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Light Overcoming

December 22, 2016

It’s been a shamefully long time since I have written here.  But in such an hour of political angst, fear, and revulsion, frivolity feels underdressed at the table.  How can I blather on about cats and the wonders of the First World and my fabulous spa experiences when national leaders are being chosen, apparently, on the strength of their distain for the very things, ideas, and beings over which they will have responsibility?  But how can I write about these weighty, important, but utterly gut-wrenching things when the news streams are full to the brim with them already?  I cannot.

This is Pumpkin:

Pumpkin L-W.jpg

She lives on Vashon Island in Seattle with some humans and a dog.  I used to call her Plumpkin, when she had free access to a bottomless bowl of kibble.  But after an unfortunate incident of too much dry food and not enough water or exercise, she has been… restricted.  She gets to eat canned food for every meal!  But meals happen only twice a day.  Pumpkin has trimmed down, found new energy, and seems to feel better overall.  Next year, I will try to be more like Pumpkin.

This is a barest sampling of the marvels to be found in places such as Trader Joe’s, Staff of Life, and plain old Safeway:


Even as heretofore unheard of substances like tortillas, seitan, and maple syrup are appearing on shelves at home, every trip back to the States overwhelms me with new and amazing wonders of gastronomy.  I wander, a slack-jawed bumpkin, through groceries, gawking at the bulk food sections, transfixed with option-paralysis over the array of non-dairy milk products and cheez.  It’s a blessing that my memory is poor or I would remember these aisles of bounty when I visit my fruit & veg stand and ponder what flavor to make the cauliflower and/or eggplant today, flavors I have collected and hoarded from travels abroad.  Yes, if I’m going to be more like Pumpkin, it’s probably good that my usual diet is so limited.

This is Rupertus Therme in Bad Reichenhall, Germany:


We took a little pre-vacation holiday to Bavaria to meet up with some friends visiting from San Diego and catch the Christmas markets.  Two days soaking in a wide variety of pools, jacuzzis, saunas, and steam rooms, with massages spliced in to take advantage of the loosening of muscles.  In fact, rather than collecting stuff and tchotchkes, I invest in the personal pampering.  Two days after arriving in San Francisco, I was on a student’s massage table at the National Holistic Institute for my $30 fifty minute shiatsu.  As often as I manage to find body work, they always find new tension accumulated where I never suspected.

Since I began writing this post, someone drove a truck through the Christkindlmarkt in Berlin, killing 12 people who, like us in Munich only 3 weeks prior, were just strolling through the festivity, soaking up the magic of it all.  It casts an especially dark shadow being blasted into a season of joy and hope, one more right hook out of the blue.

The existential darkness still gathers and looms, even on this day which heralds the returning of the astronomical light, but for our own health and sanity, we cannot allow ourselves to be sucked down into it.  Be kind to yourself so that kindness may flow out into the world.  Fight the good fight wherever you may, but cultivate love everywhere you go.  Love drives out fear.  It is all that can.


In the Balance

September 19, 2016

Solstice always moves me to think about extremes and turnings, the longest, the shortest, the most, the least. . . beginnings.  But now we are approaching Equinox.  For a moment, all things hang in balance.  We have had summer but winter isn’t knocking on the door just yet.  The days are a tightrope, warmth and sunshine on one side, wind and rain on the other.  We teeter back and forth between a walk on the molo and hot tea with an afghan on the couch.  It looks like summer but feels like fall.

I have a few days now between the sweltering heat of summer and the regimented weeks to come for shifting the balance.  It is time to clean.  Unlike spring cleaning, clearing away the mustiness and old cooking smells of winter, fall cleaning here is lifting the shroud of dust which has quietly drifted in through the open windows and settled on everything.  I have never lived anywhere nearly so dusty.  I can’t keep up with it.  I don’t even try.  But as the windows begin to close, it feels as though any difference I make might linger for more than a day.  The rains will assist me, settling the desert dust blowing up from Africa on high winds.

Cherries are long gone and peaches are fading fast, but apples are appearing and winter squashes are on the move.  The kitchen doesn’t yet call me to its heat, but the recipes are appealing again.  It is time to plan.  Beyond the Pumpkin Spice Lattes (which only happen here when I bring the McCormick’s to the coffee bar), there will be pumpkins to cook, purée, and freeze.  Kitchen staples need to be inventoried, dried beans and mushrooms, spices, and herbal teas for quiet evenings.

It is also time to give.  As the seasons turn, so does the wardrobe.  As I begin to look at warmer clothes, I try to remember if I wore a particular piece at all last year.  Or the year before.  And consider why I’m keeping it.  If I don’t love it, someone else might.  Or at least appreciate it.  It’s easier to come to the end of a season and let go of the things.  But the poor don’t want sundresses in October nor have they worn the sweaters we cast off last April.  Giving is great, but storage is precious.  Try to be considerate of your charities.  Set those summer togs aside in a place where you’ll find them in March.  What can they use now rather than what are you tired of wearing?

So, as we walk the balance beam of Equinox with thanksgiving for the summer spent and in anticipation of autumn’s arrival, may there be in our lives giving and receiving in equal measure.

The Lion of Summer

August 22, 2016

Leo, the astrological sign, arrives in the Northern Hemisphere at the end of July to reign through most of August.  His appearance coïncides with the hottest season of the year.  In Italy he is called Il Sole Leone (or Solleone), the Lion Sun.  August often also sees the departure of my man to sea.  I always enjoy the time to be unreservedly lazy, live on nothing but fruit, and make art… all over the house.  Being the time of Solleone, many years I have created a Sun Lion to commemorate the season.  This year, however, the man did not go to sea and Solleone has been particularly timid.  So I was moved to summon him back to our little beach town.  And here he is, Solleone 2016:IMG_5867


Just a couple of quick snaps to show his versatility with the light.  But I’m very pleased with him.  And the summoning has been effective; Il Solleone has returned to Lerici.

Androsia Magic

August 3, 2016

Thirty years ago… I was a teenager in middle America who’d never been anywhere more exotic than the family vacations to Florida (Sorry Toronto, you were lovely, but much like home.  Oh wait, there was that time in Hawaii, but I was only five and didn’t sufficiently appreciate it.)  A biology teacher with an incurable travel bug at my high school ran Student Trips, sailing in the summer and skiing in the winter.  He was young ~younger than I am or have been for a while now~ and energetic enough to keep teenagers safe, if not entirely out of trouble, teach us valuable lessons for loving the lives we’d live, and still have a good time himself.

One of the first lessons of travel, “Hurry up and wait,” was better preparation for living in Italy than you can possibly imagine unless you’ve done so.  But “Get it while you can” is the one that still echoes around my skull and shoots through my spirit when it matters most.  I know for a fact that monumental turning points in my life hinged on the moment I changed my mind from what I had planned to the thing that was suddenly on offer.  This doesn’t come naturally to me.  I don’t like surprises and I loathe sudden change.  But I am forever grateful for having been taught to embrace it.

One… or maybe four of those trips I did were to the Bahamas.  We sailed with a shoestring educational operation called International Field Studies.  That first summer… the first day… we got to our 41’ Morgans and my Laura ~who’d done this before~ dove straight over the side into water that couldn’t have been more than two feet deep.  I could practically count the grains of sand on the bottom.  She saw my gaping face and told me to check the depth gauge; I threw myself over the life-line into that phenomenally clear water.  Something in me burst open, like a tiny seed sprouts leaves and roots when the conditions are finally right.  This place, these tropics, were home to a part of my soul I’d never known was there.  The bath-warm turquoise water, the relentless sun beating down, the vivid colors assaulting the eyes, the musty boat smells, I loved it all from the first.  We learned about tropical flora & fauna and navigation and wind ~and no wind~ and teamwork and a little partying and finally, leaving.  That was the hardest.  Last times are the kickers because they seldom announce themselves, “Hey, this is it.  Soak it all up.  We’re done here.”  So, when I promised myself I’d be back, as I always did, one time it was thirty years before I kept that promise.  But this year, I did.


We have friends who ‘boat.’  Boats boats boats! (Hi, Zed)  They used to charter power boats until they realized they needed one of their own.  Which they had until they realized they needed to sell it… in order to boat in more distant seas than where the Two Queens … er …Silver Satin (are you reading, Uncle T?) stayed.  I’ve been pestering them to sail, for real with a mast and canvas and lines, in the Bahamas for years.  Two months ago, I stepped aboard a craft almost entirely unlike those humble old Morgans.  Bring Back the Magic (yes, that was her name; how perfect) was a 48’ catamaran with huge fresh water tanks, four heads, galley up and bigger than a closet, and … air conditioning.  What? Really?! No! who would want that?  Apparently, grown-ups do.  But whenever the weather and the swamp angels would permit, I slept above as I used to, under the stars.  But grown-ups like towns and restaurants and marinas more than do chaperones of teenagers, so the blood suckers could find us more often.  Still, I was back in the islands.  The water was all those shades of blue.  We were visited by sea turtles, flying fish, and dolphins ~ oh the dolphins!  A pod of ten cruised along with us just under and around the bows for an hour one day.  I hope that made the rough crossings to and from Spanish Wells worth it to those who did not enjoy riding the high seas as much as I did.  And I came home with the effortless tan provided by the exquisite reflectivity of white fiberglass.  Tan feet without strap marks walk in my happy place.  The magic, yes, not exactly the same, but magic never is.

Through the escape hatch in the hull, no filter; really. Spanish Wells crossing

Through the escape hatch in the hull, no filter; really. Spanish Wells crossing

Now that's a proper beach

Now that’s a proper beach

In the Bahamas, on Andros Island, a particular kind of batik fabric is made.  They call it Androsia.  I had a shirt and some shorts for many years, but eventually they wore to threads.  But it’s a sentimental thing.  The marina where we spent the night before taking possession of the boat had custom-made Androsia curtains.  I was so tickled to see it again.  Days later, I found bolts of it for sale in a little shop.  But what would I do with it?  I stewed over it through the morning, then went back and bought a half yard with turtles on in the most Caribbean blue.  That would be enough, just a memory.  Looking at the pattern, there were clusters of turtles and a few Androsias, hand written.  I’ve been doing silk painting, “framing” the pieces in an embroidery hoop ~easy to do, easy to hang, inexpensive.  It would be a quick job to frame a nice bit to hang where I can see it.  And there would be enough to make one for my Laura, too, because she showed me the magical place that opened a door in my soul all those years ago.


Home, for What It’s Worth

July 15, 2016
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They say, and I suppose I have too, that you can never go home again.  But sometimes one can get close.  This post may smack of the self-indulgent, even meander into sentimentality.  Although, if I’ve done my job well, gentle reader, there may be resonance in your own spirit as well.

I live 5,000 miles away; an ocean, a continent, and several countries from anywhere that counts as Home, capital H ~ aside from ‘where the cat is,’ which is truly “home,” lower case, where I hang my hat, as it were.  But Home, where I hang my heart, is parceled out across the United States.  Some of those places feel like home because I’ve lived there and the vibe of the place is comfortable; it fits me.  Some are because individuals make it so.  But there is one spot, in the middle of the fly-over states, at the confluence of rivers, a modest house on a one-block street where I grew from an abstract idea to a 22 year old college graduate.  Home.  My sister lives in that house now.

This summer, July 4th weekend (because they are always July 4th for Upper Arlington High School,) was my 30-year class reunion.  I wasn’t close to a great number of my classmates, but a few are most of the best friends I’ll ever have.  There are some who were in my inner circle back then, but we went our own ways, who turned up for the gathering.  Reconnecting with them, just for an evening, watered desiccated places in my heart I hadn’t even noticed were there.  Dry roots reaching back to youthful days were enlivened.  I remembered us.  The insecure 18-year-old stood up inside this middle-aged woman and shed the old anxiety like a sweater on a hot spring day.  The past was liberated to be reintegrated without regret.  It, too, was delightful to see some of the others, what they’ve done with their lives.  The surprises were kind of wonderful, finding commonality with the fully formed humans where there wasn’t much in our callow youth.

But it was the Out to Lunch Bunch ~as one father christened this giggle of girls who ransacked his home, ate his food, and borrowed his cars~ who were my everything then and remain at the bedrock of my life.  We had a cookout one night to put spouses and children et al together.  Off to one side, with another friend, we discussed those friendships versus any that come after.  Maybe it’s because everyone is neurotic and/or annoying in their own way, but when we understand why because we were all there together, possibly even the cause of it, compassion comes naturally.  You can never make a new old friend.  New friends are great and absolutely necessary, especially given our mobile society, but when I am with these women, whom I’ve known since before we were women, something is revitalized, remembered, renewed.  Time with any of them, these friends I’ve kept, is an infusion of mojo, a booster shot of my best, strongest self, something to re-inflate my flagging identity when circumstances leech it away.

It was thus invigorated, after our weekend together, I set about revisiting my Home, taking care of business, and soaking up the centering and serenity it gives me.

A quick rundown of things I keenly appreciate due to the profound lack of them in my day-to-day life:

  • Spacious parking lots and garages, often without any fee at all, with empty spaces and cars neatly centered in only one space at a time
  • Big, old trees casting mottled shade over a yard of soft grass
  • Wide, multi-lane freeways, with clear signage, thoughtfully engineered to move people through and about town efficiently
  • Wall-to-wall carpeting
  • Good ethnic food everywhere
  • Customer service ~ people expressing a desire to sell me something I would like to acquire
  • Wood floors and solidly-constructed window frames
  • Cardinals and their songs ~ so brilliant in the trees, the sweetest music in the air
  • Something for everyone ~ in groceries and malls and restaurants, so many things I never imagined and would never want, but also things others couldn’t identify but make me giddy

There is much transpiring here which I do not recognize nor understand.  I do feel like a stranger in my city and an alien among my people.  Some is just progress, which is also acutely absent in my current locale.  Some of it comes from perspective I’ve gained living and traveling with the other.  But there is much here which worries me.  Just passing through, I try to ignore it.  I sit in the most peaceful place I know for miles around ~ the screened-in porch of my childhood; the garden has changed but remains lush, quiet, and calming, the cats have cycled but they are lovely cats; Papa Red sings for me, “pretty pretty pretty,” and the wind chimes play gently with the breeze ~ and meditate on my great good fortune: friends, family, opportunity, places I’ve been and will be, people I’ve known who have taught me well, loving and being loved, peace in my heart even when it isn’t in the land.