Tag Archives: esl

LSS: Locating a fellow traveler

Sometimes, complicated things come together with little doing of our own and present a surprising moment of magic.

There are several separate pieces to this story.

No. 1: My great-uncle was a foreign missionary. His family traveled to and lived in places the rest of us read about or saw in books and magazines. When I was a little girl, every four years or so, my uncle Guy and his family would come home to Mississippi on furlough, and our whole extended mega-family would stop everything and go to my great-grandmother’s house for days.

By that time, my uncle’s many brothers and sisters had families of their own — so, we’re talking about a significant crowd of folks getting together, telling stories, listening to stories and just hanging out. I will always be grateful to have been a part of a family that valued coming together, with no real plans other than to be there for each other.

Without any doubt, his family’s travels and tales of foreign places planted the seeds of travel in my own future.

No. 2: Shortly after I met the man who would eventually become my husband, I started trying to figure out his family’s story, which was a tale with a lot more twists and turns than anyone else’s I knew.

Back in the mid-1800s, my husband’s father’s family came to Mexico from different places in Europe. His great-grandfather’s family was from France. His great-grandmother’s family was from Prague. Through the years, his cousins have filled in many of other details. Along the way, I’ve gathered that one of his ancient relatives was a botanist of some renown. In fact, in Prague, there was a statue of this man, whose name was Benedikt Roezl.

No. 3: Two weeks ago I found out I would be traveling to Prague for work. I hadn’t been to Prague since 1993, the year I lived in Slovakia teaching English. Back then, friends and I made several trips to the city. It was, then, so full of unfolding beauty. Even back in 1993, though my husband and I weren’t married yet, I knew about Benedikt Roezl and his supposed statue. I spent some time looking for it — with what turned out to be the wrong spelling of his last name, I got nowhere. Still, when friends and I were in small parks around the city, I always kept my eyes peeled.

This week, armed with more information, including the right spelling of my husband’s great uncle’s name and a general idea of where the statue should be.

Shortly after I got here, my uncle Guy’s oldest daughter — also a foreign missionary whom I hadn’t seen in more than two decades — sent me a message saying that she and her husband live in Prague and I should come visit with them. My work colleagues and I had a busy week planned. I wasn’t sure a visit would work out, but on Thursday night, I was pleased to find myself at her dinner table in great conversation with her and her husband.

I told them the story of my husband’s long lost uncle and where I believed the statue to be. My cousin, Melinda Kyzar, said, “That park isn’t far from here at all. We should go after dinner.”

Even though I had seen pictures of it, there was a real possibility that this statue, which had been erected more than a hundred years ago, would not be there. After dinner, the three of us took a tram toward the park. Once there, we had to make a decision to go left or right. It was a sizable park. Melinda’s husband said, “I have a feeling that it’s this way.”

I agreed, and we started walking along a large path that twisted and turned, much like this story.

As we made our way around a curve, we saw a huge statue at the end of the park. I was amazed. This was a monumental (literally) monument.

And sure enough, it was Benedikt Roezl. Under his statue, along with his name and the dates of his birth and death was an inscription, along with two words to describe him. The first one, I could make out. It was the Czech word for “botanist.” But I couldn’t figure out the second one. It was, “Cestovateli.”

My cousin’s husband, Russell, said, “That word means traveler.”

And with that, I smiled, and felt a certain kinship with old fellow.

Email Jan at jan@janrisher.com

LSS: The Dalai Lama, my grandmother and a set of dishes

Scene 1:
Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama worked with other Buddhist monks to create an intricate sand mandala the size of a queen-size bed in the middle of the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. They worked on the mandala around the clock for nearly a week, literally placing the colored sand one grain at a time to produce an intricately designed piece of art.
If you’ve ever seen monks working on a sand mandala, you can appreciate the image and effort. If you haven’t seen it, imagine a dozen or more grown men working in silence as each places individual grains of colored sand in geometric designs. Usually, the process takes weeks.
When I first saw the monk mandala process years ago, I thought, “Isn’t that beautiful?”
And that’s about where my thinking stopped—until I learned what happens when the monks finish creating the mandala. When they’re finished creating the masterpiece, they ceremonially destroy it. Yes, they take all those different colors of sand and sweep them into jars. Then, they pour the sand into a nearby river.
All that work.
All that time.
All that effort.
Gone.
The point of creating and destroying a sand mandala is the metaphorical representation of how much time and energy we put into things, and the subsequent impermanence of everything. Plus, there are many other lessons far beyond my capacity to absorb. For me, simply understanding the primary and “easy” lesson has taken (and continues to take) plenty of time.
Scene 2:
My grandmother and her only daughter collected things. Mainly, my grandmother collected the things other people didn’t use anymore. She thrived on way she could create or appreciate beauty in something someone else used long ago. Surely, there is some virtue there. But somewhere along the way, my sweet grandmother got caught in that cycle that is so enticing.
More.
More.
More.
Together, my grandmother and aunt spent untold hours spanning decades conversing and conniving about who would get what from whom. During the 80s, the better part of every conversation they had wound its way back around to some dishes owned by a woman we all called “Aunt” (who really wasn’t an aunt at all)—and who would get those dishes upon Aunt’s death.
They also cared about individual pieces of silver.
And buffets.
And rockers.
And serving dishes.
And crystal.
Hearing so many of these conversations for so long made me assume these things mattered to everyone.
Who got what.
My grandmother’s health started declining earlier than any of us expected. When my aunt suddenly and unexpectedly passed away at a very young age, we all recognized the goodness in my grandmother’s mind that had wandered away. She didn’t realize her understand her young daughter’s death and then passed away a few years later.
All those plans and conversations about who gets what were for naught. Neither of them ever got the chance to enjoy those dishes they had dreamed of for so long.
Scene 3:
I am uncertain if my grandmother would have ever known who or what the Dalai Lama was, but I wish the two could have spent some time together. I’m certain she could have mended his robes as beautifully as they’ve ever been sewn. He would have liked her fruitcake too. As far as him sharing some of his wisdom with her, I have to speculate if some of that insight would have changed the course of her days. Perhaps she thought material things were so important because she was a product of the Great Depression. Maybe it was because there were times in her life, before and after the Depression, when she needed more.
Here I sit in my home of overstuffed closets and bookshelves filled to the brim, clear signs of my nurtured tendency to hold on to too much. After all, I am my grandmother’s granddaughter, but I’m beginning to see the humor in holding on to stuff.
And the joke’s on me.

LSS: Tales of a Governor

Edwards was convicted back in 2001. I moved here about that time. Therefore, I never lived in Edwardian Louisiana.

However, I’ve talked to enough people to be convinced that, aside from his extended encounter on the wrong side of the law, the four-term governor definitely has some magic attached to him.

Edwards stories have long fascinated me—the Free Edwards movement. George W. Bush’s refusal to pardon him. The love and affection many die-hard Republicans still feel toward him, regardless of the circumstances. And now, that he has served his state and his time—the throngs of people flocking to be his friend on facebook is another indication of the support he continues to enjoy.

By Thursday night, in about a week’s time, Edwin Washington Edwards had accumulated 2,631 friends. In facebook speak, that’s impressive.

Born way back in 1927, Edwards will celebrate his 84th birthday in August. Judging by the speed he confirms facebook friends and answers messages, he’s a very computer-savvy

83-year-old fellow.

Here’s what he wrote about himself on his profile page:

“I have had a long and interesting life. I went from a sharecropper’s farm in the depressions days of the ’30s to the halls of congress and the governor’s mansion in Louisiana. I have been to the depths and risen to the heights as the only 4-term governor of our state. I am now retired and will be traveling the state during the coming months for scheduled book signing events; to meet and greet old friends and make new ones. In spite of my age I have no disabilities and I am in reasonably good health for which I am very thankful.”

Plenty of people on the page are urging him to run again, displaying “Edwards for Governor” buttons and much enthusiasm for the state’s prodigal son returned home.

Frankly, I find the whole exchange fascinating and so very Louisiana on so many levels.

Interestingly enough, two years ago, another “Edwin Washington Edwards” send me a facebook friend request. At first, I presumed it was a prank of some sort. Then I noticed some of the people friending this Edwards seemed to have legitimate ties to the former governor. So, I sent him a

message.

At the time, I was teaching in a local high school. I was confused as to how someone serving time in a federal prison could have access to Facebook when I couldn’t get it at the high school where I was teaching. So, I asked the person on the other end of the screen that question.

The reply: Silly. There’s MUCH more freedom in prisons (with the sole exception of having the choice to leave) than in schools.

Even though that and the other replies seemed quite reasonable, I wasn’t convinced the former governor was on the other end of the connection at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale.

Shortly after our exchange in February 2009, the Edwin Washington Edwards Facebook page was gone.

For the sake of curiosity, I hung onto our exchange. I thought it to be good fodder—regardless of who wrote it.

This week when Edwin Washington Edwards and I became Facebook friends again, I decided to ask him about it.

His reply: Two years ago, I was in prison and had no access to the Internet so it was not me.

I sent him the exchange and he again assured me he had not created a Facebook page while serving in federal prison. For some reason, I found this news comforting.

Additionally, he was curious to find out who had done it.

I decided to ask for his advice on staying in good health.

Here is his reply verbatim: “I’ve heard You’re only as young as the woman you feel … if that’s true I’m only 32. That’s the only advice I have to give you on staying young! *smiling*”

He also mentioned he’d be stopping in Lafayette at some point soon to sign copies of his book.

Godspeed, Edwin Edwards.

Only in Louisiana.

LSS: Take a trip

Settling in after our big trip to England hasn’t been difficult because life just kept right on going—like it does. However, my perspective was much improved.
At work, I was able to plug right back into the swing of things, with new and hopefully improved ideas. As I’ve written before, I love to go, but I also love to come home.
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice and narrow mindedness.”
He’s right. Travel forces us to do things in ways we’re not used to doing them. Basically, we have to think differently—maybe not much or maybe in mind-boggling ways. Thinking a little differently—even for a short while—is good for our brains and souls.
Sometimes traveling in England doesn’t feel nearly as foreign as other countries. But like all Americans who walk across a street there, every time my daughter Greer and I took that first step into a street, we were reminded that we were in a foreign place. We had to look right, not left.
Hence, since we’ve been home, I’ve been a much more deliberate driver. It’s a mundane example, but a reminder that looking at things through a different lens heightens awareness.
As much fun as taking a trip is for me, planning trips invigorates me even more—especially trips to places I’ve never been. I like to share that joy.
So, I want you to take a trip soon.
Take a trip to anywhere.
Pick a place and start planning.
It doesn’t have to be to a distant land, but try and make your journey include spots and activities you’ve never done before. If you need destination suggestions, I’m full of them! For example, have you been to Ship Island off the Mississippi Coast?
Sure, plan a big trip for down the road, but right now plan a trip to somewhere for June or July. Think of something you’re passionate about—the Red Sox, the space shuttle, Fourth of July fireworks over the Washington Monument. Think of something you’ve always wanted to see or do. Make it happen. Mark it off your list.
If you can’t come up with somewhere that rocks your world, settle for cooler weather.
Go somewhere you don’t know well. Stay a week. Stay a few days. Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, the lakes of Michigan, the mountains of Arkansas, the hills of Tennessee. Pick a National Park. The Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Great Smokies, Acadia.
Head to the beach.
Take a cruise.
Consider this your clarion call.
If you don’t enjoy or aren’t good at researching, call a travel agent. Lafayette has dozens of knowledgeable travel agents.
Travel bargains are plentiful. Finding ways to travel on a shoestring can be fun. While Greer and I were in England, we made it a point to go to farmers’ markets and buy foods for picnics. Fresh bread, homemade cheddar and homegrown strawberries were delicious. The farmers’ food tasted better than most restaurants we tried. And, to top it off, it was cheaper.
If what makes travel exciting is doing new and exotic things, you don’t have to go to new and exotic places to experience new and exotic things. If necessary, go to easy-to-access places, just find something different to do once you’re there. Maybe you go to Houston all the time, but have you ever been to the Asian mall in Houston? Have you been to the art museum downtown?
Let go of expectations. Go with an open mind. Acknowledge and move on.
The day after I returned from England I spoke with a friend who said traveling of any form wears him out. I understand. Traveling is often uncomfortable. Maybe that’s what more of us need—to be uncomfortable and challenged more often. Maybe we wouldn’t be quite so quick to judge if we were a little less comfortable from time to time. Maybe we have to be forced occasionally to look at life from a different view.
I encourage my friend (and you) to go somewhere—preferably some place beautiful.
It all can be beautiful in one way or the other, can’t it?
Finding beauty in the foreign or the familiar rejuvenates our souls and makes us better people, which, in turn, makes the world a better place.

LSS: Call me silly. Royally silly, in fact.

Call me silly.
Go ahead.
I will own it proudly.
Though I’d prefer to consider it whimsy—much effort is required to maintain notions of fancy through adulthood. I’ve not always succeeded. What with bills to pay. Mouths to feed. Floors to sweep. Dishes to wash. Clothes to fold. Dogs to bathe. Plants to water.
But once upon a time, in a land far away, a little girl passed the afternoons with her grandmother, listening to tales of queens and princes.
My dad’s mother told me stories about Elizabeth, Charles, Anne, Andrew, little Edward, Phillip, Margaret and the Queen Mum, the way my other grandmother talked about her garden.
My grandmother longed, and I mean she really longed, for a connection to some semblance of royalty. She was a seamstress in small town Mississippi. Innocent delusions of grandeur made life more exciting. She insisted that we were descendents of Russian czars. (Never mind that we’re not Russian, and czars were still going strong in Russia 20 years after her parents’ births.) She named her only daughter Victoria, and the two of them often spoke of the Windsors and Wales. They had unspoken plans about Charles. I vaguely remember my grandmother sitting at her sewing machine making my aunt’s wedding dress, lamenting that now her daughter would never marry Charles.
Listening to all this talk that wouldn’t have made sense had I understood, led to much confusion on my part. Years passed before I figured out that these people my grandmother spoke of on a first-name basis had absolutely no connection to our lives.
And then a few years passed. I fell in love with Shakespeare (about the same time Charles didn’t fall in love with Diana). English literature sealed what my grandmother had started. I’ll admit I became rather obsessed—in an age when information wasn’t so handy. I read (and memorized) everything that I could find about the royals—Diana, in particular. I got up for Charles and Diana’s wedding. I cringed when she got his name wrong and wondered if they were really married.
My college roommate recently told me, “I had never met anyone who knew so much about any one subject as you did the English royal family back then.”
But, alas and alack, adulthood happened.
Though my fancy didn’t fade, I just didn’t have the time my grandmother had had to keep up. And, I’ll concede that the whole thing seemed so…silly (especially after Sarah Ferguson got involved). But in free moments I could steal, I continued to devour what information I could.
I watched little William grow up. Then cute little Harry. I watched Diana’s marriage unravel. I appreciated the Queen’s annus horribilis remark. In 1997, Diana’s untimely demise came a week after my daughter was born. That night was as close to depressed as I’ve ever been.
Last fall, my 13-year-old daughter, Greer, started paying attention to the royals. And, that’s all I needed. By the time William and Kate announced their engagement, I was up to snuff on all the details once again.
A few months later, I decided the time for silly had come.
I searched plane tickets and found a bargain. When else in life would I be able to share something like this with my daughter? I bought the tickets, booked the room (another bargain, mind you) and come Monday, Greer and I take off for London for the week of the royal wedding.
We’ve got a week of whimsy and wonder in the works. On Thursday night, we plan to sleep on the streets with throngs of others in order to secure a good spot for watching the wedding procession.
Go ahead; call me silly all over again! I don’t mind. We should all have our fancies and act on them from time to time.
I wish I could tell my grandmother about this one.

LSS: Join the Senbazuru

Senbazuru.

I didn’t know such a word existed when I had the idea for a project that would consume much of my week and weekend.

Like people around the world, I’ve been haunted by the aftermath of horror in Japan this week. Watching the deteriorating conditions was exhausting. I kept wishing there was something physical to do to help.

Fresh out of solutions to prevent multiple nuclear meltdowns and armed with the knowledge that thoughts and prayers sent skyward are probably the best things most of us can do at this point, I still felt the need to do something.

Then, I thought about 1,000 cranes — something tangible to offer to the Japanese in their time of need.

The ancient legend of senbazuru, the folding and stringing of 1,000 paper cranes, represents hope and promises recovery for people in Japan—something we could all use right about now.

To be clear, the idea of folding 1,000 cranes and the act of folding 1,000 origami cranes are two very different things.

Anyone who has ever tried their hand at origami will attest that it’s an art of precision and grace—two traits that aren’t necessarily innate to my character. Fortunately, that’s where friends come in. Friends have volunteered to help, and we’re making some headway. Slowly the caliber of our cranes is improving.

I have no illusions of our cranes reaching the Japanese level of execution, but I want the small works of art to be nice. After all, we’re sending them to experts.

Folding tiny cranes has reinforced what we’ve watched on television this week. The Japanese are the masters of orderliness and patience. Watching so many people there face the definitive crisis with such stoicism gives insight to Japanese friends who have spoken to me about frustrations they’ve felt with their culture when they’ve wanted to express individualism.

In so many ways our cultures differ.

We know how to thrive on individualism. They seem to know so much more about succeeding together.

One of my Japanese friends lives and works in Tokyo. Since the tsunami, part of her family has been living in a camp in northern Japan. She assures me that she will use her strong network of friends to take an Acadiana-created senbazuru to one of the towns obliterated by the tsunami.

We have set an ambitious goal of mailing our senbazuru to Japan by the end of this week. By the time you read this, I believe we’ll be well on our way to 1,000 paper cranes. However, the fact of the matter is that we still need lots of help to accomplish this gesture to send to the other side of the world. We are encouraging every person who makes cranes to write a message of hope on at least one of the creations. I’m also taking photos of folks as they make cranes, which I plan to send along with the senbazuru.

Our gesture will do nothing to fix the horrible situation of northeastern Japan, but simple acts of kindness can change things by creating waves of good.

If you’d like to try your hand at making some, please do. It just takes a little practice. If you’d like to make cranes to be included in the senbazuru we’re sending to Japan, simply e-mail me.

In Japan, cranes are mystical creatures. A thousand of them represent hope, and Japan, along with the rest of us, could use a little hope about now.

LSS: A living saint?

Immaculée Ilibagiza may be a living saint.
Miraculously, she survived the Rwandan genocide that took the lives of her entire family and the vast majority of her fellow Tutsis in Rwanda during the horrors of 1994 — a reminder that no one should be lulled into complacency believing previous generations cornered the market on genocide.
Less than 20 years ago, the Hutu people of Rwanda killed up to 800,000 of their fellow countrymen, women and children.
Ilibagiza survived by hiding 91 days in a 3’ by 4’ bathroom with seven other women.
In case you don’t remember the Rwandan genocide or those terrors, Hutus killed Tutsis during the tribal genocide. Neighbors killed neighbors. Students killed teachers. Teachers killed students and on into the horrible on. Death was everywhere in Rwanda. Now many of the killers acknowledge that they had no beef with the people they murdered. They were just following orders. They thought the powers that ordered the killing might reward them with a banana plantation or something more or less valuable.
With wild abandon, the Hutus killed Tutsis. No gas chambers necessary. Just machetes and sticks and daily calls for killing on the radio. The leaders of this chilling call especially wanted Tutsi children dead. They wanted to kill the people off entirely. They almost succeeded.
Yet, a few are left to tell the story.
Ilibagiza is the only one of her family who survived — villagers killed her father, her brothers and her mother.
These days, the theme of the story Ilibagiza tells is not the one most of us would expect.
The story she tells is one of forgiveness.
“People do evil things and hurt themselves and others, but during that time I was in the bathroom, I was praying. When I got to the part, ‘forgive those who trespass against me,’ I realized I was lying to God,” she said.
So she prayed for her heart to be changed. She didn’t want to lie to God anymore.
And there in the bathroom, Ilibagiza says she went from a person in a rage who wanted to become a soldier and avenge her family to a person who realized that people had the capacity to choose good or evil — and that people could change.
She began to incorporate a new part in her prayers.
“Please let me live to tell my story,” she said.
And now, “I don’t hate anymore,” she said.
Instead she laughs. She dances — and she encourages others to do the same as she spreads a message of forgiveness.
“I can smile. I can live in peace — no matter all the hundreds of people I have lost in my life. It is a journey. If I can forgive, others can too,” she said.
Ilibagiza’s New York Times best-selling book, Left to Tell, which chronicles her experience hiding in the bathroom and surviving her country’s genocide, was released in 2006. She said she hopes her time in Lafayette will lead to more peace and love between neighbors and any people who don’t understand each other or believe they are different from others — much like the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda, who now live side-by-side again.
Ilibagiza will be in Lafayette April 15-16 to lead a retreat at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church. The cost is between $60 and $75. For details, go to www.immaculee.com or call 337-278-9257. Ilibagiza stresses that though she is Catholic and the retreat will take place in a Catholic church, that this retreat is open to people of all or no faith.
“We are all living the human experience,” she said.

LSS: Spectrum of possibilities

As it turns out, Piper, our family’s resident 9 year old, picks a new favorite color each year.
For her, this decision seems as logical as the Pythagorean Theorem did for Mrs. Beasley, my ninth-grade geometry teacher.
Last year her favorite color was purple. The year before that, it was pink. This year, she has picked Tiffany blue.
I won’t lie; the choice caught me off-guard.
As does so much about this child.
And so many other children out there. She just happens to be the one I hang with the most these days.
For us, this girl is full to the brim with love, dappled and flecked with something almost otherworldly wonderful.
Her love of color is one of the ways we get to peek into that regenerative joy.
“Just having one favorite color gets too old for me,” she said. “And, I believe that change is also good.”
She explains her deep thoughts on the subject, as though she’s announcing a major plank in her platform in a campaign for office.
I’d vote for her.
Like a good diplomat, she quickly assures me that having one favorite color is fine for some people, just not for her.
At least once a week, she asks each member of our family, “What’s your favorite color?”
Much to her initial dismay, my answer has remained the same.
“For some people, their personalities go with one color, but for me personally, I think my personality is to change,” she said, trying to assure me and my evergreen color love of blue, that I’m OK.
Just in case though, she asks regularly to check.
This week, I learned that she had a method to her madness.
“When I get older, I will remember all my colors, and I can remember how I changed. I can go back through my memories,” she said. “When I get 20, I can have a rainbow.”
Please, my love, please. Have a rainbow.
She was on a roll.
“As I get older, I feel like I need a more mature color,” she said.
I hope not. I thought. Have whatever color you feel like having, sister.
“The year before purple, it was hot pink. You know, that’s a different generation?” she said with brown eyes wide. “I picked purple cause it’s a good color for being eight — when you’re younger, the more silly colors you can have.”
At the wise old age of 9, her take on silly being associated with young makes me know that the world is chipping in, even on Piper’s palette. She’s taking notice of what’s out there. Nothing has flattened her spirit yet — and I’ll do everything I can to prevent that from ever happening — but that time will come.
For now, she and I giddily spend at least 20 minutes a week talking about our favorite colors and why one or the other works for us — or what color would be our favorite color if there was a law that we couldn’t have the one we wanted.
The conversations are little treasures that parents the world over recognize — those moments when a child’s wonder and innocence come into full view. I listen to my multihued wonder child and wish I could bottle up what this kid gives off.
Surely, that spectrum of thinking could solve a lot of issues in this world that tries so hard to view things in the simplicity of black or white.

LSS: One more day to get your pie on

You’ve got today and tomorrow to get your pie on.
Yep, February is National Pie Month. It’s time to make the most of it.
Foodies are asking the cupcake and the macaroon to move over as they anticipate the humble pie to take the sweet-tooth world center stage.
For a girl who enjoys a good cupcake and is a total macaroon convert, pushing aside those two treats doesn’t come easy. Yet, there is something so right about a good pie.
Pies and I go way back.
My great-grandmother made an apple pie fine and flaky. She lived a block away from my childhood home and frequently would call in the middle of an afternoon to say she had an apple pie ready.
I didn’t always fully appreciate the offer. Which goes back even further. My great-grandmother didn’t coddle young children. When I stayed with her in pre-school, I can’t swear that she actually locked the doors to keep us outside, but she might as well have. Children were meant to stay outside and play.
And we did.
Of her scores and scores of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I was fortunate enough to live the closest. Don’t get me wrong, living the closest came with a price. I was often her errand girl. My bike served me well, and she knew I could be there in three minutes or less, which is the kind of service she expected.
Sad to say, but I was 15 by the time I realized what a gift this woman was — which was about the time she seemed to begin thinking I wasn’t half bad myself. The pie calls started coming more frequently. She and I would sit and visit, going through cigar boxes of old photographs.
Her talking.
Me listening.
Both of us eating pie.
A year after I graduated from college, I left Mississippi and moved out West. She was used to sons and grandsons leaving. In her mind, I’m not sure my leaving was supposed to have happened.
Before I left, one day she and I were eating pie, and she said, “Now, tell me, are you going to cross an ocean?”
I explained that I wasn’t, which seemed to help.
About four months after I left, I was making arrangements to fly home for Christmas. I was 23 and it was my first-ever plane ride. The day before the grand event occurred, my phone rang.
When I said, “Hello,” my great-grandmother began to sing “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” She got to “We’ll have chicken and dumplings when she comes,” before she took a breath.
She had not called since I moved away. Long distance phone calls were a big deal, and she was trying to make the most of it.
She paused and asked what it was I’d like to eat when I got home. I told her apple pie would be just the ticket.
She fixed at least four pies for me during the week I was home. On the day I left to head back to the West Coast, it was raining. Just as we were heading out the door for the airport, the phone rang.
It was her.
“I’ve got something for you,” she said. “Stop by on your way to the airport.”
My mom and I loaded my last suitcase and drove the one block to my great-grandmother’s house.
She met me at the door. I stood on her tiny stoop in the rain, and she handed me an apple pie she had forced into an old five-gallon ice-cream bucket.
“This is in case you get hungry,” she said as she hugged me bye.
Standing there in the cold rain, I opened the lip of the plastic container and could see the steam rising.
To this day, I can smell the nutmeg from that pie.

LSS: Zen and the Art of Knitting

I have an edge.
And, I’m not talking about a competitive advantage edge.
Instead, it’s one of those not-so-pleasant edges — certainly not strength of character. All in all, that little line of vice and has gotten me into untold trouble through the years.
Finally, at age 46, I have found the cure for the less charitable side of my nature.
Knitting.
I’m not saying that I’ve discovered a remedy for all that ails me, but I will say that knitting takes the edge off. All that extra energy usually bumbling around my head? The general culprit of that has stirred up trouble in my world for years? With knitting, it dissipates. It’s been the genesis of the strife in my life for years. Now, I have a place for it.
Knit.
Purl.
Knit.
Purl.
I don’t mind long meetings anymore. I simply view them as a chance to do more rows. My husband prefers driving when we go on long trips? It’s no problem now. Telephone calls that take me away from what the task at hand? Not a difficulty these days.
Knit.
Purl.
Knit.
Purl.
How much edge I need to take off depends on whom you ask. My youngest daughter probably believes it’s a potholder’s worth, but there are days when I’m certain my husband thinks it’s a good idea if I get cranking on a cover for his old pick-up truck.
To be clear, I am not an expert knitter. Basically, I’m a newbie. I learned long, long ago and haven’t done it in nearly 15 years. Maybe I wasn’t ready or didn’t need the relief knitting now provides me back then. I haven’t been back at it for long, but what it’s done for my head (and subsequently for my heart) has made me a believer. It’s been a boon to my spirits — and likely to those around me too.
Knitting makes me a better and more focused listener. After all, in reality, knitting is just tying one simple knot after another. Its simplicity is its brilliance. For me, the repetitive motion is conducive to thinking and stirs the creativity in my bones.
To take its zen-ness a step further (and this may seem strange in concept), but there’s something about knitting that reminds me of yoga. It’s very focusing, but allows just enough room for the mind to wander and promotes good conversation with those around you.
Knit.
Purl.
Knit.
Purl.
One of the people who re-taught me how to knit explained to me that the Red Cross taught her to knit when she was in high school during World War II. She said students would get out of class to learn knitting and have time in school to knit create helmet liners and fingerless gloves for soldiers serving in the European and Pacific campaigns. Her story made me wonder why our country abandoned habits like that. What a good means of reminding the rest of us of the service of so many. What a good way for high school students to spend time. What a gift for students in that moment and in their futures — on so many levels.
For example, knitting has helped me to recognize and consider some patterns in my life. I get in over my head because I don’t do sitting around well. Having a fun, productive outlet to use up that excess energy cures that sitting around feeling that leads to over-committing. As much as I’d like to plant my feet firmly in the opposite camp, perhaps the Puritan work ethic has influenced me than I sometimes admit.
All in all, I find it good for the soul. Plus, there’s some magic in turning a piece of string into something wearable, warm and wonderful.