The true traveler

Jeff, Matt and Drew strolling in Philadelphia, July 2007

Jeff, Matt and Drew strolling in Philadelphia, July 2007

“The true traveler is he who goes on foot, and even then, he sits down a lot of the time.” Colette

Of all the reasons I love walking, travel may be the most lasting.  I have done a good bit of traveling since I was a girl, and as far back as I can remember, the most remarkable things I saw were seen on foot and not through the window of a tour bus.  I am fascinated by the accounts of those who traverse a country or even a continent on foot.  I think it would be wonderful to have that much time to simply take in new surroundings every day.

Of course, as Colette points out, part of the secret lies in taking the time.  Very few of us will be able to spend a month or even a week traveling on foot, but I encourage you to experiment with walking at times you might normally drive or ride.  You’ll see things in a whole new way, and you might even find interesting discoveries that await, now unknown to you, just outside your front door, down your street or in your home town.

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 palace untouched

December 2002 photo of sea anemones from the Monterey Aquarium

This December 2002 photo of sea anemones from the Monterey Aquarium
is one of the first digital photos I ever took.

“A palace untouched by human hand, with its gardens of rock and water where living creatures play the part of flowers…” Philippe Diole

Reading descriptions of the form and function of the sea anemone brings to mind horror movies or frightful science fiction.  “Venom-filled tentacles…harpoon-like filament…paralyzing neurotoxin…helpless prey.” Really?  But look how beautiful they are.  Which somehow makes them even more eerie.

I prefer to think of them in the far more appealing terms used by Diole. These creatures certainly do appear to play the undersea part of the flowers for which they were named, and I’m thankful to be able to see them in all their colorful glory…through the thick glass of an aquarium tank.  Diole and his colleague, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, have given us a front row seat to some of the most amazing phenomena of nature, sans discomfort, expense or danger on our part.

Every day we benefit from the daring and diligence of bold explorers and the conscientious curators of their discoveries.  I hope you will make time soon to browse through a big colorful book, or maybe even visit a museum, to enjoy the wonders of environments far different from the ones with which you’re familiar.

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.

Irrevocably a reader

Drew and Matt in 1991, very different minds but both irrevocable readers.

Drew and Matt in 1991, very different minds but both irrevocable readers.

“At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers—shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.”
Alberto Manguel

It’s never to late to have this magical instant happen in your life.  It doesn’t matter if you were a poor reader in school.  It doesn’t matter if you weren’t the academic star.  It doesn’t matter if your present circumstances are limited.  Reading can soothe or stimulate your mind, feed your imagination and set you free from isolation, boredom and despair.  If you can read these words, you can open the door to visit new universes.  What a magnificent gift; an unparalleled opportunity to grow.  Go for it!

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.

Make them carry you

A windmill at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, August 2005

A windmill at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, August 2005

“If the winds of fortune are temporarily blowing against you, remember that you can harness them and make them carry you toward your definite purpose, through the use of your imagination.”Napoleon Hill

Windmills are a visually appealing reminder that forces beyond our control can be turned to good purpose.  Wind-driven machines have been around in some form for centuries, in many different parts of the world.  Over time they evolved to become increasingly sophisticated and efficient at grinding grain and pumping water.  Their value grew with these refinements until new technologies rendered them largely obsolete.

I can’t help but wonder whether any of today’s innovations will ever appear as quaint and decorative as the historic windmills that survive today, some of which have been restored to functional operation.  Next time you see a windmill, let it remind you of what is possible when we learn to manage and adapt to uncontrollable circumstances, turning random or unpredictable events into opportunities for healing and growth.

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.

Daylight in the mind

I photographed these sunflowers at San Juan Capistrano in July 2004

I photographed these sunflowers at Mission San Juan Capistrano in July 2004

“Cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity.” —  Joseph Addison

Have you ever had one of those days when you felt angry at the world?  Maybe even for no particular reason?  It’s awful to be caught in that cycle of negativity that seems to just spiral down, down, down.  At such times, perhaps a bit of forced cheerfulness would help.

Easier said than done, of course, but at least there are plenty of ways to deliberately elevate the mood.  Unfortunately, we sometimes choose the wrong refuge when we feel out of sorts.  I think it’s wise to make some premeditated decisions about how to handle– or NOT handle– your next episode of doom, gloom, or discontent.

Bad idea: collapse in front of the TV and zone out on whatever it sends your way: noisy commercials, depressing re-runs, or overly dramatized “tragic news!”

Good idea: choose a funny video to watch, do a word search for “hilarious pet videos” on YouTube, or look at some of the happiest photos you can find.

Bad idea: consume an entire bag of chips, box of donuts, or carton of ice cream (eating directly out of the container, of course)

Good idea: savor a cup of coffee or tea, a piece of fruit, or a single really delicious piece of chocolate

Bad idea: complain, procrastinate, and generally wallow in the muddy mire of your worst circumstances

Good idea: take a walk with some energetic tunes on your portable player, dance to some funky music, or tackle a project you’ve been avoiding and promise yourself a reward when you finish – then DO it!

If it’s a dark and stormy night in your mind, remember that you have the power to switch on the daylight.  It may feel awkward and fake at first, but chances are you really will end up in a happier place than when you started.  Send me a smile!

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 incubator of the spirit

The Lincoln Memorial provides a space for solitude in crowded DC, April 2012

The Lincoln Memorial provides a space for solitude in crowded DC, April 2012

“The great omission in American life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space, free from the outside pressures, which is the incubator of the spirit.” Marya Mannes

I relish solitude, but loneliness is one of the most painful emotions I know of.  It’s tricky at times to figure out where the difference lies, but I think loneliness comes over us when we feel as if no one understands, knows or cares about what we are experiencing.  When I maintain ties to people I love– which takes mutual time and effort– I can experience endless hours of solitude and love every minute.

Perhaps solitude is increasingly omitted from American life partly because most of us do fear loneliness.  But ironically, as Mannes points out, loneliness is never more troublesome than when we feel it in the midst of a crowd.

I believe that part of the allure of the admittedly risky profusion of online social networking lies in the ability to connect to others with whom we share common thoughts, impressions and emotions.  While online contact can never take the place of face-to-face interaction, it does allow us to gather into “tribes” of other humans who have similar interests, burdens, challenges or goals.  This sharing adds a wonderful dimension to life for many of us who connect through words and photos.

Still, it’s important to leave “that zone of time and space” apart from the noise of life.  Many of us are fortunate to have spouses, friends or family members who understand and honor our need for solitude.  With such companions, or alone, I hope you will find some time and space today for your spirit to be nourished by quiet.

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.

Joy untroubled

Mama's cockatiel, Pumpkin, loved to eat off Daddy's plate. August 2005

Mama’s cockatiel, Pumpkin, loved to eat off Daddy’s plate. August 2005

“Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I don’t know of anything that can lighten the mood as much as a cute or playful animal.  I realize many situations make it impossible to have a pet in the home, but I hope everyone has the chance to make friends with at least one or two animals, even if you have to visit other people’s pets.  The therapeutic effect of interacting with an animal can cut through stress with a relaxing joy not found anywhere else.

During the long months of Jeff’s chemotherapy, we would occasionally have delightful visits with some of the therapy dogs that work at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.  The dogs were polite and well trained, really impressive with their obedience to their handlers and their sociable approaches to each person in the room.  Seeing the dogs in their military garb (wearing camouflage jackets with ranks and other insignias) always brought a smile to our faces.  They spread cheer to so many people facing illness and sorrow.

Your animal friends might be wild birds and squirrels, farm chickens, sheep or goats, or a household bird, fish, cat, or dog.  Whatever creature you choose (or whatever chooses you), I wish you the peace, comfort, laughter and fun of watching an animal today.

Related Posts

Curiosity conquers fear

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.

Flowers are the music

Edelweiss Lodge Garden 2005

A garden at the Edelweiss Lodge, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, August 2005

“Flowers are the music of the ground…”Edwin Curran

For many Americans my age or older, it’s almost impossible to visit the Bavarian Alps without remembering the opening scenes from the movie The Sound of Music.  So Curran’s quote seemed appropriate for this photo of a garden in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  If you’ve ever been to Bavaria in the summer, you know that the hills and villages really are alive, and not just with the sound of music, but also the sight of it.  Seemingly everywhere, there are symphonies of flowers in all colors, decorating buildings with charming window boxes, and lining the walkways with bright borders.

The breathtaking Alpine views would be gorgeous enough without added beauty, but the locals must have been so inspired by living amid such scenery that they have created towns that complement rather than detract from the natural splendor.  The picturesque shutters and balconies of the chalets are a perfect enhancement to the stunning backdrop of the mountains. But it’s the flowers that bring the scenes to life, completing the fairy-tale enchantment of this beautiful part of the world.

Flowers add visual music everywhere, of course.  What are your local flowers playing today?  Take some time to enjoy “listening” to their songs!

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 cure for anything

A beach in Barbados, one of my favorite islands, March 2010.

A beach in Barbados, one of my favorite islands, March 2010.

“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.” —Isak Dinesen

The more I think about Dinesen’s quote, the more true it seems.  Not that I’m fond of sweat or tears, but I have lived long enough to know that both are usually beneficial, no matter how unwelcome.  But the sea?  Now that’s my kind of cure.

There’s no place on earth where I more easily forget what time it is, where I slip so quickly into some alternate reality in which nothing that seemed important before can interest me more than wondering what might wash up with the very next wave.  Heedless of the ticking clock, of gradual sunburn or the endless to-do list waiting for me at home, I usually have to be dragged away by some practical companion (and we all know who he is) who realizes when not enough is too much.

I don’t even swim well, and rarely go more than ankle-deep into the waves, but I could walk along the shoreline for hours and never tire of it, or lie basking in the sun’s glow, with a soft breeze keeping me cool enough to want to stay just one more hour.

Once when I was very young, my sister showed me how you could hold a large shell up to your ear and hear the sound of the ocean.  I don’t even need the shell to do that anymore.  I can just close my eyes for a few seconds and be there in my imagination.  Try it — and take the cure!

A special thanks:

Today is my 200th daily post.  Over six months ago I wondered how I would survive all the bad news we were getting, but this blog has been crucial to my ability to keep coping with everything we have dealt with and will be dealing with in the months to come.  I am so grateful for our shared awareness of how many reasons we have to be thankful. 

Thanks so much to all readers for your kinds words, prayers, comments, and visits here.  You are a blessing to us!

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 walk will do more good

My friend Kathy and I enjoyed an afternoon walk around the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, April 2008.

My friend Kathy and I enjoyed an afternoon walk at the Arch in St. Louis, April 2008.

“A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.”  —   Paul Dudley White

My own experience bears out the truth of Dr. White’s observation.  I can’t say enough about how much walking helps me.  It clears my over-stimulated brain, lifts my spirits and puts me in contact with my neighbors and my neighborhood.  When I’m traveling, it shows me more about the place I am visiting than any tour ever could.   It gives me time to enjoy music or books in audio format, and I’ve listened to unabridged versions of literally hundreds of books on my walks.

Besides all this, walking has helped keep my weight down, my cholesterol and blood sugar levels lower (I was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago) and has helped to remedy my lifelong problems with insomnia.  And it actually ends up saving me a good bit of gas money when I regularly choose to walk to close destinations such as shops, the post office or the grocery store.

I didn’t start with five miles, of course.  I started with one to two miles and worked up as I felt the immense benefits.  Now it’s an important part of every day for me. Time rarely allows me more than two or three miles anymore, but I hope to work back up to five daily someday.

If you are among those of us who dislike weightlifting, gyms and exercise machines, try walking.  For me, it’s been easier to stick to than any other form of exercise.  It’s one of those rare opportunities to have great fun while improving my physical, mental and financial health.  Spring is a great time get started!

This post was originally published seven years and two days ago today. The date was adjusted this year to allow the 2013 Memorial Day post to be re-published on that holiday.

I’m just now getting back to walking regularly, having lost that habit along with much else in the aftermath of Jeff’s death. On the plus side, I also lost the diabetes diagnosis. After three years of my A1C blood levels consistently staying in the normal range, my doctors confirmed I no longer have diabetes, and I’ve stayed free of it (with continued dietary changes) ever since. I think walking had a lot to do with that. My blood sugar levels are still on the high side of normal, so I need to get back to walking longer distances.

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.

More than logical

Drew and Matt at the FDR Memorial in Washington DC, December 2004

Drew and Matt at the FDR Memorial in Washington DC, December 2004

“If we were logical, the future would be bleak, indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope…” Jacques Yves Cousteau

I’m a great fan of logic.  My highest scores on the GRE and other standardized tests were always in the “analytical thinking” category.  Nevertheless, I agree with Cousteau that life would be bleak indeed if we were bound by the limits of our own reasoning, which is often flawed or incomplete.

This is not to imply that faith and hope are exclusive of reason; it simply means that logic will only take us so far.  In times of sorrow or despair, I’ve found that logic often reinforces my grief, especially when there are overwhelming and unavoidable circumstances playing havoc with my soul.  At such times, faith and hope become essential to survival.

Beyond mere survival, however, faith and hope provide the energy and incentive to keep moving forward through an uncertain future.  As Cousteau suggests, these qualities have enabled progress throughout human history, and will continue to be indispensable.

If you are facing difficulties or sorrows today, I wish you the faith and hope to look beyond the bleak realities that trouble you, and to believe that better days lie ahead.  Reach out for the prayers and encouragement of others, here or elsewhere, and offer your support to people you know who may be struggling.  Together, we can overcome.

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.

Their courage

In memory of Earl Glenn Cobeil, my April 2012 visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

In memory of Earl Glenn Cobeil, my April 2012 visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“The brave die never, though they sleep in dust:
  Their courage nerves a thousand living men.”Minot J. Savage

In April 2012, I planned to take some visiting relatives to Washington DC, where they would spend the day sightseeing.  I decided that, after dropping them off in town,  I would stop by Arlington National Cemetery, where a good friend of ours was interred in 2011.  I also wanted to visit the grave of Earl Glenn Cobeil, whose POW bracelet I had worn while I was in high school.

In the decades since I first wept over the news that Colonel Cobeil had died in captivity, I had often sought information about him but still knew very little.  On one of my visits to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (known as “The Wall”) I had learned a few facts, including the notation that he was buried at Arlington, so I wanted to find out where his grave would be.  Before leaving home that day, I made what I thought would be a brief search online to find his grave’s location.

In searching for this information, I came across the devastating truth about the savage and unrelenting torture that had led to his death.  A long-buried grief stabbed at my heart again as I realized that my worst fears for this man had been less horrible than what actually happened to him.   The one bright spot amid this sorrow was the discovery of contact information for his family.  I resolved to write to them, and after visiting Arlington that day, walked across the bridge and into DC to The Wall.

Before taking a photo of his name there, I pulled out a tissue and polished the surface surrounding the engraved letters.  A photographer with an SLR and a tripod approached me, telling me he had made “some really good photos” of me, apparently for a newspaper.  I asked him if he would take a photo with my camera, and he agreed.  “Touch the wall again,” he said, and I reached up and put my fingers under the name.

After taking the photo, he asked me why I was there; whether this was a family member or friend who was lost in the war.  I explained to him about the POW bracelet I had worn, as had so many others in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and briefly described what I had just learned that day about how Colonel Cobeil died.  I thanked him for his interest and for the photo.  Later, I left this tribute at the Virtual Wall, one among many others for a man I never knew, but will never forget.

I did contact his wife Patricia, now remarried, and she called me.  We had a wonderful conversation, as well as further written correspondence.  In talking with her I mused that, during the years I wore the bracelet, I could never have imagined that I myself would someday be married to an Air Force Colonel.  What I also never imagined was the heartbreaking news Jeff and I would soon receive about his stage IV cancer.  During the very difficult early days of coming to terms with his grim prognosis and the hard battle that lay ahead for him, the courage of Colonel and Mrs. Cobeil was an inspiration and source of strength to me.

Today, I hope we all will take time to remember the brave sacrifices of countless people whose names and faces we will never know, as well as those we have loved who are no longer here with us on earth.  May their legacy live on in those of us who have been blessed by their example.

This post was originally published on Memorial Day, seven years ago. My husband Jeff now is buried a short stroll away from Colonel Cobeil’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. It was on our visit to Colonel Cobeil’s grave in July 2012 that Jeff, admiring the peaceful, well-kept grounds and hallowed atmosphere, told me that he wanted us to be buried there someday, never dreaming that “someday” would come all too soon. Less than three months later, we received the grim news that metastatic tumors were found on his liver, and weeks later, he was given a terminal diagnosis.

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 promise of the city

Here I am in the heart of Manhattan, loving every minute. May 2007

Here I am in the heart of Manhattan, loving every minute. May 2007

“…in New York I am always wondering, ‘Who are you?’ and it is the promise of the city with its many stories that keeps me coming back like an avid reader dazzled by the library shelves.” Julia Cameron

I have always loved New York, even back in the 70’s when it wasn’t doing so well.  The first few times I went there, part of the fun was seeing so many of the things I’d read about for years.  But mostly, the sheer density of it amazed me.  People, businesses, buildings were packed together so tightly that the same bookstores and coffee shop chains would have establishments only blocks apart.  Everything was moving, alive.  The diversity of sights and sounds was stimulating, and the discoveries engaging and delightful.

Cities seem to be growing more and more like each other now, with large chains swallowing up the local businesses and obliterating their unique personalities.  But there are still things that can be seen and experienced only in New York.  It may have been bumped down the list somewhat on my roster of favorite destinations, but every time I go there, I fall in love with it again.

If you’re living in a city or visiting there today, I hope you have a fabulous day full of the sort of energy generated by urban rhythms.  If you are far from the city, try channeling at least a bit of its wonderful intensity to jump-start your imagination and productivity.  Thanks to technology, we can bring at least some of the excitement to wherever we happen to be.

This post was originally published seven years ago today, and I still love NYC as much as I ever did. My most recent visit to Manhattan was in November 2019, not long before COVID-19 slammed it so unmercifully. I hope and pray that it will not be too much longer before I will feel safe enough to take another trip to the city that fascinated me long before I ever saw it with my own eyes.

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.

But then you read

When we sailed on the Celebrity Summit in March 2011, our cabin was two doors down from this lovely little library.

Aboard the Celebrity Summit in March 2011, our cabin was near this lovely little library.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”  — James Baldwin

Although it took me quite awhile to realize it, I connect with people primarily through reading and writing.  Even as a child I wrote long letters to friends, and had pen pals who lived close enough that we could have talked on the phone for free (back in the days when long distance was EXPENSIVE).  But talking on the phone was not the same as reading or writing a letter.  And there was nothing in the world like reading a book.

No matter how strange or different I felt, when I read books I knew I was not alone.  That’s why I identified so deeply with this quote from Baldwin.  Books for me were and are a safe place, where I can encounter a new idea and ponder it without being immediately questioned or asked to respond.  It is also wonderful to feel as if I know people who lived decades and even centuries ago, just by reading their heartfelt words.  There are many authors, living or dead, who seem more familiar to me than some of the people I see on a weekly basis.

Written correspondence (online or via good old-fashioned snail mail) has something magical about it. There are no distracting facial expressions or vocal tones to color the meaning of the words, and this is a tricky thing that can work for or against us.  For that reason, I think we tend to take a bit more care with what we write than we do with what we say.  That’s not to say that written words cannot be vicious or defamatory, but when they are written, we can more easily destroy them or ignore them, and keep them at a distance.  Likewise, when we read words that are wonderfully encouraging or inspiring, we can keep them and go back to them again and again, not relying on memory or video as we must with the spoken word.

I hope you will carve out some time, today and every day, to engage in at least some communication through reading or writing. May you find it as rewarding as I do!

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.

An honor to live

To those who live and work nearby, Washington DC is ordinary and familiar. March 2013

To those who live and work nearby, Washington DC is ordinary and familiar. March 2013

“I am grateful for my daily life; it is an honor to live it.  My day-to-day routine holds many mysteries, even though it has become ordinary and comfortable to me.” 
Steve Deger

No matter where we travel, Jeff and I always try to get off the tourist path for at least a few hours, and go where the locals go: the grocery stores and libraries and pubic transportation.  It’s a source of unending fascination to me that people in contrasting locations and circumstances live lives that are strikingly familiar in many ways.  How fun to imagine that people go about “normal” lives in places such as Paris, Bermuda, Alaska or the Caribbean.  Yet many might find my life, dividing my time between two very different sorts of homes, to be somewhat exotic as well.

I know I might get an argument here, but I think each of us lives an interesting life.  Even if there is nothing glamorous about one’s daily routine, it is completely unique, and that’s enough to make it interesting to me.  The masters of art and literature evidently agree with me, because most of the greatest works, though set in different eras and locations, illuminate the lives of everyday people.

The author Jan Karon has said that she writes “to celebrate the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives.”  I love that thought.  I find that same beauty in the countless blogs I have seen, each with something unique to offer.  Today, I hope you will be able to recognize the poetry of your own existence, and treasure the honor of being able to live it.

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 sense of the beautiful

I enjoyed the stunning portraiture of Annie Leibovitz at a show in San Francisco, November 2003

I enjoyed the stunning portraiture of Annie Leibovitz in San Francisco, November 2003

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In the centuries since Goethe penned this sound advice, it has become infinitely easier to do the things he suggests.  In fact, one can do all of them in a short session at the computer.  The problem we face today is sorting through all the wholesome and unwholesome distractions that threaten to derail our attention to the beautiful.  Besides which, though the computer is definitely the most convenient way to enjoy great works, it can never replace the joy of physically strolling through a gallery, sitting in the audience at an orchestra or theater performance, or relaxing with a book of poetry in bed or in an outdoor setting.

In an age where people are given to neglecting the health of the body, it’s not surprising that nourishment of the mind and soul also languish.  Just as our stomach sends us unmistakable messages that tell us when it’s time to eat, so the agitation and conflict we often feel tell us that we need to take time to feed our minds and our souls.  I hope you will make time, today and every day, to heed your sense of the beautiful calling you to a higher awareness.

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.

Expect nothing

These snapdragons weren't supposed to come back, but they reappear every year. May 2013

These snapdragons weren’t supposed to come back, but they reappear every year. May 2013

“Expect nothing.  Live frugally
On surprise.”Alice Walker

It may seem contradictory for a self-proclaimed optimist to quote Walker’s counsel to expect nothing, but there is very real difference between expectation and optimism. Admittedly, optimism involves some expectation, but it is mostly of a general sort. We expect that joy lies ahead if we are willing to cooperate by actively seeking for good. We expect that our faith will eventually be proven as well-founded. Beyond that, though, it’s a bit fuzzy.

If we expect a new car, a palatial home or always a little bit more than we currently have, optimism is crowded out by a feeling of entitlement. If we give our love with expectation of commensurate return, that’s a risky proposition at best. If we serve with the expectation of gratitude, our service will be more likely to taint our relationships with selfishness.

I’ve found that the most delightful gifts are those that are wholly unexpected. The snapdragons pictured above have become one of my favorite plants, primarily because they have come back again every year without my expecting it. When I bought that particular plant years ago, I was told it was an annual. I planted one or two six packs of tiny seedlings and figured I would enjoy them for a year at most.

The next year, two of them came back, a yellow one and this pink one. The yellow plant has barely hung on, flowering sparsely in recent years, but the pink one gets bigger, blooms earlier and lasts longer each year. Every year they come back, I count it an unexpected gift. There’s no more frugal surprise than a volunteer plant that returns to decorate our lives without added expense or effort.

Living frugally is its own reward, and as Walker affirms in her lovely poem linked above, the frugal life is full of charming surprises.

This post was originally published seven years ago today. The lovely snapdragons pictured above succumbed to an early frost less than a year after this was published, and have never appeared again. I’m glad I photographed them while they were still alive.

The message of Walker’s poem, linked above at her name, is perhaps the best advice I could have given myself for the past seven years, and seems even more wise as the attitude I must adopt for the future. 

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.

Mind and soul

A December 2004 photo of Washington National Cathedral, built in knowledge inspired by faith

A December 2004 photo of our National Cathedral, built in knowledge and reverence

“Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before,
But vaster.” —  Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Several miles from the palaces of knowledge found at the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington National Cathedral stands in a quiet residential area seldom congested with the throngs that crowd the monuments and museums.  Its lovely architecture, stained glass and surrounding gardens offer a setting conducive to quiet contemplation, set apart from the hectic schedules and political battles of our nation’s capital.

Reverence is a quality that often seems in short supply.  In contemporary movies and on television, God’s name is spoken primarily as a conversational byword, an exclamation of surprise or emphasis.  But this disregard of spiritual sanctity does not bode well for our world.  While it’s true that many evils have been perpetrated under the banner of false or misguided religion, human progress throughout history has been inextricably and undeniably bound up with deeds of courage and compassion enacted by people who lived by faith in a God of wisdom, justice and love.

I believe it’s a mistake to see faith and reason as mutually exclusive.  Indeed, many of the greatest minds in history have described how their knowledge served only to deepen their faith.  I am grateful today for the knowledge and reverence of those whose sacrificial devotion has made the world a better place for all of us.  May we have the wisdom to rejoice that truth lives, despite all efforts to silence or destroy it.

This post was originally published seven years ago today. Whatever changes are wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, I pray we all will live more reverently, deliberately and humbly. May we be more aware of our own limitations, and how very much could go wrong all the time, every day, yet does not. 

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 ultimate sophistication

The Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri, April 2008

The Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri, April 2008

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”Leonardo Da Vinci

Though I’ve confessed to my love of ornamentation, I also admire artists who can produce memorable works with clean lines and few details.  Often this type of art has to grow on me over time, as with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, commonly known as “The Wall.”  But sometimes, the simplicity of a design is so perfect as to command instant admiration.  The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is high on my list of such works.  It looks beautiful from any angle, striking from a distance and remarkable up close.

Simplicity of design or function is all around us, but is inherently easy to miss.  When I pay enough attention to notice it, I am usually inspired to work a little harder on my continual battle to de-clutter my life.  Whether it’s a building, a room, a functional object or someone’s outfit, simplicity can turn down the noise in my mind and increase my productivity by helping me focus.  I hope you will be able to enjoy and appreciate at least a few such designs today.

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.

Here to change the world

Mom had just had eye surgery, but with Jeff's help, she was able to enjoy a lovely day at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in March 2012

Mom had just had eye surgery, but with Jeff’s help, she was able to enjoy
a lovely day at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in March 2012

“We are here to change the world with small acts of thoughtfulness done daily rather than with one great dramatic leap in results.”Rabbi Harold Kushner

Everyone loves to see results.  There’s nothing more satisfying than completing a major project or putting the final touches on something we’ve labored over for weeks.  But in reality, our most important jobs will never be done.  Living daily with faith, reverence and humility will always be a challenge, and treating others as we want to be treated will often require patience and stamina.

We aren’t likely to get much honor or applause for the details involved in being thoughtful to others.  We all want to change the world for the better, but we probably won’t see dramatic improvement when we make time to care, up close and personally, about one individual at a time.

The good news is that small acts of kindness create synergy that comes back to us, making joyful occasions even happier, and easing the tension in frustrating situations.  Thoughtfulness becomes its own reward as we travel through life surrounded with our own portable atmosphere of good will.

We may never see the effect of our actions on the world at large, but that’s not where we live anyway; we’re needed elsewhere.  Fortunately, our power to make a difference is located right where we happen to be today; in our families, our neighborhoods, our communities.  Whose paths will cross yours today?  Whose world can you change?

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.

Security or opportunity?

Out of the walls and through the gate: Amy goes exploring with me in Ypres (Ieper) Belgium, one March evening in 2007

Out of the walls and through the gate:
Amy goes exploring with me in Ypres (Ieper) Belgium, one March evening in 2007

“There is no security on this earth.  Only opportunity.” General Douglas MacArthur

“Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity; they seem more afraid of life than of death.”James F. Byrnes

There’s nothing like watching or reading the news to create feelings of insecurity.  Violence erupts all over the globe, and some stories will be endlessly repeated, as if to milk every bit of air time possible out of the chapters and verses of the unfolding tales of evil.  But there is really no place to go that is completely secure, and even if you’re locked up tight in the self-imposed prison of your home, illness and injury can strike you there as well.

I’m one of those people who gets defiant when threatened.  The more dangerous the outside world sounds, the more determined I am not to shrink from it in fear.  The interesting thing is, I think this attitude makes me safer than if I was always running from my own shadow.  And even if boldness does not make my life safer, at least it’s way more interesting to be out there exploring than hiding in a closet someplace.  I take plenty of common-sense precautions, but I don’t cancel trips or avoid going downtown because of scary things I hear on the news.

Whether your worst fears are of physical danger or psychological intimidation, I wish for you the boldness to face squarely whatever it is that terrifies you.  You may need courage to make travel plans, make a speech or make a new friend, but the rewards of overcoming the paralysis of anxiety are many and self-sustaining.  And you’ll be bolstered by the discovery that there are plenty more friendly people than unfriendly ones.  We’re out here, waiting to meet you!

This post was originally published seven years ago today, yet it seems strangely appropriate during a scenario I could never have imagined when I wrote it. This post may find you venturing gradually back into the wider world, or trying to summon the courage to go someplace besides the grocery store. Just as I did seven years ago today, “I wish for you the boldness to face squarely whatever it is that terrifies you.”

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.

Nature’s way

The party at Keukenhof (in the Netherlands) was well underway in this photo taken in late March 2007

The party at Keukenhof (in the Netherlands) was underway in this photo from March 2007

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'” Robin Williams

Surely by now, warm spring weather has started to arrive in even the chilliest parts of the northern hemisphere.  Better late than never! What can we do to celebrate springtime this week?   Take a walk, plan a picnic, visit a park.  Make some lemonade, bake some cookies (before it gets too hot to turn on the oven), call friends and invite them for a cookout.  Or just sit outside and bask in the return of warmer weather.  Whatever you do, I wish you joy.  May the springtime weather lift our spirits and bring hope to our hearts!

This post was originally published seven years ago today. By now, you may or may not be allowed to do any of the social activities mentioned above. Of all the things I take for granted, I never imagined being restricted– by law, of all things– from seeing friends in person. How strange the world has become! But we can still find ways to party, as some of the things mentioned above can be done in social isolation.

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 unexpected

This freight train obviously had the right of way! Santa Cruz, California, 2003

This freight train obviously had the right of way! Santa Cruz, California, 2003

“Look how often the unexpected happens – and yet we still never expect it!”
Ashleigh Brilliant

There’s never a shortage of surprises in California, and that’s part of why it was so much fun to live there. One sunny day in Santa Cruz, we were waiting in line at a four-way intersection, assuming the traffic backup was just the normal beach crowds. But then we saw something we’d never seen before, and haven’t seen since: a freight train coming right down the center of the city street, which trains apparently share with cars whenever they pass through.

Nobody around us seemed fazed by it, so it was obviously business as usual around there. But we got a real kick out of having a long freight train pass by our car windows so closely that we could have almost reached out and touched it. I image that the fun of it wears off pretty quickly for those who live there, but for us, it was a delightful surprise.

Today, I wish you something fun, friendly or at least interesting– and unexpected!

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 vast early warning

Jeff and Matt at Jamestown, Virginia, August 2005

Jeff and Matt at Jamestown, Virginia, August 2005

“A nation that forgets its past can function no better than an individual with amnesia.”
David McCullough

“History is a vast early warning system.”Norman Cousins

Living in the “historic triangle” of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown has only sharpened my already considerable interest in history.  I’ve never understood how anyone could find history boring.  Its stories, so full of drama in the condensed versions we are able to piece together, answer some questions and raise others.  With the benefit of centuries of hindsight, it’s pretty easy to see a lot of mistakes that led to tragedy, and we can always hope that at least some of them won’t be unnecessarily repeated.  At the same time, it’s hard not to be grateful that our ancestors were tough, strong and courageous enough to blaze many trails that made things easier for us today.

Few stories from history are more fraught with warnings than the settlement of Jamestown.  Without going into the details, let’s just say that it was far from an unqualified success, and the failures, suffering and death are well documented.  Yet 13 years ago, on the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, contemporary Virginians and visiting dignitaries (including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England) attended many commemorative events in a year-long schedule of celebration.

Perhaps the mere presence of descendants who are around to honor such dubious and painful beginnings is a tribute to the determination that humanity still displays when faced with opportunity and peril.  What will future generations remember about us? Let’s do what we can to leave a legacy befitting people who learned some of history’s hardest lessons, and created happier examples for our great-great-great grandchildren’s benefit.

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.

When you finally see

Jeff and the boys at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, December 27, 2002

Jeff and the boys at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, December 27, 2002

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.” — Dave Barry

I’ve always found it interesting that some of the most marvelous sights in our universe were unknown to humans for many centuries. I’m not talking primarily about outer space. I’m talking about the undersea world, which is every bit as fascinating and terrifying to me. Because I have a healthy fear of spending much time underwater depending on SCUBA gear to breathe, probably the closest I’ll get to seeing the wonders of ocean life is visiting a good aquarium.

There are many wonderful museums that feature marine biology, but the best one we’ve visited is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, located on the stunning Pacific coast just north of Big Sur in California. I could easily spend an entire day just admiring the views of the water’s surface there, but as Dave Barry says, the real show is underneath. Large, clear and well-lit tanks will give you views of all the dolphins, sharks, jellyfish, rays, fish and turtles you could ask for, and if you get tired of deep sea life, you can always enjoy the delightful antics of the scene-stealing sea otters.

The undersea creatures are so unique in their many colors, forms, and patterns of movement that watching them never fails to underscore my belief that our planet is the work of an amazing Creator of unfathomable (no pun intended) power, love, enthusiasm and passion for life. I hope you can make some time to visit an aquarium near you, and enjoy getting to know a small part of the vast drama that unfolds daily, largely unobserved and unexplored, over 71% of the Earth’s surface.

This post was originally published on May 10, 2013. Since that date fell on Mother’s Day this year, I have swapped the two post dates to fit the theme. 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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