Sunday, November 3, 2019

Market Day

Every Sunday in Malakoff, France the circus comes to town.  Actually, it is the weekly market, but it has the feel of a circus.  Inside a large building individual vendors bring their produce, seafood and other delectable foods and treats. People walk to the market from all over town pulling their personal grocery bag on wheels behind them in anticipation of filling it with delicious foods for the days to come.  The locals know just which vendor they want to buy particular items from and head straight to their usual spots.  We wandered through the whole place first to get our bearings and decide what we wanted to pick up for lunch.

When we stopped at the stand selling olives, different Greek spreads, and hummus, the vendor was being harassed by a jolly woman with decades of experience dealing with guys like him.  She was talking him out of sample after sample of his goods.  He had just loaded up a hunk of croissant with feta cheese and sun-dried tomato when we walked  up.  She made a crack, and he shifted his aim handing the sample to my daughter instead.  The woman threw back her head and chortled, her mouth wide open.

That salesman may have been more savvy than she gave him credit for.  Not only did she end up buying a container of the feta spread, we did too.  In addition to the feta, we bought a ball of chèvre rolled in golden raisins, some fruit, a baguette, and some marinated olives.  I don’t know how much the experience added to the flavor of the foods, but we had one of the best lunches I have had in a long time and a little dinner theater thrown into the bargain.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Celebrate Someone Else’s Beauty

It takes a mature heart to truly celebrate someone else’s beauty.  For some reason we fear that there is only so much good- be it love, admiration or joy- to go around.  If we give too much away, there may not be enough left for us.

Paradoxically, the more good we give, the more we receive.  When our heart is open enough to celebrate the beauty in another, it is better able to take in more goodness for itself.

To celebrate another’s beauty, we have to take the focus off ourself and place it on another.  We have to honestly care about someone other than ourselves. We expend energy in celebration of their good fortune.  When that celebration is genuine, we lose awareness of our own petty desires.  Ironically, in that moment we have never been more beautiful.

Friday, November 1, 2019

All Saints Day

These are some shots from a walk through Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, resting place of several famous people, including Gertrude Stein and the composer, Frederic Chopin. 

The oldest people buried here are a husband and wife, Abelard (1079-1142) and Heloise (1101-1164).  Many graves have been added since that time.  The most recent I saw was in 2011, but most are very old.  Many are moss covered or strewn with cobwebs; some have sunken over time.

Lots of the family plots are marked by crypts where the bereaved can come to pray.  The smell of incense and flickering of candles can be found at several graves.  As sunlight shines through the stained glass that appears in the back and sides of many of the crypts, color can be seen through designs cut into the doors in their fronts.

After all these years, I still felt as though I was witnessing the grief of the bereaved looking at these graves.  Seeing how they attempted to preserve the likeness of a loved one, or tell something about their lifestyle in the memorial they chose, I understood the desire to make sure the one they lost was not forgotten having experienced that same feeling.

Grief is such a painful process; it overwhelms us leaving both body and soul spent.  Once you have lost someone, I don’t believe you ever really stop grieving.  I think the best you can hope for is to find peace.

Peace to all who are mourning.

Never have I seen a ghost; but if I did, I am pretty sure it would be here.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

What I am Reading This Fall

The temperatures are falling, the daylight hours shrinking.  Time to gather reading material for fall.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Green, 83 1/4 Years Old
A resident of a nursing home chronicles daily life in Amsterdam.  The author, Peter De Smet, was not credited on the book adding to the sense this is truly Hendrik's diary.  Characters are presented with humor and sympathy that evokes compassion in the reader.  

Packing My Library
An Elegy and Ten Digressions
This is one of the books sent as part of the Year of Reading program at Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris.  Alberto Manguel wrote this book as he reflected on the process of packing up and whittling down his 35,000 volume library while preparing to move to a new continent.

Being Mortal
Medicine and What Matters in the End
My friend, a doctor, has just come through a year of loss.  She recommended this book to me after finding it personally moving.

A Walk Through Paris
A Radical Exploration
I picked up this book at the wonderful Commonplace Books the last time I was in Oklahoma City. A mix of history and geography of Paris, the chapters are dotted with vintage photographs and hand-drawn maps.

Exit West
Another selection sent through the Year of Reading program, this book has been labeled "an instant classic".  It was released in 2017, and Barack Obama featured it on his books of the year list.

Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive
My younger daughter loaned me this book. She mentioned it every time we talked while she was reading it.  The book takes an honest look at the working poor in America. 

My next six books.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Meadowlark

The following was written in response to a RemembeRED writing prompt asking for a piece about a memory of a smell or sound.   

I was glad to be done with my shift at the drive-in.  It was too hot for carrying out meals to people in cars parked on sizzling pavement.  I hurried home and changed into shorts and a little cotton top, threw on my flip flops and jumped back in my car.
My boyfriend had gone fishing with his friends earlier in the day.  No one answered the phone at his house so I assumed they must still be out at Trexler’s Pond. I headed North out of town singing to the radio, windows rolled down trying to work up a breeze.
I turned into the field at Trexler’s farm, driving slowly across the dirt roadway that led to the gate that separated one high dirt trail from the rest of the pond. I was in no hurry so I turned the car off and walked to the top of a crest.  Looking down towards the pond I didn’t see the guys so I went to open the gate planning to move on to the far side of the pond.  I had been at the pond so many times, first fishing with my dad and brother-in-law and more recently hanging out with friends.
I absolutely loved this pond.  It was about the most peaceful place I had known just far enough out in the country to offer seclusion.  The only sound was the occasional call of a meadowlark.  That call had come to represent peace and relaxation to me.  It must have been too hot for even the meadowlark on this day.  The sun was beating down and the air was very still- a rare thing for Western Kansas.
I used both hands to maneuver the latch on the gate.  It required some negotiation but I managed.  I turned towards my car and ran smack into  a man who had been standing far too close behind me.  Where had he come from?  Hadn’t I just been thinking how quiet this place was?  Yet, here he was and he had arrived in a car which was parked directly behind mine, blocking it.
Knowing that I must not panic, I began talking as though it were perfectly natural for him to be here, for him to approach me so stealthily and to be standing so close that I could smell him in the heat.  As I talked, I wracked my memory.  He looked vaguely familiar, but I did not know him.  I moved slowly towards my car walking backwards so that I would not lose sight of him for even a second.  It hit me then-the drive in.  He had been in several times.  I had heard talk of drugs and problems with the law.
As I moved, he moved with me never uttering a sound, never responding to a direct question. Even if I got to the car how could I get in while keeping him out, let alone get it started, turned around and past his vehicle.  It was then that the back of my thigh hit the front corner of the car.  Time for action.  I half turned and desperately attempted to run to my door.
He was on me instantly, pinning me to the hood of my car.  His face hovered inches from mine, and our eyes locked.  I am sure when he looked into my eyes he saw terror;  when I looked in his I saw darkness.  There was a blackness in those eyes, thickly opaque. There was no way to look deeply into them; it was as though he stopped at the surface. I remember thinking that what I was seeing was pure evil, and in that instant my thinking shifted.  The planning and scheming ceased and I began to pray.  I prayed not to feel pain.  I prayed for the people I love.  I prayed for my soul; I prayed for his.
Suddenly, there it was, the call of the meadowlark clear and pure.  It startled me.  It broke the silence, and distracted me momentarily.  I must have looked towards the sound because I remember turning back and finding that this man was backing away from me.  Still wordless, he walked back to his car staggering slightly.  I watched as he got in and drove away.
I don’t know how long I stood frozen in place before I slowly got into my car.  I turned the key in the engine and began to cry.
written in April 2011

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


Rather than resolutions, for several years I participated in the movement that espoused choosing a single word to encapsulate my goals for the coming year.  It has been a while since I have mustered that kind of focus, but this is a year when I feel the need to hone in on what matters to me intently.

Reading Michelle Obama's Becoming this morning, I was struck by a passage she wrote about observing her husband early in their relationship.  He was working with a group of church women in Chicago urging them to band together in their efforts to make positive change.

He was there to convince them that our stories connected us to one another, and through those connections it was possible to harness discontent and convert it to something useful.  Even they, he said--a tiny group inside a small church, in what felt like a forgoteten neighborhood-- could build real political power.

In these words, I found my word.  Build.

The past few years in America and too many other places have been about tearing down.  Tearing down the norms of society and government. Tearing down the illusions of tolerance I thought existed in our country.  Tearing down civil discourse. Tearing down alliances.  Tearing down neighbors and people who don't look, live, or pray just as we do.  An influx of violence and addiction devastatingly tear at the fabric of family.  As a society we lack the patience to fix things and rely too consistently on wiping away altogether what is only in need of repair.

It occurs to me my life is about building.  My professional work is about restoration of lives.  My personal hobbies are about restoration of architecture, community, and beauty.  I long to see things, people made whole.  My motivation is to repair, restore, to build.

This year I resolve to build: my faith, relationships, healthy habits, community, and yes, political power.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

TToT: Thankful for Reading

Another year is coming to an end, and I have much to be thankful for.  One of the things that brings joy to my life is my abitilty to read.
I am thankful for my parents who personally modeled reading regularly, for my mom who read to me all the time, for my teachers who helped me crack the code so that I could read the written word for myself.

I am thankful for Goodreads where I can track the books I read each year, interact with other people who love an author or book as much as I do, and discover books I would never know about otherwise.

I am thankful for authors who can captivate me with their stories or even just the way they turn a single phrase. I am thankful they transport me to other places and times where I am encouraged to dream or blessed to escape the daily news.

I am thankful for the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library which is absolutely top shelf...pun intended.

My Ten Favorite Books This Year
The Bell Jar
The Nightingale
Fareinheit 451
The Girl Before
Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine
I'd Rather Be Reading
Fed Up
The Woman Next Door

Ten Things of Thankful