The best way

I've never walked this path, so I have no idea where it goes. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, photographed November 2004

I’ve never walked this particular path, so I have no idea where it goes.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, photographed November 2004

He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through—
Leastways for me…

…Bless you, of course, you’re keeping me from work,
But the thing of it is, I need to be kept.
There’s work enough to do—there’s always that;
But behind’s behind. The worst that you can do
Is set me back a little more behind.
I sha’n’t catch up in this world, anyway.
I’d rather you’d not go unless you must.

Robert Frost

Today’s post is dedicated, with sincere appreciation and gratitude, to all who read this blog and share this uncertain path with us.  Your presence, comments, prayers and good wishes are a continual source of encouragement.

One year ago today:

Obstacles or gateways?

 

Hard to plan

It looks to be a busy week, as usual.  April 2014

It looks to be a busy week, as usual. April 2014

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” E. B. White

I am writing this post in advance as usual, but I have a better-than-average idea what we will be doing on the day it is published, and it likely will be a long, difficult day for us.  So I thought we could use a bit of comic relief today, especially since that was the theme one year ago.  Let’s all hope that laughter is indeed the best medicine.  Matt certainly has enjoyed that particular blessing in abundance; I pray it serves him well now.

Today, I encourage you to go out and improve the world.  Or have fun. Or preferably, both!  Drop me a line and fill me in on how it goes.  I am eagerly awaiting good news.

One year ago today:

Not quite refined

 

 

In every picture

Kathy, LaRhodia, Andy and Robert capture memories through photography. I took these photos at various times during 2004-2008.

Kathy, LaRhodia, Andy and Robert capture memories through photography.
I took these photos at various times during 2004-2008.

“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”  — Ansel Adams

Looking through family snapshots, it’s usually pretty easy to tell who took the pictures.  It’s the person who isn’t in many of them.  With the advent of “selfies” it’s changing somewhat, but generally speaking, photographers don’t spend much time in front of the lens.

Maybe that’s why I like to take pictures of people taking pictures.  I have something in common with people who love cameras, and I enjoy catching them in the act of saving memories for themselves and other people to enjoy.

Are you the photographer in your family?  If not, try making some photos of the person who is normally behind the camera rather than in front of it.  If you can manage to take a picture of him or her taking pictures, so much the better.  It’s a nice way to round out the story in a collection of photos; a nod to the unseen storyteller whose presence, though seldom seen, is always felt.

One year ago today:

Capture a moment

Many ports

Jeff snapped this photo of me aboard the Balclutha in San Francisco,  during one of the riskiest seasons of my life.  November 2003

Jeff snapped this photo of me aboard the Balclutha in San Francisco,
during one of the riskiest seasons of my life. November 2003

“There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful.” Fernando Pessoa

Sea voyages make good metaphors for life, because they encompass the adventure, daring, uncertainty, beauty and danger that are part of living.  It might be easy to dream of a journey as a means of escape, but in reality, trouble is everywhere and risk abounds, even for those who try to escape calamity by staying home.

As Pessoa points out, pain will be inevitable even with a smooth voyage and safe arrival.  Though we may not set sail for the same ports, we have sorrow in common.  We also have joy, hope, compassion and the excitement of discovery.  Let’s continue to help each other in faith that what unites us is greater than what divides us.  All of us face challenges, known and unknown, and we need each other.

 

One year ago today:

Fishermen know

This is the power

This mosaic is one of many in the Resurrection Chapel at Washington National Cathedral. Photographed April 2005

This mosaic is one of many in the Resurrection Chapel at Washington National Cathedral.
Photographed April 2005

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.  — Keith Getty & Stuart Townend

Yesterday I wrote of singing to give myself courage and stamina as I drove alone to the hospital late on the night Jeff was first diagnosed and went into emergency surgery.  I sang two songs that night on the relatively short drive that I feared would seem endless when I started out.  Yesterday’s blog talked about the first song.  This song is the second.

Though it’s a fairly recent composition, many beautiful versions have already been recorded.  Here’s one that’s quite unique; I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  If you want to hear only the triumphant final verse quoted above, you can jump to 2:45 into the song.

When I first learned this song several years ago, I thought of Matt whenever we sang that verse.  The words “from life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny” brought to mind my memories of the tiny infant struggling to breathe in the neonatal intensive care unit, who went on to survive more than most of us can imagine.  As he undergoes his fifth and riskiest open heart surgery this week, I expect that I will be silently singing this song to myself more than once through the long hours of waiting.

Since September, when we sing this verse at church now I think also of that dark drive to the hospital, and of Jeff and what he has been through the past 20 months.  Though he and Matt express it differently, both of them continue to live as they always have, in quiet faith that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

For most Christians, Easter reminds us of what we believe every day: that the most important victory of all time has already been won.  Many of us will be singing about that today, finding in God’s promises the “peace that passes understanding.”  I honestly believe the peace on earth we all crave must first begin inside each one of us, not as a passive acquiescence, but as a rock-solid assurance that replaces fear with faith and love.  I wish that peace for everyone who reads these words.  “Hallelujah is our song.”

For a special Easter greeting, click here

Last year on Easter:

Our song

All now mysterious shall be bright

I photographed this sculpture inside Cologne Cathedral, May 2007.

I photographed this sculpture inside Cologne Cathedral, May 2007.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below. – 
Katharina von Schlegel

In seventh grade, I played clarinet in our school band, and we learned to play what became one of my favorite pieces of classical music, the beautiful theme from Finlandia by Sibelius, to which these lyrics were written. I’ve always thought the hymn comforting, particularly for one such as I, who often has to remind myself to be still amid the crises and anxieties of life.

One Saturday night in September 2012, the song became especially dear to me, as I sang it to myself while driving alone at 11:00 pm on the dark and unfamiliar roads to the hospital. Jeff was in emergency surgery for appendicitis, after having called me with the devastating news that they had found tumors on his liver and suspected metastatic cancer. I was beside myself with shock and fear, but singing these words gave me an anchor in the storm, and somehow helped me get to the hospital safely despite being far too upset to drive.

Perhaps my distraught emotions that Saturday night were not so very different from those felt by the friends and loved ones of Jesus on that Saturday nearly two thousand years ago. More than once I’ve heard it said of them, “Sunday was coming, but they didn’t know it yet.” The shock, grief and uncertainty of what might lie ahead must have been overpowering. Did they, like me, cling to a hope that felt more desperate than logical?

I’m sure most everyone reading this has faced something similar, a time of great sorrow, fear and inner turmoil. Perhaps some are facing such a dark night of the soul right now.  If so, my prayer for you is that you will find the balm of peace, and rays of hope that joy will come in the morning.

 Last year on the day before Easter:

Divine surprise

Gift of love

At Barcelona's Sagrada Familia, photographed May 2008, exterior sculptures tell the story of Jesus.

I took this photo in May 2008 at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia,
where exterior sculptures tell the story of Jesus.

Your gift of love, they crucified
They laughed and scorned Him as He died
The humble King they named a fraud
And sacrificed the Lamb of God. Twila Paris

This Easter weekend, I am going to quote verses from some hymns I love that seem especially fitting for this season.  Of all the most powerful ways to defeat despair, the singing of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” is perhaps my favorite.  This simple, beautiful tribute written by Twila Paris is a song we sing often at church, but no matter how often we sing it, I cannot get through it without tears.

I will always be grateful for having grown up in a church that taught singing as something that belonged to the entire congregation, not just a select and talented few in a choir or band.  Because everybody was expected to sing, the emphasis was on the meaning and spirit behind the songs rather than on the performance.  Sometimes this produced uneven results, particularly in smaller groups, yet it instilled in me a readiness to sing despite not being musically gifted.  More importantly, it planted the words to countless songs deep in my heart, allowing me to sing these songs from memory whenever I most need their messages.
—–
As a child, I never understood why this day was called “Good Friday.” What could possibly have been good about it?  It took me many years to begin to understand the profound truths underlying the themes of redemption through suffering, and joy that can be borne only of pain.  Although I still have a long way to go before I fully comprehend the beautiful words of Isaiah 53, I can find a comfort in them today that I scarcely imagined when my life was more innocent and carefree.

Today, I encourage you to remember with me the transient nature of this life, and for those of us who are Christians, to reflect on the blessed mystery of a God who was willing to become one of us, even to the point of a gruesome and humiliating death.

Last year on Good Friday:

Just three days

Our noblest hopes

This mounted tiger appears high overhead at the Museum of Natural History. The Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, April 2013

This mounted tiger appears high overhead at the Museum of Natural History.
The Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, April 2013

“Our noblest hopes grow teeth and pursue us like tigers.”  — John Gardner

Tigers may be my favorite wild animals.  Their beauty and power fascinate me.  I like this quote, because I believe hope can be a formidable weapon against despair.  I tend to think of hope as a passive, almost delicate quality; something silent and steadfast, but hardly the word that comes to mind when we see a magnificent tiger.

Yet think of history’s most daring explorers, the legendary defenders of the weak, champions of justice and underdogs who defeated the enemy against all odds.  Consider the many heroic characters of fairy tales and other literature.  Aside from courage, what other quality do they all have?  Hope — the refusal to give up or give in, the persistent belief that success, or victory, or a breakthrough, is within their power.

Note that Gardner is not referring to pipe dreams or selfish aspirations here – he says it’s our noblest hopes that can pursue and overtake us.

The next time you are feeling defeated by despair, remember that hope, once awakened, is a ferocious and mighty asset.  Feed your noblest hopes, let them grow teeth, and watch them empower you to do more than you ever imagined.

One year ago today:

The power to speak

 

 

Open arms

This is what happens when your grandmother is a librarian.  Dunwoody, Georgia, March 2014

This is what happens when your grandmother is a librarian. Dunwoody, Georgia, March 2014

“A library should be like a pair of open arms.”Roger Rosenblatt

“So why on earth would you take an eight-month-old baby to a library?” my mother asked me, when I told her how Matt and I had spent the previous day with Grady.  As a retired librarian who specialized in youth services, I just smiled and offered her the photographic evidence, some of which appears in the collage above.  My mother understood immediately.

This was Grady’s first-ever trip into the open arms of the public library.  I hope there will be many, many more in the weeks and months and years to come.  Knowing how much both his parents love reading, I have a sneaky suspicion my hope will almost certainly be fulfilled.

Next time your mind needs a hug, head for your local library — but be warned: you might find it’s hard to leave!

One year ago today:

Libraries will get you through

The earth laughs

Once a year for about a week, we are treated to this sight out our bedroom and bathroom windows.  Photographed from our bedroom window, Alexandria, Virginia, April 9, 2014

One week each year we are treated to this sight outside our bedroom and bathroom windows.
Photographed from our bedroom, Alexandria, Virginia, April 9, 2014

“The earth laughs in flowers.”Ralph Waldo Emerson

If Emerson is right, this spring ought to be a riot of hilarity, the kind that comes as a huge relief after sustained tension.  Last week, the cherry blossoms “brought down the house” with the earth’s mirth in the DC area.  I hope you too are having a jovial treat now appearing in your local landscape.  Feel free to send photos or links to share with us, and let’s join the earth in laughing away our winter doldrums.

One year ago today:

Flowers have an expression

You know how it is

This April day was part March, part May, all fun. Overlooking the Rhine River in Germany, April 2007

This April day was part March, part May, all fun.
Overlooking the Rhine River in Germany, April 2007

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”   - 
Robert Frost

When getting ready to go out for a long walk, I’ve learned that the temperature is not the biggest consideration in deciding how warmly to dress.  What seems to make the most difference is: how windy is it?  A sunny, warmish day can feel frigid with a strong wind, but if the air is calm and the skies clear, it will be a pleasant walk even if the temperatures are below 50.

By now I hope most of us are experiencing at least some days such as Frost describes here, where the calendar seems to have moved on a few weeks, if only temporarily.  As for those March winds, I have a whole new appreciation of their relatively temperate nature, after the snows of last month!  But today, I wish you a day that feels like May.

One year ago today:

Just enough intelligence

 

A curious paradox

Flowers growing in the city where I grew: Atlanta, March 2014

Flowers growing in the city where I grew: Atlanta, March 2014

“There is a curious paradox that no one can explain.
Who understands the secret of the reaping of the grain?
Who understands why Spring is born out of Winter’s laboring pain,
or why we must all die a bit before we grow again.”
Tom Jones (playwright) from The Fantasticks

Today I send virtual flowers to everyone who has endured an extra measure of “Winter’s laboring pain” this year, literally or figuratively.

May we all grow again this spring, bringing color and joy to our worlds!

One year ago today:

Like life

Very valuable

These memories are among the photos and cards saved by Daddy's mother.  I re-discovered them on an recent trip home in March, 2014.

These memories are among the photos and cards saved by Daddy’s mother.
I re-discovered them on an recent trip home in March, 2014.

“What a pity that I didn’t keep my childhood – it would be very valuable now.” 
Ashleigh Brilliant

One year ago today, I wrote about the April birthday shared by my father and my brother.  I had forgotten that my father’s father, who died when I was a baby, had almost had the same birthday.  I re-discovered this fact as I was rummaging through my father’s baby book which was kept lovingly by his mother, so long ago that it’s now officially an antique!  I am grateful she saved these bits from the past, and they somehow survived so that I can enjoy them today.

In contemporary culture, we struggle with having too many things.  Almost all of us need to throw away, give away or otherwise part with a great deal of what we have.  But save a few tokens of the past for future generations to enjoy.  Someday, they will be very valuable to people who are probably not even born yet.  I never knew my paternal grandfather, but a part of him lives on in his letters and photographs.  As an actor in a traveling theatre troupe, he was away from home when my father was born, but penned this letter to him that has now been read by many descendents he never met.

By the way: as it happens, Ashleigh (the author of this quote) did save a good bit of his childhood, in the form of detailed journals he kept from boyhood on, which he has laboriously transcribed verbatim to digital files, and shared online with his friends and fans.  Reading through them gives a fascinating picture of what everyday life was like in wartime England.  Ashleigh’s reflections on the headlines we studied decades later in history class provide us with a boy’s viewpoint on difficult circumstances, under which life nonetheless went on.  But it’s the everyday details I find most interesting, the things that never made it into the history books.

I hope you will keep at least a little of your childhood in the tangible symbols that your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren can enjoy long after you have left this earth.

One year ago today:

Born on his father’s birthday

 

They will shine

Beautiful on the outside, but nothing hidden shines through. A sculpture at the Musée D'Orsay, Paris, August 2005

Beautiful on the outside, but nothing hidden shines through.
A sculpture at the Musée D’Orsay, Paris, August 2005

“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”Roald Dahl

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment…Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…”I Peter 3:3-4

One year ago today, I quoted from another aviator who, like Roald Dahl, is best known to millions as a writer.  The quote from Saint-Exupery is one of my all-time favorites, about the beauty of what lies hidden.

We’ve all known people whose outward appearance was not attractive in any conventional sense, but who radiate a powerfully appealing presence that draws us to them.  When we come face-to-face with someone whose wonderful character shines through a seemingly flawed exterior, it up-ends our shallower notions about what matters most in a person.

The idea of inner beauty has unfortunately become a sort of cliché, the kind of thing that we talk about but don’t really believe (hence the millions of dollars spent each year on cosmetics, elective surgery and other efforts to create physical perfection).  I think the endless media onslaught of air-brushed, largely mythical images of “perfect” people has desensitized us to the point that we have nearly forgotten how to really see each other.

Each person you meet is a deep well of unseen thoughts, memories, ideas and dreams.  With very few exceptions, there is much that is beautiful inside, although it may be hidden at first glance.  As we strive to shine forth in a way that goes beyond superficial adornment, let’s also be on the lookout for that hidden beauty inside each person we see today.  Sometimes, believing is seeing.

One year ago today:

Somewhere it hides

Most engaging

We got a big kick out of this sight in Ephesus, Turkey, May 2008.

We got a big kick out of this sight in Ephesus, Turkey, May 2008.

The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.” Samuel Johnson

Is there any brand name more tiresomely familiar than Walmart?  Yet this enterprising Turkish businessman found a way to put a humorous spin on it, borrowing that famous name and slogan for his small merchandise stand near the ruins of Ephesus.  Familiar, but not the same old thing!  We instantly felt more at home when we saw it.

When I first found today’s quote, I wished there was a way to feature it with a collage of re-blogs from so many of my favorite bloggers, all of whom have made their exotic (to me) worlds more familiar.  It would be equally fitting to re-blog an assortment of posts from those whose lives or locations are more familiar to me, yet who have helped me, through their writing and photos, to see the ordinary with new eyes.

So, my fellow bloggers and blog readers, I borrow Misifusa’s encouraging words and urge you to SHINE ON!  Though some might belittle what we do, I really believe we are making the world a friendlier place, one exchange at a time.  Thanks for being here, and for taking me there!

And by the way…those shop owners at Ephesus certainly have a sense of humor:

Genuine fakes Ephesus May 2008

One year ago today:

The familiar exotic

 

The little pictures

This enormous mosaic of happily-ever-after was created one tiny tile at a time.  Cinderella's castle, Walt Disney World, August 2003

This enormous mosaic of happily-ever-after was created one tiny tile at a time.
Cinderella’s castle, Walt Disney World, August 2003

“Change enough of the little pictures, and you’ll find you’ve changed the big picture.”Ashleigh Brilliant

For many years — almost since I first discovered Ashleigh’s work in  1990 — I’ve had this quote on my refrigerator door.  It reminds me to be patient when results come slowly, and not to feel helpless if I am only able to accomplish small things when I long to achieve great ones.  It helps me realize that it’s better to take small steps in faith rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of any endeavor.

So many remarkable accomplishments involve far more time and work than is understood by those of us who benefit from someone else’s labor of love.  Whether it’s a meticulously prepared meal, a colorful mosaic or a soaring cathedral, we tend to spend far less time enjoying it than its creator(s) spent putting it together.  That’s natural, of course, but it can build into us a sort of impatience for results that is unrealistic and frustrating when we are the ones expending the effort to build something worthwhile.

If your day involves many tedious or seemingly insignificant tasks, consider that the importance of your tiny brushstrokes may be less obvious because you are unable to see the entire canvas from close range.  Eventually, when you are able to step back and see the results of months (or years) of determined diligence from you and others in your world, the beauty of your life may take your breath away.

One year ago today:

In even the smallest detail

The people you meet

From Naples, we toured Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast with this lovely family.  May, 2008

From Naples, we toured Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast
with this lovely family. May, 2008

“The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them.”Amelia Barr

One thing I love about travel is the way it brings people together who might never otherwise meet.  Cruises are great for this, with continual group activities planned, but even those of us who don’t go to the many onboard social events and games will still end up chatting with others while going ashore on a tender or lining up to board the ship at the end of a day spent exploring a new port.

Technology has made cruising easier in many ways, enabling passengers booked on a particular cruise to meet online ahead of time and exchange tips and information.  Websites such as Cruise Critic sponsor forums for passengers of specific scheduled cruises.  Past cruisers have helpful hints on what to bring and what to avoid, along with names of good tour and transportation companies, and not-to-be-missed sights at various ports of call.  And for those of us who prefer not to take the ship-sponsored tours, such websites are a great way to contact others who want to share a cab for the day to explore at a faster pace and lower cost.

Before our Mediterranean cruise in 2008, I went to Cruise Critic to find travel partners for our days in Florence, Ephesus and Naples, since we had much that we wanted to see in each of those ports, and wanted to have a private cab or van to share with people  who had the same plans. It was so much more fun to explore with others from our ship, and we felt safer, too, knowing someone would notice if we didn’t get back to the car at the agreed time.

For example, when we were driving the stunning Amalfi Coast and got stuck in traffic on the way back, it was reassuring to be with friends from our ship who would be “in the same boat” — or not — if the ship sailed without us!  Not to mention the fact that two of our four companions were physicians; always a nice perk if there’s a medical emergency.

The cost to travel this way is far cheaper than buying a cruise-sponsored tour, and because only a few people are in the group (instead of 20 or more) it’s much easier to move efficiently from one sight to another.  Online reviews and research have good information about which companies are most trustworthy, and in some cases, even an individual driver will be recommended by several different people.  Having such travel tools at hand can make a trip go more smoothly, with a sense of familiarity when you are among fellow tourists you have already “met” online, going to places you’ve read about beforehand.

If you have travel plans coming up soon, I hope that you will come home with happy memories, not only of where you went and what you did, but also of people you met along the way.  May you find, as we have, that there are friendly, helpful people all over the world, just waiting to greet you and share a few smiles to take the edge off the tiring, anxious or frustrating moments.

One year ago today:

In the cherry blossom’s shade

A perfect ratio

The dunes at Jockey's Ridge, on the outer banks of North Carolina, are great for strolling, kite flying, and staying sane.  September, 2013

The dunes at Jockey’s Ridge, on the outer banks of North Carolina,
are great for strolling, kite flying, and staying sane. September, 2013

“There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount , a perfect ratio of water to rock, water to sand, insuring that wide, free, open, generous spacing among plants and animals…There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.”Edward Abbey

Sometimes we make the mistake of seeing deficits in any situation that lacks the elements to which we are most accustomed.  Thus a geographic region, a climate, a culture, a house or even a person may seem inadequate to us, when it’s actually our perception that needs adjusting.

I don’t count myself among those who love the desert, but I must admit that there’s a singular beauty in wide panoramas of sand, uninterrupted by the water, trees and flowers I normally prefer.  There’s a sort of mental cleansing that happens when one is in such an environment, which complements the physical exertion of walking in sand.  Climbing a high dune often ends in a breathlessness that is quite fitting to the expansive view that rewards plodding to the top.  If the dunes are adjacent to water, a stunning combination of sand, sea and sky stretches as far as the eye can see.

If you are fortunate enough to live near such an area, you might find a quick outing there is a perfect antidote to the overwhelming stimulation of contemporary life.  If you are too far away to visit a desert or dune in person, a bit of the same serenity can be found in any area free of visual distractions and noise.  Some of the long, monochromatic and unadorned hallways of the massive medical center where Jeff spent so much time this past year provided me with a refreshing break when I would stroll through them in the evenings after most employees had left for the day.

What we usually might see as barren can be a balm to the soul when we feel bombarded with too much to process in too short a time.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I wish you an expansive place of quiet where you can escape, even if only briefly, to a perfect ratio of less and more.

One year ago today:

Something is there

A genuine interest

An everyday moment, now a treasured memory.  Dixon, California, January 2003

An everyday moment, now a treasured memory. Dixon, California, January 2003

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”William Morris

I like to keep a camera handy so I can capture everyday moments, the type that seem commonplace.  Now that most people have cell phones with cameras, this is happening more often, and I think that’s mostly a good thing.  As with all such innovations, it can be overdone or misused, but I think cameras can help us be more aware of how wonderful even the seemingly dullest day can be.

When I was working as a youth services librarian in California, there was a lively group of kids who came to the public library every afternoon after school because there was no one at home and they didn’t want to be alone.  Sensing that they needed something different to do while they spent so much time in the small “children’s room” of the library, one of the other staff members and I decided to start a craft day for them.  Each week we would work together on some sort of simple craft, and soon other young visitors and parents joined in regularly.

There was nothing particularly special about the day I snapped this photo.  I just happened to have my camera along with me.  I look at it now and it brings me such joy to remember these precious children I saw almost every day.  After more than eleven years, they are all adults now, and many of them probably have children of their own.  If so, I hope they take their kids to the library with fond memories of what a fun place it can be.

Are there everyday moments you have captured, on film or in your memory, that bring you joy to this day?  I hope you will look around today and take some snapshots, with a camera or just with your mind, to remind you of all the often-unnoticed things that make up your daily life.  I’ve found that what Morris said holds true; when we look closely at our lives, they become quite interesting, and bring us deep happiness.

One year ago today:

After ecstasy

And speaking of daily life, you might enjoy a visit to one of my favorite blogs. It’s called Pictures from Everyday Life.  I love to go there and take a mini-escape to England, where I can go for a virtual walk in the lovely countryside with Jez, Max, and Julia.  She has a gift for capturing the beautiful moments of “normal” days.  It’s a great way to enjoy everyday life in England, something I’ve always wished I could do in reality!

So great a sweetness

A detail from a whimsical canvas in the cardiology waiting room at Children's National Medical Center, March 2014

Detail from a whimsical canvas in the cardiology waiting room,
Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC, March 2014

When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blessed.William Butler Yeats

Recently when I took Matt for his diagnostic testing and pre-surgical planning at the Children’s National Medical Center in DC, I knew it was going to be a long, hard day.  His cardiac situation is so complex by now that I have learned there is no such thing as a quick, routine appointment, and this one wasn’t even meant to be routine.  We were discussing his upcoming fifth open heart surgery.  (Though Matt is 28 years old now, his complex heart condition requires that he see cardiologists who specialize in congenital defects, and these doctors are almost always located at children’s medical centers.)

That morning before leaving home, I decided to make the day better by consciously trying to look for reasons to be happy and thankful.  Almost as an afterthought, I took along my camera, knowing photography makes it easier and more fun to look for the “perfect pictures” Ellis wrote about so eloquently.  As it turned out, I was very happy to have my camera along with us, because I saw many images I wanted to capture.

I’ve lost count of how many times Matt and I have sat in the cardiology waiting room there, but I honestly had no memory of any of the art I photographed there that day, including the lovely canvas from which the detail printed above was taken.  Throughout the various areas of the hospital we walked through that day, there was abundant colorful art, much of it created by young people. What a difference it made to the climate of the huge, potentially intimidating hospital!

But it wasn’t just the art that made the day so much more pleasant than it might have been.  The cheerful and caring staff there were a joy to be with.  More than once I caught myself giving one or another of them a hug, almost without thinking about it.  They didn’t seem to mind.  All of them asked about Jeff, joked with Matt, and generally kept the atmosphere upbeat.

I took the time to really take in the views from the huge glass windows; the rainy urban landscapes, the water, and the hazy U. S. Capitol in the distance.  I photographed these views, along with the large hospital atrium and decorated hallways and a colorful aquarium with different kinds of fish.  I even took a few shots of the doctors clustered around the Medtronic machine, discussing Matt’s always-interesting (to them) pacemaker data.  They didn’t seem to mind, or even notice.

Matt, of course, was sunny as usual, laughing and smiling and generally enjoying himself among the medical professionals he has come to trust as friends.  Anytime I’m in the mood to make things festive, Matt’s in, no question.  That makes the challenges so much easier than if he was a brooding, gloomy type.  Many of the children I saw at the hospital were equally happy, though all probably were dealing with health issues, some more obviously serious than others.

None of this changed the fact that it was a long, exhausting day, and in the rush hour DC traffic, it took us 90 minutes to drive a relatively short distance home.  The rain made it even more tedious than it normally is.  But aside from being very tired, we were in good spirits, all things considered.

There is so much beauty and joy around us in most circumstances, even those that are trying and worrisome.  My camera lens is not rose-colored, but it does help me focus on the best aspects of any situation.  You may find the same inspiration from music, poetry, nature, or just a friendly chat with a friend.

Today, I wish you the sweetness of laughter and singing and blessings everywhere you look!

One year ago today:

A thousand small ways

The everyday struggle

The dragons are formidable, but no match for our faith and tenacity.  Disney's California Adventure Park, July 2004

The dragons are formidable, but they are no match for our faith and tenacity.
Disney’s California Adventure Park, July 2004

“One wrestles with one’s dragons until the end of one’s life — it is a constant and eternal process.  The crises in one’s life only show up in intensity what is going on every day.  The crises are there, perhaps in order to illuminate the everyday struggle…so that one may be better prepared to fight, not “next time” but all the time — tomorrow and the day after.”Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I’ve often said that the crises are easier to get through than the relatively smaller challenges that come with each day.  During a crisis, we typically have adrenaline, determination and the active support of friends and family to get us through.  There is also the feeling that, whatever is happening, it is time-limited and will pass.  In between major life events, though, the seemingly minor setbacks and relentless annoyances can take a cumulative toll that is ultimately as formidable as the life-and-death moments.

I think Anne Lindbergh’s insights are correct; life is an ongoing struggle for pretty much all of us, though our individual circumstances vary on the surface.  During her 94 years, she weathered larger storms than most of us will, but  so many of us are drawn to her writing not because of her accounts of remarkable and unprecedented experiences.  Rather, it is her knack for detailing the common trials we all must negotiate; the ubiquitous obstacles we must overcome just to get through another day.

If your path today is impeded by figurative dragons, or only pesky gnats and flies, I hope you’ll have plenty of illumination to guide your way.  Remember how much you have survived already, and take heart!  You obviously have the right stuff to get through another day.

One year ago today:

A light from the shadows

The singing of birds

Hungry birds: these babies sing for their supper! May 2008

These hungry baby Robins can’t yet sing for their supper, but they would if they could!
Our York back yard, May 2008

“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come…”Song of Solomon 2:11-12

Let’s hope the winter is mostly past by now, and the rain, while not over and gone, will surely give way to more sunny days ahead.  The time of the singing birds is definitely here, and I hope we will all enjoy it!

What are your favorite springtime joys?

One year ago today:

This most amazing day

The first spring day

Let's take an imaginary break at this gazebo in Yorktown, Virginia. I took the photo in May 2013, but we can pretend it's today!

Let’s take an imaginary break at this gazebo in Yorktown, Virginia.
I took the photo in May 2013, but we can pretend it’s today!

“The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.  The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”  — Henry Van Dyke

On March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, we returned to Alexandria to find six inches of snow on the ground.  Really!  I had just left behind our daffodils, finally blooming in York County, and here I was shoveling snow AGAIN during what I thought would be mild weather.  And the first day of spring, according to the calendar, was only three days away.

But, as Van Dyke points out, that’s a very different thing from the first spring day.  The crazy thing is, we had a couple of days that felt like spring weeks ago, minus the flowering trees and other signs of new life.  This year, the warm days seem merely to have provoked more winter weather.

Those of you who live in more northern climates are probably thinking I’m a weather wimp – and you’re right!  Still, I am hoping — yet again — that THIS time, by the time this message is published, we will be having some true springtime weather, not only here, but maybe even north of here.

In any case, I hope this photo will chase away the winter blues, even if your weather does not.  I’m sending you a bouquet of wishes for the lighthearted sound of birdsong, the cheerful color of flowers, and the delicious warmth of bright sunlight.

One year ago today:

Poems by heart

A nation that does not know

History students, remember this important event!  Lexington, Virginia, August 2004

History students, remember this important event!  Lexington, Virginia, August 2004

“In the words of a very famous dead person, ‘A nation that does not know its history is doomed to do poorly on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.’…We constantly see surveys that reveal this ignorance, especially among our high school students, 78 percent of whom, in a recent nationwide multiple-choice test, identified Abraham Lincoln as ‘a kind of lobster.’ That’s right: more than three quarters of our nation’s youth could not correctly identify the man who invented the telephone.”Dave Barry

In honor of April Fool’s Day, I’m featuring a funny quote from (who else?) Dave Barry.  Feel free to send along links to your favorite online jokes or You Tube videos.  And beware of anyone who gives you information that might be a prank in disguise.

Wishing you a day of fun and laughter!

One year ago today:

A little nonsense

Every time you smile

Matt with a few of his many friends at church in Fairfield, California, bidding him farewell on our last Sunday there in August 2004.

Matt in Fairfield, California, with just a few of his many friends at church,
who were bidding him farewell on our last Sunday there in August 2004.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”Mother Teresa

I wrote last year about Matt’s smiles, and how they have decorated countless photos and memories in his 28 years.  That post is linked below.  He’s had some help and encouragement in that regard, because people have showered him with beautiful smiles all his life.

Can you think of anything as easy, simple and free as a smile that adds so much joy to the world?  If we could all manage to give away more sincere, honest smiles — not the plastered-on fake kind, but genuine greetings of friendly regard — wouldn’t that instantly improve everyday life?  Let’s try it.  Smiles open hearts and minds and doors to friendship.  They are beautiful things!

One year ago today, it was Easter weekend, so I’m adjusting the posts to fit.
April 20, 2013 is linked today
March 29-31, 2013 will be linked on Easter weekend. 

Almost one year ago today:

A species of talent

And for a special treat, see Lisa Bruneti’s beautiful collection of smiles from Ecuador!

Coaxed downstairs

The stairs can be slow and tiring, but they're the only safe way down.  Niagara Falls, May 2009

The stairs can be slow and tiring, but they’ll get you safely down. Niagara Falls, May 2009

“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”Mark Twain

I’ve come to respect the immense power of habit to influence our lives for better or worse.  In everything from eating to sleeping to managing money to how we interact with each other at home, at work or on the road, habits can make or break our health, our sanity and our happiness.

To me, the very word “habit” sounds boring and unappealing, but good habits are forceful allies in the craziness of life.  They are sort of like the “autopilot” that keeps us functioning by taking over when our reason is distracted or assaulted.

Bad habits, on the other hand, can sabotage our best intentions and most genuine efforts.  With incredible tenacity, they mock our optimism and self-improvement ideals, leaving us feeling foolish for even trying to overcome them.  Addicts, of course, experience this more keenly than those of us who have less obvious compulsions, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least a few detrimental tendencies they’d like to overcome.  For example, I have a bad habit of eating Cheez-It crackers right out of the (extra large) box, which I’m doing right now as I write this, despite knowing that healthier snack options would be better for me.

I think Twain hit on an important secret here.  While we hear the occasional story of a successful “cold turkey” setting aside of a bad habit, most often we have to be patient with ourselves and others when it comes to breaking bad habits, and take it a step at a time.  It’s usually not successful for me to make unrealistic goals such as “I will never eat anymore Cheez-It crackers as long as I live” or “as long as I weigh more than five pounds over my ideal weight” (which in my case appears to be the same thing).  I can start with closing the box right now (okay, okay!) even though it’s not empty yet.  Not quite, anyway.

Then I can move on to other steps, such as NOT BUYING any Cheez-It crackers in the first place.  I was doing pretty good with this, until they came out with Zingz.  Oh, my.  Talk about unplanned complications! If you have the same problem with Cheez-It crackers that I do, take my advice; don’t even THINK about trying Zingz. It’s like coaxing yourself down three flights and then taking an elevator back up six.

I’ve often heard that it’s easier to let go of a bad habit if we replace it with a good one.  In my experience, that’s true.  So in just a minute, I’m going to go to the kitchen and get a mandarin orange and another cup of tea.  Want to join me?

Admittedly, there’s nothing glamorous or exciting about slow, incremental approaches, but they do work, as long as we keep moving in the right direction.  Sometimes we don’t see how far we’ve come until we look back and realize that we’re a respectable distance from where we started.  That gives us a boost to morale that can keep us going, as long as we don’t let ourselves get overwhelmed with the idea of the long distance that still lies ahead.

If your bad habit is too big and heavy and obstreperous to be heaved out the window, try coaxing it down one step at a time.  Sooner or later you’ll get to the ground, and you’ll enjoy a much-deserved break — and maybe even some congratulations and applause.  See you there!

One year ago today, it was Easter weekend, so I’m adjusting the posts to fit.
April 18, 2013 is linked today
March 29-31, 2013 will be linked on Easter weekend. 

Almost one year ago today:

Slowly — but painlessly!

In the spring

Small space? No problem! Dirt is portable and flowers can adapt. Thanks to Alys for allowing me to use this photo of her long-ago patio garden.

Small space? No problem! Dirt is portable and flowers can adapt.
Thanks to Alys for allowing me to use this photo of her long-ago patio garden.

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”Margaret Atwood

I’m re-blogging this lovely March 19, 2012 post from Alys at Gardening Nirvana, who reminds us that we can find ways to welcome spring even in small spaces. I put the words in the next to last paragraph in bold case:

Hooray for spring which officially arrives on our coast around 1 am tomorrow. Spring Equinox symbolizes the re-emergence of plants and trees awakening from winter’s slumber. It also means longer lines at the garden center.

When I was single and working full-time I used to use some of my paid time off each spring to start my garden. It didn’t matter where I was living, I always found a way to break ground even if it meant settling for a patio garden. When I rented a room in a house in Willow Glen, I planted in the three narrow strips lining the driveway. My production was minimal in that miniscule plot, but the corn got plenty of sun, and I had the immense pleasure of gardening.

When the Willow Glen owner sold the house and gave us the boot, I moved to an apartment in nearby Campbell. I managed to cram about 20 houseplants into my 400 square foot apartment, valuing greenery over any superfluous furniture. As I set down emotional roots, so too did my garden expand. I spent my weekends at local nurseries and assorted home and garden centers planning for my little patio. One pot became three and eventually I lined both sides of the narrow walkway with potted flowers and plants. I added vines along the fence, and even planted some zucchini behind my apartment, though I really didn’t have enough sun. I planted flowers along the path to my door, to the delight of my neighbors who shared the view. The owners of our four-plex preferred simple cement. It was nice to have a bit of green along the walkway, welcoming me home each day.

I married my husband in 1995 and settled in a quiet neighborhood, known for excellent schools. It was important to both of us that we raise our boys in one place, having bounced around so much in our own youth. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. It took awhile to realize I could turn plants loose from their pots and allow them to put down roots. I love the stability that allows me to plan a garden from year to year, not worrying about evictions or troubles from the city. My Campbell four-plex, as it turned out, was illegal. It has since been torn down and replaced with a single-family dwelling.

Life is impermanent and change is inevitable. But year after year, spring arrives, and along with it feelings of hope. In the end, it’s not about yields but about the joy of the practice, the nuanced discoveries and the dirt under your nails.

What are you planting this spring?

via Spring it On! | Gardening Nirvana.

One year ago today, it was Easter weekend, so I’m adjusting the posts to fit.
April 19, 2013 is linked today
March 29-31, 2013 will be linked on Easter weekend. 

Almost one year ago today:

Solace in the seedlings

All ready

I don't remember how old Drew was here, but I think he was around ten months old.

I don’t remember quite when this was taken, but I think Drew was around ten months old.

I wanted to do something a little different with the quote today, just to change things up a bit.  Let me know what you think. I see lots of quotes online that are “posterized” with photo or art, and I always enjoy them, but I have ZERO experience creating them.  However, if you don’t mind being a test audience, I can try to improve my skills.

I don’t really recommend going after our troubles with any sort of bat, but I love the indomitable attitude Dr. Seuss calls up in this quote.  While there are times when passive resignation is the best course, I think we sometimes default to that simply because it’s the path of least resistance.

If you are troubled by negative thoughts and messages today, I hope you will talk back to them.  Think of yourself as wielding a big psychological bat made of courage, determination and hope.  Whether your despair takes the form of snarling mental dragons or tiny gnats of worries that nip away at your faith, go after them!  Chances are they’ll turn and run from you.

Much of what we fear lies in some imaginary future that may or may not be as bad as we dread.  Since it’s all outside of reality at this point, we might as well make ourselves — at least in our own minds — bigger and stronger than what is after us.  I dare you to give it a try!

One year ago today, a tribute to our beloved and fearless dog Pasha, who died 6-30-13:

The size of the fight

The richness of the rain

The English climate on full display at the Tower of  London, August 2005

The English climate on full display at the Tower of London, August 2005

“The richness of the rain made me feel safe and protected; I have always considered the rain to be healing—a blanket—the comfort of a friend.”
Douglas Coupland

“…I will praise the English climate till I die—even if I die of the English climate.”
G. K. Chesterton

As much as I love the sunshine, I have to admit that I also love rain — just occasionally, and preferably if I don’t have to be out in it too much.  I agree with Coupland’s thought that it creates a feeling of safety and protection, as long as it’s not accompanied by lashing winds that get me soaking wet and chilled to the bone.  In the warm weather (which I hope will be here soon) I love walking under an umbrella in the soft rain.  Staying indoors with a cup of tea and a good book is even more appealing.

Almost everywhere, springtime brings some rainy days.  I hope you will find in the rain what Coupland found: the healing comfort of a friend.

Happy birthday today to a very special person who has always loved rainy days! 

One year ago today:

No life without rain

Different kinds of weather

This clip is from a short video I filmed on 3-24-13, when I don't remember it snowing.

This clip is from a short video I filmed on 3-24-13, when I don’t remember it snowing.

“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.” Mark Twain

Until this year, I might have accused Twain of exaggerating with this statement.  Now?

Maybe not.

It’s easy to forget that last spring seemed equally erratic at the time.  I was searching my images of March 2013, and I found a short video clip of a snowfall that came to our York home (where there is normally much less snow than in the DC area) on March 24.  I took a screen shot from that video, which is shown above.  Isn’t it funny how tricky our memories can be?  I don’t remember last year having the same ups and downs of this year.

If it’s spring weather when this is published two weeks from the day I’m writing it (when it’s COLD and windy) let’s all rejoice!  If it’s not, let’s keep hoping…and if you’re fed up with snow by now, see the post linked below for a more colorful image of springtime.

One year ago today:

Something is afoot

A light joyousness

This photo I took at Keukenhof, Netherlands, in March 2007 seemed the perfect background for this quote from Matisse.

This photo I took at Keukenhof, Netherlands, in March 2007
seemed the perfect background for this quote from Matisse.

Hats off to Matisse!  I think he had a good attitude. Unfortunately, I sometimes want to make sure at least some people know just how hard I am working.  I’m not sure whether that’s a tendency to play the martyr, or a subtle way of trying to make sure I don’t get buried any deeper under piles of undone tasks.  But I suspect it’s more fun to be around someone who makes it all look easy and fun.

How about you?  Do you like it when people think everything comes easily to you?  Or do you want them to know it’s not easy at all, but you’re hanging in there anyway?  I can see advantages both ways, can’t you?

For those of us who have a hard time making it look easy, what are some ways we can achieve at least a touch of that light joyousness Matisse describes?  We might not produce colorful canvases as he did, but surely our daily lives are works of art in progress.  How can we lighten up the world, for ourselves and for others, without shirking our daily responsibilities?

One year ago today:

Diligence and labor

REAL TIME UPDATE FROM ALEXANDRIA, 3-25-14:  This is getting almost comical.  Almost.

These are the plants that were posted recently, photographed in happier times.

These are the plants that were pictured here recently, photographed in happier times.

IMG_0450

The view from my craft room window, 3-25-14.

IMG_0451

Here’s the view from where I sit right now, at the computer, 3-25-14. Here we SNOW again…

A new kind of action

Eric took this photo from the cockpit of his T-37 while flying in close-trail formation. Too close for comfort!

Eric (at age 20 or 21) took this photo from the cockpit of his T-37 during training,
while flying in close-trail formation. Too close for comfort!

“The defense force inside of us wants us to be cautious, to stay away from anything as intense as a new kind of action.  Its job is to protect us, and it categorically avoids anything resembling danger.  But it is often wrong.”Barbara Sher

I don’t know about you, but just looking at the photo posted above makes me a bit nervous.  I get edgy enough when there’s not a lot of following distance between me and the car just ahead, but an airplane?  No wonder I never became a pilot!

That photo was taken during a crucially important early stage of my brother’s successful and rewarding career in aviation.  There might be a part of him that wonders why he was not more afraid of an adventure so obviously risky, but if you asked him, I imagine he would tell you he has no regrets.  Easy for me to say that in hindsight, knowing that he survived and thrived. If he had not survived pilot training (as more than one of his fellow pilots did not) I might feel quite differently.

But years ago a friend told me something that rang true to me.  He said our worst regrets almost always come from things we left undone, rather than from things we did.  That may not be true in all cases, but looking back over my own life, I feel it’s true for me.

As mentioned in the recent post about Rickenbacker, there’s nothing wrong with being afraid.  Fear can be a healthy and good thing, but it also can hold us back.  Are there any big or little things you’d like to do, that you’re afraid to try?  Could your self-protective instincts be wrong about some of the things you fear?

One year ago today:

Yonder lies the way

Exercise your heart

Let this lovely handcrafted card from the Boom Room inspire your heart to soar -- or at least jog!

Let this lovely handcrafted card from the Boom Room inspire your heart to soar –
or at least do some jumping jacks!


“Exercise your heart today.” — from a Dove Chocolate wrapper

One year ago today, I wrote a post about the physical demands of sailing, using it as a metaphor for dealing with the challenges of living.  It’s not just our bodies that get stronger with exercise, though. Our minds and spirits need it even more.

As part of Jeff’s ongoing campaign to keep me from getting as thin as I think I should be (or maybe because of their documented mood-elevating properties), he often buys me chocolates.  Most recently, he gave me a bag of those wonderful Dove dark chocolate hearts that have little sayings inside the wrapper.  Now that I’ve used one of the sayings here, I have an excuse to eat more of these candies.  Ah, the perks of blogging!

When I saw the message quoted above on one of the wrappers, I really liked it.  Depending on how you read it, it can be a very deep concept.  Some will think of physical exercise and its cardiac benefits.  But I think the best meaning is the figurative one; we need to take time each day to exercise our ability to care, and to show it in useful ways.  As with all exercise, it will require intent and some degree of stamina, but will get easier as we go along.

OK, so here’s a challenge: let’s exercise our hearts TODAY by doing some little or big thing we might not have planned to do.  Here are some possibilities to get you started:

Send a note or card to someone who might enjoy hearing from you.

Tell a loved one how much you appreciate some VERY SPECIFIC thing that they do or are.

Leave an encouraging comment on someone else’s blog. (NOT counting this one! :-) )

Carry a small plastic bag outside and pick up any little bits of trash that might have blown into your neighbors’ yards.

Let cars merge in front of you, or let someone go first in the checkout line at a store.

Listen to someone who just needs to vent.

Give a heartfelt compliment to a stranger who has an adorable baby or pet with them.

Be extra patient with someone who is having a bad day.

If you catch yourself starting to say something negative, try to substitute something positive in your mind, and say that instead.

Your turn!  What are some other ways we can exercise our hearts today?  Share your ideas here – then let’s all “just do it!”

One year ago today:

Adjust the sails

Our highest business

This quote from Ronald Reagan marks his tomb at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, July 2004.

This quote from Ronald Reagan marks his tomb
at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, July 2004.

“We are involved in a life that passes understanding and our highest business is our daily life.”John Cage

The post that published one year ago today (linked below) is perhaps the one that has the greatest personal significance to me.  Since I wrote that post, one of the three in that picture is no longer with us.  I am all the more grateful that the other two still are.  What I wrote then is more true today than ever before, and as hard as the lesson has been, I’m thankful to have been made increasingly aware of it with each day that passes.

I believe each of us has purpose to our life; we are where we are for a reason, though we may not live in submission to that purpose, or even be aware of it.  Yet acknowledging that we are able to “bloom where we are planted,” whether or not that particular bit of soil is one we would have chosen, is a step toward freedom from the fears and regrets that can hold us back from living fully and abundantly.  No one else is in the position we are in, uniquely equipped to serve and give and live in ways that would be impossible for any other person.

Today is my 500th post on this blog, and as I write this (on March 8, two weeks before scheduled publication) this day seems a milestone in more ways than one.  Writing the 500th post on the same day we cross over 100,000 views of this blog, and most encouraging, the bright sunshine and warm day calling me outside after the snows the past week, all feel as if we have passed through yet another figurative doorway today.  Thus, in the words of the beloved hymn,”here I raise my Ebenezer” and move forward in faith and joy, to embrace the high calling of my daily life.  I hope and trust you will be doing the same!

And speaking of daily life, thanks so much for being part of mine!  Your presence here, comments, prayers and friendship have been a large part of the grace and mercy with which we have been showered these many months.  I had mentioned at my one-year anniversary that I intended to do some things differently, such as re-blogging others’ posts and including different types of photos or writing.  For practical reasons, I need to start doing that (the long winter is drawing to a close, and the days are getting busier) but I found that it was harder than I thought it would be, primarily because I am not able to find a way to schedule a re-blog in advance, and I like to schedule these postings in advance as much as possible.

However, here’s another boundary; another chance to make some changes, so bear with me. I may end up just re-blogging some posts “instantly” but this means they will not appear at 3-5 a.m. as they have been in the past. SO, if you don’t get a new post on any given day, wait awhile; it should be coming up later.  Meanwhile, if you see anything new here that you like (or don’t like) please let me know!  This blog belongs to all of us, and I value your input.

Based in part on many of the comments I have received via email and online, but based mostly on my own joy at being in touch with all of you on a daily basis, I hope to keep posting SOMETHING daily for as long as I can.  Thanks for being with us on this journey!

One year ago today:

Aware of the treasure

Under the giving snow

This little patch of ground is covered in snow right now, but by the time you read this, it may be on the way to a daring display!  Our front yard, Alexandria, April 2012

This little patch of ground is covered in snow right now, but by the time you read this,
it may be on the way to a daring display! Our front yard, Alexandria, April 2012

“Under the giving snow blossoms a daring spring.”Terri Guillemets

I find it hard to believe that as I’m writing this (on March 7, two weeks before publication) I STILL see snow on the ground outside!  It’s melting in places, but most of the grass is still covered with it, and those nasty-dirty drifts line the sidewalks and parking lots.  The ground is soggy and messy where the snow has melted, so when I go out on unpaved areas, I have to choose between crunching through snow or getting my shoes muddy.

I keep reminding myself, though, that it can’t last much longer.  And, as Guillements describes, the snow is watering the ground, nourishing the flowers that have hopefully survived the cold.  After this winter, we should be in store for a most daring spring!  Let’s get ready to celebrate!

One year ago today:

The gladdest thing

Long-distance friendships

Colonial Williamsburg writing desk, Nov 2004

A writing desk at Colonial Williamsburg reminds us that long-distance friendships,
always precious, once required even more time and patience.  November 2004

“There is magic in long-distance friendships. They let you relate to other human beings in a way that goes beyond being physically together and is often more profound.”
–  widely attributed Diana Cortes, about whom I could find no reliable information

One of the silver linings to the sorrow of having to leave friends every time we uproot and move, is the chance to have and maintain long-distance friendships.  It’s a skill not everyone has, and that’s okay.  But for those of us who enjoy such relationships (and it may be bound up, to a great extent, with a love of reading and writing), keeping in touch over years and distances can create a bond unlike those we share with local friends or co-workers, with whom we share only spoken exchanges.

There’s something deliberate and intentional about maintaining ties that go beyond physical proximity.  There has to be something extra to bridge the gap created by the miles.  Often it’s a shared faith, a life challenge we have in common, a compatible philosophy of life, or a deep interest in one or more activities or topics.  Sometimes, if we are really fortunate, it’s all of the above and more.

Today, time constraints are as great a challenge to friendship as distance.  I have dear friends who live relatively close by, yet we still stay in touch mainly by email or online.  The reality of our daily obligations makes it hard to carve out a chunk of time long enough to enable a good old face-to-face visit as often as we’d like.  I think blogging and Facebook and other social media have become popular because people value relationships and long for a way to maintain them despite the busyness of life.

I know that a lot of what happens on social media can be superficial, but it need not be.  Our online interactions can be a cozy salon rather than a vacuous cocktail party, as long as we stay authentic and don’t use it as a platform to impress, propagandize or vent (though a bit of all that happens even in genuine conversations).  I’m deeply grateful for this added venue for maintaining ties that cross geographic boundaries, even as I am determined not to abandon the good old-fashioned “snail mail” card or letter, or the face-to-face visit whenever we can manage one.

Do you have long-distance friends who are a daily comfort to you?  Why not take a moment today to drop a note, card or email to one of them, and let them know you are thinking of them?

One year ago today:

Stronger than a fortified city

The best of now

The first flowers of spring won't last, but we can enjoy them today! Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

The first flowers of spring won’t last, but we can enjoy them today!
Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

“No longer forward nor behind
I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find,
The best of now and here.”
John Greenleaf Whittier

No matter what is going on in your life right now, this day holds many hidden gifts.  Which ones will you discover?

One year ago today:

Not a harbor

 

Ten thousand truths

I almost missed this cute visitor to our Alexandria back yard, March 2014

I almost missed this cute visitor to our Alexandria back yard, March 2014

“There are joys which long to be ours.  God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.” 
Henry Ward Beecher

A year ago my post was about Jeff’s father, and how he used to call me outside to see wildlife he had spotted.  As I mentioned then, Jeff has his dad’s eye for spotting all sorts of creatures I would never notice.  I’ve had so much joy from seeing the animals he shows me.

Yesterday afternoon, just after the heavy snowfall of early March, Jeff called me upstairs and told me to bring my camera.  He was looking out our kitchen window, trying to point out two birds to me, but I could not see them no matter how hard I looked, even with my glasses on.  I finally went up to the third floor of our townhome and used the long telephoto on my camera to find them, but only after Jeff gave me very precise directions where to look.

Sure enough, this cute fellow (or gal) and a friend were perched a couple of feet apart on a branch, looking as if they were bundled up against a very cold night.  I so wished they could fly inside and stay with us until the spring came.  I tried to find out what kind of birds they are by looking online, but was stumped; does anyone recognize them?

I was amazed Jeff had been able to see them from our window as the afternoon light was fading.  Their colors blended into the general landscape so well that I could not possibly have spotted them, even with a telephoto, unless someone told me where to look.  I’m glad Jeff was there, so I didn’t miss this particular joy, or for that matter, the five wild turkeys he had pointed out to me on the side of the highway when we were driving up from York that day.

I know there are joys that I miss every day, ten thousand truths I don’t see because my eyes are not opened to them, or because the surrounding distractions obscure their beauty.  Beecher’s words are a warning and a promise.  May we all have open hearts and open eyes to see the divine messages winging their way to us, bringing us hope, faith and joy.

One year ago today:

Represent civilization

And speaking of birds, I wanted to share this photo of Sheila’s adorable Sun Conure, Walter, who escaped from his cage recently and was hiding out under the dining room table!
I did NOT digitally alter this – Walter’s colors really are that bright!
Thanks for sending this, Sheila!

WALTER! What are you doing down THERE? :-)

WALTER! What are you doing down THERE?

What anyone wants to remember

Beth, your recent comment reminded me of this wonderful trip. Beth, Mom, Dad, Al and me in Montego Bay, Jamaica, February 1973

Beth, your recent comment reminded me of this wonderful impromptu vacation.
My friend Beth, brother Al and I skipped school to go to Montego Bay with Mom and Dad.
Jamaica, February 1973

“A childhood is what anyone wants to remember of it.”Carol Shields

“A happy childhood can’t be cured.  Mine’ll hang around my neck like a rainbow…”
Hortense Calisher

I’ve written before about how it can be difficult being a child or young person, and that’s more true for some than for others.  Most of us, I think, have a blend of good memories and bad ones, but even these are relative.  Some of what we would describe as bad memories might sound fairly benign to anyone who has endured true abuse or trauma.

I think my own childhood was fortunate and blessed.  The happy memories are far more lasting and influential on me today than the unhappy ones.  Calisher’s quote charmed me because it seemed such an apt description. We carry the happy times of our youth with us, and I think others can see signs of it, even when we are unaware that it shows.

I feel the deepest gratitude to my parents for giving me such a foundation, and to my family and friends for decorating my early years with humor, adventure and joy.  You are all part of the rainbow I wear, the one that gives me hope on my most difficult days.  I hope all of you who read this can reach back into your own memories, and find colors that glow in the dark.

One year ago today:

Memory is a child

And speaking of children, Grady wishes you all a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Leprechaun Grady Mar 2014

Intelligence having fun

This man had as much fun balancing rocks as we had watching him!  San Francisco, February 2003

This man had as much fun balancing rocks as we had watching him!
San Francisco, February 2003

“Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun.”George Scialabba

Have you ever heard of rock balancing?  Neither had I, until I saw this guy, one beautiful sunny day in San Francisco, practicing his hobby for all passers-by to enjoy free of charge (though some were leaving him tips).  I don’t know who thought up that pastime, but I’m glad someone had the imagination to look at a pile of rocks and see what could be done with it, just for fun.

Have you ever found a new use for an everyday object, or created something whimsical from odd materials you found?  Do you make up silly rhymes or scrawl elaborate doodles in the margins of notepaper during boring meetings?  Have you ever made up any funny words or names for things, a sort of secret language that you share only with one or two family members or friends?  The possibilities are endless.

Let your brain have some fun – your imagination is smarter than you think!

One year ago today:

Imagination will take you

Courage is about doing

Courage in the face of great risks can lead to freedom...or survival. Jeff contemplates the Underground Railroad Monument at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, September 2013.

Courage in the face of great risk can lead to freedom…and survival.
Jeff at the Underground Railroad monument, Roanoke Island, NC, September 2013.

“Courage is about doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”Eddie Rickenbacker

“Rickenbacker had learned to manage fear.  It was one of the main reasons for his success…Eddie had acclimated himself to that great numbing terror of flying into a fray where it was nearly certain someone would be killed.”Winston Groom

By any standard, “Captain Eddie” was an astounding man.  I grew up hearing about him because I grew up surrounded by pilots, and also because he was a founder and leader of Eastern Air Lines, the company that employed my father and provided a wonderful life for our family for over 30 years.

The more one learns about Rickenbacker’s life and accomplishments, the more interesting the quote above becomes.  If any man could claim to be fearless, he could.  In fact, more than once he survived traumas that resulted in his being officially pronounced dead by the media.  In the context of the bold and often heroic manner in which he lived his life, his admission of fear sounds overly humble.

But maybe fear has been given a bad name.  In our anxiety-riddled age, when medications are commonly prescribed to treat phobias and lesser conditions, it might seem that fear is something to prevent rather than overcome.  In some cases, I’m sure that’s true; unreasonable or paralyzing fear can hold us back, and ironically, can make us less safe if we are overwhelmed by it.

However, fear can be an asset if we use it as a motivation to act cautiously, recognizing the risks but moving forward when the stakes are high and there is much to gain.  Undoubtedly, some of history’s greatest acts of valor came from ordinary people who knew what they were up against and felt very afraid, but pressed on anyway.  Some of these heroic stories we know about; many we never will.

We might assume courage comes more easily to others than it does to us.  Perhaps we think ourselves less strong or capable if we feel afraid, but courage feels much different on the inside than it appears on the outside.  When I read quotes such as the one above, coming from a man whose personal biography reads like a barely-believable adventure novel, I realize that everybody is afraid sometimes, and that’s okay, maybe even good.  What matters most is being able to do what we need to do, despite our fears.

Today, if there is anything worrying or frightening you, remember what Captain Eddie said.  Courage is a good thing, and without fear, there is no courage.

One year ago today:

Always a frontier

The art of counting

Five of my earliest and greatest blessings, in a life filled with them. January 2014

Five of my earliest and greatest blessings, in a life filled with them. January 2014

“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.”
Harold Coffin

I often have a problem with envy, especially when friends who are my age start describing their carefree “empty nest” travels and activities.  After nearly 30 years of caretaking and managing the lives of our children (beginning when Drew was born in 1984) I sometimes long for that kind of freedom.  I can’t really imagine anymore what it’s like to be able to just “up and go” spontaneously, without exhaustive preliminary planning and arrangements.

Despite being thankful for the blessings that have kept us alive and together all these years, I still have occasional problems with an ungrateful and bad attitude.  Here is a 100% true story of an abrupt and eye-opening experience that did much to curtail my bad habit of counting others’ blessings instead of my own.

One day back in 2012, I had decided to cook some steel-cut oats for Matt and me.  Jeff usually cooks them for us on the weekends, and I just fix the regular kind for us on busy weekdays, but with Jeff at work that morning, I decided to get industrious and try cooking steel cut oats myself.  That turned out to be a mistake.  Let’s just say I ended up dealing with a boiled-over mess not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES that morning. Sometimes multi-tasking backfires!

I finally gave up being frustrated and just started laughing at myself and thinking how lucky I was to have had Jeff cooking it for me for the past couple of years, never once (as far as I know) ending with the disastrous results I had.  I started thinking about how blessed I was; how happy I felt that I was able to stay home full time to take care of our household and all the endless details that go with managing Matt’s life.  I wondered why on earth I didn’t feel those blessings constantly instead of sometimes becoming cross and negative.  I resolved that I would change my attitude, beginning right then.  The rest of the day passed happily.

That afternoon I heard Jeff come in the front door. “Hi babe, how are you?” I sang out cheerfully.

“Not good,” he said.  Something in his voice made me freeze up inside.

That was the beginning of our lives changing radically, without warning. That was the afternoon he came home with the sudden, intense pain that sent him to the ER the next morning where it was discovered that he had a ruptured, cancerous appendix, and tumors on his liver that were suggestive of metastatic cancer from a primary cancer elsewhere.

I’ve thought again and again of the irony of how that day had started for me, as if it were some premonition that I was too clueless to notice. It haunts me in a sad sort of way; a memory I will probably never forget — and I hope I do not forget it.  Every day that passes, no matter what else is going on in our lives, we are enjoying blessings that can disappear suddenly, without time to stop and reflect gratefully while we still have them.

That lesson is just as true and relevant in my life today as it was that day in September 2012.  Whatever mistakes I’m still making, I am seldom unaware of all that is mine –  and ours — in this fleeting present moment.  I never completely forget how fragile and ephemeral this life can be.

Today, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I hope you will take a minute or two for counting the blessings that are yours right now.  Comparing our lives and blessings to what other people enjoy (or maybe, unbeknownst to us, don’t enjoy at all) is a trap, a lie, and a danger.  In contrast, keeping our eyes on the beauty of our own particular canvas is an art as well as a discipline; a talent we can never develop too soon.  Some of the lessons we’ve had this past 18 months have been unusually harsh ones, but I’m glad we are learning them.

One year ago today:

The thief of joy

One of those March days

The flowers said spring, but the winds said winter. A chilly day at the Smithsonian Institution, Washingon DC, March 2013

The flowers said spring, but the winds said winter.
A chilly day at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, March 2013

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”Charles Dickens

Today (two weeks before this is published) Michael commented that spring had been flirting with us.  That’s a perfect description of the past week here in Virginia.  We’ve enjoyed sunny days with warm temperatures (including a record-high 79 degrees in Hampton Roads!) interspersed with two days of snow during the final stretch of what must be the snowiest winter I have ever personally experienced.

By the time you read this, I hope spring will have cease flirtation and be pursuing us in earnest.  Though some of you live far north enough that this is unlikely even in mid March, the weather has been so crazy lately that maybe, against all odds, you’ll be granted a warm day or two to enjoy.  In any case, enjoy this Google image search and create the beginnings of a beautiful springtime in your heart and mind!

One year ago today:

How happily we listen

Personal charm

Jeff snapped this photo of Maggie and me at La Madeleine, Old Town Alexandria, July 2013.

Jeff took this photo of Maggie and me at La Madeleine, Old Town Alexandria, July 2013.

“There is no personal charm so great as the charm of a cheerful temperament.” 
Henry Van Dyke

I’ve written here before about my friend Maggie and her family, and the happy memories I have of them that go back forty years — it’s hard for me to believe we first met in 1974!  Obviously, there’s a lot I love about her, but if I had to name one defining trait that sets her apart, it’s her ability to maintain and radiate a genuinely cheerful attitude.

As one might imagine, those years have given me countless opportunities to see Maggie in all kinds of situations.  Like all of us, she has faced her share of challenging circumstances, but I can’t remember a time when she was not able to muster a sense of humor about whatever was going on.  She’s quite practical and realistic, so her congeniality isn’t based on delusion or denial.  I think she simply discovered long ago that a sincere smile or a hearty laugh can go a long way toward improving almost any scenario.

Her upbeat demeanor is never more valuable than when she is helping others who are having some sort of difficulty, which is doubtless responsible for a good measure of her considerable professional success.  Because she’s keenly sensitive, she knows when to “weep with those who weep, and laugh with those who laugh.” But it seems that no matter what I’m facing, I end up feeling like laughing when I’ve spent some time with Maggie.

Being with such people is a sure way to defeat despair, so I hope you have at least one or two in your life who shine as brightly as Maggie shines in mine.  I also hope we can learn from them how to reflect and spread such cheerfulness.  The world can always use more of that kind of charm.

One year ago today:

One of the great helps

Try waking up

Jeff didn't see this sign over his head, but I did.  Bar Harbor, June 2012

Jeff didn’t see this sign over his head, but I did. Bar Harbor, June 2012

“Anyone can slay a dragon…but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” ― Brian Andreas

In June 2012, just three months before Jeff got the first of what would be several diagnoses of cancer, we were seated in a Bar Harbor restaurant looking forward to a nice meal after a day of exploring Acadia National Park.  I noticed the art hung on the wall above his head, and thought how appropriate it would be to have a photo of him sitting beneath it.  (He didn’t even realize the sign was there, or notice what it said.)

I had no way of knowing how prophetic that photo would be; how hard it would be for him simply to keep waking up every day over the next year and beyond, facing the grief, uncertainty, pain and physical trauma that go with cancer and its treatments.  What I did know already was that he was that kind of hero, one who would keep putting one foot in front of the other as long as he was able, not complaining or even saying much at all about his struggles and sorrow, just quietly keeping on.

Though most of us have difficulties that probably are not as obvious as his, all of us have to show that same heroic devotion.  Some days, it is far from easy to wake up and love the world all over again.  But somehow we do it, day after day, and in so doing, we unknowingly give each other the same strength we ourselves have drawn from heroic examples of perseverance.

I hope today is one of those days when it feels easy and happy and natural to love the world all over again.  But if it’s a difficult day for you, remember that being a hero seldom looks or feels thrilling and exciting.  That hidden, unnoticed sort of courage is all the more heroic, and the world depends on it.

One year ago today:

The quiet voice

Like one of these

Intricate simplicity: a single flower as a call to serenity.  Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

Intricate simplicity: a single flower is a call to serenity. Keukenhof, Netherlands, March 2007

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”Jesus Christ (as quoted in Matthew 6:28-29, NIV)

I grew up hearing this verse, and always thought it beautiful.  The words bring to mind a large field of flowers, but notice the phrase “like one of these” (emphasis mine).  Some might say it was hyperbole for Jesus to claim that one of the richest men in history had no adornment to equal that of a single flower, but I think the words are also true in a literal sense.  There is nothing made with human hands that can match the unique beauty of one perfect bloom.

This statement relates to the beauty of nature, certainly, but Jesus was also saying something about simplicity.  In the context of the surrounding text, it becomes clear that he is teaching about the futility of worry, and the importance of faith in the face of being distracted by real and valid concerns: food, clothing, longevity.

This begs the obvious question: if even our most basic needs are no cause for worry, what does this say about the countless details I tend to fret about each day?  Today, as I rush about attending to trivial distractions, I hope I can remember to focus on what Jesus said about the perfection of an ordinary flower, a gift of pure grace.

One year ago today:

Simple, natural, plain

And speaking of lovely flowers, here’s one of the photos Raynard sent me from the Philadelphia Flower Show.  Because it was emailed, the file size is a bit small to have a lot of detail, but it will give you an idea of what beautiful blooms he saw:

Raynard took this photo at the Philadelphia Flower Show this week.

Raynard took this photo at the Philadelphia Flower Show this week.

Read or learned or picked up

The public library at Dexter, Maine is historic but up to date.  June, 2012

The public library at Dexter, Maine is historic but up to date. June, 2012

“One of the great joys of being a librarian is that it is the last refuge of the renaissance person — everything you have ever read or learned or picked up is likely to come in handy.”GraceAnne DeCandido

Sometimes I think the term “renaissance person” is too loosely used in the modern sense, as an overly glorified label for people whose energies and interests are so scattered that they never focus on any one thing long enough to get really good at it.  But for those of us who are that way, being a librarian is a great way to tie it all together.  There’s not a topic or field you can think of that doesn’t have something to do with a library somewhere; not a reference question out there that might not be asked of a librarian.

When I came home from my first day of graduate school, having chosen library and information studies out of a number of potential majors, I told Jeff with great certainty: “This is the career I was born for.”  At graduation, in a parody of the oft-quoted phrase,  I joked, “Jack of all trades, Master of Library and Information Studies.”

However, given that I’ve worked relatively few years as a librarian, a parallel truth has been more relevant for me: everything I read or learned or picked up in library school has come in handy in my everyday life, in ways too numerous to count.  Being a librarian is primarily a matter of knowing how to find information, and make it accessible and useful.  That’s a valuable skill, whether one is a parent, spouse, homemaker, travel planner, caregiver, investor, writer, or blogger.

The great thing is, you don’t have to go to library school to avail yourself of the riches found in any public library.  Your librarian is there to help you learn to help yourself, empowering you to find any information you might need or want.  Whatever you do best, or want to learn to do, can be improved, explored, expanded and enjoyed through the resources of your library.

Learning is a great way to defeat despair, so I hope you will take some time to discover what’s available at a library near you.  Even if you just spend a couple of hours in relaxed, unfocused browsing, you’ll have fun — and you probably will find some information that is likely to come in handy!

One year ago today:

Gather and transform

Anticipation, remembrance, and reality

We might call him Dopey, but at least he's getting paid to be there. And he's not waiting in any lines, either.  Disney World, summer 1995

We might call him Dopey, but at least he’s getting paid to be there.
And he’s not waiting in any lines, either. Disney World, summer 1995

“Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage.”Regina Nadelson

“Just get on any major highway, and eventually it will dead-end in a Disney parking area large enough to have its own climate, populated by large nomadic families who have been trying to find their cars since the Carter administration.”Dave Barry

Yesterday I talked about believing in fairy tales.  Today, let’s temper that with a bit of realism.

At this time of year, I typically start dreaming of travel.  In years past, this usually meant planning actual trips, but that’s something that has been put on the back burner lately, so I’m searching for reasons to be relieved at that rather than disappointed.

If you too are planning to forgo travel this year, there are plenty of reasons to be happy about it.  I’m not thinking here of the fun of taking local “staycations” as a substitute.  Primarily, I’m referring to all the elements of travel that are less appealing.  Is it just me, or do these seem to multiply as time passes?  I could mark this up to aging and getting tired and grouchy, but it’s an indisputable fact that air travel in decades past did not involve choosing between full body radiation that produces arms-up quasi-nude images somebody in a closet somewhere is looking at, versus waiting in line for a public pat-down.

Of course, you can always travel by car.  Or maybe I should say, you can sometimes travel by car.  In the DC area, this means avoiding the hours of 6-10 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.  Your actual traffic experiences may vary based on weather, accidents (yours or someone else’s), construction, and other unpredictable factors that sometimes seem to be related to the alignment of the stars and planets.

So, it’s a great year to be staying home!  Or so I keep telling myself.  Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the anticipation of future trips, and the remembrance of past ones. If you’re planning a trip this year, have fun and be sure to send us some photos, horror stories, or both.

Happy Birthday today to Beth and Janice, two friends
who helped me create many happy memories of having fun while staying home!

One year ago today:

It’s helpful to remember

Some day you will be old enough

Amy and I toured this ancient but appealing castle on the Rhine in April 2007.

Amy and I toured this ancient but appealing castle on the Rhine in April 2007.

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”C.S. Lewis

My friend Amy commented here recently that she still believes in Cinderella and knights on white horses and miracles.  Maybe that’s why she’s such a great traveling companion.  Real-life castles are often old and decaying, but she can see past the ravages of time and imagine the magical stories they contain.  Like me, she loves the Disney versions too, but you never have to worry that she will let a few cracks and flaws in real-life scenarios get in the way of her appreciation and her unmatched ability to have fun wherever she finds herself.

Come to think of it, that’s also what makes her such a great lifelong friend!  Being a rather cracked and flawed person myself, I value her willingness to look past the not-so-great and see the infinite possibilities.

If you’re not yet old enough to enjoy fairy tales again, I hope you’ll get there soon.  When you do, you’ll realize that they never went away, but were just waiting for you to start believing again.  Enchantment is a “once and future” kingdom full of Merlin’s wisdom and a thousand stories with happy endings.  See you there!

One year ago today:

Happily ever after

The seriousness of a child

Drew at plan in San Diego, California, in the spring of 1991.

Drew at play in San Diego, California, in the spring of 1991.

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”
Heraclitus

There’s a lot of talk about how childhood is magical and carefree, and I agree that it was (or is) a wondrous time for many of us.  Yet even with the most advantageous childhood, I think the first decade of life is also quite difficult.  As adults we may forget the utter powerlessness we often felt at having so many aspects of our lives decided without our input.

In particular, I can remember feeling frustrated that activities meaningful to me were often insignificant to grownups.  To a child, “fun” and “serious” are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes we forget that as we grow older. As a result, we may disregard the need to set aside unscheduled time to spend in preferred activities, not just for our children, but for ourselves.

It’s crucial, of course, to learn the inevitable lessons that come with maturity (how many of us were justifiably told “It’s only a GAME!” when we were in tears over losing at board games or ball games?) but sometimes we learn unintended parallel lessons that don’t necessarily serve us as adults.  Focused on productivity and controlled by clocks, we often multi-task ourselves in pursuit of the urgent or “important” to the point that we lose sight of more essential goals.

The state of optimal awareness that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and other psychologists have described as “flow” seems much more apparent in a young person absorbed in building with Legos or shooting baskets than it does in a harassed, hurried adult rushing from one obligation to another.  Not that we always have a choice about that.  But it’s worth consideration, if only to prompt us to re-think our schedules now and then, and assign a higher priority to those interests that captivate our minds in a way that all children seem able to understand.

What did you most enjoy doing in childhood?  What is fun for you?  I hope you will find some time, today or soon, to re-capture the alert focus of a child at serious play.

One year ago today

New possibilities

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