...to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free....

26 December, 2011

A child's Christmas in Colorado

"Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor's cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds. Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknels, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh. And troops of bright tin soldiers who, if they could not fight, could always run. And Snakes-and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make the dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the wall with his stick to shake our picture off the wall. And a packet of cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it. And then it was breakfast under the balloons." 

"Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards." 

....prose quotes from A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

21 December, 2011

Christmas fun before bedtime

She thinks he hung the moon.

He treats his little cousin with such tenderness.

Today's small amount of 'screen time'
was spent together virtually decorating gingerbread boys and girls
...and gingerbread dogs, and gingerbread kitties....

And helping Yeye/Grampy make some snowflakes

This is what Christmas is all about.

17 December, 2011

thoughts on keeping a sabbath

My cousin Cath calls the days between 
Thanksgiving and Christmas
"The Women's Olympics".
She's so right, isn't she?

I've been among the missing these days
because, no matter how very hard I planned it,  
how simple and pared down I made it,
and how much advanced preparation I did,
I still ended up frazzed.

It could be due to the fact that I am 
not as young as I used to be.
It certainly is substantially due
to my husband's increasing limitations,
and the fracturing of my time and attention because of that.

It could also be that we travelled early
to celebrate the holidays--
we're already "away", enjoying our darling grand-girl
and awaiting the arrival of our grand-boy in a few days.

But I am weary--more weary than I want to be.
In my life,  every time I have sat down to write a letter to myself,
it has invariably been about how I have too little time
to do the things I want to do.
...And that was before my husband became disabled.

I've been writing myself another letter these days.

It's related to the Old Testament story of creation.
The part where the Creator rested on the 7th day.
About what a very good example this is,
for the religious and non-religious alike.

At this time in our culture, the notion 
of a day of rest is forgotten strange 
almost frowned upon.

Stores brag that they are open seven days a week.
(Remember when everything was closed on Sundays--
or did that only happen in New England?)
We can access our work via computer.
We can interact with people
nonstop via various kinds of social media.
We commit ourselves--overcommit ourselves
and forget about the notions of 
being still.

In my letter to myself, I am thinking of establishing
a new policy--inspired by the holidays, 
but for all time, all year,
forever and forever, amen.

I am thinking about how to take one day of the week
and use it as my sabbatical.  
A day to do nothing but be still.
Look at the world, not consider what needs to be done,
not to 'book' in any way,
a day just to follow my nose into whatever
inspires me that day, as it happens.
A day for simple renewal.

Hanging out today with my granddaughter
reinforced that notion.
She is a busy, sunny little toddler.
She responds to what she sees, hears and feels--
but wakes with no agenda
and has no list of things to accomplish
--she just is.
When she is hungry, she eats.
When she is tired, she naps.
When she is awake, she is thoroughly enthralled with "now."  

I'm wondering if you, too, feel "holiday tired" these days? 

How do you keep some time to yourself?
Does it work?

Do you keep some kind of sabbatical every week?

07 December, 2011

road trip!

Today my dear friend Tasha and I 
braved heavy rain (...better than snow!)
and hopeless windshield wipers 
to travel to Lowell, MA to visit the New England Quilt Museum.

The major exhibit there right now
is called "The Patience to Raise the Sun:
Art Quilts from Haiti and Their Power to Change Women's Lives."

The quilts are made by a group of women
who are members of the PeaceQuilts cooperative project.

In many impoverished countries in the world,
women are coming together to use their skills
to better their families.  In Haiti, PeaceQuilts members create
beautiful, vibrant and inspiring quilts
for sale abroad.

It was not possible to photograph the quilts that were in the exhibit.
Understandable, but such a shame--I wanted  you 
to see them all.
There were smaller quilts in the museum shop
that I was able to photograph, to 
give you an idea of the work of these talented women. 

As Haiti is a warm country, there hasn't been a long
tradition of quilt making on the island.  
Recently, however, quilting techniques 
have been taught to island women--
and they have incorporated national and cultural themes
to make these wonderful wall hangings.

There are repetitive themes in these quilts--
the life-giving sun, the tree of life, abundant fishing stock,
and rich and varied foliage.
...a multitude of visual expressions of hope and plenty.

This, despite the desperate poverty that haunts most 
Haitians, their lack of opportunity,
 the rampant deforestation of their mountainous country, 
and the ongoing horror caused by 
the devastating earthquake in Jan. 2010.

The quilts speak for themselves.

(This, sewn to the the back of the quilt above,
telling the quilt's title,  the name of its maker, and
the time it took to create the quilt.)

(Ditto for the quilt above...words in the island
dialect, a combination of French, West African,
English, and probably lots more.)

The project is a worthy one--helping to lift up
families in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere
through the patient and beautiful work
of the mothers, sisters and daughters of 

Donations to this cause are welcome (see above link.)

This is one of many wonderful ways to honor a friend
or relative during the holiday season--
to make a donation in their name to a cause that
benefits people who have next to nothing.

So much better than buying more "stuff"
for people who often have more than their share of material goods.


Then we went to lunch, for a vegetarian meal
that couldn't be beat,  just around the corner.
The food is delicious, but my favorite part
of this restaurant, and what brings me back,
is the bathroom.

(a wine cork frieze over the water closet)

...a little reading material...

and beauty and inspiration on every wall.


Amazing to me, the power of art to make the world a bit brighter.

Thank you, artists everywhere!

04 December, 2011

lessons and carols

One of my favorite Christmas season events
happened today.
It takes place yearly in the Catholic cathedral in town...
a place rich in atmosphere and beauty...
a perfect setting for the Advent and Christmas stories
that are told here on this day.

A Festival of Lessons and Carols.
Readings from the New Testament which 
illustrate the story of the birth of Christ
from its foretelling to the annunciation
to the child's birth and ending with the adoration by the Wise Men.
Each lesson is alternated with a musical piece,
most of which are choral.

Our Festival is chock full of things that bring me joy.
It is a community undertaking,
the readings are comforting and magical, 
and the music is breathtaking.
The spirit of the season kindles for all who attend.
After the program ends, there are smiles
and hugs and gestures of good will
up and down the aisles.
Best,  it is a bringing together of many different Christian faiths,
all working together to celebrate one of
their central ecclesiastical themes.
The major churches in the area that have choirs  
contribute singers for this choral event.
Baptist, Episcopal, Unitarian,
Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran
...and more.
The readers are ministers and lay leaders of 
each of those churches as well.

All coming together to prepare for the retelling of a miracle.
And creating another miracle by their work together.

Although it begins at 2:45, people start gathering
at a little after 2:00.

First it is a trickle.

Then the pews begin to fill with eager anticipation.

In no time, there is a full house--
In a very large church!

Attending are babies and 90-somethings, and everything in between.

Those who come early get a chance to see a last minute
rehearsal.  Think of it--
choir members from many churches who have
each been practicing this music
with their own choir directors for many weeks--
only lately coming together with the Festival's choir director 
to make it all 'work'.
And 'work', it does!

The program starts each year with the Bell Choir.
The bell ringers make heavenly music--
each ringer has several bells that she picks up and rings,
puts down, picks up again--
hundreds of times in a piece.  
There are several sounds that come out of each bell--
depending on how they are handled and rung.
Hard to explain--but the result is ethereal.

It is very hard to take a photo unobtrusively 
in a huge church (with no flash), 
moving objects, vastly varied light.
Here's my attempt to show you what it looks like anyway. 
The yellow and red streaky things are the bells reflecting light
as they are rung.

The director of the  bell and voice choirs comes from the local
church on the hill.  He is talented
and spirited and full of grace--both spiritual and physical.
I love to watch him work.  It often looks
like he is doing Tai Chi in front of the choir.
Not in a show-off way, just very quietly.  
His back faces the assembled, but once in awhile
he turns his head just so, and one can see
his animated face, coaching and inspiring his singers.
And the faces in the choir!  And their heavenly voices!

The music soars, fills the rafters, gives me goosebumps, and makes me cry.

I wish you all could have been there.

Each Christmas Eve on NPR, there is a live broadcast
of Lessons and Carols from
King's College in Cambridge, England.
It takes place there in the evening, I believe, which puts it 
early to late morning of Christmas Eve in the States and Canada--
just about the time I am baking pies,
...and the sound fills my kitchen.
If you have never heard it, you probably would love it.
Crisp, angelic young voices with British accents.
Echoes and organ reverberations from the huge cathedral.
(If that won't put you in the spirit, nothing will.)

Catch it if you can.

23 November, 2011

thoughts of thanksgiving: Wendell Berry

“Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living in a mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.”
― Wendell Berry

“The world is so full and abundant it is like a pregnant woman carrying a child in one arm and leading another by the hand. Every puddle in the lane is ringed with sipping butterflies that fly up in flutter when you walk past in the late morning on your way to get the mail.”
― Wendell Berry, from  Hannah Coulter

“Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery. ”
― Wendell Berry, from  Hannah Coulter

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
“Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.”
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”
― Wendell Berry,  from  Hannah Coulter

“Perhaps all the good that ever has come here has come because people prayed it into the world.”
― Wendell Berry,  from  Jayber Crow

“...And we pray, not for new
earth or heaven, but to be quiet
in heart, and in eye clear.
What we need is here.”
― Wendell Berry

20 November, 2011


Any time of year, I love to go to Evergreen Cemetery,
a "garden cemetery" located in the Deering section
of Portland Maine.

"Garden cemeteries", as they are called,
began to be created in the first half of the eighteenth century.
Founders and designers of these cemeteries 
shifted from the idea that graveyards should be
solemn places where the dead rested, 
often near a church, or on the property
of the deceased.

The founders' revolutionary idea
was that the dead should be laid to rest
in places of tranquility and beauty,
and that cemeteries should also be places for the living,
with carriage paths, walkways, large and stately trees,
ornamented with sculptured monuments and natural plantings.

The first cemetery of this sort, I believe,
is the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in 
Cambridge, MA, which was founded in 1831.
It is a spectacular place of 175 acres
a short distance from Cambridge center.

Evergreen Cemetery, undoubtedly inspired by 
Mt. Auburn in Cambridge,
was established in 1854.  It is a 239 acre parcel,
resting place for the deceased,
sanctuary for the living,
and refuge for many small wild animals.
Here you find gardens, footpaths, ponds and rolling terrain.
The birds are amazing here.
The trees are majestic.

Only a part of the Evergreen cemetery is devoted to graves.
There are also extensive woodlands and 
walking paths adjacent to the burial grounds.

What draws me to this place is its natural beauty.

Soon, however, I am seduced by the stories
the gravestones suggest.
As is true also at Mt. Auburn,
you can see the graves of many locally important people here.

Mostly, though, I think about the women--the wives of sea captains,
soldiers lost in battle,
enterprising businessmen who helped to 
establish the city commercially and culturally.

I am constantly doing math when I am at Evergreen:
How old was she when she died?
Did she die in childbirth?  Did she leave children behind?
Or, alternately, how many children died in this family?
What were their ages, and how many in the space of too few years?
How did their parents stand it?
How many other children did this couple have who survived to adulthood?

Here are some examples.

This is Susie Hanson.  She died when she was 31.

Here is Warren Hanson, her husband.
He died the next year at 31 years and 2 months.
Not even a full year later.

...and look. 
Here are two of their children, who died when they were small.
Their gravestones are tiny. 

Did the mother Susie die of grief, or illness, or another childbirth?
Did Warren die of grief less than a year later?
Were there other children??

There are few family plots that don't have tiny gravestones
for lost children.
These two below are marked:  "Little Harry" and "Little Bimmy."

Often you will find a family plot
where there is one husband and more than one wife.
...and often little children as well.

You can imagine the stories--men finding second wives soon
to help to tend their children.
Women and babies dying in the same year.
Childbirth deaths?  Illnesses that today we treat with antibiotics,
or prevent with vaccines?

What was life like for these second (third) wives--
raising other women's children as well as their own?
Was there love between husband and wife,
or were there marriages of convenience
for one, and not the other?

Miranda lived for six years,
Ivory for one.
William lived for one year,
Cyrus for six.
(The last three died within three years.)
What was this like for Charles and Miranda the mother?
How many other children survived?

Oh, the stories.

There is also an eerie beauty in these stones and borders.  
Not only were they meticulously carved and sculpted,
but nature has mottled them as well.
At times, the weather and the lichen have obscured their names and dates.

And what remains is hauntingly lovely.

There is one place I visit every time.
My favorite plot, it is way in the back, just up from the pond.

Come closer.

The largest stone in the back reads:

"In Memoriam
Home for Aged Women"

Way to the right, sheltered by a huge Norway Spruce,
is the stone below.

Look at the dates.
She is 'Mother"--did she found the home?
What inspired her?
Did she work there all her adult life?
Was the home her life?
Did she die there?

If Abigail was "Mother", then here are her "children":

These women below were born after Abigail died.
Yet the Home was there for them, as well.
Who ran it after Abigail?
Was it a good place to live?
Someone cared enough to put up these stones.
Who was that??

How did women come to live in the Home?
They lived very long lives--
did they outlive all their family members?

What stories they could tell.

How many questions I would ask them if I could.