Estimating our limits

My favorite guys aboard a replica of the Susan Constant Jamestown Settlement, Virginia, August 2005

My favorite guys aboard a replica of the Susan Constant
Jamestown Settlement, Virginia, August 2005

“How many ships didn’t sail because of the belief that the earth was flat? How much progress was impeded because man wasn’t supposed to breathe underwater, fly through the air, or venture into outer space? Historically, we’ve done a remarkably poor job of estimating our limits.”Gary Keller

Okay, so the skeptical cynic in me responds, “Yes, but how many DID sail and we never heard about them because they were lost at sea?”  Nevertheless, I’m very happy SOME of them took to the water eventually, because many of us wouldn’t be where we are today if they had not.

I agree that often we have done a poor job of estimating our limits, and while this type of error can go both ways, I think we tend to err most on the side of caution.  Yet there comes a time, after due diligence and reasonable preparation, when we must stop ruminating and ACT.

Something about the world today seems to be making us more anxious all the time.  Were our ancestors, who were coping with shorter life spans, less food, untreatable disease and hardly any of what we think of as necessities, as fearful as we are today?

Let me be clear; I’m not suggesting you should take up sky diving, or scaling El Capitan, or becoming a NASCAR driver.  It’s just that I so often hear (or speak) some variant of this statement: “I know I should _____________but I’m afraid _____________.”

You can fill in the blanks here with whatever you fear doing, but I bet most of it is not along the lines of the extreme sports I mentioned.  It may have to do with making a decision about a diet, a room’s décor, a home repair, or whether to enroll in a class.  It may involve getting in touch with a friend or relative from whom you feel distant right now.  Or maybe you want to write, or paint, or design clothes, but fear you have nothing to say or create that would appeal to others.

Whatever your hesitation, the next time you find yourself wanting to do something but feeling too timid or incompetent, take a close look at your fears.  They may be entirely reasonable and accurate.  But what if you are overestimating your limitations?  What do you have to gain, or lose, by making the attempt?  It might be a hard question to answer, but it’s never a bad idea to ask 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.

The greatness of a nation

This frightened little stranded seal was soon to be rescued. Santa Cruz, CA, June 2003

This frightened little stranded seal was soon to be rescued. Santa Cruz, CA, June 2003

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals.” —  Mahatma Gandhi

While Matt was at Ride a Wave in Santa Cruz, a fascinating drama was unfolding on the beach nearby, where a stranded seal pup was being rescued.  I watched as workers carefully manipulated the net around the baby, who was clearly terrified.  Though it had been mostly silent, when the net approached it lifted its head up and bellowed a heartrending cry.  As I snapped the photo shown above, I felt almost unbearably sorry for the little one, and took great comfort in the manifest expertise of the handlers who would make sure the pup was examined, treated if necessary, and released back into its home.

Later that day, as I walked through the beautiful beachside neighborhoods of Santa Cruz, I felt a happiness that has lasted in my heart, making that entire day one of my favorite memories.  In a world that is often portrayed by the media as cruel and inhumane, I had witnessed an overflowing of cheer, good will and compassion.  The volunteers who were teaching Matt and others with disabilities to surf, kayak and enjoy the seaside safely were the primary source of my joy.  But the careful competence of the marine rescue team who went to great lengths to care for a helpless seal pup, the lovingly tended flower gardens of the many homes I strolled past, and the sheer beauty of the sea, the sky, the breeze and the sunshine were a balm to my soul; an unmistakable message that good is ultimately stronger and more powerful than evil.

Not every day will be as beatific as that one turned out to be, but I try to carry within me the spirit of that lovely time, seeking such reassurance in the big and small events that unfold continuously in what we call everyday life.  Today, whatever circumstances you are facing, I hope you will watch for all the subtle ways kindness and love are made manifest to us.  Greatness and moral progress may not always be obvious in the world around us, but remember we are never alone in our determination to add a bit more beauty, compassion and goodness to our days.  Countless happy children, rescued animals and beautiful gardens are here to prove 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.

No such thing

Several sources tell me that deep pink roses represent gratitude. Yorktown, June 2005

Several sources tell me that deep pink roses represent gratitude. Yorktown, June 2005

“There is no such thing as gratitude unexpressed. If it is unexpressed, it is plain, old-fashioned ingratitude.”  — Robert Brault

One of the great blessings to come from this blog has been the ongoing task of reading many wise and inspiring words from all sorts of people, all over the world, from the earliest recorded eras up through now.  For every quote that shows up here, I would estimate that I have bookmarked or noted online dozens (maybe hundreds) of others, for which I haven’t had time to find a matching photo.  Suffice it to say that I have 20-30 books full of post-it flags.

Sometimes, a quote will hit me hard with the twin awareness of how true it is, and how much I personally need to hear it.  This quote today is one that really made me think.  I enjoy saying “thank you,” and I do it a lot.  But I know there are countless people and blessings about which I have never even taken the time to express my appreciation.

So, without further ado, I want to thank everyone who is reading these words, right now.  Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, I’m grateful for connecting with you through this online opportunity.  I’m grateful for all the supportive friendliness of the blogging community, and many non-blogging friends who visit here to encourage and bless us during this difficult time.

I’m so thankful for the gift of technology, and the mind-boggling volume of information that is readily available at our fingertips.  Yes, there is a lot of misinformation, commercial misuse, and even dangerously predatory behavior in cyberspace.  But I honestly believe the good things that happen online outweigh the bad, and I’m determined to do what I can to raise that ratio.

But beyond that, I think of all the things I depend on daily, that I rarely think to feel grateful for.  The electricity that keeps this computer going.  The air conditioning that just kicked on automatically, without my having to adjust it or even feel uncomfortably hot.  The food I have eaten today and will eat tomorrow.  On and on I could go — and so could you.

Try this: think of someone or something  you enjoy so often that you scarcely notice how it blesses your life.  Then, make it a point, for a week or a month or always, to pause and express your gratitude.  I’ve found that feeling grateful is a contagious practice; the more I express my gratitude, the more grateful I feel, and the more others will join me in agreeing that we have so many reasons to rejoice.  If you feel moved to so do, please share some of the things you are grateful for today, in the comments below.  It might remind us of something we hadn’t thought to be happy about.

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

The most powerful drug

The walls of my garret are covered with words that inspire, strengthen and comfort me. July 2007

The walls of my garret are covered with words to inspire, support and comfort me. July 2007

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling

I don’t remember when I first realized that not everyone was as fascinated by words as I am, but it’s something that I still don’t fully understand.  I have always been so drawn to words; their meaning, their rhythms and sounds, the infinite variety of ways they can be combined, sometimes with astounding power.

Stories enchant and instruct me; poems speed past logic and go directly to my heart; essays and quotes stir me and set me pondering; even the lyrics of songs reach me as deeply as the music, often more so.

During the years Matt was in school, the special education laws were more often disregarded than they were obeyed in practice (even if things looked good on paper).  My life was pervasively affected by the continual need for active advocacy to ensure that he received an appropriate education, and sadly, negotiations in the endless meetings with school officials, some of whom never worked directly with our son, often became strained and even adversarial.  Though I have never been a litigious person, I was forced to learn more than I ever wanted to know about formal actions such as due process hearings and the filing of compliance complaints.

Acting as an individual against firmly entrenched bureaucratic power can be a very intimidating thing.  In continual meetings facing 6-10 people (sometimes even more) I often felt disregarded at best, and threatened at worst.  With my anxieties kicked into overdrive for weeks at a time, I found great solace and strength in the words of authors, advocates, musicians and poets.  I surrounded myself, literally and figuratively, with the power of their words.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that you also appreciate words as a means of growth, change, and connection.  What are some of your favorite quotes, sayings, scripture verses or song lyrics?  Have you ever faced a time when you relied on the words of others to give you the strength to keep going?

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.

Higher ground

Jeff enjoys the view from higher ground, Acadia National Park, June 2012

Jeff enjoys the view from higher ground, Acadia National Park, Maine, June 2012

My heart has no desire to stay
where doubts arise and fears dismay.
Though some may dwell where these abound,
My prayer, my aim is higher ground.

 –Johnson Oatman, Jr.

Growing up in a church where a cappella singing was a vital part of every worship, I was exposed early and often to verses that carried encouraging thoughts or stirring challenges. I learned to love many of these hymns, which play inside my head to this day and help me face times of trial.

As we have moved around to different churches in different parts of the country, I have come to associate particular hymns with places, people or times in my life.  When we moved to Virginia in 2004, I missed northern California terribly, and took longer than usual to start thinking of our new location as “home.” Times seemed uncertain at best, with a husband serving in the military with two wars underway, and a school system that completely rejected the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that Matt’s California special education team had spent countless hours refining.

Somewhere during those first months in Virginia, this song I learned in childhood came back into my head and heart, and I decided to adopt its words as my theme for this phase of my life.  I printed out all the verses to the song and hung the print inside my linen closet door, where I saw it daily, and actually still see it each day we are in York County.

In 2004 I had no idea of the challenges that would lie ahead during the years to come. Multiple cardiac hospitalizations as Matt’s heart condition grew worse, the suicide of a dear friend, and Jeff’s diagnosis of stage IV cancer were only a few of the heartaches that awaited us. Despite this, the determination to rise above the unpredictable assaults of life continues. I know very little about Johnson Oatman, but I thank God that he penned words that have served me so well.

Do you have any favorite songs or hymns that help you head for higher ground in your mind, when things are pulling you down? If you can’t think of any, perhaps you can take some time to choose a few to learn and sing, aloud or in your heart, when your courage starts to fail. It’s hard to feel afraid when singing words of cheer, faith and hope.

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

Bringing light

The view from our Bed and Breakfast room in Magog, Quebec, May 2009

The view from our Bed and Breakfast room in Magog, Quebec, May 2009

“Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”Sydney J. Harris

It’s so easy to be reactive; to allow outside influences to determine our moods, our deeds and even our beliefs.  Mirrors can reflect light, of course, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to return a likeness of what we see.  But reflected daylight is never as true and bright as what streams through clear, clean glass windows.

If Harris is correct in stating that education strives to turn mirrors into windows, we must take care how we define “education.”  When we, as students, simply reflect back what we hear our teachers saying, or more likely, what we think they want us to say, that’s just another sort of mirror.  There is nothing inherently more sophisticated about taking all our cues from an academic as opposed to a celebrity, or a neighbor, or a friend.  If anything, it’s riskier to think we can be impartial about the views of those who will grade our work.

Education can turn a mirror into a window only insofar as it removes anything that obscures truth.  In that sense, education may be largely a subtractive effort; elimination that facilitates illumination.  When windows bring light, they are not the source of the light, but conduits through which it can shine.  It’s not about us, what we know, what we can do, or even what we choose to reflect.  It’s the process of clearing away our delusions and distractions, and letting the light of truth shine through us.

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

Awareness of an audience

The audience awaits a truly wonderful performance of my favorite play, Arms and the Man, at the California Shakespeare Theater, July 2003

The audience awaits a truly wonderful performance of my favorite play,
Arms and the Man, at the California Shakespeare Theater, July 2003

“Glory is largely a theatrical concept. There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience.”Eric Hoffer

While I’m not sure Hoffer’s assertion is 100% correct (and it may depend upon how “glory” is defined), he definitely has a point.  Certainly many types of glory for which people strive are closely connected with adulation, admiration or adoration.  But such striving also comes with the distinct possibility of failure; hence the common saying, “no guts, no glory.”

If “glory” is defined as widespread praise and fame, I think we would certainly do well to avoid seeking it.  In the first place, we’ll get distracted from our priorities if we are always playing to the reactions of the crowd.  And besides, the audience we may imagine is probably much smaller in real life than in our own minds.  In reality, most people are focused on their own day, their own troubles and efforts.  It’s a bit narcissistic to suppose that people are watching us as closely as we watch ourselves.

So relax!  While it’s more easily said than done, we will be much happier and more productive if we don’t worry about what our imaginary audience may be thinking.  If we lose our self-consciousness by concentrating on things we know to be good, right and honorable, the rest will take care of itself.  Kudos to everyone with the guts to disregard glory!

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

An art of balance

Jeff and I enjoyed a soothing, calming afternoon at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in D.C., July 2013

Jeff and I enjoyed a soothing, calming afternoon at the Corcoran Gallery in DC, July 2013

“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of  troubling or depressing subject matter – a soothing, calming influence on the  mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” Henri Matisse

I understand and agree that art is meant to do a variety of things.  Some works are thought-provoking or even disturbing rather than comforting, and these are no less impressive than the ones we find instantly appealing; indeed, they may be more so, since they involve daring and indifference to criticism.

Regardless of this, I am most thankful for artists who recognize the need to use their talent as a balm for the hurts of life.  We all have times when we would benefit from an afternoon stroll through a quiet, spacious gallery, a few minutes spent enjoying a beautiful symphony, or even curling up with a cozy mystery or other novel with a happy ending.

Among the painters, sculptors, writers, poets, composers, musicians, architects and other artists you enjoy, whose work reminds you most of the description Matisse gives us here?  What are some of your favorite “armchair” creations?

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 virtue in itself

Sweetie with a sweetie: Aunt Peggy with her winsome cockatiel, December 2011

Sweetie with a sweetie: Aunt Peggy with her winsome cockatiel, December 2011

“A good disposition is a virtue in itself, and it is lasting; the burden of the years cannot depress it, and love that is founded on it endures to the end.” Ovid

I can’t think of anyone with a better disposition than my Aunt Peggy.  She has endured more than a few experiences that would have made most people bitter, but she remains one of the most loving, giving and reliably fun people I have ever had the pleasure to know.  When I visit her, I always leave wishing we had more time together.  And I think anyone who knows her could say the same.

Not only does Peggy enjoy life; she helps others to do likewise.  Her home, exquisitely decorated year round, is absolutely enchanting at Christmas.  Her beautiful flower arrangements enhanced our wedding and every home we have lived in for over thirty years. Even her husband LeVern and her cockatiel Sweetie are delightful – and who wouldn’t be, living with someone who is unfailingly comforting, supportive and compassionate?

I hope you will brighten your own day by thinking of those rare people you know who can face gracefully whatever life dishes out; those who make the burdens a little lighter for each person they meet.  If it’s appropriate, maybe send them a quick thank-you note today, or let them know how much they have added to your happiness.  I thank God for my Aunt Peggy, and for all the people like her whose good cheer adorns a world sorely in need of it.

This post was first published seven years ago today. Since that time, Aunt Peggy has become a widow for the second time, her sweet husband LeVern having died some time ago. Before that, she and LeVern lost Sweetie, who died after many happy years of bringing delight and laughter to their home. In her sorrow, Aunt Peggy understands what I have endured and is a continual source of love and support as I cope with the loneliness following many losses of the past five years. And I’m happy to say that Peggy is still the same fun-loving, sweet and cheerful soul she always has been, coping bravely with the isolation of living alone in the post-COVID world. For a gregarious person who loves other people as much as Peggy does, this must be a trial for her, but her beautiful love of life always shines through.

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.

Exactly like me

Even the most beautiful mask is no match for a real face. Venice, June 2008

Even the most beautiful mask is no match for a real face. Venice, June 2008

“Nobody can be exactly like me.  Sometimes even I have trouble doing it.”
― Tallulah Bankhead

Some of us are more reserved than others, but almost all of us don a figurative mask occasionally, or maybe even often.  We feel vulnerable and a bit intimidated about being ourselves, since we harbor a vast inner archive of our shortcomings, past mistakes and embarrassing experiences.  If we aren’t careful, we can let our insecurities rob the world of the gifts only we can give it.

When I think of the people who most appeal to me, whether they are friends I know personally, writers I know only through their works, or celebrities I will never meet, the common trait among them is their willingness to be themselves, honest about their own hopes, fears and failures.  Those who mask their unique personalities tend to blend into the background, inoffensive but forgettable.

For many years, Fred Rogers closed each of his programs for children with these simple but profound words: “There’s only one person in the world exactly like you.” Considering how many people are in the world, isn’t it amazing– almost miraculous — that each of us is unique?  That fact alone makes the world a very interesting place!  And you are part of that big fascinating picture.

What can you give others today that can come ONLY from 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.

Waiting to be enjoyed

Palos Verdes, California -- one of countless free pleasures awaiting you! March 2004

Palos Verdes, California — one of countless free pleasures awaiting you! March 2004

“…no matter where you live, the woods and parks, the trees, sky and sun are free and only waiting to be enjoyed.  You never know what you’ll learn from a walk in the park.”
Tammy Strobel

Whenever the weather is nice — not too hot or cold, sunny with maybe a light breeze, or in the early hours of the evening or morning — I always feel I’m wasting something precious if I don’t spend some time outdoors.  Even if it’s only a few minutes, there is something rejuvenating about taking in the greens and blues and splashes of other colors found in nature.

Be on the lookout for the next really nice day.  Maybe it will be the first touch of fall for those who live in the northern climates, or an unusually mild day in the southern climates, or just a pleasant evening when the sun is down but still lighting the sky.  There is something beautiful out there, just waiting for you to enjoy it.  I hope you will find 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.

Alchemy in sorrow

Statue of a fisherman's wife and child, Katwijk, the Netherlands, March 2007

Statue of a fisherman’s wife and child, Katwijk, the Netherlands, March 2007

“Sorrow fully accepted brings its own gifts. For there is alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmitted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness.”
Pearl S. Buck

I believe that true optimism must include comprehension of the role sorrow plays in all our lives.  A positive outlook is not a form of denial; rather, it’s a conviction that even our deepest grief has meaning; that our trials and tragedies bring understanding and transformation more than superficial knowledge ever could.

In the years since Matt was born, Jeff and I have dealt with sorrow upon sorrow as the medical and developmental challenges continued one after another, and practical daily support was often scarce.  It has changed us forever, in more ways that we can describe or even know.  But I truly believe that our lives have been made richer for all Matt has taught us, that we could never have discovered without him.  It’s no coincidence that the author of the quote above walked a similar path years ago, and left us a priceless literary legacy as a result.

For as long as I can remember, I have heard Jesus referred to as “the man of sorrows.”  I didn’t understand how profound and ultimately beautiful a concept that was, until I experienced recurring sorrow for years on end.  The terms “God with us” and “man of sorrows” are now linked in my mind, as I contemplate the full implications of a God who, in granting humans freedom of choice, allows us to undergo suffering — an omnipotent God who chooses to walk beside us and share in that sorrow, rather than render us powerless to choose our own destiny.

There could be no deep joy if we did not know sadness, just as a person who has never gone hungry is unable to appreciate food as fully as those who have been without it.  It’s a kind of paradox; a mystery we can’t fathom.  Yet its truth has sustained people through circumstances far worse than the ones we now face.  If you are in a time of suffering or grief, I pray you can hold on to the belief that your sorrow may yet be transformed into happiness deeper than you could have imagined.

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 answer to a great many things

Matt at Ride A Wave, June 2003

Matt trains at Ride a Wave in Santa Cruz, California, June 2003
Each year, Olympic surfers and first responders provide free training
for people with special needs learning to surf and kayak.

“I have a feeling that in the end, probably, that training is the answer to a great many things. You can do a lot if you are properly trained, and I hope I have been.”
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

With characteristic reserve, Queen Elizabeth II summed up her secret for handling the demands of her long career as she marked the 40th year of her reign.  As her biographer Sally Bedell Smith pointed out, “Her formal education was spotty by today’s standards. Women of her class and generation were typically schooled at home, with greater emphasis on the practical than the academic.”  Now, with the Queen having passed the 60-year anniversary of her reign, and seemingly destined to be the longest-ruling monarch in Britain’s history, it would appear that her practical education has served her well.

As Matt’s multiple learning disabilities were diagnosed one by one, we learned firsthand the invaluable role of training, as developmental milestones that happen naturally for most children had to be taught to Matt with patience, practice and repetition. It’s really no different for anyone; when it comes to becoming more adept at a skill, even the gifted must rely on hours of disciplined training and practice.

The good news is that training for competence is within the reach of anyone who longs to improve, and is willing to put in the time required.  Often, we will have to prioritize among many opportunities and focus on one, or just a few, to achieve mastery before moving on to other skills. But the opportunities for training, whether self-taught or with help, have never been as widely available and relatively affordable as they are now.

What would you like to get better at?  Do you know of any online learning opportunities you’d like to share?  Feel free to post links in the comments below.

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

What we enjoy

Some favorite things: teapots, England, Lewis Carroll, Darla's home and pretty much everything in it, including Darla! Yorktown, December 2012

Some favorite things: teapots, tea, England, Lewis Carroll, Darla’s home
and pretty much everything in it, including Darla! Yorktown, December 2012

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment…”C. S. Lewis

Tea. Books. Friends. Flowers. Animals. Family. I hope nobody is getting sick of seeing these and other topics here, over and over, because I have so much fun writing about what I enjoy — including anything written by C. S. Lewis, my favorite author.

I think it’s good exercise for our spirits when we praise what we enjoy, and express gratitude for the amazingly abundant blessings we share.  Let’s make this post the online extension of the song “My favorite things.” Play the song linked there, and no matter whether you feel sad or happy right now, I bet it will lift your spirits.  Then think of some of YOUR favorite things.  Jump in and tell us about them in the comments below.

Meanwhile, lets see…Christmas. Springtime. Music. Cinnamon rolls. Photographs. Fresh fruit. Ice Cream. Cookies baking. Rain at night. Sunny days. Birds singing. Nice surprises…

More wisdom from C. S. Lewis:

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.

Clarity from stillness

A snapshot of serenity at the Montreal Botanical Garden, May 2009

A snapshot of serenity at the Montreal Botanical Garden, May 2009

“If water derives clarity from stillness, how much more so does the mind!”Zhuangzi

In a recent post, I discussed the fascination of watching moving waters.  But still waters are captivating as well, particularly when they mirror beautiful scenery.

Stillness is a trait that doesn’t come naturally to me.  Even when my body is not in motion (which is rare during waking hours) my mind is churning endlessly.  I can’t count the number of times, mostly late at night, when I wished my conscious mind had an off/on switch such as Jeff seems to have.  I’ve learned more than a few coping mechanisms to deal with insomnia, but nothing ever chases it away permanently.

It wouldn’t be so bad if my mind accomplished anything useful when my thoughts are scattered or distracting.  An active mind can be an advantage, after all.  But I think my frequent inability to concentrate is often the result of all this perpetual motion in my brain, and it’s not a recipe for clarity inside or outside.  It drives Jeff crazy when I interrupt my own sentences with tangential thoughts!

As one strategy to still my mind, I’m working on dialing back this societal fixation with what is called “multi-tasking” but all too often means “partial and interrupted tasking.”  I could use a little more mental clarity, especially as I age!  Do you have any “stillness secrets” to share with me?  Please post them in the comments, and HURRY, before my mind wanders to a different topic!

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 incredible gift

Welcome to a typical morning with Mama and Daddy, August 2013

Welcome to a typical morning with Mama and Daddy, August 2013

“The incredible gift of the ordinary!  Glory comes streaming from the table of daily life.” Macrina Wiederkehar

One of the hardest things about the past year has been the need to cancel no fewer than three scheduled visits to see my parents.  It’s good that our grandson happened to be born in Atlanta, so I finally was able to stay with Mama and Daddy when I went to see Grady.  I had not seen them for more than a year, and it felt like forever.

I took this photo one morning after arising to an everyday scene that becomes more dear to me each time I see it.  I know a day likely will come when I would give so much for one more chance to wake up to this sight.  Mama and Daddy were preparing freshly picked beans from their organic garden, and Mama protested when I brought out my camera (and she might be mortified if Daddy tells her about the photo appearing on this blog), but she has always been a good sport about such things.

I think she looks pretty good for a woman in her 80’s who has just gotten up and hasn’t yet dressed, combed her hair or put on makeup.  As is her frequent custom, she prioritized getting a start on dinner before tending to her personal appearance. I know you can probably guess who she sent out to pick those beans, long before I got up!

I had enthusiastically devoured the freshly picked purple-hull peas and cornbread they fixed the day before, so I appreciated her fresh vegetables and wanted a photo of her as I’ve seen her countless times. To me she is beautiful any time, as is my Daddy, whose longsuffering smile has always brightened my spirits.

Today you probably will come in contact with at least a few people who are dear to you. Chances are there won’t be any special occasions to photograph, but it’s the everyday memories we will treasure most anyway.  Take a minute or two to snap some digital or mental images of your extraordinary ordinary life, and cherish these incredible gifts for many years to come.

This post was first published seven years ago today. Those of you who know me well can guess how bittersweet it is to read these words again. The day I refer to in the second paragraph above is now here, and has been arriving every day for years now. If only I could go back for just a moment to that morning! On the other hand, there’s a sense in which I really can be there again. I love looking at this photograph. I still feel Mama and Daddy looking at me with the same expressions: Mama, eternally no-nonsense but willing to make allowances for my whimsy (which I always felt she enjoyed vicariously) and Daddy, wise, humble, funny and loving, through and through.

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.

Jump in the lake

Jump in the lake if you must, but at least choose a nice one. Lake Louise, September 1999

Jump in the lake if you must, but at least choose a nice one. Lake Louise, September 1999

“The writer is only free when he can tell the reader to go jump in the lake. You want, of course, to get what you have to show across to him, but whether he likes it or not is no concern of the writer.” — Flannery O’Connor

I admire Flannery O’Connor, but I was somewhat taken aback by her stark advice.  Not because I disagree with it, but because my first thought was, “I NEVER want to tell anyone who reads my blog to go jump in the lake.”

On second thought, though, maybe I do.  If any of the people reading this blog are cruel or mean-spirited, they can go jump in the lake.  Those who refuse to open their eyes and be grateful for the blessings that grace their lives can go jump in the lake.  Those who want to bring us all down to wallow in the mire of despair and hopelessness: jump away.

But I hope they won’t stay there. I hope the water in the lake will be of a bracing temperature, waking them up to life.  I hope they will swim vigorously if they know how, or learn to dog paddle if they don’t.  I hope they will emerge from the lake feeling a little happier, saying to themselves, “What was I THINKING?!”

To the rest of you, the majority who are here because you have faith, or tenacity, or courage, or good will, or all of the above: I do sincerely hope you like what I write, even if O’Connor thinks it’s no concern of mine.  And if someone tries to sabotage your determination to defeat despair, well…you know what to tell them.

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.

Waiting

Passengers waiting at Charles de Gaulle Airport, June 2008

Passengers waiting at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, June 2008

“Waiting is one of the great arts.”Margery Allingham

It’s fitting that this quote came from an author of detective stories, because the seemingly glamorous life of a private eye requires a great deal of tedious waiting.

For Jeff and me, it seems as if the past year has held well more than its share of waiting.  Countless hours, days and weeks we spent in hospitals and clinics involved mostly waiting.  Waiting to be called into the examination room, waiting for consults with other doctors, waiting for IV drips to finish, waiting as overbooked schedules were adjusted to allow another appointment.

We also waited in other locations, too, stuck in the traffic between Bethesda and northern Virginia, and then after we got back home, waiting for phone calls to physicians to be returned, for test results to be reported, for prescriptions to be ready for pickup at the pharmacy.

And of course, we waited for a grandson who, like his father before him, took his time arriving into our world!

I came across Allingham’s quote months ago, and I had to give it a bit of thought to understand what she meant.  I had never considered waiting to be an art; rather, it was a nuisance, a necessary evil of these rushed and impatient times.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that waiting is indeed an art in many respects.  It requires stillness coupled with action, the discipline of knowing when to be passive and when to move.  It’s not the same thing as procrastination; indeed, in some ways it’s the opposite.  Often, we have to wait because are on the receiving end of someone else’s procrastination, or their overly busy schedule.

As with any other art, there are skills that can be practiced to make waiting more bearable.  We can learn what activities we can accomplish while waiting, and note which habits of mind tend to lead us away from our agitation rather than increase it.  We can develop a literal or symbolic “tool kit” to redeem these potentially wasted hours, and put them to good use.

Are you good at waiting?  If so, share your secrets with us!  If not, try to brainstorm with us about ways to appreciate and utilize this unavoidable aspect of life.  I’ll be waiting to hear from you!  🙂

Because we are so loved

A beautiful afternoon with Dr. Santos and Ellen Rodriguez, Fayetteville, Georgia July 2013

A beautiful afternoon with Dr. Santos Rodriguez and Ellen Rodriguez
Fayetteville, Georgia July 2013

“I believe, with every fiber of my being, that when we are struck down by adversity, God weeps with us and, then, because we are so loved, heals us in ways we can never expect or even imagine.”Sarah Ban Breathnach

I’ve shared here in previous posts that the past eleven months, although fraught with devastating events, have also been filled with unexpected graces.  Among these are the many reunions, mostly by mail or online but also occasionally in person, with people who are praying for us and supporting us with good wishes and expressions of love.

Each letter, gift or visit comes with its own unique blessing.  To those of my readers who have sent me things in the mail: you will never know how much I treasure these tangible symbols of kindness from people I’ve never met face to face.  To the many friends we heard from for the first time in years: it has been such a joy to be back in touch!  Meeting with Cindy and Henry, my friends from the Upper Room fellowship online, whom I’d never met in person, was another wonderful experience.

As I write this, I am thinking especially of how the past ten days have brought to mind the words “my cup runneth over,” and I’m not thinking only of our precious grandson.  Months ago, when Jeff was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer after receiving the first diagnosis of apparently unrelated cancer in the appendix, I got a very special surprise in the mail.

It was a letter from my all-time favorite teacher, whom I had not seen since I was in her fourth grade classroom 1965-66.  She and her husband frequently visit my mother’s health food store and chat with my younger brother who works there, who also was in her class several years after I was.  Through him, she learned of our circumstances and sent me a lovely letter.  It would not be an overstatement to say I was thrilled to hear from her.

A few weeks later she sent me a beautiful devotional book, and I phoned my mother and said “please tell Ms. Rodriguez that the next time I come to Atlanta, we MUST have lunch together!’  That dream came true the day after I held my grandson for the first time, as my parents and I enjoyed lunch with this remarkable couple.  She looks amazingly like she did almost 50 years ago! And her husband (a physician who is 94 years young) was absolutely charming.  I told my mother she should pay them to hang around her health food store; they are the best advertisement for nutrition that I have ever seen!

Those of you who are also Facebook friends (anyone is welcome 🙂 ) may have seen this photo before, which I shared with a couple of my classmates who are on Facebook and were equally happy to see the photo of our beloved teacher.  Sharing memories of our childhood years was another blessing.  As with most of God’s gifts, this one just keeps on giving.

During the very dark days of Jeff’s devastatingly poor prognosis, before we knew he would have such a good response to treatment and again when the healing after the liver resection seemed an almost impossible goal, it was hard to focus on or imagine all the ways God could bless us through the many crises we had endured since September.  Many days, all we could do was put one foot in front of another and get through that day.

Yet we continue to be upheld and sustained by the myriad ways God is taking care of us, mostly through people such as you.  Thank you for being part of a healing that we could never have expected or even imagined.  Should you find yourself in a dark and lonely place, HANG ON and have faith in the goodness that surely awaits you in the future.

This post was first published seven years ago today. A few years ago, Dr. Rodriguez passed from this life, having enjoyed nearly a century on this earth. Mrs. Rodriguez (known to me now as Ellen– though it still feels a little strange to call my beloved fourth grade teacher by her first name!) is doing well, and we are still in touch. She remains beautiful, fit and active. I hope very much to see her again when COVID allows us to travel once more.

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.

Summer afternoon

An afternoon cookout with friends in northern California, June 2004

An afternoon cookout with friends in northern California, June 2004

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”Henry James

Though summer has never been my favorite season, I can understand why the words “summer afternoon” are beautiful, especially for someone who lives in a cooler climate than the one where I grew up.  Summer coaxes us outdoors for games, cookouts, conversation — all sorts of things that bring people together just for fun.

Several blog readers may recognize someone they know — maybe even themselves!– in the photo above.  Trivia question for those who don’t know any of the people pictured: can you guess which two people, newly met in this photo, ended up getting married to each other?  (All giveaway clues will be censored from comments, so no cheating!)

Here’s hoping you will be able to get out a few more times this summer, and cook up some fun!

They knew things

Mission Carmel is one of the oldest buildings still standing in California. December 2002

Mission Carmel is one of the oldest buildings still standing in California. December 2002

“We know some things they didn’t know in the past, but they knew things that we’ve forgotten.”Ashleigh Brilliant

Here’s something to ponder: if you were to time-travel and suddenly swap places with a person of your age, gender and ability who lived two or more centuries ago, which of you would have a harder time functioning independently in your new surroundings?  It’s a safe bet that either of you would need a good bit of help from people who might be baffled at your ignorance.

In any case, we have one distinct advantage over our ancestors: we have the option of learning some of the things they knew.  Whether we learn and practice age-old skills on a camping trip, at a living history center or in a classroom, it might be strangely calming to focus our attention on something not requiring electricity, climate-control or a tight schedule.

The California missions are among many places all over the world where bygone ways of life can be studied.  It has become popular to look at the past through a harshly critical lens, but future generations will have ample reason to do the same to us, equipped with the benefit of hindsight.  In our determination to rise above the mistakes and wrong actions of those who lived long ago, let’s not forget that people who lived in past centuries also have positive things to teach us.

If you could spend a day with your great-great-great grandparents, what would you most want to learn from them?

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.

Exquisitely dependent

Simple but strong, the cables keep the cars running. San Francisco, July 2003

Simple but strong, the cables keep the cars running. San Francisco, July 2003

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” Carl Sagan

I plead guilty to that!  Or maybe not.

On my list of things I find fascinating, my impulse would be to place “science and technology” near the bottom.  Actually, though, I’ve always enjoyed learning about it.  In my immediate family, my experience with computer technology is far ahead that of my husband or sons; sort of a stereotype-buster.  And I’ve always been interested in learning how things work.  As a kid, I would take apart broken watches and toys to figure out why they stopped running.  So I guess being analytical is not too far removed from enjoying science or technology.

I don’t know anyone who ever went to San Francisco without at least seeing (if not riding) the justly famous cable cars, which are one of only two moving landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places.  Relatively few take advantage of the free admission to the Cable Car museum, where I snapped the photo above.

One day when I was riding the Powell-Hyde line I heard a tourist ask the gripman, “What makes the cable cars run?” He smiled and answered “Cables!” It sounds too simple, but the actual machinery that is visible at the museum validates that answer.  The muscles of the gripmen and the incredible strength of the cables — one for each line — pull thousands of people each day (over seven million each year) up and down the steep hills of San Francisco.

One of the first science lessons I remember is “What is a machine?”  The cable cars are a great example of a relatively simple machine that provides an easily understood introduction to technology for the science-impaired such as I.  What are some of the simple or complex machines on which you depend every day?  When I ask myself that question, I come up with a whole new list of things for which I’m grateful.  I hope you will do the same.

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 fascinating vitality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going to the desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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