Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

A Sweet and Gentle Star is Born

Recently I read a post on BB's Creations about best movies of 1952. I thought about watching them, but it can be hard to find what you want on streaming services. 

Amazon makes you pay for nearly every film they offer, even if you have Prime. Netflix never has anything good anymore. HBO Max isn't too bad and offers a nice variety of classic films. They had Singin' In the Rain, one mentioned in Birgit's post. I was sorry they didn't have The Quiet Man because it sounded good. 

Singin' in the Rain has the dance numbers, the music, Gene Kelly dancing through puddles--these well-known clips that show up everywhere. Yet I had never seen it in its entirety and didn't know the story.

Well, I watched it and wasn't that impressed. Now, White Christmas is another movie with familiar music. The story holds up and decades later, it's still mesmerizing. Singin' in the Rain, on the other hand, has a thin plot and predictable characters. I couldn't see how it qualifies as one of the greatest films ever made, Academy Award-worthy, or deserving of all the praise heaped on it in its Wikipedia description.

What I did find interesting was Debbie Reynolds, who was only eighteen when she filmed it. This was her first real role and it made her a star. A beloved star who is 100% real and honest and as true to who she was at eighteen as at eighty. 

I then watched Bright Lights, also on HBO Max, a documentary about her and her daughter Carrie Fisher, and their close relationship. It's especially poignant knowing they died within a day of each other. Carrie died of heart issues at 60. The next day while discussing arrangements with her son Todd, Debbie said, "I just want to be with Carrie." She died shortly after that at age 84.

Debbie's beautiful spirit shines through her eyes in Bright Lights, filmed a year before they died, just as it did 70 years ago in Singin' in the Rain. Despite aging, she still had that special quality of goodness and honesty that made people love her in every movie she did. Singin' in the Rain is worth watching to see the emergence of this eighteen-year-old actress who doesn't look anything like a movie star. She just looks like a really nice and kind person.

And watch it for the dancing, of course, and all of the fun music that just makes you happy to hear it.


Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Good Morning from Veracruz

 Finishing my last book gave me the freedom to blog again. 

It was a tough book to write, taking ten years. Other things of higher priority came first. I thought maybe I should at least try blogging but decided not to. It's the only form of social media that can get addictive for me, and I have to guard against that. The book had to come first.

I am back at work on another book, but that's okay. I can still blog because I'm in a regular work routine and have been for a couple years now.

I do random other social media but don't find it as fun or interesting as blogging for some reason. Actually, I do know the reasons but they're boring so why go into them. Instead, I'll share a couple recent photos from an early morning walk. Veracruz is on the Eastern shore of Mexico and is lovely in the mornings. The second one may look like a sunset but no, it is the sunrise. 

Seeing the sunrise in the morning always feels special to me, because it's a rare opportunity to actually be awake and present at the right time and place for a significant event. 

To see it actually pop up from the horizon as it seems to do is remarkable.  (This picture does not do it justice.) You must wait patiently, eyes focused on the horizon where there's light with its play of colors but no sun yet. Turn away for a second and you miss the moment when it appears. 

First comes an even more glorious display of light as the top of the sun peeks out. Then the full circle follows, quickly it seems, and you can't stare any longer for the brightness. It is the sun after all, although after watching it wake up step by step, you feel like you're now friends and you should be able to look at it directly. 

Have you ever seen a full eclipse of the sun? To witness Emperor Sun completely covered by tiny, reclusive Queen Moon is more astounding than I ever supposed it would be. Unthinkable that our Sun can get blocked out like that, even for a brief moment. You see it but can hardly believe it. And then it passes, leaving you with the sense that something extremely meaningful just happened.

My next book is about the summer my son and I traveled to Chile for the full eclipse in June 2019. Afterward, we bussed north to Peru where we lingered for over two months. That was the year I wanted to walk the earth. Those plans were of course cut short by the pandemic six months later.  

There's a full eclipse crossing northern Mexico in April of this year. I haven't decided yet if I'll travel north to see it or not. That's how far I've come from wanting to walk the earth.



Monday, December 12, 2022

Minimalism

 Such a long time since I posted on this blog! Not really, only since 2020 but how many of us feel like the time from 2020 to now feels more like ten years than two? 

WordPress informed me that the cost of my domain and website karenjonesgowen.com is going up by a dollar a year, from $18 to $19. All well and good, although the minimalist in me is saying, Do you really need two websites? I hardly use one let alone two. And I greatly dislike the Wordpress block format, find the Dashboard difficult to navigate, while posting on Blogger here is essentially the same as it has always been. 

I would happily let go of the website but then I'd also need to let go of the domain. It's my name. My author name. I'm not yet done with my name. I hesitate to let go of it. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Lament of the Empty Nest COVID-19

Today, hunkering down in my apartment in my paradise of Veracruz, Mexico during my 90 day retreat that– due to the corona virus– has turned into 5 month retreat. I’m not sure why, but I’m feeling unusually sad. Maybe because it’s Sunday and church of course is still canceled. No church, no family all under one roof to draw close and be one during these uncertain, scary days....  Full post on my website

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Soltera

My son and I arrived to Cusco at different times. He came from Puno via bus, I traveled from Arequipa by plane. I had no desire to visit Puno and wanted to stay in Arequipa as long as possible. After a month there, the city felt familiar and, as one does after awhile in one place, I had a routine that felt comfortable.

Still, I looked forward to Cusco. I had booked an apartment as a pleasant change from hotel rooms. And then there was Machu Picchu! Cusco is the major hub to get there as well as to many other Inca ruins in the area.

My first look at the apartment was disappointing. Yes, it was spacious with two bedrooms but the kitchen could hardly be called a kitchen, not even a kitchenette. There was no refrigerator, no pots and pans for cooking, and although the website had said "oven" it was just a two burner propane unit on a table next to the tiny sink.

Forrest, who had arrived earlier in the day, reported the shower was just lukewarm, the WiFi wasn't great, and "Look, Mom, how dirty the floors are--" the bottoms of his bare feet were black. Also, within a few hours, there was no water at all!

The water eventually came back on. Apparently this is Cusco's dry season and water has to be rationed. I understood that since we experienced the same thing in Guatemala when we lived in Panajachel. I kept water stored in jugs for these times. But I had just arrived here and it was all too much!

I went to bed feeling very frustrated. I kept checking on Booking.com for something else. Finally, I decided not to be rash or impulsive and to give it 24 hours.

The next morning, Forrest left on his 5-day trekking journey along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. As for me, nothing looked better in the morning light. As so often happens during these kinds of situations, I sat there crying and thinking if only Bruce were here, he'd make everything better. We'd see it as an adventure and would immediately set to work tackling the problems together, rather than me sitting here alone wondering what went wrong.

I imagined how Bruce would handle things, what he would do first. From my vantage point in bed under three heavy blankets, I saw a clock on the wall in the not-really-a-kitchenette. It wasn't keeping time (one more lame thing about this crappy place.) I knew that right off Bruce would get one of the AA batteries I brought for my camera and put it in the clock. So I dragged myself out from under the covers to get the battery and put it in the clock and set it on the right time.

The dear little clock started ticking, a comforting sound that made me feel immediately better. What else would my capable husband go after?

"What should I do next, my love?" I asked him, and then wrote out a list of simple tasks we'd undertake if he were in this situation with me.

One of them was to talk to my contact person for the apartment. I put that one way down on the list, because when you're feeling discouraged and sorry for yourself, you don't want to talk to anyone.

Finally, after I completed everything else, I messaged the person, saying I had some questions about the apartment and could they come by. At 11:30 a.m., there's a knock on the door, and it's these two smiling women, one with a baby in a backpack. Turns out they're mother and daughter, and I'd been messaging the daughter as my contact person.

I ask about turning on the heater, about turning on the hot water, about cleaning the floor, and what about no pans to cook with, not even a little one to fry an egg. The mother said, "I'll clean the floor right now!" I told her I wouldn't mind doing it, but I had no supplies. During all this, I saw a man in the hall carrying a mini-fridge down the stairs from another apartment.

I said, "I wish I had one of those here," and they said, "We will bring you one, and pots and pans later today."

While the mom mopped, she asked why I was in Cusco. I showed her a picture of my husband, saying he died last year and I just needed to get away from everything familiar. She understood, said "Ah, tu eres soltera," told me her mother was also a widow and very independent, just like me. We had a nice conversation, although with the stress of the past couple days, my Spanish wasn't very good.

When they left, everything looked so much better after having all the rooms mopped. It felt clean and, with the sun now shining brightly through the apartment, more like home.

Around six pm, they come by again with a man who's probably the husband. He is carrying a mini-fridge, still wrapped in plastic from the store. The women have a big box with new pans, cooking utensils, a cutting board and a knife. Also, a brand new broom and dustpan. The mom calls me Karencita which is so sweet. And they dropped the rent by $50.

This day that had started off so badly with my dark thoughts, ended with joyful gratitude, a day I would never forget. I felt hopeful, blessed, and just happy to know people like this would be my landlords for one month in Cusco.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Hola from Chile and Peru

My youngest son and I are traveling in South America this summer. We are one month into our trip, the first week spent in Coquimbo/La Serena, Chile to see the eclipse. This eclipse had a very narrow view for totality. You basically had to go to South America to experience it. Not that either of us are eclipse chasers, but as long as we had plans to go why not arrange things to see that?

We saw it from the beach, which was incredible and this photo doesn't do it justice. They never do. You've got to have some kind of special camera to really photograph totality. But with this shot we can appreciate how dark it is, like the sun has set, yet it's still quite far above the horizon. 

We only stayed in this area for a week, as it was quite expensive. Every day I walked for hours on the beach. It was cold, since it's winter now in Chile, but not too bad in the afternoon with the sun shining. I loved those beach walks, especially the pelicans! I admire how they're so relaxed and companionable, but when it's time to eat they go after it with a vengeance, dive-bombing straight into the water. I never tired of watching them.
We bussed from La Serena north to the Chile/Peru border, stopping here and there along the way. It took about a week until we finally crossed the border and headed to Irequipa, Peru, where we decided to stay for a month.

I love it in Arequipa. The weather is fantastic, sunny and in the low to mid-seventies every day. The prices for lodging and food are quite reasonable, even cheap, especially compared to Chile. I've checked out a few places for long-term rentals for maybe next year when I'd like to come back and stay for six months. I could totally live here for $500 to $800 a month, including food and incidentals. So I just might do that.

Here's my son buying two hand-knit alpaca sweaters for just $10 each. Both he and the vendor were very happy with their transaction. He's wearing one of them, isn't it beautiful? And so soft! I haven't found one yet, but I'm keeping my eyes open. Today I bought a hat. Everyone here wears hats because of the intensity of the sun.

I'm posting photos regularly on my Instagram @travelingnonny if you want to see more of my travels through Chile and Peru!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Keeper of the Memories

One of the toughest things I've experienced in the ten months since my husband died has been carrying the burden of our memories. I would never have expected memories to be anything other than a pleasant, welcome diversion. One of the frequent comments people made was something to the effect of "You had so many good years together, and all those memories."

Like those who made the comments, I too would have thought it would be a positive thing. Having 48 years together was lovely, although naturally I wanted more. Reflecting back on our life should be a comfort, right? 

In a way, yes and in a way, no. When something comes up from our past, whether good or bad, who do I share it with? I can't turn to Bruce and say, "Remember when....?" Instead, it stays within, crying to be shared with the one who, like me, knew it from firsthand experience. 

How I'd love to talk over some of those rough times with him when they come to mind:

"How did we ever get through it?" 
"Things worked out pretty well after all, funny about that."
"What do you wish we'd done differently?"
"Here's what I learned from it, how about you?"

Being left as the sole keeper of the memories is not as pleasant as one would expect. It can be a lonely job. In the book The Giver by Lois Lowry, there's the giver and the receiver of memory. The receiver's duty is to take in memories of the society from the giver. When the giver passes on, the receiver carries on until a new receiver shows up, and then the other becomes the giver.

I think I need to appoint someone in my family as Receiver and I will be the Giver, for as long as it takes. Although in the book, they are not appointed, they just are. So I'll keep my eyes out for the right one.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Where in the World am I?

It's been less than two years since my last post in November, 2017, but to me it feels like forever. Time is like that when everything changes and your world goes topsy turvy. Two years ago, my husband and I were living in Salt Lake City and planning our next move/trip/lifestyle change.
At home in the Guatamala highlands, near Lake Atitlan


On our list was Cambodia, India, the Philippines, definitely Vietnam. And maybe back to Mexico because we had loved living in Comitan, Chiapas. When we left Comitan, our landlord said the apartment would be ours if we ever came back. Considering we could live comfortably in this friendly mid-sized town in southern Mexico for just $800 a month for everything, we certainly discussed moving back.

But God had other plans for us. A year ago, my husband had emergency surgery for a dissected aorta. It ruptured on the operating table, before they were able to properly prep him for surgery. Miraculously, they did save his life and he did wake up from the surgery. Although he had a long road ahead of him if he were to fully recover from the trauma his body had gone through.

It was four months of ups and downs, much fasting and prayer for healing, many hospitals as they moved him around based on whether he was progressing or not. In July, it seemed like he might make it. Finally, he seemed to be improving. My hope was renewed.

Until an infection they'd kept at bay with powerful antibiotics flared up again. With a vengeance. Within days he was admitted to LDS Hospital, since the care center in Salt Lake didn't have the means to handle the situation. I saw him go downhill so fast it scared me. I felt this was the end. I cried buckets of tears that week.

He passed away on August 23, ten days after our 48th wedding anniversary. On our anniversary, he'd been lucid and even written a sweet note in a card one of our sons brought to him to sign for me. Five days after that, I knew it was over and five days after that, he was gone.

He died surrounded by our family, surrounded by love. He had fought valiantly for four months after surgery to recover and stay with us. We were grateful for the courage he showed through this battle, but also grateful he was now released from his pain-racked, very ill body to return home to his Heavenly Father.

I've been blessed to feel his spirit with me often since that day, my eternal companion. We were married in 1970 in the Oakland, California temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for time and eternity. Our church believes that families are forever, that the bonds of marriage and family are not for this life only but can continue on after death. The work done in our holy temples is simply that of uniting families for eternity. I've never been so grateful for that work as I have since Bruce died.
Quetzaltenango temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
So where in the world am I? Currently staying with one of my sons and his family in Cedar City, Utah, while I get my bearings and decide what should be my next move.

I'll end this by sharing a picture of Bruce and me taken in 1970, our first Christmas as a newly married couple, heading out to travel to Illinois to spend the holidays with my family. We were so young! We had no idea what lay ahead of us, but as long as we had each other nothing else really mattered. And that is still true.




Friday, November 17, 2017

When the Work Gets Suffocated

Living outside the country for three years freed me up creatively. I completed my novel, Afraid of Everything, started and finished the self-help memoir, Slim Within, and wrote first drafts of another novel and a travel memoir. A very productive time for the writing!

Once I came back, it stopped. We've been in the States a year now, and I haven't worked on any of my manuscript drafts. They're stashed away, waiting.

This past year has been a whirlwind of catching up with family and doing all the things we missed out on while away, like being with our kids and our grandchildren. Earning money. Getting to the doctors and specialists and dentists.

And even then, there doesn't seem to be enough time for anything. Especially for being with my family, since I know we'll leave again before too long.

Not that I'm complaining because I'm not. I'm okay with setting aside my creative work for awhile. I don't know why that doesn't bother me like it seems to bother many other writers. Do I not care enough? Am I not committed enough?

Living a full and balanced life is what matters the most. And sometimes that doesn't include writing the next book. Besides, I'm pretty sure I'll get back to it...I always do!


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

My Review of FAREWELL, ALEPPO by Claudette E. Sutton

Paperback:   180 Pages
Genre:  Memoir
Publisher:   Terra Nova Books (October 1, 2014)
ISBN-10:   1938288408
ISBN-13:  978-1938288401
Amazon Link: click here


The Jews of Aleppo, Syria, had been part of the city’s fabric for more than two thousand years, in good times and bad, through conquerors and kings. But in the middle years of the twentieth century, all that changed.

To Selim Sutton, a merchant with centuries of roots in the Syrian soil, the dangers of rising anti-Semitism made clear that his family must find a new home. With several young children and no prospect of securing visas to the United States, he devised a savvy plan for getting his family out: “exporting” his sons. In December 1940, he told the two oldest, Meïr and Saleh, that arrangements had been made for their transit to Shanghai, where they would work in an uncle’s export business. China, he hoped, would provide a short-term safe harbor and a steppingstone to America.

But the world intervened for the young men, now renamed Mike and Sal by their Uncle Joe. Sal became ill with tuberculosis soon after arriving and was sent back to Aleppo alone. And the war that soon would engulf every inhabited land loomed closer each day. Joe, Syrian-born but a naturalized American citizen, barely escaped on the last ship to sail for the U.S. before Pearl Harbor was bombed and the Japanese seized Shanghai. Mike was alone, a teen-ager in an occupied city, across the world from his family, with only his mettle to rely on as he strived to survive personally and economically in the face of increasing deprivation.

Farewell, Aleppo is the story—told by his daughter—of the journey that would ultimately take him from the insular Jewish community of Aleppo to the solitary task of building a new life in America. It is both her father’s tale that journalist Claudette Sutton describes and also the harrowing experiences of the family members he left behind in Syria, forced to smuggle themselves out of the country after it closed its borders to Jewish emigration.

The picture Sutton paints is both a poignant narrative of individual lives and the broader canvas of a people’s survival over millennia, in their native land and far away, through the strength of their faith and their communities. Multiple threads come richly together as she observes their world from inside and outside the fold, shares an important and nearly forgotten epoch of Jewish history, and explores universal questions of identity, family, and culture.

My Review of FAREWELL, ALEPPO

I was pretty excited to read this book and participate in its Women on Writing blog tour. The cover is compelling, with the photo of this handsome, dark-haired young man (the author's father) looking a bit lost yet brave and tough all at once.

 And the idea of Jews having lived and thrived in Syria for thousands of years-- who knew? Where did they all go? Why did they leave? Well, that last question seems obvious, considering what's been going on in the Middle East in recent times, and especially in Syria.

Not to be disappointed, I learned a great deal about the handsome man on the cover, and about the Syrian Jews. Sutton's book is part family history, part Jewish/Middle East history, and yet somehow she manages to tie all the various threads together into a cohesive whole.

At the same time, it is much like the story of many others who have come to America because of terrible conditions in their own countries.  And where, in the end, do they really belong? Reflecting on my own grandmother, the child of Norwegian immigrants in the late 19th century, she taught me that it wasn't so much their own futures they worked and sacrificed for, but for their children and grandchildren.

Sutton states in the book: "Our identification as Syrian Jews seemed defined not so much by place as by the culture they took with them."

Farewell, Aleppo is a thorough yet personal account of the author's father and his circuitous journey from Syria to China and, finally, to America. I learned so  much from it! Well worth a read, especially to history buffs and those interested in the Middle East.

About the Author:  
It’s no coincidence that family is the central focus of both Farewell, Aleppo and the work that has been the driving force of its author’s professional life.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in the close-knit community of Syrian Jews all were part of Claudette Sutton’s childhood in suburban Maryland, along with her parents and siblings. Years later, as a young mother in Santa Fe, it seemed only natural to think of creating a similar kind of close support for families in her new hometown by means of her journalism training and experience.

Thus began what is now Tumbleweeds, an award-winning local publication that for over twenty years has been expanding its role in serving the city’s families. As the quarterly newspaper has grown, so have its scope and community contributions, mixing news, commentary, personal writing, advice, and activity guides—all reflecting Claudette’s vision of a community resource to help her neighbors face the challenges of parenting.

Claudette’s eloquent writing, the other great strength she combines with the paper’s wide-ranging utility, has been a door to the world for her since she was a teen-ager. As a reporter, she realized early, “You can learn about everything”—a much more appealing option after high school than the enforced specialization of college.

After three years writing for the Montgomery County Sentinel in Maryland, Claudette moved to New York, where she earned a bachelor’s degree from the New School for Social Research. Living in proximity to another side of her extensive family, she built a deeper understanding of the Jewish exodus from Syria that has formed the backdrop for the story she tells so movingly in Farewell, Aleppo.

The narrative chronicles her father’s youth, his odyssey across oceans and continents, and the new life he made in America. But as Claudette talked with him and researched more deeply, she saw also the essential elements of the larger tale. What began as one man’s story grew into a portrait of the history that made his journey necessary, and of how a vibrant people have preserved their community and culture through the thousands of years from biblical times to today.

Find Claudette Online:
IMPORTANT, please embed YouTube Book Trailer where possible:








Praise:
"A multi-faceted biography of her father and his long-ago journey from ancient Aleppo to skyscraper America, the story of the vanished Syrian-Jewish culture in Aleppo, now a battleground in Syria's civil war, [and] a look at how that culture still survives. A treasure of a book."
-Bernard Kalb, former correspondent for the New York Times, CBS News and NBC News, moderator of CNN's Reliable Sources and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs


"Sutton merges the best of family biography with relevant and fascinating historical, social, and religious knowledge. Incorporating elements of history, religious struggles, pursuit of dreams, and the strength of kinship to create a stirring tribute to the foresight of her grandfather and the strength and perseverance of his offspring, Sutton craftily weaves interesting story lines into an encouraging and intriguing narrative."
-Foreword Reviews

Claudette Sutton takes the reader on a courageous journey as she tells the story of her father, whose world changed with the winds of World War II.Farewell, Aleppo is a story of how people are shaped by their past. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to explore this rich culture that many people do not know very much about.
- Elise Cooper, Jewish Book Council

An engaging, evocative, deeply touching book that is part memoir, part history and part a personal journey....virtually a love-story of a daughter to a father.

– James McGrath Morris, author of Pulitzer, and Eyes on the Struggle

This book is a jewel box, and Sutton's father's shimmering memories of growing up Jewish in Aleppo, Turkey, and Shanghai are the precious jewels. I could taste the food, feel the anxiety after the founding of Israel, experience the highs and lows of life in Shanghai during the Second World War. The specificity of the Mizrahi lifestyle––which continues in America to this day–– will be of great interest to readers.

- Judith Fein, author of The Spoon From Minkowitz and Life is A Trip

Sutton manages to walk that fine, fine line of making the personal universal and the universal personal. [She] interviewed her dad over a period of nearly twenty years and did a tremendous amount of research for this book, but the sprawling story of “China Mike” is somehow concise, a tidy 155 pages in a pleasing design with photos, maps, and enough historical context to complete the reader’s understanding. We are indebted to her for this outstanding book.

- Barbara Gerber, author of "Love and Death in a Perfect World"

Farewell, Aleppo: My Father, My People, and Their Long Journey Home offers the reader a graceful blend of “China Mike's” biography and a history of the Jewish people of Aleppo. When I finished Claudette Sutton's tribute, I felt I'd traveled many miles and gotten to know Miro, Son of Selim Sutton.  A true father-daughter story, Farewell, Aleppo is loving, informative and unforgettable.

-Elaine Pinkerton Coleman, author of From Calcutta with Love and The Goodbye Baby

There certainly must have been something unique about the Jews of Aleppo to have allowed them to survive there for thousands of years and preserve a sense of tradition and community in America for the last 100 years. A remarkable tale of the power of family, tradition, culture and history. Makes the current devastation of Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War all the more tragic.

- Ellen Zieselman, retired Curator of Education, New Mexico Mexico Museum of Art; Youth Director, Temple Beth Shalom