We need quiet

Our York backyard, still and beautiful after a snowfall, January 2010.

Our York backyard, still and beautiful after a snowfall, January 2010.

“Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.”Ester Buchholz

Of all the seasons, winter seems most linked with quiet; short days, long nights, the silence of snowfall and the calming blank canvas of its whiteness.  If you live where it’s cold at this time of year, take advantage of the weather’s call to solitude.  Settle in with a good book in a cozy room, sit down with pen and paper to write a letter or a journal entry, or bundle up for a stroll in the winter stillness.  Turn off the TV, the smart phone, the iPod; unplug and unwind.

Spring will be here soon enough.  Till then, take some time for daydreams.

One year ago today

Permit yourself the luxury

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 your house

Our living room in northern California was filled with favorite things.  July, 2004

Our living room in northern California was filled with favorite things. July, 2004

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”William Morris 

When one of my graduate school professors asked me to do a paper on William Morris, I wasn’t thrilled about accepting, but it turned out to be one of the most fascinating studies I completed.  What I liked best about his philosophy was his enduring belief that the useful can and should also be beautiful.

His oft-quoted words above are a good starting point for those of us who want to spend the winter cleaning and clearing away our excessive belongings.  Of course, beauty is a subjective thing, and not everyone would agree with our choices.  But in our own homes, we are free to surround ourselves with things that make our days easier, or bring us joy just by decorating our world.  Or, best of all, those things that do both.

I hope that you will remember Morris’ advice, and fill your life with the useful AND the beautiful. Do you have any favorites that fit both those standards?  Feel free to tell us about them!

One year ago today

Practical pleasures

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.

Never too old to begin

Jeff snapped this photo of me at Montalvo Arts Center, Los Gatos, California, February 2004.

Jeff snapped this photo of me at Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga, California, February 2004.

“You’re never too old to begin a journey, if you don’t insist on completing it.”
Ashleigh Brilliant

No matter what age, nobody has any guarantees of success or even survival when they embark on a journey.  If physical or financial limitations do not stand in your way, why should chronological age?  Besides, one destination tends to lead to another, so that reaching the end of the journey — at least in this life — may not even be the ultimate goal, especially if we believe our soul’s destination lies beyond this earth.

Whether you are younger or older than I am, you probably have come to a point in life where you felt it was “too late” for a specific goal.  But maybe that goal, or a similar one, or a different but equally appealing one, might still be within reach.  I believe it’s never too late to grow and change. Some of the liveliest people I’ve ever known (including Ashleigh Brilliant, who is quoted above) continue to explore life with great interest well into their seventies, eighties and beyond.

If we are blessed with long lives, I hope that Jeff and I will be among them.  And I hope you will be, too!

One year ago today

Every exit

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.

Embrace chaos

My craft room has always been the messiest spot in our Alexandria home, but now it  has lots of company.  January, 2014

My craft room has always been the messiest spot in our Alexandria home,
but now it has lots of company. And this is a censored view. January, 2014

“I finally figured out that not every crisis can be managed. As much as we want to keep ourselves safe, we can’t protect ourselves from everything. If we want to embrace life, we also have to embrace chaos.”Susan Elizabeth Phillips

My name is Julia and I have too much stuff.  Most of the time, I keep it at bay by confining it to just one or two rooms in each home, but in the past few months of spending most of my time away, in hospital settings, things have gotten a bit…shall we say, out of control.  My piles of stuff have begun to migrate out of closets and into maybe half the rooms of our homes.  It’s making me a little bit crazy, but I’m also too exhausted to take anything but baby steps right now to clean it all up.

I’m in recovery, though…and with the “calm, caring and nonjudgmental” encouragement of Alys and others, I do look for big improvements in 2014.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to give myself a bit of a break and embrace chaos.  Much of what surrounds us in both our homes right now is the inevitable flotsam and jetsam of crisis and its aftermath; backlogged piles of mail, medical equipment and supplies to store or sort, and papers to file; cards and gifts to acknowledge and answer; growing to-do lists filled with cumulative weeks of neglected tasks as well as added obligations related to our “new normal.”

So, I’ve had to remind myself of some priorities. First priority: survival, for all three of us.  Second priority: sanity, ditto.  Third priority: rest and recovery, especially important with more chemo for Jeff and Matt’s 5th open heart surgery on the near horizon.  Given all this, we have accepted that things will be chaotic for awhile.

I’m almost certain that we aren’t the only ones feeling a bit overwhelmed by our blessings right now.  If you find yourself in a similar situation, I hope you will join me in using this chaos as an incentive to welcome a new way of looking at things.  As irritating as the mega-mess is, I can sense that it will act as a catalyst to pare down to something more closely resembling simplicity.  I know I’ll never live a minimalist life, at least not anytime soon, but I also know I’m ready to make some significant changes in what I keep, where I keep it and how I think about it.

For now, though, I’m embracing chaos.  I hope it’s a farewell hug and a kiss goodbye!

One year ago today

Primitive purity

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.

Nothing is

This clock came from Queen Marie-Antoinette's private sitting room at the Tuileries Palace, Paris; photographed on display at the Corocoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, September 2013.

This clock is from Queen Marie-Antoinette’s private sitting room at the Tuileries Palace, Paris;
photographed on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, September 2013.

“Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.”
Thomas Szasz

I found it interesting that this quote contrasts boredom with serenity.  I would not think of the two as opposites.  I would tend to think of anxiety as more the opposite of serenity, although boredom undoubtedly makes everything seem a waste of time. But I think anxiety can too.

When I’m feeling most anxious, a lot of my distress comes from the idea that I’m not making good use of my time.  It’s especially frustrating when a day is fraught with unproductive attempts and flat-out failure to accomplish anything.  Then it can turn into a vicious cycle, as my distraction over what has gone wrong disrupts my effort to get back on track.

Perhaps it would be easier to minimize the setbacks if I could learn to see everything as being beneficial in some indirect way, even if only to help me avoid it the next time.  If I have to wait in a long line when I’m in a hurry, I can make a mental note to avoid that location on that particular day or time in the future.  If I throw my schedule off by spending too much time in a phone conversation, I can resolve to postpone telephone calls until higher priorities have been addressed. If I’m sitting in a medical waiting room — something I’ve spent countless hours doing over the years, and especially in 2013 — I can make it a point to bring something to read or work on while I wait.  If it’s something enjoyable that I rarely have time for, so much the better.

More importantly, though, I can also realize that some of what may appear to be wasted time can actually be vital moments of rest, reflection and rejuvenation.  This year, I have the usual ambitions about cleaning out, clearing space and getting rid of a lot of stuff.  I fully intend to do that, because I think serenity will be more possible in my daily life if I do.  But meanwhile, I need to practice the habit of serenity from where I am now, on day one.  For me this will involve not fretting over wasted time, or expecting an unrealistic level of achievement from myself.

I hope you will join me this year in resisting the tendency to feel overwhelmed by life, even when it’s overwhelming.  Especially, I hope we will make the clock our servant, not our master. If you have any secrets for staying serene while swamped with endless tasks, feel free to share them with us!  Good luck!

One year ago today

Free to go very slow

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.

One spectacle grander

You can barely see them, but that's Jeff, Matt and Drew at the bow of Holland America's ship, the Volendam, sailing Alaska in June 2000.

You can barely see them, but that’s Jeff, Matt and Drew at the bow of
Holland America’s ship, the Volendam, sailing through Alaskan waters in June 2000.

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”Victor Hugo

Jeff and I love to travel, and cruising has become our favorite kind of vacation.  Needless to say, we haven’t been able to take a cruise for some time, and we have no idea when we will be able to go to sea again.  Nevertheless, we still dream and talk of taking another cruise, and hope it won’t be too long before we are able to set sail.

Meanwhile, Hugo’s quote reminds me that I’ve had a front row seat to a spectacle grander than the sky or sea this year; I have seen Jeff fight through and survive one crisis after another, giving me the most intimate glimpse of the interior of his soul that I have ever seen.  Although neither of us chose this particular part of our journey together, and it has been full of scary risks, suffering and exhaustion, it also has been a beautiful testimony to his strong foundation of faith, the power of prayers from so many who care about us, and his courage and determination to stay with Matt and me as long as he can.

I hope this year is full of wonderful sights for you to enjoy, whether at home or abroad.  Amid all the sights of land, sea and sky, I hope you will keep an eye out for those surpassingly grand views of the many beautiful souls whose paths will cross yours.  Bon Voyage!

One year ago today

Lose sight of the shore

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.

Language of the imagination

I met this chipmunk at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, September 1999.

I met this chipmunk at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, September 1999.

“ ‘They are all beasts of burden in a sense,’ Thoreau once remarked of animals, ‘made to carry some portion of our thoughts.’ Animals are the old language of the imagination; one of the ten thousand tragedies of their disappearance would be a silencing of this speech.”Rebecca Solnit

I’m not sure I understand this quote, but I do find it intriguing.  It reminded me of how children are almost universally drawn to animals, and perhaps this is due, in part, to the child’s incomplete grasp of language.  Children might feel a kinship with animals based on having to live concurrently in two worlds; one of their own, which makes perfect sense to them, and one belonging to adults, which must surely be unfathomable.

Almost all of us have had the experience of what felt distinctly like a wordless conversation with an animal, and for some of us, it may be a rather common occurrence.  Perhaps we converse with animals in a language of the imagination, one we have almost — but not quite — forgotten.

One year ago today

Another step toward simplicity

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

In the morning

Service with a smile at a bed and breakfast inn, Placerville, CA, December 2002

Service with a smile at a bed and breakfast inn, Placerville, CA, December 2002

“Be pleasant until ten o’clock in the morning and the rest of the day will take care of itself.”Elbert Hubbard

When I first read this quote, I thought, “I really need to take that advice to heart, and try to do that.”  The next thing I thought was, “Hey, one way to do that would be to sleep until ten a.m.!” Needless to say, I’m NOT a morning person!

It is surprising, though, how much a pleasant attitude can change an entire day.  Whether it’s our own or someone else’s cheerfulness, a congenial spirit can enhance happy times and ameliorate bad ones.  I’ve noticed when I make the effort to be courteous rather than grouchy, it seems to get much easier as I go along, with each smile or kind word lifting my own mood even if no one else notices.

I hope you have a wonderful day today, but even if you don’t, try Hubbard’s little piece of advice, and feel free to let me know how it goes.  You can ask  me how I did, too.  Nothing like a little accountability to give myself some incentive.

One year ago today

Strangely enough

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.

Service is joy

A therapeutic riding assistant helps Matt get ready to ride. Near Williamsburg, Virginia, April 2005.

A therapeutic riding trainer helps Matt get ready to ride. Near Williamsburg, VA, April 2005.

“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”Kahlil Gibran

One of the great things about any sort of volunteer work is meeting people who care about other people and the world in general.  Working alongside others in a group effort creates a sense of community not found elsewhere.  If you find yourself feeling low or blue during the winter months, think about joining in a volunteer effort at your church or through a service organization.

During the cold weather, assistance for homeless people and animals may be in greater demand, and the elderly or people with disabilities often need additional help at home with errands or meals.  Children struggling in school may need tutoring, or Sunday School classes may need teachers. Or you may simply know someone personally who could use your help, outside of any formal agency.

As Gibran’s quote implies, the rewards of such efforts may not be apparent until you try it.  But in my experience, when I take part in some sort of service activity, I’m always glad that I did.  I hope you will be, too!

One year ago today

Faithfulness to a small task

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.

Time and culture

Reenactors bring the past to life at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, August 2010

Reenactors bring the past to life at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, August 2010

“You’ve got to marinate your head, in that time and culture. You’ve got to become them.”David McCullough

I think one of the best and quickest ways to defeat despair is to read a bit of history and contemplate what life used to be like.  I’ve found that nonfiction often seems best for this, since many historical novels can romanticize the past or skip over some of the more unpleasant realities that were inescapable for previous generations.  Contrary to what a lot of people think, well-written historical accounts need not be boring, and in fact, some of the most absorbing books I’ve ever read were nonfiction biographies and histories.

If you’ve ever read anything by David McCullough, you know that he is a master at bringing the past to life for his readers.  It’s easy to believe he immerses himself in the past just as he describes here, enabling him to open doors in our imagination that will bring us as close to time travel as anything can.

Winter is a great time to dig into a McCullough book.  The first book I read by him was Truman, and the only reason I read it was that I found myself in a place where few other choices were available. I was amazed how McCullough’s writing captivated me, leaving me feeling almost as if I knew a man whose biography had never interested me before.  1776 was equally good, and gave me a new understanding of our country’s war for independence.

Of course, McCullough is not the only gifted historical writer awaiting lucky readers.  Any public library or bookstore will have shelves full of histories and biographies that are every bit as absorbing as any novel, covering any period history that might interest you.  If you’re a reader — or even if you’re not much of a reader — try a little time travel during these long winter months, via a book set in a past era.  Or share with us here about some of your favorite journeys to the past, through the magic of reading.

One year ago today

Almost like talking

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Your own kind of music

Matt with his voice teacher after Matt's wonderful, nearly flawless solo performance of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" at the Vacaville Festival of Trees, 2003.

All smiles: Matt is congratulated by his voice teacher after Matt’s wonderful,
nearly flawless solo performance of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
at the Vacaville Festival of Trees, 2003.

“You’ve gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along.” —
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

This 1969 hit is a favorite of mine, as recorded by one of my all-time favorite vocalists, Mama Cass Elliot.  I play this song often for Matt when he and I are riding along in the car together.  It sounds in my ears almost as if it was written for him, but of course, there are others who share that feeling.  So many of us have felt different or apart at some point in our lives, and some of us will never quite fit in with the crowd.  Individuality can be a curse as well as a blessing, but there’s no cure for the loneliness except to accept our differences as gifts, and make the best of them.

Though Mama Cass didn’t write this song, there is no one on earth who could have been more certain to make it the hit that it became.  When I think about all that was best about the 60’s, Mama Cass often comes to mind.  This woman endured much prejudice and many cruel jokes, but she kept on singing, blessing the world with her musical gifts.  I hope you enjoy this lovely video as much as I do, and let it help you remember to sing the song that is yours alone.

One year ago today

A contribution to reality

This post was first published seven years ago today. Out of over 1100 different posts I’ve written for this blog, if I had to name my top ten personal favorites, this post would definitely be one of them, because of the song.

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.

I challenge you to a dare

Trees, grass, water, rocks; all ordinary, extraordinarily beautiful. A garden in Bar Harbor, Maine, June 2012

Trees, grass, water, rocks; all ordinary, extraordinarily beautiful.
A garden in Bar Harbor, Maine, June 2012

“Can I challenge you to a dare?  Today, stop praying for anything other than the life you have!…before we begin the year, with a sense of adventure, give thanks for your most “ordinary” life.  This is how the miracle begins, as we embark with a sense of adventure seeking the splendid in the simple gift of the everyday.”
Sarah Ban Breathnach

One of my two all-time favorite movies is The Wizard of Oz, which I’ve always thought of (sometimes over the teasing of friends) as a story with many profound lessons.  Through dazzling but difficult adventures, Dorothy learns that what she has been seeking has been hers all along.  It’s a discovery I imagine that many of us need to make.

If the past 14 months have done nothing else for me (although they have done much), they have taught me the unsurpassed blessings that go with each moment of ordinary life.  It’s something I knew intellectually for years, but recently I have been rather hit over the head with it, again and again.  While these poundings have left me more than a little bewildered at times, they have provided a sort of clarity through which I am able to see things I didn’t see very well before.

What do you love most about your everyday life?  Feel free to share these graces with us here.  Reading of your joys, we will doubtless recognize common threads in our own amazing tapestries.  Let’s keep weaving!

One year ago today

Endlessly fascinated

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 white quilt

Fragile but unbroken, a shrub sleeps beneath a blanket of snow, January 2010.

Fragile but unbroken, a shrub sleeps beneath a blanket of snow, January 2010.

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”Lewis Carroll

Snow can seem brutal when we have to shovel it, or when it freezes into hardened slush, dingy with vehicle dirt and exhaust.  But when it first falls, it appears almost miraculous.  It clings to the tiniest branches and leaves, and coats everything so evenly, blindingly white in the morning sun that is magnified by its brilliance.  In most of the places we have lived, snow never fell at all, but even here in Virginia, when it does fall, its beauty is short-lived.  No less remarkable for that brevity, though, and probably more enjoyable.

If you have snow today, I hope you can find beauty in it despite whatever inconvenience it brings to you.  Feel free to send us some pretty snow scenes if you photograph any.  Those of us in warmer climates might actually enjoy seeing a bit of fluffy white snow!

One year ago today

Something of the marvelous

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.

Actually see

Cyclamen blooms brighten a gray January day in the Financial District of San Francisco, 2004.

Cyclamen brighten a gray January day in the Financial District of San Francisco, 2004.

“The beauty and mystery of this world only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion . . . open your eyes wide and actually see this world by attending to its colors, details and irony.”Orhan Pamuk

There’s a double blessing in opening our eyes to the world around us.  Not only are we enriched by the joy and fascination of what we discover; we are also equipped, through our experiences, with greater resilience to weather our personal cares and sorrows.  The world is full of wonders untainted by our individual misfortunes.  Knowing this gives us perspective.  As we pay attention, we store away mental treasures to enjoy when our immediate circumstances seem drab or discouraging.

Are there places you think of when you want a quick imaginary getaway?  Mental snapshots of something lovely or memorable?  Hold these gems close when winter closes in, and let them spark anticipation of what the year might bring.  Feel free to share some of your favorite images that brighten cold or weary days.

One year ago today

Color forever

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Voices at the door

Doorway in Mykonos, May 2008

A doorway in Mykonos, Greece, May 2008.

“I sit beside the fire and think
Of all that I have seen
Of meadow flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair

I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see

For still there are so many things
That I have never seen
In every wood in every spring
There is a different green

I sit beside the fire and think
Of people long ago
And people that will see a world
That I shall never know

But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door” 

J.R.R. Tolkien

One year ago today

January beckons

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

So late so soon

Carla with clocks Dec 2002

Carla with a wall full of clocks at a bed and breakfast inn
in Placerville, California, December 2002.

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
Dr. Seuss

My sister Carla has been teaching children for nearly 40 years, and she shares my love for Dr. Seuss and all his wonderful, eminently sensible nonsense.  With deceptive simplicity, his rhymes capture some fairly deep concepts along with more mundane sentiments all of us feel, such as the one above.

You are probably wondering, as I am, how on earth the past year has slipped away so quickly.  For us it’s all the more amazing considering the trauma (foreseen and unforeseen) that came our way in 2013.  It would seem that such agonies would be remembered as dragging on, lasting forever, but we passed from crisis to crisis so quickly that we could hardly catch a breath in between. The nearly two months of 2013 that were passed in hospital settings were like some sort of alternate universe, where time vanished rapidly as we scarcely noticed.

We can say with certainty that this is one year we will end with no regrets at its passing, even with all the blessings it held.  Still, the joys of the year — the birth of our grandson, our quick getaways together, our amazed relief at all that Jeff has survived, and our gratitude for the friends and family, here and elsewhere, who kept us going — were rich indeed.

I hope that you, too, will end the year today with a sense of thankfulness (and maybe relief), as well as a feeling of optimism for 2014.  Your presence here this year has been a gift, one that will be remembered fondly as long as we live.

The clocks are ticking…the end of 2013 approaches.
Click here for a HAPPY NEW YEAR wish!

One year ago today

Ring out the false, ring in the true

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.

Divine pleasures

Our fireplace in Calfornia, January 2003

Mama and Daddy always had a roaring fire going during winter.

“Surely everyone is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a wintry fireside; candles at four o’clock, warm hearthrugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies to the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without.”
Thomas De Quincey

Before Jeff’s surgery in November, when he was disappointed at the thought of spending Thanksgiving in the hospital, I reminded him that winter would be the best time of year to be at home recovering.  We have enjoyed being indoors together on cold days, especially when it’s rainy or snowy.  If you are having winter weather where you live, I hope you will join me in a cup of hot tea, cocoa or coffee, a good book, some lively conversation, or just a companionable silence.  Winter can be nature’s way of telling us to slow down and take a break!

One year ago today

Silence so deep

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.

See all the good

If this field was full of flowers, that tulip would scarcely be noticed.  Washington, DC, April 2013

If the field was full of flowers, that tulip would scarcely be noticed. Washington, DC, April 2013

“Maybe all my days are filled with little miracles, but I’m too distracted by what I think is my life to notice them. Sometimes bad news is the best way to see all the good quickly and clearly.” Glennon Doyle Melton

When trouble hits, whether it’s catastrophic or just a series of mind-numbing irritations, it’s so easy to see everything through the filter of what is bothering us most.  The good news is, if we can break out of that tendency, we might be able to use the sorrow or anger or frustration to effect a complete reversal in what we see.  The absolutely glorious beauties or profound mercies or steadfast comforts that fill our lives will glow brightly against the backdrop of all that’s not going right.

If there’s anything troubling you today, anything sad or infuriating or tiresome or exhausting, I hope you can use that as a starting point to think about all the bad things that AREN’T happening, and from there it’s a short hop to all the good things that are still there, all around us though obscured by the noise of the negative.  I hope your day brings all the good into sharp and clear focus!

One year ago today

To see takes 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.

 

 

Success is stumbling

This seemed a fitting place to photgraph our fearless little Schipperke. Donner Memorial State Park, California, 2004

This seemed a fitting place to photograph our fearless little Schipperke.
Donner Memorial State Park, California, 2004

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Winston Churchill

One of my favorite places in California is the haunting Donner Memorial State Park near Truckee.  It’s beautiful country, but there’s an eerie stillness that lingers in memory of the tragic history of the Donner Party, for whom the park is named.  Even for the survivors who eventually reached their destination, life was anything but easy.  Yet they and other pioneers persisted in the face of one setback after another, and today we enjoy the fruits (literally and figuratively) of their efforts.

The park features a striking monument to all the trailblazers who ventured westward to settle in California.  Atop the tall stone memorial is a statue of a pioneer family, with the plaque pictured above at its base.  Though the engraved words feature archaic language, and bewildering line spacing and punctuation, the underlying tribute is clear.  It describes a strength of character to which we can all aspire.

As we embark on another year, I hope we will think of these words, which evoke traits that are powerful when linked: competence with kindness; bravery with benevolence.  Whatever we face in 2014, may the year find us indomitable, and unafraid.

One year ago today

Try again

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

The best remedy

A gull and a person, enjoying solitude at the beach. Dam Neck, Virginia, April 2010

A gull and a person, enjoying solitude at the beach. Dam Neck, Virginia, April 2010

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
Anne Frank

Think about it: those words were written by a young girl trapped indoors, hiding in an ultimately vain attempt to escape a fate even more cruel.  Her courageous example of how to defeat despair has inspired people all over the world.

Perhaps being deprived of the solace found in nature only served to give Anne a deeper appreciation of it.  Most of us have no reason to fear such deprivation, but we can learn from hers nonetheless.  I hope we will all take the advice of a young person who was wise beyond her years.  Let’s make time to exercise this freedom to go outside and rejoice, in honor of Anne and all like her who left a legacy of courage and optimism to light the way for us.

One year ago today

God’s furniture

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.

Beautiful and joyful

Historic furniture on display at Philadelphia Museum of Art, July 2007/

Historic furniture on display at Philadelphia Museum of Art, July 2007

“Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying.  The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.”Elise Boulding

I have been thinking that one of the reasons we rush about with so many activities during holiday seasons, is the sheer bliss of the relative calm when that rush is over.  Several people have spoken recently about the restful serenity of Christmas afternoon, and I have to admit that the older I grow, the more that respite becomes the sweetest part of the season for me.

In the same way, the over-abundance of blessings we feel at holiday seasons — food, gifts, joyous and lively time spent with loved ones — seem to lead naturally to a craving for quiet days and an almost sparse existence, at least temporarily.  Our thoughts may turn with some enthusiasm to our plans for clearing out our possessions, eating more sensibly, getting more rest, and making time for contemplative walks, thoughtful reading or daily devotional breaks.  We begin to sense the happiness of not having things, as Boulding described.

Perhaps this is part of the impulse that underlies the tradition of New Year’s resolutions, but such aspirations need not be formalized into well-defined goals.  We can use the natural rhythms of the seasons as a context for easing into neglected tasks or important plans that have been pushed to the back burner in the busyness of past weeks.  I hope you will find a way to bask in times of stillness during the final week of the year, and take at least a partial break from the typical day-to-day stress that crowds out nourishing rest, resolve and reflection.  May 2014 bring all of us increased awareness of the joys of frugality.

One year ago today

To select well

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Let us remember

Our York home at Christmas, 2009

Our York home at Christmas, 2009

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”  ―  Sigrid Undset

From our family to yours, we wish you a wonderful holiday season.  Thank you for the gift of your presence here with us, today and especially during the difficult months of the past year.  We pray you will all be blessed in 2014.

One year ago today

Unconditional joy

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

In the company of children

Our son and his son enjoy their Christmas tree, December 2013.

Our son and his son enjoy their Christmas tree, December 2013.

“Christmas Day in the company of children is one of the few occasions on which men become entirely alive.”Robert Lynd

This quote sounds charming, but I couldn’t help but laugh a little to recall how exhausted Jeff and I used to be during the years when Santa would visit our sons.  It always seemed that we were up half the night assembling toys, filling stockings and taking care of all the last minute preparations that couldn’t be done until the boys were soundly asleep. Just when we would think we were finished, there would be the dreaded “Hey, we forgot about ….” Even if we were entirely alive on Christmas Day, I doubt we were entirely awake!

Nevertheless, there’s nothing like the excitement of a child at Christmas.  Our adorable next-door neighbor in Alexandria, who started kindergarten this year, was telling me with wonder how she went to see Santa, and HE KNEW HER NAME!!  I told her that Santa was an exceptionally smart guy.  Talking with her about old St. Nick was almost enough to make me want to sit down and write him a wish list myself.

Of course, Christmas Eve is the most magical night of the season, and I have such happy memories of the times during childhood when I went to sleep with “visions of sugarplums” dancing in my head.  Even now that I’m an adult who is VERY grateful to be old enough to sleep soundly on Christmas Eve, something of the delight remains, and it’s still my favorite day of the year.

Today, I wish you the ability to see Christmas through the eyes of a child…whether your own young ones, your children’s children, your neighbors or friends, or the child who is still very much alive in all of us.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

One year ago today

Joy shall be yours

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An act of recollection

Visiting friends enjoy Tammy's train set, December 2009.

Visiting friends enjoy Tammy’s train set, Yorktown, Virginia, December 2009.

“The Polar Express was the easiest of my picture book manuscripts to write… Once I realized the train was going to the North Pole, finding the story seemed less like a creative effort than an act of recollection. I felt, like the story’s narrator, that I was remembering something, not making it up.”Chris Van Allsburg

If you’ve read Van Allsburg’s wonderful book (which is far more appealing than the movie that was inspired by it) you can probably identify with his description of that magical sense of “remembering” something that was purely fantasy, as if it has really happened.  I don’t know why trains in particular seem to go so well with Christmas, but there’s probably more than one reason why so many people set up toy train sets during the holidays.

Another favorite at Christmas is the imaginary Christmas village.  I have a tiny one that I seldom set up anymore, but I love seeing them in shops and especially in people’s homes.  The author of one of the blogs I follow has posted a detailed tour of her own Christmas village, so we can enjoy this magical miniature world through her efforts; see her video embedded below.  Thanks to Chris Van Allsburg,  Ingrid Schlueter and others who understand that we can travel in our imagination to places unavailable to us by any other road.

One year ago today

You can’t buy Christmas

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The diamond-frosted clasp

I snapped this photo out the window of Jeff's hospital floor at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda. Maryland, December 9, 2013

Outside the window of Jeff’s hallway at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
Bethesda. Maryland, December 9, 2013

“December, the diamond-frosted clasp linking twelve jeweled months to yet another year.”Phyllis Nicholson

While most of us associate December with the holiday festivities, there is also the winding down of the calendar year, and a sense of wonder about how fast the months flew by, whether we were having fun or not.

I can say without reservation that I am looking forward to the next twelve months with far more hope and anticipation than I felt at this time last year.  Still, I’m never unaware that we cannot know what will lie ahead of us in 2014.  For all who visit here, those I have known for years, those I have come to know through your comments and visits, and those I don’t yet know about, I wish for you a year of jeweled months and sparkling moments.  Thanks for sharing our lives since November 2012.  You have made these months much brighter for me.

One year ago today

The gift not yet opened

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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