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Life in the Primo 500: Enséñame

Life has been bittersweet since I arrived in Pagosa Springs to provide round-the-clock care for our beloved mother. But I have found that when life gets bittersweet, sweet wins out every time.

Many times, sweet is a warm abrazo from family and friends when I need it most. Other times, sweet is a boost of encouragement sent via text, e-mail or snail mail. Such is the case with the arrival of a controversial new book about the Blessed Virgin Mary authored by New York Times best-selling author, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. For many, even the title is controversial, “Untie the Strong Woman.” But my niece, Lisa Martinez-Conover (daughter of my brother, Lucas) sent the book to thank me for introducing her to Dr. Estes.

I didn’t make the introduction personally, mind you. Lisa found Dr. Estes’ first book — “Women Who Run With The Wolves” — among the hundreds of books I was giving away in 2006 when I downgraded from want to need. That day, Lisa became so enchanted with the myths, stories and Jungian-influenced interpretations contained in its passages that — when she learned Dr. Estes’ resides near her home in Denver — she sought her out. They’ve been inseparable ever since.

Meanwhile, I’ve been inseparable from the new book. Some nights, mother and I don’t sleep well. Mother’s lungs are at 30 percent of capacity and she is getting weaker and weaker by the day. Some days, I feel as if I only have one oar in the water and that’s why I’m spinning around in circles. Often, I have no idea if I’m in the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee or if I already had a cup and I just set the empty cup in the sink. So, I was refreshed anew when midway through the new book I learned the one-word prayer that Dr. Estes learned to pray when she was teaching incarcerated youth in the Colorado juvenile prison system. She prayed it when she was tired and spinning in circles. I’ve been saying this pray every morning when I rise and every night when I close my eyes, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much it has soothed my aching heart and calmed my nerves. Watching my mother fade before my very eyes has been the most painful thing I’ve ever had to live through.

So, what is this one-word prayer?



Teach me.

And teach me they have.

Lisa Marie Sandoval came to teach me how she delivers online instruction for Conejos County School District from the comfort of her second home here in Pagosa Springs. Lisa hails from Ortiz, Colorado (the scenic hamlet between Antonito and the base of Cumbres Pass), and when she’s not teaching from there, she’s teaching from here.

“Our online program started out as a dropout-prevention program,” she said, “but when the grant money ran out, the district administrators dug deep to find money to keep the program running. Now our online program is supporting itself. And it’s making money for the school district.”


In mid-July, when I return to work, I will begin training our 3rd cohort of special education interns to teach from a virtual environment. Seven superintendents in our northern New Mexico school districts will be watching. With limited bandwidth in schools and limited high-speed internet connections in homes, they’re quite skeptical, to say the least. But now I have a new friend to help calm my nerves so I won’t spin in circles while I attempt this first-time task.


Todd Miller came to teach me the names of the students in the Pagosa Springs High School musical, “Grease,” and I was so grateful that I got to watch his DVD twice before I had to give it back that I almost danced a jig in the kitchen. Our kids are simply amazing! God speed to Max Miller and to all the other graduates who have left Pagosa Springs this summer to continue their studies in music or performing arts. I hope to see your name on a giant billboard, soon.


Tessie Curvey came to teach me how to encourage my mother to drink water. Prior to Tessie’s teaching, every behaviorist strategy I had up my sleeve went the way of the “goodbye” look mother glared at the glass. Coffee addict to the extreme doesn’t even begin to describe my mother. But Tessie has a way with water, with mother, and with me. “You have to sit next to her and drink a glass of water with her. Get her to tell you a story about Trujillo so she won’t notice she’s drinking water.” So, I swallowed my own distaste for water, set my own coffee cup aside, and followed Tessie’s lead. Ahorale! Tessie’s a better teacher than I am.


Last, but not least, Tia Carlota Archuleta came every day - and sometimes twice a day - to teach me how to be here in body, mind and spirit when mother is awake. No iPhone in hand, no iPad2, no iBook Author, no iAnything. Watching Tia Carlota, I have learned to simply be.

Know you are loved.

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