Jun 30, 2008

A Inspiring NEW Holy Space Located At Our Place!

Recently fellow artist and friend Nathan Liskey completed the above (pictured) colorful 3'x4' stained glass extravaganza of a color collage for us...It's framed and hanging in a open space about the balcony railing on our second floor...suddenly our world has been transformed into a deeply inspiring galleria of inspiration and color sensations as we stroll along...I've never met a color I didn't like but the lush greens you see here are especially soothing and nice.
Photo by Juan Carlos Castillo Fuentes

Jun 29, 2008

When You're Hot You're Hot!

Greetings everyone and please meet our friend John Holden who was recently visiting in Central America with his wife Jenn...we love having the Holdens as house guests because they're alive, full of adventure (and cook wonderful surprises!) and they are FUN...this time John and Juan Carlos went on a early morning climb up to the top of the volcano...as you can see our volcano is the REAL thing! Meanwhile Jenn and I shopped for unusual handwoven fabrics as she's working with some local folks/ladies on a fundraising sewing/help project.
While Jenn and John were here they prepaid a three months stay in a lovely apartment not far from our house (just a few blocks away) for end of the year/beginning of next year...they'll be arriving back with us in time for the Holidays so we'll deck the Halls together and I know they plan to be active at a local orphanage too.
Photos by Juan Carlos Castillo Fuentes

Jun 28, 2008

All Wet? Not the Lunch Bunch!

Greetings from rainy Central America where we had a cozy and heartwarming luncheon get-together this afternoon in my studio/gallery/sala even though it's raining cats and doggers outside!

Our celebration HOY was in honor of Paul from Hawaii who celebrated his Birthday (we're not telling) and Judy and Gene who are still enthralled with one another on their 9th Wedding Anniversary (they dated/lived together for 9 years beforehand just to work the awkwardness out)!

Meet "Mom" who is pictured above...Mom, is Paul and Toms dear Mother from Hawaii and she's always a delightful addition to every social event...today she featured a oversized tunic/with optional belt all in handwoven tipica fabric (lots of gold metallic Ikats in this one).

Certainly you'll want to know that we had Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream (yes, a bit chilly) with a slice of Fresh Strawberry layercake with extra Whipped Cream and MORE Fresh Strawberries on top of it ALL for desert (it is the Land of Eternal Spring)...all those strawberries followed a Mexican Food Menu lunch (Cheese Enchildas/Mole, Tostadas Beef/Bean with Gucamole/shredded cheese and Fresh chunky fruit salad too...drinks first/lots of wine/hot coffee/tea/mineral water).
Ole' today!

We love to entertain and this afternoon we enjoyed the company of friendly and fascinating guests from both here and Washington D.C. (some of Riecken Foundation folks are in town http://www.riecken.org/ )..come visit, we'll have a party for you too!
Photo by Juan Carlos Castillo Fuentes

Jun 27, 2008

All Spokes Lead To The Hub

Dear Friends, I'm a alcoholic and I haven't had a drink for almost 30 years...I thought it would be a good idea for me to document my "story" here for all to see...it's lengthy, but don't fret, I don't expect anyone to read all of it and there will be no "pop" quiz...thanks for being patient and allowing me to tell you more about myself:

"I'm Len/Leo/Leonardo/Lenny, and I'm an alcoholic who has not had a drink since age thirty-five. Now I am almost 65 years old and getting emotionally/spirituallly healthier every minute, one day at a time. This is quite a miracle, considering I love alcohol, thought it was chic to drink, and couldn't stop drinking it. I used it to help me feel better about me, to help me get to know you, and to soar to higher heights of imagined personal security, happiness, and greatness. I also used it to calm my terrified, troubled, and hung-over insides. I became an addicted mess somewhere along the way. I tried to pretend everything was wonderful in my life and I was fine. I was trying to hide a severely sad emotionally ill guy. I was also very neurotic. I wanted to die. I was terrified in my secret world of loneliness, despair, and self-loathing. I often felt dead-ended. I wanted all of you to think I was doing great! I was played pretend for years. I lived with a forced smile on my face while I held down real feelings of fear, anger, panic, despair, and pending doom.
My last night drinking, I was alone and very drunk on my living room floor. I crawled to God and pleaded, "Take this away, save me from this!" God did. I went upstairs, went to sleep, and went to work the next day. The first day of my new life sober and and living in reality was December 13, 1978. A few days later, a co-worker told me, "You will drink again if you don't come with me to a 12 Step program." I knew she was right because I knew me. I went with her to my first meeting. I hated it, but I knew I had to be there. Mary L. was in her twenties, gorgeous and had been sober for three years.
I grew up in a "perfect" little family. Mom, Dad, an older sister, and a buff colored cocker spaniel named Taffy. My mom and dad were very attractive and congenial people and quite social in their world of middle-class, aspiring-to-the-American-Dream worker-dreamers. We lived in a neat new white house with dark green trim. Our lawn and gardens were well cared for, we had nice manners, we didn't fight (openly or much), and we wore nice clothes every day. We were a nice family. I thought of it as "Betty Crocker's" house. Everything was ideal, except I always felt different from "them." I was a misfit from the start. I didn't feel unwelcome and I did feel loved; I just felt oddly unique and out-of-step. I was different! I am homosexual. Even then, I knew it was not going to be an easy thing to be. I was trapped. The only thing I knew to do was hide my thoughts, actions, and feelings and pretend things were different than they were. Deceit came easily for me when people got critical and started glowering at my existence.
I pretended while growing up. I did my best to deliver to people what I thought they wanted from me. I pretended to be what I thought you insisted I must be. I tried to say what I thought you wanted to hear. I delivered. I was never a liar to myself. I felt shame and disgust because I believed hateful remarks about people like me. I embarrassed easily and took any comment directed toward me very seriously. I knew vindictiveness. I was defensive. I was no stranger to self-pity. I paid attention so I wouldn't fall into any heterosexual trap that would result in some new version of demoralizing ridicule amongst friends or anyone. I always protected my very fragile sensibilities. I was/am sensitive to scorn directed toward me or any other minority person. I dislike injustice toward me or others in a magnified way.
My college years brought heavy drinking, first in my fraternity and later in off-campus living. I went to school near San Francisco. I drank in the bars of San Francisco starting at the age of eighteen. Drinking allowed me to be the real me. The real me also worked while going to school. I worked in a department store and advanced in the Executive Training program quickly and easily. I became a young Retail Fashion Buyer before finishing school. At college I studied fine art. I traveled for work to the "markets," and I drank alcoholicly almost every night. My life was quite a variety of "grown up" experiences. I almost always had plenty of energy and plenty of friends, and the money was earned so I could pay my own way. My parents paid for my tuition, books, allowance and lodging. Money was available most of the time. I always pushed very hard to be successful and important at life. I needed to be a "someone" fast! I never wanted to look at self-loathing in me. I ran from those earlier sickly feelings as hard as I could! It was the early 60's and I felt set free while simultaneously I drank more.
I was a department store buyer who loved his work. I moved from San Francisco to a new job and more money at a glamorous and "upscale" Speciality Department Store in Arizona. I drank more, too. Often, I would stay out all night in New York when I was there on "buying trips." I would be so shaky and hung-over in the morning that I would call the hotel physician for vitamin B-12 shots and Valium™. Then it was off to work.
I did well on the job and got promoted, I still had the energy to try and cover my alcoholic tracks and "be" somebody. I drank more. After a few years a new store president arrived. I didn't like him, and he didn't like me. He promoted a rival buyer to be my boss. I had never liked her either. I quit the same day. They asked me to "please stay" three times that day. I arrogantly said no, went home, and then I drank much more.
My home life was filled with parties, drunks, and drugs and people like me. I often took diet pills to keep myself in shape and looking good, I thought. I drank more alcohol in order to sleep and sometimes took sleeping pills. Alcohol was not working as well as it had before. I seemed to always need a little more. I was twenty-seven years old.
I went to a psychiatrist to find out why I was so nervous and neurotic. I spilled my guts to him. He told me that "all spokes will lead to the hub." He told me the same thing, every Friday afternoon, over and over again. I never did figure out what the "hub" was until after I stopped drinking. I drank more.
I moved back to Northern California with a job at a smaller and family owned department store. I concluded that my prestige had been greatly reduced. My roommate from Arizona came for a visit. He brought a "pretend" girlfriend and his parents with him. The parents went to sleep after dinner. The girlfriend, my friend, and I went drinking at my favorite local bar. My friend smoked some dope that night in addition to drinking. Late in the night he slipped on ice plant on the twenty-five-foot cliff in front of my beachfront house. He died two days later from blood clots on the brain. I drank much more. I couldn't stand the emotional pain.
I moved to Los Angeles. I loved my new job in L.A. I was finally in the atmosphere that gave me believable self-importance again. I was finally away from my very "wronged" and "tragic" past. I was a resident buyer in the California Market. We represented many department and specialty stores nationally and internationally. I lived in a lovely area of the city. I had wonderful success and fun at this remarkable new job. I drank more. Didn't everyone?
I drank for years, more and more, until the night in my living room when I pleaded with my God, "Please don't let me drink anymore!" I couldn't pretend I was "fine" anymore. I wanted to kill myself. I was not in danger of losing my job, just my life! I was still trying very hard to make my life "work" right up to what would have been my end.
I went to 12 Step meeting in recovery and hated them. I thought it was a place filled with the strangest weird people. I thought I was not lacking in good character as I'd never had a drunken driving arrest. I thought I was a honorable kind of guy. I had always, worked extra hard, paid my taxes and had always been gainfully employed. But I heard them say, "Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path." That was it for me. I didn't want to fail. Rarely became my word of hope. I wanted to live. Sobriety was my only choice for happiness and I knew it! Rare exceptions would be the "them" and not me! I didn't know how not to drink. I would stay in recovery!
Sometimes I was bored, dazed, and ungrateful, but I stayed. I didn't drink. Many sober members tried to be warm and helpful. I kept my mouth shut. I thought disdainful thoughts. I had nothing much good to say about them, or me. I was afraid of what they might have expected of me! I didn't know what they wanted from me! I got sponsors. I worked the Twelve Steps. I didn't drink! I started healing. I felt so good. I had never felt so good. After a year, I got a great new, bigger, and better job. I traveled internationally as a product development specialist and president of an import company. I made more money! I fell in and out of love. I became a happier person, a devoted loved one, an better son, a better uncle, a better human being. I kept getting more blessed even though I was becoming, and not hiding from, the real me (imagine the surprise)! I did not drink. I did service work sometimes. I started to help others. My fear and anger began to fade away.
My sober life has taken me to a place where I can view reality without pretending it is something else. I am now able to face truth, about me and about you! I can view things more objectively and make a decision about what I find. Prejudice, bitterness and hysteria fading away. I feel centered and comfortable (mostly) and emotionally sturdy. Today, I am able to say I'm a full participant in my own life. I don't drink anymore, and I thank God for that.
My dearest friend and partner was murdered over 10 years ago. I was able to experience normal feelings of grief. I didn't drink. I lost my financial security in sobriety and then lost my fear of the financial insecurity that I didn't even know I had! I didn't drink. There was an "earthshaking" time when I thought I was falling through the cracks of my own sober life. I had an eye-opening emotional shakeup around the fifteenth anniversary of my recovery. It erupted because of my old fear of betrayal and humiliation on sexual issues. I got betrayed, but I didn't drink. I didn't foster paranoia, and I didn't take revenge. I have been betrayed financially while sober, too. I have lost a chain of stores that I once owned and stayed to face the music when a minor business partner fled with the money. I've experienced emotional growth, I am accountable and responsible and I have not drank. I have not held onto things that are out of my control. I have accepted my circumstances whenever they have changed. I find that I can rather easily adapt to major change...what a nice surprise.
I became more mature and healthy after gaining on recovery year after year. I got "outside help" from a psychologist for a period of a few years. She presented very interesting new views on "letting go." I didn't drink. I always remain sober, and I always grow and become happier, more joyous and free. I have trust that my God will continue to Grace me with sobriety. God always carries me on to the next part of my sober life, the part, it seems, where I always need to go.

Thanks be to God and Thanks be to The Episcopal Church for including everyone at all levels of Churchlife....The Episcopal Church welcomes everyone."

Jun 26, 2008

A Memorial Tribute to Carlos, Hijo de Don Juan Jose

The news came to me this morning. It came to me by way of my housekeeper, Violetta, who had been sick and out-of-touch for over a week...Violetta is one of our towns unofficial messengers who carries both happy and sad news...depending...today's news was sad.
All I could see was the wonderful smile and eager helping hands of Carlos as he worked with his Dad doing projects around my house. I really admired them both since the first time I met them three years ago.
Carlos, youngest son and assistant of Don Juan Jose, electrician extraoridinare, had a bicycle accident earlier this week....it was raining, it was dark and his bicycle evidently skidded, flipped him off, his head met rock, the living human world lost him and the sainted heavens gained another star.
I always noticed the way young Carlos had been extra kind and helpful with me as he was working so efficiently with his Dad...it seemed he added a smiling touch of extra welcome to my life in San Miguel in his quietly industrious and respectful, shy way...almost from the first day I lived here.
The funeral was held yesterday.
Funerals are very quickly arranged in Central America. I didn't know about it yesterday or I would have attended.
This morning I went to visit Don Juan Jose and to hug him and offer a tiny measure of support for his family as their intense grief starts to drift into another day...He touched my heart as I struggled with my Spanish to say the words I wanted to convey, and he, Don Juan Jose, helped me say. I think it will take a very long time to accept the sadness that came their way in the dark, on the rainy night their youngest son, Carlos, passed away.
I saw a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe at their home today...May the The Virgin of Guadalupe comfort Carlos...may she gather him closely into the warm fold of her robes as he makes his way onward to the peaceful place...the place that brings endless comfort and eternal tranquility to all who come to seek it... at the end of a bumpy ride on a cold night or on a sunny day like today.
Pray for Carlos, Pray for his family
Lord Hear My Prayer

Photo by Juan Carlos Castillo Fuentes

Jun 25, 2008

In the Thick of Everyones Reality

When I first discovered Latin America I went to Mexico on visits as a teenager. I lived in Los Angeles and it was fairly simple to run down to the border of Mexicali/Calexico and hop a train heading South...usually I'd pay for the Primera Clase/Pullman going South and by the time I returned home it was 2nd (3rd class woodbench/chaircar all the way once from Mexico City to Texas). It always seemed to me that the moment I crossed over the border into Mexico all my bodily sensations improved...I could smell something in the air that was not a discernable taste or flavor to me. It was/is a pleasant smell that would draw me furthur into venturing into the Latinomundo...a world populated by people with deep spiritual feelings/beliefs, who are living and breathing-in a pungent reality of tangible, yet invisible, joy, celebration and tragedy that transformed all who enter into it as banafide Latin Americanos (or sent them "packing" real fast).

I've never lost my passion for Latin America "being" and it stimulates my everyday life as I gaze upon God's epic production with awe and thanks...it's as if I was moved to be in the very front row of New World vividness and reality.

I often visit Maya ruins in Central America. One of my favorite ancient cities is Iximche...Iximche isn't a huge place but it is heavy with Kaqchikel lore (and key Spanish Colonial History)and thick with modest ruins of gorgeous temples, grassy gaming fields and sacred ceremonial countryside sort of place....Iximche doesn't get a lot of tourists dropping in as do Cancun or Tikal...Iximche is "my kind" of quiet and mysterious, close-to-the-earth kinda of Holy place.

The first time I went to Iximche was with my friend Jose Luis and that was over two decades ago...we were the only visitors and we strolled around in the early morning misty sacred space of a place and I felt I had been there before...a long time before.

Last year when sharing Iximche with a friend and visitor from the United States we also were quite alone but the sacred space seemed filled with uplifting spirituality, almost brimming with conviviality...we hiked around and we came upon my favorite part...the place where the Shaman perform their purifying rites.

Out of nowhere, literally from the forest, a Shaman (similar to the gentlemen pictured above/artist unknown) appeared. He ignored my friend Terry and Juan Carlos and I as a associate of his stood not far away on a little hill as a sort of traditional guard/scout (I think)...anyway the fire started, the Shaman wraped his headscarf around his head, said a prayer and crossed himself to the "Father, Son and Holy Ghost" as he knelt down...chanting, Spanish and Kaqchikel, thanking Mother Earth for her bounty and as the ritual continued he added libations and offerings of flowers, candles, sweets, meats, alcohol, eggs with shell, and lots and lots of dry herbs...all the time thanking God and thanking Mother Earth that had blessed us all with our being...I moved closer and the Shaman invited me to join him, on my knees by the fire...I did (my friends moved further back on a neighboring knoll)...as he continued his chanting and prayers of thanksgiving a swarm of bees came to our fire...many bees, maybe dozens of bees (but I don't want to turn this into a "fish" story)....the bees in multiples started landing on my outstretched bare arms...he told me not to worry the bees had come to offer a fine blessing for me...a blessing from Mother Earth personally so I closed my eyes and opened my heart...

The Bees blessed me.

The Bees didn't sting me.

The Bees flew away.

It was The Bees Knees.

Thanks be to God/Mother Earth and all the wonderful depths of being in REALITY that are both seen and unseen by people like me.


Jun 24, 2008

"Family Planning" for Saturday Lunch and You Are Cordially Invited to Attend!

Greetings friends/family, Have you met (left to right) Dulce Serena, Frida and Fido? You'll love them (and don't forget the 26 chirping birds not photographed)...Our entire family joins me and Juan Carlos in inviting you to Sacatapequez, Central America for lunch...we're very busy usually, but, pictured here, we're just hanging out plotting the festivities....speaking of hanging out, lunch will be served around 1:00 at my house ...we just this minute decided to serve (I knew you'd want to know) Cheese Enchildas with Mexican Mole-ole' and Beef/Chili heaping Tostadas, Mixed Fruit Salad (we're inclusive) and White Bean Soup...we are *known* in some parts of wherever it is that think we are for our Beef/Chili/Avocado heaped-up Tostadas, White Bean Soup and Cheese Enchiladas con Mexican Mole...we intend to strut/howl our stuff as we stuff...ole'
There are many reasons to celebrate this Saturday including the birthday of our dear friend Paul from Hawaii and the Wedding Anniversary of Judy and Gene from Ft. Lauderdale (all have homes here and please, no gifts)...there will be lots of friendly faces (the guest list is around 30 already) including some visitors from La Fundacion Riecken headquarters in Washington D.C..
(you don't know about RIECKEN? You don't know about Senor Allen Anderson? You haven't met Paul Guggenheim? Really, it's time you catch up with things and investigate what's happening in the REAL world!)
You're all invited this Saturday (call or send-email) and we'll set another place at the table just for you...we're a casual and friendly lot and we'd love to include YOU !

Jun 23, 2008

It's Been Raining, It's Been Pouring

It's the "Rainy Season" and this is a very good thing. All the countryside is alive with Emerald lushness and crops are being planted (or have been already) green, green, green (green/all greens is/are my favorite color-s)....I feel very privileged living so close to the source of fresh food ...all of Central America is pretty much a "vegetable basket" ...but, even here at the point of origin for much produce/fruit, the prices for food in the open markets is climbing quickly because of transportation costs (gasoline)...it's not easy for some folks who make about $3.00 U.S. a day, have families (which translates to more help and more long term security for the family) to absorb the cost-of-fuel increases at retail.

I go to the open markets about twice a week. We take huge woven shopping bags and fill-em-up. Recently, tomatos are more expensive than usual and are about .25 (cents/U.S.) a pound, lettuce (all types) around .20 a head, carrots (big sweet) .50 dozen, .25 Green Beans (about three handfuls), Broccoli .30 (big head). Pineapples at the moment are in abudance and we buy 2 medium sized ones for about .30....when there are oversized Ruby Grapefruit when available the price is around three-five for $1.00 and Cantalope can be around the same price when they are plentiful. Black Beans are up to about .60 a pound from around .40 two weeks ago. On our recent trip to the "highlands" we purchased a 50 lb bag of big/gorgeous yellow onions (it's the season) for $10.00...they made great gifts, next time we'll buy more!

Jun 22, 2008

Introducing Everyones Friend Kenneth Wood

Recently Juan Carlos and I had a week-long "viaje" to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and beyond. We visited several "help" projects and all of them were amazing as there are many foreign volunteers, regular everyday modest folk, and many experienced professionals who are eagerly bringing Health Care and Learning Centers to very rural areas of Central America...one of these projects is Pueblo a Pueblo http://www.puebloapueblo.org/ and it's Executive Director is Kenneth Wood.

Kenneth Wood is a dashing, amusing, mature gentleman (two weeks younger than me) who is filled with enthusiasm and solid/practical growth ideas for the "Hospitalito" at Santiago de Atitlan serving the T'zutjil Maya community.

Juan Carlos and I enjoyed a fabulous lunch with Kenneth (it may have been the best Chicken Salad I've ever eaten) at his home just outside of Santiago...we look forward to seeing more of him soon and I hope you'll all explore the Pueblo a Pueblo link and see what REAL life is like here.
It's true once again, thank you Dorothy Johnson wherever you are, "The world around us should truly astound us and not cause us to whine and complain."

Jun 21, 2008

"The World Around Us Should Truly Astound Us and NOT Cause Us to Whine and Complain"*

I live at the foot of a volcano...it's a active volcano that often flairs up and creates quite a sight/site (and sometimes fright)...when I first moved out to the "campo" I didn't realize how CLOSE I was to this thundering and powerful natural force of life...One night/very early morning the volcano fully revealed its powerful self to me and I fled from my bed...a bold, bombastic and firey experience to behold that enhanced a unexpected quality of extra character to my life...the mysterious erupting volcano added a measure of courage to my being that helped illuminate my understanding of the world around me...the world around me and my desire to accept Gods "will" for me in it...acceptance of REALITY is good for a person like me because I gain on courage when I look the volcano right in the eye (which only can be done when facing it full on and is more difficult to accomplish when hiding under the bed), and not in my minds eye of dread.

*Dorothy Johnson from Scotland/1990's
Painting, "Fuego Volcano" 4'x4' on mounted panel/LR/2007

Jun 20, 2008

"It's the way that we see things"

That's what my friend Dorothy Johnson would say to me over ten years ago when we were sitting in her walled-in grassy garden in Central America..."it's the way that we see things that makes the world be things"....she went on to say in a whispering sort of blue eyed way as she glanced up at the puffy soft clouds and we both motionlessly surrendered to Gods "will" in the vastness of another beautiful day.

God scared me when I was a little boy sleeping-out in the backyard of Summertime....wide eyed staring into infinity while wondering just how big God could possibly be...I was nervous about letting such a big God close to me...I might fall into his arms and disappear and be made part of Gods eternity...I was still holding on, I was trying to control the world and life around me and make it "be" things because I couldn't "see" things.

I didn't "see things" for a very long time.
Painting, "Abundance"/ 4' x 4'/stretched panel/LR/2007