On a recent visit to Mission Santa Barbara, I came upon the grave of Sister Vincentia Bermudes. She died on Christmas in 1863 at the age of twenty. The base of her grave was covered with coins and dollars, as was a nearby tree stump. Why?
I was curious.
After a day of hard research, I was left with more questions than answers. Why did people leave coins? Were they hoping she would put in a good word with God on their behalf? Was there some urban legend associated with her grave? I still don’t know. In fact, I might never know.
Though, I did find a few interesting facts about burial customs as I did research on Sister Vincentia Bermudes’ grave.
First, Mission Santa Barbara is haunted. I knew this from my own visits. From cold spots to weird EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) to feelings of unease, my daughters and I are convinced. If you want to watch someone’s ghost hunting journey here, I have a link for you.
I also learned that coins are typically left on the graves of soldiers. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, the coins signify a fellow soldier’s connection to their dead friend. A quarter is the most significant offering; it means they were with the soldier when they died. This tradition dates back centuries, possibly to fallen Roman soldiers. Fellow soldiers left coins to pay for their voyage over River Styx.
I wish I could tell you the story of Sister Vincentia Bermudes; how she lived and died, but I came up empty. I hope the sentiment etched into her gravestone has come to fruition; “May she rest in Peace(sic).”
Nothing draws me to a cemetery like dark rumors and two of them persist about graves at Bayview Cemetery in Bellingham, Washington. On my recent cemetery walk, I found the two rumor-riddled resting places I was seeking and much more.
The statue of ‘Angel Eyes’ is simple to find. The locals allege that she cries real tears. I visited her mid-day and found the carving to be beautiful and found it curious that black tracks seemed to start at her tear ducts and run down her face. They were mostly likely due to our nasty Pacific Northwest weather.
Then, though it took me longer to find, I discovered the ‘Deathbed’ grave. Set within a carpet of fall leaves, it seemed to lovely a spot to cause the death of anyone. Here’s the story. According to locals, if you lie above the grave and say the name on the grave three times, you will die in three days. I didn’t lie on the grave. That felt disrespectful. But, I did get goosebumps when I came close.
I continued to walk the cemetery and near the top of the hill I found the most beautiful sculpture. The weeping woman sits in the center of the children’s cemetery and embodies everything we feel at the loss of a child. A visual poem, she is beautiful and heartbreaking.
Please get out there and visit a cemetery soon and let me know what you discover.
As always, I love you and hope you have a wonderful week. J
Traveling through London with my family, I stumbled across a book, HAUNTED LONDON. During an hour of down-time in the hotel, I read it cover to cover. Inside the author mentioned a place called, Crossbones Cemetery. A quick Google search and I found out it was a stone’s throw away from our hotel. I was determined to see it for myself. Click here to book a haunted London walking tour!
The Crossbones Cemetery holds somewhere around 14,000 women and their children, but you will not find a single tombstone here. Sanctified prayers were never uttered over these bones. Once treated as London’s castaways, it is the cemetery of the forgotten. Women of the night or Churchill’s geese for the orange hoods and white cloaks they were required to wear, these women were seen as too steeped in sin to warrant niceties like church rites and grave markers. That was two centuries ago.
Modern Londoners are atoning for the mistakes of their forefathers. On numerous occasions, developers have attempted to morph the property into a parking lot or some other profit-churning venture. It’s always been fought and defeated. And now, well, what’s happening leaves me speechless.
Once a month, Londoners come together at Crossbones Cemetery. They are reclaiming the dignity of those buried within the gates. Researchers are unearthing the names of the women and children. Then, they write those names on pieces of ribbon and tie them onto the surrounding fence. Slowly, they are remembering, honoring and reclaiming lost souls.
I visited the cemetery two years ago with my older daughter. My younger child would have nothing to do with our field trip. As I tied our flower offering to the fence, I stood in awe. There was an overwhelming sense of peace at Crossbones. And love. And forgiveness.
This week, not because it’s nearing Halloween, but because history lives and breathes in these sacred spaces, walk a cemetery. Take a photo. Tidy the leaves off of a grave. And maybe utter a name etched into a tombstone. Who knows what this simple act will do for you or the person buried beneath your feet?
Sending you my love.
Makoto Okamura – Wanted to Help Developing Nations
Makoto Okamura was born in Japan and was educated as a traffic and urban planning engineer. His career goal was to serve developing nations to improve their infrastructure. His work took him to Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A Life Cut Short
On July 1, 2016, five ISIS terrorists stormed a popular bakery and killed twenty-two people, seven were Japanese nationals, including Makoto Okamura. He was 32-years old and engaged to be married.
Though nothing will ever completely erase the Okamuras’ pain, they found a small bit of comfort, thanks to the crew from NHK Documentaries. You see, until the NHK crew came to their home, the Okamuras believed their son was tortured before he was killed. Their greatest fear was that Makoto faced his death alone. That wasn’t so. During the making of the documentary, NHK heard of a man that helped one of the victims. They tracked him down and interviewed him. When they showed the young man pictures of the victims, he identified Makoto as the man he was with during the attack.
A Guilty Heart
The man that was with Makoto is a Bangladesh citizen. At the time of the attack, he worked at the bakery. That night, he heard the gunfire and hid inside the walk-in fridge. As he closed the door, a hand reached out to him. A voice asked for help. That was Makoto. The two hid together in the fridge for hours in hopes they would survive. At times they did squats to keep from freezing. Other times they held hands for comfort. Hours later, ISIS terrorists forced the door open and ordered both men to lie on the ground. ISIS killed Makoto, but spared the Bangladeshi when he was able to recite a verse of the Quran.
Makoto still haunts his thoughts.
He wishes there was some way he could have saved Makoto. He lives with great guilt.
But, Makoto’s parents are grateful he was there, and that Makoto didn’t die alone. It is a small thing that is everything.
When the Okamuras had Makoto’s tombstone carved, they asked that it include a paper crane to symbolize world peace. Seven stars hover above the crane and stand for Makoto and the other six Japanese that were killed that July evening.
They had words carved into the stone that have caused some controversy. They say, “death by terrorist.” The Okamuras felt those words were important. They want people to remember their son and why his life ended. This was a big deal because such proclamations are frowned upon in Japanese culture. You don’t dwell on the negative. You avoid speaking about unpleasant things. That’s why writing “death by terrorist” on a tombstone has stirred such polarizing feelings in the country.
One final note:
The police shot and killed the five ISIS terrorists. When authorities attempted to return their remains to their families, they refused to claim ownership because they had brought shame to them and their religion. The terrorists were buried in a potter’s field without markers.
Those that know me best, know how much I love cemeteries. The graves hold the remains of people that lived, struggled, met some challenges and failed at others. It is the story of us. The tombstones themselves not only bare names, but hold history, culture, politics, tragedy, and love on their carved faces.
Tomorrow my new blog begins. I will share a tombstone with you, and more important than that, I will tell you the story of the person buried there. Tomorrow I begin to show you how the dead still live, still teach and still force us to confront complicated issues.
Nothing is black and white. Maybe that’s why most tombstones are gray.
Steeped in history and symbology, cemeteries make for an amazing place to visit. As I researched my first novel, I walked upwards of thirty cemeteries across the west coast of the United States. I learned about burial customs, religious rites, epidemics and cultural difference, all from walking through headstones.
Each grave holds a person, and that person had a story. I plan to use this blog be a voice for the dead. I will snap a picture of a grave, research the person buried beneath and share their story with you here. I hope you enjoy the journey we’re about to go on together, and it inspires you to visit your local cemetery.
Does receiving a compliment make you squirm or cringe? Yeah, me too. And I’m sure the rest of the world agrees with us.
But, what if we said a simple, “thanks” and then stowed those kind observations away to examine later when we were alone?
Can you remember a recent compliment someone gave you? Maybe it was that you were funny, that you showed initiative, that you hit a homer with that work project, that you looked sharp, whatever comes to mind. Now, take those words and imagine they are a marble. Weird, right?
Now find a quiet place where you are safe and alone. Pull out one of those word marbles and examine it. Hold it in your mind and try to find the grain of truth in it. And now, here’s the really tough part, sit with that truth until it doesn’t feel ill-fitting. Then, tomorrow or next week or next month when your confidence feels low, take out that marble and remind yourself of your strengths.
Sounds strange, right? Let’s practice together.
The compliment: “You gave an amazing presentation.”
The reaction: Squirm, cringe, blush, and a mumbled, “Oh, it went on too long…thanks, though.”
The marble: I gave an amazing presentation (which I know is the truth because that person has no incentive to lie to me AND I spent ten plus hours making that presentation…well…great!)
The quiet analysis: I worked hard and it showed. My hard work was acknowledged by someone I respect.
See? Not so painful. In fact, next time you start the prep for another challenge, that marble may give you the confidence to start strong.
The best antidote to the distance you feel from your tween or teen is truth. Lie and that distance will grow exponentially.
My youngest daughter is thirteen. Last night she told me some stuff. I guess I should put “stuff” in capital letters. When she was through talking, she said something I will never forget. And I thought I better pass it along to as many people as possible.
Her exact words were, “Mom, you’ve always been authentic with me and that’s why I can tell you anything.”
Yes. I’ve told both of my daughters the truth. Sometimes they’ve asked about it. And sometimes it’s just felt right to share. They know about my uglies and mistakes and personal bloopers. And no. I’m not going to share my stuff with you. 🙂
I was raised to be real. Thanks to my father, Gary, one of my biggest role models, I am rarely filtered. And when I became a parent, I watched other parents with admiration and scrutiny. Park visits, malls, school events, and friendships – like NSA – I was always watching. And what I noticed is that many parents weren’t real with their kids. Their children asked them questions and parents didn’t answer honestly. I was struck with how destructive that could be to their relationships. That’s when I set my intention to be real. If my kids asked, I’d be open and upfront.
My unfiltered self has been well-catalogued on my thirteen-year-old’s social media threads. And her friends think I’m goofy and crazy. And yet, her friends hug me when I see them at school. They sit in the backseat of my car as I’m driving them places and speed-gossip loud enough for me to hear.
Recently, kids at my daughter’s school have struggled with depression and they’ve talked about it in earshot. And I’ve found myself sharing some of my stuff with them, too.
Those are important conversations. These are important people. And they deserve to see the people they love and respect in bright, glaring lights – not as perfect adults that were perfect, law-abiding, parent-obeying, abstaining teens.
And I’ll leave it at that.
As always, I love you and hope you have a kick ass week. – Jennifer
Today, I’m delighted to introduce you to a meditative art, Zentangle, and an amazing woman that teaches it, Kellie Fellinge, founder of SoundTangle.
Kellie, tell us about Zentangle and how you became interested:
I received a book about Zentangle for Christmas– and by the first week of January, I was signed up to take the certification class to teach it! I had no idea what I was getting myself into – I just knew that I had found the thing I had been looking for to spark my creativity and I had a strong desire to share it with others.
People are drawn to Zentangle by the beautiful images they see, but Zentangle is really more than that.
Teaches us to be present and focused
Works out our attention muscles (the ones social media and real life tend to atrophy)
Allows us to practice quieting the mind
Permits everyone to be creative
Ignites our work or creative pursuits
By using pencil, pen and paper (simple tools) – many students tell me it is easier for them to quiet their minds and get that much needed break than if they try to do something like meditate.
Sitting still does not come easy for a lot of people and I like that Zentangle can bridge a gap.
Another bonus? Zentangle is a process that has no expectation – your lines can be crooked or shaky, and you still reap the benefits of practicing – and the result will be beautiful. Entangle uses patterns in easily repeatable steps – and the basic strokes you already know are put together in amazing ways. If you look at this example, there are basically 200+ straight lines, in three different patterns. If you can draw that straight line, you already have a great start to being able to use Zentangle as part of your creative practice.
What are the benefits for kids?
Once I taught a really energetic group of elementary students, coming in from recess full of wiggles on a sunny day – and within a few minutes they were all immersed in their practice, not a peep. It was pretty amazing. And on the other end of the spectrum a lot of my students are adults who probably feel more like their brains are wiggly from too much energy, too much going on, or being over worked, stressed and scheduled – the calm and quiet that I could physically see in that room full of students is how many people describe what happens inside their minds when they sit down to practice Zentangle.
What I like about Zentangle is that everything is broken down into simple, easy to follow repeatable steps that are really easy to relax into.
Your classes are amazing, Kellie. I’ve been blessed to participate in a few. But my readers span the globe. How else can they learn from you?
Luckily – there are Zentangle teachers all over the world who feel the same way I do about helping spark people’s creativity. You can find a list here: https://www.zentangle.com/teachers.php . I know from my personal experience that while learning the mechanics from online sources and books was fun, I really didn’t understand how to apply all the benefits until I took a class and learned how to incorporate the focus and relaxation into my work.
I tend to hold more group classes centered around a workplace or school, but I also really love sharing reflections on my blog which tries to focus on the quiet side, unseen benefits of the practice – exploring all these elements that aren’t quite as easy to post as the completed art work – to help inspire people to really focus on the process, on finding that quiet in their day. This has also led me down the unexpected path of hosting a podcast on similar topics with my fellow Zentangle teacher Juliette Fiessinger from ArtsAmuse.
Tell me about your podcast series!
On our podcast TanglePod, we dive into things that inspire us. Juliette and I have found over the past few years that sharing insights on ideas like trust, focus and appreciating ourselves provided us with the incentive to keep working on our creative practice. These kinds of things don’t usually come up in daily conversations – and we were looking for a way to continue to teach and share with a broader audience than we can with our current class schedules. The steps and philosophies of Zentangle can be applied in many different aspects of life and we explore this as well as a lot of other topics related to creativity. Our podcast is more like having coffee with a friend than it is taking a class – and our goal is to inspire people to think about creative areas of their lives, and encourage them to reap the benefits that creativity offers.
Our podcast is more like having coffee with a friend than it is taking a class
What’s next for SoundTangle?
I never would have guessed that I would be here now:
Learning to be comfortable speaking in front of a class
Learning how to create and produce a podcast
Learning from my students each time I teach.
We are still in the throes of launching the podcast and learning the best way to help make that financially sustain us. Looking to the future – there is more to learn, more to share and I can’t wait to see where it leads. Find them on Facebook here!
A final note from Jennifer:
Readers! I rely on Zentangle when my writing brain is rusty or the ideas simply won’t flow. I spend fifteen-minutes with Zentangle and afterwards, I have focus and inspiration. Give Zentangle a try and let me know how it helps with your daily pursuits.
The weekend’s here. Time to think about food. And I woke up thinking about the best food I had this year. Ramen Row in Tokyo Station dazzled my whole family. Proof two teens and two middle-agers can still agree on something.
Ramen Row is tucked away inside Tokyo Station. Twenty or so tiny restaurants serve a variety of (yep, you guessed it) ramen!We looked at menus and peeked over the shoulders of diners before we settled on a ramen house in a far corner. We slipped our coins into a machine and pushed a button with the picture of the meal we wanted, and wallah! The machine spit out a ticket. We waited for a minute or two in the queue and a helpful person took our ticket, shepherded us to a table and poured us warm tea.
A few minutes later our ramen came. I chose ramen with chicken katsu, which was fantastic.
We were so charmed by the concept, our family dreamed of setting up a ticket machine ramen house in Seattle. But, until we make that happen, we’ll have to take another trip to Japan to enjoy our favorite food of 2016.