springtime…when all things turn to fanciful-ness

I tend to decorate to the nines.Imported Photos 00154 What I can’t fit inside my four walls…is relegated to a space in the great outdoors.

Lazy summer days in our backyard...

Lazy summer days in our backyard…

img_1665.jpgApril 2011 00038Not only does my yard abound with the normal tchotckes, like bird baths…trellises…and statuary, but there’s a vintage iron headboard nestled under the shade of a maple tree.

img_2036.jpgBroken-down, painted benches with which I can’t bear to part company have put down roots alongside the house, as well as on the front and back decks.

img_1784.jpgStep ladders, too short to be of much use, are content to prettify a spot bereft of sunlight, or serve as a backdrop to pots draped to overflowing with petunias, sweet pea, heliotrope and alyssum.

IMG_1549IMG_4433 IMG_4436Neighbors comment, and have for years, that our yard serves as eye-candy for them. So hubby and I are encouraged to slave away during the warm days of spring, summer and fall…making sure  we keep the neighbors happy

IMG_1869IMG_1964The wildlife don’t seem to mind either. In fact, hummingbirds…well, at least one…monarchs and smaller butterflies, finches, sparrows, blue jays and red-breasted robins…flit and fly about the yard, owning every inch of it.

And then there are those critters that annoy, the ones who chew their way through the garden indiscriminately…the slugs, the deer, the bunnies.

IMG_3302Slugs dine at night, while the deer and bunny rabbits feast all the day long. Both stand their ground, daring me to…”Come closer…I dare you.” Only when I shout and wave my arms like a psychopath, do they get the message. Glancing at me furtively over their shoulders, they seem to say…”Sheesh! What’s all the fuss about?”

Squirrels test my patience as well. They act as masters of all they survey, taking control as it suits their fancy. They pay no mind to my attempts at shooshing them away.

IMG_1864IMG_1865The little, black squirrel in particular sizes me up as though he’d like to chew me up and…spit me out. I’m sure if I got in his face, that’s exactly what he’d do. I don’t think I’ll tempt fate.

I got to thinking about all this after reading about Thierry Ehrmann, a Frenchman. It seems he fancies decorating his outdoor space as well. Have a peek at his genius at http://www.cvltnation.com/abode-of-chaos/

Scattered around the garden are a giant silver skull, a crashed helicopter and a model of the jagged steel remains of the World Trade Center. On the outside, the house is decorated with big black-and-white portraits of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, George Bush, Bashar al-assad and Mitt Romney. Old computers and hard drives hang from a tree in a net.

A sign reads: “Chaos in progress.”

You can imagine Ehrman’s neighbors aren’t pleased with having a rock star of a garden artist living among them, mere mortals that they are.

The ‘Abode of Chaos,’ which is his name for the museum, attracts hundreds of visitors on weekends. ‘They come in droves and look at us as if we were strange animals,’ says neighbor Boris Perrodon.

A 45-year-old schoolteacher, Mr. Perrodon says he has considered moving away but when he tried to sell his house, he says, he didn’t get a single offer. Other neighbors say they are in the same predicament.

Pascal Paysant, who runs a real-estate agency in nearby Fontaines-sur-Saone, says there is no rush to acquire property near the Abode of Chaos. ‘Perhaps we lack artistic flair, but the fact is this house depreciates real-estate value in the town,’ he says.

Even the local mayor is on the verge of collapsing under the weight of Ehrmann’s Abode of Chaos.

The village mayor Ms. Revel, who has been pursuing the fight against Mr. Ehrmann undertaken by her predecessor, says the protracted legal battle has left her on her knees. She says she is exhausted physically and mentally because dealing with Mr. Ehrmann’s mail is ‘a full-time job.’

‘It is unbearable,’ she says, showing off piles of letters on her desk sent to her by Mr. Ehrmann.

I guess I could spiffy up my garden…just a tad more.

thierry Ehrmann le 112 ème est Jorge Mario Ber...

thierry Ehrmann le 112 ème est Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis), painted portrait DDC_7831 (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)

…what do you think?…

………hugmamma.

Advertisements

a special relationship, daughter and father

Readers of my blog from the start, know that I was fatherless as a child, my dad having died when I was one. Age 30 at the time, my mom never remarried. I don’t know how she felt about remaining a widow, but I remember wishing she had a husband. I would have happily helped her pick one.

When my mom worked as laundress, part-time cook, and sometime-chaperone at a Catholic orphanage in Paia, Maui, Mr. Chalmers worked there as groundskeeper. He was tall, with sandy-blonde hair that fell gently across his brow. I remember thinking his blue eyes were kind-looking. Even as a youngster in elementary school, I sensed there was chemistry between my mom and this “hauole,” Hawaiian for “foreigner.” But it went nowhere.

As I reflect back, and I have many times, I wonder if my mom felt uncertain in the company of a “hauole” man, being that she was native Hawaiian. The cultures are so different, especially back then, in the 50s. Perhaps she felt him too different, even while she might have found him attractive. All I know is I liked him, I wanted a dad, and I wished my mom would have brought Mr. Chalmers home to our family!

When I was littler, I wished my mom had married “uncle” Lot who lived next door with his sister, “aunty” Miriam. They weren’t family but they made us feel as though we were.”Uncle” would cradle me in his lap, where I’d curl up, my sleepy head nestled against his shoulder. Maybe uncle wasn’t my mom’s “cup of tea,” but he was most definitely mine.

Then there was our next door neighbor, and landlord, Ah Sing. We’d moved to one of his family’s rentals when I was beginning kindergarten. Unfortunately he was already wed, to my best friend Leola’s mom. Her dad seemed a better match for my mom who was friendly and warm like Ah Sing, both having Hawaiian blood coursing through their veins. His wife, on the other hand, was Chinese. She reminded me of the ice queen in the “Narnia” movies. So there went another great candidate for my dad!

But the “piece de resistance” was Dr. James Fleming. He too would’ve made a great pairing with my mom, in my limited child’s experience. He was a little plump, like my mom. And though he wore wire-rimmed glasses and sported a crew cut, though slightly longer, he was still attractive. He had a broad smile, a twinkle in his eye, and always gave me a big, orange gumdrop at the end of each visit. When he vaccinated me with an injection in the arm, I’m sure I cried. The needle looked like it would’ve been used on a horse, not on my scrawny arm. But Dr. Fleming made me feel brave, and would reward me with 2 pieces of candy. Now what kid wouldn’t want him for a dad! But alas, he already had 3 sons, and a wife. No matter, I continued to fantasize.

Dr. Fleming was of the Lahaina, Maui Flemings. Throughout my childhood, up until I was 16 and left for college, we often frequented a beach near their home, named after the family. I’m not sure if it’s still known as Flemings Beach. It might have been renamed something more befitting the island’s commercial growth, especially if the Fleming’s no longer own property in the vicinity. But even before I learned he was wealthy, Dr. Fleming was the knight in shining armor sitting astride a white horse, who would come galloping along to whisk my mom, and me, off into the sunset. Yes, even then I was a romantic.

When I was older, probably of middle school age, my mom revealed a secret, one I wished I’d known earlier. She told me when I was born, Dr. Fleming offered to adopt me. He’d have welcomed a daughter into a family of all boys. Obviously, my mom declined, but I’m sure she lingered over her decision. She had 8 other mouths to feed, although some of the older ones might have since left home, to make a life for themselves.

What would I have done if I’d known of the adoption earlier? Probably just what my mom did, think about it, but then reject the idea vehemently. After all, my mom and older siblings were my world. One of my brothers was adopted by a childless couple. I’m not sure how he felt about being given away at the time. Did he cry, refuse, sulk? I never asked. I’m not sure if he’d tell me now, at 71.

Writing this blog has proven cathartic, therapeutic. What’s become increasingly apparent these last 6 months, is not growing up with a father has impacted me more than I’d realized. There’s a void no one can completely fill. It’s as though my life has listed since birth, like a sailboat that never righted itself. Thank goodness family and friends have helped anchor me, ensuring that I’m not set adrift. I’ve learned to accept my imperfect life, my listing, continuing to “sail” far and wide. The world that passes before my “bow,” is the same one seen from the bow of a sailboat that maneuvers perfectly.

My daughter has been nurtured by two parents, who love her dearly. And I have been lovingly nurtured by she and my husband. Going forward in life, she and I agree that we’re blessed to be “drinking” from glasses that are always half-full. But I’m so thankful that my daughter has my husband for a father. He would have been my choice as a dad too, if he’d been an adult to my child. But watching him with our daughter, more than compensates for the father I never had.

a father-daughter tradition, hugs for…hugmamma.

good samaritan #9, a neighborhood of “angels”

The Issaquah Press, our local newspaper, ran an article of an unusually touching “good Samaritan” event. Most of us who live in middle class suburbia probably feel the same way that Angie Allen did when she moved to the Issaquah Highlands. Her children, 4 and 2, “made friends, but in ‘suburbia you kind of just pull into your garage and you politely wave at your neighbors…You might have a talk or conversation here or there.’ ” Tragic circumstances, however, saw a change of heart, so much so that when she moved away to live with relatives, she said ” ‘I almost wish I had stayed there,’…”

Travis Allen had brought his family to the Pacific Northwest because of a job with a concierge medicine company in July 2009. After Halloween he got a bad case of strep throat for which he visited a doctor’s office, and then went home to rest. He didn’t wake up. Concerned neighbors watched as the ambulance lingered for some time.

Mrs. Allen asked neighbor Paul Stephen to look after her children while she spoke with paramedics. Neighbors and a friend of Angie’s congregated at the Stephen’s home. The Allens’ children were understandably stressed, trying to grasp the situation. The adults certainly did their best to calm them, Stephen saying ” ‘You’re realizing that the kids just lost their father and the long-term impact of that…’ ” As a result, the community came together in “an outpouring of support” for the family.

Stephen’s wife and Angie’s friend remained with her through the night, as did another neighbor. And still another picked Angie’s parents up from the airport, while others walked the family pet and prepared meals for them. Deciding it would be best to return to Texas to be with her own family, Angie had to pack up her house, in addition to making funeral arrangements. Unable to sort through and box her husband’s belongings, she allowed the neighbors to help with the difficult task. When Angie returned to Texas to bury her husband, the community she left behind donated boxes and tape, packed the Allen’s household furnishings, and secured a moving company to transport everything. Neighbors also bought Christmas presents for the children so Angie wouldn’t have to deal with holiday shopping. Neighbors who, by chance, happened to be visiting in Texas, babysat the Stephen children during the funeral so that the 21-gun salute to their dad, who’d served in the Air Force, wouldnt frighten them.

Angie returned to Issaquah, inviting about 20 neighbors into her home. She shared the eulogy she’d read at Travis’ funeral. Everyone shed tears, neighbors, now friends, calling Angie a strong woman, and she, in turn, calling them her angels. ” ‘Any cynicism I had evaporated. The outpouring of help and generosity, I was overwhelmed by it. I never expected it…We’ve got to know each other so much better in the midst of this tragedy. They gave me hope and showed me compassion. They really just lifted me up. I just couldn’t have done it without them.’ ”

for a “miracle on 24th avenue”… huge hugs and a blessed christmas for Angie’s family…and their neighborhood of angels…hugmamma.

christians, muslims reach out

Early in the week, an article appeared  towards the back of Section A in the Wall Street Journal. Too bad it wasn’t on the front page, especially in lieu of the current debate over mosques in our country. While a “drop in the bucket,” the news piece reflects that change, when least expected, can happen.

“Turkey Allows Christian Mass At Monastery” spotlights a movement by the Turkish government, which leans towards Islam, to “improve the country’s record on religious tolerance and boost tourism.” While the motive may be mercenary, the hundreds of Christians who attended the 3-hour Virgin Mary Service at Sumela Monastery in the Black Sea region on Sunday, welcome the gesture. ” ‘We came because we think this is our native town,’ said Violetta Popova, a 20-year-old language student and Pontic Greek descendant who lives in Piatagorsk, Russia.” Although Christians have been free to practice their faith, their places of worship have been transformed into mosques, museums or lay in ruins. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gave thanks to the government, which kept a low profile in its representation by the  town mayor of Macka.

A second service is scheduled September 19 at the 10th century Armenian Aghtamar Church on Lake Van in Eastern Turkey. At one time it was the seat of Armenia’s national church. It remains to be seen if this event comes to pass given the current political atmosphere. A year ago, when the government agreed to the church services, the focus was “on a Democratic Opening policy, aimed at finding nonmilitary means of ending the country’s decades long conflict with militants claiming to represent the country’s ethnic Kurds by improving minority and religious rights. Those have been key demands of the European Union, which Turkey is negotiating to join.”

Unfortunately the Democratic Opening soured with attacks by the Kurdish Workers Party which triggered a backlash that threatens to dominate the politics of the  July 2011 elections. Negotiations to open the border between Turkey and Armenia are “in deep freeze.”  Turkey’s culture ministry explained that opening the churches was expected to increase religious tourism which would help solve the region’s economic, political and social problems, while improving relations with their neighbors.

Perhaps a leader of the displaced Christians was correct in saying ” ‘No one should fear believers, whether Christians or Muslims. The most dangerous people are non believers,’…”

one step forward…hugmamma.

redding ct, like the maui of old

When someone learns that I’m from Maui, she always exclaims “Oh, don’t you miss it? Why’d you ever leave?” I take a breath, preparing to answer what I truly feel in my heart.

Maui as it is today, even as it was 15 years ago, is no longer the island of my childhood. As with the neighboring  islands, in fact as with other popular destinations, tourism has transformed what was a less populous, less commercial, off-the-beaten-track locale into a mecca for the rich and famous, and even the not so rich and famous. Mind you, I came to terms with the drastic change some time ago. On one of my last trips to Maui, years ago, it was apparent that visitors to the island provided a livelihood for the majority of the locals. So I wasn’t about to admonish them as co-conspirators in the “ruination” of Maui, while I left to make my living and home elsewhere.

Before my daughter was born, actually before she was even a possibility, I was returning home to Long Island, New York from a business trip to Kansas City. Seated next to me on the flight was an attractive man dressed in cords and a sweater, appearing very much like a New Englander. Striking up a conversation, we spoke of many things.  One of the topics was where we resided. I explained that while my husband and I lived in Westbury, I wanted to move somewhere reminiscent of my birthplace, Maui. I desired the same small town atmosphere, where neighbors knew each other, where children played together, where there were town parades, fairs, picnics. Without hesitation, my traveling companion blurted “Redding, Connecticut! You should move to Redding, Connecticut!” 

I’d never heard of the town, so my new friend proceeded to describe it as a small, rural community isolated from the hubbub of surrounding towns by vast acres of pristine land, much of which belonged to the town ensuring that they would never be commercially developed. He went on to explain that to enter Redding, one either drove alongside reservoirs which supplied water to the town, or along country roads shaded by trees. The idyllic picture seemed lifted from a postcard. Giving me the name of the realtor who helped find this New York City writer a getaway home, I was convinced that my husband and I needed to make the 75 mile trip north of NYC, in search of Redding.

We got more than we bargained for, as a result of our hunt for a new home. Nearly bereft of hope that we’d be parents someday, Redding was the answer to our prayer. After 16 years of marriage, our daughter was born. The first 11 years of her life were spent in an oasis within the midst of suburban Connecticut. Watching her in those early years was like stepping back in time, into my own childhood Paradise. 

Topographically different, Redding had rolling hills, and a man-made lake in which to swim; Maui boasted a dormant volcano, and ocean waves upon which to surf. Redding’s landscape was dotted with sugar maple trees, whose leaves were seasonally transformed into the colors of the setting sun. So unlike Maui’s tropical palms swaying gently in the evening breezes, as the glassy Pacific waters below mirrored the shining  moon overhead.

In spite of their disparities, the people of both Redding and Maui were alike in their hospitality toward newcomers, and the friendliness within their communities. Schools were small, so while students didn’t know everyone personally, they were aware of everyone through friends or others. Children looked forward to trick-or-treating, door-to-door.  School plays were exciting affairs, as were school dances, and basketball games. Sleepovers were commonplace, as were play-dates and church picnics. Dads coached sports teams and led the Boy Scouts; moms were Girl Scout leaders and drove carpools. Children caught buses to school, or walked. Neighbors helped one another; they prepared meals for a family with a cancer-stricken mom; they cared for children when parents were tending to emergencies; they consoled those who laid loved ones to rest.

My daughter’s memories of an idyllic childhood in Redding  are just that, treasured remembrances. And so it is with the Maui of my youth. So when I’m asked “Wouldn’t you want to live there now?” I always reply,  “The Maui where I grew up is in my heart; it’s with me, wherever I am.” I know my daughter feels similarly about Redding, Connecticut, the town she still calls her home, though she’s not lived there for 13 years.

“home is where your heart is,” truly…hugmamma.

“aloha,” the meaning

I don’t claim to speak for all Hawaiians, only myself and perhaps a handful of others I know who may share my sentiments. The uproar over a mosque being built near Ground Zero seems to be growing the ever-widening gap among people, in our country and abroad, but particularly here in America. Republicans and Democrats have always been on sparring terms, but added to the mix now are the “Tea-Party” supporters with Sarah Palin seemingly at the helm. An uneasy coexistence among us began when the streamers and champagne glasses were tossed out, after President Obama’s inaugural. Did civility and tolerance get thrown in the trash as well?

Wanting and needing to live a healthy life going forward, for my sake and that of my husband’s and daughter’s, it’s been essential that I adopt a more compassionate, positive outlook toward myself, and others. Diseases, like Alzheimer’s breed on negativity. I’m certain, as survivors of cancer would agree, that dwelling upon the bad aspects of the disease doesn’t help in the fight against and may, in fact, promote its spread. So why would we want to encourage more vitriol amongst ourselves, families, friends, neighbors,co-workers,communities and fellow-worshippers of the same Being whom we all believe as benevolent? Might we not share that same benevolence with our fellow-men and women?

Opponents of both views  in the brouhaha over mosques being built on U.S. soil seem unwilling to share the land, let alone compassion ( “a feeling of sympathy for another’s misfortune” according to Webster) towards one another. Yesterday’s Journal cited several ongoing conflicts around the country. In Temecula, California “Local officials will consider in November plans by the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley for a 25,000-square-foot mosque.” Pastor William Rench of Calvary Baptist Church, potentially neighboring the proposed mosque, is concerned about extremist sentiments expressed by one American Islamic leader.  The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, plans to build a new mosque and school. Darrel Whaley “A local pastor at Kingdom Ministries Worship Center…has spoken at county meetings against plans for the mosque and recreational facilities.” Meanwhile plans have been approved to build a mosque in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. President of the Islamic Society of Sheboygan, Imam Mohammad Hamad says “The issue here is not the issue of a religious building, it is an issue of the Constitution.” A supporter Reverend Gregory S. Whelton, pastor at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Sheboygan felt President Obama’s controversial remarks “articulated the same issues of religious tolerance that were at stake here.”

Since Lincoln’s stand against racial prejudice, which cost too much in the loss of human lives, our country has struggled to rid itself of the taint of human degradation, slavery. But it seems to be our lot on earth never to achieve equality for we always keep our hearts and minds closed to others, who are unlike ourselves. Perhaps we fear they will take what we have, leaving us nothing. 

I struggle too, I’m not above the fray. But for the sake of our children and their children, it’s my sincerest hope that we continue fighting for equality of ideas, beliefs, cultures. Politics, it seems, carries the day suffocating our values, our humanity.

Tourists and others comment on the “Aloha spirit” among Hawaiians. It is spoken of as a beneficent state of mind. For the most part, it is. Native Hawaiians under the rule of King Kamehameha wanted for nothing. He owned the land, and the people were granted its use for their daily needs. I think because of this, Hawaiians are not hoarders by nature. Unfortunately this inherent openness toward sharing the wealth and beauty of the islands has enabled others to historically take whatever they wanted, leaving the natives very little to share of their inheritance.

Despite their own dilemma most Hawaiians continue to welcome visitors to their Paradise, the thought being we all need one another to survive. So they continue to share the thunderous waterfalls, the white sand beaches, the warm waters of the blue Pacific, the green canopies of local foliage, the migrating humpbacks and other wildlife that still abounds, the hula dancers telling stories with their hands, their eyes, and melodic voices rising on soft breezes evoking reminiscences of Hawaii’s past, wonderment at Hawaii’s present, and promises of Hawaii’s future.

Hawaiians are not exempt from the trials and tribulations of others, they  would just prefer that everyone get along. There’s an old saying my mom use to pass along when some wrong was righted “No mo pilikea.” We knew then there would be “no more trouble,” “no more worries.”

that’s what I wish for us all…hugmamma.

bear bells

Our neighborhood backs up against a mountain where wildlife abounds. We’ve heard of black bears raiding bird feeders in back yards and garbage cans left at curbside. I’ve spoken with a few neighbors who have had sightings or encounters. Fortunately, I’ve not had the pleasure; nor do I want to. I admit the hair at the back of my neck does bristle when I’m walking my dog. With an abundance of mature landscaping, bears, and cougars, can be lurking anywhere.  I don’t mind if they look; I just don’t want them to touch…me.  Knowing my dog, she’d run straight for the animal, barking all the way, dragging me behind her. Stopping right in front of it, she’d drop down on her belly, not hesitating to offer me up as sacrificial lamb. My defense? Bear bells!

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Bear bells hang on the leash my dog wears when we’re walking outdoors. They’re suppose to warn bears, and cougars, that I’m coming so they’ll clear out. I guess they work; I’ve not crossed paths with a wild animal…yet. And I’m not planning to test the theory either. I don’t hike in the woods, and I’m not about to start. So where did I learn about bear bells?

When she was 15, my daughter traveled to Banff, Canada for her first summer dance program. I accompanied her, booking us a room at the exquisite Banff Springs Hotel, where we would stay for a couple of days prior to the start of the program. We had a great time sightseeing, but the day arrived for me to escort her to the dormitory where she’d be living for 5 weeks. We went by taxi because of her luggage, but on my return trip to the hotel I decided to walk.

Uncertain about directions, I asked someone who pointed me toward a path behind one of the dormitories. I proceeded as directed, trodding on a wooden walkway hidden on one side by tall shrubs. As I was about to descend a short flight of steps, I heard loud shouts from above and to the rear of me. Turning to look through the thick forest of tall pine trees, I barely made out the figures of people waving their arms and screaming. Unable to make out their words, I turned back thinking they were calling to someonelse. Pausing on the landing at the bottom of the stairs I looked up. On the path ahead of me, some 30 feet or so, a humongous black bear had turned toward the shouting. Sitting on its haunches, I could see his snout. I didn’t know if he saw me, but I wasn’t going to wait to find out. I slowly turned on my heel and climbed back up the stairway. I imagined the bear would be on my back in seconds. My heart seemed to be in my feet. Drained of adrenalin or numbed by it, I’m not sure, I was able to get behind the tall shrubs at the top of the steps. I unexpectedly met a man walking toward me. I explained the situation, wondering what we should do. Off in another direction we saw another path leading away from us. I fantasized we’d take it together and if the bear caught up with us, I’d jump on the stranger’s back letting him fend off its attack for both of us. Of course, I didn’t tell him what I had in mind. He’d have thought I was crazy, and I was. I was crazed with fear of being mauled and eaten alive, while my daughter sat unsuspecting in her dorm room. What would she think if I didn’t come to watch her in class the next day as promised?

Well I was amazed that the stranger barely paused to consider the circumstances before continuing in the direction from which I had just come. I wasn’t sticking around to hear what happened. I booked it back up toward the dorms and located a couple of campus security guards who pointed me down a road that exited the grounds.  They were aware of the bear’s presence, so went off in search of it. As I walked on the paved road, I saw a police car which stopped alongside me. The policeman asked if I’d seen a bear and I gladly explained my encounter. He too left in search of the animal. As I continued on my way, my heart finally returned to normal, pounding fiercely in my chest. I wanted to talk with someone about my experience. Since I knew no one in Banff, I got on my cell phone and called…my husband, who’s always there, when I need him, in his office in the U.S.

Unable to do much else, my husband asked if I was okay, and so on, and so forth. It was comforting to hear his voice, but I still wanted to talk to someone in person who would share my fear, and my excitement. I walked about the small town, amongst hundreds of tourists. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs “There’s a bear! Run for your life! Hurry, get away!” But of course I remained cool, calm and collected…on the outside; on the inside I was “jumping out of my skin!”

I wasn’t sure how I would defend myself against a repeat encounter, since I planned to walk back to the campus the next morning. Wandering in and out of shops, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. On my last stop, a bookstore, I found the answer…bear bells. Accompanying literature explained that they would forewarn bears of my coming, so that they would escape in another direction. No weapon, no mace, no pepper spray, just li’l ole bells.  Paying for them, I related my story to the salesgirl who “burst my bubble” when she proclaimed that bears in town were not an unusual sight. In fact, walking to work one morning, she’d seen a bear huddled in a tree right in the midst of town. “So not a  big deal,” I thought to myself and left, making my way back to my hotel.

The next day as I wend my way through the campus where my daughter was ensconced, I jingled my bear bells. The only animals I passed were a couple of huge elk, one standing and one reclining on all fours. I eyed them across the street, and they eyed me. I wasn’t sure if the bells would repel, or attract the elk. They didn’t run, and their gaze never left me. It was disconcerting to say the least. Being trampled by elk would have the same outcome as being attacked by a black bear. I would be no more.

After watching her ballet class,  I told my daughter, and anyonelse within earshot, about my adventures. In turn she told me about the elk and deer that would wander near the dormitory, a couple settling down to rest outside her window. Needless to say she had a unique summer in Banff, the only American dancing with, and learning from, exceptional Canadians. Add to that wild animals; what could be more perfect?

not sure if I’ve seen my last bear…hugmamma.

attitude adjustment

One day I had occasion to visit a beautiful, upscale mall in sunny southern California, The Costa Mesa Mall. Sprawling over several acres, it was a shopper’s paradise. A favorite phrase,”eye candy,” coined while strolling the cobblestone streets of Venice, seemed just as applicable at this retail complex. Anchoring this shopping mecca, were giants Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Sak’s, and Sear’s. Sprinkled in and around them were other name stores, Gap, BCBG, MaxMara, Mango, Barney’s New York, Abercrombie & Fitch, and a seemingly endless list of other brands. Rolex caught my eye. I’d not seen it in any other mall I’ve visited. In fact, I’ve never seen its storefront before.

My first stop had to be Bloomingdale’s. Our first “introduction” was at 53rd and Lex in NYC in 1976. Several years ago, my daughter and I visited a branch in Soho, New York. There’s a distinct vibe to the retail icon. It’s upscale with a contemporary, youthful flavor. New York is culturally diverse, with Chinatown and Little Italy as neighbors, deli workers commuting alongside doctors on subways, and homeless setting up house across the street from Trump Tower. As a result, Manhattan’s Bloomingdale’s caters to customers from all walks of life. Everyone is treated equally. When you enter the store, whether you browse or buy, you’re a BFF (best friend forever).

As I wandered through Costa Mesa’s Bloomingdale’s, the mood was the exact opposite of its “sister” in the east. I felt invisible as I made my way through different areas of women’s wear. Several of the saleswomen were young and Asian. None approached to assist me, instead greeting and speaking with Caucasian shoppers. I took notice because I’m half-Chinese. Perhaps I didn’t appear to have the money to spend. No matter I thought, I’m just browsing. If something “grabbed” my attention, I would’ve made myself known.

In lingerie, I looked at a selection of bras displayed on a table. While fingering one in particular, a lovely, black, young saleslady approached saying “Isn”t that nice!” I replied that it was, but couldn’t find the price. She checked one like it nearby. It too had no price, so she left to make inquiries, indicating she’d be right back. Upon returning with the price, she pointed to another bra that was on sale. Following her to the “sale” rack, I explained that I had been searching for one that I had seen more than a year ago at Free People. The saleslady quickly informed me that the store had a branch in the mall. I was pleasantly surprised that she referred me to a competitor. Her recommendation reminded me of the Santa Claus in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” If an item was not in stock, he sent customers from Gimbel’s, where he worked, to Macy’s where he thought they’d find exactly what they were looking for.

Leaving Bloomingdale’s I pondered what had just happened to me. I was ignored by my own ethnic “sisters”, and treated kindly by a black woman, who reached out in true sisterhood. On my way out of the store, I saw BCBG, a retailer of expensive, designer wear. Stepping inside, I strolled about, stopping to more closely inspect items that were of interest. The 3 young, Asian, sales help never acknowledged my presence. Interesting, I thought. As I made my way from the back towards the exit at the front, I stopped to allow one of the sales women to pass. I noticed a half-smile on her lips as she walked by. Continuing towards the door, I saw a Caucasian customer enter and heard one of the sales ladies call out “Hi! How are you?”

In my 20’s I perceived such affronts as there being something wrong with me. Almost 40 years later, I find such experiences curious. On its face it might seem that the Asian women thought I was “beneath” them and their Caucasian clientele. I was dressed well, but not anything like their regular customers. By contrast, the young, Black woman treated me as an equal or better, since I was a potential consumer. But setting aside what might seem like the obvious, it may be that the Asians were behaving according to stereotype, quiet and shy. And the black woman was, perhaps, more outgoing by nature. Murmuring to myself, I continued on my way.

My next encounter, more pleasant than those previously, added another dimension to the racial question. Sylvia, in DKNY, greeted me with a pleasant smile and “Hi! How are you?” As I wandered from table to rack, looking at Donna Karin designer digs, Sylvia’s eyes followed me. Stepping closer, she commented that I should let her know if I needed any help. I thanked her. When I finally spied a long, grey, sleeveless dress that might fit my daughter nicely, I asked for Sylvia’s assistance. We talked a little about the details of the dress, its fit, its color, its multiple use. I shared a picture of my daughter. Sylvia complimented my daughter’s beauty and her pursuit of dancing as a career. I learned that Sylvia was of Korean-Polish ancestry. I expressed my feeling that marriages between easterners and westerners, can produce attractive offspring. My husband and daughter who are Hawaiian-Chinese-Portuguese are proof-positive. I left in a very good mood, promising to return later that day, my daughter in tow.

Before heading off to get a bite to eat, I stopped in at Free People. Immediately inside the doorway, Ashley greeted me with a huge smile and friendly manner that wrapped around me like a warm blanket. We chatted continually while I moved hangers aside to better inspect each piece of clothing. I couldn’t stop staring at her, wondering who she looked like. After a few moments playing charades, we arrived at the conclusion that she bore a close resemblance to the youngest of the 3 protagonists fighting the “good fight” against the witches in “Hocus Pocus,” a Halloween favorite on the small screen. Throughout the boutique, Ashley met up with me to comment on an item that I’d hold up for a better look. A native Californian, she was the friendliest I’d ever met, and I told her so. She laughed, and thanked me for the compliment. To better explain myself I told her of my experience in Bloomingdale’s. “Oh!” she exclaimed, eyes rolling, “They need an attitude adjustment!” Well, I just loved her absolute candidness. She was too precious, I thought.

It was so refreshing to make small talk with a young person, so totally unimpressed with outward trappings. She was Caucasian, but it didn’t matter. She was a resounding reminder that it’s what a person is like on the “inside” that matters, not skin color, or social status, or age. Because of her innate skills for serving customers, Free People made a tidy sum when I returned with my daughter to make a number of purchases. I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I wanted to return to Bloomingdale’s and BCBG to say “I was the one you wouldn’t help. Big mistake! Huge mistake! Huge!”

best not judge a book by its cover…hugmamma