Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Greetings 2010

Christmas 2010

Dear Friends and Family,

What a year this has been! Here it is 10 days before December 25, and I am just beginning to write.

The year started out intensely in January, with my work on the Newbery Award Committee, which met for many hours in the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston before coming up with a wonderful array of winning books, including winner Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. The day after we finished our deliberations, I walked for hours, all over Boston, so glad to be out in the fresh air to wander through history from the Commons to the North End to Charlestown. Later, after the announcements and press conference, I spent time with college roommates Mary Kay and Jane at Jane’s home in Lexington.

When I returned home, it was the first time since I had retired the previous June that I had time to think about things other than work and Newbery reading. In February I went to Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico (last foreign trip with Ed was there in 2007) for two weeks, a lovely, quiet resort and spa south of Mexico City, meeting friends Herb and Gloria Thompson from State College, PA.

I also began reading about the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, which when Ed was dying I’d promised myself I would walk. The IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) meetings would be in Santiago in September, so I knew this was the year to make the walk. (I learned later that 2010 is a Holy Year and what this meant.) Initially I had thought I would walk for perhaps 3 or 4 weeks (I couldn’t imagine walking longer), and that I would walk as much of the Camino I could do in that time.

However, reading Conrad Rudolph’s Pilgrimage to the End of the World (see my blog: fired a desire to begin walking in France. With relatively short notice, and with Susan, who lives in the guesthouse, agreeing to look after “the farm” while I was gone, I gathered some guidebooks, bought a backpack, made plane reservations, and flew to Lyons, France, on April 10. I began walking on April 13 from Le Puy-en-Velay. I was frightened and alone. No one spoke anything but French, and the weather on those first days was cold and snowy. Walking 20 and more kilometers each day with a pack was hard, and I slept long hours at night. My head was full of thoughts as I walked: of friends and family past and present, of life and death, and of Ed. Sometimes I cried, and sometimes I laughed with joy. I also felt full of gratitude that I had the health to do this walk through such incredibly beautiful country. I learned to live with the unknown, and trust that I would find my way and a place to eat and sleep each evening. Despite the language barrier, I made friends. After about 10 days, the weather improved, and I experienced the joy of walking in the glorious spring countryside. I also met Lisa from Germany and Steven from Flanders, and we became a Camino “family,” I was “mom” to these two young people who were the same age as daughter Psyche. We separated at a snow-blocked pass in the Pyrenees, but later reunited briefly in Pamplona, Spain, where I ended the first part of my walk, while they continued on to Santiago and Finisterre. My heart went with them.

I returned home on May 22, celebrating my birthday and honoring the anniversary of Ed’s death with a Memorial Day picnic atop the Sandia Mountains a week later. The summer was filled with meetings (Children’s Literature Association in Ann Arbor and a heady round of dinner parties in Washington, D.C. with the Newbery-winning authors, publishers, and our committee members). Then there were five Wednesday evenings at the Santa Fe Opera, and several hikes in the Sandia mountains, some with Kent Kedl, a widower from Las Cruces, whom I’d met briefly at Jeanne and Ross’s last Christmas Eve. We’d gotten together a few times and had emailed fairly frequently during the previous months. He came up to say good-bye before I left again to finish the Camino in Spain on September 1. Susan again looked after everything at home, or I wouldn’t have been able to make this trip.

After vacationing with friends in Bilbao and attending the IBBY meetings in Santiago, I returned to Pamplona and resumed walking, heading back to Santiago and on to Finisterre. It was harder to make friends in Spain, as I often seemed to be out-walking the people I encountered on the way, so I was alone more often, although one is never really alone on the Camino. About 10 days before reaching Santiago, I began walking with Eva from Italy and Yoko from Japan. We continued together for the rest of the trip, finishing in Santiago on October 10 – 10/10/10 – a day to remember! Yoko continued with me for three more days to Finisterre, the End of the World on the Atlantic coast. (Photos:

I returned home on October 16, and Kent was here to meet me. I later visited him in Las Cruces, and we took a whirlwind trip through Indian Country, attending Zuni dances, celebrating a Halloween wedding anniversary with my college roommate Carolyn and her husband Ben at the historic La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, hiking to the White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly, and even making a quick circuit of Chaco Canyon. It was Kent’s idea that we should take a longer trip to see if we could get along: to Peru! Thus, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we flew to Lima and then Cuzco, and spent 4 days and 3 nights (in tents), on the challenging but incredibly beautiful Inca Trail (Camino Inca). We ended up at Machu Picchu in clouds and rain – another kind of pilgrimage. We returned to Las Cruces on December 9, still getting along.

A few years ago in my Christmas letter I quoted from Ruth Duck’s lovely hymn, “Warm the Time of Winter.” This Sunday as I walked into the Aquinas Newman Center, the congregation was once again singing this Advent hymn, and the words took on new meaning, especially the lines, “from the ashes may there rise phoenix of our growing.” I have walked over 1000 miles this year, one step at a time, from darkness into light, from grief (which is still with me), into hope, joy, and love.

I look forward to spending Christmas at home with friends (including Kent) and family. Jesse lives nearby (and continues to make a living from his art), and Psyche will be on vacation from her nursing studies at Yale. Who knows what the future will bring? I have faith that “all will be well” (Julian of Norwich). I travel one step at a time. Thankful for your friendship, I send a pilgrim’s prayer that we may all be blessed in our life journeys this coming year.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Taxco, Mexico

February 23.  Ixtapan de la Sal.  Trip to Taxco.

This was an emotional journey, almost a pilgrimage back to Taxco which was one of the last places Ed and I visited together in 2007.  On that trip I drove on those treacherous winding roads up and down mountains and along the edges of steep canyons, and through one tiny village that seemed perched on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.  Today I rode on the bus, which seemed almost scarier as we seemed to teeter on the edge of those cliffs.  All along the way I saw archetypal images of Mexico.  A burro in a field, a horse standing beside a large puddle of water, chickens in a cluttered farmyard, and snow-covered mountain peaks floating in the distance.  Dusty little towns had huge, weathered churches in their centers, some decorated with banners for Lent.

I wondered what it would be like to live in these small settlements.  So many people were outside, selling fruit, working in fields, carrying things.  I did see kids eating junk food, candy, and things in plastic wrappers.  It must cost so little to live as these people do, and they have little, but beautiful views, lots of exercise, and close families I would hope.  On the way home several very neatly dressed young men who looked like students, got off in some of the small villages.

From the Taxco bus station, I was able to find my way up to the first church (Veracruz), where I ducked inside to pray briefly.  Then I continued up to Santa Prisca, the Cathedral.  I didn’t go in, but sat on a bench in the Zocalo and read the pages I had copied from the “Let’s Go” guide.  It was much too bumpy to read anything on the bus.

I headed up to Plaza San Juan and then kept going, past the ruined Rancho de Taxco and up to Hotel Victoria.  I wandered into the grounds and took a couple of pictures from the overlook.  I then continued up higher and higher into residential neighborhoods before walking down to the Church of Ojedo.  The door was closed, and I thought perhaps mass was going on since it was noon.  I sat outside on the terrace eating the lunch packed by the hotel – a bottle of juice, a delicious ham/cheese/tomato sandwich, and a cookie.  I stayed nearly an hour, thinking the doors might open.  School children came – one little boy climbed up on a pillar and I was almost positive I heard him shout, “Yo soy parjarito!”

Two men kept climbing up the steep walkway beside and above the church carrying crates of soft drinks and huge sacks of something from a large delivery truck parked at the end of the street below the church.  I snapped some pictures of them, of laundry drying on rooftops below with Santa Prisca in the background, and some pictures of me.  The front of the church was decorated with streams of triangular plastic papel picado.  It got warm enough that I took off my jacket.  The church doors never opened, and I didn’t try then, but I made my way back down along various paths, encountering a whole lot of school children, many of them met by their mothers with warm hugs.

At the Zocalo again I went into the church.  Some of the gold altar pieces were being repainted and restored.  In a side chapel I said lots of prayers, mainly for all the Philips relatives and a prayer of thanks for Ed’s life.  I cried.  And took a picture outside of the church door without Ed there.  A young couple stood in the sanctuary with a newborn baby, and had someone take their picture.  Then they sat quietly in a pew for awhile, talking softly.

After that I visited Casa Borda, which we’d somehow missed before, but now it was under construction, so mostly closed.  The biblioteca was on the lower level, and some very friendly people showed me the collection.  Then up and down again to the silver museum.  I paid 10 pesos to get in, but there was not very much of interest there – some murals depicting the history of Taxco silver enterprises.  I was able to use the restroom there, though, perhaps worth the 10 pesos.   Then on to the Ex-Convento, and then the church of Chavarrieta where I just missed a performance in the courtyard.  Young men in costume were departing.  I did not want to stay until 5 p.m. to see the next one.  Some men were working on scaffolding on top of which perched an enormous papier mache chicken.  There were wheels for fireworks on the scaffolding.  People were setting out bunches of flowers.  Booths selling food lined the steps and an upper courtyard, and a woman selling cascones sat on the steps to the upper courtyard.  

I retraced my steps, and after asking directions twice from very helpful people, I made my way back to the bus station, where I met a lovely Canadian couple spending five weeks in Cuernavaca, and a French woman traveling alone.  Unfortunately I couldn’t talk with them longer as I had to catch my bus.  An old woman crossed herself and blessed the bus before getting on, so I put my faith in having a safe trip.  The bus driver was very handsome, and there was a crucifix and palm branches attached to the wall to the left of the driver’s seat.  I should have gotten a picture of that, but I didn’t. The bus dropped me off at the Parque Aquatico entrance, with the helpful intervention of a lovely woman in the front seat who was traveling with the elderly woman. 

I think I’ve now seen all I want to see of Taxco.  The Volkswagens crowded the narrow streets, and I worried about getting run over.  There were fumes and noise. When I came through the back gate into Spa Hotel Ixtapan de la Sal, it was like entering a peaceful, cool oasis.   I had looked only briefly at silver, and saw nothing more interesting than some of the pieces in the shop here in the hotel.  I did not ask about prices, so do not know if there were bargains to be had.