Showing posts from February, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Growing Together, Growing Apart

I enjoy this time of year because I can see the shapes of the trees and the vast network of branches as well asthe sky. I love it the freedom, the movement, and the vastness of space as much as I love trees in full leaf.

I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far! (John Muir)

(Click here for an interesting bit of information about the ways trees communicate with each other.)

Noah's Ark II--Flora Only

If we can't stop the devastation we inflict on our planet on a minute-by-minute basis, we can always bank against our abusive ways to the tune of $9.1 million. With 100 million seeds from around the world deposited in a doomsday seed vault on a remote Norwegian island, the world is insuring itself against the likelihood of future environmental mayhem inflicted by wars and other disasters that wipe out food crops. The vault will operate like a bank box, according to USA Today, which ran a story about the vault on Wednesday, February 27. Norway owns the bank, but nations who contributed seeds can withdraw them free of charge.

Here's some of the story:

Svalbard Global Seed Vault, just 620 miles from the North Pole, is designed to house as many as 4.5 million crop seeds from all over the world. It is built to withstand global warming, earthquakes and even nuclear strikes.

The vault will serve as a backup to the other 1,400 seed banks around the world, in case their deposits are lost…

Thursday Thirteen No. 22: For Everything, A Season

I had the oldies channel on the radio the other day, and I caught the Byrds singing "Turn, Turn, Turn." This rock group sent me to YouTube for another round of that wonderful song and then back to the Good Book for the source of those timeless, eternal, anonymous lyrics.

1. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3. A time to kill, and a time to heal;
4. a time to break down, and a time to build up;
5. A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
6. a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
7. A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
8. a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
9. A time to get, and a time to lose;
10. a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
11. A time to rend, and a time to sew;
12. a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
13. A time to love, and a time to hate;
14. a time of war, an…

Wordless Wednesday: The Crown's Jewels

This marvelous bit of costume jewelry belonged to my grandmother, who was my queen. She kept a cream perfume in the secret compartment of this ring that dazzled me in its over-sized glory.

Wordless Wednesday

Ever Felt Like a Circus Elephant?

Ever felt like a circus elephant? I have. Yesterday I heard this story that captures the experience perfectly:

"When [elephants are] young, they are attached by heavy chains to large stakes driven deep into the ground. They pull and yank and strain and struggle, but the chain is too strong, the stake too rooted. One day they give up, having learned that they cannot pull free, and from that day forward they can be "chained" with a slender rope. When this enormous animal feels any resistance, though it has the strength to pull the whole circus tent over, it stops trying. Because it believes it cannot, it cannot. "(Duen Hsi Yen)

In time, the chain becomes an illusion that is nonetheless every bit as powerful as the real thing. Shake off these imaginary chains, and you can change your life by breaking free of limitations imposed by ourselves or, more thank likely, others--usually in the form of harsh words. We don't have to believe the old way is the only way.

If w…

Weekend Snapshot: Winter Sings

These icicles have draped themselves alongside a nearby waterfall. I think of this one as "The Choir Director and her Choir."

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: The Poetry and Music of Another Time

John Denver was the sound of the seventies for me. "Sunshine," "Annie's Song," and "I'm Sorry" along with all those mountain songs filled my childhood. They painted beautiful pictures of idyllic places, dreams I could well imagine as my own. As I grew up with his music, I watched him do what he could to make this world better and kinder.

During my elementary school years, my music teacher would herd the glee club into the cafeteria a couple of times a week to belt out whatever the newest John Denver releases were. She implanted all of the greatest hits and the best of the I Want to Live album into my mind.

Though the music lady in the patterned moo moos and the heavy makeup never taught us a note of music, she filled us with poetry that celebrated the wonders of the natural world, love, and family life. Denver sang to and for the beauty of all life. His was a kind voice to hear in those days.

Clearing out the music drawer the other day, I came across…

Luc Freymanc: Passion, Pen, and Ink

I fell in love with the work of Luc Freymanc three years ago when I sought an image that captured the wisdom and mystery, passion and turmoil that was the life of Christ. What was it like to be that teacher, I wondered, to test your own hypothesis about the ultimate power of love even to the point of your own death? To do so with courage and integrity that the people you held dear might understand that we are part of the one life, the one truth, the one mystery we call God?

At Freymanc's site, I discovered a veritable ocean of drawings of Christ that captured all of this. These were rapidly drawn sketches, passionate moments, insights into the very heart of a loving God. Impressionistic and immediate, the intense lines and the open spaces spoke to me of the purpose, passion, and pathos, of a Man good for his Word.

Freymanc uses a fountain pen to create these works, some of which are 1 to 2 inches high. Freymanc drew his first pen-and-ink image of the Christ on the night his father d…

Skywatch Friday: Looking Beyond and Within New Haven, Connecticut

I have been thinking about Connecticut's very flat winter skies these past several weeks as I have toured the deep and undulating clouds of Scandinavia, dove deep into the sapphire blues of Georgia, and swirled around the diaphanous robes of cloud angels in other parts of the world. Here in Connecticut, the winter sky sits flat and heavy as a lid on a pot, it seems.

In her masterwork Ethan Frome, author Edith Wharton describes such skies: "The night was perfectly still, and the air so dry and pure that it gave little sensation of cold. The effect produced on Frome was rather of a complete absence of atmosphere, as though nothing less tenuous than ether intervened between the white earth under his feet and the metallic dome overhead."

"Exactly." That's about all I can say. Rather than long for a different sky, I have learned to love this one, as my father used to suggest I do about meatloaf night when I was a kid. There's wisdom in that. Three decades lat…

Thursday Thirteen No. 21: Inspiration

One of the most poetic moments in the book of Genesis occurs in the Creation story when God breathes life into the earth and thus creates humanity. This imagery connects us to God and the earth completely, eternally, inextricably. We are no more or less than any other part of this marvelous world; our lives depend on it and it, on us.

I think of this passage whenever meditate--alone or under the guidance of my Buddhist teacher. This kind of meditation focuses on breathing. It is the kind of meditation that Buddha himself engaged in under the bodhi tree. It is about develop in full consciousness of all about you and within you.

It is with this in mind that I read the Creation story as a moment of inspiration for that mystery called God as well as for the life that breath created.

1. That breathing in of life is literally inspiration.

2. It is the "immediate influence of God or a god," according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

3. To inspire is to "influence or animate [fi…

Art is What Art Does

Illusions are art, for the feeling person, and it is by art that you live, if you do. (Elizabeth Bowen)

My daughter and I took a walk in town Monday so she could photograph pictures of outdoor art to fulfill a requirement of one of her Girl Scout badges. After we parked at the library, we strolled; and she shamelessly photographed the lawngerie posing as art on the front lawns of some of Woodbury's venerable Main Street homes.

The weather was unseasonably warm, and the sky grew unfavorably darker as we made our way. We were one image shy of the minimum requirement of five when the heavens burst a pipe and let loose everything they had on our bare heads. We held hands and ran like hell over potholes wide and deep as gorges, around alpine mounds of plowed snow, through muddy medians....Name it and you can bet we stepped in, around, or over it in our haste.

"You know what's great about this?" my daughter shouted as we lept over a puddle.

I had no idea. "What, honey?&q…

Wordless Wednesday: Tea Time and Two Birds

A symbol of courage in Chinese art, the quail is usually depicted in pairs, according to author Richard J. Smith: "Combinations of two of the same symbol often indicated conjugal affection or friendship, but such paintings also reflected ying-yang juxtapositions, aesthetic patterns in which one element was clearly "superior" to the other. Quail were almost invariably depicted in pairs, one with its head turned upward (yin) and the other with its head facing the ground (yang)....The positioning reflected a long-standing aesthetic of unequal balance."

Wordless Wednesday

Do not Underestimate Good

"Do not underestimate good, thinking it will not affect you. Dripping water can fill a pitcher, drop by drop; one who is wise is filled with good, even if one accumulates it little by little."

These are the words of the Buddha (Dhammapada 9.7) quoted in Jesus and Buddha, the Parallel Sayings edited by Marcus Borg. I stumbled upon this passage when I was leafing through the book with no particular purpose this morning. The line brought to mind a friend's story about his friend who had been struggling with a drinking problem for years.

"This guy fought the bottle for years. I mean fought it. He'd sweat it out every night, would he drink or wouldn't. He'd sit in his car outside the liquor store and then go in before closing time and then hate himself in the morning for doing it again," my friend told me.

"Then one day he said, 'Hey, I can't drink. I just can't handle it.' And he stopped."

Of course, that's the simplified ver…

Weekend Snapshot: Basque Travelers

This tile is a souvenir from the Basque region of Spain. These three have been walking in place with their meat, produce, and chicken for many years since a friend made a gift of it to me. This weekend they saw the light of day when I blew the dust off my shelves.

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: 'Speaking of Faith'

This week's blessing is the best memoir I ever read. It is both personal and relevant, literate and lyrical. It is eminently re-readable and well worth the time you can give it.

Krista Tippett's spiritual memoir Speaking of Faith traces her experiences first as the granddaughter of an evangelical Christian preacher in Oklahoma, then as a young skeptic who turned her faith over to the world of politics during her years as a diplomat in East Germany, and now as a woman of faith who sees the important places of religion and spirituality as well as politics in public discourse about how we form our lives personally and as a nation.

Tippett is creator and host of the weekly American Public Media radio program Speaking of Faith, which consists of conversations with persons of various beliefs--Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist...--about the intersection of faith in their daily lives. She is a seeker and a listener, and she has a wonderful gift of including all voices in the conversa…

Review: 'Spiderwick'

The Spiderwick Chronicles blew through our house inside a few weeks.Our daughter read the lovely, beautifully illustrated little chapter books and sent them straight back to the library. She didn't want to keep other kids from the fun, and she knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of a waiting list.

To be sure, the books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi about the three Grace children and their mother as they settle into life in the fairy infested ancestral home are a quick read. They are also eminently believable and delightful. Following her divorce, the children's mother moves them to the country--specifically to a Brownie-infested home of Great Aunt....where they find The Field Guide, the notebook of one Arthur Spiderwick.

The children encounter every type of fairy being--good, bad, selfish, mood, you name it--and the selfishness engendered by their possession of The Field Guide.

My daughter, who is nine and loves the books because they validate a reality every…


Damp to the core,
Earth's deepest fires it would seem
Are in danger of dying out.
From our core to the clouds
Water alone remains
Of the four elements:
I am water, the stones are water,
The earth is water and every bush and berry,
Every leaf and tree
Is water.
You, too, are water.
Water has washed away
The clear, sharp lines that delineated this from that,
That defined one life from another life,
That limited the meaning of I and you,
Suggested to us this could never happen.
The distinctions are gone.
We are at once invisible and opaque,
Whole and complete,
We are water.

Skywatch Friday

I was giving some thought this week to Dot's open question on her Skywatch hub a few weeks ago asking whether anyone was tired of photographing the sky. Though I am not at all tired of looking at the sky and looking for that Skywatch photo to add to the weekly offering, I decided to play with the question and look for the sky in other places. Last week I found it in a puddle. This week, she's in this rose.

Staring at the sun
blind you,
So turn away;
From a distance
See the conversation
Of light
Between the burning sky
And that orange rose
Cut for your pleasure.
You will find
Breathing it in
Is much the same as
Looking up.

Of course, if I would just wait for the blinding light to diminish just a bit, I just might get something. I did once, after all--a long time ago on Dennis Beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts:

Skywatch Friday

'A Feeling of Warmth' on Valentine's Day

Each of us has magical moments in our lives when we become aware of the oneness of all things. When that happens, we see the 'motions and patterns and connection.' A feeling of warmth permeates our being and we heave a sigh of heartfelt relief. We can know the unknowable. (Anne Wilson Schaef, Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much)

Thursday Thirteen No. 21: Kindness

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness." So says the Dalai Lama.

"Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don't be concerned that they might not repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked." So says Jesus Christ.

In our time: "Kindness--an everyday by-product of all the great virtues--is at once the simplest and most weighty discipline human beings can practice," according to Krista Tippett in her spiritual memoir Speaking of Faith.

I was thinking about the meaning of kindness this week, and I turned to a bunch of online dictionaries and found the following.

1. Sensitive
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary

2. Tender

3. Gentle

4. Favorable Multilingual …

Wordless Wednesday: Maxfield Parrish

This is my photo of one of Maxfield Parrish's illustrations from the Arabian Nights, Their Best Known Tales, edited by Kate Douglas Wiggen and Nora A. Smith and published in 1909. This was dad's book when he was a kid.
Wordless Wednesday

Of Young Boys and the Mysterious Feminine

"This could go on for some time," my 8-year-old nephew apprised me as the end of the first period of a hockey game came to the end and we waited for the Zamboni to roll out and amuse us for 20 minutes.

"It could, Alex. Make yourself comfortable," I said.

"Want to draw?" I asked as I handed him my Moleskin notebook and a pen.

"Sure. What do you want me to draw?"

"What you like," I said. For no logical reason at that point, I thought I'd explain what I knew of the game. It took three seconds. "When the people around me cheer, I'll cheer. When they boo, I'll boo. It's OK, Aunt Sandy."

When my daughter was a baby, I used to joke that it was a relief to have a girl and be free of the obligation to deal with jock world. I don't understand most field sports, which I see as variations on the backyard game of Keep-Away--itself a misery--with specialized rules and terminology that boggle my mind.

Nine years later, the j…

Review: 'The Last Week'

The Last Week by Jesus scholars Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan is not your granny's version of Holy Week.

In place of the sacrificial lamb making good on the debts of every rotten sinner who ever walked, we have a daring, courageous rebel passionately committed to growing God's kingdom in the here and now of his world. This rebel maintains that commitment to, through, and beyond his public execution on the cross.

Borg and Crossan strip away two millennia of literary criticism, mythology, political interpretation, and clich├ęs--not to mention the combining, conflating, and confusing of all four Gospels--to leave us with a wartime narrative about a brilliant young rabbi challenging both the Roman Empire and the collaborationist temple leaders on the nature of power and the primacy of the one God over all other rulers.

Jesus the Rebel is aware of his time and place and the challenges he presents to these power brokers. He consciously accepts the risks involved in making the …

Weekend Snapshot: Soft Weather, Strange Woman

I went for a walk on a soft February morning

and met a strange woman...

and her very colorful friends.

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: Inheritance

Last week I had some time to spend photographing dolls that my great-grandmother made decades upon decades ago. They are beautiful, delicate dolls that once sat on the back of her sofa or on her bed. My grandmother gave these special works of art to me the summer before she died. Her gift to me was her generous grandmotherly love; she made me the richest girl in the world that summer day in 1981.

They stay safely behind glass at my parents' home so my mother can enjoy them, too. They really do belong to my family and are in the right place.

When I stopped by, my young nephew, a six-star general (his designation) in the US Army, came out of the officer's mess in the family room when he was done with his cereal and declared an end to the morning's war games with his primary playmate, Grandma.Without my asking, this little soldier, (who is also king of the flying-kick) took one after another doll out of the old bookcase and brought them to me to photograph. He posed them for me…

Every Reader is a Facet of a Text

In her beautiful and compelling memoir Speaking of Faith, radio host Krista Tippett makes the following observation about reading sacred texts like the Bible: if you sit with the stories, "pick over them, retell them, they begin to grow--take on nuance and possibility before your eyes. One layer of meaning is lifted and another reveals itself. You sense that the text would respond to every conceivable question....The only limitation is my time, my powers of imaginative concentration, and my capacity to listen to the interpretations of others."

It seems to me this is true for texts generally--even of letters or conversations or rumors. If a text is a mysterious gem, then every reader is a facet of that gem. We make it new by making it our own. To enter into a conversation about text--any text--is to admit the possibilities and to accept that there are possibilities even beyond our imagination. It is to see something new every time because texts, like life itself, are dynamic.


Skywatch Friday: Looking up, Looking Down


Thursday Thirteen No. 18: Valentine's Day Lore

Sure as the grape grows on the vine
So sure you are my valentine
The rose is red, the violet blue
Lilies are fair, and so are you!

Not so long ago, I was up on the historical significance of each holiday and could name the pagans who had a hand in shaping our contemporary festivals. My daughter and I made almost daily trips to the library to fill our book bag with Culturally Important stuff. Alas, my memory bank went the way of the book bag into the great unknown.

Now, while my daughter is reading Culturally Important Chapter Books like Harry Potter and Inkheart, I'm back in the picture books trying to learn a thing or two. In time for Valentine's Day, I've picked up these bits and pieces. I wrote them down before I could forget them.

1. The heart is a symbol of the human heart. That's easy enough. This most vital organ of our being was once believed to contain the soul. In fact, the ancient Egyptians thought it was the source of intelligence.

2. If that naked fellow known …

Happy Birthday, Elise

Yesterday a girl named Elise celebrated her fifth birthday. Her parents will celebrate their first-born princess in a big way this weekend. This may be her last birthday, after all. Children like Elise who are afflicted with Tay-Sachs Disease seldom make it to five years of age, let alone six.

Elise’s life and her relative good health is a miracle. Miracles are the results one obtains from a combination of perseverance, patience, and love. Her parents, her sister, her grandparents, her circle of extended family and friends, and the vast support network of other families marked by Tay-Sachs have poured these magical ingredients into the life of this beautiful little girl.

I know Elise's story through my friends who are lifelong friends of Elise’s grandparents. They introduced me to Elise via the Caring Bridge blog her mom Laurie maintains for her to keep friends and family up-to-date on her daughter.

I receive email notices when Laurie updates the blog. I hold my breath when I click …

Wordless Wednesday: Math Book Pages

These are images from my mother's math book, A Child's Number Primer, which the Macmillan Company published in 1929. It became my grandmother's personal property when she had to buy it because mom (oops) wrote in it. It had a lot of miles on it by the mid 40s, when mom used it in school. The lessons in it are very much like the ones my daughter does now.

Wordless Wednesday

Of Young Girls and Miraculous Baskets

Any budding psychologist who would like to see Carl Jung's statement that "nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their...children than the unlived life of the parent" need only sign up a young child for Parks & Recreation basketball, sit back, and watch.

Any budding optimist who would like to see the Taoist ideas of the positive attracting the positive and causing all kinds of incredible transformations need only sign up a young child for Parks & Recreation basketball, sit back, and watch.

For the past three years, my 9-year-old daughter has been playing ball in town. Every year, the patten of events unfold in the same way. The unconscionable occurs during the first two weeks, when the grasping, self-centered coaches struggle with other coaches to get the "best" players on their team and parents who want to be part of a "winning" team holler all kinds of misdirection from the bleachers.

Things go from uptight to lovely once their f…

Weekend Snapshot: Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin sits outside the Silas Bronson Library in Waterbury, Connecticut. I spent a few minutes with this giant while my daughter was at choir rehearsal before church on Sunday. Ben's the strong and silent type. Click here for a few more views of the big guy.

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: Nothing

There was a time not so long ago I decidedly would not have gone out of my way to sit in a room full of strangers, say nothing, drink tea, and then say some more nothing for half an hour, this time with the lights dimmed.

Why? I would have asked in response to the suggestion, as if there were no answer and I knew it. I would have turned away.

Those were the days. And they're over. Now I do exactly that two Monday evenings of every month, when a friend leads a Buddhist meditation at the Episcopal Church in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Why? I don't know why. I have no idea. I know only that being in the company of people who are doing the exact same nothing and want to as much as I do makes me a heck of a lot more mindful when I am doing something elsewhere and with the lights on.

I don't need to know why. Not anymore. And that's new, too. I'm good with the mystery of this meditation, which is about mindfulness, which is about paying attention to everything right down to bre…

The Seventh Day

Hopeful Spirit's weekly blog carnival "The Seventh Day" offers up a selection of posts on topics ranging from blogging and health to religion, spirituality, and more. She invites bloggers to submit their best article of the week for the carnival.

Hopeful Spirit works hard to create meaningful ways for bloggers to interact. I've participated in her group writing projects and carnivals and found them to be sources of insight and inspiration.

Have a look, be lifted, participate, and enjoy! Click here for more of The Seventh Day.

Criticism: You Can't Touch This

Constructive criticism is about the lifting up of virtue, of helping to strengthen a person involved in a creative endeavor. To construct is to build; to be constructive is to aid in building. Nevertheless, I have found that most so-called constructive criticism amounts to fault-finding.

Most of us have have had negative encounters with critics--full-time fault-finders and know-it-alls who run onto the field after the game to tell you how it could have been rather than to say what they loved about your performance. Destruction is in the nature of these sideline visionaries, a steady diet of whose wisdom can cripple the mind.

As a teacher, I see the dangers of this all the time. It's easy to get into the habit of correcting rather than of constructing. In contrast, I see how far someone will go with just "yes" or "good start" as fuel in the tank.

I've been on the other side of it, too. I used to do work for a friend who did nothing but find fault. He said to m…