The Magnificent Secret Inside Notre Dame

Notre Dame Interior When my skeptical ten-year-old asked what we would see when visiting Paris, I said, “We’ll see Notre-Dame cathedral. It’s the most famous church in the world!”

“Really? In the whole world?” she said.

Kids often use the phrase, “in the whole world” to emphasize whatever thing they admire. “She’s my best friend in like, the whole world,” or “That place has the best smoothies in the whole world.” So I purposefully used it to emphasize the value of the trip. It worked. And in this case, I believed it to be mostly true. There are beautiful houses of worship in say, Russia or India or China, but I couldn’t think of a more recognizable church.

In a calm, reassuring voice, I said, “Yes. The entire world.”

“Cool…” she said.

Later in Paris, this specialness was driven eerily home as we waited to enter Notre-Dame. Three police officers stood amidst the roaming crowd, watching the square while holding the largest guns I’d ever seen in my life. They weren’t the machine guns I’d come across in movies or news photos, they were heavy, rectangular hunks of black plastic with scopes, the rectangular shaft, I assume, meant to store more bullets and perhaps greater fire power. I was both worried and grateful for their presence.

French Police at Notre DameInside the cathedral, the air was dim and cool, the pews packed with people. Mass was in progress and the choir stood in robes at the side chamber. They sang haunting melodies as the priest walked down the aisle, sprinkling holy water on attendees whose heads were bowed in reverence.

As we walked quietly among Asians, Europeans, Africans, and all else, we admired the great art, the soaring architecture, the serenity of the ceremony. Though this kind of stone hall creates a harsh echo any time someone knocks against a pew or drops an object, there was no audial disturbance. Just the sound of the priest speaking, the worshippers replying. Visitors wandered, some with hands folded behind their backs. I took a photo of a large Madonna and child rising over everyone in a plaintive blessing. When I finished, a Japanese woman nodded a “thank you” as I stepped aside. Two older ladies knelt at a small altar in a nook and prayed in earnest. A cluster of students pointed at the paintings of Christ on the walls, debating some feature I couldn’t discern. Near the nave’s front, an Indian man filmed a woman at the podium who was reading from the Bible. When he was finished, he shifted around so an Italian father could lift his daughter to see the altar. We all took turns rotating into the best viewing spots, then returned to waiting families or friends.

In Notre-Dame, you can make a donation and light a candle for the dead. I lit two, one for my father, one for my husband’s father. My daughter asked me in a whisper, who they were for. “My dad and daddy’s dad,” I said. She watched as I set the candles on the rack, each one glowing as a pure, silent tribute to life. I thought of how my father had never seen Notre-Dame, or Paris, or lived into a time when police guarded famous landmarks because a few hopeless criminals wanted to create destruction and despair.

Outside, the setting sun cast a gentle, orange light on the buildings and trees. I held my daughter’s hand, happy to have shown her the most famous church “in the whole world.” More so, I was glad to have shown her Notre-Dame’s best feature, not the church in all of its magnificent architecture but rather the good-hearted, peaceful people with whom we’d shared that magnificence.

Spring Has Finally Arrived

PeonyGood Sunday morning! If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you’re probably enjoying a gorgeous, sunny day right now. We finally made it through an unusually cold and prolonged rainy spring. Now the peonies are in bloom and I’m feeling inspired. So inspired, in fact, that I have made a change to my blogging life. If you’re a Gardening, Seattle Style subscriber, you may notice this mail came from the Karen K. Hugg website. That’s because I’ve streamlined GSS into this one, making for more frequent posts and richer content. I’ll be offering advice on gardening and posts about writing, motherhood, and Paris and Europe. If none of that interests you, you can always unsubscribe, I won’t be hurt, but if you stick with me, I’ll hopefully enrich your life.

For now, I have to say goodbye and get into the garden. I’m on a roll. I weeded the very back of my yard yesterday and today need to trim back several shrubs. I can’t wait to hear the sounds of birds chirping and lawn mowers buzzing. Feel that warm sun on my arms. How about you? What are you doing to enjoy this lovely day? Cheers.


Curbing my Child’s Election Anxiety

Alec Baldwin My impression of Alec Baldwin doing Trump wasn’t spot on but enough to make my daughter laugh. She knew that Trump had blamed a broken microphone for his poor debate performance. I’d squint my eyes, puff up my mouth, and point a finger at her. “My microphone is broken. She broke it. She and Obama took my microphone to Kenya and broke it. And now my microphone is broken.” She’d giggle with glee as I’d tuck her into bed, then insist I do it again. We’d let her and her siblings watch that first parody on Saturday Night Live. It lessened their anxiety about Trump. That crazy, bully man wasn’t so scary after all. He was just silly. Not powerful.

Earlier this last fall, my daughter roamed in and out of the TV room as I watched the debates. She and her sister noticed Trump interrupting Hillary Clinton, they noticed the strange way he frowned, they noticed how mean he was. We talked about why their dad and I were voting for Clinton. How we believed in helping all people, not just the rich, helping the planet’s environment, having a peaceful talk with other countries and not going to war. They were always reassured but then news would come out weekly about some horrific way Trump had treated someone: the disabled reporter, Latinos, African-Americans, women, etc. And each time, my younger daughter would go into processing mode: either asking me a slew of questions about why this was happening or play-acting a scenario.

Sometimes I’d walk in the kitchen and hear her say to an imaginary friend, “Why are you voting for Trump? He makes fun of people.”

That processing continued for weeks as the election dragged on and became darker and darker. In her bedroom, I’d pass by a “speech” to an imaginary audience about why they should all vote for Hillary Clinton. On other days, we’d be at dinner and she’d ask a series of questions. Where were Trump’s parents and why didn’t they tell him to be nice? Why did he want to grab a lady by her private part? If Trump won, would Daddy still have a job? Would we still have money? Would there be soldiers in our neighborhood?

After the questioning went on awhile and I worried it was descending into obsession, I’d lean forward and squish up my face. “My microphone is broken. She broke it. She and Obama took it…”

Uncontrollable laughter.

Later, she’d recite the bit verbatim to me.

When election day came, I told her that the reasonable, thoughtful people in America would prevail. We didn’t know for sure, but the people who called voters and asked them questions said Clinton would probably win. Then I kissed her and put her on the bus.

I walked away thinking that the truth was that there were a lot of angry, white, bully voters, but not enough compared to all of the brown people and women and millenials whose values didn’t match Trump’s corrupt, aggressive ones. They would vote and Clinton would be elected.

Well, last night I discovered not enough of those groups came out to vote. They were complacent, or busy, or cynical, who knows. Now, Trump’s about to take power. This morning when my daughter asked me who won, I brushed off Trump’s win, saying we’d have to wait to see what he did. He might not be as mean as he promised.

“Are we going to move?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “We’ll stick it out. Wait and see.”

As more questions came, I answered them as honestly as I could without creating a panic, even though, of course, I’m panicking inside. I’m privately processing how many ugly, bigoted people there are in America. More than I predicted. People who don’t care about civil rights or women’s issues or the world economy or really just facts. I also realized that I couldn’t use my Alec Baldwin impersonation to diffuse the worry anymore, because the worry is now reality.

During these next years, I’m hoping Baldwin will spoof Trump over and over. Point out his hypocrisies. Make light of his awful character. That would be a welcomed balm, until Trump of course pinches free speech and forces Saturday Night Live off the air. If that happens, I won’t be surprised — by that or much of anything else after last night. My job now is to take care of my family and make my daughter laugh in some other silly way.

My Struggle with Social and Solitary Time

IMG_5837 (1)Recently, I made a shift in how I view my time. Like all writers, I crave long blocks of uninterrupted time. Whether I acquired that was always on me. Was I answering email instead of writing my novel? Was I running errands when I should be home revising a short essay? Was I on Twitter on a night I’d devoted to producing a new blog post? In other words, was I being naughty? Was I being weak? Was I not being disciplined at my craft? What this approach has mostly done is made feel guilty about what I should be doing versus what I am actually doing, while giving rise to a vague feeling of being disorganized and out of control. It’s depressing.

Then I read Jeff VanderMeer’s book, Booklife. He doesn’t feel guilty about his online and/or his real life time. He knows both are necessary. What he’s developed is a plan for how to resolve those two worlds. The world of writing in a solitary, uninterrupted state and the world of the social, interrupted state. What he does is literally schedule out his time, starting in the morning, going through his writing workday, exercise, social/online time, and real life leisure or non-leisure time. He sketches it out in half-hour blocks and sticks to it 75%-85% of the time. I imagine that target helps alleviate his guilt when he doesn’t follow the schedule. Not expecting to stick rigidly to it all the time lowers the pressure to succeed. Nicely realistic.

I learned a lot from this approach. First, not to beat myself up about the time it takes to live in a social, interrupted state. 1) I have a day job, 2) I have kids, 3) I have an online presence. Not to mention a husband, pets, chores, extended family, other interests, etc. All of these will pull me away from solitary, uninterrupted time into the disrupted and social. It’s the reality of life. Therefore, I now look at that solitary, uninterrupted time as a gift. And that’s been a profound shift.

Because it’s a gift, it is precious. Therefore, I don’t take the time for granted anymore. I don’t beat myself up for being social or running errands. I simply plan. On what days and at what times are my kids at school or camp or watching a movie? How long do I have? What can I do in one, two, five hours? Can I get into creative, silent mode enough to produce something? This is the approach I take now. I’ve gotten more organized about when I creatively write and when I do online work. Write during the day when the kids are gone, do online work and real life stuff when the kids are home. I’ve resumed an old routine of taking one night a week away from the kids to write at a coffee house. I use the time my husband offers to take the kids to the park on weekends as bonus time.

Like VanderMeer, I don’t always stick to the plan. But it’s made my emotional outlook better. I now focus solely on whichever state I’m in, which spawns feelings of satisfaction and control. I get more done either way. It’s the Booklife approach, and I’m thankful to have found it.

Tell me how you view your uninterrupted and interrupted states of time. Are you barely keeping your head above water as I was or do you feel like you have a plan?

Mother’s Day at the Bellevue Botanical Garden

IMG_5550 One advantage of Mother’s Day is a mom gets to do whatever she wants. Want to visit a botanical garden because you’re a plant nerd? A mom can do that. And that’s exactly what I did with my family last Sunday on Mother’s Day.

When I was in horticulture school, I worked for a quarter at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. It was a field practicum class for hands-on training. That was a fun time. I made a new, close friend and learned about rare plants I’d otherwise not have access to. Back then, in the early 2000s, the garden wasn’t as expanded and polished as it is today. There are more sites to see now. The perennial border in particular is even more beautiful. While it used to be a mass of hillside with trees, shrubs, and perennials, it now has proper gravel paths cutting through it with benches and broad, gentle steps. And not only are there spectacular collections of unusual plants on this 53-acre site, but a rock garden, native habitats, waterfalls, sculptures, even a suspension bridge. All in tidy, lovely shape. I left yearning for a crew of volunteers to maintain my yard. Here are a few photos of my visit. Oh, and by the way, it’s free.