Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Paris Holiday Windows

Early spring seems like the perfect time to post the Paris scene at Christmastime! I'm certainly missing the city myself so for me, it's a memory lane stroll, vicariously (re)visiting through photos.

And the window designs are so un-Christmas-like, no one need feel like they're consuming a bit of the 'hair of the dog' after the Holiday Hangover.

The day we arrived in Paris, explosives had been found in the Printemps department store, luckily without incident.

Looking a bit like a futuristic dinner party, these window interiors appear to echo their respective building's exterior decoration.




Galleries Lafayette's window displays could easily be summed up in a word...


Always delightfully playful for children and adults alike

the designers of these windows

tend to leave you guessing.

The day we took these photos was fuh-reezing but that didn't stop the crowds. We walked with a friend who brought his sweet Irish Setter. Trying to get decent pictures of these window displays is tricky enough with the hoards of people, their relatives and their kids and grandkids but try doing it in freezing temperatures with a dog underfoot.

Worth it though! By the way, these are only some of the windows for adults. This doesn't include the many displays for children which are just as fanciful but even more playful!

Photographs copyright: Kirsten Steen

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Time to Sign

I've been dispensing advice lately to 20-somethings (much to their chagrin), warning them about the frantic tempo time takes on after a certain age. We all think time goes far too fast at any age, but, I warn them, just wait! And then I launch into the topic of lost opportunities.

I've been sharing about how, over the years and along the way, we get certain nudgings which, while we tend to think of them as nonsensical fairy thoughts that got lost in the ozone and somehow re-sent back to the wrong noggin, should actually be given full attention. (Who knows from where they come~~ that's another ginormous topic in itself that I-no-touch-here.)

Looking patient but not quite sure how to sit with this, one 20-something said to me, “I can't act on every little whim my mind comes up with. I'd never do anything else.”

But let me assure, I'm not talking about every little whim. I'm talking about those themes that come up over and over. The kind where you hear yourself thinking, “Funny, someone just told me...Oh yeah, I told myself that just last spring.”

Through the years, I've been nudged to take a grant writing class. But that nudge never made sense to me. Why?, I always thought to myself. I can't see any direct or timely reason I should do that right now sooo... I think not.

I've had the thought at least 20 times in my life (that may be a conservative number) that I should study and work in film. And that is one of my big regrets in life, every single time I sit in front of the big screen and watch the credits and opening music roll. As soon as that music starts, my entire core expands, leaving me with goosebumps and I have to take a deep breath.

Less dramatic (sorry) was Non-Profit Charities. That idea~never to see the light of day.

I've been nudged many times to learn sign language. I learned the basic alphabet when I was a teenager but then didn't have a direct use for it so never went beyond that. I continued hearing the occasional nudgings though it's been many years since that particular feather tickled my brain. And again, never did anything about it.

Those are just a few examples~ but I have found too many times that, while looking through the Classified Ads, a particular job would have been open to me if I had only taken the class I was nudged to take earlier in life. A particular opportunity would have been available to me if I'd just followed the intuition that tried, over and over, to reach me. When it didn't make sense. And now, ten years or even 20 years later, it makes sense.

So my advice to these young people has been to pay attention to themes that keep coming up. When you hear that voice or feeling that urges you to learn something but you can't quite find the sense in it, do anything that furthers you on that particular path. Read a book about it. Research it. Take a class. I'm not advocating dropping everything and changing your major, your state, your entire life (unless of course that feels right). Just start in some way toward it. You may not understand it now but you very well may later. This little piece of advice could save you decades. Right now, roughly the span of your whole life.

The other evening as I was taking a break from my Critique Group, strolling through the aisles of the bookstore where we meet, I came upon a used book written by a woman whose other books had great meaning for me in my life during a difficult time. “Love and Power” by Lynn Andrews is about how to create both loving relationships and our very own personal acts of power in our life.

I picked up her book, admired the cover, took it back to my seat and held it in my lap while I perused a few pages on the break. I carried it to the counter and set it face up before the bookstore owner, handed him the money and took it back to my seat. I set it on the table in front of me while we finished our critique session and then carried it home where I proceeded to read the introduction. It sat by my bedside for days and I read a few more pages of it as I could.

Then one day, I set it on the top part of my rolltop desk which is just about eye level when seated in my chair. I looked up and there, on the front page of this book, were the scrawled words of a previous owner. “Learn Sign Language”, someone had written in dark-blue ink across the light purple cover. Plain as day. Right there, halfway below the title and the bottom of the book. But I never saw it. In all those encounters with the book, I never saw those words until weeks after buying it. It was as if someone had written them on the book while I was out to lunch.

During one of these recent conversations, I told the 20-something another thing I learned a long time ago--when feeling the need to give advice, it usually means we need to take it ourselves.

Lately, the urge for me has been to research Venice. I've been there a few times and have a few photos but now it's time to read more about the history. Luckily I know what this is about and why I need it. But where I'll be signing, I have no way of knowing, yet. But signing I will be!
Photographs copyright: Kirsten Steen

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Annie's Day!

Today is the day my sister was born some odd-years ago. And the title will make some laugh because Saint she is not, by her own admission. Someone among my Facebook Friends (no recollection exactly who since there are quite a few of them I don't know) wrote on their status page shortly after the New Year that for their resolution they wanted to be the type of woman who, when her feet hit the floor in the morning, the Devil shouts, "Oh CRAP, she's up!" I took that to mean she wanted to be good.

My sister's would most likely be, when her feet hit the floor, the Devil should yell, "Oh CRAP, here comes the competition!" Don't get me wrong, she's got a very good heart. But devilish fun is her mantra these days.

When we were little, it was me, teasing and taunting to the point of tears, like alot of big sisters. Now it is she who loves to push buttons and tease me no end. I'm finding that pay backs are... inevitable. But even when we were little, despite the unending bickering and hair-pulling, biting and forehead pushing, we found reasons to be grateful for each other.

Through all of our first decade together, we shared a bedroom, sometimes even a bed. And like most kids, we complained about it and climbed under the covers with the words, "Don't TOUCH me!", "NO, Don't YOU touch ME!" on our lips. If I wanted to get to her, all I had to do was reach over and place a cold foot on her leg and it was a fight.

But when we moved to the farmhouse in the Pacfic Northwest countryside, there were enough rooms that she and I each got our own. At first I was ecstatic, planning MY room and MY space exactly the way I wanted MY things. I even had MY own door to the outside, a stairway down to the backyard (which SHE didn't have!). But after awhile, I found it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. It was Lonely. And Scary.

Every night I would leave the door cracked just enough for the light from mom's room to slide in, keeping me safe and grounded. But sometime during the night, mom would quietly close that door and with it, my link to any recognition of where I was. I would wake up somewhere in outer space, not sure on what I was floating. When I realized I was actually on a planet, I still had to determine what room I was in and even where the walls were.

My sister wasn't in the bed with me or even in the same room. She was too far away for me to reach her hand or even hear me if I cried out. I found out later that she felt the same, lonely and scared, though at the time we both kept up the pretense that we luvvvved having our own space. Today, I am continually trying to get across to her two children the same message our grandparents tried to instill in us: 'Be kind to one another and grateful for each other. Someday you may be all the other one has.' They look at me much the same way I looked at grandma, rolling eyeballs and mouthing, "Right!"

Today, though we are countries and oceans apart, I still reach for that hand when mine needs holding. Having read lately how lucky we are to be born as humans (when you consider how many animals there are on the planet), I'm realizing how truly lucky I am to have been born from the same place, within the same year to this woman who shares my history, my shadow and a part of my soul.

She always hated that she had to share her birthday with St. Patrick. So today and for the rest of her life, as a birthday gift, I am proclaiming it St. Annie's Day. If nothing else, because I know it will make her laugh.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Six O'Clock to Buddhism

So this week I skipped my Tuesday night Writing Critique group and opted for the Buddhist Meditation group instead. With both of them being on the same night of the week-- which ticks me off a little-- I frequently find myself on Tuesday afternoons wondering which one I need more. This week there was no question.

Meditation is something I've done on and off for years but have been putting myself into position more regularly this past year, sometimes even twice a day now- 20-30 minutes each session. I like the shorter, 20-minute runs infinitely more than the 'all-in-one-sitting' hour-longs I used to think were necessary on a daily basis. And I've been supplementing with Buddhism books to learn more on this subject I've been curious about for so long. Like other subjects, the nudging toward Buddhism that finally got me off my behind ~no backward pun intended~ has come to me from several different sources lately- 2 friends and a relative- loaning and sending me books and espousing the virtues and benefits of the practice. No pushing or pressure, just an open invitation.

When 'The Ed' asked: "What time are you going to Buddhism?"

I had to reply with a laugh. "6:00 to Buddhism." And having wanted to do this for years, I already feel late.

I've always known meditation was beneficial to the body, good for stress, all the usual things one hears about it. And as I've said, I've frequently dabbled. But I'm just now beginning to learn the truly magnified scope of its magic. More on that in a different post.

But this day, I felt the hour group meditation (incorporating both sitting and walking sessions) and discussion would be helpful with some anger and judgements I've been feeling lately, both from myself and others. Having been a fairly judgemental person in my paaaaast, other people's judgements are beginning to bite my butt; irritate me no end; make me aaannngry. Thus getting me to group.

The sessions at this group are broken up into 2- 1 hour time segments: 1 hour for meditation, a 15 minute break and then 45 minutes for reading aloud from a book~ followed by discussion on the reading. Toward the end of the discussion this week, with a few minutes left and while everyone was wondering if we should read another section or just end early, I asked a question.

My question was to the learned in the group on the subject of Buddhism, wondering about how Buddhism stood on the topic of synchronicity. My relative told me one thing but I read in one of the books something different so wanted to get some feedback from those in the group who might know.

Instead I got a loud (nearly shrill) ranting from 'Newbie-on-my-Right' about her feelings and judgements (not favorable) and obviously, clearly superior take on the subject.

I sat calmly, letting her go off and tried to maintain the 'understanding' smile on my face and not react with what I was feeling...which was anger. Of course, everyone's entitled to contribute but my question was not what everyone's opinion was on the subject but what Buddhism's take was on it. When she was finally done, 'Newbie" actually curled her body backward and inward a little while the very loud sound of her voice reverberated in the silence, then apologized and sat quietly for a few minutes...until someone else spoke and she needed to put more of her two cents in, raising her hand over and over like a child in a classroom who might not make it to the bathroom.

When we got out to the car, my friend said, "I've never heard anyone actually yell in the temple room before!"

So I went to the group because of anger and came out with more. What a surprise.

I'm pretty sure next week I'm going to my Critique Group.

Monday, March 9, 2009

March Promises!

Somewhere (though can't remember where exactly) someone said that February felt like the best time for New Year's Resolutions. Well, March has always felt like the first month of the year for me. Maybe because it's the month of my birth or it's the beginning of spring (although it has been snowing here all day) or maybe because January and February still feel like a Christmas hangover (though fun is usually had by all, the month-long prep and party, as we know, are both sooo much work) and New Year's Resolutions are just too hard to keep in the dead of winter. During these first two months, I just can't quite get up the energy to promise anything, even to myself. There are so many family and friends birthdays in these months, I can barely keep up and remember them all much less send something.

But the hangover is nearly over and now I feel ready for those resolutions. However, I'm going to call them my March Promises. I like the way that sounds much better. Who doesn't want to make promises to themselves like an adoring lover? A promise sounds much more inviting than the equivalent of 'firm determination' which sounds almost like a punishment or a 'Time Out'.

So, in the spirit of growth and rebirth, here they are:
Self, I says to me,

I promise~~~

~To be less judgemental and hard on you,
~To stop treating you like you should be doing more,
~To stop making you feel guilty
(Sounding like a theme here?!)
~To give you all the encouragement you felt you didn't get,
~To treat you like the artist you want to be (and are),
~To give you time for the things you love,
~To care for and worship this body as the Goddess temple it is,
~To gently remind you to see the flip side and be grateful for what is,
~To learn the beauty of Alchemy and turn 'muck' into Gold,
~To invite you to the most peaceful place on Earth (with a little--constant-- training):
Your own Mind.

There, that oughta do it. Who best to pamper ourselves? Let the year (and spring) begin! Anybody else have any March Promises?
(Just remember...for some it's a chance to start over!)

Photographs copyright: Kirsten Steen

Monday, March 2, 2009

L'Atelier des Chefs

This winter, while somehow managing to finagle our first trip to Paris in far too long, we made 2 appointments for cooking classes at L'Atelier des Chefs (my partner's long-held desire and last summer's birthday gift).

L'Atelier des Chefs cooking school (http://www.atelierdeschefs.com/) has five different locations in Paris (as well as several other cities in France--Bordeaux, Dijon, Lille, Lyon, Nantes, and also including Brussels, London and Dubai).

Just before Christmas we arrived for our first class at the Printemps Nation location (inside the illustrious Printemps department store at 21, cours de Vincennes, <4th>, Paris, 75020. Telephone: Metro lines: 1,2,6,9; Porte de Vincennes).

Our chef and instructor, Steve Hanot, greeted us warmly and after our first instruction (everyone must wash hands!) offered us our very own plastic aprons and we were off! The menu for that day was large but not terribly complicated (thank goodness); Soup of oranges, clementines and mangos with a chestnut crumble; Cassoulet of escargot with Sauterne and a garlic and parsley crumble; Foie gras wrapped in chicken with a nut and parmesan crumble. A three-crumble menu!

The cooking classroom at Printemps is set up with one large table where everyone is assigned their own cutting board. The chef describes the process for each of the recipes, passes out knives (rather dull we noticed, most likely saving on litigation) and various ingredients and gets everyone involved. Besides showing students each step of the recipes, his job is to keep an eye on making sure things are done correctly and safely but with some fun-- keeping it all done in a timely fashion to stay on schedule. And he does it perfectly.

While the classes are conducted in French, we happen to have our very own personal translator: my sister. But while our translator (also known as an overworked, overstressed, single, working mom- at the time still trying to get ready for Christmas!) can't always hear and translate every word, we follow along with the "Universal Hand/Sign Language": Sawing motion means "cut", clipping motion means "use scissors", rolling motion means...well, you get the idea. When someone hands you several sprigs of parsley or a mango and you look around to find that the person directly across the table from you is chopping their sprigs into fine pieces and tossing them in the bowl or using various techniques for peeling, you miraculously know just what to do!

After the ingredients have all been chopped, diced and assembled, the class moves to the stove area to stir, sprinkle and behold the magic of alchemy.

Our friends who joined us (and had been to these classes before so knew how things worked), while being fellow adorers of Paris, had their very first experience with escargot. It was a hit. (How can anything with Sauterne not be a hit!?) They only found themselves sorry they had waited so long to try them.

The Printemps classroom has only enough space for working, not for eating the joyous end results. So when class is finished, all dishes are wrapped and sent 'a emporter'--to take out and enjoy at your own chosen location.

I wouldn't say I am necessarily a better cook for having had these classes (talented partner still far outshines me in the kitchen . Can I blame the lack of language skills? Unfortunately, not in the US) but a fun time was definitely had by all!

FYI~ L'Atelier des Chefs will email you each of your lesson's recipes at your request and graciously shares recipes on their website. Go see for yourself!

Stay tuned for the second L'Atelier des Chefs class in a future post.

Photographs copyright: Kirsten Steen