Ameera’s Due Date…

I’d never imagined that enrolling in my first dance class in 2007 would provide the concept for a story line. A tale of a woman’s coming of age… her journey to face forbidden zones. And I’d never dreamed it would be under the platform of belly dancing. Dancing_Cat

Something radical occurred when I was bitten by the Shimmy Bug. The glittery injection infected all my senses. My eyes were drawn to things that had jewels, tassels, fringe, glitter, chain mail and tattoos. My ears perked at anything that resonated of shaking coins, little cymbals, doums and teks on stretched hide drums. My nose followed the aroma of patchouli, incense and henna. My hands wanted to undulate and create new costumes. Would this affect my sense of taste? I found myself asking, Do I really want to spend money on eating out… or new costumes?

If there was a billboard that read “This is Your Brain on Bellydancing,” it might have warned me. Listening to the radio caused my brain to think, I bet that I can choreograph a dance to that Led Zepplin tune! If there was a book on “Belly Dancer Intervention 101” in the Self Help section in Barnes and Noble, I’m not sure I’d have wanted the intervention, but I couldn’t speak for my hubby and friends… Help! I see Sparkly People!

On July 25, 2013, please feel free to peek into my character Ameera’s world. The characters forge and sift through tough choices in relationships—past and present. But even through her angst and success the story is laced with a dose of humor.

 

Falling in Love With Your Inner Child

Like clockwork, after 2-3 years, my dad’s duty station was to be reassigned, I had gotten a peek, a taste and a temporary spot in my classroom, neighborhood kick ball team or Dark Shadows Soap Opera buddy.  The next best thing was to resign myself to accept the oldest daughter’s calling– Chief of the Ya Ya Sisterhood of the Hall girls.  At the next duty Kathleen Varn SW teaser - July 2013station, my sisters were always still on the journey, sharing a bedroom and fighting over the bathroom.  Inadvertently, my tribe taught me many life lessons that revealed themselves decades later.  Emotional management, selflessness and resilience were among the list.

I talked to God, a lot.  I talked out loud, with my heart, my tears and my eyes.  I danced in the pine clearings in the neighborhood woods. I thanked God for the beauty encircled by Creation and the way it was fearfully and wonderfully made, like me.  I loved the simplicity, the complexity, the color, smells and honesty.   As Einstein said, “God doesn’t toss dice.”   Mother Nature’s Order demonstrated it wonderfully.  From childhood to adult responsibilities, I believed my prayers had been best wafted to the heart of God on the wings of a sea breeze.  If the only prayer I cast over the Atlantic Ocean’s endless horizon was Thank You, I believe God heard the volume of my heart’s petition.

A little more than halfway through my first marriage, again fighting multiple circumstances attempting to isolate me, I had been on an introspective journey to deal with erosions of female worth and lack of self esteem.  I was missing the power of self image.  Sitting in my dining room, working on a sewing project, I was talking to God about needing to love myself so that I could love my neighbor best.  The Christian Gospel had said to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  I didn’t love myself as well as I should and one of the demons from my baggage of the past, Isolation, kept putting out a stick to trip my Hopeful spirit when she tried to move forward.  I had been tripped by the Guilt stick, again, and deferred Hope cried from my heart “Why do I feel so unloved?  I know that I am supposed to love me first, so I can be whole to love the way I know You love—unconditionally and wisely.  Being a good steward is not a life sentence to being chained to unrelinquishing responsibility.”

There was a lump in my throat but as a sole tear made a trail down my bowing head, a peace washed over me.   Sacred oil being poured on my head, sweetly flowing to the soles of my feet.  I stopped what I was doing and closed my eyes, inhaled, exhaled and saw a vision in my mind.

There she was, a little blonde girl in a yellow polyester bathing suit, stooping at the edge of the beach surf, sea breeze blowing her long blonde hair in a way I could not see her face, intensely watching little precious clams dig themselves back to safety.  She was peaceful and quiet but I felt her joy inside with the simplicity of each time a new wave deposited a new cast of Diggers.  She was protecting the little vulnerable sand jewels.  Isn’t she cute, pure, loveable?   Adorable, I love her!  So, do I.  And as I saw her hand gently brush the windblown hair from her eyes… I heard a Still Small Voice say, “She’s you”.  My cheeks were flooded with salty tears.  Liquid prayers of thank You, thank You.

I wanted to protect her, hold her, laugh with her, and show her understanding when she needed correction.  There was a scar on my heart from years of isolation and this simple vision healed it–forever.  I knew what I had been seeking.  It was to have and be loved by The Perfect Parent, The Perfect Lover and The Perfect Friend.  The Perfect Lover who would not use shame, guilt, neglect or cruelty to get their way.  It applied to roles as father, mother, husband, wife, daughter, friend, boss or employee.

There was an understanding – crystal clear understanding of acceptance we owed each other even with the stutters, wobbly baby steps, sloppy first kisses or any other awkward graduation.  I wanted patience and tolerance to allow myself to learn through mistakes without guilt or shame.  I had wanted to be an Achiever of Excellence without the pressure of judgment, timelines or measuring sticks.   It was the day I knew concretely that if no one else would love me, I did and with it, came the responsibility to protect that adorable, simple and vulnerable little stooping girl from being harmed in unhealthy environments.  Even bigger, it was the day that I discovered how to use the word “I.”

Ameera’s Cover Unveiled

BEA New Title Showcase

Ameera Unveiled (for real!) at Book Expo America last week…

One of the supposed traits of a Virgo is an eye for detail… (Okay… being a perfectionist). I love having that Virgo’s eye for detail but look at a challenge with a safety net that allows me to fail. I’ve substituted “Achiever of Excellence” for perfectionist. When I hit detours or situations that require flexibility, it gives me a little damage control: Plan A was a bust, let’s start over. Or, in the case of my book project, there was a better cover than I originally envisioned.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by an incredible writing team. From conception to printing, there’s been guidance of short term and long term goals to tell Ameera’s story. One of my favorite phases was designing the cover. Being the achiever of excellence that I am, I dug in on the concept that when a reader finishes Ameera Unveiled, the cover will be even more significant.

Yes, I want to make someone look twice and ask, “What’s going on in that book?” But I also want the cover to embody the story from start to finish. As we searched the globe for the perfect image, my beautiful non-accommodating belly dancer hit my email box. (Teaser for the reader… and all the way from the UK).

Through my own journey towards embracing dance (specifically, belly dancing), it confirmed and reaffirmed my own little girl’s desire to feel pretty and wear costumes. As a product of the 60s and 70s in a traditional gender role, forbidden zones abounded in my life. Thanks to a wonderful cast of characters as I’ve journeyed through so many phases of my life (both supportive and adversarial) I found the stock and symbolic visual to represent the words to my story.

In summary, I’m thrilled with Ameera’s cover because it demonstrates the inner dancer my main character wants to become… perhaps that we all want to become…

How many of you have never been to a pig race….?

hog trailerWell, my hand went up to the emcee’s question… at Boone Hall Plantation’s Strawberry Festival. Little did I know when my feet hit the floor this morning that I would not only witness a pig race but could possibly be awarded the title, Pig Queen for a Day! Unknowingly, I’d claimed my video spot near the starting line of the circular race track and had an excellent view. There was a gator board roster with piggish NASCAR names— Rooter Martin, Hoggy Stewart, Piggy Gordon and Squilling Earnhardt, Jr.

Naturally, being new to pig racing, I had questions for the little swine. How were they trained for the event? I’d hate if one of the cute piglets would pull a hamstring. What if it came down to crossing the finish line by a snout? God forbid serious injury because I wasn’t sure if Charleston had a pig racing hambulance.

Suddenly, my attention returned to the hoof track as Hogway Speedway’s announcer entered the inside field, wearing a hands-free mic opening the competition with the racetrack bugle call from the loudspeakers.

The announcer educated us on the possibility of pig pile-ups that could delay them from pigging out on the coveted cheese doodle at the checkered finish line. He assigned a sponsor from the audience to root for the anxious pigs that had willingly loaded in the starting gate.

After the bell and gate opened, he gave a broadcaster’s view of the pig pack’s arrival for cheese doodle trophies. For the next fifteen minutes, he presented laps by goats, rookie piglets and ducks. The final race was to be run by pot belly pigs and he announced he was picking five women to be given the proud title of Pig Queen. I don’t think I’d put that on my slop-bucket list.

As he looked our way, my niece encouraged him to pick her Aunt Kat. Note to self: I need to dig deeper into her belief that I’d make a good candidate—or I needed to be sure I didn’t have hog breath from the cheap corndog. Yep, I was given #5, Rooter Martin. To top the hammy privileged title, we were advised the winner would kiss her pig. (For some reason I heard the words to a Katy Perry song: I kissed a pig and I liked it…)

After three more contestants were chosen, Squilling Earnhardt, Jr. hogged the spotlight. I’d lost my chance of the title and kiss by a snout.

Sadly, I realized I wanted to be a media hog! I turned to my husband and we settled for a local pulled pork sandwich.hogway

Let’s name it, Hollywood!

Melkey

On April Fool’s day, 1991, a teenage tuxedo cat invited himself into my home at 10:00 p.m. I was still mourning the loss of my bottle fed tuxedo cat, Daniel. For exactly three years, I’d resisted the pleas of my young daughter’s request to rescue another animal. How could I turn it away?

For several days I kept my house guest safe. I posted on local bulletin boards to make sure a frantic owner wasn’t looking for the lost big personality cat. Meanwhile, it bonded with my children. There was no way to say ‘no’ to the new family member. His formal name? Melchize-cat…. Melkey. He was the feline version of Melchizedek, the mysterious Hebrew high priest. No one knew where he came from or when he would leave…

For eighteen years, he weathered relocations, my children’s growth, a divorce, my re-entry into dating and the remarriage and blending of households. He greeted my house guests and could’ve cared less when we integrated my son’s dog, Chaz, into the family.

But in 2009, as his kidneys began to fail, I had to let him go in spite of his tenacity to hang on—for me. After his euthanasia, my husband and I agreed there would be no new furbbies due to the age of our surviving pets.

Six months after Melkey’s passing, my rescue school horse went three legged lame. No one knew why but she was showing symptoms of white line disease in one foot. I was chasing the fast erosion of her hoof. On Sunday morning, my husband and I drove to Hollywood, SC where she was boarded. I asked him to stop at the convenience store to grab a diet Coke.

We pulled up in my S-350 Mercedes convertible. As we parked, a tiny, yellow mixed-tabby kitten headed straight towards us, and then ran under my hot motor. Spied by a loiterer, we were advised this little scruffy kitten had been quite the annoyance of customers and employees. And, in harm’s way.

“Don’t you want to take it home?” he asked.

I’d at least three adoptees in mind so I scooped it up, added milk at the checkout, and continued on our way to the farm. Cradled on my shoulder that kitten mewed the entire ride to the barn. I dumped it safely in the farm’s bathroom, trying to lure it to drink the milk and maybe (please!) stop the incessant meowing.

As we pulled off the farm, I re-cradled the little one against me and my husband broke the unspoken stray kitty code… “I know– we’ll name it Hollywood!”

My head shot up like a fired gun to cry, “WTFudge are you saying… you don’t name it!” I had adoptive families and was prepared to pitch after I cleared it with my vet the next day.

All I could think of was our furbbie pact after Melkey’s demise. Hubbie must’ve read my mind. “But he matches Chaz!” he added.

Twenty-four hours later, my vet instructed me to hold the worm and parasite laden female kitten in quarantine for ten days. Before the end of the week, my hubbie bought new toys, food and kitten size litter box.

Five months later I scheduled and dropped off my crazy-ass “female” kitten to be spayed and declawed. Thirty minutes later, I was called. “Mrs. Varn, we just want to let you know that we’re not going to spay Hollywood… she’s a he.”

Well, Hollywood has developed a huge personality, like his predecessor. He’s a cat but thinks he’s a dog. He follows me around like a toddler. When the doorbell rings, he fluffs his tail and growls as he and Chaz assess the stranger on the other side of the door. And they match, chase, play and share the dog bed. Luckily, his name was gender-free.

But my favorite belly dance troupe member’s comment when little “Hollywood” ran under the Mercedes at that Johns Island convenience store?

Sucker!”Hollywood

 

 

 

 

Story of a Husband-of-a-Bellydancer

Achmed 2011Retired from career and parenting duties, I decided to conquer a neglected area in my life—dance. As a child, I flunked my first ballet classes and missed the muscle memory years. So, when I saw a six-week belly dance class being offered on the campus of my Alma Mata, I went online to register.

My husband was more than supportive as I fought my way out of the old tapes that said, “You can’t dance.” Within the year, I reluctantly auditioned and was accepted into Palmetto Middle Eastern Dance Troupe. Little did we know, it was instant adoption into a tribe. Again, my husband was supportive and tolerant of my love of shiny jewelry, bindis and of course, wayward glitter.

However, within the next year, I came home from a practice centered on dances for an upcoming performance at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. As we were eating dinner, out of the blue, he states, “Dear, you know I love and support everything you’re doing with the troupe?” (I continue chewing waiting for the… but?)

“And I’ll be in the audience as your biggest fan… but (ah here it is) please don’t expect me go on stage and drum or anything.”

I assured him that it had never crossed my mind. He exhaled and finished his dinner.

One year later, practicing for a repeat appearance at the same festival, the girls in the troupe decided to do an “I Dream of Genie” dance. The choreographer looked at me and said, “Kat, ask Steve if he’ll be Major Nelson, please?” I immediately recalled last year’s plea to leave him off stage and informed them there was no way. With many more pleas, I conceded that I would ask but predicted the decline.

As I walked in from practice, hubbie started the usual query of how practice was and who was there. I jumped into the Major Nelson question and to my surprise—without hesitation, he said, “Sure, ok! What do I need to do?”

Three months later, in a borrowed Air Force uniform, holding a green genie bottle, local businessman Steve Varn participated in our dance show. We even featured him in our press release and program.

A few months after that show, my husband was pitching a real estate project to a banker. After slightly formal meeting between strangers, the banker sat back and folded his arms. Without a blink, the banker hit Steve with a question out of the blue: “So, you’re a dancer?”

Taken off guard and baffled by the question, he immediately denied it. They returned to the business at hand.

That night at dinner, my husband told me of the odd moment during his meeting with the banker. Immediately, I recalled the press release with his name and it was obvious the banker had Googled my husband’s name.  We both laughed and went to the computer to see whether the internet would confirm my theory. It did.

Husbands of belly dancers are amazing partners. Tolerance and the endless presence of glitter on their faces and clothes becomes second nature. They do the heavy lifting and set up electronics. Since Steve’s debut, he has been recreated in two more shows as Achmed, the janitor. His red coveralls hang proudly beside his business coats in the closet. Since my induction to this marvelous tribe, I noticed that each girls’ partners embrace the passion of our love of dance. Recently, I even discovered a website called Husband of a Belly Dancer.

When I look back at my online registration to take a six week dance class, little did we realize how much it would infect our marriage. Husbands and boyfriends of belly dancers are so much fun (and look cute wearing a little glitter, too)!

Feel free to leave stories of any other victims of glitter…

 

 

A Serendipity Lifestyle . . .

cdab9d14887aa33682bac9317c3bc2e5[1]I’d been divorced for about three years. Between running a single parent household and keeping a full time job, I loved my newfound adult social life. And, in spite of the freedom to enlarge my social horizons, I silently grieved the loss of my white picket fence dream. I didn’t have my sites on finding a new partner or breadwinner to allow me to stay home and catch up on the Soaps eating bonbons. Instead, I opened myself to meeting new friends, female or male, through line dancing at Desperado, scuba diving and traveling.

Each morning, I cleared my head and asked my heart to embrace a moment presented by… dare I call it, Destiny? Fate? My faith supported my belief that even hardship identified the dross in my life that could be used for self-improvement and reveal silver linings. Continue reading

Tolerance … Can’t We All Get Along?

Getting alongAs I walked through the bedroom, something caught my eye in the corner of the room. My dog’s bed had two bodies in it. I only own one dog– Chaz. Chaz had taken over my daughter’s hand-me-down Great Dane bed. His small 18 pound body was curled in one corner. My 16 pound kitty, Hollywood, was curled in the other one. They were color coordinated and separated by a red blanket.

As I paused, two sleepy heads opened their eyes as if they questioned my curiosity. It was obvious that a cat and a dog sharing a bed wasn’t a normal scenario to me. For them – no problem. This paled in comparison to the lion and lamb symbol of peace. But it did speak volumes to tolerating each other’s differences. Continue reading

I’m Retired from the Tooth Fairy Army

When I became a mom, I enlisted in The Tooth Fairy Army. I took the oath to defend the integrity and legend of Her Mini-highness.fairy08

I’d had a nine year headstart to practice on my daughter before I added my son to the family. As each tooth fell out, I improved on how and where it was placed so I could exchange it for a coin. I was developing a stealthy pillow op tactic. In the morning, a quarter impressed her unless her friends disclosed their tooth fairy left TWO quarters. So, as each tooth grew larger, I raised the booty to keep my Head-of-Ivory-State happy. Eventually, my daughter traded earning income from babysitting, rather than selling the last of her molars. Continue reading