Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Leavin' on a Jet Plane...

Well, my bags aren't packed yet, but I'm ready to go....

I'm off to North Carolina for a few days to stay at a beach house with thirteen lovely ladies of the Lamp Post (see sidebar for link), the Internet community where I "hang out." Some of these women I've met; others I haven't, but it should be a nice little vacation for us.

Carol and I are flying to Raleigh/Durham where Carrie will pick us up and put us up for the night. Friday we'll drive with her to Topsail Beach on the NC coast and stay in a beautiful beach house. Check out the link below if you want to see the house we're staying at:

http://www.treasurerealty.com/rentals/3940id/3940id.htm

Today I bought the essentials: a novel by Anne Bronte, (to bring along with the spiritual autobiography that Carmen sent me -- thanks again, Carmen!), ink with a screw top that I can take along with my special dip pen for journal writing, new brown sandals, and a new clor of nail polish with cute little stickers to glue on. :) And I'm almost, almost done with my last Slingshot subscription of the year; May's topic is always Shakespeare, so I'm writing about Twelfth Night and Sonnet 33. Just have to write a wee bit more about the sonnet and proofread the final copy(something I'm NOT good at with my own writing, as this blog will attest!), and then send it off via cyber-space.

I already have the school planning done, the menus and grocery lists written out, and everything bought that I need. I just need to do laundry and pack on Wednesday (and do school with the kids, and do my nails, and update my i-Pod, etc.), and I'll be ready to go!

So I'll be back in the middle of next week. Have a wonderful few days, and I'll bring back a report from NC (and lots of great 365 blog photos)!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Another Reason I Love the Internet....

Today the boys and I were studying Rosa Park, Martin Luther King Jr., Selma, and the March on Washington in our history books. Getting a bright idea, I fetched my laptop, Googled "i have a dream," and in fifteen seconds we were watching King's famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in its entirety via U-TUBE.

Then our next history chapter mentioned the assassination of JFK, and again Google video came through. There was the famous video, with Jackie Kennedy in her pink pillbox hat and JFK being whisked away in the back of the convertible.

It's amazing that in a few taps of the keyboard and a few clicks of a mouse, we can access history and make it alive and real to our boys. What an education!

So, today is another reason why I love the Internet for homeschooling.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another Book to Recommend...

Over the last few months, I've been picking up a certain book from time to time. It's not the kind of book one can gobble up like a mystery or a Harry Potter book. It's one of those books that require TIME. Time to sink in. Time to chew on. Time to belong to one's heart and practice.

Fern, my chiropractor's wife, sent me this innocent little powder-blue number. Along with other review copies of the latest Christian publications, it arrived at the radio station where she works, and after Fern attended the retreat I spoke at last spring, she thought it may be something of interest to me. And is it ever!

One thing I've really been wanting to learn to practice is the concept of Centering Prayer. And this book, Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird, teaches exactly that skill. But what IS Centering Prayer?

Centering Prayer is a silent prayer time, a time to listen to God. But to keep our minds in "listening mode" and off the grocery list and other distractions, one is to concentrate on a "centering" word or phrase (usually Scripture) and to repeat that word or phrase to oneself synchronized with our breathing. The most advised prayer to "center" on throughout the ages has been the "Jesus Prayer." Of Russian Orthodox origin, the "Jesus Prayer," in its longest version, is: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." But this rather cumbersome phrase can be shortened in several ways: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me," or "Christ have mercy" or simply "Jesus." The point isn't which version is used; the point is to use this word to re-center our thoughts on God when we find ourselves distracted by our own wandering minds. During my college years, I first ran across the idea of the "Jesus Prayer" in J.D. Salinger's novel Franny and Zooey, a book that has always intrigued me and which Laird mentions often in his own book.

A Scripture verse can be used just as easily as the "Jesus Prayer" in Centering Prayer. Really, it doesn't matter which phrase is used as long as it brings glory to God and allows us to fend off distracting thoughts. The overall idea is to use this "skill" to open our minds to God. Of course, God will speak when He will (i.e., we can't FORCE Him to speak to us), but at least we can be ready to truly hear Him by learning to focus our minds to the point that we can hear the "still, small voice" that is His communication with us.

Laird's little book is teaching me much about Centering Prayer, a prayer practice used by Orthodox, Catholic, and even some Protestant believers. My friend Carol has used Centering Prayer at her Baptist church in the past. So it's not just for mystics; it simply puts us in a position to hear God and respond to Him. And that's exactly what I want to learn to do better as I study this little book, a gift from a dear friend.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Simply Ink.... (Part of Simple Pleasure Saturdays)

For me, one of the simplest pleasures is that of pen and ink. For my birthday last month, the kids presented me with a calligraphy set from Barnes and Noble. This set, which fit nicely within their budget, has been a source of joy to me in ways almost unspeakable.

The black and sepia inks flow from the steel nibs so beautifully, and the wooden handle fits my hand as if it were custom-made for me. As I pause from writing to refill my nib with rich ink, the next words and phrases from perfectly in my mind. Pen and ink slow me down enough to truly think about the words I commit to the page. Now I can see why people of centuries past wrote long letters to each other; with such congenial instruments, I could (and do) happily write the hours away.

And the simple pleasure inherent in good paper! Not the horrid "college rule" of school nor the thin, cheap, grey-tinged copy paper that passes for paper now, but joy is inherent in the thick cream paper of my journal (also purchased at B&N), with sepia lines to keep me on track -- how wonderful it is to allow the ink to flow on paper such as this!

Pen, ink, and paper are simple pleasures of a simpler time, perhaps, but ones in which I find great satisfaction.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Thursday Thirteen (belated)

My friend at Sentient Marrow (see Blogs on Interest) made a list of thirteen artists and writers who have influenced her. Her list is rather art-heavy as she's a visual artist; mine will list quite a few more writers (especially poets) than artists. These are in no particular order; there is simply no way to value them one against the other.

1. John Milton: His elevated language as he writes about heavenly things from a human perspective haunts me; his poetry is the human expression closest to heavenly experience. Paradise Lost is THE masterpiece of the English language.

2. JMW Turner: His work, which early is so distinct and clear and becomes wilder and more colorful as he increased in experience and knowledge, helps me to se that "letting go" is something I need to do as a writer and artist. Don't worry about the details; just CREATE!

3. Emily Dickinson: I can't say that she's my favorite poet because she's so obtuse, but her style of writing has definitely impacted the form of my own poetry.

4. Louisa May Alcott: From childhood, her semi-biographical novels have impacted how I live my life: richly, for others. The newer discoveries of her work under an assumed name have shown me that her work is far from childhood material; she could write exciting and even dark works that are surprising; versatility is a gift, and she certainly possessed it in abundance.

5. Mary Cassatt: A print of "Breakfast in Bed" graces our living room. Her work, mostly about mothers and children, touches a deep chord within me. Her delicate use of color reminds me to delicately frame the words I write. The soft strength of her paintings demonstrate that what is gentle can also be some of the strongest stuff.

6. Geoffrey Chaucer: Studying Chaucer for an entire year in graduate school taught me to look for the inherent humor in some of the kost serious situations. The layering of earnestness, humor, descriptive genius, and a darn good story causes me to aspire to heights I can't quite imagine myself, but which I hope are indeed possible.

7. ee cummings: His poetry, minus punctuation and capitalization, searches for the inner child in even the gruffest of people. His turn of phrase, his love of what was light and good, and his gentle touch of the perfect word in the perfect phrase inspires my poetry continually.

8. John Everett Millais: I had never seen a Millais painting until I stepped into the Tate Gallery in London. His "Ophelia" and other amazing paintings showed that colors brighten even the most morbid scene. Whether colors are of physical or descriptive, they enliven all scenes. Color is "the deal" in life.

9. William Shakespeare: Obviously the most amazing English poet and playwright whose grasp of human psychology was so amazing. His turn of phrase, his poetic sense, his depth of character development, all these qualities inspire me to read more of his work and perhaps I'll even write a sonnet sometime!

10. Judith Deem Dupree: An acomplished poet and a woman who was surprised when I told her that she holds her opinions "with authority." She inspires me in the ability to build others up to see the artist within themselves. She has spent her life in encouragement and empowerment, and her poetry is at once the stuff of revelation and the stuff of life. (Both the same thing, really.) It inspires me to have someone I know who writes so well and encouarges me in my work, so that being an "writer" seems like it might actually become a reality.

11. Fra Angelico: His art is pre-Renaissance in its time period, yet so much of his art seems to herald the high Renaissance ideals while remaining true to the medieval mindset. His "Resurrection" has been my wallpaper ever since I got my laptop about four years ago, and it never ceases to amaze me. Perusing his work feels like reading Scriptures or Milton's poetry: the stuff of God is revealed within it.

12. Lucy Maud Montgomery: If only I could write prose like hers! I still sit stunned and amazed as I observe the quality of her writing. Her "Anne" books are absolute brilliance of human nature, humor, and poignancy; the last book in the series, Rilla of Ingleside, taught me more about the First World War than any book I've ever read. But her prose simply blows me away every time I pick up one of her books.

13. Frederica Mathewes-Green: Her writing on Orthodoxy has been informative, humorous, touching, and convicting. Her small book The Illumined Heart taught me to look at myself through the eyes of a first-century Christian. She mixes autobiography with liturgy with history with gentle humor. And her movie reviews are some of the best I've ever read. I've been fortunate to meet her twice now; her modern viewpoint of ancient faith is invaluable in today's theological works.

So there they are: the Thirteen Artists and Writers who have impacted me the most. Only two are living, one of whom lives in my town and the other one I've at least met. The rest are classics whose quality I know I'll never reach, but perhaps I can do a little of what Judith and Frederica do. Someday.

A Late Spring?

Last weekend we experienced snow at my parents' cabin. After some sunshiny and warm days this week, tonight we watched fat snowflakes descend from the mottled sky above our own house.

Spring is late this year. It's funny -- winter was warm and dry; February was so unbelievably warm that I was outside gardening two months before I usually do. My birthday was sunny (never happens!) and I even got sunburned at our women's retreat in late March.

April, however, has been a different story. It's been c-c-c-cold. I've had to pull my one-gallon tomato plants off the porch and into the laundry room every night for fear of frost. And then this last weekend's and this weekend's snows ... what's up?

Our local weather forecaster claims that tonight's storm is the last gasp of winter. All I can say is that I'm totally enjoying a lovely fire in our woodburning stove tonight (thanks to Sheri for the wood!) as I snuggle under my velvety throw with Dashwood and my laptop. I wish winter (or at least a chilly spring) would last FOREVER because I'm positively dreading the 100-plus degree summer temperatures that are the norm here in the mountains.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Evangelical Catholicism?

My Sunday School teacher from Lake Murray e-mailed me the following article after also e-mailing it to some of our elders. I read it with growing enthusiasm: here is a Protestant pastor who GETS the Catholic faith. I think I agreed with 95% of this article and am thrilled to find other people who have the same passion I do in bridging the gap between Protestants and Catholics. I'm a new fan of John Armstrong.

http://www.act3online.com/ArticlesDetail.asp?id=320

I also noticed in his list of upcoming appearances that he's speaking at ecumenical gatherings between Catholics and Protestants as well as at Presbyterian and Anglican churches and Wheaton University. I'm very much looking forward to receiving his weekly articles and chewing on what he has to say. He's a very good writer writing on excellent topics that should be close to every Christian's heart, no matter the tradition.

Spiritual Autobiography

The genre of the spiritual autobiography has always been one that entices me. Some of my modern favorites have been Kathleen Norris' Cloister Walk, Frederica Mathewes-Green's Facing East and At the Corner of East and Now, Philip Yancey's Soul Survivor, Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz, Peter Gilquist's Becoming Orthodox, and the works of Anne Lamott.

Older spiritual autobiographies also intrigue me. I've enjoyed works in this genre by St. Teresa ("Little Flower") and St. Augustine, and my large and tippling stack of books by my bedtable has books by Margery of Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Evelyn Underhill, and Henri Nouwen.

So imagine my delight when a brown mailer appeared in my post office box on Tuesday. Inside of the most lovely William Morris wrapping paper was concealed another book in my favorite genre: My Life with the Saints by James Martin. Carmen, a friend from graduate school (University of San Diego, a Catholic liberal arts university), was kind in sending me such a gem as a belated birthday gift. I'm planning on taking it with me to Topsail next week; it looks like perfect airplane reading.

And as I sat in thought tonight, considering my own writing, which I have so little time for, my book project seems so difficult to do at this juncture of my life. Here I am, homeschooling, writing online high school subscriptions, caring for four children, a house, a garden. Who I am I fooling (besides myself) that I have time to write a book? Perhaps this summer. But for right now, perhaps I can work on a spiritual autobiography of my own for an article-length type essay. So I started a little freewriting about it tonight, and I think this idea may have some promise. So wish me luck as I start this latest project: a treatise on how the Internet brought me into a relationship with the ancient church. I like the paradox of that!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sunday, Snowy Sunday




Leaving our small town with rain threatening to pelt us, our family of six drove up the mountain to my parents' snug little cabin in order to celebrate my dad's 65th birthday and E's 15th. As we twisted and turned up the narrow, foggy highway in our mini-van, B was mumbling something behind us. I turned around and asked him if he was praying for snow. He replied, "No, begging." Good distinction.

It was a balmy 40 when we left our town; 20 minutes and 2000 feet further up the mountain, it was 34 degrees and smelling like snow. (Hard to describe, but most of you know that distinctive smell.) Within an hour, my dad and brother were grilling dinner in the midst of fluttering snowflakes. My brother, in parka and hiking shorts, did the vast majority of the grilling while the kids, dressed in hats, parkas, gloves, and boots, scraped enough snow off of the parked cars to make slushy snowballs and managed to get in a few good flings.

As we ate grilled chicken and pork ribs, fruit and Caesar salads, scalloped potatoes and garlic bread, snow began falling in earnest. The kids were outside again in a jif, coming in an hour later soaked and chilled, ready to warm up before the fire in the old stone fireplace, where my sister-in-law and myself sat, trying to keep warm despite low thyroid levels (a glass of red wine helps!)

The cabin is truly a magical place. Only 600 square feet, it hosts a small kitchen, an even smaller bathroom, a sleeping porch (windows across one entire wall with a double-bed and a berth inside, and then a great room with a big Murphy bed, a sofa, coffee table, end table, and a dining set that can have leaves added to make it large enough to seat twelve. The furniture, the pictures on the wall, the knick knacks on the shelves, are all familiar to me: they had all been part of my grandparents' (all deceased now) homes. My grandfather's World War II commendations hang on the walls. Six generations of family photos grace the simple wood-paneled walls. A quilt hangs high in the vaulted great room, and brightly-painted beams criss-cross the airy space above our heads. And this little place is surrounded by acres of national forest and much wildlife. The cabin is where our family gathers for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, and any other holiday we can manage. We can almost feel the generations now gone surrounding us as we sit in their chairs and put our mugs on their coffee table. The cabin, and everything inside its four walls, is a family treasure.

And as we drove home yesterday, we waved good-bye to the snow, most likely the last of the season, remembering the driven flakes and the joy of our kids, especially of one little boy who had "begged" for just such a day.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Simple Pleasure

My fellow blogger Tia (see Blogs of Interest in sidebar) suggested posting about simple pleasures each weekend.

For me, one of the simplest yet most profound pleasures is the opening of a book. The book I am currently reading is one of a sort that gives me true pleasure: an old book. An 1856 copy of Charlotte Bronte's The Professor, checked out earlier this month from the University of San Diego library.

Just the cover itself gives pleasure. The weathered brownish-burgundy cloth cover with faint gold lettering on the spine promises good things in store, namely peace and escape. The musty dusty old book smell -- who can describe it? It seems to be a nearly human scent, as if the fragrance of every single person who held this book in his/her hands is imprinted within its yellowed pages. As if the scent of every single room which has played host to this book has left a trace of its odor within the well-worn covers.

The pages are far past the formal white stiffness of a new book, are past the supple flexibility of a well-used book, and has now become aged, slightly yellowish-brown especially around the edges. These pages are friendly, though, even if a bit arthritic, like an old woman who's known to be a "character," and remains "sharp as a tack" but a bit crotchety in her elderly ways. The pages turn reluctantly; the type is somewhat faded, again like an old woman who was a beauty "in her day;" however, if one looks deeply into her aged face, one can see the belle of the ball beneath the wrinkles. That's what this book is like.

So as the plot leads me to northern England and now to Belgium, I breathe in the scent of age and the joy of use in this old book. Reading it is at once a simple and a profound pleasure, one that delights me to no end.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Back to Cicely....

This week E and I received Season 1 of my second favorite television show of all time: Northern Exposure. It's fun sharing the quirky inhabitants of Cicely, Alaska, with my fifteen-year-old. She's seeing Joel and Maggie, Ed and Maurice, Shelly and Hawling for the first time while I feel as though I'm meeting up with old friends I haven't seen in quite a while. And watching the pilot episode that I'm pretty sure I missed ... priceless!

Northern Exposure was my first drop-everything-to-watch simply-can't miss-it television program. Cicely provided a break from graduate school studies, from book store drudgery, even from pregancy worries as Shelly and I were pregnant at the same time, although I didn't sing throughout my pregnancy (thankfully!).

Our local library system got us the entire season at once, which is a vast improvement over Netflix which sends only one DVD at a time. So, I guess I need to remove Season 1 from our Netflix queue, and find some other films to take its place....

It's nice to be back in Cicely; it's a place of the mind and the heart, even if it's fictional. Fictional, in my twisted mind, is almost as real as real life.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Friendships


A photo from my 40th birthday party with friends from church: Kitty and myself


I was thinking about the idea of friendships, partially during my gardening time yesterday, and partly in response to Carrie's post about transiency in friendships (see the link to her blog under "Blogs of Interest").

I'm still in touch with my best friend from junior high, Denise; we just had a nice visit together at the end of February when our family was at Disneyland. She picked me up from our hotel, and we talked for over three hours at the California Adventure Hotel nearby.

Two of my good friends, Noko from high school and Vera from my freshman year of college, live far away: Australia and Upstate New York. It's wonderful to see each other, and we pick right back up where we left off, and we do communicate regularly via e-mail and phone calls. But long-distance friendship just isn't the same as having them in the same town, or in Vera's case, either in the upper dorm bunk or next door. Carmen, whom I met in grad school at USD, is also a long-time friend.

I'm still friends with Mr. Stan, my eighth-grade English and History teacher, as well as with several of my college professors. My favorite high school teacher, Mr. Sebastian, has passed away, but I would love to get in touch with at least one other of my high school teachers, namely, Mrs. Jordan.

I am a loyal friend and tend to keep my oldest friendships. It's the newer ones that are more difficult for me, I guess.

After being at Lake Murray for nearly 14 years, I find my closest day-to-day friendships at church. But even at church, there is the sense of transiency; twice now I've had all of my closest friends move on to other churches at once, leaving me behind with few close friendships. I still feel as though I'm in a rebuilding stage at church from the latest mass-leaving, although being part of the small and intimate Bible study on Tuesday mornings helps a great deal as I build friendships with Julie, Kim, Kitty, and Naomi.

Then there's our small town. We moved up there partially because of our friends at the Bible camp, but Shannin and family moved to Big Bear a few years ago. I made acquaintances through the library pre-school hour and then by volunteering at the elementary school when J attended there for two years. Finally out of these experiences, I made a lovely friend, Sheri, one who values the spiritual disciplines and enjoys the occasional day away in silence and contemplation. And then Kitty, a friend from church introduced me to a wonderful woman of experience here in my town, Judith, a poet and friend of the heart, someone I truly enjoy listening to and learning from and sharing with. I'm about the same age as her children, so she's a blessing to me in so many ways!

And there's always online friends. I've been a part of an amazing group of women online for eight years, frist on the Sonlight boards, then at the Trapdoor Society, and now at The Lamppost. I've met many of them face-to-face, either in my home or in theirs. I've traveled to Ohio, North and South Carolina, and Illinois in order to spend time with them, and later this month I'm returning to North Carolina for a trip to Topsail with them. These are perhaps the women who know me best, or at least know my "insides" the best. But there are the intrinsic barriers that go along with online communication: the misunderstandings, the "drama" (for lack of a better word) -- all of which are completely foreign to me in "real life" as I've don't get into disagreements with my "real life" friends. (I admit it; I hide form conflict!) It's a sometimes "squishy" thing (to steal a word from Carol) to put oneself out there online, devoid of all usual real life defenses. There have been times when I've had to leave the online community because I've felt as if I was pushed into a corner; there has been anger and tears and hurt on my part that are past describing. And there have been times of learning and understanding (which are two different things) and exuberant joy as well. I guess online friendships are much harder for an introvert like me because although I feel less vulnerable hiding behind a keyboard than I would in real life, I am also MORE vulnerable because I'm putting my emotional self on these forums, and hiding behind my shyness just isn't possible. I'm "out there," even from behind my keyboard.

Friendship is a challenge in this day and age. No one seems to have time to chat over the back fence anymore. Everyone seems to move away, either to another church or out of the area, and friendship is difficult when the friends aren't readily available. Online friendships are definitely as "real" as real life friendships, only sometimes more volatile and prone to misunderstandings with no facial expressions and body language to read. But just as valuable and sometimes of as great a comfort.

Either way, in "real life" or online, I've somehow felt like the outsider. Perhaps that's because I live 35 miles away from my church family and haven't always felt included (or have been able to include myself because of distance) in their lives. Perhaps that's because I had to leave my online community for a period of time to get healthier in mind and spirit before becoming part of what can be more "drama" at times than I can handle. Perhaps it's because the two friends closest to my heart live across the country and on the other side of the globe. Perhaps it's because I'm still a relative newcomer in my town.

Making friends has never been easy for this introvert. I can only hope it gets easier as I grow older.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Ponderings whilst Gardening....



Today I weeded my back flower bed and removed all the pine needles that I use to mulch the more delicate plants and keep them from freezing. Although we live in Southern California, the elevation of nearly 4000 feet means we get COLD: we were down to 13 this winter, the coldest even some of the old-timers remember.

As I was beginning to tire, I reached forward to pull off a thick layer of dry, brown pine needles, and I uncovered the plant pictured above. And I began to think....

Some less patient gardeners would pull up this sorry little lavender, unwilling to wait and see if it will grow and eventually flourish. They're much happier in replanting a perfect lavender from Home Depot and having "instant success." Now I've never been a patient person, but gardening is teaching me otherwise. Last year I found this same little plant in just the same condition: half brown and dead, but with a twinkle, a tiny promise of green. I decided to leave it be, to wait and see. Sure enough, more and more green appeared, and by mid-summer it was two feet tall with purplish-blue spikes of bloom that the butterflies flocked to continually. So I've learned by experience to be patient with my garden, to give even an apparently dead plant a chance because Nature certainly is capable of surprising us.

Then I thought about how this little lavender's plight parallels that of some people I know. When I first looked at them, I thought that it wasn't worth the effort of cultivating a friendship with them. But with closer exposure, I could see the little growths of green that promised a future. So with hope and prayer, I continued the acquaintance, willing to give the time needed, and a friendship eventually blossomed. As it is with little lavender sprouts, so it is with the sprouts of friendship; all that's needed is a little hope and a willingness to wait and see.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cry of Stone

This year I've been reading the "Children of the Last Days" series by Michael D. O'Brien, a Canadian Catholic visual artist and writer. I started reading the series in the wrong order, starting with Eclipse of the Sun, then going to the chronological beginning of the series to read Strangers and Sojourners, followed by Plague Journal. These three should be read in order, ending with Eclipse, if you're interested.

If one is desirous of reading only one of O'Brien's novels, make it Father Elijah which is related to the chronological trilogy but can stand alone as well. It's a page-turner -- I simply couldn't put it down for the balance of suspense and religious fervor. My friend Judith is reading it now.

It took me almost three weeks at well over 800 pages, but I did finish O'Brien's fifth novel in the series, Cry of Stone. Very different from the other books, it's a meditative novel about a native Canadian woman who is physically deformed and a great artist, but her most amazing quality is her faith, especially in how her faith and art intertwine. More like Strangers and Sojourners in being character-driven rather than plot-driven, it was a remarkable book, one I heartily recommend. O'Brien's style is impeccable, deeply-moving and poetic, sensitive to the plight and mindset of Native North Americans, and not to be missed.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Happy Birthday to You!




Tonight we celebrated E's 15th birthday with gluten-free brownies after a wonderful dinner cooked by Dad: chicken stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, and ricotta cheese with a white wine sauce, corn fritters, and a Caesar salad. While waiting for the late dinner (Dad cooked for three hours!!!), E and J enjoyed a bit of ballroom swing during "Dancing with the Stars" commercial breaks. It's fun to see E and J do something together; usually they are sniping at each other over something or other. They would never, ever admit it, but they're just too much alike to get on well.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

He Is Risen!

He Is Risen, Indeed!

The liturgical greeting for Eastertide is one that goes back centuries. But my favorite Resurrection Day hymn goes back only to the eighteenth century. Written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley the English church reformer, this hymn was sung today with great gusto and joy at Lake Murray as well as at churches around the world. These words and the soaring music truly expressed my Easter joy in a Risen Saviour!

1. Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

2. Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

3. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

4. Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Joining the 365 Bloggers



A bunch of women from my online community (The Lamp Post, see sidebar link) started 365 blog projects on January 1. Basically, they post a photo a day for a whole year and thereby have a record in photos of the year.

I, however, did not have a digital camera. Keith's is a professional-level Nikon D-70, and so for my birthday in March I asked for a small digital camera so I could join my 365 friends. Well, Keith thought that a certain Sony would work best for me, but it was last year's model and hard to find. He finally ordered it from an online place, but they let us know this week that it was "back ordered indefinitely." So much for the Sony.

So Keith came home lasy night with an Olympus Stylus 740, a very small camera with video function (great with kids), image stabilization (for my shaky hands) and 5 times zoom. Very nice! Above is a photo of my miniature bird bath in my front flower garden, where little alyssum are popping up and will conquer the entire bed by mid-July.

So now I've joined my 365 cohorts, and hope to learn a little more about the art of photography both through the process and from my dear husband. I'm more grateful than ever for his year at Brook's Institute of Photography!

So check out my photos at http://susanne365.blogspot.com/ or see the link on the sidebar.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Ecumenical Stations of the Cross

First thing this morning, I took our three boybarians to Lake Murray for the Stations of the Cross. Veneta had lit the candles and rehung the Stations that had slipped off the walls (don'tcha love masking tape?). It was lovely. I went through once with the boys, and then let them play outside while I went through them by myself, pausing before the Scriptures and the copies of Old Masters' paintings depicting each event and imagined myself there, walking through this time with Jesus.

Then at noon I took the boys to an outdoor ecumenical Stations of the Cross in Alpine. Over 100 people, Protestant and Catholic, followed six pastors down a series of fourteen crosses along the side of a church parking lot. At each of the Stations, one of the pastors read the designated Scripture passage, then the crowd would move to the next cross, singing these verses to "Were You There?" I've put the each of the verses here only once, but I'm sure you're aware that the verse is sung twice, then the chorus, then the verse once more.

It was such an amazing experience that I would like to type it out for you so you can do this, if you feel so lead, in the your own homes (or gardens) on this holy day.

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross so that he might draw the whole world to himself. Grant that we, who glory in this death for our salvation, may also glory in his call to take up our cross and follow him, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Following the Way of the Cross.....

1. Jesus Prays Alone
Read: Luke 22:39-44
Sing: "Were you there when they couldn't watch one hour?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

2. Jesus Is Arrested
Read: Matthew 26:47-56
Sing: "Were you there when a kiss betrayed Our Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

3. Jesus' Trial Before the Sanhedrin
Read: Mark 14:61-64
Sing: "Where you there when they asked, 'Are you the Christ?'
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

4. Jesus' Trial Before Pilate
Read: John 18:33-37
Sing: "Were you there when Pilate called Him King?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

5. Pilate Sentences Jesus to Death
Read: Mark 15:6-15
Sing: "Were you there when the crowd cried, 'CRUCIFY!'?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

6. The Crown of Thorns
Read: John 19:5
Sing: "Were you there when He wore the Crown of Thorns?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

7. Jesus Carries His Cross
Read: John 10:17-18
Sing: "Were you there when He laid His own life down?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

8. Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
Read: Luke 23:26
Sing: "Were you there when Simon bore the cross?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

9. Jesus Speaks to the Women
Read: Luke 23:27-31
Sing: "Were you there when the women wailed and wept?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

10. Jesus Is Crucified
Read: Luke 23:33-34
Sing: "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

11. The Criminals Speak to Jesus
Read: Luke 23:39-43
Sing: "Were you there when He promised paradise?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

12. Jesus Speaks to Mary and John
Read: John 19:25b-27
Sing: "Were you there when Mary lost her Son?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

13. Jesus Dies upon the Cross
Read: John 19:28-34
Sing: "Were you there when the Lord said, 'It is done.'?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

14. Jesus Is laid in the Tomb
Read: John 19:38-42
Sing: "Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

Then we all left in silence, to contemplate and meditate upon Jesus' suffering and death for our sins and for our restoration with the Father.

Where is the Resurrection, you ask? Today, "Good Friday," is a day of sorrow as we remember His passion and death. Now, we watch and wait for His glorious Resurrection from the dead on the third day!

Holy Week Happenings

Last night Sheri and I attended Alpine Anglican's "Instructional Seder." Basically, we followed Jewish Passover traditions (including FOUR glasses of red wine!), and Father then gave us additional information that linked the Passover traditions to the institution of the Lord's Supper from the Gospels. Old and New Testaments, perfectly linked!

We ate the bitter herbs that symbolized the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt. We dipped parsley into salt water and ate it; the parsley represents new life, and the salt water the bitter tears shed by the Israelites in their enslavement. We ate matzoh, unleavened cracker-type bread, because the Egyptians fled Egypt so suddenly that they had no time to allow their bread to rise. We ate this sweet apple-nut mix that represented the mortar that the Israelites used in their slavery to the Egyptians. We read lots of prayers and Scripture (and drank lots of wine! -- no wonder St. Paul had to caution the Corinthian church to beware of drunkeness!).

The two most interesting aspects for Sheri and me were the ones that demonstrated the relationship between the Jewish practice and Christian Communion. When Christ broke the "bread" during the Last Supper Passover meal, he was breaking and sharing the "afilkomen," the special bread set aside as a symbol of the coming Messiah. So by breaking that certain piece of unleavened bread that is set aside earlier in the Passover service and sharing it with His disciples, Jesus was proclaiming Himself as the "Bread of Life," and therefore His Messiah-ship. The second interesting aspect was related with the wine, the cup that Christ shared with His disciples. The cup that He raised and declared as "the blood of the new covenant" was Elijah's cup, the cup set aside at the empty place left for Elijah who was to herald the coming of the Messiah to Israel. So when Christ took the cup of wine reserved for Elijah, again He was proclaiming Himself the Messiah. So by taking these elements that were set aside to demonstrate the waiting for the Messiah to arrive and calling them "My body" and "My blood," Christ was telling His disciples in still another way Who He truly is: "the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world."

Tonight I attended the Maundy Thursday service with the Alpine Anglican group at Victoria House, the rectory. ("Maundy" comes from the Latin word for "command," for on the night He was betrayed, Christ commanded His disciples to "love one another.") About eight of us gathered around the Ackers' dining room table, and besides the Scriptures we read (John 13 especially), the only difference between this service and any other Communion service was the Foot Washing. Father Acker asked each of us to remove one sock and shoe, and he knelt before each of us, with an apron tied around his waist, and washed our feet with a china pitcher and basin. After he dried each person's foot, he kissed it and then said, "Thank you for your service to Our Lord." It was an act of humility that brought me to tears (which come quite easily to me anyway), and his mini-sermon afterward about how we all serve the Lord through our lives had the same effect. It was a blessed service, my favorite of Holy Week, in fact. Not sure why -- it's just so personal between us and God, I think. To imagine being in that upper room and having the Messiah washing feet, the lowest job for the lowest servant in the home -- it just gives me chills to think of it!

A Passover Seder and a Maundy Thursday Foot Washing and Communion Service -- it's been a blessed Holy Week thus far!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Downloading Frenzy....

I've always listened to music from the late 50s to early 60s -- it's the music I grew up listening to. The music my parents still dance to when they can find a good band. The music I know the lyrics to, almost as well as the early-to-mid 80s music I was "into" in high school and early college and definitely better than what's come out since then, with the notable exception of my beloved U2.

San Diego used to have great "oldies" radio stations that would play the greats, but lately the station that used to play "oldies" from the 50s, 60s, and 70s has now stooped to the insulting play of "oldies" from the 80s! Yup, 80s music is everywhere (not that I'm complaining), but having the music of my youth being relegated to "oldies" when I'm only 41 is a bit hard to take.

But more than that, I miss the TRUE classics. So last night, i-Tunes gift card from my brother gripped in hand, I went on a downloading frenzy of the REAL "oldies but goodies." This is what I have bought and downloaded to my i-Pod:

The Platters:
"Goodnight Sweetheart"
"My Prayer"
"Only You"

Deon and the Belmonts:
"Runaround Sue" (my mom's favorite dance song)
"The Wanderer"
"Teenager in Love"

The Beach Boys:
"I Get Around"
"Fun, Fun, Fun"

Bobby Darin:
"Splish Splash"

Jan and Dean:
"Surf City"

Ricky Nelson:
"Garden Party"
"Travelin' Man"

Little Anthony and the Imperials:
"Tears on My Pillow"

The Drifters:
"Save the Last Dance for Me"
"Under the Boardwalk"

Now THOSE are classics. I think they'll be happy to join my old favorite Roy Orbison (a double CD set, thank you very much!) on my i-Pod. Now to borrow and download Mom's Elvis collection....

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A New BHAG

Well, it's really a new incarnation of an old BHAG. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term BHAG, it stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It's a term often in use among a group of women I've known online for eight years.

Anyway, today I was goofing around on the computer, procrastinating beautifully and thus ignoring the dust cloth and the basket of bathroom cleaning solutions at my feet. The AOL mail page had a lovely red tab labeled "Online Degrees." Well, that's certainly something worth checking out. I followed the labyrinth of links to various universities and degrees, finding nothing to my liking whatsoever.

Then the idea popped into my head: why not check out the seminary where Johanna and my own pastor have attended? I'll bet THEY have some interesting courses available. And did I ever find one that spoke to my heart and soul! The course title is "Christian Classics," (right up my alley, to say the VERY least!) and the main textbook is the very book I'm reading a second time for Lent: Richard Foster's Devotional Classics. Now, the other two texts look extremely interesting as well: Christian History, Issue 37: "Worship in the Early Church" and 100 Christian Books That Changed the Century. I was salivating onto my beleagured laptop.

Wiping away the drool, I quickly printed a copy of the syllabus. Then I saw the date: begins April 30. Oh well, I'm arriving home from North Carolina that night, and it is a very intensive class, so it's probably beyond my strength just now. I still e-mailed Johanna immediately, and she assured me that the course was the first one she took at Bethel and it was tops. Sigh -- I wish I could enroll right this very minute, but it just doesn't seem possible at the present time.

So I'm adding taking this course to my list of BHAGs which currently include: creating an English country garden; learning to play the piano; living in Great Britain for an entire calendar year; learning to spin and weave; taking a literary tour through Boston, Concord, and Prince Edward Island; learning to sing well enough to blend into a choir; spending two weeks at a monastery in complete silence; learning Latin, and relearning German.

BHAGs keep me going when the going gets tough. When I am up to my eyeballs in home school math assignments and science experiments, when I am overwhelmed by a dirty house and impossible yard, when the kids are quarreling and being distinctly unkind to one another, and when I have no time to myself whatsoever, THEN I think of my BHAGs and think: SOME DAY. And I smile my secret smile to myself and go on to the next thing in my busy, crazy life.

Monday, April 2, 2007

A Simon and Garfunkel Moment....

My dear friend Kim signed to Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Waters" yesterday in our worship service at Lake Murray, and I found myself in tears. Sobbing, actually. Her signed songs usually make me cry as they touch my heart so deeply, but this time, even though she signed it about four years ago and I was ready with Kleenex in hand, I found myself sobbing. Yes, sobbing in church with Kitty's arm around my shoulders. Why was I crying over an old Simon and Garfunkel tune? Because the Holy Spirit was speaking to me, using the song as a promise, a benediction, an anointing.

On Thursday I received good news from Dr. Adema: the cortisol is probably the "missing link" in my treatment, and we may be able to start to lower my pain medications in a couple of months! When I asked him what he envisioned for me two years down the road, he said, "No more fentanyl. Keep on with the cortisol and thyroid meds. And you should be much improved." After more than five years of weariness and chronic pain, after five years of various diagnoses of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, and various lesser issues, what great news! What a blessing!

And the song that Kim signed spoke the same thing: the weariness, the pain, the darkness -- all being pushed aside to allow healing and newness. My "time to shine" has come and my "dreams are on their way"! A benediction indeed. And a definite easing of my mind.

Here are the lyrics:

When you're weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
I'm on your side when times get rough
And friends just can't be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

When you're down and out,
When you're on the street,
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you.
I'll take your part.
When darkness comes
And pain is all around,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

Sail on silvergirl,
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.
If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Palm Sunday

Aaaah, Holy Week is here with Palm Sunday. I was thrilled to arrive at Lake Murray this morning and see palm fronds laid out at the base of the stairs that go upstairs to the sanctuary. In the foyer, smaller fronds were on the information area and a small frond was under a bird's nest filled with speckled Easter eggs. Inside the sanctuary were smaller fronds along the back wall and huge ones standing upright on the stage. For years and years at this church we had no mention of Palm Sunday, no palms, nothing at all different to mark the day. I would have preferred the Scripture verses about Jesus coming into Jerusalem, but the kids got it all heavily in their Sunday School classes, with T bringing home some real fronds and B making a paper one.

The Anglican Church on Palm Sunday reads Matthew 27 together, everyone taking parts such as Pilate, Pilate's wife, Christ, narrator, and everyone else is the crowd crying out "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Powerful stuff -- I wish I could have been there. I'm sure it's hard to cry out to crucify our Lord, but then it's our own sin that sent Him to the Cross in the first place. In the pictures from Alpine Anglican, the crucifix is covered in purple cloth, with palms tied behind in an X. The congregation made palm crosses together after the service so they can display and save the palms to burn for next year's Ash Wednesday service: today's palms become next year's ashes. Pretty cool thing, I think.

As Holy Week begins, I desire to fast from sweets (I've been doing a terrible job this Lent so hope to do better this last and most important week) and on Good Friday I want to do an oatmeal/rice fast. As I have hypoglycemia, I can't fast completely, but will take only the simplest of substance to keep my blood sugar level. I will also read only Christian books this week, focusing especially on Devotional Classics by Richard Foster. I had planned to read it over Lent but got behind, so I'm hoping to catch up this week. I'm going to continue reading the novel I've been working on for a couple of weeks, Michael D. O'Brien's Cry of Stone, which is about faith, sacrifice, and art. O'Brien is a Catholic writer and visual artist from Canada, and this work is very unlike previous works I've read by him, like Father Elijah. It's more than proper and helpful literature for Holy Week.

I also hope to attend services with Alpine Anglican this week. Wednesday is a Passover Seder, Maundy Thursday a footwashing, Good Friday an ecumenical Stations and an evening service, and Holy Saturday an evening vigil. I'm looking forward GREATLY to Holy Week, as I always do. May the Lord use it to change and soften my heart toward Him and make me ever more grateful for Christ's sacrifice once for all, and especially for me.

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