There's Nothing For Dinner. Except Pork. But God Forbid You Eat It.


It happens from time to time that the kids don’t have a meal for dinner, just bread and margarine. One night it was due to food spoilage. A local restaurant had donated some leftover soup, but sadly it didn’t hold from lunch to dinner and had to be discarded.

I’ve never seen food boil without a heat source before, truly like a witches cauldron. The red oily liquid gave way to gaseous bubbles from deep within the pot as it sat on the counter. Someone had poured it down the floor drain to dispose of it and the whole kitchen smelled sour, not it a pleasing way like sauerkraut baking, but in a putrid kind of way. The smell reminded me of a stomach virus I once had.

On that night the kids had bread and margarine spread for dinner. Pete refers to it as plastic spread because it apparently has been processed in such a way that it is only one molecule away from plastic. A quick check with Snopes confirmed this and stated margarine doubles the risk for heart disease. I thought it was supposed to be better for heart health than butter.

I didn’t notice any of the kids complaining about only having bread and plastic spread for dinner. And I felt a little bit guilty on the walk to the Viktoria restaurant where I joined a few of the nevelo for a meal. But I’m learning not to stick my western privileged nose into everyone’s business. Why doesn’t the cook make some pasta or potatoes for them? There’s food in the pantry. Don’t they have to give them something for dinner? Aren’t there rules about this kind of stuff?

Yes, in the states, there’s certainly a ton of laws about policies for the care and feeding of foster children. Our schools have nutritional guidelines for lunches and a strict policy to throw away all leftover food. Due to liability of course. You wouldn’t want to allow employees to take food home or donate it to a food bank. Or even give bags of apples and carrots to nearby horse farms. 

Regulations are a bit loose here. Laws alone don’t solve problems and policies are often folded over and neatly tucked away in a file. They certainly don't have policies on leftover food. I suppose it's a bit ironic that the donated soup had spoiled. But it did feed all the kids at least one meal without any gastric consequences that I'm aware of.

I thought of the hungry kids as I cut into my breaded chicken cutlet. As the warmth of the food crept down my esophagus and my stomach happily anticipated the protein, I thought of them, how their tummies were likely cold and gurgling.

But I’ve realized something from the three trips I’ve done this year; I am not meant to solve the world’s problems. I’m not here to try and change any systems in place. What I am here to do, is bear witness. To be an observer. To ponder my thoughts on right and wrong and where my values settle within the very broad range between those two extremes.

I admit I should have written a warning on a video I posted in a Face Book group of female international travelers. The video showed a dead pig. And if you only saw that, yes, why the hell would I post that?

But there is a centuries old tradition of the Szekely Hungarians to slaughter a pig, typically before Christmas, to have for food throughout the year for a family. It’s a disappearing tradition due to the population moving closer into the larger cities for work. It’s a rare occasion that a visitor would observe this custom.

The energy in the kitchen was palpable on Tuesday. I was still sleepy, just going downstairs to microwave some water for tea when I noticed Eva, Andi and Briggita standing in a row and chopping piles of onions. They wore thin cotton aprons with faded blue pinstripes and folk music filled the kitchen. A red-cheeked young nevelo, Dora, said I must come see the pig outside.

“No, no, that’s okay – I don’t want to see it.” I politely declined.

“Oh, but you must. This is a once in a time occasion. A tradition.” She pleaded. Her smile told me this was something special.

Pete had mentioned the night before that it was possible I’d get to see the tradition of slaughtering the pig. That was an absolute no in my mind. There was no way I wanted to witness that.

“No, I would not want to see either, but the pig is dead. You don’t know when you might see this.” Dora smiled. “Come. Come with me.”

With everyone’s excitement I found myself climbing the stairs behind Dora, a little bit apprehensive of what I’d see. But I'd seen plenty of roasted pigs on stakes in the Dominican Republic and when I lived in LA, I even arranged for a traditionally prepared lechon at a luau party years ago. 

The first thing I noticed was Betyar, the dog with a head twice the size of a humans, looking on with an intense stillness from his chained post a mere forty feet away from protein he badly needed.

Tibi and a few other men tended to the dead pig, with care. They were celebratory, smiling and sipping back small shots of palinka and letting out satisfied sighs of frosty air. All four of them wore caps and warm earth tone coats but no gloves. Two of the men poured hot water over the pig’s body while others smoothed over its skin with knives to remove the remaining charred bristles. The pig’s body is typically nestled in hay and the fire burns off the course hair. Every part of the pig is used, including the skin.

That pig will provide food for one hundred people for about two months, so about eighty kids. On Sunday evenings it’s typical for the kids to have cereal or bread for dinner with hot chocolate made from fresh cow's milk. Having cereal for dinner for most of us is a choice. I’ve had it on occasion when I’m not that hungry or too lazy to make something. But it’s not a choice for the kids in the Franciscan House.

My Face Book post got quite a few angry responses from people who I assume were vegans and vegetarians. But a few vegetarians defended the choice to eat meat and others pointed out that hungry kids living in an orphanage would be fed while others wrote about witnessing similar cultural rituals in other countries.

One woman claimed she’d rather that we kill people and eat them. Another said I was seeking attention by posting the video. Another said that the people should be fed what the animal ate, that it was wasteful to feed the pig. Another woman pointed out that the pig ate hay and food scraps – who would want to eat that? Some bacon lovers taunted the vegetarians, others had no patience at all for the vegans. It was fascinating to read the varied and passionate responses.

It made me think about my own views on eating meat. I’d been feeling like a bit of a hypocrite because I’m an animal lover and I do eat meat. However, watching the men prepare the pig for butchering and knowing that absolutely every part of the animal would be used seemed like a more civilized farming practice than the industrialized and often inhumane methods we have in the United States.

I would rather see an animal humanely treated during its lifetime before being killed for meat. This pig came from a small farm, seemed to be pretty well fed and wasn’t pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. It wasn’t enclosed in a pen with no space to move and wasn’t hoisted onto a conveyor belt with hundreds of others to be killed.

Some industrialized dairy farms have surgically altered cows with cannulas, giving workers direct access to the cow’s stomach by hand to remove food and examine the digestion process. That’s certainly not a practice I’d support.

I can’t ever imagine myself killing a farm animal to eat, and I wouldn’t want to bear witness to the act. And while the animal lover part of me empathizes with animal-rights activists – the practical part, who sees these kids eating bread for dinner completely supports the killing of a pig that will supply food for them for two months.

My heart wants to save the life of the small black dog I saw in horrible condition, shaking, fur matted and covered in feces closed up in a sixty square foot outdoor shed than spare the life of the pig that lived well and will nourish growing kids.

And don't worry - I won't share the video. But there is a picture of the dead pig below.

Keep up with the next adventure . . . . .


This Ted Talk on bioprinting leather and even meat is quite fascinating. It offers even more to ponder.

The Pope is Coming!

 Franciscan House Dining Room

Franciscan House Dining Room

Who knew this little community of 1,500 was even on the Pope’s radar? My English student Eva, a nevelo (the Hungarian word for a person who cares for children) at the Franciscan House, told me it’s traditional to have the Pope come and bless the orphanage home for the new year.

We were trying to coordinate the next day’s English lesson, “The Pope comes tomorrow, so maybe we don’t meet.” She said it so matter-of-factly, as if it was no big deal. Perhaps because she’s been caring for the children for ten years and has seen the Pope every year? Still, I’d think a papal visit would be something to revere.

“The Pope?! Here?” I repeated, eyes wide and stunned at the thought.

“Yes, the Pope, here. He’ll come to bless the house, maybe in the morning. You will see.”

Why hadn’t my CNN feed picked up the news? What were the chances that I’d be at the same orphanage where the Pope was coming to bless the children’s home?

I didn’t want to take too much time away from our English lesson, but I was so curious about the Pope’s visit. My mental list was formulating, make sure my phone battery is charged fully, ask if it’s okay to take pictures, what’s the proper way to greet the Pope, what the hell am I going to wear? 

Pete had been pressing fresh coffee grounds in the kitchen area of the co-working space. I don’t know how he contained his laughter. He’d been listening to our conversation and muttered with reluctance, “Priest. Eva. Priest.”

Eva let out a laugh that rocked her head back and watered her eyes. I joined her. Pete joined her.

During the remaining time of our conversational English lesson, Eva’s mouth occasionally curled up at the edges, she shook her head, rolled her eyes and laughed, the Pope!

The next morning I stepped into the dining room and noticed the tables were set to the side of the room and draped with white cotton cloths. A candle was on the table and a Christmas wreath on a side table was adorned with 3 white candles. Some of the nevelo and children sitting in the rustic wooden chairs lining the room held candles as well.

I stood by the door, not sure what was happening. They began singing songs together. Some songs came to completion and others trailed off in muted laughter.

After they’d finished 3 songs the room was quiet except for a few coughs and sniffles. Eva and I made eye contact; she smiled and laughed again, the Pope.

By then most people had heard the story and soft chuckles spread throughout the room.

Moments after, a man in a white robe with red stitching followed by 2 boys wearing white robes swung open the dining room door right where I was standing; in a t-shirt and fleece!

If I’d known that was the moment the priest was coming, I would have dressed up a bit instead of sloppily wearing my gotta’ get some tea and bread clothes.

Two men without smiles wearing dark suit jackets followed the priest into the room. One had his arms folded across a well-worn black leather carry-case.

To my surprise the priest was quite young and very friendly. He made the children laugh, he smiled at them – they didn’t seem the slightest bit nervous like I was.

After one little girl softly sung a few choruses, the priest stood and everyone in the room stood with him. He started walking to his right holding up a kiwi-sized silver ornament of Jesus on the cross. As he held up the pendant, people kissed the cross.

Oh God. What do I do?

I was raised Jewish – I’ve never kissed a cross! But it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? Maybe he’ll skip passed me. Maybe he knows I’m not a Magyar (native Hungarian). Okay, okay . . . here he comes, oh Jesus. Really, Jesus on the cross is slowly coming within inches of my face!

What do you do when a priest offers Jesus on the cross up to your face? You kiss it. At least I did. I thought it would have been disrespectful not to. And since I don’t practice any religion, I didn’t feel that I was going against any indoctrinated beliefs.

Isn’t that what Jesus would have done? Wasn’t Jesus known for loving all of our fellow humans; asking us to see ourselves in each eye of the people we meet? I wasn’t giving anything up by kissing the cross. It was a way for me to honor the sacred ritual I felt fortunate to witness.

The priest came around the room again from his right to left passing out a holy card. I tried to hide my t-shirt by pulling the sides of my fleece closer together in the middle. He offered me a holy card, smiled and shook my hand. I said a quick prayer he wouldn’t address me in Hungarian, as I’d have no response.

The nevelo brought out a small tray with demitasse cups, hot tea and a basket of fruit and nut bread. Once a few slices of bread were washed down, the priest stood and those who were sitting in the room stood as well.

He circled again from his right toward the left motioning the sign of the cross.

Oh no.

 I know it’s top and then down, but is it left to right or right to left?

I decided to look away and avoid the situation altogether. If I was going to be outed as an imposter, so be it. In fact, I was told that some people in this community, this very house, have prejudice against Jews, Muslims and people of African descent.

This judgment crosses socio-economic brackets; education levels and includes bias from both the Romanian and Hungarian citizens in this heavily Hungarian populated region. This region used to be part of Hungary but war took a toll on Hungary’s territory. It lost nearly two-thirds of its land to neighboring states.

To think I’d be judged or viewed negatively because of my Jewish heritage is unsettling. Being Jewish is a nationality, not just a religious choice. I don’t mind being judged. But let it be based on my character, my actions and my values.

Pete has suggested an open dialogue with some of the kids in the house who’ve been known to use ethnic slurs. It’s ironic to think a religion I don’t even partake in is something that will be brought to the table as a lesson in racism. And I welcome the opportunity to show up.

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Remembering, Wondering, Questioning

 baile tusnad, romania

baile tusnad, romania

Do you remember the first time you rode an escalator? Or your first time spending a night in a hotel?

Imagine being twelve and doing those things for the first time. 

Peter, the guy from the Franciscan Children's Home who made my English teaching trip possible, came to meet me in Bucharest with 3 of the boys he cares for; Lorand, 13, Tikka, 16 and Sabi 12 years-old.

Although Peter had to remind the boys to be on their best behavior in the hotel's executive lounge where there was a steady stream of food and a fridge stocked with highly-craved coca cola, the boys had better table manners than I did. They used a knife to cut their food. I've gotten in the habit of just using my fork as both the cutting and eating utensil. My fork habit was also brought to my attention when Caroline, the Swiss Cal Poly student who stayed with me for a semester, mentioned the notable lack of knife use by many Americans.

The kids willingly ventured out of their culinary comfort zones by eating the rice and seafood dish offered for the Christmas Day offerings. It was a day of firsts for them. And with that brought a bit of overwhelm. Lorand needed new winter boots but with so many to choose from at the communist-era style shopping mall in Bucharest, he had a hard time making a decision; the brown ones with the black rubber soles, the black ones with the waterproof material or the boots from the other store that laced up?

To my surprise the two other boys didn't whine about not getting boots, or phones, or games, or ice cream. I would have thought that the kids who have so little would want as much as they could have. But they seemed rather unaffected by all the shiny gadgets and latest winter fashion trends. 

Tikka has lived at the orphanage home for 8 years. His younger brother, Gabor, lives at the house, too. In fact there are several sibling pairs who live at the Franciscan house. They arrive here for a variety of reasons; none of which have anything to do with the children.

Some parents who relinquished their kids improve their circumstances but when they have a child with a new partner, they choose to leave their original kids in the group home. You can imagine the psychological effects this has on the children. Some parents choose to spend their money on cigarettes and alcohol to the point where they've pried up the wood floor panels to burn for heat rather than buy wood or pay a gas bill.

Just the other day Pete and Andee, a foster parent at the house, went on wellness checks in neighboring towns. They each came back with a kid to stay at the orphanage for a few days. At the boys house, there'd been some physical aggression - and the little girl hadn't been bathed in 4 days and maybe hadn't had much to eat during that time either.

Andee spoon fed the girl vegetable mixed rice, gave her hugs and loving smiles.

"What made you become a foster parent here?" I asked Andee when I met her upon my arrival at the house.

"God." She said. "It was God." She surrendered, "God chose this." Her tone led me to assume there were days when she would have chosen otherwise, at least for a few weeks during the year.

In the few days I've been here I've seen Andee carry wood, hand wash stacks of dishes, prepare food, lug a vacuum cleaner up and down 3 flights of stairs - not to mention caring for a dozen kids. I've felt guiltily appreciative that God hasn't sent me the same message she got. Of course there's a part of me that wonders why I'm not able to, or perhaps interested in committing to something. One cause, one plight. I think about Pete who was only twenty-eight when I first met him 7 years ago. 

He's dedicated the past 7 years to parenting boys at the Franciscan House. He's spent his vacation time with the boys and even arranged his employment from the states to allow him to reside in the house to care for the boys. He speaks fluent Hungarian, which apparently is one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn.

There was a time in my life when I needed the security and stability of my marriage; knowing our daily, weekly and yearly routines gave me comfort. It took a long time for me to detach from needing that. If I hadn't let go of certain beliefs, I wouldn't have been able to move forward. But now that I have, I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far? Am I capable of committing to something? Someone?

Today I reject the thought of permanence. It sends a tremor through my body when I think of doing one thing in one place over and over. As much as these children have a place in my heart, I can't even fathom the sacrifice to devote my life to caring for them. And the same with the elephants in Thailand, the children in the Dominican Republic at Dove Missions, and the stray abandoned dogs in all three countries.

Is this a fear of commitment or am I beginning to live the life that I was meant to?  


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I played this Girl and Robot video for my ESL student. It's a nice little vignette.

carpathian legacy fund

To learn about the children in the Carpathian region, please click the above link the the Carpathian Legacy Fund.

The Shades of Light and Dark


Usually the bright promise from the morning sun warms my face this time of day when I roll up the shades. This morning, had I not been aware of the fires ravaging Ventura and areas further south, I would have assumed the nuclear war had begun.

A thick tannish, orange-tinged dome has sealed out the typical clear skies and essential sunlight. It reminds me of the 9 months I lived in the fog in Los Osos. I yearned for the sunshine I knew was shining just beyond the layer of dense air blocking it out.

This is kind of how my heart feels at the moment. Darkened from the loss of my 2 fifteen year-old cats who've been my companions, entertainers, comforters and loyal friends. They were just kittens when my husband and I got married. They were 7 when his exit catapulted me into an abysmal state of despair. On the days I couldn't get out of bed to feed them they laid quietly by my side. This was highly unusual for Sable in particular, who was quite the foodie.

Some of the roses I'd arranged for Smora's ceremonial transition have died during the week since her death. Others are softly drooping their delicate light pink petals.

And today, as I've gotten back to writing, the sunlight has returned; dancing in shadowed patterns cast inside from the yellowing leaves of the persimmon tree outside my window. The rustling leaves and fluttering from the wings of birds landing on branches to feed at their own personal overripe persimmon comforts me.

All life has seasons. It's synchronicity when our emotional energy reflects the physical seasons; that burst of energy and creativity we may feel in spring and the more introspective time when winter shortens our days and invites us to wrap ourselves in the warmth of blankets, soups and cozy fires.

But as many of us in California are experiencing, fire can cause great destruction, engulfing a lifetime of memories and traditions within minutes. It quickly strips away the external elements we surround ourselves with that we use to define who we are. The things that ground us and give us a sense of belonging.

Most of us will face an emotional firestorm in our lives. Typically they involve a loss. A divorce, a death, an assault, a diagnosis or being let go from a proudly held professional title. We're stripped bare to the bone of the identity we've known. Who are we without the externals that we've used to define ourselves?

Soul searching begins. And if we are open to it, we will tenderly collect the ashes of the past and use their nutrients to cultivate the seeds of our rebirth. Our awareness expands to see that we are never without when we nurture what is within.





A Wonderful Winter Adventure


I'm overcome with emotions of joy, excitement, gratitude, a little disbelief and a lot more appreciation.

I'm going back to Romania!

Only this time, I'm not a broken-hearted lost soul like I was 7 years ago when I traveled to Baile Tusnad to escape the pain from the emotional storm of betrayal that brought a swift end to my marriage - and almost my life. Self preservation kicked in to survive that first Christmas without him, the family and traditions I'd cherished, the meaning I gave all of it.

On this trip, I'm going to complete my twenty hour English teaching practicum in the same little village to the same wide-eyed kids full of hope and promise. And it all came together seemingly quite effortlessly.

I've learned a thing or two in the years from that first trip.

The most important lesson has been to cultivate the belief that I am deserving of love. And that it comes from me first.

When we accept ourselves and truly love all our blemishes and rough edges, it makes it impossible to be treated with anything less than kindness and respect from others. It would be one of those down the rabbit hole journey's to explain the discoveries, the process, the realizations, and I think that's what makes divorce recovery so challenging; we all have our own wounds of origin that need to be healed.

I've learned that healing, personal growth and recreating a life takes intention, practice and self compassion.

It seemed impossible to let go of what I held so dear. But in order to find peace, contentment, meaning and happiness, I had to change my mind about certain things. My old beliefs wouldn't serve my growth. My attachments would keep me anchored in the past. My thoughts had to shift from limited ones toward the ones that held possibility. And along the bumpy road I had to be compassionate with myself for my mistakes and poor choices. I can learn from them and do better. Condemning myself doesn't serve my growth.

I've learned that I'm smart, capable of a few things and I have some skills!

I've also learned they don't fit into a traditional career path. But they have created an amazing life path. And I'm becoming more than okay about that; in fact I'm excited! I've cloaked myself for too long with a heavy layer of believing in shoulds, I should have started a stable career path out of college, I should have gotten a job instead of trying to start my own business, but I know I'm better off tuning in to my own inner guidance system and following the path of curiosity.

Maybe I have vocational ADD. But all of what I've done, from massage therapy to real estate appraisal to starting a cookie company that failed before the first bite, have enriched me, educated me and served my growth.

I've learned to never build my world around something outside of myself. 

At first I thought it was so selfish to say no to people's requests. But all the articles I read during my separation said I could give more by saying yes less frequently; that I needed to say yes to myself first. I thought my value and worth was derived from all that I did for other people, my husband in particular. The danger in doing so is that I gauged my worthiness on other people's happiness with me and approval of me. If they were disappointed or critical, I believed it meant I wasn't good enough.

I'm grateful to have graduated from that painful life class.

I feel so blessed to be able to go back to where I was before as the new and improved version of me; Patty OS10. I get to enjoy myself, laugh wholeheartedly, contribute enthusiastically, sleep peacefully and see the same things with reopened eyes and an awakening soul.

We find our rhythm in life. We just gotta' keep dancing.

If you'd like to follow along the journey, please subscribe to get notices of new posts. This experience will be the final part of my next book.


 Enjoy the Treats During intermission

Enjoy the Treats During intermission

In the 1970's, my father was an actor in many community theater summer productions at the Wilton Playshop in Connecticut. At eight year's old, I fell in love with everything about the theater; the anticipatory energy, the magic, the story, the intermission snacks and being allowed backstage because I knew one of the actors. I felt so proud that my dad was the man on the stage with the deep bellowing voice. This was the era of Cabaret, Anything Goes and Fiddler on the Roof. And my dad played Tevye. 

For years after my father died, I couldn't listen to Sunrise, Sunset without falling to pieces. He infused emotion into those words that were beyond my years but when I heard my dad sing that song from the stage, my throat tightened, my eyes welled.

It's a gift to be so moved by artistic expression.

The energy of opening night was palpable. All the months of preparation, memorizing lines, creating costumes, building the sets and rehearsal after rehearsal finally come down to the moment the curtains whooshed back to reveal the story about to unfold. And there we were, a collective of the mesmerized; the audience. We were quiet and curious. And at eight years-old, I was squirmy.

One of my favorite parts of going to the theater has always been the intermission. I'm usually a bit restless from sitting and the thought of eating cookies while taking in the cast of characters who play the audience members is something I've always enjoyed. In the 70's the style was poncho's; today, pashmina's. Each member of the audience was a fascinating work of moving sculpture. From hairstyles and lipstick to baubles, scarves and shoes, I'd take in the living canvases from my 4 foot tall perspective.

The Wilton Playshop's reception area had a wood floor that creaked under the scurrying weight of wine and coffee seeking theater goers. Refreshments were set out on lace-clothed tables where I'd occasionally steal a sugar cube intended for coffee. Plates upon plates of cookies sat out in the open, ready for the taking. No permission needed - my mom was busy socializing with friends complimenting her on my dad's performance. If I couldn't catch a whiff of her Arpege' perfume, it was safe to take 2 or 3 cookies at a time.

A live theatrical performance is like life itself. Anything can happen. An actor may be cursed with stagefright, miss their cue or reach for a crucial prop that isn't in the right place at the right time. Isn't it the element of surprise that makes a live performance so thrilling?

I still revel in the anticipatory energy of intermission. Although now I usually race for the bathroom first, cookies, second. Intermission is an exciting time to review the highlights from the first act while remaining curious about what will be revealed in the 2nd act. It's a time to wonder, how will the rest of the story unfold?

Yet in our own lives when we are between acts of marriages, motherhood or job titles, we often feel a great deal of discomfort with not knowing how the 2nd act will play out on the stage. Instead of curiosity about the unknown, we have anxiety. Instead of trusting the show will go on, we are too busy writing and rehearsing every possible denouement.

While we're so busy thinking we miss the opportunity to relax during intermission.

I'm doing my best to remain curious during my current intermission. The time after the few months of travel to Thailand and the Dominican Republic for a book project and before the . . . . the next act. Which is formulating.

My intuition tells me the next scenes have already been written. Yes, I'm a believer in destiny. The older I get, the more I see how the events in my life serve the purpose for which I am here. And at the end of my life's performance I want to bow out with a wink to the playwright, now, it all makes sense. Well done.

In the past I was attached to the knowing. I really liked to know. To be certain. To feel secure. But life can be a series of seemingly unscripted scenes and pointless vignette's to the actor who has not read the script from beginning to end.

I'm being mindful to enjoy the intermission. It's a conscious practice in allowing myself to embrace the delightfully child-like curiosity of wondering what will happen next. 

Will I get certified as an English teacher and teach in other countries? Will I find a telecommuting job on FlexJobs and be able to work in yoga pants? Would I go back to waiting tables and enjoy my morning routine of sipping tea in my chair by the window where the persimmon tree entertains me as I write?

Or maybe I could convince a few friends to partner with me and run an Air BnB in Nicaragua or Spain.

Or maybe.

Wouldn't it be fun if . . . . 

No Running Water

I read a post from a FaceBook friend who claimed he’d become intimate with poverty because he ventured off into the woods, slept in a makeshift hut constructed from branches and underbrush and only ate oatmeal for breakfast and he had stew for lunch and dinner.

Three meals a day? Poverty?

From what I’m seeing and learning while I’ve been in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic volunteering with Dove Missions, poverty isn’t about a lack of possessions or only having stew for lunch and dinner.

Poverty is what makes a mother prostitute her daughter out to get money to feed the family.

Poverty is living in the absence of the belief or even the hope that your circumstances will improve. It's a prison of the mind and a daily struggle for survival.

Before I learned about the people living in the barrio’s of Playa Oeste and Nuevo Renecer, I judged them.

Why don’t they at least clean up the trash all over the beach?

Most first world kids know there’s no point in putting away their toys because they’re just going to get the stuff out to play with again. And I admit, it's how I feel about making a bed. It doesn't make sense to me.

It’s the same with the trash on the beach. It will always return no matter how many beach clean ups the residents or volunteers do.

The trash is layered so deep on the beachfront property of these barrios, it’s hard to see the sand. Instead of Caribbean seashells and beach glass there are mounds of plastic bottles, bags filled with garbage, shoes, pieces of Styrofoam and cracked paint buckets.

The wind carries wafts of sewage, not salt water with the hints of Coppertone lotion you’d expect in the Dominican Republic.

Nueva Renecer means new birth. The community was renamed from it's former name, Aguas Negras, meaning, black water, because the families didn’t want to be known anymore as the people who lived in the garbage dump.

For generations, people built shacks along the garbage filled waterfront, a polluted pocket along the Caribbean shore where an industrial port and a power plant bookend the bay churning dirty water. The Rio San Marcos carries sewage and garbage from inland communities up river, which all gush into the bay.

At one point, the government tried to relocate the residents to brand new condominiums in the nearby barrio Haiti. But within a short period of time, the people sold their condos for as little as one hundred dollars and moved back to their original shacks.

When you give a valuable item to someone who can't afford to feed their family, they will sell the object so they can eat.

The people in these barrios live for today just trying to meet their immediate needs. For generations, they haven't seen beyond the present day. Breaking that cycle is a challenge. It's clear to me that it starts with education; exactly what Liz Rooney, who founded Dove Missions, did to help the at-risk youth in the barrios who otherwise would have gotten sucked into the cycle of prostitution, drugs and crime.

There are positive signs of change and improvement in the barrios. The community is finally getting a sewer connection which means the unsanitary conditions should improve once raw sewage isn't running through the streets. But the neighborhood homes will not likely ever have running water. When the city turns on the water once or twice a week, people collect as much as they can to use for bucket bathing, cooking and cleaning. 

The wind blowing along the beachfront felt so refreshing after navigating through the small walkways between homes where the air was heavy and ripe. On the way back to the car where we'd have the luxury of air conditioning, I looked out along the trashed beach and saw the most beautiful pieces of driftwood I’ve ever seen. Whole branches, beautifully smoothed by the turbulent bay. I wondered how we could use the driftwood for the rooftop garden project at the boys and girls club. Would they be useful or just decorative?

I questioned whether thinking about décor and aesthetics is a luxury only the privileged are afforded.

I stood for a moment at the barrio boundary by the Rio San Marcos and gazed up at one of the million dollar mansions in the gated community just up the hill. If I could see into the windows of that home, surely they could see the barrio below them. 

The contrast was stark and jarring. Do the mansion dwellers have any idea who their neighbors are? Are they doing anything to serve the people in the sewage drenched barrio where families struggle to meet the basic needs for food, clean water, shelter and medicine?

Or do they glance out of their dual paned windows and dismiss the idea of helping their fellow neighbors because it’s just going to be that way day after day.

Getting Back Out There


I hear a lot of women say, I'm done with dating, there's no good men out there, after they've gone on a few dates usually at the urging of well-meaning friends.

I'm usually the person who suggests they not condemn all men for being lousy, and that their experience with what they don't want helps them get clear on what they do want. This is typical positive life-coachy stuff.

And here I sit, in a bit of a negative head space about my next volunteer venture because of the bad date with Thailand. So bad in fact, that I didn't even bring home the t-shirt. I don't want anything to remind me of the Elephant Sanctuary shiny facade of care blinding people to the mistreatment of the elephants. I held a lifetime of hope to one day connect with the animals I've loved since I was a child only to realize I'd fallen yet again for slick marketing and false advertising.

Instead of brushing myself off and keeping a positive mindset about volunteering again, I've retreated into the cocoon of thinking negatively, They're all like that

But whether it's dating or finding a place of employment or a volunteer placement, we can learn from our past mistakes and must be willing to start with a clear mind and positive expectation. I was a bit nauseated with myself for feeling slightly indifferent about traveling to the Dominican Republic for my next volunteer adventure. How dare I drape the veil of disappointment from my experience at The Elephant Sanctuary over my next venture. 

I am fortunate and blessed to be going. What I'm doing is a dream come true.

Each experience I have does not define the next. It gives me an opportunity to grow, to learn about myself and the world. Each relationship helps me define what my values are, what I'm not willing to tolerate, even if no one else around me is having the same experience as I am. 

I'm still learning to honor myself, to trust my instincts on my own personal scale valuing integrity, kindness and respect.

I'm willing to be open. To open my heart again, my mind, my life. 

Off I go into the wild blue yonder.

Sick From Complicity


Celine was the first one knocked out from the food poisoning. After 3 days, she managed to make it to one of our morning meetings, looking rather pale, hunched over the table sipping electrolytes and holding a small baggie of anti-nausea medication.

I knew it was just a matter of time before someone got sick. Every day at four O'clock the kitchen ladies set out the food for dinner that was sealed in plastic wrap and covered with stainless steel lids and sat for 2 hours in the eighty-five degree late afternoon heat before we were allowed to eat. Staff and volunteers were only permitted to serve ourselves after the overnight guests had filled their plates.

Ann was the next one taken down. She spent most of the day on the bed next to me in the small air-conditioned office where I was reading the Elephant Sanctuary study guide. Ann’s hand rested gently on her lower abdomen. She only moved slowly from side to side during the several hours I was reading about how sensitive, emotional and intelligent the elephants were.

As a tour guide, I heard tourists say the same thing I did, I wanted to make sure I was coming to a true ethical animal sanctuary. It made my stomach turn.

In a country with a centuries long history of treating the elephant as a machine for hard labor, using it as a street beggar and regarding it as a nuisance to local farmers, there’s a long road toward shifting the perception and treatment of the elephant. And of course there is the element of greed. Money appeared to be the driving force behind the decisions made at The Elephant Sanctuary, not the wellbeing of the animals.

I’d seen things contrary to the, we work for the elephants, motto and I’d heard disturbing things about the treatment of the elephants by some of the mahouts; the people who take care of the elephants. Some of the mahouts believe regular beatings of the elephant reminds the animal who is in charge. I saw aggressive and forceful use of the bull hook which wouldn’t be necessary if the elephants weren’t forced to do activities for the tourists.

The bull hook I held up in front of international tourists during the morning safety talk was a fraction of the size of the ones the mahouts used on the animals. I saw bloodied ears, threatening motions and repetitive strikes on the animals but every morning I lied and told tourists, In the past, the bull hook was used to abuse the elephants, but we only use it as a guiding tool.

As I led my tour group through the property, undoubtedly the question arose, Why is that elephant chained to the tree?

We were told it was because some of the elephants were too dangerous. But when I saw most of the elephants chained up at some point during the day, it was impossible to deny they did not have freedom of movement. They moved when it was part of their daily routine; chained to the feeding platform for 2 hours before the tourists fed them a fruit basket, led to the river for the tourists to view them, brought to the mud puddle to show the tourists how they play, led to a feeding station to eat sticky rice balls and then dragged into the river for tourists to brush them before they were brought to their designated night time areas where they were chained for fourteen hours. Elephants only sleep for 4 – 6 hours a night. 

Day after day. Seven days a week this was the routine.

Instead of building enclosures for the elephants to roam freely, the construction on the property was for parking areas and tourist viewing platforms. The welfare of a sick elephant at the medical center wasn't considered when loud tractors destroyed the shade trees behind its temporary home. By the time I saw that, I knew not to call the office. No one cared. The owner was the one who ordered the construction.

I felt sick from the choking afternoon smoke. Each breath I took on the long walk back to the reception area with my tour group at the end of the hot day was singed with burning debris.

My body was weak. I was overcome with exhaustion and retreated to the dim and cave like coolness of the office / infirmary where I laid down with my head toward the fan.

The rhythm of the soft whirring blades and the intervals of cool relief on my face and shoulders settled my nausea and allowed me to doze off.

But my weakness wasn't from the smoke. I was the 7th person to get the food poisoning. Or perhaps my spirit felt sick knowing I had been complicit in the ongoing mistreatment and abuse of the animals I had travelled eight thousand miles to love and care for.

I doubted myself, my instincts, my better judgement. I believed the excuse, It's the Thai way. Is it possible there are no Thai people who truly have an elephant's wellbeing as their primary concern instead of their profit? Was this a true cultural difference or had I been manipulated to go along with the status quo because at least the elephants were being treated better than in a trekking camp?

And while that's true, the elephants were treated better than in a trekking camp, what does it say about the erosion of ethics when it's acceptable to abuse an animal less than it would be abused elsewhere?

Was I too American, first-world, idealistic, naive or stupid?

I was told the issue of elephant tourism in Thailand was complex. Maybe I am unrealistic in my belief that the ethical complexity of a situation should not equate to immoral complicity.  

I gave notice that I was leaving the program early. I couldn't wait to get out of there. I felt disgusting for going against my values, for supporting their business, for believing the bullshit.

The heaviness of The Elephant Sanctuary stayed with me. In fact it may still be with me. But I can and will use my words, both written and spoken, to inform and educate people about my experience. 



Please Don't Feed the Children to the Elephants

Jarunee is one of the most dangerous elephants we have at The Elephant Sanctuary. She spends most of her days alone on a strip of land between the water flow from the River Kwai. For good reason. She has bullied other elephants and been aggressive with people. There is only one mahout who's willing to work with her, and I do believe he's a bit reluctant to do so.

The other day, while the founder of The Elephant Sanctuary was recording the tourists during the afternoon fruit basket feeding, I removed two children from feeding Spy, the small young female who is a bit unpredictable and mistakenly placed them in front of the mammoth and even more dangerous, Jarunee. But their parents were so high maintenance that I didn't dare try to remove the kids again.

The founder kept recording and didn't even give me a raised eyebrow as if to ask, What the hell are you doing?!

Som, a Thai staff member who is also a guide, looked at me with great surprise and disbelief, "You put kids with Jarunee?" His jaw dropped. Jai, a previous volunteer who came to help during this unusually busy time, offered his slack-jaw as well. The three of us hovered near the unsuspecting children, ready to pull them back to safety should Jarunee decide to grip one of them with her massive trunk. A trunk that can hold eleven hundred pounds. She probably could have taken out both of the kids with one curl of the trunk.

Thankfully, the founder didn't see my mistake and no harm came to the children during the feeding of the elephants. 

In my short time of being a tour guide, I've seen many different parenting styles from the families who've traveled from Germany, England, the US, Australia, the Netherlands, China and New Zealand. So far, one woman stands out as the kind of mom you're lucky you didn't have.

Two families were traveling together with two special needs kids. They arrived late and scrambled as best they could to manage their collective children while acclimating themselves to the thick heat. They were a bit distracted and chaotic. The parents, not the kids. The two families happened to be in my group for the day. The parents set up their fancy cameras and Go-Pros to document every moment. Most of their conversation seemed to center around the pictures and video they were taking and instantly reviewing.

During lunch, one of the mothers told me about her peanut allergy. We checked with four different Thai staff to confirm which of the lunch buffet dishes contained any peanut products; oil, powder or the nuts themselves. We were told nothing had peanut products. Just cashews in the papaya salad.

Thankfully, she brought her epi pen. Within half an hour her husband approached me to tell me of his wife's allergic reaction. I kicked into high gear, knowing how dangerous a peanut allergy can be and found Veronica. 

She took two steps back, "Go tell Elise. I don't know, I don't know."

I found Elise at the reception table. "Can you please talk to the husband of the woman who is having a peanut reaction?"

"Did you check with the Thai staff about the peanuts? They will know what has the peanuts. The ladies in the kitchen should know."

"We did check. With four of them. She's having an allergic reaction. That's the husband, there," I pointed to the man, "Can you please go talk to him?"

"What did she eat? It should not be that she has this allergy if the Thai staff said there were no peanuts."

At this point, I shrugged, "I don't know. He's over there. You can ask him." And I walked away.

The non-allergic mother wore a beautiful flowy tropical print jumpsuit, large rimmed round sunglasses and glistening peach gloss on her permanently pursed lips. While we made sticky rice balls to feed the elephants, she stood off to the side with her camera and instructed her daughter on how to pose for the candid pictures. Her son, who I believe was on the autism spectrum, didn't want to get his hands dirty from forming the sticky rice balls and sat patiently as his mom reviewed the moments from minutes before through her playback screen. She seemed to have very little interaction with her son other than to ask him to stop whining.

Our elephant arrived at the feeding area and the boy decided he wanted to try feeding Tangmo. I shook off some of the calcium powder coating the rice ball and placed it in the boy's open palm. I'd be on edge if my parents were standing behind me cheering me, Come on, just put it in his mouth! Just do it. Don't back away. Don't be afraid!

The boy lifted his open palm toward the giant elephant. When the rice ball hit the ground, the boy let out a howl of frustration but was determined to try again. He grabbed another rice ball from the tray which slipped from his hands and fell to the dirt.

He was very frustrated with himself, "I keep dropping things!" he blurted out.

"It's okay," I offered, "As long as we have gravity, we're going to drop things."

Later in the day when the woman who survived the peanut allergy came back to life, she rejoined her friends. Pantsuit diva immediately seized the opportunity for a photo shoot. Not of the elephants. Not of her children. Just a solo photoshoot.

She handed her freshly revived friend the camera and immediately struck a pose. Side profile while looking pouty off into the distance, 3/4 profile glancing coyly at the camera, Look at me! I'm in Thailand!

Her hard-earned pilates arms draped over the back of the bench in ownership. Click. Click. Click.

She moved locations and switched photographers. "You're doing it wrong!" She admonished her twelve year-old daughter who was in charge of an Out of Africa style photoshoot of the mom strolling down the dirt path, looking over her shoulder in surprise as if an elephant had just whispered to her.

When I was twelve, I recall my mom being more interested in taking pictures of me or the two of us together. Have times changed because of the digital age and how each member of a family has access to smart phones with cameras? Have we become more selfie-centered because of technology?

Have we lost the art of being in the moment because we're so focused on capturing it to share with our social circles later? I remember my trip to Alaska and how majestically the glaciers and mountains stood so proudly from the earth. I clicked picture after picture until my battery finally wore out.

Oh, well. I guess I'll just have to remember this because I won't have any pictures. 

But a photograph won't capture the afternoon breeze or the head to toe relief when you step inside the air-conditioning of a 7-11 store after dripping sweat walking around one of the crowded nightmarkets. A photograph doesn't capture the call of the birds and the silly vocalization from the Geckos that I'm certain are saying something rather obscene.

I am loving this moment, gazing over the pool where I will submerge my aching bones within the hour. Listening to a melody of children squealing and splashing gleefully with their father brings me back to the poolside afternoons with my grandparents in West Palm Beach, Florida. My brother and I played in the pool for hours, only drying off for egg-salad sandwiches at lunch. We'd head straight back to the pool after waiting the obligatory thirty minutes after eating and stay there until the sun settled into the palm trees.

The air in Kanchanaburi Province smells of smoke from the small piles of debris and trash burned throughout the area. It is both a shocking reminder of the horrible practice of burning plastic and other garbage and at the same time, it is part of the endearing and contrasting landscape of Thailand. 

Can I be an impartial observer and not be quick to judgment? With the burning trash or the pantsuit mother? Can things just be the way they are without my labeling them as good or bad?

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of  You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? Her life coaching helps people rediscover themselves after divorce. Connect with her at

Dogs, Machetes and a Search for Truth

My idealistic bubble burst after only a few hours of arriving to The Elephant Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. And from there I was on a seemingly slippery slope downward. Asking the wrong questions, making the wrong phone call, acting the wrong way. Oh, and then the incident with the dog and the machete almost threw me over the edge. 

As I sat at the staff table on my first day, a flood of confessions spilled forth from longer term volunteers and some permanent staff. Rumors and stories criss-crossed from multiple directions as people dipped french fries in mayonaise. I'd read that before the sanctuary became The Elephant Sanctuary, it was called Elephant's Place, a retirement center for elephants created by a man from Belgium and a Thai woman. When she died only 3 months after opening the park, the husband withdrew from their life long dream. One volunteer told me she'd heard the prior place used to be known for orgies. One thing that is certain; facts are a bit hard to come by here.

If you ask 3 different people about the history of the elephants here, one will tell you they are under ownership of people who could take their elephant out of retirement at any time. Another will tell you we own all of the elephants and their ears are microchipped and the hybrid story is that we own some elephants outright and others are here on a contract. 

Rules seem to beg to be broken. I'm never sure which rules we're allowed to break, and I seem to break the ones we shouldn't. On my second day I was spoken to about making a phone call to the office regarding my concern over metal soldering and loud hammering less than 3 feet from an elephant tied to it's feeding position. I'm certain the flying sparks just feet away from her golden brown eyes were agitating to her.

Another volunteer and I mentioned our concerns to the  program manager who flippantly said, "I don't know. That's Tam's department. I don't know." And with a quick shrug of the shoulders, she was done entertaining our questions.

"Well where is Tam?" I asked, anxious to get the soldering halted until after the elephants had eaten. We had just learned how sensitive they were to loud noises and can startle easily. We guided the tourists past the display of elephant vs. minor construction. Thankfully, none of the tourists saw the irony.

I spoke with Celine when I called the office. She agreed the soldering shouldn't be happening directly in front of the elephant. But the next day Elise warned me not to do that again; that I should call her or Veronica. "We are the farang." (the tourist). "And I've seen bad things happen for less."

I wondered if she was referring to any of the 3 deaths of volunteers on the property?

But the non-explanation for the machete wielding farmer had me puzzled.

I was leading a few families down the road toward the river banks. The water buffalo were crossing the dirt road as one of our little black dogs ran wild in a beautiful display of instinctual herding techniques. The dog took a few lunges toward the farmer who wore a full face cover. I couldn't even see his eyes. He had his machete out in 3 seconds.

With the machete aimed at the dog, I quickly searched my mental file box for an explanation of the dog massacre I was certain was imminent. I know how traumatizing it was to see my beloved childhood dog, Dusty, get hit by a garbage truck. Her tongue turned white as she laid on a red plaid wool blanket in the back of my parent's station wagon. She died on the way to the veterinarian's office.

We all took a collective breath in gratitude for the safety of the dog as the farmer put the machete back in its sheath.

"I don't know what to tell you." Veronica quipped in her usual cool tone. The only thing that is cool here.

"We cannot tell the farmer what to do."

"Okay, but how would I explain that to the family?" I was really struggling to come up with a reasonable explanation. 

"I don't know. We cannot control what the farmer does."

Later, Elise, the older and a bit wiser foundation manager presented a reasonable explanation. In this country, the dog is pretty low on the totem pole. They are scene as a nuisance, not a treasured pet. And with so much poverty, the stray dogs must seem like vermin.

I suppose I can learn from my own story. Perhaps Veronica's bark is worse than her bite. But it still leaves me feeling intimidated, like I'm going to be fired from volunteering.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of  You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What?


Sensory Overload

April 2

The young girl on the moped wasn't wearing a helmet. Time slowed as she laid down her bike and slid on the hot Bangkok asphalt toward the car that made an abrupt turn, cutting her off and forcing her to the ground. The bike and her body came to a stop just underneath the front end of the car.

My body flooded with adrenaline as I relived the trauma from my own moped accident while I was in Spain, alone, after I'd discovered my boyfriend's affair with an Italian opera singer. I suppose I would have had an affair, too, if an Italian singer swooned me. The accident happened on the 2nd day of my 2 week trip. My road rash required bandage changes every other day and with my left hand incapacitated, traveling with my overloaded backpack limited my travel and left me feeling sorry for myself.

The moped resting on top of the girl was heavy. I struggled to lift it from the handlebars while 2 people helped her to her feet. Her knee had taken the brunt of the injuries and it was hard for her to put any weight on that leg. The driver never got out of the car. I felt quite helpless. Unable to communicate, to call for help, to offer comfort. Adrenaline surged through my body as I stood under the shade of a tree on the busy street and realized I needed to head back to my hotel to arrange a ride to the massage appointment I'd made earlier that morning.

Contrast. Life is full of it. Is something good or bad or are they just events and we give them meaning based on our beliefs, perceptions, experiences and our inability to view the broad perspective of what shapes our lives. I'm not including war, starvation, disease and violence in this theory, just the everyday shit that can change your life in a moment.

It was because of my moped accident that I enrolled in massage school. I was so grateful to have the use of my hand and wanted to use them to help people. I wonder how the girl's accident will affect her. I'm most curious about the subconscious, subtle ways her experience may guide her.

Bangkok is full of contrast. From the mega-size shopping malls to the smog-blackened 2 story cinderblock apartments sprayed with graffiti to the Buddhist monks wrapped in orange robes blocks away from sex workers offering happy endings, the city has been a sensory overload. But not entirely in a bad way.

It's heightened my awareness. Buzzing mopeds, police on megaphones and grinding river boat motors co-exist with the monk's melodic chanting softly hanging in the humid air and crickets harmonizing at dusk. Trees are decorated with flowers and ribbons and the river is full of litter and motor exhaust. The choking fumes from Tuk-Tuk's, mopeds and cars yields to appetizing aromas of simmered curries, grilled meat and caramelized palm sugar thickening in woks on every street.

The sweat dripping down my back while walking through the Wat Pho Temple of the Reclining Buddha was momentarily relieved by the strong and cool air flow from fans paced the exact number of feet apart that my body craved some air movement.

And so it is with Thai food. Elements of sweet, salty, spicy and cool blend together harmoniously but each ingredient on its own is displeasing. Isn't this the way we experience life?

My moped accident was displeasing, but the massage career was rewarding. The end of my marriage was devastating, but it led to my life-long dream of writing a book. My suicide attempt felt embarrassing, but it's given me a voice to help others who may feel the same way. 

Who is is to say what is good and what is bad. 

My usual precise planning and scheduling took a nosedive when I realized last night I was supposed to be in Kanchanaburi today, not still in Bangkok, where I am scrambling to arrange transport directly to Elephant's World today, later than scheduled, but today none the less.

If I hadn't goofed up my calendar, I wouldn't have taken the incredible Thai cooking class yesterday. And who knows where that may lead.

I'm learning to be curious and go with the flow.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of  You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? She's looking for more volunteer opportunities for her next book. Connect with her at


The parable of the Chinese farmer. Is it good or bad? Maybe.

In Need of a Magic Leprechaun

Image from Pixabay

March 17

I didn’t mean to wear hot pink underwear for my first Chiropractor appointment. It’s been so long since anyone else has seen what lurks beneath my clothing that I didn’t even think about my color selection.

Perhaps today I should wear bright green, with lucky Leprechauns dancing on my butt.

Big victory of the day, this morning I didn’t have to sit on the footstool in the shower – I was able to stand. But while I was on hold with the travel insurance company for thirty-five minutes I realized it’s unlikely I’ll be able to travel in 4 days. I hoped the agent with the serene international accent would tell me the fees to reschedule the flight are covered by my policy.

March 19

Today I wore neutral colored, non-lacey underwear and felt worse after the chiropractic adjustment. Not because of the neutral color. Even the back support wasn’t helping the deep muscle pain and weakness. I parked at a Deli to get a sandwich but I couldn’t walk the distance to the front door. No one heard me calling, Hellooooo, from the back door.

I cried on the drive back home. I missed my mom, and thought of how she yoooohoooo’d to get a store clerk’s attention. It used to embarrass me but I would have loved to have her there with me, pack me a lunch and take the pretty way home. She always preferred the back roads through the dappled shade from tall New England summertime trees. Isn’t that what a 1967 Mustang convertible is for? To take the scenic route?

Tears pooled and dropped to my cheeks. I was flushed with insecurity. I wished my ex hadn’t changed and we were still happily married. I wondered who would take care of me if I became incapacitated and how would I pay for that?

The finances are always on my mind. Sometimes I obsess about them and other times I calm myself with my kooky idea of living abroad in a lower cost country, teaching English and freelance writing. 

After an hour on the phone with the China Southern Airlines representative, I was able to change my flight plans for a one week delay. I hope that is enough time to get back on my feet. This certainly isn’t the story I wanted to write. But I know how that goes.

Being flat out has curbed me of my typical travel anxiety incessant errand running. I’ve actually had time to read the Elephant's World information I am supposed to study. I didn't know that elephants have very sensitive skin and their feet pick up vibrational information from nine miles away. Aum Pan, one of the older female elephants is described as gentle and loves to swim in the river. She’s also said to still have some of her teeth.

I thought back to when I was abruptly single and how dismal my dating profile would be: great conversationalist who still has her teeth! Today, dating isn't even on my mind. Is that healthy? Is it avoiding intimacy? Who knows. But I’m grateful to not be consumed with missing someone I don’t even know.

I want to meet Spy and Dok Mai, 2 female elephants who are described as being playful, naughty and stubborn. They sound like my kind of gals. I’m ready to play in the water, feed the pachyderms sweet fruit and rest my hand on their trunks with love and compassion for their lives of abuse.

I don’t understand how a sacred animal can be so mistreated. From what I’ve been reading, elephants have held great significance in Thailand. On the night of Lord Buddha’s birth, his mother, Queen Maya, dreamt a six-tusked white elephant presented her with a lotus flower.

The lotus flower symbolizes purity and knowledge; the white elephant symbolized fertility and success. But what about the rest of the elephants who didn’t live in the King’s palace? What about the ones who don’t eat off of gold plates and have a designated staff to attend to them?

The word tamed stands out to me. Articles I’ve been reading use that term to describe making the elephant do what humans want it to do. It doesn’t appear to be praise and reward based.

A Mahout is the person who cares for an elephant throughout its life. Apparently there are three different philosophies in their training approach. The Yukthimah use ingenuity to outsmart their elephants, the Reghawan use love in their training, and the Balwan use cruelty. I still get a wave of nausea as flashes appear in my mind of the video showing a baby elephant being restrained and abused in order to break its spirit and submit to human control. Tamed. I wish I could un-see that flickering cruelty.

I’ve been the person who felt anger toward animal rights groups that post disturbing graphic images and videos. Rather than feel anger that the abuse is taking place, I have displaced it with the group exposing me to images I do not want to see. It’s an assault to my senses.

But imagine how the animal feels?

I’m developing more questions. If Buddha taught peace, love and harmony, why is there such rampant animal abuse in Thailand? The first tenet of Buddhism states: I will be mindful and reverential with all life, I will not be violent nor will I kill.

I ran into a friend the other day who is a strict Vegan because of her belief in the sanctity of all life. How can I feel such protection for the elephant but not the chicken?

My hope is I don’t get arrested for asking questions. It is considered highly offensive to say anything negative about the Kingdom of Thailand. And I’ve been known to be a rule breaker.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of  You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? Follow her elephant adventure at

Help Elephant’s World purchase the sanctuary land.


The Callous that Broke my Back

Uh oh. Why did I try to pumice the callous off my big toe? I felt a familiar sharp grip, twinge and instantly weakening pain after lifting my right leg and bending slightly at the waist.

My back feels like an unstable stack of Jenga blocks, teetering around and ready to tumble at any moment. I took one of the 800 mg Acetaminophen pills prescribed for my Thailand trip. I didn’t think I’d need them here at home. I'm supposed to fly in a week. I’m trying to think positively.

All I can think about is how insulting it is to the Thai people to use your feet to pick things up or shove things around on the floor. That’s all I’ve done in the past twenty minutes getting myself settled to lay on the floor with an ice pack underneath my sacrum.

I’m going to take this as a sign from the Universe that it’s time to slow down and read the booklet about the elephants at Elephant's World.

It doesn’t surprise me to learn that elephants have extremely close family bonds, only separated by death or capture. Perhaps the part of me that still craves to belong to a family since my divorce is hoping to be welcomed into the herd of elephants. 

It’s interesting to reflect back on my decision to volunteer in Romania at an orphanage when I was feeling so abandoned after my husband left the marriage. I identified with the children, searching for love and belonging, wandering around with open arms, will you love me? That was long before I'd learned the healing value of loving myself.

Maybe this life-long connection I’ve felt to elephants has been about belonging. Although, since the spiritual retreat in Ojai with Ronda LaRue ten months ago, I have not felt the empty ache of loneliness I’d carried with me for years since my divorce - or perhaps even longer. With Ronda's guidance, I traveled back in time and healed the wounded thirteen year-old who felt abandoned and lost in the world from my parent's divorce.

Day 2 Flat Out

My meditating, communing with the elephant spirits, praying and positive expectations have not yet had a miraculous effect on my back. I can barely walk. Sitting upright on my cushioned sofa for 5 minutes is painful. How the hell am I going to endure a fifteen hour flight? How am I going to carry a suitcase, walk the night market in Bangkok and carry pails of fruit for the elephants?

All of my health fears centered around food poisoning and deadly tropical diseases. It never occurred to me that my back might go out.

I’m seeing a Chiropractor tomorrow who has the Cox Flexion Distraction table and I’m praying for a miracle.

More Beautiful for Having Been Broken

I never knew what ORS was until I read the list of mandatory supplies to pack for my upcoming trip to Thailand. Then, a friend told me not to wear the same socks twice to prevent jungle rot. A vague memory of Vietnam soldiers fighting off horrible infections consuming their lower legs and feet came to mind.

I wondered how the hell anyone could have smiling faces in their vacation pictures from Thailand? Between Zika, Dengue Fever, food poisoning, Malaria, Japanese Encephalitis and Rabies from wild dogs and monkeys, why would anyone willingly go there?

Why am I going?

Oh, right; life long dream, that’s why.

For years I thought my love of elephants was some deep mystical spiritual past-life connection revealing itself to me in my current life experience. I’d always imagined being up close and personal with elephants. I’d collected small ceramic and stone elephant figurines from various travels over the years. I’ve been mesmerized by them; drawn to them. It must be some deep spiritual bond.

Or not.

I was scanning through JPEGS my brother converted from slides taken in the 1970’s when we were kids. And there it was; the picture of me straddled across a small elephant at Lion Country Safari in Florida. We were visiting my grandparents in West Palm Beach.

My life-long dream was based on a novel elephant ride when I was eight years-old?

So, off I go to live with the elephants for 4 weeks at Elephant’s World in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. And I couldn’t be more excited. And nervous – but that’s typical for me. I’m a reluctant adventurer.

I feel equally divided between the homebody who needs routine and security and the adventurer who desires new experiences. I have enjoyed hitchhiking in France, camping in Greece after disembarking in the wrong town and attempting to use the pay telephones in Italy.

I also love being horizontal on my couch at the same time each day, having my morning tea ritual and stocking up on my usual favorites from Trader Joe's. Predictable, safe and secure.

But life is anything but predictable. And all of my past experiences brought me to this moment. The times of unending tears and feelings of despair, the budding moments of strength emerging from hibernation and experiencing the first true belly laugh after so many moments spent worrying I’d never feel joyful again.

Years ago I felt I had nothing to live for when my marriage seemed to end so abruptly. I felt my soul fracture from the consuming multiple losses; my sense of identity, my husband and marriage, the future I believed in, and his family I belonged to for seventeen years.

And here I am today, feeling excited, like a little girl going off on a big adventure to ride an elephant in Loxahatchee, Florida.

A wise young woman came into my life in the most perfect timing. She had experienced life’s breaking points, too; the deaths of both her parents when she was thirteen, a family’s rejection and great disappointment during grad school applications.

She told me of Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold to bind the pieces together. This method celebrates the fractures rather than masking them. It is believed the pottery is more beautiful for having been broken.

Haven’t we all felt shattered by some experience in life, or several? I continue to find incredible human value in showing others my golden fractures. I know the profound effect of someone comforting me with their vulnerable story, assuring me, I’ve been through that, too. You’re not alone.

I’d read about women venturing off into the world after their unanticipated new beginnings in life. I wasn’t sure if I was capable of being like them; taking risks rather than seeking horizontal comfort on the couch, exploring different cultures rather than blending in to homogenized safety.

My upper arms hurt for days from the vaccinations against deadly, or at least very displeasing diseases. I’ll be sharing a hut with other volunteers, sleeping under a mosquito net in a room cooled by a fan. I’ve packed fifty servings of the Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) to replenish my body chemistry from the effects of intense heat or digestive issues I may encounter while there.

I do wonder why my idea of adventure isn’t reviewing 5 star resorts and luxury spa retreats, but I know this trip will feed my soul.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of  You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? Follow her elephant adventure at

Help Elephant’s World purchase their sanctuary land.

Where the Heck is my Inner Child Taking Me?

I'm amazed at how the essence of ourselves continues to surface even when we may not be sure who we are at times in our lives. I sense a consistent energetic quality to my being from when I was a child. It’s always been letting me know whether I’ve been aligned with it or not. I just don’t think I knew how to listen. Maybe that’s why the Universe has sent me some traumatic adjustments in life. To set me straight.

Perhaps the feelings of overwhelm, disconnection and loneliness have to do with an energetic misalignment? Why do we feel alive in some environments or depleted by others? Why do we choose to live in a small town or a high-rise building in a bustling city?

Is it possible that anxiety, fatigue and illness can result from being out of flow with our true nature? Where can our true peace and joy dwell inside a facade of happiness in the house of should?

I’ve lived in many shouldy places. I should be thinner. I should be more accomplished. I should floss more. I should have been able to get a well paying job with awesome benefits.

Today, with 100% conviction, I can tell you that I am unemployable.


This does not mean that I’m not smart, it doesn’t mean I don’t have skills. In fact I have some very marketable skills. But at 52 years of age, having always been part of the 1099 world other than restaurant jobs, there’s no place for me in the employee/employer world of grown up salaried jobs. 

This means no health, dental and vision benefits. It means no reliable steady income. It means no 401K plan, paid vacation or sick time and any of the other perks people get under a companies employ. And the pension benefits my attorney pressed me to secure during the divorce will amount to a whopping $146 a month when he retires.

Math has not been my strength, but my numbers don’t add up to a sustainable life in one of the most expensive cities in California.

So, I’m venturing off on another let me figure out a plan D adventure. This time to Thailand. For a while, or forever - if there is such a thing. 

This year, I’ve been listening to my inner wisdom and paying attention to my emotions created from different experiences.

I’m trying to be more like the baby whose entire physical body rejects something disagreeable.

If it feels like a sour lemon, why would I keep doing that to myself? I'm finally tapping into my deep desire to experience life, be an observer of that experience and communicate it to others through writing. That tastes like The Madonna Inn toffee cake to me; delicious. Crave-able.

My first book was intended to be about how volunteering could heal the pain of heartbreak. I had it all figured out. One year of volunteering and I'd be over it. Done. All healed and moving on with life.

Oh how naïve I was.

But the beautiful gift that came from that awful time in my life was the fulfillment of a life-long dream to write a book that would help people.

It is only because of a long-term friendship that another life-long dream is becoming a reality. At the end of March I leave for Kanchanaburi, Thailand where I’ll be volunteering for a month at Elephant’s World, a sanctuary for abused, sick and older elephants.

I have to admit, I'm a bit nervous. I ask myself what the hell I got myself into?! Why couldn’t I have decided to write about 5 star resorts instead of going to spend a month sleeping on a mattress under a mosquito net in a hut with no air conditioning during the hottest month of the year in Thailand?

Not to mention smelly elephant poop, Zika, Malaria, Typhoid, twenty-hour flights, theft, and the more serious concerns a woman has traveling solo.

The hermit and the adventurer parts of myself are in great contrast. The hermit wants to have the safety and security of the known and familiar. But the adventurer asks what would there be to write about if everyday were the same?

Although, in a way, everyday will be the same at the elephant sanctuary preparing the elephant's food, getting ready for the daily visitors, working on projects and cleaning up for the day. Well then, maybe I shouldn't bother after all!

Shhhhhhh Hermit, you'll be okay.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the self-help book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? If you'd like to contribute a comfort food recipe for her upcoming cookbook, email,

Check back for posts on the elephant adventure and the makings of the 2nd life experience book.

Divorce and the Ghost of Christmas Past

I love my little town of San Luis Obispo, California, but strolling past the storefront windows decked out for the holidays brought my awareness to the thick glass that separates me from my past life.

In the years since my divorce I've done my best to keep busy during Christmas. I fled the country to volunteer with groups in Romania and Costa Rica. I moved during the holidays two years in a row and managed to keep my head down and get through it like a plough pushing aside thick memories.

But this year is different.

I'm home. It's quiet. I've barely sent out Christmas cards and haven't baked one cookie. I've felt some sadness over the loss of what was. But this year I finally realize that is normal.

I've learned that while the passage of time does decrease the overall intensity of emotions, it doesn't mean that each consecutive year gets better and better until you forget you were part of a family. We aren't robots. We are human beings, designed to have emotions and feelings. 

I didn't just lose a spouse in my divorce. I lost his family and the individual relationships with each of the people in it. Divorce is a living death and can sever vital relationships in an instant while others linger and die off from malnutrition over the years of diminished contact and communication. 

There is no simply, getting over it, as so many people expect you to do in the case of divorce. Why is it when someone dies we allow the bereaved to express their sadness for years after losing their loved one, but in divorce we judge them for not moving on?

This year I've come to realize I can feel both the sadness over the loss of family and reflect back fondly with gratitude for the seventeen years I had with them.  I think this is what healing looks like; when you reach a point where the intense grief is softened by intentional healing and the passage of time. It's a place that is not overwhelmingly in any emotional sphere. Perhaps it is acceptance.

I did get a tree this year. I was overcome with a joyful spirit at the right time and in the right place where trees were being sold. Thankfully, at some point during the past five years I managed to get rid of the emotionally charged decorations my ex and I collected over the years like the Disneyland ornament and the little wooden trolley car from a trip to San Francisco.

Social media reminds me that divorce not only breaks Christmas traditions, it shatters our fragile beliefs in forever. It dims the light of hope we held for belonging. But as I write this, I gaze upon my beautiful, somewhat crooked, dying tree decorated with dollar store snowflakes and hand-me-down candy canes and I'm smiling. I belong right where I am.

The Holidays. The Divorce. The Dread.

This was the time of year when I tested my liver to its maximum capabilities. I flooded it with red wine flowing from fancy glasses, strong vodka disguised in a feminine pink Cosmo and goblets of craft beer. I don't even like beer. But at 2 a.m. for last call it was often my go-to selection for a nightcap. As if I needed one!

Alcohol flows through our culture as an accepted mainstream activity. The danger is that many of us get caught up in the addictive current and drown ourselves. The pain of an unwanted divorce and the anxiety about the holidays can be the perfect ingredients for abusing the alcohol that is a part of so many holiday celebrations.

Consider the benefits of taking a break from the booze through the New Year.

  • You'll have a sense of control during a time when you may feel like life is out of your control.
  • Empowering yourself with a personal challenge.
  • Physical, mental and emotional health improvement.
  • No hangovers, guilt or self-loathing.

It's hard to take an honest look at ourselves and our behaviors. We use or abuse substances for a reason; to relieve pain and discomfort. If you're willing to be honest with yourself . . .


Discovered: The Missing Link to Finally Moving on from a Painful 2nd Divorce

I was thirteen when I went through my first divorce. Up until that point the most painful injury I’d endured was deep road rash on my knee after skidding through gritty gravel on a dead end street in my neighborhood.

Thirty-three years later, my second divorce reopened the wound from the first time I lost my family to divorce.

It’s taken 5 self-discovery years for me to realize in order to release a lingering sadness over losing my husband and his family I’d called my own for seventeen years, I needed to heal my thirteen-year-old self who felt abandoned and alone in the world.

One night after my ex started his new life without me, I washed a Xanax down with wine and realized for the first time just how devastated my mother must have felt during her divorce when I was thirteen. She was panicked and angry during their separation, often venting her vitriol about my dad to me. By the time their divorce was final, her anger hardened into a bitter callus.

I was scared to death I’d end up like her.

As I spun out of control during the soul-searing agony of my own divorce, a portal opened to my unhealed wounded thirteen-year-old self.

In my determination to become the perfect post-divorce picture, I’d done numerous burning bowl ceremonies, tapping, journaling, chakra meditations, gratitude practices, letter writing, pillow punching and anything else I could grasp in an attempt to eliminate what felt like a soul-stone blocking the flow of my true essence.

The healing I’d been searching for in therapy, self-help books and coaching, came in the shape of a cardboard mailing tube, a broken sandcastle, a river rock, white gauzy fabric and a glue gun.

On my wedding not-a-versary in May, I ventured down Highway 1 alternating between lanes of optimism and skepticism to Ojai, California for a small personal Soul Arts Retreat at the home of author and spiritual teacher, Ronda LaRue.

As a life coach, I’ve seen the guru behind the curtain at personal development events sell their great and powerful 10 step system guaranteed to heal anything that ails you. But the minute I stepped foot onto the grounds covered in crunchy drought parched leaves I knew something important was available to me if I paid attention.

The work with Ronda had similarities to the Internal Family Systems Model (IFS), an integrative approach to individual psychotherapy developed by Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D. In IFS the mind is viewed as a composite of relatively discrete sub personalities, each with its own viewpoint and qualities.

Each time we say, well, there’s a part of me . . . , there actually is a part of us that has her own feelings and opinions.

In therapy, I’d become familiar with 3 parts of myself; Shadow, the withered, fearful woman; Breezy, the 20-something who wants to make beach glass jewelry; and Sandra, the confident wise woman with flowing white hair.

After the group’s morning discussion, Ronda showed us into her rustic art studio while advising us to tune into our hearts as we selected items to physically represent the parts of self that emerged during the introspective process she shared with us.

I was pretty sure I’d be working with Shadow, Breezy and Sandra. But a half broken sandcastle statue gripped my gut and led me to create an entirely unexpected transformative healing experience.

The broken sandcastle represented my shattered fairytale dreams of being married forever.  It was a symbol of disillusionment, now a head glued on top of the cardboard tube. A gown took shape with layers of white material and lace wrapped around the cardboard body. I then impaled her hollow heart with a stick I painted bright red.

I’d created the wounded bride. And I was prepared to burn her.

I coldly declared to our small soul-searching group, she’s dying. Ronda quietly suggested that I have a conversation with my wounded bride and consider asking her what she needed from me before I set her on fire.

The next night was pure alchemy. My wounded bride asked me to comfort her, not destroy her. By this time in my process, my thirteen-year-old hurt child revealed herself. Things were happening so quickly I didn’t have time to glue gun together a creation representing my young self. I just grabbed a large grey river rock and called her thirteen

My thirteen and forty-six-year-old divorced selves met for the first time. My heart ached for them both as they witnessed their shared pain.

As I tucked myself under the blanket of night, I wrapped my arms around the cardboard sandcastle creation as if she were a treasured doll. The rock lay in my palm absorbing my body’s warmth.

I slept more deeply than ever before.

My thirteen-year-old relived the agonizing alone-in-the-world emptiness from the last night she spent in what had been her happy childhood home. The hollow feeling from the loss of her family forced out soulful cries beyond her years. She was back in that dark empty house, collapsed on the shag carpet of the family room as the shadows of her favorite childhood trees betrayed her innocent memories. They lunged menacingly toward her, finding their way inside her vulnerability and placed a small stone in her soul. One that would grow with her over the years, at times becoming inflamed when boyfriends moved on, friendships deteriorated and parents died.

But in this version of that night, as her tears fell she became aware of a comforting presence behind her. Warmth soothed her as she sought refuge in the arms of the forty-six-year-old wounded bride who now took on the role of the wise woman healer.

They sat together through the emotional storm. The villainous shadows retreated; taking with them the stone they’d placed in my soul so many years earlier; the stone that needed permanence, consistency, ever-lasting love and forever.

Although my body and brain felt heavy when I woke in the morning, my spirit was lifted. The soul-stone appeared to have passed. I felt liberated from the years of inflammation due to loss and need.

My forty-six-year-old softened and asked to be free from the binding garments of the past. I carefully removed the stick from her heart. I twisted off her broken sandcastle head and peeled away the layers of lingering pain.

The items were released ceremoniously in a fire. All that remained was the cardboard body with a mane of flowing white material atop her head, much like I envisioned Sandra, my inner wise woman.

On the last night I slept under the sky illuminated by a full moon. The next day, I left Ojai a changed woman. 


Crushed by the Ex-Elephant

The weight of the elephant forced the breath from my lungs as it landed on my chest. I wasn't expecting it. The minute I unwrapped it, I was knocked down. It crushed and expelled all of the progress I'd made in not missing him, the family, the damn past. Strange how a tiny moment can seemingly undo healing and hurl us back to the freshly wounded feelings.

Ever since I was a child, I've loved elephants. I've been drawn to them for most of my life. I sat atop one of the giant grey creatures at Lion Country Safari in Florida while visiting my grandparents. The little hairs on the elephant's skin were surprisingly soft, not scratchy. Maybe I imagined sitting on top of Dumbo the Disney elephant as I viewed life from behind unfurling ears. I collected little ceramic, wooden and glass elephant figurines from places I'd traveled. Most of my elephant collection came from exploring distant lands with my husband. 

For the past 4 years, the box of elephants has been entombed. Taped shut and tucked away in dark closets. I've not really been certain of where I belong since I moved to a new city to start my new unmarried life. I have too much stuff to qualify as a gypsy, but I've moved 3 times in the last 4 years and for someone who was a nester, it's felt unsettling and exhausting at times, freeing at others.

At first, unwrapping the elephants was pleasurable. A simple journey into past travel memories. But the one that crushed me was from the trip my ex husband and I took to Germany, Italy and Switzerland. On the evening we arrived by train into Venice, I declared my soul had found its way back home as we dragged our suitcases behind us over bumpy Italian pavement to the water taxi.

At that time, my husband still seemed to love me and found my quirks endearing. He knew how much I loved glass art and how much it meant to me that we go to the aisle of Murano to visit the glass blowing museum and studio. It wasn't his first choice, but he was happy to have the adventure together.

The water taxi bobbed over the gently ebbing milky turquoise water and delivered us in front of the Murano Glass Factory. I felt like my inner 8 year-old riding high on top of the Lion Country Safari elephant. I knew I'd find the perfect glass elephant to memorialize our trip. 

Vibrant colors swirled in kaleidoscopic patterns and glowed in the afternoon sunlight casting into the otherwise drab factory. I was disappointed to discover though, most of the art pieces produced were clowns. Lot's and lot's of clowns. They filled 6 shelves and came in 3 different sizes. Not one elephant to be found.

We left the glass factory, sans elephant. It became my mission to find the perfect glass elephant elsewhere. My husband was patient with me, even seemed to enjoy my quest as we perused the little shops along the winding maze of narrow stony streets in Venice. He didn't lose his temper, he walked next to me - not 10 paces ahead of me and his eyes seemed to hold me in kindness not contempt. I still wonder when the moment was that it all changed.

When I feel that sense of longing for what was, I remind myself that I've learned nothing lasts forever. I remind myself that people change. I remind myself to release the longing. I remind myself of the person he became. I remind myself that even though the marriage ended in a dark pit of betrayal, harsh words and infidelity, at one time I felt loved by him. I remind myself to trust that was real.