Judge Not: Meditations on a Missed Blogiversary

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Back in my brief blogging heyday, I felt baffled and abandoned when a fellow blogger would vanish from my Reader. Not only did I miss the blogger’s words or photos, but I felt concern: had a crisis or illness prevented the blogger from posting? Sure, I could see skipping a few days or even a week, but to disappear completely from the WordPress landscape, without a word of farewell or explanation? That would never happen to me, I resolved with the smugness of a self-righteous newbie.

An unintended photo

An accidental photo, reflective of my unintended hiatus from blogging

Fast-forward several months, and I have become one of those bloggers who dedicated herself to blogging for a few intense months and then dropped out of the blogosphere abruptly, quietly, even unintentionally. How can it be that blogging — the refuge and sanctuary for those who toil through dreary days with little outlet for creative expression — also has its limitations? For a blogger, too, must have discipline and balance; to share sporadically is not the thing in the blogging world. Here, too, if I wish to succeed, I must budget, plan, and prune. Sigh.

anniversary-2xI began to back out of regular blogging at the beginning of 2015, when I realized that it would be imprudent to continue my second attempt at Blogging 101. My reluctant retreat became a sudden silence. And now I sit at my laptop, having missed my first Blogiversary, hoping that my readers will not give up on me, yet knowing that there is little likelihood of my posting regularly until July.

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Buzzard’s Roost at Sunset

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Botanical Garden Butterfly and Bee

Instead of offering a haven of empty days, the summer has prompted me to host and feed house guests, pack and unpack bags, and prepare and plan for future journeys. Dutifully, I have photographed beautiful vistas and fluttering butterflies with a wistful thought of turning this or that photo into a blog post. I have enjoyed the laughter and optimism of a remarkable group of young people. I have been blessed by hours spent not only with my husband and nearly-grown children but with my parents and in-laws. The summer holiday has not exactly been a holiday, but it has been rich and rewarding.

But I look forward to July, when I hope to peruse the neglected blogs of those whom I follow. Even as I struggle to find time for writing, I am thankful for this blog (and my other blog), and the many kindred spirits whom I have met through blogging: Beth, Deborah, Anna, Dan, April, Lucile, Colleen, Sammy D., Lia, John, Terri, Mara, Doug, Linda, Chic, and so many other writers who seek beauty and truth. I am also thankful for my daughter Emily, whose flirtation with blogging was the catalyst for my setting up a WordPress account. And I appreciate the encouragement of bloggers and readers whom I know in the “real world”: Mary Kathryn, Michael, Suzanne, and my Facebook friends, your comments and “likes” give me the courage to keep blogging.

Biltmore Estate Gate

Biltmore Estate Gate

I am also grateful for Photo 101 and Blogging 101. My foray into the blogosphere has taught me a few tips for taking pictures (the Rule of Thirds, anyone?), and I will never forget the warmth that I felt from other newish bloggers as we embarked on the assignments in the Blogging 101 class. Indeed, the camaraderie that I experienced through Blogging 101 far outweighs the value of what I learned in the assignments (useful though they were).

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A rained-out soccer practice — or an opportunity to see a rainbow? It’s all in the point of view.

So, here’s to another year of erratic blogging! May I be a more disciplined and compassionate blogger in the coming year. It is, perhaps, a sign of hope that this morning — the first day in many months when I have found myself alone in the house with no immediate obligations — I turned my thoughts to my long-neglected blog.

Less than 2 months to the 25-year mark!

Less than 2 months to the 25-year mark!

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During the week of my blog’s anniversary, my husband and I returned to the Peaks of Otter, where we spent our honeymoon nearly 25 years ago.


Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday: A Piecemeal Post

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Linda’s prompt: piece / peace

Season Two, Episode 17:

Season Two, Episode 17: “A Piece of the Action”

A Piece of the Action is surely one of the most memorable episodes in the original Star Trek series. There’s something amusing about Spock, Kirk, and McCoy wearing 1920s clothing and talking the tough lingo of mobsters. Of course, this is another one of the episodes in which the “Prime Directive” — the principle that the Enterprise and her crew must endeavor not to interfere with the developing culture on the alien planet — comes into play. As usual, that principle is violated, but there is some justification: an entire culture centered on a book about early twentieth-century Chicago gangsters is unhealthy, to say the least.

At any rate, “A Piece of the Action” is a light-hearted, campy look at what happens when a society is based on something that is inherently flawed: in this case, the world of gangsters, in which power, violence, bravado, and wealth are paramount. Admittedly, my understanding of 1920s gangsters is rather vague and mostly informed by movies like The Untouchables and The Great Gatsby (more the Robert Redford version than the Leonardo di Caprio one, although there is an ongoing debate in my household between younger and older generations as to which version is superior). In those two movies, illegal alcohol is a basis for gangster profits, among other sources of revenue: by providing a rare commodity, the mob is able to make a big profit, at the price of bribing or coercing the law to look the other way.

Who doesn’t want to get a piece of the action, really? The desire to make a profit, particularly to reap a large award from a small investment, is inherent in human nature. How strong the drive to profit is varies from individual to individual. Not long ago my high-school daughter and I watched part of a series on turn-of-the-century American industrialists: unbridled by the law, people like J. D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie were able to turn straw into gold. Straw into gold, magic beans, the goose that laid the golden egg: fairy tales are filled with the dream of getting something from nothing, or almost nothing.

When I transfer the desire to get “a piece of the action” to a more personal level, it seems that I am motivated not so much by the profit itself as by the fear of somehow missing out on a good thing. To put it in Ten Commandment-terms, what does my neighbor have that I don’t have? The idea of sitting idly by while the guy across the street is raking in the big bucks can seem intolerable, and so we want in on the action. The fear of missing out is real for me and, I suspect, for many others: surely this is part of the reason that trends spread and grow so rapidly? We glance at what our neighbors are doing and, more often than not, we, too, end up with a smart phone, or a different style of blue jeans, or a trip to the beach.

It’s not all envy, really: more often than not, it’s just that some folks are quicker to try out a new invention or fad than others. Once I’ve seen a new product being road-tested by someone else, I am more likely to give it a whirl myself or to acknowledge that there are benefits. I was late to the texting party, for example, but I have to admit that texting has many useful features that facilitate communication with one’s spouse and children. I’ve dragged my feet on Netflix and DVr, however: yes, I still record shows that I want to watch on a blank DVD or VHS. Such reluctance is usually due to an economical instinct inherited from my Scottish ancestors, and that thrifty instinct rebels at adding monthly charges to the budget. And, boy, did I resist the big-screen HDTV: only when the cable channel forced us to get boxes was I willing to consider buying a flat-screen TV, and, even then, my husband needed the added incentive of a Rooms-to-Go deal that threw in a TV when you bought a living-room package.

But I’ve paid homage to the god of fads frequently enough in my life. With embarrassment, I admit to using my own money to purchase a Wacky Packages T-shirt back in the day, and I used part of my graduation money to buy a genuine Izod polo shirt. That desire to have what our friends have is deeply embedded in the human psyche (says she who took sociology rather than psychology in college). Whether it’s wanting to make a profit or wanting to fit in, there is something within us that awakens with interest at the thought of getting a piece of the action.

Getting a piece of the action doesn’t mean that we will ultimately have peace — far from it! I’ve just remembered that the word “piece” can also refer to a gun, and there are plenty of weapons waved about into that old “Star Trek” episode. No, making a metaphorical killing in the marketplace is by no means a guarantee of peace or contentment, and neither is success in keeping up with the neighbors. But, given that I’ve been trying to finish up this post for more than a week now, I’ll assume that most of us learned that lesson a long time. My mind knows it, even if my heart isn’t always convinced. The next time I’m craving a “piece” of the current must-have trend, I’ll try to remind myself that temporary gain of any kind is fleeting and insubstantial.IMG_3985


Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

As you can probably tell from the surfeit of adverbs, this post is unedited (mostly), per the requirements of Linda’s challenge. I was interrupted more than once as I wrote — hence, the post’s piecemeal nature.

Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday: A Song of Peace

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cropped church

Photo by G. Easterbrook

Linda’s prompt for SoCs: acquaint and/or friend


“Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace . . .” Those don’t sound like the words one would expect to hear at a wedding, but, in fact, these words were sung at my wedding, lo, these many years ago. (I find myself wanting to insert an emoticon here, which is a disturbing development: surely the purpose of writing with words is to communicate without resorting to crude graphics? But I digress, as is wont to happen when I embark on a Stream-of-Consciousness prompt.)

Why, you may ask, did I choose to have the song “Acquaint Now Thyself with Him” sung at my wedding, when Michael Head‘s setting of Job 22:21 is more fittingly performed at a funeral? When I asked my friend Tim if he would sing at the wedding, he had recently sung the song at a funeral, if I remember aright, but there is the key word: “recently.” Because he had performed the song recently, it was ready to go. And it worked well enough as an opening song, setting the mood for a moment of quiet reflection — before my husband and I tied the knot — and encouraging us to take time to pray before the ceremony.

Truthfully, I don’t remember praying before the ceremony: what I do remember is standing in a strange little room just off the sanctuary, listening to the music. The church that we were members of didn’t have an actual building at the time my husband and I were married, so my mother and I found this lovely white church — more like a chapel, really — to rent. While the church itself was air-conditioned (which was good, since our wedding took place on a sunny August afternoon), that little room was humid; the church was an older one and even had a log building on the premises where the original congregation had met; maybe that strange side room didn’t benefit from the central air conditioning system?

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Photo by G. Easterbrook

At any rate, I remember standing back there before the ceremony, because I wanted not only to hear Tim but to hear the string quartet composed of my four younger siblings. It’s a sad thing about weddings: even though the bride may be involved in choosing the pre-ceremony music, she is not positioned to hear any of the music until she herself enters. So, while another song was performed by my college roommate in the middle of the ceremony (“My Heart, Ever Faithful”), if I wanted to hear Tim’s solo or the strings, I was going to have to risk melting my makeup and wilting my hair in the heat.

I still don’t regret my choice, by the way. Far more importantly, I don’t regret choosing to marry my husband that day! Many years have passed since we stood in that idyllic white church on the edge of town, but I would go back in a heartbeat and take those vows again tomorrow. It seems almost as if it were yesterday, but that is the way my memory works: milestone events take on a sharpness and an intensity that the day-to-day doings don’t have. (I’ve found that I recall special trips with a similar sharpness.) I can still see my bridesmaids, lined up in their blue dresses, and the two ministers smiling at us.

The older minister was a family friend, so I remember his beaming, kindly face particularly well. He passed away from an unexpected illness a few years ago, but in his lifetime he was one of those people who made friends everywhere he went. As an adult who has struggled with forming new friendships, once I was out of “school mode,” I see what a gift the ability to make friends is. At one time in my life, I valued intelligence and honesty above almost everything else, but now? Now, if I could ask for a gift, I might ask for the gift of friendliness.

What enables people to become friends, I wonder? As I thought about the word “acquaint,” I also reflected on how I met my friend Tim (he who suggested a funeral song for my pre-wedding music). My sophomore year, he had transferred to the small college that I attended. It was the age of preppy clothes, and I first noticed him because his clothes were the essence of all that was preppy: navy and green; pastel oxford-cloth, button-down shirts; docksiders. (Not to boast, but my own clothes didn’t rate too shabbily on the preppy scale.)

I really think it was my roommate (who also sang at the wedding) who effected the friendship? She was also a friendly person — the sort of person who could talk to anyone with ease. (Once again, I failed to appreciate what a valuable quality this was, at the time.) Tim was also in the English Renaissance literature class that I took, along with two other good friends, and it wasn’t long before we were fast friends, brought closer by similar tastes and, perhaps even more important, a similar sense of what was important and what was not in life.

Happy days, happy times. And who realized, at the time, that we wouldn’t always have hours to devote to reading and writing poetry? singing in choir? practicing the piano? taking long walks? conversing late into the night about issues with a capital I and truth with a capital T? Yet, distanced from the fevered pace of college days, I don’t mind having traded in my dreams of fame and fortune for a song of peace.


Love Is in Da Blog

Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

Rules for Linda’s Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday event are here. In February, Linda collaborated with Bee on “Love Is in Da Blog.” Thinking back, I am grateful for the musicians, family, and friends who helped make my wedding such a lovely and joyous day. Many thanks to those who ironed tablecloths, made food, helped clean up or set up, prepared music, helped with programs, or came to celebrate with us.

Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday: A Sentimental Journey

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Linda’s Stream-of-Consciousness prompt for February 14:  attach/attachment


Why do I have such a sentimental attachment to pieces of paper? This morning, I began a half-hearted attempt to straighten up our “Valentines” drawer (no pun intended). Not every household has a Valentines drawer, I would guess? But, if you have five children and you have often lowered yourself to purchasing those inexpensive, character-related boxes of Valentines, you eventually wind up with quite the stash of unused Valentines.

Actually, if my kids had gone to a school, we probably would not have ended up with leftover Valentines, year after year. The one year that two of my kids attended a traditional school, we used up most of the Valentines. Occasions like Valentines pose a bit of a problem for homeschoolers — for this homeschooler, anyway. Sure, sometimes there might be a homeschool Valentine’s Day party, but that event is likely to be run by the high-minded type of person who prefers homemade Valentines. So, even if my children did have a Valentine’s party to attend, likely they would be industriously cutting and pasting their own, rather than for once using up all the premade, store-bought Valentines. (My daughters would have been industriously making their own; not to stereotype here, but my daughters tended to be fonder of making Valentines than their brothers.)

I prefer homemade Valentines myself, and, once upon a time, I enjoyed making my own, complete with original poetry. But there is an undeniable appeal to those premade Valentines — or maybe that’s just my superficial love of most things Disney? I had a craft planned for my youngest son’s Valentine efforts this year, but, as with so many of my best-laid plans, that one fell victim to time constraints: at the last minute, I was putting together some less-than-great Valentine “packages” (can one call a bubble mailer a “package”?) for my three kids currently not residing at home, and, if David wanted to add a Valentine, he had to use one of the premade kind.

photo (14)There is such a wide selection of Valentines in that drawer by now that I didn’t even bother buying David a new box this year. Here’s what an informal inventory found in that drawer (which is becoming difficult to close): Iron Man with pencils, Avengers, Lego Ninjago, Lego City, Lego Star Wars, 12 Dancing Princesses, Pixar foil, Mad Libs with pencils, paper airplanes, wild animals with tattoos, Indiana Jones with tattoos, and — here’s a throwback — even Teletubby Valentines. There were a few Harry Potter, Narnia, and Incredible Valentines kicking about the drawer, but the Harry Potter Valentines have proved to be a favorite, year after year; there aren’t many HP Valentines left. Who doesn’t love a Harry Potter Valentine, or a Narnia one? There were even a few Angelina Ballerina Valentines, and a random Blues Clues Valentine. Bob the Builder was represented, along with Winnie-the-Pooh and the Veggie Tales characters (not many of those left, either).

No doubt this is one of many reasons that my house tends to disorder, but I did not feel at all inclined to throw any of the Valentines away. Not even the sticker Valentine featuring the raccoon from Pocahantas (Meeko, I think?). Not even the stickers of Tubby Toast. The day is coming when I may have to empty out the drawer, but when I see the Snow White Valentine and the stickers left from some NFL Valentines, I see the faces of my oldest children as they looked, a few years back. To throw away the Teletubby Valentines is a tacit acknowledgment that my house is no longer filled with small children. Yes, I am a sentimental fool to get choked up over a drawer filled with remnants of Valentines past. Who knew that those crazy days would fly by so quickly?

Undoubtedly I am more sentimental than usual this particular Valentine’s Day because the house is quieter than usual. My husband and youngest son have gone to an out-of-town chess tournament, and my youngest daughter spent the morning at a breakfast event and is passing the rest of her day at the ballet studio where she spends so much of her time. That just leaves me, trying to catch up on laundry and housework. That also leaves me with a little too much time for pausing and reflecting as I sort the leftover Valentines into their respective boxes — Cars and Monsters Inc into this box, Barbie and her friends into that box.

Valentine's Day higher res

Throwback to the Days of Color-Coordinated Outfits (February 14, 2000)

If I had the power to bring back those days of too many kids to keep up with and too little time in which to do it, I would not — not because those were overwhelming times, but because I know that growing up is what children do. I’m glad to have a tangible remnant of my youngest son’s passion for the Lego Ninjago characters, of my middle son’s fondness for Indiana Jones, of the characters that they loved — for a while — before they moved on, from Thomas the Tank Engine, and Buzz and Woody, to Transformers and Avengers. But I talked to two of my sons today, and you know? They’re happy to be making their own choices, living their own lives. I pray that they, too, will someday know the joy of helping a small child address a box of Valentines.


Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

This post was written as part of Linda’s Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday event. To join in, read the rules, or find other submissions, click on her post.

Was Achilles a Heel?

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Linda’s prompt: “heal/heel”

Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

This post is written in response to Linda’s prompt for 1/16/2015 (Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions)

In some ways, the Greek hero Achilles reminds me of Princess Aurora in the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty”: both Achilles and Aurora had been endowed with special gifts, but both also had an unusual point of vulnerability.

Aurora’s parents had angered the fairy Maleficent by not inviting her to Aurora’s christening, where many other blessings were showered upon the tiny princess. When Maleficent arrived, she doomed Aurora to death by pricking her finger upon a spindle. Fortunately for Aurora and her parents, not all the fairies had given their blessings, so a kind fairy was able to commute the sentence of “death” to a long, long sleep from which Aurora could be awakened only by true love’s kiss. For Aurora, beautiful and kind and gifted, her vulnerability to the spindle haunted her childhood years, causing her to be raised apart from her parents in hopes of preventing the foretold doom. Her story does end happily, at any rate, and has been told over and over.

Two years ago, my daughter’s ballet studio performed “Sleeping Beauty,” with its wonderful score by Tchaikovsky. The ballet has some strange quirks, such as the final wedding scene. After Aurora has been roused from her sleep by the prince’s kiss, other storybook characters, such as Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots, perform at the feast — because, after all, the point of a ballet is to give dancers an opportunity to dance, is it not?

“Sleeping Beauty” was one of my children’s favorite Disney movies: we owned it on VHS, at a time when we didn’t have very many movies. They enjoyed watching Aurora dance with a mock prince constructed by Aurora’s animal friends from the cloak and hat of the actual prince, who is somewhere in the woods. They also used to watch the special feature on the making of “Sleeping Beauty,” the artwork of which has a very stylized look. Prince Philip had more personality than either Snow White’s or Cinderella’s beaus, and my middle son went through a phase in which he attacked the rhododendrons in front of our house, in imitation of Prince Philip hacking his way through the thorns. Good memories. . .

But Achilles’ vulnerability was not resolved so happily, if I remember my Greek mythology well. His mother, Thetis, was a sea-nymph who, like Aurora’s parents, attempted to spare her son from prophesied doom. It had been foretold that Achilles would die young, so Thetis dipped him in the River Styx, which flowed through the underworld. Alas, she held the child by his heel as she immersed him in the waters, which were supposed to provide him with invulnerability. Years later, his vulnerable heel is struck by an arrow during the Greek onslaught against Troy.

Despite his famed prowess in battle, Achilles has never been a particular favorite of mine. There is some trouble about a girl whom Achilles had “won” as war plunder; after Agamemnon has to give up the girl that HE claimed as his war prize, he takes Achilles’ girl. Achilles refuses to fight for a while; he is also upset about the death of his best friend. In the end, he does die from the wound to his heel — hence the term “Achilles’ heel” has come to mean a seemingly minor but ultimately deadly flaw in a person of apparent strength.

Skimming through an account of Achilles’ part in the Trojan War, I was struck by the fact that he appeared to have other flaws aside from his heel: he has always seemed sort of sulky to me, to tell you the truth. He is so angry with Agamemnon that he prays for the gods to help Troy gain ground, so that he, Achilles, can once again gain honor? This sounds like self-aggrandizement to me. While perhaps the heel was his only physical vulnerability, Achilles definitely had some character flaws.

I’m not sure whether it is Achilles with his singular point of weakness that gave rise to the literary device of endowing a hero with a fatal flaw? While such a concept makes a good story — the hero would get along just fine, were it not for this one limiting trait — it does not seem true to life. Would that I had an Achilles’ heel, and only one Achilles’ heel! I am fond of saying that disorganization is my Achilles’ heel, but, in fact, I have a score of “fatal flaws” — an entire Pandora’s box of them, to continue in the mythological vein. I can’t think that it would make pleasant reading if I enumerated them all here, but a tendency to self-analyze too often is surely one of them! Oh, for a good fairy, to save me from my besetting sins.

This is where the other meaning of “heal” swoops in to my rescue — literally. As one who trusts in Christ’s atonement, I theoretically should be able to stop fretting over my failings. Christ has “ris’n with healing in His wings, ” in the words of the Christmas carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!”

That doesn’t mean I’m not as self-centered as Achilles on a daily basis, because I am. I could probably give Achilles a run for his money — not on a field of battle but possibly where holding a grudge is concerned. But there is an unseen power that gives me strength on days when I can’t seem to get it right. The healing is ongoing, and often I feel that I’m regressing. But it beats trusting in my own strength: Achilles’ vaunted physique failed him, in all versions of the story.

A World of Opposition

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1963 edition, My Word Book

1963 edition, My Word Book

Linda’s Stream-of-Consciousness prompt: Opposite

When I hear the word opposite, I see a book of words that I had as a child. It was a Little Golden Book — remember those? — and I see now that my fondness for this book probably said something about my fascination with reading and books and words in general. With opposites, I imagine a page of colorful images, obviously contrasting to one another — diametrically opposed, one might say, although I realize that I am not quite sure what “diametrically” means.

[Pause for looking up “diametrical.”] I decided to go with the Merriam-Webster online dictionary definition, and (it seems obvious now) “diametric” is related to the geometric term “diameter,” which I would define as the distance across a circle. Oh, I see: the precise mathematical definition is more specific: “the length of a straight line passing through the center of a circle and connecting two points on the circumference” (audioenglish.com definition). So, the two points on either side of the circle are diametrically opposed.

I like that visual image of the diameter as an aid to understanding opposites: the words that come to mind are adjectives like thin/fat, rich/poor, greedy/selfless, harsh/gentle, and so on. There are verbs that are also diametrically opposed, completely across from one another in the circle of meaning: stand/sit, asleep/awake, give/take, grow/shrink, buy/sell, and so on. But what about those words that are somewhere in the middle? Surely we have all experienced that odd state between sleeping and waking, in which the words that someone is saying in the “real” world somehow infiltrate and shape one’s dreams? Even an action like crouching falls somewhere in the realm between standing and sitting.

Much of life is lived trying to find a balance between those opposites. I remember being quite disciplined as a college student: only one weekend night would I “go out” (I lived on top of a mountain during college and didn’t have a car, so going out didn’t necessarily mean leaving the college campus; it did, however, mean leaving my library carrel). I can recall my roommate being frustrated with me for my rigidity — and, today, I quite understand that.

Somehow, I have now swung from being very structured to being quite unstructured. Today, I have so many useful and necessary tasks on my to-do list, but, when I finally got home from dropping off my daughter at dance class and braving the sub-freezing temperatures to put gas in the car, where did I head? Straight for my laptop, because I knew it was SoCS Saturday. That was exactly the opposite of what I should have done.

I can’t help but think about the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in terms of opposites: here, we have a group of writers and artists who are pushing freedom of expression to its extremes, as I understand it. On the other hand, we have a small group of people who are living their faith to a violent extreme. No matter how offensive the cartoons, it is impossible to legitimize the murder of the artists, writers, and publishers.

What is opposed in this tragedy? Freedom versus dogmatism? Expression versus suppression? Pictures were the weapon on one side; guns were the weapon on the other. How are we to live in a world where the clashing of opposites has such horrific outcomes? Ideological warfare is perhaps the most heinous kind. It is what lay behind World War II; it inspired many of the world’s most horrific genocides.

Yet senseless violence, such as the massacres at Newtown, Virginia Tech, or the movie theater in Colorado, is abhorrent, too. There is not even a rational explanation for such evil acts, apart from the desire of the lonely or disturbed individual to leave his mark on an indifferent world.

Violence is not new, of course: the first murder occurred within a family, when one sibling murdered another — ostensibly because of the opposite outcomes of their offerings to God. Hope is not to be found here on this earth or within the heart of man. Yet we must try to order our actions in such a way as to live peacefully with others, whether our beliefs are diametrically opposed or not.


Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

To participate in Linda’s Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday event, check out her Friday post for the rules and the prompt of the week.

T Is for Tomorrow: Stream-of-Consciousness “Saturday”

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Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth (5.5.19-23)

When I saw that Linda’s Stream-of-Consciousness prompt was to write about any word starting with “t,” “tomorrow” came to mind. It’s that time of year when we take a look back at our yesterdays — although I hope not as pessimistically as Macbeth does in his dark musings upon hearing of his wife’s death — and prepare for the tomorrows the new year will bring.

Actually, I would say that 2014 was a fairly good year for my immediate family: I saw one son graduate from college and another son graduate from high school; my oldest daughter fulfilled a long-held ambition to travel to the United Kingdom, the “home of Shakespeare and Milton and Stonehenge,” as one of our favorite geography songs puts it. I personally fulfilled an ambition of crossing the continental United States and finally feeling the waters of the Pacific Ocean for the first time. My husband and I returned to the hotel where we spent our first night as man and wife (hmm, maybe this is getting a bit too personal for a blog post), and my younger daughter thrilled us all with her performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

While my youngest son didn’t achieve any memorable milestones, he has changed from a little kid to a big kid in the past months. For the first time in years, he did not want action figures for his birthday or Christmas (the two events are uncomfortably close together; may I just say that, for the sake of evenly spaced present-giving, everyone should have a birthday in the spring or summer). It was a strange fall, though, with only two children living under the roof, and I don’t seem to be transitioning too smoothly to the smaller-family model, both in terms of cooking and homeschooling. (I’m perfectly happy to be doing less laundry, however.)

One unsettling aspect of life in recent years is that “tomorrow” is much more difficult to define. So many questions are unanswered, and it is a challenge to plan for school breaks or longer trips: who will be able to go? what if Child #4 is at dance camp? what if Child #2 is in summer school?  With the level of activity greatly diminished in the house, tomorrow is threatening to creep with petty pace from day to day instead of galloping on, as it used to do in the days of full-fledged homeschooling.

The other “tomorrow” reference that came to mind is more cheerful, fortunately. Over the holidays, I went to see the new version of Annie, which incorporated the musical’s signature song, “Tomorrow“:

The sun’ll come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
there’ll be sun
Just thinkin’ about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow ’til there’s none

When I’m stuck with a day that’s grey and lonely
I just stick up my chin and grin and say, oh

The sun’ll come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on
’til tomorrow, come what may!
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow
You’re always a day away!

Songwriters: Charles Strouse; Martin Charnin

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First sunrise of 2015 (Virginia Beach)

With the exception of “It’s a Hard-Knock Life,” most of the original songs from the musical Annie get short shrift in the new version. Despite being slammed by the critics, the new Annie was more uplifting than I had expected, thanks to the chemistry between Annie and her millionaire benefactor, but I went into the theatre with fairly low expectations, having seen the trailer a few times. My biggest disappointment was that some of the songs I like best in Annie were hardly there, and “Tomorrow” was no exception.

My real problem is not so much with the remake of Annie failing to capitalize on “Tomorrow” as with my own tendency to focus on yesterday, instead of tomorrow. Unlike Annie, I didn’t have the experience of yesterday being “plain awful,” as expressed in “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” one of my favorite Annie songs that failed to make an appearance in the new movie. No doubt I’m glossing over the bad moments of last year, but yesterday was good. It’s tomorrow that I find scary, and knowing how to plan for tomorrow.

Maybe that’s why I found myself clicking on a friend’s shared link on Facebook for free planners — daily, weekly, and monthly. One of the problems for the homeschooling mom is that she must create her own schedule. While I do fairly well following other people’s schedules, making my own has always been a challenge. Dawdling over the morning paper used to be my downfall; now, I’m more likely to get sucked into the tantalizing news items offered by my email site or find myself spending too much time reading posts on Facebook or WordPress. Maybe planning for my “tomorrow” will take away some of its ability to intimidate me?

Here’s an even more encouraging reference to “tomorrow”: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). While non-planners like me might benefit from trying to schedule our days more efficiently, the one certainty in life is that there will be curve balls and unexpected hitches even in the best-laid plans. Tomorrow surely will bring both joy and sorrow: I might as well meet it with a smile on my face, as the new-millenium Annie does.


Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

 This post was written as part of Linda‘s Stream-of-Consciousness event. To read the rules, which include minimal editing, click on the link.

An Excuse for Sharing Home Movies

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‘You’ll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?’ said Scrooge.

‘If quite convenient, sir.’

‘It’s not convenient,’ said Scrooge, ‘and it’s not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound?’

The clerk smiled faintly.

‘And yet,’ said Scrooge, ‘you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.’

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

‘A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!’ said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. ‘But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.’

“‘A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!’ said Scrooge . . .” This week’s Stream-of-Consciousness promptexcuse, immediately brought to mind the famous exchange between Ebenezer Scrooge and his poorly paid clerk, Bob Cratchit, from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol — a novella first published in 1843 that did not earn a great deal of money for its author upon publication but that softened the hearts of its readers and encouraged charitable giving. Not only did the book apparently increase charitable giving in England during the first six months after its publication, but its influence upon giving was still being noted many years after the powerful tale of miserly Mr. Scrooge, whose life is transformed through the scenes of past, present, and future Christmases, made its literary debut.

Perhaps one reason that the word “excuse” put me in mind of A Christmas Carol is that Christmas is, after all, just three days away. Even more relevant, my brother Michael just re-posted his charming movie version of Dickens’ tale on his blog a couple of days ago. What is singular about Michael’s “film” (sorry, Michael, but the quotation marks seem necessary here) is that all the roles in his simplified version of the story are played by his nephews and nieces, the oldest of whom was 12 at the time. Michael shot the movie with his video camera in short snippets, which he later spliced together with some impressive special effects. I’m not actually sure how the movie comes across to an audience who isn’t related to the actors and actresses, but, within our family, the movie was an instant hit.

You can read Michael’s summary of the movie’s back story here, but let me add a few words of explanation, in case you are a lazy reader like me and don’t always click on the links. Keep in mind that the year was 2000. Although he is a musician and an academic by profession, my younger brother is a techie by inclination, and he had a hankering to try out his computer’s capacities for editing film. Throw in a long car ride from New England to talk over specifics of the adaptation with my youngest sister and a week with extended family in a small apartment in Georgia, and Uncle Michael’s A Christmas Carol was born.

And so we have my son, laboriously repeating after his prompter, “That’s a poor excuse [pause] for picking a man’s pocket [pause] every twenty-fifth of De-cem-BER.” Aside from the charm of hearing a not-always-cooperative (but always adorable) 5-year-old recite Dickens’ lines, Uncle Michael’s version of the Christmas classic has a much more poignant aspect. One of the tiny cast members is my niece, who was fighting neuroblastoma at the time of the filming. She had been diagnosed at the end of July; by December, her frail little body had been through various treatments, but her sweet spirit and charming personality shine through in her scenes as Mrs. Cratchit. If you can’t quite envision a two-and-a-half-year-old playing Mrs. Cratchitt, watch the film.

On March 11, 2001, we lost this dear little girl to cancer. Caroline’s story is not really mine to tell, but her presence is an integral part of the movie.

Caroline’s presence in this movie — which is literally a “family film,” made by a member of my family not for commercial reasons but purely for the family’s enjoyment (although I’d rather not think about how many hours my brother must have poured into it) — is by no means its only charm. While some of Dickens’ well-known lines make it into Uncle Michael’s version, such as the “poor excuse” reference that brought this post within the sphere of the Stream-of-Consciousness challenge, there are a few modern tweaks, such as a singing fish instead of Marley’s face on the door knocker or a talking alarm clock to tell Scrooge the hour instead of chiming church bells. Some scenes were omitted or greatly simplified, and there may be subtle references to the 1970 musical Scrooge, starring Albert Finney, which is a family favorite.

As I stated earlier, I can’t quite fathom how this movie comes across to non-family members. My brother asked permission to share it on his blog several years ago,and I would be interested to learn whether many folks have taken out 15 minutes of their lives to watch it. If you’re like me right now, driven to the point of making lists because there are so many things that must be accomplished in the next two days, you probably don’t have time to experience this unique version of the Victorian classic. But I re-watched the movie yesterday, because I never need an excuse — or even a ghostly guide — to visit this particular Christmas Past. Children change a lot in 14 years. And one precious child will not be seen again in this earthly life.


Notes: Had anyone needed an excuse for picking a pocket, I provided one when I dropped my wallet while touring the Biltmore Estate this Saturday. I am deeply grateful to the unknown visitor who turned in my wallet to Lost-and-Found.

Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

Thank you, Leigh Michaels, for hosting SoCS this week. As soon as I saw the word “excuse,” I thought of the line from A Christmas Carol. I skimmed wikipedia’s entry before writing; I hope that isn’t cheating on the stream-of-consciousness aspect.

Triumph: A Final Move in Photo 101

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To win without risk is to triumph without glory.

~ Pierre Corneille, The Cid

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Queen to e7 checkmate (Coolpix L320)

At last, I come to Photo 101’s final theme, “Triumph” — an aptly titled assignment for the last of 20 subjects. Nine of the themes, plus a weekend gallery, are posted on this site, while the other 11 photos can be viewed at sappy as a tree. Since I’m posting “Triumph” weeks after the course ended, I haven’t covered myself in glory. Still, as an amateur photographer equipped with two point-and-shoot cameras and an iPhone, I have taken risks in Photo 101 — not the least of which was posting my photos next to those of professional photographers and artists.

3292 Checkmate

Queen to f7 checkmate (iPhone 5s photo edited in PicMonkey)

My choice of a winning chess move for “Triumph” indicates the duplicitous nature of photography, something that bothered me in the early days of Photo 101. Just as our words can draw a false reality, so our pictures can create an illusion — now more than ever, with the advances in digital photography and photo editing. Photo 101ers were encouraged to try editing techniques to enhance our photos. And why not, I suppose, as long as the photographs aren’t being used as evidence in a courtroom or as fodder for the tabloids?

Not only in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Poets”

Coolpix L320 photo, with these PicMonkey edits: Boost, Crop, Black and White

Qe7# (Coolpix L320 edited in PicMonkey)

The thing is, I don’t play chess. My older brother taught me the rules years ago. By some lucky chance, I beat him in the first — and last — game of chess that I ever played. Even as a child, I knew that I was unlikely to surpass the triumph of that victorious moment. I am not gifted with strategic skills. I played Stratego and Battleship to oblige my brother and the two neighbor boys with whom we played games in air-conditioned comfort during the hot Arkansas summers, but calculated moves are not my forte. I view outlining papers, choosing homeschool curriculum, or — shudder — preparing a course syllabus as necessary evils.

Checkmate (Coolpix L320)

Qe7# (Coolpix L320)

All five of my children play chess, as does my husband. Four of my kids have gone to the state chess tournament. They’ve even won trophies for playing chess. My husband would have taught them to play chess, but, when a friend arranged for a Life Master to teach chess to our homeschooled kids, the offer could not be turned down: not only were my children learning valuable strategic skills, but they were experiencing socialization!

Theoretically, I could have learned to play chess along with my four oldest children, but I did not sit in on the classes. Not only was I averse to games of strategy, but my youngest son was a toddler at the time.  Given that I oversaw their education and their music practice, it also seemed a good idea for my children to possess a skill that I did not. That way, I could admire and encourage them wholeheartedly without second-guessing their moves in chess games.

Qf7# (iPhone 5s photo edited in PicMonkey)

My youngest son graciously set up the chessboard for my photographs. In a literal sense, the triumph represented in these photos is not my own. I have experienced triumph in the past, but my triumphs of late are personal, small, not easily photographed. Figuring out how to insert photos into my WordPress posts was a triumph, and grasping the rudiments of the Rule of Thirds was also a triumph: I am indebted to perelincolors for help with the Rule of Thirds and to Doug Warren for explaining how to get the grid to show up on my iPhone. Focal techniques are tricky, and I tremble at the difficulties that await me when I begin taking photos with my son’s Canon Rebel, which he has agreed to lend me.

But I’ve learned a few things, I’ve made a few friends, and I’ve been enriched by viewing the photographs of fellow participants in Photo 101 and reading about their ups-and-downs in the Photo 101 Commons. Best of all, I have managed to post pictures of all 20 themes before the end of 2014: a small but real triumph for this blogger who struggles with consistency.

We climb to heaven most often on the ruins of our cherished plans, finding our failures were successes.

~ Bronson Alcott

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Qe7# (Coolpix L320)


After Christmas I’ll post a gallery of ten favorite photographs from Photo 101. Suggestions are welcomed!

Aside from the quotations, text and photos copyrighted 2014 by Sandra Fleming. All photographs were taken in December 2014.

World Enough and Time: Stream-of-Consciousness Is Back

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Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime . . .

With these words Andrew Marvell opens a poem that is both clever in its mockery of the traditional love poem and realistic in its awareness of the constrictions that Time places on us — not merely within the arena of love (or, possibly, lust, given Marvell’s implied ardor for the lady he addresses) but within virtually every area of our lives.

My favorite part of Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is the oft-quoted “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near . . .” I doubt that the poem would be as fresh in my mind if my daughter hadn’t had to answer some questions about it for her AP English literature class a month or so ago. Marvell’s image of the chariot hurrying just behind him, the horses’ wings beating powerfully as the chariot moves relentlessly through the clouds, is one that many writers have picked up on (even without checking, I feel fairly sure that T. S. Eliot alluded to this poem in The Waste Land, because — let’s face it — Eliot alluded to everything but the kitchen sink in The Waste Land).

Time breathing down my neck, chasing behind me: somehow, I don’t seem as bothered by that idea any more. Yes, the days still have too much to be achieved in them, and maybe that’s part of the problem. When I have so many things on my “To Do” list that I can’t think where to start, Time doesn’t feel as much like a tyrant because I am too frozen in indecisiveness to start moving. But — that’s not where I’d like to run with this stream-of-consciousness response to Pav’s prompt of “back.” I don’t know want this to be another myopic meditation: I’d prefer to get back to the idea of Time, and why Time no longer threatens me like it used to do.

Marvell’s poem fits into a category known as “carpe diem,” or seize the day. Robin Williams, as John Keating in Dead Poets Society, helped bring this Latin phrase into the mainstream, but in Marvell’s time this phrase already was a standard theme of the poets. Thinking of Robin Williams is saddening now: such a gifted man, with unseen problems that prevented him from going on with his life. He left many memorable characters for us to remember him by. It will be difficult to see his Teddy Roosevelt (President Roosevelt, I should say) in the next Night at the Museum movie, which opens on Christmas Day, or so my daughter tells me.

This is the same daughter who was reading Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” this fall. She wanted to watch Dead Poets Society, which we own as a DVD. I’d like to say that “mysteriously” we couldn’t find it, but that really wouldn’t be true. At one time, I had a fairly good system of organization going for our DVD and VHS collection, but an influx of cheap DVDs from Big Lots and those daunting bins at Walmart has long since overrun any system that I had going. We still watch our VHS tapes, from time to time, so I don’t want to get rid of them; still, if it’s a movie that we have on both VHS and DVD, maybe the VHS tape could be moved to a holding area. (I was glad that we still had our VHS tape of When Harry Met Sally . . ., which we finally decided that the older kids were mature enough to see last night. The quality wasn’t great, but Netflix doesn’t work well in our house — I probably need to upgrade the internet connection, but it’s always painful to spend money on things that you can’t actually see.)

My other daughter and I recently saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last films, Mockingjay — Part 1. He was excellent in the role of Plutarch Heavensbee, but it was hard to watch him, knowing that his life ended tragically from an accidental drug overdose months before the movie’s release. Much as I enjoy movies, the pressure of a life in the spotlight seems to be more of a curse than a blessing. Even for the average person, it can be difficult to cope with the curve balls that we encounter in life.

For me, although time with a little “t” can create pressure, it is also my friend. Were it not for the unstoppable movement of the dials on the clock, I might never achieve anything. Some of us need a reminder to “seize the day.”


Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

Badge by @Doobster at Mindful Digressions

This post is part of lindaghill‘s Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday event and is written in response to the prompt “back,” provided by Pavowski. Many thanks to Pavowski, the author of Pavorisms, who subbed for Linda this week.