Monday, December 26, 2011


My task this week following Christmas is to pull together a serious pile to take to the Goodwill, or rather our local Coastside Senior Opportunity Center store.  One of the pleasures of sorting and stacking used books and clothing is to find shards of memorabilia.  Stuffed as a bookmark in a copy of a fading paperback was a 3 x 5 card with this poem handwritten.  I can't discern a date, but the back of the card was used to score some game when Ron and I partnered against our niece Elissa and her brother Ryan.  I wonder what the game was? Here is the poem. 


You served breakfast on the beach
broke bread with thousands at a hillside picnic
celebrated with many at the marriage of Cana –
exciting events all of these.

But this morning it’s only me
on an ordinary Monday
requesting the honor of your presence
at my kitchen table
for coffee and conversation.

Comfort comes in knowing
you require neither
feasts nor crowds—
only an invitation.

Joan Rae Mills
      from “St. Anthony’s Messenger”
        a Catholic Magazine 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Madsons Christmas Letter 2011

 The Madson’s Year in Review 2011

I was reasonably sure that the past year was not memorable, with the exception of the journey to India and Bhutan in November, until I sat down with a pencil. “I don’t think we did much to report,” I said aloud.  But then we both got out our trusty iPhones and began skimming the quick pictures starting from last January. We were happily surprised to discover that it had been a year filled with family, warm adventures and lots of happy social times.  And, now dear friends, we foist this laundry list of “doings” on you.

January-March was Stanford women’s basketball.  Most of you know that we are rabid fans and attended nearly ALL the games, following our women all the way to the Final Four in Indianapolis, only to experience the heartbreak of losing to Texas A & M in the semifinals.  In April – I taught a weekend workshop at the Esalen Institute.  Winter quarter I had taught for Continuing Studies:  “Everyday Spontaneity: Improvising our Lives,” a ten week class.  And speaking of improv, I’m happy to report that 2011 was the year that my book, IMPROV WISDOM was published in Japan in March (the same day the Tsunami and earthquake hit. ;-( )  In July the first Chinese edition went on sale in Taiwan.  Later in the year, rights were sold to publishers in Italy, Mexico and, most recently, mainland China.  My little book is really traveling!

Family events this year included the visit of our great niece, Jysenia in February, resulting in the Madsons learning to ride a Segway.  We all took the San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Segway tour.  In May we were part of the wonderful wedding of our niece, Sarah Louise Offenbacher to Lejon Douroux in Big Bear, CA.  July saw us travel east for the wedding of a dear friend and former student, Victoria LaBalme to Frank Oz in the Adirondacks.  We coupled this trip with a visit to our best friends who live in Gananoque, Ontario, Dalla and Jeremy Brown.  Ron was treated to a surprise birthday party in August and we had a lively visit by my brother Michael and his wife Lynn in October.  This occasioned another trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Thanksgiving was at our house (photo below) and Ron’s brother Gary, his wife Cheryl and ALL of their children and grandchildren came from far and wide.  They all made the dinner!  We were still in jetlag from our big trip. 

Our family expanded by two when we welcomed two crazy new Himalayan kittens into our life in July.  Meet Bodhi and Dharma, brother and sister and the newest occupants of our hearts and litter boxes.  In October Patricia held court at Stanford with a reunion of the past 20 years of Stanford Improvisers, the group she founded.  The weekend was an ecstatic celebration of living the life of YES!       
November saw us take the BIG TRIP to Bhutan and India, a long awaited adventure. Ron is still sorting the four thousand photos.  In India we got to meet our Tibetan “daughter” Pasang Dolma.  She and her sister traveled from Dharamsala to meet us and spend a day at the Taj Mahal.  Bhutan remains a poem of an adventure.  The Buddhist culture, art and smiling people are engraved in our hearts.

Ron’s love of photography has grown this year as he took several classes in Photoshop and camera craft.  He was one of the wedding photographers for Sarah and Lejon.  Oh, and Patricia had her 15 minutes of fame this year when the New York Times interviewed her for an article on “What I would do if I were President.”  She would send them all to improv school.  And the best news is that we have both flown through this year with good health.  2012 promises to be a quieter year . . . unless our Stanford women go all the way to Colorado! 

And, news just in this morning:  Aaron and Brenda Offenbacher, our nephew and niece in Richmond gave birth to twins, Holden Drake and Stella Jade Offenbacher.  Welcome to our family!   It is indeed a holy day when children are born. Here they are with their smiling mother on the day they were born.

This overlong newsletter brings with it the warmest of wishes for a New Year filled with good sense and good health.  (Although with the elections looming the “good sense” part may be a stretch.)  Blessings for 2012. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Madsons Christmas tree 2011

When my husband Ron built our house he created a 16 foot ceiling at one end of the living room.  I didn't know until our first Christmas came around that he had a purpose in this.  Each November we go over to Pastorinos on highway 92 and select the largest tree that Ron can get me to agree to bring home.  It's always a struggle since I like "little things" and Ron clearly likes big ones.  So a family tradition was born.  Put up the biggest tree you can find, and decorate it with the thousand ornaments you have collected over the past forty years.  Our friends know that we have a large tree and so, many of them give us lovely ornaments.  Our stash includes the complete White House ornaments collection.  This was started by my brother, Michael who gave us one a decade ago.  Now we have them all.  
And, here stand I with another family tradition:  dressed for my birthday dinner at Gary Danko.  Ron treats me like a princess and takes me to the best place in town.  Truly it is.  So, I bring you today our fondest wish for a year of health and strength.  And I'm wishing the world a dose of common sense and down to earth-ness in 2012.  I know that's a big order in an election year.  Perhaps if we are lucky we can find that still center which is at the heart of this season.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Art of Listening

A recent article in the Sunday New York Times by Henning Mankell, a writer living in Africa makes an important point about listening, an art we have seem to have lost.  Further he talks to us about storytelling and the need we humans have to share stories.  As a teacher of improv I find both of his points compelling.
He relates a story about two old African men who return to a friend's home to hear the end of his story. Unfortunately, the man died before telling the end.  He relates their lament:  “That’s not a good way to die — before you’ve told the end of your story.”

Have you told the end of your story?  Have you told your story at all?
Check this out

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Leaving Bhutan

It's an unexpected surprise to find free wifi at the Paro airport lounge. We are poised to leave this extraordinary land. What sticks in my mind is the image of prayer flags everywhere. These good Buddhist believe that each flap of the cloth bears a wish for peace and harmony into the universe. While they don't believe in a God as such, they do trust deeply in reality. Every chance he had our guide could be heard mumbling prayers. Om Manu Padme hum a prayer of hope for enlightenment in this life. Well these hard working people with their reverence for art and beauty strike me as embodying this wisdom. And of course not everyone is a Buddha all the time (even Bhutan has its share of jerks) on the whole the behavior of these people is something to admire. I look forward to time to digest these experiences and write about them. Now my prayers are for safe and uneventful travel over the next 12 thousand miles.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 11 the Central Market, Weaving Museum

The Central Market full of smells, kiddos, dried meat and fish was a sensory delight. Lots of photos but will keep this short due to bandwidth.

The Textile Museum had fabulous DVD. Bringing it home to share

The Paro Dzong majestic and full of artworks.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 10 back to Thimphu

Today is a religious holiday and our guide took us to the most important local temple. We received a blessing on our heads by the presiding Lama. No photos inside but here you see the ever present prayer wheels.

Here the main prayer Om Mani Padme Hum is written on the walls everywhere. These are at the top of the pass Dochu La. 10,300 feet up where we hung prayer flags we brought from California.
Finally we visited a nature preserve home to the Takin an animal ONLY found in Bhutan. Horns like a goat about the size of a small cow.

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Location:Thimphu Bhutan

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some images of the Chorten and Dzong

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Many buildings in Bhutan celebrate fertility. These paintings are everywhere.

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Crossing the Pelela pass

We had a long travel day from from the village of Trongsa (elevation 7472) to the village of Punakha (elevation 4600). On route we went over a high pass is around 10,399feet. We hung our own prayer flags on the chorten at the summit. Lunch was in a rustic village. Here is a photo of the restaurant. Paintings of phalluses are on the sides of many houses and buildings. The Bhutanese are really into honoring fertility.

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More pictures from Bhutan

The Trongsa Dzong. These handsome buildings are part local government and part monastery and temple.

This is the cave featured in the film Travelers and Magicians.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bhutanese society

A quick footnote: you got to love a country that has 1.Outlawed smoking. 2. Requires that citizens in the major cities walk or bike to work two fixed days a week. (fully enforced save the air days) and 3. Has two months a year (April and Sept) when eating meat is forbidden. Oh, and you must be formally dressed to go to school, temple or into a civic building. Here was a sign outside a hospital.

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Buddhist temples and images Day 5

Today seems like it had 50 hours. We saw so much. After the festival dances this morning we were taken to the three main Buddhist temples in Blumthang. Breathtaking interiors of shrine rooms. No photos were allowed inside these holy places. I found myself on the verge of tears many times seeing the statues and holy relics. One of the temples housed a sanctuary with the largest statue of Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan. He is the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in 764 ad. Photos below are of dancers at the festival, a painted mani wall and the main trio of temples, Kurjey Lhakhang.
Moving tomorrow to the town of Trongsa. No Internet for the next four days. Bhutan is a country that is very wise.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 6. Blumthang and Jambay Festival

Our sixth day in Bhutan is a colorful one. After a tasty breakfast of buckwheat pancakes, a local speciality, we set out to arrive early for the Jambay festival. This is a Buddhist festival that celebrates fertility. The people see these festivals as major social events and show up dressed in their finest with picnic baskets full of food and drink. Revelry is not uncommon. One of the events our guide did not take us to is a midnight naked dance. Lots to say but our tour guide is pulling us away.

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Day 5 Bhutan

It has been quite an adventure. After a full day of delights in Thimphu we set off for a distant area called Gantey where we were to stay in a primitive farmhouse. The drive which took eight hours covered rough and narrow roads but the scenery was breathtaking. Arriving at the farmhouse at dusk Ron was not feeling well. We were at 9300 feet elevation Our kind and helpful guide checking his symptoms judged that he was suffering from altitude sickness. The only way to treat this safely is to descend to a much lower altitude. So at night our driver brought us back down the mt to the town of Punakha a three hour dusty drive. Near midnight we took Ron to a local hospital (which is a story in itself). The Bhutanese doctor who was called from home examined him and judged that he was going to be okay. We stayed overnight in the Primeministers guest house. (another long story)
On day 4 we had another all day drive arriving for the night in the town of Trongsa. Both of us were pretty wiped out. The acclimatization is taking longer than we imagined. But today day 5 we had only a three hour drive through beautiful forests to get to Jakar. Along the way we hung prayer flags at the highest pass (thanks Jim,for good idea) then got to see a rehearsal for a Buddhist festival. We've at last arrived where we will be staying for three nights. We are at 8400 feet and it's cold. Our room has a tiny wood stove. They light it at night. The weather has been PERFECT. Cool clear and dazzling. Taking lots of photos and videos but will wait to post when we have stronger Internet.
So you see it has been quite an adventure. I think the hardest part altitude wise is behind us and we'll get stronger and mor

e able to enjoy this countries many blessings.
Here are some prayer flags.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More images from day 2

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Day 2 Thimphu National Memorial Chorten and the art school

After breakfast at our hotel we were taken to the Chorten in Thimphu.
This is the Buddhist shrine that local Bhutanese visit, many of them
daily. It is a form of morning prayer. The faithful circumnambulate
the structure spinning prayer wheels and stopping from time to time to
do full prostrations. A local women jumped into a photo with our
guide Thinley. The devotion of these people is impressive.

Next we visited the large national school of traditional Bhutanese
arts. This place is where all of the traditional arts are taught and
preserved. Thanks painting, sculpture both wood and clay, embroidery,
archery, weaving. Students study eight hours a day for six or seven
years to gain mastery. These painters are who do all of the
astonishing painting on the buildings all over Bhutan. There was a
sign on a classroom wall that struck me: "If you are a good human
being, then the skills and knowledge you acquire will benefit the
whole society. Otherwise, it's like giving a weapon to a child.". We
watched these students at work.

We had a traditional Bhutanese lunch of red rice, vegetables and
chilies with Kesang Namgyel the owner of Gangri Tours in Thimphu. In
the afternoon we spent three hours with a master thanka painter, Mr
Pema Tshering. He gave us a private lesson in beginning thanka
painting and lectured on thankas. He invited us to a private puja for
the Green Tara being held in his residence. Seven monks were
performing a ritual in his family shrine.

Then we visited a paper making factory. The day has been overwhelming.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Arriving in Bhutan: notes from Ron

Today's post is by my husband Ron who shares his impressions of our landing yesterday.
"We have landed in a lot of places scattered around this great globe, but I have never been choked up with emotion and the warmth I felt emerging out onto the tarmac here. We stayed there on the tarmac, for quite a while just taking in clarity and purity I feel here.

Paro International Airport is a short single runway nestled in the Paro valley, cradled by small mountain ranges running the length of the valley and tall snow capped peaks at the tailing end. The crispness clarity and cleanliness stands in such marked contrast with all that India seemed to embody. All the buildings of the airport itself and around the landing strip are traditional Bhutanese, colorful and beautiful. Lots of carved wood and Buddhist iconography. This is not an airport, it seems, but looks and feels more like a monastery.

Lots more to share, but it is a.m. now and we've got to run to breakfast then meet with our guide for a day around Thimphu. This is the capital and it is beautiful and wonderful and not a tourist town at all.

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Landing in Bhutan

We have safely landed in Bhutan. Our guide greeted us with kata blessing scarfs. We were driven through beautiful valleys filled with smiling people. This is a magical land in every way. The air is fresh and clean. The snow capped mountains surround us. We were led to the gorgeous Galinghka hotel where our corner suite looks out over the town of Thimphu. It feels as if we have literally gone to heaven. I cannot express my profound joy. Now the grand adventure begins. And as icing on the cake our hotel has wifi. I know it's heaven.

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Location:Thimphu Bhutan

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Leaving our Tibetan daughters

We came to India to meet face to face with a young woman, Pasang Dolma (on right) and her sister Tsedon Llamo. They are Tibetan refugees who fled Tibet into Dharamsala over ten years ago. We have been sponsoring them over the years and writing letters of hope and encouragement. At last we met for a brief but emotional weekend. We leave them now to go on to Bhutan. It was a memorable time. We stand with a gift of the Tibetan flag they brought as a gift. Blessings on your journeys home, dear ones.

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Location:New Delhi, India

India day three

Amid the chaos and pollution and eternal pursuit of the rupee lies an India of deep spirituality. This is the Bahai House of Worship usually called the Lotus Temple. Dedicated to the unity of all faiths it is truly a place of peace. A highlight of this trip was the chance to sit in silent prayer inside this magnificent structure.

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Location:New Delhi INDIA

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Taj Mahal

Here I am in front of one of the seven wonders of the world. It's sheer beauty dazzles. I'm holding a Botjoy, a little icon designed to bring happiness to whoever owns him. For more on Botjoy check out artist Gary Hirsch. Heat, dust, chaos, indescribably mad traffic, serene beauty. All in one place.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

First Day in India

We landed in the middle of the night to find thousands of other swarming travelers. The New Delhi International airport is a glittering place. This sculpture of a mudra graces the wall. Staying in Delhi at the Star Grand Villa. Tomorrow we go to see one of the wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. Life is good.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The trip of a lifetime . . . Going to Bhutan

On Wednesday, November 2, 2011 Ron and I set out on a world journey.  We travel via Hong Kong to New Delhi, India first.  There we meet a young woman, Pasang Dolma who is a Tibetan girl living in Dharamsala.  We have been her sponsor for a number of years and now will finally have a chance to meet her face to face.
After four days in India (which includes a day at the Taj Mahal) we move on to Bhutan.  We have two weeks in the country which will take us out into the Blumthang region to attend the Black Crane Festival in Jakar.  While I won't be posting from Bhutan I hope to share some images and impressions when I return.  Wish us good fortune and safe travels.  Home on November 22, 2011. This photo is of the famous Tiger's Nest, a monastery perched on a hill outside of Paro.