Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Decade of Great Destinations

This morning I took a whirlwind tour of the places I've traveled over the past 10 years, from January 1999 to December 2009. The statistics were interesting (to me, at least): 43 major trips, not counting numerous visits to my parents' in Maine or the many weekends spent at "the cabin" in Maine. These were all trips that required packing a suitcase and ranged from 2 nights to three weeks in length. Most also required flying for at least part of the trip, but trains, boats, buses, cars, and even my own two feet were involved as well.

Nearly 1/3 (16) were connected in some way to my work; 14 were with family; 10 were with, or on te way to being with, friends; and 4 were entirely by myself and for myself. Most of my US trips took place within New England (14 out of 31), 7 were to New York (5 of those to New York City), 4 to Maryland, 3 to Tennessee, and 10 to other states. Connecticut was the only New England state I didn't do more than drive through on my way to New York.

Six were out-of-country trips giving me entry into 6 new-to-me countries and one old friend that I visited twice (France).

I'd be hard-pressed to pick a favorite trip, but I do have some stand-out moments (in no particular order):
  • Flying over New York City less than a month after September 11 and seeing the gaping hole in the skyline for the first time.
  • Spending Bastille Day in Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Traversing southern Norway with my family for two weeks
  • Worshipping in a straw church on one of the floating islands on Lake Titicaca, Peru
  • Exploring Greece, Ephesus, and Istanbul New England Youth Ensemble style (the day in Istanbul with my sister Lauren and 11 15-20 year olds was nothing less than amazing)
  • Enjoying a fantastic day at Celia Thaxter's Garden off the coast of Portsmouth, NH with my mother and two sisters
  • Going "back in time" into the jungle in Mexico
  • Learning with strangers-become-friends at four writing workshop/retreats
  • Relaxing on a ship (the largest cruise ship in the world) for a week
  • Wandering Paris for 5 days (and being able to get where and what I needed with no trouble!)
If the next ten years bring me this much travel or more, I won't complain (as long as the airlines don't go crazy with all the new safety regulations!).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Resolved (more or less)

I'm counting down the hours to the new year and new decade with a few top ten lists. In the process, I'm also writing my 500th blog entry. When I started this blog in 2006, I had no idea where I'd go with it. I didn't even want to go public at first. As the days and months passed, though, I got hooked...on blogging, reading blogs, "meeting" wonderful blogger friends, and traveling vicariously through their words and pictures. I've reconnected with high school classmates through their blogs, made new friends all over the world, learned a lot, laughed and cried a lot, and have been inspired over and over.

One of my New Year's resolutions (one that's on my list annually) is to write more. Last January, I wrote on the blog every day and then let "life" take over. This year I'm determined to do more than less of everything on my list. I keep it short, because it's easier to focus on a few things. Still, it's not easy, no matter how determined I am in the days leading up to the launch day of "The List." Doesn't keep me from trying once again, though =)

So: Resolved to write more, watch TV less; exercise more, eat less; pray more, procrastinate less. There it is, more or less. ;)

Village Treats

My dad has been wanting to take me to his favorite antiquarian book store for a few years, now and Sunday, we finally made it. I have to say it was worth the trip. Surprisingly, it's located in the little Maine village my parents live in, and we've gone by it any number of times but have never stopped in (they have, of course). When you walk in, the smell, that wonderful musty smell of old books, all but overwhelms you. There's a shop cat, who was hiding, and oversized arm chairs in corners for the browsing that inevitably goes on.

As is the case with any book store for me, there were scores of books I wanted to get. I walked around with several while looking at the offerings on other shelves. Some I kept, some I ended up putting back. One, I held on to, even though it was $25 and I didn't really want to spend that much on a single book. There was a whole set of Jane Austen's books reduced from $450 to $200 because the bindings weren't so great. And he had two others for $70 apiece, but I couldn't bring myself to get them either, just so I could say I had some "old Jane Austen" books.

When we finally made our way to the cash register, I went to pay for my books first. My dad was insistent, though, that he pay for them. We went back and forth, me not wanting him to buy the $25 book for me, but he was firm, so I finally relented. The guy (owner) stacked our books up and said "How about $40?" We three gulped, for there was more than $40's worth of books there. My dad said "I can't cheat you like that." But now the guy was insistent. So, we walked out of there feeling very good about our purchase!

Next stop was my favorite primitive/folk craft shop, The Blue Door, also in the village of Alfred, ME. This time, the tables were turned on my dad, as he had never been here, whereas my mom and I go fairly often when I'm visiting. The owner makes quite a bit of her inventory, which is impressive all by itself. But you can also find genuine articles as well, making it an interesting visit, whether you purchase anything or not. That day, I bought belated Christmas presents for friends =)

I love little independent shops like this. There is one in Bolton, MA (where our family lived for more than 30 years before my parents moved to ME) nicknamed "The Salt Box" because it is a saltbox building. I used to say I could never see everything in it, no matter if I were to go in it every single day of the week. It was so crammed full of crafty and antiquey delights. These days, it's a little less crowded on the shelves, perhaps indicative of the economy. Still, a lot of fun to window shop in, if nothing else.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Midnight Clear















Tuesday, for my last American Literature class of 2009,
I told the students the story of one of the oldest
American Christmas carols, It Came Upon a Midnight
Clear. Edmund Sears, the lyrics-writer, was
Unitarian minister living in a small town in south-
western Massachusetts at the time. America was gearing
up for the Civil War, so there was a great deal of unrest in
the country, and in his congregation. Unlike most Unitarians,
Sears was a staunch believer in the divinity of Christ and wrote
this carol as an encouragement to his congregation. It was
published in 1849 and was immediately popular. You can see
why, when you look at the third verse in particular. We don't
generally sing that verse, but I think it's quite appropriate for us
today. (The pictures are Christmas scenarios tucked in the nooks
and crannies of my parents' home.)




















It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold;
"Peace on the earth, good will to men
From heaven's all gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.















Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.















Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the Angel-strains have rolled

Two thousand years of wrong;
And man at war with man hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O! hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the Angels sing.















O ye, beneath life's crushing load
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.















For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold,
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

All is Calm

It's snowing! We're in the middle of a Winter Storm, New England style. I woke to unusual stillness outside. I live near a major highway and can usually hear its noise, however muffled. This morning, nothing. The snow has been falling since last night and it continues to fall, although we may be seeing the beginning of the end. (The photo here shows the depth of the snow on my bathroom window sill. You can see the snow is almost up to the edge of the window hanging.) Visibility in some places is 100 yards or less, although it's not that bad here. Looks like we'll get about a foot all told. Farther south of us (Boston), they are describing it as a "blizzard." There are many, many school children waking up this morning wishing it were Monday and not Sunday! Bad as it is today I'm sure things will be cleared up for school tomorrow.

Yesterday, we had a wonderful Lessons and Carols service at our church. Three families plus three others provided the music, the congregation served as the choir, and three readers shared the Old and New Testament lessons. It was a beautiful service. My sister, her husband, and two children were four of the dozen musicians.

Seven of the group have been playing together since they were kids (in the New England Youth Ensemble, a group I played with as well). One piece they played brought back memories that are 35 years old when the group played each year for the Christmas Eve service in a small Episcopal Church. I still remember the air pungent with incense and balsam fir, the candle-lit sanctuary, the slow procession of the priests bringing the Baby Jesus to the manger as the Ensemble accompanied Jerry (now my brother-in-law) as he played the sweet and lovely Jesu Bambino. That's one of my most sensory memory of Christmas and always brings me a sense of peace and calm.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Electric!










It's amazing how much noise electricity makes. Or, rather, the mechanisms powered by electricity. I was up early this morning, writing my Christmas letter to the sounds of Christmas. All of a sudden, a loud bang from somewhere outside and the power went out, just like that! And then quiet. Deafening quiet. I started thinking about all the things I couldn't do now. Couldn't make a tasty breakfast, couldn't blow dry my hair, couldn't listen to music any more, couldn't do laundry, couldn't vacuum, couldn't print my letter once I finished it. At least temporarily.

I felt so handicapped at first! I did have my laptop, and I did finish my letter, but then had to put the laptop away because I didn't want to drain down the battery too much. In the quiet that ensued for the next two plus hours, I heard more, and thought more than I'd done in some time. Called to mind what I heard a famous singer once say about taking time away from everyone and everything for some quiet time. "How can you hear God in all the noise?" he asked. How, indeed. This morning's hours without electricity were, for me, quite electric after all!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Few Saving Graces

"I can understand people simply fleeing the mountainous effort Christmas has become... but there are always a few saving graces and finally they make up for all the bother and distress." ~May Sarton

Finally, I am beginning to feel the Christ- mas Spirit rising in me. We had our first real snow fall last night and this morning, I woke to a beautiful vision of sun shining through snow-stacked branches outside all of my windows. It has been so down-right balmy throughout November. We had not one flake of snow the entire month and only about 5 minutes of snow back in October. So it's been a stretch to feel Christmasy at all.

Not only did the snow make me feel seasonal, but we got a huge Christmas present today in a
decision that was made at our church business meeting this morning. Our school has been growing steadily for the past two years, and this year we grew by a lot. We'd prayed the prayer of Jabez, essentially asking God to expand our enrollment. It wasn't exactly a surprise when He answered that prayer, but it has been a challenge. Today, our church came to our rescue, voting to devise a plan, basically saying whatever it takes.

I'm beyond excited about this devel- opment. And not a little scared. It's a big project, and there are a lot of complications. But knowing that the church is behind us, and that God is clearly blessing us has helped me realize the miracle of this Christmas season.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

We Thank Thee, Oh Lord















For balmy sunshine
For nourishing rain
Dear Lord and our Father
We thank Thee

For food and Thy care
Rich blessings we share
Dear Lord and our Father
We thank Thee

We thank Thee oh Lord

Those are the lyrics to a prayer-song we used to sing when my sisters and I were young. Last weekend, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Maine with our parents. My mother wanted to sing that prayer, but it's been a long, long time since we've sung it, and the young ones didn't know it at all, so it didn't go as smoothly as it used to. I've thought of the words since then, though. Simple words, but they encompass nearly all that I need and am thankful for. If I were to ad a verse, I'd add something about family and friends, a thriving school, and a caring church community. That would pretty much sum it all up then.

video

My middle sister and I planned the Thanksgiving Church Service for our church. It was something like one long responsive reading with a dozen readers, congregational responses, eight congregational hymns (we sang selected verses from most of them, complimenting the readings), three instrumental meditations (one of which was my niece playing "We Gather Together"), and a vocal solo--all intertwined and interspersed. Right before the final hymn (Now Thank We all Our God), the congregation had opportunity to share their praises and thanksgivings. Everyone seemed to love it, saying it was such a lovely way to acknowledge all the blessings God has given us And there are many.

Thanksgiving day itself, our immediate and
extended family gathered at that same sister's house for the afternoon. We had a couple dozen or more people there all told, and of course quite a bit of excellent food. After the meal and pies, we were treated to some music, as tends to be the tradition at these gatherings (there are many musicians in the family). This time, my sister's family cello quartet played her arrangement of "It is Well with my Soul" and then her sister-in-law's arrangement of the "Navy Hymn" (three there had been in the Navy and one is currently in the Army Reserves). I always enjoy this part of our time together.

Now, the next few weeks will be packed (for me) with meetings and hard work. One bright light between now and Christmas break will be a very quick trip down to TN for my niece's graduation from college. Time's going by much too quickly! Just yesterday we were excited about her birth...I thankful for it all, though. No matter how quickly it goes...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Literary Afternoon

I treated myself to a lecture today. No, not the scolding kind. Not the boring fall-asleep-in-your-seat kind. The fascinating kind. The thought-provoking kind. The kind I haven't been subject to for a number of years, since the last time I took a literature class. Lately the only kind of classes and seminars I've been taking have to do with administra- tion and are, on the whole, not all that exciting. There have been the occasional leadership workshops or writing seminars which have fed my creative or spiritual side, but not very often, and not often enough.

Wednesday, when the clerk at the Concord Bookstore told me about the Jane Austen So
ciety meeting today, I gave it brief consideration. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to go, so this afternoon found me driving through Boston and then Brookline looking for Wheelock College where the meeting was to be held. I got there a little early and was walk around the campus taking pictures of nooks and crannies (and trees) that caught my fancy.

When I walked into the meeting room, I was greeted by my friend from the bookstore. She was so pleased I had come. I was pleased she remembered me. She introduced me to several of the ladies, all of whom were delightful and friendly. The afternoon's topic was "Austen, Scott, Bronte...and Zombies" and was an interesting comparison of three sets of books: Emma/Ivanhoe, Persuasion/Wuthering Heights, and Pride & Prejudice/Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. The presenter teaches at Boston College and I found myself wishing I was back in school taking a class from her.

After the "lecture," there was time for Q and A. I was impressed that the lone man in the crowd dared to ask a question...and it was evident he had actually read Austen! There was a little reception afterwards. Again, I was impressed with the friendliness of the group. I'm already looking forward to the next meeting...next month when we celebrate Jane's birthday =)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Gift Outright

The Gift Outright
Robert Frost
The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.


I visited Lexington and Concord today, a Veterans' Day tradition I've been keeping for most of the past two decades. I often start my Christmas shopping in these two lovely colonial towns, but I mostly go there to remember...remember my way-back heritage (my mother is a Daughter of the American Revolution), remember what "they did here" that we might freely live here in this country we love that embraces democracy so fiercely and proudly.

I walked around the Lexington Green listening to a Veteran of much later wars play tribute (bottom right hand corner of the picture) on his trumpet ("Taps," "Star Spangled Banner," "The Navy Hymn," and other appropriate pieces). A moving experience, walking through the November winds with the haunting melodies floating over the fallen leaves.

I stopped by the homes of inspiring American writers (Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Alcott), by the rude bridge that arched the flood, by the homes of those who gave their lives that others might live.

I ate lunch at my favorite Market Cafe in Concord and went to my favorite local book store, The Concord Bookstore. There, I gave in to temptation and bought yet another Jane Austen-related book, A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why we Read Jane Austen. The clerk asked me if I belonged to the Jane Austen Society. When I answered "not officially," she told me about a MA chapter of the Society that was meeting this coming Sunday and said I ought to go, that I would love it. She is a member herself and said she'd look for me there! Dare I say I am going?!

In all, it was five hours of refreshment, both physically and spiritually. In all, it was exactly what I needed this day. A Gift Outright...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Autumn

"The leaves are falling, falling as from way off,
as though far gardens withered in the skies;
they are falling with denying gestures.
And in the nights the heavy earth is falling
from all the stars down into loneliness.
We all are falling. This hand falls.
And look at others: it is in them all.
And yet there is one who holds this falling
endlessly gently in his hands."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Autumn



Monday, October 12, 2009

Listen my Children and you shall hear...

It's been a beautiful New England holiday. The colors have become brilliant, and they stood out particularly against wildly cloud-filled skies on Saturday when I did quite a bit of driving. In the morning, I drove about 50 miles west to attend alumni weekend activities for South Lancaster Academy, the school I used to teach at in the 1980s and early 90s.

Many of the 35-year class became my friends in college. The 25-year class were seniors my first year there, and the 20-year class was one of my favorite (dare I say it) classes ever. We went through a lot together, traveling to Puerto Rico and Montreal, as well as all over New
England for choir and drama performances. Trips like that create bonds that don't break.

Later, after I had come back home, I decided to go find some color and drove out to Lincoln and Concord. I was not disappointed. First, I stopped off at Hartwell Tavern and discovered that they had an event planned for that evening that interested me. I had about 90 minutes to kill, though, so I drove on to Walden Pond and the Old North Bridge where I watched the sun set.

It was dark by the time I got back to the Tavern for the Living History event, "Heroes of Battle Road," a series of vignettes telling the story of April 19, 1775. The Lincoln Fife and Drum Corp was playing wonderful Revolutionary music. Visitors received tea bags as their tickets and groups of 20 walked the road through the woods to the Tavern (about 1/4 mile). Along the way, we were stopped by Minutemen guarding the woods between their captain's house and the tavern, a woman bringing nourishment to the men, and a rogue band of Redcoats. We met General Gage and his wife in the barn, and overheard a group of British regulars talking about Gage and various war strategies.

Inside the tavern, we were privy to a conver- sation between Mary Hartwell and her friend Katherine, wife of the captain of the Lincoln militia describing their experience on that day when the Redcoats marched to Concord and Lexington. We met the captain who told us all about how the Minutemen were paid (1 cent for every mile they came to fight in a battle and 2 cents for each meal). We also met Innkeeper Hartwell and learned about the food he served and why his was a higher class inn than most (he only allowed 4 to a bed instead of the usual 6).

It was a fascinated evening. We were not allowed to photograph during the tour because it would distract the interpreters, so I was glad I had been there earlier, in the daylight.


Monday, October 05, 2009

People were Talking

So, I'm watching my guilty pleasure, Dancing with the Stars, and a long-ago memory suddenly flashes in front of me. I'm with my journalism class from 1988 at Boston's channel 4, WBZ-TV, at a live show of "People are Talking," an afternoon talk-show hosted by local guy, Tom Bergeron!

The day's theme was upstart entrepreneurs, and two of the guests were Ben and Jerry, of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream fame, just named "Small Businessmen of the Year" by President Reagan. My students and I had a great time. Part of the show involved audience Q and A and several of them asked questions and in the end, we all got samples of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

I had forgotten that until now, but think it's kind of cool, now that I think of it. Of course back then, Tom wasn't the mega-star he is now. He was just a home-town guy hosting a very popular local show. Little did we know that our experience would become one of those "we knew him when" moments = )

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Catching our Second Wind


A week ago, I was up at Second Wind with 4 couples from school, their kids, and another of the teachers. We'd just completed our 4th week of school and were really needing a break. It was a beautiful weekend, spent relaxing in the fresh pure air of Maine's western lake district. The only rule: no school talk! It was an amazingly simple rule to follow, even though we could have spent the entire weekend talking school. We didn't. Instead, we spent time talking about God, religion, politics, nature, our families... We came away refreshed and revived.

That's what I love about where I work. We really like each other and enjoy spending time
together, both in and out of work. It makes our days easier because we like working together. Some of us have known each other since high school, others since college. Even the new staff soon finds comfort and ease in the group. We haven't always been this way. There were a few years where it was not easy to be together. Thankfully that's not the case this year.

Our time at Rangeley was punctuated by laughter, underscored by a common admiration
and respect for each other. All that plus good food (we had a Fiesta Saturday night) and beautiful scenery! You can't ask for much more!