#OnlytheGood – Volume 4

Last night we walked along the Charles river. The moon was full and glorious. We looked across the river at the Boston skyline, the full moon gracing the sky, and for a few minutes, all was well.

This edition of #Onlythegood brings you a baby and a cat, an artist who paints for cancer patients, a story about a child of two worlds, and a link to third culture kid blogs and resources. Enjoy!

That Time #Ramona Made Everyone Smile for a Few Minutes. In the midst of all of the catastrophic news on Monday, National Public Radio had what they initially thought was a major failure on social media.  A personal post was put onto the official NPR site by a man named Christopher Dean Hopkins. It was a picture of his daughter, Ramona and a cat. The caption read as follows:

First Ramona post!

He realized his mistake a few minutes later and put up another post, apologizing. The unanticipated positive response was overwhelming! Basically, in the midst of all the awful news, people loved seeing a picture of a baby with a cat and the humorous caption along with it. People are begging for more of #Ramona. Tweets, posts, and more hashtags are popping up all over the place. The rallying cry is “Give us more #Ramona!”

It makes one stop and pause for a minute. We are starving for good news. We are aching to read something positive. We are overwhelmed with the bad, the horror, the tragedies and we long for good things – like babies and cats and funny captions. This doesn’t make us shallow – it makes us realize we are human and we can only handle so much that we can do nothing about.

But a cat and a baby? That’s something to smile about. 

Jonathan the Painter – Jonathan picked up a paintbrush when his father was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. He hasn’t stopped painting. As the artist in residence at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Medical Center, Jonathan paints with and for cancer patients. On Wednesdays, my husband wanders up to see him and chat. They have become friends through a mutual love of art and Rockport, Ma. Jonathan’s studio is on Bearskin Neck in Rockport and you can browse his paintings to an ocean view. I love that Jonathan uses his work for cancer patients. His website describes his journey with these words:

“Welcome to my world of color and texture and energy and emotion. My artwork is inside out. Inspired by the stories, the journey, and the tides. By the victories and the defeats. The sunrises and sunsets. I first picked up a brush when my Dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2003, and I haven’t put it down since.” 

A Child of Two Worlds –  in Modern Love by Rachel Pieh Jones. This piece is an old beauty! Rachel gave birth to her daughter, Lucy, on the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This piece is beautiful and has now been turned into a podcast. Sit down with some tea and take a listen! You won’t be disappointed.

“Except for when I woke her to nurse, Lucy slept through the first night, her face serene and flawless. I kissed her rosebud lips and smoothed her hair and sang lullabies. This was my Djiboutian American daughter, a perfect combination of my two worlds. Born to American parents, in a Muslim country, on a day of infamy, she epitomized the people and places I had come to love.

While East and West became increasingly polarized over terrorism and religion and politics, Lucy would always remind me of the personal and the human nature behind the news stories.

Fardousa came to check on us during that first night. She stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the hall light, and we smiled at each other. We had done what women throughout the centuries have done and would continue to do, what no divisions or rhetoric or wars could ever stop.

We had brought life and beauty and love into the world.” read the entire piece here.

Blogs for TCKs and their Parents – I’ve updated the blog and book sections of the Third Culture Kid Resource page. You’ll find some excellent blogs and books on those pages so take a look and enjoy perusing some new sources!

#Onlythegood picture – I redecorated this window shelf and love it’s shapes and lines!

That’s all for now! 

We are Too Fortunate

This weekend we walked along the rocky coast, a bright sun beginning its journey to set and emerge on the other side of the world. It was so incredibly beautiful. “We are too fortunate!” I thought to myself.

Too fortunate.

The words are not original to me, but they came into my vocabulary a number of years ago through an artist’s pottery shop in the town of Rockport. On this Monday, where my Sabbath rest collides with my daily reality, I want to remind myself of those words “We are too fortunate.”

Travel to the end of Route 128 in the North Shore of Boston and you will end up in Rockport, Massachusetts – a charming town on the rocky Atlantic coast, where art galleries mix with unique shops and beautiful gardens.

Rockport is at the end of the railway line and there is not a better ending to that particular train journey.

Some of the well-known landmarks in the area include Bearskin neck jutting into the sea and the main tourist area of the town and Motif #1, an old fishing shack that is said to be the most painted site in all of the United States;

A number of years ago there was a small pottery shop in town called Too Fortunate Pottery. I first discovered this shop years ago when, wanting to escape the madness of an American mall at Christmastime, my husband and I chose to do all of our Christmas shopping in Rockport. Wandering in to the pottery shop I wanted to stay forever.  The shop was filled with light and creativity. It wasn’t just the pottery itself, beautiful though it was, it was the peace and the space transporting me to a world  beyond my current reality. Perhaps it was the timing since we found this shop in the middle of a critical process of culture-shock, experiencing our first Christmas in ten years in the United States after moving from Cairo.

On one of my future visits to the shop I began speaking with one of the owners.  I asked her about the name of the store. She looked at me, paused, and then replied “One day, as we were working and creating, we looked at each other and realized that we were too fortunate to have this shop and do what we loved all day long. The name came to us that day – Too Fortunate Pottery.”

I have never forgotten this conversation and this window into the creativity and gratefulness of the artists.

Perhaps it’s my limited view, but I see fewer people passionate about their work. I can’t think of many who could put up the sign “Too Fortunate” to describe their life’s work and calling. There are also many who may not be willing to give up their retirement plans, yearly raises, and that critical 2-week vacation that the west understands as the American Dream to do what they are passionate about. For others, it is finances and life circumstances that dictate their work, demanding attention to jobs that are not their life choice.

This is what makes the work of the artist so critical and desperately needed.  Because artists create spaces where the rest of us can relax and enter into places where time doesn’t matter and peace radiates all around.

In the words of another, art becomes essential not decorative* so that we too might consider ourselves too fortunate.

*Bono on The Psalms

This post was revised from one written in 2011. 

Live Slowly; Enter in Gently

I find it impossibly difficult to return to writing after summer time. It’s so maddening. I finally have the space and the quiet I need to write and … nothing. Brick walls. Dead ends. The words refuse to come. I have nothing to say. I have nothing more to write about.

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but I really don’t write much during the summer. Like many I greet every summer with joy at the longer lazy days. Summer in Kansas smells like fresh cut grass and barbecues, sunscreen and chlorine. I enjoy my kids streaming in the front door and heading out the back. The youngest teenager still needs shuttling around and it pleases me to drop her off at the pool or at a friend’s house. One would think that with flexible scheduling would come serendipitous wide-open moments to write. However in my experience those moments never seem to materialize. I end up frustrated and greatly peeved at the people and perturbances that seem to conspire to keep me from picking up my proverbial pen! The problem perplexes me every year and then I’m perpetually surprised at my perennial seasonal shock!

The summer is now over. At least here in Kansas it seems that way. University students are pouring back into town and settling in on campus. Our local school district officially welcomed back elementary and secondary school students on Tuesday. The air is cooling off a little at night now. The fall football schedule is published. Summer is over.

I sat down to write yesterday morning. Granted, I did have some technical problems with my aging Macintosh computer, but that didn’t fully explain why I had the hardest time writing. Nothing would come. I started several attempts, bits of words, bobs of ideas, but nothing stuck. I couldn’t write. I contemplated messaging Marilyn that I’m done. I can no longer write. I really do have nothing to say.

I suppose it’s similar to how I felt when we got back from our family vacation on August 10th. August 11th I woke up completely overwhelmed. I sat in my chair with my morning cup of coffee and quietly contemplated the day and the daunting list of things to do. The amount of things on that list left me paralyzed. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Lowell joined me on the other side of the room, in his chair, and he enquired after me. I took a deep breath and said, unbeknownst even to myself, “I’m determined to live slowly today.” I’m not sure where that bubble of wisdom broke loose from but it rose quietly to the surface in response to my own panic and Lowell’s question and it seems to apply to the writing thing too.

More wisdom came today when I finally prayed about my writing woes. I brought my stubborn fingers to the Father; I laid bare my broken word bank to his scrutiny. Any purpose in me that points to writing comes only from him. I’m created to bear the Divine’s image to the world…part of how I do that is through my words, my writing. Of course it makes sense to pray about it. And as I did another quiet thought floated to the top, “Enter in Gently, Robynn”.

It was balm and bandage. It was consolation and (hopefully) a quiet cure. I will live slowly. I will breath in and out the creative courage that comes from the very Spirit of God. I will enter in gently.

I know the application is broader than returning from a holiday or coming back to writing. We are given many opportunities to live slowly and enter gently. Oftentimes it seems more efficient to rush through our panic, to push past our own obstinacies or hesitations. But I think more often than not, even if the to-do is accomplished, we’ve only served to muddy the waters and stir up our spirits to greater anxieties. Living slowly and with gentle rhythms works against that frenzy and mysteriously frees us up to be more present, more whole hearted.

There’s an old song we used to sing at boarding school. I think the words went something like this: I want to be the pen of a ready writer; and what the Father gives to me I’ll bring. I only want to do his will. I only want to glorify my king. I knew it was from a psalm but for the life of me I couldn’t remember it well enough to find it. Until today. Psalms 45:1 is a writer’s holy mandate and when read gently reads like this (in a modern slightly me-modified version):

My heart bursts its banks,
spilling beauty and goodness.
I pour it out in a poem to the king,
shaping the river into words….slowly and gently!



Writing the Old Fashioned Way….With Pen and Paper

We’re ending the week with this great piece from Robynn! After you’ve read it, you may be compelled to pick up a quill and a scroll!

writing, blogging, pen, paperOur son Connor was recently inducted into the international honorary society, Quill and Scroll. The society exists to promote scholastic journalistic excellence among high school journalists. It was started in April 1926 at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.

I love it that Connor gets to be a part of such a long-standing community of writers committed to good writing but it amuses me to think that it’s called the Quill and Scroll. Connor and most of his cohorts can hardly manage a pen and paper let alone a quill and a scroll.

Last week I was on my way home from Albuquerque and my flight was delayed. Here’s a little something that I penned in my journal:

It’s hard to write anymore with pen and paper. How did I become one of these writers that prefers the computer, the keyboard, the monitor? How did that happen?

I was always a pen and paper girl!

And now here I am stripped of laptop sitting waiting for a delayed plane, inspired to write and yet without my tools—like a knitter without needles or a mechanic without a wrench.

I criticize my own children for being paralyzed without their technology. They’ve developed an insane dependency on their screens. They constantly poke, swipe, tap on screens. They have phones. There’s Facebook and Pinterest and instagram. Games on the laptop. Games on the phone. Games on the Xbox.  Games on the iPod. Even the books they read are imbedded into their technology.

When we lived in India I was “sheltered” from modern devices. We did have a small box television and a VHS video player and eventually even a DVD player. Lowell took our laptop back and forth to his office. When it was at home the kids, considerably smaller then it’s true, had games they played on it…mostly reading games or math puzzles. Lowell had Riven and Mist which provided him some entertainment.

Life was busier there. The children were younger. I was kept occupied meeting their needs and really just living. When I was on the computer it was for the occasional administrative detail. I wrote letters on it, and kept up with our business accounts. I rarely did email–we didn’t have internet in our home in those days.

I remember when new people would arrive in our remote city how shocked they were at the lack of technology we had access to. It frustrated them. They were used to google searching everything. Weather.com had always helped them know how to dress. Allrecipes.com told them what to eat and how to cook it. Google told them where to find things and how to locate them.

But now? How were they to get along? Where could find plastic buckets? And how did they get there? In some ways we became their access to information. We were their search engine. We showed them how to dress, what to wear, how to cook, what to eat. We also encouraged them to engage their neighbours and community for what they needed. Aunties next door knew where to get buckets of every size and colour.

It was hard for me not to roll my eyes at the paralysis these new friends experienced without their technology.

That was before we moved back into the land of instant information! The shock of sudden access was almost as crippling. Almost every question I had was deferred to the internet.

Where do I find school enrollment information? Oh, have you checked the USD 383 website?

Where can I buy a whatchamacallit? You could try online.

How do I get a library card? Go online. Check the website.

How do I cook a turkey? Oh it’s so easy….just look online!

It was astounding. Bank online. Pay bills online. Listen to the radio online. Get news online. Get church newsletters in my inbox. Sign up online. Invitations sent via email. RSVP online.

At first it felt so disconnected and crazy to me. But how quickly I became that same person. I depend on the internet in ways I never did before. I’m used to it. I still have a flash of surprise when someone suggests getting information from there but it’s an “oh yes…I should have thought of that” kind of surprise not a shocking exasperation anymore.  I find recipes there and advice. The girls spilt dark purple nail polish on our light coloured carpet. No need to worry. The internet says apply rubbing alcohol and hairspray and rub like crazy. They did and it worked!! Thanks to the internet my carpet is restored and my anger diffused! I check the weather in far off places before I travel. I book tickets. I make reservations. I check on friends.

Now here I am. I wait for my flight and I’d like to write but I don’t have my computer. I feel the paralysis take hold. Do I even know how to write anymore? Can I still form the letters? Can sentences play out in my brain without a screen to dance on?

I pick up my pen determined. I can do this—

But before I start I better remove the laptop from my own eye before picking out the Xbox from Connor’s eye, or the Kobo and iPod touch from my daughters eyes!

The Little Church Around the Corner

We were walking back from a bookstore in NYC where the motto is “18 miles of books” when our daughter said “I have something special to show you! It’s less  than a block from here.” We had already walked over 45 city blocks on this crisp day after Thanksgiving – what was a half block out of our way?

We took a right on 29th Street just off 5th Avenue and immediately knew this was something special. A beautiful little church sat there – away from crowds and chaos, beautiful and hallowed. We walked into a small sanctuary with old benches facing the cross and altar and beautiful windows and woodwork carvings all around, but there was more. Walking up to the front and taking a sharp left we found ourselves in a tiny chapel, set apart and empty. A prayer kneeler stood at the front with the Book of Common Prayer lying open. Stained glass windows reflected the light offering a glimpse of another world.

It was perfect. As close to perfect as we can find in this world.

Someone had told our daughter about it – said that it was the ideal place to come to sort out thoughts and ask for peace when the city feels too overwhelming, too distracting, too much. She was right. 

It was difficult to remember that the Empire State Building was a block away, that millions of people lived and worked steps from this place, that here in this massive chaos that is New York City there is a place of such visible peace.

When life feels too overwhelming, too distracting, too much —  it’s important to know where to go to sort it all out. When we need to catch a vision and live life above the noise and beyond the crowds, when we need a “slipping away in a boat on the Galilee” moment, where do we go? Can we find a place that offers respite and quiet? A sanctuary where we can hear God?

This is what I long for this season – to find places of quiet that remind me of what Advent is and how I am called to live. A little church around the corner to offer a glimpse of another world. A place and space set apart offering me the eternal even as the temporal calls so insistently.

Today and through this season, may you find your little church around the corner, your space and place of peace that offers you rest and comfort — an invitation to set aside what seems urgent and spend time on what is it important.

An Epiphany at the Dress Rehearsal

I decided to watch the first dress rehearsal.

Our daughter, Adelaide, was in the kid’s chorus of Kansas State University’s The The Music Man, Kansas State UniversityMusic Man last week and I thought I’d stick around and watch. I was excited to see the costumes. I was anxious to see the show, to hear the songs in context, to watch for my Adelaide in the midst of the mayhem!

And so I waited. The house lights were on and the preparations were under way. The lighting guys were at their table studying computer screens, dials and switches on a fancy board. A man in a red t-shirt wore a head set and talked quietly to someone off stage. I heard the sound man behind me. He cussed dramatically at something. His colleague was quiet. The orchestra in the pit were working on measures 70-74 over and over and over again. I could see the gleam of light off the bald maestro’s head and the white of his director’s stick bouncing out the rhythm.

The wait continued. The director pecked out instructions and notes to herself on her iPad. She whisper-barked orders at an assistant who flurried around responding, checking on details, running for things. The man with the headset kept listening and talking to his invisible friends back stage. The sound man kept making noise. The light coordinator kept the house lights bright.

The announcement was made: “Ten minutes to Top of the Show” –which is theater talk for we’re almost ready to start. And then, “Two minutes to Top of the Show”… and then nothing happened. There was a delay. Unqualified. Long. Unexplained.

Suddenly, when I had begun to despair that it would ever start, the lights in the house dimmed. The reading lights in the pit went down. The theater was in the dark. And we were all filled with expectancy. Something was about to happen! The show was about to begin!

And then it hit me! When the lights go dim, the story is about to start. We can sit back with anticipation. We know the Playwright. We can peer excitedly into the darkness, as the curtain rises, the music starts and the drama of our lives continues to unfold. The twilight is pregnant with potential. Apprehension gives birth to anticipation; foreboding gives way to promise and prospect. We can relax.

That’s what I did. I sat and watched Act One. I laughed at the funny bits. I noticed when Marion the Librarian’s wig fell off and I tried not to snort. Pride crept inside when my Adelaide came on stage. She’s a complete natural. I kept glancing over at the man with the headset, at the director, at the costume mistress. I watched their faces too. I wondered how they thought it was going.

And I thanked my Director, who’s in charge of my soul and of my story.

He knows the plot, he hums along to the sound track, he’s producing character in me and it pleases him. He Lights up my moments. He gives me perspective on dimly lit days. The Playwright wrote these scenes before a single one of them had come to be. When the theater goes dark, I can sit back and watch. The curtain rises on this particular Act and I know the story is still unfolding.

If you would like to read more of Robynn take a look here

“Cultural Hope”

Wheelchair seating in a theater (i.e. giving a...

The painting was two feet wide and at least three and a half feet long. It hung on a wall in an art gallery, dominant despite sharing the space with several other paintings. While there were others that had caught my eye, this one in particular was striking.

It was a picture of an art gallery with a painting of Jesus on the cross on the central wall. Looking up at the painting, hope and longing pouring from the canvas was a man in a wheelchair. The painting was called “Cultural Hope”.

It was a moment of awe as we in the studio stood, invited in to this private moment between Jesus and a wheelchair-bound man. It was reminiscent of stories long ago where in a crowded room a paralyzed man was healed – only this man was still bound.

I wanted to stand there forever. Was it the longing in the man’s eyes? Was it the distinctive connection between the two. Was it that moment of shared suffering between cross and wheelchair that shouted of pain and only whispered of redemption?

I walked away strangely challenged and moved. While this man’s wheelchair was visual, my wheelchair is in my mind. While his paralysis was obvious, mine is hidden. But I, like the man in the painting, have my times of looking at the cross shouting with pain and hearing only the whisper of redemption.

But the whisper compels me, telling me to wait, reminding me that the cross was replaced by an empty tomb; that my painting goes beyond “cultural hope” to a living reality.

Poetry is Necessary – Bumper Sticker Philosophy

Bumper sticker car parked in Santa Cruz, Calif...

Two years ago our trusty 7-passenger white van was totaled by a snow plow, and with its demise an era ended.

When I found out I was pregnant with our 5th child, one of the first things we said to each other was “We’ll never fit in a ‘normal’ car again!”. And it was true. But after the van totaled we realized that we were down to a family of four, soon to be three. Our three oldest had flown the nest and another was heading that way, her graduation imminent. While we were car shopping we discovered three little words that had a big meaning – No.More.Van.

We transitioned in size fairly well, adjusting to a five-passenger PT Cruiser, but to this day there is something about that white van that we miss:the bumper sticker.

Let me explain that we are not bumper sticker people; we prefer to express our theology and philosophy of life verbally rather than through anonymous bumper stickers that declare to the world strong sentiments without the softening that is the human connection. But this bumper sticker was an exception. This bumper sticker was different. In simple black letters this bumper sticker shouted to the world: Poetry is Necessary”. 

My husband came upon it at a Slam Poetry event one evening in Phoenix and, despite his resistance to bumper stickers, bought it on the spot.

Three little words that verbalize to the world something of the importance of art, not in a way that is defensive or confrontational, but in a way that people can understand – and smile.

Poetry is Necessary – such an excellent way to live, always recognizing the artist among us. Recognizing in three simple words the unsung poet; the need to take the difficult in life and portray it in lilting words; the need to speak the language of poetry to sometimes make life bearable.  Poetry is Necessary.

Bumper stickers as a rule are not necessarily kind. They tend to anonymously proclaim to the world disdain for other ideologies and beliefs. Consider the following:

  • “Spay and Neuter Republicans”
  • “Christians: Ya Can’t Live With ‘Em, Ya Can’t Feed ‘Em to the Lions Anymore
  • “I was an Atheist until I Realized I was God”
  • “Jesus Loves You But I’m His Favorite”

And then by stark contrast in black letters on a white background are the words “Poetry is Necessary”.  Now those are words and a philosophy to live by!

What bumper stickers do you have or have you seen that make you smile instead of cringe? Lend your voice to the comment section.


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thoughts on spring from a lower case poet

Deutsch: violette Krokusse mit verschlossener ...

Spring in Boston deserves a post every year, for no matter what the winter has held, be it a snow fall of 85 inches or dreary rain and cold grey, spring in all its glory casts a spell on the city. Yesterday was a balmy 70 degrees with hardly a cloud in the sky and today promises more of the same.

Forsythia and crocuses are the first to bring the promise of warmer weather and are a welcome color against the dead of grass and limb. Soon after come leaves of hedges and other perennials, added to the landscape the way an artist dips their paintbrush into colors of paint and with broad strokes creates color out of nothing. The banks of the Charles River enjoy foot and bike traffic, as people emerge from the cocoons of their dorm rooms and homes to breathe deeply and feel the warmth of spring. Everyone thaws.

Who better to bring us thoughts of spring than the poet e.e. cummings, native to this area. e.e. cummings was born in Cambridge and we have driven past his house many times. He went to Cambridge public schools, graduating from the same high school that my two youngest children have attended. Author of thousands of poems as well as novels, essays and plays, e.e. cummings had a magical way of weaving words and creating poetry. As temperatures rise and spring becomes official I’ll leave you with the magic of spring as expressed by this lower-case poet.


i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

[in Just-]

bY e.e.cummings

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
balloonMan          whistles


It’s Friday and Anything’s Possible

While Mondays signify the start of a work week in the western world, Fridays signal the beginning of rest and start of a weekend. On Monday tasks often feel overwhelming, the weekend long gone and much to do. Those same tasks on Friday take on a lighter feel and there is a sense that on Friday – anything’s possible!

In the spirit of the possibility and creativity that Friday inspires, todays post is a journey of creativity. In a small moleskin journal, on unlined paper, my daughter Stefanie has created a work of art.  Each of the photos speak for themselves and take you on a journey. Enjoy as you go on a journey through the mind of Stef G and remember that it’s Friday and all things are possible. At the end you may want to warn Mary Engelbreit that she has competition!

All artwork copyright © used with permission from Stefanie Sevim Gardner

The artist (Stef G) and the Blogger (Me)

Rocky Neck – America’s Oldest Working Art Colony

Welcome to Rocky Neck!
Rocky Neck harbor

Just off route 127 in the city of Gloucester, Massachusetts is Rocky Neck, America’s oldest working art colony. While “The Perfect Storm” put Gloucester on the map in recent years, this part of Gloucester’s heritage and current dynamic is something that more people need to experience.

Walking through galleries, experiencing different mediums and talking to the artists was food for the soul. We saw large marine landscapes with infinite detail at the John Nesta Gallery. Farther on Kathleen Archer’s photography captured misty scenes that portrayed the North Shore of Boston with mystery and beauty. A collection called “Choices” showed photographs of women, each draped turban style in cloth that was significant to them so that only their faces showed.

The Goetemann Gallery, home to the art work of Judith Goetemann is a gallery you could stay in for hours. Persian carpets cover the wooden floor and beautiful silk and batik line the walls in frames and on screens. Judith captures her artistic response to Gloucester with these words*:

“Through the eye of a needle one can see all the world that is relevant. Such is the case with Gloucester, MA, for me. It is my focus and my home. Its gardens, shoreline and extraordinary light are dazzling and exciting.”

Parking is free and an easy walk up the street brings you to the galleries. You can happily wander from gallery to gallery without a guide or decide to be more purposeful and use pamphlets that take you on a walking tour.

In a world where many claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder and greed is rewarded, we need more Rocky Necks and artists to fill them. Places that take us away from reality and inspire us to create. People who love their work, are true to their passions, and reflect the creativity of the God who made them.

*Quote published on the Rocky Neck website


There is not a person alive who has not thought at one time or another that they would love to live in a different time or era. For some it’s the time of Jane Austen, as they, tired of 21st century hook-ups, long with tear filled eyes for a “Mr. Darcy”. Or it’s Shakespeare’s England so seemingly full of inspiration for art. For some it’s the renaissance, others the 1960’s and 70’s where the Beatles music reigned supreme and Justin Bieber was….well he actually wasn’t.

For Gil Porter, the protagonist in the new Woody Allen Film, “Midnight in Paris,the time is Paris in the 1920’s. His artistic side longs for the inspiration that fueled the likes of Hemingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald. In the movie, his fantasy becomes reality as he goes back in time seamlessly, escaping his ” ugly American” future in-laws, a shallow opportunist of a fiancée, and the expectations of both of those on his present life.

In ‘real life’ Gil is a somewhat successful Hollywood screenwriter in the middle of trying to pen a novel and experiencing a block in creativity (which is easy to understand when one is observing the horrors that will surely be his future given what he’s planning to marry).  The trip to Paris awakens the creativity and romance in him. In his travel back in time he meets a Gertrude Stein who reads his novel and gives suggestions, a Hemingway who encourages him, and a Dali and an F. Scott Fitzgerald with whom he shares parties, pleasantries and drinks.

Like any of us who are nostalgic for a different time, Gil experiences his version of the people he admires, not the reality. Nostalgia doesn’t mean we long for the real past, we long for the past that we have created, the one that helps us escape our current reality. The film does this well, for just as Gil has a longing for a different life in a different era, so do some of those he meets along the way.  The difference? Their reality is Gil’s nostalgic fantasy. Their stress of the twenties longs for La Belle Époque in the 19th Century. We long for what we imagine and can’t have.

Just as I don’t want my periods of nostalgia to end, I didn’t want this film to end. It is beautifully done with period costuming from the 1920’s and scenes of Paris that made me want to take Cliff’s hand and run to Terminal E, booking the first flight to Paris. It is cinema at it’s best with a creative plot, great acting, and scenes that stay in your mind and make you smile.

But best of all is the self-reflection that I often walk away from with a Woody Allen film. In this case, a realization that the bittersweet longing that is the very definition of nostalgia is okay to indulge in occasionally, but a steady diet takes away from the opportunity of the present.

Immigrants: Art Informing Advocacy

Immigrants lined up – Ellis Island 1902

I care deeply about immigrants. At all stages of the immigration process, immigrants have been patients, colleagues and friends. We share much in common as I, along with them, have worked through the process of coming to peace with my new country and surroundings.

Though I like to think I know a lot about my immigrant friends and their lives, and in many ways I do, I have never lived as they do. It has been far easier for me to find jobs and conduct legal business; to buy a house and enroll my children in school. There are things I don’t have to worry about in my role as a citizen. Gone are the days when my husband traipsed through the back streets of Cairo attempting to get an Egyptian birth certificate for one of our newborns, only to take the documents to the American Embassy and have an Egyptian on staff congratulate him on our “baby boy” who was, in fact, a baby girl (but who would know that from the translation on the documents intended as proof for our “Certificate of an American Born Abroad”)

Because of my love of immigrants as people and familiarity in the long process of making America “home”, I read with interest about an artist in New York City named Tania Bruguera. In order to raise awareness and advocate for immigrants she is living with “five illegal immigrants and their six children, including a newborn, while scraping by on the minimum wage, without health insurance”, and all this in a tiny apartment. Through the process she has taken space that was previously a beauty supply shop and turned it into a headquarters for a new advocacy group: Immigrant Movement International.

Her agenda is clear and could be called PoliArt – that’s my word for it – a blending of her politics and her art. She wants to offer “English classes, legal help and impromptu performances” and in the process empower immigrants. Her roommates, it turns out,aren’t too thrilled. In her words “They don’t get it. They’re not very excited”.  It’s easy to understand why. As they work hard to obtain legal papers and make a life, why would she give up what they want so desperately? And of course, when immigrants come to the center, they have no use for art. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs would place art fairly high up the pyramid. Immigrants care about a place to live, food and safety.

The article challenges me. While I could armchair discuss her motives, Tania is forcing herself into a place where she can feel the process and discomfort deeply.  She doesn’t want to just “hear things in the office,” she wants to “feel them”. Feeling them frames her art and subsequently her advocacy.

As a performance artist she recently took her “art’ to the subway where she had immigrants ride the train and recount their stories to the person next to them. While journalists use the art of writing, and photographers use pictures to paint thousands of words, she has decided to use the “literal human face” as her art and tool for awareness.

Even as I read about this artist, I am aware she is living this way for the short-term. I have other examples in my life of those who have done similar things in the United States and in other countries for the long-term. A surgeon who gave up the chance for a successful and lucrative practice in the United States to work for years unknown in Pakistan, medical journals refusing to publish some of her articles because “they couldn’t be true!”. Successful professors, nurses, linguists – all doing the same for years at a time. Interesting that the NY Times has never written articles on them, and probably never will. Their names and stories are written in an invisible, eternal pen.

As I think about this artist and others who leave a life they know for a life that challenges and informs, I’m left with a mixture of feelings. One is skepticism and another grudging admiration, but the most important is a feeling of being challenged. Do I care enough about people to live among them and know their world, not just about their world? What am I called to do for issues I care about and am I willing to go that route? These are the things I think about as I sit in the early morning on my big couch, full of comfortable pillows. No one else is awake – it’s just me, the pillows, and my big questions without easy answers.

High Tea on the Harbor

Rose petals on white linen tablecloths, gold-rimmed fine china, pastries and scones on tiered plates, real silver and a live pianist – this is high tea at Boston Harbor Hotel. Each guest has their pick of a small pot of whatever tea they choose – Earl Grey, Vanilla Rooibos, English Breakfast, Constant Comment, whatever appeals to their taste at the time. 

I discovered high tea two years ago while searching for a  place to take my daughter for an early birthday before she left for Cairo, Egypt. “Where’s the best place to go for high tea?” I asked my friend Heather. Heather, with looks and wit like Lorelai Gilmore, knows places in Boston. Her knowledge runs the gamut from interesting clubs, to places where Old Man Drinks are served to patrons sitting in leather arm chairs. “Boston Harbor Hotel!” she replied. “I’ve searched the city and that is the best place – bright and elegant”. So Boston Harbor Hotel it was. With reservations made, Annie, Stefanie and I traipsed to the Harbor Hotel in our afternoon finery.

Tea has been a part of my existence since I graduated from mother’s milk. Whether it was English Tea or Pakistani Chai, tea soothed and calmed, brought perspective and healing, and turned bad days into good. High tea takes all the best in tea and adds the dimension of elegance. High tea brings out the Jane Austen in me. Jane Austen with her insight into human nature, crafting it  with light humor and descriptions that portray people as neither  morose nor depressing but entertaining and delightful. Annie, Stef and I sat in elegance,  like  mother and her daughters in a Jane Austen novel (minus the corsets, the plague, the short life span, and the prison of a class system).

High tea also take me back in time to another age, another era, another country, for a childhood delight of mine was Tea at Lintotts.  Lintott’s was every little girls dream.  Located in Murree with a wide verandah that spanned the front and side, it echoed of days gone by when colonialism was at it’s height and sipping afternoon tea on a verandah the only pastime of British army wives.  I am not in any way approving of colonialism.  Merely painting a picture for the reader so they can picture the calm, the china and most of all the, turbaned waiters attentive to every need.  Afternoon tea at Lintott’s was a form of art.  Tiny china pots filled with strong tea, three-tiered floral china plates with pastries – some chocolate, some vanilla, all creamy, warm milk in little pitchers and sugar bowls covered with netting edged with beads to weigh it down and guard against flies that would have been a wonderful microscopic study to validate the germ theory for any skeptics.

Lintott's - Changed since the '70's!

There would sit my mother and I, somehow I don’t think in all those years my brothers were ever part of this event.  I don’t remember a lot of conversation, that was unnecessary.  Just being there and being together was the delight.  As I fast forward 40 years later my “Tea at Lintott’s” is now “High tea on the Harbor” and I am now my mother sitting with not one, but two daughters.

Whether it’s Tea at Lintott’s or High tea on the Harbor I am taken to a grown-up world of make-believe. For a short time all problems, worries, and frustrations are given to the hostess along with your coat, and you make your way to the table light and free. Your comfort and satisfaction is the only thing on your waiters mind and no matter what has gone on up till that time, you rise to the occasion and act the part that you are playing.

Life needs moments reserved for high tea, uninterrupted and fully at peace. And with the last sip of tea, and clink of the silver spoon on your china cup, you sigh, rise and head out with renewed strength to face the leftovers that will surely be part of the evenings supper.

 “Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? how did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”Sydney Smith, Lady Holland’s Memoir (vol. I, p. 383)

“Rather three days without food than a day without tea.” ~ Chinese proverb

Bloggers Note: Memories are wonderful things! I have no doubt that the elegance I speak of at Lintott’s has been, over time, glorified far beyond reality and I can’t wait to hear some of my readers comment based on their memories!

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