Category Archives: Sightseeing

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

Self Portrait of an Artist #2


Tonight I am fixing “easy grilled chicken” from Naomi Duguid‘s beautiful book Burma.  This is NOT The Atonement Dinner. My last post before my mother died was about her being a Food Diva.  Regret.   I am not sure I can face The Atonement Dinner just yet.

This meal is a repeat, however, of the last meal I remember Sally fixing for me.  I even made the tangy red chili dipping sauce (of course she had dried ancho chiles in the cupboard).  I can only hope it is half as delicious.

Happy Friday.



Filed under Family, Fine Dining, Life, Reading, Sightseeing, Travel

Persian Aversion: An Ode to Martha


One of the oddities not mentioned in the After Your Heart Surgery brochure that a hospital gives a patient and their family before going home is that the patient will become a Food Diva.  If they were a Food Diva before the surgery, this aspect of their personality will become heightened, exacerbated, enlarged, inflated.  Once the pain is over and the patient returns home, small portions of any food not resembling hospital food will be requested.  This is natural.  But “requested”, perhaps, is too gentle a word.  Strongly suggested?   The very thing the caregiver is suggested to make, however, will offend the patient’s also heightened olfactory senses.  Chex Mix (TM) can send a patient into paroxysms of disgust.  Crockpot pork shoulder, lovingly rubbed with chili, garlic, salt, and cumin, can send a patient over the edge.  Who knew?

If one is not a natural born cook yet finds them self in a primary caregiver role to a Food Diva, this is a bitter pill to swallow.   Where does it say I have to be Alice Waters, Julia Childs, or Ashley Rodriguez?  To the patient whose primary love language is Acts of Service – The Provisioning of Healthy Meals to Your Family – to find oneself in the clutches of a merely serviceable cook of a caregiver is to find oneself gazing about the ramparts of the pits of hell.  Some snarky, possibly overtly aggressive, comments about pizza and the frequency with which it is consumed, just might be uttered by the patient: “You just keep eating your pizza.”  Food shaming at its best!

MoodRingMomma and I were at our collective caregiving wits’ end the other night.  I suggested to our mother that we could eat either a) crock potted chicken thighs in green salsa from her own website or b) Stromboli from the Italian restaurant a stone’s throw away.  MoodRingMomma added that she was willing to cook c) chicken curry.  A veritable smorgasbord of options, with a green salad on the side!

But no, The Radish wanted effing ground lamb kebabs on flatbread with roasted tomatoes from Naomi Duguid‘s cookbook Persia.  No matter that we did not have the skewers the recipe required, a grill, or ground lamb.  Hamburger would do, mixed in with the grated onion, mashed into pasty little sliders by my very own dish pan hands, and cooked on the pancake griddle.

I later commented that really, this very labor intensive  dish, was a Persian version of a poor Greek’s gyro, one we could probably get as take out.   I felt it needed some tzatziki but all agreed that the sumac spice was essential (this, of course, we had on hand).  Nonetheless, the Radish was pleased with the outcome and the smell did not offend.  She enjoyed watching MoodRingMomma cry over grating the onions and me mashing the meat paste into “kebabs”.   There was no sitting at the feet of Jesus for these sisters.

It was shortly after this that I had a hissy fit on the phone with my other sister MCVwasHere, during which I explained that everyday with a heart surgery patient is like being on a roller coaster.  Up one hour, down the next, with loop de loops, hanging upside down for extended periods.  This is no reflection on the heart surgery patient.  It is the nature of the beast. But no doctor tells you this beforehand, of course.  A heart surgeon touches your body exactly twice: once to cut on you for 4-5 hours and then again to remove the staples, and maybe then he or she  might even make a different healthcare worker do that nasty bit of business.

My ten year old nephew, overhearing the conversation, piped up and said,

“Wait!  You’re on a roller coaster????”

Like we were whooping it up on vacation at DisneyWorld.  It still makes me laugh hard.

Sometimes life demands that a Martha show up instead of a Mary.  Marthas get sh*t done.  Martha would not have hesitated to wipe up the blood and crust from the wounds of Jesus but she might have been resentful that she had to unload the dishwasher and milk the yak too. I am not so sure that That Other Mary would have been up to the task, something I will inquire about in my personal one-on-one conversation on the other side.  For today, Sweet Jesus, let me make it to Christmas.  At least there have been no poopy diapers.


Shopping Suggestions:  you are cutting it close, shoppers.  I think you can still order Naomi Duguid’s books Persia or Burma, which are part travelogue, part stellar photography, and part recipes.  Even if you never cook from them, they are beautiful books.  Alternatively, order some baklava from  I like to think Martha served both Jesus and her sister a piece.  YUM!!!!








Filed under Domesticity, Family, Fine Dining, Holidays, Life, Misunderstandings, Reading, Religion, Sightseeing

Our Lady of the Snows


I tried getting photos off my phone, sent in by Nittany Kitten, of Our Lady of the Snows in Sun Valley, Idaho.  When I can figure this out, I will update the space above.  Beautiful!  It reminds me of a small stone chapel in O’Cebreiro, Spain, both peaceful settings.

In other news, my nephew and godson is going to Gonzaga University in the fall.  He wants to live in the dorm named Madonna.

Herewith concludes Day 31.  Thanks to Nittany Kitten for sending Maryterial!


Filed under Friends, Holidays, Life, People, Religion, Sightseeing, Travel

La Quebrada


If you ever watched ABC’s Wide World of Sports as a child in the 1970s, you would have regularly watched  the cliff divers of Acapulco.  Set at an narrow inlet near Acapulco, divers soar off the cliffs into “La Quebrada”, a rocky ravine swirling with crazy currents.  As a child, this always scared the bejesus out of me.  What if they missed?  Holy Mother of God!

Speaking of Her, several shrines are erected to Our Lady of Gaudalupe near where the clavadistas take their position.   The men, brown as nuts from the constant sun, pay their respects to Her before “flinging” themselves off the cliffs, as Keith Jackson used to say.  (I miss Keith and Jim McKay).   It is my understanding that this profession is passed down from generation to generation, the same families passing on the secrets, guts, and love of sport. I don’t know who dreamed up the crazy activity but it had to have been a dare – the  thrill of victory!

When I saw La Quebrada in person in 1998, sitting at the restaurant perched on the rocks above the gulch at sunset, it was even more scary.   The divers have to carefully gauge when to jump so as not to get smashed by the waves into the rocks.  What’s more, they have to clamber up the rocks to one of two diving platforms (the highest of which is at 80 feet).  With the price of admission to the restaurant for the shaded viewing, one also received a complimentary cocktail.  I asked for Kahlua and cream.

“Lo siento, pero no hay.”

“Come es possible que no hay Kahlua?”

The waiter just shrugged.

Kahlua, after beer and tequila, is the third national beverage of Mexico.  To not have Kahlua at a Mexican restaurant – and one serving touristas at that – was sacrilege.

Instead, a can of warm Tecate was plonked down in front of me.  Oh, the agony of defeat.

In the end, I was able to cross something off my bucket list.  I would go back and watch it all over again in a heartbeat.  It is not often that you see an actual leap of faith.

Herewith concludes Day 21.  Click here to watch a video of the divers.



Filed under Fine Dining, Holidays, Life, Religion, Sightseeing, Spanish vocabulary, Travel

Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend


Perhaps there has actually been a Marian apparition in China?

Many a moon after I bought that medal in Mexico, I was living in Shanghai.   The postman delivered a package to my door, postmarked Brazil.   Inside was a note from my friend Maria the Dentist, saying that she had been to a chapel in Paris.  Realizing it was my birthday, she went into the gift store and bought me a booklet on the Chapel.  Inside the packet was also a little Infant of Prague statue from her recent visit there with her mother. 

My heart stopped and my scalp tingled.  Tears ran down my face.  

The booklet described the medal I had worn for years – the mystery was finally solved!  

I gobbled up that booklet.  It tells the story of a young novitiate at the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, in Paris, who woke up to a vision of a young child at the foot of her bed instructing her to go to the chapel.  The Blessed Virgin was waiting for her. The young nun, Catherine Laboure, motherless at age nine, got out of bed and went the the chapel.  She was told that “God wishes to entrust you with a mission”.  God needed the world to be reminded of his love and Catherine was told to have confidence.  Catherine was told to “Come to the foot of this altar”.  It was the summer of 1830.  

Four months later, Mary appeared to Catherine during communal meditation.  Appearing in a bright light, she was standing on a globe and holding in her hands a small ball with a cross superimposed on it, representing the Earth illuminated by the presence of God.  It was a new Earth, a Kingdom of Love.  Luminous rays come from the hands of Mary.  The globe symbolizes our world today; a world full of strife yet also liberated by Christ.  Mary tells Catherine that she is listening to our pleas – it is her great pleasure for her to pour out God’s graces on each of us.  “I will pour out graces on all who ask them of me with confidence.” 

The Virgin Mary then dictates to Catherine that a “medal be struck” and instructs her on the design.  The medal, worn around the neck, was to be a sign of faith and that those who petitioned Mary would be granted many graces (favors).  It was to be a medal used for healing.

On the medal, Mother Mary is depicting wearing diamond rings on both hands.  Some of the rings shine forth, some do not.  The ones that do not symbolize all the “unredeemed graces”, all the favors that were not petitioned of Mary.

Obviously, I had been wearing the medal for many years without knowing its true significance.  Whether or not I was consciously petitioning Mary, my prayers were being heard.  The biggest gift was that during this entire period, contrary to science, Thing 1’s aorta stopped expanding and stayed in the “normal” range where it has remained ever since.  (I will also credit here an Argentine woman named Caroline Hansen, the mother of a friend and wife of an Anglican priest,  who performed a healing ceremony at our nondenominational Brazilian church, a holy electrical current crackling throughout the friends holding hands.)

Serendipitously solving the mystery of the lady on the medal has been one of the biggest Godwinks of my life.  That kind of synchronicity  just cannot be engineered by human beings.  So, yes, I guess you can say there was a Marian apparition in China – does it matter that it came in my mailbox?  It was, for sure, a personal message for me.

The Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal was the last stop on my pilgrimage in 2014, even though it was not on the road to Santiago de Compostela.  That was a redeemed grace, friends, of epic proportions!  When I leave this world, I want all the diamond rings lit up.   Nothing makes me sadder than the prospect of not having had the imagination to ask for a favor – for myself, my friends and family, or the world.  Where does your imagination need to take you today?

Herewith concludes Day 13.

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Filed under Birthdays, Friends, Life, Religion, Shopping, Sightseeing, Travel

Pyramid Scheme




She Who Crushes the Serpent is rather a heavy name for Our Lady of Guadalupe [OLG for short], wouldn’t you agree?

Another name for OLG is Woman of the Apocalypse. Ay yi yi,  which is worse?

These appellations are based on the chapter 12 of the last book of the Bible, Revelation.

“A great portent [sign] appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.”  Right after this is where the “ancient serpent” enters in and things get super creepy.  To be honest, Revelation is my least favorite book in the Bible, mainly because I don’t understand it.  I am not sure I want to.

Last night, I dreamt of the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon in Teotihuacan and the ball playing court of Chichen Itza, both in Mexico. I have been several times to the pyramids in Teotihuacan, climbing to the tops of both. The first time was the scariest. The space at the top is smaller than you’d think for all their bloody sacrifices, if you can imagine that some days 20,000 souls were sacrificed.  Thing 1 reminded me that she thought the Aztecs decapitated their victims and just let their heads roll off the sides. I think she is right but I must have suppressed all the facts.  I do remember that I made a brother-in-law haul a painting of a humble shack out of the official pyramid gift shop for about a mile.  I bought him some Coronas in a cave restaurant (La Gruta) as payment for his efforts.  (It hangs next to a print by Joaquin Sorolla in my laundry room).

The ball playing court in Chichen Itza was the original Quidditch court. Rather than playing for house points, however, to the Mayans it was blood sport. According to several sources, the captain of the losing team offered his head for decapitation in a ritualistic ceremony. Losing your head was considered an honor.

I almost lost my head on the top of the Kukulcan pyramid in Chichen Itza.  On top of the pyramid sits a temple, leaving a small ledge around which visitors can scoot.  Dedicated to Kukulcan, the Snake God, my stomach rose to meet my mouth when I looked over the edge of the pyramid.  Woogies.  I slid down the steep “stairs” of the pyramid, holding on to a handy rope “rail”.  Twice a year, during the equinox, the shape of a snake is cast by the shadows on the side of the north face of the pyramid.  Descending the pyramid, the wavy shape eventually  joins the head of the snake sculpted in stone.  (Watch this video for a fuller demonstration).  Then the Snake God slithers off and heads for a sacred well where he theoretically feasts on, you guessed it, the bodies of young virgins and other precious objects.  At least in former times.

For OLG, standing on the moon signifies her being the vehicle through which death, darkness, and grief were overcome.

All conquerors like to stand over the conquered, both literally and figuratively.   For example, the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven sits directly on top of the most important Aztecan pyramid of the area. Architectural burial, in other words. Built on a former lake, the Cathedral sinks a bit more each year. If memory serves, the altar is at the high point, sloping towards the door.

We used to take visitors to the top of the Best Western Majestic Hotel for chilaquiles and huevos de la bandera. Overlooking the cathedral and Zocalo, we drank cafe con leche and plotted our course of action. For a small fee, canaries in cages pecked out a paper fortune and handed el papelito in its beak to the children.  So much more entertaining than a balloon!

For these 40 days, I am standing on principle and keeping my head, even if it is just barely above water.  My memory has truly faded and this is a real loss …  What else have I forgotten or conveniently suppressed, my brain winnowing out the relevant from the frivolous or unimportant?  For I had honestly forgotten that pyramid was dedicated to the Snake God until I was fact checking.  So glad that memory was originally sifted out.

In the end, time is the victor and to the victor go the spoils.  She Who Crushes the Serpent is my hero.

Herewith concludes Day 11.  I am way over my word limit – tomorrow will be short!



Filed under Family, Fine Dining, Life, Religion, Sightseeing, Spanish vocabulary, Travel