Lens-Artist Weekly Photo Challenge: Magical Light

“Light! More light!” – last words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Was Goethe, the celebrated poet and scientist and author of The Theory of Colors, crying out his final request in an effort to quench his thirst for enlightenment of the mind, the soul, or the eye? Or all three?
I am sure they are all interconnected.
Coincidentally, his deathbed wish became the motto of Lawrence University in Wisconsin, where I sent my oldest child to college. 

Three things converged earlier this week to illustrate to me the power of light and its affect on my soul.

First, on Sunday, we switched our clocks back from Daylight Savings Time. The sun slips further away from the Northern Hemisphere, and daylight hours are noticeably diminished. Nights fall early, and mornings are dark.

On Tuesday, the U.S. had midterm elections. An ominous gloom has settled and hung over this country since our last election. I am anxious for my children, the planet, and the future. I feel the grip of darkness in my soul.

I suspect that I am susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. I feel physically drained, deeply depressed, cold and vulnerable. Cloudy, dark days bring questions of personal survival to my mind. And then, Thursday night, temperatures dropped and the first snow fell. 

Fortunately, the next morning I was scheduled to volunteer in a Nature Center class of fourth graders. I drove carefully through the falling snow, noticing changes all around. The minute I arrived in the parking lot, I saw a small child lifting her face to the sky with her tongue out, hoping to catch a falling flake. Her face was lit with joy.

Light from the souls of the children flooded my day. Snow angels, snowball target practice, a hike through the woods to the river, and the emergence of a distant but brilliant sun made my mood by the late morning sparkle. There is magic in light, in warmth, in proximity to the energy of our home star, the Sun. The magic brings life to every living thing. I am aware of its sustenance and my dependence on it. And I give thanks for it every day. Thanks, also, to Amy for inviting us to share the magic with this Photo Challenge! 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Transition

Moving a 20.5 lb turkey, already cooked, from my house to my son’s house 116 miles away.  Hoping the bird doesn’t suffer too much in transition.  I’m too involved in this project to post new photos, so here’s one of the bird we dined on last night ‘a deux’ – a pheasant courtesy my boss and his bird dog, Bhodi.

thanksgiving dinnerMay your attitude of gratitude bring you joy, today and every day!

Transition

80 Years in 8 Days – Day 2: 10 Family Foods

10 Family Foods.  10 Fabulously Festive Family Foods!  (Ah, ah, ah…*thunder and lightening*)

Is this a Muppet Count-down?  No, not really.  This is Day #2 of my mother’s birthday present.  Yesterday’s post introduced the project and 10 Background Bits of my mother’s life.  Today being Christmas Day, I want to tell you about my mother’s culinary talents.  This is a day that we would spend feasting and in high spirits.  Christmas Eve Mass having been accomplished and Mom’s choir commitment completed, she’d turn her attention to Christmas dinner.  There’s so much I could write about, but I’ll keep it down to 10 things, and I’ll limit them to things that I have actually made myself.  Except for this first item…

1) Fruitcake —  You may shudder, but wait!  My mother’s fruitcake is a triumph of dark, rum-and-brandy-soaked cake popping with candied fruits and savory nuts.  The recipe is from Julia Child herself.  Mom used to make it weeks ahead of Christmas in a huge, plastic tub (which later served as an infant bathtub for my baby brother), wrap it in cheesecloth, douse it with brandy and let it age.  A dozen foil-wrapped parcels went out to the most appreciative friends and neighbors.  Now my sister Sarah makes it, and if I’ve been good, I may get one in the mail this year, too.  I have NEVER attempted this on my own.  I doubt I could live up to the legacy. 

2) Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook —  Fannie and I have become good friends, and though my original copy is pretty trashed, I am partner to a bookseller and have a few new editions at my fingertips.  Yes, I can make this…and have!

photo by Steve

photo by Steve

3) Cran-orange relish —  The recipe is on a postcard my mother sent to me when I moved back to the Midwest from California.  It simply says, “1 bag cranberries, 2 navel oranges, 1 cup sugar.  Grind and enjoy!”  I should mention that I’m still using Grandma Marion’s food grinder from the 1940s.  I’ll probably keep using it until that worn out cord and plug start a fire.

pecan pie & cran orange relish

4) Pecan pie (and mince pie) —  Again, from Fannie Farmer. 

5) Lobster — When we lived in Massachusetts where I was born, Mom learned how to cook a live lobster.  I didn’t end up cooking the first one on my own until we were living in California, and I was in college.  My fiance Jim drove home from the fish market with the live lobster on his shoulder just to freak out passing motorists.  I showed him how to hypnotize the lobster by holding it head down and stroking its tail.  When it was limp, dropping it into the pot of boiling water (don’t forget a bit of Vermouth!) was a cinch. 

6) Roast leg of lamb —  Make slits in the outside and insert slivers of garlic cloves before putting it in the oven.  I like rosemary and gravy more than mint sauce with it.  I have a picture of myself one Christmas with a Lambchop puppet on my arm; we’re both looking aghast at the serving platter. 

We can’t feast like Christmas all year long, so here are some samples of every day fare. 

7) Soup —  My mother kept a stock pot in her ‘fridge all week.  On Wednesdays, when she’d be going out to choir practice, she’d make a batch of soup from leftovers and stock that we could eat ‘whenever’ and clean up without her supervision.  To this day, she makes soup every week for the Food Pantry.  Steve and I have dubbed her “Our Lady Of Perpetual Soup”. 

8) Chili —  The family recipe is pretty mild.  Steve adds Tabasco and cheese and oyster crackers, and if I let him really indulge his Milwaukee roots, I’ll serve it on spaghetti noodles.  Texas folk, please avert your eyes!

9) Chicken and rice —  Basic dinner memories: the smell of onions and mushrooms sauteing in butter as the sun goes down.  Add the chicken, rice and liquid to the same pot.  Season with your favorite flavor combinations.

10) Brownies —  Not from a box! Made by melting Baker’s chocolate and butter on a double boiler and adding it to the creamed butter and sugar. Then add the eggs and the flour and dry ingredients.  Memorable mishaps: pouring hot, melted butter and chocolate into the creamed butter and sugar AFTER having added the eggs and watching bits of cooked scrambled eggs emerge.  And my sister putting in half a cup of baking SODA instead of half a TEASPOON of baking POWDER.  The brown, bubbly stuff spilling out of the pan and all over the oven resembled lava!  Cool! 

Tomorrow, for St. Stephen’s Day, 10 Musical Memories…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”

Well, this is an obvious one.  After all, I am a widow.  How can I forget the love of my life, my one and only husband, the father of my four children and the man who bought me my first Canon (an AE-1 for Christmas when I was 17)?  I am in a wonderful relationship now with a new partner, Steve, and he’s featured in many of my posts.  But Jim is my first love, the man who was beside me for 30 years, from the time I was 15.  So much of my adult formation took place in those years, even though profound change has happened since.  Shortly after Jim died, I became an empty-nester, I sold our home, and I stopped practicing evangelical Christianity.  Gone are my ‘suburban mom’ characteristics…the van, the mortgage, the disposable income, the salaried position with a Christian company in my home town, the prayer groups and Bible studies, the daily involvement with my kids.  My life is definitely different.  I am much more independent and self-reliant now.  But I haven’t forgotten how well loved I was, how dedicated Jim was to taking care of me.  As his best friend said at his memorial service, he was a Prince of a man.  And he was definitely Charming. 

Weekly Photo Challenge & Photography 101: Triumphs Converging

Yesterday was a wonderful day, a triumph of change, of many changes coming together.  Thanksgiving is Steve’s favorite holiday, and what’s not to love?  Fall colors, harvest time, lots of great food, a crisp chill in the air, wood smoke, and an all-pervading sense of gratitude for the process of life. 

triumph 2We’ve hosted Steve’s family for dinner at our place for the past 4 years.  “Our Place”, however, is not just a home.  It’s an online book business, which means that our inventory is stored under the same roof.  That roof was replaced this year, bringing inches of old cedar pieces and dust down on top of our piles of books.  It was a mess.  The clean up and resorting was enormous.  But Thanksgiving was the deadline: we wanted to host as usual.  Piles of books, CDs, video tapes and packing materials carpeted all the rooms and stairwells in the house.  We literally had to pick our way through for months.  Steve took infinite trips up the narrow, steep stairs to the attic, laden with heavy boxes and stacks.  But yesterday was a triumph!  The place was clean, the table glistened, the food was colorfully delicious, and everyone had a great time.  And Steve got to put his feet up and read aloud in Italian.

triumphWe are really getting good at team work.  The next triumphant convergence will occur tomorrow, when we get together with all my children and their ‘significant otters’ for a holiday which we call ‘Galassoween’.  Five couples, two generations and as many various lifestyles merge to create a feast of conversation and edible togetherness.  And it will take place in the house that my daughter and her fiance have rebuilt. (see this post, “Harvesting Hope”)  I’m looking forward to it!  (but first, I have a lot of dishes to wash…)

triumph 3

 

Photography 101: Double

Happy Thanksgiving!  I am doubly thankful for you, the blogging community.  Thank you for your visits and thank you for hosting me when I visit.  It’s been great fun and great learning doing this project.  There are (at least) twice as many wonders in this world to see than I imagine.  I am grateful to be opened and broadened and expanded by your lives and your art.  Thank You, Thank You!!

double

Photography 101: Treasure

Treasure: what is it?  I’ve worked at museums long enough to know what an artifact is.  Usually, it’s an object that you find or dig up.  It can tell you about the environment, what kinds of things lived there, what they did and when.  Paleontologists like to say that archaeologists study garbage, stuff people throw away, while they study bones and fossils.

Some artifacts get handed down from one generation to another instead of being thrown away.  There is a sense of value in the thing itself.  It’s special to someone in some way.  It carries attachment, and those attachments are preserved along with the object.

So, maybe ‘treasure’ is really about our attachment, the things we want to hold on to.  Many times those things are ephemeral: feelings, living beings, pleasant moments in time.  We know they will not endure, so often we transfer their significance to objects that may last a bit longer. 

And, of course, this is just what we’re doing when we take photographs, isn’t it?  But what is it that we actually treasure?  Life and love.  How do you preserve that kind of treasure?  You can’t, really.  What you can do is be absolutely present while it is within your grasp.  Celebrate it, bring yourself to it, flow with it.  Enjoy it, with all your heart. 

Advent Day #22 – Joy

Joy to the World

Gift of the Universe #22:  JOY!

I truly believe that joy is available to everyone.  No one is denied the opportunity to be joyful.  Many people on this planet will never have a full stomach or adequate shelter or enough material wealth to climb out of poverty, but believe it or not, some of those very people know joy.

“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”  – Richard Wagner

“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”  – Joseph Campbell

My late husband was ill for many years.  He went under the knife for open heart surgery when he was just 31.  He suffered a host of medical problems stemming from diabetes, always believing that he would get the disease under control.  When he realized that was not going to happen, he said, “Okay, I’m sick.  I can be sick and miserable, or I can be sick and happy.  I choose happy.  Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.”  I really admire him for coming up with that maxim, and for embodying it.  The night before he died, he called me at work and asked if I’d like to go out to dinner.  Our daughters were out for the evening, and he took the opportunity to enjoy a ‘date’ with me.  We went to a local sports bar & grill and enjoyed veggie appetizers and sandwiches.  Our youngest called from rehearsal to say she was not feeling well and was coming home early, so we went home to be with her.   Jim was tired, so he took his medications, hooked up to his dialysis machine and CPAP and watched some TV.  When I came up to bed, he turned off the TV and the light.  We fell asleep holding hands.  He never woke up.  And he never complained.  Some people claim that “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.  I don’t buy that.  Jim didn’t have health, but he had joy and love and he knew it.

Many people would foreswear food, health, housing, and money in order to find joy in an ascetic lifestyle.  Mendicants, yogis, monks, and priests of different faiths have adopted austere practices in order to experience the bliss of enlightenment.

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.”  – Julian of Norwich

This is a deep and serious topic, and much too heavy for me to write about today.  My brain is circling closer to Dr. Seuss and The Grinch who puzzles how the Whos could be singing without “ribbons and tags, packages, boxes and bags”.  Perhaps joy means a little bit more than the glee we feel when we get a shiny, new present.  Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is deeply felt.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – George Bernard Shaw

I’ve got to say that the way I have most felt this joy of being used for a mighty purpose and force of Nature is through mothering.  I know what it is to be thoroughly worn out and joyful.  I know what it is to feel like nobody is devoting himself to my happiness and not to complain because I am finding so much joy in devoting myself to someone else’s well-being.  Not that I didn’t complain occasionally (hey! I’m human!).  I always felt that mothering mattered.  That I was truly making a difference, a big one, to at least four people in the world.  I smiled at my babies even when I was not feeling joyful, and joy emerged.   Never underestimate the effect of a smile.  Check out this Still Face Experiment by Dr. Tronick on youtube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

 

My joyful (and crazy!) kids

Are you smiling every day?  I’m sure I am.  I even busted a belly laugh today as Steve was describing a Giotto fresco…of Mary and Joseph… kissing at the gates of Bethlehem…with Snoopy in the background.  He speaks like a nerd who knows everything, and then I realize he’s bullshitting me.  I fall for it all the time and then get to laugh at him and at myself.  Steve’s identity motto, which he came up with at a psychology school retreat, is “I am the joy in change and movement”.  I am really benefiting from his perspective because I am often afraid of change and movement.  I so don’t need to be.  There is freedom in allowing joy into your life.

Let Heaven and Nature sing…and see if you don’t find yourself singing along.  Rejoice, my friends.

Advent Day #21 – Passion

Don’t Curb Your Enthusiasm

Happy Winter Solstice, everybody in the Northern Hemisphere!  As the sun hits the lowest spot on the southern horizon, it seems to stop in a lyric caesura for a moment.  Now the earth begins to doe-Si-doe around its stellar partner, coyly tilting the top of her head toward him.   The night is long, and the dance goes on.  Passion builds towards the summer solstice when the sun will caress the earth with daylight for 24 hours at the North Pole.  Humans have celebrated these celestial events with festivals for centuries, and we still do.  As I write this, Strauss polkas punctuated with small, percussive explosions and various train whistles play in the background.  It is riotously fitting.  (Steve is cleaning, stacking and re-stacking his books.  We are expecting company for the weekend.)

The door marked 21 bangs open, and the gift unveiled is Passion.  Enthusiasm!  Energy!  I contend that this is another Universal endowment.  The word ‘enthusiasm’ has at its root the Greek ‘theos’, meaning God.  To be enthused is to be filled with God.  “In the throes of passion.”  See Bernini’s sculpture of “The Ecstasy of St. Theresa” for a marvelous visual example.  (We watched a video on this narrated by Simon Schama: “The Power of Art”.  Highly recommended!)  Is this kind of experience available to all or just the sainted few?

I believe that if you are open to the energy of passion, you will receive it.  And I believe this fact scares a lot of people, especially those in authority who are working to gain and maintain control.  Do you want to live in a passionless world?  Do you want to live in a tempest of energy?  Do you seek some Middle Way, a quiet infusion of God?  How have you marshaled and channeled energy by your own choices?  Have you felt someone else’s hand tempering your energy?

 

Excited to be back in Massachusetts (Photo by my oldest)

I think I was a pretty enthusiastic kid.  I was often told that I was loud.  My facial expressions were pretty dramatic.  I loved theater and the chance to “act out”.  My third grade teacher wrote in her notes to my mother that “the play’s the thing for your youngest daughter”.  I did feel that my parents were always asserting a more reasonable response.   They were intellectual and Anglican and well-mannered.  I wanted to please them, so I didn’t allow myself to be wild.  When I began voice lessons in college, one of the first things my teacher said to me was, “You sing as if you’d been told all your life to modulate your voice.”  How did she know?  So I had become outwardly prim and proper and covertly silly and animated.  My passion for my husband was greeted initially by my parents with the same kind of circumspection.   After all, I was only 15 when we met and 20 when we became engaged.  Gushing about how I “knew” he was the right one for me was unconvincing.  I prepared logical and practical reasons why I should marry before I graduated from college and while we were both unemployed.  His father was not at all persuaded.  My father had seen us courting and knew more intuitively that our determination was real, fueled by much more than reason, and that in a marriage, that is a definite harbinger of success.

I am still hesitant to show emotion and passion.  Steve is always delighted to see my enthusiasm about something, and frankly wary because it doesn’t assert itself in important decisions.  I was brought up to be very serious about decision-making, and to mistrust my enthusiasms.  Steve seems to approach the issues from the opposite direction.  He feels that the best reason for doing something is because you REALLY WANT TO!  In some ways, that seems like a no-brainer.  Problem is, I have esteemed The Brain far too much, I think.   So, I am learning to try to listen to those exuberant voices without shushing them so much.  And I am learning to be more open to the zeal of others.  My children, especially.  My parents modeled the “voice of reason”.   I can’t deny that I play that role in my parenting, but  I want to model the fervent voice of encouragement, too.  (This goes along with the ongoing safety/adventure discussion that I have with Danger Mommy.)  I keep trying to get away from dualism and embrace the dynamic whole.  “Don’t be so worried about ‘supposed to’,” says Judy Dench’s character in the movie “Chocolate”.

Is it possible to be both wise and passionate?  Is it possible for me to be both wise and passionate?  I’m hoping so.

Advent Day #20 – Wisdom

Wise and Otherwise

December 20.  The 20th free gift of the month is something that can be acquired, but cannot be bought.  I don’t think that it can be given, either.  The gift is Wisdom.  According to Wikipedia, “Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding.”  In other words, “To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)  However, “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”  (George Bernard Shaw)  And finally, “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”  (Mohandas K. Gandhi)

It would seem, then, that wisdom is something that can be acquired in living with awareness and engaging humbly with experiences.  It seems to me, though, that you can’t give someone the benefit of this process.  You might point out the process and talk about its benefit, you might set up the beginning of the process, but you can’t impart the journey or the result.  It has to be lived.  I’m a mother; trust me on this.  I wanted to give my children wisdom more than anything, probably for selfish reasons.  I wanted to be spared the pain.  I wanted to spare them the pain.  I asked God to give them wisdom…like on a magic platter descending from heaven…but spare them the pain.  Can’t be done.  Wisdom is born of pain and suffering and effort and failure.  You have to be awake through it all as well.  You can’t gain wisdom while you’re anesthetized.  I’ve made a great discovery, though.  This process is a great equalizer.  Keeping Gandhi’s wisdom in mind, my children and I are fellow travelers on this path.  We share our stories as friends, we perhaps contribute insights to this process, but we cannot assume the roles of provider and receiver.  I try to remember that as I talk to them.  It is too easy for me to slip into the “teacher” role and begin to spew language about what they “should” do and what is the “right” way to do something.  I often issue too many reminders and begin to sound like I’m micro-managing them.   They notice.  They mention it.  I have to challenge myself to be wiser and trust them to be wise.

I remember the day my father told me that something I said was wise.  It felt like a great victory for me.  I was 19 or 20.  I had been talking to my oldest sister about some article I had read in an evangelical Christian newsletter taking issue with science and carbon dating.  My father was eavesdropping from the breakfast room and jumped on the subject by voicing some objection to the fact that the money he was paying for my college education hadn’t stopped me from discoursing like an ignoramus.  I was scared of his strong emotion, ashamed of myself, and angry at his insult.  Embarrassed and hurt, I fled.  We didn’t speak for 3 days.  I realized that he wasn’t going to apologize to me or mention the event on his own, so I decided I needed to take the initiative to talk to him about my emotions, clear the air, and try to restore our relationship.  I’d never talked to my father about our relationship very much before.  He was always right, often angry, and anything that was amiss was my fault.  I also knew that he would not show his emotions, that it would be a “formal discussion” on his part, but that I would probably not be able to contain my tears, making me feel foolish and not his equal.  I decided to brave the consequences and approach him with Kleenex in hand.  I began to talk, and cry, and tell him how I felt.  Then he asked me if I wanted an apology.  “What do you want me to say?”  I told him that part was up to him.  My dictating an apology to him would be meaningless.  That’s when he said, “That is very wise.”   Suddenly, I felt I had grown up and been respected as an equal to my father in some way.   What I understood or didn’t understand about evolution and carbon dating and creation didn’t matter to me any more.  That I had been able to navigate emotions with my father and repair a broken relationship was far more significant.

Dad & me in 1992. Photo by my 8 year old daughter.

Wisdom isn’t easy to get, but it is available.  If you pursue it, you’ll probably get it eventually.  It’s completely avoidable, though, if you so choose.   I know which way I want to go, so I’ll keep paddling my canoe and checking the horizon.   For those of you heading the same way, STEADY ON!  I salute you.