01 December 2011

Santa's Secret Story

The beginning of December means many things:  Christmas music piped in every store, tantalizing displays of holiday goodies, everything decked in lights and glitter.

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is get out the basket of holiday books.  There are books that I enjoyed as a child as well as new ones I have grown to love right alongside my children.  I was excited to see a children's Christmas book available for review from the Catholic Company and picked it right away.

Santa's Secret Story sounded intriguing.  I was excited about the idea of a book that would tie the Catholic celebration of Christmas together with the idea of Santa Claus.  It seems the secular world wants to claim him as their own.  This book shows the real story of Nicholas who sold his parents' possessions when they died so he could use it to help the poor.  It went on to describe how Nicholas helped a poor widower and his daughters by dropping coins down their chimney.  Nicholas became Bishop of Myra and was known for his many good works.  Rachel, a girl who is curious about Santa, discovers his story with the help of her guardian angel.

I know there are some Christians who refuse to participate in the idea of Santa, thinking this somehow diminishes the celebration of Jesus' birth.  I have never seen it this way.  I think it is easy to fit Santa in right alongside Jesus and to even illustrate the story of Jesus' birth with the love and giving of that "right jolly old elf".  In the story it is ultimately revealed that Santa's secret is he lives in heaven.  While I may read the book to an older child who is finally questioning the existence of Santa, I wouldn't blow his cover to a young child.  Give me the North Pole, eight reindeer, the elves and Santa's workshop.  I am a sucker for it all.  So, unfortunately, Santa's Secret Story will not be slipped into my basket of Christmas stories.  Perhaps I will save it for that time when my youngest are wondering out loud about the true story of Santa but until then his story will remain, well, SECRET.

Happy Advent,

*This review was written as part of the reviewer program for the Catholic CompanyThey are a great source for Advent and Christmas religious items as well as books and gifts throughout the year.

16 November 2011

Sweet Reflection

(Subscribers:  Please display images so you can see the photos.)

Today Mark came home with 
some treats for me in this lovely box.

It contained these little beauties.

In our break-neck speed, never stop to appreciate much, quick and convenient world, this box of treats made me sigh.  And pause.  And reflect.  I imagined a young woman lining the box with waxed tissue paper then inserting the plastic bed.  Next she tucked in my eight treasures, covered them carefully and even tied the box with a lavender, grosgrain ribbon.

Sucre is aptly described as a "sweet boutique".  It is a favorite spot for me and Mark to grab a cup of coffee (me) and a cup of tea (him) as well as a delicious morsel then sit back and chat without interruption (all FIVE of them).  It is one of my favorite places because I literally feel myself relax when I walk in the door.  The window displays are always delightful and the colors inside are those sweet, pastel shades displayed on the box above.  The walls are minty green.  Everywhere you look there is a feast for the eyes, whether it be the case of gelato, the luxurious chocolates with exotic fillings or the stunning macaroon topiaries.

This box contained sixteen puffy pillows sandwiched together by a smooth cream called mousseline.  There are many flavors but mine included chocolate, hazelnut, almond, pistachio, bananas foster, strawberry, pecan and salted caramel.  Yes, they are fabulous.  Yes, they melt in your mouth.  Yes, they are coming out with Candy Cane macaroons for the holidays.  Want to drool some more?  Wish you could window shop at this heavenly, sugar rush of a store?  You can.  Check it out here.

The insert listing the flavors also said, "Our macaroons are best enjoyed within 7 days."  I chuckled as I bit into number three.  Maybe they can last until Thursday.  MAYBE!


01 November 2011

Book Review

 Recently, I had the chance to read my first book as part of the reviewer program for  The Catholic Company.  It was titled Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship.

When I was in high school, I remember Mother Teresa visiting New Orleans.  I cannot remember the reason for her visit but I will never forget one thing she chose to do during her time here.  She wanted to address the youth of our city.  Free tickets were given to all the Catholic high school students and we dutifully filled the college arena.  It was the same arena where we saw the latest, popular singing groups and rock stars of the time.  Now here we were to see this diminutive lady in her cotton sari, a far cry from the glitz and glamor of 80's pop stars.  I can't remember anything in particular she said but I can vividly remember her tiny frame which seemed almost to shrink before us against the enormity of the venue.  She was quiet, calm and spoke in her familiar thickly accented English.  I also clearly recall the hushed awe that fell across our normally rambunctious crowd as she walked out to address us.  We all knew what an honor it was to be in her presence.

Donna-Marie Cooper Boyle was very fortunate to have met Mother Teresa and further blessed by ten years of personal letters and other encounters with the lady we now call Blessed.  We have the opportunity to see Mother Teresa through the eyes of someone who had a relationship with her.  I liked that Donna-Marie put photographs of the actual letters she received at the start of each chapter.  It was lovely to see the old typewriter print as well as Mother Teresa's signature at the bottom.

Through the course of the book, you follow the friendship of Donna-Marie and Mother Teresa while learning about what was going on in the author's life at the time as well as gaining a closer look at the spirituality of Mother Teresa.  Most of us know something about this world famous missionary but we can all benefit from a closer look.  Donna-Marie makes the message of Mother Teresa quite clear and shows how each of us can put her lessons into work in our own lives.  We are not all called to minister to the poor and dying in the slums of Calcutta but we are called to minister to those around us.  Mother Teresa herself said,  "There is Calcutta all over the world for those who have eyes to see."

I enjoyed learning about what and how Mother Teresa taught her nuns.  It is wonderful to know that the powerful love she showed will continue after her death through the Missionaries of Charity all around the world.  Lessons in simplicity, the power of love and the value of taking time to silence ourselves are all lessons we can use right away to live a better life and begin to build God's kingdom on earth.  In writing this book, Donna-Marie lets you into her life for a closer look at Mother Teresa who in turns gives you a closer look at Jesus.  You will see those around you in a new light and will be armed with tools for loving Jesus Himself in those around you.  Mother Teresa said,  "Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things.  It consists in accepting with a smile what Jesus sends us.  It consists in accepting and following the will of God."

I highly recommend Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  I also recommend The Catholic Company as a great resource for Catholic books and gift items.


24 October 2011

Exciting Updates

I have two updates on the writing front.  First of all, I have signed up for a writing course online.  It takes about 18 months to complete and by the end I will have completed two manuscripts ready for publication as well as character sketches and outlines for several other works.  They help you narrow down a genre of writing based on your interests and talents.  They also teach you how to contact publications and get your work published.  I am thrilled to be able to do this because I know the deadlines, direction and guidance will be invaluable.

Second, a friend suggested that I take part in a Reviewer Program using my blog.  The Catholic Company is an online store that sells many books and gift items.  If you have a blog, you can sign up to be a reviewer.  You choose from a selection of materials which they send you to try or read then you review it on your blog.  I was excited to be approved and will be posting my first review shortly.

Last but not least... Happy Fall!  We were fortunate to have a cool front blow through last week and it has really put the feeling of fall in the air.  Each day it has gotten a little warmer but that's okay.  I think I speak for everyone here, that fall has been ignited in our hearts.  It also helps to know that another cool front is just around the corner.

Today I am doing something I have never done and it certainly has me in the fall mood.  I am cooking a turkey.  We are having a good-bye dinner for the Mexican girl who has been living with us.  I was trying to decide what to cook and my aunt's green bean and artichoke casserole came to mind.  When I asked my daughter what she thought she said it would only be a tease because it reminded her of Thanksgiving.  Well then, I decided, turkey it is for the main course.  So when you walk into my house today, the first thing you smell is the pumpkin candle burning in my foyer.  Next comes the smell of turkey (and a packet of onion soup mix) wafting from the slow cooker.  As you move further into the kitchen you can smell vanilla and apples from Apple Crunch Cake cooling on the counter.  I am feeling so warm and cozy.  Never mind the 80 degrees outside.  In my heart, certainly at least in my nostrils, it is a cool, crisp late November Thursday.  What a treat!

Happy Fall Y'all!

29 September 2011

The Sweet Spot

This morning I had a chance to hit the tennis ball around with Mark.  I love tennis and I love Mark so it is a winning combination.  I haven't ever had lessons and had hardly picked up a racquet until we lived in England.  There were public courts in the park behind our house there.  Since the kids weren't in school we could play during the day in the middle of the week and had the entire place to ourselves.  We could hit until our hearts' content while Elise ran around with whichever kids were sitting out for a bit.  I wasn't nervous about how I looked or what I wore because it felt like our own private court.  That's not the case at the New Orleans Lawn Tennis Club.  It is quite intimidating to play at the second oldest court in the country with all the tradition and etiquette associated with tennis.  I am not letting that stop me but that's only because Mark is comfortable with it all and I just follow his lead.

On the ride home, I was analyzing my hitting with Mark and going over things I did right and what I did wrong.  I love the mental challenge of figuring out your opponent's hit and where it is headed.  When you guess correctly, you are prepared to be in the right spot.  When you are lined up correctly and swing at the perfect moment, there is a satisfying THWACK the ball makes as it hits the racquet.  It's the sweet spot.

Life is full of sweet spots.  Lately, I have been focused on physical ones.  I have been going to tai chi classes for about three months.  I have been wanting to blog about it but can't seem to put my amazement of this Chinese form of martial art into words.  Me, speechless?  Imagine that!  There is so much to share about tai chi but I am bringing it up now to illustrate my point.  In tai chi, the movements are done rhythmically and very slowly.  In practicing the movements you are trying to find the best way to perform each sequence.  The instructor explained that when you find that one right way, you can freeze at any point and remain completely still with no problem.  In tai chi, the goal is to always be balanced and in complete control of your muscles.  You know the feeling when you get the move right.  You hit the sweet spot.

I am taking a dance class this year.  This is something I have been wanting to do for some time and it is finally possible with Elise in school.  I danced from the time I was five until I left home for college and have even gone back as an adult.  Physically in dance, the sweet spot is when you have practiced the combination of steps enough you could do it in your sleep.  That's when you get to fine tune the technique and bring out the emotion of the dance.  It is a very sweet spot indeed.  Combining music with the movement adds an emotional level to the activity for me.  The first class, the teacher mentioned the name Bob Fosse and started playing All that Jazz.  I grew up learning his style of jazz choreography and dancing to the music of his works such as Sweet Charity, Pippin and Chicago.  Talk about the sweet spot! 

In August we had the luxury of a last-minute get-away to the beach with my in-laws.  Sitting on the beach with my brother-in-law, listening to the perfect beach tunes on a picturesque day, we both marveled at the moment.  It was just the right combination of relaxation, family time, sand and sun.  The sweet spot is always about just enough, never too much.

We all are given sweet spots in life, both physically and emotionally but it is learning to recognize and appreciate them that brings such satisfaction.  Of course, these moments are nothing more than a glimpse at the sweetest spot of all...

Here's hoping you hit a sweet spot soon and get a little glimpse of Heaven.

23 September 2011

Happy Girl, Happy Mom

It has been WAY too long since I have written a post!  My last one was so cathartic and expressed what I was feeling perfectly.  It was like a tough act I didn't want to follow.  But...I miss posting so I thought I would start with a short follow up.  Simply put:  Elise loves school and I love being a mom who has her kids all in school and still gets to stay home.  The hours and days fly by.

I'll end with a funny Elise quote.
When asked at the dinner table to share her favorite part of the day, after a long, thoughtful pause Elise responded,  "It was brushing my teeth."

Gotta love four-year-olds!  They sure make life fun.

04 August 2011

Endings, Beginnings

I was sharing the bed with Elise tonight.  Smoothing down her hair.  Watching her stretch.  Then the water works started.  She is starting school in 14 days.  I'd note the exact hours and minutes but that would be down right embarrassing.

Lately when I look at her, I gaze long and hard, taking in every detail.  I want to pour her in a cup and drink her up.

Did I read enough stories?  Do enough puzzles?  Have enough tea parties?  Tickle enough?  Laugh enough?  It's all slipping through my fingers like sand.

Wasn't five children and fourteen years enough?  Right now, it doesn't seem so.

I loved the gentle rhythm of the days.  Mealtimes, nap time, baths and bedtime with walks, playgrounds and toys sprinkled in.  I can still remember the reality of three children under the age of four.  Mess and chaos.  The gentle rhythm felt more like waves crashing on the shore threatening to pull me under.  But looking back that mess and chaos seem now as sweet as the jam I didn't have time to wipe from the counter.  As sweet as the syrup Anne always managed to get in her hair.  Sweet as bananas and cereal dribbling down baby chins.

The expanse from 8-3 has never looked so vast.  I remember the days when I would dream of time and space for myself.  To think.  To breathe.

It is quite a coincidence that Winnie-the-Pooh is in the movie theater again this summer.  If ever there was a romantic view of childhood and the magical years before school, this is it.  I was thinking about taking Elise to see it.  Actually, I guess I want her to take me.  I don't know if I can make it through the end without completely losing it:

And so we come to the last chapter, in which Pooh 
and Christopher Robin go to the 
enchanted part of the forest, and we say goodbye. 

Winnie-the-Pooh says, "Goodbye? Oh no, please. 
Can't we just go back to page one 
and start all over again?"

Sorry, Pooh, but all stories have an ending, you know.
"Oh, bother."

Right now, turning this page and ending a chapter seems so hard.  I have never been good with goodbyes.  Ask my mom.  If I stay in one place for five minutes, I am emotionally attached.  Being in this "place" for fourteen years, It is only natural to be sad.

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an
end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
~T.S. Eliot~

So.  This fall, first, I will cry.  Then I will breathe.  Then I will think.  Then I will begin.  What?  I don't know.  Stick around and see.


20 July 2011

Right Here, Right Now

Here I am, up way too late, reading and reading and reading.  Then I realize- HEY- I had picked up the computer because I was wanted to WRITE a post.  Amazing how quickly one can get sidetracked in cyberspace.

Well, I am happy to report I am officially enjoying summer.  It takes me some time.  The transition is always difficult.  My ideal summer and my REAL summer need time to melt into one another.  The past few days there have been times when the ideal has become reality.  Actually, I think that probably happens more often than we realize.  Being aware of it is the trick.

On Sunday after several days of rain, Mark was determined to take the kids to the pool.  The gray clouds were sufficient warning this was not a good idea but he persisted and I helped the process along, dreaming of reading and writing alone.  I transported everyone and ran an errand.  Then I went back to the club to check on everyone.  Big mistake.  I should have run for cover.  Instead I found myself rained in at the club with the family.  As luck would have it everyone else took the hint (and a strong one I might add) from the menacing gray clouds and stayed away.  The Women's World Cup Final was on the big screen tv and we had the place almost to ourselves.  Lifeguards and workers alike joined the party.  One kind gentleman kept us supplied with freshly popped popcorn and pretzels.  The rain drenched the tennis courts and splattered against the wall of windows.  The kids were watching the soccer match, munching on snacks and playing with tennis balls.  It was an impromptu party and a cozy one at that.

No place else I would have rather been.  Right there, right then.

Last Thursday I went to the midnight premiere of Harry Patter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.  We sat in line for hours and watched the parade of HP fans in their costumes while my daughter Anne read to us from The Idiots Guide to Harry Potter.  The excitement was palpable by the time they let us into the theater.  From the very first scene we were drawn in.  The two hours and fifteen minutes passed so quickly.  The movie was stunning and came to a satisfying conclusion.  In the theater packed with die hard fans...

No place else I would rather have been.  Right there, right then.

Today I took some of the kids to the pool.  It is stressful to me to watch Elise at the pool.  She can't swim yet but wants to be in on the action.  Finally, she gave me a break and decided to splash around in the baby pool.  I found a few discarded toys for her to play with.  It was getting a little too hot so I decided to sit on the edge and put my feet in.  Ahhhhh!  Now I could relax and enjoy myself.  Next thing I know, Elise and I are having a tea party then I am watering her while she pretends to be a flower.

No place else I would have rather been.  Right there, right then.

Now here I am in a comfy chair in my quiet living room.  All the children are asleep upstairs.  I am listening to Mark snore on the sofa across from me and there is the quiet hum of the air conditioning.  I should have been sleeping long before now but there is no place I would rather be.  Right here, right now.

If you look for those moments, you will find them right before your very eyes.  Here's to stealing a few more of them before the summer's end.


06 July 2011

Lucky Me

I have been dreaming of writing for some time now.  Hesitantly, fearfully but dreaming none the less.  I have not been sure just what shape my dream would take and I certainly didn't commit to following it in any way.  To commit would require action which would require decision.  Decision?  Did I just mention the "D" word? 

If you have been with me on this blogging journey for some time you will remember the post where I couldn't decide on my hair color.  Small decisions are paralyzing.  Every time I am almost out of flavored coffee creamer, I approach the dairy aisle with high anxiety.  Recently, a friend described this heavenly liquid as "Christmas in a cup".  How perfect!  Of course, bringing Christmas into the picture only made things worse.  Christmas means peace, joy and love in just the perfect combination.  It means high expectations which lead to disappointment and disillusionment.  Now bring that expectation to the dairy aisle and  I am breaking out in a sweat.  Now Dina, you may think, are you seriously stopped in your tracks by this tiny insignificant decision?  I am embarrassed (however slightly) to admit it.  You would think I was marrying the darn creamer!

Big decisions are easy.  Move to England.  Sure!  Now what color suitcases to buy to go to England is another story.  You get the picture.  So my dreaming of writing is stalled by trivial decisions such as computer vs. notebook.  Do I write in a notebook by hand or tap away on the keys of the computer.  Certainly a big enough choice to derail any dream!  Well, the computer has been at my disposal all this time and hasn't spurred any great feats of writing so I decide to try the notebook.  You guessed it.  There I am in Office Depot deciding which color notebook to MARRY.  Ridiculous but true.

Enter fate, muses or the Holy Spirit (which I prefer to call it).  Over and over again, I am guided and shown glimpses of a possible writing life.  Lucky me for each of those guides and glimpses.

  • Lucky me that my brother-in-law has a desire to write and is armed with a fabulous book to lend me on the subject.  Not to mention that he actually is willing to answer his cell phone when he sees me calling and knows he may be attacked by a bout of inspiration which I ramble about incessantly.
  • Lucky me that I have a mom who loves reading and introduced me to the love of story at an early age.  Lucky me that we still share this love and recommend books and chat about character and plot.
  • Lucky me that I met my alter ego online a few weeks ago.  She is a blogging, knitting, Harry Potter-reading, British-Royalty loving mother of five.  Blows the mind, doesn't it?  She came to New Orleans and we had a three hour coffee chat that felt like five minutes.  She has worked as a writer/editor and is willing to help me along this path.
  • Lucky me that I have many friends like you, dear readers, that openly encourage me in my writing.
  • Last and most importantly, lucky me to have a husband who understands.  When I explain that I want to write his answer is, okay so write.  When I protest that this will require hours of doing nothing else he responds, okay so write.  When I worry that all this may come to nothing he responds, that's okay.  Just write.  He gets it.  Not only will he not stand in my way, he will wholeheartedly support me.
So, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  I did decide on a notebook color.  It is the perfect shade of black that says, "Write damn it!".  On to steps two, three, four...


25 June 2011

Same Chair, New Inspiration

Here I am sitting in the same chair.  It is a well worn, wing-backed chair that we call "king of the castle" seat at my in-law's house.  From your perch in this chair, you get the best view of the tv and a nice view of the leafy backyard as well.  Armed with remote, magazine, book and/or computer I think I could sit here in my pajamas literally ALL DAY.  I don't think, I KNOW.  Not going to happen today but it's 11:30 and I am still in my pj's and in the chair.  Not bad.

Happened upon more "blog fuel".  This time it is titled, "7 Quick Takes Friday".  Make that Saturday and here goes...

I just read a fabulous book,  Love, Ruby LavenderIf you are a fan of children's literature, I highly recommend it.  It is like Fried Green Tomatoes for kids.  Small southern town, lovable, quirky characters.  To borrow from another book review I read:  
"It is like sucking on butterscotch- smooth and sweet."

 Love, Ruby Lavender includes correspondence between Ruby and her grandmother Eula.  I adore books of letters.  My all-time favorite is 84 Charing Cross Road with The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society a close second.

I am a complete Harry Potter geek.  After polishing of all 4000+ pages of the seven-book series the last few months, I keep wondering why I jumped on the band-wagon so late.  I purposely go out of my way to pass the theater just to see the HP 7, Part 2 movie poster.  I could say I only do this for my kids but I would be lying.  Daniel Radcliffe IS Harry and I am utterly in love with them both.

We have slipped into a nice summer routine.  Up later, to bed later but just a bit.  I have given my kids a list of things they need to accomplish every day.  Dress, brush teeth and hair, read and say a prayer.  It is basic enough to make us all happy.
We have a friend from Mexico living with us to learn English.  Keep saying I will blog about it.  She arrived almost two weeks ago.  I promise to write about it soon.
Sam just got Rosetta Stone Japanese and is breathing down my back for the computer.  Don't want to keep him waiting any longer so I will just hit "publish post" and be done.  

10 June 2011

Blog Fuel

Happy Friday!  Happy Summer!

I was up early this morning to see Mark off for a business retreat this weekend.  He will be in Saint Petersburg bonding with coworkers over kayaking and delicious meals.  I will be home with the kids.  So is life.

Deciding to grab the computer and a cup of coffee instead of a few more moments of shut-eye, afforded me the opportunity to wander aimlessly through articles, links and blogs.  I love when I have the time to do this.  Then I think about all I would like to write about on my blog.  Then I become overwhelmed.  Then the day crashes in on me and I never get around to posting.

Not today.  I happened upon some fuel for my blog.  I found inspiration in the idea of a "day book" where you fill in the prompts.  Perfect for a procrastinator like me.  Here goes:

Outside my window is my in-laws' beautiful, lush, green backyard.  We have been hanging out here for a few days.

I am thinking about poems and music and books that people wrote about on the blogs I visited this morning.

I am thankful for mornings like this.

From the kitchen... My sister gave me a cookbook for my birthday titled Cooking Up a Storm and last night I tried Mexican Lasagna which was delicious.

I am wearing Nick and Nora pajama pants that make my heart so happy because they have travel desintations all over them in bright colors- New Zealand, Japan, London, Italy, Paris- along with my Seagrove Beach t-shirt, a souvenir from our recent trip to the beach.

I am going to pack up all our things today and drive back to New Orleans.

I am reading Little Women for the fourth time and I will make it to the end this time!  It is fun to read it again as a mom.  I have always placed myself in the role of one of the sisters but now I see it from a different perspective.

On my mind... How to get into the groove of summer.  How to be "Pantry Police" and monitor the hours of electronics all summer.  How to strike the perfect balance of relaxation, loosened structure, healthy living and keeping my sanity.

Around the house we are getting ready to celebrate Sam's 14th (gulp!) birthday.

One of my favorite things is actually getting the ideas out of my head and onto the "paper".

A few plans for the rest of the week... I love answering this one on Friday because there isn't much week left to fill.  That way I don't have to admit to being without much of a plan these days. :-)  However, this weekend will include laundry, finally unpacking from the beach and visiting my in-laws in Baton Rouge as well as celebrating Sam's birthday.

There.  Done.  Why, oh why don't I just sit down and write more often?  Oh well.  Hope you are still out there reading.  Either way I feel better having collected my thoughts and thrown them into cyberspace.


12 May 2011

Royal Procrastination

I have been wanting to post something about the Royal Wedding for some time now.  I have been wanting to write ever since they announced the engagement back in February.  I have been putting it off and putting it off.  I realized if I don't write soon, I'll be discussing the birth of their first child so here goes...

First of all, let me tell you about my experience with another royal wedding.  I was in London until the day of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.  It was amazing to be there!  Anything and everything had their images emblazoned on it with the words "commemorative" and "official souvenir".  I have a stamp that was made to honor the occasion beautifully framed and hanging in my living room.  I have several "official" souvenir books as well.  My favorite mementos, however, are the photos I have of all the carriages.  My aunt and I got up at the crack of dawn the day before the wedding to watch the rehearsal.  I remember how cold it was and how thrilled we were to join in the excitement that surrounds such an historic event.  The day of the wedding, we flew to Belgium and watched from there.  No setting the alarm like every other American.  Belgium is actually an hour ahead of England.  I was thirteen years old and thought it was truly a fairy tale.  As a matter of fact, I have a sapphire engagement ring (only a FEW carats smaller) because of Diana.

Diana was fascinating to watch as I went through high school.  William and Harry were adorable.  It was sad to witness the downward spiral of her marriage.  Don't we all remember where we were when we heard about her death?  My heart broke watching those forlorn boys walking behind her casket.  I was living in DC at the time and we went to see the British Embassy, the grounds covered with flowers similar to the gates at Buckingham Palace.

When we were in England, we had the chance to visit Kensington Palace which is where Diana and the boys spent many years.  We also saw the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens.  Watching the kids play there will always be a favorite memory.

Fast forward to now.  I have always thought Kate Middleton was absolutely adorable.  It has been fun to follow their on again, off again relationship and I was excited when William finally proposed.  The first thing I did was to ask two of my British friends if they would send me a stamp once it was issued.  My friend and I made plans to watch the wedding together.  I slept at her house and we dutifully awoke at 4 am to catch all the coverage.  We ate scones and sipped tea as well as some other treats I had ordered from England including treacle tarts and Victoria slices (named after Queen Victoria).  What a splendid morning.  The dress, the ceremony, the Abbey- everything was just so lovely all I could do was sigh.  Okay, everything except Fergie's daughters.  Ugh!  Could have done without that side show!  I talked to a friend who was there with her husband and three young children.  She said it was crazy but so much fun.  They went to the Abbey the day after and saw Kate's bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and other things that hadn't yet been removed.  She sent me a "commemorative" tin of biscuits with the couple's picture.  What a treat!

I would imagine that any wedding of an heir to the throne causes quite a stir in the UK but this was even more.  I think everyone could sense how genuine of a couple they are.  I know the monarch of England is nothing but a figure head these days but I do think William will make a great ambassador and "face" for England around the world.  His mother's love shines on through him.  Kate seems to be all that Diana was and more.  She has a similar grace, elegance and charm.  Unlike Diana however, she brings to the marriage the blessings of a stable home and warm, happy childhood.  It was sad to watch old footage of Charles and Diana and see how empty their relationship appeared.  I have talked about that with several people lately and the discussion has gone the same.  Maybe they shouldn't have married.  It certainly, with the luxury of hindsight, seems to have been a mistake.  The quick response is:  Wait.  Then there would be no William.  God brings goodness even out of our mistakes.

Oh yeah... besides the biscuit tin, my friend Mary says the stamp is in the mail!


23 March 2011

Back By Popular Demand

Okay, so the title sounds as if throngs of adoring fans are sending e-mails in droves begging, pleading me to post something, anything.  Although I am sure it is hard to believe, that is not actually the case.  However, I don't need thousand of adoring fans when I get a message like this:

hey you! time to blog again...I miss it :)

There it was so cute and unassuming, sitting in my Facebook inbox just waiting to make my day.  When I read it,  a smile spread across my face and planted itself in my heart.  Thanks, friend.  It was just what I needed.

As I have probably said before, I blog all the time- IN MY HEAD!  I have powerful thoughts and insignificant ones, all of which are chronicled in my brain but never make it to the computer.  That, you see, would require effort.  Keeping my house running the past few months has required every ounce of effort I could muster.
Mark left for DC the first week of January and he didn't return until the very end of February.  I know February is the shortest month, but boy did it seem long this time.  Much of the time I felt like I was wading through wet cement in boots.  (Wish I had the toned thighs to prove it.)  Any time I would think about blogging I was either too tired or too overwhelmed to say much that wasn't whining.  I would alternate between feelings of loneliness and guilt.  First, I would bemoan the fact that I was so lonely.  Poor thing!  I can throw one heck of a pity party.  Then something would jolt me back to reality.  A story about a terminally ill child.  Remembering a friend who lost her spouse.  My sadness would end.  Theirs would last a lifetime.  Then I would find renewed strength.  One time I thought about posting a photo of that WW II ad with the girl rolling up her sleeve and showing her muscle that proclaims:  "We can do it!".  Then back to the pity party again.  It felt like I was being tumbled around in an emotional dryer.
One day, when I was trying particularly hard to hold on to my sanity, I decided I needed a diversion.  I had lost any time to do the things that refresh and rejuvenate me- reading, knitting, even blogging.  I knew that I owed it to myself to carve out a little time for me.  I decided a good book was in order.  Something easy and fun.  Something that would transport me to another place.  I found just the thing.  After much coaxing from two of my kids, I finally picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  I wasn't against reading it.  It's just not an appealing setting for me.  Besides, I saw the size of the books after 1 and 2.  It wasn't a pool you could dip your toe in.  It was all or nothing.  How could I possibly commit the time it would take to complete the series?  Besides, there is a stack of books next to my bed waiting to be read.  So, I begin, rather nonchalantly.  Okay, maybe even cynically.  What's the big deal?  What's so great about Harry Potter anyway?  The first few chapters were okay.  Easy reading, not especially knock-your-socks-off.  Then it happened.  My socks were knocked off and I found myself stealing away to my bed room in the middle of the day.  Sorry guys.  Mom HAS to read about the Quidditch match.  She'll be back from Hogwarts real soon.
Speaking of that, I need to get in a chapter or two of Book Five: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix before I go to bed.  Besides, it has been so long since I have written,  I wouldn't want to pull a blogging muscle. 

Hope to be back more often.

PS.  Mark is in town now!  :-)

20 February 2011

A Post From Mark

Carnival time when you grow up in New Orleans is such a special time of year.  It was not until I left for my first Congressional internship in January of 1990 that I realized this fully.  That was when I attended the annual Krewe of Louisiana Mardi Gras in DC.  The three day event is a wonderful tradition and I sensed right away how much this piece of New Orleans culture meant to people in our nation's capitol from all over the country.  For me, it was a nice little slice of home but it was not the real thing.  Talking to people that weekend made me think about all of my memories of Carnival up to that point in my life. 

The experience for New Orleanians differs depending on your age and your family and mine was no exception.  Unlike many others, my immediate family (with a few exceptions) did not belong to any Carnival Krewe and did not ride in any of the parades.  In the 1970s, we lived in the suburb of Metairie in Jefferson Parish whose own series of parades was quite robust in comparison to those in New Orleans.  My father would take us to the end of the traditional parade route that began at Clearview Mall on Veterans Boulevard and rode all the way past Bonnabel because there was less traffic and easier to attend.  Kale and Josh, my two younger brothers and I would bring Schewgmann Supermarket paper grocery bags to catch beads and doubloons.  We would always come home each evening, lay out our catches, much like kids would after Halloween, and compare our haul of stuff.  At a certain time, the local New Orleans Times Picayune would have a section that laid out all the various doubloons for each parade so we could plan, in advance to catch all the different colors.  I would follow certain floats for several blocks just to make sure I would get every color.

One year, about the time I was 10 years old, the New Orleans Police officers went on strike during Carnival and all the parades were in Jefferson Parish meaning our formerly less crowded routine was upset.  We stayed at my cousins place several evenings and cars were parked all over there neighborhood for parades two miles away!  That was when I first really sensed how big this celebration was called Mardi Gras.  A few years later my father accepted a transfer to Baton Rouge but we still made it a point to be in New Orleans during parade season, especially since my grandmother had moved into a place on Carondelet, just off Saint Charles where many of the New Orleans Krewes paraded.

Most of the stories from high school and LSU are best left to memory with one major exception.  While at LSU, my fraternity rented a flat bed for a rig and had it parked on third and Saint Charles Avenue each year for Mardi Gras day.  Just before Mardi Gras day 1989 I had met Dina with some friends at LSU one evening out at Murphy's Bar.  Shortly thereafter we met up again Mardi Gras and spent the whole morning and afternoon together, laughing, joking, drinking, and talking about how much we loved New Orleans.  There was a little magic, just sitting on the curb talking about things, almost oblivious to the floats and bands going by.  We did not seriously date until the Fall of that year but it was Mardi Gras day when we really began to know one another.  So when I put some of the kids on a Mardi Gras ladder, watch them check out all of their throws back at home after a parade, and relax on the sofa after a long day of parading, I am reminded of that lovely day back in 1989 when I first came to know Dina.  I will always revere Mardi Gras and treasure this amazing tradition that makes New Orleans one of the truly authentic cultures in America. 

07 January 2011

It's a New Orleans Thing

Excuse me for posting this bad photo.  The cake got the best of us and we dove in before I remembered I wanted a photo to share with you.  Sooo...Happy Kings' Day!  It is the feast of the Epiphany, celebrating the day the three kings found baby Jesus.  What a great day to be a New Orleanian!  We finish the festive Christmas season only to begin the fabulous celebration of Carnival.  Out with the red and green and in with the purple, green and gold!  Enjoying king cake with my family in New Orleans sure beats being snowed in at the Gatwick airport as I was last year at this time.  Although I have to admit, last night,  I was wishing I could sit through a performance of the Lion King in London just one more time.

By the way, I have done some refreshing of the blog.  I hope those of you who subscribe and are getting this message via e-mail will visit the actual site and check it out here.  Look out world (or at least you, dear readers), I am rested, refreshed and ready to blog!

Those of you not lucky enough to live in NOLA- let me know if I need to eat a piece of king cake for you.  It will be tough, but I am willing to make the sacrifice.


01 January 2011

New Year's Eve

I have never liked New Year's Eve and I have finally figured out why.  When I was younger, I felt conflicted.  I thought I should join friends in their New Year's Eve revelry, but I didn't see the point.  What was so happy about the passage of time?  I felt sad.  That is how thinking about the passage of time makes me feel.  Not terribly sad, just wistful, like the bittersweet words and melody of a James Taylor song.  Images of events from the past year, fill the tv screen.  Then there is the sentimental, farewell montage of those who have died.   Events, both good and bad and people who are lost forever.  Therein lies the answer to why New Year's is hard for me.  It is the realization that we are trapped in time.

During and after Katrina, I loved listening to a song by Anna Nalick called Breathe.  The words were so meaningful to me in those weeks and months but also shed light on that "trapped in time" feeling.

Life's like an hourglass, glued to the table.
No one can find the rewind button now
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe, just breathe.

"An hourglass glued to the table"- Those words perfectly and poignantly express our passage through time.  It explains why I ache when I look at a picture of a chubby infant with a toothless grin whose breathe is sweeter than all the flowers in the world.  An infant that is lost to me forever.  It's that damn hourglass.  Don't you wish occasionally, that you could pick it up and at least slow down the sands of time, if only for a moment.  Yet, if the moment wasn't fleeting, would it be so beautiful?

Years ago when Mary Elizabeth was beginning to understand mortality, she was coping with the fear it brings.  She asked dozens of questions about Heaven.  Will my room be there?  Will my favorite toys be there?  Will my favorite food be there?  Of course, for a young child, the simplest answer is- yes.  They can't imagine happiness outside of the earthly things that make them happy.  As we age, we move beyond that idea.  We learn more and more about letting go and how fleeting earthly happiness is.  I have come to the conclusion that Heaven and eternal joy is simply, existing with God outside the prison of TIME.

Like I said before, I am not terribly sad on this holiday, just a little reflective.  The passing of time can also be a positive thing- fresh starts, wounds healed.  As much as I miss past stages of childhood, I would not want to be trapped in sleepless, nursing nights forever.  Time is both an enemy and a friend.  In thinking about time, I looked up about a million quotes about the subject.  Some made my brain hurt.  Some made me want to cry but most were hopeful.  Here's a lovely one I'd like to share:

Today is a smooth white seashell, 
hold it close and listen 
to the beauty of the hours.

On that note, here's to a new year full of beautiful hours.