Have you found yourself amidst a kaleidoscope?

Painted ladies dance

In joyful kaleidoscopes

Through warm autumn days

The color combination of butterfly and sunflowers is autumn perfect.

This morning as I walked, I found myself surrounded by butterflies. There were so many, I stopped in wonder. And in joy. They flickered in front, beside, and over me, carrying me back to my childhood on the farm when masses of butterflies were common.

A butterfly spreads its wings and catches the sun.

What kind were they? I uploaded a picture to Facebook, asking for help.

It’s wings folded, she has an entirely different look.

Then my mind wandered to what a group of butterflies is called. Are they drifts? crowds? flocks? sweeps? I asked my smart phone.

A kaleidoscope of painted ladies congregate on sedum blossoms.

The answers as delightful as the butterflies. Painted ladies, they’re called. A group of butterflies is a kaleidoscope.

As a child, I played endlessly with a kaleidoscope, pointing the tube toward the sun, turning it around and around to create new colors and shapes. How fitting that the butterflies, flitting about as they do, splashing color here and there, are collectively a kaleidoscope.

The painted ladies inspired me to write the haiku above. When have you found yourself in wonder and joy with nature?

Poverty or Privilege – What do clothes mean?

“Dress for success.” “Clothes make the man/woman.” “Dress for the job you want.”

I had cause to re-think these oft-heard phrases in the context of poverty and privilege when I read a memoir about a pen pal relationship between two children in America and Africa and subsequently an article written by a Des Moines businesswoman.

My well-stocked closet. Privilege or poverty or both?

Poverty permeates the United States. In 2015, about 43 million Americans – 13.5 percent of the population – lived below the poverty line. But in this land of plenty, even those living in poverty have clothing.

Poverty can look very different in other countries. In alternating chapters, the memoir I Will Always Write Back – How one letter changed two lives tells the story of American school girl Caitlin Alifirenka and African school boy Martin Ganda in Zimbabwe.

At first, Caitlin takes for granted her life of privilege while Martin carefully avoids sharing the truth of his life of poverty because he doesn’t want his new friend to think less of him. Caitlin talks easily of trips to the mall, music, vacations, and clothes. Then she sends Martin a Reebok t-shirt for his birthday.

Though this gift throws him into a crisis of concern about how he can repay her, Martin thanks her profusely. In his letter he says, “…Your gift increased my clothes. Before I had been left with only an old shirt of my dad …”

Only later does Caitlin come to understand what Martin meant. Before she sent the gift, he had only one shirt. Now he has two. This was as incomprehensible to Caitlin as it would be to most us in the United States.

We know through Martin’s chapters how difficult life for the family is when Martin’s father loses his job as the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates. The family struggles to keep from starving yet they keep the children in school for which they must pay tuition and provide uniforms because education is their only hope.

Over months, years, and a multitude of letters, the two children become friends. As they share more, Caitlin and her parents begin to realize the tenuous life Martin’s family lives. Eventually, they send clothes and money to support the whole family. Martin’s response when a pair of tennis they send fit his mother struck my heart. He said:

“She no longer walks barefooted and … my mom is now counted as human in the society.

The family had clothes when they did not have them before. And those clothes gave them status in their neighborhood, at school, and at work. Dress for success? Really? The clothes made them human. I get tears in my eyes just writing that sentence.

Coincidentally, this past week Belle DuChene wrote an article for Lift IOWAClear the clutter in your closet to clear your mind. The genesis of her article came on a day Belle was running late for work because she couldn’t find anything to wear. Even though she had two closets full of clothes.

How often have I felt the same way as I look at shelves of t-shirts and sweaters, racks of jackets, blouses, slacks? When I left the full-time office world, I immediately needed 80% fewer clothes but it took me more than 10 years to let go of the suits even though they grew woefully out of date. I’d say I don’t buy many clothes, yet every time DAV calls I’m able to put out a garbage bag or two of clothes. 

Belle DuChene’s epiphany led her to re-evaluate her clothing and life. She started a business focusing on ‘isms’ – minimalism, professionalism, volunteerism, etc.. – to help others do the same. I was raised to hold on to anything that still has good use in it, so paring down my closet takes more than a little mental re-adjustment. As I take steps to re-purpose my clothes into other peoples’ closets, I work to get over the idea that I “deserve” something new.

I’m also re-thinking poverty and privilege. Is it really a privilege to live with such excess when it complicates life? Are we clothing ourselves into poverty when we tax the world’s resources with our disposable clothing approach? In our clothes-conscious society where dressing for success does matter, how do we reconcile the conflicting messages?

What do you think my friends? How do poverty and privilege come into play in your lives?

Food and culture – Eating Greek style

A country’s culture is embodied in its food and how the people eat. Nowhere was that more evident than on my recent trip to Greece.

When my friend Mary and I planned our trip, we factored in plenty of time between the major attractions to stop at any random spot if we saw something unexpected. What we didn’t know was that relaxing over a cup of coffee or a meal – sometimes for hours – is quintessentially Greek, and those activities would fill much of our open time.

We were encouraged in this by our driver, a Greek who owned a construction company prior to the economic crisis and who has driven a taxi since. We felt incredibly lucky to have teamed up with this amiable and knowledgeable traveling companion who signed on to drive and translate but also served as our guide into Greek history, the economy, customs, and food.

Greek meals are occasions for wide-ranging discussions. And good food.

As Americans, we tend to bolt food even in a good restaurant as the wait staff work to turn the table and we rush on to the next thing. In the Greek style, we ate fresh food slowly, savoring conversation and companionship as much as the food.

Two food favorites rose to the top during this trip: souvlaki and a classic country salad called a “Mani Plate.”

On our first full day in Athens, after we toured the Parthenon, our guide led us to a small restaurant in the Plaka and introduced us to souvlaki. Souvlaki is similar to a gyro – meat, tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce wrapped up in pita bread. Often it comes with fries.

Already inexpensive at about two Euros, souvlaki is even less expensive if you take it ‘to go.’ We found the price to be about the same whether in Athens or the countryside. Souvlaki is what Greeks eat, and I can see why. A complete delicious, inexpensive meal. Can’t go wrong with that.

Our need to use ‘the facilities’ led us to our next food discovery. No, you can’t simply stop at a gas station for a toilet. In Greece, the gas stations sell gas and that’s it. Isn’t that a concept?

The Mani Plate is a classic ‘country salad’ also called xoriatiki.

Since it was time for an afternoon coffee break anyway, we found a restaurant to serve our needs. While there, our driver suggested we try tsipouro, an alcoholic beverage better imbibed with food in your stomach. He recommended the Mani Plate (named for the Mani Peninsula on which the town was located). We were already disposed to take his recommendations, and this was another good one.

The Mani Plate consisted of fresh tomatoes and cucumber slices, cheese, meat, and olives. With a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and oregano, it was magnificent.

In the same family as ouzo, tsipouro is a drink associated with hospitality and good company. A drink to linger over. So we did. For a couple of hours. Talking, nibbling at the salad, glowing as the tsipouro kicked in, absorbing Greek culture.

One hotel offered honey-flavored tsipouro as a welcome gift. Reason enough to relax with a bit of cheese and lots of conversation.

For us, this mid-afternoon repast was enough for the day. Greeks would eat again late in the evening, but late nights were a part of Greek culture that passed us by.

I haven’t made souvlaki since returning to the States, though I have the recipe on a refrigerator magnet. The Mani Plate, on the other hand, is a regular lunch treat, especially now that tomatoes and cucumbers are fresh from our garden. Sadly, the tsipouro I brought back from Greece is long gone.

The Greek culture was at its finest with souvlaki or the Mani Plate, a glass of tsipouro, and the long, relaxed conversations that accompanied every Greek meal and every cup of coffee.

What’s your favorite way to immerse in a country’s culture when you travel? Drop a note and share your favorite discoveries.

Haitus over …. Did you miss me?

I realize asking, “Did you miss me?” after such a long absence opens me to the possibility of all sorts of disappointing, maybe even disparaging, responses. All of which I’d deserve. I dropped out of sight without telling you I would. Truthfully, I didn’t know I was going to do it myself. It just happened.

Pastels provided a new kind of creative outlet.

But now I’m back and feeling good after a three-month hiatus. I didn’t realize how much I needed a break from writing. I’d worked hard to finish the manuscript of a new novel only to have it turned down by my publisher. Optimistically, I went in search of an agent only to hear, “No, thanks,” again and again. Maybe this novel was not meant to be published. Simultaneously, I cut back on blogging, and the longer I didn’t post, the easier it became.

As I let writing recede, I opened my  mental, physical, and emotional space to other adventures.

I dove deeper into the pastel pool, taking another class and gaining confidence.

Greece offered unbeatable light, color, and history.

A friend and I spent a sublime few weeks in Greece.

My new prairie patch (where I mostly pull weeds) offered solitude and a much-needed reminder to be patient because things come in their own time.

All of these events and more provided time to breathe, to reflect, to let my heart tell me what to do. Without conscious intent, time away from writing brought me back to writing.

Purple vervain helps me look past prolific weeds.

So, here I am once again. I’ll be writing and posting about the above topics and more in the weeks ahead. The time away also brought me to a decision about my manuscript. I’m moving forward on the route to indie publishing. One step at a time without certainty on the end game. You’ll hear more about that, too.

So, my friends. I’m grateful for each of you who waited patiently and are willing to read my ramblings once again.

I’d like to hear from you. Please drop a note about how you’ve spent the last several months. Or let me know how time away has helped you make a decision. Let’s reconnect.