Saturday, December 31, 2011

Through a Glass, Darkly


Two a.m. Searing pain in my right eye. Suddenly awake, I stagger to the bathroom mirror to see if a sword has pierced my head. Can’t see one, but then in the dark and only able to open my left eye, I can’t see much. After performing my usual migraine-mitigation routine, I return to my soft pillow with dim hope of sleep.

Eight a.m. Smoke stings my nostrils and still-aching eyes. Stumbling to the window, I see a dense lint-gray cloud lazily tumbling low to the ground from a mound of raked leaves. My husband can’t smell smoke but he turns on fans to try to suck it out of the house so my headache doesn’t worsen.

Ten a.m. Smoke hangs in the house. In our neighborhood, though smoke is no longer visible, its acrid odor is heavy in the air. I can’t breathe; I have to leave. I drive halfway across town, get out of my car, and am still surrounded by the smell. Mysterious Migraine Monster has mercifully removed sword from eye, but has now placed anvil on head. I drive to the far end of town—yup, smoky there, too—to have my glasses adjusted, which helps a little. Now, although every other inch of my face hurts, the bridge of my nose doesn’t. I ask the vision tech what’s up with the heavy smoke smell all across town. He shrugs.

Eleven a.m. All I want to do is go home and sleep and cancel my lunch date with a friend. But with a smoke-permeated house (and town), I can’t go home. I thank God for this empathic reminder to pray for two friends who currently face true homelessness. We are all homeless without God’s presence. My problem is so small. I have to get away from the smoke; I may as well drive south and muddle through lunch. Too early for lunch, I take refuge in Barnes & Noble. First stop: restroom. My pinched visage squints back at me through a hazy mirror. Are the bows of my glasses vise-gripping my temples so hard, my eyeballs have cracked like eggs? I take my red eggshell cracks sizzling around burning yolks out into the store, past Judy Collins’ blazing sapphires, past Candice Olson’s perky peepers, past Daughter of Smoke and Bone, past The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind—would that this boy could have blown away this morning’s smoke—past 1,001 slow-cooker recipes, past George Clooney’s minky orbs twinkling next to his political opinions, highly sought since he plays a politician in a movie—and finally trip into the B&N café. 

One p.m. My friend and I have lunch. She is in the most miserable throes of a cold and confesses she almost cancelled. That makes two of us who just want to be able to shut our aching eyes for a long, long time, until our owwies go away. 

When we part, we stand three feet apart and make hugging motions in the air between us. Though motivated by consideration for me, an air-hug seems somehow symbolic of this broken day when so many things do not work as they should. Despite my pain and my friend’s misery, I can laugh at our empty, robotic jerks, because I know the truth.

Although this truth looks blurry in today’s smoke and mirrors, my heart rejoices that a complete and clear day is coming …
1 Corinthians 13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011: No More Band-Aids

Often, reason-for-the-season messages talk about Jesus saving us so that we’ll go to heaven after we die. Well, I’m thinkin’, “God, don’t just leave us here. What about now?” Jesus’ coming to earth has benefits for us now, too. This Christmas, I want to focus on the companionship of God in our day-to-day trials and triumphs.
The desire of God’s heart has always been—that we would be His people and He would be our God. First, for that to happen, Jesus came to Earth to pay our debt so that we could become God’s children and be with Him forever. Second, for that to happen, we simply tell Jesus we need Him and want Him in our lives now and for eternity.
Now—2011 has been a very difficult year for me emotionally. Between grieving gradual loss of health of people I dearly love and sudden loss of our little Charlie-dog, I’ve often felt heartbroken. Add to that sadness, everyday disappointments with people, circumstances, and yes, God. Don’t we all sometimes feel rejected and alone, discouraged by physical, emotional, even corporate setbacks, or wounded in big or small ways? I love the quote by French priest S. Rougier, “Dieu nous dit: “Ta blessure, c’est ma place.” God says to us, “Your wound, that’s my place.” Isn’t that precious?
We all have our struggles, our moments, like the loneliness of wondering if those closest to you will ever fully know you (the answer is no, but we continue to long for this), your own heartbreak over loss … outrage at  injustice … fear of the unknown … setbacks. Think for a moment about your frustrations and disappointments with spouses, parents, kids, friends, bosses, clients, coworkers, HR departments, students, politicians, vendors, and yes, God. Life on earth is full of this stuff.
What do you do with all this? I have found that all this world has to offer me to bind up my wounds is Band-Aids—more chocolate, more introspection,  more exercise, more toys, more parties, which don’t seem to truly heal anything, and more friends, who inevitably, eventually poke a pointy fingernail into my rejection wounds—and twist. Band-Aids also can’t give me strength or peace or guidance.
Where in this world can we turn for refuge, comfort, healing, and peace that baffles human logic? The only perfect friend—the one who always acts in your best interests, and oh, by the way, has the power and authority to change things—is God Himself—all three persons of the Trinity. God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit never leave you or forsake you. Remember the desire of God’s heart? To be your God and for you to be His people. The bible says “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This is a very intimate thing to say. And it sounds even more intimate in French!  Mon bien aimé est à moi, et je suis à lui. God says this to us. Furthermore, the bible says He rejoices over us with loud singing!  
Yeah, God wants us to spend eternity with Him in heaven after we die. But—Like any loving father, God wants us to bring our hurts to Him now, in the dailiness of life. He wants to send His Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us. He wants us to know deeply He loves us. Jesus came to Earth to walk with us now, too, to heal, to help us forgive, to give purpose to our lives—not just so that we can be with Him in heaven someday.
Another reason I’m grateful Jesus came is, because He did, God is not just a lofty deity, He understands every human emotion, from jubilation to dejection. Although in some of this year’s owwies, I did seek the chocolate Band-Aid, mostly I leaned on God to carry and strengthen me. I don’t know how I would have navigated 2011’s storms without God’s companionship and healing love steadying me.
I couldn't pick just one Christmas carol that expresses all this, so I plucked sound bites from several:
O come to us, abide with us,
Far as the curse is found,
A weary world rejoices.
Emmanuel, God with us,
Risen with healing in his wings.
O tidings of comfort and joy.

"I Will Lift My Eyes" by Bebo Norman says it all though. Here's a link to the lyrics:
May God's wonder-filled presence grace your Christmas and new year.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What Recession? And Other Money Questions

We just got back from a restaurant that does not bill itself as a sports bar, though from my seat in the “quiet” section, I could see seven (7!) TV screens showing pro football games. The whole place teemed with adults shouting instructions to favorite players and cheering touchdowns, and children playing tag in the aisles. No blast horns or cow bells, but otherwise very much a stadium ambience. What surprised me ~ besides overhearing intensely serious, loud arguments about tight ends ~ was that the restaurant was so crowded.  From what I hear on the news, families are hurting financially.

Two weeks ago, I met a girlfriend for lunch on a Monday and was also surprised to find a full-to-overflowing restaurant. Eating out twice in one month is rare for me; and maybe it is for the people I saw in these restaurants, too. I can’t know if they’re charging these meals on credit cards they can’t pay off; I hope not. Perhaps they also know having someone else cook and serve their meals is an indulgence and they've budgeted for this treat. I have no way of knowing. I'm just seeing individual restaurants, not the big picture like summaries of how many more meals Pacific Garden Mission serves in recent years. I know appearances can be deceiving. But still, every time I’ve gone out to eat during this recession, I see crowds. And I wonder, “What recession?” 


Almost every week now, one of our inch-high stacks of mail-order catalogs includes a Hammacher Schlemmer wish book. Among many handy gadgets and fun toys priced relatively reasonably, they advertise a $35,000 arcade game and a $65,000 emotive robotic avatar. Do not confuse this with the $2,400 acrobatic robot. Their cheapest “stocking stuffer” items are socks priced at $19.95, $29.95, and $49.95. Oh, and the practical hands-free over-ear book light at $24.95. Not bad. When I think of stocking stuffers, however, I’m thinkin’ … oh, maybe $5 tops for each, since a Christmas stocking usually holds four to five small gifts. When I was a kid, I loved opening stocking gifts of pencils and little candies and fruit. Yes, a $200 iPhone fits in a stocking, but is that really the idea behind Christmas stockings? If only this recession could help us remember gratefulness for simple gifts ...

Remember when pre-Christmas newspapers and magazines offered helpful gift ideas “under $10”? More recently, they gave gift ideas “under $20” or “under $25.” This year, year three of our country’s recession, the articles help me find gifts “under $50.” What on earth are you thinking, Mr. or Ms. Newspaper Editor? Especially this year. With 2011 grocery prices skyrocketing, most everyone I know is cutting back on gift buying. Let’s go back to gift ideas under $10, please.

Did you read about the recent windfall for Pittsburgh drivers? A courier van’s door blew open, allowing about $100,000 in cash to float out. Last I read, only about $400 has been returned by honest citizens. How can the rest of the recipients not understand that what they picked up is not theirs to keep? It belongs to someone else! I have to wonder if our government-sponsored culture of trying to get something for nothing in lotteries and casinos might have contributed to this sad scenario. Back in the day … people actually believed the saying “There ain’t no free lunch,” and they earned their money. A good work ethic was something worth striving for. Now, after decades of watching state and local governments get income by encouraging people to gamble for other people’s money, apparently we think a free lunch not only exists, but now it's also our goal. No matter the degree to which the country’s current recession has affected the drivers who picked up that cash from the road, they can’t believe it is theirs to keep. Please tell me these people will do the honest thing. Please.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cautions and Compliments

The whirlwind I’ve been in since I returned from France is finally sputtering itself out, so I have some moments to mentally return to France. Here are some afterthoughts.

Attention! Watch out!
À la gare:
  • Pigeons strut around your ankles and swoop just above your head in railroad stations.
  • Masses of Parisian Métro riders pour out train doors and stream through Métro stations’ winding halls. No one stops or steps aside, so you have to charge straight ahead, too—or be trampled by the throngs. Somehow, this weaving, flowing people-braid works, though the death-defying intensity leaves you breathless when you’ve reached your destination. Maybe this happens in any big city, but I'm not used to it.
  • The booth with the little i logo on it may seem like a godsend when you feel confused about the right train connections or which ticket window to go to—but beware. No matter how earnest, confident, or helpful the information agent seems, know that you may get correct information, but you may not. In the same vein, know that printed train schedules may not jibe with times posted on the electronic arrival/departure boards. Sometimes, you just have to be cool with confusion.
Sur le trottoir:
  • Even on relatively flat sidewalks, pavement bricks are sometimes missing.
  • Firmest footing on cobblestone is center of the top.
  • Dogs trot off-leash, usually not far from their masters. If a dog is chasing tumbleweed-trash, it doesn’t care who it trips.
  • The espresso-brown smears on the sidewalk are not espresso.
  • Watch for broken glass.
  • Pedestrianized areas are quiet, safe havens only until the next scooter buzzes inches from you.
Les Idées Brilliantes! Brilliant Ideas!
  • French train head rests actually support your head. They do not flop to the side.
  • Train seats “recline” by pushing forward the seat rather than slanting back into the person behind you.
  • Public restroom and hallway lights are off until a person enters. And if the WC lights aren’t on a sensor, they are off until you turn them on. It’s your responsibility to hit the “off” switch when you leave.
  • Often a toilet's flush button has two segments. You push one part to conserve water when not much needs to go down. You push the other part only when you have more to flush.
  • One of our hotels offered guests a clothesline, and another had a clothes-drying rack on the balcony.
  • Although the French make the purest perfumes, they don't try to perfume every square inch of themselves, their homes, and their businesses, as Americans seem to do. How refreshing to climb into a hotel bed with crisp white sheets that smell of ~ nothing!
  • Also refreshing is evidence of lack of perfectionism in some areas. While I ~ and the whole world ~ appreciate French culinary perfectionism, I also appreciate what seems to be an only-when-the-budget-allows approach to repairs and redecorating. That missing pavement brick just is what it is. Walk around it.
  • Most shops in France are closed on Sundays. After your what-will-I-do panic attack subsides, you relax and rest. What a concept!  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Paris Highlights

Seine cruise

We glided under many storied bridges on a Bateaux Parisiens cruise on the Seine River. Depending on who’s counting, Paris bridges number 32 or 37. Either way, that’s a lot. The most elegantly ornate is Pont Alexandre III (1900), famous for Art Nouveau lamps and sculptures of cherubs and winged horses. 


Not sure why, but Pont Marie (1635) is considered the most romantic bridge. The guide urged us each to make a wish as we slid under its arches. The oldest bridge is Pont Neuf (1607), whose name means “new bridge.” Through the 18th century, Pont Neuf was home to many merchants’ booths and clowns and other entertainment. The bridge’s 381 mascarons (sculptures of grotesque figures to chase away evil spirits) were apparently not too effective, because Pont Neuf’s commerce attracted pickpockets, murderers, and gangs of criminals. 

We learned the city of Paris began on what is now Ile de la Cite, where the Notre Dame cathedral is. Our guide said Notre Dame’s gargoyles are actually sculpted gutters, and all its bells have names. Another interesting tidbit is that Parisians use a statue of a zouave (infantryman from the Crimean War) beside an arch of Pont d’Alma to measure the water level of the Seine. Often his gaiters and pants are under water; in the flood of 1910, the water level reached his beard!  I liked seeing classes of students sitting cross-legged on the quais to sketch the bridges.
 
Saint Germain des Prés neighborhood, 6th arrondissement

The original structure of Église St-Germain-des-Prés dates to 542 but excepting the 11th century bell tower, what we saw was a restoration from the 19th century.

Across the street is Café Les Deux Magots, which Françoise insisted we visit. We sat at an outdoor table, of course, for obligatory people, dog, bicycle, and traffic watching. Our harried tuxedoed waiter did not have time to answer our question about what “magots” are, so we discussed this weighty issue as though we were Jean-Paul Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir, André Gide or André Malraux, who all frequented this café. Our conclusion: A magot is hidden treasure, a figurine, or a Chinese merchant—or none of the above, just an obsolete word. So there you have it. Les Deux Magots began in 1813 as a fashion shop, evolved into a warehouse, then became a wine merchant’s shop before becoming the place to see and be seen by Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and many others. I savored a cup of silken, hot, dark chocolate.
 
Second largest church in Paris, Église Saint-Sulpice was under construction from 1645 to 1780, with a 1680–1720 interruption for lack of money. Even today the south tower remains unfinished. In one of the interior side chapels, Chapel of Holy Angels, are several murals by Eugène Delacroix, the most famous being an 1860s painting of Jacob wrestling with the angel. In front of the church is an 1848 fountain to honor four particularly eloquent religious leaders, Bossuet, Fénelon, Fléchier, and Massillon, but I liked the expressive lions best. 


Not far south of Saint-Sulpice is Jardin du Luxembourg in which we rested our feet and sunned among ponds, potted palms, and many colorful flowers and other tourists.




Wednesday, September 21, 2011

La Musique

France was alive with music. In many-centuries-old churches, basilicas, and cathedrals we visited, often music played. If we happened to visit during a mass, we might hear organ and choral music, but even in just normal “open” times, a backdrop of soft music sometimes accompanied tourists’ heels clicking on stone floors and whispers of “Look at that painting.”

Street musicians played guitars, violins, and accordions in open squares, near sidewalk cafes, in Métro subway stations, and even in Métro train cars. Here’s a short video of musicians playing less traditional instruments near the Saturday Pézenas market.


video



In Colombiers, a band played traditional French songs from atop a barge on the Canal du Midi. You can’t really tell in this short clip, but most onlookers sang along to the songs, much as people here know all the lyrics to most Beatles tunes.

video


In Paris’ Sainte Chapelle, (which dates to the 1200s under Louis IX), we heard Vivaldi’s Les Quatres Saisons and Pachelbel’s Canon played by Classik Ensemble … a sublime concert, considering the pieces and setting.

video


Shakespeare and Company bookstore on Paris’ Left Bank is patterned after the shop where literary luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce gathered in the 1920s. I wonder if the nickname “the lost generation” referred to how lost a person could get inside this quirky (an understatement) little shop (haha). One of its many charms is a piano that any customer can play. A surprise concert by the talented young customer in this clip delighted me.

video

Monet's Garden at Giverny


The last time I sat in Monet’s garden at Giverny in hopes of being inspired to write poetry or at least creative descriptions of the lovely floral landscape Claude Monet had created to paint, I was so awestruck by the beauty, I couldn’t find a single word. This visit, I didn’t even try. After walking the perimeter and touring the house, I sat on a bench to simply soak in the colors. I took only a few photos. 

 
In the background of this photo, note the open window of the house. As I sat on my bench, which was almost below that window, tourist after tourist leaned out to view the expansive garden. As they did, they were framed by bright green shutters on both sides, by espaliered roses just below the open window, and by ivy along the eaves above.

Below are some photos I took in the studio used by many artists who came to paint with Monet. This studio is a back room of the Hotel Baudy, where they stayed when they visited Giverny. It’s across and down the street from Monet’s home. Behind Hotel Baudy is a relatively wild terraced garden, where this rusty old bike rests against a tree.

 






















Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pont du Gard and Carcassonne

A reader’s digest version of the last week is the best I can do with limited Internet and battery time. Here are a few pre-Paris highlights.

Pont du Gard

Now we know why guidebooks don’t mention the Roman aqueduct ruin of Pont du Gard as an excursion from Montpellier. It’s easy to get to from Avignon and Nimes but next to impossible to get to—without a car—from Montpellier. Debby and I did it though! After a train to Nimes and bus connection to Remoulins, we walked 4.5K to a canoe rental place, then canoed 6K down the Gardon River and under Pont du Gard, then walked 10 minutes or so to the Pont du Gard, then across it, then hiked up about 50 feet above it for a panoramic view, then hiked back down, back to canoe rental place, then another 4.5K back to Remoulins, where we waited half an hour in the hot sun for the bus back to Nimes. Never mind I had heat exhaustion—I’m pleased this middle-aged jalopy survived and thrived. One note on our treks—we were fascinated to see clumps of bamboo growing everywhere along the roads.
Our canoeing adventure was worth our trouble. Whether we sluiced or bumped through, the many whitewater rapids were fun. Whee! The Pont du Gard is as magnificent from below as it is from above.

 


















One of my favorite parts of the museum was the aerial film from Uzes to Nimes, the path the water took when the Roman aqueduct was whole and functioning, over all the remaining ruins of the Pont du Gard. We also saw an olive tree that had been growing near the aqueduct since 908.


Carcassonne
Finally getting to boat on the Canal du Midi was a highlight for me, though the “countryside” here had industrial, nonpicturesque aspects. Some sections were lined with plane trees though, and we went through two locks.
La Cite, built over a Roman fortress, was a theater of the Crusades in the 13th century. Carcassonne is spectacular if you ignore the shops selling plastic swords. We toured the chateau inside the fortress and enjoyed spectacular views, even to the Pyrenees.




 
And we certainly learned more about medieval war defense than we ever thought possible. Q: If the enemy gets past your barbacane, what do you do? A: Hoist concrete balls (gigantic ones!) up with pulleys to drop on the invaders. Also, we learned the moat did not contain water; rather, it was a grassy area for jousting matches, and today for horse-drawn caleche rides for tourists.
On our last night after supper in our little apartment, Debby and I walked back to see the floodlit walls of La Cite. Daytime bustle had hushed. When we turned around to walk home, the full moon rising above hundreds of stone crosses in a cemetery was even more quieting.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Colombiers

Outside our Colombiers B&B window, chickens cluck in a neighboring yard. Beyond our pool and summer house, where breakfast is served and rugby matches watched, boats chug slowly by on the Canal du Midi. Cyclists spin silently by on the Canal's towpath. Above the Canal, giant treetops rustle in the refreshing wind, their leaves bobbing and swinging as though the trees were rotating their necks. The pines closer in sway in the breeze, and palm fronds shake like pompoms above the red-tiled roof of the summer house. From somewhere in the trees, palombes (wood pigeons) call to each other with a whip-poor-will sound. 


Colombiers is lovely. We have bicycled along the Canal du Midi, climbed up a high hill to see ruins of an ancient village, and viewed the Malpas Tunnel, which is famous as an engineering marvel from the 1600s and 1800s with Roman road on top layer, then below the Canal du Midi, and beneath that a railroad tunnel, and beneath that, a pipe to transport water. Photo of museum model below.












Francoise and her mother invited us for dinner one night, and this afternoon, we'll go to "downtown" Colombiers, which is about six shops and three restaurants, for a local festival and exposition of locally produced products.


Last Wednesday's canoeing adventure under the Pont du Gard and yesterday's lively market in Pezenas are stories to tell, but I'll have to do it when I have a better connection. A bientot.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

France!

If it's Tuesday, this must be ... Montpellier. Debby and I are slowly emerging from jet lag, or maybe we're still in it, hard to say. We're "out of it" enough to wonder what day it is but "with it" enough to enjoy our adventure. Despite having traveled 24+ hours, we grabbed for the gusto in today. Montpellier is bright and vibrant, and both modern and quaint.

This morning we opened our hotel room windows to see the bustling organic produce market just outside under les arceaux.  We bought juicy dried (not an oxymoron in this case) fruits and nuts, some apricot nectar, chevre, and fresh pears. Vendors were extremely friendly and helpful. After sitting for coffee for Debby and tea for me outside a cafe booth in the market, we ran up our two flights of stairs to our room to enjoy some of our purchases for breakfast. They will also serve as dinner tonight and breakfast Wednesday.














Then we hoofed it back into the historic district to meet Francoise. We followed les arceaux east to the promenade de Peyrou, which is a long, tree-lined path, to an arc de triomphe, and then further east along Rue de la Loge, a main street lined with shops. Every few shops, cobblestone alleys branch off to the sides. Some have other tiny shops, some cafe tables, some not much at all. Most wind around and eventually open onto a place, an open area with cafe tables and sometimes musicians. This morning, however, we headed straight for Place de la Comedie, where we met Francoise near the steps of the Opera. First order of business: relax at Cafe Le Riche (dating to the 1890s)  for an iced tea.
After a frustrating you-can't-get-there-from-here session at the tourist office where Francoise determined it's highly questionable whether we'll be able to canoe tomorrow, we explored more of the Montpellier maze and had a delightful lunch outside Toast' Tea Cafe in the shadow of Eglise St. Roch, which had a lovely rosette window. We went in some book stores and dress shops. And we hit Ortholan ~ twice. It's a guess what? Pastry shop that sells macarons and breads, including Debby's croissant and praline macaron for tomorrow's breakfast and my mint and apricot macarons for who knows when ~ maybe dessert after my canned tuna tonight. I liked this photo in Ortholan.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bright Sides of Dark Clouds

Rain, rain, and more rain. For months. Right now, I am so sick of frizzy hair, I am ready to cut most of it off. And that’s a good thing, because unwelcome, unwieldy volume up top has provided clear impetus for me to get a fresh, new hairstyle, something I’m normally tortuously slow to decide. It’s either a new do SOON, or I remove all the mirrors in the house. For the first time in six decades, I actually bought a hairstyle magazine and plan to experiment a bit.

Another upside of all the rain is that our gardens are getting watered without our having to stand out in sweltering humidity with a hose. My herbs are doing especially well, which has prompted me to dry and mix my own herbes de Provence. This is exciting, because I am not a fan of rosemary. Oh, the taste is okay, but the mouth feel, even when rosemary is chopped fine, is like chewing pine needles. Have you ever tried buying a commercial herbes de Provence blend without rosemary? If you find one, please let me know the brand. In the meantime, I’m concocting my own blend. This morning I sniffed what I’ve got so far. The lively, lovely fragrance transported me to an outdoor café in Fontaine de Vaucluse when I got my first whiff of a salade Niçoise.

Months of rain—and weeks of 90+ temps with humidity that might as well be rain—have inspired yet another benefit. What’s the coolest spot in the house? The basement. And we’re cleaning it. Whoohoo!

Rain, rain, don’t go away until I’ve finished finding silver linings!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tune-Up Tunes

Time for my biennial massage. Friends have recommended monthly muscle tune-ups, but it’s taken me 20 years to work my massage frequency up to once every two years, so monthly is probably a ways off. I show up at the local chain spa today, make my way through the brassy manicure, pedicure, and hair styling hubbub, open the magic door made of crystal pebbles, and tiptoe into the sacred sanctuary of satisfied sighs.

Two can lights are about as bright as one dying firefly, and I squint my way to an ottoman (what, they can’t even afford chairs?) to await my appointed time. Tibetan flutes trill to attract nearby mountain goats, I suppose, since I can’t imagine them attracting anything else, especially me. Who decided mountain goat music is conducive to relaxing? To take my mind off goats, I pick up a coffee table book on dream vacations. Despite the dim lighting, I manage to view a photo of Monet’s lush garden at Giverny and a few other appealing destinations. I flip quickly past any pages trying to lure me to the Himalayas.

Finally, my massage therapist rescues me and ushers me into a private massage room, where thankfully, different music plays. She explains the myriad ways she can tailor the massage to my needs using all their new techniques, which oh by the way, cost more. I wish she would tailor the music to my tastes, but I do not pipe up about this. Spa music is annoyingly bland, more like miscellaneous single tones than beautifully blended notes.

Perhaps today’s audio wallpaper is designed to empty clients’ minds. But I want to empty out the worries AND imagine pleasant scenes as I relax. So I do, despite uninspiring music. One quasi-orchestral “tune” takes me to an ornate white carriage ride through cobblestone streets of Vienna. A series of plinking sounds then transports me to a Cambodian rice paddy, where I stroll barefoot, watery soil burbling between my toes. Harp strums lift me to a puffy white cloud, where I float above a color riot of flowers. A few more such forays into fantasy, and my time is up. 

Sorry my wonderful muscle-tuning time is over, I am also glad to escape before any snake-charming music comes on. Snakes and mountain goats—not my things, in life or in music. As I pay on my way out, I hear another client ask the spa cashier, “Can you put glitter in my hair?” Hmmm. What would the audio backdrop be for that service—fireworks whooshes, sizzles, and booms?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Seeing the End

You’ve donned a sweater most days for two weeks, and then weathermen predict one day in the 80s. Don’t you long for one last picnic before winter? After you’ve made the hard decision to part with a favorite dress you haven’t worn (Why? It is so cute!) in two years, don’t you consider wearing it one last time before putting the box out for Salvation Army pickup? As the library due date nears, and you finish a novel you enjoyed, don’t you page back to reread the parts that made you laugh out loud? Driving away from your vacation cottage, you call out, “Bye, cottage! Bye, lake! Bye, kayak rental place! Bye, lighthouse! Bye, ice cream shop!” Don’t you? I do. I know I will miss these things.

Recently, I visited my 91-year-old mother on my “regular” day despite my raging headache. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have wanted to not disappoint her more than I wanted to be a safe driver. The pain was borderline blinding; and a simple phone call could have absolved me of my promise to visit. Mom is a reasonable, caring woman. I knew this. But the damage was done—I had driven 20 miles to her house and now faced another such drive to get home. But if I had done the smart thing and stayed home, I would have missed a big blessing.

Mom asked me if I wanted her to massage my head. Everything in me said no, because I am the one who has to be strong now. Plus, one of her hands is bandaged; she shouldn’t be applying pressure with her fingers. But then I remembered that when I was sick as a little girl, I just wanted my mom. I wanted her to lie me down on the couch and tuck the blue afghan under my chin. That afghan was such scratchy wool, it may as well have been woven of porcupine needles, but it felt light and soft to me, because it represented my mother’s caring touch. I remembered her hands tipping a water glass toward my lips and smoothing a cool washcloth on my forehead. And I remembered my mom’s saying when she was sick as an older adult, she still just wanted her mom. I remembered I wouldn’t have many more offers like the one my mother had just made. I said yes.

No blue afghan this time, I laid on the couch with my head on my mother’s lap. Her middle fingers made small, gentle circles on my temples. Using all her fingers, she feathered my forehead. I needn’t have worried about her applying too much pressure with the bandaged hand; I knew then, those arthritic fingers were no longer capable of standard massage. With all fingers barely touching my scalp, she combed my hair. I fell asleep. But not before we’d reminisced about the 1960s and ’70s when she’d had migraines and my two sisters and I had massaged her head. And we laughed remembering how sometimes the four of us would all lie on our left sides on her and Dad’s big bed and scratch the back of the girl in front of us. Then we’d switch to our right sides. Dad and our brother could never understand how good this assembly-line back scratching felt.

It was a sweet half-hour or so. Made sweeter by seeing the end and setting aside my stupid pride long enough to admit I just wanted my mom.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father to the Fatherless


When I read in Psalm 68 that God is father to the fatherless, I think of children of single moms, or of friends whose fathers have passed away. Oh, I have thought of myself as a beneficiary of this wonderful fact, certainly, but more in the context of God’s being a perfect father, compared with my imperfect earthly father. Today is the first Father’s Day I’ve thought of myself as “fatherless,” and it feels odd, as though I’m wearing someone else’s name tag. 

Last June Dad understood the celebration. Today, although he was happy to receive gifts, he had no idea why we gave them to him. He made no comments about them. He recognized the cookies and candy; he didn’t recognize the jigsaw puzzles. He asked Mom to read our cards to him, but he didn’t assimilate the compliments. Mom had given him an ID bracelet so that he’d have something of his own in the nursing home. He liked the bracelet but didn’t recognize his name engraved on it.

Dad’s protection, provision, companionship, and guidance throughout my life are now all in a closed attic trunk of memories. This trunk is not yet locked or dusty; I still reach in and feel the warmth of those daddy memories that embraced and shaped me. An open trunk where current and future paternal experiences go will, however, contain none of these precious things. 

This morning when the radio played a song about holding our heavenly Father’s hand, I pictured myself a small child reaching for her father’s hand to cross the street. My daddy was not there, but God stepped in and took my hand. This little girl’s lips quivered and her eyes spilled over because she longed for her father’s familiar hand. But kindness and strength in this new hand collected her tears and calmed her lips. I can’t explain how, but I felt changed, as though God not only walked me across the street but also lifted me up onto a Segway and then hopped up behind me and off we zipped together. It seems at least one benefit of losing my dad to dementia is a deeper desire for and dependence on God’s fathering. Today I’m especially glad God is father to the fatherless.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Repurposing


In an impromptu tour of our hostess’ beach home, she shared her joy of honoring family and of creating new from old—she calls it repurposing. That charming weatherworn white bird house perched on a pillar in her living room? Repurposed from the garden of her former B&B; to use the bird house as indoor décor, she found a tall, slender, curvy pillar. The pink and green tile-top table on the porch? Repurposed from a living room end table that now has a rattan top repurposed from an earlier use. The trunk topped with glass showcasing her husband’s fishing lures, hole-in-one golf ball, and other mementos? Repurposed from a box her grandfather had made when one day her grandmother had casually said, “I need a box,” then repurposed into our hostess’ childhood toy box. In recent years, she looked at the trunk and thought if someone built up the top into a glass showcase …

Sepia photos of our hostess’ ancestors, an 1895 edition of the kittens who lost their mittens book, eclectic collection of mirrors, Roseville vases and Rosepoint glassware—we heard all their stories. For example, her sister secretly wanted their mother’s Rosepoint cake plate (which had a story all its own). When her sister learned her mother had sold her Rosepoint glass collection, she went to the antiques dealer and bought it back from him. Afraid her mother would find out, she always hid that cake plate whenever her mother visited—until one visit, she didn’t. When her mother heard the subsequent chapter in the Rosepoint cake plate’s life, she exclaimed, “Why didn’t you just tell me you wanted that plate?”

I was thinking how rare vision like our hostess’ is today in our throwaway society. A beat-up old bird house? Eh, just pitch it. Pink tiles no longer match your new décor? Out in the trash goes the table; you can always buy a new one. She values the old because of their stories. Though she has discarded items she saw no new use for, she sees new life in many more items than the average person does. I treasure a wooden trunk my dad crafted, but my only vision is to put blankets in it now and toys later. A trunk is a trunk is a trunk. I don’t look at a trunk and see a display case. And I could stare at two tables until my eyeballs turned into marshmallows and never imagine the table tops on each other’s bases, let alone on completely different bases. Our living room has furniture made new to look antique. I once saw a TV do-it-yourselfer flogging a pristine dresser with chains to dent and scuff the paint off its corners for an instant-antique look. This seemed both ridiculous and clever. We abandoned the clever, but kept the ridiculous—to achieve the cottage look, we didn’t find antiques and fix them up; we bought new “antiques”—pre-flogged furniture.

Our hostess explained that even the cottage we are renting this week has been repurposed. In the 1930s it was part of a resort. Back then, little bedroom cabins dotted this land. When families came to enjoy the lakefront, they ate in a central dining hall. Eventually, the land was parceled off and sold, the cabins demolished. But—our hostess and her husband purchased a lot with two of the cabins. Again, their repurposing vision came into play. Since the dining hall was gone, if they wanted to rent the cabins, they’d need to add kitchens, eating areas, and living space. So they did just that. A few years ago, they wanted to build a home for themselves, but instead of demolishing one of the little cottages to gain land, they sold it to someone who moved it down the road to preserve it and continue to rent it out. Her lovely beach home and our little cottage for the week share land and lake. When we arrived, she delighted to tell the story behind the picture hanging over our couch. Someone had donated an 80-year-old black-and-white picture postcard to the historical society, where she volunteers. She recognized the tiny white cabin tucked into trees and repurposed the postcard by enlarging the photo for a 16-by-20 frame and giving it a place of honor where it could speak to many more generations enjoying this cozy cottage.

I admire people’s talent for creating new while honoring old. Some people have a knack for accessorizing outdated clothing to create striking new outfits. Others have additional vision and skills to raise and lower hems and change collars and lapels to create new looks. Our hearts and minds have rusting junkyards full of treasures, too. In the process of maturing, we repurpose experiences to learn and do better next time. When we succeed—for example, we approach conflict differently and this time the other person responds positively—it’s a beautiful new relationship, a little scuffed but now more serviceable. And remember the ditty we sang around Girl Scout campfires? “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.” Old friendships that bend, flex, and re-create themselves as our lives change are more precious than gold and certainly become more beautiful with burnishing over time.