Relax, And Float

When I was a kid I remember my mother taking me to this woman’s house who had a pool.  She was a certified swim instructor but I remember not liking her very much.  Two things really stand out in my mind.  The first was I remember a sign she had that said, “We don’t swim in our toilet, so please don’t pee pee in our pool.”  The second was far more traumatizing:  I remember that in order to pass I had to swim all the way down to the drain.  I can still feel the grip she held on my small wrist as she pulled us both all the way down to the bottom.  My father had polio as a child and never learned to swim, so it was especially important to him that I learn.  My mother loved to swim but with her red hair and fair skin she really needed to stay out of the sun.  For years after that I was terrified to go underwater and, if truth be told, I am still afraid to even snorkel — much less scuba dive.  I consider myself to be a good swimmer and was on the swim team in both junior high and high school.  But that feeling of being underwater and fearing when you will finally rise to the surface has never left me.  When I had my little girl the vital importance of learning how to swim had long been ingrained upon me.  But things and times are very different now.  They have indoor pools and different swim classes going in different lanes.  In the school my little one attended each kid got a check once they’d mastered a certain skill.  I feel she could save her own life now, after passing this particular class, but still I want her to be a stronger swimmer.  So she will continue to swim once a week to build stamina and really learn the different styles.  I snapped this picture of her when she graduated at a significant level.  She was so proud holding all her ribbons.  The British philosopher Alan Watts once said:

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water.  When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown.  Instead you relax, and float.”

It seems that so many things in life one is not simply able to grab hold of … instead one must relax, and float.


A Thoroughly Passed Out Kiddo

In summers when I was a kid my father went to work and my mother used to tell me not to come home until the lights came on.  I ran wild with total freedom and yet safety.  I played tetherball, I scaled the monkey bars, I rode my Big Wheel absolutely EVERYWHERE, I climbed our apartments’ fence and walked along the top of its six foot length like a squirrel.  We lived across the street from a giant field of wildflowers and I would pick some for dinner every night, leaving tons to spare.  I played in trees and I caught cicadas (and let them go.)  We made mud pies, and played “hot lava.”  Looking back I was a real tomboy and I was the only girl in our rough and tumble pack.  But it was OK.  Summers smelled of freshly mown grass and were full of endless possibility.  I grew up so much on my own then, being allowed to roam freely.  Dear God my parents didn’t always know where I was AND I was left in the car (willingly) while they went in the grocery store!  They just rolled down the windows and I played with my toys.  If my child did practically any of the things I have mentioned fondly they would surely call Child Protective Services.  That is sad in many ways.  I developed a sense of independence and confidence in those “alone” times.  Now helicopter parents are everywhere and, if they aren’t, they often get reported.  I suppose I was lucky in that nothing bad ever happened to me.  I have since learned to question everyone — from the ice cream man (if he even still comes around) to people working in our home — with a suspicious eye.  I had a friend who was an attorney tell me the most dangerous place for young boys to be was at the bathroom in the mall — with their mothers right outside the door.  Times are simply not what they used to be.  Hence, I suppose, the advent of “play dates.”  Kids can no longer play freely so dates have to be scheduled.  Rather than use this as free babysitting time, Burk and I have always viewed it as a family time with another family.  So the kids can watch a movie in the other room while the adults talk.  In that respect, we don’t mind play dates.  In fact, we actually look forward to them.  We know the kids are safe and we get some time to speak with grown-ups.  I came in from our porch and snapped this sweet pic of our little one and her oldest friend sitting on the floor, eating berries, and giggling.  I remember all too well what it was like to escape the yolk of parental tyranny.  So I pretended not to notice them as I got all of us parents another drink.  Nia Vardalos, the Canadian-American actor of Greek descent, most notable for her Academy Award-nominated film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, said:

“My favorite part of any playdate comes later when I get to carry my exhausted and sleeping daughter to the car.  Is there anything more trusting than a sleeping child completely and utterly leaning into your body?”

That IS one of the best parts of a play date — a thoroughly passed out kiddo.


Missing Paris

We had been back from Paris for less than a month and I was already “homesick.”  I found my longing manifested itself in our little dinner of haricots verts, purée de pommes de terre et vin rouge.  I adore green beans, and I have always loved that the French refer to potatoes as “the apples of the earth.”  The red wine was, of course for me.  I missed the small street cafés, I missed the lack of television screens blaring everywhere, I missed the quiet hum of conversation versus the incessant “ong-chicka, ong-chicka, ong” of that blasted techno “music.”  And yes I missed seeing ash trays.  They bring my childhood back to me and I can so remember the days of walking into a restaurant where my parents were always asked, “Smoking or non?”  The French were not hunched over, buried in their iPhones.  As much as I nearly worship mine, I ALWAYS put it away during dinner or socializing.  Even I could spot the Americans a mile away.  I missed my demi bottles and carafes of wine and the small water glasses.  I did purchase a big blue carafe from Montréal years ago that I have used to hold our chilled, filtered water for the table.  With startling clarity I realized that the plates and glassware in Paris were sized exactly as they were in the states in the ’70’s.  Dear God that’s why people have struggled with their weight; they’re giving you at LEAST twice too much here.  And I NEVER went away hungry in France.  Food is not only a necessity; it is a culturally important experience as well.  When you partake of someone else’s food, you are observing their customs.  I found myself missing “hot chocolate” in the heat of summer as well as having it for breakfast.  Pour-quoi pas?!  The American author David Augsburger said:

“Theologically, the creation of chocolate demonstrates both the unity and the diversity of humanity.  Wherever you taste it, in every country of the world, it is immediately recognizable.  Other things, in every cuisine, are just food, but chocolate is chocolate.”

I would have to agree.  I would know French chocolate from anything else, and I do not consider myself to have a sophisticated palate.  I knew I was missing Paris.


The Little Things

Some time ago I decided to switch to mostly using my husband’s things.  I realized I had already been commandeering his undershirts for years, and then I took to using his shaving cream.  It costs WAY less than womens’ and it works much better.  Recently Burk came home with a new two pack of shaving cream and when I pressed the top I was thrilled to see it was this deep dark blue — my favorite color.  Our little one came in (because I never have any privacy,) saw the color, and exclaimed “COOL!”  “It really is,” I said, grinning.  So I wrote it out on my leg, to her delight.  “Mama, you should blog about it” she said.  And so here we are.  When the mundane turns unexpected it is a little burst of joy.  It’s just shaving cream, but it went from having a manly kind of scent and ick looking color to smelling crisp and coming out in this glorious shade of blue.  The English poet and theologian Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said:

“The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions — the little soon forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment, and the countless infinitesimal of pleasurable and genial feeling.”

So yes, dark blue shaving cream made me very excited and happy today.  I will always try to seize joy and happiness wherever I may find it; time is too precious not to.  I hope to possibly share some of that joy and happiness with others when I am able.  Sometimes it’s the little things.


Happy Fourteenth of July

Just ten days after our American Independence Bastille Day falls.  It is the day that France celebrates its national independence.  Formerly called La Fête Nationale, is a massive holiday commemorating the first storming of the Bastille, a turning point in the French Revolution.  I am not a monarchist, but I lament this day in history.  My mother’s family is descended from French nobles and luckily they fled into England.  But Madame Guillotine, slickened by the people’s unquenchable thirst for blood, was, in my opinion, horrific.  To kill someone for the sake of having more than you is wrong.  Period.  However I believe in fighting an injustice with all my heart; I just do not believe the slaughter of so many was the right way to go about it.  Consider this:  for anyone who has practiced Christianity I am willing to bet most have heard it said that Mary Magdalene was a whore.  For centuries this was accepted as truth.  In modern times it has been revealed that it was, erroneously or no, construed by a Catholic Pope.  Mary Magdalene has now been revealed as the “apostle of the apostles” and is a SAINT but for centuries she was falsely labeled a whore.  Despite the fact that legally a woman’s testimony at that time was considered invalid, the authors of the four gospels all show women to be the primary witnesses to the most important event of Christianity — Christ’s resurrection from the tomb.  Mary of Magdala witnessed both Jesus’ crucifixion and His resurrection.  Within the four Gospels she is named at least twelve times — more than most of the apostles.  The Catholic Church acknowledges this was a great untruth and she is finally being vindicated.  Maybe this is too lofty a parallel to draw, but I believe Marie Antoinette has been maligned much in the same way.  It is a fact that that she NEVER said, “Let them eat cake.”  This has been confirmed by historians.  In fact she was an intelligent woman who donated generously to charitable causes and, despite her own lavish lifestyle, displayed sensitivity towards the poor population of France.  In addition, the saying had been floating around for years and was attributed to another noble.  It has been written that Marie Antoinette was traveling in her royal carriage when the horses ran into a young boy.  He was, miraculously, uninjured, but the queen held him in her arms and (it is said) declared, “I must take him.  He is mine.”  The boy’s mother had died and his grandmother willingly agreed to have him go to Versailles.  In fact his entire family came under royal protection.  This would not be the first time Marie Antoinette had adopted “peasants” and taken them into her bosom like family.  Before her 38th birthday she would  be publicly executed.  As she climbed the steps to the scaffold, she apologized for accidentally stepping on her executioner’s foot.  To me, that does not sound like a woman who had no regard for her people.  So, while the American in me prides in the shaking off of tyranny, I cannot help but reflect upon The Reign of Terror that held my beloved France in its ghastly grip.  Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, also said:

“I was a queen, and you took away my crown; a wife, and you killed my husband; a mother, and you deprived me of my children.  My blood alone remains: take it, but do not make me suffer long.”

The Francophile in me tries to think of this as a day to celebrate French culture.  American Indians have long known when history records a “massacre” it means they won.  If the Anglos won is deemed a “victory.”  Being neither wolf nor dog has taught me there are always two sides.  “Liberté, Egalité, et Fraternité” (liberty, equality, and fraternity) did not apply to the nobles and their families who were trapped by societal standards, their duty to their people, and in many cases birthrights that had been handed down for years.  Am I a sympathizer?  I am sympathetic to any people slaughtered due to a sense of entitlement from others.  In an attempt to remain sanguine (excuse the bad, unintentional pun) I shall say to France Happy Fourteenth of July.


No Regrets

I am still behind on my posts, but today I saw something that made me smile.  As I was standing there smiling broadly, fortunately the car’s owner came up.  I then proceeded to ask if it was OK to take a picture and she graciously consented.  The first thing that comes to my mind still when I think of false eyelashes is the iconic television star Lucille Ball and her show I Love Lucy.  Lucille Ball is a woman whom I have always admired.  She was beautiful, but she was not afraid to laugh at herself.  She joked about coloring her hair and wearing false eyelashes and made hilarious faces.  Her show to me remains nearly timeless even after over 65 years.  So here I was looking at this car, grinning, and I asked the woman why she decided to put eyelashes on it.  “So my son would not want to drive it,” she quipped dryly and I found myself laughing out loud.  “And does he still?” I asked.  “Yes,” she replied.  “I even tried to put something on the back to embarrass him,” she said as she pointed out pink high heels and pearls encasing her license plate.  I remember not driving a car until my twenties and not caring WHAT Daddy had; at least I could drive!  So it was no surprise to me her measures were not really deterrents.  I thought the whole thing was hilarious!  Lucille Ball herself once said, “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”  This woman driving around town with the giant, silly eyelashes on her car seemed to me to have that kind of pluck.  I want to take more chances with my life and loosen up.  When I was younger I cared so very much about what others thought.  I find it very freeing now that I don’t nearly as much.  So here’s to Lucy who, for me, started it all, and to fun women who have cars with eyelashes.  And here’s to having tried more things with no regrets.


Leaving The City

We were all sad to leave Atlantis.  Our now like family member Mr. Damarius graciously took this photo of us as he wheeled our smitten little girl out along with our luggage.  I realized I would miss this man, so much younger than my own father but SO very much like him.  I noticed the way our little one loved him and it was hard not to lament the loss of my Daddy never getting to know his only granddaughter in this life.  Mr. Damarius, much like my father Marcus, was one of a kind.  He was upbeat, joking, and always positive.  I missed my Daddy so very much in that moment.  He worked with joy, just as my father always did and I found myself hugging him as we left.  With Atlantis behind us I saw reality and my childhood blending together in a flash.  Poverty.  Despair.  Hope.  Struggle.  I vowed never to forget my roots and I told my husband and child about them on the way to the airport.  It is so important never to forget.  Never to forget the hardship.  Never to forget the pain.  It wrapped itself around me like an old worn blanket.  And I tried, perhaps futilely, to explain it to my family.  Life for me had always been rather harsh, and I did not want my two beloveds getting soft.  I wanted them to understand the plight of most people, and how very privileged we were to have gotten to take this trip.  Because he put no expectations or pressure on us, I really missed my father-in-law when he left.  It became doubly hurtful when I realized how very much I still needed and missed my own father.  I knew we needed to stand alone, but it did not lessen the sting.  It was time; we needed to be leaving the city.


Beauty, Strength, And Greatness

Unlike I suppose how most people feel, other than Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, whom I had always fervently hoped to meet, I love our apex predators.  We NEED them.  They have all been demonized for millennia and some are only now just beginning to be appreciated for the vital roles they play within our ecosystems.  If you have ever read one of my blogs you will know we live with wolf hybrids.  Blue sharks inhabit the deep waters of the world’s temperate and tropical oceans and have been referred to as the “wolves of the sea” because of their tendency to roam the Atlantic in groups.  I saw several different species of sharks thriving at Atlantis but I am not sure if they had blue sharks.  What I did see was a double-sided supercool “Mayan Temple Shark Lagoon.”  Down below visitors can walk right up and see them up-close and a Japanese photographer was so taken with the images of our tiny child juxtaposed with the enormous sharks he asked if he could take pictures of her with them and then send them to us.  He was so kind that we agreed.  You could see our four-year-old reaching up to the creatures as they swam languidly over and around her.  It was both a mighty and a humbling experience.  Paul Watson, a Canadian marine wildlife conservation and environmental activist, said:

“The shark is the apex predator in the sea.  Sharks have molded evolution for 450 million years.  All fish species that are prey to the sharks have had their behavior, their speed, their camouflage, their defense mechanisms molded by the shark.”

It was a real thrill to come so close to the wolf of the seas’ beauty, strength, and greatness.


Echoes Of Its Spirit

There is something so enticing about the green-blue waters of the Caribbean.  I love a vibrant, vivid green and deep, rich blue.  When the two mix it is a beautiful display of light and dark — at once the revealed and the unknown.  I had never been past the Gulf side of the United States before.  The beautiful mix of the islanders’ skin was intriguing, as well as their names.  Our favorite guy was Damarius.  I had never heard that name before and I love it.  He always had a great attitude every time we saw him.  Then I noticed how the women of Atlantis all wore eyeshadow that matched their uniforms.  So each time we went down to our breakfast buffet we were greated by these beautiful woman wearing green suits and dark green, glitter eyeshadow.  In another part of the resort they wore a vivid blue in both dress as well as around their eyes.  I found green and blue continued throughout, from the people to the water.  The effect was both mesmerizing and mystical.  Speaking of which, they had a bar over the shark area and I discovered this delight you see pictured here.  I had no idea what it was even called — I just saw a man with one and said, “I’ll have what he’s having!”  It tasted even better than it looked.  Enjoying this drink in the shade as the sunlight glinted off the green-blue water was tranquil and transporting.  The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.”  Looking all around me I was surrounded by countless amazing living creatures — both inside and out — as well as water pouring and contained both inside and out.  Relaxing and inviting; wondrous and mysterious:  these were the thoughts I took away from this reimagined resort of the mythical city of Atlantis.  I would say it definitely magnified echoes of its spirit.



The next day we traveled off the island and ventured into Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas.  Walking down the dock from Paradise Island to get to the ferry there were women offering to braid my hair.  I’d always wanted to have lots of tiny cornrows for the beach, complete with beads rattling.  But then something else I had wanted even more caught my eye.  There was a large native woman with kind eyes and a sweet face standing near the water deftly brandishing a giant cleaver knife.  As a vegetarian, this would normally have sent me running.  And then I saw it — she was holding a pineapple and proceeded to expertly pour all sorts of rum and heaven only knows what in it along with some ice.  Above the fresh-cut fruit the frozen concoction was garnished with a straw placed jauntily at an angle.  My eyes pretty much popped out of my head.  “Bahama Mama take care of you,” she said with a smile and a knowing wink.  Fortified with my rum we rode the ocean waves a short distance to shore.  With thoughts of rum (as well as actual rum) swirling in my head, we all decided to visit the Pirates of Nassau Museum.  Of course this was a more lively museum than a stodgy one, with jocular actors scattered about dressed in character to draw people in.  First we stepped into a re-creation of a typical period ship where everyone passed through in close quarters.  All along the walls were interesting facts about piracy.  They also debunked various myths about pirates including “‘X’ marks the spot” and walking the plank.  The Pirates’ Code of Honor was extremely harsh.  I learned about marooning, the acceptable practice of putting a crew member who had broken the code ashore on one of the many uninhabited islands.  The ship would never return.  There was definitely a type of honor in the Code, though; among them was that a pirate was never to hurt a woman.  The American author Robert Kurson said:

“Piracy was risky business, and injuries were commonplace; a single lost limb or gouged-out eye could end a pirate’s career.  To encourage pirates not to hesitate in battle – and out of a sense of fairness – many pirate crews compensated wounded crewmen in predetermined amounts.”

They had an interesting flag room, complete with the Jolly Roger, the infamous skull and bones.  I was also surprised to learn there were women pirates, too.  During Prohibition in the U.S. rum-runners in the Caribbean went from smuggling rum to Florida, to Canadian Whiskey, French champagne, and English gin to major cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago.  It was said that some ships carried as much as $200,000 in contraband in a single run.  Coming to the end of our tour our little one was now on the lookout for pirates.  And, with dramatic flair, we met up with one!  He gently swooped her up and pointed his sword at the rest of us, asking if we “be friend or foe.”  Rather than being scared she emitted a tiny giggle; her golden curls bouncing in the afternoon sun.  Our matey put her down after I’d gotten this picture and we had lunch in this adjacent tavern.  In keeping with our theme, I had a Rum-Runner.