The first spring day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

Poems by heart

This post was first published on April 2, seven years ago. The re-post date was adjusted to allow the Easter weekend posts from 2014 to appear on Easter weekend 2021. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Our noblest hopes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

The power to speak

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Open arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

Libraries will get you through

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

The earth laughs

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

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

“The earth laughs in flowers.”Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

One year ago today:

Flowers have an expression

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

You know how it is

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

Just enough intelligence

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

A curious paradox

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

Like life

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Very valuable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

Born on his father’s birthday

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

They will shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

Somewhere it hides

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Most engaging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genuine fakes Ephesus May 2008

One year ago today:

The familiar exotic

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

The little pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

In even the smallest detail

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

The people you meet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

In the cherry blossom’s shade

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

A perfect ratio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

Something is there

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

A genuine interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

After ecstasy

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

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

So great a sweetness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

A thousand small ways

Dear readers, one of you sent me a lovely (but unsigned) thank-you note via the Jacquie Lawson website, from which I posted an Easter card for you. Whoever it was, thank you! And if you didn’t realize I would not know unless you signed the note, feel free to email me at defeatdespair@verizon.net to let me know who you are so I can thank you personally.

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

This is the power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a special Easter greeting, click here

Last year on Easter:

Our song

This post was first published on Easter Sunday seven years ago. Less than three years after it first appeared, the beautiful verse quoted above appeared on the Order of Service for Jeff’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

The post that was published on April 4, 2014, will appear on April 20. The dates were adjusted to allow the Easter weekend posts of 2014 to appear on Easter weekend of 2021. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

All now mysterious shall be bright

I photographed this sculpture inside Cologne Cathedral, May 2007.

I photographed this sculpture inside Cologne Cathedral, May 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

 Last year on the day before Easter:

Divine surprise

This post was first published on the day before Easter seven years ago. The post that appeared on April 3, 2014, will be re-posted on April19. The dates were adjust to allow the posts from Easter weekend 2014 to appear on Easter weekend 2021. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Gift of love

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last year on Good Friday:

Just three days

This post was first published on Good Friday seven years ago. The post that was published on April 2, 2014, will appear on April 18. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

A nation that does not know

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

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

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

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

Wishing you a day of fun and laughter!

One year ago today:

A little nonsense

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Every time you smile

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

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

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

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

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

Almost one year ago today:

A species of talent

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

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Coaxed downstairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost one year ago today:

Slowly — but painlessly!

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

In the spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you planting this spring?

via Spring it On! | Gardening Nirvana.

Almost one year ago today:

Solace in the seedlings

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

All ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The size of the fight

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

The richness of the rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

No life without rain

A special note to Alan: I thought of you when I re-posted this, given your recent comments on Chesterton! The link above shows how many people agree with you about this remarkable man.

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Different kinds of weather

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

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

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

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

Maybe not.

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

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

One year ago today:

Something is afoot

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

A light joyousness

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago today:

Diligence and labor

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

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

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

IMG_0450

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

IMG_0451

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

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

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