A moving sale pop-up store

In less than two weeks Tom and I will pack up our old station wagon and head east on our farewell tour, traveling slowly across the US visiting friends and family. Even though our grown kids rented a truck and filled it with family furniture, art, and almost all the potted plants, our little house in San Luis is still filled with beautiful things that need new homes.

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With the time so limited and all those years of running the shop at Mama Ganache behind me, I’ve decided to create a moving sale store in the living room of our little house.

It’ll be open whenever one of us is at home, partly by schedule, partly by serendipity.  Every day, as I continue to sort and pack, I’ll put more items out.

I’ll post the schedule here, on Facebook, Instagram , and on Nextdoor.

 

IMG_2500At the beginning the store will have smaller items in it: folk art, art supplies, kitchen things. As the end comes near, we’ll sell the furniture.

Letting go of so many things is easier than I expected. A sensation of lightness goes right through me as I walk through the increasingly empty rooms of our little house.

When did I last use all those beautiful rubber stamps? I remember exactly where the pot with the frog on top went in our big house, but it never had a good place in the little one. Surely someone else will love it as much as I did.

 

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I wish we could take all the art! The signed and framed prints, handmade pottery, and charming folk art pieces are the hardest for me to part with.

Tom feels the same about the cookware he’s leaving behind.

It pains me not to take along everything that was given to us as gifts over the years.

Please come by to see which of these loved objects might find a new home with you.

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The moving sale store is at our house:

729 Park St. (Park and Mill), SLO

Hours:

Wed-Thurs-Fri, June 20- 22:    2-6 pm

Sat, June 23: 10am – 6pm

Sun, June 24: 10am – 3 pm

Mon- Fri, June 25-29: 10am – 6 pm

I hope to see many of you this week or next. Take this as one more opportunity to say good-bye!

 

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Bodhisattva

Bobbe Scott

July 14, 1937 – June 2, 2018

 

The Bodhisattvas, they walk among us,

and sometimes we lend ourselves and they become us.

The hand of spirit is the hand you raise

when you weave the strands of your nights and days.

Charlo Vogt, Weave your Reality

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Bobbe Scott was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.

She was radiant, she was impossibly energetic, she faced life with endless grace. Her laugh was contagious, her smile delightful, and she was always beautifully dressed, right down to the rings on her arthritis-gnarled, stubby fingers. Bobbe’s eulogies should overflow with admiration for the many ways she dealt with that arthritis.

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Bobbe was wise and funny, as all the best Buddhists are. She loved life and the arts, Los Angeles and New York. She was perpetually of service to others, and graciously asked for and received the care of others when necessary. When I sat in a room in meditation with Bobbe, I would be drawn to a level of serenity that I rarely reach on my own.

Bobbe was a dear, dear friend and mentor to me, precious beyond words. She made me feel deeply known and profoundly loved. Our relationship was intimate and authentic.

And I am one of many people who feel this way. Bobbe loved us all.

In my notes from one of the One Year to Live classes Bobbe taught at SLO hospice, I found this page. It’s from the session on end-of-life paperwork, during which we discussed assisted dying.

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“If I can’t enjoy a good meal, if I can’t remember what I ate yesterday, if I can’t get to the Palm Theatre, put me out.”

The next year, she put it more simply, “If I’m more disabled than I am now, that’ll be it.”

That happened.

And she chose to leave as gracefully as she lived.

 

 

 

 

Two Suitcases and One Pallet

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The current state of the pallet.

We’re experimenting with what to take and what to leave behind, and piling up various configurations of it on the driveway. Pretty soon we’ll have a good enough idea of how and what will fit and the pile will move indoors.

Since my project is called Two Suitcases, I took the idea of moving to France with two suitcases pretty seriously. Well, with two suitcases apiece. Eventually it came to me that, though it would offer me to opportunity to partially replicate my parents’ arrival in the same part of the world in 1940, it was a thoroughly romantic – and therefore impractical – notion. We shifted our thinking to shipping one pallet of boxes.

Right now the boxes making the cut contain: the library I’ve collected to use as background material for Two Suitcases, a few boxes of my papers and other books, some of Tom’s papers and books, framed photos of the family, art, kitchen things, winter clothes, and some items to make our new home feel like our old one. Carpets, my computer, Tom’s keyboard, and more art will be shipped separately.

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Most of my days are filled with sorting and packing. This box has our favorite mugs at the bottom, some delicate pieces of art and glass in the middle, and at the top, some of the birds that lived in our houseplants or flew around the ceilings in our home here.

At its center, packed very carefully, is the crystal bell my father bought my mother with his first paycheck in 1943, less than a year after they arrived in Philadelphia. He always said he bought it to remind her of what is important.

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A thoroughly romantic notion.

 

 

 

 

 

Cordes-sur-ciel

Our journey to Cordes-sur-Ciel began as an open-ended exploration about a year ago when I realized I could get dual Austrian-American citizenship, EU citizenship, opening the possibility of living anywhere in the European Union.

 

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The European Union

At first Tom and I imagined we would go to Luçon, the small city on the Atlantic coast of France, near to my guru family at  Centre Tripoura. We’ve been going to visit them since the 80’s. But when I heard the mayor of Luçon say that his main vision for the town was to keep it French, I began looking elsewhere.

 

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We considered Montauban next. My parents were there for a few months in 1940, after the exodus from Paris. Through the collaborative efforts the Austrian Social Democratic Party, the Philadelphia Quakers, and the French Resistance, they went into hiding nearby for two and a half years. Then, sponsored by the Quakers, they came to Philadelphia where I was born. I thought we would take a furnished apartment in Montauban for a few months, do some research on that very interesting collaboration, and then move on. We found a lovely apartment in Montauban right away, but it was only available for a full year, September to September, longer than we wanted to spend there. In the end, Montauban didn’t call us.


Over the next few days we visited four medieval villages. The third of them was Cordes.
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It was a crazy busy holiday that day, no parking anywhere in the lower village – except at Le Jardin des Paradis, where they probably want you gone after your tour of the gardens. Tom suggested we use one of the many empty 30-minute spaces and pay the fine. A good idea, I thought. When he deposited the euros in the machine, out popped a ticket telling us there were no fines that day. Free parking.
We ate, and climbed the cobblestone road up the hill to the old village. The first building we noticed at the top turned out to house a most unusual shrine to Anandamayi Ma, my guru Ganesh Baba’s teacher. It was a complete surprise – my friends in Vendée didn’t know it was there.
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I’ve had Anandamayi Ma picture on my altar for forty years.
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Then, also at the top of the hill, we discovered Yves Thuriés’ chocolate museum. One of the founders of nouvelle cuisine, Thuriés has been Tom’s favorite for the same forty years. He lives in Cordes.
We felt at home immediately.

The next day, I found the house on Leboncoin, the French Craigslist. We put in an offer late that afternoon.

IMG_2057.jpegAs luck would have it, we had one night with no place to sleep scheduled, so we stayed at Le Secret du Chat, on the same street as the house. The proprietors there were able to answer so many questions!

The following day, we discovered that Cordes is only twenty minutes from Verfeil-sur-Seye, where my parents were in hiding for two and a half years.
It’s the right place.

A shift in the wind

It’s five weeks until Tom’s and my exploratory trip to France following the final sale of Mama Ganache, and less than four months until our projected move to France.
This immense choice to change countries, and languages, and neighbors is largely driven by my current project, Two Suitcases, a series of historical fiction pieces based on my parents’ three escapes from Vienna, Paris, and the south of France. In order to do research in all three settings, we planned to move to Luçon, a city of 10,000 on the Atlantic coast, very near to Centre Tripura and dear friends.
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As these things go, the moment I fell totally in love with Luçon, having explored it in great detail via leboincoin, the French Craigslist, Google Maps, and a series of wonderful five-minute broadcasts by Sud Vendée TV, the direction of our adventure seems to be changing.
It occurred to me to consider moving directly to the region of southern France where my parents were in hiding, rather than settling in Luçon immediately. Do the the research out of chronological order. Ease into our new life in a furnished apartment in a small city  more like San Luis Obispo or Ithaca, walkable, culturally and historically rich, with no need for a car.
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Our trip to France in May will now include a few days in Montauban , a city of 58,000, four hours southeast of Luçon. If the right furnished apartment in center of the city shows up, perhaps we’ll end up there for our first year of footlooseness.
An hour north of Toulouse, Montauban was my parents’ destination when they left Paris as part of the great exodus of June 1940. Under the combined auspices of the Austrian Social Democratic party and the French Resistance, they spent the next two years in hiding outside a small village about an hour from Montauban. As I was growing up, both of them – but especially my mother – spoke of retiring to Montauban.
So we will see where the shifting winds blow us. Stay tuned.

Inner goddess

imageTree of Life by Lee Lawson

 

For a panel discussion recently, I was asked to share the advice I would give young women on embracing their inner goddess. This is my response:

 

I am convinced that on August 21, 2017, at 10:15 in the morning California time, the balance between god-energy and goddess-energy tipped toward the goddess.

In preparation for the shift, our culture has been teetering between a Father-in-the-Sky-centered mythology to a mythology centered on ourselves, leaving out divinity altogether. Neither of those myths holds up anymore. The myth of the goddess, on the other hand, is gaining power.

Unlike God-with-a capital-G, of whom there is only one in the dominant monotheistic view, the goddess manifests in infinite ways. She is the spark in everything that makes it unique.

The goddess shows up when we value the present moment, when we value what we have over what we wish we had. As the future becomes less dependable, the present gains value. Now, more and more people will recognize the magic in the myriad of small things. The goddess hides in the ordinary. The dove is in the stone, as my teacher Alice O. Howell would say.

As the times get harder  – hurricanes, floods, droughts, earthquakes – and the loss of material goods and comfort becomes more widespread, a value shift always happens. It was palpable in the days following the fall of the Twin Towers. It happened in Houston after Harvey hit. It happens whenever there’s a disaster. At least for a little while, people begin to see the value of working together, of helping one another, of contributing to the good of the whole. We are all in this together, after all.

Embracing your inner goddess means finding that in yourself that only you can do, the unique way you that you alone can serve the greater good. That’s your purpose here on earth. That’s when God-with-a-capital-G becomes good-with-a-small-g, and the goddess in you recognizes herself everywhere.

The Changing Room

An extraordinary dream came to me about a week ago. It was so bright and clear that it woke me completely, though it was three or four in the morning. Knowing that it would take a good while to fall asleep once the solid world had returned so fully, I did what I’ve been doing when I’m awake at night lately: I try to use my time well. Usually I repeat mantras or do breathing exercises. This dream, however, demanded my full attention. I went over and over it in my mind, sinking into its details.

In the morning, when the dream was fresh on my mind, I shared it with Tom, and I wrote it down in a note to a friend.

This is how I remember it now.

IMG_9888I am walking across a parking lot with my hand in my mother’s; we are going shopping in a department store. The store is a large windowless concrete building with two parts joined at the center but skewed, the lower half on the left and the higher one on the right.We enter by a door at the middle.

Still holding hands, my mother and I take the escalator downstairs to find some pajamas for me. The pajamas are easy to find, but I have grown, and need to try them on.

“Where is the changing room?” I ask someone. I am an adult now and my mother is gone. 

There is no changing room on this floor, I’m told. I should look upstairs. 

I climb the stairs to the upper level, but there’s no changing room there either. Someone tells me there’s an in-between floor that I missed. The changing room is there.

Halfway down the stairs I find an unfinished concrete room without windows, empty except for a guard in a brown uniform sitting at a wooden desk. I go to him and ask about the changing room. 

“It’s there,” he points behind me. I turn to see a doorway opening onto a beautiful meadow, bright blue sky, clear sunshine. On the other side of the meadow is a long, single-story, concrete building. 

Once through the doorway, I find myself on walkway that runs along the side of the building.  It is bounded by a wall, perhaps two feet high. After a moment’s hesitation, I climb onto the wall, pajamas tucked under my arm crackling in their cellophane wrapping, and jump down four or so feet onto the soft grass. Thrilled to be in the meadow, I run joyfully across it, a child again.

When I reach the second building and go in, I see it is a nursing home.  I walk down the hall to my left until I find an open door. 

In the room, a young black woman is tending a very old woman sitting in a chair. 

“Where is the changing room?” I ask.  The young woman asks me to wait and leaves the room. 

I sit with the ancient woman. She doesn’t speak. We communicate through the eyes.

When the young woman reappears, she is carrying a white blanket. You can put this over your head and change under it, she explains. I go into the corridor and do as she suggests.

Under the blanket, I open the package and discover that the pajamas as perfect. A lovely shade of pink, the top is floor-length, soft and delicate, full of grace. The front is exquisitely embroidered, and the pants are billowy silk, pulled tight at the ankle.

I am in awe, and beginning to come out from under the blanket when it is pulled off from above. As I step out to spin around, to feel the wonderful garment swirl around me, I see that it is the guard from the middle floor taking off the blanket. On his uniform I can read the words Child Protective Services.

I wake up, stunned.

I’m not afraid anymore. I am protected.

I found the changing room.

Om is Home

Ganesh Baba used to say that. Such a delightful aphorism – so full of broad and deep meaning.

To me, it means wherever you are is exactly the right place for you to be. The central secret is at your center. The treasure is buried in your own garden.

We didn’t move. Tom and I are still living in the same house, and working at the same business, Mama Ganache. The house, in my mind all ready to be someone else’s, wanted to be ours a little longer. Everything seemed to be in place, and I’d done all kinds of symbolic, metaphoric, ritual,  and inner work around letting go—I even led the session called “Letting Go” in a Year-to-Live class I co-teach—but the fates had it that we’re here, at home again.

It’s a fortunate thing, although fraught with difficulties and very hard work. This house is filled with light and beauty. And now it’s clean and repaired! What a gift!

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During the weeks the house was on the market and the first few after, I was tired and depressed and sick. Not all at once. Yeah, all at once.

Still, underneath all that physical, biological and psychological stress, I managed to retain a small, frequently imperceptible, sense that everything was going to be alright. It’s true I was wearing my little ceramic disk that says THIS TOO SHALL PASS, which always helps, but it was the way life itself unfolded that gave me the message most profoundly.

The very moment Tom and I decided that we would stay here, a text arrived from a friend, who had another friend, who was in need of a furnished room or two. Our new housemate moved in an hour later. Best housemate we’ve ever had. It would have been enough.

Events had almost inevitably been turns for the worse over the weeks before that. Things broke down, big things, the water heater, the sewage pump, the washer, all within a short time. The toilet overflowed and needed to be replaced when Airbnb guests were here. Everything took forever and cost too much. Then, in a flash, a helpful, upbeat, mature, and kind housemate moves in.

A week later, Mama Ganache lost both of its weekday shop employees at the same time, and it became clear to me that I should step back into the business. So here I am, Mama Ganache again.

I spent the last month on a new website: mama-ganache.com. I set up a chocolate club and free delivery service to hospitals and nursing homes. Tom and I are hosting two weekly events at the shop, a tea on Sundays, and a conversation on Thursday afternoons. We’re hosting two parties a month, Art after Dark on first Fridays, and the chocolate club pick-up party on second Fridays. I’ve been crazy busy.

In the middle of all that, Eva came on Thursday last week. She and I already have a long relationship with hummingbirds, so I knew the hummingbird who flew into the living room just before Luana dropped her off, had some message for me.

It was another rufous hummingbird, West Coast parallel to the ruby-throated hummingbird. It was trying frantically to fly out of the window above the dog’s bed. Lily Bear thought it was very exciting indeed, but she backed off when I asked her to. Almost immediately the bird fell, stunned, onto the window sill. When I tried to lift it up gently, it awoke and dashed into the upper corner of the window again. In my hand were three tiny hummingbird feathers.

As I stared at them, astonished, the bird fell again, very nearly into my open hands. This time I could lift it and carry it outdoors. I put it in a flower box and went to get a succulent leaf to make a sun shield for it.

When I came back with the leaf, the hummingbird looked at me with one eye and took off, circling around once and then landing high in the oak tree.

The feathers must have slid out of my hand when I put the bird in the flower box.

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I picked them up and put them in a special box. Hummingbird feathers, so tiny, so exquisite. Extraordinary.

These are hard times. The large, slow-moving astrological configuration (Uranus/Pluto) that’s been putting so many obstacles, small and large, in my path, will affect us all in one way or another. But surely something bigger is afoot, or, perhaps I should say, in the air.

 

Letting go

Our beautiful house is on the market at last. It took me well over a year to sort and organize before releasing it into the world to be enjoyed by new occupants. Almost eighteen years in a place is a long time.

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At first the house was filled with our growing family: three of our five kids, my mother, and, for a while, our oldest daughter, her husband and their new baby. Then we let rooms to new faculty, especially from the English department, grad students, and younger students, too, to mothers with young children, and many friends, older and younger.

IMG_4393For four years the house was full of Servas, Warm Showers, and Airbnb visitors from all over the world. I just took down the map because the hundreds of map pins were crowding each other put and falling onto the floor.

IMG_3686Because we had the space to do it, we hosted hundreds of community dinners, house concerts, book groups, women’s circles, poetry readings and book signings, political meetings, trunk shows, workshops, cooking classes, and celebrations of all kinds.

IMG_7504.jpg Just last year, we hosted a series of neighborhood potlucks that involved knocking on on 250 doors and hand-delivering invitations.

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Letting go, then, is more than selling the house. It’s a lifestyle change. We’re looking a houses a third the size of this one!

Nonetheless, I’ll still be me and Tom will still be Tom. Monday night dinners will continue, the first Friday salon will continue. I’ll have less cleaning to do, and more time for writing. We’ll take what we really need and love with us, and pass the the rest on.

Here’s what we’ll leave behind. May it serve its next owners as well as it has served us.

(If you’re interested in buying our place, it’s listed here.)

 

Two Suitcases – in process

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This is the first image that arrived on my desktop when I began the research for Two Suitcases. I googled “Socialist Youth Movement Vienna 1929” and this magical doorway into the world in which my parents met opened.

When I read about Edith Tudor-Hart, who took the photo (a show of her work is making the rounds called The Soviet Spy with a Conscience), she immediately joined my list of possible characters in my book. It’s a long list. There were so many extraordinary people around in Red Vienna that many of the people on that list haven’t shown up in the book yet. Edith jumped right in.

[I think I will change the names of the characters soon.]

Almost all the settings in the book come from pictures: family pictures and stories, or gifts Mother Internet sends me. I wrote the section on the Youth Congress from a newsreel. The torchlight march was inspired by hearing the songs the kids were singing.

I paste the material into the text above what I’m writing and take them out later. At first I didn’t save the pictures, so I hadn’t seen this one in months until I started collecting the pictures on Pinterest.

Here’s an excerpt in which the current version of Edith appears. My favorite line belongs to her:

“So, why do you think we have wars?”

“Because we are ruled by an elite group of sociopaths who own the banks that fund both sides of war for profit!”  says Edith, slamming her hand on the table.

Here’s the whole section:

July 13, 1929

It is Ernst Papenek’s talk on the benefits of International Socialism on the second morning of the Youth Congress that finally wins Erich over to the cause. At Fritz’s invitation, he sits with some of the young men from the Brigittenau group: Hugo, Karl, Erwin, and a fellow called Franz, and listens to Papanek for most of the morning. Not only does the speaker make Democratic Socialism seem reasonable, caring, expedient and attainable – all important values to Erich – but it turns out that Papanek, unlike Luitpold Stern, is not a pacifist. It isn’t that he promotes or even approves of militarism, but he does believe in facing up to the dark forces that oppose the dream of a unified socialist world. 

Afterwards, Trude, Fanny, and Gert join them at a cafe to share their experiences. Edith arrives from the tent camps where she has been taking photographs. “18,000 kids in 3000 tents! You must find the time to go over to see them,” she announces as she pushes her bulky camera bag under the chair and sits down. “Vienna is housing 22,000 young guests for these three days – and they’re all having a great time from what I see.” 

An enthusiastic discussion follows, but Erich is itching to bring up Papanek’s stand on fighting. At last he finds an entry point.

“The ideas I’m hearing are all tremendous, but I wonder if you aren’t being naive. Even Papanek believes that the children may not be safe in today’s world. We shouldn’t imagine that by not thinking about it, we can make the National Socialists and their hatred disappear. We may need to fight to protect the children.”

“Papanek wouldn’t say that! You misunderstand him!” Edith responds. She gets shrill about such issues easily. “He abhors war!”

“I think it’s you who misunderstand,” Erich answers. “He was quite clear. He doesn’t rule out the necessity of war under extreme conditions. Were you there this morning?”

“But the conditions leading up to war can be mitigated before it becomes necessary,” says Hugo.

“That hasn’t happened yet,” Erich says. “I doubt if it ever will.” He pauses and then asks the group, “So, why do you think we have wars?”

“Because we are ruled by an elite group of sociopaths who own the banks that fund both sides of war for profit!” says Edith, slamming her hand on the table.

“The current coalition government isn’t in control? I thought we were celebrating the success of Democratic Socialism here,” Erich says, one eyebrow raised.

“We are.” Edith lets out a breath so derisive it is almost a snort. “But socialism hasn’t overcome the forces of capitalistic militarism yet. War is far too profitable for the banks to easily give up financing it. They’re just waiting for the right moment to launch a new war.”

Ida says, “That’s why the work we’re doing here is so important. Young people have been raised to think war is inevitable and will always be part of our lives. The generation being raised in the socialist paradigm will know better.” 

“And will refuse to be sacrificed like pawns in a game of chess,” adds Gert.

“I don’t think it’s that easy,” says Erich. “Boys like to fight. You can’t overcome instinct. Ask Dr. Freud.”

“That’s exactly why this afternoon is dedicated to games and sport!” Fanny says, ending the discussion.  “Are any of you playing in the games?”

“We’re both on the all-Vienna football team,” Karl replies for himself and his brother. “We’re playing against the Czech team at 4:00. Are you girls coming to watch?”

“Of course!” come responses from all around.

Enjoying reading this? Click on the links above to learn more about the characters and see the material I’m using as resources.