Saturday Night at the Remetzo

by Becky on July 24, 2017 · 0 comments

in Food, Travel

Agkali-05Some nights, you’ve got to step out. Because your favorite cafe serves waffles with vanilla ice cream.

And because–why not?

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Athens-05One. I drove away from Athens.

For me, July 21st is often a fraught day. Nineteen years ago on that day, my mother died.

So it was with a quiet heart that, on the 20th, Ms. D and I rented a car and headed north, bound for a more remote spot, the island of Evia. After a couple of hours, we found ourselves on a winding mountain road, zipping through hairpin turns which delivered us eventually into lush lowlands dotted with farms and vegetable stands tended by smiling local farmers. We bought jars of local honey and bags of fresh oregano. We loaded up on onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers–ingredients for a classic Greek salad. The sun had kissed the hillsides, turning them amber. And man, what a noisy riot the cicadas were making!Agkali-03Two. I pointed the car toward Agia Anna, on the northeast coast of Evia.

We arrived late in the afternoon, and the sight of the coast pretty much took my breath away. Nothing quite prepares you for that!Agkali-02Three. We joined friends at their villa–old friends for Ms. D, new friends for me. Being greeted like I was a long lost cousin did my heart good.

And I couldn’t help but notice the lavender beds. When our host Mario urged me to take home as much as I wanted, I had to be grateful that I’d slipped a pair of very good scissors into my suitcase at the last minute.Agkali-01

Four. I marked the next day, July 21st, without a word to anyone, even Ms. D, who knew my mother well. At precisely 4 p.m., the hour Lynn Simms Piatt stepped into what poetess Mary Oliver calls “the cottage of darkness,” I was standing with my feet in the Aegean, scouring the area around my feet for beach glass.

I like to think my mother pointed out the only light aqua piece currently in my collection.

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Glimpses of the Divine

by Becky on July 21, 2017 · 0 comments

in Travel

Athens-01On a morning hike through the Acropolis, you begin to appreciate the divine forms stone can take.
Athens-03Ms. D, she’s a rather divine form herself, don’t you think? Standing there whole and healthy in front of the temple of Athena Nike. But then: survivors of the Big C–they all look that way to us, don’t they? Divine in the realest sense?
Athens-02

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Deb-Becky500

A few years ago (okay, more than a few, actually), I met my friend Ms. D.  I’d give her a flower fairy name, but I’m not sure there’s a fairy splendid enough to represent Ms. D’s unique combination of beauty, brains, and heart.

But sometimes, friends get breast cancer.

Triple positive–that was her diagnosis.  Then followed the lumpectomy, the chemotherapy, the radiation.  That was six years ago.  She survived with a combination of excellent medical attention and a regular practice of imagining herself swallowing liquid sunlight. She’s been well now for five years, a cause for celebration. And her husband, name of Mr. J, a PRINCE of a guy, decided that the two of us needed to do something grand to mark the anniversary of her remission.

So he bought us tickets to Greece.

And thus we got on a plane yesterday. Landed in Athens today.  In a couple of days, we’ll head to the more remote island of Evia, where the tourists are few and the food and the ocean are said to be fine.  Who would have thought, all those years ago, that in 2017, we’d be winging our way to the Greek islands to greet the sun, hike through ruins, thread our way through street markets, and wade out into the Aegean together?

Surviving has its perks, doesn’t it?

Thank you, Ms. D, for living. Thank you, Mr. J, for allowing me to discover Greece with your wife. And thank you Eleven O’Clock Crew, for holding down the fort while I’m gone.

Tomorrow:  the Acropolis.

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in Salamanca, SpainPhotos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

So you’re starting a meditation practice. With a child. Yes, this is possible. And bravo to you! You’re in for a treat. And so is the child who’s about to benefit mightily from learning to quiet his or her mind.

Of course you’re wondering, But how will he/she sit still long enough? Ah, that’s the rub. Below are three keys for creating a successful meditation moment with your child. Likewise, I’d love for you to share yours, if you’ve got a few that work well for you.

First key. Create a quiet, comfortable, distraction-free space. This means no. Other. Noise. Literally. Goose and I do his meditation in the morning, early, before phones begin to ring or texts begin to arrive or other family members begin to be up and doing. Because kids are easily distracted anyway, front loading the experience so it’s interference-free can mean the difference between a profoundly quiet moment or a total bust. We also opt for early morning light rather than artificial light of any kind. Something about the time before sun-up works perfectly for us. Though I have a particular position I like for my own practice, with Goose, we simply sit side by side on the couch. He crosses his legs pretzel style and keeps his hands relaxed, palms up, on his thighs–a way to signal his openness to the creative energy he desires to connect with.

Second key. Breathing matters. Really matters. As his guide, I start the meditation by having him breathe in deep, right from his gut, then hold it for a couple of seconds, just to pull air deep into his body. Since I practice Japa, which involves making a slow “Ahhh” sound on the exhale, I’m teaching him to do likewise. As he breathes out, he simply says “Ahhh.” The sound doesn’t have to be generated with the voice; it can be whispered and still be a powerful lever for focusing and quieting the mind.  I’ve been surprised to see how quickly he falls quiet and still with breathing as the initial mechanism. I pause frequently throughout the meditation to guide his breathing.

Third key.  I provide the mental infrastructure for the meditation, and I do this by narrating a story–one of my own making. My objectives are simple. First, I want him to identify through an empowered ‘self’ (he’s the main character!) going on a brief but intriguing journey of some kind. Second, I want the journey to be vivid enough that he feels he’s there, experiencing it. Third, I want him to feel deeply empowered in both mind and heart once we conclude the exercise.

Our first time, I had him imagine that he was in a Redwood grove, where he free-climbed a giant Redwood tree. Could he do that in real life? Nope. Can he do it in a meditation exercise? Absolutely. Moreover, when we finished, he confessed to being amazed at how real it felt–how much like lived experience. But then that’s the power of a good practice: you can go places in your mind that you’d never be able to go otherwise. And the feeling of doing the impossible proves real enough, potent enough, that you’re transformed–maybe just the tiniest bit, but you are.

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Already, Goose describes the benefits of going deep into a quietly imagined moment in which he is both journeyer and hero. He says he feels calmer, that he trusts himself more. In these meditations, he is a kind of Odysseus, scaling mountains, seeing through the eyes of Bald eagles, diving deep as he searches for sea creatures, venturing into mountain caves in search of rare gems, and finding–wherever he wanders–that real power always resides within.

In a time when gadgets rule the day; when each new form of digital wizardry dazzles and distracts, the wisdom of going deep into oneself might seem like a less-than-impressive place to find the Answers. But one of the greatest benefits of any meditation practice is the way learning to empty your mind in order to refocus it in more intuitive directions actually connects you to the real locus of your power. For every practitioner, that locus feels a little different, but it’s there, and tapping into it unlocks hidden but rich reserves of very real strength.

Being a 21st Century Kid is a fraught business. Why not navigate it knowing how truly fit you really are to do so?

Jaén, Spain

Stay tuned for thoughts about how to craft the perfect meditation narrative!

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Silas happy with ballooon_5215 Photos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

Answering to the name of “Goose,” the youngest member of our family frequently struggles with a problem common to many otherwise healthy eleven year olds. I call it the I Stink At Everything Syndrome, and it manifests thusly.

One. Said eleven year old scores two goals for his team during a soccer game, let’s say. During the second half of the game, when he is put in as goalie, the other team scores two goals. The only post-game thoughts of which this boy is now capable include self-torturing variations of “It’s like I didn’t even score in the first half!” or “Gah!!–how could I have let those balls get past me??” or “I stink as goalie . . . WHY did coach leave me in for so long??”

Silas starts kicking the balloon_5150

Two. Said eleven year old is required to write an essay for a testing exercise at school, let’s say, an endeavor that results in an outbreak of self-doubt and accompanying self-flagellation likely to mortify even the most pitiable Dan Brown character (i.e., Da Vinci Code’s crazy monk).

Three. Said eleven year old notices that a couple of neighborhood friends have congregated for some outdoor playtime–without him. Ipso facto, this means that he has permanently fallen out of favor, that our doorbell will never ring again, that some vague conspiracy has begun whose stated goal is “Leave Goose Out Of The Fun, Forever.”

I ask you: what is a mother to do?

Well, I’ve pondered that question long and hard, and I’ll tell you what doesn’t work–like suggesting that such patterns (failing to catch soccer balls arcing over your head, for instance) are merely temporary. Wow, big mistake. All this does is reinforce a child’s certainty that his mother doesn’t have a clue what it’s like to be the victim of an unhappy fate. Another thing that never works?–suggesting that there might be some valuable take-away or learning that could put everything into meaningful perspective (completing an essay on a topic you loathe, for example, which then serves as a lever for teaching you that you actually can do hard things, and do them well). The fact that a mother has logic and wisdom on her side doesn’t make a lick of difference to a kid who has convinced himself that his is the Worst Life Ever. And finally, one thing that really doesn’t work is suggesting that perhaps the neighborhood chums aren’t deliberately leaving anyone out; they’ve just gotten something going, and now it’s, well, going. It happens all the time, I pointed out one day not too long ago. Nobody’s fault, I added. Go join the game, I urged. (Note: advice like this is often met with The Stare, which communicates a child’s contempt for motherly wisdom as surely as if he’d said, “Could you BE any thicker?”)

Silas_5070

And then, recently–maybe a month ago–I took up a meditation practice. I’d gone in fits and starts over the years–flirted with it, in other words. But I’d never been consistent. So it was with the most profound sense of humility and delight that I realized: If a mother can a) quiet her mind long enough to connect with her bliss, and b) do it for upwards of thirty days, why couldn’t she teach her eleven year old to do it, too? Stranger things have been attempted, am I right??

Silas ambling with balloon_5210

And so, maybe a week ago, I began in earnest, my primary objective being to stage a moment of effective meditation with/for Mr. Goose. Starting out, I had three very simple goals. One, teach him how to breathe and how to attend to his breathing. Two, help him experience the bliss of escaping from thinking patterns that sabotage healthy self-esteem and well-being. Three, like it well enough to want to do it again.

The good news. He not only liked it, he LOVED it! The equally good news. His sudden fascination with the art of quieting the mind promises to keep my imagination busy and my skills sharp for many weeks to come.

Tomorrow: three crucial tips for a successful meditation session with your child.

Silas walking along with balloon_5207

Check out the post from which these photos were taken, featuring Goose with an abandoned, yellow balloon in the town of St. Remy, in Provence, France.

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Clave and Elder Shakespeare

I am what’s known in Mormon parlance as a Missionary Mom. No one else would capitalize the words, but I do. The fact that I have not seen my twenty-year-old son in the flesh for eighteen months has earned me the right to capitalize myself, if I want to.

This is not one of those posts written by one of the missionaries pictured. Actually, neither young man knows that he is making an appearance on my blog today.

Which is fine by me. From what I hear, they’re busy, these two. They belong temporarily to a species of do-gooder unlike any other. Both of these young men–and all the other young men and women in their mission besides–have put aside personal interests in order to focus on the interests, needs, challenges, and lives of the people with whom they collide. People of every faith, color, age, and attitude. Misplaced your confidence?–they’ll find it for you. Need to pack up and move somewhere?–they’re your truck loaders. Tearing out your garden and starting over?–they’re ready to get some real dirt under their nails. They will remember your name, do you a service, and remind you by the way they behave that young folks still keep their manners handy. The question you’ll hear over and over, straight from their mouths, will always be, “Is there anything we can do for you today?”

Is it easy, being a missionary? Are you totally kidding me? You want to get up at dark-thirty everyday, devote yourself to sincere prayer and study (not that there’s any other kind, when you do it right), and head out into the day, looking for that one person for whom life has become altogether lackluster? Or that family whose patterns of dysfunction have rendered them lost to each other? Over and over, you re-polish your message of hope and hold it out to people. Might happen at the gas pump, when someone sees your ministerial nametag and decides to download his life story to you, complete with the mistakes of tragic proportions. Might happen when you’re out just knocking doors, looking for anyone at all to listen to you, and you stumble onto someone who’s been busy soul-searching–the deep kind, where a person gets into the machinery of their choices and starts conducting inventory. As a missionary, you’re an ordained minister, a trustworthy friend of the highest order, and a bonafide, roll-up-your-sleeves yard work doer, if that’s what it comes to.

It’s hard, unremitting, sometimes lonely work that requires real character, which is why–if you’re a young man–you get two years to perfect the art of Being Selfless.

So why have I decided to post a picture sent to me by a Mom who fed my son (he’s on the right, with the beautifully wry smile) and his companion (on the left, with the beautifully big smile) a tasty, home-fashioned meal at the last minute? (Thank you Gina!) Because I just can’t get over those smiles. And I thought folks in my little corner of the world might enjoy a look at them, too.

Elder Davidson. Elder Shakespeare. Thanks for having the courage to just be all-out good. There it is.

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The Graveyard Book: Our Favorite Fall Read

by Becky on November 8, 2013 · 1 comment

in Books

 Book Review of Middle Grade Novels - The Graveyard Book by Neil Guiman

Neil Gaiman may be the most un-derivative writer out there. Which is the highest compliment I could give him. I LOVE stories that feel completely original, and The Graveyard Book, a Newbery Medal winner illustrated by Dave McKean, is like no other scary tale out there.

When a toddler suddenly finds himself in the local graveyard after the murder of his family, the resident ghosts decide to protect him from the mysterious figure hunting him, extending to him the “freedom of the graveyard,” a privilege rarely given to humans. Nobody Owens, or “Bod,” as the child is affectionately called by the ghosts with whom he shares the graveyard, leads an unusual existence, his childhood marked not only by the bizarre event that led him there but also by his relationships with some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever encountered in my (many) years of reading.

I read The Graveyard Book out loud to Goose last year, when we were in Spain. He was spellbound, the plot so riveting he scarcely moved when he was listening. Plus, I got to try on all kinds of fabulous (and no doubt poorly rendered) accents, since the various ghosts have totally distinct personalities and hail from various centuries and walks of life. There’s nothing more appealing to a frustrated theater actress than having a book to read out loud to a captive audience eager for a splashy performance. In fact, this book could as soon be acted as read, the narrative so vividly theatrical that you feel you’re watching a play or a movie.

Gaiman ratchets up the suspense by bringing back Jack, the shadowy figure who murdered Bod’s family. You knew he was going to return, and now you want to know why. And the revelations that take place as the reader comes to understand Jack’s identity and purpose are truly startling. I figured Jack merely had a score to settle. But it’s more than that. Much more. And Bod’s real identity holds the key.

This book is a darkly humorous fairy tale, a wildly suspenseful mystery, a cache of the most brilliant secondary characters not part of the Harry Potter series, and an unexpected delight for fans of the graphic novel. Lastly, I love the way Gaiman strikes that fascinating balance between what it means to be monstrous and what it means to be human. Scare yourself up a batch of popcorn and sit down with your favorite listener. And by all means, read this book out loud!

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Dreaming Big

by Becky on October 26, 2013

in Parenting

Snow Capped Mountains

Recently I queued up Grooveshark and listened to the soundtrack from the musical Wicked. Something about Idina Menzel’s Elphaba belting out the grandly hopeful “The Wizard and I” made me think of the way, as a young woman, I was going to conquer the world. Like Elphaba, I felt almost prophetic when I considered how epic my Beautiful Future was going to be. Frankly, I never stopped to think about how I was going to accomplish Something Amazing. I just, well, figured I was on my way. In my very young teenage mind, it wasn’t the process that counted; it was the passionate business of nourishing Big Dreams.

There’s something to be said for Big Dream Love. Yeah, I know, you gotta chunk down those dreams and identify the Measurable Objectives that will propel you forward, and all that (ish). No going anywhere without a plan, I understand that now. But man, I loved that stage of my life, when I just knew deep down that I was on my way to greatness.

Maybe that’s why I love watching my teens dream big, in that improbable, on-the-cusp-of-adulthood way, before the distinct pressures of adulthood inevitably begin to shave some of the beautiful impracticality off the sides of those dreams. If you’d asked my oldest son a few years back how he was going to become a world class surfer, you wouldn’t have gotten the Franklin Planner answer. More likely, you would have heard something like, “I’m going to be in the water more than anyone else, is how I’m going to do it.” To his Mother, my son will always be a world class surfer. Or maybe he’s just world-class–especially because of the way he finally managed to shift a few of his dreams around without compromising their bigness. (Yeah, I’m being a bit cryptic, but I think he’d want it that way.)

As I see it, one of the challenges of mothering teens-with-big-aspirations involves striking a balance: insisting on the work ethic required to fuel a big dream, while getting out of the way enough for that dream to keep all the helium it started out with. Everyone knows a parent who became an unwitting dream-killer. You know, the mom who refused to let her daughter become an Idina Menzel, for example, because she wanted her to be a geneticist (let’s say).

But Ms. Menzel didn’t just leap from teenagehood to Broadway. Like anyone who achieves a Big Dream, she worked for it. And had to sweat a lot and frequent the grocery store and pay bills along the way. Yet I would have loved to take a peek at her life back when she was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen . . . just to get a glimpse of her as a Teen-with-a-dream. I’m told she sang at weddings and bar-mitzvahs while she was studying voice. It’s a far cry from that to the role of Elphaba, which won her a Tony Award.

Only one of my children is no longer a teenager, and I have to confess something about that boy.  I do indeed hope that his dreams will stay buoyant not just because they feel that way but also because he’s learned how to work–hard–to move himself toward them.  And for the petals, still in that stage where their dreams have that ineffable, Technicolor hugeness, my hope is that as they leap toward what they want in life, they can build the mental and physical muscle needed to go the distance.  You know–be willing to be the wedding singers, as it were, as they march toward the Big Time.

A last thought.  The “Big Time” feels vastly different to me now that I’m half a lifetime away from my teen years.  And yes, my dreams changed along the way.  Some days, when my kids were small, my big dream was simply to be able to get my teeth brushed by noon.  But what a revelation, too:  that dreams could take the form of four children who have by turns complicated and beautified my life beyond what I could ever have imagined when I was young.  Motherhood is its own dream, far more fraught and challenging than I realized it would be, but far more meaningful for what it has taught me about sacrifice and love, two words so overused they almost don’t mean anything.  Were I to collide with my much younger self, I’d whisper, “Two boys, two girls, loads of intense work, and a bold new land of joy so big you can’t even map it!”

Snow Capped Mountains

(Photos: Miss Lavender, in the French Pyrenees, leaping and shouting into the void . . . or dream.  Whichever you prefer.)

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Sisters

Text by Becky.  Photos by the Eleven O’Clock Dad.

Shakespeare didn’t think too much of Ophelia.  The way he tells the story, she’s merely a lovely waif with a too-fragile mind–a casualty of her father’s crazy plotting and Hamlet’s crazy . . . craziness.  If you’ll remember, she lies down in a nearby stream and dies, just like that.

Or maybe not just like that.  Sidelined by the father who should have been her ally and the young man who should have viewed her as the main subject of his life, she loses her mind and ends her own life.  It’s a tragic conclusion to a story that never really got to be told.

And that’s precisely the point:  Ophelia never got the chance to be the author of her own life.

When I got home from Spain, I started rereading Mary Pipher’s 1994 landmark book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving The Selves Of Adolescent Girls, and the premise seemed proportionately more important to me now that I have one daughter preparing to exit adolescence and one daughter parked smack in the middle of it.  How do we teach our daughters to know, to embrace, and to own themselves?  How do we set them up to successfully author their own lives?  These are the questions Pipher takes up, and her extensive research underscores the need for parents–especially moms–to shepherd their daughters through the rocky years during which girls too often lose their sense of self.  Reviving Ophelia is a must-read for moms invested in their girls’ journeys toward a vibrant sense of self-identity.

So what are the answers?  One is giving a daughter an opportunity to go deep into the machinery of a particular talent or aptitude, not just so she can develop it but also so she can benefit from the surge of confidence and empowerment that comes from having a distinct strength she can legitimately own.  Sports, music, leadership endeavors, the arts . . . whatever a girl desires to lay claim to as “her thing” can help offset the pain of those blistering middle school years, especially, when the game changes and girls begin to buy into the messed-up message that how they look, or seem, is infinitely more important than who they are.

A story.  Knowing that Miss Zinnia was about to enroll at a new high school a short month ago, I worried and wondered.  Would she feel comfortable socially?  Would she find her Clan? Would she have opportunities to blossom?  Having collided once again with Pipher’s book and its crucial message, I decided to start a conversation with Miss Z. about its themes.  We were in the car one day, heading through Provo Canyon, in Utah.  “So what do you like about yourself?” I asked, to start things off.  Right away she told me she liked the color of her eyes.  But that was the “outside of her,” I pointed out, and I told her I wanted to know what she liked about the inside of her, at which point she confessed that she liked her singing voice.

And there it was.  Her voice.  Something she herself resonates to everyday.  What a boon, that not only does she like to sing, but she likes the sounds she makes.  And I found myself silently rejoicing that a few years ago, we committed to taking her and her voice and connecting her with some unique choral music opportunities and some extraordinary voice instruction.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy road, either for Miss Z. or for any young woman eager to feel known and valued.  The trick?–not giving in to the abundant temptations to efface yourself as a means to acquiring value in the eyes of peers.  Pipher describes young women who, as girls, were bright, energetic, adventurous, self-assured, their journey into adolescence suddenly becoming treacherous as they quickly gain a sense of how the currency has changed.  In other words, while they might once have felt valued for who they were, they now begin to absorb messages from a society that values women for how they look, among other things.  As Pipher points out, girls too often go from being the subjects of their own lives to the objects of other people’s lives–like Ophelia.

Sisters

Sure, Miss Z. sings, but that doesn’t mean her walk through her middle school years wasn’t fraught.  A group of (not-nice) boys used to tease her, calling her “Peggy Sue.”  Back story.  When she was a sixth grader at a new middle school a few years ago, Miss Z. had a friend who told this cluster of bothersome boys that her name was Peggy.  The reason:  Miss Z. didn’t want them to know her real name.  In the moment, she felt that she and her friend had put one over on them.  What she didn’t bank on was the way the name would stick.  To that particular group of boys, she became Peggy Sue:  the girl who stuck out because of her old fashioned–read “outdated”–manners.  Sure, teachers loved her.  And her likeminded peers followed along when she started her own service club, for example, an effort that included making tray favors for kids in the hospital over Thanksgiving break, and selling mustaches during a “mustache madness” drive to raise money for cancer research.

But if you ask her today whether she enjoyed middle school, she’ll shrink a little, and her expression will go sour, and that’ll be your answer. Striving to be her own person during those years positively wore her out.

We encourage pre-adolescent girls to think, run, climb, jump, explore, discover, and conquer, while in a few short years they’ll be bombarded with another message:  that the shape of their faces and bodies matters more than the shape of their thoughts.  And too many of them, like Ophelia, will become confused by the very wrong but nevertheless predominant idea that as you grow up, being an object of desire trumps just being.

Back when Miss Z. and I had that conversation a month or so ago?  Well, I reviewed what I felt were the basic rules for social “efficiency,” but I framed it as a question of learning a new “language,” the successful mastery of which would help her move around gracefully among peers . . . then free her to be whoever she wanted to be in the meantime.  Sort of like learning the rules to a complex game and then figuring out how to selectively abandon them in favor of self-invented tricks that fast-track you to a decisive win.  “You don’t ever have to apologize for yourself,” I told her, hoping she wouldn’t be confused by my attempts to affirm her even as I was arming her with tricks for navigating the tricky social terrain of high school.

Sisters

Perhaps one of our most important jobs as Moms of teenage girls:  guarding the door to the gym, so to speak, so that our daughters can have some uninterrupted time to bulk up their identities in healthy, defined ways, without anyone storming the place and spreading crazy ideas about how all that matters is how they look in their workout gear.

Ophelia’s mom?  She’s curiously absent from the story of Hamlet.  Maybe if she’d been around, her daughter might have had a fighting chance.

Sisters

That conversation with Miss Zinnia in the canyon ended with her simple declaration that she liked herself.

May that never change!  And may the reason for her straightforward self-acceptance always be something close to what it was that day:  a realization that what she valued about herself was, in her eyes, worth valuing, whether anyone else ever put a premium on it or not.

Moms:  your thoughts about Pipher’s book (if you’ve read it)?  About raising strong girls?  What are your traditions?  How do you set your daughters up to own their lives with confidence?

(Photo: the Petals, in Avila, Spain, sporting their own handmade flower chains.  Distinctly Ophelia-like, but only because of the headware . . .)

 

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