Wednesday, December 31, 2008

To take a step without feet...

A little something from my friend Rumi with which to say goodbye to a year filled with:

... joy... trees... pain... clouds... anger... flowers... hilarity... daughters... lakes... thunder...
challenge... sunshine... friendship... softness... wind... shouting... snow... remorse... silence...
leaves falling... songs... birth... self-pity... rocks... politics... rainfall... kisses... hard work...
laughter... hills... bravery... worry... the ocean... divorce... daffodils... sunrise... hugs... guilt...
dogs... goodness... nightfall... rainbows... god... bread making... mountains... music...

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky,
to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.
First, to let go of life.
In the end, to take a step without feet...

Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Not a party

It wasn't a party. No, it definitely wasn't. It was more of an old-style "at home" without the Victorian dresses and endless talk of the weather--and of course we took mulled wine instead of tea!

Some favorite moments:

Fred singing a sultry rendition of Joni Mitchell's Twisted while we all clicked our fingers to the beat.

...My analyst told me
That I was right out of my head
He said I'd need treatment
But I'm not that easily led
He said I was the type
That was most inclined
When out of his sight
To be out of my mind...

Anne reciting from memory The Cremation of Sam McGee:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee...

Other choice fragments of the evening: Gary getting lost down the Labyrinthine mind of Louis MacNeice...Lizzy playing "Snowflakes" and Joy playing "Rhapsody"...a little recitation of Coleridge and a touch of Edward Lear...Lizzy reading my childhood favorite "Somewhere" by Walter de la Mare...Joy doing her best Eddie Izzard impression...the funny tale of how two of my favorite people--Gary and Fred, that's you! x--found each other eventually after a disastrous first not-meeting that gives new meaning to the term "blind-date"...great conversation...lots of laughs...

No, no, it wasn't a party. I had to cancel that, but somehow it didn't seem OK to let Boxing Day pass unmarked, so it was just a gathering of four or five friends, a little mulled wine, and yummy, quirky food including the newly invented Boxing Day Pie.

If all this sounds like your private idea of hell, you had a lucky escape, but if, like those who gathered, you think it just might have been rather wonderful, all is not lost. We're planning a redux evening with a reading of The Importance of Being Earnest.

As host, I'm shamelessly bagging Lady Bracknell right now (Bagging, geddit?):

"I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate, exotic fruit. Touch it, and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever."

Download your copy of Oscar's masterpiece here, and choose your character. If you're reading this: you're invited!

Oh! Oh! Oh!

I have been invited to an Epiphany Party. I was musing aloud about what such a thing could possibly be when Joy came to my rescue: "I expect it's a gathering of people who stand around going, "Oh!" and "Oh!" and "Aha!" she told me with a wicked glint in her eye.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"O, O, O!"

What a lovely surprise I had this Christmas morning; a Secret Santa left an Obama plant on my doorstep! It's definitely one of a kind. The pot is made of chalkboard, and there's a piece of chalk tucked into the ribbon. Growing on the twigs are pictures of Obama, including one of him sitting under a portrait of Mohammed Ali and one bearing the slogan: "Pointy headed professors for Obama!"

Is someone trying to tell me something about the shape of my cranium? Hmmmmm?

In the middle of preparing for their own holiday, someone had an idea, put it together with great care, and snuck it onto my doorstep so it would welcome me on Christmas morning as I took out the trash. Whoever you are, your thoughtfulness and fun smiled my world. Thank you! x

It's been a tough old lead-up to Christmas in many ways, but it's also been full of little lovelinesses. My mum arrived from England only to end up in the hospital. I had never been inside the doors of Parkland before, and all I can say is I've fallen in love. Expect to see a post soon on how to become a "Friend of Parkland." I watched people off the street wearing blankets receive the same courtesy and care as the best dressed and sweetest smelling of patients (that's you, mum!).

Parkland is your basic Ford model of hospital, not your Honda Element. The wheelchairs are metal and have no cushions, and my mum spent most of her first day alongside rather a lot of inmates from the county jail who were chained to their trolleys and wearing nifty striped gear.

The eventual journey to a shared wardroom was a hoot. Mum was parked on a clearly labeled "launch pad" to begin her trip, and as Joy explained, grinning, to her Gran: "In a few minutes, they'll push a button, and you'll shoot up through the ceiling!" The journey was, thankfully, a little smoother than that.

Here are some Santas--secret and not so secret--that I want to thank this Christmas:

The doctors and nurses of Parkland. Mum is safe at home, having a snooze after the Christmas morning unwrapping, thanks to you.

My daughters. Joy and Lizzy, you have been incredible, shopping till you dropped on Christmas Eve and helping get the house warm, welcoming, and Christmasified for Gran's return. You worked all day after hours spent at the hospital the day before. Not a complaint was heard though I know you were exhausted. Your silly jokes, nutty songs, kindness, and endless patience with the process kept us all going. You are the two most beautiful people I know.

Our secret policeman. I don't know your name, but you snuck Lizzy and me the secret way from Parklands emergency room through to Children's Medical Hospital ER and out the other side because their canteen was open late, and they had cheese! (Texas hospitals--and not just the public ones--are where vegetarians go to starve!)

Anne Savidge. My hero, my friend. You stayed with mum all day Christmas Eve so the girls and I were free to get ready for Christmas. Joy and Lizzy didn't get Thanksgiving on the right day because I was in a different--posher!--hospital with a dear student. Though there was never a word of complaint on either occasion, I was determined they would get their Tofurkey dinner on time this time. Thank you for helping make it happen.

Though I run the risk of going on and on and on and sounding like a very bad speaker at the Oscars, I have to say thank you as well to all the lovely friends who stayed in touch with me through some of the scary times during the last few days and who sent messages and made offers of help. You are all my Christmas.

Finally, to my lovely secret santa, whoever you are: THANK YOU X

"O, O, O: Merry Christmas!"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


God bless the President-elect of the United States of America!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Water, water, everywhere

My new favorite place to swim: Lake Grapevine. Out in the middle of the waters, you can lose yourself for hours. It's the next best thing to being in the sea--and much, much warmer. I should have been a fish...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reasons to be cheerful...

I'm proud of my adopted homeland tonight. Barack Obama has secured the nomination. No matter how little you have, donate something to his campaign now:


Congratulations! You're a history-maker.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Road Less Traveled By

This speech will be talked about for decades to come. It will be taught in universities. It will be remembered as a pivotal moment in a country's history. I hope it is remembered as a road taken, not an opportunity missed. The transcript is here, and an extract is below:

"We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

"We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change. That is one option.

"Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, 'Not this time.'"

Take the road less traveled this time, America, because here is the astonishing news: "At 11:00 on a Tuesday, a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race . . . as though they were adults" (Jon Stewart).

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
From "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

You can make a contribution to the journey here. Then find out how to get involved locally here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

So let the waves come; they will anyway

Water. I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. As a troubled teen, I used to sit for hours on a huge rock lodged in the middle of a river and watch the water slipping softly by on both sides. There was something unspeakably soothing in its constancy. When it hit obstacles, it simply ran around them. It was infinitely gentle, absolutely unstoppable.

When I grew up, I moved to live near the sea and later to the beautiful English Lake District. From an early age, my children played in, around, and on the water too. I used to walk them home from school via our river where we would often stop to paddle or mess about with mud and sticks. In the holidays, I would take them camping by the beach at Whitby or rowing on Ullswater or Buttermere.

When we came to Dallas just over five years ago, we brought very little. You cannot carry a house on your back when you cross an ocean. There were the children’s toys, some clothes, a few of our most treasured books—and a small yellow dinghy that has been gathering dust in the garage for far too long. It’s hard to say why I would bring a dinghy to Dallas, but there it is, a message, a reminder.

Today, I unearthed it from its dusty hiding place and took it out to White Rock Lake with Lizzy who is always good for a lark. Joy rolled her eyes and stayed home; at 13, she is both too old and too young to mess about in boats.

Finding my dinghy, rowing out onto the water again, was like unwrapping a present sent to me from a younger—and perhaps wiser—self. Life has been a little choppy of late, and there have been days and weeks when I have felt the water has been almost over my head. I have felt that I was, as Stevie Smith put it so well, “not waving, but drowning.” It has been hard to breathe at times, and I don’t fool myself that there aren’t more of those times to come. But today, in the sunshine, with cold, wet pants, bare, muddy feet, and laughing birds wheeling overhead, I remembered that water has always been my friend.

So let the waves come; they will anyway.

Lizzy and I laughed as we sat in the middle of the lake in less than dry condition, reciting lines from one of our favorite poems by Edward Lear:

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, ‘How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Lizzy looked down at her damp feet and, for the first time, questioned the efficacy of the pinky paper all folded neat. We agreed it probably hadn’t worked very well.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hanging with Senator Chris Dodd

Senator Chris Dodd stopped by the law offices of Kelly and Witherspoon Sunday evening with Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. There was no fanfare. They just wanted to come by and encourage the local volunteers who have been campaigning so hard in the last few weeks--among the hardest workers, as usual, were Joy and Lizzy, proudly pictured here with the Senator.

Senator Dodd is a lovely, gently spoken, inspirational figure who reeks of integrity. He thanked us all for our work and told us a little about why he's supporting Barack Obama. He congratulated me on my first vote as a US citizen.

Both Senator Dodd and Governor Napolitano let us know we get to rest for a day after the primary, but then it's back to work for the long, hard haul to the White House. Anyone who thinks the next step is going to be easy is fooling themselves, they told us. When the Democratic party gets together around Obama's candidacy, THAT's when the big guns will come out.

I believe it, but I'm also encouraged by the way some moderate Republicans (Obamicans, they call themselves!) have been reacting to our candidate. They see him as an inspirational leader that America needs. And they didn't just tell me that. My two new Republican friends told countless voters too as we phone banked together through the day.

In other news, it was slightly disconcertibng to be followed around a Fiesta parking lot by CBS news this morning who stuck a mike down my shirt and listened in as I talked to voters and flyposted leaflets--before being asked to leave by the manager who didn't disclose who he was supporting in the primary! The guys told me the segment would be on the news this evening. I don't know whether it was, but I enjoyed my chat with the reporter once the mike had been removed and I could once more think straight. He hasn't voted yet but will be doing so on March 4. He's not sure whether he'll go back in the evening to caucus. And no... He didn't tell me who was getting his vote!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Volunteering at the Fort Worth Rally

I kept my daughters off school on Thursday, as you can see (left, at the top of the picture).

We have been volunteering locally at weekends for the Obama campaign and received an invitation to help at the Fort Worth Convention Center rally where thousands of people were expected to come and hear the Senator speak. We arrived six hours before the event, as requested.

Joy and I got separated from Lizzy early on. She called us gleefully from the main floor where she was acting as a runner and helping seat disabled visitors. Joy called her sister a "punk" under her breath; she and I were stuck outside helping get satellite trucks parked and keeping others away. Told we would not be forgotten and then (it seemed) promptly abandoned, we stood in the exhaust fumes of ABC and Faux news vans with two other volunteers and did our job faithfully for hour after hour.

Now, I'm a campaigner for hope, but I think I'm a realist too. My new friend, Ada, was adamant someone would come back for us eventually, but I began to try to let my co-workers down gently. "You know," I said, "I'm sure they mean well, but they have hundreds of volunteers to coral, and thousands upon thousands are pouring this way. The number of jobs they're working on in there will keep multiplying. We need to face the fact that we might not get in. Heck--the four of us are the only volunteers here who haven't even been able to get our credentials. We have nothing to prove we're in any way connected to the campaign--and now they've locked the doors for the bomb sweep."

But even at hour three, Ada was adamant. "The press director said he'd come back and get us. We're gonna be just fine. This is a campaign of integrity," she told me firmly. "They'll keep their word."

I had no doubt Brandon, the busy press director who left us with the trucks, meant to keep his word, but he had a lot on his plate, what with the Secret Service (who I tried to wave away at one point thinking they were visitors parking in my Sat truck spots--whoops!), the growing press crowd, and the sheer volume of logistics he had to juggle. I wasn't holding my breath that integrity alone would reach as far from the center of action as a side road full of trucks and cables where four slowly roasting volunteers waved on the traffic and dreamt of the possibility of a restroom sighting somewhere in the distant future.

...which all goes to show that I have a lot to learn about hope...

Just after hour three, back came Brandon to the rescue. The police were closing the road, so we were no longer needed to act as human traffic signs. He hadn't forgotten us. He walked us through every security check point, informing even the Secret Service that "These four are good; they're with me." He thanked us for our work and told us we were getting the best seats in the house. Then he politely but firmly argued us through every official until we were sitting on the risers right behind where the Senator would speak--with a bird's eye view behind the screen to where he would arrive backstage too. Though Lizzy had been giving me regular bulletins by phone throughout the day, it was a relief to her old mum when she was allowed through to join us too.

All in all, we had an incredible day, and of course being so close to our hero, Obama, was pretty cool, but it's sometimes not the obvious things that have the most impact. Lizzy had particularly enjoyed petting the Secret Service sniffer puppy and working the elevators, and Joy told me it was Brandon (pictured left) who was her new role model. We ran into him picking litter in his suit after the event was over, and Joy got her photo taken with him. He seemed surprised that she singled him out; it was a shame she never got to tell him why. He was in charge of so much, she told me, but he remembered the little things--like us! That's the kind of person she wants to be when she's all grown up and working in the White House.

In the picture at the top of the post, Lizzy (11), is standing in the middle at the back in the brown T-shirt. Joy (13) is to her right, and I'm to her left. Oh, and the cool-looking dude in the foreground... That's the next president of the United States of America!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Making history one Google map at a time

My daughters and I spent the day volunteering in downtown Dallas for Barack Obama's campaign. I had thought we would be there for an hour or two, but the girls just didn't want to leave. Lizzy (11) worked on signs and on the phones, helped orient new volunteers, and kept the call-sheets straight, and Joy (13)--who was having trouble with her voice because of a cold--provided printed and written directions to canvassers who walked and talked in various precincts.

After three hours, I suggested that Joy (above right) might want to go home since she's been unwell. "Nah-ah," she told me, hoarsely but with a huge grin: "I'm serving my country; I'm making history one Google map at a time!"

Lizzy (left, and right, working the phones) was equally immovable. We stayed another couple of hours at the Kelly & Witherspoon Law Center before I enticed them home finally with a promise that we would stop off at Obama Dallas on the way and that yes, we could volunteer at HQ on Friday night and be back at the law offices phone banking on Saturday morning. To say I am proud of my daughters' commitment would be the understatement of the year.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A vote and a kiss

I voted early in the Texas primary today. It was my first time as a US citizen, and it felt GREAT. The guy in the sparkly hat gave me a kiss to seal the deal.

It was Hershey's, of course!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - LATE BREAKING NEWS - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I just inadvertently washed both my voter registration card and voting receipt along with my laundry. I don't think it will be a problem getting a duplicate card by November, but I want to caucus for Obama next month. (In addition to the primary, there's a caucus, so go back to your precinct at 7pm on March 4 to mop up the remaining delegates.) I have unraveled my very clean voting receipt; it's recognizable, but the signatures and some of the numbers have washed off. I am hoping it's enough. I'm looking into what to do if it's not.

- - - - - - - - - - - - ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL - - - - - - - - - - - -

My local officials assure me that because I voted early there'll be a record at my precinct. That plus my very clean voting receipt will be enough to get me in the door to caucus for my candidate on the night. Meanwhile, the very slow printer at the SOS's office is grinding out a new registration doc for me--should be ready in about a month, apparently!

- - - - - - - - - - - - IN GOOD TIME - - - - - - - - - - - -

UPDATE: My new voter registration doc arrived yesterday (26th) in plenty of time for the caucus.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Bella (bottom left), the newest member of our family, pictured with Joy, Lizzy, Starsky (bottom right), and Hutch.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

When I was the Forest

Words by Meister Eckhart,
freely translated by Daniel Ladinsky.

When I Was The Forest

When I was the stream, when I was the
forest, when I was still the field,
when I was every hoof, foot,
fin and wing, when I
was the sky

no one ever asked me did I have a purpose, no one ever
wondered was there anything I might need,
for there was nothing
I could not
It was when I left all we once were that
the agony began, the fear and questions came,
and I wept, I wept. And tears
I had never known

So I returned to the river, I returned to
the mountains. I asked for their hand in marriage again,
I begged—I begged to wed every object
and creature,

and when they accepted,
God was ever present in my arms.
And He did not say,
“Where have you

For then I knew my soul—every soul—
has always held

From: Daniel Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


It's more difficult to choose a New Year's Resolution this time around. I usually pledge to give up smoking, but since I actually achieved that one some months ago, I'm forced into new territory for this revolution of the sun.

This year I will:

Get fitter. It took me three hours to walk around White Rock Lake this morning, and afterwards I felt as though my legs had been replaced with stumps. Note to self: next year, don't do it in open-toed sandals. It was CHILLY out there.

Learn to juggle. At least, I will progress from being able to throw all three beanbags in the air to catching one or two as well. A fellow teacher gave an excellent presentation on "juggling for life" to my students last semester. I don't remember much about what he said, but I got the definite impression my whole life would be revolutionized if I could just keep those things in the air a while. Not that I particularly need more revolution in my life right now...

Go back to my meditation class. As my favorite fridge magnet puts it: "Meditation: It's not what you think." 'Nuff said.

So... What will you do?