Showing posts from September, 2007

Blog Your Blessings: Off-road Moments

Give all to love; obey thy heart. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Driving through the Litchfield hills a few weeks ago to get to a soccer game in Sharon, we went off course a bit to pay a visit to this covered bridge in Cornwall, Connecticut. Like most things of beauty, it was worth seeing because it was there. We walked around the bridge just to see how it was put together, see the Housatonic River beneath it, see through it to the village on the other side.

While we looked around, we listened to the dull wooden sound of cars slowly passing over the planks of the bridge. It was a beautiful sound. It was a sight to behold: expensive, shiny cars built for speed and comfort slowing to a donkey's pace to cross a bridge just for the sake of crossing it.

Among the visitors was a couple from Brookfield come to have lunch and see if time had left everything where this man's memory had placed it. He was delighted that it had.

My husband took their picture in front of the bridge. It was a cool, grey…

The Monks of Burma: Soft Buddhas

Images and effigies of the Buddha very often reflect the time and place in which they were created. The created reflects the created rather than the historical figure Siddhartha, whose journey from wealth and comfort to humility to nirvana is the foundational myth of Buddhism. That's as it should be because the Buddha, the enlightened one, is to be found within ourselves.

If a Buddha figure is made of gold, he stands as a metaphor for the beautiful virtues that reside within each of us. To look upon a gold Buddha is to reflect on our own golden nature. To see a gigantic Buddha is to see the magnificence of an enlightened soul. To see the figure as a source of power unto itself is to miss the point. The role of sacred arts is to turn our sight onto our souls, not the object itself.

Larger-than-life stone or concrete Buddhas similarly suggest that breadth and magnificence of the enlightened soul. Such figures inspire us to reach for greatness. In Buddhist terms, this means following t…

Concord and Providence

Learning off those capitals of the New England region,
My daughter encounters two stumbling blocks:
Concord and Providence.
We drill and drill and drill
Until the names become sound become music:

She falls asleep knowing where to find
Concord and Providence.

I walk into the moonlit night and think,
They are the beautiful old names of abstract nouns
One for harmony,
One for God's protective care--
Given to the places where folks
Long ago hoped to find them.

Such is the mystery of naming.

What do you call your heart's desire?
When you find it, do you know you're home?

Peace and Care, tonight you are my
Resting on a pillow.
I know you by name;
You are as real as any dream.
You are Concord and Providence,
And I know you by heart.

Wisdom House: Not all Thermal Windows are the Same

Not all thermal windows are the same. Though all are intended to let light in to warm and brighten interior space while you're looking out into the world, there is a special set of such windows that will turn your sights inward to find the light inside yourself.

These are the chapel windows of Wisdom House Retreat and Conference Center, works of art designed and created by artist Hugh O'Donnell, the completed installation of which Wisdom House celebrated with friends on September 22.

O'Donnell told the gathering that his goal in creating this set of windows, entitled "In Sophia's Garden," was not to "give people something to think about." He was not interested in telling stories with windows--prescribing, defining, and therefore limiting a particular story--but in creating sensation, invoking feeling, that all who come to the chapel find a way to the wisdom and light within themselves.

At the blessing and dedication of the windows, O'Donnell spoke …

Wordless Wednesday: Prayers in the Sand

Click here for more about the mandala.

When a few Nuts Communicate Your Dreams

A bunch of nuts got together last week and produced a quart of beautiful brown ink.

A dozen black walnuts sat in my stock pot (RIP) for six days, alternately soaking and simmering depending on whether or not we were home. By Friday, the brown was still pale, so I kicked up the heat and by Saturday the color was deep brown enough to do right be even a primordial statement of basic freedoms, rights, and purpose.

My daughter, a fourth-grader learning some basic Connecticut history, managed to write the very beginning of the Declaration of Independence and the first paragraph of the very beautiful Constitution. She wrote with one of the turkey feathers my dad had negotiated from the nearest tom and his wife and that her dad pared into a rudimentary fountain pen.

In addition to combining art, history, science, penmanship, and iterature--and how to ruin a stock pot--the experiment drove home a lesson of the spirit.

Following a recipe from a woman re-enacting a Colonial officer's wife, we le…

Weekend Snapshot: Chopping Apples

Click here for a video introduction to Buddhism and Dae Yen Sa International Buddhist Temple and Monastery.

Blog Your Blessings: Parking Meters

The City of Waterbury used to top my list of charities. It seemed every time I parked in the Brass City, the meter police would find me within a nanosecond of my coins running out and nail me for $10. I couldn't run out of the car to return a library book or drop a letter without returning to find an envelope under my wiper. This was a regular event before I wised up.So I had a nice little laugh when I came across this good old-fashioned graffito on a meter at the bottom of Church Street on Thursday.

The sentiment made me smile--St. John's Church sits alongside this meter--and the audacity of the thing made me laugh. I tried to imagine someone casually sliding a Sharpie or Marks-a-Lot out of his pocket to neatly pen this message to the City at a very busy, well-policed intersection. How do you write this while impersonating a law-abiding citizen in search of a quarter?

I don't see much of this graffiti anymore unless I open up one of Nigel Rees's amusing old books. L…

The Mandala: Here Today, Gone Today

Buddhist mandalas are meditations on impermanence. In the case of sand mandalas, the days-long process of creating these elaborate works of geometrically balanced and symbolically rich art culminates in their erasure.

The Buddhist monks take whisk brooms and gather up all the sand--each grain of which is a prayer--into the center. This medley of color is emptied into a river, which will carry it to the ocean and thus the myriad prayers will travel and touch the world. I learned this from a friend and teacheryesterday.

Watching three Tibetan Buddhist monks painstakingly pore over the grid lines of their mandalas and tap grain after grain of sand into place, it seemed to me the process of creating it must be its own reward. By inviting guests to watch them create this temporary art, these men suggested a way of meditating, of valuing creative products as a means to wisdom rather than proof of it, and of being in, at, for, and about peace.

As part of the DrepungGomang Monastery's Sacr…

Look for Conflict, and You'll Find it

While I was sitting at my fourth-grade daughter's desk this evening at the Mitchell School open house, her teacher invited parents to look through our children's book journals. In an entry about a recent book, Adella said she liked then ending because "it wasn't perfect but nobody died."

I wondered if she realized she said she liked something because it wasn't perfect--or rather, neither perfect nor tragic but someplace in between where most of us do our living.

This brought to mind a conversation with a friend the other day about conflict-driven stories. These are stories in which the action is driven by conflict and the conclusion comes with a win and a loss. Such stories are embedded with antagonisms and confrontation. They are meant to mirror life, yet few lives look like this on a regular basis. The man-versus-whatever paradigm begs dualistic thinking, judgmental thinking, hostility, and alienation.

I liked my daughter's criterion for a good story bec…

A Tale of Two Trees

Thinking about trees lately, I naturally find myself thinking about trees at the state capitol in Hartford. This magnificent 19th-century gold-domed edifice is a monument to every Connecticut foible and myth you can think of and hundreds that never would have occurred to anybody.

For example, among the favorite treasures in that building is a dead tree. It is the trunk of a tree shot full of canon balls in Georgia during the Civil War? We think that's worth keeping. Indeed, look at the thing the terms accuracy, shoot-to-kill, and point-blank-range define themselves with brutal clarity. Gotta keep it.

We also think it's worth the trouble of planting the grounds of the capitol with trees who claim as their ancestor the Charter Oak, said to be (but who knows?) the repository of the first constitution of this state, though it really wasn't a constitution. The bottom line was that the English Crown had recognized the right of the colony of Connecticut to govern itself but then ch…

Wordless Wednesday: Colonial Days in Woodbury, Connecticut

Click here for more images of Colonial Days.

What I Meant to Say

"Beautiful day," I say to the neighbor,
Though what I meant to say was, "Hello."
He is pulling on his running shoes;
He doesn't look up.
"Supposed to be even better
"As the week goes on," he says.
"That's not possible," I say to the neighbor,
Though what I meant was, "that's good."
He turns and without even stretching
Runs toward the falling sun.
I turn the other way and walk.
Our paths will intersect down the road
In the dark.
We will nod,
Though, after a long walk in the cooling amber air
Of early autumn, when everything--everything everywhere--
Gives back to the sun all the heat and light it has received
In the form of color, color, color--
What I will mean to say will be:

"What are dreams of tomorrow,
"When you and I
"Have it all right here, right now?"

'The Giving Tree': Be Yourself and Become It

The Trees Around me
The more time I spend outside among trees, the less interested I am in thinking about anything but the trees when I am out there. I am not alone; instead, I am aware that I am with the trees, with the grass and the grapevine, with the flowers and flowing creeks and the myriad other lives these things sustain. In that awareness, I see their story: stone walls emerge from unlikely places, stands of old pines give shade and shelter to livestock, grapevines fill the air with the sweet scent of summer past its prime, swallows rise up with mysterious purpose as darkness falls.

I watch as thick maples reach across country roads become the first to turn colors in late summer. I ache when I see this because I realize they are first to turn because they are exposed to the elements as well as to the relentless press of passing cars. All of us who drive by are killing that tree.

Out for a walk along an old country lane yesterday, the new crushed stone on the road and the stink o…

'Strange Attractions' is Available in Woodbury and Waterbury

More Good Books in Woodbury, Connecticut (203-263-8090), and
The Connecticut Store in Waterbury, Connecticut (203-753-4121)
are stocking Strange Attractions: Exploring Graffiti.
Strange Attractions: Walls in Color is available through mail order here.

Weekend Snapshot: Colonial Storyteller

Click here for more about Weekend Snapshot.
Click here for a very brief video about this event and here for some more stills. Click here to see some flowers from the Gertrude Jekyll Garden.

Blog Your Blessings: Loafing

I walk in the early mornings, and often along the way a woman slows down, puts down her window, and says, "I wish I had your free time," or "I wish I had your leisure," or "I wish I had all that time to walk." Though this has been going on for a few years now, I still don't know her name. She's always in too big a hurry getting away from or back to her home to actually meet me.

I used to wonder about the assumptions that went into such comments, but now I think that maybe what she's saying is just plain true. Maybe she wishes she could slow down just long enough to pull on her sneakers and take a couple hundred paces away from her demanding life.

People ask me why I walk so much, and I tell them because the demands can wait. I used to be like this woman, the Road Runner of my neighborhood. I used to be at home with my daughter, teach part time in the evening, and write newsletters and edit from home for a check. I used to be hyper-involved wit…

The War on the Waterbury Green

Yesterday afternoon I came across a soldier ready for combat, a sailor with a pretty woman in his arms, an Army nurse handling some X-rays, a woman standing amid torpedoes and singing.

These were some of the figures on light post flags on the Green in Waterbury, Connecticut, a city whose brass industry was vital to the Second World War effort. The city is among those featured in Ken Burns's documentary The War.

Walking around the Green in the late afternoon sunshine, I was struck by these vivid images. The characters seemed real. The action seemed immediate. The emotion seemed raw. I was caught between two times--my own and the years of World War II. Looking at the folks in these pictures, I wondered how many came home and how many were lost, how much love they brought with them, how aware they must have been of the very high personal price of war. The images made me aware of how glad I am to be here now.

Click here to see some of those flags. Click here for more about the documenta…

Who's Pluribus, Anyway?

Creating peace in the world, preserving our environment, caring for one another, protecting our most basic human right--the right to live--all cannot be accomplished without new cultures able to work on the emotional problems not touched by political dialogue. We must learn to get along with our neighbors. (Arnold Mindell, A New Shamanism for Transforming Health, Relationships, and the Community)

Three times a week I pass a tagged-up utility box outside the parking garage near the university where I work and think of a poetry student I had in a class a few years ago. Though she now lives half way across the country, she was in town over the summer and left her mark. So three times a week I think of her and smile.

Tags--scrawled pseudonyms of graffiti writers--are a scourge to most folks who stand outside that world. I don't mind them; they remind me none of us is really ever alone. When I think of this gentle, unassuming young woman's tag, I applaud her temerity to tag this thin…

The Writing on the Wall: There's No Place Like Home

Maps fascinate me. I look at a map and feel like a bird flying well above the landscape so that the world really does look like a pastel patchwork quilt riddled and crazed with lines of rivers and streams, rail lines and lanes.

Two maps stand out in my memory as adornments in the homes of families who cared deeply about where they were because they felt so much a part of it.

One is a map of Danbury, Connecticut, that spanned the width of my lifelong friend's four-seater couch in her parents' home. Her family had come to Danbury from Ireland during the Great Hunger. Off the boat and in the Hat City, her family helped build St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church on the city's Main Street. Since that time, they became a part of just about every aspect of that city that was my hometown when I was a kid.

Though she was raised in a Catholic family , she converted to Judaism when she married, and today her family is part of a Jewish congregation. Nonetheless, they are all at home i…

Wordless Wednesday: Mouth of the Dog


It's About the Milk

As we recognize the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 debacle, I can't help thinking about the milk. I recall that in the face of that unfathomable nightmare, Americans sent milk to New York City.

This was an enormity around which nobody could reach, so what did we do? We went to the grocery story and shopped for strangers.

Without any orders from anybody, people ran to the store, bought food, and took it to their churches or any other do-gooder organization, and left it for the people of New York.

There was so much food that New York had to take it in trucks to other places. Somehow in the middle of our nightmare we found ourselves caring for the least of our society--the hungriest, the neediest, the most desperate.

I won't see 9/11 hijacked by politicians, celebrities, news networks, or anyone else. I'm going to go to the grocery store, have a good look at the milk, and give something away.

It's about the milk, my friend, the sometimes rare but always beautiful milk of hu…

Even After the Deluge, the Crickets Prevail

On the way home from the Bethlehem Fair on Saturday--not long after the deluge; after the lightening that ripped open the sky, turned it purple, and electrified the grass; after the screams of teenagers more frightened than thrilled by the adventure; after the flashing lights of the rides and games; after the animals of every shape and size; and after two doses of fried dough sitting heavy deep inside all of us--the crickets chirped.

And chirped and chirped and chirped.The car was quiet but for the sound of these wide-awake bugs way and away outside in the fields.

"They make a lot of noise," my daughter said. "Sometimes they even keep me awake at night."

Her best friend replied: "You have crickets, but some people have to listen to cars all night. Crickets are better."

"I guess you're right," my daughter said and drifted off to sleep, leaning on her dearest there in the backseat.

Life can be perfect, even when you're soaking wet and your fee…

Remembering 9/11: Chaos and Creativity at Ground Zero

Dr. John Briggs, an expert on chaos and creativity and a professor at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut, discusses the relationship between chaos and creativity in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. This material was filmed at Ground Zero in August, 2003. On the sixth anniversary of 9/11, I present this work as a tribute to the spirit that prevailed in the face of that nightmare.

Blog Your Blessings: a bit of Buddhism

"Did you ever find yourself inside a church, and there's a person behind the pulpit telling you on a Sunday morning you have to change?" the Buddhist priest asks. "And this person behind the pulpit doesn't even know you! How can someone who doesn't know you tell you to change?"

Brian, the Buddhist priest, continues: "My advice is that you don't change. That you look inside yourself and find your true nature. Be that person, and you won't find any need to change."

This was just one of many thoughts Brian shared last week when we were filming some video for his blog, Buddhism Today-Brian Vaugh. He says these things, I take them in and think about them, I find myself challenged, and I discover new ways to look at some old things.

Brian wasn't preaching the Gospel of Moral Relativism but saying that the source of morality is the enlightened self. To be enlightened is to see the suffering in the world for what it is and to respond to it wi…

Forgiveness: Eliminating the Hook

"For most of us, forgiveness is a sensitive and very tricky subject. On the one hand, we want to forgive and know we need to forgive. On the other hand, we believe that to forgive someone is somehow saying that what they did was okay. Forgiveness doesn't let the other person off the hook. It eliminates the hook altogether. Forgiveness is the only path to acceptance. Not until we can accept an experience without the judgmental story we often attach to it are we free to choose another way of seeing things." (Iyanla Vanzant, Up From Here, Reclaiming the Male Spirit: A Guide to Transforming Emotions into Power and Freedom)

The Difference between Gossip and Communication? Meaning

I am amazed by what a child's birthday party game can teach about communication. I played telephone with two groups of 22 young adults this week. In short order, we learned the difference between communication and hearsay.

I told each group I would read the line of a poem to one student, who would pass it on to the next and on and on until it made its way around the room. The last student to hear the line would write it on the board.

I read 20th-century American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem, "First Fig": "My candle burns at both ends;/It will not last the night;/But, ah, my friends and, oh, my foes--/It gives a lovely light!"

With one group, the first line became "I love n a z i s." The other: "BBQ on the beach."I told my class the first response is supremely ironic because Millay wrote a book of poems as WWII heated up with the express purpose of pressuring the US into involvement in that war against the Nazis.

"What does the …

Friday Flicks: Remember Spring?

Thanks to Cor for putting me onto this beautiful video.
Click here for more about Friday Flicks.

What the Dishes Have to Say

I’m the only person I know who can get lumps in her instant potatoes. This is no boast. It's just a plain fact that I’m no domestic goddess. So it's somewhat odd that I have enough dinner and salad plates in my cupboard to seat 11 people.

Eleven is not your standard number of place settings, but these aren't your standard-issue place settings. They're old. They are the passed-down remains of my great-grandmother’s everyday tableware that she had bought at Macy’s in New York City back in the day when going there was a big deal that required dressing up.

She had so many dishes, that all these years and oh so many dishwashers later in addition to the 11 dinner plates, there are 14 salad plates, eight little bowls I don’t know what you do with, seven bread plates, and exactly one soup bowl. (The soup bowl was my cereal bowl when I would visit my Grandmother. She would let me use one of her mother’s sterling spoons, too. I was the queen of the world with my bowl of granola.)


Lyra: Heaven on Earth

When I was in high school, the best I could hope for by way of current information on Russia was to muster the courage to ask the head librarian to take down the most recent back issues of Time magazine. The reporting was neither comprehensive nor objective. Always it seemed there were briefs about dark-minded political monsters with thick eyebrows running across their thick faces who lived to destroy the Free World.

That was then. Fast forward, oh, 25 years and the Soviet Union is right in front of me--first as images on my computer monitor and then as a group of trained singers offering up magnificent hymns of the Russian Orthodox Church at my church--St. John's Episcopal on the Green--in Waterbury, Connecticut. Here are gentle, refined, talented human beings sharing the sacred and the ancient of their culture with mine.

The singers are an ensemble of Lyra, a society of choir conductors, opera singers, instrumentalists, and music teachers from various musical groups throughout St.…

"Father Knows Less"--or Does He?

Released today, Father Knows Less or: "Can I Cook my Sister?" is a fun new book full of the kids questions ask and feedback from experts less befuddled than dear old dad about the answers.Inspired by his now 7-year-old son Dean, who has never been at a loss for a good question, author Wendell Jamieson solicited questions from lots and lots of kids and then set about to get expert answers.

City editor for The New York Times, Jamieson had a leg up on a lot of dads on sources for answers and help in getting those answers. Good for him--and good for us--because the result is a treasure trove of stuff. The result is sometimes a riot. For example, there's the dominatrix on deck to explain why whips make a whooshing sound when they slice through the air. There's a professor of evolutionary biology to explain why we have eyebrows. A pediatrician from L.A. tackles my daughter's question, "Why are people ticklish, and why sometimes are they not ticklish?" Betwee…

Wordless Wednesday: Out of the Box, into the Imagination


Online--or Alone--in Grief?

A story in today's paper about Connecticut tobacco farmers got me to thinking about my Connecticut ancestors. My great-great-great-grandfather, Jared Stoddard Isbell, was a tobacco farmer in Woodbury, where I live now. In the 1860s, he kept daily journals that together draw a picture of long days of hard work together in the fields, of cooperation among neighbors that was as much a part of getting by as eating and sleeping. There are entries about helping to harvest hay and apple crops, grind meat, make sausages, cut firewood, mend fences. There are entries about visits to sick neighbors. Jared's wife Polly was often away tending to the sick.

I have often thought this kind of caring atrophied into the funeral meal. It seems sometimes the only reasonable excuse to break from the routine of work and study is to note someone's passing by baking a cake and preparing a meal to share after the funeral and to keep the bereaved fed those first hard days after a death. Following th…

On Labor Day: Thanks for all that Land

Hiking along some beautiful open spaces this past week, the meaning of Labor Day came home to me in a dramatic way. At Mine Hill Preserve in Roxbury, Connecticut, I saw for myself how hard working-class laborers toiled to draw from the earth the resources that made others rich elsewhere as they took all the risk for barely a living wage.

At Topsmead State Forest in Litchfield, Connecticut, I enjoyed second-hand the pleasure and beauty that such wealth could buy. Topsmead was the summer cottage of Edith Morton Chase, daughter of Waterbury, Connecticut, copper and brass magnate Henry Sabin Chase. He gave her 16 hilltop acres of meadows and woods.

Walking around the beautiful gardens and through the woods, I realized how hard the ordinary people of Waterbury had to work that the Chases lived so well.Mine Hill Presever is part of the Roxbury Land Trust; Tospmead has belonged to the people of Connecticut since Chase left it to us in her will.

Both places speak to the enterprising nature of…

Blog Your Blessings: Truth Telling Trees

Walking along the Mine Hill Preserve in Roxbury, Connecticut, you realize we feel for generations the effects of the actions of our forebears. Mine Hill was the site of an iron mine in the lush and luxurious, once rural and agrarian, town of Roxbury, Connecticut. Between times it had its industrial hot spot just down the road from New Milford, complete with immigrant labor, brothels, a hotel, and a train stop.

Though the last vestiges of this industrial site are covered over with moss and decades of fallen leaves and new forest growth, the scars of blasting and mining and burning remain. There are piles of discarded quartz, an unwanted byproduct of the mining process. There are lumps of slag around the furnaces. There are the furnaces and walls and other bits and pieces of infrastructure There are tracks where carts once rolled with pig iron and what have you. There are the concrete archways of tunnels now occupied by bats. There are a few wooden buildings leaning away from the hill th…

Link Love: Thanks to a Few Good Bloggers

Today is a good day to acknowledge some of the blogs that have helped to improve my understanding of blogging and the techie and networking stuff that goes with it. I'm grateful for their useful information and for being the light at the end of the tunnel, and I recommend your visiting them:

Sueblimely - Discovering Blogging
Free PC Security
Jump Back!

P.S. Kuanyin and Hot Dog Truck have made a habit of spreading the love around the blogosphere. I found out about link love a few days after I posted this. Talk about serendipity!