American South

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Far too frequently I am reminded of the negative stereotypes people have about the American South. That everyone is ignorant, inbred, racist, overweight, and a right-wing conservative (note while we can sadly claim Rush Limbaugh who embodies most of the above mentioned stereotypes, Dick Cheney is from Nebraska and let’s not forget Sarah Palin’s base is Alaska). People I know, educated well-traveled individuals, have told me they are scared of traveling in the south – this is the American South folks not Honduras. They have not been below the Mason-Dixon line and can no more understand why I am proud of my Arkansan heritage than why I travel through the south every few years.  Look, I won’t lie even I have gotten the heebie jeebies driving through Mississippi on my own – there is just too much history in the air there sometimes and well the last time it didn’t help I was chasing to get to a hotel before some unfriendly (is there any other kind) line of tornadoes blitzed through (I made it to a gas station a couple hours from my hotel).

To help educate those folks I love dearly and all the strangers out there with the same misconceptions, I have created the following list of people/places/things I think of when it comes to the American South. The good, bad, ugly, delicious, beautiful, fun…. And yes there will be a few more American South posts in the near future. ox

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Sweet iced tea, cornbread, fried chicken, collard greens, pecan pie, Atticus Finch, Friday Night Lights, community, Mardi Gras, churches, gun shows, college football, Coca Cola, Huck Finn, hobo camps, Angola State Prison, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, tobacco barns, Southern belles, Buck Owens, Rosa Parks, Arkansas, Texas, honky tonks, Lexington KY horse country, preserved antebellum plantation mansions = museums/wedding venues, spiral bound Junior League cookbooks, Y’all, Deliverance, blues and rock and country, Edna Lewis, The Help, confederate war memorials and civil rights museums, South Carolina, Georgia, kindness, discrimination, elegant Victorians and Greek Revivals, John Grisham, horse racing, Driving Miss Daisy, Robert Penn Warren, Virginia, Outer Banks, Nat Turner, Fannie Flagg, biscuits, shrimp and grits, antiquing, Elvis Presley, William Faulkner, graveyards, abolitionists, baptists, Andy Griffith, gardens, farms, slavery, Selma, cotton-growing and manufacturing, moonshine, Blue Ridge Parkway, Democrats and Republicans, Hot Springs National Park, Cajun and Creole cuisine, Ku Klux Klan, lynchings, Southern Poverty Law Center, justice, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Paul William “Bear” Bryant, Moses Grandy, Zelda Fitzgerald, Monticello, High Museum of Art, Georgia peaches, porches and patios, Savannah and Charleston, University of Virginia, Duke, soul, rocking chairs, Sookie Steakhouse, cozy B&Bs and luxury hotels, NASCAR, Johnson Space Center, quilts of Gee’s Bend, Florida, French Quarter NOLA, Southern Foodways Alliance, respect, Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (loyal to my Arkansan roots), Bryant-Denny Stadium, Rick Bragg, Morgan Freeman, Muscle Shoals, Grand Old Opry, stitching, master distillers, The Blind Side, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Jackie Robinson, Medgar Evers, Congressman John Lewis, Gone With the Wind, shotgun houses, Boeing and Lockheed and Delta, patriotism, craftsmen, tradition, and Pulled Pork BBQ.

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Parisian Style and Decluttering

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Before we get to how to accomplish Parisian style.  Let’s talk about expectations/stereotypes and decluttering. These will be important in achieving some level of Frenchness without losing your cool or too much money.

Dame Vivienne Westwood once said “Buy less, choose well, make it last.” Smart advice.

Here’s my take on clothes/accessory shopping…. There are real people and the people in magazines. There is real life and the lives of the elite (for the purposes of this post let’s say the top echelon of fashion editors, celebrities, people with a whole lotta cash). People in magazines can do without things real people need. People in magazines can wear Gucci, Balmain, Isabel Marant… *There are also credit cards, which in my humble opinion are never a good idea unless you have 1) the money in the bank 2) someone who is willing to pay those bills for you who has money in the bank.

Decluttering – There is that book all my friends have talked about at some point or another during the past few months – the one on using Feng Shui to clear your clutter – Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. I semi-agree with her regarding this quote “Holding onto old books doesn’t allow you to create space for new ideas and ways of thinking to come into your life.” Just try and take away my wall of cookbooks (many of which I don’t cook from anymore, but just love the same).  On the other hand, this morning, I lugged a big bag of books I am donating to the public library. Even with the room I just don’t care about those books.

Klingman’s idea is by decluttering you will simplify and thus open up your life and allow those dreams stocked away in a box behind the cookware you don’t use to become reality and allow newness in your life. Space Clearing is what she calls it.

Well, anyone who has been to my home knows I don’t have much clutter. Something about a childhood filled with it = no thanks. Friends describe my home as being curated. It is, but believe me it’s also quite livable. The one part of my home friends don’t often see is where I keep my clothes and accessories. It’s a bit of a disaster really. Tops and bottoms jammed into dressers and hung haphazardly in a too small closet. I end up wearing the same stuff over and over, because I am too lazy/busy to dig. If I don’t see something how can I be excited about it.

I am far from the only one – according to this WSJ article – Only about 20% of clothes in the average person’s closet are worn on a regular basis, says Ginny Snook Scott, chief design officer of California Closets, the designer of customized closets and storage spaces.

OK – Parisian style.

After reading My Paris Dream by Karen Betts (NYT review here) I began missing Paris. Maybe it’s all the gray here or that I don’t have an out of state trip lined up till summer, or out of the country till 2017, but I was really missing it and then – and this also might have been all the coffee I was drinking while finishing said book (which was done within 24 hours of opening it), but I began thinking about my wardrobe. How to dress like a Parisian.  The book wasn’t even that great, but it was all about fashion – except towards the end where she finally bared her soul (and that part was well-written).

How do French women achieve their beautiful looks effortless style? Based on my time in Paris and having read several books on Parisian chic I would say in no particular order it’s because 1) they know who they are = they own what looks great on them and they carry themselves confidently (and what is sexier than confidence?!)  2) they live in Paris where the best stores are thus access to the best classic and trendiest pieces 3) they eat real food and don’t snack and walk everywhere and don’t overdo it = great figures and when you have a great figure generally speaking the clothes look better. *On this last remark I am not advocating for skinny, but rather healthy.

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What’s in their closet?
Jeans – highwaisted, black, skinny, standard straight-leg, white
Black blazer!
Ballet flats – if you can afford Repetto great, if not then whatever is made well and comfortable.
Scarves – try secondhand shops, buy them when you travel (what better souvenir). You do not need a Hermes scarf!! If you can afford one great, they sure are beautiful! Thick scarves too – made with big yummy wool yarn. My godmother gave me a black and white and gray wrap from H&M. I don’t shop there, but I wear it so much. Did I mention she is French!?! The other morning I wore it to a meeting and felt so chic.
White shirt
Long trench – tan
Oversized sweater – maybe it slips off your shoulder, maybe it is black or maybe a mossy green
Navy v-neck sweater
Striped longsleeve t-shirt
Nice t-shirts (I live in James Perse). Nice ones range from $ Uniqlo and J Crew to $$$ Anthony Thomas Melillo and Alexander Wang! White, gray
Tanktops (see brands above) – white, gray, black, navy
Leather jacket – black (I have a tan one too I wear as much as the black ones) – **to me this is an item you take time to purchase. Save for and when you buy it is something you truly treasure. If you are going to spend money do it on the leather jacket and ballet flats.
Open-toed sandals
Boots (magazines would say “riding boots” I would say what makes sense w/ your life – for me it’s big old green waterproof warm Mudruckers)
Black heels (another investment item – or cheap ones and a heck of a lot of bandaids)
Converse sneakers – I have a pink pair I never wear, and I think therein lies the problem. I should have invested in a gray pair. White seems totally impractical to me, but if you live in a magazine go ahead.
Black mini skirt – I wore one throughout my 20s. My incredibly chic friend C has a gorgeous one. I suppose it’s worth giving this item another thought.
Black clothes!

Accessories – have fun, have some gold, diamond studs, costume jewelry, pieces you picked up on a trip – but under NO circumstances when it comes to what you carry should it be fake. Fake is WRONG and everyone will know it’s fake – believe me.

And lingerie and fun socks (when only you will see them) and black tights.

Books on the subject of French style (I **starred my favorites):

**Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Olivier

**How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are by Caroline de Maigret, Audrey Diwan, Ann Berest and Sophie Mas

Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange

Paris Street Style by Isabelle Thomas & Frederique Veysset

Preston Davis on Why Less is More – article/blog post link here

And use Pinterest – my fashion icon is Emmanuelle Alt. She is the essence of French chic to me. Maybe it’s because she always wears jeans and I live in mine. ox

Bookends: My Winter Reading List

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Read:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. A few interesting facts I learned about this book from a Coursera class I took last fall via the University of Michigan “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World”:
Mary Shelley was 18 when she began writing the book.
The book was published in 1818 and 1823 with two different introductions. Shelley’s husband may have written the first.
Think about this – science fiction is about personal and social consequences, of access to new knowledge, and the power that goes along with the gaining of that knowledge.
Have you ever considered this book to be romantic literature? I had not until (a) friends who found me reading the book said “oh such a romantic book” and then it was explained to me during the course of the class. It became so obvious.
Shelley is using fright as a tool to tell a story that validates domestic affection. Victor was this egotistical man who betrayed his son (the monster).
Society misunderstanding, withdrawing from community.
This book is so much more than monster science, it is a book that if we truly let absorb us will teach us how to realize our own ideals and hopefully be better, more inclusive, helpful persons. A truly magnificent book.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. I enjoyed this book a lot more while reading it. Once I put it down I realized the writing really was not that great, but the story of Beryl Markham is. McLain took great liberties in the writing of this book and in my humble opinion could have used more time in Kenya absorbing who Markham was. Instead, it reads as someone sitting in a city daydreaming about this amazing woman’s life. A lot can be left out and frankly the more I have read about the Kenya of the 1920s and 30s the less research I think McLain did. An enjoyable read, fantastic travel or winter reading book.
Two of my favorite quotes from the book:
“We’re all of us afraid of many things, but if you make yourself smaller or let your fear confine you, then you really aren’t your own person at all—are you? The real question is whether or not you will risk what it takes to be happy.”
“Things come that we never would have predicted for ourselves or even guessed at. And yet they change us for ever.”

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West with the Night by Beryl Markham. Learning about Markham has changed my life. Raised in British East Africa to a father who was an accomplished racehorse trainer, Markham was as much raised by the Nandi and other ethnic groups on her family’s farm. Born in 1902 (she passed in 1986), she lived most of her life in Kenya. A pioneer of transatlantic flight, she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. Fearless, beautiful, and indefatigable. She was married once and had numerous affairs. She trained champion race horses (she felt more at home on a horse than walking barefoot), scouted elephants (sadly for hunting, later for photographing), and she lived really truly LIVED.
**(NYT) The 1985 film of Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa” introduced a much wider public to the vanished world Markham had shared with Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen); her hunter husband, Bror Blixen; her sometime lover, the pilot Denys Finch Hatton; and the other settlers, including Lord Delamere and the Birkbecks, Cockie and Benedict.
***Whether or not Markham wrote the book (I doubt seriously she did) is of little consequence. By the time you finish the book you are so grateful just to have read it. (Markham had little formal education. The book was written in the late 30’s while she was married to a writer named Raoul Schumacher. More though, it would have I believe been uncharacteristic for her to have referenced Edgar Allan Poe as the book does at least twice.)

The Walled City by Elspeth Huxley. It is with a wonderful sense of humor and great intelligence, that Huxley tells the story about a British colonial administration in Nigeria between the First and Second World Wars.
“A group of Englishmen who are uprooted and dropped into the “steaming witch-haunted” African bush country with its riots.” Looking beyond the colonial politics and “black intrigue” and its resistance to the white man, is a story about two husbands and two wives trapped by their ambitions, their pursuit of power, and their lingering ideals. This is the first of Huxley’s novels I read. She wrote 30 books, many inspired by her childhood on a 500-acre coffee farm in colonial Kenya. Her novels are a joy, her biographies (see below re Lord Delamere) are well researched and fascinating, but her memoir (”The Flame Trees of Thika”) also described to me as autobiographical fiction – I found disappointing. The author’s own story pales in comparison with those characters she knew and created. Perhaps I just need to try harder when reading it?

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White Man’s Country: Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya by Elspeth Huxley. This was her first book. It is the story of Lord Delamere, a white settler who helped establish a permanent British settlement (now Nairobi) and revolutionized large-scale farming in the highlands of East Africa (Kenya). A big-game hunter during his early days he thankfully (and like many other settlers who saw the depravity in the sport) gave up guns for cameras and even (like several others of his kind) created a game sanctuary. He is a model of diplomacy, believing in not taking things by force. His relationships with local tribes (specifically the Maasai). The book describes the change in attitude in England of settlers in Nairobi, Europeanization vs. “savages”, his plans for various types of farms (settlers and their livestock were vulnerable to numerous challenges including weather, pests, and diseases). His was the time of the telegraph wire and steam engines. A fascinating read.

The Merry Hippo by Elspeth Huxley. What a cast of characters! Merry Hippo is the headquarters of the Connor Commission. It has been formed (malformed) in London and sent out to dizziest Hapana, an African state on the verge of independence. I love how the elitist British are SHOCKED that African women have no nylons, children no shoes, and thousands are without electricity. How to some “unfortunate girls the benefits of Christianity and the democratic way of life have not yet been extended…” Huxley is so good at mocking the British colonialists and creating fun characters – Chinese acrobats, Russian technicians…they are all here in this wonderful read.

Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. Yes, finally. The Fall of the House of Usher, Tell Tale Heart, The Black Cat, The Haunted Palace, The Raven. Brilliant. Fantastic. What a wonderful storyteller and poet. The true inventor of the modern detective format.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.  Howe is a descendent of two Salem witches – the accused Elizabeth Proctor and condemned Elizabeth Howe. In 1991, (fictional character) Connie Goodwin is a graduate student at Harvard in American Colonial studies. The story goes back and forth between Goodwin’s summer in her mother’s house in Marblehead, Mass. and the 1690s during the Salem witch hunts. Several liberties have been taken with characters, but a few real life folks appear including Mary Sibley, who baked the infamous witch cake which encouraged the early panic. It is an especially fun book for anyone interested in New England history. **Only complaints, I found the ending abrupt as in diving off the deep end.

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff. A brilliantly researched book, though at times nowhere near as enjoyable as her exquisite Cleopatra. At times she just gives lots of data. That said, it’s all here. Sorceresses, a cider-soaked town, slander suits that became witchcraft accusations, absurd witch tests, pitch black nights, ruthless teenagers, scandal mongers, hangings, a detailed description of a Puritan adolescent’s life, the vulnerability of women at that time, frontier life – Native American attacks…. The accusers were as young as 12 the accused as old as 70. A tragic time for families, frontier towns, and American history.

The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates. A portrait of adolescence in Baltimore in the Age of Crack. Beautiful, smart, haunting. A triumph. Read everything this man writes as far as I am concerned.

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. It took about 30 pages for me to get into this book, then it flowed. Check out this New York Times article on the book!!

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Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger. We learn about the customs and traditions of the nomadic, camel-breeding tribes of the deserts of Arabia. Born in Addis Ababa, where his father was British minister, he grew up in the barbaric splendour of an imperial court, and was privileged to see a victorious and blooded Abyssinian army marching through the city in the full panoply of war. It was an experience he never forgot. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he gave up his suit for a saddle.
Thesiger writes often his years in the desert were the happiest of his life. He felt at home there and greatly resented the juggernaut of western “civilisation” believing mechanization would destroy the earth’s peoples. A great adventurer and even greater humanist. I plan to read his The Marsh Arabs soon.

Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, this collection of blog posts bear witness to the horrific aftermath of a storm and political ineptitude (racism, corruption). After the story, Cynthia Joyce evacuated to Oxford, Mississippi, where she now lives and teaches. Numbed by seemingly unbelievable national news reports, she turned her gaze to blogs by New Orleanians to gain a grasp of the city’s destruction.

Deep South by Paul Theroux. He is a keen observer, brilliant writer, curious and enthusiastic. He is set free as a traveler driving south in his own car to travel the country roads in search of people, ruined towns, stories, and beauty. His car, packed with books, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, fruit, and bottles of wine. I would love to have been a passenger for this ride. Only complaints, about halfway thru the book he begins to repeat himself. One wonders how much a better editing job could have salvaged those sections. It seems there could have been a lot more stories. You get the horse farms and fine dining along with the poor and the ghosts.

All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg. The story of a strong woman, a tortured man, and three sons who lived in northeastern Alabama in the foothills of the Appalachians. Brilliant, but it is his book Ava’s Man about his grandmother that truly stole my heart.

My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South by Rick Bragg. His essays from Garden & Gun, ESPN the Magazine (I loved as anyone who knows me knows I would the two on Alabama football – YAY SABAN), and Southern Living. So many great stories about food, people, and times.

Tristes Tropiques by Claude Lévi-Strauss. (the French title translates literally as “The Sad Tropics”) A memoir, first published in France in 1955, by the anthropologist about his personal experiences in the West Indies, Amazonia, Panama, and Brazil. He tells his life story dividing the book to some degree into a travelogue (fascinating how society’s interest in travel changed before/after the Second World War, study of ethnography/anthropology, and critique of society.
A favorite quote from this incredible book – I enjoyed immensely!!!!
“So I can understand the mad passion for travel books and their deceptiveness. They create the illusion of something which no longer exists but still should exist, if we were to have any hope of avoiding the overwhelming conclusion that the history of the past twenty thousand years is irrevocable.”

Reading:
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa by Mark Seal, The Bolter by Frances Osborne….

On my nightstand:
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, Jack & Jill by Alex Patterson, You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down by Alice Walker, South of Broad by Pat Conroy, and Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.

Get Lost: Nature Nurtures Us

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When I was a kid, my dad and I took trips to several national parks: Yellowstone (Wyoming), Arches (Utah), Zion and Bryce Canyon (Utah), and Rocky Mountain (Colorado). We stayed in rustic lodges, rode a mule or two, saw a lot of small mammals and a few snakes (I clearly remember one large rattler) – no grizzly bears – and ate our fair share of hamburgers and granola bars.

I finally visited the Grand Canyon (Arizona) with a friend the summer I moved from California to Maine (at that time I did not realize I was moving to Maine), and have spent enough time in Acadia to know it’s one of my favorite places.

“National parks are the best idea we ever had,” wrote American novelist and environmentalist Wallace Stegner. “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

I could not agree more. So too do the folks at National Geographic magazine. They must, they are dedicating a number of issues to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. In the kick-off issue, there is an article about how when we get closer to nature – be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree – we do our overstressed brains a favor. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, specializes in attention and he believes when “we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, bur our mental performance improves too.”

Maybe, the article suggests, the large-scale public health problems e.g. obesity, depression, and pervasive nearsightedness, are because folks are spending way too much time indoors. Let’s be honest here – we were not meant to be indoors as much as we are and to live in places with no trees or grass as part of the view.

South Korea gets it – they are planning 335 healing forests manned by “health rangers” – imagine hiking, drinking elm bark tea, rubbing lavender massage oil onto someone else’s forearms…Embracing nature. A hundred-million-dollar healing complex is under construction next to one healing park and then there’s the government-run “happy train” that takes kids who have been bullied into the woods for two days of camping. WOW!

An ancient Korean proverb “Shin to bulk ee” – “Body and soil are one.”

Environmental psychologist Stephen Kaplan and his colleagues at the University of Michigan have found a 50-minute walk in an arboretum improves attention skills and short-term memory. A street walk does not.

What do you say to getting outdoors every day – ok once a week – walking in the woods or a large park and taking in the naturalness of it all.  No cell phone needed.

I can only imagine how much clearer, happier, and relaxed I will be after several days in Grand Teton National Park.  And yet, I have access to the outdoors every day – the life I have created for myself is one with minimal light pollution at night = amazing star gazing, and access to a field where I can wander and feel nature whenever I like. During the summer I go barefoot in the garden, dirt under my nails and am so happy.

The power of the outdoors.

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Top: Central Park, NYC in November. My backyard winter 2015.

Get Lost: Big Mountain Skills Training in Wyoming

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One day last November, I committed to climbing the Grand Teton this June.  The mountain stands at 13,770 feet above Jackson Hole, Wyoming in Grand Teton National Park. The tallest mountain I have climbed hiked to date is Mt. Katahdin at 5,269 feet. That one kicked my butt. So, yes I have to be in much much better shape for this – as in the best shape of my life.

I first heard about the trip via Alpenglow Expeditions, which I found via Instagram and Outside magazine. They partnered with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (JHMG), and that is who runs the trip. Or program – I am not “just” climbing a mountain – I am training for big mountain climbing for four days. All the essentials I will need to climb more mountains in South America and Africa (the kind that do not require oxygen tanks).

Skills I will learn include:
crampon and ice axe travel (not sure how much ice there will be then, but guess we will see, there will be snow)
multi-pitch rock climbing
glacier and crevasse rescue rope techniques

To get me started JHMG provided me with training information, altitude information, and a laundry list of equipment needs. They also pointed me in the direction of a wonderful bed and breakfast run by former Olympians and encouraged me to join a rock gym (check – Love Love Love Salt Pump Climbing Co. in Scarborough).

Well, what do you think, folks? Are you game for tagging along with me as I get fit, do pre-treks on Mt. Washington and Katahdin, practice good nutrition, and shop for layers and a pack and other on the trail items?! There will also be the occasional poem or quote or article referenced regarding all the good associated with immersing one’s self in wilderness.

Who’s excited!?!? ox and p.s. have you done anything like this? I would love to hear tips on gear, training, if you climbed the GT, Jackson Hole hangouts…. I have already gotten so many amazing tips from folks, the more the merrier!!

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Kongo: Power and Majesty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

While in New York City at the beginning of December, I made sure to see the exhibition “Kongo: Power and Majesty” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibit featured more than 100 objects from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, in the Central African regions that are now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and Angola.

When the Portuguese sailors arrived on the coast of Central Africa in 1482 to scout for trade opportunities, the kingdom of the Kongo was at the height of power. Three million people (I have no idea how historians calculated this) were ruled by a king and his network of advisers, provincial governors, and village chiefs.

Never willing to let anything alone, Catholic missionaries arrived soon afterwards to convert everyone beginning with the king. Eventually local artists began producing crucifixes, rosaries….and Christian works found their way into tribal arts. Christianity was more or less formally adopted there in 1491.

During the nineteenth century, an exceptional number of minkisi were made. These are (according to the Met’s website) a container of spiritual forces made by a sculptor and a ritual specialist to investigate (the cause of) and cure (literally and symbolically) a chronic problem or physical ailment.  In this case, Western nations haphazardly and ruthlessly carving up and devouring Africa.

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Mangaaka, the undisputed “king and master” , was the personification of an abstract force charged with the arbitration of trade disputes. According to the Met’s website “As the supreme adjudicator of conflicts and protector of communities across the Chiloango River region, it (Mangaaka) was the most ambitious and monumental sculptural form developed as a high point in Kongo expression. ”

The exhibition features fifteen of the twenty surviving Mangaaka (power figures) in the world – brought together for the first time from collections spanning the globe. Each was believed to be created by a different carver of the Yombe peoples, each a wooden male figure standing about four feet high with big white eyes, bits of iron, nails, with sharp teeth and a pouch. They are sad and aggressive, beautiful and tragic – artistic evidence of how the west nearly destroyed (the effort is still in process) Africa and eliminate tribal societies.

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One of my favorite parts of the exhibition – B&W postcards by Belgians including two of ancestral shrines for chiefs in front of thatched open-front structures along the Chiloango River (fyi, not connected to the Congo River).

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And I love walking through the African galleries at the museum. Such an extraordinary collection of masks!!  The mask pictured above marks the transition for boys into adult life. For up to a year, boys are separated from the village and made to undergo a series of ordeals including circumcision – designed to measure their strength and courage. The year culminates in the symbolic death as children and rebirth as men. **This practice was common in the DRC, Kenya…. and I brought home (legally!!) a beautiful circumcision mask made by a tribe I spent time with in the center of the DRC.

Afterward wandering the African galleries, I ventured on to Roman wall paintings and finally the arms and armor….before having a wonderful lunch in the museum’s cafeteria. Such a treat!!!

Cheesemaking in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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The lush hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province are best known for armed groups clashing, but they are also home to a number of small dairy farms producing fine cheese.

The consequences of the violence continue to have devastating consequences for local populations in parts of Masisi territory, where as recently as the summer of 2014 some residents lost their homes and were forced to relocate to IDP camps.

Yet, these dairy farmers and artisanal cheesemakers, have not only survived the recurrent fighting, but astonishingly – prospered. (*The farmers still live in/on the edge of poverty.)

Known simply as Goma Cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch Gouda is popular throughout the country. Though not part of the traditional diet, the cheese fills in for a variety of Western dishes – pizza, sandwiches, lasagna…

A fan of the cheese since my first trip to the DRC in 2014, I traveled the 48 miles of bumpy road west from the North Kivu capital Goma through the Mugunga area to one of the farms.

The farmers and their families live where they work, in huts and homes by the “factory” – a building with several rooms filled with nothing more than a bathtub, buckets, and some metal molds.

Belgian priests first started making cheese here in the 1970s. Then the country was known as Zaire and ruled by a dictator. Tutsis (an ethnic group often associated with dairy farming and as the victims of the Rwanda Genocide) resided in the area. It was almost two decades before the bloody attacks truly began.

Today, during periods of calm, NGO workers and the few Congolese who can afford it, spend a weekend at one of two farms that also operate B&Bs. The cheese (you buy a whole round) costs $4 on the farm, $5 or so in town, and between $10-20 as you begin to travel to towns west of Goma (Kisangani, Kinshasa). For $10-20 you can enjoy cheese and coffee (I highly recommend this!!).

As you can see in my pictures, the cows (a variety of African and European) graze on steep pastures with a UN base below.

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On the road from Goma to the farm – note the volcanic rocks from the 1977 eruption. Black earth is everywhere!

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That’s a UN base you see in the background! They are everywhere it seems.

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A cheese mold

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A farmer’s home

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The farm we visited offers horseback riding to guests. My friend B and I both tried it, but found the horses a bit wild so I got off pretty quickly and she had one of the farmers lead her around a small field.

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The view we had while eating cheese and sipping coffee!!!

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Lodging for overnight guests (offered seasonally and during calm times).

Women Need to Own It

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2014 0412 Athleta Radical Stride Capri Coral Sizzle_Flint Grey Stock

HELLO 2016!!!!!!

A doable New Year’s pledge. Do you down-talk yourself?  Notice if you do and try to stop yourself from doing it again.

McKenzie Long of Cardinal Innovative wrote the following:

“Yeah, I’d love to climb with you, but I hope you don’t mind rope-gunning because I haven’t climbed in forever.”
“I can come, as long as you don’t mind that I’m slow.”
“I’m excited for tomorrow, but I know it will crush me.”
These are generalized statements, but they could have been said by any number of women I have met and recreated with over the years, myself included. Statements like these are a common way for a woman to accept an invitation to go climbing or hiking or skiing but also allow for herself to have an excuse for not performing well.
I live in a mountain town, where the majority of the population is athletic, physically fit, and adventurous. Everyone lives here for a reason, and for most that reason is to play in the mountains. Statistically, I would be willing to bet that the percentage of of strong, bad-ass athletes here is much higher than in a typical town of the same size. Within this demographic are numerous independent, skilled, strong, and inspiring women who I have the great pleasure of knowing and counting as friends. But among this group of women I have noticed a phenomenon that I find increasingly disturbing: the feminine down-talk.
Whenever the discussion turns to upcoming plans or invitations to do something, many women accept the invitation but immediately discount themselves and their abilities. It has reached the point where this is the most acceptable thing to say when someone invites you for a day in the mountains. However, the more women down-talk themselves, the more other women feel the need to also down-talk themselves. It is like a battle of who can say they are the worst.
I don’t notice this happening as often with men. (If anything, the opposite tends to be true.) Even if, as a listener, I know that the woman talking is neither weak nor slow, if she constantly repeats this to me, I will start to believe it. And if I start to think that about her, how many other people who hear her say these things will also make those judgments of her? Even worse, will she start to believe this of herself? And how many times have I done this to myself? In an effort to be modest, I have instead portrayed myself as incapable when in fact I am working very hard to be anything but.
I think women need to own it. We need to take full ownership of the things that we are good at, the things we work for, and the skills we have spent years building. There should be no more cutting ourselves down. It is uncomfortable to the person you down-talk yourself to, it damages your own self-confidence, and it makes women as a whole appear hesitant and powerless, which is certainly not the case.
There is a difference between being honest about your abilities and talking yourself down. I’m not suggesting that women should make ambitious plans where the objective is way over their heads, I’m simply asking them to own up to the talents and abilities that they do have and to to be proud of them. I don’t think this requires boasting either. A woman can accept an invitation from a friend to go out for a day of physical activity without discussing how bad they are at that sport, and that is perfectly acceptable.
I recently met a woman who is impressive in many ways: she is a ripping big mountain skier, one of few female ski guides where she lives, funny, friendly, the whole bit. But she impressed me even more when she told me that she was working on responding to compliments with “Thank you, it’s true” rather than brushing them off and discounting what someone has said about her, which is something many women have a habit of doing. As a group, if more women accepted compliments like this and less women felt the need to down-talk themselves, it would in-turn bring up everyone’s morale.
This isn’t just an issue amongst outdoor athletes, it also happens in the workplace. The Atlantic recently published an article on their website about how women are less likely to take credit for their own work. In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In she explains that when men are asked for the reasons behind their successes, they most often credit their own qualities by saying things such as “because I’m intelligent” or “I’m creative.” By contrast, when women are asked for the reasons behind their success, they credit external factors such as luck, someone helped them, or they worked hard.
When asked how I got my freelance business started, I have on more than one occasion responded with these EXACT three reasons. Looking back, I can see how that answer fails to credit me for my accomplishments.
When I started out freelancing, I had trouble establishing my hourly rate. I felt that I didn’t have enough experience to charge what was reasonable, so I had a very low price. This resulted in not only clients taking advantage of me, but worse, they assumed I did lousy work. As I struggled to find the right balance for my rates, I met a guy who was starting his own freelance photography company. He is a skilled photographer, but one of his very first jobs was a high paying expedition to photograph professional climbers on a high profile mountain. I was aghast.
“How did you score that job as your first?”
“I went in with confidence, knowing I could do it, and laid a high price on the table. It’s all about the confidence you exhibit.”
And he couldn’t be more right. I was having trouble establishing rates because I wasn’t looking for clients with complete confidence. Instead I was doubting my own abilities, and that inevitably came across in pitches and discussions with clients. Now, having more design experience, more freelancing experience, and better negotiating skills, I can be confident that I have a lot to offer a client. And that confidence can show itself in the way that I talk about myself.
So with negative self- talk, what are women’s costing themselves? They are costing themselves their own success.
Let’s own it. Be fast, be strong, and be tenacious.
How did I get my freelancing business started? I’m creative, so I found alternative solutions to the standard workday script. I’m brave, so I approached people I admired and explained that I could be an asset to their businesses. And yes, I worked hard.
Thank you, it’s true.

Pics – top: Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone (inspiring). bottom: Athleta (one of my favorite brands).

Istanbul Pics

The rest of the pics from my brief visit to Istanbul in October.

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hotel view

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View from my hotel room day, night. *Very top pic of the hotel courtesy of the hotel.  I treated myself BIG time while in Istanbul with a room at The House Hotel Bosphorus. A 19th century Ottoman mansion at the foot of the Bosphorus Bridge next to the famous Ortakoy Mosque. Originally the plan was for me to (a la Gwyenth Paltrow) take the hotel’s private boat from near the airport, but alas I will have to do that next visit as it was not working during this trip.

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culinary traditions

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My guide Hulya, a local food writer who is a friend of a friend, showed me the sights and taught me about some of the culinary traditions – and bonus I even got a lesson in Turkish politics. We started with a walk along the Bosphorus seeing the wooden houses of Istanbul (sadly under threat from new construction…) and rounded out our walking tour with coffee and chocolate cake. One of the coolest places I was introduced to is the former home of an opera singer who under the full moon would sing in front of his home to anyone wandering by – crowds would gather. Here’s a link to him singing. *The dish at the bottom – rice, almonds…is made when someone dies – each person in the family… stirs the dish. Interested in learning more about Turkish food traditions, here is a link to an interesting blog post.

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For what translates into a few dollars I went on a 50-minute ferryboat ride on the Bosphorus from the Marmara Sea (to the south) with the Black Sea (to the north). From the upper deck I could see numerous mansions and palaces dating back to the 15th century. The palace pictured is Kucuksu Palace (translated means “small water” palace) from the mid-19th century. The walls and towers of the waterfront fortress built by Ottoman Sultan Mehmen II during the 1450s are beautiful – seeing them made me hunger to learn more about this great conqueror and the days of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Anyone have any suggestions??
**Do not take a private cruise – the ferry is likely MUCH cheaper and you’ll see everything and the comfort level is fine. Only reason I wouldn’t might be if Istanbul is rocked by terrorist attacks in the future (there was one in the capital a few days before I arrived in Istanbul) and then frankly I wouldn’t feel safe on the public ferries (zero security).

Top buffet

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For dinner we ate at Ciya Sofrasi in the Asian side of Istanbul. Excellent!!

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Houston lit up

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After dinner we ventured on for baklava (it is after all the city of phyllo dough and honey) then wandered the streets of a lively bohemian neighborhood on the European side of the city and had tea atop a lovely shop with – yes – a view of a lit up mosque. Exquisite.

Sebago Lake Apiaries – Hive Update

Happy Holiday Weekend all!  I hope you are having a fun, relaxing one. Here’s a brief Sebago Lake Apiaries update (that’s me btw).

Bought my friend’s woodenware and am expanding next season from six to eight hives – assuming all my hives make it through this crazy winter (50s Friday, teens Tuesday).

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ALL hundred plus pounds of honey sold out!! *I did gift a few jars and fulfilled a couple barters (love barters).

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My bee mentor J gifted me the most incredible bee-related goodies.

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about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.

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