“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
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):
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
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!
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.
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 Thoughtco.com “[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.
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.
Warning: this post gets worse before it gets better. I PROMISE a laugh at the end, even if you might cry with me in the beginning.
Sally and I were born on the same day, 26 years apart. As I was not with my mother last year on our birthday, my wish when blowing out the candles on my birthday cake was that I would get to spend another birthday together. She had THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER. Queen for the Day! Me, not so much. Mine included a full moon and a trip to the ER for Mr. Understanding.
For our 40th and 66th birthdays, my parents came to Brazil. I had a blow out party, complete with caipirinha bar, 1964 themed attire, and a marvelous DJ. At a group lunch on our birthday, one woman commented, “Oh, I’d hate to share a birthday with my mother. When one would die, the other would be sad forever.” I had never had that thought before. I recall wanting to reach down across the table and slap her face. I can remember exactly where I was when this woman blurted out this truism. Fortunately, I cannot remember who it was. Thank you, Jesus.
Ever since, though, some reptilian part of my brain has been preparing for this future day, approaching in 2017, exactly nine months after my mother’s death, the full gestational life of a baby. What new thing will be born then? What was a thoughtless comment has actually made me pay sufficient attention to our mutual birthdays, particularly the ones spent together. Of these, there were many. Perhaps I should thank that nameless face for the opportunities we had to REJOICE together whenever possible?
When I said at the beginning of my Homage to The Radish that there was no baggage between me and my mother, I might have been fibbing. For example:
My mother and I had WILDLY different notions about gift giving.
Here is a conversation I had in my head prior to my 4th birthday:
Me: Why is Mommy locked in a bedroom sewing all day?
Myself: She is making you a little leather dirndl, edged with fancy German ribbon at the top. She is having a real issue with the plastic loops for the shoulder straps. I know ’cause I snooped and I can her her swearing inside.
I: But I don’t want a leather dress! How about a doll???
Let’s fast forward to my 17th birthday.
Me: Wow! A Merriam-Webster Dictionary!
Myself: And a red London Fog rain coat?! Just what every 17 year old wants!
I: Seriously? How about the new Michael Jackson album??? A pair of Famolares?
Fast forward again to my 30th birthday.
Me: A commemorative copper pot! Engraved even!
Myself: Is this a message about my cooking??? I have a nine month old baby!
I: REALLY???? I WOULD JUST LIKE A MASSAGE.
It sort of became a joke. Sally believed that the gift was more about what the giver wanted to give. I am more about pleasing the recipient. Both of us were thoughtful in our approach. My mother had as many hits as misses. Me, I mostly hit it out of the park in the gift department: French jacquard tea towels, fancy aprons, Jo Malone body cream. If I didn’t, I’d find the item the next summer in her church garage sale bin.
Last year, I could not think of anything I wanted or truly needed. So I told her to buy me a knife, because I knew she was coming to visit me in Arkansas and would enjoy using it. Sally had great knives and I knew it would please her to give me one, even though she always traveled with her own knives, wrapping them in dishtowels and sandwiching them between her underpants, sweaters, and books inside her checked luggage.
Here is a list of gifts I gave my mother that pleased her greatly, not all of them material.
Finally, every year there was a debate about the cake. What to have? Who wants to make a cake on their birthday? Not my mother. Sometimes we had pie. Did I mention that my mother, while an excellent cook, did not like to bake anything but bread until her late 60s?
Here, a photo of one of her cake baking efforts.
Fantastic on color theory, a little sloppy on the piping. This would only cause her to shrug her shoulders – oh well!
I still have a copper pot I use all the time, a well used dictionary, some fancy knives, and a quilt under which to hide my oh so weary head or with which to make a tent. As I look at the quilt, she must have had an inkling of how often I’d move.
But the best gift she ever gave me was time spent with her. How I wish I had more of it! This year I will make a wish that she will be with me and my father in spirit, helping me to blow out the candles, putting her hand on my dad’s shoulder to lean in and assure us we’ll see her in the blink of an eye.
You have been SO KIND. THANK YOU.
In today’s politically correct, frequently absurd climate, laughter is the only antidote. So I pray you will take these family photos in the spirit in which they are offered and just marvel.
Before there was Michael Jackson, there was Sally Calligan.
Here is a photo from our 1971 Christmas card photo shoot:
Compare and contrast with the photo of MJ and Blanket below:
Next we have a classic underage drinking photo. Note MoodRingMomma enjoying her first (?) sip of Coors:
Finally, we have a photo from the 1979? Arcata Halloween Parade. An annual event, citizens of Arcata, California lawfully assembled and flew their freak flags in honor of the pagan holiday. I present to you my younger sisters, MCV and MoodRingMomma, as dreaded fruit flies. In the late Seventies and Early Eighties, California experienced a Medfly infestation. Northbound travelers on Highway 101 were stopped at the Oregon border for inspections. Woe to the one with the banana! Talk about your stop and fruit frisk! Today an errant strawberry would be granted in-state tuition but back in the day it was swiftly deported.
What is particularly endangering about this photo? The homemade costumes complete with shower caps? The cheery pests? Or, the open tailgate???
MCV asked me last night, after I texted her the photo, why no one had advocated on her behalf. Who, exactly, was on duty? Who was to save her from the weirdness?
My reply: “This was Humboldt County in the Seventies. Pretty much no one was on duty. And in the scheme of things, this was just edgy, not weird. Certainly not out of place.”
Notice: I am not in evidence.
I would also like to point out that, with the exception of the beer, all of the ideas were Sally’s. This, frankly, is just the tip of the ice berg.