Sunday, October 3, 2010

I'd like you to introduce you to ...

Baby Boy Darling ... holding tight to Nanna's shirt

First holding by big sister Eva

The newly expanded Darling family
Three generations of Darling men!

The newest member of the Darling family ... his first name is to be Simon with maybe a middle name to follow.  He was born at 8.34am on September 30th in Anacortes, Washington, weighing 9lb 5 ozs and is 21 inches long. Everyone is doing well and we are all so delighted.
P.S. 10/6/2010 His name is Simon Elijah.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Knees and other thoughts

Thinking about Tibet and organizing my thoughts and images of that journey had to be put on hold for the past while: friends always come first. I spent much of last week in Seattle, at one of the major hospitals, advocating for a dear friend who had  knee replacement surgery.
It appears that we all should take an advocate with us when we are planning a hospital stay.  There are lots of controversies swirling around of late about the state of health care in many Western countries: many of the stories are negative. It was definitely appropriate that I was there ( or someone else could also have been the watchdog!) to intervene when people were not paying the attention they ought to have been doing.
My friend's ability to walk without severe pain has decreased enormously over the past few years and in the images below you will see  the evolution of her new knee joint. 
#1 ... the degree of displacement of the bones of her lower leg.  The fibula bone is posterior to the knee in a very dramatic way.  When I saw this image I wondered how she could possibly walk.
#2 ... an image of her "new knee" in place and her now straight leg.  The unusual looking ladder on the front side of her leg are the staples put in the skin until it heals.
#3 .. the new knee joint in a frontal view ... look at how straight it is!  Remarkable.
The first Total Knee Replacement surgery occurred in 1968.  It was an unthinkable option when I was in nursing school.  I think of how much my grandmother would have benefited from such a surgical intervention.  This surgery was a great success and my friend is at home recuperating ... doing her exercises diligently and imagining hiking up a small hill next February to assist with an art installation. 
Meanwhile it's time for our family to gather and await the birth of a new grandchild in the next few days ... then it will be time to get back to documenting my Tibetan adventures.
#1 Side view pre - surgery

Side view of same knee with new joint in place

Front view with new joint in place and the oh-so-straight leg.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lhasa: small word ... large impact!

Stepping through the wrought iron gateway of our hotel onto the narrow, congested street was a small but momentous act for me.  The emotions running through my head and heart were huge.  I'm here. This is Lhasa, Tibet.  Turning right, my back to the main, westernized thoroughfare at one end of the narrow street,  I strolled toward the heart of the Barkor - the center of spiritual Lhasa.  I was stopped by the view of a non spiritual, but necessary item of daily life in Tibet, yak butter!  One of the ingredients of yak butter tea, the piece on the table must have weighed several pounds.  I did wonder if Tibetans use yellow food coloring in their butter too?  Don't think yak milk comes out that color.  But somehow that measure of daily life grounded me.
Yak butter
Walking slowly on, trying not to gape as I took in the sights, sounds, smells and activities around me, I arrived at a 'T' and stopped. Quietly making their way from my right - in a clockwise direction - lips moving, prayer beads slipping through fingers, prayer wheels spinning in many hands - were Tibetans dressed traditionally or in more westernized clothing - making their way around the Jokhang Temple ... the heart of the Barkor. Some chatted with companions as they walked, others moved in silence.  I had previously witnessed such a procession of Tibetan refugees around the great stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal.  But here it was Tibetans, in Tibet, circumambulating this most sacred of temples.  I could only stare through my tears.  A continuous line of pilgrims stretched for blocks as they waited along the wall of the Jokhang for admission to the temple.
Circumambulating the Jokhang
On both sides of the street were merchants, selling just about anything you could imagine: souvenirs of every kind - hand made and commercially produced, household items, food items, raw foods, cooked food to eat, statuary of every size and shape, prayer flags by the thousands ... it was dizzying.  Who was shopping?  The people in my group, Tibetans, Chinese tourists, monks ... and looking at the photos I took - there were so many things I didn't really see, mostly because it was all just a bit overwhelming.
Note the woman on the stool, right, with traditional turquoise hair ornaments.
The sacred and the saucepans - side by side
And amongst the congestion and commerce appeared a small fairy ... wings and all!  I walked on behind her, as her mother tried to hurry her along ... she wanted to pause and look at everything - and finally I couldn't resist taking her photo.
Tibetan fairy!
Walking on there was a sudden flare of intense white smoke.  It was difficult to see where it was coming from.  Finally we could see an enormous incense burner which had obviously just had an addition of (probably) cedar branches added to it.  Most of the large censers we saw, in all of our travels in Tibet, were being fed with cedar branches.
Jane, from our group, walking toward a military watch point.
It is forbidden to take photos of the police or the military in Tibet and China.  Fascinated by the burst of white smoke, I took the photo totally oblivious to the fact that I had captured one of the military watching posts that are placed at regular intervals around the Jokhang temple - following the upheavals in the city in 2008.  I later witnessed a soldier stop someone who had taken a photo that displeased them, demand to see the image and then tell the person to delete the image ... and watched as the man did so!  The watching posts are manned by four soldiers bearing semi-automatic large guns - two of them facing each direction.  They are ever vigilant.  Later in our stay Amy and I adjourned to a rooftop restaurant for a cup of tea and to rest.  Sensing someone was watching me I looked around and it wasn't until I looked to an adjoining building that I realized there were soldiers, with guns, phones and binoculars watching us, as well as the square below.  Posing Amy carefully, the soldier under the lavender colored umbrella can clearly be seen behind her.
The observed - Amy
The observer.

Thinking about that first exposure to Lhasa ... fully aware that it was no longer a small city with a totally spiritual focus ... but a city that had long been under the control of the Chinese government and one which the Chinese have very purposefully peopled with Han Chinese immigrants .... it was the vibrancy and vitality on the faces of the Tibetans we encountered on our first walk around the Jokhang temple that (perhaps foolishly) was somehow reassuring.  My amazement and gratitude at actually being there never diminished.  I recognize now that trying to collect together my thoughts and emotions around such an experience will be a much more complex undertaking than I had first imagined.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Lhasa: how might it have looked then ... and how it looks now!

In the mid 1920's an eccentric French woman, named Alexandra David-Neel, walked from Yunan province in China to Lhasa, Tibet.  She made this journey, with her adopted Mongolian son as her companion and, was the first Western woman in the holy city of Lhasa: their journey is detailed in her book My Journey to Lhasa.  Of the many verbal images she creates in her writing, one that sticks in my memory is her description of coming over the final mountain pass and seeing the Potala Palace atop a hill and Lhasa laid out before her on a huge open valley. Few buildings impeded her view of the Potala Palace in all of its imposing architectural wonder.  Grainy black and white photographs show the buildings without giving any impression of the grandeur of the surrounding scenery.
Approaching Lhasa airport
Our flight departed Zhongdian in the rain and our route north and west was mostly seen through peek-a-boo moments when the clouds cleared and the rain stopped beating on the plane's windows. However what terrain we did see was covered in muddy water and the visible mountains appeared bleak and unfriendly.  I found it a little disconcerting to not see huge, high mountains - we were after all journeying to the roof of the world.  The awareness came slowly that of course they were not huge and high mountains - we were after all between 10 and 11,000 feet above sea level already!
Between Lhasa airport and the city
Settling into the small bus, which met us at the airport, our journey continued.  Lhasa airport is about an hour from the city itself.  We stopped to see this series of sacred sculptures in the wall of a mountain between the airport and the city.  The white items are khata (usually white scarves associated with Tibetan religious practice symbolizing goodwill and compassion) which people have thrown to gain the highest place on the side of the mountain.  Hoping their prayers are closer to heaven, we wondered?
Where one used to first see the Potala Palace!
The bus moved on toward the city - all eyes were to the left waiting our first views of the Palace.  Instead this was what we saw!  American writer, Canyon Sam (Sky Train - University of Washington Press 2009) had detailed very clearly what to expect on arriving in Lhasa today. However as the bus continued on toward the center of the city the first view of that amazing building, perched on the top of a mountain, appeared through the bus window. No less amazing than I had imagined.  Moving on away from this amazing sight and the modern thoroughfare ... the bus turned into a tight, crowded narrow street in the Tibetan part of the city and stopped outside our wonderful, Nepali managed, traditional hotel where we settled in for the next four days.
Potala Palace seen through the dirty, wet window of the bus

The Dhood Gu Hotel, Lhasa

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Traveling in Asia one sometimes finds oneself standing in front of a sign which may make totally good sense in the language of the country.  I have experienced signs like the one above (note the very English royal crown on the left and the ? ball of yarn on the right ) which totally confound ones ability to understand just what is being said.  When I asked our guide to please translate what this sign said (on a street corner in Zhongdian)  I was staggered to find that it was about investing money in the building that was under construction and the amount of return you could expect for your money!
"Polystone brand strategy for dissemination will be the height of the existing communication structure unification means to create structure unification"
... is what the sign said in English ... well certainly Chinglish!

A small cafe in the old section of Zhongdian

Delighted Cafe!

Don't fall down the stairs  - at the top of a flight of stairs.
A closeup of the exhortation placed all around Lijiang

And perhaps most mysterious of all in a hotel room

The Security Scattering Sketch reads - exactly as written below:
•  " Declaration
•  Please don't worry if a fire is occuring We hotel have owned superior scattering facilities to ansure you transmitted safely.
•  Please follow the direction route to the information corridor and there safeguards will take you out to the security belts.
•  Red point stand for where you are now."

Many times we found ourselves perplexed by the signage and its possible meaning.  At the same time we commented about the incredible changes occurring in China and wondered aloud why there were not people translating signage from the Chinese characters to correct (or even understandable) English particularly when so many young people there speak excellent English?
We didn't take it but we sure wondered where it went!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The road to Tibet

Planning to travel in the Developing world requires a certain degree of flexibility! I began planning last year to join a small of travelers to Tibet for a month long trip.  The itinerary was chosen by the tour leader and our guide in China and set in place. Chinese visas were in process when, in April, a major earthquake struck the city of Yushu and one of the areas we were to visit was closed to tourists. Plans change.  Our Chinese guide created a new itinerary for us: Beijing, Kunming, Lijiang and  Zhongdian were to replace our plans to attend the annual Horse Festival in the area around Yushu.
Almost 10 years ago Peter and I had visited Kunming, Lijiang and Zhongdian on our way to Deqin in Eastern Tibet. Kunming was not our favorite city - but we enjoyed a couple of days there.  In the original, old part of the city we found Lijiang to be a quiet sleepy town where you could wander the cobblestone streets admiring the traditional architecture and pause in a cafe for a quiet cup of tea or a meal.
Zhongdian we thought at that time was one of the more soulless places we had ever visited.  One dirt road entered a sad, dusty, small city where we were aware of the military and police presence for the first time. Food was terrible and the hotel dismal.  We were happy to leave.  Zhongdian's only saving grace was a visit to an old monastery, perched on a hillside outside the city, saved from destruction during the Cultural Revolution.
At that time the Chinese government had just renamed that part of the country - Shangri-la province!  Huge billboards announced the re-naming as we made our way up a single lane, boulder strewn, precipitous road to Deqin.  Although the scenery was spectacular the naming Shangri-la had a hollow ring ring to it.
Eight years later ... accompanied by my daughter Amy, the changes I experienced were phenomenal.  Kunming was larger, more polluted metropolis and the pall of coal smoke and other air quality contaminants now hung over the city all the time.  A "Tea University" visit provided information and tea sampling at a much higher level of sophistication that our prior visits to one of the many tea shops of the city.  Yunan province is a famed tea growing area. One "cake" of tea below - $329 USD!  Serious stuff, tea, in this part of the world.

At the University for Minorities, also in Kunming,  a beautiful new museum has been constructed ( in 2008) to display the collections of clothing and artifacts which we had previously seen packed into dusty old glass fronted cupboards with no identifiers.  I was delighted to see the articles so well curated and displayed.
Lijiang felt like a low grade carnival with the quiet meandering streets crowded with loud, Chinese tourists who push you out of the way rather than walk around you! And umbrellas as weapons ( it was raining) make for challenges when most of the people are shorter than you!  The once quiet lovely shops selling items particular to the Naxi (pron. Nashi) culture had all been replace by cheap junky tourist items: how many fake "pashmina" shawl selling shops can a city support.  The only quiet time was at 7am when Amy and I walked the blissfully quiet streets to the hotel where we were having breakfast.

Peter and I had attended an evening performance by the only living, traditional Dongba shaman - I recall he was 82 at that time.  Several of us from our group attended the 2010 "show".  It was terrible - the stage filled with aged men sitting passively with their musical instruments, dressed in a Chinese version of what they thought traditional Naxi clothes were.  Amy and I left when we couldn't stand anymore.  Our Tibetan guide in Lijiang was exceptional: knowledgeable & charming.
Zhongdian must have trebled in size - most of the roads are paved and the military was visible everywhere.  (There was a Tibetan uprising here in 2008 and apparently freedoms have been greatly reduced.)  Our hotel was opposite the hospital and we were intrigued that it was owned by an Aviation company!  Amy and I walked the small streets of the remaining section of the original city where cars were not allowed and one of my treasured purchases, of a small string of green beads cut from stone, was from a Black Yi woman in the marketplace in the old section.  
We succumbed to our last "show" ... guaranteed to be Tibetan by our guide in Zhongdian ... and found ourselves in the midst of a Hollywood-styled spectacular, attended by very loud (they talked loudly through every performance) groups of Chinese tourists.  We left that one early too.
What we had been doing for these first days was gradually ascend to higher and higher elevations:  we were relieved that no one in the group had experienced any serious effects from the altitude which was by then 10,400Feet.
Our next stop - Lhasa - 11, 450 feet above sea level!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From Mayfield West, Australia to Lhasa, Tibet!

Atop the Dhood Gu Hotel looking toward the Potala Palace, Lhasa

Who would have thought that a birthday gift given 55 years ago, would spawn a dream that is only now realized? That birthday gift, from my parents, was a copy of the book Seven Years in Tibet (author Heinrich Harrer - published 1956) .

At the time I lived in an industrial suburb of the city of Newcastle, Australia: a city known mostly for steel production and a huge shipbuilding dockyard.  Mayfield West was about as far from Tibet ... in terms of exotic vs non exotic, old vs new, complex, long, cultural history vs relatively new (at least the white culture in Australia was comparatively new)  ... as one could imagine.  However the seed was planted and since that time I have dreamed of going to those amazing high places at "the roof of the world". The dream recently became a reality for my daughter and me.
I now live in the NW corner of the United States and recently returned from a month-long sojourn in Tibet/China.  The accompanying photo shows me on the rooftop of our Lhasa hotel - the famed Potala Palace ( now a museum with a time schedule for entry ) as the backdrop.  I can easily read the delight on my face at being there finally.
The shirt I am wearing is a much treasured t-shirt, made by Olympia WA artist Martie Carroll ( as an experiment, , she said, at the time)  which has been part of my travel wardrobe necessities, since I bought it from Martie more than 10 years ago.  Sharing this adventure with daughter Amy added greatly to the fun and delight of the trip and as I enfold the experiences into my "real life" I hope to write more about it. It was truly the journey of a lifetime.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A July Day on Puget Sound!

Within an hour today, July 2nd, our summer weather again let us know that this is not a usual year!  The ornamental grasses in our front yard were totally weighed down by the water from a downpour.  Later, we looked west and watched, with the sun low in a both black and brilliant sky, as a storm made its way across Puget Sound toward us.  Minutes later, it was raining so hard we had difficulty seeing.  This was all followed by one of the more brilliant rainbows we have ever seen.
Such is an early summer day on Puget Sound.
Meanwhile, the brilliantly eccentric plant known as bee balm (botanical name Monarda - I call it the plant having a bad hair day ) blooms like crazy and grows taller each day - spectacular crimson against the "summer" - very stormy - backdrop.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Butternut Squash soup!

Dear Alice, I wanted you to know that this remains my absolutely favorite food so the minute Nanna walked in the door, on Friday,  with a container full, I demanded that my Pappa heat some up immediately and it's pretty amazing how co-ordinated I am with a spoon and a bowl of soup!  Hardly missed a bite.  love Eva  P.S.  My hat is a wonderful Gautemalan head cover Nanna finally remembered to bring to me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The traffic light turned red and ....

The traffic light on the corner of Broadway and E. Pine Street turned red in the gathering light of the day on Saturday and I watched this couple stroll out of the store on the corner and pause, waiting for the light to change.

She looked spectacular!  I wondered if she realized that the row of yellow button trim on her city shorts was a match for the shopping bag she was carrying?  The peeking red top under her jacket was a perfect match for her shoes and as I watched she crossed one foot, over the other, and leaned in toward the young man with the fedora - something in the distance catching her eye.

I grabbed for the camera as Peter asked - WHAT are you doing?
I snapped the photo wishing the long haired young man who had sauntered into the picture hadn't been there at that moment ... but he too paused waiting for the light to change.

The car behind me tooted its horn encouraging me to go ahead and turn right ... this Seattle moment was over.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sailing through a rainbow

Each Wednesday evening in Spring and Summer a local sailing group, the Corinthian Yacht Club, heads out for a race.  Watching from our home we see boats juggling for the perfect starting point and at 7pm the starting gun sounds and off they go.  Sometimes - they go nowhere: not a breath of wind can they find and at other times it appears to be one point above a fire drill as furious winds blow, the boats maneuver to avoid each other - all in an effort to be first across the line.  
On a recent Wednesday we watched a storm come racing across Puget Sound and the sailors grab for foul weather gear.  Heavy wind and rain blew them around and more than one had some sail in the water.
And then ...  a rainbow, brilliant against the grey background, divided the sky.  The sailors gathered in their lines, reorganized and sailed on. Shortly thereafter a second rainbow appeared. What an amazing sight:  white sails against a monochrome sky with rainbow hues for contrast.

A lone, small, boat sailed towards us and as we watched it sailed straight "through" the rainbow.  We wondered  aloud - is one changed by sailing through a rainbow?  If yes - how are you different? What do you see?  Could you take a photo of yourself as you sailed through the rainbow? What of the pot of gold?  We were left to wonder.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"My Mountain" ... a June view.

Capturing images of  "my mountain" has been a past time for more than 40 years.  Growing up where the tallest mountain on the entire island continent (Australia) was 7,280 feet, it has been a source of amazement to me to be able to gaze upon this 14,410 foot peak whenever she shows herself - as seen from my front door.
The sun finally came out here in the Pacific Northwest a few days ago and Mt. Rainier showed herself in all her glory - just waiting for me to snap the shutter and capture one more image.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tacoma morning ... Mt. Rainier

It's mid way through the month of June and the sun is actually shining today: it's been shining all day.  We have had a prolonged, wet, cold spring and many of us are craving extended periods of sun.  Each year, most often in February, we are treated to spectacular sunrises like this one shown, and I publish this image here to remind us of the circles and cycles of the year and the thought that the sun sometimes even shines in February on a Pacific Northwest morning.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ah-Ha it's really Dead Feminist Broadsides!

Tacoma is a city with a plethora of amazingly talented young artists: they keep turning up all over the place. (Of course we also have wonderful middle aged and older artists.) My latest exposure to our local talent was at the Pierce Country Library in Gig Harbor earlier this week when the pictured
(Jessica Spring ( left) and Chandler O'Leary)  "unveiled" the latest in their series of Dead Feminist broadsides and discussed their process.

For information about the project in depth please go to ... 

The latest in this series is called Drill Baby, Drill - a now well known phrase uttered across the airwaves in recent times which has taken on new meaning with the horrendous, gushing, exploded oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.  This broadside is their Chandler and Jessica's response to this international tragedy - the effects of which may not be truly known for years.

An enormous amount of research goes into each one of these productions and these two young women deserve kudos for their intention as well as for the work itself.  Congratulations to the "Ladies of the Pencil, Pen and Press"!

By the way a broadside was what we usually call a poster today: but it was, in the past, the way information was disseminated to the masses.  I like best the definition from Wikipedia ... and it's reference to the use of a broadside to publish a musical ballad.  The Dead Feminist piece you'll have to read about at Anagram Press.

"A broadside is a single sheet of cheap paper printed on one side, often with a ballad, rhyme, news and sometimes with woodcut illustrations. They were one of the most common forms of printed material between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly in Britain, Ireland and North America and are often associated with one of the most important forms of traditional music from these countries, the ballad." (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What's a Feminist Broadside anyway?

Is it a side-ways swipe across the face from a feminist? Could it be a minor swipe from a feminist against the side of your car?
Maybe a comment "at" someone from a feminist who was perceived as making a "broadside" ( in a sort of sniping manner)?
Hmmm ... I don't think so and what would these two young women have to do with a Feminist Broadside???

Have to investigate further!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The storm and the Tall Poppy Syndrome!

Two days ago a brief, wild storm with torrential rain blew through our
neighborhood.  With quiet restored I looked out to see how had the poppies  fared? Not well.
That plant I had been watching for days was now lying on its side, totally knocked down by the storm.  I was reminded of a piece of Australiana (my country of origin) which pervades the culture in a way that many people
find negative and non beneficial in any way.
It's called The Tall Poppy Syndrome.
The analogy has to do with "what happens to tall poppies?" - the answer being  either they get their heads knocked off or they get knocked down.  In other words don't be too successful and for goodness sakes should you work like mad and have great successes, do not under any circumstance tell anyone or "boast" about it, cos for sure you will get knocked down!
The confusion for me has always been the duality of (Australian) people seeing themselves, or someone they admire, as a "battler" ... meaning that in spite of huge odds a person battles on and either "wins" or overcomes some challenge. Being a "battler" is a good thing.   However it is crucial that at the same time you don't speak too much about your success.
A vivid example for me was congratulating a family member on a wonderful scholastic achievement and another family member saying there was no
need to make a fuss and that the achiever would know within themselves
if they had done a good job or not: praise was not necessary.
I probably won't ever solve my issues with this "syndrome".  Life can be very challenging and at times extraordinarily difficult.  Achievements should be celebrated in my opinion.   There is no way for me to understand why someone would choose to put someone down, rather than raise them up and "make a fuss" of their successes.
Much has been written about the Tall Poppy Syndrome and if you put the phrase into a search engine one can now find references all the way back to antiquity.  But it doesn't solve the question about the "whys" of this idea for me.  And yet I hear my maternal grandmother cautioning me "Remember, pride always comes before a fall"!  Hmmm!

It was difficult to believe the amount of devastation the driving rain had created in the garden.  One could almost feel the "bruises" of the raindrops on the pink, silken petals.  The one blossom which had opened, revealing it's blackish velvet center was now dashed to pieces and part of it returning to the dark earth below.

However as I walked to look further, there was one of my neighbor Bob's bees
diving into the center of the neighboring poppy. That bee didn't care that there were blemishes on the petals: its legs were heavy with pollen as I watched it head north to the bee hive to deposit the collected pollen stopping to collect just a little more on another flower and in so doing, assuring that next year I may get to watch this ritual of spring one more time.

I'll no doubt continue to mull the issues of the Tall Poppy Syndrome longer than next spring!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And then the next plant began!

And in the image below I was delighted to see that I am not
the only appreciator of these amazing creations of Nature!