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Showing posts from November, 2007

Skywatch Friday: Winter Comes

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"One good frost is all we need; then these leaves will come down."
One good frost, and all life beats a retreat south or at least inward
And by the weakened light rests,
Sleeps, perhaps,
And in the stillness feels its own heart beat.
It is enough. That is winter.

Skywatch Friday

Thursday Thirteen: Christmas Carols' Back Stories

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Stories Behind the Best-loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins made its way to me last Christmas by way of my daughter. This year, I asked her to pick 13 songs from the book that I should write about for this post. I was surprised how many were made for Hollywood and how many were at first rejected by the church. The book is fascinating. Here are my daughter's choices:

1. "Angels we Have Heard on High"
Parts of this hymn were sung by the early Church even before Christianity took root in western Europe. Collins says it's possible the chorus was written within 100 years of Christ's birth.

2. "Away in a Manger"
Though it was written by an anonymous American in the mid-1800s, there was a longstanding rumor that Martin Luther had written the song and sung it to his own children.

3. "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
Noel Regney, a Frenchman who emigrated to the US after World War II, wrote the lyrics as an antidote to his fear and concern about Vietnam and the…

Washington: The Common Man's Mount Olympus

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Washington, DC, with its monuments, memorials, and classical architecture is the ordinary person's Mount Olympus.

Enshrined there are the effigies and words of wisdom of the shapers of the United States. These are ordinary people whose incredible minds transformed the outcasts of Europe into a nation. In the process, they lifted up republicanism and democracy as sacred ways of life. We have a God-given right to make our lives and an obligation to do so, they believed. Thus these folks shook off the caste system of their forebears that limited the vision and reach of all but a select few and worked hard at they knew not what. These were geniuses and creators.

That so many monuments consist of larger-than-life figures surrounded by their own words carved into the walls speaks to the value we place on thought and lives built on the values and goals expressed in those thoughts.

That so many monuments to ordinary people doing their best in times of conflict--memorials to the soldiers of W…

Wordless Wednesday: Orpheus at Fort McHenry

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Read more about this Greek God in Baltimore, Maryland, here.
Wordless Wednesday

Who's Hungry in Your Neighborhood?

More than 35 million Americans--including 12.6 million children--live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger, according to Bread of the World and reported in the November 23, 2007, Religion and Ethics newsletter.

The number is staggering and oh so close to home. The rector of our church recently remarked to me that the real measure of economic health in a Greater Waterbury, where we live, is the number of people who frequent the soup kitchen and when they do it. As the month wears on and families run out of money to meet their expenses, more and more turn to the soup kitchen for a healthy meal, he said. He was quick to point out that most of these are hard-working, two-income families whose paychecks simply can't keep up with the cost of living.

The Reverend David Beckmann, president of Bread of the World (a nationwide Christian organization that works to eradicate hunger) corroborated this view in his interview with Religion and Ethics when he said, ""…

Weekend Snapshot: Working Man

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Cick here to see more of this mural.
Weekend Snapshot

Jamestown: Creativity 101

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I had a glimpse of what it means to fight for survival last week, when my family and I visited Jamestown, Virginia. The first permanent English colony in North America, Jamestown was the capitol of the Virginia Colony from the time of its settlement in 1607 until 1699.

There, adventurers, gentlemen, malcontents, and misfits banded together to fight off mosquitoes and Indians and struggle with hunger, unpotable water, insufficient farmland, and swampy conditions as they struggled to build a viable colony--which is to say make money for the Crown and the people who paid their passage as well as for themselves.

When tobacco became an export in 1612, fortunes turned for the colonists, thanks to the leadership of John Rolfe and his lovely wife Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Confederacy. A time of peace, prosperity, growth, and democracy ensued.

Today, Jamestown is a tourist site with three replica wooden vessels, an Indian village, and an English fort. We visited on a cold…

Blog Your Blessings: Bread

I had the opportunity this week to bake several loaves of pumpkin gingerbread with my daughter as Thanksgiving gifts for friends and family. On a cold, damp weekday off from school, we created snow squalls of flour and drifts of salt and powder. We wore our work well as we scooped and measured and leveled the dry stuff and poured it into the creamy wet stuff. We enjoyed the hail storm as bits of dough like hail stones circled the room and stuck to a little bit of everything.

This could have been the dough for anything autumnal--allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and, of course, ginger flavored the batter with the essence of fall--until we added that wonderful orange slime called pure pumpkin. We managed to do this without creating an orange blizzard around the room.For hours--it felt like hours--we waited for the loaves to bake. I washed dishes while my daughter kept her vigil and read by the warm stove.I stood back when my daughter delivered her foil-wrapped packages of bread, which were r…

Amazing Grace: What Faith Can Do

I thought of the wisdom of the Tao as I watched the film Amazing Gracethe other evening. Based on the book of the same name by Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace tells the story of British parliamentarian William Wilberforce, who was a Christian and an abolitionist.

Though his years-long effort to end slavery in Britain made him famous--or infamous, depending on your perspective--in his time, he is largely unknown now. That the spokesman for a humanitarian political initiative that transformed the British economy should be forgotten yet the abominable nature of slavery roundly understood brings to mind the end of the second verse of the Tao: "When the work is done, it is forgotten.That is why it lasts forever."
Wilberforce was a good teacher: through sheer faith and perseverance and, finally, with a pragmatic strategy, he convinced his generation and successive ones that doing right is the only right thing to do. Wilberforce, who had a profound religious experience that transformed h…

Skywatch Friday: Through a Forgotten Window

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Love flies
Sometimes through a forgotten window
Scattering seeds sometimes
Nothing can hold it back, nothing all all.
Love flies, and the seeds grow.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Here are some recent photos from around the homestead.
"13 Wonderful Thanksgiving Things, Starting with Plymouth" is here.

Wordless Wednesday: Legend of the Five Kernels

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Click here to read the story behind Thanksgiving blessing called
the "Legend of the Five Kernels:"

*The first kernel reminds us of the autumn beauty around us.
*The second kernel reminds us of our love for each other.
*The third kernel reminds us of God's love and care for us.
*The fourth kernel reminds us of our friends--especially our Indian brothers.
*The fifth kernel reminds us we are free people.
Wordless Wednesday

What Would You Take with you if You Had to Flee Your Home?

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The fires in southern California that destroyed about 1,500 homes and damaged hundreds more could cost insurers about $1 billion, according to the New York Times.

I can't imagine a billion of anything, let alone dollars. In fact, I can't envision that amount of money in my hand any more than I can envision a fire three-fourths the size of Rhode Island creeping up the backyard and endangering me and my home.

The failure of my imagination makes the real world no less real, though.

That reality came home to me Sunday night in my father's story of his aunt's facing the fires from her San Diego home. Though she and her home survived the fires, her backyard was scorched and the exterior of her house suffered some damage.Dad's story of Aunt Connie and her home brought to mind another aunt's story.

My Aunt Dot spent the final years of her life in Palm Coast, Florida, another region of the country that has been afflicted by fires in recent memory. This environmental nig…

Weekend Snapshot: Urban Mind

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This is one of several photos I took at a remote brown field in New York State. This piece speaks to me of urban life, of ultimate solitude, and of chaos. Of course, the paint ball hit reminds me not to take any of this too seriously! (Note: No private property was harmed in the making of this graffito.) See more of these walls here.

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: Life Itself

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Looking through photo albums of my daughter's fourth and fifth birthdays, the other night, I was startled to see just how much she had grown it he past five years.

When she was younger, her birthday party was always a big event for us. We'd invited all our friends and family. Everyone who was game dressed up for this Halloween-time celebration. Her albums are full of an apple-cheeked, smiling, giggly girl who obliged her mom and dad by pausing from the fun and games for mere seconds to pose with aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends.

That energy and joy have not abated, but they have found their outlet in homework, music, Scouting, reading, writing, photography as she has grown. Her life is just beginning, really.

After I closed the albums, I checked my email and found a link to the CaringBridge blog of a little girl named Elise who has Tay-Sachs disease. Her mom, Lori, had posted the message that Elise's friend Gabby had passed away.

The picture story of Adella's…

Anger: You Can Deal with It

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Anger's a hot topic these days, if my random readings are anything to go by. This week I came across two online publications that focus on anger and present two very different approaches to resolving it. The difference in approaches intrigues me: one is medical and costs money; the other, spiritual and free of charge.

The medical approach requires looking outside yourself for answers; the spiritual, looking inside. The former trusts outsiders to know your mind better than you do; the latter trusts in the ability of the individual to find healing within.

The November 15 Utne Reader draws a picture of a country curious about its anger and studying it. The experts are out in numbers with their surveys, questionnaires, and other measuring instruments trying to figure out who, what, where, when, and why so much anger in our society.

The Reader says some experts want to see it classified as a disease in the DSM IV, that great directory of mental disorders for which there are numbers, tre…

Sky Watch Friday: Limits

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In the mind's eye only
Do earth and heaven converge:
Draw the line; follow it home
Through the universe to your heart.
Sky Watch Friday

Thursday Thirteen: 13 Generations of the Isbell Family

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Each year as Thanksgiving approaches, my thoughts turn to my mother's Yankee family--the Isbells--which counts itself among the earliest of Dissenters, adventurers, and malcontents to arrive in New England in 1620. Thanksgiving brings to mind the fabled harvest festival of these folks who survived with the help of the locals.

Though we had known we had a longtime Connecticut story, we didn't know how far back the story went until 1980, when my grandmother received from her paternal Aunt Mary Isbell Derosier a genealogy of the Isbell family in North America. Two years later, Gram gave to me this work of a woman named Edna Warren Mason shortly before her own death.

While it was Gram's, though, she had traced the line of our family back to the 17th century luxury liners that brought many English people to a very strange place. Looking at the names, dates, and lives of my progenitors telescopes time for me: at the same time 11 generations make up a very long stretch of time full…

Wordless Wednesday: What Child?

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More images from some remote walls in New York State are in this album.
Wordless Wednesday

Oh, to be Simple

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"If you don't walk around with the weight of the world on your back, people think you're simple."

These are my mother mother's words of wisdom. She cast these pearls before me a long time ago when we were having a conversation about the pop psychology mathematics on the airwaves that equated being miserable with being in some way wise.

This tendency of the talk shows and the so-called reality shows to focus on the deviant and dysfunctional in every level of society finds its way into everyday thinking so that having "issues" is the same as being "interesting." We become noble and victorious when we overcome obstacles, even if its the small matter of coming to terms with the bad day we had 25 years ago. We congratulate ourselves for not drinking, not taking drugs, not leaving our spouses, not committing suicide. Deep darkness is the stuff of, well, the stuff of life.

Last night during Brian Vaugh's meditation group, we considered the words …

Vietnam Memorial Reminds us that Life is Beautiful

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When we leave offerings at shrines that honor our forbears, we "speak to the dead and the place of the dead in our culture." That's according to University of Michigan professor Kristin Hass, who wrote a book in 1998 on the practice of leaving messages and mementos at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.

Since the memorial was completed in 1982, "it has become a de facto shrine with more than 100,000 offerings for the dead and messages from survivors left by the millions who visit it each year," according to USA Today.

The National Parks Services catalogues and preserves all the non-perishable items left as offerings at the wall. "It was unheard of for people to come to a site over a protracted period of time and leave objects," said Duery Felton, the collection curator and a Vietnam veteran.

When we speak to the place of the dead in our culture, we're really talking to each other. We're saying that it matters that we are here and that life i…

Weekend Snapshot: Primary Colors

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Not ashes to ashes
As we travel from day into night
But color in brilliant flashes
As we move from light to light.

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: Seeing the Light in a New Way

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This week's blessing is about seeing the light in a new way, thanks to Raghu and Neo. Their blogs offered insight into the Hindu festival Diwali. Also called the "festival of lights," Diwali marks the victory of light over dark and the hope of achieving happiness in place of ignorance, love in place of hatred. On this festival, diyas (small clay oil lamps) and candles are lit as symbols of the victory of good over evil within every human being.

The practice of lighting dyas and candles comes from a number of stories in Hindu mythology, according to Wikipedia. The most famous of these is the legend of Lord Ram and his family. Diwali celebrates Lord Ram's return to Ayodhya, the capital of his kingdom, after the 14 years of exile that followed his defeat of the evil Ravana. The people of Ayodhya welcomed Rama by lighting rows of lamps.

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss …

Next Week is 'Random Acts of Kindness Week'

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I came across this site tonight and was so intrigued I thought I'd note it here. Next week is Random Acts of Kindness Week, which was established in 1995 by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

This is the Foundation's mission statement:The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation inspires people to practice kindness and to pass it on to others. We provide free educational and community ideas, guidance, and other resources to kindness participants through our website.

This is part of its "about" statement:
As people tap into their own generous human spirit and share kindness with one another, they discover for themselves the power of kindness to effect positive change. When kindness is expressed, healthy relationships are created, community connections are nourished, and people are inspired to pass kindness on.

Thanks to Anglophile Football Fanatic for her Thursday Thirteen post highlighting this holiday

Skywatch Friday: Where are Your Wings?

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Pegasus, where are you wings?
Whose dreams might carry you aloft
Will hitch a cart to you.
In those dreams of flight and light, The soul will find a landing soft.

Thursday Thirteen No. 7: Gifts of Your Heart

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May the beat of your heart set the pace of your life and give you
A straight back
That others might honor the dignity of your soul;
Open arms
That you might embrace every being;
Warm hands
That you might touch and comfort all within your reach;
Bright eyes

That you might see the good and beautiful in every moment;
A healthy mind
That thinks only of kindness and compassion; (more)

Reverse Report Cards Reverse Responsibility

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When all else fails, blame someone else.

This is the lesson I derived from a plan presented to the Manchester, Connecticut, school board that proposes issuing report cards to parents. If this proposal were adopted, the board would evaluate whether parents get their kids to school on time, whether parents attend parent-teacher conferences, and whether students complete their homework every night.

Republican board member Steve Edwards would even throw in evaluating whether or not kids dress appropriately for the whether and or seem to have had a good breakfast.

Edwards feels parents just aren't preparing their kids for school, and he wants the board to take on the role of Nanny McPhee.

"This becomes a way of identifying who needs extra help and using resources to reach out to these parents," he said in a recent news report. "It's not meant to be punitive in any way."

Right. If this proposal is put in place, it will teach kids to shift responsibility for their shor…

Wordless Wednesday: The Middle Way

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What is the valley of a shadow
But an illusion created by an illusion?
Your path is the middle way, the light;
Walk it.Wordless Wednesday

Sirius Coyote: Calling Home on the Day of the Dead

Sirius Coyote created the sounds of the soul, la selva, and the spirit that moves through our world in a beautiful concert at Wisdom House on Sunday, November 4, to honor Dia de los Muertos. A holiday celebrated primarily in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos honors the souls of the departed on November 1 and 2.

Those who celebrate this day create special altars decorated with items that the departed once enjoyed in this world--gloves, candies, photos, and other mementos--to invite the spirits to visit on this sacred day. It's a lovely time to remember that this world and the next are the same place.

Sirius Coyote plays 30 different ancient and modern instruments. The range stretches from the conch shell to the clarinet. For more than 20 years, the Connecticut-based group has performed original music that captures the spirit of the rain forests, desserts, and villages of Latin America as well as indigenous songs from the Americas.

My daughter and I attended the concert after a morning at our…

Weekend Snapshot: Maple Curtains

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Late in the afternoon of Halloween, I found myself in front of an old, old house, the windows of which melted and pooled in the sunlight and shadows cast by a flaming maple tree.

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: Apples

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The Celts called the land of eternal youth Avalon, from the Gaelic word for apple, and with good reason. There's nothing more pleasant on a crisp autumn day than the sight of a small child relishing a ripe apple in the open air of a hilltop orchard.
We've been to March Farms in Bethlehem, Connecticut, three times this autumn. Alone as a family or with different sets of beloved cousins, the trip is always marvelous because it brings out the kid in all of us.

This family-run orchard hosts a corn maze that is the exact right size for kids (of all ages) to feel like they can solve puzzles rather than be overwhelmed by them. The pumpkin patch is big and grassy and surrounded by hay bales to keep kids safe and even somewhat clean.

The hayride is a big enough loop around the hill to put "God's country" in a meaninful place in your vocabulary. The laden trees offer up fruit for every hand. Then there are the hay bales where the kids can play, the congenial goats, the shop …

Wake up and Be Kind

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Some questioned the Buddha asking, "Are you a God?"
"No", he replied.
"Are you an angel then?" they asked.
"No," he replied again.
"What are you then?" they asked.
"I am awake," he replied.

My Buddhist friend and teacher once said to me that he stays away from situations that could be contentious. I didn't know what to make of that for a long time. What does staying away from difficult people prove or do?

Of course, this is the same teacher who said to me once that to be angry in the present is impossible. To be angry, you have to conjure up something that happened in the past and become it. To be angry is to insist on the past. To cease living in the present to pursue that phantom demon is to forsake the search for enlightenment. Better to avoid such situations!

Where there is compassion, there is no anger. To avoid difficult or mean people --those who seek the momentary pleasure of causing pain--is to refuse unpleasant or hurt…

Skywatch Friday: Sacred Dust

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Sacred dust:
From you, the blue sky,
From you the earth and I.
Through you, I hold and see
Every dream of eternity. Sky Watch Friday

Angels: Love in Motion

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"Angels are love in motion. They never rest, they struggle to grow, and they are beyond good and evil. Love that consumes all, that destroys all, that forgives all. Angels are made of that love, and are at the same time its messengers." (Paulo Coelho, The Valkyries)