Shoes

I do not like the stereotypical image of the woman who LIVES for shoes and handbags.  Having said that, I must confess I do have two nice bags — one for “every day” and one more for evening.  The only shoes I like are sandals because, in part, I have wide feet.  I have also reached the stage in my life where I absolutely refuse to keep any part of my body cooped up unless it is for something truly exceptional.  Texas is getting to be like Arizona or Florida in that it is simply too hot to wear jeans most of the time and sandals are acceptable in the evenings.  I have about half a dozen good shoes and I do enjoy the feeling of wearing ones that are not so shot they flatten your feet.  So, I went with my little one and introduced her to the shoe section at Nordstrom’s.  Naturally more girly than I, and not having grown up the way I did with no money to really buy shoes, my little one squealed with delight.  “Oh Mommy LOOK at these sparkly ones!  They look like the have diamonds on them!” she exclaimed.  Realizing for the first time I had a little partner in crime, I started asking her what else she liked.  I went in looking for a good pair of walking sandals for summer that would hold up and looked nice.  I was in luck because right now my favorite color blue is in season.  “You should definitely get those Mama” she said, sounding more like fifteen than five.  And then the unthinkable happened.  My husband decided to show up at the mall.  Looking at him as if he were some type of unicorn, my little one and I were thrilled to see him.  He said he just wanted to tell us goodbye before he went to work.  We hugged and kissed him and our little one said “Don’t go Daddy!” as she attached herself to him like a barnacle.  I snapped this picture with her literally clamped around him while he attempted to drag himself out of the shoe department.  The Japanese poet Ryunosuke Satoro said, “Let your dreams outgrow the shoes of your expectations.”  That is something I wish for myself, my precious little one, and for my husband.  I hope everyone, no matter what their age, will aspire to outgrow their shoes.

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The Last Falafel

I am a terrible creature of habit.  In the spirit of trying to branch out, I decided to try a new restaurant.  I do not have time to cook every night but I at least try to get good food for our family to eat.  This is not always an easy feat, whether I’m cooking or not.  My husband is a huge carnivore, I’m almost vegan, and our little one is gluten intolerant.  Words cannot adequately describe my surprise and delight upon discovering this restaurant.  I believe they call it “Mediterranean” because unfortunately “Halal cuisine” I fear would not go over very well; to me Mediterranean is Greek.  The place turned out to have a huge buffet and, to my complete shock, apparently Halal food does not use gluten, or wheat as we know it in the states.  So EVERYTHING is gluten free!  My little one could eat ANYTHING there and they even had two different kinds of rice, something she normally cannot eat.  For my husband they had red meat, chicken, and fish.  And pour moi they had the best hummus I have EVER had (like savory silk,) and *drumroll please* the BEST FALAFELS EVER!!!  This picture just does not do them justice.  The only thing that has ever come close were the ones I had on Bowling Green in New York.  I didn’t even know the white sauce was tahini back then; I just knew it was great with the hot sauce.  My husband and little one eat them plain they’re so good.  They also have wonderful flat bread my little one calls pizza.  It’s excellent dipped in the hummus.  Plus they have green beans and onions in tomato sauce, a yellow lentil soup, okra and tomatoes, and other hot vegetable dishes.  I’m telling you the place is incredible.  As a person who cares deeply about animals, I feel better knowing my family is eating halal or kosher, since both Muslims and Jews observe strict laws about the swift slaughter of animals; unlike the unthinkable duress they are put through here in American factory farms.  This restaurant is an oasis for our little family.  The men could not be nicer and one of them even has a black belt in taekwando!  They are all recent immigrants and I cannot help but recognize they have made our lives richer.  I taught my little one to say “thank you” in Arabic and they clearly see the cross I always wear around my neck.  No one is trying to convert the other; we all are just trying to live good lives with our families.  The 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

“We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

I for one look to that horizon with hope.  We enjoy visiting with our new friends from Syria and Jordan.  Unfortunately, I know there will be fighting … over who gets the last falafel.

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Food For The Soul

I am in and out of many houses with my job.  Sometimes people will say their house is a mess and to please excuse it.  I always reply I’m there to see their critters and not their house.  Being in someone else’s home is an intimate thing.  It’s not about the biggest house with the most expensive objects; it’s about the character of where they live which I find interesting.  You can tell a lot about someone by their home.  I took this picture at a client’s house who happens to have a lot of land and a beautiful home.  When I asked about this old statue (who is supposed to be St. Francis) the lady whom I work for said when they were buying the house the owner requested that the statue remain, so she has honored that.  There is something about him that I love.  He is venerable and presides with a quiet dignity over the yard as birds chirp and flutter by.  The American naturalist John Muir said:

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

I find the most beauty in nature; perhaps that is why I love this picture so.  The best part is that it is accessible to everyone.  We can all take a walk, go to the park, or find a preserve to visit.  The peace and joy is not only free; its nourishment is priceless and food for the soul.

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Wolf Eyes

I was in the kitchen and I glanced over to see this threesome sprawled out on the floor.  The wolfies love to watch our little one and listen to her; they especially love it when she incorporates their names into one of her stories.  After awhile she got tired and decided to lay on Dakota, joining them in their rest.  She is starting to understand how special wolves are, and that they are NOT dogs.  She has inherited a gentleness and a way about her that will allow her to be comfortable and confident around animals all of her life.  Cheyenne and Dakota are her siblings, and I still think back to the baby bib I had made for her that reads, “Raised by wolves.”  That is not a bad thing.  Research has shown over and over that wolves are social and make strong emotional attachments.  Contrary to (sadly still popular) belief, wolves have an inherent aversion to fighting and will do much to avoid any aggressive encounters.  They are extremely intelligent, sensitive, affectionate, fearless, loving, and loyal.  People who have enjoyed the company of wolves have described them to be confident, tolerant, generous natural leaders, wild and playful, supportive, strong, kind, patient and dignified.  These are many of the traits I believe I have, which is why I have been drawn to wolves most of my life.  My little one already naturally displays some of these and it is my hope she will acquire more from them as she grows.  The American Newbery Medal-winning Jean Craighead George once wrote:

“Oh, those golden-yellow eyes of the wolf!  You can feel yourself being pulled in.  I knew I had been accepted – and that I had spoken to another species.”

That is how I felt the first time I looked into the eyes of my first mixed wolf cub, Nashoba.  My little one is fortunate to wake up every day and be able to look into not one, but two loving sets of wolf eyes.

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Be Happy

My little one already helps me with my pet sitting business.  I’ve been bringing her along with me ever since she was born.  I notice now whenever we go to Trader Joe’s our friend Ms. Patty lets her scan our groceries.  I cannot think of another place where that would be acceptable, and it is another reason why I love both Ms. Patty and Trader Joe’s.  Instead of being just a passive observer she is made an active participant, and you can see how proud she is to be assisting.  I want my girl to know the value of money and that for most it takes hard work to earn it.  I learned from an early age that work for some was a joy but work for others could be incredibly difficult.  Not everyone is lucky enough to find their dream job but everyone requires money to live.  Even people “off the grid” need money for medical care or they might want to have money to travel.  I wish money did not seem to always equal success; for some it is just luck.  My father always taught me to work hard and do my best.  The secret to my father’s happiness is that he did not let his jobs define him.  He was always happy because he found a reason to be.  The American Christian evangelist Billy Graham said:

“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”

I hope I am showing my daughter every day to live with with character and faith … and to be happy.

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On The Porch

One of our home’s greatest joys is our screened porch.  My mother-in-law was the one who had the idea and, after I designed it, she had it built for us about the second year into our marriage.  I get jealous of the four-leggeds, though, because they have more time to enjoy it than we do.  In this picture Elgin our Bengal and Cheyenne and Dakota our wolfies are taking in the fresh air.  You’ll notice the 6’4″ “baby” has taken one of the chairs.  Frankly, I cannot believe he can squeeze himself into it.  The first day of spring seemed like a good time to post this.  And it certainly is the best time of the year to enjoy the porch.  It has ceiling fans, lights, and my beloved lucite grape lamps hanging from the ceiling over a big glass and metal table that was once Burk’s grandmother’s.  It is wonderful to go out and not get bitten by mosquitos.  I also have what I call a “mamasan” that hangs in one corner.  It’s a wicker swing complete with book and drink holders — heaven!  Our little one uses her sidewalk chalks to color on the cement floor and we have enjoyed breakfasts, lunches and dinners out there.  I also have been known to savor some Cab Sav and a good cigar from the comfort of my “mamasan” once my beloveds were asleep.  Right now the scent of our Star Jasmine is thick in the still chilly air and I can hear the water trickling from the mouth of my little lion fountain just outside the French doors.  Spending 35 years of my life in an apartment and condo, I still savor the privilege of owning a home.  I realize many think it’s a given and that’s great, but I want our little girl to understand how fortunate we are.  I can paint, I can plant, I can remodel; it is a luxury.  The American actor Ashton Kutcher said:

“True luxury is being able to own your time – to be able to take a walk, sit on your porch, read the paper, not take the call, not be compelled by obligation.”

My daddy always said time could not be replaced.  Mindful of that, I try to savor the precious time we have at home as a family — often on the porch.

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From A Distance

This would be our last day in London and we raced to squeeze in two final sights.  Burk really wanted to visit Hampton Court, as he had memories of visiting as a child.  I do not mean to keep drawing parallels between England and France, but again, this in no way could compete with the incomparable beauty of Versailles.  It was raining but I still wanted to go through the hedge maze.  It reminded me of the hay mazes they make in Texas in autumn (even better when they use tall rows of corn.)  Our little one looked very British in her tiny floral raincoat as we tried to dodge muddy puddles and make our way to the center.  Someone was good enough to take our picture so we have this as a memory.  As I have often said, my husband and I are true museum junkies.  The one exhibit he missed when we were kids and I got to see has always been my favorite:  Pompeii.  It was haunting and fascinating and has remained ingrained in my memory for almost all of my life.  My parents and I went to see it when it came to Fair Park in Dallas in the seventies.  I had always wanted to visit the Museum of London, which contains the largest urban history collection in the world.  It houses more than six million artifacts.  We already knew we could not possibly do it all and planned ahead of time what we each wanted to see most.  Choosing was exceedingly difficult.  When I discovered the Pompeii exhibit was currently on display, I told Burk we HAD to see it!  I saw the same images frozen three dimensionally in time that I remembered from so long ago plus there were new artifacts they have unearthed in the last almost thirty years.  Between the jaunt out to the palace and combing the museum, we were exhausted.  The English novelist Sarah Hall said, “You can’t see all of a place until you look at it from a distance.”  Of course we did not get to cover everything, but we gave it a good go, as they say.  Taking off on the jet the next day we looked out and got to see it all … from a distance.

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London Bridges

This next day was how I always imagined London to be.  It was rainy and grey as we made our way to the Tower Bridge.  We entered through a small side door to begin our morning tour.  King Edward II opened the majestic bridge in 1894.  It contains two massive towers linked together over the River Thames and the middle part of the bridge can be lifted to allow for the passing of huge ships.  The massive bridge stands at over 196 feet tall and 869 feet long.  It took 11,000 tons of steel to build the now famous framework.  The public is allowed to purchase tickets to tour it from the top to the bottom.  Burk and I found the exhibits interesting and informative as we crossed over the river from the inside of the bridge.  As we worked our way down to the bottom, I found the Victorian Engine Rooms to be particularly fascinating.  Huge steam engines and furnaces were once used to power the raising of the Tower Bridge’s “bascules” — the moveable roadways at the bridge’s center.  It was like stepping back in time to the early years of the Industrial Revolution.  After we left we caught a boat tour down the Thames, as rivulets of raindrops slid their way down the sides of the glassed in dome.  It occurred to me that Paris was like a beautiful woman and London like a rough man; for me there is no comparison between the exquisite delicacy of the Seine and the industrial barges of the Thames.  On our tour we saw The Shard, a 95 story skyscraper that is the tallest in the United Kingdom.  We disembarked at the London Eye, Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel.  There was a three hour wait, thanks to a group full of giggling teenagers on spring break, so we elected to skip it.  To my great delight we discovered an old carousel nearby.  They gave plastic “golden tickets” as admission and it was truly a treasure.  After that we crossed back over the Thames on the Millennium Bridge, a steel suspension bridge for pedestrians.  It was disconcerting, though, as the whole thing dipped and swayed as we crossed.  Londoners have nicknamed it the “Wobbly Bridge” because of the unexpected motion.  Our family called and asked what we were doing.  As fate would have it, we were within walking distance of their stunning hotel, which has been called London’s most famous, and they invited us to tea!  Everything was so elegant and the marble floors gleamed.  I was so proud my baby was a doll at her first proper high tea and we had a lovely time.  Afterward we went shopping in Piccadilly Circus, another place I had always read about.  It turned out to be a round open space that had different vendors and it was fun wandering in and out of the different stalls to see what they were selling.  The Academy Award-winning American actress Mary Steenburgen summed up my feelings exactly with this quote:

“My family didn’t have money to travel, so reading was how I knew about the world.  It made me hungry to have more experiences than just what I could possibly experience in Arkansas.”

This trip to London was allowing me to experience all of the things this Texan had read about for so long:  tea time, the Tower, and the London bridges.

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The Tower

Today we visited the Tower of London, a fortress situated on the bank of the River Thames.  I put a mental check mark on being able to visit another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was founded in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England.  The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and was a symbol of oppression, used as a prison for centuries.  The entire complex is comprised of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls as well as a moat.  There were several phases of expansion under Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries.  The Tower has been used as an armory, a treasury, (sadly) a menagerie, and home to both the Royal Mint as well as the Crown Jewels of England.  We are pictured here standing next to our Yeoman Warder, or “Beefeater” who conducted our tour.  These men have formed the Royal Bodyguard since at least 1509.  More than ornamental tour guides, they are required to have served in the armed forces with an honorable record for at least 22 years.  These men are military veterans who still guard the tower today around the clock.  I believe I speak for all three of us when I say our favorite part of this visit was seeing the ravens.  Legend says that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress.  We got to see the Raven Master feeding the seven large birds (six plus a spare) up close.  It was a treat to be so very close to them without any barriers; they ate just a few feet from us on the lawn.  I had seen plenty of crows but I did not fully realize how huge their brethren were.  They reminded me a bit of vultures.  The ravens preside over four different territories within the Tower precincts and the birds are officially enlisted as soldiers in the Army.  There are records of some being dismissed from their ‘duties’ at the Tower for unsatisfactory conduct; one had a penchant for eating television aerials.  Another kept escaping and visiting the zoo.  The English philosopher John Locke said, “Fortitude is the guard and support of the other virtues.”  I think that is a very apt description for our next stop, which was accidental, and proved to be the highlight of our trip.  We stumbled upon a little church on a bustling street corner and decided to go in.  All Hallows-by-the-Tower is an ancient Anglican church overlooking the Tower of London.  Previously dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin and founded in 675, it is one of the oldest churches in London.  Inside we discovered it contained a 7th century Anglo-Saxon arch with recycled Roman tiles — the oldest surviving piece of church fabric in the city.  The church has a free museum; the Undercroft Museum, containing portions of a Roman pavement and many other artifacts discovered below the church in 1926.  This sacred jewel was so much of what I loved all in one:  history, Christianity, AND it was the ONE CHURCH IN ALL OF LONDON we discovered that allowed pictures!  God bless them.  So it was there, in this ancient church, that I found my joy.  I knelt to pray on the exquisitely embroidered kneelers and gave thanks for the gracious welcome we received there and for the respite from the city.  Narrowly escaping the Great Fire of 1666 and surviving extensive bombing by the Germans in World War II, its 1300 years of faith shows fortitude that guards virtues surpassing that of the Tower.

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Harrod’s

This day would prove to be a huge culture shock.  Out of all the places in the world we have traveled I find it ironic that it would be England which would seem so foreign.  We started by visiting the Cathedral Church of St. Paul the Apostle, which sits on the highest point of London.  It reminded me of the white domes of Sacre Coeur overlooking Paris.  St. Paul’s dome has dominated the city’s skyline for 300 years and is among the highest in the world.  It is a working church with hourly prayer (which I loved) and daily services.  Once again pictures were forbidden.  We elected not to attempt the 550 stair ascent to the top carrying a baby.  They warned us it became very narrow and, like missing the climb to see the eaves of Notre Dame, my husband always says to leave something to want to come back for.  Next we went to have lunch at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, an historic pub rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire of 1666.  Situated in a narrow alleyway, there was a lack of natural lighting inside which lent the place a gloomy, medieval feel.  For some reason it was exactly how I pictured an old English pub to be.  The dark wooden interior had a labyrinth of passages and staircases and they served dark ales and traditional dishes like kidney pudding.  I found myself longing for the open air and pommes frites of France.  Then it was onward to Harrods — the store I had wanted to visit ever since I’d read about Christian the lion (Google it if you do not know the story; it’s great).  The department store was enormous.  Everything was also outrageously expensive.  Growing up poor in a superficial city that centers around high end shopping, I am accustomed to snobbery.  But I must say the Brits elevated it to a whole new level.  Old Texas oil money could not compete with new Saudi oil money, where one black robed woman bought a pair of $32 thousand dollar earrings without even bothering to stop shopping long enough to wait and collect them.  The startling thing was being surrounded by women in full burkas.  I had only ever seen one woman, working in a kitchen in Tangiers, wearing one.  It was unnerving to turn around and be faced with a black wall of women with only the barest of mesh slits open for their eyes.  There was a sea of them.  To be quite honest I found it frightening; the place was overrun.  Practically the only ones whose faces I could see were the employees.  How different this was from the smiling faces of the Muslim women in Paris, wearing only their colorful head scarves.  I did like the giant Harrods bears they had throughout the store on each floor.  The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca once said, “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”  I was the wealthiest woman in the store that day — able to travel, free to dress as I chose, and I had my precious little girl and handsome husband with me.  I could not have dreamnt for more.  I may not have left with a lion cub, but I did buy a little bear like the giant ones lining the windows in the world famous Harrods.

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