Shrove Tuesday

Growing up I had heard about Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday in French) but I always associated it with wild parades in New Orleans.  Until I became Episcopalian, I had never heard of Shrove Tuesday.  I could not figure out why our church served a pancake dinner.  I have since learned it commemorates the final day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  Traditionally, Christians abstain from rich foods and/or alcohol for the next 40 days leading up to the celebration of Easter.  Since pancakes are comprised of sugar and eggs, these were meant to be used up before Lent began.  Even the ingredients are said to represent important tenets.  Flour represents the staff of life, eggs represent creation, salt symbolizes wholesomeness, and milk represents purity.  The name “shrove” is derived from the word “shriven,” a term used by Anglo-Saxon Christians to describe the event of being absolved of one’s sins.  Lent is a penitential time, as Christians are called to reflect upon Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of having suffered death on the cross for the sins of the world.  I know often people use this as a sort of diet plan to get ready for summer.  But, while the idea of self-sacrifice may not necessarily be helping others, in my opinion it does serve to make us aware of how EVERYTHING we have is thanks to God.  I do believe adding a discipline is a great thing … such as more prayer or helping those in need.  But I do not believe the importance of self-denial should be underplayed.  Self-sacrifice is not as exercised, in my opinion, as it should be.  Heaven knows I have not bothered to curb my eating or my drinking.  So this is an excellent time to make my humble sacrifices to God and truly repent.  The American football coach Lou Holtz said:

“Sacrifice, discipline and prayer are essential.  We gain strength through God’s word.  We receive grace from the sacrament.  And when we fumble due to sin – and it’s gonna happen – confession puts us back on the field.”

The next time I eat pancakes I am going to remember to strive not to fumble and to be a better person.  I pray next year I will not have forgotten this Shrove Tuesday.


Moving Pictures

I am sure I have mentioned before how much my mother loved pictures; taking pictures of our family, that is.  I remember we spent a lot of time at the drug store looking at all the photos she’d taken that had been developed.  Yes, it was the dark ages, no pun intended.  Now everyone has digital pics and they rarely get printed.  When I first saw Harry Potter I thought the coolest concept they had was of the moving pictures.  Who would have imagined they are now a reality with film being able to capture a few seconds of movement before and after a picture.  I know I should take more videos, as sound is precious as well, but I find I do not access them nearly as much.  So this picture frame is a great compromise for me.  I can upload whatever pictures I want and can make them appear in order or at random.  This photo is one of my favorites.  It was our wedding anniversary and the first time our baby had gone to the beach.  We had a very nice dinner out and I put her in this smocked outfit which had a captain teddy bear next to a lighthouse with sail boats in the harbor.  It came with this little hat and I thought it was the sweetest thing I’d ever seen.  The fancy restaurant overlooking the ocean let us in with a baby (I’d called beforehand to check) and she was an angel the entire time we were there.  So many feelings, memories, and emotions are tied with this picture.  So every time it comes up I am filled with a nostalgic sense of joy.  As the digital photo album scrolls I literally watch my baby doll go from infancy to a little girl of five.  The American co-founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, aptly said:

“Every photo you take communicates something about a moment in time – a brief slice of time of where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing.”

My mother recognized that and thankfully she instilled it in me.  Now I am watching my daughter’s life develop in a series of moving pictures.


The Four Seasons

Although I wrote my second book on Mozart at age twelve, I have found I equally love Vivaldi.  Contrary to some music critics, I do not believe all his works sound the same.  “The Four Seasons” has long been one of my favorite classical pieces.  It is a group of four violin concerti, each of which gives a musical expression to a season of the year.  We were lucky enough to have stayed in a hotel in Venice where Vivaldi actually taught.  This picture was taken at the resort which has the same name so I suppose that is what triggered my line of thought.  On either side of the entrance at least 50 of these bowls hung seemingly invisibly suspended, all filled with a single beautiful orchid.  They swayed with the breeze coming in and the effect was magical.  If we had room for it (which we don’t) I would love to do this in our home.  While we were there I felt as if we were experiencing a bit of all four seasons at once.  The exquisite flowers reminded me of spring, the big pool outside brought summer to mind, the chilly wind blowing all the bowls made me think of autumn, and they had a big fire burning outside which of course was because it is still winter.  The American three-time Olympic gold medalist in bicycle racing, Kristin Armstrong, said:

“When the seasons shift, even the subtle beginning, the scent of a promised change, I feel something stir inside me.  Hopefulness?  Gratitude?  Openness?  Whatever it is, it’s welcome.”

I have always felt the same way and I look forward to the changing of each of the four seasons.


Wash Day

This is just a fun print that hangs in our laundry room.  I also have a sign above the door that reads, “Drop your pants here.”  But I sort of think of “wash day” differently.  We had an elderly, gentleman friend from church who only bathed on Saturday nights for Sunday.  He was always very neat, tidy and never smelled.  I did not not bathe my baby obsessively and frankly I credit that as to the reason she never got cradle cap.  I do not wash my hair everyday as I believe it strips the natural oils from one’s hair and body.  I really do think people now have an obsessive need to shower at least twice a day.  My husband often complains of dry skin and scalp and I tell him my reasoning but he doesn’t listen.  Of course if one has sweated excessively or smells one should most definitely bathe.  Personally I feel that more than once a day is not only excessive but environmentally irresponsible.  The American President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “Every man has a right to a Saturday night bath.”  I am not suggesting that we all follow suit with only a once weekly bath; I am simply saying once a day for most is probably enough.  At any rate, my little one’s curls are in knots and she smells like a rusty penny from playing in the park.  So tonight, at our house, it is definitely wash day.



I have not been a professional photographer, but I love lighting.  I love the natural sun’s rays at dusk and dawn; I love the dappled light that falls in a forest, I love the contrast of light and shadow on a desert mountainside, and I love the way the sun and moon reflect their beams off the oceans’ waves.  Our house has a lot of recessed lighting.  I remember when we bought it ten years ago thinking it was so cool that it had dimmer switches.  I freely admit I am among the first to embrace new technology and for at least a year I have been eyeing a home lighting system that does everything from all those recessed lights to sconces and lamps.  They come in both white and colored.  The white is vastly less expensive than the colored.  With all the bulbs not only can you turn them on and off with your phone or voice — you can dim each one individually.  So for instance, Burk prefers a brighter light by his bedside but the harsher glare hurts my eyes.  The white bulbs in our matching lamps look completely different.  His is at 100 percent while mine hovers around half.  The beauty is you can change their individual brightness any time you want right from your phone.  Plus I have created rooms in our house so each one can be turned on or off all at once.  It’s great for when my little one wakes up before dawn but she’s too afraid to go downstairs because it’s still dark.  All I have to do is grope for my phone and turn her two lamps on in the playroom.  At night, I can just hit the whole house and it will go dark or I can select all the rooms individually.  Now, as for the colors — each individual bulb can be made to any precise shade you want and it can still also go from 100 percent brightness down to one.  So for instance, the lights in our den are set to a soothing blue.  The lights where we eat most of our meals are sort of multi-colored to suit our taste.  And this is just one light in the corner of our formal dining room.  Yes, the salt lamp under it is red but the color you see is coming from the top.  Burk joked it looked like the red light district in Paris.  This earned him a glare from me.  The lights are so darn magical!  We have at least two dozen colored lights and over a dozen white ones in either lamps or sconces.  The hubs thinks I’m the cat’s meow for getting them (which I accrued incrementally), putting them in, and programming them.  Our bar is lit in a beautiful dark blue and our master bath is set to “relax” so the lights are soothing but you can still see.  Unfortunately our front porch lights cannot accommodate them but I have just discovered our covered screened-in side porch can.  Our house looks SO COOL!  The American businessman and music publisher Allen Klein said:

“Your attitude is like a box of crayons that color your world.  Constantly color your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak.  Try adding some bright colors to the picture by including humor, and your picture begins to lighten up.”

Our home now emanates varying shades of pink, red, orange, yellow, purple, blue, and green sprinkled throughout.  You can bet we’re lit.


Our Bottle Tree

We have a very special tree in our side yard by our koi pond.  Much like an evergreen, it remains the same year round.  It looks rather sparse now, as it is still supposedly winter, but I always like that nature’s cloak reveals our tree after springtime’s wisteria has bloomed, summer’s jasmine has gone, and autumn has spread her chilled breath across the trees, causing their leaves to fall.  Under my travel section early on I wrote about our first trip which was a cruise up Alaska’s Inside Passage.  One of the towns I had so many incredible pictures from which to choose; we took a helicopter to the basin of a glacier and mushed sled dogs.  We needed a huge, red military Tomcar just to reach the base camp.  The puppies were precious and I simply could not select one photo from our great adventure.  So I opted instead to use a picture I took of all these blue bottles coming out of rods making them resemble flowers.  I remember we saw them on the way back to our ship.  I was so enchanted by them I knew I wanted to do something like that.  I came across the stand in a catalog and set about creating it.  These are not simply colored bottles I picked up to look decorative — each and every one of them has a personal significance to me.  I started with the little bottle on top.  It was given to me on our flight to Paris when the attendant found out we were on our way to our honeymoon.  There is another tiny bottle from the second part of our honeymoon in Venice.  I have beautiful blue ones from Morocco and Quebec.  There is a green one from Spain.  Another is saved from the case of champagne my husband’s aunt got us when we married.  I have an antique one I suspect held milk, several have held water, and the rest I believe were wine.  Of course I have a wolf bottle; our tree could not possibly be complete without it.  The American actress Gene Tierney once said, “Life is a little like a message in a bottle, to be carried by the winds and tides.”  This tree carries with it messages of special memories, important events, and things that just make me happy.  So when, in winter, the vines and branches are bare, we have a magical tree that is revealed in all its many colored splendor … our bottle tree.


Who’s That?

Cleaning out some things I came across this picture and I called my little one in to see it.  “Who’s that?”  “It’s ME!” she exclaimed.  “No it’s not,” I said.  Looking at it again, she vehemently pronounced, “It is, TOO!”  “Nope” I said and then I called up the hubs.  “Who’s that?” I queried once again.  “Aw, it’s Maris,” he said.  My little one shot me a triumphant look.  “Nope” I found myself repeating.  Puzzled, they both leaned in closer for another look at the photo.  I could see Burk taking note of the slightly curled edges, the scratches that had somehow gotten on it, and watched him realize then it looked old-fashioned.  “It’s me,” I said as they both looked on in disbelief.  Seeing that my precious baby doll looked EXACTLY like me gave me a connection I had never felt before.  I was used to looking for parts of myself in pictures of my parents.  But now, to see myself in my child is the greatest gift imaginable.  The Indian born business executive and entrepreneur Naveen Jain said:

“I believe our legacy will be defined by the accomplishments and fearless nature by which our daughters and sons take on the global challenges we face.  I also wonder if perhaps the most lasting expression of one’s humility lies in our ability to foster and mentor our children.”

I was very fortunate to always have the unconditional love and support of my parents.  The values they instilled in me are the same that I am working to instill in my daughter.  And so the legacy continues.  Seeing the external is a joy, but sharing the internal is an even greater love.  One day, I hope to be in a closet with my daughter while she asks her daughter, “Who’s that?”


A Heart

My husband is a wonderful man and I am lucky because I really believe he truly loves me.  I asked him though to please not buy me flowers for Valentine’s Day because they’re so darned expensive — and I meant it.  I kept telling him we did not have money to burn like that — and I meant it.  He had to work Valentine’s so there was no night out planned; certainly not a romantic date in the works.  When he came home he asked if I’d had a knock on the door.  Puzzled, I said no.  Then he pushed this beautiful arrangement of all different kinds of roses toward me that were in a shiny red vase.  I struggled not to say “I asked you not to” and instead I told him they how very lovely they were.  And then he asked me if I liked the vase.  Glancing down at the metal in my hands I said I thought it was cool because it was metallic.  He told me that he had really looked a lot on line at what they had.  I knew this was his way of trying and I told him I loved all flowers (particularly the smell of lilies) but that on Valentine’s Day roses were truly the best.  “I didn’t want to just get you grocery store flowers,” he said, looking proud and unsure at the same time.  The more I looked, the more I noticed there were sweetheart roses as well as other types of roses I did not recognize — all in colors ranging from red to pink.  Surprisingly, our uncivilized cats managed to leave them alone for an entire week.  Then this morning we were awakened with an ear-piercing shriek followed by inconsolable sobbing and indiscernible wailing.  Jumping out of bed, I was greeted by a series of rose petals scattered in varying degrees.  I’m talking they could have filmed an episode of “The Bachelor” at our house amount of rose petals.  Our little one was in histrionrics and I wondered if I should get her inhaler.  Just about every surface in our home was covered by the silky soft petals.  For once my uber romantic side did not kick in and all I could think was what a mess!  They were trailing down the stairs, strewn all over the formal dining room, littering our little one’s playroom, and leading down into our den.  And that is when I discovered my beautiful St. Valentine’s bouquet had been absolutely decimated by some psychotic cat.  I had a good idea as to whom … a certain wild half Siamese kitten.  He had taken his “kills” and had methodically spread them all over our house.  It bordered on the macabre.  Burk awakened and, sounding strangely like my father, hollered, “That damn cat!”  Meanwhile, over the disbelief of my little one’s red-faced tears and the incredulity of my husband’s red-faced cursing I discovered something … four red roses had not been touched.  I told them both it was OK as I put the few remaining roses back into the vase.  The American romantic poet William C. Bryant once wrote:

“Loveliest of lovely things are they on earth that soonest pass away.  The rose that lives its little hour is prized beyond the sculpted flower.”

It was then that I realized the immense amount of joy they had given me.  Rather than lament their inevitable loss, I looked down at the vase once again and noticed a great surprise — the roses had covered the shape of the vase.  It took life’s messiness to uncover what had lain beneath … a heart.


I Did Not Know Jack

What does this look like to you?  Chicken?  Pork?  Fish?  It is actually a plant called jackfruit and, according to my research, it is in the species of the fig, mulberry and breadfruit family.  I don’t even know what breadfruit is.  I did not know what jackfruit was either; I just tried it.  In my pursuit of trying to go vegan, I have read this was a good meat substitute.  It is native to parts of South Asia and can grow up to four feet in length!  The flesh is a good source of dietary fiber and it sort of tastes like a combination of pineapple, mango and apple.  It is commonly mixed with curries as you see here.  I discovered the seeds are edible as well and are said to have a taste comparable to Brazil nuts.  Unripe jackfruit has a meat-like taste and texture.  I learned in West Bengal it is especially sought after by vegetarians and has the nickname “tree-mutton.”  I have always been highly sensitive about the slaughter of animals which is why I have been a vegetarian for years.  While some might find this gross, I wanted to try it in my pursuit to find meatless substitutes that do not have soy.  My little one ate it and thought it was a “sort of weird” kind of meat.  The hubs was even great enough to try it saying he suspected it was some type of “sour vegetable.”  The American philosopher John Rawls said:

“Certainly it is wrong to be cruel to animals and the destruction of a whole species can be a great evil.  The capacity for feelings of pleasure and pain and for the form of life of which animals are capable clearly impose duties of compassion and humanity in their case.”

And so, in the name of compassion and humanity, expanding my search for good-tasting, critter free cuisine continues.  Now that I know about factory farms I know I cannot ever go back.  I was unaware of it then, but now I realize I did not know jack.


In Thought

For years I have bought a product for my home from a woman who has not responded well, if at all.  It is important for me that our house smell good right when you walk in since we have a small zoo.  Month after month I faithfully ordered under her name.  When I had a problem once she never helped me and yet I still kept patronizing her.  There was no defining moment, I just decided one month last year to stop buying from her and went without.  I told myself I was saving money but I did not like coming home without the welcome scent of something sweet and delicate overriding the air.  So I decided to start the New Year on a different note.  Last month I Googled a list of other representatives in my area.  The woman I chose responded not only immediately but cheerfully.  This picture shows how my first order was delivered — personally.  I found out I had been missing all sorts of extras I had earned plus I was having to pay for shipping!  In addition to bonus scents, free samples, and saved money this sweet woman took the time to put it in this bag for Valentine’s and bring it over.  That would have been lovely enough.  But she didn’t stop there:  she brought this precious little monkey for my daughter and the chocolates for me.  “It’s just a small thing,” she said as I was quiet, reflecting on her kindness.  It was no small thing:  this woman made me feel appreciated and valued — no price can be placed on that.  I am learning to stop trying to drink from dry wells and to go where I am wanted.  This was a valuable lesson for me; I only wish I’d learned it sooner.  The German novelist Jean Paul said, “Be great in act, as you have been in thought.”