Category Archives: Princessdom

Good Gifts #2


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  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



Filed under Family, Fine Dining, Friends, Life, People, Princessdom, Religion



Photo Credit:  Sally Calligan


Thirty + years ago:

Sally:  Expat Princess, you’d rather be right than happy.

EPP:  Right.


Now, I’d rather be happy.

Purple is the color of royalty, Lent, mystery, pride, and mourning.  The name Sarah means princess.

Tomorrow, I will be wearing GREEN.  The name Patrick means nobleman.



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Filed under Family, Life, Princessdom, Religion

Self Portrait of an Artist



The following are redacted and grammatically corrected portions of my mother Sally’s 1989 Christmas letter, a fictional interview of Sally by Jane Pauley.  Not all readers will remember NBC’s Jane Pauley but she was one of the most authentic, civil, and just plain nice journalists in her day.  Fake newsies, Foxbots, and otherwise general idealogues, please review her tapes and take note.   An envelope, with the interview folded inside, magically appeared as if never opened while I was sorting through papers in my own house.  The glue from the envelope was so persistent I had to rip it open. I share it with you to show you a) that Sally was a fine writer b) insight into her general frame of mind and c) her family relationships.   In general, my parents did not like to brag about their children – this was about as close at it got.  Interestingly, the Christmas letter is signed by my father.

The scene of the interview:  Sally’s art studio located at the south end of Arcata, California.

JP:  Sally, the press has treated you very well this year, are you basking in the moment?

SC:  Yes, the  Arcata Union did recognize my blue ribbon at the county fair in the amateur division of painting.  I loved receiving phone calls and notes from friends.

JP:    Did you have a formal art education?  Just what is your background?

SC:  As you know my formal education was in Apparel Merchandising; I have enrolled in some art classes, but mainly my art education has been limited to the Madonna and Child of the U.S. Christmas postage stamps.

JP:  How did you feel about your picture at the fair?

SC: Honestly I liked the one that didn’t win.  It was a painting of my daughter The Expat Princess giving me a good-bye kiss at the end of the summer as she leaves for her second year of law school.  I am a romantic sucker.  I like my daughter telling me that I am the most wonderful mother in the world.  After 25 years it is great to have someone notice.

JP: … Do you have other children?

SC:  Actually, I have two other daughters.  MoodRingMomma is studying at UCSB and I’m so proud of her.  She is a wonderful student; plus she works.  Is that terrific?  She works at the Biltmore Swim Club.  It could have a fancier name than that, but she has given John Travolta his towel.  When MoodRingMomma’s boyfriend gave her a diamond ring, I asked her if she was engaged and she screamed at me, “Mother of course not!  I just told him that my parents never buy me jewelry.”

My daughter MCVWasHere is a senior in high school.  … Just this week the San Francisco Chronicle horoscope said that I would be making decisions that could influence the rest of my life.  Frankly, if MCV would clean up the floor of her room, that might influence the rest of my life.  MCV, so accomplished, so delightful, for not only has she earned the reigning sweet baby princess award, her accomplishments would bore even the most ardent of Christmas letter readers, but she in unqualifiedly the most fantastic cleaning woman I have ever had.  [Readers, note the self-contradiction in the same paragraph!]  I cried when I saw her in the chorus of the school play.  Tears ran down my cheeks thinking how much she looked like my mother, may God rest her soul.  What a wonderful exit to Motherhood.  Hello my real adult life.

JP:  Can I offer you my hanky?  This must be emotional for you.

SC:  No, I’m fine.  … I think I will plant my garden in case we have a wedding.

JP:  What is your commitment to art?

SC: … All I do is slap paint on canvas.  I sometimes finger paint.  Like cooking, it is the doing, the giving, the participation, the stirring of the pot, the patience of finding the right recipe for the right person.  It is a dialogue.  And it is a great excuse to wear hideous clothes.

JP:  Where do you get your support?  Artists usually have some great trauma or love of their life, what is yours?

SC:  Michael, my Michael … today he paid my studio rent, vacuumed the whole house, ignored my blatant checkbook errors and there are a few other things that are not for publication.  Can you imagine, all in the same day?

JP: You really have very wonderful skin for your age.  Do you have anything else to say to your public?

SC:  Yes, please return all of my books especially Pasta, Pizza and Calzone. [OH, THE IRONY].




















Filed under Family, Life, Princessdom

True Story (#2)




Last September, at about the same time as Thing 1’s migraine was ramping up, my hairdresser, Miss Responsibility, had to have emergency abdominal surgery. The doctors were not quite sure what they were going to find. Tumors were not out of the realm of possibility. Miss Responsibility has a family riddled with addiction, mental illness, and unemployment. She carries the weight of the family.  This was a devastating situation.

Rather than send her flowers, I wanted to send her something a little bit more concrete. By this time, I had already given away the 50 medals I bought at the Chapel in Paris. So, I ordered her an Alex and Ani Mother Mary bracelet from America’s favorite online retailer. While the Alex and Ani Company doesn’t print the whole story of the Miraculous Medal, which dangles from the bracelet, it is enough.

You can imagine my surprise when I opened the package from the retailer and discovered an entire packet of  bracelets, 25 to be exact. I had paid for 1.

I called the company and explained the situation. They were of no help. I could send them back (to a different location) but it would never be registered that I had returned them. Also, they could not send me a prepaid label with which to return the goods. For a company that can deliver by drone, this seemed a little ridiculous to me.

So I kept them, waiting for the company to ask for them back. I certainly, at that point in my life, did not have the time to go to the post office. I felt bad about them sitting in my office. But then someone (Polly Positive? MCV?) pointed out to me that perhaps I was given the bracelets so that I could pass them out to those in need, since I had run out of the other ones. Da-ding da-ding da-ding! Mental jackpot! This was the second, miraculous apparition, in effect, of the medal.

Since that time, the bracelets have been primarily given to mothers and daughters. One young woman was in a coma for several weeks and has since come to; even though she cannot wear it yet, it is there for her when she can. Her mother got one too – healing via proxy. I sent another one to a dear friend and her daughter whose lives closely parallel ours; the teenager is also suffering from  headaches.  Thing 1 sent a pair to a friend and her mother; the mother is battling Stage 4 cancer.  I don’t know if Miss Responsibility ever wears her bracelet but there were no tumors and her innards were fixed.

After going to the Chapel in Paris, Raftbuddy and I went to a jewelry store to buy “real” medals. My parents gave me money for my 50th birthday and this was how I thought I wanted to spend it – I could continue to loan out my big Mexican medal and have one for me. That day, however, I just could not do it. I could loan the medal but I couldn’t replace it. I bought something else instead.

And now, the Medal miraculously multiplies! I am a little anxious about what to do when the bracelets run out but have to trust that Mary, via the Holy Spirit, will provide  some sort of replacement. Either that or I’ll have to go back to the Chapel and buy a whole lot more.  50 was rather short sighted, on many different levels.


Filed under Charitable Endeavors, Family, Friends, Life, People, Princessdom, Religion, Shopping, Travel

Wynn Win?




On the last night of our trip to Las Vegas, we decided to go off the Wynn property.  We’d had a fabulous time but I had not seen anything else of Vegas besides the resort and the mall across the street.  We had already lost at a variety of games so gambling was not our goal.  A good steak was.  Vegas is apparently full of good steak houses.

I always try to visit the #1 restaurant per Trip Advisor in any city.  A quick troll of the site showed that Andiamo, an Italian steak house, was in the top spot.  We had already eaten at the Wynn’s fabulous Sinatra restaurant, a locale dedicated to Ol’ Blue Eyes.  Featured above is a photo of the Capello dessert.  At $14, a little pricey but obviously a signature dessert.  Glorious.

In any event, I booked Andiamo via Open Table for the first available spot – 8:45.  At 8:15, we arrived at the taxi stand.  The gentleman calling for the cabs, which magically appear from underground like a ride at Disneyland, had never heard of the restaurant, located in the older section of town.  In fact, he was a little bit rude, trying to get us to go to some other steak houses closer to the property – if he hadn’t heard of it, it could not be the Number #1 rated restaurant in Las Vegas.  This should have been my first clue.  But I persisted and our Ethiopian taxi driver whisked us away.

Driving past the seedy wedding chapels, I silently applauded my decision not to renew my vows in Las Vegas.  The solemnity of the occasion (almost 25 years) would have merited more.  Things went from Most Excellent to Worse the closer we drew to downtown.  I, who have played dominoes in a Mexican cantina, gone down dark alleys in Shanghai, and taken my children to the largest market in Bangkok, was starting to get nervous.

The taxi let us off near where he thought the restaurant was.  Per Mr. Understanding’s GPS, we walked toward the bright lights and pumping music of the Fremont street district.

“It says it’s in here.”

Mr. Understanding pointed me toward a smokey casino with all manner of humanity in all manner of dress and undress crowding around tables and slot machines.

Really?  I hesitated.

Mr. Understanding asked the front door man if there was a restaurant called Andiamo inside.  He told us to go up the escalator and make a hard right.

I said nothing, passing girls shimmying in red fringed dresses, and boarded the escalator. My mind flashed back to  dancing girls in window boxes in Amsterdam.  I told Mr. Understanding that if this was some sort of All You Can Eat buffet, we could just turn right around.  But lo and behold, there was a brick tunnel leading into some sort of respectable restaurant.  The menu, posted outside, appeared excellent.  The man at the podium asked me how I was doing.  Massively overdressed (and this is saying something), I responded by saying that I was, frankly, just a bit shell-shocked.  He told me that he was going to “turn [my] experience around by the end of the evening.”

That he did.

Herewith concludes Day 28.  I have been doing taxes all day and am cranky.  Today’s Mary are the girls in red dresses, shimmying perhaps because they feel they can do nothing else.  Not one looked happy.  God Bless them.  May they graduate to hostessing at the restaurant upstairs, at the very least.  This is not the end of the story.  Part 2 tomorrow, I think.

If you are brave, watch this video to understand the level of enthusiasm of a go go dancer.  Trying hard to be Jesus and not judge …  Mary Magdalene for sure would not.  St. Vitus is the patron saint of epileptics, dancers, and actors.






Filed under Fine Dining, Life, Luggage, People, Princessdom, Religion, Travel

Sister Mary Chanel Carousel

Here are the promised photos of Ms. V, she who works the Vegas Chanel counter.



Here is a photo of a beautiful floral installment at the hotel in which I stayed.



Here is what we saw leaving the hospital this morning after Thing 1’s best blood draw EVER.  The inscription at the bottom of the statue is the same one on the back of the Miraculous Medal.  We both just laughed.

What do all of these things have in common?

Herewith concludes Day 27.


Filed under Cosmetology, Holidays, Life, Princessdom, Religion, Shopping, Travel

Candy Land


This week at Homework Club my task was to converse in English with the adult women who accompanied their children.  Ethiopian, Eritrean, Mexican.  Most speak a pretty solid basic English.  Vocabulary is what is needed.  To that end, we got out a game called Rory’s Story Cubes.  Basically, you throw a bunch of die with pictures on them and try to tell a story.   Have you ever tried telling a story in a foreign language?  It was tortuous.  

When we lived in Mexico, my friend Martita had a theory that the household help in Mexico loved to play Barbies and other games with the children because they themselves had never played with them as children.  Mostly, this theory of hers made sense, although some of us are just not good at playing with dolls. I was never a good player of Barbies and perhaps had a total of three of them, at least one of which was a hand-me-down with bubble hair from the ‘50s, now worth a fortune.  My mother pitched them all at some point.  (In any event, I was always about the Dream House).  The bottom line was that these women could play for hours with the children, down on their knees, imagining new and different worlds in ways that Martita and I could not.   

In any event, there are no Barbies at Homework Club.  But there is Candy Land.  With Martita’s words ringing in my ears, I pulled out the classic board game.  None of the women had ever played it with their children (and why would they?).  Invented in 1949  by Eleanor Abbott who was stricken with polio, this game is so basic three year olds can play it. For those unfamiliar with the game, you do not know how to read and need only be able to count to two.  Color recognition is the primary skill set needed.  The goal is to travel a plastic Gingerman along a path and end up first at the Candy Castle, thereby winning the game.  Cards with color squares on it dictate how far one travels along the path.  There are also special cards with characters on them.  Drawing Queen Frostine moves a player ahead to the Ice Cream Sea and picking up Mamma Gingersnap will send an unlucky player back to the Molasses Swamp.   Landing in a licorice patch will make you lose a turn.  The game involves no strategy – pure luck – and is a player’s introduction to the lesson Life Is Not Fair.  The Luck of the Draw determines one’s fate.  Most players do not appreciate this lesson but grow into it, moving on to the more strategic game of Parcheesi, which teaches treaty-building and the value of alliances.   

This Life is Not Fair theme has been rattling around in my head all week, while Baltimore has been on fire and Thing 1 has been deciding whether or not to accept a job there.  She is well suited to the job (a noble pursuit) but the hours are long and the pay is crap.   It will be difficult to make ends meet, especially having to pay her student loan and her needing to eat.  As her mother, I have been attempting to open her eyes to the arduous ascent to the Gumdrop Mountains and the fragility of the Peanut Brittle House.  They look tasty but how expensive are they?    How safe will she be as she navigates the Rainbow Trail?  What if she encounters Lord Licorice? Coming from a legal background, I am all about damage mitigation.    In life, she has not drawn the best of cards but she likewise has certainly not drawn the worst. 

On my own pilgrimage to a Candy Cathedral (Santiago de Compostela), I was a tortoise.  I am a sloooooowwww walker.  And as I walked, reveling in my surroundings, the scripture came back to me over and over, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”.*  Now, Jesus was not talking about walking (but maybe it applies in some other cosmic sense).  He was really talking about the poor.  I like to think that, in the end, I will be holding the door open for all those who drew lesser cards than me, for reasons that neither of us understand, inviting them forward. “Adelante, my friend, adelante.  Scootch on up to the front.” Some of us were blessed with brains (to help us navigate that path and look out for the pitfalls), some of us have brains and have been blindsided, some have financial health, some physical, some mental.  Some are blessed with good friends, a wonderful family,  or a guardian angel that rides herd.  Never do we get it all.  Some have precious few of all of the above.  But in the end we were all blessed with something.  Can we find it on that colorful path? Can we help others to find their blessing?  How about just being a blessing?

As we ended Homework Club, the mothers were howling with laughter.  They especially loved it when I got sent back to the beginning – I lost both times – and wanted to know where they could purchase the game so they could play it with their children.  So much better than TV! 

As the Charm City faces another night of unrest, I am praying that it ends well and that the Holy Spirit makes a special appearance.  I am praying Thing 1 sees the Peppermint Forest for the trees and is at peace with her decision, taking into consideration a mother’s concerns while following her heart and not taking the Gumdrop Path shortcut through the decision making process.  Furthermore, I am hopeful the PC police will not change the name of the game to Veggie Land, plonking rutabagas, radishes, and rhubarb along the path, headed to the Organic Farmer’s Market.   Pour some SUGAR on me at the Candy Castle!  Even if I get there last  – having made a bizillion mistakes – it will be oh, so sweet, and worth the long, twisted journey.   I’ll meet you there, no matter what cards we draw.  

*Matthew 19:30, 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30 (repeated several times – impressive message!).


Filed under Charitable Endeavors, Family, Life, People, Princessdom, Religion, Spanish vocabulary