We left New York and were headed to Montréal. I could not wait to hear the sounds of French again and was excited to be off. We boarded some type of smaller plane that completely freaked me out. I still hadn’t flown much and this thing had one aisle with two seats on either side. The engine was really loud and the whole thing felt shaky. That’s the only time I’ve had a panic attack in the air — even when we were in that helicopter on a glacier in Alaska. Suffice to say, I was doubly glad to get there. We were spending one night in Montréal before heading on to Québec City and we were staying at the original Ritz-Carlton. It felt very Edwardian and I loved our white marble bathroom. I discovered Montréal overall though is a very modern city. Since I live in a city that rips everything down every two seconds it felt like a newer, sleeker, French version of Dallas. When I asked our concierge about dinner recommendations I stopped the minute I heard “loup.” That’s “wolf” in French and I was ECSTATIC! Burk was fine with it so our bellman hailed a cab and we were on our way. We were dropped off at a charming restaurant which read “LALOUX”. Both sound the same but in my excitement I missed the “la” when I knew that “wolf” is “le” which is masculine. This just turned out to be the last name of the chef. Oh well it was truly one of the best meals of my life and Burk made friends with a guy his age at the next table who was a member of Parliament. It was fascinating speaking with him and he graciously allowed me to translate even though he spoke a little English. The next morning we ate our breakfast in front of a little duck pond at our hotel. I should have known there was a French connection; the Hotel Ritz in Paris’ first arrondissement (the heart of the city) was the first in Europe to provide bathrooms en suite. Our hotel was about to undergo renovations and I found myself glad we got to see it as it was. Confucius said, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” That is exactly what we have always tried to do.
It was our last day in the Big Apple and we still had places we wanted to see. First up: the famed American Museum of Natural History. I had been wanting to go since I was at least seven. Of course Burk had been many times but he loves museums like I do so he was just as excited to go. Built in 1869, it is one of the largest museums in the world. I had no idea it was across from Central Park. It houses over 32 million specimens of plants, humans, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, and human cultural artifacts. Their mission statement is “to discover, interpret, and disseminate information about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe though a wide-ranging program of scientific research, education, and exhibition.” The 63 foot-long canoe carved by the Haida Indians was nothing short of spectacular and the dinosaurs were more incredible than I had imagined. Many were suspended from the ceiling in such as a way as to appear almost animated. I didn’t have to lament their deaths because I knew they weren’t from any hunters’ guns so I was free to study and marvel at their size. I felt a great deal of sadness for all the animals in the Theodore Roosevelt Hall of North American Mammals. I understand the dioramas and taxidermy are skills; but those poor animals’ deaths in the name of preservation sickened me. In the Hall of North American Forests we saw a slice of a giant sequoia dating back more than 1,400 years felled by lumberjacks in 1891. It once stood more than 300 feet tall. Thankfully, it is now illegal to cut them down. After the museum we decided to do something a bit more light-hearted so we headed to the huge Toys-“R”-Us in Times Square. We rode the 60 foot indoor ferris wheel where we got our picture taken and put in a magnet as a souvenir. An ironic recap of our time in New York, we saw the LEGO Empire State Building, Broadway just outside the vast windows, and a huge animatronic T-Rex. Next we had our final dinner in a now closed restaurant named Gino’s. I had no earthly idea why zebras covered the red walls but I know they greeted Burk like he was a prince. Always self-effacing, my sweet husband blushed under the attention as they proudly escorted us to our table. This place was OLD school Italian and these men had known him since he was a little boy. A man behind the bar came over to our table and, in a horrifying stage whisper, slapped Burk on the back congratulating him for marrying “such a beauty” and proceeded to extol the merits of doing so “before the bloom was off the rose.” Burk was horrified and I vaguely considered telling the man I was on my way to being 38. I kept thinking of “Beauty and the Beast” where there is one petal left on the rose — and it’s just about to fall. But Burk’s father’s family had a long history with this place and I did not want to seem like some blue stocking feminist or harridan so I just smiled. We had a lovely meal and I had their famous “salsa segreta” (secret sauce) which I suspect was a red vodka sauce mixed with some type of heavenly white cream sauce. I’m so glad I got to go, as it was such a part of my husband’s past. It saddens me that they have closed and we did not get to go back. Swedish author Jan Myrdal said:
“Traveling is not just seeing the new; it is also leaving behind. Not just opening doors; also closing them behind you, never to return. But the place you have left forever is always there for you to see whenever you shut your eyes.”
It was day three in New York City and Burk wanted to see where the World Trade Center towers used to stand. He said the skyline felt empty without them. We went down to see a huge, yawning, hole one city block wide with dust rising up from the construction. It was 2008 and still so shocking to see the emptiness despite the fact that I had never been. Wandering away I stumbled upon an old graveyard in a tiny church nearby. As I studied the tombstones dating back to the Revolutionary War I was delighted to discover it was in an Episcopal Church! Everyone in the world probably knew that but me. It was the Parish of Trinity Church on Wall Street. Seeking respite from the dust, sadness and noise, the highlight of my time in New York was walking into the beautiful church’s quiet, reassuring serenity. It wasn’t a Sunday but they were having a noonday worship service. Burk and I kneeled and slid into an old, high wooden pew with a door made to help keep out the cold during the winter months a long time ago. I loved the feel of privacy and found myself wishing our church had them. As an Episcopalian, it was a joy to be in my own church. More than anything I remember the mantle of peace that settled around me when right outside the cacophony of controlled chaos abounded. A small Gothic Revival church, its spire and cross was the highest point in the city until 1890. Walking out to discover the sculpture pictured above and just outside the church was the added balm to my soul. “The Trinity Root” is a bronze sculpture created directly from the base of the great Sycamore tree that helped save St. Paul’s Chapel (part of the the church) and the historic cemetery from falling debris after the collapse of the twin towers. When one sees how close the little church is I believe it is a miracle it was not destroyed. The 70 year old tree was felled by the impact of the enormous crumbling buildings across the street and absorbed shockwaves which a physicist has compared to those of a small nuclear bomb. It was laying in such a way as to shield the historic chapel and its ancient tombstones. Sculptor Steve Tobin carefully worked to preserve the natural remnants of the now famous Trinity tree root using the “lost wax process”. It is made of bronze and its actual sprawling root branches are 20 feet long, 15 feet wide and 12 1/2 feet tall. Next we had lunch on the street like real New Yorkers. As a vegetarian, I had always wanted to try falafels and they had a stand near the city’s oldest public park, Bowling Green, built in 1733. They were absolutely delicious! Wherever I go, wolves and Native peoples/things always find me — or I find them. This time was no different. We had no idea the National Museum of the American Indian was right next to us and got to study many of the pieces from peoples we had seen on our trip to Alaska. To top it off the museum was free! I would say this was definitely the hidden jewel of New York’s museums. Burk’s Aunt lives in the city and she was having a party that night to celebrate her birthday. It was lovely to be with family and drink champagne while we sailed around Manhattan on a chartered yacht at sunset. The light refracting off the buildings was beautiful and we had a wonderful time. English writer Augustus Hare said, “Thought is the wind, knowledge the sail, and mankind the vessel.” We discovered, we learned, and we reflected upon it all as we glided over the water that night amidst the tangy spray of the sea. It was a perfect ending to a lovely day.
Our second day we took a boat tour to see Lady Liberty. I thought we’d be able to go up but it takes tickets months in advance to even get inside. Still, she did not fail to impress. The Francophile in me loved the connection with Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the man of course famous for the Eiffel Tower, but also for designing our statue’s steel framework. French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi created the statue itself using sheets of hammered copper. The island where she resides is now known as Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty remains one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world today. When we disembarked I got Burk to sit still for another portrait. (I don’t care for caricatures). He felt like the one from our honeymoon in Paris made him look like a serial killer. This one he felt made him look 12. Next it was time to change for an unfashionably early dinner at the 21 Club. I had seen pictures of it on TV but it was Burk’s childhood stomping ground as his Grandmother often dined there for lunch. So I saw it with new eyes and Burk saw it through the lense of time. Established in 1922, it was originally a small speakeasy that moved locations and was raided by police several times. As soon as a raid began, a system of levers used to tip the bar shelves, sweeping the liquor bottles into the sewer. We were essentially alone in the restaurant at that hour but that was more than fine with me. I got to walk through the various rooms without being stared at while I took pictures. After dinner we literally ran into Elmo on the street and I made Burk have his picture taken with him. I feel so badly because I did not realize you were supposed to tip. <cringe> “The Phantom of the Opera” was everything I thought it would be and much, much more. The set design was the best I’d ever seen. Going down the staircase of The Majestic at intermission was a bit like stepping back in time. It opened in 1927 and until the ’70’s was the largest theatre on Broadway. Currently it has the longest running production with Phantom in Broadway history. I have inherited my mother’s long-standing pet peeve of disiking Dallasites for jumping up to give a standing ovation for absolutely ANYthing. She studied classical music for over 20 years. THIS however definitely merited it. And so with that I shall close with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous lyrics from “The Phantom of the Opera”:
“The Music of the Night”
Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation
Darkness stirs and wakes imagination
Silently the senses abandon their defenses
Slowly, gently night unfurls its splendor
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender
Turn your face away from the garish light of day
Turn your thoughts away from cold unfeeling light
And listen to the music of the night
Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams
Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before
Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar
And you live as you’ve never lived before
Softly, deftly, music shall caress you
Hear it, feel it secretly possess you
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness that you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night
Let your mind start a journey to a strange new world
Leave all thoughts of the life you knew before
Let your soul take you where you long to be
Only then can you belong to me
Floating, falling, sweet intoxication
Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation
Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in
To the power of the music that I write
The power of the music of the night
You alone can make my song take flight
Help me make the music of the night
I figured since I’d gotten to see Lady Liberty in Paris on our honeymoon I should visit our own Statue of Liberty in New York. So for our first wedding anniversary Burk let me choose New York City and Québec. We arrived at the airport and some Russian guy approached us saying we could ride in his limo for the same price as a taxi … with no waiting. We said sure like a couple of idiots and found ourselves in the bowels of the airport parking lot. I was relieved to note some type of badge in the guy’s dash once we eventually made it. He was really very nice and took us to our hotel in a white stretch limousine that reminded me of the one I wanted to take to prom in the ’80’s. It really was something in a dated sort of way and turned heads for varying reasons I’m sure. Our hotel was right by the UN and they had a federal officer with a drug sniffing dog checking everyone’s bags before they entered. Much to my horror, the yellow Lab lingered and lingered over ours … to the point of humiliation. She just wouldn’t stop! I finally explained to the large, well-muscled, non-smiling man that we had wolves and cats and that must be why she was so interested. Yeah, like that made it any better. We were eventually cleared and our poor bellman took our well-snuffled luggage up to our room. Much like our honeymoon when we headed straight to the Eiffel Tower that first day, we decided to begin our trip by going up the Empire State Building. As I have mentioned previously, we are not ashamed to be tourists. At 102 stories, the limestone structure was the tallest building in the world from 1931 until 1970. I loved its Art Deco style and had no idea it was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The project involved 3,400 workers including hundreds of Mohawk iron workers, many from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. We also saw the beautiful Grand Central Terminal with its Beaux-Arts style and intricate designs both inside and out. I was surprised to learn it is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions. Burk’s paternal Grandmother used to live at the incredibly posh, very exclusive Sutton Square in the ’70’s for over 20 years and he knew the streets like the back of his hand. As a girl coming from the wide open spaces of Texas, I felt a little hemmed in. It was hard to see the sun with the tallness of the buildings and my eyes continually burned with everything seemingly under perpetual construction. Still, we’d had a nice first day and I made friends with our doorman who was from Cuba. He and I spoke about cigars at length and he seemed genuinely delighted to have found a fellow aficionado. As we headed up the elevator I found myself praying our building wasn’t going to sway in the wind; we were up pretty high. Kurt Vonnegut referred to New York City as “Skyscraper National Park”. That was my view of it as well.
Last year the day after Thanksgiving I found myself stunned standing in the middle of my driveway. We had a relatively new postal carrier who saw me and stopped to ask something I cannot remember. I’m pretty sure he was just checking to see if I was OK. I had just received the most devastating phone call of my life only a few minutes earlier. He was the first person I told that my mother had just passed away and I think he was debating whether or not to hug me. That’s when I found out he was a Christian. And the quiet conviction in his words affirmed what I already knew about eternal salvation. I just remember looking into his eyes and trying to absorb his sincere strength, both in his unswerving faith in scripture and in his own personal fortitude. My then three year old was with me and I was trying not to cry. She loved her namesake and had been with me to visit my mother almost every day since the day she was born. When I asked his name, he told me it was Churchill, “like Winston Churchill”. I do not think that precious man will ever know what he did for me that day. I was suddenly an orphan with no father, mother, or grandparents left. And then I watched as he cast loving eyes on my child who is the embodiment, by God’s grace, of all of my blood who have already been called home. I realized then God was showing me His goodness, mercifulness, and kindness in the midst of such incredible sorrow. The angel He had sent to comfort me was standing right in front of me. It really is true that kids and dogs know good people. My little one took to him instantly. He calls her sweetheart in a way that never fails to get me. She looks for him every day with her little eyes, nose and hands pressed against the window and I have often had to stop the car so she can wave to him as he is going along our neighborhood route. Winston Churchill said we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. I am blessed to say I know a great man named Churchill. And I am grateful to God for putting him in our lives. He is a daily reminder to me to be as happy, positive, and full of joy as he always is — in rain or shine. As far as I’m concerned he is family and my daughter and I love him as such. Seeing him each day is healing in a way I cannot explain. He was kind and thoughtful enough to send back a card after we had given him one at Christmas. It reads:
“Life is a lovely garden, An ever-growing thing, Where thoughtfulness and kindness bloom like flowers in the spring.”
God bless you and keep you Churchill. You are a special man and certainly a great one. I so hope you know you hold the heart of a little girl who lost her beloved grandmother over a year ago now. She still remembers her and her grandfather, whom she never got to meet, in her prayers each and every night. Angels walk amongst us; you, sir, are among His finest.
We received a bonsai tree for Christmas. I have always wanted one and particularly love ours because it has three main branches. There are three in our little family and it also reminds me of the Holy Trinity. In addition I like its shape because, according to Japanese tradition, the bonsai represents the three virtues of truth, goodness and beauty. It is harmony in nature contained. This is a Juniper, one of the top three species used for bonsais. Apparently it is a favorite because of its natural flowing shape and slow growth habit. The word “bonsai” is a Japanese pronunciation of an earlier Chinese term. “Penzai”, which literally means “tray plant”, stems from the ancient Chinese art of depicting elegantly formed trees and rocks in miniature landscape. I am surprised and happy to report is the ONLY living thing in our house which our cats have not destroyed. Even they must appreciate and respect its zen beauty. I love to watch the water trickle by the rock each day as I water it. A quietly peaceful addition to our house, it has been no trouble at all to keep. Bonsai author John Yoshio Naka said, “There are no borders in bonsai. The dove of peace flies to palace as to humble house, to young as to old, to rich and poor. So does the spirit of bonsai.”
Last night was 2016’s Full Wolf Moon. When I posted this pic on Facebook a friend from church was good enough to inquire as to its significance. I thought how lovely it was of her to have taken the time to ask and to want to know. So I decided to publish this for the benefit of anyone who might also be interested. “Full Wolf Moon” is January’s full moon. It got its name by some Native American tribes because at this time of year wolves would often howl in their search for prey which was scarce. Food shortages in winter months meant they had to scavenge wherever they could and travel closer into villages. I have full blood friends in many Indian nations but since I cannot say for sure to which tribe(s) it should be attributed I will only speak to what I know. My paternal grandmother was Choctaw. Each month has a name relating to the seasons and, later, also a Europeanized name since they were “colonized” by the French. Until the early 1800’s, Choctaws used a calendar with the months based upon the phases of the moon. The basic meaning of the word “hashi” (month) can also mean the moon, hashi ninak aya, “sun that travels at night”. The year was divided into two segments: hashtula, winter, and tofa, summer; each having six months. Winter began around September 22, with Chafiskono, the autumnal equinox. Summer began around March 22, with Tek i Hashi, the vernal equinox. Listed below are the modern and older Choctaw names:
Hashtula – Winter:
October: Aktoba (Hochafo iskitini) Little Hunger month
November: Nofimba (Hochafo chito) Big Hunger month
December: Tisimba (Hashi koi chito) Big lion month
January: Chanueli (Hashi koi nakfi sushi) Lions’s little brother month
February: Fibueli (Hashi watonlak) Crane month
March: Macha (Hashi mahli) Wind month
Tofa – Summer:
April: Eplil (Tek i Hashi) Women’s month
May: Me (Hashi Bihi) Mulberry month
June: Chuni (Hashi Bissa) Blackberry month
July: Chuli (Hashi kati) Sassafras month
August: Akas (Hashi Takkon) Peach month
September: Siptimba (Hashi Hoponi) Cooking month
Month names also sometimes vary now according to location: Mississippi (Choctaw homeland), and Oklahoma, now a separate tribal nation. They were the first to be forced to make the Long Walk on the “Trail of Tears” in 1831. Driven out of their ancestral lands, they were marched by militia into what was then Indian territory to make way for white “settlers”. Thousands died along the arduous journey as it was made during winter’s harsh sting.
“My friends, circumstances render it impossible that you can flourish in the midst of a civilized community. You have but one remedy within your reach, and that is to remove to the west. And the sooner you do this, the sooner you will commence your career of improvement and prosperity.” ~ President Andrew Jackson
Wolves, like Native peoples, are STILL treated abysmally all around our world every single day. After centuries of willful, deliberate destruction of both by Europeans, one can only pray it will finally come to an end. Achukma hoke.
I did a lot of things with my folks growing up but going to a nightclub was not one of them, much less when I was four! Now Dallas has a place they open up to families two Friday nights a month. There was a party there last night as a fundraiser for my daughter’s school so I figured it would be a good time to check it out. Maris and I looked at the matching stamps on our hands and grinned; it was a surreal moment. Grown up drinks for Mommy and Daddy at the bar, juice for the kids to get wild and crazy, and a pizza truck provided sustenance for us all. I thought the best fun was the light up stuff and goodies at the kiddie kiosk. The great disappointment came in that there was no disco — only underground grunge. For me disco harkens back to my rollerskating days when the world was mine; grunge makes me think of yet another date I had when I was single and went to some club I really didn’t like. But what a joy to be on the lighted dance floor with my little girl. And I have a sweet, handsome husband now who graciously got us food and drinks and showed us a good time. My little one wore her twinkle toe light up shoes, glow necklaces, glow bracelets, and sported some of my ancient glow in the dark Hello Kitty glitter. At the kiosk she got some sort of twirling flashlight thing that reminded me of when I used to go to the circus as a kid. Then her friend gave her a balloon that lit up. She really rocked it! The New Yorker magazine writer James Thurber said, “There are two kinds of light — the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.” My girl MGM has a glow all on her own; the rest is just guilding the lily.
My little girl and I were celebrating and, on impulse, I decided to take her for the first time ever to McDonald’s. This was the best one with a huge indoor play area that has kids scrambling through tunnels on the ceiling like little mice in a maze. I got us a small order of fries and she had already disappeared inside the tubes. “Mama! Mama! Look at me!” I pretended not to know where she was and her girlish giggles were worth ingesting a small bit of non-organic food when I have been so vigilant in our family eating healthy. I took this picture standing on the floor pointing my camera directly up two stories toward the ceiling. I love seeing her still-little hands peeking through and catching a glimpse of her beautiful dark eyes and curly hair. I finally convinced her to come down and eat some fries which she loved. “I TOLD you they’re the best!” I said in a smug tone I don’t often adopt. It was so weird, having to explain to her about the Hamburglar and Ronald McDonald. I had spent the early years of my life there but those were different times. My first job was at McDonald’s when I was 15. I had given her an old whistle I’d found awhile back and she exclaimed when she recognized it painted on the window. It was a Fry Guy. I remember the outdoor playground with the merry-go-round that I loved all through my teenage years. Contrasting that, I looked up into the hamster tubes and the claustrophobic in me prayed I would not have to go up and rescue her. But my girl is fearless and I should have known it would not be an issue. When we left she was swinging my hand and said she had liked “Old MacDonald’s”. I’m still waiting for the proverbial farm to get a decent, non-GMO veggie burger. The world has changed and I found myself hoping they would change with it.
“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” ~ Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, and Nobel Peace Prize winner for “Reverence for Life.”