Natural state

Silly is you in a natural state,
and serious is something you have to do until you can get silly again.

Mike Myers


What is Lent?

For some unknowable reason, this year as Lent approaches all kinds of pensive, thoughtful, and almost yearning thoughts and emotions have been swirling in my -- hm. --well, they're in my chest, actually. I may or may not write about it here as Lent goes on, but I thought I'd post an answer to What Is Lent? At least, if you read this little blog, and if this part of it is interesting at all for you, you'll know what I mean by this (mostly an) oddity. This is not something I do on my own - this season is kept as a member of a specific community. In our part of Christendom, here is the answer to,

What is Lent?

Lent begins for us on Ash Wednesday, with the Penitential Office and the Imposition of Ashes, in the ancient tradition of mourning and repentance. Ash Wednesday is the first day of the forty days of Lent, the season preceding the highest feast day of the Christian Year, the Feast of the Resurrection, which we commonly call Easter. On Ash Wednesday, the priest makes the sign of the cross on our foreheads, and says the ancient words,

Remember, o man, that dust thou art,

And to dust thou shalt return.

And now for Lent itself.

How many days are there in the season of Lent?
There are forty days in the season of Lent.

Why do we observe Lent for forty days?
In remembrance and imitation of Our Lord’s being tempted by Satan in the wilderness for forty days, we keep the Lenten fast for forty days, so that we too might put Satan behind us.

What days of the week are included in the forty days?
All days except Sunday are included during the forty days of Lent, which is always a Christian feast day because it is an echo of the one Easter Sunday.

How many days are in Eastertide?
There are forty days in the season of Eastertide, and every Sunday is included in those forty days.

During the season of Lent, what do Christians do?
During Lent, it is common and traditional Christian practice to:

...abstain from the eating of flesh meat, in honor of Our Lord’s sacrifice of his own flesh for us, on all Fridays (as throughout the year) and Wednesdays (as echoes of the first Wednesday in Lent, Ash Wednesday). Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the two most strict fast and abstinence days of the Christian year.

...abstain from luxuries of meat and drink, such as desserts, wine and other alcoholic drink, and from frivolous luxuries of life such as attendance at movies or restaurants, or the sort of television viewing or reading which may be too distracting from the Lenten quiet.

...fast on all the days of Lent. (Sundays are never fast days, and are not included in the forty days.) Ordinary Lenten fasting is the eating of one ordinary meal, and two smaller meals that would together make the portions of one meal. If age or health make the Lenten fast too difficult, you must not injure yourself by following it too strictly. Similarly, if your work requires more food than a fasting diet would provide, you must eat enough to do your work well, and not defraud your neighbor by reason of your fast.

...take on some additional acts of discipline and devotion. Commonly, this would include such things as extra attendance at Mass, daily examinations of conscience and the making of a good confession either weekly or at the end of Lent (Holy Saturday is a common day for making an Easter confession), faithfully saying the Morning Prayer and/or Evening Prayer office from the Book of Common Prayer or using some other daily devotional aid to prayer, and the reading of spiritually helpful books. Some collect the money saved from luxury spending and use it instead for charitable giving such as parish or missions work, meeting the needs of those less fortunate, or some other special project.

...“fight manfully” against some particular weakness of character during the forty days by exercising its opposite virtue. One might practice looking especially for kind things to say to fight a habit of criticism, or look for ways to serve other people in order to combat a habit of selfishness, or rise in the morning half an hour before necessary to combat the spirit of sloth. During Lent, we look for ways to replace a vice with its corresponding virtue.

In order to decide one’s best course for Lent each year, it is wise and advisable to consult with a clergyman or spiritual adviser as to one’s own Lenten Rule. Lent is not a time for self-punishment or meaningless deprivations, but is instead a time of increased self-discipline for the purpose of mastery. During Lent, we learn afresh to master our physical lives and bodies so that we may come more fully to present our souls and bodies to our heavenly Father to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice .

The Collect shall be said every day in Lent, after the Collect appointed for the day, beginning on Ash Wednesday until Palm Sunday.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The View

As I mention from time to time, the "journey" of this life is the image in my head of how we interact with each other as humans, how we progress in experience, how we eventually get to God ... it all feels like a journey to me.

This image fell into my brain - came into view - like watching something through the mist and the mist clears as you watch - while we were on vacation a few years ago. It seemed like revelation at the time, but, of course, everyone knows this feeling. All the philosophers, the authors of the books of Holy Writ, the pundits, and the grandmothers -- everyone knows life is a journey. What I got wasn't revelation. It was clarity. Clarity, and a panoramic visually stunning impression of it. When I look around like this, the sounds of one of the most clear tunes I know are what I hear.

When I first saw it, it seemed to me that suddenly I was at the edge of a vast plain, and all of the human race, in times past and here today, spread out across the face of the land, and stretching further back than the horizon to my left, in history and thinning out to be only a few people to my right, where a few men are closer to God.

The people who used to be on earth seemed still and silent to me. Forever they stand and stay, exactly as they were in this life. Whatever they were, that they stay -- to our view, anyhow. They seem like statues, each dressed in the way they would have been in life. Hippie beads and headbands have puritan era pilgrims behind them, and behind them the middle ages, all coiffed and trussed up are almost visible, and behind them I can make out the outlines of the Roman age.

Far away, the colors are faint and mellowed with age. Close by, there are people moving and speaking, and laughing and whining, and getting really really pissed off, and being overcome by joy. I'm sitting where I can look around a little. I am off to the side - in a sort of natural shelter made of the tree roots and undergrowth that happens where the earth slopes up steeply from a roadway.

From here, I can see more than I ever used to be able to, and when I see how people scramble and scratch and claw their way over rocks and brambles, and fight bravely on, I can also see now that everyone who does this does something inspiring and heroic. It's the people who refuse to go on that are to be pitied.

The ground slopes up from here. It moves toward God, who is the light at the top.

This image has been with me - in a thousand ways - for about five years now. Now I can see midlife as a sort of viewpoint, too. And I can begin to see how much I could not see from where I was, and I can make a fairly educated guess that there will be more blind spots and dangerous crossings ahead.

But I'm not going to sit here. I'm going to go on. The bags I leave here, to mark this spot, are the ones that carry my foolish assumptions about "knowing" things. It's obvious from here that the times I thought I knew the most were the places where I couldn't see a damn thing. When I thought I should be stronger, I was just a child, unaware of my human limitations. When I thought I was being stronger than anyone else, I was simply full of myself in the extreme - and utterly unaware of the power and courage of the sacrifices I would find later.

And when I thought that the people around me who limped just needed to buck up their ideas ... for that I repent. For my willful and intractable blindness toward the injuries and weaknesses of others, I repent. Those bags stay here.

This will be easier to carry:

Accept, O Lord, my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I am and have thou hast given to me; and I give all back to thee to be disposed of according to thy good pleasure. Give me only the comfort of thy presence and the joy of thy love; with these I shall be more than rich and shall desire nothing more.


Bored Brains Beebop-a-loo-bop

What a very interesting thing to have discovered! It's been out for awhile. Have you heard of it?

Sacks is perhaps best known for his collections of case histories from the far borderlands of neurological experience, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars, in which he describes patients struggling to live with conditions ranging from Tourette's syndrome to autism, parkinsonism, musical hallucination, epilepsy, phantom limb syndrome, schizophrenia, retardation, and Alzheimer's disease.

But this morning, on NPR, I heard about the most fascinating phenomenon.

We are all, to some extent, human jukeboxes, able to program for pleasure and for reference. And while music sometimes sticks around longer than we would like — like a hit tune or an advertising jingle — for the most part we control what's inside our heads.

This story, however, describes what can happen when a person loses control.

For some people, the music comes unbidden, sticks around, makes too much noise and won't go away.

Apparently, in the brains of people who are going deaf, or who are simply profoundly BORED, the brain will stimulate itself! The music comes, unbidden. An auditory hallucination fills the ears with sound - and not sound the person even wants to hear!

But what makes it go away? How does the poor tortured patient make it stop?

By opening the actual ears to sounds outside the person's head.

This, it seems to me, is a very sharply drawn picture of everything else in human experience, is it not? We are not made to exist independently of our surroundings. We are not whole and entire in ourselves. We, in fact, become able to make our own surroundings if deprived of real ones. And if we are caught up in the sounds our own heads produce, what is the cure for this isolation? Open the ears. Take in the world. Hear.

What sensible counselor does not recommend this? What practical mother and grandmother do not say, "Are you sad? Do something for someone else. Are you bored? Take up a task. Any task. Are you overwhelmed? Do one small thing to restore your sense of mobility." It just makes sense that the brain would sing to us when we cannot hear anyone else. (But I think that I would not be bored to that level if I were alone on a sailboat.)


Stunning beauty

While looking at "fashion" pictures of mothers and daughters, I found this true piece of art. It is from the blog "Chic in Paris" by Susan Tabak. It does not seem that Tabak herself made this portrait, and I don't know where she found it, but good grief! What an evocative and exquisite thing it is.


It's still coming down - lightly now. I can hardly believe my eyes. I've never seen it like this here. (That's what it looks like going down the driveway from our house.)

The crazy husband is intending to dig out to the road, and then believes he can make it to work eventually. We'll see.

It sure is beautiful.


(Don't) let's be sensible

"The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous,
the sensible man hardly anything."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Cecily: Miss Prism says that all good looks are a snare.

Algernon: They are a snare that every sensible man would like to be caught in.

Cecily: Oh, I don’t think I would care to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’t know what to talk to him about.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde



It's not significant in any way, I suppose ... but there are some things that never fail to make me quite contented and happy. One such thing is ironing my husband's shirts - especially flannel ones. I revel in the sheer size of them, for one thing. After ironing shirts for a man who stands 6'4" tall, ironing one's own shirts seems like doing a doll's laundry. Maybe that's why I enjoy it so much - maybe I feel small in comparison - and cuddled when handling his shirts. And it's such a dear little task to do for a person, ironing shirts. Oh, well. Whatever it is, I do enjoy it.

The light is nearly gone outside the windows now, and the heavy silent snow that has been falling all day covers everything, and makes the dark fir trees heavy. The fire is burning in the pellet stove, which blows heat into the living room. The old Importance of Being Earnest is on the television, the ironing board is in the middle of the room, and the bearded young giant is playing his guitar upstairs in his room. Soon the husband who belongs to the flannel shirts will come inside, and we'll probably eat multi-grain pancakes with yogurt for dinner tonight. Today, life on the farm is quite nice. I love the feeling of flannel in my hands.

A good enough reason

During a period of agonizing worry over one of my offspring, and that no-longer-a-child's apparent abandonment of any ongoing conversation with any sort of God at all, a friend told me, "the faith of the child must die - actually die - before the faith of the adult can be born and grow." The part of me that could hear and agree with this true fact of life was nearly inaudible to the part of me that loves my children. But it was true. It is true. And in the end, we cannot hold any faith for our children. They have to hold their faith for themselves. They need new reasons for a grownup place in the thing which is infinitely older than they are, and not even a mom can provide that.

In such times, I feel a deep sympathy for the praying mother saints like the persistent and obsessive St. Monica who actually followed her wayward Augustine all over the globe. But ... I have to admit, I also want to tell her to stay home and pray. Leave him alone. Let God deal with the man.

It's pure hubris, of course. What God was doing with that mother and her impossibly brain-seized and stubborn son isn't any of my business, and it is quite possible that he needed her dogged persistence. But if she were a modern mother, I would be asking, how much does she need him?

See, one thing a mother has to come up with as she ages is A Good Enough Reason.

For the childish me, it was easy to obey my parents and not worry about what happened as a result. It wasn't my business. God would deal with that. And later, it was easy for me to understand that to make a marriage work, it would be necessary to know myself, and know what I'd need in a man, and then to be able to see the man for what he was, and decide that the "bad" parts that went with the "good" were ones I could live with for decades. This sort of prioritizing - that sort of reason for marriage - it makes dating and relationship decisions pretty simple. And after that, I knew what to do as the mom - the health and well-being of my children depended on my example in every way. They would not merely learn what I said to them. From me and from us and from our household, they would come to understand all the rest of the world, and that's not something I could be selfish or frivolous with.

But what about now? I do not owe my parents any fealty now - only honor. And I have been married for a quarter of a century to a man whose "bad" points are like grains of sand next to the boulders I can easily throw into the road when I get in a mood. We are a good pair. (He clears boulders, and I sweep sand. That seems fair, eh?) And now the example I set for my children - what I owe to them now, in their adulthood - is important, but no longer very formative. I already had my chance with that. So now what is the effort for? Who is it for? Where do I put my attention and focus and energy? How do I make my projects?

It's not just childhood's faith that has to fall into the ground and die. Like a grain of wheat, like a child turned grownup, and like a road no longer useful where it lies, the old must be broken up and fall useless before the new can take its place. That's just how life works. Next year's spring depends on this year's autumnal deaths, and the deep hibernation of the winter. That's the cycle. That's life.

It's not that the deepest reasons need themselves to change - not necessarily anyway. The best foundations of faith and life are not different in a new year's cycle, but this life's little buildings are all meant to wear away, and a lot of my building is gone. Hm. That's not an apt metaphor. Um ... it may be more like the old walnut tree at the top of our driveway. A different sort of thing needed to happen to it when it was younger, and the pruning it needs now is ... no. That's not it either.

Practicing the piano. That's what this is. This is the same as practicing the piano. To borrow another great saint's format,

When I was a child, I played as a child. I thought as a child. I performed as a child. But now I am a woman, I have put away childish things. And not because they were not good. Not because they were not beautiful. Not because I outgrew music itself.

Now I play precisely because the music itself is worth it. But that is not the only thing I want to do. I want to play with other people, while they play music of their own. And I want to play for other people so that they can sing. I know now how to read and play music I've never seen, and how to help others who cannot read the music for themselves.

And I'm not really talking about the piano, but now that I think about it, creeping ever so slowly up on my main point, hoping to surprise it before it can get away, writing and playing the piano have a lot in common. I think I may have acquired, during the course of a mostly obedient and cheerful childhood, followed by a mostly happy and relaxed motherhood, in the years of a mostly interesting and deeply satisfying marriage, enough experience as the student and teacher of music and writing that now I can put away childish things in both. Now I can, if I want to, find a new reason - a good enough reason to write.


Miniature Earth

Find some silence - just a few minutes' worth is all you need for this. Click on the globe. Watch the video. And then, today, be aware of the beauty that surrounds us and the gifts you have been given. This is just a little aid to perspective that helps me see. The view from here will take your breath away.


I'm the queen

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The famous Mr. Anon

This was on my homepage today. I'm still laughing about how famous the person got who said it. Who said it? Who knows! (Makes the reader doubt the veracity of the assertion, eh what?)

"Write a wise saying and your name will live forever."


Important work

"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."
Bertrand Russell

"In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love."
Mother Teresa

"Ugliness seeped past Meg and to Sporos. 'Why do you want to deepen?'

"Sporos's twingling was slightly dissonant. 'Farandolae are born to Deepen.'

"'Fool. Once you Deepen and put down roots you won't be able to romp around as you do now.'

"'But ---'

"'You'll be stuck in one place forever with those fuddy-duddy farae, and you won't be able to run or move, ever again.'

"'But ---'

"The strength and calm of Senex cut through the ugliness. 'It is only when we are fully rooted that we are really able to move.'

"Indecision quivered throughout Sporos.

"Senex continued, 'It is true, small offspring. Now that I am rooted I am no longer limited by motion. Now I may move anywhere in the universe. I sing with the stars. I dance with the galaxies. I share in the joy -- and in the grief. We farae must have our part in the rhythm of the mytochondria, or we cannot be. If we cannot be, then we are not.'"

A Wind in the Door, Madeleine L'Engle


Reasonable expectations

"Sometimes the mind, for reasons we don't necessarily understand, just decides to go to the store for a quart of milk."

Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, authors of the Northern Exposure episode in which another of Maggie's boyfriends has died - and this one is now fused with the satellite that fell on him.


Next time

Out of the mouth of (overgrown, bearded) babes, heard from the living room, the voice in the kitchen comes after a small crash sort of noise.

"Mom! Next time you go to buy another glass pan ... put it down and go buy another shelf instead."

hmph! The stuff fits in the shelf I have! You just have to finesse it a bit. Really.

Can't find that quote

Does anyone know where I can find it?

Recently, I saw a quotation that meant something like, "until you can see the beauty in a thing, you cannot really see it." I've looked but can't find my source or the quote. (Wouldn't it be reasonable that an adult woman would have the sense to write these things down and keep them in a safe place? And did I behave in that reasonable manner? This time or any other time? No, I did not.)

Whatever that quotation was, I agree with the sentiment. I do not think you can see a thing for what it is until you can see the part of it that is beautiful or good. This works in extreme (and extremely overused) examples like Nazi Germany.

What was good about that? Well, at first, it was going to solve the hunger and poverty issues of a lot of very real people who loved their children. The solving of hunger and poverty issues is not a bad thing to have. Social order is not a bad thing to have. But, (is this one Charlotte Mason, perhaps?) we must "have nothing to do with a logic that does not include the love of God." The Nazis had logic on their side -- it was the dearth of love that confused the issue. But they had reasons, and the reasons were good. Attractive. Seductive only because they were actually good.

Remembering to include the "good" or "beautiful" in my own perception of things keeps me seeing them properly, and helps me not to stray into being dismissive. It is an aid to humility - a constant reminder that my own memory, understanding, and will are not complete. See the whole thing, or you do not see it truly.

Now for a more mundane example, and the one that brought this all to my thoughts.

A very good friend of mine recently made what must be the twentieth or thirtieth irritated and dismissive comment about the beauty (perceived by millions for about 500 years now) of the King James version of Holy Writ. You don't have to be a person of any religion at all to know that the King James version of the Bible, and Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, and Bach's and Mozart's music, and Michaelangelo's paint strokes are all things of great beauty. This isn't a religious issue, and has nothing to do with "Bible only" thinking or Bible thumping or Bible debating (odious pasttimes, all three). This has to do with universally recognized and indisputable beauty.

Another famous quotation says that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." And when we hear that, in our oh-so-modern lives, we hear "if it's not beautiful to me, it's not beautiful."

That, my friends, is just stupid. I'm sorry, but it is.

I'm also sorry to say that the other day, I erupted a bit on my friend. Erupted and interrupted and overrode - all in a very calm tone of voice, insisting as if to a child, that he listen to reason this time. (I feel a bit bad about that part of the exchange. ...sigh ... He will forgive it. He's heard it before.)

I am a little chagrined to admit that I even made use of the famous pointing finger. All my family hates the pointing finger, and my children all believe themselves to have been raised primarily by its pointiness and sometimes even its poking. I really don't poke. (much) But I do point. And when my friend said, "I see nothing beautiful in it. It makes no sense at all most of the time," the pointing and waggling of the finger started, and the voice in my head came out my mouth and I said,

"If you find no beauty in it, that says everything about you, and nothing about it. It's exactly like fine wine or good food or good music or anything else that is a matter of taste and the training of the palate. There is a wide range of good taste, but there is a difference between a developed taste for high quality and beauty, and an underdeveloped and ignorant lack of it, and you know it. You might not be able to start with the deepest, most complex red wines, but if you want to appreciate the subtle character and influence of wines, you teach yourself to find it by practice, right? When you say you see no beauty in it, you only say that you yourself are not educated properly so that you cannot see what is there. But it is there, and you need to figure out a way to see it."

(so ... wanna be my friend? Oh, c'mon ... it'll be fun!)

Of course, it's easy for me to defend such beauty as the Psalms in the language from the age of King James and Will Shakespeare. I have a slightly more difficult time when it comes to the things I find startling or unfamiliar or disturbing.

What, for instance, is the beauty and the good in the destructive and arrogant hatred of a religious zealot, willing to kill for a cause he believes in, calling it the will of God? In what way can we call that good? Is it courage - or anything like it - that forms a suicide bomber? Or a placard carrying hate-monger who would protest at a funeral, hurling insults at the bereaved? How is that "good?"

I think there is a way to see a "good" in these most heinous human actions.

You see, I think that Saint Teresa knew the Truth when she said, "I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions." (Interior Castle)

We often crush and destroy and sully and vilify the beautiful human soul. Hatred is, I think, one of the most corrosive ways in which we do this.

But it is corrosive to a thing of great beauty, and that is its evil. The dignity and indescribable beauty of the very image of God, creation's humanity, those set in the beginning as lords and masters of the rest of all created matter, are meant to be strong and valiant and even wisely self-sacrificing. Humans are meant to tend the garden. We are capable of Notre Dame and manned space flight and discoveries in the depths of the sea. We can find ways to feed the hungry and comfort the helpless.

Or we can find the equally amazing and exactly the opposite destructive uses for the power. We are only capable of the greatness because we are also capable of the horror. Only those who can hate can also love. It is not much of a chore to come to love the beauty and goodness of the great phrases like, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," or "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But looking for the beautiful in faces twisted with hatred or fiery with zealous rage takes a little more effort, and I am coming to believe that the answer is found in the fact that God made us like castles made of diamond, and we know desecration of the sacred when we see it. And if we will put it all to rights, we will grieve for the hateful - and stop them.


Burroughs again

"So cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal."
William Burroughs

And I know he's right.

And I'm not sure if I feel better or worse because of it.

Everything that can be said has been said. Why would anyone think to be a writer?

Singing Nuns

I am a Catholic. But I am not Roman Catholic. Despite common parlance, it is not true that all catholics are also papists. The one unifying factor of the church of Rome is the Roman pontiff, and there is where we have our division. Traditional, sacramental, historic "one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic" Christianity includes East and West, and is not found only in Rome. As it states in Church Teaching For Church Children, "the opposite of black is white. The opposite of papist is protestant. The opposite of Catholic is heretic." That is where I stand.

Okay ... so I'm not in the Roman communion, and I know why I'm not. But they are my very close brethren, and these pictures say all the things I find attractive about the Romans at their best.

These are the "singing nuns" in Spokane, Washington. (If you're not from around here, you might need to know that the town's name is pronounced as "spoh-can" and not "spoh-cane." Would someone tell the national news people?)

Perhaps the day will come again, when ordinary neighborhoods and towns will see what I saw as a small child growing up a half a block away from All Saints Roman Catholic parish and school. These blue-habited nuns from Spokane remind me so much of the days before the splintering and shattering of the traditional religious houses in the US. Look at their joy! Look at their love! It nearly touches a viewer who is merely looking at a computer screen!

These nuns are, I think, evidence that lives lived with the great love for God, manifesting itself in love for all the beautiful world God loves so much, are lives lived in utter freedom. The nuns are free from the distractions and traps and confusions and noise of the getting and grasping, and they are free to pour themselves out. It isn't a life everyone is called to, but it is a life lived in the largest way possible.

I think I shall go and visit them this year.


Artistic Architecture

"Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact." William Burroughs


Character again

Another one - this time by Evan Esar, who said other clever things, like "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Jill a rich widow." Clever dude. (Humorists realize the attraction in the keen grasp of the obvious.) Anyway, he said (noticed) that "Character is what you have left when you've lost everything you can lose."

If a humorist gets it, everybody gets it. Otherwise it wouldn't be funny.

So ... is that what scares people about midlife and old age? The creeping inescapable knowledge that what you can see is all you have? All you are is just this? Without distractions, schedules, deadlines, busy days, and obligations to other people's distractions, schedules deadlines, busy days, and obligations?

Sister Julia Mary asked us, "What are you? What are you for?" It's a good question.


Hail, Sir Edmund

Climber Edmund Hillary, Everest Pioneer, Dies at 88

“I believe that if you set out on an adventure, and you’re absolutely convinced you’re going to be successful, why bother starting?”

The beekeeper from New Zealand who wanted to be remembered for his humanitarian work among the people who lived where he adventured has died. May he find refreshment in the Mountain of God.

My candidate? A guy I never heard of

Go here: Candidate Calculator.

Then see if you recognize "your" candidate in the choices.

I think I need to move to another country. If I have to vote for Cox (have you ever heard of him?), Huckabee (not on your life! there are few things as dangerous to the American Way of Life as a fundamentalist of any kind), Brownback (again, ... who?), or Obama (at least I know who he is), then I'm outa here. Where can I find the generally pro-life, socialist-leaning, alternative-medicine using candidate for the Moderate Libertarian Party? It'd be great if he made his own wine and beer as well. Anyone? Anyone?

Character is ... not dead yet

You've heard it, right? Or - maybe seen it, as you drove by some church with a sign board out front or as a caption to an inspirational photo in a magazine? "Character is what you are when nobody's looking."

This is not good news to me. I remembered this little homespun truism this morning, and it actually kept me from falling back to sleep - which is why I'm awake a full hour and a half before I need to be.

A week from tomorrow will be the first anniversary of this blog. This month also marks the end of a year during which our youngest child finished and then graduated from the local high school, after entering in his sophomore year after being homeschooled up to that point.

A year ago he hadn't yet done the theater thing, or the moving out and getting a job and an apartment in the city thing, or the getting rid of his really awful car thing. In fact, I don't think he'd bought the really awful car yet. Now he just wishes someone else would buy it. His life has changed a lot in the past year. Tri-Met bus schedules have become a part of his day. If you felt the tension level in the universe ease a bit, it's because I'm calmer now that the boy's not driving a semi-reliable old Camaro around the city.

Maybe he's the reason I am not pleased to note my own character right now. He's the Man of Action these days, and since I was actually here when he turned into that, you'd think I'd know how to take a little action myself.

Last year at this time all I could think about was the unending hours of quiet and solitude that seemed to be spreading out in the distance. Last year I still thought highly enough of myself that I imagined getting to the Elysian fields ("the final resting place of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous. It is associated with the Christian Heaven," according to Wikipedia) of post-mommy days, and there I would be free to roam and explore and find things and write things and get into better shape and have a job for a little income, and generally have this life of light and refreshment and peace. But those are the words for dead people too. Apparently, my great goal was to get to where good and virtuous dead people go. Perfect. Just perfect. (I'm tired, but seriously. I don't think I'm that tired.)

Within the last year, I found the fields I could see off in the distance, all right. And with a keen sense of outrage, I now announce to you that these fields are not self-tilling, the harvest doesn't come in just because the ground is fertile, and (this is the worst part) the damn things have to be weeded! Work. That's what's out here. Actual work. And not the fun kind either. No endless hours of doing exactly what I please. Just endless hours.

Well, I'm not dead yet. Like the victims of the plague, I hear, "Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!" and I feel myself being bundled into the wheelbarrow - I can almost hear myself saying, "I'm not dead yet!"

This morning I got out of bed when the answer thumped me. "You will be."

I used to be so confused by Monty Python. It's all starting to make sense now. (That can't be good.)

Well ... now for something completely different. So embarrassingly clich├ęd to be doing this in January. "Character is what you are when nobody's looking." (shut up!) It comes down to this, does it? No one left to tell me what to do because I'm the child, and no one left to tell me what to do because I'm the mom. What's left is the endless stretch of nearly boundless time and space and opportunity, and no one's telling me what to do with it. (I think that's why people can't seem to make themselves retire when they should! They don't know what to do out here in Youdecide!)

No one looking. Just me here. (Does it echo out here?)

All the years of activity so far have taught me how to do a lot of things - but I don't think I ever really learned to choose which things to do. And I've been out here for awhile now. Apparently nobody else is going to show up to direct this show. Even in a field of dreams, you gotta build it before they will come. Dang.


A garden and some chickens?

"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do."
Henry Ford

"Potential just means you ain't done it yet."
Some homespun yokel whose name I cannot recall

I'm not really too concerned with my gardening and "sustainable living" reputation, but I've got a lot of potential. A revival of the abundant garden is in the works. We had one - a couple of 'em, actually. This year I want to do it again. (But it's easy to talk big when there's snow and slushy coldness on the ground out there, preventing me from having anything but potential.)

Chickens too - I've been reading a really enjoyable and fascinating book, and all my Inner Earthmamma urges are waking up and singing the siren song of "garden, tend, feed, and harvest ... garden, tend, feed, and harvest ..." They call me every year, and usually I can ignore them. This year, though, I just might join the choir. Phrases like "companion planting" and "green manure" are starting to rattle around in my brain box. And there are questions, too. What, for instance, would I feed the chickens? Or bigger than that, HOW, for instance, did I become someone who would even consider for a nanosecond the very idea of slaughtering and butchering my own animals? How did THAT happen? (Today I'm blaming Nina Planck.)

Polling pundits pop

Lots of stuff in the news - lots and lots of stuff about the presidential campaign in this country. But to my mind, the funniest news story of today is how very surprised "the media" have been that they got it wrong in New Hampshire. Can you imagine? Panting, eager, breathless reporters jumping up and down with anticipation, and they got it wrong? Well, how could it have happened? Let's do some news reporting on that question. It's endlessly fascinating and utterly confusing - right? And it's certainly never happened before!

I have a suggestion. How about they report the news after it happens instead of before. That might increase their accuracy rate. A little.


Feathers of a bird

I was raised by a man who thought words were quite nearly the perfect plaything. Always at hand, fluid, flexible, and often very funny. They could be ready made weapons too - but still. He liked to play, my dad did. And he really liked to play with words. (He isn't dead or anything. I'm just remembering what it was like back then.)

He once told my daughter, who'd just gotten old enough to understand the joke, that "feathers of a bird flock in a heap." If I remember this incident correctly, she figured it out over a few hours, and when she started laughing, we were already home.

I believe this proverb - about birds of a feather. They flock together, all right. There are lots of ways to say it, and everyone knows it's true. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed," and "Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul." That's Solomon the Wise. "Have no friends not equal to yourself" is Confucius, and "Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation for 'tis better to be alone than in bad company." That's George Washington.

It makes sense, of course. We become like the things around us. The concept of "peer pressure" never has to be explained to anyone because we have all felt it.

But now I'm old, and I'm starting to see a few more things in this setup. (And I know I'm old because my aunt told me so this past Christmas - she told me I didn't look like me any more. I looked old. She's allowed to say things like this because she's 83.)

There's more to this truth of life about our being like the company we keep. The truth is that no matter where we are or who we're with, we always choose what we want to look at.

And we find companions who seem not only to be reflections of us in some way when we find them, but also who are people who will tell us who we are. We choose company that tells us to ourselves. We surround ourselves with the environment we believe suits us, and when we get a choice, we want people around who give us the impression of ourselves we believe is the accurate one - or the impression of ourselves we want to develop into the accurate one.

If you want to learn to play tennis, find someone who's won a few matches. If you want to get married and stay that way 'til death does you part, find a couple that's been married a long time, and figure out a few things. Listen to those people. Get directions from someone who's been where you want to go. This is another reason birds of a feather find each other -- migration takes place across the generations as well as across the miles. Somewhere in that flock is a novice.

It's my own no-longer-children offspring who've taught me a bit of a broader perspective on this lately. I've been noticing something. They've moved from accepting the reflections they've seen (intended or otherwise) coming to them in their parents, and now they choose people to be with who "not liars" and a friend who is "not a tool." Someone who tells me "the truth" about me is someone I think I can trust.

But ... it generally escapes us - especially when we're young - that we've mostly chosen the people who tell us what we already believe. It's harder work to find (and then listen to) someone who gives feedback we can't recognize.

I am beginning to think that that is what it means to be old. Or ... older.
If we age well, we see more and more of how things work, and our ears and eyes open to the things we hadn't expected. We can hear the Miss Bingleys of the world, even if we know them to be odious people. We can begin to see the difference between a liar and a lie, even if we realize that someone who tells lies morphs himself into A Liar. And even liars sometimes tell the truth -- so it's a good idea to listen. We can feel less anxiety about the winter because we've finally figured out that spring always comes again. And we can hear it with a high degree of sanguine acceptance when our wrinkly old aunts tell us we're old - we can even take it as a compliment.

The young, still forming a perspective, are mostly not listening to the things unexpected. You have to learn the rules before the exceptions are very useful. But for me? I'm old. My hearing's getting a lot better.


This one's the album cover - I know, I know ... it's been awhile since the release of this album. I'm a hopelessly out-of-it middle aged mom, okay? I've accepted this fact of my life. But I've only just now found her - because after a long and flamboyant life so far, she's attached her attentions to the president of France. So she's in the news. So I found her. And she can sing!!!

But for lush, gorgeous, mouth-watering, mesmerizing beauty, check out the photos at her website. Wow. http://www.carlabruni.com

Wow, man -- it's, like, so true, you know?

From my husband today, while in conversation with me about the ancient world, the communion of the saints, and the modern world of feeling good first and loving ourselves for being just oh, so special:

"Reality ... it's all around us."


Run, Joseph! Run!

Okay, granted, this painting is supposed to be before the Nativity - or, that's what my source says, anyway. And I suppose a man could look that tired while sleeping if he were only worried about the fact that his obviously virtuous betrothed had gotten pregnant and he couldn't figure out what was going on. I mean, I suppose it could make a man look that harried. But I want to ask Georges Dumesnil de La Tour if it was supposed to be the angel's visit after the Nativity - the one that said, "gather up the mother and child, and run, Joseph! Run!" I think he looks like a man who's been up several times a night with a baby. De La Tour died in 1652, though. So I'll have to wait.


Just a couple of questions

Why are wide-eyed people nearly entirely blind? Did the light get in their eyes? Was it the stars? Maybe we should all squint - or use eye protection.

If I make myself clear, will you be able to see right through me?

Are there any advantages to a round tin with a lid? What, exactly, does one do with it?

and ...

this isn't really a question - just an observation - two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do. So if you're not going the right way, you should just keep turning left.

Today we threw away some 8-track tapes, some old shoes, and a rusty window washing extension pole. And this left me with the question, why would anyone manufacture a window washing pole out of something that rusts?

We also put the surf fishing poles into the woodshed, along with the croquet set and the other balls, racquets, and mitts and things, some gardening and pet care supplies, and a car care kit, and then we (and by "we" I mean they - the men people) took a big load to the dump and recycling. Now, because we finally have a new mattress and less garbage, you can come over to my house without needing instructions on how to get in or what to step over. And if you want to go surf fishing, the poles are in the woodshed.


No, seriously. Just stop.

Morning Edition, January 2, 2008 · Michigan's Lake Superior State University offered a list of overused words and phrases. According to the list, "surge" has been used more than enough. "Perfect storm" should be history, along with "Webinar," or online seminar. "Post-9/11," should be banned. Then there's [blank] is the new [blank] – as in, "chocolate is the new sex."

For example: In this post-9/11 world, a perfect storm of Webinars shows that surge is the new light at the end of the tunnel.


Me 'n' Raynay

"Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems." Rene Descartes

Me 'n' Rene - and every child in the world until someone convinces him that this is not a valid means and method. It works, though.

"What man has done, man can do -- or words to that effect." (a proverb apparently quoted by everyone from Charles Spurgeon to Saki, but heard in that form in the Katharine Hepburn movie Holiday)


A New Year begins

My calendar's out of date. Time to go get a new one. Usually this task is done by the end of December - several times! But this year I'll be finding what's left in the stores after the first of the year. I don't much like "The Kitchen Calendar" I've had this past year either. It got boring. Something richly evocative - huge heaps of fruit or flowers or something. I want something like that this year.

Calendars are a big deal for me. In front of me, on the bulletin board behind the computer screen, is the 2007 monthly calendar to write on, the birthday calendar where the page is flipped each month but there is no year on it so it's a "perpetual" one, and the church calendar with the holy days and such. Three. Three kinds of calendars, just at this one desk - and one in my purse. There used to be calendars all over the house, but for some reason there are only these three left. I wonder if I only mark the passage of the days when I'm right here? Hm. Perhaps since there are no kids in the bedrooms upstairs, I don't feel any need to keep the passage of time in front of their eyes? Or, in front of my eyes as they move past the pages?

Anyway, I'm down to just the one annual calendar. Just me. My priorities, and the obligations I choose, and my own daily awarenesses.

And that's what I'm doing for my new year. I'm prioritizing for a new life. These aren't resolutions - I'm not filling in a new calendar this year with things I've decided to do.

This is just awareness of the facts. There are no kids thundering up and down the stairs in the middle of the house, and there are no calendars in every bedroom. No reason for me to wait any longer to arrange a guest room - the previous occupant has vacated the premises (and is insistently demanding the delivery of his sack-of-denim futon mattress for a "couch" in his new place - he's told each person individually that this needs to happen right away, in the hopes that one of us will make it happen). This year I have no need to plan and supervise school work. No deadlines at all that don't originate with me.

And now I find within myself a very interesting, unforeseen response to the sorts of things that are and aren't written on my calendars now. It's true that there are occasional echoes of a kind of grieving or longing. It still (almost) seems like I should still be looking at curriculum catalogs or filling out goals for the second part of the school year.

But I know that this is a completely different life now. I had that time - those babies - that schooling and playing and laughing and yelling and listening and worrying - and hustling them out the door to play because "mommy's ears are completely full and no more words can fit right now." I had the Halloween costumes and the red felt Christmas stockings for the entire village of stuffed animals. Then I had the night time clock watching after the driver licenses.

I had all that. I'm glad I did. I'm grateful.

And now I have this.

Now I have this... but I also have all the skills and experiences and perspectives and ideas and experiments that went along with those other times. The times passed by, but it turns out that I got to keep my perspective and take it with me, to be penciled in at will whenever I want.

I have begun to see the orderly squares on the square pages of the calendars in a whole new way. I'm not looking around for things to write in the squares anymore. Sometimes I have to, of course. But I'm not itching to fill them in - or wondering what is supposed to be there. Empty squares make me happy!

It took me a long time - and maybe I had to do it the other way first. But everything's different now. Life's not scripted. And it's not a monologue. It's Improv. You have to pay attention to what's going on and respond to that. You have to stay awake. You have to be able to tell the difference between what's really going on and what people think is going on, and you have to be able to play with it - on purpose. The silences and spaces in the conversation - the days without necessities - they're good. You have to be okay with blank squares on a calendar. Or, I should say, I've learned to be okay with them - I've started to love the blank squares in a calendar.