“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:
“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:
“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”
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
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” ― Rabindranath Tagore
There are a lot of things I really like about getting older. Based on what others have said or written, I know I’m not the only one who has experienced a wonderful sort of letting go of past anxieties, and a freedom to enjoy the unpredictability of life from a kind of distance that wasn’t there in youth, when I was eager to move ahead into what then seemed an endless future.
It’s not that there are no storms or rain now; indeed, there may be more of them than ever. But the older I get, the fewer alarming disruptions they cause in my world. The colors, on the other hand, grow more dazzling all the time. Maybe they were always this way, and I just didn’t have time to see it.
If you’re a young person reading this, you might suppose that such talk is just the way old people console themselves. But think about it: which is better — sunrise, when you are full of energy and face a day of tasks, some that are fun and some that are formidable? Or sunset, after your work, though possibly incomplete, has reached a stopping point of sorts; when you’ve finished the last chore for the day, and look forward to a few hours of relaxation (or at least, less strenuous work) and maybe some candlelight, nice music or reading before bed?
I realize not everyone sees things this way, but as lovely as I find the sunrise, I think sunset is my true favorite. No more worries about the clouds then. Rain occasionally may spoil daytime plans, but at night it makes a wonderful sound by which to fall asleep.
Next time you see a beautifully tinted sky at sunset, remember Tagore’s wise observation, and bask in the thought of the serenity and rest awaiting you at day’s end.
One year ago today:
“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.” — Ivy Baker Priest
Over the past 18 months, I’ve gotten a lot of practice at re-framing how I think about things. I’ve had to do quite a bit of that for most of my life, but never as much as recently. It simply doesn’t work for me to see obstacles as dead ends; I start to panic and the anxiety blossoms into multiplied worries and fears, the agitation feeding on itself.
At such times I’ve learned to force myself to switch off the negativity, re-directing my thoughts through prayer, reading or other distractions. Yet I don’t want to be delusional, kidding myself about what we might be facing in the future. I don’t want to be blinded by wishful thinking or unprepared for a steep uphill climb.
It helps to focus primarily on the immediate path ahead, with all its unexpected detours and narrowed options. We may not be traveling the exact itinerary we had planned, but as long as we can see a few feet ahead, that’s enough. Each threshold we pass through is another beginning, and so far the way has been blessed with abundant beauty no matter how rocky the path gets.
So we travel on in hope, still enjoying the trip. I hope you are able to do the same in your life. Thanks for walking with us!
One year ago today:
Awake, thou wintry earth -
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness! — Thomas Blackburn
As I write this, I keep glancing out my glass doors, and I see there is still snow on the ground. But the sun is shining brightly, and the snow is melting, slowly but surely. It was raining and gloomy when I got up this morning, but the weather has turned around rather dramatically. I hope to take a walk this afternoon.
The days are getting noticeably longer. I haven’t had to use the flashlight I carry in my pocket for some time now. In fact, it was so light outside when I got back from walking yesterday that I kept wondering what happened; had I left earlier than usual? Did I somehow walk faster or shorten my walk without knowing it? No, it’s just lighter now. Spring really is coming.
After this winter, which has been long and hard but also full of cozy warmth and love, I am especially eager for spring. I am guessing many of you probably are too. Today, I hope you see signs of it to lift your spirits. Whether it’s a budding tree, the first shoots of daffodils or crocus, or some glorious late-afternoon sunshine, I hope you can see evidence that the earth is laughing off its sadness, ready to celebrate.
One year ago today:
“Anything created by human beings is already in the great book of nature.”
– Antoni Gaudi
One year ago today I published a post that is one of my favorites, because it includes a link to a delightful PBS re-mix featuring Fred Rogers. It’s all about how “you can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.” When I went back to that post, I was reminded of Antoni Gaudi, whose mind must have been one of the most strangely fantastic gardens of all time.
I had never heard of Gaudi until we visited Barcelona, but seeing his work at various places in that city was an unforgettable experience. In fact, our time at Park Güell stands out in my mind as one of the most wonderful memories in the two-week trip of a lifetime. I’m not the first person who thinks immediately of Dr. Seuss when seeing Gaudi’s eccentric buildings; the similarities are fairly obvious. Scholars have suggested that Gaudi was almost certainly an influence in Theodor Geisel’s whimiscal fantasy illustrations.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find that Gaudi was a devout ascetic who wanted to parallel divine creation by following natural law. He apparently thought of his creations as being based on earthly landscapes, where he perceived only curved lines. I suppose it makes sense from that standpoint, but a quick visual review of the beautifully odd works he created might give you an idea why I see his architecture as the most otherworldly constructions I’ve come across. And their vibrant colors and elaborate designs are not remotely suggestive of the spare, abstemious existence he embraced in his personal life.
Very few professional artists, let alone amateurs, can hope to leave the sort of unique fingerprint Gaudi achieved, but that’s probably a good thing. Regardless, we can be inspired by his singular vision, and cultivate our own gardens of ideas with which we can decorate our lives and our personal corners in the world.
Do you agree with Gaudi that all art (even his own whimsical work) has its source in nature? What do you think of his creations?
One year ago today
“Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean; it comes with the landscape, and faced with its beauty, the sigh of History dissolves.” — Derek Walcott
There’s nothing like a good dose of the Caribbean to warm and brighten the dullest March. There are places more elegant, more prestigious, more affluent or trendy, but I’ve never been anywhere that was quite as good at making me feel welcome, relaxed and carefree.
Part of the vibe comes from the colors, which are everywhere. The tropical flowers and birds would be enough, but islanders add splashes of vibrant hue in their buildings and even their roofs. And then, of course, there’s that incomparable Caribbean blue; warm saltwater of a color palette not quite duplicated anywhere else, even in Hawaii.
I don’t know about you, but for me, this is the time of year when I could use a little visual surprise here and there. I did a quick Google search using the term “Colors of the Caribbean” and then clicked on “images.” I came up with this collection of island brights. Scroll through them quickly and let me know if you can hear Calypso music playing in your head!
One year ago today:
“When we sip tea, we are on our way to serenity.” – Alexandra Stoddard
With all the bad weather this winter has brought us, it’s definitely tea time. So I couldn’t resist repeating my offer from one year ago today (which you can read about at the link below). Anyone who would like me to send them a tea bag or two from my *embarrassingly large collection, just send me your address in the comments (which I will NOT publish online – I’ll delete the address from the rest of your comment). Be sure to let me know what types you prefer – black, green, white, herbal, fruit, caffeine, decaf, etc. — I probably have something to fit most every taste.
And a special thanks to the many blog readers who have sent me tea over the past year. I’ve been the recipient of unique teas from some fairly exotic places – Alaska, Hawaii, even Prince Edward Island (home of Anne of Green Gables, a special tea made in her honor) as well as some delicious traditional flavors. I feel as if I’ve been having a virtual tea party with so many of you all year long! So let’s raise a cup to the end of this unusually harsh North American winter — whenever that will be — and keep warm inside while we wait for the outside to catch up.
Here’s to serenity!
One year ago today:
“The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!” — Henry Ward Beecher
As I write this, two weeks before publication, much of the country is in the grip of yet another fierce winter storm. This is especially difficult for those in the south, where such weather is far from typical.
Hundreds of thousands of people (including my parents) are without power. I worry about them, and about people who have emergencies that require them to be on the road in dangerous conditions. I am dismayed to think of the storm-related deaths that likely will be reported by the news. I feel sympathy for stranded travelers whose flights are cancelled or delayed. I hate to think about the inevitable financial fallout associated with such weather, as work schedules are curtailed for those on hourly pay, and heating expenses rise.
Yet, as always, there is much to be thankful for. This morning we saw our neighbor (who knows Jeff is fighting cancer) shoveling the snow outside our home, giving valuable help without waiting to be asked. I know there are countless others who are acting as Good Samaritans in these adverse circumstances, helping friends, neighbors or strangers with no thought of getting anything in return.
I’m thankful that my brother Al is there with Mom and Dad, available to help with tasks they are unable to do. I’m thankful for the competence and dedication of emergency professionals such as Michael’s son in Atlanta, who are on call to respond when needed. I’m thankful that Jeff was taught how to disconnect his chemo IV from his port here at home, making a long risky trip to Bethesda unnecessary, enabling him to be here at home with us today, safe and sound.
By the time this post is published, I hope that most of the country will be nearing the end of this exceptionally rough winter. But those in regions farther north still have many weeks of cold weather to get through before spring arrives. Whether you are bracing for more storms, or seeing the first hopeful signs of winter’s end, I hope your heart can sweep through the day today and find heavenly blessings that will bring you hope and joy!
One year ago today:
“I had begun to feel that the days that stretched out in front of me were a dark, terrifying wilderness. As I wrote about moments along the way, everything looked more friendly, and I discovered that the days are only days. I received and gave love as I untangled my thoughts through the act of writing, and discovered something wonderful. Truly, life was funny, surprising, and beautiful. I told myself the truth, again and again, and I began to believe it.”– Rachel Devenish Ford
In her book Trees Tall as Mountains, taken from the early years of her blog Journey Mama, Rachel Devenish Ford writes of a life that is so different from mine as to seem exotic, yet also familiar enough that reading her work feels like chatting with a good friend.
Juggling the challenges of caring for young children while pursuing her own creative and unique path with her “superstar husband” (an affectionate nickname I appreciate in the contemporary climate of too many snarky spousal put-downs), Ford experiences many of the conflicts and anxieties that face me and, I imagine, many others all over the world. Yet she returns again and again to an insistent optimism that enables her to press on through her most difficult days.
I think many of us who blog have made the same discovery Ford describes: things have begun to look more friendly, more funny and surprising and beautiful. The interactive nature of blogging has enabled readers and writers to enjoy the company of like-minded people from a wide variety of places, making the world feel a bit like a very large neighborhood full of potential friends.
Depressed or distressed thinking can take on a frightening authority, convincing us that things are far worse than they really are. If we talk back to our despair, telling it the truth “again and again,” we will break through the barriers created by unreasonable fear, and open our eyes to a multitude of blessings within our reach.
The next time you are feeling stressed, frustrated or sad, I hope you will find ways to tell yourself the truth about life. It’s a gift and a privilege to cherish, even though its beauty is sometimes hidden.
One year ago today:
“One filled with joy preaches without preaching.” ― Mother Teresa
So often, words are painful without being beneficial. Most of us who say harmful things aren’t deliberately trying to hurt anyone, but we end up doing it anyway. We may be trying to help someone else by pointing out where we believe the person is mistaken or wrong, but this almost always backfires, leaving everybody feeling worse.
I can think of many times when I’ve hurt people I love, or when people I love have hurt me, by saying things that were meant to help, but only ended up wounding. What was intended to make a situation better only made it worse for all involved. The best lessons don’t come from words, but examples. This doesn’t mean we should not communicate through words, but it does suggest that we should be careful how we do it, and realize that conduct, not speech, leaves a more lasting impression.
Thinking about Mother Teresa’s quote, I realized it encourages us to focus on improving our own hearts and our own thinking. If we do that, our actions will shine brightly and we won’t need to worry about correcting others with verbal instruction or criticism.
One of the most needed things we can do in this world is to radiate joy. I’m not talking about a giddy insensitivity to the sorrow others may be feeling, but a steadfast inner peace that holds out hope even when things are not going well. If we can show others through our own lives that it’s possible to choose joy in all circumstances, it will be more a powerful influence than thousands of words of advice.
What are some ways that we can “preach without preaching” by being filled with joy?
One year ago today:
“Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up.” — Bob Lemon
Those of us who admire the complexity of baseball — or maybe only imagine that we do — might think Lemon has oversimplified things with this statement. But he has far more authority on the subject than I do, and in many ways, I think he’s right about grown-up ambitions and agendas messing with something nearly flawless in its purest form.
One doesn’t have to be adult or sophisticated to get enough of a grasp of the game to enjoy watching or playing it. And even those who live in the endless universe of baseball statistics might admit that the most appealing aspects of the game are still the most basic. A team sport where each player’s individuality is highlighted and accentuated; a game with a predictable but theoretically unlimited structure; a brilliant excuse to get outdoors as soon as the weather allows, and stay out until the cold returns.
What better gifts to give our children? Or for that matter, ourselves?
One year ago today:
Walking through the Norfolk airport recently, I looked to my left and saw the scene pictured above. Though most of the snow had melted, I thought at first it was a tree that was somehow still covered in snow. However, on looking more closely, I saw it was only the natural color of the tree itself. It was so striking, I had to stop and take a photo. I hope the couple in the photo realized the tree, not they, prompted my curiosity!
When I saw Shikibu’s quote, I realized why the winter landscapes can be so arresting. I doubt that any of us will regret to see the spring that will be coming soon, but I must admit I have rather enjoyed the beautiful aspects of a winter with so much snow.
If you’ve been able to take any photos in the snow, this year or any time, feel free to send them along (or post links to them online) and share the otherworldly beauty of the winter that has now almost passed. Here’s a lovely photo taken by my nephew Andy, a gifted photographer, who captured this snow scene in northern Alabama just ten days ago.
One year ago today:
“Imagination is the true magic carpet.” — Norman Vincent Peale
Even when we aren’t free to travel because of health, finances or responsibilities, our minds are always free. And now, with the entire world available literally at our fingertips, through words, photos, music and videos, our minds have even more fuel for our imaginary journeys.
If you’re reading this, you are looking at a computer or mobile device with internet access. Quick — where would you most like to go right now? What place on earth would you travel if you could be there instantly? Do an online search, and click on “images” or “videos” or even “music” in the search results. Almost anyplace you can think of in the entire world will have at least a few photos available to bring that faraway place within the reach of your thoughts for a five-minute vacation.
I realize there are elaborate scientific explanations as to how all this is possible. I know it’s all zeroes and ones, and we have engineers to thank. I know all that. But I still think it’s magical.
Have an enchanted day – and send a few photos of your make-believe travels!
One year ago today:
“I cannot see what I have gone through until I write it down. I am blind without a pencil…But it does seem a slow and wasteful process. (Like walking, tapping with a cane.)…There is so much waste in creativity, always. But there is something curious about creativity: the trying-too-hard for results seems to defeat itself.”
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Sometimes when I look at all my husband and others like him have accomplished, I feel woefully inadequate, tapping away at my keyboard, addicted to reading and writing as I have been for as long as I can remember. I often feel guilty for not producing anything more substantive, even though I have never had to rely upon it as a source of income.
Yet, as Lindbergh attests, there is no such thing as forcing results when it comes to creativity, no matter what form it takes. Because I tend to think and talk rapidly, it took me years to realize how much more slowly I work compared to most people I know. In crafts, in photography, even in cooking and household tasks, I find that I’m unable to function well under time pressure. I can get things done, but there is no satisfaction in anything I have rushed through.
For me, it’s much more rewarding to complete something slowly and thoughtfully, not in a perfectionist, nit-picking way (an easy trap to slide into when time allows it), but in an attentive, relaxed state of mind. Given the rushed nature of modern life, it’s easy to become impatient and see a relaxed pace as a waste of time. In reality, though, perhaps haste really does make waste. Even if the end result of rushed work is satisfactory, there may be collateral damage to our moods, our relationships or the flow of our day.
Next time you feel impatient with yourself for “wasting” time, think about what you are doing, and how you feel about it. Is it really less wasteful to spend thirty minutes on unhappy, pressured and self-imposed stress, rather than spending the hour it might take to actually enjoy what we are doing? Wouldn’t our time be better invested in savoring the pleasant details of our lives, focusing on the quality of what we do rather than quantity?
Admittedly, leisure is not always possible. But it might be a worthy goal to give ourselves periods of time when we are off the clock, free to go at a natural pace, focusing on the process more than the product. I have a sneaky suspicion that even the mundane details of work would be more interesting if our minds were not in a hurry to move on to something else.
What activities are more enjoyable to you when not rushed?
One year ago today:
“A route differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line that connects one point with another…A road is a tribute to space. Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop.”
– Milan Kundera
With only a week to drive from the west coast to the east, there was very little to tempt us to visit places such as Delle, Utah when we moved from California to Virginia in August 2004. The heat alone was enough to dissuade us from stopping. However, I agree with Kundera that every stretch of road has its own meaning. And who knows what we may have missed by driving quickly through?
In reality, life is simply too short, and the demands of living too intense, to allow us to explore every stretch of road we travel. Through sheer necessity, we will use them as routes more far often than we will be able to wander along them as pathways.
But once in awhile, life throws us a curve ball and we get stuck in a place we didn’t intend to stay. Whether it’s a car breakdown that grounds us for a few hours, extreme weather that stops us for a few days, or a temporary job assignment that ends up taking weeks or months longer than we expected, a discoverer’s mindset can lessen the frustration of detours and delays.
Next time you find yourself with more hours than you care to have in any particular place, remember Kundera’s thoughts. If your route unexpectedly becomes a road inviting you to stop, take advantage of whatever hospitality you can find. Take out your camera (if you have one with you) and ramble a bit. You may never again see that particular spot of the planet in quite the same way.
One year ago today
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
If a few short words could sum up the past 18 months of Jeff’s life, it would be hard to find any more appropriate than these. The photo above was taken one week before he was hospitalized with the first of two major surgeries to resect metastatic tumors. He had just finished months of gruelling chemotherapy, and despite being beset with the usual side effects of fatigue, nausea, and acute neuropathy, he continued to work full time (except on days when he was taking treatment) and at home, kept up with most of his many chores.
He always knew how to labor, but waiting does not come naturally to him. However, he has probably spent more time waiting in these past 18 months than in the rest of his life combined. How difficult to wait when one is tired, worried, and far behind on the responsibilities of the workplace and home. How much more difficult when one is waiting on outcomes that will literally mean life or death! Yet he has managed it beautifully, and his faith has not wavered despite enduring a level of physical trauma and suffering that probably would have killed me or almost anyone else I know.
One of the most essential character traits we could develop is the ability to have “a heart for any fate.” I think Longfellow realized one key to this is to be “up and doing.” I am not as good at this as Jeff is, but with his example, I may yet learn.
One year ago today:
“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.” — Alex Haley
I’ve written about my mother’s wonderful mother. I didn’t mention my other grandmother, or either grandfather, but suffice it to say that my siblings and I hit the lottery jackpot when it came to grandparents. The great thing about the grandparent lottery is that it has way more winners than losers!
My grandmother was a fascinating person to me. Because her father and her husband were both much older than typical for women of her age, she had the distinction of being the daughter of a Civil War veteran, and the widow of a Spanish American War veteran. According to family lore, her great-great aunt was Eliza McCardle Johnson, America’s first lady following Mary Todd Lincoln. But Granny was interesting to us long before we were old enough to understand any of that.
When it came to having fun, Granny gave us more attention than any other adult I can remember. Unlike our busy parents, she had time to play Scrabble, Monopoly and other games with us – and taught us to play well and by the rules, never (as far as we could tell) letting us win just to appease us. She was a real ace at Scrabble because of her expert-level crossword puzzle skills. She knew more two-letter words than anyone I’ve ever known.
She was an extraordinary seamstress, but unlike my mother, an equally skilled seamstress who made all the clothes for my sister and me, Granny made fabulous outfits for our Barbie dolls. Each year at Christmas, my sister and my cousins Judy and Kay could expect to get new Barbie wardrobes, with exquisitely trimmed evening gowns, square dancing dresses (with matching shirts for Ken), chic street-length dresses and fun, casual separates. The cheaply made store-bought Barbie clothes were obviously inferior despite their plastic accessories, and our couture Barbie wardrobes furnished many happy hours of dress-up play for our friends as well as for us. When we got too old for Barbies, my sister and I filled an entire suitcase with our Barbies’ wardrobes!
Granny’s house was enchanting. It was the same home she had been born in, before the turn of the century, and my Daddy was also born in that home. It had been remodeled and was well kept over the years, full of interesting historic objects and yet-untold stories. The kitchen had an ancient walk-in pantry and an antique cabinet with a built in-flour sifter. That kitchen was the source of the only cooking that, in my mind, could possibly rival my mother’s. My little brother learned to head straight for the kitchen as soon as we arrived at Granny’s, looking for the M&M cookies that he knew he would always find there (a special treat we only got at Granny’s house).
And speaking of untold stories, Granny never seemed to run out of them, though we had to coax her into telling them. She had met and married our grandfather during his years as an actor and director in a traveling theater troupe, and she spent the early years of their marriage in that same company, touring, singing and dancing. Once in awhile, if we kept after her long enough, she would pull out her old photographs of her show business days, and they were spellbinding. It’s likely that Granny’s old photographs were influential in my own love of photography.
Though she lived into her 90′s, Granny was sharp and lucid to the very end, and even left us a final gift of a letter written to each one of us, leaving them with my Aunt Norma to be mailed after Granny died. In her letter to me, she urged me to enjoy my children and play with them often. She left us a good example of how to do that, one I hope I was able to follow.
Undoubtedly, our grandparents have influenced us in ways too numerous to count or know. What memories do you have of your grandparents? Share some of your own stories of how you, too, hit the jackpot in the “grandparent lottery.” Remembering the love of our grandparents is a great way to defeat despair!
Happy birthday to my sister Carla, who shares so many of my happy memories of both grandmothers!
One year ago today
“I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” ― George Washington
Washington didn’t just say those words, he lived them. At the close of the American Revolution, and again at the end of his presidency, he willingly set aside his power and returned to Mount Vernon. Strolling the grounds of that beautiful estate, it’s easy to understand why. Washington was a farmer long before he was a Revolutionary War hero or President, and that was the role he never gave up.
Today we honor the memory of Washington and another great President, Abraham Lincoln, who also was acquainted with farm life as it was lived on the American frontier nearly 100 years later. While neither of these men found their way into the history books because of their agricultural activities, it seems likely the time they spent working under the rigorous demands of nature became an integral part of the strength that would define their leadership.
Today, on President’s Day, I hope you will take a few minutes to enjoy the timeless pleasures that still come to us from farms. We can do one thing neither Lincoln nor Washington could do, powerful though they were: we can walk into a grocery story and buy fresh fruits and vegetables with literally dozens of choices, even though it’s deep into the winter. That’s something any emperor in history might envy!
One year ago today:
“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” — Dave Barry
I know people who have a genuine medical need for coffee, and I’m not one of them. I have a genuine medical need for tea, but I do sometimes engage in coffee as a recreational activity, especially if I can get eggs and hash browns with it.
Recently southeastern Virginia, where our York home is located, got a rare heavy snowfall. Under the circumstances, we did what anyone would do: we went to the beach. Seriously, the roads were pretty clear, and I was up for breakfast at the Belvedere again; it was a rare opportunity to see Virginia Beach covered with snow, and we didn’t even have to wait for the table with the best view. So rest easy, Dave: I did not keep anyone in dire circumstances waiting for their coffee.
If anything, breakfast at the Belvedere is MORE fun in the snow, especially with delicious hot coffee and a cozy booth with a great 180 degree view. Apparently lots of people share our enthusiasm for snow-covered beaches, because I snapped many photos of joggers, bikers and indulgent canines walking their human companions through the powdery white stuff. The waves kept crashing as always, totally unimpressed with the temperatures, and the sun perked everything up.
So coffee as a recreational activity is perfectly suitable for the beach, especially when it snows!
One year ago today:
“Rivers are roads that move.” — Blaise Pascal
I’ve always been fascinated by maps; I could literally sit and study them for hours. One of the first things I noticed as a child, when I would look at maps, is how the cities of America seemed to cluster along rivers and coasts. There’s a logical reason for that, of course, but it’s one that is often lost on us in these days of interstate highways and air travel. There was a time when rivers were the primary roads.
Even when we didn’t live on the coasts, we were always near rivers, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Yet I seldom think of them as roads to discovery, preferring instead to sit in one place and watch them flow by. But sometimes I daydream about how much fun it would be to have a boat and go traveling by water, stopping at places along the way and making discoveries I might miss on land.
Our York home sits near several rivers — the York, the James, the Elizabeth — as well as Hampton Roads, Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Every time I go to the Yorktown waterfront, I enjoy it so much I tell myself I’m going to start visiting more often, if only for an hour or so each week, but when I’m home I’m busy with tasks and seldom make the time.
I think one thing I find so appealing about rivers is, even if I’m not traveling down them, other people are. Seeing the boats come and go, and the water flowing into the horizon, out of sight, reminds me of opportunities, possibilities, undiscovered wonders. I’ve heard people say “the road is calling” and perhaps rivers, as roads, call us in the same way.
Do you live near a river? If so, do you ever use it as a road for travel?
One year ago today:
“I don’t understand why Cupid was chosen to represent Valentine’s Day. When I think about romance, the last thing on my mind is a short, chubby toddler coming at me with a weapon.” — Author Unknown
Let’s just say I’m not a typically romantic woman. I’ve tried reading contemporary romance novels, but I can’t seem to finish one; I find them boring, insulting, or both. I don’t like expensive restaurants, fine wines or pricey jewelry. I don’t find Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or George Clooney appealing at all; I much prefer Dustin Hoffman or Gary Sinise.
I had no desire whatsoever for a big wedding, and in fact, I spent as little time as possible planning ours, with every bit of my wedding outfit borrowed from friends. I couldn’t wait for it to be OVER. I didn’t want a wedding, I wanted a marriage. (OK, and a honeymoon!)
When it comes to romantic relationships, I’m an oddball. In fact, until Jeff came along, I wasn’t sure I’d ever really love anyone. But when I fell, I fell hard, and it stuck. Our relationship has been far from an easy one, but he’s still my one and only Valentine.
This year, I find myself having come full circle from the time the photo above was taken, nearly 36 years ago. Now as then, I find myself wishing for many more holidays with Jeff, all too uncertain as to whether I will be granted my wish. But also, now as then, I am feeling more optimistic each day that these wishes — OUR wishes — will come true.
Yet feelings are notoriously unreliable, aren’t they? Sometimes. In this case though, I think my optimism is as well founded as it was then. Maybe our fairy tale isn’t a typical one, but despite a lot of anxiety and sorrow, it does seem to have more than its share of “happily ever after.” I choose to believe that pattern will continue. Meanwhile, I celebrate the joy of NOW, and of knowing the odds for Jeff’s survival have improved considerably over the past year.
On this day we associate with hearts and flowers, I wish for you the happiness of HOPE for a future full of love and joy. Happy Valentine’s Day! Please click here for a Valentine – and the chance to design (and save) a virtual floral arrangement!
One year ago today
“It takes courage to be crocus-minded…Highly irregular. Knifing through hard-frozen ground and snow, sticking their necks out, because they believe in Spring and have something personal and emphatic to say about it.” – Jo Sorley
Deciding to have faith and hope isn’t always easy, but it is a decision, and one that comes more naturally for some than for others. If you find your spirits drooping a bit, think of the hardy crocus. It’s always a welcome sight, eagerly popping up to be the first to greet springtime. Those early flowers bring us joy long before the steady warmth of the sun lures us outdoors.
As we move ever closer to another spring, I wish you many harbingers of the beautiful season to come. Have a crocus-minded day!
One year ago
“At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer.” – Rachel Naomi Remen
Often we think of art as something that hangs in a frame on a wall, but in reality the work of countless artists surrounds us so pervasively that we scarcely notice it most of the time. The photo above was taken in a lovely little garden at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, where I was able to spend some quiet moments during the long day of waiting for Grady to be born. Megan had checked in the night before and labor was induced early that morning, but Grady was not letting anyone hurry him, and he didn’t show his face until almost 9:00 p.m. that night.
I had spent many long hours in hospitals for most of the preceding year, so it wasn’t a difficult wait for me. However, I was eager to see our grandson, and increasingly anxious to know all would be well. I escaped to that little garden more than once that day when the waiting area became too dull, and was outside there when Drew’s friend Paul (who was staying in touch with the delivery room via texts with Drew) called me to report that they had decided to do a C-section.
Being a physician, Paul was able to give me enough details to reassure me that this was a sound decision based on avoiding risk of complications from prolonged labor, and not an emergency situation. Everyone was fine, and I would be seeing our grandson in an hour! So the photo above brings back a lot of happy memories about the night Grady was born.
A variety of artists made that healing little garden a reality. Landscapers, architects, and woodworkers joined forces to create a perfect setting for the sculpture of a newborn baby lovingly held in two hands. In the years since it was finished, I believe hundreds of nervous family members must have found calm and solace in that serene space, as I did.
I’m so thankful for the imaginative spirit that each of us has, in some measure, which we use in various ways. Whether you are engaged in producing art, or appreciating the work of others, I hope your life will be touched today with the healing power of creativity.
One year ago today
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.
This is not done by jostling in the street.” – William Blake
I like these lines from Blake, because they remind me that obstacles need not be setbacks. In a few well-chosen and memorable words, he acknowledges the stamina life requires of us, the potential for tremendous achievement, and the tendency for trivial distractions to become more formidable challenges than the mighty mountains themselves.
If you are facing a steep uphill climb in any aspect of your life, I hope these words of Blake will stick with you and inspire you. Great things are accomplished when men and women focus on worthwhile goals, no matter how daunting, rather than allowing life to be consumed by minor details and annoyances that won’t matter much in the end. Admittedly, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the urgent and the important, but it’s a skill worth developing.
What mountains are you facing? What jostling do you need to ignore today?
One year ago today
“The days are short
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.” — John Updike
One thing I like about this time of year is the gradual lengthening of daylight hours. It still turns dark far too early, several weeks away from the onset of Daylight Savings Time. But I know that each day we will have a bit more light, and that’s something I find energizing and motivating.
It sounds trite, but spring really will be here before we know it. What ideas for this year are hatching inside your imagination? What will you do with that first delicious touch of warm weather? Planning for it is half the fun!
One year ago today
“I wish I could convey the perfection of a seal slipping into water or a spider monkey swinging from point to point or a lion merely turning its head. But language founders in such seas. Better to picture it in your head if you want to feel it…I spent more hours than I can count a quiet witness to the highly mannered, manifold expressions of life that grace our planet. It is something so bright, loud, weird and delicate as to stupefy the senses.” ― Yann Martel
I’ve made no secret of my lack of respect for most television programs, but I love the way TV has enabled us to see animals in ways that were never possible before. While nothing can replace the thrill of encountering a wild animal face to face, such encounters are brief at best, and can hardly give us a true representation of these fascinating creatures.
Matt loves to watch PBS and Animal Planet, both of which sometimes stop me in my tracks if I pass through the room when an interesting animal show is on. It’s really tempting to sit down and watch, even if I don’t have time. In any case, I’m happy that Matt gets so much enjoyment from watching them.
Martel is right that words are inadequate to describe animals in all their stunning variety, but photos and especially videos can give us the next best thing to a real-life encounter. And a well-made nature film, or really even a funny amateur YouTube clip, is a great way to grab a quick escape from the stresses of everyday human life.
If you’ve spent any time at all on the internet, you must surely have a few favorite animal videos. Feel free to send us some links to share here – and let’s have a wild time!
One year ago today
“An element of abstention, of restraint, must enter into all finer joys.”
– Vida D. Scudder
I think one of the nicest things we can do for ourselves is learning to enjoy things without wanting to own them. This is trickier with some things than with others, of course, and what appeals to the eyes may vary from person to person. But I find that “shopping” for things I like but don’t need, and have absolutely no room for, is excellent training in appreciating what belongs to others. When I know there is no way I will be buying something, that eliminates the decision making and frees me up to really see what I’m looking at, unencumbered by price or other practical considerations.
Museums can serve this purpose, of course, but for sheer variety of colors, styles and bling, you can’t beat a good shop. And many specialty shops are excellent places to develop the skill of just saying no to ownership. Jewelry stores, furniture stores and very pricey clothing stores often fall into this category, giving us ideas and inspiration without costing a cent.
For me, looking at china is great practice in restrained shopping. There are so many fabulous patterns, with new ones coming out all the time, and the entire spectrum of colors represented. Since I don’t have room for more china than I already have, there is no question of buying any of it, so it’s a perfect purchase-free joy to look at dishes to my heart’s content.
(It’s ironic that, as I write this, I am awaiting delivery of service for ten from the west coast, but that’s a topic for another post…)
What do you love to look at while shopping, with no intention of buying? Start with something delightful that you find it easy to say “no” to, and then move into more difficult exercises in impulse denial. It’s fun – and good for the soul AND the wallet!
One year ago today
“Nature has many scenes to exhibit, and constantly draws a curtain over this part or that. She is constantly repainting the landscape and all surfaces, dressing up some scene for our entertainment. Lately we had a leafy wilderness; now bare twigs begin to prevail, and soon she will surprise us with a mantle of snow. Some green she thinks so good for our eyes that, like blue, she never banishes it entirely from our eyes, but has created evergreens.” — Henry David Thoreau
As I write this (a little over two weeks before it is scheduled to be published) there is a pristine blanket of white outside, spreading over every unpaved bit of ground, unspoiled as yet by footsteps. This recent snow was unusually powdery, blowing about and leaving drifts against the windowsills, a rare sight here in Virginia.
Though the snow is dazzlingly bright in the sun, I am glad for the remnant of blue and green in the landscape; a sky that looks remarkably like the ones we see in springtime, and evergreens that seem bundled up with their thick foliage, unharmed by the single-digit temperatures of the past 24 hours.
I hope we all hold within our imaginations the blues and greens of warmer days, a sort of internal immunization against the gloom that can overtake us in winter. How delightful to have the beauty of snow along with just a hint of the colors that will delight us in the springtime days that lie ahead!
One year ago today
“Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance.” — Woodrow Wilson
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…” — Thomas Jefferson, from the Declaration of Independence
Whenever a government moves to uphold or defend freedom, it’s easy to get confused and think that the freedom came from the government. In reality, freedom is secured by governments, not granted by them, and even that happens only insofar as governments act in accordance with the will of the governed. One need not look far into the history books to find confirmation of Wilson’s assertion that the history of liberty is inextricably bound up with resistance to governmental tyranny.
There is a difference, of course, between oppression and unpopular legislation. I think people on either end of the political spectrum are far too quick to refer to anything they disagree with as “facism,” and to liken any political opponent to Hitler. Such words begin to lose meaning when they are tossed about as hyperbole, and desensitization to their concepts is dangerous.
It’s important to recognize, especially in a democracy, that the will of the majority must not disregard the liberty of the minorities. Thus the sometimes inexorably slow and cumbersome process of governmental checks and balances will test the patience of citizens who care passionately about their country’s actions and policies.
The great thing about having lived through many years of alternating dominance of one political party or another is that it gives us a sense of how it feels to be on either side of the equation. We’ve all felt elation when elections or court decisions went the way we hoped they would, and disappointment or even despair when they did not. If nothing else, it should give us a measure of sympathy for each other, regardless of our differing affiliations and ideas.
The next time you find yourself in either a winning or losing political position, remember that the liberty we all claim to value has never been uniformly and consistently available in all aspects of life. To value liberty is to accept the inevitability of disagreement, and the best we can do is act, speak and live in ways that will keep such conflicts in the realm of civil discourse. The most inhumane atrocities had their beginnings in tiny seeds of prejudice, anger, blame, malicious rumor and disrespectful behavior.
The history of liberty is indeed a history of resistance – including resistance to gratuitous hostility.
One year ago today
“While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many.” – Lady Bird Johnson
Almost everyone I know would like to make the world a better place. We long to do great things, to make a difference. For some reason, though, it seems harder to aspire to the little graces, like letting people merge in traffic when we have the right of way.
Crowds of people can be so irritating, whether standing in lines, waiting on a restaurant table or service, or dealing with noise levels we find annoying. Patience seems harder and harder to sustain. We might want to bring peace to all the world, but don’t ask us to give up our seats on a packed bus!
A lot of us handle this by avoiding crowds and withdrawing into solitude, and this can be a healthy response if we don’t carry it too far. But sooner or later, we will all want and need neighbors, whether we admit that or not. And each of us bears the responsibility to be good neighbors to those whose paths we cross.
Other than the aforementioned traffic courtesies, what are some other ways we can be good neighbors?
One year ago today
“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” ― Rebecca Solnit
I’ve always thought that walking is the best way to really get to know any place — a neighborhood, a city, the woods, the mountains or the beach. So much is more easily visible to those who go exploring on foot.
While we lived in northern California, I used to love to go into San Francisco and just spend the day walking around. I would be so absorbed in what I was doing that usually I would not stop to eat lunch (except for maybe an energy bar or some fruit), and I would not even miss eating. I joked to Jeff about my “San Francisco diet” because, between walking up and down all those hills and skipping the snacks and lunches, it was a great way to lose a few pounds!
I especially loved the free City Guides Tours, which offered fascinating commentary and history on various neighborhoods. Since the tour guides were all volunteers who were there simply for their love of the city and the fun of introducing it to others, there was lively discussion and time for lots of questions. Often, those who were on the tours were visitors from other cities who offered up interesting information about their own home towns.
There may be a similar program in a town near you, but even if there is not, I highly recommend taking a day sometime soon to go exploring on foot. When we take vacations, we make time for discoveries that we might never get around to in our own home cities and counties. Perhaps an afternoon “mini-vacation” is just the ticket to brighten up a dull winter week. If you do go exploring in your local area, send us some stories or photos – we’d love to take a virtual stroll with you!
One year ago today
“I want to thank anyone who spends a part of their day creating, I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music – anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us – I think this world would be unlivable without art and I thank you.” ― Steven Soderbergh
I want to add a special thanks to those who create with great love, but without much notice or recognition; those whose art takes the form of everyday work such as crafts, meals, garments, or other useful expressions of caring, and those whose art will never bring them fame or wealth, but brings us all a richer existence. Keep your creative spirit alive! It is a gift from above.
One year ago today
And a salute to three of my favorite online artists:
For a fantastic window on Latin America, visit Zeebra Designs and Destinations
To see stunning nature photography, visit Northwest Photographer
Bird lovers will be delighted to land at talainsphotgraphyblog
“Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” — Francis Bacon
This seeming paradox is one that every gardener knows well. We can exert a strong influence over our gardens, if…
If we observe the individual traits of our plants, our local soil, and our weather. If we are regular and disciplined in tending them. If we practice preventive measures such as weeding and pest control (I prefer organic methods as much as possible).
Even if we do all of these things, however, there are no guarantees. Maybe that is part of the fun of gardening; we never know quite what to expect. But if we hope to achieve good results, we must obey as much as we command – perhaps more.
At this time of year, I’m sure I’m not the only one whose thoughts are turning toward getting outdoors and working on lawns, gardens, flowers, vegetables and other plants. Which commands have you learned to obey, and which to issue?
One year ago today
“Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.” — John Ruskin
You’ve probably noticed that I have been intentionally choosing themes that are linked in some way to the posts I did on the same day one year ago. The first couple of times when this happened accidentally and readers commented on it, I realized it was a helpful way to narrow down potential topics. It enables me to get the posts done more quickly. So I plan to continue this unless readers start complaining that the links are repetitive. I’ll try to keep them different enough to be worth glancing at again.
It does seem that the first day of February is an excellent time to start anticipating springtime, which for many of us means anticipating flowers. Ruskin is right; natural beauty, so colorfully epitomized by flowers, is universally available for appreciation (even though some of the more fabulous views may have limited accessibility due to location, ownership or entrance fees).
Flowers, though, bloom everywhere, and are cultivated and harvested by talented gardeners and merchants who want to spread the joy. If you can’t visit a botanical garden, there are still displays to be found wherever there are people. I just love it that grocery stores often feature floral departments with fresh flowers in abundance. I can hardly run into a grocery, even for one or two items, without taking a minute or two to enjoy their colors and fragrance.
I hope you will make some time today (or soon) to seek out the solace of flowers. They are visual music, a balm for the spirit and food for the soul!
One year ago today
“If you only do what’s important, you’ll never have any fun, unless you consider having fun important.” — Ashleigh Brilliant
If you don’t consider having fun important, I hope you’ll think about it and change your mind! Recently we had a discussion in the comments here, about end-of-life wishes, and things people wish they had done more often. A lot of the wishes center on doing fun or important things – often both. But one thing nobody in our family will probably ever say is “I wish we’d gone to Disney parks more often,” since we enjoyed more than our fair share of visits there.
We love Disney, at least the Disney movies that were produced up through the mid-1990′s, and all the classic characters. And we never tire of going to the Disney parks; we’ve literally lost count of how many times we’ve gone to either the California Disneyland parks, or the Walt Disney World parks in Florida. We never got too old to enjoy it, and some of our happiest memories happened there.
The photos above were taken more than eight years apart, in almost exactly the same location at EPCOT Center — and the boys are wearing the EXACT SAME RAIN PONCHOS! I am not making this up. (I told you I never threw anything away.) I bought each of us a rain poncho right before we visited Walt Disney World in 1995, while we lived in Hawaii, and we found them so useful I kept them and took them along on every subsequent Disney trip, long after the boys were wearing adult sizes. The great thing about a poncho is that one size fits all.
When we had some rain during our 2003 trip to Disney World (taken to celebrate Matt’s 18th birthday) Drew thought it would be fun to get another photo like the one we had taken so many years before. I don’t know which was more fun, taking the photos or comparing them years afterward!
I hope you are making time for enjoying funny moments with people you love, and maybe preserving those memories in photos or journals, or both. Someday it will seem way more important than it might seem now.
Happy Lunar New Year!
One year ago today
‘Tis distance lends enchantment to the view,
And robes the mountain in its azure hue.
– Thomas Campbell
Time and memory don’t always improve the way things seem to us, but often they do. As with the old saying about the weather, if you are unhappy today, wait a while. Although it may be hard to imagine, there will almost certainly come a time, probably fairly soon, when things appear at least a little bit better than they do right now. And it’s even more likely that someday you will look back on these years of your life and feel better about them — either happy they are in the past, or happy for the good times they held, which you can see with more clarity from a distance.
One year ago today
“Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.” — Mark Twain
Of all the things that have helped us survive the past thirty years, and even before that, I would have to say that humor is near the top of the list. I cannot count the times when a good laugh has lightened everything up for us. If someone asked me to name the trait I value most in both our sons, it might well be their robust sense of humor.
Years ago when the boys and I were visiting my parents, we decided to take the MARTA train into Atlanta for some reason or other. I have forgotten what we did in town that day; what I remember most is something memorable that happened on the way home.
It was right around rush hour in the afternoon, and our train was crowded. Somewhere between West End and College Park, after the train had gone above ground but was not near a station, it began to slow, grinding to a stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
For a couple of seconds a hush fell over our car, and then something wonderful happened. As if on cue, almost everyone in the car burst into laughter. It was so contagious, it was hard not to join in. As we sat there — I don’t remember how long, but it might have been ten or twenty minutes — there was a relaxed, almost party atmosphere as people engaged in lively speculation about what was going on, and how long it might be before it was fixed.
What surprised me most was the complete absence of any impatience, irritation or annoyance from anyone I heard. It was as if we were all caught as extras in some sitcom episode or comedy movie, enjoying it to the hilt. It was most unexpected, and makes me smile to this day when I think about it. The car eventually started up again, but the memory of that temporary stop lingers on.
I’ve wondered about it a good bit over the years. Why did these people react with such spirited humor? I tell myself that maybe it was something about the relaxed good will of Atlanta (I can’t imagine that happening on the New York subway) or the southern African-American culture (we were the only white people in our car) or maybe it was just the sunny weather of a beautiful day in a lovely city.
Whatever the reason, the experience left me indelibly impressed with the power of humor to turn bad situations into good ones. I hope you have had many such experiences, and will have many more. Feel free to share some of them in the comments!
One year ago today
“Our destiny often looks like a fruit-tree in winter. Who would think from its pitiable aspect that those rigid boughs, those rough twigs could next spring again be green, bloom, and even bear fruit? Yet we hope it, we know it.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
After the difficulties of an especially harsh year, I am grateful for nature’s continual reminders of how things can be made new again. It’s really remarkable, the transformation of a tree from a bare, seemingly moribund skeleton to a profusion of greenery and flowers. I see it each year in the crape myrtles in our neighborhood, pictured above in winter and here, photographed in the summer.
I’ve learned from experience not to give up on straggly plant remains that appear to have been frozen. Sometimes flowering annuals spring back to life again as the weather warms (whether from roots or seeds, I’m never quite sure), or a neglected houseplant will gradually respond to more attention.
So it is with us, with our hopes and dreams. We can survive quite a lot, and hopefully come back stronger.
One year ago today
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ― Epicurus
It’s so easy to get caught up in looking ahead to the next goal or aspiration. There’s nothing wrong with anticipation; it makes life more fun. But it’s also important to stop and realize how many things we have that we didn’t have ten, twenty or thirty years ago. Or in some cases, even one year or one week ago.
I invite you to join me today in feeling happy and thankful about the new(er) things in your life. What are some relatively recent blessings that hold promise for 2014? What do you have now that you once only hoped for?
One year ago today
“He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.” – Joseph H. Gilmore
This old hymn, which its author said was written during “the darkest hour of the Civil War,” has always been a favorite of mine. I have vivid childhood memories of hearing it sung by the congregation in church, where the booming, perfectly-pitched tenor of an older British gentleman rose above the others and impressed me with the conviction in his tone when he sang it. To hear him sing those words was to feel a sense of elation and absolute assurance that went perfectly with the beautiful melody of the song’s chorus.
I know there are a lot of people who have mostly negative views of religious faith. I can understand to some extent how people could feel that way, given the wars and violence done in the name of various religions, and the unfortunate stereotypes of believers that are often perpetuated by the media.
My own experience of faith, though, has been almost completely the opposite. For a lifetime I have been watching believers whose faith in God has defined their lives and blessed the world around them. I have seen people weather unbelievably tough times with a peace that truly passes understanding. I have been strengthened and upheld by knowing that people are praying for us. And the sadness of losing loved ones who die is tempered by the belief that their souls live on, and the hope that we will someday see them again.
To some, of course, this sounds like foolish wishful thinking. But I’m reminded of one of my favorite Woody Allen quotes: “What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.” As funny as this quote is, he does have a point. If it’s cold, hard evidence you’re after, I think most of what seems like “proof” is just as illusory, if not more so, than truths that cannot be seen. I’m not sure we have any more reason to trust what we see as “realities” that appear only to our senses, than we do to trust in the unseen, and perhaps Einstein would agree.
In any case, I am profoundly thankful to have this song among the ones that play inside my head when I need them most. I love it even more now, after sitting beside Jeff in church this morning, hearing him sing the words of the final verse and knowing he meant them. The world is a very tough place at times, and it’s unspeakably comforting to hold to an unchanging hand.
One year ago yesterday*
*the post from one year ago today was linked in yesterday’s post
“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author’s words reverberating in your head.” ― Paul Auster
Even when life is the craziest and most chaotic, I always read myself to sleep at night. It’s often the only time of day that I make time to read a book, but no matter how late it is, I read at least a little bit, just long enough to drift off. It keeps me from lying awake worrying about everything else.
Reading is undoubtedly a comfort, consolation and stimulant of choice at other times, too. Whether it’s email, a letter, a newspaper, a magazine or the back of a cereal box, I cannot imagine going very long without reading something. It’s my preferred method of staying in touch with people I care about, as well as the way I learn, think, and survive. It’s as necessary to my well-being as food and water. I really believe that.
Readers today are blessed as never before with unlimited sources and choices for reading material. Audiobooks, digital readers and quick, free downloads from the public library have increased our options exponentially. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or depressed, the thought of having so much reading, just waiting for me wherever and whenever I am ready for it, brightens my day.
If you have a Kindle, Nook or other e-reader and need help finding a public library near you from which to download free audio and electronic books, let me know. I’d be glad to help you find one. Do you have a favorite author, series, or great book to recommend? There’s no better time than winter to share the joys of reading!
One year ago tomorrow*
*I switched the “one year ago” posts for today and tomorrow because the topics matched better. The post from one year ago today will appear with tomorrow’s blog post.
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.” ― Sylvia Plath
It’s difficult to read this quote from Plath without thinking of the sad reality that she chose to end her own life while still young, with two small children. Yet I find hope here in realizing that even a person given to fatal depths of melancholia was not completely beyond the reach of happiness.
One thing that helps me in moments of despair is the realization that “this too shall pass.” When everything seems to be going wrong, or when we are feeling sad or distressed (even if it’s for no particular reason) it’s easy to think we can never be happy again. But when our emotions tell us our sorrow is permanent, our minds can argue back.
Yes, we can and will be happy again. Yes, there will even be moments of elation, such as Plath describes. We know this because we can look into our memories and find both joy and sorrow there.
I think we all have had times when we felt a similar rush of joy. What are some of those moments for you? Can you think of a place you’ve stood and marveled at the sights spread out before you? Or a time when you thought “right now, everything feels almost perfect?” I hope you have many such gems to remember, and I hope that this year will bring you more of them.
One year ago today
“I allow my fear of embarrassment to stop me from hostessing anyone. I tell myself it’s fine, it’s just not ‘my thing,’ but I actually think that’s a weak excuse. Because there are things we should do, regardless of whether they are our favorite ‘things’ or not…I think inviting people into your home, whether it’s an impeccable mansion or a rusty old shack, is probably an important practice.” – Glennon Doyle Melton
One of the most important things we can do to defeat despair — and to help others to do the same — is to let people in. Into our lives, into our hearts, and yes, into our homes. Even when our homes aren’t exactly ready for prime time.
My house is a wreck right now, even more so than usual. In fact, all the piles of stuff that used to make a crazy sort of sense to me do not make sense to me any more. There’s nothing for it but to plow into it as I have time, clean up, clear away and in the meantime, LIGHTEN UP on the inside. Translation: even as I go about cleaning up, I can’t get impatient with myself because, compared to what’s been going on the past two months, and some of the other stuff that is still going on, this housekeeping stuff is SO unimportant.
This is not to say that I don’t clean things up when we have people over. In fact, Jeff and I have always joked, “The house is really messy, we need to invite some people over” because that makes us prioritize tidying up. But when people come over a few times, you stop worrying about it. There’s nothing like having someone in your home, and going into theirs, to let you get to know them in a way you won’t get to know them anyplace else. And pretty soon, the superficial stuff doesn’t matter much.
When we go to each other’s homes, we see each other’s pets and furniture and art and projects and notes on the fridge. We sit in their chairs and on their floors and at their tables, and laugh and talk and sometimes sing and pray together, and just soak in who they are in their natural surroundings. There’s nothing really like it, and I think one reason people are so crazy nowadays is that we don’t do enough of this type of thing anymore. There are too many electronic substitutes for being with friends. But they can’t replace face time.
Our friends Mitzie and Robert are wonderful examples to us when it comes to hospitality. These people have more folks into their home than anyone I know. Maybe it’s Mitzie’s heart of gold or Robert’s Hawaiian heritage, but they are like professional friend-makers and they bring people together all the time. They host church groups and community groups and their sons’ friends, and at least once a year they have a big luau for local mainland Hawaiians and wannabe Hawaiians, complete with live music and food and more laughter than you can imagine and even a pig roasted in the genuine Hawaiian way. I’ve never seen their home messy but the truth is I don’t think anyone would notice if it was. You walk in the door and it’s like you are ohana; you are home.
We have many other friends who are like them, and set a good example for us. Two of them, Tammy and J.J., are coming over tomorrow for awhile, just to see us. I won’t have anything special fixed to eat (although I’ll offer them tea ) and you can bet the house will still be bordering on eligibility for a hoarders show, but I’m not worried about it, because we’ve been in each others’ homes so many times now they feel like family.
I hope you have people like that, people who can drop in anytime, no matter whether you’re ready for company or not. I also hope you will join me in resolving to open your home to friends and potential friends. It doesn’t have to be anything big (unless you enjoy that type of thing) — it can just be pizza and conversation. A board game and snacks. Whatever.
I admit that often, before people come over, Jeff and I get nervous and grouchy and run around trying to clean everything up and get everything ready, and we don’t usually feel totally prepared when the doorbell rings. But we have never, ever, ever NOT felt happier afterwards. It’s magical.
Do you have anyone you’d like to invite to your home, but have been putting it off for one reason or another? Try moving that up on your list of priorities, and see what happens. And if someone invites you to come to their home, try carving out time to go. Let me know how it goes!
One year ago today
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
– Jacques Yves Cousteau
After spending 21 of the past 24 years living near the ocean, I have no desire to live very far inland. It’s interesting, because I don’t have any of the interests one might normally associate with coastal living. I don’t fish, I’m not a very good swimmer, and I never go scuba diving or even snorkeling. I don’t spend much time in boats, although I might enjoy that. I don’t even like seafood.
But there’s something about being near the ocean that feels more free, more healthy and more alive to me. There’s something about having land on one side and water on the other; something about always having an orientation; a compass of sorts, merely by knowing which side the ocean lies on. It gives a frame of reference from which to start, no matter what direction you want to travel, with the promise of unseen continents to explore, lying on the other side of the water.
And then there’s the water itself; the sound of the surf, and salt-air breezes, and the gulls flying over. I love the bridges and the marinas and the incomparable sunsets over the water. There’s a feeling of expansive serenity at the ocean that I don’t find anywhere else.
Sometimes when I’m working in our wooded lot I will forget how close to the water we are, until I’m digging and come on a bed of oyster shells (which Jeff suspects are left there by critters who dig them out of the creek) or hear the sound of gulls overhead, as I used to hear long ago when working in our back yard surrounded by eucalyptus trees on the central coast of California. It’s doubly appealing to be in a wooded area but still near enough to the ocean to hear the gulls.
Of course, every region has its appeal, whether the landscape is dessert, mountains or plains. But even if you strongly favor inland living, I highly recommend escaping now and then to the sea, if only in imagination or via a virtual tour online. The spell might not be as strong as if you were there in person, but the net of wonder cast by the ocean is far-reaching and rejuvenating.
One year ago today
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” – C. S. Lewis
My favorite author C. S. Lewis wrote many passages that touch my heart and open my mind, but none is more sobering and remarkable to me than the text that includes the quote above. Think about it: every person you encounter today is more unique, more important and more eternal than any non-human part of your life.
It’s hard for us to realize this, surrounded as we are with so many appealing gadgets, to say nothing of the aspects of nature that are far more attractive and less irritating than some of the people we meet. But I really think Lewis hit the nail on the head here. Of everything in this world that matters, people matter most, and we forget that at our own peril.
I think Fred Rogers understood that. So did a lot of other remarkable people I’ve known. With their help, I hope I’m beginning to understand it, too.
One year ago today
“To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.” ― Pierre-Auguste Renoir
With that view of art, no wonder Renoir left us so many gorgeous works to enjoy. I realize there is a place for art that intrigues or even disturbs our complacent ways of thinking, but when I look at the world today, I think we need beauty more than ever before. Kudos to Renoir and the thousands (maybe millions) of other artists like him, who want to brighten our lives with images that soothe, uplift and delight us.
We are so fortunate to have the works of great artists online for us to enjoy free whenever we want, wherever we have an internet connection. The Renoir link above features digitized images of his complete works, and he was a prolific guy, with a wide range of lovely subjects. If you’d like to see a winter landscape to match your temperatures today, take a look at this lovely image. Or if you’ve had enough of winter, catch a glimpse of summer beauty here. Or visit the websites of other artists or museums, and give your spirit a dose of beauty to brighten your day today!
One year ago today