Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Unexpected

"I never could have predicted you and I would be sitting together in Baltimore, waiting for take-out food at Chilis at 10:00 at night," I say to my ten year old granddaughter as she leans against me.

"Me either."

But here we are.

Instead of where we'd planned to be.

How often does that phrase fit our circumstances?

Ending up in Baltimore instead of on a sunny Florida beach wasn't predictable or even our fault. How often do those conditions fit our life--unpredictable or not our fault?

Our original flight was delayed because of weather, and we missed our Florida connection in Baltimore. The flight attendant said she thought we'd make it. "I'm pretty sure they'll wait for 14 people when we are only eight minutes late."

But they didn't wait. We scrambled for alternate flights and found a hotel with a shuttle. And then a funny thing happened.

The flight we'd missed was the same flight my niece was taking to the same Florida destination, to the same family trip. While texting our mutual delays, she asked where we were.

In Baltimore.

I am too, she replied. Waiting for the flight to take off. We've been on the tarmac for almost two hours.

Tell the pilot to come back and get us, I joked.

But he didn't come back for us and he never got our niece to Florida. While we waited for our luggage, the plane didn't budge. Finally, it came back; her flight, our missed flight, was canceled. We'd been spared almost three hours sitting on the plane thinking we were about to take off for Florida. Furthermore, our early delay allowed us to schedule tickets and a hotel for the next day--airplane and sleeping space booked solid later in the day.

If it wasn't for my niece and her play by play from the tarmac, we wouldn't have known the misery we were spared--only that we weren't in Florida like we'd planned. Usually, when misfortune occurs, we never know the real outcome, and we presume we were dealt the worst hand--so it seems at the time, but what if, it was really the better hand?

In the end, we all ended up together in Baltimore, on a rainy night, eating take-out from Chili's--making the most out of the unexpected.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Secretary

I have been asked to be the secretary in the children's organization in my church.

If anyone knows me well, they know I am not a secretary but the kind of person who needs a secretary...desperately.

I have lofty ideas, a messy desk and a mind that leaps from lily pad to lily pad. I learn how to use google docs when necessary, but don't remember how to use it when I need it six months later. I will go to the garden to plant spinach and end up weeding the grass. I may run down to the kitchen to switch the racks of sweet potatoes and can't find the hot pad--until I return to the computer.

I ask my children, "What's the most unlikely calling in the church I could ever get"

They make a few stabs and finally hit the mark. Then they laugh. I laugh.

But here's the deal. God's promises are greater than my foibles and shortcomings. His promise is to make us better than we are when we align with his word, his commandments, and his callings to church positions. I'll have to work harder at this church job than any other. But God never asks without giving ten fold, and so I cling to the promise that accompanies the forgetting of myself --it is that~~ God will turn our weaknesses into strengths if we have faith and abide in him.

Friday, July 29, 2016


"All four of us were sitting in the car on a dark road."

I'm not sure where this is going but the speaker is one of the most trusted individuals I know.

"A flying aircraft came swooping down and landed in front of us, but only for a few seconds, and then it was gone."

He's absolutely sure it was an advanced aircraft not found on our planet. After thirty years, he stands by his story.

One of the sharpest students I've ever had was traveling at night, returning to college. A distinct aircraft flew past, landed in the desert, then disappeared. She stands by her story of seeing an other worldly object.

Wednesday night, after finishing the sixth episode of the sci-fi series "Stranger Things," we turned off the lights and headed for bed. But first, I gathered up the laundry basket and Tony picked up the kitchen garbage to take it outside. I took the clothes to the deep corner of the house, our closet and only faintly heard Tony's voice. I walked towards the window and heard him yell--but I missed the meaning. It's not like Tony to walk outside and yell past 11:00 p.m, so I headed down the stairs where my daughter said, "Dad yelled for you to look outside." Three of us started calling for Tony wondering what had happened.

When we couldn't find him and he didn't answer, I worried he was in danger. But ships we were, passing in the night. When we came out the deck door, he had just entered through the garage door. When we met up seconds later, his demeanor was on fire in a way I didn't recognize.

"You should have seen it!" Tony takes me to the edge of the deck where he points to the starting point of the distinct lights. "There was an explosion in the atmosphere and it traveled across the sky, went over the mountain and disappeared. It was bright greens and blues. I've never seen anything like it. It was as if an aircraft was breaking up."

I did think about the coincidence of having just finished a sci-fi movie, but Tony is the most honest, non-delusional person I know. He wasn't imagining what he had just seen. His adrenaline was still pumping; he was still in awe of the celestial event. As he described how the "aircraft made it across the entire sky," I pointed out that it couldn't have been close to the earth. It had to be far away. As the person in our marriage with the runaway imagination, I was immediately convinced he'd seen a UFO or a heavenly event for which there would be no explanation---ever.

I did however convince him to call the police.

"Not the 9-11 emergency, just the regular line," I persisted, "If it were as big as you say it was, someone else had to have seen it and reported it."

Tony, of sound mind, called the police. Just to inform them.

"No sir, I don't have any information about this incident."

"It happened in the sky."

"Well sir, we don't take care of things that happen in the sky."

Tony stammered and couldn't wait to hang up before they traced the call and sent the paddy wagon.

When I woke the next morning at 6:40, I jumped out of bed when I thought there might be news of the sky extravaganza. If there wasn't, I was right. If there was, we'd both be happy. I checked the local newspapers first. Nothing. Uh huh I thought, space beings are real and they've hidden the truth. Tony saw the real deal and he'll never be validated. He'll always wonder.

But then,  but then....a CNN link: Mysterious Lights Streaking Across Sky Create Social Media Maelstrom.

Hooray! It wasn't just Tony who alone saw the unexplained phenomenon and would be left to wonder his entire life. He would join the ranks of those people who see things.

There's nothing better than knowing someone else saw it, felt it, heard it.

Postscript: As I sort through the mail, I find several different wedding invitations--the ultimate in shared experience--knowing someone else saw it, felt it, heard it~~enough to seal the deal.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Snow White and Zootopia

"My morning starts in the garden," I tell my family audience. "I come down the stairs to two soft- brown, white-spotted, baby deer. The guinea hens run past.  A little gray bunny hops out from under a clump of golden raspberry bushes. The bees buzz from the hive to the flower fields beyond."

"You sound like Snow White," my son-in-law says, and I'm tickled that anyone could see me as Snow White, living in a fairy tale in a magical garden.

But one day, the allusion bursts-- a snake pops up just long enough for me to startle and cringe. On another day, I spy two foxes exploring the hill below the fence. I crouch and wait.  If I didn't know they were foxes, I'd think they were just two dogs--two naughty dogs whom I suspect have been terrorizing my bees.

A queen is an absolute necessity for a hive's survival.  On several hive inspections, I had seen the queen, but she wasn't laying eggs. The hive was doomed. Previously, I had heard a bee expert say that a troubled hive was often terrorized by skunks or foxes, who would stand at the hive entrance and scratch at the hive. The bees would rile, fly out to attack, but end up in the mouth of a predator. My non-laying queen couldn't fulfill her critical function in such circumstances--or so I hypothesized.

As I watched the foxes, I thought back to the times I'd come out to the bee yard and noticed things were amiss. An entrance blocker had been pushed back into the hive and items behind the hive were strewn around the front. Hmmmm. I needed a plan to outfox the foxes.

I filled a low and open box with sand and placed it beneath the hive entrance and waited. One day, I had my evidence: a fox footprint in the sand. My suspicions confirmed.

Since my discovery, I've found the foxes have not only been tormenting my bees but the dog up the street, an old border collie, who'd perplexed his owners by nervously hiding his bones, digging them up, then frantically burying them again. One day, the boarder collie's owner looked out her kitchen window to see the fox stretched out on the back lawn chewing her dog's bone.

I think I've easily outfoxed the foxi (not the correct plural form of fox, but I like the way it sounds). I took chicken coop fencing and placed it around the entrance to the hive, and it should keep the foxi away--but I'm leaving the sand tray, for I know the battle isn't over. I recently watched Zootopia, and saw how sneaky and clever a fox can be.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

When It's Least Expected


I was on my way to the bank to get money and a check for another family who had just lost their father/husband after a long battle to cancer and another family who'd lost a child. I told my daughter and she said, "If you want to give more money, I have another friend whose sister is trying to establish a fund for her children. Her husband died from a brain tumor just a few months ago." 

I already felt I was doing my share, but then she described your situation and topped it off with her own story. When my daughter was in the fifth grade, she was a tiny thing and apparently was always chosen last for the kickball team. On one occasion, you and your sister were in the powerful positions of both being team captains. Before the team choosing began, you conspired together to choose my daughter first! She told me how much this had meant to her as a fifth grader. 

I left my daughter and as I ran my errands, I couldn't shake that kind favor that occurred at least twenty years ago. I realized it was time to return your kindness to my child, to your own children.

May God bless you and keep you.
Another time, another grateful Mom.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How I Came To Love the Louvre

I was barely sixteen when I experinced my first trip to Europe as part of a typical European tour for a group of students. How lucky I was! Better yet, I recognized how lucky I was at the time.

The tour began with a week in London, its suburbs and a play in Stratford-Upon-Avon, followed by a sea departure from the white cliffs of Dover, our arrival in France, a bus ride to Paris--less than a week in the city that takes years to know. One day was designated to the Louvre. Perhaps it was half of a day, but I clearly remember a crowd, a tour guide, a glimpse of the Venus de Milo, the requisite Mona Lisa, and hours later feeling tortured and hating the Louvre. It was too much for my young mind!

The next visit was with Tony who took the same approach as the student tour. Buy a ticket, see it all! At least until you pass out, your legs buckle, or they carry you out on a stretcher from art exhaustion.

Needless to say, the next trip, on my insistence, we avoided the Louvre. And the next.

But this time, something pulled me back to the Louvre, and it wasn't that it was just down the street!!

I'd matured, yes. And then Tony discovered the Friends of the Louvre pass--and as mentioned several times already, we went to the Louvre everyday. Dropping in on the world's art became a passion.

How did I reform?

I came to an understanding that the steps needed to appreciate the Louvre are similar to the steps needed to appreciate many un-appreciated things--or even the same steps if we accept the challenge of a deeper journey: How do we learn to love__________-- people we don't understand, cultures that seem weird, music we are not used to,  a pesky acquaintance,---how do we learn to love an obnoxious child?

We learn to love the unloveable with time, dedication, study, patience, compassion, and the willingness to have a change of heart. The willingness to try again, and maybe even again.

Granted, an art museum is different than a bothersome neighbor or a screaming child, but the principle still holds. For that is another story...and another story I could tell... I dare you to write that story of your own. Experiment upon the principle.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Rattle of Negativity

My mother is on the board of her co-op/condo building. She was also chosen from a large pool of volunteers to participate on the design committee.

The design committee is almost finished with a one year renovation of 15 floors,  hallways,  hidden alcoves, and the crowning piece--the lobby. The committee of ten, a designer and hundreds of craftsman, carpet layers, painters have had to please hundreds of people.

You know where this is going, right?

Precisely. You can't please hundreds of people. And just like the Republican party, the condo owners are split.

As the project nears its end, the complainers have emerged. Some are vociferous. Some are quiet and rely on the vociferous, or so the vociferous say.

Mom's received emails, been accosted in the lobby, and has even called ahead to make sure the coast is clear from a certain angry woman.

Then I arrive.

"I want you to come down to the lobby and see if it's really that bad."

I'm a little nervous.

But when we walk into the redesigned space, I think it is classy, clean-lined, high design----scrumptious. I love it. Mom is happy and relieved.

"Oh no, here she comes."

A woman in purple with a tight scowl descends the staircase.

Mom says, "Hello _______, I brought an expert and she loves the place."

Gulp, gulp.

I quickly think how I may be an expert. I remodeled my kitchen? I've designed and crafted stained glass? I just spent two weeks at the Louvre embracing art with a discerning eye? I've taken art classes? Simply, I am my mother's daughter which means she believes in me.

The woman in purple starts her litany of all the design mistakes. In her eyes, the place is a design disaster.

"Look at those green chairs. Horrid."

"I love that shade of green. "

She walks me over to the couch. "Look at this couch. It's filthy. Just filthy."

"Have you ever been to Haiti?" I ask. "The couch is not filthy."

"This isn't Haiti!"

"This couch isn't filthy."

Her diatribe continues.

"Look," I say to her, "everyone has different tastes. You're wearing purple. I would never wear that shade of purple."

"But it's an exercise outfit and I can take it off."

She got me there.

I try a different approach. "Tell me, what do you like?"

She's not going to budge. At least for me.

 She's worn me down in a matter of minutes, and to try to convince her is pointless.  I step back, fold my arms and decide to just listen.

Mom comes to the rescue.

Like a master, she listens and empathizes. We decide to try different chairs. We pull two chairs from the out door foyer. We try two chairs from the elevator landing. The woman is opening and letting out the festering negativity. She can see how the tile (previously deemed as only belonging in a bathroom), pulls in all the colors. She's almost liking the place.

Wanting to end on a positive note, I tell the woman in purple that if I had a team, I'd want her on it.  Probably. Her dogged determination could move mountains. Yet her negativity could bring down a...a..... political party, a marriage, a family, a charity...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

His mother was sitting on the side of the baby pool, attentively watching her two little boys. The older boy climbed out of the pool needing his mother's attention for a split few seconds. Split seconds--had passed--when she turned to see a man pull her youngest from his face down position in the water.

It was a mother-death moment when her heart sickens because of what could have been. When her heart pounds and her throat feels clasped with an iron brace, and then all that emotion gushes forth; she shakes; she is profoundly grateful.

The little guy was safe.

That night with extreme gratitude for all her children, she notices the little guy is running a fever and remembers the research she did on second drowning***. Worried, she calls the emergency room at the nearby hospital. The wait is over an hour. Her husband is out of town. It's 10:30 at night. She needs help. She turns to the internet and anxiously accesses all the information, the symptoms of second drowning.

She remembers the neighbors may be of the same religion, and if they are, they believe in giving blessings--powers depending on faith and righteousness passed down from the days of Jesus Christ and his apostles. She pulls the little guy out of his crib, carries him next door, apologizes for the interruption, but she needs their help--and they are happy to share such a gift with a worried Mom. One of the men, the week before, even listened to a speaker who taught the audience about second drowning.

After the blessing, both men feel the little guy will be fine. She carries him home and holds him into the night, then keeps him by her side, all the while making sure the promises bestowed upon him will come to pass.

Every time I think of little guy and his mother, my throat swells and I can't talk because I am choked up with grateful emotions. I think about the two men who have stayed true to this power which is given only to bless others. It requires commitment, faith, and staying true to their religion, to their covenants, but again, not to benefit themselves, but to serve others--in this is revealed the miraculous powers and blessings of doing good: when we serve others, not only are we serving God, but we also are magnified with joy.

***Also called dry-drowning or delayed drowning.
From WEb MD
With dry drowning, water never reaches the lungs. Instead, breathing in water causes your child's vocal chords to spasm and close up after he's already left the pool, ocean, or lake. That shuts off his airways, making it hard to breathe.
Secondary drowning happens a little bit differently. Your child's airways open up, letting water into his lungs where it builds up, causing a condition called pulmonary edema. The end result is the same: trouble breathing.
Symptoms of dry drowning usually happen right after any incident in the water. Secondary drowning generally starts later, within 1-24 hours of the incident, Pitetti says.
Both events are very rare. They make up only 1%-2% of all drowning incidents, says James Orlowski, MD, chief of pediatrics at Florida Hospital Tampa.


Dry drowning and secondary drowning have the same symptoms. They include:
Your child may also have changes in behavior such as such as irritability or a drop in energy levels, which could mean the brain isn't getting enough oxygen.

What to Do

If your child has any signs of dry drowning and secondary drowning, get medical help. Although in most cases the symptoms will go away on their own, it's important to get him checked out.
"The most likely course is that the symptoms are relatively mild and improve over time," says Mark Reiter, MD, president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Life and Death

My dear friend sends a text~~She and her family are gathered around a loved one whose battle with cancer may end today.

It's a jolt. It brings tears. I bow my head. Nothing I can do, but pray--and text back tender words.

The same day, my dear daughter sends a text~~A dear family who we've known and loved for 30 years just lost a young granddaughter from a sudden illness.

I feel intense sadness and want to do something; but again I am lost in my inability to make it better.

So what role do we play in the two sure things of life? Birth and death.

Given that death is the guaranteed eventuality of every birth, and most always is accompanied by extreme grief, it is all the more reason to celebrate life.

I remember when each of my children entered the world; it was joyous without saying. A new life! A miracle! A person with personality all her own; a person with her own face, features, tiny hands, long feet, ears that lay flat against her head, deep brown hair.

I remember the people who celebrated each child's beginning life, often mere acquaintances whom I didn't expect to even notice-who sent a gift, made a blanket, or sent over cookies. The old farmer across the street whose wife brought over a jar of peach jam. Each person understood a new life was a celebration and helped us to celebrate with the smallest gesture, greatly appreciated and remembered even when the last birth was 23 years ago. Even though a child's entrance into the world brings great joy, it is surrounded by difficulty: the recovery of the mother, the shift and interruption to life. My daughter is currently suffering from lack of sleep and reminded me that sleep deprivation is an act of torture. Families need our acts of celebration in the birth of a new child.

Though my father's body had worn down and he was weary of living, his departure from our family was heartbreaking. A day doesn't pass when I don't think about him~~when I see his smile, remember his latter days shuffle, when I am reminded of his generosity.

Always I will remember the people who helped us celebrate in a reverse kind of way, his letting go of life, his return home. Our grief. They came. They brought a spiral ham, paper plates, fruit, flowers, a hug. They saddened when I shared the news. I felt their empathy. They sat through our memorial and stood by our sides when we dedicated Dad's grave.

Life and death are invitations to participate in the emotions and memories of joy and sadness. Both events are the passages, the measurements of everyone's existence. It is the commonality we all share as humans. It makes us equal and the same.

It is an opportunity to share and love on a deeper level. They are the circumstances in which we need one another.

Postscript: Almost twenty years ago, a dear friend told me a story I will never forget. When her father died, a woman who didn't know her family read his obituary in the newspaper. She drove across town to bring my friend's family a plate of hot rolls and a jar of her homemade jam. She just wanted them to know she cared.

This week, when I tell my mom the story, we both tear up.

My 78 year old mother says, "I want to do be like that lady."

I am amazed that such a kind, simple act would have an impact twenty years later. The roll making lady would probably be amazed too. May the universe karma find her and deliver.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Hard Work

I am pulling my kayak back to the garage. It's on a small cart made of two wheels, two bars and straps. The kayak is big and cumbersome. Ahead in the pathway is a lady moving slow. She is using a walker, and she leans to one side. A landscape man pulling a garden cart has cut through a green space to get past her. I slow down so I will meet her at the end of the path where there is plenty room for both of us.

As we meet, she asks, "I bet that's a lot of work isn't it?"

At this moment the kayak is gliding along, so I pause to think if it really is work. Sometimes when not positioned just right, the kayak slides off. When first putting it on the cart, it usually takes a few tries to get it just right. Before I even get the kayak, there's the checking of the waves and wind, the finding of the right-season wetsuit; the question whether I even need a wetsuit; the gathering of the garage opener, the key; putting the paddle together, and finally pulling the kayak out to the sand, dragging it into the water; timing the first waves, fighting the current. At paddle's end, bringing the kayak in, rinsing the paddle and wetsuit...

I take a breath and respond, "Yes, it's a lot of work."

She smiles, I smile.

"But it's worth it!" I have to add, because there's nothing like the splash of a wave hitting my face; nothing like catching a wave and riding it all the way to shore; nothing like paddling with dolphins; nothing like having a wave curl and thinking it's going to crash me to pieces and it doesn't. Woooohooo! Nothing like cutting along the shore with the big blue sky smiling on my efforts.

I measure her condition and notice a heavy brace on her leg. Her slow steps, her gait. What did it take to get out of bed, down the elevator---what will it take for her to get into the pool?

I admire her hard work too. I say, "Just like your hike to the pool. It's hard work, but it's worth it."

She agrees, and in that one small encounter, I continue thinking about hard work opportunities and not one, has never not been worth the effort.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Buy It

A man stands on the corner with a posterboard. Half a block away, another man with the same advertisement.

 Going out of business sale
75% off

Ugh. It's a favorite store of mine. It's where I buy running and walking shoes; it's where I bought my last pair of roller blades. It's where I picked up a yoga mat and some great shorts. Now it's gone. Even the light fixtures are for sale.

It pains me each time I see another retail store close its doors. Yes, I shop online, but I need a real space to try on real shoes; I need to walk around and make sure the curves don't pinch my toes.

Today, Mom and I walked into a hardware store on the island. It was packed with merchandise. Tons of merchandise. Hardly another soul in the store besides the two of us. We purchased the needed lightbulbs then had a few minutes to pass the time before the movie started. The store was our entertainment. When I saw this towel,
 I immediately thought of Margot's mother who hasn't had a good night's sleep in two and a half months.

"I need to buy this for Mandi," I said. Holly too. Both daughters/mothers don't get as much sleep as they need.

I picked up the towel and saw the price. A little high for a simple towel. Then I wondered how I'd send it home with Mandi whose suitcase is already overstuffed when she travels. I thought it would be more fun to put in their Christmas stockings. Do I really want to buy it now and store it until Christmas? I'll probably forget I have it. Then I had an even better idea. I'd take a photo of the towel and send it to both of them--message accomplished.

Then it struck me--this is why retail stores keep going out of business. They order, stock the store, pay the employees, pay the rent, and provide entertainment before the movie starts. Technology, specifically phones, often take away the need to make a purchase. This local store needed my business.

I bought two.

This is a plug for the beloved and vanishing book stores which provide the same services: the merchandise, the advantage of perusing what's available, the leather chair to peruse. They pay the employees and the rent. It's why when I go to the bookstore and find a book--I buy it. It may be cheaper on line, but every time a bookstore closes, a fairly village disappears.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Back To Paris: Patisseries

Let's talk pastry.

After a Parisian downpour, we walked down a quiet side street tucked behind Rue de Rivoli. On the other side of the street, through a shop's big picture window, like a bird, I saw something shiny and had to swoop closer to see what it was.

"We have to stop," I pulled Tony across the street. Mesmerized, I climbed the few stairs to stand beneath the shimmering glass.

Most chandeliers hang full and long; but this ceiling was low and so the chandelier was short, wide, and covered the entire entrance ceiling. What kind of shop deserved such adornment? Where were we?--but of course--a pastry shop.

Once in a while, Tony and I will watch Master Chef. So often the cooking buzzword is "elevated." The cooks vying for the title of Master Chef, are expected to elevate their simple ingredients into elevated concoctions. A traditional apple pie must be elevated by exquisite presentation, taste and often with a twist using untraditional ingredients.

French pastries are elevated.

Super elevated. 

Pastries are a quintessential part of Paris, as much a visual art as the Louvre treasures. And how does a person enjoy a visual treasure?

Study it:

With French pastries, before the eating, comes the requisite looking. Its visual beauty requires study. The color, the arrangement, the pastry chef's choices. The smoothness of the frosting. The angles at which the strawberries lay. The perfect proportion of berries to cream.

Choose a favorite to study further:

Just like standing in a gallery filled with priceless Reniors, one cannot study every single masterpiece: one cannot choose all the pastries. One must discern and choose the certain pastry of desire.

Admire while looking for and tasting the unique aspects of the work of art:

While really looking into the heart and soul of a painting, certain angles and aspects will surface. The play of shadows, the use of light, all combine and reveal the master painter. Often a hidden element will jump to the surface, a heretofore unseen character will emerge from the edges of the painting.

As one bites into a pastry, the flavors must be rolled along the tongue, slowly, slowly, identifying the expected and the surprise. Was that a hint of cardamon? What is the fruitiness flavor I don't recognize? Why did the pastry chef choose to combine chocolate and cinnamon?

Slow Savor:

When we are stunned by a masterpiece, we don't hurry on past it. We stop. We watch. We look deeper. We discover. 

When we are stunned by the flavors of a masterpiece, we don't gobble it down like a sandwich grabbed on our way out the door to the place we have to be in five minutes. No, no, no. A French pastry must be honored by a plate, a fork, a table by the window, a park bench by a fountain.

One of our favorite Parisian activities was to ride our bikes to Pierre Herme, wait in line, all the while indulging in the presentation. No one ever seemed to mind waiting in line at Pierre Herme. By the time we heard, "May I help you," in that beautiful French language and tone, we somewhat knew the treasure or two, we wanted. The shop worker would carefully lift the pastry with tongs, place it on a tray and turn to the back counter where the works of art were placed in a box, and lifted into a beautiful bag complete with decorative cutouts. We would exit the store slowly, extending the anticipation. Our favorite place to carry that coveted Pierre Herme bag, was Luxembourg Park. We hoped for an open seat at the Medici Fountain where we would reverently unwrap the treasures and slowly, surely, indulge.

Pierre Herme is the Louvre of patisseries.

At Maison Chantilly
 Happy at Maison Chantilly
 Other delights from a patisserie other than Pierre Herme

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Teach Me

I  brought home chocolate bars from France. Included in the bundle, was a majority of dark chocolate, and which I was excited to share with my family.

"Do you know how to eat dark chocolate?" My twenty-three year old son-in-law asked.

In that split second critical moment of response, the tiny, emotional, Inside Out workers in my brain, grasped onto the decision making components in the frontal lobes and pushed and shoved to create a mind shift.

"Teach me," I said.

Two words, one phrase that changed the moment and would change my dark chocolate eating experiences for the rest of my life.

As an older-than-him woman with some life experience, it would have been easier to say, "Yes, I do." Who doesn't know how to eat dark chocolate?

Instead, I opened the door to learn from an amateur expert, "I went to a chocolate tasting class (he has my attention), and the chocolate taster is supposed to put the chocolate on his tongue and let it dissolve. I used to crunch it up in my mouth and I never liked dark chocolate. This way, the three layers of dark chocolate dissolve one at a time giving a three layered experience."

I slow-melted the chocolate on my tongue.

"You're right."

In accepting his invitation to learn, to be taught, I created a new neural pathway.

I can't wait to say to my students, "Teach me."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Maison Hector

Pink walls and counter, a balcony filled with nutella stacked pallets. A whipping cream machine. Four ice cream machines. Waffles baked on sight. Fresh, big, fat, beignets stuffed with nutella or apples or  berries, or chocolate, or ice cream. We could only watch for so long before we had to have our own.

We ordered strawberry filling with whipped cream. Mouth watering, I watched the server slice the beignet, microwave it warm, slather in the strawberry jam, then turn to the whipping cream machine. The first bite was like first love--euphoric. We returned the next day for the traditional nutella and whipping cream. The warm nutella and melting cream oozed slowly over my sizzling taste buds. Cream ran down the side of my mouth. With regret I passed it to Tony for his turn, and watched him closely until he handed it back.

I couldn't wait for the next day, and the next--I even planned the last day according to our departure. We'd pack up, load the car, then skip happily off to a light lunch followed by a stop at Maison Hector.  My last tender memory of St. Malo would be a warm, fresh, beignet. I even planned the last flavor: warm nutella and whipping cream.

The only problem was the way they served it. With napkins. The precious, warm cream slid out and was absorbed into the napkin fibers.  So to compensate this misfortune, I admit that I saved the plastic salad bowl from a quick lunch, took it to our apartment and washed it. I took it back to Maison Hector to insure not one delicious bite was lost. 

My next to last day beignet indulgent moment finally arrived. We had a healthy lunch, then purposefully headed to Maison Hector. Pavlov's theories were going strong. 

I ordered apple filling and cream. I took the warm beignet with reverence then slinked to the back table with my bowl, my heart racing for the first bite. 

I denied the awful truth until I was three bites in. First the apple filling was nearly tasteless and the temperature of the beignet wasn't quite right. The first bite popped the blob of whipping cream right out of the beignet and onto the table. It had even missed the bowl beneath. And then the biggest disappointment of my life (almost). The beignet was stale. 

It was really the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. Otherwise I may not have left.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Pianist, a Cellist

"Don't only practice your art but force your way into its secrets. For it and knowledge can raise men to the divine." Ludwig Von beethoven

We've had the tickets since December and finally the night arrived. We sat in Usana theater, outdoors, encompassed by blue sky, wispy clouds,--which gave way to darkness, the perfect summer breeze, and a full moon. We had come to see the Piano Guys. As they classify themselves: Four dorky Mormon Dads who love to make music--by blending the unexpected.

Blending the unexpected may mean airlifting a grand piano onto the Great Wall of China or onto a  Grand Canyon cliff, and blending the sounds of Mozart and Adele. But perhaps their greatest talent is the blending of themselves. The energy of individual talent, the energy of love, the energy and pureness of who each man really is, blended into a label that honored them with their first Gold Record.

Yes, last night it was a joyful moment when we, the audience, were included in the surprise presentation of a Gold Record. Two men walked onto the stage carrying concealed squares. Jon Schmidt announced the arrival of the two men from Sony Records. They had flown in especially that night to present, on stage, the coveted sign of recording success: A Gold Record.

As admirers of the Piano Guys, we were thrilled for them, and thrilled in their surprise. Then things got personal. The woman in front of us was ecstatic. She turned around and felt she had to explain her joy--not because she owed us an explanation, but because she wanted to share that joy.

"I'm his sister."


She pointed to her right at on older gentleman. "That's our Dad. Our Mom's been gone since 1999."

Oh how she loved her brother, her father. This insight would become important as the concert progressed.

Foremost, the pianist, the cellist, the vocalist, and the producer, identify that their most important roles in life are being fathers. They proudly share that between the four of them, they have 16 children. This isn't a big deal in America, but when they share this information while performing in China, "The first ten rows of people faint."

Second, they share their spirituality. While in Rio de Janeiro, they stood at the foot of the Christ the Redeemer Statue on Mount Corcovado. They were in awe of the manmade work until they visited the Iguazu Falls. In this place they felt more of the spirit of God and pondered why. The conclusion was that Christ the Redeemer was created from man's love of God and Jesus, but Iguazu Falls was created by God from his love for mankind.

Third, the Piano Guys share their stories of failure and success. They share their passions. Steve, the cellist mentioned several times the challenges of his ADHD while growing up.

The concert ended with incredible footage from the Scottish Highlands, the pianist and the cellist playing on the grounds of an old Scottish castle ruin. They were accompanied by bagpipers and drummers. The closing song was a military, arousing, tearing rendition of Amazing Grace that made me feel grateful and strong; but Amazing Grace followed a tribute of some real life amazing grace.

For eighteen years, the cellist's father helped care for his wife who was inflicted with a brain tumor. Several years after her death, he remarried and his current wife is afflicted with a rare form of cancer. He told his son, he was blessed to care for his wife. This was amazing grace.

As we watched, listened to music that filled our hearts, we also watched the man, gray and aged, who was honored for his amazing grace.

Last night, I found that practicing one's art is not only about instruments, paints, and creation. Practicing "your art," is becoming oneself--embracing the unique thoughts, actions, and quirks to which we eventually accept as art! A human masterpiece you are.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

We Are At War and We Must Learn How to Fight

On the seats of our tandem, gliding down a beautiful canyon, Tony and I discuss the kind encounters we have with people. It seems like people around the world are becoming more kind. This seems to be a tenuous statement in the aftermath of the Bastille Day tragedy, but I wonder if amidst so much incomprehensible, crazy hate, an opposite polarization is emerging and the world is growing in love and kindness.

Attacks jolt us--and like an earthquake divides the land, perhaps the jolt creates a division for which we must consciously choose sides.

The two sides are hate and love-with no in-between. There are degrees of the love and hate, but the dividing line is clear. No wishy washy stance can be tolerated.

What do I want to bring to the world? The question helps us see we are not capable of a murderous rampage in a white truck, but then, if I'm not doing evil, what good am I bringing to the world? If I can't answer definitively, then I must ask What does it take?

Every kind action, every concern, is a rejection of madness.

What if, each one of us who've shed a tear over the Bastille day attacks, over hunted police, over terrorism in any form,-- what if every act of violence triggered five acts of kindness. Intentional kindness. Just because one delusional man creates havoc doesn't mean we need to succumb to the havoc. Tragedy can be the birthplace of triumph.

We are bombarded with news of terrorist acts because they are anomalies. They are rare. May they become even more so. May goodness reign.

Approximately seven billion people live in this world. If every time there was an attack of terrorism, if even half of the world's population intentionally responded five acts of intentional kindness, it would result in 15 billion acts of love.

Let the fight begin.

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty." Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, July 15, 2016

This Is Where You Sit...

This is where you sit when you don't have reservations at the chic omelette cafe in St. Malo.

You sit at the table in the parking lot.  But we were happy to have a table! The night before, we had gone for dinner to this same highly-rated cafe, and Tony had made a faux pas in his otherwise impeccable (above-tourist) French! As the congenial maitre-de led us to our table, he explained the kitchen had just closed and we could only order dessert, sweet crepes, or tea. Happy to be there, we nodded our heads with happy smiles. A few minutes later, when we ordered an omelette and a savory crepe, we brought the house down with apologies--and we were the ones who made the mistake. We had to make a quick course correction to have the pleasure of dining at Bergamote. What did we do for dinner?

We ordered dessert! The lemon tart and a sweet crepe. Both were magnificent.

As we left the restaurant, the maitre-de still apologizing, he handed us a bag of scones.

"We'll be back!' we cried out.

And we were, but this time, as we walked in for lunch, we once again flustered the maitre-de.

"Monsieur, Madame, I am so sorry, but I won't be able to serve you again as you do not have a reservation!"

Not again... I thought.

"Unless...unless you come back in thirty minutes; I could seat you then...unless, don't mind sitting," and he pointed to the table in the parking lot. With great apologies he ushered us out next to the dented fiat.

But we were so happy! To finely be dining at the highly rated Bergamote. Never mind it was about to rain, never mind we had to put on our sweat shirts, never mind the scenery nor the wind. We were indeed happy, and our persistence paid off:

Yummmmm. A four cheese omelet, edges perfectly crisped, and a savory crepe. A delicious salad. Beautiful presentation. Who noticed the car?

The only problem from having lunched at Bergamote, didn't arise until our trip was over and we sat in our kitchen wondering what we might eat for dinner, while lamenting the state of our practically bare fridge, our country of residence, and our lack of French cooking skills. Tony stepped up to the plate and asked, "How about an omelette?"

Ahhhhh. Memories of my last omelette slid down the back of my throat and onto my palette. With grim hope, I answered, "Sure.

Tony went to his iPad and spent a considerable amount of time e-learning the secrets to making a great omelette. After he deepened the line between his eyes by a sixteenth of an inch, he rose for the occasion: cooking a French omelette. He immersed his eggs in warm water. He brought out the little glass mixing bowl. He held the whisk at the right angle and continued to furrow his brows. He buttered, he checked the temperature, he poured.

And he presented.
 Honestly, I'm not one to complain, but...

Our daughter, who had not just returned from France having had a Bergamote dining experience, was moved by watching the whole sacred experience and must have thought the omelette satisfactory, as she called the next morning for her father's tips. She was quite pleased with her omelette too.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

I Thought We Were on the Set of Downton Abby

"Mr. Carrrrson would like to see you in his office," says Mrs. Hughes to one of the servants.

It's what I hear when I look upon the kitchen, the scullery, the servants' dining room in the Camondo mansion. It feels as if we literally stepped into the set of Downton Abbey in the early 20th century.

I recently wrote of the splendor and tragedy of the Camondo family that included photos from their mansion. I didn't include the kitchen because it was so amazing it needed its own space. So often when we see the splendor of wealth, we rarely get a look at the trappings that kept the wealth well fed.

I find an old French culinary store that's been in business since the 1900s. I step into the past, into a chef and a baker's dream. The ceiling is almost two stories high and the shelves almost reach to the top. I walk through the store like it's a museum. If I had these pans, I could make French pastries, I imagine. A stack of pans with madeleine cookie forms takes me to Marcel Proust's piece on rediscovered memories in his aunt's kitchen. I could make madeleine cookies. But I'm not so foolish to fall for my own delusions. These pans would sit in my cupboards as I dreamed about French pastries and cookies. But oh my...the pans. Thick as granite slabs...if I had just one good French panIt would always be put to good use. When I find the price, at it's equivalent to one month's rent, I know I will never cook with a good French pan--more the reason to admire the pans from the Comando kitchetn.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Green Space Surpises

Ten minutes away is my friend's new home. She moved in two weeks ago, but it's the first time I've gone to visit. Hidden behind a hillside of trees, it's a little hard to find. I park the car and walk towards the front porch. It's shaded, cool and I want to sit down and never leave. She shows me the back porch, the spectacular sledding hill; she points to the giant trees and describes a stream that runs through the small forest. It's a Shangri-la. When she suggests we sit on the porch, my body melts into a wicker chair. I could have never guessed a place as delightful as this rested in the middle of our city. 

In addition to the astounding architecture, the history, the cuisine, it is the unexpected green spaces that make Paris such a lovely city. They are often surprises, tucked away and only found after following a thin path.  It's almost like falling down a rabbit hole into another world. One leaves behind the horn honking taxis, the grind of a bus, the anxious people that carry a sound of their own. 

While on our bikes, Tony made a sudden turn on a gravel pathway. A guard ran us down and told us to get off our bikes. We happily complied. 

We found this incredible arbor, just a month away from its full potential.

Sometimes those little green spaces jolt us into sadness, like when we came upon this placquard with an old friend from my childhood.

This tree had grown from a graft of the tree outside of Anne Frank's hiding place.

This little green space, kitty corner from Notre Dame had a  recent tribute to the French, Jewish children who were killed during the war.
We found this hidden garden by walking through an open door.

We've found cemeteries can be peaceful green spaces and full of surprises too.
Look who we discovered!

I have found whether it is a park, or a soft chair under a blooming wisteria, or a forgiving corner in my thoughts, that I desperately need places of refuge.  I've always tried to think of my home as my sanctuary. There is a humanness that craves this separation from life's wind and tremors.

As I watch my friend in her new home, in her new marriage, I see she has found refuge in both.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

St. Malo

I am awakened each morning by the squaking of seagulls above my window, but in this walled city by the sea, its history rich with pirate lore and WWII tragedy, sleep isn't the priority. Being a part of the city is.

It's a small city, but its imagination makes up for size.

This was in part, the inspiration for Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer prize winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, a philosophical fable, a novel tinged with a bit of magical realism. I read it once on my own after a friend's recommendation, and again with my AP Literature class. We all loved it--except for that One student who denied himself the pleasure of finishing a great work.

Mr. Doerr walked among the city and saw his two protagonists, his two stories, coming together--a blind French girl Marie-Laure and Werner...a character so well crafted, one wishes to dive into 1930 Germany and save the innocent orphan from the diabolical Hitler.

St. Malo was also the inspiration for a band of thieves who were legitimized by their kings. The  waters of the Cite Corsaire (city of pirates), in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were crossed by the great ships of the Spaniards, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English, all carrying cargo or pirate booty as it often became. Robert Surcouf, Rene Du Guay-Trouin, were all memorialized for the daring adventure in the name of the king, who chased down ships and fought to the death. With the pirated ship's captain dead, the pirate crew would sail the ship back to St. Malo port where 75% would go to the king and the unchecked bandits kept the rest. The rest of the crew was left on the seas to search and pounce on the next unlucky ship.

These pirates lived as gentlemen in the country estates they built on the outskirts of St. Malo.

Its history became tragic when the WWII Allies believed it was a city infested with Nazis. They bombed, bombed, bombed the old city until almost nothing was left. But the citizens came back and rebuilt every single building, salvaging the granite blocks, piecing them back together as if the city was a sand castle pushed over by a wave.

It's important to know there are two distinctly different St. Malos: the old walled city and the new city. The old walled city can be explored in a day--we had three--to fall in love, to explore its culinary delights and confections, to run and explore its islands, its ramparts, like a pirate...

Ah, a pirate? Yes, all around the old city are small islands with medieval forts, some accessible only at low tide within a 30 minute window, each minute increasing the possibility of wet shoes, ankles, thighs and temporary stranding on the island! St. Malo's tides vary by 40 feet!!

The non-accessible fort                                                                   

The visible path
Where pirates brought their booty, where sentinels kept guard

 Where invaders on a dark, stormy night crept up the hill to siege the fort.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mont St. Michel

A poster of Mont St Michel surely hangs in every French classroom in America. It makes me wonder what the posters are in English classes around the world? The White House? Sequoia National Park?The New York City skyline? It seems that every French native we met, who had visited the United States, had only gone to New York City. A few had ventured to the Grand Canyon or maybe to Las Vegas.  Oh how Tony and I lamented they had only been to New York City. Can the Big Apple come close to representing the entire United States? Can Paris singularly represent France?

 When I told two of my daughters we were at the iconic landmark, both of whom studied French, both replied "I've always wanted to go!"

"How did you know about Mont St Michel?" I asked.

"French class," they responded.

 I knew about Mont St Michel from my best elementary school friend who had  entered our first grade class speaking only French and having just arrived from Paris. She was my Madeline in America. Her mother had been Miss France and she had come to Las Vegas to dance in Folies Bergere. When she was established, her six year old daughter joined her. From a first grader's perspective, that was a pretty exciting life!!  I was now on the fast track to all things French, and that must have included Mont St Michel. It's as beautiful and surreal as the posters promised.

The holy man who founded the monastery was told in a vision in 700 AD to do so.  When he at first hesitated, Saint Michel burned a hole in his head. This information wasn't included at the island's cathedral. Not a word--though a wall sculpture hung depicting the scene hung in a stone stairway.  If Tony hadn't read it beforehand, we would have had no idea--it was a rather gruesome beginning, but the saint couldn't have been too incapacitated as he went on to build one of the seven wonders of the world (so my little French friend told me), and it is designated as a Unesco World Heritage site.

Tony and I were in awe of Mont St Michel.  The following week we were doubly excited to see it was the starting venue for the Tour de France.

Our visit was surreal. Yes. A visit to this city on a rock can be thought of in no other way. It is a crown of human ingenuity. It is a real Epcot Center on a rock. It is a parade of nature. Competing with the awesomeness of a man made miracle was the natural surroundings of extreme tide shifts. Twice a day, according to the lunar cycles, the tide will come in and surround the rock with water. It will cover the parking lot, the bridge, and turn it into an inaccessible island.

Tourists enjoy walking at low tide in the exposed bay surrounding Mont St Michel. However, it is required that explorers go with a guide as there are pockets of quicksand and the danger of getting caught in fast changing tides. When we first approached MSM it must have been a low tide moment for we could see groups of people coming and going. The people who had been, had thick gray mud covered shoes and splattered pants. Neither of us had any desire to tramp through the mud. As we ascended the city our view enlarged and we could see the tides change. With the first subtle change in the tides, the groups of people started the inward trek. Even the lone stragglers headed back, but when we reached the highest pinnacle courtyard of the cathedral, we, along with a concerned group of world citizens noticed a man, almost a small dot on the horizon, who was unaware of the changing tides.

The tides do not return in an even flow. The contour of the bay is uneven and filled with river-like lows and small hill like highs. The man was walking on higher ground unable to see the slow covering of the ground around him.

He was too distant to hear yells of warning. We could only watch and silently will his soul to notice his surroundings. We all hoped he was a good swimmer, yet, supposedly the tides are filled with dangerous currents.

The tides were closing in faster. Closest to the rock, the water was gushing like a swift flowing river. Unaware, the man was still on a nature walk. The energy in the crowd tensed. I started rooting for the stranger about to be stranded by the rising sea--then, he started walking towards land. Slow at first, then with more urgency. He came to the first rivulet. It was only ankle deep--at first. Then up to his knees; he was pushing through the water and he hadn't even made half of the return.

"Look, he's thigh deep now," and the man disappeared from our sight. The terrace extended only so far. I rushed into the chapel, out through the rose garden and through another chapel looking for a window to make sure the man made it back. Yet we were doomed to never know the fate of the explorer at Mont St Michel; there was not a window or a terrace to watch the man.

It's a difficult thing to ignore the outcome of someone's peril. It's difficult to not know the outcome. We could only hope he made it out safely and surely the magnitude of this tourist site required a lifeguard, a security squad that looked out for the least among us.

 Ah, but we only had to listen. As we made our way around the island, we heard people talking about the tide-daring lad. We heard he made it out but he was holding his cell phone above his head as he waded through the chest deep water.

This tourist-stuck-in-the-incoming tides has to be a common occurrence. When I saw two medical assistants help a woman who'd taken a tumble on stone stairs (MSM is a giant stair stepper workout), I knew there were rescuers waiting for the tide rule-breakers too.

I loved visiting Mont St Michel. If I were a speaker, I would be left speechless--as a writer, I'm left without words to explain the grandeur, the history, and the just plain old fun, we had at Mont St Michel--even trying to sneak and pry our way out of the bus parking lot which would have cost seventy euros.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

All Things Testify

"Everything testifies of Christ," my smart and practical friend said.

This was an interesting concept I had heretofore never considered. So I gave it a chance. The chance became like a house with many windows, and if I stepped into a different room, went to the second floor, stood at the kitchen sink, each position offered a new view. I decided to try and see out the same window as my friend, and very soon, I was seeing the same view: everything testifies of Christ.

When observing art in a traditional museum, the majority of Western world art testifies of Christ. It is in part related to the dominance of the church and its ability to commission great works of art throughout the middle ages, but to me there is something more: it testifies of a great truth--that Christ lived.

 As I meandered through the Louvre everyday for two weeks, I picked out different themes: couples, children, and the life and death of Jesus Christ. Each day, if studying in certain galleries, I asked Tony to choose his favorite among the hundred--perhaps thousands of art pieces that supported my friend's thesis: everything testifies of Christ. I wish to share a few of those pieces that inspired me to take photos.

The altarpiece below was commissioned by an aristocratic couple in an Italian workshop in the late 1300s. It is made from ground bone, mixed with other components and formed into this almost unbelievable storybook from the life of Christ. I almost passed by it without looking close--and when I did, I was stunned by the detail and craftsmanship.
 Each little hand-size block creates a scene from the Savior's life, from John the Baptist's life, and included in these scenes are the aristocrats Jean de Barry and his wife Jeanne de Boulogne.
 It is possible that Mary and the infant Jesus were the most often sculpted or painted subjects of art. This piece was my favorite chosen from hundreds. The work is attributed to an Italian sculptor, Delli, in the 1400s.

 French artist Simon Vouet created "Presentation at the Temple" in 1640.
"The Temptation" by Ary Scheffer in 1849 brings up an interesting theological question. Satan is painted without genitals. Was his castration the artist's commentary on Satan's evolution, his inabilities, his differences and damnation, or simply that he never came to earth to receive a body?

 By far, the majority portrayals of Christ are in death. The paintings are glorious and magnificent, but after a while, it is difficult to do more than glance and pass them by. The gruesome becomes difficult.

In 1544, Leonora Lopez de Villanova and Seigneur Antonio del Rio with his two sons, had themselves painted at the foot of the most iconic Christian moment in the history of the Savior--his ascension into heaven. I like to think of this family's utter devotion to Christianity and the incomprehensible notion that 450 years later their silent testimonies would be hanging in the Louvre for an American woman who was searching for yet another theme: that all things testify of Christ.

This was Tony's all time favorite image of Christ. It's title its Emmaus and depicts the resurrected Savior with his apostles after meeting and walking with them. They didn't recognize him at first. This was the moment of recognition.
I am a little puzzled by Tony's choice of such a dark and simple moment in Christ's life. While taking the sacrament on a Sunday afternoon, I am contemplating his choice and have a moment of clarity. I lean over and whisper to him, "I know why Emmaus was your favorite painting. It shows the resurrected Christ, the Christ who lives and cares about us."

Tony nods his head. Sometimes we can't explain our affection for one painting or another, but the idea resonates with him too. As I study the painting as I write, I have another idea. The stunning moment is when a man recognizes who the Savior is and that he lives. This is not an isolated incident in the life of two apostles, but the very blessed moment for which we all seek.