Sunday, August 23, 2015

One Good Term Here On Earth

 One Good Term Here On Earth

I have always felt a special connection to former US President Jimmy Carter, and for the dumbest reason possible.  Some years after his presidency - a presidency I was pretty much oblivious to due to a shallowness resulting from my young age and the sort of self-absorption that blooms with profusion when one is lacking in life experience - I found myself on an airplane from Los Angeles to Atlanta.  It’s a four hour plus flight, so to spend the time profitably I had brought along a piece of needlepoint that I was doing as a Christmas present for a family member.  Somewhere over the mid-west I was happily stitching away, cozy in my normal state of inattention, when I felt bit of electricity in the air around me.  Looking up from my aisle seat I saw my fellow passengers sitting a bit straighter, all eyes directed to the front of the plane.  The recirculated air was quiet, but electric, with expectation.  Suddenly, as though someone had opened up a jar of irritated flies, black-suited men began to pour down both sides of the plane, gravely serious faces turning this way and that, sharp eyes focusing everywhere and nowhere at once. This managed to capture my interest.  

As one particularly tall member of this line passed my seat I found myself looking up into the face of former president Jimmy Carter.  To my stunned amazement, he stopped.  Smiling, he bent forward to better see the needlepoint I had suddenly forgotten I had.  He asked me who it was for, and I think I told him.  Then he looked at me, directly into my eyes, and in a warm, grand-fatherly way he reached out and touched my cheek.  “You’re very pretty”, he said.  

Now, I don’t take compliments well, especially those about my appearance.  I have a tendency to argue with the those kind enough to bestow one upon me.  I’ll point out my flaws, make a flippant remark about the inadequate strength of their eyeglasses, and blush like a beet, all of which makes the person fervently rue their kindness.  However, faced with a compliment like this from a man like this, I did not launch into my usual list of rebuttals.  I’m sure I blushed brightly, and I hope, God how I hope, I managed to thank him.  I only told The Songwriter about it and, though I’m well aware that we’re all pretty when we’re that young, I have held that compliment in my heart like a secret ever since.

Through the years I have, thankfully, become more aware.  I now know my place in this big crowded world and each day I try to make a small difference in the way that it spins.  I have also watched this former president make his faith in a good God tangible and real.  Jimmy Carter has filled every day in happy effort to effect a positive change.   Rather than spending his evenings on the banquet circuit reeling in high-figure honorariums to flesh out his bank account, or his days painting by numbers in the sunshine, this former president as been working to eradicate a hideous disease in Africa.  He has been traveling far and wide in his effort to ensure countries in conflict have free and democratic elections.   His has been building houses for the homeless.  He has been a tireless champion of the rights for women.  He has written twenty-nine books.  His professed faith has been quickened by his tireless, hopeful, work.

Naturally, like many others, I was saddened to hear of Jimmy Carter’s recent cancer diagnosis.  It brought me back to the day on that plane, which seems like only yesterday, and  it reinforced how fleeting our time really is.  But it also reminded me of the grandness, the sheer scope, of life and how shameful it is to waste a minute of it in incuriosity or cynicism.  He began treatment yesterday and there is every hope that President Carter has many, many days left to serve out his term here on Earth.  Oh, and he will be teaching Sunday School this coming Sunday in his home church in Georgia.  

 Signs lining the roadway to welcome President Carter's return home today.

Find Jimmy Carter’s latest book, 
A Full Life - Reflections at Ninety, HERE.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Burning Roses

Burning Roses

They are burning flowers in Russia.  In what is suspected as a retaliatory act against the Dutch for their investigation into the downing of a Malaysian airliner over rebel-held east Ukraine in July last year, Russia has ordered all flowers shipped from the Netherlands to be burned.  Television cameras captured workers burning boxes and boxes of freshly cut roses.    To me, this seems all too appropriate a metaphor for the world today.  Of course I always tend to veer into melancholy during an election season, something that seems a greater problem these days when election season lasts much longer than a mere season, stretching now from spring into winter, winter to fall.

Here in the states at present, politics has become comedy led by a megalomaniacal buffoon who draws the sort of television ratings comedians can only dream of achieving in a lifetime.  It is embarrassing in the extreme.  He is unencumbered by reality, a fact his emphatically stated opinions nakedly reveal, and qualities such as empathy and compassion are merely euphemisms for losers within his gilded world.  Such a blowhard is best ignored, just as our mothers instructed us to do with any schoolyard bully, but when he leads in the republican polls, as he sadly does at present, it is difficult to look away.  As I said, it’s embarrassing.

You can easily look up his pronouncements for yourself, but I’m taking issue with one in particular because it’s bothered me on many levels beyond it’s obvious stupidity.  This past weekend while, inexplicably, commenting on the former model, Heidi Klum, this “candidate” declared her to be, “Sadly, no longer a 10.”.  Now, let us leave aside the vacant validity of this declaration - Ms. Klum is a gorgeous human being, as anyone can easily see.  And I suppose for a man whose sideline is the ludicrous Miss Universe pageant, one should not expect a higher level of discourse.  But when, oh when, will we manage to stop allowing women - fascinating, intelligent women - to be evaluated by their appearance alone?  Will it ever stop?  And if you think this weekend’s comments were an anomaly, think for a moment on how much we’ve already heard regarding Hillary Clinton’s hairstyles and pantsuits.  

If this were just one comment from one knuckle-dragging glacier dweller, then fine.  But it isn’t.  Face it, this attitude has managed to weave an insidious thread throughout our culture so expertly that we women are often guilty of the sins of comparison and judgment ourselves.  Is there one of us who hasn’t felt just a wee bit “less than” when flipping through the pages of Vogue?  Or been tickled by the tentacles of schadenfreude when a famous beauty puts on a few pounds? Rather like burning roses, I think.

Just yesterday, I came across a new project by photographer Peter Freed.  Entitled, Prime, it is a book of essays and portraits of women.  A bouquet of glorious women, from ages 35 to 104.  Completely funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book is now being printed and should be out soon.  Will it change society?  Probably not.  But it’s a start.  And I would send a copy to the aforementioned “candidate” if I only thought he could read.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Talking Design...

This little corner of my home, shown above, is a hint.
 I’m talking design today on the fabulous blog, Daily Plate of Crazy.
Come on over.
and don’t forget to follow Edward and Me on Instagram.
We are having fun there!

Friday, August 7, 2015



It was a very early morning in the forests of Bavaria and The Songwriter and I were in a bus packed full of locals on our way to the village of Hohenschwangau.  (Okay Americans, try to say that word three times before you’ve had your coffee.)  The bus was packed full - The Songwriter stood in the aisle by the door, I was seated next to a young woman at the rear - and the riders were obviously locals for they greeted each other by names and nods with nary a word of English spoken.

About twenty minutes into our trip the bus shuddered to a stop in a curve and a young man clambered on. As there were no more seats to be had, he stood beside The Songwriter and grinned a greeting at his fellow passengers.  A trickle of amusement began to run through the crowd as, one by one, people began to notice this hapless new rider had omitted a certain vital sartorial requirement.  His trousers were unzipped.  Titters and giggles turned to roars and peals.  The lady next to me poked me in the ribs and whispered something indecipherable to my ears, but I laughed heartily anyway.  Glancing up, I saw The Songwriter being clapped on the back by an elderly gentleman who was red in the face with laughter.  The young man, his own face scarlet as he found  himself the cynosure of so many eyes, joined in the merriment with everyone else.  I met The Songwriter’s gaze and we grinned.  Once again, we were grateful not to have taken a tour bus.  It was a delight to be mistaken for a local in a place so far from home.

For this, our very first foray into Europe, The Songwriter and I, youngsters both, had made no plans.  We booked a hotel in London for a week and we had a Eurorail pass for the month after that, but basically we were footloose and, for the most part, fancy free.  There were a few wrinkles in the smoothness of our journey, such as arriving in Paris just at the start of Fashion Week when hotel rooms were as scarce as our high-school French.  Or the morning in Amsterdam when I attempted to explain to our cab driver that, no, I wasn’t having a psychotic break,  I’d just been stung by a wasp.  Our days were spent mingling with the locals.  We at neighbourhood cafes, ordering what the regulars ordered because we couldn’t read the menus.  We employed mispronounced words and elaborate hand gestures when we “asked” for directions and were met with happy grins and buckets of help.  One old lady even watched us leave and clapped her hands loudly when we started to make a wrong turn.  Thanks to her, we made it to the Van Gogh museum safely. 

This is how we’ve traveled through the years, immersing ourselves in the local culture as much as we can.  (Our only experience with a “tour” was excruciating, you can read about it HERE.)   We tend to eschew hotel dinners for out of the way places.  We stay off tour buses, rent cars and strike out on our own.  When The Songwriter broke his ankle on the Isle of Mull we saw an entirely different face of Scotland than the one featured on the travel posters and were so grateful we did.  The kind attention gifted to us by the Scots will never be forgotten.  (You can read about that adventure, HERE.)

I have never considered our method of travel to be anything remotely like a political act, but after listening to travel writer Rick Steves this past weekend, I realized that it has been just that.  By staying off the tour buses and cruises, by mingling with the locals wherever we are, by remaining open to, and interested in, the people we meet along the way, the scope of my world has enlarged, my curiosity has deepened along with my understanding, and my fear has diminished.  By being a traveler instead of a tourist I’ve learned that people rarely resemble anything shown on the news.  They are generally kind, usually thoughtful, always interesting.  They love their children.  They are proud of their culture.  They long for peace and beauty.

Travel has not only changed the way I view other countries, it has changed the way I view my own.  It has underlined my natural reluctance to believe everything I’m told, made me search out answers for myself, and erased any intellectual laziness I might have.  It has influenced the way that I vote.   I’ve learned that as much as I love and appreciate America, it is imperative to remember that we here in the States do not have a monopoly on patriotism.  As Steves puts it, “ I think Americans need to realize that the world’s not a pyramid with us on top and everybody else trying figure out how to get there.  Until well into my adulthood that’s how I saw the world.  And then I traveled and I found smart people who had nowhere near the opportunity, or freedom, or affluence that I had who wouldn’t trade passports.  It blew me away.  I couldn’t understand it.  And then I realized they don’t have the American dream.  They’ve got the Sri Lankan dream, or the Bulgarian dream, or the Latvian dream, or the Norweigan dream.  That’s not anti-American, that’s celebrating the diversity  on this planet.  It’s just a beautiful thing when you travel to realize you don’t have to fear that diversity”.

As I prepare for another journey soon, I think I’ll read this book.

You can hear the interview with Rick Steves that I listened to HERE