perfect Earth Day Weekend (Iron Springs)


Adventurous Living

March 9, 2015

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We hosted a yoga retreat this past weekend at the coast.  It was a great experience. This was one of the warmest weekends in March I have ever experienced since living in the Pacific Northwest.  The walks on the beach felt dreamy.  My toes sank into the warm sand and I felt relaxed. We ate lunch in the garden (it was warm enough!).  Earlier this morning, we took a break from our morning yoga session in order to watch a small herd of deer grazing  just outside our window.

One of the retreat participants read the following quote about adventurous living for her shared reading.

Remember the high board at the swimming pool? After days of looking up at it you finally climbed the wet steps to the platform. From there, it was higher than ever. There were only two ways down: the steps to defeat, or the dive to victory. You stood on the edge, shivering in the hot sun, deathly afraid. At last you leaned too far forward, it was too late for retreat, and you dived. The high board was conquered, and you spent the rest of the day diving. Climbing a thousand high boards, we demolish fear, and turn into human beings.
Richard BachA Gift of Wings

The quote spoke directly to so many of us who hesitate to do that which frightens us the most!  For some, it spoke specifically to our work with headstands this past weekend.  I have a headstand bench.  So many people hesitate to use it at first, but once they do, they want to go out and purchase one because going upside down has so many benefits and inversions, when you can do them, create an incredible sense of euphoria!

I don’t have photos from the work with the headstand bench, but I have a few photos from our glorious walks on the beach.  Enjoy! With love from Fran

March 7th, Ocean Shores, Washington...I swear we have the most beautiful beaches here in Washington!

March 7th, Ocean Shores, Washington…we have the most beautiful beaches here in Washington! (photo taken by Tricia)

Perfect fishing day to catch sea perch

Perfect fishing day to catch sea perch

Group shot (photo taken by Rick)

Group shot (photo taken by Rick)

formation on beach (photo taken by Tricia)

beach walk

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Journey to the Heart of the Knee

January 24, 2015

Being at the San Francisco Yoga Conference made me think about my “knee journey” because at last year’s conference, my knee was causing me a fair amount of pain.  The more intense the asana, the more my knee groaned in protest.  This year, I was able to do most postures and concluded that my knee is 90% healed.  Last year I was so concerned about my knee that I was willing to try almost any healing therapy!

My friend, who is experiencing knee pain, said, “Patience is my best friend on my healing journey, but Patience doesn’t always show up when I need Her.”


I suppose the first time I felt my knee ache was just after we sold our Seattle condo.  At that time, I helped move all of our belongings to Ocean Shores, and then we promptly left for a long road trip to Southern California.  At rest stops, I was barely able to straighten my legs.  This was the first sign of injury.  Over time, the pain got worse.  It settled into my left knee.  Later, back home, I continued to teach, but held back on certain poses, choosing not to demonstrate any pose that exacerbated the pain.

The first therapy I sought was a deep tissue massage.  The massage therapist focused on my knee, lower leg, ankle, and foot.  The therapist turned my ankles this way and that.  I patiently submitted to an hour of prodding, kneading, flexing and straightening of the knee.  At some point, the massage therapist told me:

Your knee feels torqued. You know, the discomfort in your knee is there to give you a message. Knee pain reflects some imbalance in yourself or in your life. I know you’re a vegetarian, but have you considered eating meat? Your body type needs meat.

Meat? I failed to see the connection between eating meat and knee health. I tried to be open-minded.  The bleak thought that age was creeping up on me flitted across my mind, but I successfully dismissed that thought.  Instead, I thought about the deep tissue massage therapist’s words.  I carefully scanned the scaffolding of my life and tried to look at the various culprits causing the supposed imbalance in myself or in my life.  I did not come up with any answers, and the pain persisted.


I went to various deep tissue massage therapists for further massage. I was in search of relief for my knee.  While the massages felt wonderful (and sometimes intense), the knee pain did not go away.

I tried icing my knee, and then alternating ice and heat therapy.  I tried soaking in hot tubs. On weekends, I did very little and rested my knee completely.  Still I had no relief.

Monkey soaking away knee tensions at a natural hot spring

One of my friends does a type of massage called the Onsen Technique.  She is one of the best in her field, and she worked on my knee.  The Onsen Technique seems to be a combination of osteopathic and chiropractic work.  In addition to the Onsen Technique, she also did quite a bit of rubbing, creating friction and heat to break up the scar tissue in my knee.  Sadly, this did not help diminish the pain in my knee.  I was determined to get to the bottom of this problem.  I refused to believe knee pain is a natural process of aging, as one person boldly suggested!  I was working very hard to banish this thought.

Next, I had an MRI and guess what?  Nothing abnormal showed up.  I was beginning to wonder if this was some sort of phantom pain I was experiencing.  I became more eager to get to the heart of the pain, to understand it, and to overcome it with patience and the appropriate healing strategy.  I started talking to people.  One person went so far as to explain things this way:

Knee problems indicate you are stuck in the Ego.  A lot of people with knee issues are too proud to bend.

There could be some truth to these words, and I do try to be open to different ideas, but my logical mind eventually filed away the Knee-Ego Connection as nonsense.

Ego vs. Nature

Enter the scene: Physical Therapy.  A certain Physical Therapist came highly recommended to me. Unfortunately, he was not covered by my health insurance, and I had to pay an arm and a leg (and a knee?) to be told I have tight IT bands!  I am not sure I know anyone who doesn’t have tight IT bands.  “Your IT bands,”  he said as if lowering the hatchet, “are tight. Very tight!  And they are torquing your knee.”  With stern expression, he told me to roll the outer edge of my thigh on a foam roller every day and asked me to come back in two weeks.  I dutifully used the foam roller daily and came back in two weeks. My knees were still giving me grief.  Not even a small improvement had taken place.  And this time I left the office with a new gadget, a hard-rippled torture-inducing foam roller for daily use.  I was $222 poorer and my patience was running thin.



Next I tried acupuncture.  I had the treatment in San Francisco at last year’s yoga conference because doing intensive yoga for five days in a row was taking its toll on me.  What did I have to lose?  On the Richter Scale of Pain, my pain was nearing a 7.5. I listened very carefully as the acupuncturist explained the following in a hard-to-follow Chinese accent:


Knee represent Kidney.  Kidney emotion (is) Fear!  Symptom of pain in knee indicate you have Kidney Function Disorder and Kidney Energy Deficiency. With  healthy Kidney you never get knee problem.


As if right on cue, Fear entered the scene.  My sister died of Kidney failure from MS complications.  And OMG I probably have KFD and KED!  I submitted to the acupuncture treatment trying desperately to hold back the fear that something was dreadfully wrong with my kidneys.  The treatment made me very sleepy.  I felt exhausted.  I was asleep by 7:00 pm and slept like a shava all night until the alarm went off at 6 am.


As I awoke, my knees didn’t ache so much.

Because I was at the conference and still in search of the perfect knee fix, when I heard about a highly recommended body worker giving massages right there at the conference center hotel, I immediately booked an appointment.  I was led to a large room with some eight massage tables all set up in a circle.  My massage was to take place here. The lights were only slightly dimmed, so I could still see everyone in the room.  I was asked to disrobe and lie on the massage table.  There was no dressing room, no privacy, no robes.  There were both men and women disrobing, dropping their drawers without hesitation, and happily hopping onto their respective tables!  I would never make a good nudist.  If it were all women in that room, I would have felt comfortable, but there were also men present.  I wish I weren’t this way, but I felt very modest and ill at ease.  I did end up having the massage, but I forgot to tell the therapist to focus on my knee! I do, however,  remember what the therapist told me:

In practice, every time we move forward in Life or approach Change, we approach the Unknown. We may feel vulnerable or unsure. We may stand still, stiff-kneed, resisting the winds of change.


I felt better for a while, but slowly the steady thud of pain return to haunt my left knee.   One of my friends, who is into Somatics, suggested knee issues symbolize genuflecting to the will of another.  This Somatics explanation hit me in the gut.  After all, had I not practically given up my Seattle life to give living at Ocean Shores with my husband a try, a move that clearly was NOT working for me, a MOVE that made me feel cut off from the life and work I live for?  Didn’t the pain in my knee start right after the move to Ocean Shores?  Of course it was my choice to give living in Ocean Shores a whirl, and I have no one to blame but myself for making such a decision.

Next, I went to a person who does Organ Rearrangement.  Sounds frightening, I know!  I heard this therapist could work wonders on the body!  Living with knee pain for almost a full year was enough for me to go to anyone who offered the promise of a miracle!  I went to see this Shaman, but I don’t know if the therapy worked or not. I was worried the Organ Rearranger would relocate my kidneys, when in fact his hands never touched my skin. At some point during the treatment, though it was a warm summer day, I suddenly felt chilled and the OR covered me with a blanket. The blanket was itchy, but I continued to focus on the treatment.  I left the office and was on the bus when I felt the first itchy welt rise under the elastic of my underwear.  By the time I got home, I was in a panic.  My body was covered in flea bites. I dashed into the shower and washed from head to foot.  I washed every article of clothing in extra hot water and dried all my clothes on high heat.  I vacuumed.  I threw the vacuum bag into a dumpster. I called the therapist to tell him that the blanket he had covered me with was full of fleas.  He was in disbelief.  I wondered if he had a cat or dog who slept on the blanket?  I’ll never know.  And I’ll never go back.  I feel itchy just writing this paragraph.


The knee is where we assimilate knowledge.  It is where learning settles in on an energetic, spiritual level. This is why, in the olden days, one knelt when receiving gifts and rewards, from healing to prayer.  One knelt when being “knighted.”

Being Knighted

Last summer my sister gave me a Reiki session.  I found it calming and peaceful.  All I did was lie still and allow myself to receive universal healing energy.  I think her Reiki also was helpful, though she did not specifically focus on my knee.

The last therapy I sought was in October, a few months ago, a Cranial Sacral treatment.  I love Cranial Sacral Therapy, and I think this may have also been helpful.  Unfortunately, the therapist had problems keeping me on her books.  I set up a second appointment and she was treating another person when I showed up for my scheduled session.  This happened twice. I decided one session was enough.

Is it your left knee?  Yes?  This is important because the left knee specifically means that you are being pulled by the past, yet everything about you wants to embrace the present and a new vision for yourself.  The pain reflects the struggle to get away, change directions. Something is holding you back, and it takes a lot of emotional energy to move forward.

Fast forward 18 months, to the present.  A few days ago, I took part in Hiking Yoga, led by Laura Sleep.  Her name would suggest somnambulance, but instead she walked briskly and I found myself huffing and puffing up the hills of San Francisco for a two-hour stretch.  From time to time, we paused at a supposed viewpoint, and, looking out over dense fog, did a few yoga stretches before resuming our heart-thumping journey.  At each “viewpoint,” I stood looking out at the void caused by the fog, smiling, because I suddenly realized my knee is almost back to normal.

I believe my healing is a result of Time, Patience, and the various healing modalities I explored.   The passage of Time and being open to the healing process is what has enabled my knee to heal and return to practicing pain-free yoga!

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Tiny Ascetic Cave

March 27, 2013

The Poetry of Yoga, A Contemporary Anthology, Volume II is out!  Rick has two poems featured in this great anthology, alongside poems written by MC Yogi, Ana Forrest, Seane Corn, and Angela Farmer (and other yogi poets)!  On August 2 and 3, Rick and I are organizing a poetry event at Om Culture in Seattle to promote this great body of yoga poetry!  I will post information on that event on my website within a few weeks.

Rick wrote the following poem, Tiny Ascetic Cave,  while we were in Rishikesh.  I do not have the photo he took of the tiny cave we came upon, but I have included some photos of the powerful River Ganga!

Mother and Child bathing in the Ganga (I took this photo in Rishikesh a few years ago)

Ganga River in Rishikesh

Don and Fran wading in the fast flowing Ganga (Rishikesh)

Don and Fran walking alongside the fast flowing Ganga (Rishikesh)

Tiny Ascetic Cave

Beside the River Ganga

I come upon a tiny cave,

with floor of sand

woven mat for bed,

rounded stone for pillow,

light from the setting sun

glowing red within.

The river glints and gabbles

just beyond its mouth.

The falling light intensifies

the saffron tones of Rishikesh

as chant from a nearby ashram

resounds ecstatically.

Endless human ashes

from ghats upstream,

snuffed by the all-

embracing waters,

sweep by like silt

to occupy the mind.

A million miles in spirit

from the maddening roar

of the materialistic world!

I take a photo

to look at later:

tiny ascetic cave,

at the moment


a long invisible finger

beckoning me

to come inside.

Sunrise on the Ganga (photo taken by Rick in Varanasi)

Sunrise on the Ganga (photo taken by Rick in Varanasi)

The Ganga in Varanasi (photo taken by Rick)

The Ganga (Ganges River) in Varanasi

Interview: inside the mind of a retired commercial fisherman-yogi-author

December 10, 2012

Just before leaving for Thanksgiving, Don Bothell gave me a few copies of his recently published yoga book to give to my sisters. They were all very appreciative, though my sister Toni was the most “super-thrilled” because as she said, “OH, I could read the pictures and do yoga.” Toni cannot read or write, but she can certainly “read” pictures, do yoga, and she loves it!  Toni does yoga twice a week: once a week at her Adult Day Care center and once a week with Nora.


On Saturday, I interviewed Don about his book entitled Weight Loss Through Yoga: Jewel in the Lotus.  On a side note, this was the first formal interview I’ve ever conducted and it was really fun.  Listening to the recording as I transcribed Don’s words to text, I thought I could have a new career as an interviewer!
Congratulations on your book, Don! What inspired you to write the book, Weight Loss Through Yoga?

I’ve done yoga for a number of years and I came to realize that a large number of people are being denied access to yoga because in our country we mainly treat yoga as a form of exercise, so people who are very heavy may feel a regular yoga class does not accommodate them. While in yoga class, I saw a largely overweight person in class struggling to get into postures and noticed the teacher could not devote the necessary time to help that person.

Yoga really isn’t just a system of physical exercises. It’s much much more. The physical asanas are just one aspect of yoga. I feel that people who have spinal cord injuries and can’t move at all could use the true science of yoga to grow and realize their full complete selves.

What are some of the basic premises of the book (basic claims, aims, the main points)?

The main premise is that yoga is accessible to everyone. In the book we introduce yoga using some physical movements, but mostly we use meditation, visualizations, and breathing techniques to achieve our goal of weight loss.

Being overweight is caused by an imbalance in the body. How frustrating it must be to be a heavy person in our culture and to try all the popular techniques such as dieting, hypnotism, or going to the gym to work out! The thing is, this doesn’t work for everyone. What we are doing in our culture is, rather than treating the root cause of the extra weight, we are treating the symptoms of being overweight.

Yoga gets down to the causal level. When there is an imbalance in the body, it can be expressed in several ways. It can be expressed by extra weight, pain, or disease. The same techniques we use in the book for overweight persons can be used by everyone to bring oneself into balance and to create overall good health.

Yoga allows several means of readjusting the metabolism. There are some overweight people who eat very little and some thin people who eat voraciously. For people who are heavy, their metabolism isn’t operating sufficiently and the fuel they are taking in isn’t being burned by the body but stored as fat. Ironically, the more overweight the person, the better these yoga techniques (meditation, breathing, asana) work.

The book was designed so it can be used by anyone.  In the beginning of the book, I ask the person to do a Morning Ritual involving movement, breathing exercises, and focused meditation, all of which takes 20-30 minutes. This ritual will affect the participant right away, so the technique is immediately reinforcing.

The beauty of yoga is that it is a holistic experience, so by participating in the Morning Ritual, the person’s whole outlook for the rest of the day will be dramatically improved. Taking out 20-30 minutes out of each day will actually allow the participants to gain time because of increased energy and ability to be more efficient in all they do.

Who is this book for? Who did you have in mind when you wrote this book?

I wrote the book specifically for people who are overweight because it is such a growing problem in our culture. Being overweight is the main and major health crisis in the USA. However, the book is helpful to anyone interested in learning and practicing the holistic techniques described within.

Tell us about the cover.

The cover is a picture from a Tibetan wall hanging. The image depicts the Buddha of Compassion and his consort. This image seemed appropriate because compassion is what compelled me to write the book.

This book is beautifully illustrated.  Tell us about the photos.

I’m a retired commercial fisherman and the photos were done by my former fishing partner, Bill Wickett, whose second career is photographing art. Bill’s wife, Cecelia Wickett, is an artist and teaches figure drawing at Bellevue Community College. She did all the line drawings. The postures were modeled by my niece, Marlow Mercer (and me). My friend, Michelle Savelle, a graphic artist, did the book’s layout design.

Your book has many visualizations for meditation.  Tell us more about visualizations and how they work.

The yogi believes that our thoughts, our ideas, and even our dreams are real. The visualizations used in the book focus attention on certain parts of the body from an energetic approach, which beneficially affects the chakras and the function of the endocrine glands.

Yoga does not contradict the way Western medicine views the body, but it also looks at the body at an energetic level, the Energy Body, the part that animates the body. There is constant energy flowing through the body. The energy flow should run unimpeded. Wherever there is an obstacle to the flow of energy, there is an imbalance in the physical body resulting in pain, disease, and/or being overweight. Energy runs through the body using channels. Along the main channel are the endocrine glands and energy junctions called chakras. The chakras nourish the endocrine glands which control all of our body functions -metabolism, growth, mood- via chemical signals.

Yogis believe energy follows attention. It’s real simple to experience: Normally we are not aware of our toes, but by putting attention there, we can feel the energy in our toes. It is the same with the visualizations. Via visualizations, we focus attention on the different chakras, the energy centers, and that attention creates more energy on the area of focus, resulting in balance and restoring balanced function to the endocrine glands.

There are unimaginable numbers of relationships of balance going on in our bodies. Our bodies are always trying to maintain health. The body will maintain balance on its own if it is not being obstructed from doing that. So with the yoga and visualizations, we are allowing the body to self-correct.

How has writing the book affected your life?

It’s been a really positive experience. I’ve learned a lot about yoga and weight loss. I’ve learned a lot about myself. You know, I hadn’t thought about writing a book until seeing the situation that motivated me and that was seeing the young woman next to me in class who wasn’t able to keep up and was probably not going to come back to class. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started thinking about yoga and weight loss and taking notes. I actually felt compelled to write this book. Once I started working on it, it was like the book sort of came together on its own. I almost feel like I am a functionary in writing this book. It feels as if there was a higher power involved and I was a tool to write the words down on paper.

Tell us more about yourself as a yogi.

I’ve done yoga for a number of years. In a sense, I‘ve always been attracted to yoga. My first introduction to yoga was in college when some friends showed me some yoga postures. Later, when I was a commercial fisherman, I was in a small town in Alaska and no one there did yoga. I started reading books on it and would meditate on my own. The strongest part of my practice from the time I was 20 was the breathing exercises. I would do the asanas, but I also did lots of pranayama (breathing) and meditation.

Later, when I moved to Seattle, I started taking classes. I intuitively knew all along that yoga was for me. I was surprised by how complete the practice was.

I’ve been fortunate to have had good teachers. The first year I did yoga, I lost 35 pounds. I didn’t even think of myself as overweight, though I did put on some weight over the years. By nature, I’m a stockily built person. As a fisherman, I worked really hard and ate big meals. When I no longer was a fisherman, I didn’t work so hard anymore, but I still had the same appetite, so the extra weight came. It was after joining my yoga class in Seattle and losing weight that I realized I had gotten in touch with some part of myself and that my body had started to come to its more complete balanced form.

As a yogi, I embrace yoga as a wonderful gift that gives meaning to life. Yoga helps give a sense of purpose and helps us to understand our place in the universe. It helps me to live a whole life and gives meaning to my life.

Your book is dedicated to your first and most influential teacher, Marie Svoboda. She has long since retired and is now elderly. I was so touched by the story you told me of when your book was published, you looked her up, found her, and brought her a copy of your book. Can you talk about that? It’s an incredible story.

First of all, I’d like to talk about Marie. Marie is known as the first yoga instructor in Seattle. She was a Czechoslovakian ballerina. Her husband was in the diplomatic service and stationed in India. There she trained with the great yogi, Krishnamacharya, the teacher who also taught P. Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, Desikachar, and Indra Devi! I feel so fortunate to have been able to learn yoga through Marie right here in Seattle.

I started doing yoga with her towards the end of her career. She was already in her 70’s, but she was beautiful! I remember one time hearing the young girls in the class talking about Marie’s “20 year-old thighs”!

As a teacher, she was very precise and strict. Marie would always focus on the new students and give a lot of attention to them. She was so precise and insistent they do things the right way that a large percentage of these new students never came back!  I have yet to meet another teacher like Marie who could diagnose the human body the way she did. She lived her yoga. She shared this wonderful teaching gift she had that changed many lives and she did this until she was in her 80’s.

After I published my book, I found Marie in an assisted living home and brought her roses and a copy of my book. When I went to see her, she was in the day room with all the other residents. She’s in her 90’s now and was one of the most elderly people in the room. She was sitting on a couch and looked like she was asleep. The person who managed the facility took me over and said, “I don’t know if Marie will recognize you or not.” He told me she no longer speaks. We walked up to her and he gently woke her. She looked at me with recognition and smiled! I said, “Hi, Marie. I’ve come to see you. I think about you every day and about all the things you taught me. I think about you with love every day. I wrote a book and dedicated it to you.” Then I sat next to her on the couch and we went through the book together. “See, Marie, this posture? You’re the only person I know who teaches this posture.” And I reminded her of the details she had taught me about various yoga postures so many years ago. While we looked at the book, Marie was really engaged and would look at me and smile and put her hand down on the book and would look at some of the pages more intently than others.
After we were done looking at the book, Marie put her hand up to my ear and whispered, “Thank you.”

Tell us what you are hearing from readers who are using your book.

So far, everyone who is doing the technique says it’s working for them. This isn’t just for people who are overweight. I’ve had people who’ve been in chronic pain using the book and said the book is helping them, too. One of the two doctors who read the book before it was printed has been doing the Morning Ritual daily for some months now and has been losing weight. It works!

Do you have any plans to offer workshops for Weight Loss Through Yoga?

Yes, it is my hope. I envision workshops and introducing the Morning Ritual to workshop participants.

Yoga is fathomless! Every time I do yoga with other people and with different teachers, I always learn new things. Traditionally though, yogis did yoga alone. That’s the way yoga is presented in the book. I have a presented a way for a person to start the yoga practice on their own, to do the Morning Ritual, to start losing weight, gain confidence about their bodies and movements. In the middle of the book, there is a 10 minute flow series to help limber up every part of the body. The idea is that once a person gains confidence, then they can start to explore other postures and attend any yoga class if they like.

To order your copy of the book, click here.

Weight Loss Through Yoga book cover: Buddha of Compassion

Weight Loss Through Yoga book cover: Buddha of Compassion

What’s in a name?

June 13, 2012

I grew up hearing my flustered mother say:





FRAAAAAA!  Get over here!

Mom was going through the first syllable of each of our Italian nicknames (Nu for Nuna short for Onofria for Nora, Gia for Gianna short for Giovanna for Jeanie, N’to for N’tonia short for Antonietta for Toni, Zi short for Vincenzina for Zina) before finally arriving at my name!   The funny thing is that she always went through the names in our birth order.  My name always came up last and sounded loud as a punch.  I wonder if her mother did the same thing, going through ten names before getting to her tenth child’s name?

So, what’s in a name?

Everyone in Sicily has a shortened name.  The shortened names are terms of endearment.  After my dad died, I read his journals and I was so moved when he wrote about instantly falling in love with Pippina, the nickname he used for my mom, Giuseppina, or Josephine in English).  Usually, the Sicilian nicknames or shortened names are loaded with sweetness and love.  Pippina is no exception to that rule and the very sound of Pippina has a way of softening your heart when you hear it!  When you hear Pippina‘s name in your head, you feel the love my dad felt for her.

My full name is Francesca, but most people instantly rename me.  It’s a mouthful and not so easy to say.  When I was in Germany, and I introduced myself as “Fran, short for Francesca“.  “Oh, Frenny!  Nice name!”  Instantly, I became Frenny.

Rick, some of my American cousins, my sisters, and a few friends call me Franny.  When I was really little, I was Little Franny.

Little Franny about to make a wish on her birthday!

Little Franny about to make a wish on her birthday!

My childhood and high school friends and some of my English speaking cousins call me Francy. Some spell it Francie.  When I look back at old signatures, I see I wrote it both ways!

My parents called me Francy or Fra when they were happy with me.  When I did something to irritate them, I became Ciccia or Ci  (“ci” sounds like Che as in Cheese).

My aunts and uncles in Sicily, the old generation, love to play with my name and I have been called:  Cicinazza (not well-behaved, naughty), Cicinella (denotes elegance), Cicineddra (very cute, adorable) and my Uncle Charlie even made up a song for me, “Basa mi Cicineddra” which I suppose would translate loosely to “Kiss me,  cutie-pie”, but “sounds” more like “Frannie Bananie, kiss me”.  It’s supposed to be funny and when he sings it, it is hilarious!

The cleaning lady on Pantelleria Island, who worked every day and who, for some reason, didn’t like me, had a way of calling out my full name sharply and in a quick, clipped, and vile manner in a high-pitched voice, “FrancescaFrancesca, where are the towels?”  I cringed every time I heard Ninetta call out my name!  On the other hand, also while in Pantelleria, Tonino, our fabulous guide, started calling me “Franci” and I loved it!  In English, it would be sounded out like “Fran-cheee). The way he said it was tender,  lovely, and full of kindness!  In fact, the yoga retreat participants started calling me ‘Franci“!

Our Pantelleria adorable guide, Tonino, who gave me the name Franci (sounds like Fran-chee) gets kisses from his admirers!

Our Pantelleria adorable guide, Tonino, who gave me the name Franci (sounds like Fran-chee), gets kisses from his admirers!

Definitely, my name was meant to be shortened.  Maybe it has something to do with my personality.  When I was 10, my cousins in Italy started calling me “Franca“.  I never liked it because it sounds so much like Frank and so very boy-like!  I was already a tomboy, but I didn’t want a boy-like sounding name.

Franci living it up on Pantelleria Island (Sicily)

Franci living it up on Pantelleria Island (Sicily)

When I was in the Peace Corps and I arrived in Philadelphia for a week-long in-country training before leaving for Africa, I hand-wrote my name as “Francy” for the check-in at the hotel.  Somehow, the “n” and the “c” merged together to make my name look like FRANKY.  Guess what happened? All my name tags said “Franky” on them.  And I was assigned a fellow male Peace Corps volunteer as a roommate for the hotel in Philadelphia.  Imagine my surprise when he showed up in my room.

When I spent my Junior year abroad studying in France, I was Francoise.

Every time we travel to Mexico and I introduce myself as Fran or Francesca, rather than calling me by my Spanish name, Francisca, Mexicans immediately take the liberty to call me Panchita!  And my name in Mexico, Panchita, comes with a loving gentle smile! Panchita sounds so sweet.  It makes me feel as if I should be sporting a chubby belly because panza in the Sicilian dialect means “belly” and “Panchita” sounds similar to my ear.

In Senegal, I was “Franshesca“, and in Japan, I was Frances-san, but it sounded more like Fu-rang-se-su-san.

I wonder if I am the only human being with so many variants on my name?

So where did it come from, this name?  I love the meaning of my name which means “honesty, to be honest, to be frank.”  Another interesting piece in the story of my name is that my dad’s father (my paternal grandfather) was married three times.  His first wife was the lovely Francesca!  She was blond and blue-eyed, a rare Sicilian beauty.  Together, they had my dad’s half-brother, my Uncle Joe.  Joe has a daughter named Francesca living in Boston, who also goes by Fran. She is the East Coast Fran and I am the West Coast Fran!  I am named after East Coast Fran’s grandmother, the lovely and fair  Sicilian beauty, Francesca!

My Grandfather Gallo’s beloved first wife, Francesca, died at a young age of breast cancer. After Francesca’s death, my grandfather married Francesca’s sister!   That was the custom, to marry your wife’s sister, because who better to raise your children?  The Sicilians of old times believed an aunty made the best step-mother.  Unfortunately, she, too, died young and finally my grandfather married his third and last wife, my grandmother, Onofria. When Grandfather Gallo and Grandmother Onofria (Mamma ‘No) married, grandfather insisted their first child be named after his beloved first wife, FRANCESCA.

So, I am named after my aunt who is named after her father’s first wife who was not related to either of us.

I have many names and you are welcome to make up another name for me, as long as it sounds nice, is related to Francesca, is not masculine, and does not denote something unpleasant as in ‘Francescazza”  (I will not translate the meaning of that one… but, one hint,  it’s not nice).

In Iceland! I'm with Popeye, "I am who I am."

In Iceland! I’m with Popeye, “I am who I am.”

4-up on 11-19-13 at 5.17 PM #3

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