It’s Leap Day; what do you propose?

Tradition has it that women are allowed to propose on Leap Day.   I came home this morning from a Nature in the Parks gig and proposed to Steve that we go out for a walk.  It was sunny and 54 degrees when I proposed.  By the time we’d mailed our packages at the Post Office, it was raining and 45 degrees.  So we headed toward what looked like a break in the clouds.  Turns out the clouds were faster than we were, but we ended up at the beach on the shores of Lake Michigan.  We had the entire shoreline to ourselves.  I love being outside, no matter what the weather or the season.   Here are some photos!

Raw color shot of Lake Michigan. I kid you not.

The beach rocks!

Steve holds his selected favorite

No bathers today

Beach wood

Still some snow left

Cutting through the bluffs to the lake

Heading home

A great adventure close to home.

Because of Love

“In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it
was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and
thought “What may this be?” And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is
made.” I marveled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have
sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my
understanding: “It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.”

— Julian of Norwich

Why does evolution continue?  Why does the universe expand?  Why does the sun appear on the horizon every morning?  Why am I here?

Who do I thank?

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

Today is my darling baby’s 21st birthday, which in the good ole U. S. of A. means that she can legally purchase and/or be served an alcoholic drink.   Whoo-hoo!  This becomes quite the rite of passage for many people.  It used to be that different states had different legal drinking ages.  Back in the 70s, Illinois had it at 21 and Wisconsin had it at 18, so lots of kids would drive over the border to drink and then drive home drunk.  Not something a mother wants to think about for too long.  In my family of origin, though, drinking was done at home.  The first (and only!) time I got sick from sampling alcohol, I was 10 years old.  My mother made a Greek dinner and my father let me taste Ouzo, retsina, and Metaxa.  I learned how much is too much pretty early.  I also learned that I could get much better alcohol at home than I could at a party with my peers.   For me, it is all about taste.  My father once educated my children at the dinner table by explaining how alcohol is a solvent that releases fragrance and enhances the taste of food.  What is the primary liquid in fine perfumes?  Alcohol.  The pairing of food and drink is a scientific discovery of pleasure.  Coming from my dad, that seemed to be the “right” approach, and I think it has served pretty well.  My kids grew up having tastes in increased measures and never became binge drinkers.  My baby had her first taste when she was baptized at two months old.  The priest dipped his finger in the communion wine and let her suck on it.  She was a full-fledged member from that day on.  Why not?

When I turned 21, I was engaged to be married.  My fiance took me out for a champagne brunch after church.  All through my 20s, I was having babies.  I never went to bars and hardly drank at all.  I have no cultural experience of “the bar scene”, and that amuses Steve no end these days.  I also missed all of the pop music scene from the 80s on.  I am a walking anachronism, it seems.  Oh, well.  I still think I know how to have fun.  I do drink and dance and sing…mostly with family.  Tonight, my kids are going out together to do Broadway karaoke at a gay bar.  Now, I could fit right in with that!  I worked for a children’s musical theater company for 7 years, and my kids were all involved.  We rock the Broadway tunes!  Sadly, though, Mom is not invited.  Not this time, but I hope in the near future.

And now, for the photo journal portion.  My family album reveals “Celebrations, Then & Now”:

It starts with my family of origin. My mom at the piano after serving us a gourmet meal and wine. This was typical. Pictured: my sisters, brother, and a niece. (photo: DKK)

Next: Me & Jim at a church talent show. Yes, a couple of hams with a couple of drinks in them, singing and dancing.


So, then what happens? We raise a bunch of talented kids who like to perform and dress up and drink like pirates!

See? It's a theme.

So then my baby gets the bug really bad, and she's really good! (and I can't get this to print any bigger, sorry!)

And she's absolutely fabulous and happy onstage!

And I am incredibly proud of her!


And sometimes, we get to play dress up and sing and dance together!

And now, she’s all growed up! (*sniff*)  You are fabulous, Miss Em!  Go rock the scene tonight, celebrate your life, your health, your talent, your livelihood, your friends & family, and the fact that you are here and surrounded by love!!  And I know you won’t forget, that love extends beyond visible boundaries.

Your daddy adores you!

And he now celebrates the remarkable lady you've become with a bigger smile than he could muster with his physical form!



Sunday Stroll

My neighborhood is probably fairly typical for suburban USA, but I always find things that strike my imagination as anything but.  There’s a story wherever you look.  Here are a few I found yesterday.

The house on the hill was once owned by a retired sea captain who could be spotted occasionally behind the iron parapet with a spyglass, looking toward Lake Michigan.  Sometimes I hear him when the wind roars in the trees, shouting “Thar she blows!”

Mrs. McGillicuddy was hanging out the wash one day, when a German Shepherd came barreling around the corner of the house and ran right under her skirts.  This sock flew out of reach and remains in the maple tree on Church Street to this day.  (What happens to the story if I don’t capitalize the ‘s’?)

“Momma?  Can we make a snowman family in the front yard?  Please?”  “Nonsense, children.  That’s not necessary.  I have one I ordered from WalMart’s Home Decor department right here.  There!  Now run inside and watch the TV until dinner.”

The meteorite streamed through the dark night sky, blazing a menacing trail of fire toward the quiet, white house on the corner where Carol & Ken slept.  It whistled past the living room window, sending Fluffy on arthritic legs across the rug and under the sofa on the opposite wall.  With a steaming hiss, it plopped into the snow.  Ken snored loudly and rolled over on his left side.

Enjoy your Sunday amusements!  The sun is shining, and I think we’re off on a hike this afternoon.

It’s All How You Look At It

Stan Freeburg’s comedy musical “The United States of America” contains a line where a Native American remarks to Christopher Columbus that they discovered the white man.  “Whaddya mean you discovered us?”  “We discover you on beach here…is all how you look at it.”  “Y’I suppose…I never thought of it that way,” Chris replies.

Dualistic thinking, good/bad, right/wrong, is all about thinking, as my sister pointed out in a comment.  It’s not about the actual thing in front of us.  So it seems that often all we learn about the world is about how we are thinking about or perceiving it.  Art and artists play around with this quite a bit, of course.  And then philosophers ask, “What is real?”

Who knows.

Do we choose to look at things in a way that gives us pleasure of some kind, even perverse pleasure?  Sure.  I think we photographers get to do this now more than ever with all the tweaking technology allows.  We get to illustrate the story going on inside our skulls.  Here’s an example.

Sample inner monologue: “Rural life is a thing of the past.  Flat, washed out, joyless and crumbling.  There is no life left in the earth by now.  Life is in the cities.  It’s time we bulldozed these ruins and built something we can inhabit.”

Of course, you could be having a completely different monologue in your brain with this image.  Go ahead, share it with us!  Here’s another:

Sample thought: “Ah, the good old days!  Blue skies, wood, stone, a farm.  Life was simpler; it meant something back then to work hard on the land.  All you need is within reach – your livelihood, your family, your pleasure.  Who could ask for anything more?”  Another:

Sample thoughts: “The world is an interesting juxtaposition of contrasting elements – texture, color, shape, pattern, organic and inorganic.  There’s no making sense of it.  The dynamic of life is about the tension and release we experience through our senses every day.  Nothing more.  I need a cigarette!”

There’s no right and wrong in this little exercise.  “Is all how you look at it!”  Please, have a go!  Amuse me!

Half Way

It occurs to me that I have reached the half way mark in my 50th year blogging project.  This is post #183; I’ve missed two days along the line somewhere, and I may yet miss another, so I probably won’t end up with a perfect 366 by August 20, but I’m calling today the half way point.  Whoo-hoo!  Time to check back on my original intent:

“So this blog is dubbed scillagrace to symbolize ancient elegance of manner, action, form, motion and moral strength.  It is my goal to post entries worthy of the name.  It is my goal to avoid being dogmatic and prissy.  I want to challenge myself to go deeper into subjects that explore the ancient grace of life.   It is a lot of name and a lot of subject, to be sure.  We’ll see how it goes.”

I have also realized that in the adventure of exploring the ancient grace of life, encounters with others are pivotal.  The challenge to go deeper is often voiced not by myself but by those whom I encounter.  The elegance of the dance is significantly effected by those who come alongside to partner me.  So I want to express my deep appreciation for all those who have participated in shaping this blog by liking it and leaving a signature that led me to meet them or commenting and entering into the dance directly.  I appreciate those who were strangers to me and those whom I’ve known in person for some time.   I have truly enjoyed, benefited, woken up, reeled, puzzled, thrilled, anguished, and grown here!  Thank you, one and all.

My gift to y’all today is to share the elegance of the world to which I woke this morning.  My little corner of the globe draped in February’s glory: snow.

Have a grace-filled day, all!

What’s Important?

When I hung around with evangelical Christians, I would frequently hear this phrase: “be in right relationship with”.  That was a core value in life.   I agreed then, and I still agree in some ways.  I very much resonate with the value of relationships.  I am “a lover” by temperament, so to speak, and being engaged with the universe is supremely important to me.  I also have a huge desire to be “right”, but that is exactly the thing I’m now trying to dismantle.  I was a compliant kid.  I was afraid of my father and of all authority.  I wanted to be “good” and “correct” because I wanted to be praised instead of punished!  Now, I find that being “right” is not all that great of a goal.  First of all, it can lead you to be self-righteous and judgmental.  Second, how do you even know what is “right”?  Is it “right” to do everything an authority tells you to?  What if that authority tells you to harm someone else?  See, it gets tricky.  How about if I just say that I want to have a good relationship with everything?  I think that covers it pretty well.

One relationship that I am really working to improve is my relationship with God and Christianity.  It has gone through a huge change in the last few years, one that has many of my friends scratching their heads.  Some of them are downright disappointed in the change and have told me so.  Some have just stopped communicating with me.  I am most in awe of those who are openly listening, talking, challenging, and engaging with me as I rework my theology and practice.  Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  Instead of going to Church, getting ashes imposed on my forehead, and beginning a 40-day penitential practice (which is an indication of how I participated in that relationship for 47 years), Steve & I finished reading T.S. Eliot’s poem named for the day and discussed post-modern cynicism.  Despite Eliot’s conversion, he doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about life.  This morning, we had breakfast with his Aunt and talked about her church experiences with fasting and confession and Bible study.  Today, I got another e-mail from an old friend who is willing to discuss my journey and walk with me in it.  I’ve known this person since I was about 12 and she was 17.  Replying to her became my top writing priority for the day.  So, I’ve decided to use that material for my post today.  First, a photo or two to open the mind:

What is the value of a sparrow?

A cardinal far from the Vatican

My thoughts for today:

I feel like I have a continual discourse going on in my brain about my relationship with Jesus and the Church.  On any given day, other people enter that conversation and keep it going.  At breakfast, it was Steve & his Aunt Rosie.  As we walked to the library, it was just Steve.  Now you’ve entered the discussion.  Welcome!  Come, have a place on the panel!
The Church.  So much of it is about the social aspect.  Sometimes it acts like a group of people who are all friendly, who share affinities, who enjoy being together and taking care of each other.  Seems there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m sure that’s not all Jesus meant the Church to be.  What happens when that group disbands, moves away or dies off?  Kind of like your Presbyterian congregation.  Or what happens when that group gets visited by people whom they don’t care for?  People of a different kind who don’t fit into their social circle?  How do they behave?  Is that what Christianity is about?  There is so much intolerance, so much judgment, so much exclusion, that it just seems to represent the worst of society as well.
Theology & Philosophy.  The Church getting down to what it actually believes about the universe.  And why.  I was taught by my Episcopal parents that there are 3 legs on the stool supporting what they believe: Scripture, Tradition and Reason.  My dad held up the Reason leg when he talked about Science. In the face of overwhelming evidence about evolution, for example, there’s no need to dismiss it.  It can be worked in with the other legs.  Scripture is about the story of human life, the salvation story, the emotional story, the behavioral story.  But it’s still a story, a Myth.  It is about Truth, but it isn’t literally true.  I don’t think it’s “true” that we are all sinners, or that we are all fundamentally separate from each other.  If you look at the biological universe, we are all very much interconnected.  I don’t know if there’s any evidence to prove that a historical Jesus even existed, much less that he was resurrected from the dead and will come again.  I still love Jesus’ teaching, whether he’s fiction or fact.  I love how he goes straight to the religious teachers of the day and preaches in their faces about how they have undermined values like compassion, inclusion, humility, spirituality, and forgiveness.  I think if it were possible for him to reappear in the US today, he would go straight to the Conservative Republican Christian Right and do the same thing!  Tradition seems to be aimed at behavior, how we live together.  The thing that is so tricky about behavior is that it needs to change, it needs to be responsive and responsible.  Most people think that Tradition is about keeping things the same.  I think that keeping core values is a good thing, but the way they are expressed should be flexible.
The thing I miss most about The Church is choir!  Singing!  And I have always loved Gospel more than classical, deep down.  Yesterday, Steve put on a new CD; I immediately recognized Odetta’s guitar and voice and purred with delight.  He laughed and said, “Priscilla wants to be a big, black woman!”  It’s so true!  I love the soul, the familiarity with humanity and suffering and the confidence.  I don’t want to be brainwashed or shamed or coerced by guilt.  I want to be free and respected for what I am.  And what am I?  A white Anglo, in part. But I am partly a big, black woman as well because we are all connected here on earth.
Anyway, that’s where the dialogue has me today.  I want to tell you again how much I appreciate you taking the time to engage with me in this part of my journey.  It means a lot.  I really get turned off by the tendency, especially in politics, for people to circle the wagons or form a fortress from which to sling rhetoric while refusing to actually come out peacefully and discuss something.  You know what I mean?  And the media just makes the whole situation worse, little Tweets & comments here and there but no real engagement.  Thanks for being willing to be real, to put your story and your thoughts and your experiences in writing and listen to mine as well.  I respect you for that.  I think that’s how Jesus was, too.  I think of the stories in the Gospel of John especially, of conversations with Samaritans, women, disciples, beggars, and Pharisees.  He didn’t just knock off a sound bite for the media and move on.  And as much as anyone stayed to hear more, he kept interacting.  What a great example!


Process, Procedure, Product, and Practice OR Fail Before You Bail

I’m in the midst of a baking day.  Steve’s Aunt asked me to bake two different kinds of cookies to mail to her nephew out of state.  I was happy to participate in producing a care package.  I like caring, even if I don’t know the person.  The first recipe was written out on an index card with rather sketchy instructions.  For instance, nowhere did it suggest how long to cook them!  These are rolled and filled cookies.  I’ve never attempted anything like that before in my life, nor have I witnessed anyone else’s attempt, nor had I seen a representation of the final product.   But for some reason, I decided to plow ahead and do my best using my intuition.  Only after they were out of the oven did I look around online for images.  I wasn’t too far off, I guess, but I know I’d make some changes next time.   “But what have you learned, Dorothy?”

Edible, I suppose

I’ve learned that this kind of thing teaches me a lot about myself.  There was one point in the procedure when my brain did actually shoot off an almost audible “F*** this!” and I felt like quitting.   I have a perfectionist streak in me that easily loses patience.  I suppose that things should go smoothly if I’m doing them right.  When things stop going smoothly, I’m in danger of failing, and this is where the perfectionist wants to bail.  I often go to this conclusion even before I’ve begun a job.  I see this tendency dangling from various branches  in my family tree.  But I figure that if I continue to live this way, I am going to eliminate a lot of experiences prematurely and end up not doing much with the time I have left.   So I might as well just roll up my sleeves and dive in.

I think we live in a culture of “professionalism” and “experts” that contributes to this kind of self-elimination.  How often are we told that we can’t do something because we’re not qualified, we don’t have the skills, we don’t have the right background, or we don’t have the resources and we simply give up on the idea?  Only a charlatan would continue to try to do something he hasn’t been trained for!  But how do you get experience?  By trying something you’ve never done!  We get caught in the Catch-22 all the time, beginning as children, probably now more than ever.  If you haven’t had the 2-yr-old class on foreign languages, you’re not going to get into the right pre-school, and if you don’t get into the right pre-school…(usw)…you won’t get into Harvard!  Gone are the days when a self-taught person could go from a log cabin to the White House.   Now we think we’re not qualified to make improvements in our lives, in our communities, in our government, in our international relations, and we can’t solve global problems.   Well, maybe we actually can but we’ve eliminated the possibility prematurely because the feeling that things aren’t going smoothly is tempting us to bail before we fail.   If you’re going to bail, why not fail first so that you have an experience to learn from?  Or why not fail frequently and refuse to bail?

My kids are in their 20s now.  I hope they have the courage to fail many times.  I hope they don’t bail before they try something that interests them.  I hope I still have some of that left in my future as well.


Maple Sugar!

Never let me get dogmatic about anything.  (That word again….one of Steve’s most over-used!)  I had resisted the excitement around the Wehr Nature Center surrounding the upcoming Maple Sugar festival because I just don’t care for the taste of maple.  I had a bad experience as a candihapped kid.  My parents were strict about candy.  We didn’t have it just lying around in big, glass jars on the kitchen counter like my best friend did.  We weren’t allowed to eat our fill out of pillow cases at Halloween like my best friend did.  We weren’t allowed to chew bubble gum like my best friend did.  So where did I hang out?  At my best friend’s house mooching as much candy as I could.  And then, a miracle occurred.  My parents brought home Maple Sugar Candy from a trip, or maybe it was a gift or a find at a specialty shop.   Somehow, these little leaf-shaped, brown, sparkly candies were available IN OUR HOUSE, and I went berserk.  I probably yanked one without permission and gobbled it up to destroy the evidence in a matter of seconds.  My wise friends at the Nature Center told me this morning that the only way to consume maple sugar is in tiny, slow doses.   Maybe that’s where I went wrong.  My overdose at a young age left a very bad taste in my mouth about the whole maple business.  I’ve avoided it for years on pancakes, French toast, spice cake frosting, bacon, you name it.  Somewhere along the line, the real maple sugar and the imitation corn syrupy stuff that’s advertised as “maple syrup” got blurred together in my memory.  It was all bad.  Well, today, I got to go back to the source and re-learn everything I knew about the taste of maple.

Giving blood

This is a new tap in a sugar maple.  The spout is called a spile.  You can see a previous tap above it to the left that has healed over.  Some of the kids think these look like bellybuttons.   The sap drips out and gets collected in a bag.  I tasted a drop of sap that I captured on the back of my hand.  It was just like water with a very slight sweetness.

A stand of sugar maples is called a “sugar bush”.   Tapping trees have at least an inch of sapwood under the bark.  They are the more mature trees, ones about 45 inches in circumference.   You can get sap from any tree, but not every sap will make a syrup that will taste good on pancakes.  Pine sap can be made into turpentine.  Birch sap can be made into root beer.  Oak sap can be made into tannins for tanning leather.  Maple sap has a sugar content of about 2.5%.  It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.  Remove even more water, and you have maple sugar.   It’s very sweet, but it doesn’t make me sick in tiny amounts.  You know what does make me sick?  Imitation maple syrup.  That’s really the stuff I loathe.  We do a taste test with the kids.  They get a drop from bottle A and one from bottle B to see if they can tell the difference.  Bottle A leaves a trailing thread of stickiness wherever it goes.  It looks like a hot glue gun.  It tastes super sweet and leaves a tinny bitterness in your mouth.  Yuck!  It’s imitation maple flavoring, MAYBE a smidgeon of real maple syrup, and mostly corn syrup.   Real maple syrup is not as harsh; it’s sweet, but with a lower viscosity.

I looked at these bright, vulnerable blue bags hanging in plain sight in the woods and asked, “Don’t you get animals coming after this sweet stuff?”  Oh, yes.  Weasels.  Gnats.  Snow fleas.  Raccoons.  Squirrels.  They get wise to what we’re doing out here eventually.  So they tell us to replace any bags that have holes, and we strain the sap before we start cooking it.  I haven’t seen that part yet, the cooking.  They save that for the big festival in late March.

So now I have a better understanding and appreciation of maple syrup and maple sugar.  I do not hate the taste of it; I do hate imitations of it.  I still prefer honey on my pancakes, though.   I can’t wait to see and taste the Wehr Nature Center’s version of that, too!

What are you doing the rest of your life?

Steve and I had a long ramble along the Ice Age Trail yesterday in the golden, muddy afternoon.  We got talking about decision making, finances, the next step of our lives.  These are tough talks for us.  They require concentration, attention, soul-searching, vulnerability, risk…and we love it. Really, we do.  Getting past drifting and down to brass tacks really feels good in a relationship.  It feels real, genuine.  This is not a dreamy romance.  This is a shared life.  Along the way, I took some photographs, and now looking at them, I like the way they illustrate the terrain of our conversation.

Are you bound to habits, a lifestyle, a way of thinking that is keeping you together in some way, but may not be allowing you to grow and change?

What do you see when you look out to the horizon?  Where are you “pointing your canoe”?  How will you use your energy to get there?

Are you keeping open to the flow of all different variables?  Are you aware of the constancy of change?  Are you able to employ your intuition and avoid getting hemmed in by dogma?  Are you remembering the elemental things, the things that are most important to you?  Do you want to move forward or stay where you are right now?  Are you willing to wear away at obstacles to get to a new place?

While we were standing at the spring, and I was trying to figure out how to change the settings on my camera to get the rocks into sharp focus and the water into that soft, fuzzy blur I see in other peoples’ photos, I realized that we were deep into an important conversation, and I had better put the camera away!  So I did.  We kept talking.  By the time we were driving home in the car, I was compiling a list of words to remind myself of the things we agreed were important to us in living our lives.  Helping, challenging, rehabilitating, keeping open a place for something to grow, nurturing, teaching…and outdoors.  When I got home, I decided to see what would happen if I put a combination of those words into the search engine.  I came up with something that really sparked my interest.  An ecovillage in northeastern Missouri called Dancing Rabbit.  So I’m investigating.  Stay tuned! (or as Stuart would say, “Watch this space.”)