Monday, December 10, 2007

Spending Time with Dickens

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~Charles Dickens

What makes your heart open up this time of year? What causes and people tug at your heart?

This week is exam week for my daughter. She was complaining the other day about how the library at school is noisy, no longer the refuge of quiet study it used to be. Between cell phones, study groups and the lack of the traditional "shhhhhhhhh" from the staff, the stacks hum like a beehive rather than bear silent witness to the stress of studying.

How different it was in my day. During winter exams, same school, decades before, I would find myself heading up to the quiet seventh floor, grabbing a cubicle. But I didn't settle in to study. I searched the shelves for Dicken's A Christmas Carol. The story of a miserly man transformed by the season, with its descriptions of the England of another age, always calmed my anxiety about test taking. I had rediscovered the book by accident one semester when I needed a break from the textbooks and, from then on, it became a tradition to read it this time of year. A copy is sitting on my nightstand right now. They say listening to classical music for thirty minutes is the equivalent of taking 10 mgs of prozac. For me, reading A Christmas Carol produces the same effect - a feeling of peace comes over me and meditating on the true meaning of the season comes a little more easily.

Is it the ghosts of past, present and future that capture me? Maybe it is the message that our hearts are always capable of being turned toward God and goodwill. So, as this time of year, I send up a prayer of thanksgiving for the good heart and fervent nature of Charles Dickens, whose social commentary became a book for the ages.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Anticipating Advent

An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing. Samuel Smiles

As we look forward, in the season of Advent which begins this weekend, what are you anticipating or, better yet, what would be added to your life if you made anticipating a part of your every day thoughts?

I am part of a bookmark swap this season. Thirty eight people from all over the world are sending each other Christmas cards and bookmarks of all types. We don't know each other but have a common interest in reading. A friend reminded me there are quilters who send each other tiny quilt squares. Yet another reminded me of the art card swaps she has participated in where a playing card sized piece of art is sent to others and you receive one in return.

I have discovered this swap has an unexpected benefit beyond the wonderful creations which will replace my torn bits of paper and magazine cards as well as prevent dog-earing. Each day I walk out to the mailbox in anticipation. I haven't felt this excited about the mail since I was in fifth grade and we were assigned pen pals in other countries. Already I have been rewarded with Christmas cards to beautify my window ledges and bookmarks that make me think and smile. I look forward to tomorrow and hearing the postman go by.

Looking forward. It is a gift that I often ignore until something like this comes around. Anticipation. It is a seasonal companion that we can't afford to be without. I have a job interview this week and realized I am calm about the meeting because I am looking forward to it. I am anticipating learning more about myself and the folks I am interviewing with. Mainly, I am just anticipating that the possibility of me finding something (that uses all my skills in a big way) is the first step to making my future come true.

Happy first week of Advent, beginning Sunday December 2nd.
Look forward, dream, anticipate.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Enjoying Thanksgiving

Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.
J. Petit-Senn

So often we think about the things we do not have and the scarcity theory takes hold, and we panic, thinking we don't have enough. What are the things you enjoy now, regardless of what is lacking? Can you give thanks for these things and be content?

Trust the comic strips to provide inspiration. Mutts showcased the quote by Petit-Senn and I immediately took it to heart. Easily, I can think of the things right now lacking in my life. Probably because it is a Monday morning and there isn't enough caffeine in my system. It is one thing to ponder what I do have to be thankful for but it is quite another spin to think about what I enjoy and relish that fact.

So here I go, as I ponder what I enjoy:

  • Leaves bursting with color, all the more special being delayed by the drought for weeks.
  • Hanging with my husband in front of the television watching football on Saturday or Sunday afternoons (okay, so I sort of watch with a craft or book in my hands).
  • Mccutcheon's Pumpkin Butter appearing this time each year at Whole Foods. And they are in Fredrick, Maryland to boot.
  • Spending Thanksgiving at my son and daughter-in-law's, not having to cook the turkey.
  • Making Advent cards and bookmarks with supplies I have on hand. Picking the quotes and designing just makes my soul happy.
  • Coffee and lunch with friends. The time we have together never seems long enough.
  • Sitting in my terra cotta colored family room, reading a book and drinking tea at three in the afternoon.
  • Seeing my son when he stops by on his work break and shopping with my daughter.
  • Trying on expensive shoes and being able to walk away - without them on my feet!
  • Writing as the mood strikes.

It is wonderful to realize I could go on with my list. I believe I will do just that, but in my head, as I go about my day and Thanksgiving week. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Candle, Candle, Burning Bright

How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a weary world.
~William Shakespeare
Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. ~Buddha

My daughter-in-law had a candle party last night. She asked each of us what we liked about candles. "How they smell" and "they are pretty" were popular answers. Mine? "I like the flame." As much as we've learned we must watch candles closely while burning them, I am still fascinated.

No, I am not a firebug but there is something about candle flames that have always fascinated me. In their miniature essence, I can see a full fire burning in the fireplace, crackling at a campsite, even in a tiki torch lighting a path. Candles can light a dark room as well as a chandelier of 60 watt bulbs. Candles can make a table romantic, give a focus for meditation, signify God Almighty's presence, or help celebrate a birthday. Thinking about it, candles are pretty powerful things.

Shakespeare and Buddha both recognized the power of candles and how readily they symbolize the light that we bring to others when we volunteer, share a good word, or simply feel grateful for each new day.

As we move to shorter days and longer nights, in this season of thanksgiving, I am going to try to be a candle burning bright. On the days when it seems the smallest of things doesn't make enough of a difference, I am going to think of that flame. When I see others burning bright, I will rejoice in the light they give off and bask in it myself.

After all, there is another quote, "how do I make myself look prettier? I always dine in candlelight." (unknown) It works from the inside out as well. When our souls are shining from doing and recognizing the good, how can we help but reflect the glow?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Reason for the Seasons

Quest by Quotation

To be interested in the changing seasons is, in this middling zone, a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.
George Santayana

Maybe it was seeing plastic fall leaves tacked over lovely, living tropical plants in Hawaii. Maybe it was coming home to find leaves still not turned in our section of drought ridden North Carolina. Or it could have been finding that crazy Christmas ornament to remind us of Hawaii - a snowman with a lei and a hula skirt! Or even the quote I found this morning about California, "The seasons in Southern Cal are only fire, flood, drought and earthquake." All these have made me think about seasons, how mixed up they can be, and how we depend on them...or not.

Here we think we are fortunate to have two weeks of fall before winter hits. This year I am even missing those two weeks as dry, warm weather has played havoc with the delicate system of the trees and their leaves. But I never thought I would go to Hawaii and see fall leaves signaling Halloween and Thanksgiving. A Boston ex-pat, who came to the Big Island to visit and never left, said the turning of the seasons was the one thing he missed. I remember having the same feeling when I moved down here from Maryland in the days before global warming became the hot topic (all puns intended). Plumeria, ginger, and hibiscus blooming all year long have an appeal, though, that is hard to ignore.

But changing seasons seem to be signals to me and are valuable for that alone. Their change a way not only to mark time but allow myself to look at my life on a regular basis. I am not sure what season I am in since I tend to look at seasons as based on life events than age (where childhood is spring, youth is summer, etc.). As Santayana writes, it is better to be joyful in change than to be stuck wanting the sameness of temperatures that don't challenge or disregarding the subtle beauty of the other seasons. There is promise and beauty in all seasons, regardless of whether you are living one continuous spring (and want to tack up those fake fall leaves to make it different) or suffer through the seasonal changes of spring floods, summer drought and winter blizzards. Taking my chosen quote to heart this week, whether my soul is in the midst of a spring or fall, summer or winter, I will see the beauty in it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A State of Grace

Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace. Paul Theroux

Back to the blog after a whirlwind few weeks of getting ready for an art exhibit and open house to benefit a volunteer organization I am a part of, and two weeks of vacation in Hawaii to recover from said project. Little did I know when I left in the wee hours of the "morning after", that this trip, like all the other major trips in my life, was at the right time, in the right place. and I was about to discover what Paul Theroux meant by his quote.

It is hard to go to a place where rainbows are around every corner and not think about grace. I spent the first three days of my trip in Hilo on the Big Island while my husband worked on his power plant project. Who knew the Japanese Garden I longed to see was right next to the Hilo Hawaiian where we were staying? Between the exhaustion of the trip and the weeks before, as exhilarating as the event had been, I was in the mood to be in a calm place, surrounded by ponds, statues, pagodas, with the added bonus of the garden looking out on the bay and Mauna Kea. I knew the trip was timely when the one day my husband was gone until the wee hours was also the day that the mountain was not covered by clouds (a rare occurrence).

I have learned over the years, while I love both the water and the mountains, it is the mountains that sustain me during meditation times. When it comes to water, I am more of a sound side person rather than ocean. The islands had plenty of waterfalls, quiet bays, rivers and ponds. They also had plenty of mountains peeking in and out of clouds at just the right moments. But somehow, the divine plan knew, at this point in the trip, I needed this garden without clutter, the old people walking slowly in the morning, and the toddlers being chased by moms in the afternoon. The mama mongoose with two babies, the tea house ceremony I happened upon and being reminded of a dear Japanese friend, the calm of the lagoons crossed by perfectly arched bridges, the bonsai, captivated my mind and spirit. Not to mention I realized my zen garden had been almost a premonition and would be a reminder of my trip, based on the stones I had placed so carefully. I literally could feel my soul unwind.

There will be lots to ponder about my Hawaii trip in the coming weeks, about grace, beauty, and perseverance. That is the beauty of memories, now that my jet lagged mind is less cluttered and my soul is calm.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Quest by Quotation

The obstacle is the path. Zen proverb

Have you ever tried to find peace, only to be blocked by one obstacle after another? Did you give up or did you work your way through? What would it mean to believe that gaining peace is hard work well worth doing?

The Rocky Road to Zen

I planned to put a Japanese or zen garden in the corner of the backyard to hide the fact that all green things had died in our North Carolina drought. I planned to create a place of peace and meditation in the midst of a busy fall and my husband's latest PSA test results being up more than we like. I planned to research, ask for help finding resources, and just enjoy creating something that I could appreciate all year long.

Little did I know!!! Searching on-line I discovered that the term "zen garden" is not truly Japanese but was re appropriated after the term had origins in the west, like pizza making its way back to Italy. So there went my idea of being authentic except for my inherited Japanese lantern from my mother's garden. I couldn't find anyone who could tell me what kind of gravel to use in my garden so that I could make lovely raked patterns. I found Japanese screens on-line which definitely would not bring me peace due to the price. Finding a lovely substitute at our local Lowes was only a momentary thrill as I discovered it was the only one in the entire Raleigh area after the end of season clearance...sure enough, I needed two. My husband's truck battery was dead when we tried beat the heat and get to the Stone Center early to pick up the stones I had eyed the day before. What on earth?

Those obstacles really threw me for a loop on my journey to build my little haven of peace. This was supposed to be an easy project with a relaxing outcome and, instead, turned into a mountain of aggravation. I sure wasn't feeling peaceful this morning when the truck situation pushed me over the edge. But as the proverb says, "obstacles are the path." So I began cataloguing the good parts of this adventure coming through the struggles.

If the information I needed had been at my finger tips, I wouldn't have searched as much on-line and learned about the all the famous, and not so famous, gardens in Japan, including the one that was my inspiration, Ryoan-ji. (Thanks to the Bowdoin College site on Japanese gardens )

I wouldn't have discovered the Stone Center (highway 55 in Durham, NC) head guy, Pat Lynn who was available when we finally arrived, is a fount of knowledge about zen gardens, the types of stones and gravel people look for. Of course, with all that new found information, I couldn't decide whether to go for mountain looking stones or the practice of having a papa, mama, and baby stone so I did the American thing and got them all. So much for simplicity.

I wouldn't have appreciated how hard my husband worked in the heat when I hit a snag as I put up my screens. He also looked pretty good with his muscles flexing. Oh, did I say "screenS"? Yes, indeed. I wouldn't have had the joy of finding another bamboo screen unexpectedly in a corner of another Lowes, next to the first of the Christmas ornaments already out in September!

My muscles are aching. I still have a day's work of laying down a pebble path and planting a juniper as my sole bit of green in my garden. I might even go back to the Stone Center for more gravel to make sure I have the required two inches. But my little garden, "Julie's interpretation of a Japanese garden that Westerners call zen," has enlightened me, tired me enough to sleep well tonight, and promises plenty of meditation in the days ahead. The obstacles have been worth the path to peace.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Quest by Quotation
God, for wise reasons, has made our affairs in this world, almost as fickle and capricious as ourselves.—Pain and pleasure, like light and darkness, succeed each other; and he that knows how to accommodate himself to their periodical returns, and can wisely extract the good from the evil,—knows only how to live. Laurence Sterne

Do you believe that pain and pleasure run in cycles in your life? How do you see the good in the dark times, or are you able to do so? Has God really made "our affairs...fickle" or does God have more to do with how things go in our lives?

Lunar Eclipse

Early this morning, the moon, glowing golden last night, disappeared from view. A lunar eclipse. It wasn't as dramatic as a solar eclipse. After all, it was at 5:30AM and few were awake. There is also something about having a reflected light, rather than light source, disappear from view. No biggie. So we all just slept through and greeted the sun as it rose instead.

I have been pondering the issue of life's light and dark moments this week as the new book detailing Mother Teresa's spiritual darkness, Come Be My Light, was covered extensively in the media. Her letters revealed she founded her mission but then felt abandoned by God, or rather didn't feel God's presence for most of the rest of her life. Needless to say, people do not expect this from a woman many consider a saint. To which, one of my friends said his first response to the coverage was, "so you think being a saint is easy?"

That is where I think Laurence Sterne has it right, considering he is an eighteenth century male. Life IS full of periods of light and darkness, pleasure and pain, opportunities to cling to God against the moodiness of our daily existence. Women are often accused of being moody, living in the highs and lows, but maybe we just recognize the characteristic up and down quality of life that Sterne talks about, flow with it, more than men do. Mother Teresa flew to the highest of heights in her relationship and calling to God. It does not surprise me she then found herself in the darkness. I am reminded of being told not to look at the sun because it would burn one's eyes and cause blindness. Was the darkness a result of such spiritual ecstasy or a closer tie to Christ and his earthly experience? Maybe, it was just a part of life's capricious nature and cycles that Mother Teresa adapted to...

It has been said that Mother Teresa's experience would make it easier for those going through dark times, or feeling God's absence. As much, we can also learn from Sterne. For most of us, life is not all light or all darkness. Seeing the good in the dark times, knowing that good times are not the sum total of what helps us grow through our lives, this realization can bring us comfort and peace each day be it cloudy or fair.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Quest by Quotation

Adventure is just bad planning. Roald Amundsen

Do you believe adventure is just bad planning? What does this quote say to you about planning ahead and spontaneity?

What are your plans for today?

"What are your plans for today?", my dentist asked. Why do they always ask questions when their fingers are in your mouth? He had to ask the question again because I didn't answer. "What are your plans for today?" I looked at him with this stunned look in my eye and said, "I have no plans." "Lucky you," he replied.

I left the dentist with the realization that it was 9:00 AM and I had already had the highlight of my day. The dentist! I called my husband and asked if our rescheduled trip to Hawaii was on or not. If it hadn't been, well, I would have been in the temp services office of NC State or Manpower within the half hour. No plans! The dentist thought I was lucky. My friends still think I am fortunate to be between jobs, working on a wonderful volunteer program like The Flower Shuttle, seeing friends, traveling with my husband, and writing. But I wasn't feeling blessed, only blindsided.

Now I know that God has plans for me: "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) I continue to count on that blessing each day. I still remind myself of my earlier "Ah, ha!" moment post-postponed surgery when I tried the great experiment of just seeing what would rise forth on days that were free of any and all plans. But that morning in my dentist's office, I was hit with the realization that maybe sometimes I avoid making plans because I expect adventure to just drop in my lap. Some days it does. Some days it doesn't. And on those days, plans come in handy.

In reality, I do have longer term plans as I work on a charity event for The Flower Shuttle which will be held in October. Then we try again to go to Hawaii. Do I need to have firm plans for each day, each hour? Obviously, my dentist assumed so and, for just a moment, so did I. But I think mainly what I needed the reminder of a sense of adventure when approaching each day, regardless of what I may already seeing myself doing in it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Quest by Quotation

No heirloom of humankind captures the past as do art and language. Theodore Bikel

What heirlooms capture YOUR past? Is there a favorite piece of clothing you just can't part with? Or is it your grandmother's set of dishes? Your old baseball glove? Or simply a memory....

Out with the Old, In with the Older!

I have spent a good bit of time this morning moving mementos and antiques out of their display cases and shelves. Church tithing banks that families used to collect their offerings for Sunday, duck decoys, and dust, lots of dust, all have gotten moved, wiped or packed away. I had thought I had done a great job with my husband of decluttering in the past few months. "Look at all that open space," we congratulated ourselves. Then my dad wanted us to divide more heirlooms and take them home.

Dividing heirlooms is not one of my favorite tasks. "Who gets what" combined with having to find space while also expecting my husband's (an only child) heirlooms to show up does not make for my kind of fun. My thought is, "if I have done without these things since I moved out at the age of 19, then I can do without them now." Well, except anything with a peacock on it - the fireboard, china plate, carnival glass bowl and yellowware pitcher. I am obsessed with peacocks but haven't the slightest inking why. No accounting for taste, I guess.

So I am dividing items into categories: stuff which is taking up space but has no meaning and can be sold or stored, "growing up" items with memories, married life acquirements that make me sentimental, things to rotate but keep on display, things destined for my children or the's work! No wonder the Bible warns about accumulating stuff with the story of the merchant who built bigger and bigger barns.

But I must confess that getting a piece of old slave made pottery from the Hilton plantation (with all the historical and emotional angst that entails), more of my dad's bird carvings, and other family items does cause a ripple of excitement as I anticipate their arrival. I can add them to the memories of partnering with my dad as we worked on his memoir as things truly worth holding on to with both hands. They inspire ruminations of history or appreciation of relationships and times gone by. So I will find the space for these things.

Maybe if I can get my kids to take some of the things that inspire their memories....

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Quest by Quotation

The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched. Henry David Thoreau

Often we don't get the full picture of our daily lives unless we step away from the routine. How have you stepped away this summer? What perspective have you gained? What do you count as star-dust or a bit of a rainbow?

Beyond the Rainbow

Marty and I were married on one of the hottest days DC had seen, 99 or a 100 degrees depending on who you ask, 100% humidity. The record wasn't broken until this year, the same time we decided to celebrate our anniversary by going to Charleston, SC for a few days. We had been to Charleston before, together and separately, and so expected to leisurely stroll the streets without feeling like we had to scurry around and see all the highlights. Rising early each morning to beat the heat, we wandered the streets and snuck through alleyways, taking pictures of gardens behind walls, lush window boxes, and colorful architecture. We stopped in art galleries to cool off, be inspired and, unexpectedly, discovered dappled dachshunds, coton de tulears (a small breed from Madagascar) and teddy bear yorkies. Who knew we would get warm fuzzie bundles of fur with our art? A little surprise, like a rainbow on a stormy afternoon. It is easier to see the surprises of life when you are on vacation just as it is easier to ponder your life if you aren't plodding through the daily routine.

I believe we look at Thoreau's bit of rainbow in our hands, and are blind to what our daily lives really amount to in the scheme of things. If we are blessed, we see the star-dust and rows of color. But often we just see dust and the rain. Conversely, sometimes we need to see the rain and the dust but fool ourselves into believing things are beautiful and hunky dory! In either case, that is where stepping away and examining our lives is so fruitful.

Charleston was what a mini-vacation was supposed to be: a time away to "regroup" as Marty said and see what "the daily harvest" truly is, as Thoreau implies. It also was a metaphor as we looked at the "Rainbow Row" of houses that Charleston is famous for. Somehow they just weren't as wonderful as we remembered, given that we had also seen the Painted Ladies of San Francisco. The Row was far better in our mind than in real life.

Our perspective had changed based on new travel experiences and time. We weren't dissatisfied with Rainbow Row, but it no longer was our most favorite landmark. Kind of how our satisfaction with our daily lives changes, given time and experience. For me, this trip reminded me that a great $100 meal can be made at home for less than ten...if I would take the time to cook! A $10,000 painting is wonderful but so is a picture taken by one's talented husband and put on display. Days of vacationing in a city whose historic district reminds us of Europe are wonderful but the routine of daily life has its own rewards upon returning home. Yet, the vacation time away and distance gave me the space to think about getting back in the working world and what that would entail.

Glad for the time away to ponder. Glad to be back to move forward. Glad for the daily routine and for the changes needing to be made in it so the stardust reveals the stars and the bit of rainbow becomes the full arch.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Distress-INK Week

Quest by Quotation

Whatever creativity is, it is in part a solution to a problem. Brian Aldiss
When you find yourself in distress, what do you do to get yourself out of the mood? What would happen if you turned to your craft, your writing, your garden in these times?

Its Distress-INK...

Last week I sent out four sympathy cards, all for tragic losses. This week started with the death of my only uncle, after an illness and downhill slide that was eerily similar to that of my mother's two and a half years ago. My sisters and I are sending flowers but, once again, I am compelled to dig out my paper bits, glue, and stamps to say what pre-made sympathy cards never seem to say.

In the midst of all this card making, I discovered "distress-inks" which create an aged look to paper. Ironic name, huh? I admit it, if there is a new technique involving paper, I am in. I crumpled paper, stamped and swished the colors of a teabag and faded rose over quotes about the calm beneath the stormy seas to add to a Victorian era picture of a cloudy day at the beach. It always amazes me how I can get involved in my projects, usually after forcing myself when I am in a bad or depressed state, and come up for air an hour later with a clear head and sense of peace.

Creativity will always be a part of my solution to life's problems (thank you Mr. Aldiss). Creativity doesn't make my challenges disappear but it does remind me that there is more to life than struggle or death or the emptiness of boredom.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Paradise Postponed

Quest by Quotation
Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where do you travel in your mind when you want to escape reality for a while? Have you found your paradise while traveling or been disappointed in the reality of the place? How can you travel with realistic expectations?

Hawaii is "dead to me" in the words of that infamous comic conservative Stephen Colbert. The first time I didn't get there was two days after 9/11. The latest was when an important project of mine was scheduled the same time as my husband's business trip out there to discuss power plant projects. I won't tell you about the four other times in between. Paradise once again has been postponed. In my mind, Hawaii is a place I will only see in my mind and my husband's digital pictures on-line.

Quite a few of my friends have traveled recently only to have "triptus interruptus." The first time I was hit with the disease was when bacteria-laden clams invaded my system in Rockport Massachusetts. Need I say more? A friend went hiking in the Cascades and broke her foot. More than likely we all have travel horror stories but, even more common for us, I think, are the travel burden stories when the mental baggage outweighs the suitcases we have crammed full. A friend went to Hawaii, burdened with the knowledge that her beloved pet was gravely ill. Another friend went on sabbatical to Italy and through the US with her daughter, a young adult but always your child, struggling with illness at home. Some situations and people just don't get left behind at the airport security gate or at home or work.

I told my husband I couldn't travel before my event was pulled off because I would worry as much there as I would at home and it wouldn't be a vacation for me - even if it was in paradise. Little did I know I echoed Emerson. As someone experienced in taking retreats, I know the value of getting away. I also know the value of realizing a change in location will not change one's mind and soul, only allow the freedom to potentially change perspective. So for this week, I will head out to my deck and the hummingbirds on the wave petunias, assessing my burdens, pondering my choices, and being glad to see the bit of paradise in my own backyard.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Art of Friendship

Quest by Quotation

It is commonly said by farmers, that a good pear or apple costs no more time or pains to rear, than a poor one; so I would have no work of art, no speech, or action, or thought, or friend, but the best. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. ~C.S. Lewis
What creative hobbies or interests bind you to your friends? How would creativity help you to make new friends?

Saturday I went to Seagrove N.C., home of a community of potters, with one friend. Wednesday was Wilmington and the discovery of a wonderful wood themed shop, Barouke, full of everything wooden from jewelry to furniture with another. Friday was Cedar Creek Gallery, wood, pottery and glass, in Raleigh with yet another friend.
I had decided last week that I needed a mental health break and gallivanting around North Carolina seeking inspiration from the artists scattered about seemed the way to take a "mini- vacation." Also soothing my soul was the presence of good friends. My friends are all different, though we are about the same age. However, I marveled over and over at the blessing of companions who appreciate beauty and creativity in others, linger over the smoothness of fired clay or comment on the colors of glazes, wonder at the idea to turn wood fence posts into vases, or appreciate the garden flowers and art in front of a shop.
My writing friends, Emerson and Lewis, note that both friendship and art are things we must cultivate in order to have a full life, one with greater meaning than mere survival. I am fortunate to be surrounded by those who help make my life better by their own creativity, insight, and appreciation for the beauty created by others. For one who believes that God resides in each one of us, in our souls, I know the Creator resides in my friends.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lost and Found

It's gone. The bracelet my daddy brought back from the Great Southwest when I was a very little girl is gone. I don't have that many pieces of my past that go back that far...and now I have one less. Somewhere between South Restaurant in North Hills and JC Penny's, it disappeared, ironically right after my lunch mate admired it.

I was not as upset as I thought I should be so I waited two days, between calling restaurants and offices to check and see if it was found, to see if my usual delayed reaction appeared. I got a little more blue, sniffed, and moaned. Still nothing major. No national day of shrouded grief. No debilitating agony. What I did experience was pondering thoughts about those items in my life that would have caused an instantaneous thirty-day period of mourning. My wedding and engagement rings that have been on my fingers twenty-seven years as of next month. My husband lost his wedding band at the side of the road after having to reload an order of lumber. Fortunately it was found but the guy was in the kind of agony I both appreciated and forever after want to avoid. The black and white cameo ring that was the last thing my mother bought for me, as we strolled around an antique show in Asheville, NC, before her untimely death. I have always called it my magic ring because I put it on and it was a perfect fit. The necklace with the "Ask Seek, Knock" door charm that is more symbolic than a cross to me. Not much more than that.

We all think we won't survive when we lose the material things like jewelry or, worse, our homes. When we lose loved ones, it does feel unbearable. What we do not lose are the memories attached to those people and things. While there are days when that may seem like cold comfort, those memories become a part of our very essence, who we are, what we will become. That thought is what I like to think I have found this week, in the midst of loss.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Of Lizards and Hummingbirds

Ray Bradbury had it right or write! What we can learn from the lizards and hummingbirds! I did not expect to find a quotation that included both those magical creatures but there, I would find it in the Zen in the Art of Writing. I had put off posting to this blog because nothing was coming to me...and then I sat on my deck soaking the sun up like a woman of twenty, rather than the crows footed forty-something I am. Two lizards caught my eye. One was in the midst of a color change, half brown, half green, as it went from geranium plant to terracotta pot. The other had already blended into our deck, grayish-brown. Both went from stock-still to zipping along in seconds depending on the potential meal of insects before them or imagined predators (me or the old orange tabby cat that thinks it has visiting rites on our deck). The hummingbird couple flitted in to check out the wave petunias, paused, and, finding them not as easy to raid as a sugar water feeder, dashed off to the neighbors. I said this morning to some friends, I have two chameleons in my head and need to get them out. Little did I know they were simply prompts to get me to the keyboard.

How many thoughts do we let drop by because we think they are unimportant? How many ideas do we lose due to distractions? How many moments of meditation slip by because we are not willing to freeze for a few minutes and observe? It is as important to move quickly as to move slowly. In our American society, we are often accused of one or the other. This I know, it is a balance of both whether we are writers, teachers, homebodies, or engineers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Basking in Attentiveness

Visiting restaurants is usually a mixed bag experience for me. With allergies to wheat and corn and a limited budget, finding menu items I can eat and enjoy is a challenge. Money aside, I would rather spend top dollar for a gourmet meal than get by with a cheap one and suffer the consequences. However, it is more than fine and creatively prepared "safe" food that makes a dining experience memorable for me.

Three experiences, two recently and one within the last year, drove home to me the importance of developing the art of attentiveness, that ability to listen to another's needs and respond accordingly. The first was at St. Jacques in Raleigh where my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful meal to mark our anniversary. We enjoyed stellar preparations that reminded us of our time in Paris but what made it special was the waiter noticing I was left handed and changing my place setting (flatware, glasses, and all) to accommodate my south paw. As a leftie in a right-handed world, I was stunned. Since when do restaurants or their staff really take the time to look at who they are serving and their needs?

But attentiveness wasn't simply a by-product of visting a high-end establishment, as I discovered when I visited Chilis in Apex. The waiter had listened to my questions about the menu and my husband mentioned I had an allergy to corn. When my entree arrived without the requested side dish of rice and beans, I looked at the french fries before me and then at the waiter. He quickly explained he remembered my allergy, the dish was garnished with corn, and so he got me a substitute. Now I might have expected the previously mentioned professional to remember, but a harried college-aged kid in a franchise? Again, I was stunned.

My most recent experience at Piazza Italia in Durham was icing on the cake...or the gelato in this case. After downing the first italian entree I have been able to eat since discovering my limitations, I asked my waiter about the presence of corn sugars in the gelato flavors since they hide everywhere in bases, syrups, and other ingredients. I was then treated to a visit by the chef (the CHEF) who told me he looked into as many of their thirty flavors as he could to find which ones did not have any corn-based ingredients. Ah, pistachio was at the top of the list! But again, I was heard and time was taken to see to my needs.

Thinking about these three experiences has left me pretty humbled. In a world where we tend to rush on through and ignore the concerns of others, I have been reminded what a precious gift is attentiveness. We may not run establishments that depend on good service to make a go of it but we do run lives that are richer for being attuned to those around us. I am thankful to those three individuals for their lesson in listening and caring. Now to follow through on my end....

Friday, July 6, 2007

In the Cards

I design and make cards. I have done so for years but it wasn't until 2002 that I went beyond the "print off a card from the computer, sign and send". Up until then I would handwrite a meaningful message suitable for the occasion and the picture on the card would take secondary import. Heck, it wouldn't really have any import. Who am I kidding? Half the time, I just invested an hour and some cash in Hallmark anyway.

Until February 2o02, that is. I was slammed with a wicked case of the flu which left me and my immune system battered and bruised, to the point the doctors guessed I might have leukemia. They ultimately decided that it was an auto-immune reaction causing my overwhelming fatigue, bruising, and lack of brain functioning. I couldn't walk. Could hardly talk. Working was out of the question. Most frightening, I couldn't put coherent thoughts together nor could I tell colors anymore.

For a while, I didn't care but then my lack of finances interfered with congratulating friends on their birthday, sympathizing with family on losses, letting folks know I appreciated their care and concern. For some reason I was surfing and discovered three things that would sow the seeds of creation in my soul. I discovered Creative Papers on line which had scrap packs of paper of all colors and textures. It hit me that if I sorted the papers by color, with a little help from my husband, I could relearn the color spectrum.

I didn't get the paper for cards. I just had the paper for skill recovery. But what could I do with all that paper now that I had it? Cards. What else did I have? Time. I had never had extended time to sit and really dream and design before. Time to put prayer into the cards' creation, thought into the right words for the occasion. I had pastoral experience to know what NOT to say. Personal experience to know life throws stuff at you and the importance of hearing that others care. I realized as I surfed that quote sites like and gave me the right words when I could not think of them on my own.

The right words, the right medium, and for creation I would have never discovered if it hadn't been for an illness stopping me in my tracks. "Manure for the flower garden". Beauty and caring out of suffering and ugliness. It was in the cards....

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Found Time

Found Time "Don't drink the phosphosoda!" said the voice in the phone. That's how I found out my surgeon had broken her hand, thereby cancelling surgery (and required prep) I had anticipated for months, and making a mockery of the four weeks of totally blank Outlook Express calendar on my computer set aside for recovery. No projects. No appointments. No anything.

Even in my most laidback periods of life when I was not working a full-time position, there was always something to be done, to do, to explore. Hair appointments. Lunch with friends. Seminars and book readings. Hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks, now loomed. Hey, I had thought I was going to have my husband at my beck and call while I slept off anesthesia and healed cut muscles. Everyone had told me to make sure I took it easy. And I took their advice. Now look where their advice had gotten me. The Land of Panic, that is where I was and feared I would stay.

After two days in shock from disappointment and fear of what this all meant, I was desperately praying for divine guidance. Sitting on my back deck, staring at red geraniums and purple wave petunias, begging even them to give me a clue, it hit me. What if I didn't look at this time as some heaven sent intervention into my surgery schedule (even I don't believe God would break my doc's hand to keep me from going under the knife)? What if what this time was, was what it was - FOUND TIME. Time to let things bubble to the surface. Time to see what I would have missed if I had been lying flat on my back with a bell for calling my servant-spouse in one hand and a book in the other.

The trick would be not to manufacture things to do but let them just appear out of the universe. A warm visit with in-laws. My newlywed son and his wife's move into their first home or celebrating family friends who rejoiced in their 50th anniversary. Writing an unexpected magazine article asked for and due the week after my surgery date. Lunch with new friends and a day with an old one who came in from California unexpectedly. Silence on the deck watching the birds and bunnies. Strength to be the parent and spouse I needed to be right now. Playing with paper as I create my custom cards. Playing with words as I create this blog.

It has come to mind more than once that I should have been living my life this way from the start. Anticipating each day. Not working so hard to fill it. Enjoying the blank hours on my calendar and appreciating the Found Time.

Now I am off to see what bubbles up today....

Monday, July 2, 2007

Where is this leading?

You need a blog. You need to write. I have three and you don't even have one...what is up with that? Ah, the pressure. As one who used to write sermons and lessons on a regular basis weekly, and articles for magazines monthly, it might seem strange that I haven't picked up on the blog craze yet. Maybe it is because it just seems too presumptuous that folks would be interested in what I have to say. Maybe it is or maybe it is just an advanced way of sharing with others who are questioning the world around them, creating art, leaping into new adventures, trying to recover from difficult religious experiences, figuring out life after the kids move out and on with their lives and mostly wanting a reason to write on a regular basis.

What are my expectations of this blog? My sister Mary took the life experience option and turned it into a how-to for folks moving to New York City...find her at Personal but more informational, a grand list of all things you need to know about NYC whether visiting or settling there. Here in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, I don't see myself having the grand adventures of my sister. We have food, art and "drama" but not to the celebrity scale that entertains folks on her site.

I am, as my blog states, a backyard hermit...someone who has struggled with the tension of being in communion with God in a solitary manner and still be a part of the world. I tend to see God in all things, ordinary and grand. I have a quirky, humorous eye for life (or so I have been told). Nature is my grand cathedral but the Christian radio station fills my car (when country or classical don't win out).

So we will just see where this is all leading...any subject suggestions for me to ponder, observations, encouragement is welcome.