“The truth is the truth, no matter the container.”
Jeannie McCabe, spiritual mentor, Fort Smith, Arkansas
“The truth is the truth, no matter the container.”
Jeannie McCabe, spiritual mentor, Fort Smith, Arkansas
As I have stated in previous posts, I have witnessed several miracles. Not only the everyday graces but the major full-blown not-scientifically-verifiable kind.
Continuing with our Greek definitions to amplify our knowledge of truth by going to the source of the word miracle, you can click here to read about the different kinds, according to Biblical sleuth Peggy Overstreet: “There are four primary Greek words translated as miracle: works(ergon), wonders (teras), powers (dunamis), and signs (semeion). These various terms are used because no single term can possibly exhaust all the significance of a miracle. These words do not depict different kinds of miracles. They portray the miracles from different perspectives.”
Eighteen years ago today one of my favorite miracles was born. A dear friend was informed during her first trimester of pregnancy that something was “terribly wrong” with the fetus. The doctors did not know exactly what, only that it was a massive genetic glitch. Learning disabilities were thrown out as a distinct possibility. Body parts might be missing. Out of respect for The Miracle That Is, I will refrain from going into further details. You get the picture. Cue months of agonizing waiting during which many people all over the globe prayed that baby up.
I was forced to examine pretty much all of my beliefs during this period, to hold them up to the light like one does a crystal wineglass, examining it for dings along the rim or unsightly soap spots.
I am happy to report that the baby came out happy, healthy, whole, and intact. He scored an 800 on his math SAT. No mental slouch is he. Congenial to a fault, he cracks up his mother when he exhibits even a scosch of teen spirt. His very presence makes us REJOICE.
My truth for today is that the power of prayer actually works. Magical, mystical, miraculous changes happened in that womb, out of our purview and control. What to do when the power of prayer does not bring us our desired result? Good question. Persistence in prayer is one answer. Acceptance of the reality/truth of the situation is another. Bottom line: each circumstance presents one with an opportunity for growth. This is either a beautiful or a painful truth. The latter just sucks. But somewhere, inside that utter suckiness, there is the knowledge that maybe, just maybe, something so outrageously beautiful will be born, even if all it is is an expanded sense of compassion for your neighbor, a feeling you were not sure your heart was even capable of feeling.
Hot tip for today: Download/stream the musical experience Anthem by the artist Emancipator. It just sounds like the truth.
My cat Jefferson who was staring at the wall for a good long time.
Ta da! Your guide to fruitful beach reading!
Dear Friends of the Expat Princess,
Books have always been my soul food, the words contained therein natural healers. Books are my go to space to recover, regroup, recharge. Although I am an extrovert, reading, being alone my head, and getting quiet, are central to my well-being. Seventeen years of being an expat only fomented this – what TV there was was usually bad so we turned it off. Like Thomas Jefferson said, “I cannot live without books.”
In the past decade and a half, though, my reading tastes have changed dramatically. I moved away from novels, primarily, and into non-fiction, religion, and history. When Thing 1‘s migraine struck, I read a lot about migraines, hormones, meditation, and alternative medicine. This was out of necessity but it helped move me forward. Peggy Noonan spoke about the phenomenon of reading tastes changing and the importance of books in a most excellent commencement address you can watch or read here. It comforted me to know that others experience shifting reading sands.
When my mother died, all this changed. For the first time in my life, I did not want to read and when I did, it was all about grief. Grief constricted my reading appetite, much like your throat closes up when you are trying not to cry. I tried innumerable books and nothing held my interest. There was no moving forward, just observing my own life in a sometimes schizophrenic way: Detached one moment and in the throes the next. And then several friends sent me books, all in the same week.
Herewith is how I managed to move forward with reading material selected, for the most part, by others.
In the first instance, snarkiness was key. Keep your judgments to yourselves, please! This seems counter-intuitive but I desperately needed acerbic wit. Kevin Kwan brought it in spades with Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend. I ripped through these in no time at all. If you have ever lived in Asia, these are must reads. If you have never lived in Asia, these are must reads. Kevin obviously travels in higher circles than I did, but it was fun to read about some of my all haunts without experiencing the left lung hocking up coughs and consequent flying gobs of spit first hand. In fact, I don’t remember if Kevin (as I have come to think of him) ever mentions the grotty side of China but whatever. TOTAL FUN. I can’t wait to read his new book, Rich People Problems just published in May of this year and to watch the film version of Crazy Rich Asians.
Once I discovered that snarkiness was the key to my happiness, I remembered a book about the dysfunctional Vanderbilt family I’d been meaning to read. Since my sister is married to a different branch of the Vanderbilt family, I thought this might be a mood elevator and give great insight. Written by Wendy Burden (Cornelius Vanderbilt’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter) Dead End Gene Pool is a memoir of her incredibly wealthy, incredibly crazy childhood. It might well have been titled Crazy Rich Americans. Hilarious and disturbing at the same time. Lucky for my brother-in-law – sometimes it pays to get the short end of the stick! Wendy (as I have come to think of her) now lives in Portland, Oregon. I hope to meet her one day.
Side note: Both Kevin and Wendy are Parsons School of Design/Snark alumni. Maybe it’s just Manhattan?
Now, on to the self-help side of things.
My sister sent me Anne Lamott’s new book Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. I will write about this at length in a separate post at length but suffice it to say, sometimes my only prayer in the past two years has been: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like to read a good snarky Christian author? Oh, relax, people. RELAX.
Then there is the book entitled Kombucha! by Eric and Jessica Childs. This is actually my second copy. The other one is in a kitchen in Arkansas, where I left a batch of the probiotic fermented tea brewing on the counter back in January. My neighbors found the “science project” fascinating and threw it out in late February. I love kombucha. I love making kombucha as much as I like drinking it. For awhile I was concerned that I liked making kombucha for my family more than I liked cooking them a meal. Now, I am over it. They can always drench their cereal with ‘buch! Tazo‘s orange ginger and passion teas make particularly yummy brews good for the tummy – my version of cod liver oil, only it’s delicious. This book is so chatty and well designed that I can imagine Eric and Jessica (as I have come to think of them) encouraging me to take my operation commercial and invest in the stainless steel tanks favored by serious brewers. For good measure, I include a cocktail recipe at the end of this post.
Not only are we grieving the loss of my mother, we are grieving the loss of Mr. Understanding‘s job. I would say career but I am not sure it is over. To that end, a friend sent me the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans which helps one figure out what they want to be when they grow up. If you are over 50 years of age, this is called an “encore career”. Mr. Understanding and I are working our way through the book with our Beloved Design Your Life (BDYL) Team via a Facebook video group chat on Saturdays. I am designing my life around the beach, travel, writing, art, yoga, reading, ‘buch brewing, needlepointing, and figuring out how to throw in boutique ownership.
Finally, for Mother’s Day, Thing 1 sent me the book Not Quite Nirvana: A Skeptic’s Journey to Mindfulness by Rachel Neumann to expand my meditation practice. I am not all the way through this yet as I read it only at the beach. Having said that, if all I got out of it was the nugget of a question Rachel’s young daughter asked her, “Are you available?” I would be happy with my summer read. Let me ask: Are you available? Most people are not. Most people do not ask if you are either. If I had taught myself and my children this question two decades ago, I would have been a better mother. Here’s another gem: “When I am not being mindful, almost all of life can seem like a series of interruptions of what I thought was important [emphasis mine].” I can’t wait to hit the beach again to finish the book.
As I look at the stack of joy in front of me at the table that now serves as my “office”, I am grateful for those sweet souls who knew how to feed mine. That most of these books arrived in the same week is not a happy accident, it was divine intervention. I can almost hear my brain opening a crack and telling me it’s okay to read Candice Millard’s latest book Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, A Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill or Kristin Schell’s The Turquoise Table (Kristin makes herself available). Almost. I might need some more snark.
So, to all my new found friends – Kevin, Wendy, Eric, Jessica, Dave, Bill, and Rachel – and to my old friend Annie, I salute your health with a glass of my favorite Spanish summer beverage, tinto de verano (summer red/summer ink) after a hard day reading at the beach. Here is my Bastardized American ‘Buch tinto version:
1/2 cup cheap red wine
1/3 cup lemonade
splash of your favorite kombucha
Or, just eyeball it like I do!
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.
HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MOODRINGMOMMA, FAVORITE CHILD OF THE RADISH, AND HER SON-IN-LAW, UNCA DUNC. REJOICE! On her first birthday, I saw MoodRingMomma take her first steps. XOXOXO
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.
It would be nice if the grief journey were over, wouldn’t it? Sadly, this is not the case. In many ways, it is just getting going. We all survived the Easter holiday but it was not the same without our Radish. MCVWasHere and I managed to grill a butterflied leg of lamb, thereby making our mother proud from her heavenly perch. I am pretty sure we screwed it up but it was tasty nonetheless. Severe holiday let down set in on Monday with family returning to The Other Coast. After the shock has worn off, the active MISSING phase begins ninety days in. Man, would Grandmere have delighted in the peas, carrots, and Easter Egg hunt …
Perhaps to prep me for this, a galaxy of friends sent me a gift every day. EVERY DAY OF HOLY WEEK I RECEIVED A GIFT. Surprise! It was not Christmas but it sure felt like it. And to think that this was not coordinated by friends, only two of whom know each other.
On Monday, a box arrived with four wrapped gifts and a note from one of my DF Chicks, MLD, a needlepointing and reading maven. She was also my Heart Surgery Coach. Thinking I would need these gifts later, I hoarded them for Sunday. I confess to feeling through the paper – they felt like books.
On Tuesday, a flat package arrived from Martita, another DF Chick, and Thing 3’s godmother. This I ripped open, thinking it was an Easter card. Instead, it was gorgeous watercolor painting of a bunch of radishes, an article on them, and a long lovely letter of a personal nature on what grief for one’s mother looks like after twenty years. I never met Martita’s mother but I still quote her: “If they [gossips] are talking about you, that means they are giving some other poor soul a rest.” Although Martita and MLD are good friends, I do not think these gifts were a coordinated effort. My sister MCVWasHere also gave me a Glassybaby, a pink “goodness” votive for my burgeoning Radish altar. This was not actually a gift – it was for winning a round of the High Stakes License Plate Game – but since I’d forgotten about it, it still counts!
When Wednesday rolled around, I opened a package from Amazon, thinking Mr. Understanding had ordered yet another guitar instruction video. But lo and behold, it was another book, this one a gift from Ms. Broccoli. Called Designing Your Life – How to Build a Well-Loved, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, it is a Stanford University design class on how to create a life you actually enjoy living, the perfect gift for a family in flux. Think “encore career”, or for me, middle aged starter career.
After three amazing gifts in three consecutive days, it dawned on me that the Universe was sending me a big fat message of LOVE.
But wait! There’s more! It’s almost embarrassing. Almost. I am just trying to make a point here. Wait for it.
On Thursday, MCV handed me and my father each a gift from her college friend, Michelle. This one makes me cry when writing about it – a beautiful compilation of Sally’s musings, photos, and recipes from her blog CookSallyCook.com. Curated and organized with a table of contents, I was awestruck by this gift. Michelle and Sally had bonded over the ancient grain einkorn. Who knew??? An heirloom, both the grain and the book. Earlier in the day a Jackson & Perkins bulb garden arrived from Dr. Skin. Bloom where you are planted.
Moving on to Good Friday: a hand knitted, lacy, rainbow pastel prayer shawl from MoodRingMomma. I do not know how my sister had the mental band width to create such an intricate gift. I had been using a prayer shawl of Sally’s given to her by the women of the church. It was toasty warm but I confess to finding the colors not to my liking, even thoughI did get in the habit of putting it on. Another heart wrenching heirloom, imbued with tears.
On Saturday, MCV gave me a blue Glassybaby cocktail drinker (“splash”), another premio for winning a second round of The High Stakes License Plate game. My in-laws sent a bento box tower of nuts, which I put in Mr. Understanding’s Easter Basket. Mine, as you can see, was full.
On Easter Sunday, MCV returned to my Children’s Bible Stories, given to me and inscribed by my Grandmarie on Easter, 1971. She also gave me Anne Lamott’s latest and greatest book Hallelujah Anyway.
On Monday, feeling bereft (which is just pitiful), I opened all of MLD’s gifts: semi-cerebral brain candy* and a Mexican angel ornament that doubles as a nativity scene which went directly to the makeshift altar. In the middle of my pity party, I took a nap and while I was dozing, the postman delivered a box of gifts from KT: a key chain with Phillippians 4:4 on it (REJOICE!), a new CD by Olivia Newton John and friends called Liv On, some paper goods from Magnolia, and a favorite hymn printed on pink paper. I actually knew the words.
I still cannot believe it. Can you?
And then today: a signed contract for the sale of our house in Ohio. Cranky me, it seemed like another loss, the closing of yet another chapter. Punto final. Until Thing 2 said to me, “What if it’s an Easter gift?” Indeed. He did not know about all of the other ones …
So what do you think the cosmic message is, sent by a phalanx of Easter angels? Here is my best guess: READ. FEED YOUR SOUL. High brow, low brow, non-fiction, fiction, the Bible in adult and children’s versions. Go to the beach and design your life. Plant seeds. Eat ancient grains and nuts. Drink a cocktail out of a handcrafted colored glass and savor it. Light a candle. Say a prayer for your friends and for the world; wear an heirloom made with love while you do it. SING! OUT LOUD! Frame all those extraordinary radishes and hang them where you can see them every day. Have mercy on dear Anne Lamott and make your peace with her – she’d meet you at the beach and chat with you about Jesus. Miss your mother fiercely but remember she is in The Best Place, hanging out with the Mother of all Mothers, REJOICING. She sent a cadre of love language speaking friends and family to remind you of the power of Resurrection, the unlikely gift of an empty tomb.
*MLD’s book choices to lighten the heart of the Expat Princess:
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Sanders
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen
Right up there with Dr. Seuss is the author of “beginning to read” books, P.D. Eastman. Although not nearly as prolific as Seuss, Eastman’s books Are You My Mother? and Go, Dog, Go! are easy to read classics on par with The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
Eastman’s story about a baby bird hatching while his mother is gone from the nest foraging for food, and his subsequent quest to find her, leave an indelible and anxious mark on many a four and five year old. The baby bird did not know what his mother looked like so he inquired of a kitten, hen, dog, cow, car, boat, jet, and SNORT, asking plaintively, “Are you my mother?”
I am fortunate that I did not have to ask this question as a child. However, both of my maternal grandparents lost their mothers in adolescence and my father-in-law, The Headmaster, lost both parents at a very tender age. This is why, although the waves of grief billow over me threatening to capsize my equilibrium, I try to have only the occasional pity party. I was blessed with knowing my mother Sally and liking her, to boot.
But even my mother threw me and my sisters out of the house.
“GO OUTSIDE!” she yelled with alarming frequency. Sometimes she’d even lock the doors so we couldn’t come in and bug her. Reading a book in my room was not an option. She needed the nest CLEARED.
When this happened, I would ramble in the neighborhood, visiting my “other mothers”. Estelle McDowell, a married, childfree woman who looked liked Mrs. Claus, read me her childhood books, books written in the late 1890s and early 1900s by Josephine Scribner Gates. She entertained me with stories of the pet monkey she once owned. Even if I couldn’t come inside to visit, she would hand me a piece of Almond Roca candy and kindly tell me to skedaddle.
Then there was my “Nana”, Lois Watson, to whom I was not related but who was present when my mother brought me home from the hospital, who knit my Christmas stocking, and taught me to bake.
Finally, there was Thelma Willard, who taught my mother to garden, kept a basket of polished beach agates on the hearth, and whose husband’s garage was filled with hundreds of clocks with which he’d tinker.
All of these women’s houses were their own special kind of Wonderland and the people who inhabited them were lavish lovers of children.
The absence of my mother Sally has obviously created a tremendous void. There is no upside in this. But is there, perhaps, more space for others to tuck themselves in? Skipping around my Florida neighborhood, I ask myself, “Are you my mother?”
There is Winnie, my mother-in-law, who has given me space and healing hugs. There is Carol, my next door neighbor, who gives me gardening and household tips, a friendly wave across the driveways. There is Sandy, who invited me to the Daytona Beach Symphony Fashion Show. There are the women of Sally’s bible study at Trinity Episcopal Church who welcomed me into their circle when I was forlorn. I gravitate to their experience, wisdom, and open hearts.
The baby bird at the end of the book Are You My Mother? cries out, “Where am I? I want to go home. I want my mother.”
Baby Bird gets his wish. And in my own way, I am too.