All about us

This hibiscus was one of many lovely plants on Mama and Daddy's back porch, September 2014.

One of many lovely plants on Mama and Daddy’s back porch, September 2014.

“It seems to me that people are forever traveling great distances, and journeying to strange countries, to see things that, if they only knew it, exist beside their own doorstep…Whether one goes to nature for truth, or for beauty, for knowledge or for relaxation, these things can be found in a yard in the city as well as in a tropical jungle, for they exist in the common, simple, everyday things all about us, as well as in the rare and exotic.” Leonard Dubkin

It’s easy to assume that older people enjoy nature because they have nothing more urgent to do, and perhaps that is true to some extent.  Having known my parents for nearly 60 years, though, I can’t remember a time when they were too busy to appreciate the commonplace joys of life.  Hearing Mama regularly exclaim over the beauty of various plants that grew in our yard and neighborhood taught me the names of many of them.  Watching Daddy work faithfully for years at a career he obviously and genuinely loved gave me a powerful example that it’s possible to maintain deep appreciation of what could easily become too familiar to see clearly.

I count myself fortunate to have grown up hearing frequent praises for extraordinary, ordinary things.  Whether it was the taste of food fresh from a garden, the sound of a particularly spirited or touching piece of music on an oft-played record album, or the joyful antics of birds, squirrels and other wildlife, I learned early to pay attention to the abundance that surrounds us.  It’s a lesson that has paid rich dividends.

What are the ordinary gifts in your everyday world, that would be worth traveling great distances to experience?  If you and I could swap places for just one day, what would you want me to be sure not to miss?  Since we can’t swap places, you can tell me about it here and I can enjoy it through your words…and you can appreciate it anew by revisiting the joy or excitement or contentment you feel just by thinking of it.

Goats in the pipeline

Hi everyone, I just received a scanned copy of the letter to our donor with the CRF donations confirmed.  Some of you will recognize your names here, and some will recognize the gifts you chose, with you mentioned only as “anonymous readers of Julia’s blog.” Just thought some of you might like to see this.  In converting it to a JPG file to paste here, I lost some of the clarity, so you can view the original PDF here.  For those who don’t know what this is about, click on “Celebrate (again)” above, and/or read this summary of our recent celebration.  I’ll post letters from the other recipients if/when I get copies of them.  THANKS again to all who made this possible!

CRF Letter

All the magic

Autumn tree with roses, November 2014

The streets of our York neighborhood are alight with autumn, November 2014.

“The Sussex lanes were very lovely in the autumn. I started going for long lone country walks among the spendthrift gold and glory of the year-end, giving myself up to the earth-scents and the sky-winds and all the magic of the countryside which is ordained for the healing of the soul.”Monica Baldwin

Saturday (two days ago; I’m no longer two weeks ahead in writing these posts) I was a bit reluctant to head out into the cold for my walk.  I wasn’t feeling all that well, and the 40-degree weather was not inviting, despite the afternoon sunshine.  I imagine some of you who live far north of here might laugh at the idea of being kept indoors by temperatures in the 40′s, but you can’t take the southern out of the girl…

In any case, I bundled up in five layers– yes, FIVE– and tucked my camera into my pocket as an added incentive.  Almost immediately, I was so happy I did not chicken out of the walk.  It was splendid, exactly what I needed that afternoon.  I took the photo above, along with many, many more, on the streets of our York neighborhood where I imagine that I and my camera have become familiar to most of the neighbors.

Perhaps Baldwin is not exaggerating when she says the autumnal splendor, along with other beauties of the countryside, are ordained for the healing of the soul.  It certainly felt healing to me that day, as it almost always does.

It may be growing quite cold where you live (or perhaps getting uncomfortably warm, if you are south of the equator) but I hope that you will brave the weather for the balm of nature’s abundant gifts.  Tuck a few memories away in your mind or your camera, and enjoy the vivid canvas of November before the colors are muted and dormant.  I’ll have hot tea and scones for you when you return.

What we give

They're going to get your goat...literally! I photographed this goat in Germany, August 2005.

They’re going to get your goat…literally!
I photographed this goat in Germany, August 2005

“Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.”Ben Carson

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”Anne Frank

WOW, thanks to everyone who participated in the second anniversary blog celebration on Monday.  I will go into all the details below, but the short version is that $2600 in donations are being processed as I write this. YIPPEE!

Before this post gets really silly, I want to start by sharing an article from the NYTimes that was sent to me on Monday by Susan V., a fabulous lady who lives in our neighborhood in Alexandria. (Lucky us!)  Those who chose to request a goat donation will be interested to read this story of how a goat donated to her family literally changed a young woman’s life.

If you were keeping track on Monday, you already knew that we received donation requests for seven goats, three doctor visits, two water filters, one mosquito net, six donations to USO, seven to the ARC of Greater Williamsburg, six to Healing Hands International’s clean water projects (and two to their food sustainability programs) and two to Cerebral Palsy of Virginia, and a partridge in a pear tree plus several anonymous and unspecified donations to various organizations listed.  All that added up to twelve hundred dollars.

Because our donor likes nice round numbers, (s)he decided to round all these totals upward to sort of even things out, which meant DOUBLING that twelve hundred to $2400!  As if that was not enough, yesterday I got a $200 check in the mail from yet another anonymous donor, made out to Cerebral Palsy of Virginia! So the grand total is now at $2600. I hope to be posting some letters from these organizations soon, but meanwhile it was a lot of fun contacting them (“Hello, Madrene, this is Julia…do you guys have at least eight goats available?”) and adding everything up.  And speaking of fun…

My friend Amy, about whom you’ve read here several times before (and who speaks up in the comments from time to time) is currently home recovering from hand surgery after an accident.  I asked her whether she would be willing to use her good hand to do the drawing, since Matt was such a reluctant cheater peeker helper in last year’s drawing.  Like the good sport she is, Amy agreed to do the honors.  For the results, watch this video (or you can scroll down below it to get to the names right away).  DISCLAIMER: We were not drinking anything but TEA when this video was made! We are just normally this silly.

OK, for those who did not have time for the video, the winners are: Sheila, Conrad, Cherie, Ann and Rene — and of course, Amy herself, which was definitely not planned, but was a hilarious surprise.  When she drew her own name out we had a good laugh, but I decided to make it six names instead of five, just so nobody got too suspicious.

If your name was one of those chosen, I will be emailing you to get an address where you’d like your gift card and chocolate sent, and also to find out whether you prefer milk or dark chocolate, with or without nuts.  If you prefer a $10 gift card to Cracker Barrel instead of Amazon, you can let me know that too.  Since Cracker Barrel is my favorite restaurant (they do cornbread right) I always keep a few of their gift cards on hand.

Thanks so much to everyone who helped make this 2nd Anniversary celebration a time to remember. I hope there will be lots of smiles popping up all over the world as the people you’ve reached get a touch of that great Defeat Despair spirit!

The readers of this blog have meant more to me than I’ll ever be able to say (despite my using so many words all the time :D ).  I don’t wish hard, sad, or scary times on anyone, but if you’ve ever been in circumstances such as some of us find ourselves facing, you know how much it means to have the warm wishes, prayers and support of other people.  As always, THANKS FOR BEING HERE! <3 <3 <3


Put a smile on someone’s face

2008 USO Holiday Tour in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Celebrities bring music and entertainment to service members and their families stationed overseas. DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley; image in the public domain.

2008 USO celebrity holiday tour in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley; image in the public domain.

“We must learn to realize that “now” is happening and will very soon be gone…We must look at the ink on the calendar and see an immediate opportunity to do something wonderful, incredible, or beautiful. It’s that simple.” – Dan Pearce

“If you’ve put a smile on someone’s face today, you’ve done more good than you know.”Richelle E. Goodrich

Xhosa children by via Wikimedia commons

Xhosa children by Zakysant, licensed under CCA-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Okay readers, today is the day. Thanks for joining us.
Let the two-year anniversary celebration begin!

Crowd of smiling children in Bangladesh, via Wikimedia Commons

Smiling children in Bangladesh, by bri vos via CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s put some smiles out there in the world.

Australian AusAID volunteers in Cambodia, 2010, via Wikimedia Commons,

Australian AusAID volunteers in Cambodia, 2010, via Wikimedia Commons

There are all sorts of ways to do it…

Girls carrying water in India, via Wikimedia Commons

Girls carrying water in India, via Wikimedia Commons

…but today you have an opportunity that won’t cost you anything but good will.

A young victim of the Haiti earthquake gets medical help from the U. S. Navy. Public domain image

A victim of the Haiti earthquake gets help from the U. S. Navy. Public domain image

 Read more about our celebration here.

Jill Biden and Michelle Obama at a USO celebration, public domain image.

Jill Biden and Michelle Obama at a USO celebration, public domain image.

Choose one of the nonprofit group opportunities listed…

Children collect clean water provided by UKAid.  Image via Wikimedia Commons

Children collect clean water provided by UKAid. Image via Wikimedia Commons

 …and leave a comment here, specifying where you’d like us to make a donation in your honor.

Matt with friends at Camp Baker, 2012

Matt with friends at Camp Baker, 2012

We’ll be glad you did…and we hope you will too!

    The NGO Give a Kid a Backpack brings smiles in 2010. Via Wikimedia Commons  Public domain photograph from

The NGO Give a Kid a Backpack brings smiles in 2010. Via Wikimedia Commons
Public domain photograph from

LIVE UPDATE, 12 noon 11/10/14 – We still have a long ways to go before reaching the donation limit, so keep those requests coming in! I’ll be back in a few hours to update again.  Help us defeat despair and put smiles on lots of faces!

Disclaimer: all but one of these photos are from Wikimedia Commons, depicting various forms of humanitarian assistance.  They do not represent our celebration today, nor does the use of these photos constitute an endorsement of this effort by any organization pictured.  They are meant only to provide inspiration for global outreach, and also maybe put a smile on your face today.

Illumination comes to our rescue

Blick aus dem entree (View from the entrance) by Henrik Nordenberg, Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Blick aus dem Entrée (View from the entrance) by Henrik Nordenberg,
Public domain image — cropped detail, via Wikimedia Commons

“But sometimes illumination comes to our rescue at the very moment when all seems lost; we have knocked at every door and they open on nothing until, at last, we stumble unconsciously against the only one through which we can enter the kingdom we have sought in vain a hundred years – and it opens.”Marcel Proust

Yesterday’s post was about saving memories, and I have an abundance of them to save here at this blog.  The great thing about blogging is that it’s automatically stored; all the posts and photos, as well as the comments that make it an interactive experience.  There is so much to treasure here, and I thank everyone who has been a part of it, through reading, commenting, leaving your Gravatar in the “likes” section, and generally encouraging me during two of the most stressful years of our lives.

This blog was begun at a time that seemed filled with despair.  Our family, along with many others I knew, faced trials and obstacles that seemed impossible to endure.  Some who read this blog have been through stormy seas as well.  Now, two years later, on the day of my 730th daily post, we can look back and see that we survived, and sometimes even thrived, in between the days of chaos or doubt or agony.

For most of us, life will never be easy or carefree.  But each day we can go on defeating despair.  Some days we’ll do it by celebrating simple joys, or laughing at the endless comedy taking place all around us, or looking back in gratitude at the blessings we’ve enjoyed.  Some days we’ll do it simply by putting one foot in front of the other and getting through until another night of rest.  But we WILL do it!

Beginning tomorrow, the blog schedule here will change.  I’ll no longer be blogging daily, because our lives have reached the point where I can’t keep making the time.  Besides, it’s an awful lot for readers to keep up with!  (A special thanks to those readers who have been with me almost every day; you deserve some sort of medal, if I could only think of what to call it.)

It’s my intent now to blog twice weekly, on Mondays and Thursdays.  Posts will be scheduled in advance, as usual.  A lot of these may be short posts, even just a photo and/or quote, but I don’t want to lose touch with any of you, and I think twice weekly is enough to maintain contact.

In between, I’ll be checking comments at least every day or two.  For anyone who wants or needs an encouraging word on any day I’m not posting, please search the archives of 730 posts (and counting!) by topic, to find something that might be helpful.  Or just pick a date at random, or read that particular date’s post from 2013 or 2014.  From time to time, I may re-blog a post I like from another blog, but these will not be according to any schedule; they’ll just be fun surprises (and I will try to be restrained enough not to overdo it; I’m sure my own time constraints will help keep it at bay).

SO, I hope you will join me tomorrow for the second anniversary celebration, which will be my first Monday post of my third blog year.  I hope you will pick a charity and leave a comment requesting a donation to be made by our anonymous donor, to your choice of the ones listed in the post linked above– just click on CELEBRATE (AGAIN) to read more about it– and let’s help defeat despair all over the world!  I’ll bring you a summary of the results on Thursday.

Thanks again for being part of the illumination that has come to my rescue!

One year ago today:

A fork in the road


Memories of you

Jeff with one of his youngest patients, San Antonio, Texas, 1996

Jeff with one of his youngest patients, San Antonio, Texas, 1996

I am a miser of my memories of you
And will not spend them.   — Witter Bynner

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about the importance of learning to let go of things.  It’s an ongoing challenge for me, but I’m making headway.  There are some things, however, that I know I’ll never give up willingly, and my dearest memories are among them.

If you’re like me, you never heard of Witter Bynner, but when I found this quote I did a bit of research and learned he is noteworthy, if only for the memories he refused to squander.  Specifically, at the Harvard database linked to his name above, there’s an inventory of the personal letters he donated to the college, sent to him by people whose names we immediately recognize.  I’m sure Harvard is glad Bynner was a miser of memories.  I am glad, too.

The great thing about hoarding memories is that they, like other intangible things, can be shared infinitely, with countless permutations and echoes.  If we are careful to be misers of the right memories, we can bless ourselves, our loved ones and future generations by sharing them.  What memories do you have to share?  What memories have others shared with you, enriching you with their recollections?

One year ago today:

Captured and preserved


Watch with glittering eyes

I hope Grady always watches the world with this much joyful anticipation. January, 2014

I hope Grady always watches the world with this much joyful anticipation. January, 2014

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”Roald Dahl

Look around you today.  Great secrets and enlightening discoveries may be hiding in plain sight.  What are the unlikely places you tend to look past?  What secret discoveries might be waiting for you where you least expect them?  Every day is an adventure, though we seldom see it as such.  I’d love to hear your reports from the trails you are walking today.  Turn your glittering eyes on the whole world around you, and watch what happens.

Grady found the view Mama and Daddy's dining room fascinating.  March 2014

Grady found the view from Mama and Daddy’s dining room fascinating. March 2014

One year ago today:

The last thing you expect

A happier state of mind

"Retired picnic at Otford Lookout" by Alex Proimos, Sydney, Australia  CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Retired picnic at Otford Lookout” by Alex Proimos, Sydney, Australia
CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”George Santayana

Here in the northern hemisphere, we are enjoying the colors of the foliage and the cooling weather.  Meanwhile, our neighbors south of the equator are enjoying the end of winter and the return of warmth.  Those who are fortunate enough to live near the equator will still probably sense seasonal changes, though not as closely tied to the changing weather.  Almost everyone I know feels happy to enjoy the changing seasons as they paint variety into our landscape.

Having lived nearly six decades now, I believe Santayana’s words are true not only of the yearly calendar, but also the evolving seasons of life.  It’s easy, of course, to be “hopelessly in love with spring,” that time of new beginnings and hope for bright days to come.  In a youth-obsessed culture, that tendency is even more exaggerated.  But just as I love fall the best of all seasons of the year, I find that the autumn of life has similar charms.  I’m happy to be in the stage of life I’m in now, despite its often bittersweet flavor.

If you’re in the spring or summer of life, enjoy it!  Remind yourself often that you will never be in exactly this same place again.  I think one reason I have felt no regret in growing older is that I so totally relished the beauty of the years that have passed.  Despite a life that has arguably had its full share of sorrows, I have almost always felt blessed just to be alive.  I hope you can say the same.

For those of us in the fall or winter of life, may we take joy in every moment and treasure the storehouse of memories that we have gathered so far, living always in faith and anticipation of more blessings to come.


One year ago today:

Autumn asks

We come home, eventually

George Washington Bond with the original Bond girls,  sometime in the early 1900's.

George Washington Bond with the original “Bond girls,” sometime in the early 1900′s.

“Our ancestors derived less from life than we do, but they also expected much less and were less intent on controlling the future. We are of the arrogant generations who believe a lasting happiness was promised to us at birth.”Amin Maalouf

“We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing mobius strip, until we come home, eventually, to ourselves.”Colum McCann

I wrote recently about my mother’s family having far more males than females.  It was just the opposite with my father’s family, whose mother is pictured above with her parents, sisters, niece and nephew.  Though it’s a personal photo, it seems rather iconic to me, not least because of the fixed yet still oddly individualized expressions so common in photos of that era.

My great-grandfather fought on the losing side in the Civil War, and I’m sure he endured more than his share of difficulties.  But life was no picnic for women in those days, either.  I know little to nothing about my great-grandmother, except that her demeanor was described by Granny as being steadfast and respectful.  I cannot imagine that her life was an easy one.

While my Granny (who is at far right in the back row, wearing the enormous bows in her hair) lived a relatively healthy life and died in her 90′s, her younger sister Georgia (pictured at far left of the back row) died while still in her teens, on a train en route to seek medical attention for what was reported to have been appendicitis.  An unfinished, handwritten will she had begun to dictate on the train as she was dying has survived as a haunting reminder of her short life and the scant possessions of a middle-class young girl of that era.

The sister standing next to Georgia, Henrietta, went on to have a successful career with the post office, which was unusual for women in that era.  I’ve often thought that this would not have been possible had she chosen to marry and have children.  I wish I had known Henrietta; the small library of books she left behind hints of a kindred spirit.  I have only vague memories of Mae, the eldest daughter, who is pictured in the front row along with her children.

Lena, standing between Henrietta and Granny in the back row, is the only one of Granny’s sisters that I remember well.  She lived with Granny after they were both widows, and as kids we were entertained by her parakeet “Pretty Bird,” and by her conversations with Granny and us about the family’s past. She too lived a long and healthy life, and she was my special favorite, crocheting me the proverbial wrap of many colors, and spending long hours chatting with me.

Do you know or remember much about the family members who have gone on before you?  Are there any with whom you feel a special bond, even if you never knew them?  The lives of our ancestors have much to teach us, and whether or not we are aware of it, their influence lives on in us.  What lessons have your ancestors left for you?  What legacy from them do you continue to share with others today?

One year ago today:

I am glad

Wake up fresh

Keillor left out the part about curling up with a beloved cat. Al gets a good

Keillor forgot to mention how much a cat can help.  Al with his favorite cuddly cure, 1969.

“The best cure for a disastrous day is to go to bed early and wake up fresh in the morning and start over.”Garrison Keillor

I totally agree with Keillor about this.  The problem is, a disastrous day usually leaves me frustrated, agitated, angry or in some other state not conducive to a good night’s rest.  All the more reason to learn effective methods of coping with stress in a way that is responsive without being reactive.  I’m making progress, but it’s a long uphill effort.  The worse the day goes, the more likely I will be up late trying to redeem what I see as too many failed efforts and too much wasted time.

Children are good role models to keep in mind here, especially very young ones.  Almost every baby I have ever known is the happiest, cutest and most delightful after they awaken from a good, sound sleep.  And when they are cranky and woeful, sleep is almost certainly the remedy they need most.  Most all of them seem to reach a point of auto-shutdown.  No matter how hard they are fighting it, they keel over into a zonked-out visit to slumber-land.  I do that same thing occasionally, but not nearly often enough.

I’m going to try taking a cue from our grandson, sleeping my troubles away, insofar as I am able.  I’ve learned to leave the evening hours to calmer, more relaxing pursuits if I possibly can, to give me a fighting chance of drifting off to sleep at a reasonable time.  Of course, sometimes a day becomes disastrous much too early for bedtime, and there’s no possibility of napping.  In that case, there’s nothing for it but to somehow get through the afternoon and evening.

On those days, let’s keep reminding ourselves that no matter how hard the rest of the day is, we’ll be able to leave it all behind (even if only temporarily) for a much needed visit from the sandman.  Until then, to quote Keillor again, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

One year ago this week:

Made better

Always in the midst

Thanksgiving 2013 with Matt, Drew, Carla

“It is always in the midst, in the epicenter, of your troubles that you find serenity.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Using Drew’s phone, I took this photo of Matt, Drew and Carla on Thanksgiving Day of last year.  We were awaiting a pizza that was being prepared as the last order of the evening at the only place we could find open in Bethesda, Maryland, that night.  Until you know the back story, it seems like a pretty depressing place to be on Thanksgiving Day.  But there is always a back story, and thanks to email records, I have a vivid record of this one.  Here’s a copy of an email I had sent to family just after midnight that Thanksgiving morning, pasted below:

Jeff seems to be doing better; he was able to speak very brief sentences and seemed mostly oriented and lucid – for example, he asked me to call Drew to make sure he and Matt got home OK tonight, and asked me about how Tuesday’s surgery went (I gave him only the good news of it for now).  They gave him a 7th unit of blood tonight since he is still draining from the wound vac and his anemia has worsened from the extensive blood loss.  The last I heard, the plan was to take him off the wound vac and close the ever-lengthening incision (which is now probably about 24 inches long) on Friday.

Late this afternoon and early evening (until 8:00 pm)  Drew sat with Jeff while Matt and I went and got a couple of hours of REAL sleep in the room we were finally able to get from the Fisher House (although I had to put on my dragon lady persona – never hard to do when needed — to get the room, after one of the charge nurses this morning was a Nazi who decided she didn’t like pathetic family members sleeping in the waiting rooms in her unit…but that’s another story…)  In any case, we are grateful to now have a place to shower, change clothes, sleep in an actual bed, store our stuff without having to carry it around everywhere, etc.  While we were sleeping this evening, Dr. H (the liver surgeon) talked with Drew and seemed greatly reassured at how Jeff is currently doing.  Drew said he used the term “turned a corner” referring to where Jeff seems to be now.  For this, and for some much-needed rest, we praise God.  I’m about to go to sleep again – my room at Fisher House is less than a mile from Jeff, and the floor nurses have my number here.  Before I left tonight I made Jeff PROMISE he would have them call me if he needed me.  I cannot imagine him actually doing this under any circumstances, but somehow the promise was reassuring nonetheless.

It will be a long and hard road, but the outlook is considerably better than it was just 12 hours ago.  Please keep those prayers coming!

Many of you will remember that day, because you were with us then, and through the long weeks and months before and after, through your presence on this blog.  You will be able to understand why a cold pizza brought back to the hospital and eaten in a hospital waiting room late on Thanksgiving Day could be, under the circumstances, a joyful feast (notwithstanding that it was procured and eaten because an increasingly-lucid Jeff, unable to eat anything at all on Thanksgiving, had insisted, from his bed, that we all HAD to get something to eat).

Jeff had just endured 15 hours of surgery on Tuesday that had not been fully completed until Wednesday morning, and despite deep concern from his surgeons as to whether he would survive, it now appeared that he would.  His scolding orders that we “get out and find something to eat” were music to our ears.  He was back.  Thus, despite each of us spending our holiday without some of the people we hold most dear, we have wonderful memories of that singular Thanksgiving dinner.

Gratitude is a relative thing.  It’s possible to be rich and not know it; to be happy and not realize it.  We often talk here at this blog about how there is always a reason to be thankful, no matter the circumstances.  But on Thanksgiving Day last year, we didn’t have to look far to find reasons to feel thankful.

For us, this year’s Thanksgiving Day celebration will again be a bittersweet one.  There will be a conspicuously empty chair at the table, one normally occupied by someone who typically would not arrive until later due to performing a job that is necessary even on holidays.  I trust and pray that again this year, in the midst of earthly woes, we will find joy, peace, gratitude and serenity, surrounded by blessings that still abide with us.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s likely you also will have a mixture of joy and sorrow to bring to the table this year.  None of us is spared the trials that go with the incredible privilege of being alive.  My wish for us, today and always, is that we will feel deeply the truth of Saint-Exupéry’s observation that serenity is found in the very epicenter of the storm.

One year ago today:

Time for finding

The joyful simplicities

"Landscape with Apple Trees" by Levi Wells Prentice, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Landscape with Apple Trees” by Levi Wells Prentice, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Year by year the complexities of this spinning world grow more and more bewildering, and so each year we need all the more to seek peace and comfort in the joyful simplicities.” — Woman’s Home Companion, 1935

“With just a little use of attention, good experiences are available to you throughout the day. They’re like low-hanging fruit that you only have to notice. As soon as you notice them, yum! They’re delicious…whenever you like, you can nibble on these experiences simply by noticing them, and letting them nourish you.”Rick Hanson

These two quotes are nearly 80 years apart in origin, but they definitely relate to each other.  We sometimes kid ourselves in thinking that past generations did not have the juggling act we do, or that they lived in a world mostly free of complexity.  Through their recorded words, they beg to differ.  Things were already growing “more and more bewildering” during our grandparents’ youth.

But Hanson’s quote reminds us that we still have, as always, rich resources from which to draw joy and strength.  Look around you and find the joyful simplicities; the “low hanging fruit” that is waiting to be noticed and savored.  What will nourish you today?

One year ago today:

Don’t pass it by

The celebration of life

Lei-anne's husband Jack took this photo of the five of us, together for the first time in years. Russellville, Alabama,  September 2014

Lei-anne’s husband Jack took this photo of the five of us, together for the first time in years.
Russellville, Alabama, September 2014

“Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe…”Robert Farrar Capon

In at least three generations of my mother’s family, the males outnumber the females by a ratio of two to one, or more.  This means that I had only three female cousins on my mother’s side, but three times that many male cousins.

About a year ago, my sister sent me a picture of herself with these three special ladies, and pointed out that I was the only one missing in the photo. I started to photoshop myself in, but decided instead to go for the live photo session next time I was in North Alabama.  I was blessed to be able to be there recently, and here’s the photo to prove it. To my knowledge, this is the only time the five of us have been together for any photos.

It turned out to be a brilliant excuse to spend an evening together.  We all ate out at an Asian buffet and had a great time visiting with each other, our Aunt Peggy, and Lei-anne’s brave spouse Jack, the only one of our five husbands who came along for the get-together.  He snapped most of the photos.  Later, Carla’s family joined us, bringing along two of the newest blessings in our family, her twin grandchildren.

Though we couldn’t even remember exactly when we had last all been together at the same time (probably it was at Granny’s funeral in 1980) we had a great time chatting with each other, connected by family ties and distant memories.

In today’s world, increasing numbers of us live far from our extended families.  We may go for years and years without seeing each other.  Facebook and other social media have helped bridge this gap for many of us, but nothing beats good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations and warm hugs.

One of the greatest blessings of my life is the distant but never forgotten presence of a very large extended family, some of whom are related by blood, and some who became family through years of close association.  Though life has carried us far from each other geographically, and we seldom are able to visit, the memories and bonds are a continual source of strength.

I’m guessing you too have such special people in your life, who are your born or chosen family.  If there are some who are far away from you today, why not take a minute to get in touch via a mailed note, a call or a quick Facebook hello?  Today, let’s celebrate life by joining in the “floating cosmic bash” of shared love and connection.  If you are a non-celebrant, consider yourself hounded!

One year ago today:

Exciting today


Full and bright

I photographed these Halloween decorations at a North Carolina shop. BOO!  September 2013

I caught these Halloween decorations at a North Carolina shop. BOO! September 2013

It’s Halloween! It`s Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
And we shall see what can’t be seen
on any other night.        – Jack Prelutsky

I hope your evening is filled with delightful sights, sounds and tastes, even if only in your childhood memories!

Grady wishes everyone a HAPPY HALLOWEEN! And if you watch the video below, you can see him practice his lion roar (even though he doesn’t like to wear the mane headgear that came with the costume PaPa bought him…)

Autumn Grady October 2014

One year ago today:

Merry October!

Always more

Matt Blackbeard with Rapunzel, Judy Jetson and Mickey Mouse, Halloween 1992.

Matt Blackbeard with Rapunzel, Judy Jetson and Mickey Mouse, Halloween 1992.

“I don’t know that there are real ghosts and goblins, but there are always more trick-or-treaters than neighborhood kids.”  — Robert Brault

Giving out candy on Halloween is almost as much fun as trick-or-treating.  I don’t know which I enjoy most, seeing my cute neighbors in their costumes, or seeing all the people I don’t recognize who always materialize at the door, year after year, and trying to figure out if they look familiar.

Whether you are out collecting treats or staying home providing them, I hope you will have some memorable visitors this year!

One year ago today:

Something haunting

A slightly sour sweet

Our neighbor's decor was mostly air, so not really scary. Lots of fun, though! Alexandria, Virginia, October 2013

Our neighbor’s decor was mostly air, so not really scary.
Lots of fun, though! Alexandria, Virginia, October 2013

“Halloween wraps fear in innocence,
As though it were a slightly sour sweet.
Let terror, then, be turned into a treat…” Nicholas Gordon

I’ve always wondered what it is in us that finds a small dose of fright so appealing.  Most of us don’t like truly horrifying or gory fare, but even little ones can enjoy the hint of mystery and darkness in the small doses meted out at Halloween.  I don’t think it’s just about the candy.

There’s something vaguely homeopathic about it, as if we are inoculating ourselves against real terror.  Facing a cartoonish parody of the nightmares that truly haunt us can be an empowering thing, enabling us to laugh at imagery that, under different circumstances, might leave us trembling and tearful.

I never watch horror movies, and I don’t recommend them to anyone.  My imagination is far too vivid to withstand the continual assault of insidiously destructive illusions.  But I treasured the childish fun of dressing up as a character of my own choice, and venturing with my friends into the darkness we were seldom allowed to explore, returning with a bag full of treats to examine, trade and enjoy.

In some ways, Halloween is different now than when I was young.  As parents and neighbors we feel more watchful, and who can blame us?  However, there is a bonus to this vigilance.  Perhaps our increased hovering over the festivities is partly born of our impulse toward vicarious participation in a holiday we never really outgrew.

If you or your loved ones celebrate Halloween with forays into the fearful, I hope you will remember to keep them wrapped in innocence, ensuring treats instead of tricks!

One year ago this week:

A child in every one

Dressed for Halloween

Even the President is not too busy for some Halloween fun.  October 31, 1963 Image in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Even the President is not too busy for some Halloween fun. October 31, 1963
Image in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a ghost who haunts my bedroom,
A witch whose face is green,
They used to be my family
Till they dressed for Halloween.
Sandra Liatsos

Whether or not you plan to dress up for the holiday, I hope you’ll take the time to enjoy the cute and creative trick-or-treaters who may be showing up soon at your door.  It’s good to take time from our busy schedules to enjoy a bit of fun.  If you were going to attend a grand masquerade ball and could have an all-expenses-paid deluxe costume designer to craft a disguise for you, who or what would you choose to be?

One year ago today:

Costumes tell a story

Available to all

No matter who we are or what we do, manners make life better for all. "Kindergarten" by Johann Sperl via Wikimedia Commons; artwork in the public domain.

No matter our age, our income, who we are or what we do, manners make life better for all.
“Kindergarten” by Johann Sperl via Wikimedia Commons; artwork in the public domain.

“The rationale that etiquette should be eschewed because it fosters inequality does not ring true in a society that openly admits to a feverish interest in the comparative status-conveying qualities of sneakers. Manners are available to all, for free.”
Judith Martin a.k.a. Miss Manners

I’m not sure how etiquette came to be equated with formal protocol at state dinners, but Miss Manners sets us straight as only she can.  If you hear anyone protesting that teaching and learning correct manners is uppity or snobbish, don’t believe it.  Courtesy is always appropriate, and it doesn’t require that we know all sorts of obscure rules that we won’t have occasion to need. It simply requires us to think of others first.

Good manners have never been my personal strength.  It’s not much comfort to me that the faux pas I’m most frequently guilty of — interrupting, talking more loudly than necessary, or thoughtlessly and unintentionally going ahead of someone who was in front of me at an elevator or doorway — now seem to be fairly typical of most everyone I observe.  The advantage of this general increase in rude behavior is that it’s made me more determined to polish up my own manners.  It’s easier to see how offensive something is when someone else does it.

Have you ever heard anyone denigrating etiquette as a bunch of outdated nonsense about which fork to use?  If so, you might suggest that they read Miss Manners.  Not only is she funny; she is practical and persuasive as she argues for the importance of courtesy as the foundation of a civil society.  The idea of etiquette can be intimidating, but if we start with the “Golden Rule” and treat others as we’d like to be treated, we’ll be more than halfway there.

One year ago today:

Of courtesy



Indistinguishable elements

Dear blog readers,

Yesterday afternoon Jeff and I got shocking news of the unexpected death of a dear family member, Larry.  Those of you who read the comments may already know of him through his thoughts that he often posted here.  Larry was the husband of Jeff’s younger sister, Jennifer. He died Saturday at their home in Tennessee, apparently of a massive heart attack. He was 54 years old, a husband, father and grandfather, and a true son to Jeff’s widowed mother, to whom he was especially close.

He was usually behind the camera, not in front of it, so photos of him are rare.  I did find this one I took of him in August 2009, when he wasn’t looking:

Larry grabs a few minutes of quiet after a family gathering in August 2009.

Larry grabs a few minutes of quiet after a family gathering in August 2009, Centerville, TN.

I have never known anyone who worked harder than Larry, but he defied the stereotype of driven Type A behavior.  He was soft spoken, cheerful, astoundingly patient and always kind.  In fact, he is one of very few people I have known for decades about whom I can say that I never once heard him say anything mean about anybody, or put anyone else down in any way.  In more than 35 years of knowing him, I never saw him angry or rude.  I feel that this world will be a less friendly and loving place without him.

Larry had worked the day before, as he did for years, as a radiographer at a local hospital, taking x-rays, CT scans and other types of diagnostic imaging.  His job required him to work long hours and many holidays, but you would never hear him complain.  He felt great compassion toward the patients he served, and toward anyone who was suffering.  He gave me honest and often reassuring explanations of some of the complex statistics of Jeff’s many radiology reports.  I can’t imagine being unable to talk about such things with him.

Jeff and I feel numb with shock.  As always, and now more than ever, we appreciate your prayers for us and our family, and especially for the many people who will miss Larry so keenly in the coming weeks and months and years.  In particular we are mindful of his young grandson who spent many happy hours with his PaPa and will no doubt be lost without him.

It is a consolation of sorts to know that Larry died quickly and without prolonged suffering.  Jeff’s mother said that his face was full of peace when she saw him.  Knowing Larry’s great faith in God, I take comfort in thinking of him at home with the heavenly Father who was his constant source of strength and hope.

Because I have these posts scheduled in advance, they will continue as normal, with one exception.  Below is a post that I originally had scheduled for next Wednesday.  I have changed it to be today’s post, because it seemed more appropriate.

The grave of Ralph Waldo Emerson (center) and family members, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts, June 2012

The grave of Ralph Waldo Emerson (center) and family members,
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts, June 2012

“Truly the universe is full of ghosts, not sheeted churchyard spectres, but the inextinguishable elements of individual life, which having once been, can never die, though they blend and change, and change again for ever.”H. Rider Haggard

One year ago today I wrote about the attraction I feel toward graveyards, with all their untold stories.  In Concord Massachusetts there’s a wonderful old cemetery called — I am not making this up — Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  Within its winding paths is a section known as Author’s Ridge, where one can see the graves of the Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott and Hawthorne families.

Even without the resting places of these famous individuals, the cemetery is a fascinating place.  While most of us are aware of the ways Emerson, Thoreau and others have left indistinguishable elements that remain today, I have no doubt that people whose names we would not recognize have left legacies as well.

Many of them have direct descendents who are citizens of Concord or other places.  Some exerted influence as educators, politicians, clergy, business owners, readers and writers who lived and worked and left bits of their thoughts and characters behind for us to discover in generations to come.

Each and every life changes the world in some way.  What indistinguishable elements are you creating, that will be here and live on when your physical body is gone?

One year ago this week:

A graveyard can teach you

The secret of the sea

My cousin Chris took this photo of his son Carlos with Bo, a female dolphin, at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi, August 2014.

My cousin Chris took this photo of his son Carlos with Bo, a female dolphin,
at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi, August 2014.

…my soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The ocean is alluring, but it also can be quite intimidating.  So much of it is unseen, its secrets literally and figuratively unfathomable.  A great many of the creatures who live there can be unappealing or frightening.  Not so with the dolphins and porpoises, who are like friendly ambassadors presenting what looks like a smiling face to take the edge off the mystery.

As mammals who share many of our own traits– playfulness, communication, and a level of intelligence not found in most other sea creatures– dolphins and porpoises are endearing to almost everyone.  I’ve never had the privilege of swimming with one of them, though I know that those who do apparently find the experience totally delightful. Carlos certainly seems to be among them!

Many parents of children with autism and other disabilities believe that dolphin therapy is beneficial for those whose communication with humans is impaired or severely limited.  I can see how it would be therapeutic for almost anyone, as contact with any friendly or playful animal can be.  Just looking at this photo was so therapeutic for me that I simply had to post it here.

Thanks, Carlos and Chris, for sharing your dolphin encounter with us!

One year ago today:

Stimulating loneliness

And speaking of secrets of the sea, Sheila sent me this fabulous photo of her daughter Ashley posing with a local in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina.  Those of us who don’t eat seafood will be happy to know that Ashley released her fishy friend back into the sea whence it came.  Those of  you who do enjoy eating seafood may be thinking, “WHAT??”  :D :D :D

Ashley's catch-and-release

The past is beautiful

This day was more beautiful than I could have known at the time. Sunday dinner at home with our visiting PaPa and both Grannies, 1969.

This day was more beautiful than I could have known at the time.
Sunday dinner at home with our PaPa and Grannies on a rare visit from Alabama, 1969.

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”Virginia Woolf

Reading this quote, I can only wish that Woolf had thought of these words before she took her own life; perhaps she might have given herself time to discover that all was not as bleak as it must have seemed at the time.  In any case, she has left behind a wealth of her written thoughts to ponder, and this one rings true for me.

The years do change our perceptions of the past; often it softens and enhances them, so that they grow more beautiful with time.  My memories of my grandparents were precious to me when I was in my twenties and thirties, but all the more so now that I am the same age they were during my earliest recollections of them.  Conjecture and imagination now add depth to a picture that I was too young to fully comprehend.

Do you have memories about which your emotions have expanded, as Woolf describes?  Which of your present emotions may seem incomplete to you later, seen with the benefit of hindsight through the lens of passing time?

One year ago today:

History that teaches

Wherever I went

The road is calling!  Get ready to give and receive.  Colonial Williamsburg, December 2004

The road is calling! Get ready to give and receive. Colonial Williamsburg, December 2004

“I had always believed that I left a bit of me wherever I went. I also believed that I took a bit of every place with me…And the only possible explanation I could find for that feeling was that a spirit existed in many of the places I visited, and a spirit existed in me and the two had somehow met in the course of my travels.”
Bruce Feiler

I don’t know anyone who enjoys staying home more than I do, and the older I get, the more I like it.  But I also was born to travel, to long for discovery of places and people I have never known.  While these two impulses might seem contradictory, they need not be.

I connect with what Feiler says in this quote, because I agree that we leave a bit of ourselves behind wherever we go.  The conversations we have with locals; the things we photograph, buy or contemplate; the very steps we take; all leave visible or invisible traces.  That’s why I try to be aware of my conduct in the cultures I visit, and careful to treat the land and its people with respect, whether it’s a country thousands of miles away or a town just down the road.

At the same time, each place we visit leaves us changed in some way, because our senses are taking in impressions every waking hour.  We may not consciously remember being affected by a place (though often we will), but our experiences make up a large part of who we are.  Again, it calls for awareness.  I try to avoid experiences that will feed my fears, prejudices and negativity.  It isn’t always possible, of course, but even when I find myself in less than ideal circumstances, there is almost always something to appreciate, if I look for it hard enough.

Perhaps it’s possible to love both home and travel because most of us long to feel at home wherever we go, and to see home with the fresh eyes of a traveler.  When we are on the road, let’s remember to take a bit of our best selves with us, to share freely in our travels.  When we do, we usually will discover generously offered gifts to bring home with us, bright gems of memory that will connect us to fellow humans through a spirit of shared understanding.

When you travel, what do you leave behind?  What do you bring back home with you?

One year ago today:

All gates

A lot of comfort

I photographed this antique postcard in September, 2013, at the Museum of the Albemarle, Elizabeth City, NC, The Museum's "Steeped in Time: Tea and Traditions" exhibit runs through August 2015.

I photographed this antique postcard in September, 2013,
at the Museum of the Albemarle, Elizabeth City, NC,
The Museum’s “Steeped in Time: Tea and Traditions” exhibit runs through August 2015.

“The most trying hours in life are between four o’clock and the evening meal. A cup of tea at this time adds a lot of comfort and happiness.”Royal S. Copeland

I don’t know about you, but I agree with Copeland that late afternoon is the most difficult time of the day.  By four p.m., I’ve usually dealt with at least one frustrating situation during the day, and maybe several more are still unresolved.  The dinner hour is creeping up and I may not be finished with everything else I hoped to accomplish before then.  As if to add insult to injury, the phone and/or doorbell starts to ring with junk calls and sales people who hope to catch us at home.  GET ME OUT OF HERE!  A cup of tea sounds like just the ticket.

For you, the most trying hours may be at a different time of day, and you may find more solace in coffee, a quick snack or a few minutes with the newspaper or favorite music.  Or perhaps stealing outdoors for some uninterrupted quiet would be a welcome relief.

I’ve read time management experts who suggest planning schedules with our daily low points in mind, avoiding those tasks that are likely to be difficult during the hours we aren’t at our best.  I’ll add, with Copeland, that we might want to put a short break on our to-do list for that time each day.  It might not always be possible to excuse ourselves from the stress when things are worst, but it’s a worthy goal.  I hereby grant you permission to schedule a 15 minute break for whatever time you can manage and most need it.

What simple but special treat can you give yourself to look forward to today?

One year ago today:

Any tea

The human story

Having once lived in Santa Barbara County, I can attest that it's not all like this. Photo by Mike Gogulski under the GNU Free Documentation License, via Wikimedia Commons

Having once lived in Santa Barbara County, I can attest that it’s not all like this.
Photo by Mike Gogulski, GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons

“The human story does not always unfold like a mathematical calculation on the principle that two and two make four. Sometimes in life they make five or minus three; and sometimes the blackboard topples down in the middle of the sum and leaves the class in disorder and the pedagogue with a black eye.”Winston Churchill

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things just don’t add up and we get a different sum than we were expecting.  It’s helpful to remain flexible and keep a sense of humor  when confronted with illogical circumstances.  Or maybe we can get creative with the statistics as the folks at New Cuyama did, and put a different spin on the usual rules– as long as we realize it’s all in fun and doesn’t change reality.

How do you react when your story does not unfold according to plan?  Do you get angry, frustrated, and discouraged?  Or do you look for the good in the situation, even if the only good is the ability to laugh it off?  Life goes on, and if we’re fortunate, we go on with it, whether we choose to smile, sigh or smirk.  Today, however the day goes, let’s try to smile.

One year ago today:

The maxim of the British


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