A new kind of action

Eric took this photo from the cockpit of his T-37 while flying in close-trail formation. Too close for comfort!

Eric (at age 20 or 21) took this photo from the cockpit of his T-37 during training,
while flying in close-trail formation. Too close for comfort!

“The defense force inside of us wants us to be cautious, to stay away from anything as intense as a new kind of action.  Its job is to protect us, and it categorically avoids anything resembling danger.  But it is often wrong.”Barbara Sher

I don’t know about you, but just looking at the photo posted above makes me a bit nervous.  I get edgy enough when there’s not a lot of following distance between me and the car just ahead, but an airplane?  No wonder I never became a pilot!

That photo was taken during a crucially important early stage of my brother’s successful and rewarding career in aviation.  There might be a part of him that wonders why he was not more afraid of an adventure so obviously risky, but if you asked him, I imagine he would tell you he has no regrets.  Easy for me to say that in hindsight, knowing that he survived and thrived. If he had not survived pilot training (as more than one of his fellow pilots did not) I might feel quite differently.

But years ago a friend told me something that rang true to me.  He said our worst regrets almost always come from things we left undone, rather than from things we did.  That may not be true in all cases, but looking back over my own life, I feel it’s true for me.

As mentioned in the recent post about Rickenbacker, there’s nothing wrong with being afraid.  Fear can be a healthy and good thing, but it also can hold us back.  Are there any big or little things you’d like to do, that you’re afraid to try?  Could your self-protective instincts be wrong about some of the things you fear?

One year ago today:

Yonder lies the way

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

Exercise your heart

Let this lovely handcrafted card from the Boom Room inspire your heart to soar -- or at least jog!

Let this lovely handcrafted card from the Boom Room inspire your heart to soar —
or at least do some jumping jacks!


“Exercise your heart today.” — from a Dove Chocolate wrapper

One year ago today, I wrote a post about the physical demands of sailing, using it as a metaphor for dealing with the challenges of living.  It’s not just our bodies that get stronger with exercise, though. Our minds and spirits need it even more.

As part of Jeff’s ongoing campaign to keep me from getting as thin as I think I should be (or maybe because of their documented mood-elevating properties), he often buys me chocolates.  Most recently, he gave me a bag of those wonderful Dove dark chocolate hearts that have little sayings inside the wrapper.  Now that I’ve used one of the sayings here, I have an excuse to eat more of these candies.  Ah, the perks of blogging!

When I saw the message quoted above on one of the wrappers, I really liked it.  Depending on how you read it, it can be a very deep concept.  Some will think of physical exercise and its cardiac benefits.  But I think the best meaning is the figurative one; we need to take time each day to exercise our ability to care, and to show it in useful ways.  As with all exercise, it will require intent and some degree of stamina, but will get easier as we go along.

OK, so here’s a challenge: let’s exercise our hearts TODAY by doing some little or big thing we might not have planned to do.  Here are some possibilities to get you started:

Send a note or card to someone who might enjoy hearing from you.

Tell a loved one how much you appreciate some VERY SPECIFIC thing that they do or are.

Leave an encouraging comment on someone else’s blog. (NOT counting this one! 🙂 )

Carry a small plastic bag outside and pick up any little bits of trash that might have blown into your neighbors’ yards.

Let cars merge in front of you, or let someone go first in the checkout line at a store.

Listen to someone who just needs to vent.

Give a heartfelt compliment to a stranger who has an adorable baby or pet with them.

Be extra patient with someone who is having a bad day.

If you catch yourself starting to say something negative, try to substitute something positive in your mind, and say that instead.

Your turn!  What are some other ways we can exercise our hearts today?  Share your ideas here – then let’s all “just do it!”

One year ago today:

Adjust the sails

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

Our highest business

This quote from Ronald Reagan marks his tomb at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, July 2004.

This quote from Ronald Reagan marks his grave
at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, July 2004.

“We are involved in a life that passes understanding and our highest business is our daily life.”John Cage

The post that published one year ago today (linked below) is perhaps the one that has the greatest personal significance to me.  Since I wrote that post, one of the three in that picture is no longer with us.  I am all the more grateful that the other two still are.  What I wrote then is more true today than ever before, and as hard as the lesson has been, I’m thankful to have been made increasingly aware of it with each day that passes.

I believe each of us has purpose to our life; we are where we are for a reason, though we may not live in submission to that purpose, or even be aware of it.  Yet acknowledging that we are able to “bloom where we are planted,” whether or not that particular bit of soil is one we would have chosen, is a step toward freedom from the fears and regrets that can hold us back from living fully and abundantly.  No one else is in the position we are in, uniquely equipped to serve and give and live in ways that would be impossible for any other person.

Today is my 500th post on this blog, and as I write this (on March 8, two weeks before scheduled publication) this day seems a milestone in more ways than one.  Writing the 500th post on the same day we cross over 100,000 views of this blog, and most encouraging, the bright sunshine and warm day calling me outside after the snows the past week, all feel as if we have passed through yet another figurative doorway today.  Thus, in the words of the beloved hymn,”here I raise my Ebenezer” and move forward in faith and joy, to embrace the high calling of my daily life.  I hope and trust you will be doing the same!

And speaking of daily life, thanks so much for being part of mine!  Your presence here, comments, prayers and friendship have been a large part of the grace and mercy with which we have been showered these many months.  I had mentioned at my one-year anniversary that I intended to do some things differently, such as re-blogging others’ posts and including different types of photos or writing.  For practical reasons, I need to start doing that (the long winter is drawing to a close, and the days are getting busier) but I found that it was harder than I thought it would be, primarily because I am not able to find a way to schedule a re-blog in advance, and I like to schedule these postings in advance as much as possible.

However, here’s another boundary; another chance to make some changes, so bear with me. I may end up just re-blogging some posts “instantly” but this means they will not appear at 3-5 a.m. as they have been in the past. SO, if you don’t get a new post on any given day, wait awhile; it should be coming up later.  Meanwhile, if you see anything new here that you like (or don’t like) please let me know!  This blog belongs to all of us, and I value your input.

Based in part on many of the comments I have received via email and online, but based mostly on my own joy at being in touch with all of you on a daily basis, I hope to keep posting SOMETHING daily for as long as I can.  Thanks for being with us on this journey!

One year ago today:

Aware of the treasure

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.

Under the giving snow

This little patch of ground is covered in snow right now, but by the time you read this, it may be on the way to a daring display!  Our front yard, Alexandria, April 2012

This little patch of ground is covered in snow right now, but by the time you read this,
it may be on the way to a daring display! Our front yard, Alexandria, April 2012

“Under the giving snow blossoms a daring spring.”Terri Guillemets

I find it hard to believe that as I’m writing this (on March 7, two weeks before publication) I STILL see snow on the ground outside!  It’s melting in places, but most of the grass is still covered with it, and those nasty-dirty drifts line the sidewalks and parking lots.  The ground is soggy and messy where the snow has melted, so when I go out on unpaved areas, I have to choose between crunching through snow or getting my shoes muddy.

I keep reminding myself, though, that it can’t last much longer.  And, as Guillements describes, the snow is watering the ground, nourishing the flowers that have hopefully survived the cold.  After this winter, we should be in store for a most daring spring!  Let’s get ready to celebrate!

One year ago today:

The gladdest thing

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

Long-distance friendships

Colonial Williamsburg writing desk, Nov 2004

A writing desk at Colonial Williamsburg reminds us that long-distance friendships,
always precious, once required even more time and patience.  November 2004

“There is magic in long-distance friendships. They let you relate to other human beings in a way that goes beyond being physically together and is often more profound.”
—  widely attributed Diana Cortes, about whom I could find no reliable information

One of the silver linings to the sorrow of having to leave friends every time we uproot and move, is the chance to have and maintain long-distance friendships.  It’s a skill not everyone has, and that’s okay.  But for those of us who enjoy such relationships (and it may be bound up, to a great extent, with a love of reading and writing), keeping in touch over years and distances can create a bond unlike those we share with local friends or co-workers, with whom we share only spoken exchanges.

There’s something deliberate and intentional about maintaining ties that go beyond physical proximity.  There has to be something extra to bridge the gap created by the miles.  Often it’s a shared faith, a life challenge we have in common, a compatible philosophy of life, or a deep interest in one or more activities or topics.  Sometimes, if we are really fortunate, it’s all of the above and more.

Today, time constraints are as great a challenge to friendship as distance.  I have dear friends who live relatively close by, yet we still stay in touch mainly by email or online.  The reality of our daily obligations makes it hard to carve out a chunk of time long enough to enable a good old face-to-face visit as often as we’d like.  I think blogging and Facebook and other social media have become popular because people value relationships and long for a way to maintain them despite the busyness of life.

I know that a lot of what happens on social media can be superficial, but it need not be.  Our online interactions can be a cozy salon rather than a vacuous cocktail party, as long as we stay authentic and don’t use it as a platform to impress, propagandize or vent (though a bit of all that happens even in genuine conversations).  I’m deeply grateful for this added venue for maintaining ties that cross geographic boundaries, even as I am determined not to abandon the good old-fashioned “snail mail” card or letter, or the face-to-face visit whenever we can manage one.

Do you have long-distance friends who are a daily comfort to you?  Why not take a moment today to drop a note, card or email to one of them, and let them know you are thinking of them?

One year ago today:

Stronger than a fortified city

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 of now

The first flowers of spring won't last, but we can enjoy them today! Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

The first flowers of spring won’t last, but we can enjoy them today!
Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

“No longer forward nor behind
I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find,
The best of now and here.”
John Greenleaf Whittier

No matter what is going on in your life right now, this day holds many hidden gifts.  Which ones will you discover?

One year ago today:

Not a harbor

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.

Ten thousand truths

I almost missed this cute visitor to our Alexandria back yard, March 2014

I almost missed this cute visitor to our Alexandria back yard, March 2014

“There are joys which long to be ours.  God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.” 
Henry Ward Beecher

A year ago my post was about Jeff’s father, and how he used to call me outside to see wildlife he had spotted.  As I mentioned then, Jeff has his dad’s eye for spotting all sorts of creatures I would never notice.  I’ve had so much joy from seeing the animals he shows me.

Yesterday afternoon, just after the heavy snowfall of early March, Jeff called me upstairs and told me to bring my camera.  He was looking out our kitchen window, trying to point out two birds to me, but I could not see them no matter how hard I looked, even with my glasses on.  I finally went up to the third floor of our townhome and used the long telephoto on my camera to find them, but only after Jeff gave me very precise directions where to look.

Sure enough, this cute fellow (or gal) and a friend were perched a couple of feet apart on a branch, looking as if they were bundled up against a very cold night.  I so wished they could fly inside and stay with us until the spring came.  I tried to find out what kind of birds they are by looking online, but was stumped; does anyone recognize them?

I was amazed Jeff had been able to see them from our window as the afternoon light was fading.  Their colors blended into the general landscape so well that I could not possibly have spotted them, even with a telephoto, unless someone told me where to look.  I’m glad Jeff was there, so I didn’t miss this particular joy, or for that matter, the five wild turkeys he had pointed out to me on the side of the highway when we were driving up from York that day.

I know there are joys that I miss every day, ten thousand truths I don’t see because my eyes are not opened to them, or because the surrounding distractions obscure their beauty.  Beecher’s words are a warning and a promise.  May we all have open hearts and open eyes to see the divine messages winging their way to us, bringing us hope, faith and joy.

One year ago today:

Represent civilization

And speaking of birds, I wanted to share this photo of Sheila’s adorable Sun Conure, Walter, who escaped from his cage recently and was hiding out under the dining room table!
I did NOT digitally alter this – Walter’s colors really are that bright!
Thanks for sending this, Sheila!

WALTER! What are you doing down THERE? :-)

WALTER! What are you doing down THERE?

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

What anyone wants to remember

Beth, your recent comment reminded me of this wonderful trip. Beth, Mom, Dad, Al and me in Montego Bay, Jamaica, February 1973

Beth, your recent comment reminded me of this wonderful impromptu vacation.
My friend Beth, brother Al and I skipped school to go to Montego Bay with Mom and Dad.
Jamaica, February 1973

“A childhood is what anyone wants to remember of it.”Carol Shields

“A happy childhood can’t be cured.  Mine’ll hang around my neck like a rainbow…”
Hortense Calisher

I’ve written before about how it can be difficult being a child or young person, and that’s more true for some than for others.  Most of us, I think, have a blend of good memories and bad ones, but even these are relative.  Some of what we would describe as bad memories might sound fairly benign to anyone who has endured true abuse or trauma.

I think my own childhood was fortunate and blessed.  The happy memories are far more lasting and influential today than the unhappy ones.  Calisher’s quote charmed me because it seemed such an apt description. We carry the happy times of our youth with us, and I think others can see signs of it, even when we are unaware that it shows.

I feel the deepest gratitude to my parents for giving me such a foundation, and to my family and friends for decorating my early years with humor, adventure and joy.  You are all part of the rainbow I wear, the one that gives me hope on my most difficult days.  I hope all of you who read this can reach back into your own memories, and find colors that glow in the dark.

One year ago today:

Memory is a child

And speaking of children, Grady wishes you all a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Leprechaun Grady Mar 2014

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.

Intelligence having fun

This man had as much fun balancing rocks as we had watching him!  San Francisco, February 2003

This man had as much fun balancing rocks as we had watching him!
San Francisco, February 2003

“Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun.”George Scialabba

Have you ever heard of rock balancing?  Neither had I until I saw this guy. One beautiful sunny day in San Francisco, he was practicing his hobby for all passers-by to enjoy free of charge (though some were leaving him tips).  I don’t know who thought up that pastime, but I’m glad someone had the imagination to look at a pile of rocks and see what could be done with it, just for fun.

Have you ever found a new use for an everyday object, or created something whimsical from odd materials you found?  Do you make up silly rhymes or scrawl elaborate doodles in the margins of notepaper during boring meetings?  Have you ever made up any funny words or names for things, a sort of secret language that you share only with one or two family members or friends?  The possibilities are endless.

Let your brain have some fun – your imagination is smarter than you think!

One year ago today:

Imagination will take you

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

Courage is about doing

Courage in the face of great risks can lead to freedom...or survival. Jeff contemplates the Underground Railroad Monument at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, September 2013.

Courage in the face of great risk can lead to freedom…and survival.
Jeff at the Underground Railroad monument, Roanoke Island, NC, September 2013.

“Courage is about doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”Eddie Rickenbacker

“Rickenbacker had learned to manage fear.  It was one of the main reasons for his success…Eddie had acclimated himself to that great numbing terror of flying into a fray where it was nearly certain someone would be killed.”Winston Groom

By any standard, “Captain Eddie” was an astounding man.  I grew up hearing about him because I grew up surrounded by pilots, and also because he was a founder and leader of Eastern Air Lines, the company that employed my father and provided a wonderful life for our family for over 30 years.

The more one learns about Rickenbacker’s life and accomplishments, the more interesting the quote above becomes.  If any man could claim to be fearless, he could.  In fact, more than once he survived traumas that resulted in his being officially pronounced dead by the media.  In the context of the bold and often heroic manner in which he lived his life, his admission of fear sounds overly humble.

But maybe fear has been given a bad name.  In our anxiety-riddled age, when medications are commonly prescribed to treat phobias and lesser conditions, it might seem that fear is something to prevent rather than overcome. In some cases, I’m sure that must be true; unreasonable or paralyzing fear can hold us back, and ironically, makes us less safe if we are overwhelmed by it.

However, fear can be an asset if we use it as a motivation to act cautiously, recognizing the risks but moving forward when the stakes are high and there is much to gain.  Undoubtedly, some of history’s greatest acts of valor came from ordinary people who knew what they were up against and felt very afraid, but pressed on anyway.  Some of these heroic stories we know about; many we never will.

We might assume courage comes more easily to others than it does to us.  Perhaps we think ourselves less strong or capable if we feel afraid, but courage feels much different on the inside than it appears on the outside.  When I read quotes such as the one above, coming from a man whose personal biography reads like a barely-believable adventure novel, I realize that everybody is afraid sometimes, and that’s okay, maybe even good.  What matters most is being able to do what we need to do, despite our fears.

Today, if there is anything worrying or frightening you, remember what Captain Eddie said.  Courage is a good thing, and without fear, there is no courage.

One year ago today:

Always a frontier

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 art of counting

Five of my earliest and greatest blessings, in a life filled with them. January 2014

Five of my earliest and greatest blessings, in a life filled with them. January 2014

“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.”
Harold Coffin

I often have a problem with envy, especially when friends who are my age start describing their carefree “empty nest” travels and activities.  After nearly 30 years of caretaking and managing the lives of our children (beginning when Drew was born in 1984) I sometimes long for that kind of freedom.  I can’t really imagine anymore what it’s like to be able to just “up and go” spontaneously, without exhaustive preliminary planning and arrangements.

Despite being thankful for the blessings that have kept us alive and together all these years, I still have occasional problems with an ungrateful and bad attitude.  Here is a 100% true story of an abrupt and eye-opening experience that did much to curtail my bad habit of counting others’ blessings instead of my own.

One day back in 2012, I had decided to cook some steel-cut oats for Matt and me.  Jeff usually cooks them for us on the weekends, and I just fix the regular kind for us on busy weekdays, but with Jeff at work that morning, I decided to get industrious and try cooking steel cut oats myself.  That turned out to be a mistake.  Let’s just say I ended up dealing with a boiled-over mess not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES that morning. Sometimes multi-tasking backfires!

I finally gave up being frustrated and just started laughing at myself and thinking how lucky I was to have had Jeff cooking it for me for the past couple of years, never once (as far as I know) ending with the disastrous results I had.  I started thinking about how blessed I was; how happy I felt that I was able to stay home full time to take care of our household and all the endless details that go with managing Matt’s life.  I wondered why on earth I didn’t feel those blessings constantly instead of sometimes becoming cross and negative.  I resolved that I would change my attitude, beginning right then.  The rest of the day passed happily.

That afternoon I heard Jeff come in the front door. “Hi babe, how are you?” I sang out cheerfully.

“Not good,” he said.  Something in his voice made me freeze up inside.

That was the beginning of our lives changing radically, without warning. That was the afternoon he came home with the sudden, intense pain that sent him to the ER the next morning where it was discovered that he had a ruptured, cancerous appendix, and tumors on his liver that were suggestive of metastatic cancer from a primary cancer elsewhere.

I’ve thought again and again of the irony of how that day had started for me, as if it were some premonition that I was too clueless to notice. It haunts me in a sad sort of way; a memory I will probably never forget — and I hope I do not forget it.  Every day that passes, no matter what else is going on in our lives, we are enjoying blessings that can disappear suddenly, without time to stop and reflect gratefully while we still have them.

That lesson is just as true and relevant in my life today as it was that day in September 2012.  Whatever mistakes I’m still making, I am seldom unaware of all that is mine —  and ours — in this fleeting present moment.  I never completely forget how fragile and ephemeral this life can be.

Today, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I hope you will take a minute or two for counting the blessings that are yours right now.  Comparing our lives and blessings to what other people enjoy (or maybe, unbeknownst to us, don’t enjoy at all) is a trap, a lie, and a danger.  In contrast, keeping our eyes on the beauty of our own particular canvas is an art as well as a discipline; a talent we can never develop too soon.  Some of the lessons we’ve had this past 18 months have been unusually harsh ones, but I’m glad we are learning them.

One year ago today:

The thief of 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.

One of those March days

The flowers said spring, but the winds said winter. A chilly day at the Smithsonian Institution, Washingon DC, March 2013

The flowers said spring, but the winds said winter.
A chilly day at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, March 2013

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”Charles Dickens

Today (two weeks before this is published) Michael commented that spring had been flirting with us.  That’s a perfect description of the past week here in Virginia.  We’ve enjoyed sunny days with warm temperatures (including a record-high 79 degrees in Hampton Roads!) interspersed with two days of snow during the final stretch of what must be the snowiest winter I have ever personally experienced.

By the time you read this, I hope spring will have cease flirtation and be pursuing us in earnest.  Though some of you live far north enough that this is unlikely even in mid March, the weather has been so crazy lately that maybe, against all odds, you’ll be granted a warm day or two to enjoy.  In any case, enjoy this Google image search and create the beginnings of a beautiful springtime in your heart and mind!

One year ago today:

How happily we listen

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.

Personal charm

Jeff snapped this photo of Maggie and me at La Madeleine, Old Town Alexandria, July 2013.

Jeff took this photo of Maggie and me at La Madeleine, Old Town Alexandria, July 2013.

“There is no personal charm so great as the charm of a cheerful temperament.” 
Henry Van Dyke

I’ve written here before about my friend Maggie and her family, and the happy memories I have of them that go back forty years — it’s hard for me to believe we first met in 1974!  Obviously, there’s a lot I love about her, but if I had to name one defining trait that sets her apart, it’s her ability to maintain and radiate a genuinely cheerful attitude.

As one might imagine, those years have given me countless opportunities to see Maggie in all kinds of situations.  Like all of us, she has faced her share of challenging circumstances, but I can’t remember a time when she was not able to muster a sense of humor about whatever was going on.  She’s quite practical and realistic, so her congeniality isn’t based on delusion or denial.  I think she simply discovered long ago that a sincere smile or a hearty laugh can go a long way toward improving almost any scenario.

Her upbeat demeanor is never more valuable than when she is helping others who are having some sort of difficulty, which is doubtless responsible for a good measure of her considerable professional success.  Because she’s keenly sensitive, she knows when to “weep with those who weep, and laugh with those who laugh.” But it seems that no matter what I’m facing, I end up feeling like laughing when I’ve spent some time with Maggie.

Being with such people is a sure way to defeat despair, so I hope you have at least one or two in your life who shine as brightly as Maggie shines in mine.  I also hope we can learn from them how to reflect and spread such cheerfulness.  The world can always use more of that kind of charm.

One year ago today:

One of the great helps

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.

Try waking up

Jeff didn't see this sign over his head, but I did.  Bar Harbor, June 2012

Jeff didn’t see this sign over his head, but I did. Bar Harbor, June 2012

“Anyone can slay a dragon…but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” ― Brian Andreas

In June 2012, just three months before Jeff got the first of what would be several diagnoses of cancer, we were seated in a Bar Harbor restaurant looking forward to a nice meal after a day of exploring Acadia National Park.  I noticed the art hung on the wall above his head, and thought how appropriate it would be to have a photo of him sitting beneath it.  (He didn’t even realize the sign was there, or notice what it said.)

I had no way of knowing how prophetic that photo would be; how hard it would be for him simply to keep waking up every day over the next year and beyond, facing the grief, uncertainty, pain and physical trauma that go with cancer and its treatments.  What I did know already was that he was that kind of hero, one who would keep putting one foot in front of the other as long as he was able, not complaining or even saying much at all about his struggles and sorrow, just quietly keeping on.

Though most of us have difficulties that probably are not as obvious as his, all of us have to show that same heroic devotion.  Some days, it is far from easy to wake up and love the world all over again.  But somehow we do it, day after day, and in so doing, we unknowingly give each other the same strength we ourselves have drawn from heroic examples of perseverance.

I hope today is one of those days when it feels easy and happy and natural to love the world all over again.  But if it’s a difficult day for you, remember that being a hero seldom looks or feels thrilling and exciting.  That hidden, unnoticed sort of courage is all the more heroic, and the world depends on it.

One year ago today:

The quiet voice

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.

Like one of these

Intricate simplicity: a single flower as a call to serenity.  Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

Intricate simplicity: a single flower is a call to serenity. Keukenhof, Netherlands, March 2007

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”Jesus Christ (as quoted in Matthew 6:28-29, NIV)

I grew up hearing this verse, and always thought it beautiful.  The words bring to mind a large field of flowers, but notice the phrase “like one of these” (emphasis mine).  Some might say it was hyperbole for Jesus to claim that one of the richest men in history had no adornment to equal that of a single flower, but I think the words are also true in a literal sense.  There is nothing made with human hands that can match the unique beauty of one perfect bloom.

This statement relates to the beauty of nature, certainly, but Jesus was also saying something about simplicity.  In the context of the surrounding text, it becomes clear that he is teaching about the futility of worry, and the importance of faith in the face of being distracted by real and valid concerns: food, clothing, longevity.

This implies the obvious question: if even our most basic needs are no cause for worry, what does this say about the countless details I tend to fret about each day?  Today, as I rush about attending to trivial distractions, I hope I can remember to focus on what Jesus said about the perfection of an ordinary flower, a gift of pure grace.

One year ago today:

Simple, natural, plain

And speaking of lovely flowers, here’s one of the photos Raynard sent me from the Philadelphia Flower Show.  Because it was emailed, the file size is a bit small to have a lot of detail, but it will give you an idea of what beautiful blooms he saw:

Raynard took this photo at the Philadelphia Flower Show this week.

Raynard took this photo at the Philadelphia Flower Show this week.

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.

Read or learned or picked up

The public library at Dexter, Maine is historic but up to date.  June, 2012

The public library at Dexter, Maine is historic but up to date. June, 2012

“One of the great joys of being a librarian is that it is the last refuge of the renaissance person — everything you have ever read or learned or picked up is likely to come in handy.”GraceAnne DeCandido

Sometimes I think the term “renaissance person” is too loosely used in the modern sense, as an overly glorified label for people whose energies and interests are so scattered that they never focus on any one thing long enough to get really good at it.  But for those of us who are that way, being a librarian is a great way to tie it all together.  There’s not a topic or field you can think of that doesn’t have something to do with a library somewhere; not a reference question out there that might not be asked of a librarian.

When I came home from my first day of graduate school, having chosen library and information studies out of a number of potential majors, I told Jeff with great certainty: “This is the career I was born for.”  At graduation, in a parody of the oft-quoted phrase,  I joked, “Jack of all trades, Master of Library and Information Studies.”

However, given that I’ve worked relatively few years as a librarian, a parallel truth has been more relevant for me: everything I read or learned or picked up in library school has come in handy in my everyday life, in ways too numerous to count.  Being a librarian is primarily a matter of knowing how to find information, and make it accessible and useful.  That’s a valuable skill, whether one is a parent, spouse, homemaker, travel planner, caregiver, investor, writer, or blogger.

The great thing is, you don’t have to go to library school to avail yourself of the riches found in any public library.  Your librarian is there to help you learn to help yourself, empowering you to find any information you might need or want.  Whatever you do best, or want to learn to do, can be improved, explored, expanded and enjoyed through the resources of your library.

Learning is a great way to defeat despair, so I hope you will take some time to discover what’s available at a library near you.  Even if you just spend a couple of hours in relaxed, unfocused browsing, you’ll have fun — and you probably will find some information that is likely to come in handy!

One year ago today:

Gather and transform

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.

Anticipation, remembrance, and reality

We might call him Dopey, but at least he's getting paid to be there. And he's not waiting in any lines, either.  Disney World, summer 1995

We might call him Dopey, but at least he’s getting paid to be there.
And he’s not waiting in any lines, either. Disney World, summer 1995

“Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage.”Regina Nadelson

“Just get on any major highway, and eventually it will dead-end in a Disney parking area large enough to have its own climate, populated by large nomadic families who have been trying to find their cars since the Carter administration.”Dave Barry

Yesterday I talked about believing in fairy tales.  Today, let’s temper that with a bit of realism.

At this time of year, I typically start dreaming of travel.  In years past, this usually meant planning actual trips, but that’s something that has been put on the back burner lately, so I’m searching for reasons to be relieved at that rather than disappointed.

If you too are planning to forgo travel this year, there are plenty of reasons to be happy about it.  I’m not thinking here of the fun of taking local “staycations” as a substitute.  Primarily, I’m referring to all the elements of travel that are less appealing.  Is it just me, or do these seem to multiply as time passes?  I could mark this up to aging and getting tired and grouchy, but it’s an indisputable fact that air travel in decades past did not involve choosing between full body radiation that produces arms-up quasi-nude images somebody in a closet somewhere is looking at, versus waiting in line for a public pat-down.

Of course, you can always travel by car.  Or maybe I should say, you can sometimes travel by car.  In the DC area, this means avoiding the hours of 6-10 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.  Your actual traffic experiences may vary based on weather, accidents (yours or someone else’s), construction, and other unpredictable factors that sometimes seem to be related to the alignment of the stars and planets.

So, it’s a great year to be staying home!  Or so I keep telling myself.  Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the anticipation of future trips, and the remembrance of past ones. If you’re planning a trip this year, have fun and be sure to send us some photos, horror stories, or both.

Happy Birthday today to Beth and Janice, two friends
who helped me create many happy memories of having fun while staying home!

One year ago today:

It’s helpful to remember

This post was first published seven years ago today, but it sounds as if it was written during the COVID-19 era. Nevertheless, I’ve taken a few trips already this year, and am busily planning more. Sometimes the urge to travel surpasses dread of the hassles. Or maybe I’m losing my mind as I age. I must not be the only one, though, because I didn’t take any of these trips by myself.

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.

Some day you will be old enough

Amy and I toured this ancient but appealing castle on the Rhine in April 2007.

Amy and I toured this ancient but appealing castle on the Rhine in April 2007.

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”C.S. Lewis

My friend Amy commented here recently that she still believes in Cinderella and knights on white horses and miracles.  Maybe that’s why she’s such a great traveling companion.  Real-life castles are often old and decaying, but she can see past the ravages of time and imagine the magical stories they contain.  Like me, she loves the Disney versions too, but you never have to worry that she will let a few cracks and flaws in real-life scenarios get in the way of her appreciation and her unmatched ability to have fun wherever she finds herself.

Come to think of it, that’s also what makes her such a great lifelong friend!  Being a rather cracked and flawed person myself, I value her willingness to look past the not-so-great and see the infinite possibilities.

If you’re not yet old enough to enjoy fairy tales again, I hope you’ll get there soon.  When you do, you’ll realize that they never went away, but were just waiting for you to start believing again.  Enchantment is a “once and future” kingdom full of Merlin’s wisdom and a thousand stories with happy endings.  See you there!

One year ago today:

Happily ever after

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 seriousness of a child

Drew at plan in San Diego, California, in the spring of 1991.

Drew at play in San Diego, California, in the spring of 1991.

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”
Heraclitus

There’s a lot of talk about how childhood is magical and carefree, and I agree that it was (or is) a wondrous time for many of us.  Yet even with the most advantageous childhood, I think the first decade of life is also quite difficult.  As adults we may forget the utter powerlessness we often felt at having so many aspects of our lives decided without our input.

In particular, I can remember feeling frustrated that activities meaningful to me were often insignificant to grownups.  To a child, “fun” and “serious” are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes we forget that as we grow older. As a result, we may disregard the need to set aside unscheduled time to spend in preferred activities, not just for our children, but for ourselves.

It’s crucial, of course, to learn the inevitable lessons that come with maturity (how many of us were justifiably told “It’s only a GAME!” when we were in tears over losing at board games or ball games?) but sometimes we learn unintended parallel lessons that don’t necessarily serve us as adults.  Focused on productivity and controlled by clocks, we often multi-task ourselves in pursuit of the urgent or “important” to the point that we lose sight of more essential goals.

The state of optimal awareness that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and other psychologists have described as “flow” seems much more apparent in a young person absorbed in building with Legos or shooting baskets than it does in a harassed, hurried adult rushing from one obligation to another.  Not that we always have a choice about that.  But it’s worth consideration, if only to prompt us to re-think our schedules now and then, and assign a higher priority to those interests that captivate our minds in a way that all children seem able to understand.

What did you most enjoy doing in childhood?  What is fun for you?  I hope you will find some time, today or soon, to re-capture the alert focus of a child at serious play.

One year ago today

New possibilities

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.

My sunset sky

I snapped this picture of sunset over our church building in Fairfield, California, August 2003

I snapped this picture of sunset over our church building in Fairfield, CA, August 2003

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”Rabindranath Tagore

There are a lot of things I really like about getting older.  Based on what others have said or written, I know I’m not the only one who has experienced a wonderful sort of letting go of past anxieties, and a freedom to enjoy the unpredictability of life from a kind of distance that wasn’t there in youth, when I was eager to move ahead into what then seemed an endless future.

It’s not that there are no storms or rain now; indeed, there may be more of them than ever.  But the older I get, the fewer alarming disruptions they cause in my world.  The colors, on the other hand, grow more dazzling all the time. Maybe they were always this way, and I just didn’t have time to see it.

If you’re a young person reading this, you might suppose that such talk is just the way old people console themselves.  But think about it: which is better — sunrise, when you are full of energy and face a day of tasks, some that are fun and some that are formidable?  Or sunset, after your work, though possibly incomplete, has reached a stopping point of sorts; when you’ve finished the last chore for the day, and look forward to a few hours of relaxation (or at least, less strenuous work) and maybe some candlelight, nice music or reading before bed?

I realize not everyone sees things this way, but as lovely as I find the sunrise, I think sunset is my true favorite.  No more worries about the clouds then. Rain occasionally may spoil daytime plans, but at night it makes a wonderful sound by which to fall asleep.

Next time you see a beautifully tinted sky at sunset, remember Tagore’s wise observation, and bask in the thought of the serenity and rest awaiting you at day’s end.

One year ago today:

Every single day

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.

Only the beginning

Carved into stone, a narrow but passable gate.  The Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, March 2013

Carved into stone, a narrow but passable garden gate. The Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, March 2013

“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.”Ivy Baker Priest

Over the past 18 months, I’ve gotten a lot of practice at re-framing how I think about things.  I’ve had to do quite a bit of that for most of my life, but never as much as recently.  It simply doesn’t work for me to see obstacles as dead ends; I start to panic and the anxiety blossoms into multiplied worries and fears, the agitation feeding on itself.

At such times I’ve learned to force myself to switch off the negativity, re-directing my thoughts through prayer, reading or other distractions.  Yet I don’t want to be delusional, kidding myself about what we might be facing in the future.  I don’t want to be blinded by wishful thinking or unprepared for a steep uphill climb.

It helps to focus primarily on the immediate path ahead, with all its unexpected detours and narrowed options.  We may not be traveling the exact itinerary we had planned, but as long as we can see a few feet ahead, that’s enough.  Each threshold we pass through is another beginning, and so far the way has been blessed with abundant beauty no matter how rocky the path gets.

So we travel on in hope, still enjoying the trip.  I hope you are able to do the same in your life. Thanks for walking with us!

One year ago today:

Teach your moods

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.

Fling off thy sadness

No leaves yet, but the skies are blue and the trees are budding! March 2013

No leaves yet, but the skies are blue and the trees are budding! March 2013

Awake, thou wintry earth –
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness!
Thomas Blackburn

As I write this, I keep glancing out my glass doors, and I see there is still snow on the ground.  But the sun is shining brightly, and the snow is melting, slowly but surely. It was raining and gloomy when I got up this morning, but the weather has turned around rather dramatically.  I hope to take a walk this afternoon.

The days are getting noticeably longer. I haven’t had to use the flashlight I carry in my pocket for some time now.  In fact, it was so light outside when I got back from walking yesterday that I kept wondering what happened; had I left earlier than usual?  Did I somehow walk faster or shorten my walk without knowing it?  No, it’s just lighter now.  Spring really is coming.

After this winter, which has been long and hard but also full of cozy warmth and love, I am especially eager for spring. I am guessing many of you probably are too.  Today, I hope you see signs of it to lift your spirits.  Whether it’s a budding tree, the first shoots of daffodils or crocus, or some glorious late-afternoon sunshine, I hope you can see evidence that the earth is laughing off its sadness, ready to celebrate.

One year ago today:

When March is scarcely here

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

Anything created

This is about the most normal-looking you'll find in Park Guell,  but it's a good representation of how beautiful a place it is.  May 2008

This is about the most normal-looking spot you’ll find in Park Güell,
but it’s a good representation of how beautiful a place it is. May 2008

“Anything created by human beings is already in the great book of nature.”
Antoni Gaudi

One year ago today I published a post that is one of my favorites, because it includes a link to a delightful PBS re-mix featuring Fred Rogers.  It’s all about how “you can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.”  When I went back to that post, I was reminded of Antoni Gaudi, whose mind must have been one of the most strangely fantastic gardens of all time.

I had never heard of Gaudi until we visited Barcelona, but seeing his work at various places in that city was an unforgettable experience.  In fact, our time at Park Güell stands out in my mind as one of the most wonderful memories in the two-week trip of a lifetime.  I’m not the first person who thinks immediately of Dr. Seuss when seeing Gaudi’s eccentric buildings; the similarities are fairly obvious.  Scholars have suggested that Gaudi was almost certainly an influence in Theodor Geisel’s whimiscal fantasy illustrations.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find that Gaudi was a devout ascetic who wanted to parallel divine creation by following natural  law.  He apparently thought of his creations as being based on earthly landscapes, where he perceived only curved lines. I suppose it makes sense from that standpoint, but a quick visual review of the beautifully odd works he created might give you an idea why I see his architecture as the most otherworldly constructions I’ve come across.  And their vibrant colors and elaborate designs are not remotely suggestive of the spare, abstemious existence he embraced in his personal life.

Very few professional artists, let alone amateurs, can hope to leave the sort of unique fingerprint Gaudi achieved, but that’s probably a good thing.  Regardless, we can be inspired by his singular vision, and cultivate our own gardens of ideas with which we can decorate our lives and our personal corners in the world.

Do you agree with Gaudi that all art (even his own whimsical work) has its source in nature?  What do you think of his creations?

One year ago today

The garden of your mind

Do yourself a favor– follow the link above to “The Garden of your mind” and watch the video there. It’s such a day brightener!

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.

Visual surprise

Photographed in early March 2010, sunny Grenada was a sight for sore eyes!

Photographed in early March 2010, sunny Grenada was a sight for sore eyes!

“Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean; it comes with the landscape, and faced with its beauty, the sigh of History dissolves.”Derek Walcott

There’s nothing like a good dose of the Caribbean to warm and brighten the dullest March.  There are places more elegant, more prestigious, more affluent or trendy, but I’ve never been anywhere that was quite as good at making me feel welcome, relaxed and carefree.

Part of the vibe comes from the colors, which are everywhere.  The tropical flowers and birds would be enough, but islanders add splashes of vibrant hue in their buildings and even their roofs.  And then, of course, there’s that incomparable Caribbean blue; warm saltwater of a color palette not quite duplicated anywhere else, even in Hawaii.

I don’t know about you, but for me, this is the time of year when I could use a little visual surprise here and there.  I did a quick Google search using the term “Colors of the Caribbean” and then clicked on “images.” I came up with this collection of island brights. Scroll through them quickly and let me know if you can hear Calypso music playing in your head!

One year ago today:

Try adding some bright

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.

When we sip tea

Just a few of the tins from my ELC* -- when it comes to tea, even the containers are delightful!

Just a few of the tins from my ELC* as of February 2014 —
when it comes to tea, even the containers are delightful!

“When we sip tea, we are on our way to serenity.” —  Alexandra Stoddard

With all the bad weather this winter has brought us, it’s definitely tea time.  So I couldn’t resist repeating my offer from one year ago today (which you can read about at the link below). Anyone who would like me to send them a tea bag or two from my *embarrassingly large collection, just send me your address in the comments (which I will NOT publish online – I’ll delete the address from the rest of your comment).  Be sure to let me know what types you prefer – black, green, white, herbal, fruit, caffeine, decaf, etc. — I probably have something to fit most every taste.

And a special thanks to the many blog readers who have sent me tea over the past year.  I’ve been the recipient of unique teas from some fairly exotic places – Alaska, Hawaii, even Prince Edward Island (home of Anne of Green Gables, a special tea made in her honor) as well as some delicious traditional flavors.  I feel as if I’ve been having a virtual tea party with so many of you all year long!  So let’s raise a cup to the end of this unusually harsh North American winter — whenever that will be — and keep warm inside while we wait for the outside to catch up.

Here’s to serenity!

One year ago today:

Tea will

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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