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


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.