My Emerald Ring


Spring in the Great Smoky Mountains

It is a busy week here in my neck of the woods.   The semester is winding up and Alexandra just has a couple of days at home before we leave on our big adventure.   Caroline has back-to-back tests in Mechanics and Thermodynamics. Spring is here so Hamilton has added “lawn-boy” back to his work description.  I’m on a round of luncheons and dinners with friends to celebrate my 50th birthday and the cosmos has added a solar eclipse into the mix.

For the last few years I thought it might be fun to get an emerald for my 50th birthday.  It wasn’t a big wish but a nice way to commemorate a special birthday and a new phase of my life.  I would look at emeralds on the internet and when I passed by jewelry store displays.    Sometime last year I completely forgot about it.   I’m not sure when the idea went to the bottom of my wish list but the last thing in the world on my list somehow made it to the top.   Now my emerald ring is a green backpack.  I didn’t plan this trek to Spain to coincide with a big birthday and solar eclipse that had to do with Alexandra’s school schedule but I’m sure it isn’t an accident.

So instead of showing you my ring I’m going to give you an equipment list for my forty days and forty nights on the Camino:

1 ultra-light backpack, 1 hostel sleeping bag

2 pairs hiking pants, 1 pair shorts

2 quick-dry tee shirts, 1 long sleeve shirt

1 rain suit, 1 fleece jacket

Underwear and silk long johns

3 pairs wool socks, 3 liner socks

Hiking shoes, hiking sandals

Mini-toiletries, first aid kit

1 guide book, 1 Spanish phrase book, 1 history guide book

Smartphone, iPod nano, Kindle

Sunglasses, reading glasses, hat

Bandanas, small towel

Spork, knife, pen, notepad

Passport, Camino Credentials

Yep,  that’s all I get, that’s all I can carry.   Add water and some snacks and that is about 17 pounds.  I’m sure it will feel like 50 at the end of the day.     So, the moral of the story this week is:   If you put your hand up and tell the Universe “take me”, you better prepare to change your wish list.



We want to come too.   We don’t weigh that much.






Caroline and Alexandra at The Alhambra, Granada, Spain 2001

So what’s with Spain? It has never been at the top of my travel list, that has always been, France, England, England, France, England. But for the second time I’m happily heading to Spain. All the other countries I’ve visited, I just pack a bag, get some cash and board a plane but not Spain. Both times I’ve been required to spend nearly a year preparing just so I can enter the country.

I went to Spain for the first time in June 2001. My daughters were 8 and 11 and were invited to go on a performance tour with a violin school out of Chicago. They had to qualify by December of 1999 by playing a particular Bach piece than they had to learn a large repertoire for the tour. Every note, fingering and bowing had to be perfectly memorized. It was a big task for a Second and Fifth grader but they did it. They didn’t always enjoy the daily practice but they love to perform and tours and violin camps are some of their favorite childhood memories.

We spent two weeks seeing the wonderful sights of Spain and performing for approving audiences. The girls made friends with the other performers and I was thrilled to be back in Europe for the first time in 13 years.

Now another 13 years have passed and I’m off to Spain on May 1 to walk The Camino. My younger daughter Alexandra is going with me. She is no longer the little violinist with pigtails but a grown woman almost finished with college. Instead of violin cases we will be caring backpacks. Starting in Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees, we will walk around 12 miles a day, staying in hostels, for the 500 miles to the Cathedral in Santiago. Pilgrims have been walking to the shrine of St James for 1000 years and now it is my turn.

For this trip instead of daily practice and memorizing music, there have been over 200 miles of training walks, physical therapy for a bad ankle, a Whole30 challenge to lose weight, an attempt to learn Spanish, yoga and lots of study. I don’t camp so I’ve needed to learn about backpacks, quick-dry hiking clothes and sleeping bags. I have to prepare 7 weeks of office work to keep things running smoothly on the farm. Hamilton is learning to cook more and do laundry. Caroline still has finals and an internship at the Physics Dept at UT. The cats will manage somehow.

My plan is to blog often on this trip. Thanks to a Smartphone I hope to send pictures and stories along The Way. I do keep in mind that the Camino has plans for me and I need to be open to the serendipity of each day. I have a hotel reservations for the first and last nights but for 38 days in between my life will be ……????

So the moral of the story is—-be careful what you name your blog. I thought it was about comfortable air-conditioned bus rides to beautiful archeological sites. I had no idea it meant I would have to actually walk. I’m ready to find out what else the Universe has planned.

violin girl

Alexandra  Spain 2001

The Camino


The Queen of Cups

queen of cups

I think we can all relate to our beautiful Queen of Cups. She is holding an elaborate lidded cup in her hands but she is afraid of opening it. She doesn’t know if she wants to deal with what is inside. Since cups are feelings and emotions, she’s not sure she is ready to face the emotions that are released when she opens the lid

Maybe it is a problem that seems just too difficult. Maybe this is a project you need to start but are procrastinating. We all have a long list of things we are avoiding. My list looks like this; bank statements, bathroom scales, messy basements, annoying relatives. You could also add things like books you want to write, wills that need updating, relationships that need mending etc. Eventually you have to face everything if you plan on being a fully functioning adult.

Our sweet Queen needs to open the lid and do something. The issue won’t go away by worry or ignoring it. The worry and procrastination usually makes things more difficult than they need to be. So do something! Face and embrace life head on, it won’t go away by ignoring it.

The Cherubs signal the guardianship of the Divine. If the problem or task is overwhelming ask for guidance from our ever-present unseen helpers. Use the Queen’s introspection to see what is the true underlying block or fear. Often when the block is identified the situation can be released.

The Buddha says we always have 83 problems. When one goes away a new one comes to replace it. He says the 84th problem is that we think we should have no problems.



During our visit to Manhattan last December, Hamilton and I enjoyed authentic New York bagels for breakfast every morning at a shop just around the corner from my sister’s apartment. The final morning I heard one of the workers snicker under his breath about “the Hatfields and the McCoys”. I told Hamilton about it and he thought it was funny since his kinfolk from Eastern Kentucky had dealings with these infamous feuding clans. I on the other hand was incensed that just because I was a Southerner that I would be stereotyped as a lawless criminal willing to kill over a pig.

The Justice card isn’t about such vengeful personal justice or even the blind justice of our earthly courts. This is divine justice to balance karma so we can come into harmony with Universal Law. Justice is depicted as a woman without a blindfold because she can see through illusion. She holds a scale in her left hand to weigh and measure the facts correctly. In her right hand she has a sword ready to enforce the decision. The sword cuts away that in us that restricts our freedom and interferes with the harmony of the Universe. Her foot is forward, ready to take action on her decision.

This card is about taking responsibility, make adjustments and regaining equilibrium when your life has become out of balance, thrown off course by the Wheel of Fortune and the whims of ego. Sometimes our first reaction is to over-compensate and swing too far the other way but that just puts us more out of balance and causes new problems.

How can we find this balance? Maintain calm and compassion and look for an expanded view of the problem. Wait to form an opinion and judgment until you weigh the pros and cons of a situation. Remember: there are three sides to every story—mine, yours and the truth.

If there are painful memories, we need to look for the helpful lessons to balance the wound. How did this wound act as a teacher and help you grow spiritually? Enemies illuminate places needing balance more often than our supportive friends. Conflicts have helped me find my strength to stand up for myself. This is about living in balance not just wishing for it. So shed the victim role and take responsibility for the next step of your life. Our immature justice says everything is unfair, but as we grow we face our shortcomings and ultimate accept responsibility for our mistakes and choices.

A beautiful lesson in the Egyptian Book of the Dead is the “Weighing of the Heart Ceremony”. The deceased’s heart is place on one side of the scale and a feather of the goddess of Truth, Ma’at is place on the other side. If the departed has lived a good, honest and kind life his heart will be light as a feather. This will then be recorded by the powerful Thoth and the soul will be allowed to return to the stars. If the heart is heavier than a feather than the heart will be consumed by a waiting beast to be recycled back to Earth until the soul learns the lessons of LOVE.




Wheel of Fortune


It was a very warm summer afternoon when I made my first pact with God. Here are my exact words “If I get off this damn roller coaster alive, as God as my witness I’m never getting on another one again.” Believe me I would never break this pact. The pain and suffering from something that was supposed to be fun was horrible. I now happily wait at the exit for my companions to thrash their bodies about for an adrenaline fix.

The Wheel of Fortune is the roller coaster ride of life that we all know too well. This is the Buddhist wheel of life, the continuous karmic birth/death cycle. But, what if we don’t like it and want to get off? Well the answers are on the card.

In the corners are the fixed signs, Aquarius, Taurus, Leo, and Scorpio, sometimes seen as the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They also symbolize the two equinoxes and solstices. These fixed signs tell us that the laws of our world are fixed and we know them as our Universal Laws laid out in the Kybalion: Mentalism, Correspondence, Vibration, Polarity, Rhythm, Caustation and Gender. Note there isn’t a Law of Attraction. There, instead, is the Law of Vibration and all of these laws must act in harmony.

The snake reminds you to shed your skin and grow with every turn of the wheel. Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the underworld, is there to guide us even in our darkest hour. The Sphinx has learned to navigate the maze of life and rise above the spinning wheel and become the observer, “in the world but not of it”. He holds the sword of decimation.

On the Wheel are four letters that can be arranged many ways as the wheel turns: Rota (wheel), Tora (ancient scripture), Orat (oracle), Tao (the Way), Tar (Thoth) and Ator (Hathor). We can interpret the Tarot as an oracle or messenger of the gods, communicating the divine laws.

Below each letter are the alchemical symbols for mercury, sulfur, water and salt, ordinary elements that can be turned into gold by the Magician. Just as our ordinary lives turn us into Gold if we will learn and grow from life’s experience, and if we rise above our immature reactions, emotions and attachments to become the Eternal Sphinx.

So how do we get off this ever-spinning wheel that throws us around? We can develop a new perspective or insight into a problem. If you get this card, it is a sign to come in at a different point, work with the same concept in a different way. Instead of having a tantrum or being a victim, step back from the situation and see the bigger picture. Always keep close to your heart the mantra “this too will pass”.

Ok, I will confess that I have been on a ride since the pact but this time there was no pain and suffering just silence and bliss. I happily rode the London Eye, a gentle giant Ferris wheel in the heart of London. Slowly and quietly I rose high above the London skyline to get a new perspective on this beautiful city. The lights of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben were shining brightly in the pink glow of the sunset. From this perspective the world was peaceful and beautiful and I felt a little closer to God.