A fascinating vitality

Jeff at Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire, May 2009

Jeff at Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire, May 2009

“Moving water…has a fascinating vitality. It has power and grace and associations. It has a thousand colors and a thousand shapes, yet it follows laws so definite that the tiniest streamlet is an exact replica of a great river.” Roderick Haig-Brown

We lived in Memphis during the years Jeff was in dental school, and I loved the city for many reasons, but what I loved best was the mighty Mississippi River.  I never tired of sitting on the bluff at Tom Lee Park and watching the river flow.

There’s something mesmerizing about watching water in motion.  Ocean waves, woodland brooks and waterfalls all have a calming quality, lovely to the eyes and soothing to the ears.   It’s no wonder there are so many indoor and outdoor fountains that enhance the appeal of parks, city squares and indoor atriums everywhere.  But even the most beautiful fountain is no match for the experience of standing on a riverbank, wading through a creek or feeling the cooling mist of a waterfall.

The hot days of August are perfect for enjoying the beauty of water.  Head for a nearby park that has a creek or waterfall tucked away on a shady trail, or take a few minutes to enjoy a fountain at a plaza, hotel or shopping center.  If you don’t have time to find one in real life, enjoy the sights and sounds recorded here or here or here. I’m wishing you a few minutes of cool mental refreshment on this warm August day!

This post was originally 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.

Going to the desert

Jeff with our sons near Palm Springs, California, January 1990

Jeff with our sons near Palm Springs, California, January 1990

“Modern life is becoming so full that we need our own ways of going to the desert to be relieved of our plenty.”Thomas Moore

The first time we ever drove across the United States en route to our new home in California, we thought we were making pretty good time when we arrived in Texarkana, on the border between Texas and Arkansas.  Two days later we were still in Texas, after driving what seemed like forever through the parched landscapes on the way to El Paso.  Then through New Mexico, Arizona and California, the desert went on and on.  Jeff said “It’s kind of hard to worry about over-population after making this drive.”

Amid the traffic and crowds of the cities where we had lived and traveled, we had no real idea how much barren and unpopulated land still exists in America.  Of course we knew it was there, but the vast extent of it was something we couldn’t imagine until we journeyed through it.

In the same way, contemporary life tricks us into believing there is no escape from the noise, rush and demands of every day.  Routines our grandparents would have thought bizarre, such as being on call for dozens of people all our waking hours via cell phones and texting, have come to seem not only normal to us, but inescapable.  But there are still places of refuge from such urgency, and I suspect they are more plentiful than we think they are until we have learned to visit them.

As I write this, I’m feeling very overwhelmed by all the tasks I did not get done yesterday, or a week ago, or even father back than that.  My head spins as I try to sort out my thoughts and prioritize what must be done first.  Yet I can’t escape the nagging feeling that I might be more efficient if I could somehow clear everything away for an hour or two and just breathe deeply without thinking much about anything.  I’m not sure I could achieve that even if I tried.

But, I can do a few things today that might help.  I can allow myself to work on one task at a time, and not allow interruptions to de-rail me.  I can prioritize clearing away visual clutter to keep my eyes from contributing to the sensory overload.  Most importantly, I can turn down that inner voice that continually chastises me for being so far behind in the first place.  I can spend some time in quiet reading, prayer or gratitude, and “just say no” to self-imposed pressure.

What are some of your favorite ways of going to the desert?

This post was originally 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.

No time

This turtle had plenty of time to pose for me near the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, July 2003

This turtle had time to pose for me near the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, July 2003

“I have no time to be in a hurry.”Henry David Thoreau

When I was a child, I often heard talk of “the lazy days of summer.”  I haven’t heard that phrase in a very long time.  Indeed, summer seems more hectic than any other season, with vacations, activities and daily obligations packed so tightly that the time slips away before we accomplish half of what we had planned.

It’s no use getting into a rush, though.  At least it’s not for me; I make more mistakes and get even farther behind when I try to do more than I’m capable of doing within a certain period of time.  And the stress of running behind, trying to make up lost time, is almost unbearable.  In my case, haste really does make waste.

My challenge is having a poor grasp of time and how long things will take.  Thus I pack way more ambition into my plans than would be realistic for a time slot twice as long as the one I’m dealing with.  The only way around this I have found is to leave huge cushions of time whenever I’m planning anything.  It feels like sloppy planning until the time arrives, during which I normally STILL run out of time, even with a generous allowance built in.  I keep hoping I’ll get better at planning, because just as Thoreau says, I really have no time for hurry.

Whatever you have planned today, or this week, or the remainder of the summer, don’t be afraid to SLOW DOWN if things start spinning past you too quickly!

This post was originally 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 season

A fruit stand in Sorrento, Italy, May 2008

A fruit stand in Sorrento, Italy, May 2008

“Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within the reach of every hand.” 
Mother Teresa 

With all the people in the world who are hurting for lack of love, can we really believe that it is within the reach of every hand?  Absolutely yes, if we think of love as something to give rather than something to receive.   A number of studies have established that loving others is inextricably linked with happiness.  And anyone can love (or learn to love) others, regardless of whether that love appears to be reciprocated in the same measure.

Think of celebrities who are subject to the intrusive attentions of thousands or millions of fans who “love” them.  Is this sort of one-way adoration and attention the key to happiness for these stars?  I know few people who would say that it is.   But genuine love for other people — not actions done with the hope of some sort of payback, but real, unalloyed affection — seems to increase our sense of purpose and well-being in ways not necessarily tied to what we get in return.  Even tending to pets or houseplants has been correlated with increased life span and contentment.

There’s a wonderful moment near the end of the movie Marvin’s Room, in which an unmarried woman dying of cancer after years of care-taking her aging parents tells her younger, more selfish sister not to feel sorry for her.  “I’ve been so lucky,” she tells her.  “I’ve had so much love.”  The younger sister replies, “Yes, they love you very much.”  “Oh,” the dying sister says, “I mean my love for them. I’ve been so lucky to have two people in my life to love so much.”

That line has stuck with me.  Love really is within anyone’s reach. Usually when we give love, we will be loved in return. But even if we are not, genuine love for others is the source of happiness because it takes our mind off of our own sorrows, and connects us to all that matters most.  I wish you a life of love!

This post was originally 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.

Ultimately worthwhile

I snapped this photo on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, May 2008

I snapped this photo on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, May 2008

“Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile…initially scared me to death.”
Betty Bender

In most ways I’m a cautious person, riddled with anxieties about all sorts of things, but some people get a false impression that I am bold or daring.  I think this is because certain traits that run strongly in me — tenacity, curiosity, love of adventure, and being generally excitable, defiant and hotheaded — can masquerade as courage.

When we visited the Amalfi Coast of Italy, my terror of the winding, cliff-hugging roads and fast drivers was surpassed only by my awe at some of the most stunning sights I’ve ever experienced.  It reminded me of when we drove up Pike’s Peak, and I was such a nervous wreck by the time we got to the summit that I sought (unsuccessfully) some other way to get down.  Once we started the trek back, however, the panorama beneath us was so breathtakingly beautiful that I had no time to be afraid.

Fear in itself is a neutral trait, neither helpful nor harmful until we allow it to be one or the other.  If we use fear as a motivating factor to learn, prepare and take reasonable precautions, it is our friend.  But if we allow fear to chain us to an illusion of safety — and in the end, almost everything in which we trust for safety is at least partly an illusion — we will never really live, for fear of dying.

What scares you most?  Does your fear play the role of friend or foe?

This post was originally 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.

Enliven and transform

A cheerful setting can transform a cup of tea into a special occasion! Yorktown, Virgnia May 2013

A cheerful setting can transform a cup of tea into a special occasion!
Yorktown, Virginia, May 2013

“Instead of resigning ourselves to lives in which 75 percent of the day is less enjoyable or at best, neutral, we can find ways to enliven and transform these moments.”
Todd Kashdan

Whatever you have planned for today, tomorrow, or this week, see if you can think up some ways to add sparkle to the daily routine of life.  It doesn’t have to take a lot of money or effort.  Light a candle, use your good china, play some nice music or listen to an audiobook as you tackle mindless chores.  Tape a treasured card or photo to your mirror where you see it first thing in the morning.  Make a new recipe, or dig out one you haven’t used in awhile. Leave surprise “I love you” notes for family to find later.

There’s nothing like a brush with our own (or a loved one’s) mortality to reinforce a truth that we all know, but seldom enact: Life is too short to spend even one day dwelling on the discouraging, sad or frustrating.  Whatever you plan for today, or this week, I hope you will get creative and brainstorm some ways to enliven and transform your routines.  Please share your ideas with us in the comments!

This post was originally 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 most perfect refreshment

Not England, but close enough: at the Montréal Botanical Garden, May 2009

Not England, but close enough: at the Montréal Botanical Garden, May 2009

“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.” Jane Austen

I have been so happy to see Jane Austen finally getting the attention she always deserved.  When I was a young mother, I loaned a copy of Pride and Prejudice to our teenage babysitter, along with an enthusiastic endorsement, and she seemed to think me naïve to assume she would read it.  Please give it a chance, I thought.  Apparently, quite a few people of all ages have done just that in the past two decades, generating a cottage industry of Jane-related fan fiction and movies.

On this hot summer day, I wish you a virtual retreat to a cool English meadow where you can relax in the shade, perhaps with a glass of iced tea or club soda spiked with fruit juice, and take in the green.  If you have a similar setting nearby, I hope you can make time for an actual visit, not just a virtual one.  In any case, this is the time of year when such perfect refreshment is just the thing to beat the heat.  Pass the scones!

This post was originally 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.

Something absolutely new

Drew on the day he was born, March 1984

Drew on the day he was born, March 1984

“The moment a child is born,
the mother is also born.
She never existed before.
The woman existed, but the mother, never.
A mother is something absolutely new.” Rajneesh (Osho)

As most readers know, I normally schedule these posts well in advance, usually by about two weeks.  However, today I am making an exception and preempting tomorrow’s scheduled post in favor of this one, which I’m writing as I sit in the waiting room of the hospital where I am awaiting the birth of our first grandchild.  He is to be a son, as was our first child, whose newborn baby picture appears above.

As a disclaimer: I’m no fan of the teachings of Rajneesh (also known as Osho, whom I’ve quoted before).  While he had some ideas to which I take strong exception, he also had quite a way with words. And perhaps no quote I’ve seen recently more accurately captures the experience of becoming a parent (I think the father is also something absolutely new).

Babies change their parents as nothing else can.  The formerly carefree will experience anxiety at levels previously unknown — as will the already anxious.  Those who were impatient are about to be immersed in the grueling curriculum of the School of Learning to Put Up with Stuff.  And those who were happy before are about to forget how they could have possibly been content (or busy) without these new creatures who suddenly take up most of the real estate inside their hearts and minds.

If things go as planned, by the time you read this, I’ll have experienced being a grandparent for the first time.  I’m told it’s the real payoff for all those years of diapers, delights, disputes and departures.  What do you think?  Those of you who are grandparents, share your best advice with us in the comments below!

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.

He always stays

Marlee channels Jack Benny, March 2008

Marlee channels Jack Benny, March 2008

“A good dog never dies. He always stays. He walks besides you on crisp autumn days when frost is on the fields and winter’s drawing near.” Mary Carolyn Davies

However else I remember 2013, I will remember it as the year of saying goodbye to dogs. Within a few weeks of the day we lost our four-legged family member, Pasha, three others who are dear to me grieved parting with beloved canine companions of many years.  One of these unforgettable dogs, Sir Marlee (Marlee to his friends) is pictured above.

Marlee was born on this day seventeen years ago.  Like most dogs, he was typically canine, yet also unique.  He provided joy, comfort, and a stabilizing presence of love to his family through many years of medical crises and uncertainty, along with the countless joys and sorrows of everyday life.  In these ways, he was no different from other dogs.  But I will always remember him for bringing me laughter through a quirky characteristic he shared with a comedian whom readers “of a certain age” will remember: Jack Benny.

If you watched Jack Benny very much, you know that he could provoke laughter simply by turning his head in reaction to what his fellow performers said or did.  It’s the sort of thing that’s hard to describe until you see it.  This dated and politically incorrect but hilarious clip  will give you an idea of what I’m referring to, in case you don’t remember.

The first time I met Marlee his demeanor was familiar to me, but it took me awhile to figure out why.  Marlee was a laid back, low-key type of dog whose adopted younger doggy brother, Max, was anything but.  When the antics of Max or nearby humans would get a bit ridiculous, Marlee would heave a sigh and turn his head, a weary look in his eyes.  I told Marlee’s mom he reminded me of Jack Benny, and she knew immediately why I said that.  It became a private joke to us, and even today, when Marlee is no longer on this earth, we are able to laugh when things get absurd by imagining Marlee looking on, turning his head.  Marlee will always be with us, lightening even the most frustrating situations when we remember his comical resignation.

Among the precious gifts our pets give are abundant occasions to laugh.  What are some of the funniest traits of your pets, past and present?  I hope you will share some funny or touching memories of your animal companions, whose gifts live on even after they leave us.

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.

Our ordinary days

A golden summer moment at Amy's home in Winnweiler, Germany, August 2005

A golden summer moment at Amy’s home in Winnweiler, Germany, August 2005

“Summer weather, like being in love, is a philosopher’s stone which turns our ordinary days to gold. But not the whole day… For it is never the whole day, never all our life which is transformed in any happiness, but only the exquisite moments.” Nan Fairbrother

More than any other season, summer seems to promise more than it can deliver.  We exit springtime with all sorts of ambitious notions about what we’ll do, see and accomplish during the long hours of sunlight.  We’ll have time for fun reading. Picnics and maybe trips to the beach.  Tending the lawn or garden; maybe growing tomatoes?  Getting that garage or closet cleaned out, once and for all.  Perhaps some lazy mornings sleeping in.

As July draws to a close, most of us look back on the past eight weeks with amazement, wondering where it went and what became of our plans.  The delightful warmth of early June has become the sweltering heat of August, our petunias are beginning to fade or grow leggy, and the back-to-school advertisements catch us off guard.  Already?!  But it feels as if summer just began…

Despite its ephemeral presence, summer almost always leaves us a new cache of memories to keep and treasure.  Such fleeting moments are fitting symbols of the summer itself, which shares their brevity.  As the summer begins to wane, I hope you can look back and find some exquisite moments to remember, when the magic of summer’s alchemy turned the ordinary to gold.  If you have none so far, you have a few weeks left to discover some.  Happy treasure hunting!

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 will flow

Swans go with the flow at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, July 2003

Swans go with the flow at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, July 2003

“As your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and that you will flow with them, to your great delight and benefit.” — author unknown; attributed to Emmanuel Tanay

Among the most ultimately comforting but persistently difficult teachings of Jesus are his words in Matthew 6:25-34, where he warns us against worry, saying “take no thought for tomorrow.”  Really?  When I read these words I find myself saying “Yes, but…”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean to be irresponsible.” (No, it doesn’t, but there is a difference between being responsible and feeling a compulsive need to control everything as much as possible.)  “Yes, but he wasn’t speaking literally.” (He wasn’t? Did he really mean “You should only worry a little bit” or “You should only worry about REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS?”) “Yes, but things were very different in those days.” (And I’m guessing there was even more to worry about then…food, clothing, survival, all the things mentioned in the full context of what Jesus said.)

It really is possible to live a sane, wise and responsible life without excessive worry about the future, but our culture does not promote that kind of mental framework.  Advertisers seek to sell us everything from clothes to cars to insurance by playing to our worst fears and insecurities.  The news media bombard us continually with stories designed primarily to catch and keep our attention by making us afraid of what we might miss.  Financial advisers have created an advice industry geared toward teaching us to find security in money.  Health care providers coach us to stay current on diagnostic screening.  On and on it goes.

I am working on learning to do what I can, and then let go of the outcome.  It’s a difficult process, but unfortunately (or fortunately?) life has a way of prying our fingers loose from anything we hold too tightly.  When I get most agitated and tense, it really does help to take a few deep breaths and imagine something peaceful, such as a gently flowing brook, or the graceful gliding of a swan in the water.  There are times when it becomes all too obvious that we have no choice but to “go with the flow” of life, one day at a time.  I hope your day will flow peacefully today!

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 vision that stays

Another unsuccessful attempt to capture the indescribable: Muir Woods, May 2003

Another unsuccessful attempt to capture the indescribable: Muir Woods, May 2003

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always.  No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree.  The feeling they produce is not transferable.  From them comes silence and awe…they are ambassadors from another time.”John Steinbeck

It really is impossible to capture a forest of redwoods in a photograph, and not just because they are far too tall for even the widest angle.  Walking through a redwood grove is a multi-sensory experience that permeates the soul.  As many times as I visited Muir Woods, I never felt ready to leave.  I always left later than I intended to, promising myself another visit as soon as I could get back.  Now that I live on the east coast, I can only visit in my memory, but Steinbeck is right: the vision stays.

What are some of the places you carry inside your heart?

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.

Carry your childhood with you

Carla, Al, Julia, Eric and Kitt Katt, Sunday morning, circa 1966

Carla, Al, Julia, Eric and Kitt Katt, Sunday morning, circa 1966

“If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.” Tom Stoppard

Here it is: photographic evidence that a lot of things about me haven’t changed in nearly half a century.  I still love cats.  I still love yellow.  I still wear my hair in a bun often (no wisecracks about librarians here).  And the camera, well, need I say more?

This photo was taken just before we left for church (that’s the only time we were all dressed up) and I’m amused to recall how my parents let me wear and use that cheap plastic camera everywhere I went.  Back in those days, not many kids were taking photos of any kind.  I just wish my old black and white negatives were not lost in the decades that followed.

I’m guessing that you, too, carry many things from childhood inside you.  For almost all of us, it’s a mixed bag, but I agree with Stoppard that if we stay in touch with all that was best about being a child, we never really grow older.

What happy traits and images do you carry with you from childhood?  I hope you will visit with your inner child often.  For some, the inner child is a pop psychology construct, useful for analysis or recovery, but otherwise disdained.  For me, though, my inner child is a muse, reminding me of all the best lessons I learned early, filled with uncontaminated wonder at a world that seems one part intrigue and two parts promise.

If the weather is good where you are, go out and play for awhile!  If it’s rainy, stay indoors and play.  In the immortal words of the Cat in the Hat, “your mother will not mind at all.” 😉

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.

Pay attention

I paid close attention to this lovely bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, October 2003

I paid close attention to this lovely bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, October 2003

“Choice of attention, to pay attention to this and ignore that, is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer.” W. H. Auden

Auden captures a truth here that has always been evident to me, yet remains elusive in the ongoing rush of life.  When one is distractible or detail-oriented, the proclivity to have mindful awareness hijacked by the noisy or urgent is even stronger, and the need to discipline one’s thoughts becomes crucial to sanity and survival.

I’ve found that it helps to deliberately seek out the beautiful, interesting or joyful.  Life is astoundingly abundant with gifts that are easy to ignore.  When I start looking for them, blessings are evident everywhere.

Today, I hope you will go on a sort of “scavenger hunt” in whatever place you find yourself: search out what is lovely, happy or fun, but easily overlooked.  Take a few mental (or digital) photos.  If you like, share your observations here, but most importantly, file them away in your joy bank, to be withdrawn as needed in times of negative emotional cash flow.

This post was originally 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 full expression

Kathy and I photograph each other near Parliament Square, London, during springtime in 2001.

Kathy and I photograph each other near Parliament Square, London, springtime 2001.

“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”Ansel Adams

This photograph of my friend Kathy, taking photos of me taking photos of her, is not a great photograph from a technical standpoint. It’s a poorly scanned (and here, cropped) digitization of what was originally a Kodachrome transparency. Because it was a typically cloudy, low-light day in London, the depth of field is shallow, resulting in a much better focus on the flowers than on Kathy or the buildings of Parliament Square.

But it’s one of my favorite photos, and meets the definition of “great” as described by Adams, who is perhaps the best known photographer of all time. This photo captures so much that I love about Kathy, especially my happy memories of her joy of taking pictures, which has made her an ideal companion for me on so many ramblings in various cities. She does not grow impatient with my desire to catch just one more angle, one last shot. More than any other person I know, she has my love of photography, and is a diligent archivist of the beauty of everyday life.

What do you love best about your friends? Try to capture that essence in a photograph sometime. For all of the beautiful scenery I’ve been blessed to see and photograph, my very favorite shots are those of loved ones in which their unique personalities shine through. Years later, these photographs are a priceless treasure that never fails to bring a smile to my face. I hope your own treasure chest is filled with many such invaluable delights.

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.

Hope is at the root

Drew, Jeff, Matt and I enjoy the view from the Reagan Library, July 2004

Drew, Jeff, Matt and I enjoy the view from the Reagan Library, July 2004

“Hope is at the root of all the great ideas and causes that have bettered the lot of humankind across the centuries.”Ronald Reagan

Touring the beautiful grounds of the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, it isn’t hard to understand why he was such an optimist.  There’s something about California that always inspired hope in me, too.  As a state, California is younger, wilder (in more ways than one) and seemingly boundless; the sky there feels as wide as the Pacific Ocean that stretches along the coast.

While California has some natural advantages other states may lack, I’ve found that all places have their own unique spots of serenity and calm beauty.  At times, I have to escape to some of these places to keep my optimism from being dashed to pieces by the turbulence of everyday life.  Hope is what carries us through the difficult times, and ignites our desire to take action and make things better in some way.  It really does lie at the root of all progress.

It’s easy to look back at times of positive change and forget how dubious or frightening they seemed at the time. It’s equally easy to be cynical and complain endlessly about what we see in the present.  While there is a vital place for criticism and correction, there is also much to be thankful for in any era, and there are always opportunities for improvements, large and small.  When the overscheduled days, grinding traffic or televised histrionics get you down, try escaping to a place that will help you re-connect with hope.

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.

An enchanted hour

My friend Darla's porch, seen here in May 2013, is a favorite spot, always decorated for the season!

My friend Darla’s porch, seen here in May 2013, is a favorite spot.
It’s always decorated for the season, including a big Christmas tree in December!

“An enchanted hour was filched from the hereafter and tossed into the lap of the present, as a foretaste of what is to come…A mystic world, into which we step as soon as we cross the threshold of the porch.” Ethelind Fearon (1946)

I don’t know why I have such a love of porches.  Perhaps it’s because of the screened porch of my childhood home, where we spent many happy hours eating watermelon and chatting.  Its metallic roof made such a wonderfully cozy sound during summer rains.

Or maybe it’s the mysteriously appealing “sleeping porch” of my Granny’s old house, the home where she was born sometime before 1900, and in which my father was also born.  That “sleeping porch,” which was actually more of a spare bedroom, seemed to be full of delightfully exotic trinkets from the past. Large screened windows that looked out on the back lawn ran the length of the walls.

Or maybe it’s the swing on the front porch of the home where Jeff grew up in rural Tennessee, where he and I spent many treasured hours in the quiet evenings, with only the sound of crickets and an occasional car passing by on the highway.

Whatever the reasons, I find porches irresistible.  I hope you have at least one to enjoy at present, or in memory.  Save me a glass of iced tea and a seat in the swing!

This post was first published seven years ago today. Since then (actually for two years now) I’m happy to report that, for the first time in my life, I now have front porch with a swing. Matt loves it as much as I do, and though we don’t spend nearly as much time there as we would like, just knowing it is there is a joy.

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.

Everyone belongs

Friends gather to celebrate Matt's birthday in August, 2009

Friends from church gather to celebrate Matt’s birthday in August, 2009

No one is a stranger here.
Everyone belongs.
Finding our forgiveness here,
we in turn forgive all wrongs.

Bryan J. Leech

On a recent Sunday during worship in northern Virginia, we sang one of my favorite songs before communion.  A verse from the song is quoted above.  Having entered the assembly that day feeling burdened with various worries and sorrows, the song touched me deeply and reminded me why we keep coming back to meet with other believers.

All of us want to belong. I can think of few things more painful than feeling excluded.  One of the ways our younger son Matt has blessed us has been the way his presence opened our eyes to so much that we couldn’t fully see before, and among the things we’ve learned is the hard lesson of how sad it is to feel excluded.

Seeing Matt largely disregarded by his nondisabled peers over the years has been a sorrow that stabs at the heart again and again each time it happens. Yet there is also consolation in the deep love of those who can see past the disabilities to treasure the unique person Matt is, and patience with those who aren’t quite there yet, but are trying to get past their obvious discomfort with anything that is not typical. It’s easier to be patient as we recognize that we, too, have excluded others, often without intending to do so.

I’ve heard people admonish others that forgiveness is its own reward; that holding onto our anger or grudges does more damage to us than it does to the objects of our hard feelings.  I agree with this totally. But forgiveness is important for other reasons as well. Forgiveness teaches us patience and understanding. It implies humility, as this quote suggests, and the realization that we cannot expect the forgiveness of others until we are willing to offer it ourselves. This humility is what transforms a group of diverse people into a family where everyone belongs.

This kind of relationship with others is more easily talked about than practiced, of course. It’s an ideal for which we strive, but as with so many desirable traits, we often fall short of what we are striving for.  I think the important thing is to keep trying, keep opening our hearts to others, keep reminding ourselves that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

That is the spirit that I hope to maintain on this blog, and I sincerely appreciate all the wonderful and supportive comments of those who visit us here.  I hope that all who read this blog will find something helpful.  My gratitude goes out to all who take the time to stop by.  If you are seeking optimism, hope, and a spirit of gratitude, respect and caring, YOU BELONG!

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 wouldn’t be ashamed

I photographed these parrots at Disney World, where they tactfully refrained from speaking. August 2003

I photographed these parrots at Disney World, where they tactfully refrained from speaking. August 2003

“So live that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”
Will Rogers

We don’t have a family parrot, but we have something a bit more risky: a son with an exceptional auditory memory (which tested at the level of a 13-year-old when he was in kindergarten) and a love of repeating things that he hears.  Matt also has the knack of unintentionally leaving out relevant parts of the story in such a way as to confuse or mislead his listeners.  Suffice it to say that we’ve become somewhat careful about what we say around him!

Still, he has always known, even from a very young age, not to repeat certain words.  When we moved to Hawaii in 1993, he was only seven years old.  On the airplane he was seated next to a woman who had more than a bit too much to drink, and she struck up a conversation with Matt.  Unfortunately, her language was not rated PG or even PG-13, and Jeff eventually called a halt to the conversation emphatically enough that her offensive language dried up immediately.  We worried for a time that we might hear Matt repeating some of the vulgar or profane words she said, but we never did.

In any case, Rogers has some sound advice here.  Even if no one else hears the things we say, we hear them, and we have no business filling our own ears with what doesn’t bear repeating.  Let’s practice saying only things that are useful, good, positive, uplifting, kind, honest or otherwise commendable.  Some of us will have a much harder time with this than others (I plead guilty!!!) but we will enjoy our own company more if we master this discipline.

SO, what’s happening with you today?  Tell me something good!

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 a garden

Yet another beautiful Canadian garden. Halifax, Nova Scotia, September 2007

Yet another beautiful Canadian garden. Halifax, Nova Scotia, September 2007

The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer God’s heart in the garden
Than anywhere else on earth

Dorothy Gurney

I don’t know what it is about Canada, whether it’s the climate or the eagerness for warm weather or the souls of its people, but I see many of the most beautiful gardens in the world in that country.  Lucky USA, to have such talented gardeners as next-door neighbors!

It may help that our neighbors to the north are spared the blistering heat that most of our states experience.  By this time of the summer, some of our blooms have already faded in the withering temperatures.  Fortunately, they are replaced by others that will keep things colorful until well into autumn.  In Virginia, I’ve had begonias blooming as late as December.

What’s blooming in your neck of the woods right now?  Which flowers are “on deck” for late summer and fall?

Whether you are a gifted gardener whose efforts bless everyone around you, or just an amateur such as I, tickled pink over every bloom that survives my blundering attempts, I hope you have lots of flowers to enjoy this year.  Here’s to the talented neighbors and friends, as well as local parks, nurseries and greenhouses, who fill our summers with color!

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.

Walk and be happy

Drew and Matt enjoy a walk in Laguna Beach, California, July 2004

Drew and Matt enjoy a walk in Laguna Beach, California, July 2004

“The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.” Charles Dickens

When I think about it, I’m surprised that this quote came from Charles Dickens.  It sounds more like something we’d hear from Dr. Oz.  I have this idea that during the years Dickens lived, people didn’t have much choice but to walk, unless they were wealthy enough to have horse-drawn carriages.  I also wonder what Dickens and his contemporaries would have considered to be a long walk, or for that matter, what they would have thought of as a long life.  I’m not sure what the average life expectancy was during those years, but Dickens wasn’t much older than I am now when he died.  I wonder if he took his own advice.

In any case, I agree with what he says here. “Steadily and with a purpose” doesn’t necessarily imply going somewhere practical such as the post office or grocery store, although I find it especially satisfying if I can exercise and save gasoline at the same time.  Often, my purpose is to clear my mind, enjoy a cool summer evening, or take some photos.  Since I always seem to be short on time, the “steadily” part takes care of itself.

What are your favorite reasons for walking?  Whatever they are, I hope that health and happiness are among the destinations you reach on foot!

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.

Stand quietly before them

The statues of the six continents at the Esplanade du Musée d'Orsay, Paris, September 2005

The statues of the six continents at the Esplanade du Musée d’Orsay, Paris, September 2005

“We should comport ourselves with the masterpieces of art as with exalted personages– stand quietly before them and wait till they speak to us.” Arthur Schopenhauer

Whenever I visit an art gallery or museum, especially a large one such as my favorite, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, I’m torn between wanting to rush through and see it all, or take the time to really study and enjoy just a few works.  Since time is always limited when travelling far from home, I usually end up doing a bit of both, promising myself I’ll come back someday and spend more time there.

In this, as in so many other areas, we are tremendously fortunate to live in the digital age, when we can call up precise and detailed photographs of virtually every work in every museum with a website, as well as many privately held collections and lesser-known works of art shared online by their creators.  While such works inevitably lose much in translation to two-dimensional images, we still have the chance to grow familiar with them and appreciate them from a distance, rendered in amazing detail that enables zooming in and studying the minutiae closely.

However, nothing will ever replace being able to see an original work of art, up close and in person.  I hope you will make some time, near your home or on vacation, to enjoy great works in the many places they can be found: indoor collections and galleries, parks, city squares, churches, universities, and private homes.  Next time you pass an intriguing sculpture or eye-catching painting, take a few minutes to stand quietly and listen.  What do you hear?

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 become a grandparent

Ryan's wife Marlea snapped this photo of their children, Kate and Everett, with my parents enjoying their great and grand blessings

Ryan’s wife Marlea snapped this photo of their children, Kate and Everett,
with my parents enjoying their great and grand blessings

“To become a grandparent is to enjoy one of the few pleasures in life for which the consequences have already been paid.” Robert Brault

My nephew Ryan sent me this photo recently and I loved it instantly.  Since Jeff and I will soon be grandparents for the first time, I thought a post about grandchildren might be in order.  But since I’ve never yet been a grandparent, I know the relationship best from the standpoint of the grandchild.

I remember laughing at Bill Cosby saying all of us are still alive today because of our grandparents.  While that may be a slight exaggeration, there is something delightfully carefree about the relationship between children and their parents’ parents.  Grandparents are a continual reminder that Mom and Dad were once kids, and they often have archives of ancient-looking photos and stories to prove it.

They have other interesting things, too, and don’t mind if you prowl around in their stuff and ask lots of questions.  They will often play games your parents don’t have time for, or laugh at things your parents might fuss about.  They might sneak treats to you that your parents wouldn’t let you have.  No doubt about it, there’s something slightly subversive about grandparents.  But in a good way.

Jeff and I were blessed with loving grandparents whose influence has lasted far beyond their time here on earth.  We miss them, and hope that we will be able to live up to the examples they left us, providing loyalty, laughter and love that will never die.

This post was first published seven years ago today. Sadly, I’ve learned that Brault’s quote is not always true. This post, almost as much as the blissfully hopeful ones I wrote when I truly believed that Jeff would survive and beat the cancer, brings sadness to my heart, as will some of the ones to follow in the weeks to come. But the only way out is through. I can’t dodge the sadness or pain. I can’t deny that there once was a time when everything looked brighter, when I thought I would have a role to play in my grandchildren’s lives. I re-publish this post in recognition that just as things can change for the worse in ways we may not have imagined, they also can change just as remarkably for the better, and perhaps a happier ending of some sort may lie ahead for me.

Mama and Daddy, I miss you! You were exemplary parents and grandparents in so many ways.

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.

Designed by nature

The beautiful cannonball tree has many medicinal uses. Barbados, March 2010

“The marvelous pharmacy that was designed by nature and placed into our being by the universal architect produces most of the medicines we need.” Norman Cousins

One of the first things I did after Jeff got his stage IV cancer diagnosis was request that he read a book first published in 1979:  Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration by Norman Cousins.  I read this book decades ago, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it has been one of the biggest influences in my life.  In fact, it may be indirectly responsible for my decision to start this blog.

Cousins’ work, which has become a classic, deals with a variety of interesting considerations regarding health care and how we view disease.  I read the book long before I could have known how much of my life would be consumed with visiting doctors, staying in hospitals and otherwise managing the medical aspects of our younger son’s disabilities.  While none of the details of Cousins’ devastating diagnosis are related to Matt’s genetic condition or Jeff’s recent challenges, the underlying message of patient responsibility and empowerment has been crucial in navigating the often intimidating journey through serious and chronic illness.

Today it is not uncommon to find physicians and other medical professionals discussing and acknowledging the powerful medicinal benefits of such factors as creativity, laughter, holistic healing, and the placebo effect.  It was far less common when Cousins set out on his own largely self-designed and non-traditional path for battling his illness, emerging victorious and lighting the way for countless others to follow.

Today I hope we will resolve to work in harmony with the many providers and natural paths to wellness that are available to all of us.  If we tap into the amazing, God-given powers of mental, emotional and spiritual health to improve our physical health, we can greatly decrease our suffering and improve our quality of life, however long or short our time on earth may be.

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.

Connected to something bigger

The Bavarian Alps, viewed from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, August 2005

The Bavarian Alps, viewed from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, August 2005

“When everything around you is changing, turn to the part of you that doesn’t change, that is calm, centered, and connected to something bigger.” 
 Ariane de Bonvoisin

Churchgoing people are accustomed to hearing various metaphors for faith.  It’s spoken of as an anchor, a rock, a fortress, and a shield.  It’s described as “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen.”  All these images take on new meaning when crisis overtakes what used to be normal life.

As change, sorrow, fear and chaos swirl around us, it’s easy for all that matters most to get tossed away.  It helps to have these images to ground us.  We hold fast with gritted teeth and closed eyes, sensing the unseen foundation beneath us.  Our spirits are strengthened by the intangible but real presence of others who are standing with us, in prayer, hope, faith and courage.  The connection to something bigger than all our troubles can sustain us, as it has before and will again.

My gratitude goes out to all of you who are in that company whose presence we feel and cherish.  I wish for all who visit here today a time of contemplative awareness of that calm, centered connection.

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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