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Thursday, November 19, 2009


I close my eyes and breathe deeply. As I take deeper, longer breaths, in my mind, I am transported.

I stand before an arch looking at the path that takes me into a golden field on the way to the garden, my beautiful, tranquil garden.

I follow the path to the water and the secluded garden where my guide awaits.

It is a spiritual retreat, and only I have access. It is an inner resting place I have created when there is nowhere else to go.

Life’s pressures and stresses are not allowed in my secret garden.

Once I am there, I escape the cares and weight of life. My guide is always there …when I am afraid, uncertain and alone. We are connected. We sit beside the water, and my guide listens to my doubts and apprehensions.

I know I can rely on my guide to help me when life is too much, and I need refuge. This is our time and place, an inner world untouched by others where there is peace and comfort from external reality.

In the garden, I am comforted by my gentle guide. We are detached from the material world.

In this oasis of meditation, I transcend responsibilities, worries and anxieties.

In my garden I am calm. I am safe. I am free.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Archway photo by Maureen McGarrigle

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Meaning of Pearls

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but for me it’s always been pearls. All gems have attributed meanings and qualities, especially when we look at birthstone definitions.

Pearl’s origin and meaning:
"The pearl is the oldest known gem, and for many centuries it was considered the most valuable. Unlike all gems, the pearl is organic matter derived from a living creature - oysters and mollusks.

It was said in some early cultures that the pearl was born when a single drop of rain fell from the heavens and became the heart of the oyster. Pearls have been called the 'teardrops of the moon.'

Some believe that pearls were formed by the passage of angels through the clouds of heaven.

Over time, the pearl has become the symbol of purity and innocence and it is often sewn into bridal gowns, or worn as jewelry by the bride."

I’ve never been a diamond girl. Pearls suit me better and represent singular moments in my life. At 22, fresh out of college, I received my first strand of long, lustrous, cultured pearls as an engagement gift.

My fiancĂ© and I shopped at Marshall Fields for the perfect strand to wear at the engagement party his aunt was giving me in the Chicago suburbs, a gathering for her friends to meet her nephew’s bride-to-be.

The pearls stood for his love and commitment. Pearls were also sewn on to the bodice of my wedding gown.

The next time I received pearls they came directly from the Orient. My second, shorter pearl necklace was strung with more refined, dainty pearls.

They were sent from my Army husband from Hong Kong where he, like so many other soldiers of that era, spent an RandR from their tours of duty in Vietnam.

The pearls arrived along with a 12-place setting of porcelain china, and the latest stereo and camera equipment of the time. Most GI’s sent similar care packages to their waiting wives in the late ‘60s.

When I turned 40, elegant pearl earrings were gifted to me again, this time from a new love for my birthday. The problem was that the earrings were pierced, and my ears weren’t.

The pearls were beautiful, and I had only one choice. I dreaded the thought of punching holes into my earlobes, but I could hardly wait to wear the earrings.

My teenage daughter accompanied me to the mall to get the job done. She held my hand, like a patient mother, as the stapler popped the openings for my new pearls of love to rest.

The pearls joined my collection, and my daughter enjoyed them too when she wore them for special occasions.

At 47 when I married the second time, I thought it was only fitting that my daughter, my maid of honor, should have her own pearl earrings. They were my gift to her on that day of love. Pearls were sewn onto the sleeves and hem of my tea-length bridal gown.

I have added to my pearl treasures over the years. They stay cloistered together in their own jewelry box, and I still favor them over other gems.

They connect me to wonderful memories and gifts of love. Over the years, my affection and fascination for pearls has deepened.

I’m especially drawn to pearls that are irregular, created in an emerging state and preserved in the process of transformation. They are known as blister pearls, "mabe (ma-bay) pearls" grown in a Mabe oyster.

I still love traditional pearls but find a different kind of beauty in the unique shapes and free forms of the blister pearl. Unlike the attempt at perfection of the cultured pearl, they are imperfect and more interesting reminders of life itself.

"Eastern cultures believe that pearls symbolize purity and spiritual transformation. Simply wearing a pearl reminds the wearer to be honest, pure, wise, and to walk with the utmost dignity."

From the Meaning of Pearls:

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo of Strands of Pearls by wemedge

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Object of Affection

Best camera I ever had. No adjustments, no gadgetry…just press the button, indestructible and compact…my Kodak Instamatic.

It was our first summer in Virginia, and the camera was filled with priceless photos and memories from our trip back to Illinois for my father’s second wedding: my daughter as the ring bearer, my children reunited with my brothers, and dad with his siblings from CA who came to see him marry his new wife. There were still a few pictures left on the roll.

Later that summer, the Instamatic preserved pictures from a trip to NYC with my son, 10 and daughter, 7. A native New Yorker and theatre friend took us “parading,” as he called it, to the Empire State Building, Staten Island and Central Park.

My children and I were making new memories together as we explored the East Coast after our move to northern Virginia from a small town in the Midwest.

When we returned to Virginia, I discovered the camera was missing along with all the memories it carried. I knew I could never replace those Kodak moments. Several weeks passed before I received a package from someone who had also been in Central Park during the marathon.

The Good Samaritan found our address in the camera case and mailed the camera to us. So the camera and its treasures found their way home, like a faithful family pet that was lost and then returned.

Later that summer, we were exploring Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and stopped for some ice cream at Swenson’s. With tired kids in tow, I left the camera behind, this time on the booth’s seat at the ice cream parlor.

A couple days later, I realized it was gone along with the pictures from our Baltimore trip. A few weeks passed and I received a call from someone who had also stopped for ice cream, found the camera and dropped it off at our home. Once again the camera was reunited with our family.

I never lost the Instamatic after that summer when we explored our new surroundings. It's now packed away with family albums, slides and other memorabilia.

It preserved the adventures of a single mom and her children adapting to a new life and geography. It was part of the family, and through the kindness of strangers who found it in NYC and Baltimore, the camera made it back where it belonged. Somehow the camera and the memories it saved always returned safely to us.

Objects do evoke memories. Perhaps that’s why we hold onto them. Our inexpensive, uncomplicated Instamatic preserved our family’s history and helped us hold on to those times when we started a new life together.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

New York photo by clemmeson

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Homes: The Way They Were

There’s a scene in the movie, The Way We Were, where two men are sharing “best of” memories. Inspired by that scene, I am remembering the many homes of my life and their “best of” moments.

Though I have lived in many places, not all of them felt like home. The ones that I think of as home were those where I felt connected to my surroundings. These are my “best of” home memories, “the way they were.”

First home, early childhood in a multi-ethnic Chicago apartment complex where our playgrounds were asphalt and concrete, alleyways sandwiched between brick buildings, underground storage basements and a large empty, weed prairie. I always dreamed of having a real backyard with flowerbeds like my aunt’s old Chicago house in South Shore.

Best memory: climbing the advertising billboard's wooden scaffolds on the State Street side of the prairie to get a great view of sparks flying when the boys threw cans on the streetcar tracks, a game for city kids.

Second home, teen years in the south suburbs of Chicago, in working class Dolton, where we finally had a yard where my mother hung the wash to dry on a clothesline that doubled as our theatre curtain, a blanket attached with clothespins, for our backyard plays.

Best memory: the fir tree my mother planted that grew taller than our house and became a giant Xmas tree every winter that we lit for all to see.

In my married home 20’s to mid 30’s in Eureka, a central Illinois bedroom community of churchgoing gentlemen farmers, home was a rambling farmhouse that we modernized on our semi-timbered five acres adjacent to neighbors who rode their horses past the cornfields up the road.

Best memory: my young children playing in a tree, one in the big tire swing and the other in the crook of the tree.

Second best memory: growing a vegetable garden for the first time and preparing the homegrown produce for my family and putting fresh cut flowers on the table from my own backyard.

My home on a cul-de-sac in Falls Church, VA, where some nights the sky was a planetarium with constellations that shone brightly as crickets serenaded us on a summer evening.

Best memory: watching our beloved cat, Frisky, roll around in the ivy while I rested lazily with a book in the hammock slung between two giant White Oak trees.

Last home in an apartment townhome in Marina del Rey overlooking the channel, watching the moon play on the water with the shimmering lights of boats and distant planes looking like UFOs blocking the stars as they descended into LAX.

Best memory: walking the boardwalk piers between the slips of the anchored sailboats and yachts during a crimson sunset, almost as much pleasure as strolling the beach a few blocks away.

Home today in a condo overlooking a former golf course in Phoenix.

Best memory: drinking my morning coffee while I watch a hummingbird pause for a sweet drink at the feeder just above the orange tree.

All of the home bookmarks are where I felt centered. They are the places that are always with me and are the “best of” memories.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Tree photo by Sue Byford
Hummingbird photo by Tiffany Clark

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sweet Ride: Discovering a New World

At 10, I inherited an oversized boy’s bike from my cousin. We couldn’t afford the popular Schwinns of the day. I was happy to have my first bike. I cleaned and painted it, adding a thunderbolt on the fender to make it look fast and give the hand-me-down a new look.

Once it looked like a bike to be proud of rather than a dust catcher from someone’s basement, I had to learn to ride. The first step was to find a place to mount the boy’s bike since I wasn’t tall enough to reach over the frame without starting from a stoop. Then I had to manage to stay upright and balanced.

After several falls and scraped knees, I wobbly made my way over the streets and sidewalks of our immigrant Chicago neighborhood in the ‘50s. Eventually I wanted to see more and ventured beyond the boundaries of my Greek, Irish, Polish and Swedish neighborhood. I was curious to know what was outside the safety of the few blocks I already knew.

So I mounted my bike and boldly crossed the ethnic borders into foreign territory on the South Side, into a new place of different ethnic faces, their open market stalls, family-owned shops, churches and schools.

As I rode my bike by their open markets, I saw and smelled unfamiliar foods on display on sidewalk tables strewn with breads, produce, clothing and trinkets. I didn’t feel comfortable getting off my bike just yet. After all, these were strangers I was told not to go near.

I knew I was breaking the rules by leaving my neighborhood, but I couldn’t pass up the adventure. I didn't dare tell anyone of my explorations just a few blocks away from home. I kept my travels a secret so I could return to this exotic place.

Thanks to my secondhand bike, I got to discover a new world and its inhabitants in Chicago's immigrant melting pot of the '50s.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED