What we become

Some of my favorite people are Daddies!

Some of my favorite people are Daddies!

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
Umberto Eco

Happy Father’s Day!

One year ago on Father’s Day:

More than a hundred

This post was first published on Father’s Day seven years ago. 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.

Carried on great winds

A seagull soars over the Atlantic at Dam Neck, Virginia, June 2014

A seagull soars over the Atlantic Ocean at Dam Neck, Virginia, June 2014

“Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky.”Ojibwe dream song

No matter how often I remind myself that despondency always passes, I have a remarkably hard time being the least bit optimistic when I am feeling low.  I can know and remember that such times have come and gone before, but feeling the reality of that truth is a different matter.  There is something pervasive and suffocating about depression, especially when it follows a great loss or trial that has left us with no energy to rise above our sadness.

Fortunately, it doesn’t depend on us to make it go away.  There are times when we should take action to protect ourselves against depression by seeing a medical professional, to consider medication or counseling.  But often, we can help ourselves survive if we learn to recognize and accept the changing seasons of our moods, and learn from them.

I believe that sorrow has much to teach us, and if we are willing to wait, we will emerge from it wiser and maybe even happier than we were before.  Meanwhile, we can take comfort from knowing that many, many others have defeated despair, and understand how difficult the battle can be.  Know that you are not alone — and ride the great winds until your wings are strong enough to fly again.

One year ago today:

Just the thing

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.

Tranquility within

The lilac grove at Montreal Botanical Garden is a great place to re-visit in my mind!  May 2009

The lilac grove at Montreal Botanical Garden is a great place to re-visit in my mind! May 2009

“When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.”François La Rochefoucauld

We’ve all known people who are restless and never satisfied.  Often these types are blessed with better-than-average advantages in life, but they seem to end up agitated and critical no matter how many times they change scenarios.  I think many of us go through phases, or at least have days, when we can sympathize with this sort of discontent.

Yet La Rochefoucauld does not speak of inner tranquility as a passive constant– note that he speaks of finding tranquility within. To me, this suggests that sometimes we do have to search for it, but we need to look first inside our own hearts and minds.  Ultimately, externals do not determine whether we succeed in finding peace.  Those who are continually blaming other people or tough circumstances for their unhappiness may be overlooking themselves as the most obvious influence on their own moods.

Having said that, let’s remember it’s possible to choose places, people and situations that will stack the deck in our favor when it comes to establishing a calm spirit.  I hope you have at least a few tranquil places, serene people and beatific experiences to help center you deep inside when the storms rage outside.  Lovely photos, soft music, scents of lavender and vanilla, a few deep breaths — there are many ways to light the path to the tranquil sanctuary we carry within us.  I wish you a quick getaway to spend at least a few minutes there today!

One year ago today:

Being peace

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 key to failure

Bikers were among hundreds of veterans and civilians attending a pro-USA rally in Sacramento, California, March 2003.

Bikers were among hundreds of veterans and civilians
attending a pro-USA rally in Sacramento, California, March 2003.

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
Bill Cosby

“Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile, I caught hell for.”Earl Warren

There’s a very real difference between showing courtesy and respect to people with opposing views, versus compromising or hiding one’s own beliefs for fear of disapproval.  Admittedly it’s easy to confuse the two behaviors, especially for those in fields such as entertainment or politics, where popularity is crucial to success.  But even those of us who are relatively anonymous can fall into the trap of trying to please everyone.

Still, there are many people to whom we can look for examples of moral courage.  Some of them are public figures, either contemporary or historic.  Others are private citizens, the people we see every day.  What makes them worthy of admiration is their willingness to stand by their convictions despite the certainty that criticism will result.

These people do not engage in shouting matches or seek to prove themselves superior.  Rather, in quiet dignity, with confidence and without apology, they live according to high standards that don’t always match the cultural norm.

If you ever feel odd, feared or rejected because of views or behaviors that you believe to be morally right, no matter how unpopular, remember that it is impossible to please everyone.  Criticism is inevitable, and popularity is not a reliable predictor of integrity.

While we all do well to examine and re-examine our standards, basing them on a higher authority than our own selfish natures, we also must bear in mind that public opinion is not always a trustworthy arbiter of right and wrong.  If you are facing criticism, consider carefully before acquiescing to it.  Sometimes, it might mean you’re already doing the right thing.

One year ago today:

One who knows the way

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 steps

These tiny yellow flowers add up to a lovely background for the larger ones. Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

These tiny yellow flowers add up to form a lovely background for the larger ones.
Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

“Don’t despise the little steps you know you can take every day. There are tiny miracles in each and every one of them.”Israelmore Ayivor

Do you ever have days when you feel like just giving up?  I do.  Often.  In fact, I’m having one today, which I hope will be far behind me by the time this post is published and you read it.

At such times, I tend to feel unfocused and hopeless, even desperate, seeing how many of my attempts to solve difficult problems seem to be making no difference whatsoever.  I’m exhausted– out of energy, ideas and optimism.  I just want to go off somewhere and escape into sleep.  Unfortunately, in my life right now, that’s hardly ever an option.

Usually the only way I can dig myself out of such a pit is to do something, some little thing that I have a fairly good chance of accomplishing.  It can be the dishes, or a quick note, or a phone call to schedule an appointment.  But it needs to be something that I can get done in five minutes so I will be able to get some psychological oxygen before I smother in failure.

Sometimes it backfires on me when what should be a simple phone call turns into a multi-tiered robotic obstacle course (you know, the kind where you have to listen to endless menu choices to get to yet another menu, then get put on hold, then get disconnected).  But usually, one small task leads to another, a trail of pebbles I can follow out of the forest as Hansel and Gretel did.

Not every day is a big-step kind of day.  In fact, for me, relatively few of them are.  But don’t lose faith in the tiny steps.  They add up, and over time, they turn out to be the foundation for a larger success.

One year ago:

One step at a time

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 form of fatigue

Jeff knows how to sleep well, and it is helping him survive.  June 2012

Jeff knows how to sleep well, and it is helping him survive. June 2012

“Sadness is almost never anything but a form of fatigue.”André Gide

This is the sort of quote that provokes a bit of skepticism in me, until I think about it closely.  To verify that it’s true, or at least mostly true, I need look no farther than members of my own family – and specifically, to think about Jeff and me.

One of Jeff’s greatest strengths, and a source of his amazing stamina even over the past 18 months, is his absolute insistence on adequate sleep.  At times he seems aloof, almost heartless, in his determination to put away the cares, sorrows and grief of the day (which lately have been considerable for him) and fall asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.  During the worst hours of suffering related to chemo or surgery, his sleep was as impaired as I’ve ever seen it.  But even through all that, I’ve never known him to spend an entire night without at least a few hours’ sleep, no matter what.

Not coincidentally, I’ve never met anyone who wastes less time on self-pity or sadness.  In fact, it took me a long time to convince him that depression is quite real for some people, and I still don’t think he understands it completely, at least not in the same way that I do.

As for me…suffice it to say that sleeping well has never, ever been my greatest asset. Even when I try my best to get in bed at a reasonable hour, and even when I succeed, I don’t always sleep soundly.  Insomnia has been my most consistent health concern.

I did learn the hard way, though, that insomnia– or even fairly mild sleep deprivation– predisposes me to all manner of gloom, sadness and depression.  (Not to mention falling asleep at the wheel when I’m driving.)  Having already had more of such than I want in one lifetime, I have learned to be fiercely protective of my sleep.

A few things I’ve learned: it’s best to turn off the computer in the early evening.  It helps to eat Greek yogurt before bedtime. Delta-wave sleep CDs, sleep masks (to block out the light, even when it’s mostly dark) and a sauna session followed by a nice bath have all been remarkably effective for me, to my surprise.  Not perfect, but better than a dependence on nightly medication.  However, if forced to choose, I’d go for medication occasionally rather than endure more than a night or two of consecutive, refractory insomnia.

If you find yourself feeling down or more sad than usual, take a close look at your sleep.  If it has been less than ideal, try prioritizing sleelp for awhile, and see if a good bit of the sadness doesn’t resolve with that intervention alone.  If you’ve got any helpful tips for us on how to improve sleep, including ways for those of us who are night owls to get ourselves into bed at a reasonable hour 😀 we’d love to hear them!

OK, as I write this, it’s 4:30 p.m. and I’m signing off the computer for the day (I hope) — pleasant dreams!

One year ago today:

Resolved in the morning

This post was first published seven years ago on June 20. The date was adjusted for this re-posting to allow the Father’s Day post from seven years ago to appear on that day this year. 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 vast university

The Louvre at night, August 2005

“The whole of Paris is a vast university of Art, Literature and Music… it is worth anyone’s while to dally here for years. Paris is a seminar, a post-graduate course in everything.” 
James Thurber

People who love Paris and didn’t love school might not agree with Thurber, but I connected with his description immediately.  Or in the words of Joni Mitchell, “…in Paris, I felt unfettered and alive.” The idea of dallying there for years sounds very appealing to me, not least for the chance to practice speaking and hearing one of the world’s most beautiful languages.

I heard a lot of bad press about Paris before I finally went there in 2005, but none of the negative stories turned out to be true.  For me, it was one of the most enchanting places I’d ever been.  And besides all the things Thurber lists, there’s the FOOD…

Where do you dream of being able to “dally for years?”

One year ago today:

A place once visited

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.

With looks and money

Jeff brought these home the other day, and I just had to photograph them before I ate them.  May 2014

Jeff brought these home recently, and I photographed them before I ate them. May 2014

“A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do.”P. J. O’Rourke

I love fruit!  A good, ripe nectarine or some cold watermelon can instantly improve a hot summer day (or even a cold winter day, assuming such fruits were available then).

Lately, Jeff has been bringing home lots of strawberries in big containers, even though I’m the only one in the family who eats them regularly.  After giving them several washings that would pass any OCD pesticide-phobic overly finicky person’s requirements (not that I’m any of those things) I cut up the ones I haven’t eaten yet and stash them in the refrigerator for the next several hours that might pass before I eat the rest of them.

As impossible as this is for me to comprehend, when I open the fridge door looking for a snack and see them sitting there chilled, washed and ready to devour, they actually look better to me than ice cream, even the kind of ice cream with huge globs of fudge embedded into it.  Not to mention, the strawberries are much prettier than ice cream.  Or maybe I just like red?

What fruits do you most enjoy eating?  I hereby grant you permission to go out and buy yourself some, even if they aren’t on sale.  Just be sure to wash them VERY WELL before diving in!

One year ago today:

Delicate enjoyment

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.

For the good guys

Peggy (right) her instructional assistant and preschool class in Oahu, Hawaii, 1996 (Yes, people really did go barefoot at school sometimes, or at least used to!)

Peggy (at right), her instructional assistant and preschool class in Oahu, Hawaii, 1996
(Yes, people really did go barefoot at school there sometimes, or at least used to!)

“Unfortunately, it is often the bad guys who play the leading roles in our memory…Let’s write a script for the good guys…It will be a musical, full of drama, laughter and tears, sorrows and triumphs, and it will end with a joyful song of praise and thanks.”
Barbara Gill, in Changed by a Child, a book for parents of children with disabilities

Today’s post honors someone who likely will never see it, because she is that rare creature (rare in my world, anyway) who spends absolutely no time online.  Despite being active in professional and community endeavors at home and abroad, and maintaining homes in Mississippi and Hawaii, she has no email or online accounts.  She’s unusual in at least one more way; read on to find out why.

We met Peggy at church while we lived in Hawaii.  We clicked instantly.  As a special education preschool teacher with decades of experience, Peggy understood a great many things about our life that others don’t get close enough to see or know.  I have watched her in her classroom, where she approached teaching with a tireless diligence that is essential when the teacher is also, in many senses, a caregiver whose curriculum includes goals such as toilet training and hygiene skills alongside reading and other academic lessons.

Peggy loves life, travels frequently, lives reverently and serves anyone who crosses her path, along with some who do not.  I love it that she is as frugal and adventurous as I am, and has been able to see the world on a teacher’s salary. She became a faithful friend and favorite traveling companion, and though we had to cancel our planned trip to go ride the mules together in Molokai, we did manage to squeeze in some fun day trips.

After we left Hawaii, she came to see us in California and Virginia, staying in touch between visits via the good old-fashioned method of handwritten cards and letters (and occasional phone calls, though this has been trickier since both of us divide our time between two homes with a potential six-hour time difference, and it’s hard to keep up with who is where, when).

When I first called Peggy to tell her of Jeff’s diagnosis, it was an emotional call for both of us, and we did not stay on the phone very long.  But just a few days later I got a pages-long, handwritten letter from her, offering heartfelt words of sorrow, comfort and support.  She then asked us to allow her to plan a time when she could come up and stay with Matt, so that Jeff and I could have something we have had very little of over the years: time alone together.  She gave specific details of when she would be available and asked for (and later called to get) a response so we would know she meant business.

In nearly 30 years since Matt came into our lives, very few people other than Drew have ever done this for us.  Specifically, two people. (Thanks, Ashley B., for being the other one – and we may yet take you up on it!)  Interestingly, both of them are people we met at church in Hawaii.  Ashley is a busy wife and mother of young children whose whole family is now living in a distant mainland state.  We have not seen them since we left Hawaii in 1996.  Yet here she was, as soon as she learned of Jeff’s diagnosis, offering (via Facebook messages) a very generous form of practical help.  There must be something about that aloha spirit that stays in the heart.

Anyway, as Raynard says, I digress…when Peggy made it clear that she did not intend to take “no” for an answer, we arranged everything.  Though we offered to buy her a plane ticket, her wonderful husband Sam (a real sweetheart) drove her up from the gulf coast of Mississippi all the way to Virginia.  She stayed with Matt here in Alexandria for ten days, while Jeff and I got some much-needed flooring work done on our York home, the high-dust, high-inconvenience sort of stuff that can’t really be done when people have to use the kitchen.  And we did enjoy our time together.

When we got back, it was clear that Peggy had done far more than park Matt in front of the television when he got home from work each day.  She left behind a lot of impressively improvised instructional materials and skill-building games, along with a happy, healthy Matt who had clearly relished the attention she showered on him.  Wow.  Just, Wow.

As I write this, Peggy is in Kenya, volunteering in preschools and children’s homes there.  I admire and love her for this, but to be honest, we know many wonderful people who do such work.  We know of only one other who was willing to do for us what Peggy did.  Now, I realize many will say “Yes, but she’s a special education teacher, of course she is able to do that.” To which I say: if you had just retired from nearly four decades teaching special ed preschool, would ten days of 24-hour caregiving be on your “to-do” list at all?

Besides, as Eleni, Darla, Mari and my sister Carla could all tell us, it doesn’t require any special expertise to connect with people with disabilities.  What it takes is the will to do it, and the kind of love that is more than a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Thank you, Peggy!  Thank you, Ashley!  Thank you, Eleni, Darla, Mari and Carla!  And thanks to all of you out there who fill such gaps in the lives of people you love.  You probably will never know quite how much it means, but I pray you will be eternally rewarded for your love.

 One year ago today:

A friend who cares

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 morning inside you

A white heron catches the light at Disney World, August 2003.

A white heron catches the light at Disney World, August 2003.

There is a morning inside you waiting to burst open into Light.”Rumi

One recent morning, when I was up early, I stepped out onto our deck and was surrounded by the beautiful song of birds and the sound of the nearby creek flowing.  Since I had the time, I grabbed my camera to catch just a few seconds of the sound.  A few seconds is all I got, because my memory card was too full for anything more.

How like life.  It’s just too full of unattended business to savor as much of the gorgeous wealth around me as I would like to savor.  Perhaps if I cleared my video card more often, I would have room to capture moments such as this.  Perhaps if I cleared my life of onerous busy work, I would have more time for beauty.

But perhaps a few seconds are better than nothing.  Perhaps a few seconds are perfect.

Here is the clip, embedded below.  I hope these few seconds are refreshing to you, as they still are to me.

One year ago today:

God’s handwriting

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.

To this day

At the Trevi Fountain in Rome, May 2008. We threw our coins, so we hope the legend comes true for us!

At the Trevi Fountain in Rome, May 2008.
We threw our coins, so we hope the legend comes true for us!

Our wedding was many years ago.  The celebration continues to this day.”
Gene Perret

This month Jeff and I celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary.  Each year for us is a distinct milestone now, and with each anniversary that passes, we have more reasons to gratefully celebrate that we are still here together, living and loving through whatever comes.

Life really is (or at least should be) a continual celebration.  As with all celebrations, there are those less-than-pleasant details that go along with anything festive: laborious planning, budget realities, last minute complications, crushing disappointments, people who are unexpectedly absent and sorely missed.

Yet there are all the rewards that make the challenges worthwhile: laughter, love, the joy of lasting friendships, new arrivals to the party, delightful surprises, and a feeling of happy exhaustion as the production winds down.

Whatever milestones or special moments we may observe this month or this year, I hope we can carry a festive spirit with us into each day we are granted.  What do you have to celebrate today?

One year ago today:

The celebration

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.

Near the water’s edge

This young boy was too busy to notice I was taking photos of him as he worked. On the beach at Yorktown, Virginia, March 2014

This young boy was too busy to notice I was taking photos of him as he worked.
At the beach at Yorktown, Virginia, March 2014

“Children instinctively choose to build near the water’s edge knowing that the water to sand ratio is vital, and I believe that they also know that at the end of the exercise their hard work will be reclaimed by the incoming tide. Even very young children know that they cannot take their creation home – I have never seen a child having a temper tantrum because it has to stay there…”Niki Buchan

Recently I was chatting via Skype with a few of my fellow bloggers, and one of the things we talked about is how children’s play is their work; the way they learn about the world, and about life.  For a child, play has much to teach.

At the beach, perhaps we too can learn from watching children building their sandcastles.   As Buchan points out, they must find just the right mixture of sand and water to allow shaping a structure strong enough to stand firm until they complete their project.  This often involves a good bit of trial and error. They labor with focused attention to produce something that likely will be gone by the end of the day,  a work of art neither they nor anyone else will ever own.  Clearly, the process is what they value more than the product.

Balancing elements, working for the joy of it, then letting go without sadness or regret…a lot to learn in an afternoon spent at play.  I hope we can channel some of these same lessons as we go about the tasks that make up our days.

One year ago today:

Whatever we lose

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.

Age has no reality

Daddy with Grady, January 2014 - only 85 years difference between them !

Daddy with Grady, January 2014 – less than 86 years difference between them!

“Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom.”
Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Ah, but the physical world is so real and powerful to us; it’s the “very persistent illusion” that Einstein described.  Even if we agree with Márquez, or at least want to agree with him, we may find ourselves at the mercy of fatigue and frustration as our physical bodies weaken with age.

Yet it can take so little to open our eyes to the truth of the bold words quoted above.  The refreshment of a spring breeze, the notes of a beautiful song, the laughter of a baby — in seconds we are young again inside, if only for a moment.  Our essence is indeed resistant to the passage of time, and this is a powerful argument for the author’s assertion that our inner lives are eternal.

Today, I invite you to live out the claim that “age has no reality except in the physical world.”  Seek out the words, sounds, sensations and sights that touch the youthful vigor of your spirit.  And remember – if eternity means “always and forever,” that means it has already begun, and you are part of it!  It’s a thrilling and sobering thought.

One year ago today:

Rejoicing that I’m still here

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.

Living forward

It's okay to look back, but keep moving forward. Jeff explores the Mayan ruins near Cozumel, Mexico, March 2011

It’s okay to look back, but keep moving forward.
Jeff explores the Mayan ruins near Cozumel, Mexico, March 2011

“Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”
Søren Kierkegaard

We’ve talked often here about the importance of surrendering the idea of control, and learning to make the best of whatever comes.  Setting a course for the future is wise and even necessary, but any plans we make are based on partial information about circumstances we have no way of fully knowing in advance.  Expecting perfect forecasting is asking the impossible of ourselves.

Often we hear or say “I just don’t understand why all this is happening.”  Of course we don’t!  How could we?  It’s usually not important for us to understand anyway.  It’s far more beneficial to say “I don’t know what I should do about this,” and then seek wisdom through prayer, information, contemplation, and talks with trusted friends and advisors.

Life doesn’t always make sense to us.  But we don’t have to understand everything to make good decisions and wise choices.  I think we’re more able to cope when we aren’t distracted by getting stuck on unanswerable questions.

If you ever find yourself spinning your mental wheels over issues you can’t control, or fretting over a difficult challenge, or overcome with sorrow at a loss or failure — give yourself permission to go forward anyway, without needing to understand it completely.  If we do the best we can with what we have, one day at a time, we often will be able to look back years later and see meaning that may elude us now.

One year ago today:

Blinking once-sealed eyes

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.

 

Your great-grandmother wouldn’t

Gorgeous nourishment from nature's menu at Pike Place Market, Seattle, April 1993

Gorgeous nourishment from nature’s menu at Pike Place Market, Seattle, April 1993

“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
Michael Pollan

As a carb-craving sweet-toothed treat junkie, I must admit that learning to eat my vegetables has been an ongoing effort for me.  There are a few I really enjoy: tomatoes, spinach, corn on the cob, field peas or most other legumes, preferably fresh from the garden.  But many of the highly nutritious varieties don’t appeal to me.  Eggplant, broccoli, beets, Brussels sprouts and most types of greens are among the foods I’d rather avoid.

Fruits are a different matter.  There are none I really dislike, and many are near the top of my favorite foods list (and yes, I know a tomato is technically a fruit).  So I tell myself I can make up for my veggie deficit by eating more fruits . I’m not sure how true this is, but I hope it’s at least a step in the right direction.

I have noticed, though, that the more I eat wholesome, natural foods, the less I enjoy junk.  After years of being a fast food fan, I eventually lost my taste for most of it, though I probably will always love Taco Bell.  Most “junk foods” no longer appeal to me at all, except for Cheez-its.  I can honestly say the photo above looks more appetizing to me than a photo of potato chips, French fries or pastries would.  OK, not better than a photo of ice cream or cookies, but I’m working on that.

One rule of thumb I adopted long ago is to avoid anything for which the ingredient label is very long and has lots of words I can’t pronounce.  This rule alone eliminates much of what passes for food in a modern grocery store. Cutting out anything with artificial flavors, colors or preservatives shortens the list even more.  But I don’t miss any of those things now.

When I cut out a great many of the so-called convenience foods, I discovered they really weren’t so convenient after all.  Lots of them involve microwaving, stirring, covering or uncovering, microwaving again, or other multi-step directions.  And have you ever noticed, given the long lines inside or at drive through windows, fast food really isn’t fast anymore?

As with so many other aspects of contemporary life, we may have picked up some eating habits that were more influenced by advertisers and  rushed living than enjoyment and sanity.  Re-learning the way we think about food doesn’t come easily– at least it hasn’t for me– but the rewards are better health, more enjoyment and often (surprise!) monetary savings as well.

I hope you will let today’s photo inspire you to enjoy something fresh, locally grown and simple in place of something that comes in a package with a label.  Your great-grandmother would be proud!

One year ago today:

Produced in a garden

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 invisible crop

Jeff, Matt and Drew at a friend's farm in Dayton, Ohio, Jeff's first Air Force assignment. Late summer, 1986

Jeff, Matt and Drew at a friend’s farm in Dayton, Ohio,
our first Air Force assignment. Late summer, 1986

“…when you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. Exploring the world is one the best ways of exploring the mind…”Rebecca Solnit

Moving frequently entails a lot of sacrifices, but the rewards can be even greater.  Though I often wished we lived closer to our extended families, or lived in a place long enough to build our own home the way we wanted it, or didn’t have to settle into new communities, churches and schools, I never regretted being an Air Force family.

Whatever we lost to relocation we gained in other aspects of life.  In fact, looking back, it’s almost as if we lived several lives, one for each place we were based.  Each location had its joys and sorrows, its unique terrain, climate and personality, and its own cast of characters, many of whom remain dear to us to this day.

In one sense, we “can never go home again,” but we leave invisible traces of ourselves in each place we have lived, and come away as different people than we would have been without our experiences there.  When we return, a thousand forgotten moments come flooding back, and the past becomes dimensional and real to our present.

What places live on in your memory?  Where have you found that exploring the world means exploring your own mind?

One year ago today:

The true traveler

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 ideal of calm

I met this contemplative kitty while strolling on Roanoke Island, September 2013.

I met this contemplative kitty while strolling on Roanoke Island, September 2013.

“The ideal of calm exists in a sitting cat.”Jules Renard

A year ago today, my post was about the exotic and mostly unknown world of undersea creatures.  Today I’m thinking of the wonders that are often hiding in plain sight, among animals we see so often that we scarcely notice them.

Dogs, cats, birds, squirrels and rabbits…you probably see at least one of these furry or feathered friends every day.  Today I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look a bit more closely, and see what they might have to teach us.

Cats, of course, are masters of the art of relaxation. Dogs excel at lavishing affection, or at least interest and attention, on humans.  Most birds and squirrels seem to have boundless energy; I can’t picture one looking lazy.  And rabbits can be the most unobtrusively intrusive, adorable but annoying animals around, if one is trying to grow something they find tasty.  Their cuteness is such that I can’t really get angry at them no matter what they consume.  I wish I could borrow their ability to appear harmless and cuddly while behaving disruptively.

While few creatures can match the contagious calm radiated by a sitting cat, watching almost any kind of animal is a great stress-buster.  When things get a little too overwhelming, practice seeing the world through non-human eyes for a few minutes.  It might be just the perspective you need.

One year ago today:

A palace untouched

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 articulate audible voice

Booksellers at the Dickens Fair sell "contemporary" Victorian selections. San Francisco, California, December 2002

Booksellers at the Dickens Fair sell “contemporary” Victorian selections.
San Francisco, California, December 2002

“In books lies the soul of the whole Past Time: the articulate audible voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream.”
Thomas Carlyle

There’s at least one realm where the past, present and future really do co-exist, and that is in the world of books. Popular authors of historical nonfiction, such as Barbara Tuchman and David McCullough, use skillful storytelling to shed light on the past and how it can influence our lives now and in years to come.

If you’ve ever read a novel that takes you back to the past and brings it to life in your mind, it’s safe to assume the author did extensive research while writing.  Despite the occasional anachronisms and other historical errors (which are likely to become more common now that many books are published without the in-house editing that once preceded publication), I’ve found that most authors exhibit an impressive knowledge of the period inhabited by their characters.  The enduring popularity of historical fiction argues against the commonly-heard assertion that history is boring and irrelevant.

To really travel back in time, though, nothing beats reading the works of authors who wrote of their own time so skillfully that their works became classics.  It’s illuminating to view an era through the eyes of its contemporaries, who wrote without benefit of hindsight or today’s politically correct censorship (Mark Twain’s works are consistently among those most frequently challenged in libraries).

Recent historical novels often feature characters created to appeal to modern sensibilities, but I sometimes wonder whether this represents an unlikely distortion of the social and political climate that would have been pervasively influential. The characters who lived in the same era as the authors who created them are arguably more authentic than even the most well-researched invention of a modern author.

If you’ve enjoyed a historical novel set in a time recent enough to make this possible, here’s an idea to try: seek out a novel that was written during that same era, set in the period in which it was written.  How do the two compare?  If you enjoy nonfiction, drama or poetry, you have a much greater span of centuries from which to draw comparisons with recent literature; pretty much all of recorded history includes examples of these forms that survive to this day.

It’s hard to say how future authors might portray our own time, but probably there will be at least a few exaggerations, omissions or misunderstandings. Were we around to read them, they might prompt us to say “But it wasn’t really like that!”  I hope that many of today’s literary voices will survive and be read for generations to come.  An articulate, audible voice from the past will always have an authenticity that can’t quite be duplicated, however well it is imitated.

One year ago today:

Irrevocably a reader

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.

If you removed the rocks

The flowers and grass are lovely, but the rocks add something too. Montreal Botanical Garden, May 2009

The flowers and grass are lovely, but the rocks add something too.
Montreal Botanical Garden, May 2009

“The brook would lose its song if you removed the rocks.” — Fred Beck

I’ve written about flowers here too many times to remember, but today I’d like to acknowledge that life is also enhanced by those objects and events that are less flashy, less exciting, and maybe somewhat difficult.

What, after all, would be the point of a vacation if there was nothing to vacate?  Without the weekdays, there could be no weekend, and holidays would hardly be special if the everydays were not more numerous.

If today or this week or this month seems hard or dull or too typical, use your imagination to recapture a bit of that delicious feeling of returning home after a long trip and sleeping in your own bed.  Or the pleasure of curling up in the evening with a good book after a long, grinding day.  Or even just a few minutes sitting down with a cup of tea or coffee after you’ve been on your feet for awhile.

All these joys are brought to you by the more tiring business (and busyness) of life, which makes the special moments possible, and shines a bright light in their direction.  So if you encounter rocks today — which you almost certainly will — remember they are part of the music.

One year ago today:

Make them carry you

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.

Grace will lead

Grace is the bridge that leads us over depths of despair and danger. Natural Bridge, Virginia, July 2005

Grace is the bridge that upholds us as we encounter depths of despair and danger.
Natural Bridge, Virginia, July 2005

“Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.”John Newton

Two weeks ago today, I was able to worship with our church family for the first time in a month.  Because Matt still had fluid on his lungs and was not allowed to go (per doctor’s orders), Jeff stayed with him and I went alone.  But once I got there, I was not alone.  I sat between two of my Christian sisters who have been providing me with unfailing emotional support for years.

That morning, as we sang the lovely words quoted above, of course I thought of my own family and all we have been through for the past 18 months.  But more than that, I thought of the remarkable women sitting on either side of me, singing these words they have lived out before my eyes.

One of these sisters endured the unfaithfulness of a spouse who left her for her erstwhile best friend, and as if that were not enough, their son was later shot through the head, miraculously surviving extensive damage, although he now is blind for life.   The other sister cared for her son through years of muscular dystrophy, before he died in his late twenties.

Here’s the amazing part: both these women did far more than survive these heartbreaks.  They are two of the most consistently cheerful, positive and faith-filled people I know.  Both of them tell me it took years of struggle and bitterness to get where they now are.  When I thank them for providing me with such an inspiring example of fortitude, both tell me that only the grace of God can explain it.

As an aside, my friend’s son who now lives with blindness is one of the most jovial people you will ever meet.  He never fails to spread joy, faith and hope with his public and private comments to his brothers and sisters at church services.

With such examples in my life, how can I NOT feel blessed and upheld?

Look around you – I feel certain you, too, have such sources of strength in your world.  Seek out these people.  Embrace them, watch them,  witness the lessons they teach — usually without a word — as they continue on a life journey fraught with dangers, toils and snares.

Grace will lead us home, and we will not get there alone.  We are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” to inspire us as we face obstacles and challenges.  Let’s be part of that group spreading hope and faith as we survive, and even thrive, throughout whatever we may be facing.

One year ago today:

Daylight in the mind

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 suffering

A partial view of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC, March 2005

A partial view of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC, March 2005

Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.    — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For Earl Glenn Cobeil, his family, and all whose suffering and sacrifice we remember today.

One year ago on Memorial Day:

Their courage

This post was first published seven years ago on Memorial Day. 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.

Perversely human

There was nothing that seemed wild about this wild visitor on May 14, 2014

Nothing seemed wild about this wild visitor to our Alexandria home.  May 14, 2014

“It is a perversely human perception that animals in their native habitat are running wild.”Robert Brault

This quote started me thinking about the terms “wild animals” and “in the wild.”  I concluded that the word “wild” has mutated into a variety of meanings, and is often applied to human behaviors that would never be found among the animals, though we might flatter ourselves that unrestrained or nefarious human conduct is something also found in nature, falsely equated with “freedom.”

In reality, animals in their natural habitats are still constrained, if not directly by humans, by nature itself.  Weather, food supply (or lack thereof), disease and other animals all exert a powerful influence, as do the patterns of behavior that we think of as instinct.  Anyone who has ever watched a bird methodically assembling a nest or feeding its young would have to conclude that some humans could benefit from such “wild” diligence.

Living in the most urban environment I can remember, I have been surprised to have more interaction with undomesticated animals than I have had in most other places I’ve lived.  The birds, deer, rabbits and squirrels that visit our townhome have a boldness in proximity to humans that I’ve not seen before.  While I enjoy it, I also wonder whether it’s not worrisome, for us and for them.

In any case, it’s always a delight to see them, which almost always happens when Jeff spots them first and calls me to point them out.  The next time you see “wild” animals, I hope you will take some time to enjoy watching them and reflecting on whether their actions might have as much (or more) purpose as many of ours do!

One year ago today:

Joy untroubled

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.

Sunshine, food and medicine

Double pink tulips at Keukenhof, in the Netherlands, March 2007 - instant happiness!

Double pink tulips at Keukenhof, in the Netherlands, March 2007 – instant happiness!

“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind.”Luther Burbank

As a person who tends to be cheap frugal, spending money on fresh flowers is something that doesn’t come easily for me.  But the benefits of having them around more than make up for what we spend.  Besides, we’ve found ways to make this joy available for very little cost.

I haven’t had much luck growing the types of flowers that are ideal for cut flower arrangements, but often I can pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers at the grocery store — sometimes even at markdown prices, if I go in the evenings or right after a big holiday — and arrange them in a container, filling in with greenery and flowers from my yard that aren’t enough to fill a vase on their own.  The arrangement I pictured in this post is an example of markdown flowers I supplemented with clippings from our plants.

Over time, I’ve learned which cut flowers tend to last the longest, and I change the water often to keep them fresh.  There are times when we’ve enjoyed an arrangement for a week or more, and every time we walk into the kitchen, it gives us a quick boost to our spirits.

Of course, the mood-elevating effect is multiplied many times over when seeing flowers that are growing outdoors in yards or gardens, and those offer shared enjoyment for all who pass.  One reason I love walking so much is the chance to see more fresh, gorgeous flowers in less than an hour’s time than I might see in a week if I didn’t walk.  The time our neighbors spend on their lawns and gardens is a gift to me that I would hate not to open.

Luther Burbank was a man of science who was not indulging in fancy when he attributed mental health benefits to flowers.  Studies such as this one indexed at the National Library of Medicine establish data-based support for the quote above.  Though viewing images of flowers and foliage is also helpful, this study and others document that nothing is quite equal to the neurophysiological effect of the real thing.

I’ve come to view whatever I spend on flowers, whether in a garden, in a bouquet at home, or as a gift to someone else, as an investment in mental health, one that is sorely needed in modern life.  Today, I hope you’ll find a few minutes to enjoy some fresh flowers, whether in your own yard, on a stroll or on a quick run to the grocery store.  Flowers are truly medicine to the mind!

One year ago today:

Flowers are the music

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 voice of the sea

A Pacific coast view from Santa Cruz, California, August 2003

A Pacific coast view from Santa Cruz, California, August 2003

“The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.”Kate Chopin

The California Coast is wild and beautiful, rocky and cold, pounded relentlessly by crashing surf.  Though much of it is not suitable for swimming, it’s as appealing to me — perhaps more — as if it was.  No matter where I visit the sea, I find the same invitation to solitude that Chopin describes here.

I’ve noticed when I see people at the seashore together, I seldom see them talking with each other as they stroll along the water’s edge.  Perhaps their voices would be lost in the auditory medley of surf, wind and gulls crying overhead.  But I think it’s simply that no words are necessary, or adequate, when taking in the beauty of such settings.  The solitude is pervasive even when we aren’t there alone.

Abysses of solitude and mazes of inward contemplation are indulgences, of course; few of us can afford much time by the sea, whether literally or only in our minds.  But measured doses of it are healthy, even essential.  Probably you can’t get away to the coast today, but you can take a brief mental respite in your imagination.  To kick-start your visual daydreaming,  enjoy a few minutes of this hour-long video of the California coast.  If you don’t mind the silent promotional subtitles telling you where you can buy it, you can watch it for free.

One year ago today:

The cure for anything

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A wonderful position

These statues in Newnan, Georgia convey the free-spirited confidence of children.
March 2014

“I’m in a wonderful position: I’m unknown, I’m underrated, and there’s nowhere to go but up.”Pierre S. DuPont IV

I loved this quote the moment I saw it, and I thought immediately of how it feels to be a child or a young person.  Though few, if any, children will think in precisely those words, DuPont has captured much of the youthful optimism so many of us have in the early years of life.

Then disappointment, failure and trouble set in, and we grow a bit wiser, but sadder.  However, for many of us, the spirit of this quote holds true regardless of our age.  Anonymity can be a blessing — just ask any superstar who can’t escape the paparazzi — and if we feel underrated at times, that simply means people will appreciate us more later, after they get to know us better.

Today, I hope you can take a few minutes to remember your happiest, most optimistic days of youth, when the world seemed full of possibilities.  Though you may not realize it, you have many advantages over that callow, somewhat naive youngster you used to be.  Reach back and grab a little of the energy and anticipation you had as a child, to mix with the sagacity that only comes with maturity.  It will be a formidable combination.

One year ago yesterday:

More than logical

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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