Summer Inspiration

This summer, I’m treating myself to an online writing/photography course.  The class is called Unraveling: Ways of Seeing Myself, and taught by the wonderful, Susannah Conway, with whom I took my first online course, Blogging from the Heartearlier this year.

Our first Unraveling assignment was to think about our feet.  Susannah encouraged us students, 90+ women from all around the world to “Look down at the ground and see where you are in the world.”

Each week we share four of our favorite photos.

These are mine.

The second week’s task was to focus on our reflections; to catch glimpses of ourselves reflected back to us in the world.

Here are my photos from that assignment.

In the meantime, Tucker is reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s book, The Namesake for his summer reading assignment.  In particular, he’s been asked to focus on the advantages and disadvantages of being raised bicultural.

When I came across this poem, I was struck by how it so aptly captured all three; feet, reflections and life between two cultures.

My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears


My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
        of the bathroom at Sears
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
against the automated hot-air hand dryer,
after having removed her support knee-highs
and laid them aside, folded in thirds,
and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares
Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom
My grandmother, though she speaks no English,
catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,
I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul
with water from the world’s ancient irrigation systems
I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus
over painted bowls imported from China
among the best families of Aleppo
And if you Americans knew anything
about civilization and cleanliness,
you’d make wider washbins, anyway
My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,
as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,
my grandmother might as well have been squatting
in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,
Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn’t matter which,
when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.
“You can’t do that,” one of the women protests,
turning to me, “Tell her she can’t do that.”
“We wash our feet five times a day,”
my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.
“My feet are cleaner than their sink.
Worried about their sink, are they? I
should worry about my feet!”
My grandmother nudges me, “Go on, tell them.”
Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum
Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,
is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse
For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps
that match her purse, I think in case someone
from one of the best families of Aleppo
should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display
I smile at the midwestern women
as if my grandmother has just said something lovely about them
and shrug at my grandmother as if they
had just apologized through me
No one is fooled, but I
hold the door open for everyone
and we all emerge on the sales floor
and lose ourselves in the great common ground
of housewares on markdown.
So what’s inspiring you this summer? Have you ever taken an online course, or thought about doing so?



To Go Easy

Ahhhh, Sunday morning.  And it finally feels like summer here in the North East.  Although more rain is due to arrive, I’ll take this morning’s sunshine and the inspiration that arrived with it.

I’m reading Yes, Chefthe memoir of Ethiopian born, Swedish adopted, Marcus Samuelsson, which has me inspired in the kitchen.  This morning I’m baking these Gluten-Free Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins and finally trying the Ginger Syrup recipe a friend gave to me.  She’d brought me a mason jar full of the syrup last summer and ever since I poured out the last drop, I’ve been intent on making a batch of my own.  I used the syrup to make homemade ginger ale, pouring club soda over an ounce or so of the syrup, and I loved a bit of the syrup poured over my morning steel cut oats.  Here is the recipe my friend sent if you want to give it a try.

Ginger Syrup
In a medium saucepan, combine 2 c. sugar, 2 c. water, and 2 c. peeled fresh ginger, cut into coin-sized pieces. 
Bring to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar.
Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 8 minutes or until mixture is a thin syrup consistency.
Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, 2-3 hours.
Strain through a fine-mesh sieve; discard ginger.
Refrigerate syrup in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

After my time spent in the kitchen this morning, I poured myself another cream-laden cup of coffee and climbed back in bed with a book of Mary Oliver’s poetry.  From her book, Thirst, I’ve read this one poem over and over again and just had to share it with you.  Each time I read it, my eyes widen and my skin tingles, pondering the possibility that life could be so profound in its simplicity.  I’m going to print it out and hang it on the wall next to my bed.

When I Am Among the Trees

by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
     but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

May we all go easy and be filled with light.

And what are you up to on this Sunday morning? Do you have cherished Sunday morning rituals?  Does that poem resonate with you? Are there particular poems you love?

Wishing you a Happy Day!



A Light in the Dark

This past weekend found us all traveling in different directions.  My husband to a long planned golf weekend, the kids to their grandparents house, and me to the wedding of an old childhood friend.

I don’t like when we’re all apart.

Alone in my bed in a strange new place, fear woke me in the night; a film reel of worst-case scenarios playing on my movie screen mind.

But then I remembered the poem a dear friend had shared.  We had talked of the power of love and fear and how thoughts of losing it all can climb onto our pillows in the middle of the night and blow uncertainty right into our ears.

Her friendship and the poem she shared, assured me I wasn’t alone in thinking such thoughts, and allowed me to leave my restless bed and create a soothing place, perhaps by a stream or a quiet lake on a soft bed of grass on which to sleep out the rest of my night.


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.