Tuesday, June 04, 2013

4 Years Later - My Camino Notes on Facebook

Each day for the past 40 days I have been transcribing my Camino notes from my 2009 Pilgrimage of Gratitude into the note's section of my Facebook page. I have numbered each day (1-41) and included a few photos. The entries have been edited/revised a bit from those originally posted here.

It was a wonderful experience to re-read my handwritten notes. It was like reliving the experience. My walk from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela taught me many lessons, many too personal or esoteric to share in a forum like this. And some of the lessons are still unfolding.

In reading my notes, I see my fears in a way that wasn't obvious to me at the time.  I also see some examples of being judgemental. I seemed caught up in a sense of homelessness and being an outsider.

I can see that in respecting the privacy of others and keeping a distance,setting boundaries I also lost out on much of the bonding and camaraderie. My decision to not ask names or collect addresses, etc doesn't seem so good, in retrospect.

Overall, when I read my notes, I find myself wishing I had been kinder to myself. I think I learned something about the man in my life too: he is the one who encourages me to stop and smell the roses in ways that I often fail to do when I am on my own. Had he walked by my side on this Camino, there would heave been more picnics and more lingering over meals, perhaps.

So here I am 4 years later and my Camino epiphany about returning to our SC bungalow, getting some hens and an orange cat named Marmalade and just being happy came true! Yes it did. Even though, frankly, I struggled against it.

Yes, I had NO INTENTION of returning to this place when we left for Peace Corps Ukraine (2005-2007). When we followed our intuition to Santa Fe, NM in 2007, it seemed to be the place for us to be. The bungalow in sunny SC, was meant to be just a temporary stop on my life's journey - I came to this small town to serve as a USAF Junior ROTC Instructor in 1999. But by 2002 after a 3 life-changing events (an eye-opening trip to a rural, mountaintop village in Malawi, Africa; the events of 9/11 and the death of our 25-year-old son) my life's path seemed to change. I certainly did not expect to find myself happy in a small town southern town, happily raising hens...

When I returned to Santa Fe, that epiphany kept popping up...I fought against it for about 15 months. When I finally let go it was as if the sun had come out after a long dark winter. 

Guess what? I am here in the sunny south land, lovin' my hens and bein' happy. And my happiness and creativity keep growing along with my gratitude and my sense of abundance and my authenticity. When I say, life is good. I speak from my heart.

We are all just walking our Camino each day...be kind, be you, be happy and give thanks as you make your way in the world.

Gotta go - time to feed my big orange guy, Vladymir Disputin and his lil orange buddy Lebowski - yep, orange cats. (My epiphany said get an orange cat named Marmalade and sure enough, the cat that adopted me was named Marmalade! But he really is more of a Vlad the Impaler type!)  

Life is good - Ginn

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Following the Yellow Arrows

Following the Yellow Arrows*

At last night’s meeting of the writer’s guild someone tossed off a remark to me. The off-hand comment was a little like a sprinkling of fresh, cool water on seeds still warming in the dark, dank earth.

I stopped in my tracks. The idea was perfect. I could never have thought of it on my own! The casual suggestion mirrored thoughts I had been having, but took my ideas one step further.

I sat silently, taking a moment to absorb the synchronicity of this event. I took another moment to say a quick prayer of gratitude to God, and then moved on with the business at hand.

I felt buoyant when I left that meeting and now I am eager to move forward on this fledgling project. I can clearly see the direction I need to go in order to move forward.

The remark was unexpected, but grabbed my attention and seemed as bold and bright as any of the many yellow arrows (flechas amarillo*) I followed on my almost-1000K pilgrimage-walk across northern Spain.

On the Camino, I travelled for 40 days with a minimum of things in my backpack – a map was not among my belongings. I knew I could follow the yellow arrows that served to mark the path to Santiago de Compostela. For me, walking this pilgrimage was about trust and faith. There were days when I walked and walked and walked, never seeing a yellow arrow, or even another pilgrim. I would almost give up hope. I would feel a small panic (OK, maybe a large panic!), thinking that I had missed a turn or failed to see one of the arrows. But I would calm my panic, re-commit, and simply move forward with grace and faith, like a sheep, following my shepherd.

Surrounded by chattering pilgrims, or pilgrims who used GPS (global positioning systems) to navigate or others who had designed elaborate schemes for their journey, it would have been easy to be caught up in the planning and implementing, the business of the journey. It would be easy to be distracted or take short-cuts or even to ignore the humble yellow arrows. And there were days when I did share my walk with other pilgrims. But ultimately, I preferred to without that human need to orchestrate and say “what if…?” and to plan for every contingency. It is humbling and takes character. (Did I mention that my MA is in Organizational Management and I am a Virgo and career military – all of which makes me vulnerable to having plans, strategies, etc…this pilgrimage represented quite a leap of faith for me!)

My Camino was about trust in something bigger than myself. It was about listening for that still, small voice and being attentive to those yellow arrows. I wanted to move forward in faith.

I know that sometimes “what is essential is invisible to the eye,” (The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry). Love is certainly an essential we cannot see. And so is faith. That is what faith is all about – faith does not demand proof. Faith demands a willingness to be humble, to listen and accept. The path unfolds in unexpected ways and it is my job to simply trust and move forward, with thanksgiving and joy.

So at the meeting last night, that unexpected, off-hand remark represented a lovely yellow arrow pointing to a grand vista ahead! Today, I am moving forward on that project; step-by-step I am getting closer to my destination.

Buen Camino Peregrino! (Our Camino NEVER ends!)
*Flechas amarillo, or yellow arrows mark the various ancient pilgrimage routes on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. (It is often called the Way of St. James.) At the risk of sounding irreverent: following the yellow arrows over the mountains and through the woods and cities I felt much like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz when she was told to just “follow the yellow brick road!”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Who Rescued Whom?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Today at a local consignment shop, I was happily chatting away with the woman who runs the place. Since I am usually such a shy, quiet person, that may come as a surprise to you (or not). The conversation centered around my Miss Zia-Maria (my three-legged rescue dog who is the heart-of-my-heart these days).

The woman asked me how old she was and (typical of my communication style) I gave her the long answer. "Let's see, we got her just after we returned to the USA fro our Peace Corps Ukraine adventures. That was in 2007. She was about a year old then and had just recovered from having her leg amputated several months before.” I said, babbling along in my usual fashion.

The conversation moved on to what it is like to have a three-legged dog. This is typical.
When people see me with my three-legged dog, they often say something like, "How wonderful of you to take her in."

What is that all about? She's just missing a leg. It is not as if she has major issues to deal with. She is not handicapped in the least by missing that limb. In fact the word “missing” is inappropriate in that sentence - I don't think Zia even knows her leg is gone!

But walking a three legged dog does require some skill. At least if you are walking my three-legged dog. It is the rear left leg that is missing and what that means is that she tends to lope along rather than to actually walk. It is easier on her hips if she can get up some momentum and let gravity help her move forward. What that means for me is that I am trailing along behind her, moving just short of a run myself.

We make quite a picture I’m sure. My own left arm extends straight out in front of me and I have to move along at a rapid pace, trying to keep up, sweat rolling down my forehead and into my eyes. Trying to keep my dignity is about all I can do.

I am sure the locals do think we are a bit eccentric. I live in a mill village and most people around here just don’t take their dogs walking. So there I am, my long locks (below my waist now) flying out behind me as I move quickly behind my dog who seems to think she is the lead dog in a team running at the Iditarod. Miss Zia typically wears a bandana and often, despite the heat and humidity, she sports a Thundershirt (to help her with her anxieties about some dogs, balls and other assorted moving objects) so we do make quite a picture when I take her out for her morning walks.

"There's that crazy old, grey-haired, over-the-hill hippie-woman trailing behind that skinny, three-legged, red dog again," says the neighbor lady as she peers out from behind the curtains. “And the dog is wearing clothes!” People stop what they are doing when we race by.

I spend lots of time flying down the street behind my spunky pup. I’m very grateful Miss Zia came into my life, but it occurred to me today she gave me some gifts I never have really acknowledged. With her left rear leg amputated, she is the one who would seem to have special needs, but it was actually me who needed some rehabilitation.

In 2005, I lost my left breast to cancer. The reconstructive surgery involved cutting muscles from my back and ended up leaving me unexpectedly rather helpless. I had a hard time using my left arm to even get up out of a chair. Months and months after the surgery, even trying to turn over in bed was a logistical challenge. I could not lift things nor carry much of anything. For a woman who used to make her living toting heavy tool boxes and tech data out to repair radar systems on fighter aircraft, this was all very humbling! Even a year after the surgery, I couldn't carry my laptop bag on my left shoulder for more than a short walk.

So in 2007 when the exuberant, rambunctious Miss Zia-Maria danced into my life, I had an opportunity to grow stronger. I had an obligation to grow stronger. She needed me to take her on daily walks. Her way of walking challenged me, but it also helped me grow strong. Miss Zia also helped me re-gain my confidence and my independence. She helped me feel whole again. Who is helping who here?

In 2008, I decided I wanted to walk the Camino (about a 1000K walk across a couple mountain ranges in northern Spain); I knew I would need to carry a backpack. I knew I would need to train. So Miss Zia became my coach and motivator. She made sure that I took twice-daily walks across the high desert around Santa Fe (which is where we called home during the first three years post Peace Corps.). I would load my pack with gallon jugs of water and we would tramp at her frenzied pace for miles and miles. Without her, I would never have been able to undertake my Camino. I had to leave her home with Man while I spend 40 days making that pilgrimage of gratitude, but without Miss Zia’s help, I probably would never have had that life-enhancing experience.

We all learn lessons in life...if we are paying attention. Sometimes we do not even realize who is teaching us those lessons. My delightful three-legged friend taught me how to just get moving...the momentum will keep you going. And that is how you take a walk of 1000 kilometers: one step at a time. And she has taught me a lot about what it means to have heart and to share joy. I am lucky (and grateful) she came into my life.

Standing in that consignment store having an animated conversation with dog-loving strangers, I realized that I am one lucky human. I sure am glad Miss Zia was there to rescue me.

My Camino, my pilgrimage of Gratitude, continues in unexpected ways. Life is good.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Walk in 2010

In 2009, I walked the Camino. It was, a pilrimage of gratitude, a walk of joy, a time to reflect on a life well-lived. It was a prayer of hope and a journey of peace and a pathway to renewal.

My Camino continues and as always, there are stones in my path, challenges to face and opportunities to be patient and humble. The Camino was and is so much more. It was (and is) a gift to myself.

This year I am celebrating 5 years as a breast cancer survivor. Not everyone survives.

This year, I am making a gift to that community, a gift to those who suffer from breast cancer. This year I am making another walk. As part of my celebration of life, my daughter and I will be in Charlotte, NC on October 23-24th to walk a marathon and a half (that’s 39 miles!) in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I am honored and humbled to be among the thousands of others who will walk with us as part of a commitment to end breast cancer. I will walk on behalf of those who are no longer with us, those who cannot walk, those who cannot celebrate the gift of life.

Five years ago I was medivaced out of my Peace Corps Ukraine site and underwent three major surgeries in three short weeks. My dream of serving in Peace Corps was crushed; my body was ravaged; and I still have the scars of my personal battle. But I got off easy. Many of our sisters, grandmothers, mothers, wives, daughters and best friends die of this insidious disease. Families are destroyed. Lives are ruined. Dreams evaporate. Tears fall.

Did you know that breast cancer kills approximately one woman every 13 minutes (Someone’s dying as I write this e-mail.). One in eight women will develop breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death for women right now, and the leading cause of death in women between the ages of 40 and 55. Every woman is at risk, because we don’t know how to prevent it. There’s no escaping it, each of us will be touched by the effects of breast cancer.

The Avon Foundation is doing something about it, but it takes money. I’ve pledged to raise $1,800. If you would like to help me in my fight against breast cancer, please visit my webpage: www.avonwalk.org/goto/Virginia.Pulver.Walk (or go to www.avonwalk.org and click on Charlotte - then type in my name). You can also access my fundraising site from my Facebook profile: look at the tab on the top of my profile page. It is soooo easy to make an online donation, but you can just snail-mail a check if that’s easier for YOU. Make it out to “Avon Walk for Breast Cancer” and mail it off to me at 3355 Governor Miles Road, Santa Fe, NM 87507. I will mail you an official receipt.

If you’d like me to walk in honor/memory of anyone close to you who has battled breast cancer, please drop a note along with your pledge. I will write that person’s name on a ribbon and pin it to my pack so others can read their names and we can honor their memory as we walk and talk and share.

One of the things I discovered as I went through my own cancer experience is that I am blessed with an amazing circle of friends and family. The love and support was so unexpected. Something else that was unexpected was the wealth of stories people shared with me and continue to share with me. Once I mention that I am a survivor, the dam breaks and a flood of stories pour out. There is so much pain, so much sadness…let’s change that. Let’s change the story…let’s celebrate instead of commiserate. Let’s write a happy ending! Let’s end breast cancer.

Life is good…and we each have the power to make it better. Thank you for the good you do in this world.


Virginia J. Pulver

My sweet spouse will be working behind the scenes as part of the crew that makes the Charlotte Avon Walk for Breast Cancer a success. He won’t be camping with the walkers, sleeping in a tent or making the 39 mile walk, but I bet he will come home with wonderful stories of courage and love. Being face to face with so many people who have been touched by breast cancer will be amazing and cathartic for us all.

Monday, March 22, 2010

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

"For twenty-three years I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now... well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!" -- Auntie Em; Wizard of Oz

If you cannot say something nice, then say nothing at all. My mother used that phrase quite often and I know from experience that it is excellent advice. I have been thinking about that phrase a lot during the past few weeks.

I recently received a certified letter asking (demanding) me to retract my 10 May, 2009 blog post.

The individual who sent the request is not happy with the way I depicted my experience.

My narrative is representative of my experience. And I was not the only one who felt bullied and ill-treated that night. Other pilgrims who shared accommodations with me that night were equally angered and bitter about their experiences. Several times in the next few weeks I would cross paths with two fellow pilgrims (one a Canadian minister and the other a grieving woman from the USA) and listen as they vented and raged about their experience.

I truly believe the hostess was totally oblivious to how uncomfortable she was making here boarders feel (though when you make people weep, that is usually a clue that one has pushed the limits of civility.)

Part of me is inclined to simply remove my earlier comments. Let it go. Take the high road. Do not get down on her level. Consider her intentions.

I guess I could tone down my comments a bit or even rescind them, but the more I think about it the more manipulated I feel.


I am still struggling with this.

Despite it all, I am grateful I stopped there. The museum is beautiful. And I learned a few things about human nature.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Happiest of holidays fellow pilgrims on the Camino that is life! And may the pathway through 2010 lead to all you dream of.

Life is good!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Delights on the Camino of Life

The beautiful castle at Ponferrada on a sunny spring day in May. There I was staring up at this beautiful castle and wishing I had a camera so I could share this amazing piece of history with my sweet spouse back in Santa Fe. I had come to terms, for the most part, with the fact that there would be no photos to record the last several hundred kilometres of my Camino - technology just failed me and I was trying to take it in stride. But as a woman who has long held romantic notions about castles, I was feeling a bit disappointed to not have just a snapshot of this beautiful fortress to post on my blog.

So, imagine my delight when a fellow pilgrim sauntered up to me and offered to take my photo. Always a little magic on the Camino. I hadn't seen Miguel in days and thought he was probably far ahead of me. My last view of him was from behind - he was wheeling away on a bicycle, yet there he was with his sweet, broad smile, aiming his camera at me and offering to document this moment for me.

We hugged and laughed and took the basic tourist photos of one another and then moved indoors to swap stories over large cups of latte. We ended up as walking companions for the day and shared dreams and secrets and laughed a lot as we walked westward toward Compostella.

I never saw the photos, but they were clear and bright inside my head. Then today, out of the blue, they arrived in the magical inbox of my laptop. What a delightful surprise.

I am grateful and filled with good memories. I am also filled with expectations for delights in the future - what delights are ahead on the Camino of life?

Like I often say, life is good...

(Thanks Miguel, my thoughtful pilgrim pal!)