This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.
This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.
There is no house
like the house of belonging. — David Whyte
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know it has been a very personal journey for me. It has required a degree of disclosure that was quite difficult, and not without risk. While I’ve written voluminous amounts over the years, at least 80 percent of it has been in the form of personal, one-to-one correspondence, by letter, and later, increasingly, by email. Putting my words out into the open for all to see terrified me for many years, even after I was first published over 20 years ago, and it’s still intimidating for me when I stop to think about it.
When one lives a private, almost isolated life as I have lived for many years now, anonymity becomes a shield of protection and a cloak for vulnerability. But such safety, if it exists at all, is mostly illusory. A year later, I believe that the rewards of venturing into the scary but exciting terrain of cyberspace largely unarmed (to use Glennon Doyle Melton’s apt description) has been worth the risk for me.
So today I thank you for visiting me in my online home; now let’s take a journey with the Ghost of Christmas Past. I ask you to step, in spirit, into our York family room at Christmas time. Neither you nor we are able to be there today, but if we were, we could introduce you to the friends who, over many years, have filled that space with endless conversation, both lighthearted and serious, along with boisterous laughter, and even ukelele music and singing. Many of these loved ones have moved away; one has left this earth, and others we hope to see in our York home again in the future. Today, you are welcome to be there in spirit with us, a place where everyone belongs. I hope you will know the joy of creating such spaces and places wherever you may live in the physical world. There is no place quite like the house of belonging.
One year ago today
“Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us…” — Winston Churchill, in his Christmas Eve message of 1941
Have you ever wondered how many things we do “for the children” are actually an excuse for us to have some fun? Never is this happy proclivity more obvious than during the holidays. I hope you are able to indulge in some childlike fun, whether or not you have actual children around to share it. A good shot of youthful delight is a great emotional immunization for the coming winter.
One year ago today:
“…remember that our blessings outnumber the lights. Happy Christmas to all.”
— Betsy Cañas Garmon
Every time I think I go overboard with decorating my Christmas trees or gift wrapping, I see someone whose efforts to make Christmas beautiful leave mine in the dust. But the house pictured above may surpass anything I’ve ever seen. For a video that shows a bit more of this display (complete with my own amazed narration), look here.
I am so grateful for all the efforts, large and small, that go into bringing seasonal cheer to every corner of our world. From the bright, sticker-decorated die-cut wreath someone hung on Jeff’s door (and all the doors of active duty service members) here at the hospital, to the trees and decorations at the Fisher Houses, to the festive cooking, music and atmosphere that abounds seemingly everywhere I go, all combine to lift our spirits and brighten our days.
I hope you will be surrounded with the good will that shines especially brightly at this time of year. Feel free to post links to your favorite Christmas carols, or send photos of holiday decorations you’d like to share. Let’s keep the blessings growing and glowing!
One year ago today:
“Small kindnesses often, unintentionally, produce the biggest payoffs.”
― Richard Paul Evans
Sometimes people give us gifts that they don’t even realize they are giving us. Here’s my memory of one such gift, an intangible expression of an all-too-unusual kind of love.
Because my father has always been a good sport about being teased, all four of his children have indulged in making fun of him about various things over the years. I think Daddy is able to take this kidding because he senses the enormous respect that lies beneath the affectionate joking. But once in awhile, he will scold us for being out of line if our teasing touches on another person.
When I was in my twenties, about the time I began to think I knew everything better than anybody else did, my father pulled out his wallet to pick up the tab for everyone at a restaurant. This was his typical practice, but on this occasion I happened to notice that his wallet was literally falling apart at the seams. “Daddy,” I chided him, “for a man of your means, that is one sorry-looking wallet. Why don’t you buy yourself a new one?”
With tears in his eyes, Daddy reprimanded me, “Jewel gave me this wallet.” I was instantly mortified at my words. Seeing my abrupt silence, and perhaps feeling the need to suppress his own emotional reaction, he added, “She always gave me something I could use.”
Jewel was our generous and sweet Granny, his mother-in-law, my mother’s mother, who had died years earlier. I have no idea how long ago she had given him the wallet, but it brought to mind a similarly tearful reprimand I had witnessed as a very young child, this one coming from Jewel herself, in defense of Daddy.
We were all at Granny and PaPa’s home on one of our relatively rare visits, and Granny heard Mom giving Daddy a hard time about something. “You be good to Carlyle!” she snapped. My mother, already feeling impatient, snapped right back. “I’m so sick of you taking Carlyle’s side all the time!”
Granny got tears in her eyes and said “Others only gave me their dirty laundry to wash today. Carlyle gave me twenty dollars.”
Twenty dollars was a lot of money in the early 60’s, but that wasn’t the memorable part of this exchange. Like my father’s response to my laughter at his broken-down wallet, Granny’s words to my mother were a rare rebuttal sparked by a true affection that was always apparent between my father and his mother-in-law.
In my lifetime, I’ve observed with no small amount of chagrin the endless jokes about mothers-in-law, and the pervasive reality that so often lies behind such cruel humor. Any in-law relationship, it would seem, is one that is fraught with peril, a psychological minefield that is best traversed with care. Even when appropriate care is taken, the inherent risks often take their toll, leaving wounded people limping along with real or imagined slights nurtured over the years into longstanding grudges.
The treasured gift my Granny and my Daddy gave me is the memory of at least one giant exception to what seems a very sad rule. As with most such gifts, it was given with no awareness, unintentionally made manifest because of a mutual respect that brooked no insults. While I can identify with my mother’s frustration (like her, my temperament has more of her father’s plain-spoken Scots Irish volatility) I also appreciate having that frustration trumped by reasonable defense when needed. And I will always cherish the knowledge that my Granny and her eldest child’s husband remained each other’s champions insofar as such defense was ever needed.
In this season of giving objects as gifts, let’s take a few minutes to focus on giving each other the intangibles that last far longer; the memory of loving words, compassionate actions, and enduring examples of life well lived. I wish you many such gifts, this year and every year!
One year ago today:
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” — 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Today, I wish you the abundant joys of the season! I am so grateful for the gift of your presence here.
One year ago today:
“We salute the veterans and survivors of Pearl Harbor who inspire us still. Despite overwhelming odds, they fought back heroically, inspiring our nation and putting us on the path to victory. They are members of that Greatest Generation who overcame the Depression, crossed oceans and stormed the beaches to defeat fascism, and turned adversaries into our closest allies…They remind us that no challenge is too great when Americans stand as one. All of us owe these men and women a profound debt of gratitude for the freedoms and standard of living we enjoy today.”
– President Barack Obama
Jeff has very little to say about my blog, other than protesting when I tell him I’ve posted photo of him, or written about him. However, I did read to him the blog I posted a couple of days ago, in which I talked about the parallels between fighting a war and fighting cancer. A few minutes later, he told me about The Ballad of Ira Hayes, a Johnny Cash song he remembered with some emotion in connection with the mention of Iwo Jima. I told him I could feature the song on my blog for Pearl Harbor Day, but he asked me instead to use the track below, a poem recorded by Johnny Cash.
Jeff isn’t nearly as fond of music as I am, but he does like Johnny Cash quite a bit, so I agreed to include this recitation as he suggested. At the time, I didn’t remember that one year ago today, I had chosen to feature one of my own Cash favorites. On this day of remembrance, the words of the Man in Black seem fitting again. I hope we will all continue to be inspired by the courage of those who stand firm in the face of overwhelming odds.
One year ago today:
“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
It sounds good, but it’s sometimes almost impossible to do. Life can be so difficult, and contentment so elusive even in relatively good times. We seem wired to want to improve, grow, acquire and discover. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of those aspirations, provided they don’t increase our frustration with reality. When genuine hardship sets in, we may wonder how we ever felt unhappy before. The “normal” state we once took for granted, maybe even disdained, suddenly becomes the most pressing goal for which we strive.
One year ago today my quote was about the creativity of contentment, and how it relates to my love of photography. I chose a photo of my friend Kathy at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, partly because it’s such a beautiful setting, and partly because Kathy totally gets it about loving to capture life through photographs. Here’s another one of her I took the same day.
It’s easier to be content when we make the time to enjoy such beautiful settings. In all the ways that matter, the world is ours. Amid sunshine or shadows, I hope we are able to keep a sanctified space inside our hearts where we can rejoice every single day.
One year ago today:
“In all your relationships, you’re never too small to make a big contribution, and never too big to make a small one.” — Mardy Grothe
Thanks to everyone here who visits here! You have given to us in big and small ways over the past year. I thought all of us could use a mental image of something beautiful today, so I chose a photo from one of my favorite gardens in one of my favorite cities. Happy Thursday!
One year ago today:
“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.” ― Andy Rooney
I don’t know whether they should get credit or blame, but Mama and Daddy made all their kids into adults who love Christmas. I guess there’s a part of me that never really grew up when it comes to that holiday. And for us, the delightful disarray starts long before Christmas morning. Now, as then, our homes become glorious messes of wrapping paper, ribbons, colorful decorations that haven’t yet been put where they belong, and gifts hidden so well they might not be discovered again until June. It all adds up to the year’s happiest chaos.
I started this year’s Christmas mess several weeks ago, knowing Jeff would be in the hospital over Thanksgiving weekend, by which time I normally have at least the York Christmas tree done. As I write this, just the tree itself is up, not even adorned with the 3000-4000 lights I usually string on it before adding ridiculous numbers of ornaments. Given everything that’s gone on this year, the Christmas mess is likely to be around awhile. No worries that it will get cleaned up too soon this year!
During this December, I wish you the happy sort of disorganization that suggests more festivity than frustration. Cue up the holiday music, sip some spiced tea or coffee or eggnog, and enjoy the excitement!
One year ago today:
Hmm, do I sense conflicting themes here?
“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” ― Marianne Williamson
We don’t tend to think of airports as comfortable or happy places, but this video might change your mind. During my years with USAir, I often thought how the airport gates were a setting that displayed the entire gamut of human emotions, especially during those days when people were allowed to go to the gate to meet or say farewell with those who were traveling. Every day, I would see tearful reunions and farewells, people en route to weddings and funerals, anxious friends and families awaiting a stranded or delayed loved one, travelers dealing with cancelled plans or smooth sailing, customers venting frustration and anger, or bubbling over with excitement, happiness and humor.
I feel obliged to issue a disclaimer: the folks at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board are not even aware I’m sharing this video, let alone paying me to do it. But when watched this video for the first time sitting beside Jeff’s bed in the early evening at the hospital, despite it being a rather sedate and sobering milieu, this clip had me literally clapping in time to the music with a big grin on my face. I hope it does the same for you.
One year ago today:
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” — Psalm 94:19
Here in the northern hemisphere, December is the month of consolation, when the cold and decay of nature’s landscape are offset by the joys of celebration and gratitude. Today we thank you for the cheer and solace of your kind thoughts, prayers and visits here. We wish you a month of happiness, filled with “tidings of comfort and joy,” in festive gatherings, or quiet contemplation, or both.
One year ago today:
“Home is not where, it is whom.” -Christianne Dettmann
As most readers have figured out by now, I’m no longer posting two weeks in advance, but taking it day by day as I am able. Since my days are mostly spent in hospitals lately, I have a bit of a one-track mind. In any case, this quote seemed appropriate for this week. For the first time in many years, in fact, so many I can’t remember exactly how many, Jeff and I have been able to spend some part of Thanksgiving and our shared birthday with both of our sons. Not in our home, but as Dettman says, home can be anywhere. I hope this finds you feeling at home wherever you may be today!
One year ago today:
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” — Kahlil Gibran
This photo is rather odd, but it seems fitting as a symbol for where Jeff is now, in a place of past nightmares and trauma, somehow surviving (thus far) life-threatening complications and tremendous pain, holding on in a position where his strength is likely to fade quickly. His stamina and endurance are unbelievable, but insofar as any human has limits, we have to fear that he is surely approaching his. We continue to need and appreciate your kind thoughts and prayers.
About the photo: when we visited Dachau with our friends in August 2005, we drove around searching for the parking and main entrance. It was quite obvious from the walls and barbed wire that we were at the camp, but we weren’t sure where to start touring. Steve and Aaron got out to inquire, going through a gate that looked too small to be an entrance, and when they did not return after a few minutes, Amy and I convinced Jeff to see if he could find them.
We didn’t mean “look over the wall” but that’s what Jeff did. Instead of going through the same gate Aaron and Steve had entered, he walked over to the wall and somehow jumped to a position where he could pull himself up to look over. Amy and I were in the car cracking up. I don’t remember how long Jeff was up there, but naturally I went for my camera and got a shot of him scanning the grounds of Dachau, looking for Steve and Aaron. Our visit to Dachau was sobering and unforgettable, but this photo survives as the only note of levity of a day spent in a heartrendingly tragic setting; a flash of laughter in a day devoted to the remembrance of seemingly endless tears.
I am comforted today by this reminder of strength and humor in a desolate landscape. Like those who survived Dachau, Jeff will bear forever on his body the marks of what he has endured. May he live many years to reflect on blessings and joy that lie on the other side of his pain.
One year ago today:
“I am grateful for the beauty in the midst of suffering. I am grateful for the treasure hunt through the minefield of life. Dangerous or not, I don’t want out of the minefield. Because truth, and beauty , and God are there.” – Glennon Doyle Melton
As I write this, the day before Thanksgiving, Jeff has not yet awakened from the 14+ hours of surgery he endured yesterday. They had to keep him anesthetized overnight because they knew he would be in the OR again for an emergency procedure this morning (a stent placed to drain a bile leakage from the liver that could result in infection if left untreated). One of the doctors woke me up in the waiting room this morning, after about 6 hours of sleeping for the first time in two days, to sign a consent form for the procedure. I am grateful I was there to sign the form. I am grateful there was a way to solve the immediate problem. I am grateful that this morning’s procedure went “as well as it possibly could have gone,” as the surgeons have just informed me, and grateful for the prayers that will join mine, asking for this complication to heal without further setbacks.
I’m grateful for the many, many doctors from various specialty fields, whose names and cards I can hardly keep track of. I am grateful for the compassionate nurse who gave me kind and reassuring words, along with much-needed blankets and a pillow so that I could sleep last night on chairs that were pulled together in a waiting room. I am grateful both my sons are near, sharing my love and anguish for a man we always knew to be remarkable, but had no idea, until now, how truly amazing his strength and endurance are.
Yesterday’s surgery was far more difficult and long than anyone anticipated, due in part to massive scarring from the first liver resection. Jeff ended up getting seven units of blood (so far) and four units of blood products, and has a long, tough road to recovery ahead. The surgeons were exhausted and disappointed at the setbacks, but were nonetheless pleased to believe that Jeff is now rid of the cancer and very likely to be among the 8% who survive his particular diagnosis, if he is able to survive the post-surgical risks of the coming days and weeks.
Today, on this day we set aside for the gratitude we can rightly feel every minute of every day, I pray your life is filled with the best kinds of abundance. As with those who shared the first Thanksgiving meal on which our celebration is based, we all come to the table with a mixed bag of blessings and sorrows, many disappointments, hurts and griefs, but also countless reasons to rejoice. May we all open our eyes to the providence that surrounds us, making our existence possible. Happy Thanksgiving!
“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13
One year ago today:
“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.” — H.U. Westermayer
I was unable to find out anything about who H. U. Westermayer was, though I did find others asking the same question. While they were similarly unsuccessful at learning about the person who originated this oft-quoted thought, many did verify the historical accuracy of the quote. Sometimes our quaint stories about the first Thanksgiving tend to obscure the harsh reality of the context in which it took place. Perhaps our greatest lesson to be drawn from that celebration is the example of people who were able to find reason to be thankful amid circumstances more adverse than most of us can imagine. Whatever you may be facing today, I hope the difficulties will not obscure the blessings.
One year ago today:
“Grieve in places the world does not forgive. Rejoice in places the world does not notice. Live with a patience that the culture cannot sustain, and a hope that the world cannot imagine.” – Krista Tippett
Thanks to all who visit this site, and especially to all of you who have grieved, rejoiced, and hoped with us on this journey!
In the brief time I’ve been linking to the blog entries from a year ago, I am often struck by how appropriate they seem on the first anniversary of their online publication. Today is one such time. It’s one of my personal favorites.
One year ago today
“If you are ill or facing adversity, you can begin to heal yourself by following the paths others have followed. Forgive yourself and others, live with hope, faith and love and watch the results in your life and in the lives you touch. Remember that success and healing refer to what you do with your life, not to how long you avoid death.”
– Bernie Siegel
One year ago today:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NIV)
It’s a bit frightening, being this close to the edge of suffering and death. It’s not territory we chose to explore, but even from here, the view is sometimes more beautiful than seems reasonable. I imagine that you, too, have been (or will be) in places you never sought, or situations you hadn’t planned. I hope you are able to hang on– perhaps gaining a new perspective that will illuminate your less dramatic pathways, and underscore your joy in happier times that surely lie in your future.
One year ago today:
“There is a blissful perfection in even the smallest, most mundane facets of everyday life, and appreciating this is an important source of happiness…Humans adapt to any type of experience, but scholars suggest that we’re less likely to adapt to tiny pleasures because, by their nature, they are unexpected and different each time they occur.” -– Tammy Strobel
So that explains it! I always knew small pleasures were magical, but I didn’t realize that part of their perfection lies in their seeming insignificance. To put it another way, when we’re not expecting anything, we are often pleasantly surprised. I wish you a season of the most blissfully mundane moments of everyday life, along with the recognition of their hidden riches.
One year ago today:
“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” — Beverly Sills
It may be a long and winding road, but it’s filled with beauty, discovery and enchantment.
Enjoy the journey!
One year ago today:
“Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads.” — Harry S Truman
In fact, I’d say they are even more necessary. I’m so grateful for them!
One year ago today:
Pasha, this will be our first Thanksgiving without you.
Now and always, we miss you, but we’re thankful for your time with us!
“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn–that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence…” – Jane Austen
Monday, the day before yesterday, was a hard one for us. We had a long discussion with the liver surgeon, and the full reality of what Jeff is facing was sobering. He had to stay at Bethesda for extensive cardiac testing– a precaution due to the risky nature of his upcoming all-day surgery– and Matt and I went on home, picking Jeff up at the metro station at the end of the day. Despite our worries, it was impossible not to notice what a gloriously beautiful day it was, unseasonably warm and sunny.
On the way home, Jeff and I talked of how stunning the trees looked, despite many of them having lost their leaves. He decided to take Matt to the gym while they still both felt able to go, and I took my walk while they were there, enjoying the perfect weather and breathtaking autumn beauty. The sun was lighting up the colors to almost electric levels. I took my camera so I could bring you along with me on my walk. All these photos were taken within a mile of my home, along my usual routes for daily 2-mile walks. None have been digitally enhanced to improve the color (partly because I don’t have time to fool with photo editing tonight).
The foliage is dazzling, and the sky is a beautiful blue!
The photo above is taken at the corner of our street.
Lots of neighbors and their dogs are out walking, but it’s spacious and quiet.
Sometimes I just stop and stand there, looking up!
I think the leaves even look pretty on the ground.
Almost home! You can see the roofs of our townhome row in the distance.
This trail runs right behind where we live.
Home again. Come inside for a cup of afternoon tea!
One year ago today:
A year later, these are words we still need to keep in mind…
“He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien
One year ago today:
“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Have you ever had a friend who seemed to give you much more than you gave her or him? At times, we feel helpless ever to repay such friends for their many acts of love, and simply bask in the joy of their generosity. Sometimes we’re uncomfortable with this kind of gratitude, because we don’t like to feel as if we “owe” anyone anything. But in close friendship, such issues vanish into the steadfast understanding that keeps us connected no matter what.
Our friends Janet and C.W. are the friends I am thinking of as I write this. While we lived in northern California, we spent every single Christmas Eve with them and their family, and many New Years Eves and other holidays as well. But we never needed an occasion to be invited to their home for Janet’s amazing cooking, which is right up there with my mother’s and grandmother’s in terms of how delicious and well-prepared everything always was. I often say that the nicest thing anyone can do for me is to cook for me. Boy, has Janet done that more times than I could count! And C. W. is no slouch in the kitchen himself!
The fifth Christmas Eve we spent with them, Drew said (a bit wistfully) “This is the closest I have ever come to knowing what it’s like to spend Christmas with an extended family every year.” That first Christmas in Virginia was very hard for us, missing being with our friends for what had come to be a real tradition — to say nothing of going without Janet’s signature brisket that she slow-cooked all night, or her cheesy potatoes or delicious deserts or…
I would guess that Janet had us over at least ten times as often as we had her over, but she never seemed to be counting, so I didn’t. We liked many of the same places, knew many of the same people, shared lots of joys and sorrows and never kept track of things that didn’t matter. For that, I’m so grateful, and as Bonhoeffer says, very rich.
Who came to your mind as you read this post? Some of us who are perpetual caregivers rely on people who give us more than we are able to give back to them, and they continue to give with enthusiastic, contagious joy. I hope you have many such people in your life, filling your days with riches that have nothing to do with money.
One year ago today:
Update: Prizes and party favors are in the mail!
For details, click on “Thank you!” above.
He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
One year ago today:
(written the day we received the most devastating diagnosis)
“God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.” – Dag Hammarskjold
Update one year later, 11-16-13:
There I go again, letting the quote and photo speak for themselves. I should probably do that more often – we get enough good editorial content in the comments and discussion! But since many of our regular readers may feel as if they have come to know something of my family over the past year, I thought I might take this opportunity to share some of the back story of the photo that went with this post.
In 1999, my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary, and most of the family were able to travel to Banff to help them celebrate. My brother Al, his sons Aaron and Seth, my nieces April and Cami, and April’s husband Jeremiah were all unable to attend, but the rest of the motley crew had a great time being together and enjoying the stunning scenery. I’ll now bore you with a few photos snapped on that very brief but memorable trip – if you’d like to see them, scroll on! The original post with comments from one year ago can be seen here.
There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood —
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time. – Bliss Carman
Autumn reminds us of the brevity of life as the lush blossoms of summer fade and die away, replaced by the dazzling final act of foliage that will soon be gone. The coming onset of winter can be depressing, yet somehow fall retains a unique splendor that makes it the favorite season for many of us. That first snap of chill in the air after the summer heat breaks, followed by the excitement of the harvest holidays and winter merriment, help to take the sting out of the months of cold that will follow.
Update for 11-15-13, one year later:
Wow, I’ve sure gotten a lot chattier since I started this blog! I had forgotten how short I kept my comments. I’m thinking of borrowing the concept I saw on another blog – “Wordless Wednesdays” — and having a day for just a photo, no quote, no comments. What do you think? I love Carman’s poem — I say it to myself every fall, having learned it from the old Childcraft set I grew up reading — but really, does a photo such as the one above really need any words? To see the original post with comments from one year ago today, look here.
“Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.” – Benjamin Franklin
Just as it’s often the minor irritations that distract us and wear us down, so too the power of small blessings can transform our lives. The trick is becoming aware of them. Sunny weather, fragrant blooms, a cup of hot tea on a chilly morning, the delicious smell of food when we’re hungry…what little advantages are brightening your day today?
Update for 11-14-13, one year later:
Those who read this blog frequently will recognize a common theme in this post. I do a lot of blogging about the small pleasures in life and the everyday things we tend to take for granted. I may seem slightly obsessive about it, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that I’ve often thought my sanity has been preserved by focusing on the small (or not-so-small) blessings that are present no matter how bad things get.
Many years ago, I heard a minister begin a sermon with a series of questions that he suggested we answer on paper, just for our own review. He didn’t tell us where he was headed with it. He asked things such as: what is a gadget you use every day? What is the first switch you turn on in the morning? Who is one of your favorite relatives? What school teacher do you remember most fondly? And so on. When he finished, he told us to look over our lists and ask ourselves whether we had ever thought to be thankful for those things. That sermon is one of the most memorable I have ever heard. It made me aware that my Walkman, my lamp, my Aunt Peggy and my fourth grade teacher, among countless other people, memories and things, made me a very rich person indeed.
I hope you will share some thoughts about your own “little advantages” with us today. We might discover more blessings to add to our own lists!
To see the original post with comments, look here.
And miles to go before I sleep…” — Robert Frost
It’s tempting to be drawn into our own ruminations. Trouble can be an isolating experience, and solitude is a seductive force, both healing and dangerous. If we withdraw too long or too often from others, we neglect our responsibility to ourselves as well as to them. Most of us really do have promises to keep and miles to go, no matter how exhausted or discouraged we become.
How can we find the balance between contemplative, wholesome solitude and the daily activities that maintain the connections to others that are so vital to our existence? How can we discern whether a suffering person needs our company, our words or our silence? What are some ways we can be open to the help that others can provide?
Update for 11-13-13, one year later:
Well, I see that I finally started writing some comments, though I’m still briefer and more restrained here than I became as I went along…maybe I should have kept things shorter! Also, I note that the past year has answered my closing questions for me, at least in some ways. Blogs, whether reading or writing them, can often involve a nearly perfect balance between solitude and connection.
We normally sit at our computers alone, or at least focused more on cyberspace than on our immediate surroundings, yet we are connecting with others through words and photos. In starting this blog, I was unaware I was opening the door to help, hope and friendship from so many I didn’t know, and facilitating re-connections with friends I’ve known and loved for years.
Compared to the quicker, more party-like climate on Facebook, blogs offer space for contemplative writing and discussion that goes beyond clever one-liners. In reading the blogs of others, I find much food for thought, identification with ideas and emotions I had held but never expressed myself, and sometimes just happy, light-hearted fun. Not to mention craft ideas, handy hints, humor and many heartwarming or breathtakingly beautiful photos and artwork.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in. — Leonard Cohen
Update for 11-12-13: After 365 different posts, this one remains one of my very favorites. I have had that quote on my refrigerator for years. And the photo of Lady Liberty at sunset brings back happy memories of the Staten Island Ferry. I’m sure Edna St. Vincent Millay could identify, as her memories of that same ferry became one of my favorite poems when I was a young girl! To see the original post with comments, click here.
Have you ever struggled with a “perfect offering” that just didn’t turn out as well as you planned? Does it ever seem to you that pretty much everything in life is imperfect? Although the connection between the photo and the quote isn’t as obvious as with many of my photos on this blog, perhaps you will understand why this seemed to me the perfect illustration for an unsettling but paradoxically comforting thought.
Lines from one of my favorite poems, If by Rudyard Kipling:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools…
Update on 11-11-13:
I see that I still wasn’t adding any comments to speak of. I suppose Kipling’s words speak for themselves! But I also remember that I was petrified of publishing anything online for the world to see. To see the original post with comments, look here. I see more familiar gravatars on this one! Does anyone identify with some of the situations Kipling describes here? I know I do! But the older I get, the more I know what he meant when he called “Triumph” and “Disaster” both imposters. It’s just that they never seem so at the time…
OK, the results are in!
I had intended to video the entire drawing and post it here, but this is all I came up with:
Jeff and Matt had agreed to cooperate with helping me film the drawing, and since it’s a beautiful fall day here in York County, we thought it would be fun to film it outside in our back yard, where the bloom-again azaleas were in full celebration mode and our camellias were beginning to sneak out for a peep, too.
Jeff coached me to Be Sure My Camera Battery Is Charged (a frequent oversight of mine, but in this case it was, and I had backups too). I even checked the SD card to make sure it had plenty of space. Half empty; looked good to me. What I should have realized, but didn’t, is that videos eat up the megabytes VERY quickly. At least on a camera they do, and I don’t have a smart phone.
SO, when Jeff said “OK, that’s all!” just when we started to film, I couldn’t believe it. I was sure he must be reading it wrong. But no, the camera said “card full.” Since Jeff and Matt had other plans awaiting, and in any case have only so much patience with this computer nonsense, they wanted me to go with what I had. It then occurred to me that we have a S-L-O-W internet connection here in York County, so I reluctantly agreed to go on with the drawing OFF camera.
Which turned out to be a good thing, because even with a 37-second video, it took almost an hour to load, and longer than that for me to figure out how to get it posted correctly here, and it still looks a bit distorted to me, as if it didn’t download very well. During all that time, my computer was totally unavailable for anything else such as getting email, reading comments, etc., so I apologize if I kept anyone waiting!
I decided to go ahead and post the abbreviated video for comic value, since it cracked me up that Matt could NOT resist looking into the bin before he drew a name out, even though all the slips with names on them were folded over twice so he couldn’t possibly have seen whose he was picking. I am still wondering whether he has x-ray vision, because one of the second place winners is a definite favorite of his.
In any case, here are the winners, none of whom have asked to remain anonymous. If anyone listed here wants to change their minds on that, let me know and I’ll gladly edit you out! You still get the prizes.
Matt drew the names in reverse order, starting with the third prize winners:
And the second prize winners:
And the FIRST PRIZE WINNER is:
Longtime readers with good memories may notice a coincidence here; in the only other time I awarded any prizes on this website, in an unannounced contest to send a $10 Amazon gift card to whoever could “find the mystery couple” in that day’s photo, Jenelle was the winner in that one too. Jenelle, if I ever announce a contest to give away a Jaguar or $10,000 here, I highly recommend you plan to show up for it!
OK, now for the Defeat Despair Community Activism Award:
For those who read the comments, it will come as no surprise that Sheila, Boomdeeadda, Eric, Michael, Amy Hill and Mary Ann were the six contestants (based on the statistics on the day the contest was announced, as described in that announcement). The WINNER is: BOOMDEADDA! I must say I am happy to have at least one international winner among the prizes I will send out.
Boomdee and Jenelle will need to let me know ASAP what kind of gift card they want (sorry, Boomdee, I could not find a gift card to Auntie’s Aqua Extravaganza Emporium).
Judy, Pat and John will need to let me know what kind of chocolate they like, or if they don’t like chocolate,
let me arrange for psychotherapy to find out what is wrong with them tell me what kind of alternative treat they want. Carla, Ann, Sheila, Eric, Michael, Amy and Mary Ann will need to figure out how to use Amazon, or else figure out whom to give a $10 gift card to that won’t get insulted (maybe the mail carrier or paper delivery person?)
Everybody else, your party favors will be on the way to you within the week (I hope!) THANKS AGAIN for coming to my party! It was so much fun, and you wouldn’t believe how low the catering bill was.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” — Yogi Berra
So here we all are, the 365th daily post of the most eventful and difficult year Jeff and I have ever endured. It’s time to celebrate survival, coping, and all the blessings woven into the pain and sorrow of the past year. Thanks for being among the blessings!
While the future is still very uncertain for us, it feels considerably more promising than it did a year ago. I started this blog before Jeff’s second cancer diagnosis and full extent of the metastasis was known, but before the end of November 2012, it felt as if our world had come crashing in. Now the shock has worn off, Jeff has survived more than we would have wanted to know 2013 held in store, and we both feel more hopeful that the months ahead will bring us continuing improvements in our long-term outlook.
Matt, too, has had a rough year, with three hospitalizations in the past 13 months, and the stress of dealing with Jeff’s diagnosis and all the ways it has disrupted our “normal” lives. Matt faces his 5th open heart surgery early in 2014, and we still have not found a job or training program that’s a good fit for him. While we prepare emotionally for what will definitely be a difficult year, we continue to hope and pray for happy endings to all these unresolved situations.
With all that lies in store, I’ve given a lot of thought to what I should do with this blog now that I’ve finished a year of daily posts. From a purely logistical standpoint, it’s difficult and time-consuming to come up with new posts every day, and while I have thoroughly enjoyed and needed the distraction, the coming months are likely to be very busy ones as we anticipate at least two more surgeries for Jeff and one for Matt. I’m so far behind on many of my responsibilities and interests that I wonder whether I can continue at the same pace.
But I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed hearing from each and every person who has left comments or “likes” at this blog. I’ve discovered so many wonderful people here. I’ve been introduced to the blogosphere, a world where I’ve found support, creativity and encouragement beyond what I had ever imagined. So I’m not going to make any quick decisions.
And here is where you can help me out. Because I have shamelessly bribed everyone into leaving comments today, here’s your chance to tell me what you think I should do. While I’m sure to get differing viewpoints, I will consider every suggestion even if I don’t ultimately take the advice.
For the next week, I have scheduled a daily re-post from the first week of entries from one year ago, as the relatively few of you who were with me that far back are unlikely to remember them. Hopefully those who have been here for only a few days, weeks or months will enjoy seeing them for the first time.
Since I find it hard to keep my mouth shut or my keyboard still, I’ve added a few comments to each re-post, and I will enjoy responding to your comments each day as well. I would miss you too much if I didn’t hear from you, and I want your input as I consider how often I should plan to blog in the future. I’ll also plan to spend that week getting the prizes and party favors on their way via the U. S. mail! So for me, the birthday celebration will stretch out into a week-long event. Maybe longer, depending on how many party favors I have to send out!
After that, I’m not sure. I do know I want to change things up a bit, to give myself freedom to include a wider variety of photos, videos and content. I’d like to introduce some of the people I’ve met online, and to share some of the inspiring, fun and helpful things I’ve enjoyed via blogs, Pinterest and other social media. I can’t stand to leave the vast riches of the internet totally untapped. So I plan to occasionally re-blog or feature others’ work, assuming I can secure permission. Some days I may feature just a photo or quote, or something funny or inspiring, and some days I will post according to the usual format I’ve already used 365 times.
What do you think? What topics, photos, quotes, or other fun stuff do you enjoy most? What would you most like to see here in the coming year? Would you prefer that I post only 3-4 times weekly, once weekly (or even less), or would you prefer a daily post, even if it was just a brief quote and photo that didn’t necessarily include commentary or even go together? What about book or movie reviews, craft ideas, handy hints (a.k.a life hacks) or other less abstract content? There’s plenty to talk about, that’s for sure!
If you prefer your comments to be anonymous, let me know and I’ll honor that request; just let me know what (if anything) you are willing to have appear online. Because I moderate all comments, and know many who are too shy to comment in a public forum such as this, I am willing and able to keep an entire comment private if you prefer. You can still enter the contest even if you don’t want your comment posted.
Remember, everyone who posts a comment today will be entered into the drawing for prizes described in “You’re Invited!” (click on the link above – and be sure to read over it if you don’t remember the rules). If you don’t really have any opinions to share with me about where this blog should go, just tell us a bit about yourself: what country or state you live in, how you found us, interesting stuff about your human or animal friends and family, links to any online sites or blogs you may want us to visit, or really anything else you’d like to share. As ever, the only requirement is that your comments should be encouraging or at least neutral; this blog is, and will remain, a safe and hate-free zone.
Thanks again and again, to everyone here, for helping us weather a very difficult and eventful year. Whatever lies ahead, you can be sure we do plan to take that fork in the road!
“But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved…”
The beautiful cherry blossoms pictured above were on display inside the Sackler Gallery weeks before the local trees were in bloom. I asked staff there “are they real?” and on being assured that they were, I asked where they had come from. Apparently they were cultivated in a greenhouse and arranged for display as a sort of complement to the profusely blooming trees that showed up much later than people had hoped for in 2013. Thus visitors to the Sackler did not have to leave DC without seeing a single cherry blossom!
As this blog nears its first anniversary, I am thinking of all the unexpected blessings I have received from my impulsive Saturday-morning decision to start it as a means of staying positive in the face of seemingly relentless bad news. I feel so fortunate to have enjoyed the online company of people I know and love in “real life” as well as those I have never met in person.
A side, benefit, though, is that I’ve documented here, in both posts and comments, many memories that are otherwise not recorded. Even if I ended this blog tomorrow (which I don’t plan to do) I would still have quite a voluminous compendium of photos, thoughts and ideas from me and from many others. Perhaps this is my own version of the pickled watermelon Tobias wrote about in his beautiful poem, which has long been a favorite of mine.
As a librarian, I’m an archivist at heart, and this tends to work against me in some ways, leaving my home cluttered with annoying piles of papers, cards and memorabilia that I never seem to get around to sorting. Despite the tendency to save far more than I should, I still believe there is something valuable in cultivating, capturing and preserving the happy and good and beautiful aspects of our lives. As with the cherry blossoms above, which provided a hint of beauty that cheered disappointed visitors who found the famed cherry trees still bare after they had traveled long distances to see them, our carefully preserved memories can brighten the days of waiting for anticipated blessings that often seem agonizingly long in arriving.
What can you do today, to capture and preserve something beautiful from your past or present as a gift to your future self and others? Maybe it’s something as simple as a shared memory in a personal note or card sent to a loved one far away. Maybe it’s taking (or revisiting) a photo of something fun or wonderful. Maybe it will be a journal entry, or an exquisitely crafted scrapbook page, or a blog entry. However you capture or preserve something beautiful, the time you spend will be worthwhile, as it carries a double blessing: cheering you today, and bringing reminders of hope, joy or love to yourself and others in the days and years to come.
“The last thing you expect or want in life is often the first thing to take you on your journey to life.” – Timothy Shriver
Not long before he died, John Lennon wrote a song that popularized (although it did not originate) a much-quoted truth: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.” I know I’m far from alone in being able to say unequivocally that in my youth I never imagined what the next forty years of my life would be like. I hope I also have lots of company in feeling no real doubts about where I’ve ended up.
I’m reminded of yet a third quote, from one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire. It’s the (mostly) true story of Eric Liddell, who refused to compete in the Olympic race that would require him to run on Sunday, a day he held sacred. In the film, despite pressure from friends, coaches and even the Prince of Wales, Liddell remains steadfast to his principles even when it means sacrificing the opportunity of a lifetime.
Near the end of the story Eric is in the stands watching the final of the 100 metres – the one he was supposed to run in. His friend asks: “Any regrets, Eric – that you’re not down there with them?” Eric nods and replies: “Regrets, yes – no doubts though!”
If you’ve seen the film, you know that Eric Liddell went on to run in a different event for which he had not trained, and he won the gold. He also set a new world record; an astounding feat, under the circumstances. But today he is most remembered for holding firm to his beliefs. The loss of one dream became the now-legendary fulfillment of another.
Sometimes we choose our calling, but often, our calling chooses us, and we may fight it, thinking we have better ideas. But some of the greatest achievements have come from people who started out with other plans. Matt has a page-a-day history calendar with an interesting tale each day, usually about lesser-known aspects of famous people, places or events. I was fascinated to read just recently that General Motors was begun by a man who didn’t like cars. William Durant was a high-school dropout who found success manufacturing horse-drawn carriages, but it was his applications of lessons learned there to a different pursuit that would change history.
It’s a familiar pattern. Babe Ruth was a record-setting pitcher long before he left full time pitching at the age of 22 and became the legendary home run king. Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star newspaper for not being creative enough. Fred Rogers was an ordained minister who went into television programming because he didn’t like television, and decided to try making a difference there.
It’s a good thing to have plans, hopes and dreams. It’s also a good thing to be open to the possibility that your destiny may be something you never wanted or expected…and it may take you to a future that’s beyond anything you can now imagine. I wish you few regrets in life, but whether or not there are regrets, I pray you will one day look back and feel no doubts that you did what you were called to do.
“Autumn asks that we prepare for the future —that we be wise in the ways of garnering and keeping. But it also asks that we learn to let go—to acknowledge the beauty of sparseness.” — Bonaro W. Overstreet
Maybe autumn has such widespread appeal because it embodies the continual dilemma facing all of us, almost on a daily basis: when to start, when to finish; when to continue, when to quit; when to keep and when to throw away. At least as far back as Ecclesiastes, people were acknowledging that the wisdom of letting go is every bit as vital as the wisdom of holding on. The trick is knowing when to do what.
Although New Year’s Day is a popular time to take stock of our lives, and springtime is traditionally associated with “spring cleaning,” we might find that the fall is a perfect time to clear away the clutter — mentally and physically — in preparation for the festive season to come. As we enjoy the dazzling beauty of the leaves, and then sweep them up or mulch them into compost, let’s observe the uniquely calming beauty of the sparse landscape, and ask ourselves how best to prepare for the future. Chances are, it will involve some storing away for the winter, just as the squirrels are stockpiling acorns. But for many of us (and I would suspect most of us) it may involve letting go of even more than we keep.
OK, so I’m the world’s worst at letting go. But I’m working on it. Today, please join me in appreciating the increasingly rare beauty of sparseness. It’s the perfect season to do it!
“Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.” – Ovid
There’s a lot to think about in this brief quote. For one thing, isn’t it amusing to realize that Ovid lived in comparatively modern times, at least as he saw it? Terms such as “ancient” and “modern” are relative, aren’t they?
But even though Ovid lived thousands of years ago, I think he was right to be grateful for being born when he was. Can’t most of us say the same? I have no wish to be younger; I have fond memories of growing up in the 60′s and 70′s, and though I find many exciting changes on the horizon for the generations to come, I also regret the loss of much that I took for granted most of my life, and worry about all the usual things older generations fret over.
When I was a child, I had romantic notions about past centuries, and I still sometimes fall into that way of thinking. But I know better than to believe the fantasies that go along with romanticizing the past. I know that the attractive but elaborate clothing would not have been nearly as easy to live in as the comfortable attire we wear now. I know that horse-drawn carriages mean lots of smelly excrement in the roads (just visit Colonial Williamsburg sometime if you don’t believe me). I like smoke-free public buildings and antibiotics for deadly infections and clean water for drinking and bathing, anytime I want it, at whatever temperature I choose.
I probably will always find the past fascinating and instructive. Most likely, I will always love historical fiction that takes me on imaginary adventures in different places and eras. And I find it hard to accept the argument that students need not learn history to have a complete education.
In spite of all that, though, I am glad to live in these times. Aren’t you?
“No day is so bad that it can’t be made better with a nap.” — Carrie Snow
It always amazed me how Jeff would never, ever want to nap. While he was taking his first course of chemotherapy this past winter, he took more naps in a few weeks than he had taken in the rest of his adult life put together. But I love napping. Before our children were born, snoozing for an hour or two (or even three) on Sunday afternoons was one of my favorite pastimes.
I rarely ever have time for a nap anymore, but the older I get, the more I think I might take up the practice again. I’ve read several studies that indicate napping is good for us, as long as we don’t overdo it. And I certainly find the idea appealing. Apparently, if I do decide to start indulging in the occasional nap, I’ll be in good company.*
Napping on Monday might be especially appealing, but any day you are having a bad day, maybe a nap would help. Do you ever indulge in a quick afternoon doze? If so, do you awaken feeling refreshed, or groggy? Any words of wisdom about catching winks? Share your siesta secrets with us!
*one really interesting bit of information provided by Jackie Kennedy in the recently released tapes of her interviews with Schlesinger was that JFK would always change into his pajamas for a nap, even if he would only be sleeping for 45 minutes. I find that very endearing. Makes me wonder if he had a teddy bear.
“When we are trapped in seeking, nothing is enough. Everything we have mocks us; we see only what is missing, and all that is already here seems pale and unsatisfying. In Sabbath time we bless what is there for being. The time for seeking is over; the time for finding has begun.” — Wayne Muller
I’ve always thought of myself as a seeker, and I think seeking after what is good, true, and beautiful is a noble thing. So when I read this quote, I had to give it some real thought. It had never occurred to me that seeking might be a different task than finding, which I had always imagined was something that “happened” when you looked hard enough, or looked in the right place.
But the final sentence of this quote resonated with me. For the past year, I have been continually seeking information, scouring Medline and other databases for advice, research abstracts, case history precedents, or any other source that might help me help Jeff to get well. There’s nothing wrong with that, to a point, but Jeff himself has put some fairly firm boundaries on my tendency to get obsessive about it. I have come to see the wisdom in that.
Likewise, for the past 28 years, I have been seeking one way or another to help Matt survive, heal, and flourish in the midst of the constellation of disabilities that go with his extremely rare (12 cases worldwide) genetic disorder. While I often feel as if we’ve met with failure after failure, perhaps part of the problem has been my inability to understand that we must do more than seek in order to find; that we must be open to discovering what we didn’t realize we were looking for.
Several years ago, the world-renowned expert in autism, Dr. Gary Mesibov of UNC-Chapel Hill’s TEACCH program, along with his clinical team, conducted a two-day vocational assessment of Matt, evaluating his strengths and weaknesses in preparation for the transition from high school to community working and living. While they did prepare an impressively detailed and accurate written portrait of Matt’s significant skills and challenges, the meeting that followed the evaluation was an unexpected gift. After years of IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings at schools all over the USA, I had heard repeatedly about what Matt could NOT do, and about what we should NOT expect of his education and life opportunities. I expected a similar summary from the TEACCH staff.
Instead, Dr. Mesibov congratulated us; something I’ve rarely heard from educators. “I love kids who have autism,” he said, and you could tell he meant it. “They are my life’s work. But ‘pleasant’ is not a word I typically use to describe them. Your son is a star!”
After I recovered from the surprise, I mumbled something about wishing Dr. M could be at the next IEP meeting with us, or could convince some of the vocational training providers who seemed far more dubious about Matt’s potential. Dr. Mesibov gently suggested that we simply enjoy the person Matt had already become. While he understood and supported our goals to help Matt improve his skills and succeed in the community, he also said, “The time has come for you to enjoy the fruit of the hard work you have been doing for more than twenty years.”
That’s easier said than done, of course. Life since then has been anything but easy, filled with disappointments, tears and fears. Yet I am finally beginning to understand that Dr. Mesibov was telling us that the time had come for finding.
At this point, with Jeff and Matt each having three surgeries behind them in the past year, and more scheduled in the near future, as well as a very uncertain long term prognosis, I am learning to cherish every single day. I’ll always be a seeker; that’s just who I am. But I am learning to be a finder, as well.
Some of us who are Christians set Sunday aside for practices often referred to as “observing the Sabbath.” Many people of other faiths, as well as those who observe no particular faith, also set aside one day each week to rest from all our striving. On this day, we pause and reflect on our lives, seeking (and hopefully finding) connection with what matters most. We worship, give thanks, or simply bask in the blessings that often go unnoticed in the hectic pace of life. I wish for you a day of refreshment each week, a time for blessing what IS, rather than focusing on what is missing. May we all learn to find, as well as to seek!
“There it is round you. Don’t pass it by—the immediate, the real, the only, the yours.” — Henry James
Until this year, this would be a typical sight for a Saturday in November; Jeff mowing the grass for perhaps the last time until spring. I took this photo seven years ago, but even if I had taken it more recently, I could not have known at the time how much I would miss this seemingly ordinary sight, and how glad I am that I captured it in at least one photo.
I continue to hope, pray and believe that next year Jeff will be mowing that grass again (until cancer forced him to stop yard work, he had steadfastly refused to hire a lawn service, and he hopes to return to mowing one day). Till then, I am looking around me with new appreciation for the daily gifts and treasures that sometimes hide beneath the mantle of their familiarity.
Right now, today, these gifts are all around you, too. The everyday will one day be exceptional. Don’t pass it by!
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.” ― A.A. Milne
I love, love, love breakfast, even though I seldom eat it except on Saturdays. But sometimes I eat breakfast for dinner, at Cracker Barrel or IHOP or Denny’s or even at home. I’ve also learned to indulge in breakfast when Jeff or Matt is in the hospital, and the rising comes early (with medical rounds seemingly at sun up and uncomfortable chair-beds that make it impossible to sleep well anyway). Hospital cafeterias do breakfast well, or at least cheaply, and in the hospital, I know that may be the only real meal I get that day.
But my hands-down favorite place for breakfast is the tiny but very popular Belvedere Coffee Shop in Virginia Beach, a place Jeff discovered a few years ago on Trip Advisor, when he wanted to plan a fun weekend for us. If you go there, be sure to ask for the “honeymoon table” in the corner, with a single seat for two, facing outwards. No matter what you order for breakfast, it will go PERFECTLY with the view you will enjoy there.
Are you a breakfast person? What are your favorites? You have my permission to indulge, today or sometime soon!
UPDATE – scroll down for photos of Halloween fun in our Alexandria neighborhood!
“October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins…. Merry October!” — Rainbow Rowell
I can’t remember what year it was when I carved the jack-o-lantern pictured above, but it’s probably representative of what they all looked like before my kids were grown and I quit decorating for Halloween. My skill with a knife never matched my father’s, but the design is copied from my memories of the deliciously fiery grins on the ones he carved for his own children for so many years.
For you and your family or neighborhood children, I wish a safe and Merry Halloween!
And treat yourself to some laughs – thanks to Eric for sharing this hilarious video:
Here are some shots of the Halloween fun in our neighborhood:
“There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.” — Joseph Conrad
The children out trick-or-treating for Halloween this year won’t enjoy the light of a full moon, but perhaps it will shine in their imaginations. Of all the seasons, autumn is most closely associated with the full moon. Maybe it’s because of the beauty of the Harvest Moon, or maybe it just seems a perfect backdrop for all the spooky tales we hear at this season. Whatever the reasons, I hope you had time to enjoy the Harvest Moon in September, or the Hunter’s Moon of October 18; if not, there will be another full moon on November 17. May the haunting beauty of moonlight enhance at least one evening for you this fall!
“Spending time in a graveyard can teach you a lot about living. When I stopped at each grave I swear I could almost hear the silent stories of perfect strangers. Their tombs like silent philosophies of all the ways a life can be lived.” — Simone Nacerima
Graveyards are a common motif at this time of year, supposedly spine-tingling places of dread. In reality, though, I’ve never found graveyards the least bit frightening, even back in 1975 when I was blindfolded and driven out to a rural cemetery during a sorority initiation that fell on Halloween. I was left sitting alone on a tombstone in the dark, and I didn’t even peek to see where I was. I remember wondering about the name on the tombstone, whose grave I might be disrespecting (through no choice of my own), silently apologizing to this person’s soul, and wondering what kind of life he or she may have led.
One December evening in 2005, I was alone in another small, unlit graveyard adjacent to an old country church in Headington Quarry, England. I was searching for the grave of C. S. Lewis, and while I felt a panic that increased as the darkness closed in quickly, my fear was that I would have to leave, disappointed, never having spotted the earthly resting place of my favorite author. I also feared I might not be able find my way back in the dark, across fields and through neighborhoods, to the bus stop where I started — at least, not in time to catch the last bus to Oxford where I was to meet my son at Christchurch for vespers.
Though so dark I could scarcely read the Lewis marker when I did find it, the graveyard itself was not spooky at all to me. As with all cemeteries, it seemed filled with stories I wish I had time to learn. I left with some regret, and though I did make it back to the bus stop just in time, the images of my twilight pilgrimage to Holy Trinity church have stayed with me, one of those otherworldly experiences that never fade from the imagination.
I hope the cartoon-like portrayals of graveyards that are so abundant at this time of year do not close our eyes to the lessons such places have to teach us. May their silent stories bless you with wisdom, contentment and resolve!
“Clothes make a statement. Costumes tell a story.” — Mason Cooley
I mentioned a couple of days ago that my siblings and I much preferred making our own Halloween costumes over buying them in a store. Perhaps it’s because the store-bought costumes in those days were cheesy little plastic masks coupled with cheap apron-like printed garments worn loosely over regular clothes. I look with amazement and perhaps a twinge of envy at the elaborate quality of embellished princess gowns and pirate gear available for purchase seemingly everywhere nowadays.
But pulling together our own costumes was very much a part of the excitement of the holiday. Our parents allowed us the fun and rare privilege of plundering their closets, accessories, props and Mom’s makeup to use as we saw fit. Then the ritual of photographs, followed by heading outdoors when there was just enough light to see and compare our friends’ creations, usually as unique as our own.
One year a friend (with the help of her parents) became an amazingly realistic mummy, covered in gauze made from her brother’s old cloth diapers, taped all over her body and head (except for eye holes and a small mouth hole for breathing). That might have been the best costume I can remember seeing. Creating original Halloween costumes is one of the best ways to “go green” by recycling materials already on hand, at home or at thrift shops.
We followed the tradition of home-created costumes with our sons, and they do indeed tell a story that brings back happy memories of their interests and preferences at various ages. Their costumes call to mind the tales they enjoyed that prompted their choices, as well as the stories I remember of that particular year. As Halloween approaches, I hope you will enjoy seeing, and maybe creating, the many costumes that fill this season with memorable scenes.
Of Courtesy, it is much less
Than Courage of Heart or Holiness,
Yet in my Walks it seems to me
That the Grace of God is in Courtesy.
– Hilaire Beloc
On a beautiful September day not long ago, Jeff and I enjoyed a few hours on the boardwalk at Virginia Beach. As we strolled along I noticed an elderly man ahead of us, taking in the sunshine and cooling breeze with the help of his attendant, who walked beside him with patience and kindness. It made me happy to see this gentleman able to be out and about on such a beautiful day.
Bikes whizzed past and children played, but all were mindful of each other, sharing the space with the sort of collective joy made manifest in such agreeable surroundings. It was not unlike the neighborly accord I experience on my daily walks.
It’s easy to get caught up in the notion that great and courageous deeds are needed to make the world a better place, and of course they are. But they are perhaps less pervasive — and maybe even less needed — than simple, common courtesy. How often has your day been made more happy (or less) by the cordial (or rude) behavior of a stranger? Don’t you love it when people you’ve never seen smile and greet you? Courtesy may not be the flashiest or most obvious way to demonstrate our understanding of grace, but it carries the potential to change the world, one person at a time.
I wish you a day filled with courtesy, flowing in grace, to you and from you!
Backward, turn backward,
O Time, in your flight
make me a child again
just for to-night!
~ Elizabeth Akers Allen
There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch.– Robert Brault
Perhaps no holiday brings back more childhood memories than Halloween. The festivities of November and December belong to people of all ages, but Halloween seems created for those who are still young enough to be excited about candy, uninhibited about parading around in costumes, and energetic enough to visit door after door in quest of just one more treat.
If you’re my age or older, you probably remember a time when candy was a relatively rare privilege, which made the prospect of Halloween goodies all the more magical. That exciting trip to get the pumpkin(s) for carving, the fun of spending time with adults who participated in the merriment by creating jack-o-lanterns and other faintly frightful decorations, and the enjoyment of themed activities at school (perhaps with a reading of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) all combined to build the suspense until October 31.
The crisp autumn air was a perfect setting for the anticipation of choosing “what to be this year” and then creating a costume to wear on the big night. (Store bought costumes were scorned by us, as they may have been by many of you.) What could surpass the sheer delight of dressing up as darkness fell, then seeing creativity on parade in the costumes of friends as we ran from house to house, sometimes greeted by enthusiastic parents dressed in costumes of their own for handing out treats. The fiery grin of a jack-o-lantern would welcome us at almost every door.
On returning home to dump the contents of our bags or pillowcases onto the floor, sorting and trading and eating until past bedtime, we would critique the evening. Whose costumes were best? Most creative? Scariest? Who carved the best pumpkin? Then when bedtime finally came, the regret of knowing one more Halloween had passed was tempered by the candy stash, which would last for weeks, and the knowledge that the grandest festivities were yet to come in the holidays just ahead.
Do these memories sound familiar to you, or are yours different? Did you celebrate Halloween, and if so, how? I hope this season you will remember and share some of your best Halloween memories. Feel free to tell us about them here!