Thursday, December 29, 2011

Still Life

It's blurry but beautiful. Like so many memories, no?

My friend Margo came over for a cup of tea. She admired the bowl, and I was entranced by the candlelight on the oranges, and we decided it was just a beautiful moment to capture. I didn't have a tripod and don't know which setting to use for such a scene, so this is what I got. And I think I like it this way, because the blurring of the boundaries adds to the effect of the overall unity of the moment. And adds a softness, a gentleness, which life certainly needs wherever there is still life. I think without softness and gentleness--with too many clear, sharp lines--life in its fullness can cease to be. Or can frighten with its starkness. Or distort with its exactitude.

I'll take it blurry and gentle.

(I just realized that this likely sounds terribly like what an INFP or INFJ might write. Was reading about personality types today [based on the Meyers-Briggs system] and reminded that I can come across as probably nonsensical to a lot of people. So be it. I think in symbols and metaphors, and my mind is always seeing a bigger picture than can fit into words. Maybe I sound blurry!)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas

With candles.

And a really wonderful book of readings for Advent and Christmas.

And candles again. Can't have too much light in December.

The oh-so-cute bag in which Someone placed the oh-so-lovely gift he gave me. And in the background one of the oh-such-fun new water glasses I bought the other day, with the word "water" in several languages around the glass.

Fascinated by the bubbles on the baking pan as I rinsed it.

Steamed cornbread and other bread crumbles, onion, celery, etc., waiting to be made into dressing, baked along with a sweet potato casserole. And the makings for a green salad with oranges, cranberries, and pecans, eventually all packed up and loaded in the car.

And then the drive to Arkansas. More on that to come.

I hope your day was merry and full of light. And of the Light.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Otter! And I Won! (Sort of)

Part One--The Otter

I confess to impulse shopping occasionally. Very occasionally, actually. My more frequent tendency is to see something I like, but do the "wise" thing of saying, "Well, if I leave it and go home and am still thinking I want/need it a week or two from now, then I'll come back and get it."

Over time I've learned that that is often a very wise thing to do.

And over time I've also learned that you can lose the chance to get something you really wanted, because it's not there anymore when you go back!

So, when I saw this otter mug for sale at the Memphis Pottery Guild show, I thought it over and decided I really did want it, and it was much easier to get it on the spot than to drive to Mountain View, Arkansas, for it later.

Why an otter mug? Because years ago when I took a little personality "test," I came out mostly otter, with golden retriever as a strong second. Over the years, the otter in me (fun-loving, enthusiastic, etc.) has frequently struggled to keep swimming!

One time when I was out at St. Columba retreat center and had a pair of binoculars (an unexpected and thoughtful gift from my husband!) with me, I was looking out at the lake and saw something I'd never seen . . . an otter! And I could see how they'd gotten the reputation for playfulness and energy. I had more fun watching that little guy swim and turn and flip and float! I'll never forget it, and it was that otter sighting that reminded me of the test taken years before and how I needed to bring more "otterness" back into my life.

So, the otter mug is to remind me that there is more to life than being a golden retreiver, important as that may be. Sometimes you just gotta have fun, and seeing this mug in the morning is a great way to start the day with a smile.

Part Two--Why I Won (Sort of)

Well, obviously, I figured out how to get photos on my blog again. So I "won." But the "sort of" is because it still makes no sense to me why the thing did what it did to begin with, and why what I did fixed it. And I don't like the change I had to make in order to get it to work.

But I confess to being proud of myself for at least going on my hunch and trying what I did (relabelling a photo file). I just wish I could talk to somebody and understand it.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Technology and My Dad

Technology is often on my mind, because you can't get away from it, and because for me it becomes more and more challenging.

My dad is often on my mind because--well, just because he is my dad, and I learned a lot from him. And continue to.

Tonight the two converge.

I sat down to share a photo and write about it, but for WHATEVER reason, this program, or this computer, or this webpage, or SOMETHING will not let me access my photos. A box is popping up that I have never seen before, saying something that makes no sense to me whatsover. By that, of course, I do not mean that I do not understand each word and the grammatical correlations of the words, the syntax, etc. It's just that all put together it is meaningless to me because it's addressing a problem I don't even understand, let alone understand how to follow the directions for the solution.

And now the screen is telling me in red words, "An error occurred while saving," so who knows if even these words are going to be publishable?

Hmmm. Apparently they were publishable, because with my limited technological savvy I pushed "Publish Post," as I always do, and it worked.

So, how does my dad fit into this?

It's that I remember a time many years ago when he said, in the context of comparing a newer car to an older car, something like, "The more fancy little things they put into a car, or into anything, the more things there are that can go wrong." I think at the time we were talking about having automatic windows versus the kind you literally rolled up and down.

And a few years later I recall his remarking that he missed the days when, if he had a problem with his car, he could open up the hood and have a pretty good chance of figuring out what was wrong, and even a good chance of then being able to fix it. But that once they started putting computers into cars, it became impossible for people to do their own diagnosing and repairing, because the technology was beyond what could be handled with basic tools and knowledge.

So now I can't put photos on my blog, and I do not have the technological know-how to even understand why, let alone do anything about it.


And I don't want to spend my time learning all the in's and out's of the technology, because it will just change in a month or two! I want to take pictures, and I want to write.

But for now I guess I'll just "Publish Post" and see if I can find someone to help me....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grocery Store Ponderings

When we moved to Memphis, several grocery stores in town were called Seesel's. I never thought much about where they got their name until one day I was walking from the park back to our campus apartment. This involved walking along a strip of land that ran between two private home properties. I had taken the short cut many times and loved it because of the trees and large patches of moss. But on this day, a man was out working, maybe trimming the hedgerow. I don't remember for sure.

But I felt I should ask permission for walking on the land, and when I did, he said, "Oh, sure that's all right for you to walk through here! That's exactly what Mr. Seesel had in mind! He insisted on leaving this part of the property open so people could walk through to the park. You just come right on ahead."

And I asked and learned that the house to my right was indeed the home the Mr. Seesel of the grocery stores. So that was pretty neat and gave me a reason to like Seesel's (the store) even more than I did. I learned later that the Seesel family started selling food in Memphis in 1858.

I liked the Seesel's near us also because it was the smallest grocery store around. Superlo, the store I most often went to (we were penny-pinching grad school students back then) was pretty small, too. But then they enlarged, and I've never enjoyed them as much since they got so big.

In fact, shortly after Superlo expanded and rearranged things, I happened upon Dr. Lewis, professor emeritus of our graduate school, doing his grocery shopping. This was either after his beloved wife had become very ill or shortly after her death. At any rate, he was there. Even legends with two PhDs (from Harvard and Hebrew Union, nonetheless) have to get food somehow.

I asked him if he was finding everything okay, because I sure wasn't, and he admitted it was rather a challenge. A few minutes later I came across him again. He motioned toward the new murals on the walls, which had been added with the expansion, and said with a wry smile, "They should have written somewhere up there, 'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.' "

Well, back to Seesel's. A few years back they got "bought out" by a chain called Albertson's, who had the decency to keep the name Seesel's, since the stores had been a foundational part of the local culture. I thought that was classy.

But a few years later, they were bought by Schnuck's, who apparently didn't realize or care how insulting it was to replace the locally appreciated name Seesel's, which just rolls off the tongue (of slow-speaking Southerners especially), to Schnuck's, which no one I talked with liked and some could not even pronounce. But Schnuck's it was, and I started making peace with the name sometime in the past year.

And then, lo and behold, Kroger bought out Schnuck's. Now we have a bajillion Kroger stores in this city, adding to the chain-store culture monotony. At least Schnuck's was a little distinctive--even if, for all I know, they made be rampant in other parts of the country.

Well, tonight I went to Kroger. Not because I'm a fan of Kroger, but because it is still the small store it was before all this transpired, and I was tired and didn't want to walk any more than I had to.

Now, here's the thing that prompted the post.

I was looking for corn meal and baking chocolate and nuts, among other things. So, in most stores, you think "baking goods" or something to that effect, right? The aisle where flour, sugar, salt, oil, corn meal, spices, and all those raw ingredients will be. I couldn't find it anywhere.

I finally asked someone for help, and she pointed me to a certain aisle. How could I have missed it, I wondered? I looked at the sign identifying what the aisle contained, and what did it say?


Yes, it said Cake Mixes. Nothing about baking, nothing about the general nature of the many items that make up the baking section. Just Cake Mixes.

I didn't even know cake mixes existed until I was in junior high or high school. My mother didn't use them. I don't use them. I don't consider them an ingredient, but just something you use when you don't have time to do the real thing. I'm not anti-cake mix, but I don't consider them the main thing on that grocery aisle, for sure.

So, I wonder, what does this mean? What does it say about me? What does it say about our culture? What does it say about the difference between Kroger and other grocery stores?

Does anyone else shop in a grocery store that says Cake Mixes instead of Baking Goods or words to that effect?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and I hope to write something quite different for that, but this, as you can see, is really on my mind.

Plus, I thought you'd enjoy the Dr. Lewis story.

Happy Thanksgiving cooking to you!

(And please note that Dante's name does not have two l's in it. But I liked this photo more than any others I could find.)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Christmas Memories, a Litte Early

Yesterday was the day my granddaddy died, in 1989. I was in Italy and, knowing that he was sick, had to choose between going home to see him then, or waiting to go home at Christmas as planned, trusting that he would still be there. Making two trips was not an option. I chose to wait and trust, so I was with the family for Christmas.

He wasn't there.

Today was my grandmother's birthday. She was born in 1915 or 1916. The court records said one thing, but years later she found that the family Bible said another. It's hard to imagine the family Bible having the wrong date for a birth, so she accepted that she was probably a year older than she had always thought she was. Not an issue many of us deal with!

I never thought till just now about how both of their deaths connect in my mind with Christmas, which was their last name. With Granddaddy, it was the choice mentioned above. With Grandmother, the last time I saw her was when she came down for a Christmas concert that I sang in. I'll never forget how beautiful, if tired, she looked that day in her lavender mohair coat. She was beautiful, she always was, inside and out. And she was tired. So tired she had not gone to church that morning, very unusual for her. She had been sick. She died about a month later. But she came for that concert, and I wish so much we had sung something more listenable than what we did! We sang something impressive, but I wish it had been beautiful, like her.

When I was young, my classmates sometimes didn't believe me when I said I had "gone to the Christmases' " for Christmas. In our small town, no one had that as a last name.

But it was a good name for two generous people who gave more than either of them probably realized to the people whose lives they touched. Yes, they gave us shoes and clothes and books and piano lessons and cash sometimes, and many other tangible things.

But more than that they gave us a home to visit, a place to feel welcome, always a hug, and an example of perseverance, hope, faith, forgiveness, patience, strength....Not because their life was ideal. On the contrary, it was not, it very much was not, though I didn't learn that until I was a good deal older. But that is why the intangibles mean so much. What is strength or perseverance when everything is easy?

But when everything is not, when life is hard, and you still come out loving and beautiful and a blessing to all who know you, that is a real gift. In this case, a very real Christmas gift.

Grandmother and Granddaddy, with my mom.

Grandmother and I'm not sure which child....

Friday, November 04, 2011


It captured my heart immediately.

When I was little, one of my piano pieces had the words,

I'm an acorn, small and round,
Lying on the cold, cold ground.
No one wants to pick me up
'Cause I'm such a little nut.

A drawing of a little acorn with a sad face accompanied the music. I think perhaps the acorn even had tears, though I may be wrong. At any rate, it made me sad, and I felt sorry for that little acorn in the two-dimensional world of my piano book!

I hadn't thought of that in years, but when I posted these photos, it came to mind. (And of course now I can't get the tune out of my mind!)

Well, maybe I made this acorn happy by bringing it into the cabin and keeping it with me and admiring its beautiful turning colors. It's home with me now, sitting by my computer monitor, completely brown by now.

Boy, after remembering that song, I don't know if I'll be able to get rid of it! The acorn, I mean.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Im Nebel

Well, that title surprised me. Why do these minds of ours pull up things that haven't been thought of for years?

"Im Nebel" ("In the mist/fog") comes from my freshman year of college, best I recall. I was taking a German class. Poetry was not part of our class, but somewhere I had come across Hermann Hesse's poem in German and was working on translating it with the help of my kind professor. All I really remember about it is that at the time it seemed quite depressing to me. I remember thinking that Hesse must have been a lonely man. (The poem was all I knew of him at the time, I believe.)

Seems that early impression was right from the bits I've learned since then about his life, but I also read that he was greatly helped by therapy at one point, so that was good to learn.

At any rate, here are some pictures from a walk earlier this week, followed by Hesse's poem.

The fountain, barely discernible through the fog. Interesting that "im nebel," dark things show up better than lighter things.

Lamb's ear soaked in a foggy cloak.

The fountain's continuous splash was like fog for the soundscape.

One of my favorite trees in this park, and a favorite duck-gathering spot.

Do spider webs work when they're wet? Does anything fly around in the fog?

Feathery cypress, so green in all the gray.

The bench that seems somehow sacred and is definitely set apart, out on a little jutting peninsula that feels far away from houses and traffic, though it isn't far geographically at all.

You have to enlarge this to see the beauty of the fog condensed onto the branches. And the ducks swimming around.

At this point, it began to actually rain,

so I stopped under a cypress tree for a while.

Could such beauty come from randomness and chance?

Before I saw them, I heard them. Loud, blaring honking broke into the quiet morning. They came,

and came,

and continued to come,

seemingly out of nowhere, hidden by the thick fog until right above me,

and zoomed down to settle on the little lake, between forty and fifty, by my counting.

Dear Mr. Heron and I see each other fairly often, but he is very reserved and does not like his privacy invaded for very long, so this is the first picture I've been able to get.

He can often be found in the water near the gate to the secret island, where only official bird-sanctuary workers are allowed.

The thickest spider web I've ever seen.

my friend Jay said about walking in Florence, Italy, "Don't forget to look up!"

Good-bye, geese!

Good-bye, prairie dogs! (Oh, wait, those are cypress knees.)

Good-bye, ducks!

Good-bye, fountain!

And back into the people world, with smoke rising from the chimney of this newly-shingled house which smells so wonderfully of cedar each time I walk by.

I do find walking in the mists quite wondrous.

In the Mists

Wondrous to wander through mists!
Parted are bush and stone:
None to the other exists,
Each stands alone.

Many my friends came calling
then, when I lived in the light;
Now that the fogs are falling,
None is in sight.

Truly, only the sages
Fathom the darkness to fall,
Which, as silent as cages,
Separates all.

Strange to walk in the mists!
Life has to solitude grown.
None for the other exists:
Each is alone.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Lycoris squamigera is their Latin name, but I have always known them as surprise lilies. They pop up practically overnight and bloom so quickly as to seemingly defy nature.

This particular specimen was a super surprise. It came up before I realized or saw it, and while doing some work in the area, I accidentally stepped on it so hard that it was horizontal on the ground and looked to my eyes as if it could not survive. I felt terrible when I saw it and felt I should complete the detaching and give it a proper burial, but I was pressed for time and left it there for later.

And lo and behold, that amazing energy that makes it grow so quickly must also have restorative powers, because even with its stalk partially crushed, it straightened itself up and bloomed, as you can see!

Tonight I look to the lily as a symbol for my blog. Not giving up, despite the thin tissue holding it together! Rising once again to surprise those loyal readers who inform me occasionslly that they've checked and not seen anything new for a while.

Some things in life are calming down a bit, so I hope to find a new rhythm for writing. Time will tell.

Lycoris squamigera. Never underestimate the power.

(And, no, I have never actually had a burial service for a deceased flower. I just love surprise lilies so much and felt so bad for stepping on it that a little goodbye and apology seemed in order.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Out with the Old, In with the New

As I've been unpacking boxes, I've been letting go of some of their contents. Like these books from 2002. That was during the time I had left my "real" job in college ministry and begun building my piano studio and teaching Italian lessons, determined to have more time to myself, more flexibility, and more time to write.

The truth is, I didn't know what I wanted to do, because I had never planned on needing something to do at this point in my life beyond raising children, which was not happening, despite all attempts.

But I knew I liked to write. That's not quite right. I knew that all my life I had been writing, that I couldn't seem to function without writing, and that people had fairly consistently said good things about my writing. And an influential person in my life had challenged me to do more of it.

So, I bought the Writer's Handbook and Writer's Market Online as part of that endeavor. They're on their way to the recycling bin. I bought Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird--which I'm keeping, by the way, and someone else's The Writer's Life--on which the jury is still out, though I have a feeling it will end up out once the jury comes back in.

Anyway, for several months I had a routine of writing each morning. I don't remember now what exactly I worked on, though it's all here in the computer or on the shelf in notebooks. There was no one big Project with a capital P.

And then life happened. I kept teaching piano. I never got more than a couple of Italian students. At some point, a former professor encouraged me to start seeing clients in his office, and I did for a while.

And then came the year of losses, when five people I loved died in less than six months. And then I spent most of a year caring for the children of one of the friends who had died. And when it was all over, I felt more than ever before that at least for the time being, counseling was my calling.

So the books in the photo never really got put to use. They were there more as mascots, cheering me in my game, than as players that made it onto the field.

And in the picture, they are positioned on top of the binder full of manuscripts for the writers workshop coming up this weekend. I've done more reading than writing for this workshop, as I wound up sending in something written years ago--an article about the year of losses, actually.

So, time goes on, and circumstances change.

But I still can't function without a good deal of putting my thoughts down in the process we call writing. I don't know if anything will ever come of it beyond its role in keeping me sane.

But if that's the only purpose it ever serves, I must say that I for one consider it a worthwhile one.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Boxed In

(Note: photos are blurry to symbolize the effect this past 10 days has had on me. I'm tired!)

For the past year and a half and more, I have lived with boxes. And, yes, I have felt very boxed in.

In the past week, at least 17 boxes have been emptied. Friday over a week ago, Sue helped me move the full boxes out of my home office. Saturday over a week ago, Judy helped me paint the room. And over the past week, I have at last unpacked my books and files and put them in more permanent places.

And, yes, I have done some winnowing and pruning.

And now my muscles ache from the carrying of heavy loads and the day of painting. But my mind and spirit are lightened by no longer carrying the load of wondering when I would ever be free of those boxes! And by the lovely "quaking grass" green that now greets me when I walk into the room.

(What would we do without friends--and without Larry the plaster guy who got the walls ready so they could be painted?)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Road Trip

This is where I went today with my friend Judy!

I think it a most wonderful thing to be able to play the guitar.

And to have the name Emmanuel.

And to have lived a day like today.

More later, but now I can go to bed knowing that even though I didn't write last week, I made up for it. :-)

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Well, I haven't kept up my one-post-per-week commitment. On the other hand, it hasn't been quite two weeks yet, so perhaps I can squeeze in one tonight and one tomorrow to catch up?

As always, there are reasons for the silent interlude. In this case, I was sick for a while and got behind on things more important than blogging. And then my niece, bless her heart, was in a serious car accident. In addition to spending some time away from home to be with her and her family, I hope I may have vicariously absorbed some of the shock for her, because I certainly was not myself for the couple of days between the time of learning about the accident and finally getting to go see her for myself. There's just something very hard about being away from people you love when they are suffering. For me it was physically wrenching, as if I were literally twisted up in a knot until I got to her bedside and could hug the other family members and hold her sweet hand. Then everything untwisted.

She continues to recover valiantly, and life continues, so this week has meant catching up some more.

One of the highlights of my week is my piano lesson with my last-of-the-day Thursday student, Judy. You can see her curly hair silhouetted above on the Bartok she is working on.

And you can see the little sign I keep on our piano, as a reminder of exactly what it says. For my students and for myself. For learning to play piano, and for whatever else one might be feeling tempted to give up on.

I really just liked the way the sunlight fell on the paper today and made the little criss-cross pattern. Judy's lesson always comes at this time of day, and this isn't the first time I've said, "Keep playing," and walked out to get my camera. Maybe eventually I'll have enough photos for a series.

For tonight, though, I share this single photo in honor of my niece, who absolutely is not giving up. Ever. Ever. Ever.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Year Ago Last Week

Well, didn't mean to wait this long, but here we are.

My last full day in Italy, last year, took me to Strove. I'd been there once before, in the spring of 2008, when my friends drove me down there for the day. Strove is Paolo's hometown. I saw the house where he was born, the school he attended, and the church that Tosca had given me a drawing of several years earlier. It's a sweet little town nestled in the area just south of the Chianti region.

This time I took a bus. The bus trip to Strove became more than a bus trip on a Sunday afternoon. Before leaving on this trip, I had been pretty heavily occupied with translating Tosca's memoir, her story of growing up in Tuscany, of being a little girl during World War Two, of meeting American soldiers, of close encounters with German soldiers, of hiding out in a cave for days, of losing family members in tragic bombings. At the time of my trip, the war was still going on in the part of the book I was in.

So driving past the American military cemetery, and driving through Poggibonsi, the town where Tosca grew up and many of her memories were made (though little remains of the Poggibonsi she describes, due to the bombing), and seeing San Gimignano from a distance, as she describes seeing it as a child--all made for a sense of sadness and somewhat surreal intensity.

But then the bus dropped me off, and Paolo arrived in his car to pick me up, and I was fully back in the happy present.

We had a lovely lunch, joined by son Riccardo and his wife Silvia and by Luciano, a family friend from Florence. Soon after lunch, Paolo and Luciano were off for a Sunday afternoon hunt. Paolo has a special license for hunting year-round a certain deer-like animal that has been invading the vineyards due to overpopulation. Riccardo and Silvia were off to I-don't-remember-what, and Tosca and I had the rest of the day and much of the evening to ourselves.

We went out for a passeggiata, a walk, along the main street that soon becomes a little road out into the countryside. We talked about our lives in the two years since seeing each other last, we talked about the plants we saw along the way, we talked about the Via Francigena.

At one point, Tosca pointed to a large villa on top of one of the nearby hills. "Do you know who is spending the month in that villa? Just guess." Of course I had no way of guessing, but she had a way of knowing, because Riccardo does the landscaping for the villa. "You won't believe it. Umberto Eco and Renzo Piano," with a pause for effect.

Well, I confess that though I may have heard the name Renzo Piano, I didn't know who he was (a world renowned architect). But Umberto Eco!--just before the trip I had been listening to an interview with him on his career, semiotics, and what he thought about computers. It was rather strange and amazing to think that Umberto Eco was staying up there on that hill not so very far away, and could have been looking down in our direction while sitting outside on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, for all we knew.

Besides looking up to high places, we also looked down the road at one point to see a group of pellegrini, college-aged pilgrims, with backpacks and an occasional walking stick, making their way toward us. One of them asked how far it was to Monteriggioni. Tosca's answer brought a tired sigh and an inquiry of whether they might be able to spend the night in Strove. They were from a church in northern Italy and were walking a long way, all the way to Rome. Tosca told them the town had a space for pilgrims and how to find it and who to speak with, and they went on their way.

We also met a Churchill-looking bulldog out for a walk with his person. He was very sweet and surprised me by jumping up to greet me. As huge and heavy as he was, I didn't expect he would be able to jump.

After a while, we headed back into town ourselves and ended our little pilgrimage at her house. We spent the rest of the evening going over the part of her book that I had translated, and having supper and visiting out on their sweet balcony. Paolo had informed me earlier that theirs is the only house in Strove that has a balcony, so it has become a very photographed site and is probably seen all over the world when tourists go home and show their pictures!

So, here are a couple of photos of the balcony from inside the house--not the views most tourists get, I don't imagine.

Tosca insisted on preparing supper by herself, giving me time to sit out on the balcony and wonder at the beauty of the evening and the strangeness of airplane travel. A week and a day earlier I had been in hot, humid Memphis with its car traffic and FedEx airplane noise, with the frustration of trying to find an office to rent for my practice, still unpacking boxes from our move.

And here I was, surrounded by roses, petunias, and begonias on this terrace in a tiny town in Tuscany, itself surrounded by sculpted hills as far as the eye could see without a tall building in sight, Umberto Eco up on the hill to my left, the only sounds those of a small village--the voices of the family eating dinner below me, the clink of silverware, Tosca's voice occasionally calling out to assure me she wouldn't be long, and the cooing of the doves on the roof of the house across the street. Peace settled over me, and gratefulness--for beauty, for friendship--welled up inside me.

It was a lovely evening, a year ago last week!