Sunday, December 31, 2006

Dirge without Music

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

AP Photo of Mrs. Ford at her husband's casket in the Rotunda.

Another Light goes out

December 30, Donald Murray, Boston Globe columnist of the "Now and Then" column about life in retirement and dealing with the consequences of aging, passed away while visiting a friend. He was 82. Long a writing professor at the University of New Hampshire, Murray was the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, the youngest journalist to do so. A writer extraordinaire, he challenged his students to do and be their best at writing and living.

I took two classes at UNH from Don Murray the summer of 1986. They—and he—forever changed the way I write, and teach writing. He started writing the Globe's column with my class, and we learned by working through his first columns with him. He's the one who challenged us to look at "what worked" and "what needs work" which is an empowering way for you and others to look objectively at your writing. I read his columns faithfully every Tuesday...and shared what turned out to be his last one with my mother. I will miss him.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


It finally snowed ... and stuck...

I almost can't believe it, but it is really snowing! Here are pictures to prove it. They are taken from the same living room window that brings me the beautiful sunset views. (That's my little car there all by itself.)

Friday, December 29, 2006

New Year, New You

Robin Roberts interviewed life coach Cheryl Richardson yesterday on Good Morning America.

Here are her suggestions for taking inventory of last year in order to make changes for this coming year.

1) Acknowledge Accomplishments
2) Which goals fell short?
3) Identify Lessons learned.
4) Make new goals.

It's good to look back and celebrate your accomplishments as well as identify the things you want to change.

Go through old photographs...memory tools...look at the key events of the year, vacations you took, promotions, new jobs, etc. Check your PDA or calendars to look at what you've done. Check your journal, too. Use these memory tools to get better acquainted with the last year of your life. Then start a year-end personal inventory notebook.

What were your headlines for 2006? What was the good news? What were the inspiring stories. The things you did that you feel good about? What were the life-changing decisions? What was the bad news? The places where you disappointed yourself? Where you weren't able to accomplish what you wanted to? Who was your person of the year? Or your moment of the year?

Once you gather this information, you start to get a sense of what you need to do for the next year. We learn from both the good and the bad. The biggest thing we learn from the good is to really stop, take a breath, take in the results of how we're living our lives. The good certainly teaches us something about qualities we've developed that will help us achieve more goals, and gives us a chance to pat ourselves on the back. What doesn't work is even more valuable because it shows us the lessons we've learned.

Once you do the personal inventory, there are two things you can do. I'm a big fan of making it simple and powerful. Once you've gathered the news together, you've got to use it. Look at it and see what success you accomplished this year that you can build on next year. Use that momentum and success and good feeling to build on for the coming year.

Then look at what's one mistake you made that you want to avoid next year. And make it a big one. The one common denominator everyone needs to make this happen is help. with a little help, you have a better chance of avoiding a big mistake.

Robin: "You've got to change the way you think in order to change the way you feel."

Photos: New slippers that were a gift from my cousin today =)
Third blossom on the Amaryllis Kaitie and Christopher gave me.

Cold December Day in Concord

Today was the coldest day we've had all fall and winter so far. Even so, I refused to wear a coat, and it really wasn't unbearably cold with a nice scarf and gloves. I spent some time in Concord today with my cousin and her daughter. We met at Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House and enjoyed the tour together. For me, there's nothing like sharing a treasure with someone else, and that's what today was like.

Concord is one of my favorite NE towns, and the Orchard House is one of the main reasons. I've been through the tour more times than I can count, and I always learn something new, always see it with new eyes and ears. This time, it was decorated for Christmas. I wish I could have taken pictures inside, but of course they wouldn't let me. I did get a picture of Louisa's window from the outside because I was so taken with the Queen Anne's Lace flower heads they had hanging there. Look closely and you will see them in the upper right hand window.

One of the most charming things we heard was an account of a conversation between Louisa and Henry David Thoreau. He told her to look at something on the ground. "I don't see it Henry," she said. "Look closer," he told her. So she did, but all she saw was "nothing but a cobweb." "That's not nothing, Louisa," he replied. "That's the handkerchief of a fairy." Penelope and I both thought that was strikingly unlike our concept of Thoreau! A beautiful thought...which isn't to say he can't have beautiful thoughts. It just seemed more delicate than we expected.

After we spent a small fortune in the gift shop (I always do...), we made our way to Concord Center and browsed through several shops before landing in a little Marketplace pub for lunch. I had the delicious "Concord Panini." By then, it was time to go our separate ways. We had a great time together, though.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Collision of Lives

Yesterday I had a head-on collision with the several lives I've lived since I went to college. You know how you measure your life by the time you've been in a place, or the people who have been in your life for a period of time, or the things you've done with your life? Well, that's the way it is with me at least. And while I'm the same person in all of these lives, I'm completely different in all of them. Changing, growing, shaping and being shaped. I'm always the same, and all the while different. A paradox, full of contradictions.

Yesterday, thirty-three years' worth of living came together in one place, and for one reason: to honor a woman who had made her mark on each of us for all those years and more. Dr. Ottilie Stafford was remembered first through poetry and music in a memorial service. It wasn't your typical memorial, with a life sketch and remembrances shared. Instead, her children read poems either they or she wrote, and friends did the same. Three of my cousins were involved, as were a former student of mine, a one-time heart throb, two former professors, and the wife of a former principal. And that was just the beginning of the connections. There was a singing group with another student, another professor, and a (theatrical) husband (!) in it.

The congregation was also filled with friends, former students, an ex-boyfriend, former professors, colleagues, pastors, and former European tourmates. Everywhere I looked, there was someone I knew, someone I had ties with one way or another. I knew beforehand that the gathering would be interesting. I had no idea, though, how shaken up I would feel seeing so many people from various parts of my whole adult life coming together in one place like that.

The service lasted about 45 minutes, but the aftermath went on for hours, literally. I wanted pictures, but it didn't seem appropriate to do that, so I refrained, even though I had my hand on my camera several times, itching to preserve this most extraordinary experience. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy all the conversations afterwards. Every few minutes there was someone else to catch up with. It was such fun!

Some looked so old! Gray or sparse hair, gaunt faces or packed-on pounds. Almost none looked the same as when I last saw them. Even me, I suppose, although people often tell me I haven't changed a bit. Probably they are just being kind. I know I'm hardly the same...

My youngest sister went with me and she confronted some of the "demons" from her past...teachers who had intimidated her at the time but who she found, to her surprise, no longer had that affect on her. That amazed her so much that she mentioned it several times.

I had the chance to talk with two women who had a part in shaping the kind of teacher and "boss" I am. First the woman who directly supervised my work in the college library for several years. She was Swedish and married to an Italian history professor. They both had heavy accents when they first came to the college and both were challenging to understand. But each made an impact on my life. Her husband passed away within the last year or so. I was able to tell her how sorry I was, and thank her for their influence on me. The other woman was the one I did my student teaching under. She is now a divorce lawyer, but she was a very fine and demanding teacher. I think of her now and again when I say or do something in my classroom that I learned from her. I was happy to thank her for the time she spent with me, guiding and shaping how I would operate in my classrooms ever afterwards.

The new editor of The Review, our world church paper, and I had a fairly lengthy conversation. I congratulated him on his new position, and he seemed genuinely pleased for me about my "new" position as principal. It ended with him asking me to write for him. I said I would, but who knows if I'll ever find the time to write and submit something I feel worthy of a readership of millions, literally, all over the world. Nice to know I have a likely acceptance if I do, though.

And I had several delightful conversations with former students. All the ones there hold dear places in my heart. We had so much fun together, in and out of the classroom. They (and others) are why I stay in teaching. It's all about relationships...

It was hard to break away from the gathering, but I had a project to work on with my sister, so we finally left, both of us amazed at how one person had brought so many divergent groups together that way, and at the joy we found in what was, for all that, a sad occasion. But as one person said, "she would have loved this day, too." Yes, she would have.

One of Dr. Stafford's oldest friends and colleagues closed the service by reading an excerpt from a Thanksgiving Sermon Dr. Stafford had given some 13 years ago. In part, it reads:

I drove home thinking of the people I should thank and the things I should be thankful for. My parents, for giving me a sense of being free to become myself....My students, who taught me much more than I ever taught them. The books, music, geography, adventure, sorrows and hardships that mix in every life to give it its texture and values. And, most of all, the vastness and magnanimity of the Creative God, whose love demands nothing of us, except our response.

Photos: Cemetery in Concord, MA; Haskell Hall at AUC; Haskell Hall again (would you believe I can't find any photos of the White House (English Department) at AUC?), Founder's Hall at AUC.

Room with a View

I may live within sight and sound of a major highway, but the view from my living room and library windows wouldn't prove it. Both windows are large and wall-filling.

If I lived on the ground floor, I'd have a view of the parking area for the condo, but since I'm on the second floor, all I see is sky and trees.

Even better, though, is that these windows face west, and that means I have a great view of the sunset every day.

Last night, the view was particularly lovely so I went outside and snapped a few pictures. The last picture is the view to the south....

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Home(s) for Christmas

So, day two of the Christmas home tour is over. Today was the two-in-one, that is two visits in one day. We started at my house with three...and then progressed over to Lauren's for dessert at about 6.

My place is quite small for the 11 of us, but we managed quite nicely in spite of the crowded space. No accidents this time (5 years ago, my brother-in-law nearly burned the place down by knocking a piece of paper into a candle)...

The menu was simple enough, but everyone loved it. I did make and serve the delicious sweet-&-sour meatballs that my sister had a couple of weeks ago at her place. Not a single one was left over! Then I had angel hair pasta parmesan, a tossed salad, baby June peas in butter sauce, rolls, cottage cheese, cider and raspberry ginger ale. I also had pina colada and chocolate covered cashews, sugared pecans, olives, and baby pickles as condiments.

After the meal, we shared our favorite family Christmas traditions. That brought up a lot of lovely memories of times past. When we finished sharing, I showed the first 20 minutes of Rick Steves' two-hour travel feature on Christmas Traditions of Europe. We looked at the ones for England and Norway. One of my favorite things about this program is that he began it by reading the story of Jesus' birth from Matthew. It was illustrated by scores of nativity paintings from all over the world. Great Christmas music played in the background. It was quite inspiring, as well as interesting.

By then, the sun had set so it was time to open presents. I've been picking up presents for the family since this summer. It's one of my greatest joys, finding the right present for each one. I didn't spend a lot of money. That's never the point for me. It's letting each one know I've been thinking of them...and giving them something to recall me to mind whenever they see/use it.

When we finished with the presents, it was time to move on to our next stop. All but my parents left. We stayed behind and cleaned up the kitchen, then went on ourselves. Lauren has the biggest house of the four homes involved, but she does a lot of entertaining for the church and the school, never mind the family. It's nice to be able to spread ourselves out (unlike my place where we're all crowded into one small room for all intents and purposes).

We stayed there until 9 or so, then disbursed to our own homes. We will gather next in Maine at our parents' home. I'm going up early, sometime tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Twas the Night before the Night before the Night before Christmas

We began our Christmas rounds tonight with a visit to my youngest sister's for supper. She had an easy and delicious meal of Mexican lasagna, drink and dessert--just the right thing at the end of a long and busy week for her and her family. Everyone was there, and we had a delightful, mellow time together.

The children gave my mother, my other sister, and me beautiful plants. Mine is a lovely amaryllis, one of my favorite seasonal plants. The other wonderful gift Martha gave us all was an hour+ video made out of scanned slides and prints of our family history up until about 20 years ago. She and our mother have spent dozens of hours on this project, putting it to music and all. It was a wonderful treat down memory lane. I saw two of my fellow bloggers in several of the slides from the early 70s!!!

Now, it's home to rest up for the marathon tomorrow. Everyone will be coming here after church for lunch. Later, we will go over to Lauren's for dessert and the evening (in a much larger and more comfortable place for the near-dozen of us).

My tree is up, but alas the lights don't work and I haven't had time to fix or change them. Maybe the boys can figure that out tomorrow. Meanwhile, it still looks pretty festive...

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Gift of Working with God's Children

My first year teaching was an overwhelming one for me. I was 23 years old teaching in a boarding school. My day started at 6:50 a.m. with student worship. My first class was at 7:15 and my last class ended at 5 p.m. I taught 7 English classes a day, coached the drama group, emceed the gymnastics team, and mentored the newspaper staff.

I had supervision one full week a month where I was on campus from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. during the week. I then went home to grade papers and do lesson plans until midnight. On the weekends, there was Friday night vespers, Sabbath School (I taught a class, and for a couple of years even wrote the lesson study for our students), Church, lunch, afternoon activities, evening vespers, Saturday night programs and on Sunday there were trips to the nearest mall (an hour away) or other activities. It was a challenging experience at the very least.

I remember averaging 16 hours a day, 7 days a week on school, leaving very little personal time. As a young woman, I was also trying to figure out just how God fit into my life. True, I was working at a Christian boarding school where we had a lot of religious activities, but I had very little personal time to connect with myself let alone God. My parents sent me tapes of Dr. Maxwell’s Sabbath School classes that I listened to while I was getting dressed and eating breakfast in the morning. Each home leave I would drive into the big city to a Christian book store and buy a devotional book to read the next month. I had to work at finding the time to refresh and renew my spiritual connection. It didn’t just come my way or fall into my lap.

By the time the week before Christmas vacation rolled around, I was exhausted, and almost burnt out. In year #1! But instead of bringing peace and calm, there was even more to do with Christmas concerts, Christmas programs, Christmas parties, and Christmas caroling. To top it all off, we ended the semester before Christmas rather than after. The way I saw it, I was not going to get out of that last week alive. I was sitting in faculty meeting despairing my lot, when it hit me. I didn’t have to do this all alone. In fact, the whole reason for the season that was causing me stress was the solution to my problem!

I wish I could say that I never had a stressful moment again. I wish I could say that I never teetered on the edge of burn-out again. I wish I could say that from that day on, all was right with my world. I wish, but I can’t. The truth is, it has been a struggle for me ever since to juggle all that is required of me to do my work, and live my active Christian life. But the other truth is that I’d choose to do it over and over again, because God has a greater purpose for my life than anything I could design. And that’s the gift I celebrate today. That’s the gift of working with God’s children.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sunrise, Sunset

My youngest sister always calls me in the morning on her way to work. She lives farther away from her work than I do from mine, so usually I am not yet out the door when she calls, but we talk all the way to work and usually arrive at about the same time...some 50 miles away from each other. It's a nice way to start the day. My cell phone has a speaker phone, so it's safe enough for me to talk.

This morning, I was just getting into my car when she called, already on her way. Mid-sentence, she exclaimed over how beautiful the sunrise was. "I wish I had my camera with me," she said. Then she realized she has a camera in her phone, so she said she had to hang up to take a picture with the phone. Meanwhile, I was seeing my own fairly pretty sunrise, albeit through trees towards the highway behind my condo. So, I got my camera out and took this picture and sent it to my sister after I got to work.

Ironically, this afternoon when I was driving home, the sun was setting. My camera was in the backseat, though, so I tried to use my own cell phone camera. Didn't work out as well. Plus, I don't know how to get the pictures off the phone...I probably need another USB cord for it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Busy Day

Oh boy, was this a busy day! I spent almost the entire day inside cleaning and organizing and decorating for Christmas. You'd think with my little house that I wouldn't have to spend so much time doing such things. And the truth of the matter is that I don't. I should, but I don't. And therein lies the reason for the day-long session that resulted in only one room being somewhat put in its place and another undergoing a major overhaul. There is more to be done, but I have an aching sense of satisfaction at having at least started what needed to be done.

There were little things that made the day go by pleasantly. One of them was a "That Girl" marathon on TV Land. It's been forever since I've seen an episode, so I was happily surprised to see how sweet and pure and funny it was. In a time where it's difficult to find anything on TV that doesn't put you on edge because of the language or morality (or lack thereof), it was refreshing to see something that was without a single questionable or cringable frame. Mind you, I didn't sit and watch so much as watch/listen while I worked around the house. Anne and Donald were fun company.

I went out several times to take trash to the dumpster and once to go to the store to get quarters so I could do my laundry (how pitiful is that). The place I went to didn't have any rolls of quarters. I said I really only needed one quarter, so the guy said "Oh, I can help you there" and gave me a quarter out of his own pocket! How nice was that?! That's one of the drawbacks to living in a don't have your own laundry, so are at the mercy of things like quarters and others who get there ahead of you. Such a bother!

PBS has a tribute to James Taylor going on right now. I am enjoying hearing old favorites sugn with a new twist by quite a number of other big-name artists. I went to a James Taylor concert a few years ago out at Tanglewood in Western Mass. It was an outdoor concert at the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The place was packed. You could hardly walk around. We had brought our own seats knowing that there would be nowhere close to sit. It was fun to sit there comfortably amongs the trees and listen to James Tayler live and in the flesh! The traffic was terrible bad, in fact, that part of his band was late to the concert!

I am trying to decide what to do for dinner in a couple of weeks. For some reason, I decided that I was going to host the family at my house the Sabbath before Christmas. So now I have to figure out what to make. I have no idea what to do. It's been years since I cooked for so many (11), and at least 1/3 of them are very picky eaters. I've been wracking my brain, scouring recipes and far nothing. Meanwhile, I went to dinner yesterday at my sister's. She had invited two doctor friends of ours and was under pressure to produce an elegant lunch as the wife in this couple is a gourmet cook. Everything she makes is exquisitely perfect. The lunch was excellent for all her nerves. Lauren made these "meatballs' with an apricot sauce that was out of this world.

Well, the weekend is about done with. The week ahead will be busy. I do prefer that to being bored =)

Friday, December 08, 2006

At Christmas He Came


--Rondi Aastrup/December 1989--

"Je dois aller."

People are always having to go away from me,

from each other,

from home, from work, from school, from play.

People are always having to go away from me (and I from them)

to other people and places.

"Je dois aller: I must go [the imperative].

I have other things claiming my life, my time.

You're not all there is to my life.

Important, yes. But not all.

Je dois aller."

There's nothing I can do to keep them from going;

They must.

And if I want them still in my life,

I, too, must--must accept, must acquiesce, must not pout or complain.

Ils doivent aller. Et je dois accepter.

"Je dois venir encore." There's another who must, too.

"I must come again" He says.

There's a difference, though.

Those who must go, can go as they need.

But those who must come, must have an invitation;

they cannot come just because they must.

Not only must He come, but He must wait.

Wait for you, for me--for us--to be ready.

To be willing. To be open.

And to invite Him to come.

"Je dois venir.

I need to come. It is necessary.

There is nothing else claiming My life, My time.

You're all there is to My life.

You're important, yes. And everything.

But I can't come without an invitation.

I can ask, but I can't just come.

And yet, I must. Je dois venir."

Christmas: celebrating the coming of Christ--the first time.

But should it not be something more?

Must we not also anticipate His Second Coming?

Must we not prepare for--and invite--Him to come back?

The goings in our life, we have no control over.

But the comings, those we do.

"Je dois venir encore," He says.

This Christmas, let it be "Tu dois venir--You must come."

Blustery Days

We had absolutely no snow and barely a day where we had to wear coats clear through November. Then December arrived and it's been nothing but cold ever since. Monday we had snow in the morning, our first, albeit a barely-there kind of snow that didn't last long. then, today, it snowed again. This time a tiny bit more substantial. Enough to create a terrible 10-car pile-up at the junction of 93 and 128, the worst intersection in the whole area so I read once.

Sunday, I had to go to the funeral for a friend's mother (the seventh such funeral I've been to in the past couple of years). I was not needing a coat that day, but I thought to myself I had better stop by the store and get a coat (my one for the past several years had seen better days and had been mended so many times it was beyond hope anymore). Good thing. Monday morning was frigid and I was quite thankful for the cozy down jacket I picked up for 50% off!

Every single day since has been breath-takingly cold. The kids don't go out for recess for long before they are running back inside with cherry-red noses and red-delicious cheeks. They laugh it off, though. For some reason, the cold makes them cheerful. Of course there are a lot more runny noses, too. Have to watch out for those!

Looking at these 7- and 5-day forcasts for the week ahead, the outlook doesn't look too bad until you realize that the times I will be outside will be during the morning lows and the evening an hour or more after the sun is down and it is much colder again. Many of our students ride the train and/or bus to school and have to stand outside waiting for those vehicles a couple of times during the cold of the morning. I do not envy them.

Still, I love the winter. Some of my most glorious memories are of times up in Maine in the frigid cold glorying in the beauty of it all. Oh, to have had a digital camera back then! I remember nights going out to the middle of a frozen lake with a few friends, lying down on our backs and looking at the stars, marveling at the millions of pinpoints of light...identifying the constellations, nodding to many as if they were old friends. I remember another amazing night snowmobiling with two friends to the top of a tree-and snow-laden mountain to find ourselves in a small clearing that had only pitch-black sky above studded with diamonds shining brilliantly. Then the moon rose and shone a spotlight down on us...took my breath away...

Photos from the local TV station websites and the Rangeley Lakes website.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Music of the Season and other meanderings about music

One of my Digital TV subscription options was to get a section called Music Choice. There must be 45 different music stations available that play uninterrupted music 24/7. I especially love it on the weekend. There are two classical channels, a contemporary Christian channel, a gospel channel, two holiday music channels (seasonal music, actually), and then channels dedicated to specific decades and music styles, as well as ethnic and national music. There is something for every mood, every need.

The screen displays information about the composer, the artists, and the piece itself, changing throughout the duration of the piece. I quite enjoy it, as it exposes me to music I do not have in my own fairly extensive music library. I've even bought music that I heard here first. It was nice when David spent the weekend with me. He likes to go to sleep to music, and also likes a little night light. This provided both for him all night long.

Speaking of music of the season, I love Christmas music. I've already started listening to it, have all my CDs out...probably some 3 dozen, more counting all the instrumental ones I have at school. I recently bought Sarah Mclachlan's new Christmas CD. It's amazingly beautiful with songs not often heard, but haunting and lingering. It's getting fantastic reviews. Most say it's the best new Christmas album. Of what I've heard, I agree.

I also bought Chris Botti's "December" album. I am a recent fan of his music...lovely, sultry jazz trumpet... I bought the new Hall and Oates holiday CD as well. I like it...although it's not one to play on Sabbath as it has a number of secular holiday songs mixed with sacred oldies but goodies.

My early favorite Christmas albums were the two Carpenters Christmas albums and the Kenny Rogers album. I first had them on cassette tape, so that tells you how long ago that was. Cedar Lake (my first job) chums of mine will remember that we always put those tapes in the player after Thanksgiving and played them just about non-stop until Christmas home leave. As I recall, JoEllen made me a tape with Carpenters on one side and Kenny on the other. I still have that tape and smile with many fond memories whenever I see it. I have the CDs now, though...

Well, I think I'm going to turn off the TV music and go to bed with another of my favorite Christmas albums to sing me to sleep: John Rutter's Christmas Album. He actually has many Christmas collections. I have and love them all. Having sung several in church choirs, and actually performed in Carnegie Hall with him, I have a soft spot for his work. Still, even without the personal connection, I think I would favor him. His music is interesting, challenging, and beautiful. The melodies stay in your head for a long time afterwards. That's the sign of a good piece, in my mind, because it stays there with you...