Thursday, November 29, 2018

Beethoven Lives

Last summer, my son and daughter-in-law took my 2.5- year-old grandson Harlan to Chicago’s Grant Park to listen to whatever music was being performed. He could sit on the grass or dance. He danced.

Thanksgiving week we were playing around in his living room. My son casually picked out the beginning notes of “Ode to Joy” (4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony) on Harlan’s toy piano. Harlan, now three, was playing with his toy train but he perked up when he heard the melody.

Then, amazingly, he started singing – in German.

Both my son and I were astounded – that he recognized the melody, that he remembered the German words, and that he sang them pretty much on key.

Harlan’s mom is German and is teaching him that language along with English and a myriad other things. But still.

There are perhaps a hundred language variations of that particular section of Beethoven’s work. I believe that it is adapted so often, in so many contexts, because it may well be the most joyfully triumphant piece of music ever written.

But what could be more triumphant than a performance by a three-year-old boy in a Chicago living room? Beethoven lives.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Once Every 16 Years

For 16 years, ever since I brought him home from the Humane Society when he was two years old, I have avoided tripping over my cat, Herbie. 

Until yesterday. 

I was unloading groceries. When I turned to move some perishables into the refrigerator, I stumbled over his soft, not-so-adorable-at-that-moment form. 

I didn’t fall. Instead, I managed to land most of the perishables safely onto the counter. 

Except for the blueberries. When their little plastic box fell to the floor, it opened, and all the little blue globules flew out. 

Herbie the cat was delighted. Blueberries roll. Everywhere. The magnificent old feline batted them around for a few minutes before ambling off to one of his four favorite napping places. 

Except for the one I stepped on, the blueberries were quite neat and retrievable. And washable. 

And the cat, forgivable, especially when he snuggled, purring, next to me in bed that night. And still forgivable even when I found the small hairball on my bedroom rug this morning. 

Once every 16 years is okay.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

One Hummingbird Moth

I am fortunate to live where I can go up when I get down. And I was down. All that Friday afternoon and evening I barely slogged through agonizingly slow hours. I could not focus. Not read. Not watch television. Not write the letters and emails that needed writing. Not do basic chores. I was stuck in the muck of despond.

 It took me a while to get going on Saturday. But I knew that moving was essential. And going up the mountain imperative.

 I didn’t leave until almost midday so stopped and bought a sandwich at the Subway place where the man with perpetual verve works. (He always makes me smile.) I put the sandwich in my car and drove up through the canyon west of town --  the canyon that can do so much to restore my soul. There is a little restaurant where the road forks – one branch going into Estes Park, the other into Glen Haven (then on into Estes). I stopped there to see if it was still in business. (It was, but not for lunch.)

The Glen Haven road is less traveled so I took it. It had been more than a year but the curves and cliffs were familiar and comforting. Entering Glen Haven, I spotted the general store and pulled into the parking area at its side. My sandals were not suited for the gravel, but I managed to move my sandwich and water bottle and droopy self to a table in the shade of the store’s front porch. I ate, watching passersby and the birds playing in the pine tree across the street.

When I finished and went into the store, I bought some little things and a cup of ice cream. When I asked the flavors, the owner pointed to the sign on which the flavors were listed. When I asked the ingredients of ‘Rocky Road’ he said: chocolate, marshmallow and walnuts. He smiled when I said that sounded well balanced. And his smile made me smile.

Back out on the porch, I savored. Not just the ice cream, but also the flowers on the porch – in large sedentary pots and pots swinging above. Each was crammed with a rainbow of blossoms. It was then that I noticed the tiny creature hovering over the flowers – wings beating faster than my eyes could register. A hummingbird? The woman sitting next to me said yes but then changed her mind. She had never seen one with bumble bee stripes and, as we looked more closely, we saw that the two-inch creature did not have a beak but a proboscis, curling into the center of each blossom.

Others began to gather and comment and take pictures. They said it was a hummingbird moth. My camera was in the car, but I took no photographs. It was more fun to watch a half dozen tourists pointing smartphones and 35mm cameras at the tiny wonder. And it was a wonder (you can Google it if you’d like to see what it looks like).

The miracle was the shared awe that it invoked among us. It was enough to remind me how spectacular our world is.

I stood up and drove home. I was okay.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Family-Rich Weekend

Rarely, rarely, rarely have I had such a family-rich weekend/birthday. 

My grandson and his parents returned from camping to fill my house with energy and laughter. And they stayed for my birthday and even brought presents. 

Then my nephew and his family came – my grandniece and grandson delighting each other and all of the grown-ups. And they brought presents. 

Then my brother came and melded into us as if we had never separated. And he brought a present. 

And I received calls and/or texts from my older son and other nephew and my other grandniece. Plus lots of wonderful birthday cards. And Facebook notifications. 

The house is quieter now and everything is pretty much put back together. [Put-back-together houses are over-rated.] 

Some might worry that the house might feel a little empty and sad. But it doesn’t. All the laughter and love reverberated into the walls and floors and lodged permanently into my being. 

I am replete.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Continuing Education

On a recent morning, there was, miraculously, an amusing comic strip in my morning paper. [I always start with that section hoping to find a little humor amid the newsprint largely devoted to disasters of one kind or another.] 

In the strip in question, one lump of a man was commenting on the predicament of another lump of a man about to fall on a banana peel. He said: “For Ernie, learning from his mistakes is a form of continuing education.” 

For Mim too. When I learn. Too often, I repeat the same unproductive patterns. Too much television. Too many computer games. Too much to eat. Duh. 

Occasionally, I break out of what Thich Nhat Hahn calls ‘habit energy’ and revel in productivity and/or spontaneity. And it always feels terrific. I am energized by taking a detour up into the mountains or actually writing a new post for my blog. 

Sometimes ‘continuing education’ feels like tripping on a banana peel. But at least I am moving. And learning. 

You can learn a lot from the comics section.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


I have not memorized the ISBN numbers for either of my books. I needed to provide them to the proprietor of the great little store where my writers group is staging an event in a few days. I had a copy of Family Time in my study so that was easy. Oddly, I had no copies of my first book Tree Lines (A Memoir) upstairs.

So I went downstairs to my great cache of unsold books and found Tree Lines. I made the mistake of opening it. I read one chapter then grew curious about others (it’s not that I didn’t know what happened, it was just good stuff). 

About an hour later I realized that I still needed to take it upstairs and record its ISBN.

Before that, I felt I should drink the tea I had prepared to counter the allergic head congestion that is driving me crazy.

As I sat down to drink, I pulled out a section of the New York Times. Why I picked the business section, I don’t know. There was a fascinating article about a Navajo Nation proposal to buy Remington, one of this country’s largest gun manufacturers. The Navajo planned to shift Remington away from consumer sales and focus on police and defense contracts. The only guns they planned to sell to consumers were long guns used by hunters. As a bonus, the tribe intended to shift part of the manufacturing process to the reservation, providing needed employment. But the proposal was rejected.


I looked at the clock. It was time for lunch. I would record the ISBN later.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Last Straws

When I was a child and had spent most of a day doing things I should not have done, my mother’s patience would finally wear out. Exasperated, she would shout: “That’s the last straw!” And formidable retribution would engulf me and whatever messes I had made. 

There are so many messes in this country right now. So many things in jeopardy: national parks, women, public television, public schools, oceans, rivers, forests, unions, allies, national honor, even the air we breathe. 

But for many, separating immigrant children and parents was the last straw. 

 It was for me. I’ve signed dozens of online petitions. Voted carefully. And complained vocally. But, finally, this week I will participate in public demonstrations against our country’s abominable immigration laws. 

All of them. 

It is time for last straws – whatever yours might be. 

Recently I learned that plastic straws are a major source of pollution. Americans use 500,000,000 plastic straws (five hundred million!) every day. If this does not end, by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. 

So now. Right now. It is time to acknowledge the last straws. 

In the policies of our country’s government. 

 And in our milkshakes.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Summer Whites

Days are getting warmer. 

Today I found a stash of white slacks that I had tucked away when days were getting cooler. Their time has come. They reminded me of a minor incident that, at some level, still rankles. 

It was September (about 50 years ago). I was visiting my parents who were hosting an evening of bridge for their friends. That summer I had found the most (I thought) stunning white dress that was both casual and chic. When I came downstairs to help prepare for the festivities, my mother exclaimed: “You can’t wear that!” 

 “Why on earth not,” I wondered aloud.

 “Because it’s after Labor Day.” 

 “What’s that got to do with it?” 

 “People should not wear white dresses after Labor Day.” 

 “That’s silly. It’s a nice dress and I feel comfortable in it.” 

 “No. It will not do. One of my friends gave you a lovely green wool dress. Wear that.” 

 “But it’s too warm and I don’t really like it.” 

 My mother had an expression-- cold eyes and slightly pursed lips – that was the equivalent of Moses descending from Mount Sinai. 

She became ‘she who must be obeyed.’ So I did. 

But I still think rules like that are silly. If it wasn’t going to be so hot tomorrow, I’d find some green wool thing to wear … even though it’s after Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Middelburg Memory

Because I was having ‘mobility issues’, I separated from the rest of the group and went into Middelburg (the Netherlands) on my own. I wanted to see Middelburg’s ‘Abdij abbey complex’ and had a map indicating that getting there would be easy. 

I wandered the town square, enjoying the bustle of a little flea market and admiring the city’s magnificent town hall. It was raining but I had waterproof gear and was content, if hungry. A restaurant on the square had a table where I could eat and watch the town’s activities. 
Sated, I walked the few blocks to the complex—dating back to the 12th century. There were two places of worship now connected by what we would call a social hall (where coffee could be served).
The lovely interiors included the oldest altar piece in the Netherlands. 
Eventually, I opened a heavy wood door to enter a corridor enclosing a garden of hedges and other plants. To the left, a barrier prohibited entry into part of the cloister. To the right, interesting sounds echoed off the ancient stone walls. 
I walked around the corner to discover a group of high school aged kids practicing movement and song. After a while, they were still and silent as a slim young woman began singing “We’ll Meet Again” in crystalline soprano. 
It was magic. 
Noting my interest, an adult leader explained that they were practicing for a World War II memorial event to be held in Middelburg in a few days. I was invited but my tour would have moved on by then. 

I have no regrets. The poignant song resonating through so many layers of history is permanently lodged in my heart.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


There’s a reason Holland is practically synonymous with tulips. These flowers thrive in that country’s soggy land and climate. And they are spectacular. 

On tulip farms and at the rightly world famous Keukenhof Gardens, the Netherlands is resplendent with tulips of every shade and configuration.

At Keukenhof, three million tulip (and other) bulbs are planted each year for a spectacle that is open to the public for only eight weeks.

 But everything seems to have a shadow side. My tour visited a tulip farm. Unable to walk with my fellows into the fields, I lingered behind. When I asked my guide about these buildings, she revealed they were housing for the ‘seasonal workers’ – usually from Poland – who helped harvest the bulbs for processing and shipment. Migrant workers are apparently treated the same the world over.

I can only hope some of the beauty seeped into their souls and gladdened their hearts.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

An EARTH DAY message

Have you ever seen one of these? It's a button braid. I found it when I opened a trunk containing family memorabilia. It was made, presumably, by one of my female ancestors and reflects a time when nothing (or very little) was wasted. 

People used to save string. Take one bath a week. Darn socks. Use ink in fountain pens instead of buying [then throwing away] disposable ballpoints. I'm sure you can add to the list. 

I'm not sure how a button braid might have been used. Was it a way to keep buttons in one place, available when needed?  Or was it just a way to use old buttons as decoration? That's how I use it, on the north edge of the west-facing window in my guest room, which I call my ancestor room because the walls are adorned with photographs of preceding family. The room reflects not only the people but also the attitudes and practices of those who came before me

I decided to post the photo on EARTH DAY. 

We live in a world with an exploding population and diminishing resources. We could learn from our predecessors. We could become more aware of profligate consumption and excessive disposal. Find ways to use less, reuse more. We all could do something, even if only taking shorter showers.

If a gazillion or so of us became a little more careful with the resources we use, next year's EARTH DAY we be a grand celebration indeed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Stubby and Scruffy

This is a bird feeder. 

This is a squirrel stealing birdseed. 

For months – well actually ever since I put the bird feeders up – I have considered squirrels my arch enemies. Triumphant arch enemies. 

Sometimes when I open my back door, as many as seven of the furry rodents scamper away, up my tree, over the roofs of my neighbors’ garages on the east and west sides of my yard. 

I leave. They return. 

One day, I noticed a squirrel with a tail considerably shorter than most squirrel tails. I decided to call him ‘Stubby.’ Another day, I noticed a squirrel with a tail that looked as though it had been attacked by a lawn mower. I called him ‘Scruffy.’ [I don’t actually know the squirrels’ genders, I’m just guessing.] 

Once you start giving squirrels names, you are doomed. 

Creatures with names are no longer arch enemies. They are individuals to which you pay attention, which you tolerate, which you sometimes find amusing. Acknowledging individuality means acknowledging worth [or something roughly the equivalent]. 

I wonder if the same thing might apply to humans.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Amen and Amen

“It will be a lonelier place relative to our natural world.” 

This quote -- by Robert Watson, chairman of a study team at an intergovernmental agency reporting that animals and plants are in decline across the globe – was published in the bottom left hand corner of page D2 of the Tuesday, March 27, 2018 New York Times

Such a tiny news item. So small, many people probably didn’t even see it. 

Everyone should see it. Everyone should think about it. Everyone should do something to reverse the trend. 

Save a tree. Or a river. Or a tortoise. Or even a stray cat. 

We need them. When our lives are wrapped in plastic and electronic images, we cannot breathe. At least our souls can’t. I know I can’t. 

I need crocuses and rain and the Norway maple in front of my house and Herbie my cat. I need the mountains to the west of me and the ocean far to the east (and south). I need the remaining (if shrinking) glaciers and the tropical rain forest. Even just to know they are there. 

Each of them sustains us. Not just by providing oxygen or beauty. But also expanding our understanding of reality. 

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

And So We Carry On

Last week, Stephen Hawkins and Toys Are Us died, hundreds of United States high school kids walked out to protest gun violence, and a few of the neighborhood crocus started blooming. 

Meanwhile, war in Syria has been going on for the last seven years leaving an estimated 400,000 Syrians killed and 11 million displaced. 

And the war in Afghanistan, which has been going on for 17 years, has left 1.5 million Afghans dead; 4,500 U.S. dead; and 100,000 U.S. wounded. 

Right now, 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

Nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution.  
In the United States, homelessness is endemic. 

And yet, and yet. Last week, hundreds of United States high school kids walked out to protest gun violence, and a few of the neighborhood crocus started blooming. 

And so we carry on.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Lopsided Progress

Over the past 300 or so millennia, there has been significant progress. The shift from cave to computer is astounding. 

 Technology is one thing. Society quite another. 

 I don’t believe humans have changed that much. We need, I think, to discard the notion of our ancient ancestors as dull-witted brutes. They were smart enough to figure out fire and agriculture and weaving and art and one thing led to another and now we have smart phones. 

What has not evolved, in my opinion, has been our societies (local, national and global). In fact, we may have regressed. 

We’ve gone from circles of people with an acknowledged consciousness of their relationships with the rest of existence (stars, plants, seasons, animals) to a hierarchical pyramid schemes that discount three fourths of our species. Under the latter, we have serfs, slavery, and homelessness. Progress has been lopsided – like our society. This is not what Pangloss told Candide – "all is for the best" in the "best of all possible worlds". Nor is it true that ‘every day in every way, things are getting better and better’. 

We need to stop being smug about the progress of our species and start working toward re-forming our circles. 

Then we can be smug.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

It Is Still Here!

They are still here! 

My front yard miracle -- the cluster of flowers that appeared in January is still here and it’s almost Easter! 

People walking on the sidewalk in front of my house often stop to admire them. 

I check on them every morning as I descend the stairs to make breakfast. 

They’ve been buried in snow and blown by violent winds but they are still here. 

Wikipedia says “the Eurasian genus Helleborus consists of approximately 20 species of herbaceous or evergreen flowering plants in the family Ranunculacase, within which it gave its name to the tribe of Helleborae.” Cool. 

“Despite names such as "winter rose", "Christmas rose" and "Lenten rose", hellebores are not closely related to the rose family.” But a non-rose by any name is still sweet … especially when it blooms in winter. It would be so excellent if they lasted all the way to Easter. We’ll see.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

what is this?

Last year, I had one winter blooming flower in my front yard. Now I have a small colony, surviving snow and frigidness. 

Someone called it an evening primrose but according to Wikipedia, that would open only at the close of day. Mine opens all day, everyday.

I believe someone else called it a wood rose. Is that what this is?

By whatever name, it is sweet. It is my own, personal miracle that appears in January and persists.
As must we all.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Enough Already

More than 225 years ago, English author Mary Wollstonecraft wrote that women were coerced into believing -- “that they were created rather to feel than [to] reason, and that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms and weakness.” 

No one believes that now. 

Or not many people. 

But traces of that anomaly seep into attitudes that are perverted into excuses for various crimes against women-- whether violence, abuse, or patronizing behavior/comments. 

An occasional pat on the back is okay. Pats on the head are not. Neither is any form of uninvited groping or grabbing. 

The whole man/woman thing is fraught with . . . almost everything. Attraction is inevitable. Detraction, not acceptable. Sexual tension can be delightful but respect is required. Permission sought. Mutuality confirmed. 

Whole industries are founded on stoking the fires of desires. Extreme d├ęcolletage rules. Misogyny rules. Lasciviousness rules. 


Whether we are 8 or 18 or 80, each of us must establish boundaries, advocate personal autonomy, and work to protect those females who have a hard time doing it on their own. At least stand with them. 

Now is the time. 

For all of us.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

more than the missionary position

Imagine, if you will, a conversation/debate between/among Catherine Deneuve, Oprah Winfrey, and Dr. Carol Christ

Oprah Winfrey is an American media phenomenon, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Her speech during the Golden Globes Awards, riveted audiences with its compelling rhetoric declaiming that the time for brutally powerful men was up. . . that the “Me, Too” movement was prelude to a seismic shift in society. 

Once called “the world’s most elegant woman,” Catherine Deneuve is the actress/singer/model/producer who was one of more than 100 French women who signed an open letter denouncing the #MeToo movement for conflating sexual assault with harmless flirtation. [She later apologized to female victims of violence.] 

Dr. Carol Christ is a feminist theologian, author, and director of the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual. She twice annually leads women on tours of Crete to learn about Minoan culture. 

About three years ago, I spent two weeks in Crete on one of those tours, absorbing the archeological traces of the matrifocal/matrilineal/matrilocal society that flourished there for a couple thousand years. I was convinced: non-dominational societies are possible. 

Parse that word a moment: ‘non-dominational’ – no domination – no gender or sector or class with more privilege or power than any other. 

It is entirely possible that Catherine, Oprah and Carol would not argue or debate. They each believe in the self-sovereignty of women and their inherent right to be treated with respect. They have no objection to harmless flirtation. And they all know there is more to life than the missionary position.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Who the hell was Sarah?

In my last post, I reported singing “We Are Dancing Sarah’s Circle.” I was moved by the context of the hymn – a service featuring the personal stories of nine people in different stages of their lives – “sisters, brothers all.”

But what did it mean to be “dancing Sarah’s circle”? And who the hell was Sarah?

Thank goodness for Google. It has been a long, long time since I checked out Biblical stories. I have just spent the better part of the morning reading about aspects of the convoluted story of this Jewish matriarch – and prophet. A respected woman!

One of the reasons I abandoned my childhood Sunday school beliefs was the perceived over-arching misogyny of our Judeo-Christian heritage. According to Google sources, Sarah probably lived about 2000 BCE (Before the Common Era). Her spouse, Abraham, was the progenitor of three patriarchal religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Why was my non-patriarchal congregation dancing to a song honoring (by implication) a woman of these persuasions?

What I decided was that Sarah’s circle represents the long thread of human history – “every round a generation … on and on the circle’s moving.” And our connections to each of its strands. Patriarchal or not. I’m okay with that but will have more to say about the stain of patriarchy. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Tsunami of Circles

Over the past weekend I was flooded by a tsunami of powerful emotions. 

I was asked to participate in the wedding of two quite wonderful people . . . actually to write a poem for the ceremony. [I am not a poet.] What an honor. 

To get to the rehearsal and ceremony, I hitched a ride with my minister and her partner. What a pleasure. 

The rehearsal was held in the nursing home where the groom’s Alzheimer-stricken father is cared for. What compassion. 

Then we went to a family landmark restaurant and had pizza in a loud but delicious celebration of everyone. Fun. 

Before the wedding, the couple and the photographer drove to the Garden of the Gods to take pictures. I tagged along. Hooray. 

The ceremony, in an historic chapel in La Foret, was magical. When we left to drive back home, I felt as if I had acquired new family. 

Then the next day . . . a stunning service at church – our traditional ‘Decades Service’ in which nine people, each in different life decades, talked about who they are and what they hope to do with their lives (however much remains). 

People’s stories – when we take time to listen—are compelling. All people’s stories. 

To close the service, we sang ‘We Are Dancing Sarah’s Circle”. Verses included: ‘here we seek and find our history’, ‘we will all do our own naming’, ‘every round a generation’, ‘on and on the circle’s moving’. Each verse ends with the refrain: ‘sisters, brothers, all.’ 

In one weekend, multiple celebrations of the circle of life – still spinning in my heart. [In the photo: the bride, the groom, their dog]

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Counting the Days

I get it.

Twenty-nine organizations have sent me 2018 calendars. Twenty-nine! Some of these organizations are ones to which I contribute. The others would like me to contribute. Most are significantly worthy … but there has to be a limit.

I am used to getting too many calendars but 29 is a record. I use three – one by each of two desks in my study and a third on the pass-through wall. [The pass-through calendar covers an ugly fixture that I think once connected to a landline telephone.]

People who visit me this time of year can, if they wish, have one or more of their choosing, to take home and hang by their desks and/or cover their own ugly fixtures.

The rest will go to my congregation’s RE program, if they would be useful. Others will be recycled.

What am I to make of all this … all these… all these 29 calendars? Obviously, there are a lot of worthy organizations that need money. But I think it’s more than that.

This year, perhaps more than any other in my long existence, it is patently important that I pay attention to the days – all 365 of them. And make each of them count. To do that, I must pay attention to all that I do – write when I’m writing, walk when I’m walking, pet my cat when I pet my cat, etc. 
If we focus on each activity, each activity will become more significant.

And so will we. Anyway, that’s my theory. And I have the calendars to prove it.

Monday, January 1, 2018

crystal pigs

It's mysterious how some things lodge themselves in your imagination and personal traditions.

I've had Christmas trees since 1963. My first trees mirrored those I had known growing up. Eventually, I established my own traditions -- each year embellishing and amending according to circumstances and finances. After about 50 years, I realized that I had accumulated too many ornaments/traditions and began giving them away, getting (relatively) smaller trees. 

About five years ago the woman who published my first book, Tree Lines; A Memoir, came to my house for a holiday celebration. I'm pretty sure it was she who gave me the ornament saying, "Everyone should have a crystal pig."

I had not known that.

Still for me, Christmas is a time to accumulate and share all possible forms of light  . . and crystal pigs sparkle.

They also make the days sparkle. It's fun to challenge younger visitors to find the crystal pig. Sometimes they move the critter and challenge me to find her. 

And they do and I do. And every time we smile.

So that's what I wish for all of us. 
May we each find our individual crystal pigs.
And shine on.