Independence Day


Another Fourth of July — happy Independence Day to all of us. I don’t like to get political, but on this anniversary of our nation’s beginning, it feels quite bittersweet. So much seemingly falling to pieces around us — the border is a sieve, and without a border, you don’t have a country. So much friction among all those in power, so much power-grabbing all around, more desire to control the lives of others at the expense of anything else. Not Freudian that the “Lives of Others” was a movie about a time in Germany’s past better left in the past. Yet how different is that from what’s happening with our NSA?

I recently bought a book called “The American Citizen’s Handbook,” a book from the 1940s that instructs all about what it means to be an American, intended for those becoming American citizens. Why isn’t such a book required reading in schools these days? Because it’s too patriotic? Because it’s no longer “cool” to be proud of one’s country?

Sure, every country has good and bad in its history — a country is made up of it’s people and they’re as good and bad as they come. But in the past, I’ve always had absolute faith the “good” would ultimately and always prevail. Not always sure anymore, not without a lot of purging of some very ignorant isms being propogated by purposefully misleading leaders.

Also bought a copy of de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” another book that probably makes a better historical textbook of our democracy than most other history books taught in schools at present. Can’t wait to read it, to see his version about the spirit and faith that made America such a magnet. Whether that spirit and faith are still here in enough of a concentration to return to the strong and purposeful nation we’ve always been is yet to be seen. Always thought too much prosperity wasn’t a good thing; our country seems to be going through the end of the same historical national cycle of other nations that ultimately resulted in destruction from within.

Set off fireworks with our family this weekend. The little ones are just old enough to really appreciate the fun of sooty black “snakes,” the little poppers that pop when you throw them on the ground, and of course sparklers, Roman candles, and the others that make a tremendous amount of noise along with the color. So wonderful to see them watching with their eyes wide open, their “this is going to be sooo much fun!” and “whoa!” at particularly beautiful or surprising ones. Hard not to watch with a little pity; they’re the ones who aren’t growing up in the same safe environment I did, where you could run around with the neighbor kids until it got dark and everyone went home for their supper. So American, so secure, so sure were we that it would never change.


And before I get too morbid, I know things can change, and get better, and the American values can be passed on. It will take hard work, holding our leaders to account, truth-telling, and putting ourselves out there to take a stand for the America we know and love. It IS possible, as long as we’re unwilling to surrender it.

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More about the details, 2

Once again on my fascination with Indian miniature paintings….the incredible detail in the work. And they apply the same level of detail to the really beautiful boxes that one can buy as souvenirs. One suspects a single brush hair and microscope must be used in order to achieve the level of precision one sees. I still wonder where the painting must be done when so little of Delhi seems to be dust-free, even in the closed rooms of hotels. Will never forget how the first time I was here and a Delhi dust storm would come through, I’d end up with the slightest layer of that dust on all the surfaces of my room, even with all the windows supposedly closed.

But back to the paintings….all the different styles from the various regions, various time periods. Hard to choose a favorite.

Paintings - Elephant & tiger

And the subjects of these paintings — court life, elephants taking on tigers, cow processions….the kinds of things one might expect.


Not to mention the things one might not expect — like women hunting tigers, or falconing. How wonderful to know even back then, there wasn’t a complete lack of expectation on women! At least, that’s one lesson I would take from that.

Paintings - Tiger hunting  ???????????????????????????????

And other more mundane topics — women fainting on their beds from love, lighting sparklers, a gallant man removing the thorn from his lover’s foot. Even the most normal of everyday activities has a beauty and interest when depicted in art.

As to details — in the paintings courtly life is depicted with pillows and fabrics tapestries all in the most vibrant color, just like the vibrant colors of all the saris and salwars nowadays. Yet when one visits a fort or palace, it’s nothing but stark stone. Have often thought it would be a great draw for someone to decorate one or two rooms as they might have been back in the days of Emporer Akbar — like Akbar’s living space at Fatepur Sikri. Would be so interesting to see it all set up as it might have been back then. Until then, will have to content myself with imagining it from paintings and pictures.

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Enjoying travel is in the details

Went back to India again, for work mostly, but able to find some time for pleasure as well. And it strikes me this time that all the little details stick out in bright relief.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Like being at Agra Fort and watching some — I’m sure very ill-paid — old man sweeping at the entrance with a very iffy broom and a combination of water in a pail while occasionally spitting where he was cleaning, when the water apparently did not suffice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA And the doorways with no doors, leading through dark to bright light, the symmetry of not only the Taj Mahal, but the Fort. Letting breezes blow through where there was no air conditioning. How important that was in the 118 degree F. sun! Making the lack of doors for a little breeze to blow through any of four directions perfect sensible after all.

Of course we had to be there for one of the hottest days in 60 years. Doesn’t that always figure! Still, it’s all an adventure. And who doesn’t feel like one can put up with almost anything, as long as one knows it’ll be over soon. (or that there’s a perfectly cool hotel or mall within easy distance!) At least, that’s my philosophy.

And then the “palaces” of today — the Western hotels where Indians seem to think Westerners like things very stark and gleaming. I don’t mind the gleaming so much, though that little detail stands out in such stark contrast to the rest of the dusty world outside the protected enclave that is a Western hotel in the middle of Delhi in June.


There is something very much like the feel of a refuge about it. Which is how I ended up spending one entire day meandering about the hotel, admiring all the artwork, checking out the pool and spa, snapping the statuary and architecture, having leisurely meals like brunch, and afternoon tea, dressing up for dinner, like I never would at home. Like being in another world for just a little while. Taking note of, trying to be mindful of, all the little details.


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Introverts unite


Been reading a fascinating and illuminating book by Susan Cain called “Quiet…” on the power of introverts. It’s been a bit like discovering the Gospel for the first time — all of a sudden, life makes sense, my reactions to things; the need for introspection and “alone-time” all of a sudden no longer seem abnormal. I had a great and supportive upbringing, but when you are surrounded even by a loving family, numerous siblings and cousins, it explains why even family reunions can be overwhelming and intimidating experiences.  

Also explains why as much as I looked forward to each new school year when I was growing up, how much I loved the learning and new subjects and even couldn’t wait to do homework, why I would get sick (like want-to-throw-up, queasy-stomach sick) the day before school started. Every year, without fail, like clockwork. The unknown, the getting back into the social swing, adjusting to new friends and old — it was stressful for an introvert, no matter how much I appreciated the academics.

Explains why I have had various people I’ve interacted with in the past ask me why I’m so quiet, or why don’t I talk more? And my reaction of not understanding why I needed to speak more! Is it not enough to speak when one has something of value to say?  

Explains now why I resist some things at the job now — how much I need an office where I can close the door, how distracting and annoying the cubicle spaces where there is no privacy and interruptions are de rigeur. How everything has to be done in teams, and collaboratively, and one individual doing something well on their own seems to somehow be less valid. How tiring it is to be constantly bombarded by messages that those with “executive presence” and presentation skills are the ones perceived to actually have the good ideas, or be the ones truly able to excel in today’s office culture. I always used to appreciate being known as the one who didn’t say much, but when they did, you wanted to listen.

I haven’t gotten all the way through the book yet, but hopefully there will be something there for introverts about coping with a world that seems tailored to the extrovert! Even the most introverted of us adapt over time — and even I have learned to be more comfortable in a room full of executives, to exercise my listening and consultative skills to try and add things to the discussion that have meaning. And hopefully to be seen as someone who adds value, even if I get sweaty palms, itchy fingers and stomach twinges every time I’m put on the spot in a room full of colleagues! The things we do to take our place in the world….

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Out of the wormhole

I’m not sure the wormhole is the best analogy, or that of finally coming through a great, long, dark tunnel, when you finally start to see the light at the end of it.

It has been a while since I’ve written. A long while. Months. Feels like being on a journey where you enter a door and in the blink of an eye are on the other side in quite a different place then when you started. A door you never intended to enter, somewhere you never intended to be. And in that blink of an eye a lot of time has passed to everyone else, but none at all to me.

Do you ever get yourself to one of these places (intentionally or not) where the weight of work, of life, of everything being thrown at you puts your creative life into a complete stall? Even writing one’s thoughts seems like too much effort, and you can’t even face yourself, much less everyone else, anyone else who might write what you’ve written.

Bingo. That’s been me for the past months. Wondering where the time is going, wishing I could simply get through to the other side and start feeling like the words are there again, like contemplating life and its foibles is interesting again. Where the sheer weight of what one is carrying around doesn’t black out everything else around you.

Life’s a cycle like that, I find. Traveling around without wormholes, happily getting by while observing and finding the words to write about what’s going on around me. Other times it’s not easy, spending weeks that fly by so even one’s loved ones wonder what’s happened. Just getting by, biding one’s time, waiting for things to get better.

Thing is, I also believe that you have it in your power to make it better. That no one else will if you don’t. So, all these times things feel so heavy like I can’t do it for myself, I’m still the only one that can. Scary and empowering at the same time, funnily enough!

So, back again.

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The secret life of…

So I’m passing through another airport for work this past week and I get on a “people-mover” escalator or whatever they call those things. The one that just goes level for when there are miles to walk from gate to gate…the one where you’re supposed to move to the right (the slow lane) so people can walk by you, but some people just don’t get it…?

Okay, I’m getting distracted, this isn’t a “things that annoy me post!”

When I got on the”mover” I noticed it made a very distinct “ta-pa-ka” “ta-pa-ka”noise, exactly like the old Danny Kaye “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” movie, whenever Danny Kaye went into dream-mode and started saving damsels in distress. I’m sure they’re going to have to update the new Walter Mitty movie so there are no damsels in distress (though it never bothered me that much). I do like a strong heroine, however, so perhaps it’s just as well!

I’m still not sure how they’re going to top Danny Kaye for creativity and absurdity and flexibility all in one (I mean, Anatole of Paris, the French milliner who designs hats because he “hates women”?! absolutely classic). And the “patter songs” — to me that kind of ranks up there with singing “skat” in terms of how do people have the imagination or facility of tongue?!  Amazing.

Aaannd…these are the things I think about when I’m heading off to serious work meetings! Instead of preparing my topics I go into my own little dreamland — if it’s not places I’d rather be, or things I’d rather be doing, it’s about the people boarding the airplane, or working in the airport stores, or the drivers of those carts…ta-pa-ka, ta-pa-ka, ta-pa-ka.

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Safe places


I went to afternoon tea with two of my friends on Friday. This is full-blown, scones and clotted cream, wait-on-you-hand-and-foot, be pampered for three hours English afternoon tea. It’s something we do twice a year, but the Christmas tea is always the most special, so we always go to the poshest hotel in town to really enjoy the experience.

And once again, it didn’t fail us. The scones are the best I’ve ever had taking tea anywhere, including anywhere in England. Who’d have thought in Houston, Texas, we could exceed ourselves that much? (Well, some of us would have thought that!)

I’ll never forget the previous tea host at our usual place who used to serve us  — the lovely Charles, who not only always remembered us, he remembered who liked which type of tea and he only saw us max twice a year. Charles also used to tell us the story about when the Lord and Lady Grey stayed at the hotel at one point while he was there, they even commented to him how the scones were the best they’d ever had (and yes, that’s Grey, as in Earl Grey tea). So he said, anyway 🙂 Charles always told the best stories, and took care of us like no one else who’s ever served me tea, and I’ve experienced tea at quite a few places, in the US and abroad.

The most telling moment with Charles was, however, the time he said to us that tea is and is meant to be a “safe place,” one of those experiences where you come because you know you will be totally taken care of, that you have the luxury of fully relaxing and leaving behind everything else to just enjoy the friendship, cameraderie and good food that the whole afternoon tea experience gives one. He saw his job as enabling that for his guests, making sure they felt entirely secure and pampered for that little time we spent with him.

Besides almost leaving us in tears, my friends and I agreed that he’d hit the nail on the head. No matter what else is going on in our lives, and even though we do not see each other often, this is one of those sacrosanct moments that we plan for all year long. We call for our tea appointment months ahead to make sure we get in around Christmas, when it fills up quickly. It doesn’t matter what’s going on at work or home, we dress for the occasion, leave early enough to get there in plenty of time, and deadlines be hanged.

And when Charles described it as he did, that safe place we can take temporary refuge with each other and walk away feeling refreshed and satiated, body and soul, we all felt the truth in it. We talk about everything — work, family, home, personal goals and ambitions, all the things we haven’t done and want to do — we put it all out there in a spirit of total trust of each other and the silent waiter flitting in and out and making sure our cup of tea is topped up at just the right time, and the next course is on its way. That, for me, is the magic of tea time.

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What’s your story?

There’s a woman that goes to my church who always wears a sari. Every Sunday I’ve seen her. And I can’t help myself, I wonder why, wonder if she and her husband are or were missionaries, wonder if and how long they lived in India, what were their experiences, wonder where she gets her saris now that she lives in Houston? What’s her story?

There’s another older couple that always sit a few rows up from me (we are creatures of habit, aren’t we?), and when we stand to sing a hymn, the husband frequently puts his arm around her back, his hand on her hip. And I wonder about them. Is it because they have a close relationship? Have they been through many hardships together to get them there? Is he just a very caretaking kind of guy? For that matter — does she like the gesture, or is it a symbol of a needy person? I mean, you never know, being on the outside looking in.

Another woman always comes in with an elderly woman in a wheelchair. And she always looks after her carefully; putting a pashmina around her shoulders when it’s cold, tucking it around her, very mindful that the elderly woman be comfortable. And again, I wonder whether she’s the daughter, or the daughter-in-law? or just a friend and neighbor? How does the responsibility of helping her to church every Sunday have an impact on her life? What’s their story?

There’s always the person just sitting next to you — in church or the airport, or in the mall or at a restaurant. They could be any one of the few remaining WW II survivors we have, they could have made a million and given it all away, or be scrimping by and yet be happier than most of the people in the room. They could have lived and traveled abroad, could be the former trusted assistant to a powerful CEO, or a famous personality or even a president. They could speak 7 languages, or have quietly worked for the CIA, or have a vacation cottage they disappear to once a year in the Cotswolds to write the next great American novel. Who knows?

And people could be looking at me through the same questioning lens, seeing me sitting calmly, quietly in the row or at the booth next to them, and have absolutely no idea of where I may have lived, or worked, or what I may have accomplished in my life. Or even how I define accomplishment.

It doesn’t matter to me what strangers will think, though I do occasionally wonder if my nieces and nephews and those coming after me in the family will think or remember about me when I’m eventually gone. Will they know my story? Will they want to?

Our story is our own personal novel. Unlike fiction, it’s probably more believable and fantastical at the same time. No tidy story arc or loose ends wrapped up at various points to create a happy ending. No convenient last-minute rescues beyond those we ourselves effect, no elegant symmetry. We live, we find our own way, make our mistakes, seek out our own gurus, stumble over our bad choices, occasionally rectify them, basically find our own solutions that don’t always end up nice and neat and “readable.”

Sometimes I think if my nieces and nephews only knew some of my stories that I’m sure they don’t know now — would they be shocked? surprised, amused, or maybe even a little…impressed? I had all those reactions when I read the long-saved but hidden away letters of one of my old aunts. And it taught me not only about her, but a little more about my family, and myself.

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The importance of being still


Read a great article the other day, about the importance of getting sufficient sleep.

Stay with me — boring, I know; I mean, haven’t we all heard this from our mothers all our lives? — but this one had a reason why that I could get my head around.  That our brain needs that downtime to physically allow the fluid to clean out the waste material around our brain, even waste material that can cause Alzheimer’s. That our brain cells shrink when we’re sleeping so that the fluid can cleanse it more easily.

Okay, the study involved mice, and could be disproved tomorrow by the next scientific study, but it was one of those “aha” moments of reading where the hypothesis just made sense. Of course there must be a hard-and fast physiological reason why sleep is important. Isn’t our body chemistry amazing and wonderful?

So I hope the link to my next leap makes sense — I thought about this study when I had to go to an eye doctor appointment the other day. Thought about the idea of true downtime, when I had to wait in the waiting room, wait for my eyes to dilate, wait to pick out new glasses, wait for the doctor to come do his checks. And it was all I could do not to get out my iPad and play games, even for a five-minute wait between stages. When did the idea of sitting and waiting quietly with only one’s own thoughts to entertain and occupy become unbearable? Ugh, I hate the thought that I’m that hung up on my devices.

But that seems to be the case all the time anymore. I get home from work to relax, but always have some mental tasks I’m engaging in. If I’m not occupied with talking with hubby, watching something on TV, making dinner, getting ready for bed, taking out the dogs, running a load of laundry, busy-busy-busy, the mind is always going-going-going on something. I can’t even just lay in bed and wait for sleep to come anymore — not even for 5 minutes. I have to be occupied watching some DVR’d show or playing on some app or reading the Kindle until up to the last minute, when I fall asleep so exhausted I can barely set down the electronic device of choice on the bedside table before I’m out.

And it just feels like there’s something wrong with that picture. Surely our brain cells need a break in the action while we’re awake just like they do while we’re asleep? Need stillness to pause and regenerate? I wonder if they did a study of our neural synapses while we’re awake, how the need for absolute constant stimulation affects them. Are we more effective because we’re constantly stimulating them, or the opposite? Do our synopses make better connections because they’re getting consistent exercise until the moment we pass out tired, or does that make them worse? I suspect the latter.

I’ve always prided myself on being very comfortable with my own company, able to entertain myself with my own thoughts. But lately, I suspect the former comfort and company of those thoughts has been superseded by the fast pace and connected-ness of our world. And it’s time to give the brain some space to pause, rest, rejuvenate, even when awake.


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Curiosity killed the cat….and enlightened the librarian


So hubby and I went to see the new “Thor” movie this weekend….loved it, of course! Though sounds a little strange to say I loved a movie where:

  1. the hero isn’t given much of a range to act except to just look demi-godly (not that I’m complaining about that, mind! no, not one little bit);
  2. the heroine’s facial reactions are almost as bad as Tom Cruise in “The Firm” (how many ways can one look affected, and sad and torn? let’s not even talk about how the minute she gets back to Earth from Asgard she seems to rush to change out of her absolutely cool Asgardian demi-goddess garb — I mean, really?! come on — totally unbelievable);
  3. the best character is the mischievious, evil, yet-somehow-likeable brother who you can’t quite trust but can’t forget either (milk it, Tom!);
  4. you get flashes of deja vu for “Dr. Who” from the white, eyeless faces of the dark elves (which almost makes you think a Dalek could come around the corner at any moment, just maybe);
  5. a plot where even the twists are almost predictable (though quite fantastical and enjoyable, all the same).
  6. and a short post-credit scene that finally satisfied the romantic in me just a teeny bit!

That being said, my point is not to give a movie review, but to note that after we got out and were in the car discussing the finer and lesser points of the movie (can’t go to a movie without a good post-viewing dissection), we realized that, while we knew a little about the Norse mythology, neither of us had ever read the actual comics to know what Marvel had made of the story. This of course, makes the curiosity gene kick in, and we’re not satisfied until we find some answers.

Only antidote to that is to get home, pull out the iPad, go to our search engine of choice and start searching. Found a site that went through the whole history of the Thor comics — names of the authors, story synopses, overlap with the Avengers, a rift between the Avengers at one point (who knew?)….even listing out all the various villains, almost none of which I had ever heard of!  The book-lover in me always wants to know if a movie has been true to a story, but I’ll confess it’d be hard for me to judge in this case.

Back to my point…I only occasionally stop to think how amazing it is that nowadays when we have a question, we just go online, check around a bit and presto-chango — you can find the answers to these basic questions in no time. Almost can’t remember what it was like before we had this ability! Have to remind myself how to live when we have to go without.

And it’s not even that old, this linking to a source that provides instant gratification. My husband and I hear a new word, dispute over its meaning or origin, and pull out said electronic device, look up the word, and we’re good to go again. Life is free to advance unimpeded by nagging questions, (slight) marital disagreements or mysteries!

The librarian in me knows that this is good for the quick fixes, the easy answers, that the world of information beyond that which is online is almost even more overwhelming than the number of new sites and pages that are added every single day. Still, I suppose one day that will no longer be true; that day may be closer than I’d like to believe.

While I will continue to appreciate the modern convience of this technology, I don’t want to forget about the world of information that’s not so accessible, the forgotten stories that are still to be plumbed in the libraries and personal papers and attics and filing cabinets of people all over (including my own family!). Perhaps that’s the true calling of today’s librarian, to find the hard-to-find stories and get them out for others to enjoy and appreciate, internet or not.

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