Category Archives: Folkart

Truth in Beauty

The New York Times asked the following questions regarding the recent unveiling of President and First Lady Obama’s official portraits in the National Gallery of Arts:

“What did the portraits mean to you, particularly if you are African-American or of African descent? Did their aesthetic remind you of other artwork and what did you think of Mr. Wiley and Ms. Sherald’s approach to bucking tradition? What do you think the artists were trying to convey — and do you think they were successful? Did they capture the Obamas and their legacy accurately?”

Before I give you my answers – and I am interested in hearing yours – here are my own questions to the Beautiful People:  What is the objective of a portrait – to tell the truth or to obscure it?  Is truth a quality you would want to see in your own official portrait?  Who would you select to paint yours?

Here are my answers (I read none of the comments on the NYT article):

  1. terrible question, Reporter Sopan Deb!   Can they only mean something to me if I am African-American or of African descent?  Did the first unartfully phrased question make you think that the journalist has an agenda?  Is he a reliable source as a “cultural editor”?  What if I told you Mr. Deb was arrested at an anti-Trump rally and that the charges were dropped?  Would that change the way you read his questions???
  2. Yes.  The portraits remind me of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.  The flower dog sculpture by Jeff Koons immediately reminded me of President Obama’s portrait.  Mrs. Obama, in my mind, is represented by the structure of the museum itself, the architect of whom is Frank Gehry.
  3. Bucking tradition is great, especially in art.  However, if my portrait were to hang next to Mr. Understanding’s portrait, I would want the portraits to complement each other.  I do not think these achieve accomplish that goal of mine.  For example, Mr. Understanding and I are each individuals in our own right but co-owners of the same team.  If my portrait were hanging next to the First Gentleman, I would like them to pay tribute to our common vision.  To me, this is not reflected in the portraiture.  This is an aesthetic choice made by the President and the First Lady and they most probably have different ideas on the subject.
  4. In the portrait of President Obama, I believe Mr. Wiley was trying to convey a relaxed attitude with some gravitas, as concerns the person.  The hands seem a tad large.  I find it fascinating that they are crossed.  Did he usually sit this way?  Regarding the garden setting, I read that it was used to convey his Hawaiian heritage so I kept looking for a marijuana leaf and a banana slug (that’s a joke).  Why was not a rainbow used,  symbolically?  Regarding Mrs. Obama,  she is reclining slightly away from the viewer, creating some distance.  It might be a modern day nod of the head to Rodin’s The Thinker – Mrs. Obama is quite statuesque.  There is probably a lot of symbolism in the fashion forward dress that I do not understand.   Ms. Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama speaks greater truth to me than the President’s.
  5. I might like my mother-in-law to paint my portrait.  I can think of no other living artist whose portraiture I admire.  Perhaps an unphotoshopped  photo would do?  The truth does matter to me but a dose of artistic license, especially around the jowls, is appreciated too.

Happy Presidents’ Day Weekend!  I am off to see Thing 3!  The posts will be short and I apologize for the lack of photos – I need a kid to help me upload the visuals.  XOXO







Filed under #Art, Folkart, Holidays, Life, People, Traditions, Travel


On Friday I had the pleasure of dining with Mr. Herman Mehling, with members of his family and mine, at the St. Augustine restaurant The Ice Plant.   Unbeknownst to me, it was his 94th birthday.  I have never shared a birthday with a 94 year old before so this was quite special.  I had been wanting to meet him for a long time.

Herman, a.k.a. “The Jesus Man” is the father-in-law of my former Nordstrom Menswear salesman Bruce from Columbus, Ohio.  How, you ask, are you having lunch with your former Nordstrom salesman, his wife, and her father?  That is a story for another day.    Before our “tribulations” he and his wife Judi stayed at our Florida cottage when they visited Herman on several occasions.   During the last few years of my crazy life, Bruce called to check in every few months, even after he left Nordstrom.   Sometimes I could not return his calls as I was in the throes of a crisis; no matter, he did not stop trying.  Now that I am living in the Florida cottage with four animals and a teenager, hosting Bruce and Judi was not an option, so lunch it was.

A few years ago, as a gift for sharing our home, Bruce and Judi gave me one of Herman’s Jesus signs.  This is what the sign looks like up close:




This is what the sign looks like from a distance:




Bruce and Judi, who also visited with my parents and in-laws, also gave each family one of these signs.  It was this sign that greeted me at the dermatologist’s office on Valentine’s Day, the one month anniversary of my mother’s passing.   When my mother died, my youngest sister, MCV asked how she could get her hands on one of those signs.  My parents’ sign sits on a roll top desk by the front door, monitoring the comings and goings of all.  I called Bruce and he personally delivered two (one for each sister) to my snowy back porch in Ohio.  (Polly Positive whisked them inside and I eventually mailed them on).

Back to Herman.  You can watch an interview of him here.

As mentioned in the interview, Herman had several careers:  Police officer in the Bronx, firefighter, sheet metal machinist.  As a police officer, Herman delivered two babies.  It is evident that Herman is good with his hands.  At age 92, Herman developed “the tremors” in his right hand.  This has not stopped him from producing four signs a day, the production of which is a story in itself.

Today, since it is Memorial Day, we honor the part of Herman’s life path that was a sheet metal repairman in the U.S. Navy during World War Two in the Pacific Theater.  Assigned to a repair ship, he and his fellow sailors stayed behind the lines and repaired ships damaged in battle, preparing them to go back in.   One day, as Herman was on the deck of his ship, the small ship next to him exploded, killing all fifty US sailors aboard.  The Navy does not know what caused the explosion:  A mini Japanese submarine, an internal situation, who knows?  A mystery in the line of combat.  Herman did not die in combat but he watched others who did and it those young men on that ship that we honor today.

Bruce, Judi, and Herman brought me two more Jesus signs on Friday.  One is sitting in our  Florida cottage – our original one is either in Arkansas or in storage in Ohio.  The other is being sent to a former policeman in Washington who is suffering from cancer.   I had the temerity to ask for more and they gave me three more from the stash in the trunk of their car.   Even Urban Meyer has one in his home.  I had not yet seen the interview wherein Herman states he would like his children to pass them out to those who attend his funeral.  If that is the case, Herman cannot stop making Jesus signs for a long time.  It will be a big party.  His 95th is already inked in on my calendar.  If you NEED one of Herman’s signs, I will inquire however, as to their availability.  They are not for sale – they are freely given.

In closing, I leave you with the words from verse 2 of hymn 719 in the Book of Common Prayer.  Written by Katherine Lee Bates, O Beautiful for Spacious Skies, the music is set to Materna by Samuel Augustus Ward:

“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife

who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!

America! America! God mend thine every flaw,

confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!”


So today, fly your flag in honor of the fallen, cherish your liberty, enjoy a meal with your family, friend, or stranger, and give thanks that although flawed, America is still beautiful thanks to those who gave their lives for us.







Filed under Family, Fine Dining, Folkart, Friends, Holidays, Life, People, Religion

Mother’s Day – Good Gifts #3


The above painting is one I had commissioned by Charleston, SC artist Joyce Harvey as a gift to myself.  I was not expecting it to be finished in time for Mother’s Day!  (More on Joyce in a future post).  It represents me and my sisters.  It was inspired by a painting called “The Happy Tomato” done by my sister in law, Dr. Skin.

I know you are all thinking that today will be hard for me.  It will be.  Today is my first motherless Mother’s Day.  It is also the 4 month anniversary of my mother’s passing.

In spite of that, today I choose to REJOICE! that I had such a fine mother, who gave me, along with my father, two wonderful sisters.  They have sustained me mightily during this period.  It is a shared grief and that makes it more tolerable.  I also have a wonderful mother-in-law, Winnie, who gave me by ever-patient husband Mr. Understanding (he lives up to his name) and whose gentle presence has helped me heal.   When I go to church today with my father Big Mike, I will REJOICE in his excellent taste in women; without him, there would be no mother.   He too has been instrumental in my healing.

Finally, I give thanks today for the lumpy, bumpy, large and mugwumpy body that gave me three beautiful Things.  They are glorious.  Without a whole lot of loving Understanding, I would not be a mother.

The grieving for today was done earlier in the week and I am looking forward to homemade lemon blueberry buttermilk ricotta pancakes  and an afternoon reading on the beach.  It is a beautiful day and this is exactly what I want to do.  May yours be equally satisfying, joyful, and glorious.



Filed under #Art, Family, Fine Dining, Folkart, Friends, Life, Parenting, Reading

Inky Triptych


You know that I could not go 40 days without a post about my mother which did not also include Mother Mary.  Please indulge me.

Let me remind readers that I am not big C “Catholic”, just little “c”.  So perhaps I am a bit misinformed, not having been indoctrinated in the Marian way. This makes it all the more fun for me!  Vis a vis Mary, I have no preconceived notions.  So please bear with me as I flesh out a recent triptych that unfolded in my grief journey.

As an aside on triptychs:  One of my all time favorite museums is the Museu do Oratorio in Ouro Preto, Brazil.  Back in the day, baby triptychs were crafted for praying while traveling.  Portable, the panel doors swung open to display a central painting, sculpture or other ornate religious objet d’art.


Photo credit:  Marie Solange O. via Tripadvisor.

Another famous example of a triptych is Hieronymus Bosch‘s The Garden of Earthly Delights, hanging  in The Prado.

The Marian triptych you are going to open, however, is composed of words, photos, and music.

Left Hand Panel:

Throughout my life I have cultivated friendships with seemingly random people, people far flung from the normal parameters of my life.   Many times I have encountered these people during shopping experiences.   The Virgin Mary got an angel named Gabriel and I get a cortege of Nordstrom salespeople.  Sanctified shopping!

Last year I wrote of dear Saba, my Jo Malone saleswoman.  We have prayed for each other for several years and give each other little gifts.   My gluttonous stash of “pashminas” from Shanghai made its way to Saba in February.  Saba always wears black, with a beautiful scarf wrapped around both shoulders.  I cannot express what joy it gave me to Kon Mari those gorgeous $5 scarves – they were just waiting to be given to Saba.

Then there was Viking Queen, my betattooed makeup counter girl.  I have lost touch with her (she is moving up the Nordstrom corporate ladder) but I still think of her on her birthday.

Finally there is Bruce, who helped Thing 2 and Mr. Understanding in the Men’s Wear department.  Neither of my men enjoy shopping for clothing. Long ago, I figured out that enlisting the professional help of others when shopping for clothes is the most cost and time effective.   Bruce is in his early to mid seventies and married to a wonderful woman named Judy.

Several years ago, before I even really knew them, Bruce told me that his mother-in-law had passed away and his wife was grief stricken.  He mentioned that her parents lived in Florida.  It turns out, it is the same town where my parents and in law Understandings live.  Bruce and Judy were traveling from the Buckeye state to visit her father for his 90th birthday.  I offered up my little cottage in Florida for accommodations.  They  accepted and enjoyed the birthday party, leaving my house cleaner than it had ever been before.    They have used it a few times since, each time leaving a little gift.

One of those gifts is a little sign made of wood, an optical illusion puzzle, that says JESUS, made by Judy’s father.  During one of their visits, my parents invited Bruce and Judy over to their house for cocktails and Bruce and Judy brought them one too.  It sits on my mother’s roll top desk.

My father and I saw one of those little signs at the dermatologist’s on Valentine’s Day, the one month anniversary of my mother’s passing.  It was what my grandmother would call a “love pat” from the Universe, a Godwink, a cosmic kiss.   It had to have come from Judy’s father but no one could really tell me.  (I did recall making a referral for him a few years ago.) When MCVWasHere was in Florida for my mother’s funeral, she commented on how she would like to have one.  Voila!  Bruce delivered one for each sister to my house in Ohio.  Ask and you shall receive.

On Friday night I made Burmese Easy Grilled Chicken.  As I was leafing through the Burma cookbook for a rice recipe, I came across a blurb about Sister Mary living in an obscure region of Myanmar as part of a Maryknoll Sisters mission, treating HIV/AIDs.  (The Maryknoll Sisters were started by Sr. Mary Joseph (a.k.a. Mollie) Rogers from Boston.)  Naomi Duguid’s books are as much history as they are travelogues and recipes.  A Marian apparition under the tutelage of Sally.

Center Panel:

This week my father Big Mike received a card from Bruce and Judy.   My Nordstrom salesman and his wife were sending my father condolences.   Mary-nate on this for yourself.   Is anyone in your universe this thoughtful?   Bruce no longer works at Nordstrom so there is nothing to gain for him – no commission, nada – just angel wings.    Here is the card:


Bruce and Judy had  honored my parents with a donation to The Servants of Mary who will say mass for them daily at the Vatican.  The Servants of Mary, I discovered, have a national ministry called GriefWork.  Bruce and Judy were greatly saddened to hear of Sally’s passing.  Oh, and they are coming to visit in May – could they take my father out for a meal?

This is how we are meant to engage with the world.  Inviting others out, setting aside ourselves, devoting attention.  Mihaly (“Mike”) Csikszenthihalyi writes in his epic book Flow:

“Whether we are in the company of other people or not makes a great difference to the quality of experience.  We are biologically programmed to find other human beings the most important objects in the world.  Because they can make life either very interesting and fulfilling or utterly miserable, how we manage relations with them makes an enormous difference to our happiness.  If we learn to make our relations with others more like flow experiences, our quality of life as a whole is going to be much improved.”

You do not have to be a yogi to go with the flow, my friends.

Right Hand Panel:

This brings me to my final Marian experience of the last two weeks:

Last week I was with Big Mike, Mr. Understanding, and Thing 3 in Gainesville, Florida to visit the Natural History Museum’s Butterfly Rainforest.  Afterwards, we went on a hunt for an easily accessible restaurant.  Hangry, we finally stopped by Leonardo’s Pizza by the Slice.  Although the interior can only be described as grungy (hence off-putting) the food was good.  My father declined to eat, sneering at the pizza on display (they warm it up).

At each table was a newsletter called “The Coffee News”.  Mainly advertisements for bail bonds, quickie divorces, lawn care, and funeral arrangements, it had a trivia section.  In it was the following fun fact:  the Mother Mary in Paul McCartney’s song Let It Be was written about his deceased mother, Mary.

According to  “[I]nspired by a dream the singer had of his deceased mother, Mary, assuring him, amongst the turmoil of the Beatles’ slow breakup, that everything would be all right. ”

I cannot tell you how many times in the past ten days I have heard Let It Be playing in a public place or on the radio.  I am still waiting for Mother Sally to appear in my dreams and whisper words of wisdom but perhaps this is not her preferred method of contact.

With this in mind, I will close the triptych up and pack it away for future use.

So please, Nordies, continue to put the Really Beautiful People in a sturdy paper shopping bag and walk around the cash register to hand them to me.   Leave your politics on the counter with the triple points; let it be.  These kind souls are my take away, no returns necessary.    I can see the shape of their hearts – overflowing.




















Filed under Charitable Endeavors, Family, Folkart, Friends, Life, People, Religion, Shopping, Sightseeing, Traditions, Travel, Uncluttering

Music from Big Pink



Happy Easter, Readers!

I heard this song last week at yoga and, at the time, thought it was the perfect Easter song.  I played it in my head all week long.  Listen here.  Then I researched the significance of the lyrics.  Read here.  Maybe not? Do we ever know what we are singing?

Whatever.  Those who know me will LAUGH at the confluence of cultures between The Band and the Expat Princess.  Who knew???  I will laugh even harder if, at some point, I am redirected to a pink house in Canada.  I am not ruling it out.

In the meantime, maybe I am the only one who finds this funny?

Regardless, The Weight has been lifted from us all today.  The Wait has ended.  Enjoy the day!

Love, laughter,  and blessings,

The Expat Princess



Filed under Folkart, Holidays, Life, People, Religion, Travel

Mas Christ

No, I did not fall off the face of the earth. I am just December busy. Thing 3 turned 13, converting me into the mother of three teenagers. I can hear the sound of my mother rubbing her hands together in glee from five thousand miles away. Thing 3 has been a teenager since the age of one, however, so this is not new. At her first birthday party/Christmas open house, she toddled around the living room sticking her finger into shot glasses of tequila and sucking it off. She liked it. She could also paint her nails tidily at eighteen months. As Maggie O’Montes said at the time, “That one is going to give you a run for your money.” Indeed.

Thing 3, however, is the only child of mine who actually helps out in the kitchen, making dozens of cookies with me. That I am paying her is besides the point (remember: run for your money). She is there.

This Christmas we are staying in Spain. In October I heard a sermon in Baltimore wherein the pastor advised throwing a party to get out of the communal gloom. So I am throwing several: a cocktail party for neighbors, church folk, and book club members; a coffee for women in the area; and a storybook party for children. Believe me when I say that I know how daunting this is, three parties in December, with minimal household help. All that food! Drink! Paper napkins! But this is something I knew I had to do: I am good at parties.

Cookie making is a December activity, one I have not done for several years as I was traveling to the US for the holidays. I woke up this morning thinking of two women who greatly influenced my life and who always made my Christmases wonderful as a child. My mother always freaked out about Christmas, the equity of the gifts, the food, making sure my father had a nice pre-Christmas birthday. The Christmas tree selection was always an ordeal. Christmas for these women was not an ordeal, it was a natural extension of themselves. Nana, a grandmother and baker extraordinaire, had lots of time to bake. The other woman, Mrs. McDowell, had no children and had been a teacher; her saturation point for children was pretty high.

Nana lived across the hall in an apartment building from my parents. Both new to Hippieville, Nana took my mother, very pregnant with me, under her wing. She was, aside from my parents, among the first to see my face. Nana knitted all of our Christmas stockings. (Although the rest of my family has needlepointed stockings, mine stands alone and will never be replaced. I know what an act of love it is to make someone a stocking). She baked cookies out the ying-yang in December: shortbread, Mexican wedding cakes, sprinkled sugar cookies, fudge, fruitcake, spritzed gems. When I was older she let me help her make cookies in her blue and white kitchen, instructing me on how to roll the dough evenly. Right before Christmas she would invite us over for tea and cookies. My sisters and I would play with her toys set out on the coffee table. Nana gave each of us an ornament and sent my mother home with two plates of cookies – one for general consumption and one as a birthday gift for my dad.

Mrs. McDowell lived in our neighborhood. Every Christmas Eve we would walk up to her house where she had put on a cookie spread for a few families. Punch and coffee were set out on a separate table. She, too, was a baker extraordinaire. A petite woman with a puffy pompadour that looked a cloud and a set of the bluest twinkling eyes, she was Mrs. Claus embodied. As a child, she read me many books over the years. She had time for children.

I am not the baker these women were. My mother is a cook, not a baker, and cookie baking is an art that, I believe, is passed down. But to honor them, I really try. Bea Long gave me her mother-in-law’s sugar cookie recipe; after years of searching, it is the closest to Nana’s I’ve ever found, a mouthful of Christmas. The patience that goes with it is also a gift. As I show Thing 3 how to roll out the dough, I am reminded that I am eternally short of it and resolve to do better. How else will my grandchildren eat Christmas cookies????

After a lifetime of pondering, I finally realized my goal in life is to be a grandma. It’s that simple. I will only have to discipline on occasion and perhaps by then will have perfected a stable of cookie recipes. My bosom and lap will be suitably ample for children climb up on. The big house will smell good and be chock full of interesting items for them to break. There will be toys on the coffee table and, if my eye sight holds, a needlepointed Christmas stocking for each child. (First, however, I have to finish Thing 3’s).

So, dear readers, go make a batch of cookies with your kids and invite the neighbors over. Ignore the dust bunnies in the corner, the boxes that still need to be put in the garage. Read a Christmas story together. Slow down. The gifts don’t last but the memories linger forever.


Thanks to Lulu Powers’ Food to Flowers cookbook for turning me into the little engine that could! An inspiration for Go With the Flow entertaining! Thanks also to my father for reminding me to write. I promise to write about Thanksgiving in Sevilla soon!


Filed under Customs, Domesticity, Family, Fine Dining, Folkart, Friends, Holidays, Life, Traditions

Mi Ofrenda y El Zapatero

The photos above are of the Day of the Dead ofrenda at Miss Lizzy Jardin de Ninos, circa 1999, and the one I assembled to honor my grandmother who died in 1998 (she actually paid a visit to the ofrenda that year).

Last night we had at least 50 trick-or-treaters in our conjunto. Most were vampires. Some came twice and asked for more candy than I was giving them. Instead of saying “Queremos Halloween!” as they do in Mexico, they would say “truco trato.” We do not really know what this means. A neighborhood child, half Spanish and half American, thought the kids were saying, “tu contrato” (your contract).

Regardless of the translation, Mr. Understanding manned the candy door a few times and decided to ask the kids a few questions as part of the “trick” portion of the evening.

Mr. U: What is the name of the president of Spain?

Niño: Juan Carlos? (Um, nope, he’s the King. Big difference.)

Mr. U: What is the name of the president of the United States?

Niño: Obama!

Between the two of us, we repeated this exercise the rest of the evening. Only two children got the first question correct.

There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture. How can you not know who your president is? When memorization is so prized? HOW?

That is something at which I’d throw a shoe, a pointy toed one.


Filed under Customs, Folkart, Holidays, Life, Misunderstandings, Spanish vocabulary, Traditions