More than a hundred

Jeff and the boys at our home at Vandenberg AFB, California, December 1990

Jeff and the boys at our home at Vandenberg AFB, California, December 1990

“One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.”George Herbert

Watching someone fight bravely the battles Jeff has fought these past 9 months, it’s easy to get overly sentimental about him.  Yet I think I can say without exaggeration that I have never known a man more devoted to his wife and children than Jeff has been for over 30 years and counting.

When women think of ideal traits to look for in a husband, those who plan to have children would do well to prioritize qualities that make a man a good father.  But this is a more complex task that it seems, as there is no “one size fits all” description of a good father.  If I try to pin down one characteristic that seems to be an absolute requirement for parenthood, devotion is the quality that keeps coming to mind.

Devotion to family comes at a price, of course, especially when extraordinarily challenging situations arise.  Hobbies are forgotten or nonexistent; career decisions and personal preferences take a backseat to the welfare of the children; at times one’s individual personality seems to vanish into the web of demands that shape every day.  Usually, none of these sacrifices are obvious in a devoted father; they are so inseparable from his character that it’s easy to be fooled into thinking he’s sailing along, living the same life he might have lived without children.  But those who look closely will know better.

Herbert touches on the truth about what makes a father’s role so unique.  A devoted father teaches continually, sometimes with words but mostly by example, and the cumulative effect of being ever-present in his children’s lives is a more profound lesson than any educator can impart.  I know, because I was blessed with a father whose example would be a hard act to follow.  I thank God every day for giving me a husband more than equal to the task.

I have mixed emotions about Father’s Day as I do about Mother’s Day, because there are so many for whom this is not a happy occasion.  But I hope that  those who may feel that they don’t have much to celebrate on Father’s Day will find ways to honor the crucial and often unsung role that fathers play.  However imperfect they may be, loving Daddies are almost everywhere we look: in history, in our extended families, in our local school or play group.  If you didn’t have the kind of father you wished for, you can still be one, or see one, and be strengthened by the gifts only a father can give.

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

One step at a time

Visitors climb the Cahokia Indian Mounds near St. Louis, Missouri, April 2008

Visitors climb the Cahokia Indian Mounds near St. Louis, Missouri, April 2008

“The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to use the stairs…one step at a time.” —  Joe Girard

Years ago when I wanted to lose about 5 pounds, I was able to accomplish that goal by making just one small change.  I worked on the third floor of a large building, and I began walking the two flights of stairs instead of using the elevator.  Since my job involved some errands, I frequently made more than one trip up and down per day, but it was never unduly difficult or time consuming.  In fact, I came to see that taking the stairs for just a couple of flights can often be quicker than an elevator, especially going down.  In just a week or two, my weight had come down.  I don’t think I ever took the elevator in that building again, even when I was pregnant.

Now when I’m with Jeff someplace and he wants to take the elevator, I take the stairs and see who gets there first.  It’s a fun game for me, and a fairly painless way to get some exercise.

It’s tempting to look for shortcuts in life, but often we actually lose time by cutting corners.  More importantly, being in a hurry adds immeasurably to our stress.  No matter what I’m doing — driving, cooking, cleaning, or anything else — the amount of stress I feel is directly proportional to how quickly I’m trying to get finished.  I think that principle applies to long range goals as well.  When I start dwelling on all the goals I had hoped to accomplish by my mid-fifties, it can be downright depressing until I pay attention to what I have already done, and the direction in which I’m heading.

Next time you get impatient with your progress, whether it’s a big project or a small daily task, it might help to remind yourself that taking one step at a time will almost always get you there– and often, you’ll arrive in better shape for having allowed yourself to skip the shortcuts.

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 place once visited

City lights are enchanting, nowhere more so than in Venice in June 2008

City lights are enchanting, nowhere more so than in Venice. June 2008

“Venice appeared to me as in a recurring dream, a place once visited and now fixed in memory like images on a photographer’s plates…”Gary Inbinder

Sometimes a place seems magical because of the circumstances of our time there, but some are inherently spellbinding.  Venice is certainly such a place, especially as the daylight is waning and the lamps begin to sparkle.

I have fond memories of a night Jeff and I spent wandering among the canals and seemingly endless bridges, winding pathways through shops, restaurants and alleys, past silent buildings closed for the night.  Moonlight and lamplight were reflected in the canals, and the music in St. Mark’s Square wafted over the breeze.  The atmosphere was so thick that even several years later, it comes back vividly in my imagination, ever-alluring and probably slightly embellished by my memory.

What are your favorite enchanting places?  Take a few minutes to daydream about your ideal visit there.  Feel free to share a photo or a memory in the comments.

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

Delicate enjoyment

A balcony with an inviting tea table overlooks Disneyland, July 2004

A balcony with an inviting tea table overlooks Disneyland, July 2004

“Another novelty is the tea-party, an extraordinary meal in that, being offered to persons that have already dined well, it supposes neither appetite nor thirst, and has no object but distraction, no basis but delicate enjoyment.” Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Whatever else can be said of contemporary culture, it seldom suggests “delicate enjoyment” or for that matter, delicate anything.  We live in an age where “extreme” has somehow become a favorable concept, over-used by advertisers and enthusiasts.

Tea is a delightful exception.  It comes in a wide array of flavors, but none of them are strong compared to most beverages.  Its benefits, like its flavor, are subtle: calming, relaxing, mildly stimulating.

Sometimes I think that much of my enjoyment of tea comes from the simple but methodical preparation, which harmonizes perfectly with the leisurely sips taken during agreeable activities such as conversing, reading or merely gazing outside at a pretty landscape.

Today, I hope you will prioritize a few minutes of delicate enjoyment.  If a cup of tea is “not your cup of tea” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) perhaps you can enjoy some soothing music or a few minutes of restful meditation.  I think our lives could use a little more delicacy, don’t you?

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 friend who cares

Drew snapped this photo of Roger, Tammy, Reneé and me, just after we got the good news that Jeff's surgery had gone well. May 2013

Drew snapped this photo of Roger, Tammy, Reneé and me,
just after we got the good news that Jeff’s initial surgery had gone well. May 2013

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”Henri J.M. Nouwen

On May 16, three people spent over six hours on the road, braving the legendary traffic of the DC area.  They came from southeastern Virginia to Bethesda, Maryland to sit with Drew and me through the long hours of Jeff’s liver resection.  It was a risky surgery that would involve more complications than we had anticipated, and aside from these three people, no one else was with us that day.  Each of them, in different ways and at different times, has been there for us in the past, when we needed help that only they would give.  And here they were again, with us on a crucial day, showing us that we mattered to them.

Roger is our minister from our Newport News church; Tammy is a dear friend and neighbor who feels more like family; Reneé is the dynamo who leaves such generous comments for me on this blog.  She understands so much of my life because she has been in my shoes as few others have, and has shown me that it’s possible not only to survive, but to thrive.

These friends are close to us because of our shared faith, but also because over the years, they have cared for us in ways that set them apart.  In being with us yet again on that long day, they have given me a gift of strength that has remained with me for days and weeks since. I draw comfort from looking at the photos of us taken that day, even as we continue to endure the long and uneven process of Jeff’s recovery, the outcome of which is still frighteningly uncertain, and seems to grow more worrisome each day.  I will always be grateful that these special folks set aside an entire day to be with us in trying circumstances.

Let’s take a few minutes today to be thankful for those faithful friends who are willing to stay beside us during our most difficult hours.  Life brings us all sorts of acquaintances who bless us in various ways, but it’s hard to imagine how we would survive without those very special individuals who are not afraid of the dark.  Our gratitude goes out today to all who share sorrows as well as joys; may the compassion you show to others return to you a hundredfold.

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.

God’s handwriting

The waterfront at Bar Harbor, Maine, June 2012

The waterfront at Bar Harbor, Maine, June 2012

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting – a wayside sacrament.  Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.”  —Charles Kingsley

Travel is one of my favorite ways of searching for lovely sights, but it’s not necessary to be in a gorgeous town such as Bar Harbor to catch glimpses of beauty. As Kingsley’s quote implies, it’s all around us if we welcome it.

Two practices have helped me feed my soul with beauty: walking, and taking photos. With the advent of digital photography, taking pictures is practically as inexpensive as walking. I hope you will welcome beauty wherever you find it, but today I especially encourage you to wander outdoors in search of “wayside sacraments” that are easy to miss in the rush of everyday life.

If you have a digital camera, try taking a few photos of what you find. You might be surprised how good a photographer you can be! But if you’d rather not take photos with a camera, take them with your eyes and memory. May we all cherish this “cup of blessing” that will lift our spirits, spark our creativity and energize our minds.

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 celebration

Jeff and I celebrated our 20th anniversary by cruising Alaska with our sons in June 2000.

Jeff and I celebrated our 20th anniversary by cruising Alaska with our sons in June 2000.

“A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity.  The order varies for any given year.”Paul Sweeney

This month, Jeff and I celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary.  Without question the past year has been the most difficult and challenging time we have ever faced together, but the “together” part made it easier to bear.

Jeff and I both like Sweeney’s quote, and feel it’s an apt description of marriage.  However, we cannot define what the “varied order” of these traits has been for us during the past year.  We have needed an abundance of all five, and not just for each other, but also for the many people who have been part of our lives before and after Jeff’s diagnosis.  As we continue to pray for many more years together, we will rely on each of these qualities to navigate the uncertain road that lies ahead of us.

The past year has taught us the true meaning of the vows we took 33 years ago “for better or worse.”  We are thankful that the worse is made better when endured with determination to live out the qualities Sweeney mentions.

June has long been a popular time for weddings, so perhaps many readers of this blog will be celebrating an anniversary this month.  If so, congratulations!  May you be blessed with many more happy milestones.  But keep in mind that the qualities Sweeney lists are helpful for everyone, in all types of situations, not just in marriage.  Love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity — in varying order of importance, depending on the circumstances — are a good foundation for any life.  I wish you the best of each!

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.

Whatever we lose

A path to the beach on Captiva Island, Florida, January 2013

A path to the beach on Captiva Island, Florida, January 2013

“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves that we find in the sea”
E. E. Cummings

I can scarcely remember a time when I went to the beach without these words from Cummings’ lovely poem running through my head.  How simply and perfectly he captures the endless allure of the ocean!

I feel fortunate to have lived within an easy drive to the ocean for most of the past thirty years.  But even when I cannot go there physically, the peace I have found at the seashore stays with me in memory.  Perhaps that’s why I so love gathering seashells and pebbles made smooth by the water.

If you are unable to get to a beach today, maybe you can take a few minutes to go there in your imagination, aided by free downloads like this one  or the one embedded below.  Lots of similar sounds and videos are available free online – happy beachcombing!

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.

Rejoicing that I’m still here

Daddy on his 80th birthday with his lifelong friend and fellow pilot,my beloved "Uncle Tuffy" April 2008

Daddy on his 80th birthday with his lifelong friend and fellow pilot,
my beloved “Uncle Tuffy” April 2008

“Getting older is the best thing that ever happened to me.  I wake up every morning rejoicing that I’m still here with an opportunity to begin again and be better.” 
Oprah Winfrey

A long life is a decidedly mixed blessing.  Those of us who make it to our eighth and ninth decades will do so enduring many losses: of our physical strength, of many of the people we love best, and of the world as it was for most of our lives.  Still, I appreciate Winfrey’s take on getting older, and I think it can apply to all of us, no matter our age.

What a gift it is to be alive and start a new day!  I have never seen this gift with more clarity than I do after the past six months.  I hope you will join me in resolving to regard life as the blessing it is, regardless of the pains that come along with it.  Today is a precious opportunity, one I am determined not to squander.

This post was first published seven years ago today. During that seven years, both Daddy and Tuffy have passed from this life, but their influence lives on in the many happy memories of their faithful lives and love for others.

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.

Blinking once-sealed eyes

The baby robins open their eyes and prepare for rapid growth, May 2005

The baby robins open their eyes and prepare for rapid growth, May 2005

“I do not know what I am doing. But just like a baby bird, I am blinking once-sealed eyes and unfolding damp wings.” Julie Gregory

No matter how old we grow, life forces us to keep learning.  Sometimes it helps to re-frame even the most difficult experiences as opportunities to increase our competence, tenacity or courage.  When the full force of Jeff’s stage IV diagnosis came crashing down on our heads, there was a period of shock and grief, and then a tentative, logical period of weighing options and making plans for various scenarios.

During this time I gradually became aware of the many things in our personal histories that had prepared us for navigating these ominous passages.  Jeff had extensive experience and training, up through the post-doctoral level, as a military medical officer whose responsibilities went far beyond that of the typical dentist.  In a general way he knew a good bit about what would be facing him.  I had worked as an administrative assistant in an NIH-funded brain tumor study at the medical center where Jeff went to dental school, and much of the lingo, practices and atmosphere of the chemotherapy clinic were familiar to me.  Most significantly, for over 27 years we had been riding the waves of Matt’s major surgeries and ongoing medical challenges.

At one point I told Jeff and others close to me, “We have been preparing for this situation for 27 years.”  It’s true that the obstacles facing us are very different than anything we’ve faced before, with unprecedented potential consequences.  But remembering what we’ve already been through has helped us muster the confidence, however shaky, that we can and will get through this together.

Whatever obstacles lie ahead of you, chances are you have somehow been prepared for it in at least a few ways, whether or not you feel conscious of it.  As the baby bird struggles through growth guided mostly by instinct,  I hope you will reach back into your inner resources and reassure yourself that you have what it takes to find the right direction and make it through the often-frightening learning curve ahead.  As lonely as it may feel, others have walked the path before you, and emerged victorious.  Vaya con Dios!

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.

Produced in a garden

The St. John City Market, New Brunswick, Canada, September 2007

The St. John City Market, New Brunswick, Canada, September 2007

“For all things produced in a garden, whether of salads or fruits, a poor man will eat better that has one of his own, than a rich man that has none.”J. C. Loudon

We are now approaching the time of year when those of us just coming out of springtime will soon be able to enjoy fresh, locally grown produce.  As fortunate as we are to be able to buy almost anything we want shipped in year round, there’s nothing like eating something that was very recently harvested to add a new dimension to understanding the word “fresh.”

Ripe fruit has an appeal to me that rivals any confection, and when I keep it on hand, washed, sliced and ready to eat, I’m less tempted by cookies and ice cream.  Most vegetables are an acquired taste for me, as they may be for you, but corn on the cob, tomatoes and lima beans have always been among my favorite foods.  The first time I grew my own backyard tomato and tasted the difference between it and one from the supermarket, I remembered why I had loved the tomatoes that came from Mom’s garden.

How lucky that these earthy treats are also super-nutritious for us!  I wish for you a season of abundant, delicious produce, from your own garden, a market or a nearby roadside stand.  As Loudon knew, it’s an unparalleled form of wealth and health.

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 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.

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