Tuesday, September 30, 2008

bits 'n pieces

Isn't making a collage really just a metaphor for sorting through and honoring the details of life while focusing on the big picture?  And a perfect way to think, to distill, to clarify, to center?  It harks back to third grade art class, sweet time immersed in torn construction paper and pots of paste.  Happy Tuesday!  

Monday, September 29, 2008

true confessions

Once I was a month tardy getting my driver's license renewed.  On occasion, I have even mixed lights and darks in the laundry. But it's an affinity for certain literature that brands me a true radical.  You may have enjoyed some of the same books:  To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, the entire Harry Potter series. Today begins the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week, raising awareness about threats to free speech.  Yes, there are some racist and explicit volumes taking up precious space on the national bookshelf that I wish would just disappear in a puff of smoke.  But they remain, alongside the frequently challenged Shakespeare and Steinbeck we read in high school.  And The Color Purple, assigned in college.  There are scores of banned books I haven't read yet, and some whose spine I have no intention of ever cracking.  I confess, though, I'm still awfully glad they're there.  

Sunday, September 28, 2008

wisdom for the week

"Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come." 
                               - Chinese Proverb

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

a-s-d-f, j-k-l-semi

Is that still the way they teach typing in junior high?  I guess it's 'keyboarding' in 'middle school' now.  Mrs. Hauer ruled the Royals at Coleman Junior High where I learned to hammer out 100 words plus in under a minute.  Tap, tap, tap, whoosh!  Hit return!  Loved it.  So very Katherine-Hepburn-in-bustling-newsroom from some great old black and white movie.  Which was not the reality at all as I later click clacked my way through a series of dismal jobs and, for a dollar a page in college, could have your term paper ready by Sunday night at nine.  Still, there's something to be said about learning a skill.  And maybe the skill we truly enjoy acquiring says something about our heart's desire.  Through a roundabout path, I have ended up making a living as an advertising copywriter.  I get a rush when the ideas are flowing and my fingers are flying.  Others may have found their bliss cutting out a pattern in Home Ec or changing valves in Auto Mechanics.  It's taught me that all the fancy education in the world pales in comparison to a few good life skills. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

falling for autumn

Today is the first day of fall in this part of the world. And in our neck o' the woods, it is beginning to look quite festive. Reminiscent of the iconic Homecoming corsage (with tiny school letters made of pipe cleaners), the unofficial flower of the season is the chrysanthemum. You'll find a huge pot of them on most every doorstep, with a grapevine wreath on the door. Soon a pumpkin patch will appear where the Farmer's Market stood all summer.  Growing up in Florida, we envied our northern neighbors their cooler weather and brilliant maples.  Mom taught school and one year a child's New England grandparents mailed a big box of fall leaves to the class, which were tossed into the air with abandon and later ironed between pieces of wax paper. Hung in coppery, golden glory across casement windows with the sun shining through, it was like autumn stained glass.  

Saturday, September 20, 2008

all Saturdays are not created equal

Some are decidedly more perfect than others.  Qualifications include seeing your nephew make game-winning tackles the night before, not being jarred awake in pre-dawn darkness by an alarm clock, strong coffee and time to sip it, bluer than blue skies and a slight nip in the air that signals impending fall.  The only chores attempted might be the perusing of beautiful fabric with which to recover a slipper chair or the making of Sandra's chicken chili. All of which would be interspersed with the obligatory marathon of college football on tv, a long walk with the dog and maybe even drifting off for a nap on the sun porch, book on chest.  

Thursday, September 18, 2008

pump up your spirits

It's getting pretty discouraging out there.  And a little strange when you try to fill up the family clunker and there's an angry line snaking around the block to pay $4.37 per gallon.  Or worse, the pumps are simply, eerily empty.  Newspaper headlines shout about the dire financial straits we're in, but does the font have to be so bold and the typeface so huge?  All of this tends to fuel a scarcity mentality, which none of us can afford to succumb to.  Thankfully, there is a better way.  You'll never learn this in an Economics class, but the antidote to scarcity is actually abundance.  Without minimizing very stressful issues, there's only so much worrying, stewing and teeth gnashing a person can do.  None of which does a bit of good.  Today, do something lavishly, extravagantly rich in spirit instead.  Write a stack of letters.  Invite the entire block over for chili.  Be amazingly kind.  Dust off your telescope and aim it at the night sky.  Try another way of looking at things.  That's hope you'll see up there among the stars.  
Gas (1940) by Edward Hopper, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Angry clouds, sheets of rain, morning coffee gone cold, umbrella gone missing, missed deadline, nothing but bills through the mail slot.  On days like these, there needs to be a reward for simply slogging through.  To which I give you the humble apple cake.  It's not going to win you any points with a nutritionist, or impress the serious foodies, but that's not what this is about. This is about staving off the chill and ennui of a dreary day.  This is about cozy. The house will smell like heaven. Those who live in it will thank you.  So will the neighbors, as cinnamon goodness wafts through open windows and permeates the damp evening air.

Fresh Apple Cake*

3 c. chopped tart apples
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. sugar
1 c. oil
3 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

1.  Preheat oven to 325ยบ.  Grease a bundt pan.  
2.  Place all ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir well.
3.  Pour batter into pan and bake for 1.5 hours.
4.  Cool in pan at least 10 minutes before removing.
*Even More Special ©1986

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Art imitates life. Or is it the other way around?

If you ever find yourself in Washington, DC, in the neighborhood of 4th and Constitution Avenue NW, drop by The National Gallery of Art and show some love to one of my favorite paintings.  The Letter by Pierre Bonnard (circa 1906) is a somewhat small oil on canvas (approximately 31 x 28 inches, framed) hanging in the museum's East Gallery.  I know nothing of the back story of this particularly beautiful work, and very little about Bonnard himself, except that he lived from 1867 - 1947 and much of that time was spent in the sunny south of France with his wife and most frequently painted subject, Marthe.  Amazing to me is that it costs nothing to stand admiringly in front of The Letter, or any other work of art at The National Gallery, because there is no admission fee.  Ditto most every museum and monument in our nation's capitol.   A reminder that some of the best things in life really are free.  Even when they're priceless.  

Thursday, September 11, 2008

nine eleven

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping."  To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.  - Fred Rogers

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

wheels of time

Roller skating was my thing.  There was one tedious season of Lassie League and then try-outs for volleyball, track and cheerleading (more times than was emotionally healthy!) before making peace with the fact that walking while chewing a stick of Wrigley's was probably going to be my athletic peak.  But for some odd reason, I could put on a clunky pair of roller skates, tighten them with the metal key and morph into Peggy Fleming.  And for all the hours spent figure-eighting in the driveway, and entire Saturdays circling the wooden floors of an ancient roller rink, I don't remember ever once so much as falling.  I honestly think I understand when athletes today talk about being 'in the zone.'  Sometimes I wish I could lace up and skate all the way back to age ten.  Gliding endlessly back and forth until twilight fell and mom called me in for dinner.  

Sunday, September 7, 2008

something to contemplate

If it has become difficult to hear a heartbeat over the din of your own life, then get thee to the writings of Thomas Merton (1915-1968).  Trappist monk, poet, thinker, artist, activist and author of more than 60 books, Merton spent much of his life at the Abbey of our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky.  From inside this peaceful monastery, he fought for social justice through his powerful writing about race relations, violence, economic injustice and nuclear proliferation. Something I've taken from Merton is that peace, and problem solving for the violence of our times, begins deep within each of us.  If only we can quiet down enough to listen.  

Thursday, September 4, 2008

the Madeleine Project

"I found myself wondering what the madeleine in my own life might
 be - the one taste with the power to instantly transport me back to the past, back to a place, a person, a childhood.  We all have them, madeleines." - Alice Steinbach in Educating Alice

Madeleines are the buttery little shell-shaped cookies made famous by French writer Marcel Proust (1871-1922).   Supposedly this small sweet kindled his childhood memories, resulting in the seven-volume novel Remembrance of Things Past.  Inspired by Marcel, and by Alice, I once taught a middle school creative writing lesson in which we chose a madeleine from our own lives and wrote about it.  There were grilled cheese sandwiches, jelly beans and lots of cookie stories.  Passion was evoked and that's always when the best writing happens.  I found special pans at a cooking store and baked madeleines, which we ate while listening.  A common ingredient in the essays was love, as most of the food was prepared or served by someone very dear to the writer.  Makes you think, doesn't it, about all the little details of the daily round?  About whether we go about them with love?  And how things past will be remembered.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

rose, bud, thorn

If you would like to wrangle communication from amongst those gathered 'round the dinner table, do not resort to the ubiquitous 'How was your day?'  This will be met with blank stares, anguished sighs and monosyllabic responses by all ages. Try, instead, this tip borrowed from a brilliant teacher who graced our lives (Thank you, Stacy Benz!).  She had her students share a 'rose,' a 'bud' and a 'thorn.'  The rose being something that went well that day, a thorn was something that didn't, and the bud was what they looked forward to.  It may feel hokey to ask at first, but keep at it. The funny, poignant and even sarcastic (if teens are present) responses are much more than 'nothing.'  And that's something wonderful.  

Monday, September 1, 2008

labor of love

The first Monday in September used to mark a seismic shift from all things summer to the serious business of back-to-school.  You weren't supposed to wear white after Labor Day, and put away those sandals.  Get out your Blue Horse notebook and husky pencils!  Although the calendar is blurry now with school starting in August, there's still something about today that feels like a clean slate. And don't we all need one of those every now and again?  Luckily, there's always a new course to begin in the great classroom of life.  The supply list is short:  hope and energy.  And you've gotta' do the homework.  But everyone earns an 'A.'  Just for showing up.