And I mean that wholeheartedly. As much as I’d have like Spain’s contestant, Ruth Lorenzo, to win Eurovision 2014, I am over the moon with delight at the triumph of Conchita Wurst (Austria). A great talent, and a voice for acceptance and love that I hope rings out for a long time.


The retreat with Thay and the monastics was a deeply moving, exhausting, rich, aggravating, transforming experience. You know, like life. We sat, walked, ate, sang, listened, slept, talked, and laughed — all as mindfully as possible.

This chant reached deep into my heart. I hope it brings you joy and inspiration.

Namo Avalokiteshvara

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness… We know that just by listening deeply, we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.

Hello! I hope you’re all well.

Just a quick note to let you know that I won’t be posting this week because I will be on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. I’ll be back to share next Tuesday.

Number One Sister came for a flying visit, leaving the male members of her family in London so we could have a “girls weekend.” We took lots of pictures as we wandered around Madrid — and when I was downloading them, I realized that we had almost perfectly reproduced a shot from nearly 50 years ago.


Nice 'stache, Sis!

Nice ‘stache, Sis!

And now…

Yep, I've still got the same smile...

Yep, I’ve still got the same smile…

See what I mean about somethings never changing? And thank goodness for that!

The photos here are of the Procesión de Nuestro Señor Jesús Nazareno de Medinaceli, one of the biggest of the Good Friday processions. It’s always a moving spectacle… with  moments of anachronism, like when the penitentes pop up their hoods and make a phone call during a rest break. (The one image with a red background is from another procession, that of the Santa Cruz, which cuts across the Plaza Mayor, once site of bullfights and autos de fe…)

IMG_0024 IMG_0053 IMG_0044 IMG_0045 IMG_0104 IMG_0120 IMG_0068 IMG_0112 IMG_0096

Apologies for the lack of a post last Thursday — it was a thoroughly unpleasant week and by the time I got to the end of it, there wasn’t much I wanted to say that bore sharing. The following may still be less than “uplifting,” and at the same time, I want to say it.

The week before last, Miss Zouzou-Cat was ill with what looked like a simple case of gastroenteritis. After trying a few things on my own, I popped her into her carrier (OK, that’s a euphemism; if you have cats, you know what I mean.) and took her to the vet. He did the standard thing you do when you have a constipated cat (again, not going into details), gave her a couple of injections, and recommended she eat a prescription diet for the next few days. I was to return the following day (Sunday) for another round of injections.

On Sunday, after more shots and some unabashed cat worship (she IS very cute) he asked that I bring her back on Monday for another round of injections, reasoning (correctly, I believe) that going to oral antibiotics wasn’t a good idea just yet.

Monday, another visit, with the added delight of drawing blood for a full work-up. Results to follow in a few hours. He called at the end of the day. Not so good — one of her liver enzymes was sky-high and he suspected FIP (feline infectious peritonitis, read all about it here). We decided to do an additional test.

Things were going pretty well until Wednesday, when we needed to go back because she was constipated again. A bit of belly massage, a few more cans of the Rx food, and back home.

Thursday he called with the results of the second test, which confirmed his suspicions. Could I please come in to talk through her treatment options? No need to bring her with me. (Thank deities for small mercies.) Because she has the “dry” form of FIP, it’s possible to treat it as a chronic illness with diet and monthly injections of an immune-booster. He asked me to “do [him] a favor and not obsess about the diagnosis.” He has cat patients who have FIP and who are doing very well on the treatment. A couple of them are two years past diagnosis and still going strong.

OK. I’m not obsessing. I am of a Buddhist mind-set. Everything that lives, dies. The cat is 15 and has a very good life. We will carry on until the time when her life is less than what she deserves, and make a decision.

Saturday, back to the vet’s (con kitty) for the first of her monthly injections. I don’t know what was in it, but it made her hiss and hiss. Ow!

She has taken up residence under the bed, sleeping on top of a clothes-storage bag and coming out only to eat and use her box. I’m ready to join her.

In other news, it’s been warm and sunny for over a week now.

Even though I’ve been broke, broke, broke for the last few months, I try to treat myself to little goodies. I’ve got a Mason jar that I dump change into for just that purpose. I’m hoping at some point to have enough for a spa day, but I’m also perfectly happy grabbing a handful of change for something little.

Last week, my friend Ester the florist had some little jasmine plants in her shop for 6.50€, so I counted out the change from my jar and brought one up to my balcony. She told me to be careful not to over-water it so that it lasts through the summer. Even though I sometimes “love things to death,” I’m going to do my best.

Today, it was warm enough (24º C) to have the balcony doors open all day, and it smelled just heavenly! One tiny plant producing all of that happiness… A handful of change very well spent indeed.

What have you treated yourself to lately?

It’s that time of year where Madrid has had a little taste of warm weather, followed by a fortnight of cold, rain, hail, wind. (The good news is that we’ll be up to 24C/79F by Monday!) All of this swinging back and forth means it’s hard to know what to put on in the morning — on the one hand, warm clothes are a necessity, but on the other, I’m so sick of my winter wardrobe, I’d happily burn it all.

Still, I manage to come up with a few looks that work for right now. Today, for instance, I’m wearing black cords, a shirt printed with pink and red ladybugs (last year’s, from Gap) and a pink cashmere pullover (purchased in the year gimel, from Lands’ End). Black Cole-Haan box calf loafers worn sockless complete the outfit. I look springy and bright, but I’m warm. (Yes, even without socks. The ability to go without socks except in the bitterest cold is one I acquired as a young lass in WASP-ville.)

But I’m thinking longingly about real warm weather clothes, about putting away most of what I’ve been wearing for the last five months so I can love it again next year. I’m not the only one — Mater posted about spring shopping yesterday, and from the comments on her post, it’s clear that we’re all ready for a change.

And I don’t just want to change to lighter fabrics — I’m bored with how I’ve been dressing the last few months (trousers, sweaters, flats or ankle boots). I want to go funkier, to have more fun, to take a flying leap out of my comfort zone. I’ve set my sights on buying a new sewing machine with stretch and double-needle stitching, so I can make more adventurous garments. I’m also considering where to find inspiration, if not actual clothes. Invisible Woman wrote yesterday in the Guardian about where to shop when you are of a certain age — I’ll be checking back for her suggestions. Feel free to point me in interesting directions in the comments, too.

How are you doing in your seasonal transitions? Have any of you thawed out yet?

One of the nicest things that happens for me when winter finally ends is that my skin starts behaving itself again. It’s super-dry, sensitive, and I have rosacea, which is a triple-whammy no matter where one lives — but add the Madrid climate to the mix and YIKES!

Last winter I was so desperate that I went for a (Perfect) laser treatment. It worked wonders, but it was expensive and the recovery seemed to take forever. My dermatologist recommended a redness reducing topical that was less expensive in the States than here, so when I was home in April, I decided to do a little research. I went to Beautypedia and found that even with U.S. prices, it still cost the earth, and didn’t have a great track record. So I popped over to the Paula’s Choice side of the website and looked at my options there.

Paula Begoun is known as the “Cosmetics Cop” for her zeal in looking for the truth behind the hype, and all of the claims made about her products are backed up with clinical research.

Since Paula’s Choice also has a rock-solid guarantee, I decided to go ahead and try a couple of products — a redness reducer and a moisturizer, plus a nice big sample of retinol serum that I got for free. The first two products worked really well, but the serum — WOW! Off the charts results in a week. Needless to say I bought a full-sized bottle as well as an extra of each of the other two products, and a BHA exfoliating lotion that was highly rated, even for reactive skin like mine.

I added the redness reducer and BHA lotion to the morning part of my routine, and the serum to the night. I kept using my La Roche Posay Toleriane cleanser and Skin-79 BB cream (I now use the Moisture Plus Purple, with SPF 30++) as my combo sunscreen/foundation. It’s super-easy to follow and the extra steps don’t add any appreciable time to things. That’s important, because it means I actually do it every day with no excuses.

In the year that I’ve been following this refined routine, my skin has improved amazingly. It’s smoother, plumper, and calmer. I still had my annual winter rosacea flare-up, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as last year, and I was able to knock it back down with just a course of low-dose antibiotics.

If you’re looking to jazz up your skin care routine with products that do what they say they will (and that you can return if they don’t) at very reasonable prices, pay a visit to the Paula’s Choice website. I think you’ll like what you find there.

One thing I did while I was hibernating was read three novels:

Life after Life, by Kate Atkinson

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier

Of the three, it was The Goldfinch that kept me up past my bedtime on a regular basis until I finished it. Just brilliant. Theo broke my heart. The other characters are beautifully-drawn; the plot had its hooks in me from the very beginning and didn’t let go. Even though I raced through it, when I got to the end, I had the feeling that you do at the end of a really long, really good ski run. Exhilarated and wanting more. Read it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about what it’s going to do to your beauty sleep.

I thought Life After Life was everything the reviews promised. As Ursula hiccups through her life, starting and ending and starting again, I found myself wondering just how the next time around was going to shape up, and was nearly always delighted. The  flashes of subtle humor throughout were, for me, a huge part of its charm. Highly recommended.

The Last Runaway was a gift, and while I’m not sure I’d have bought it myself, I enjoyed it. There were a few places where I wished the editor had been a bit more firm — enough already with the “It’s so different from England” comments — but the story was compelling. And if you’re a quilter (or related to one), you’ll find yourself imagining Honor’s works of art. Worth a read.

If you’ve read any of these, and/or have recommendations for gems that I missed, please pipe up in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.


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