Friday, June 25, 2010

Body and Soul in Balance

My blogging friend Inland Empire Girl had these questions on her blog. She got them from "The Whole Truth" column in a recent Whole Living, Body + Soul in Balance magazine. I thought the questions were interesting. If you try them, let me know.

If I could say one thing to myself ten years ago...
I'd tell myself to "do it now" regarding renovations to my condo instead of doing them "when I can afford it" which turns out to be just before I sell it. I finally have it just about the way I've wanted it and will only have a month or two to enjoy it.

My favorite place in the the US is "Second Wind," the family cabin in Rangeley, Maine. I've been going there for some 25 years and have always had a wonderful time, whether it's by myself, with family, friends, colleagues, or students. It's a beautiful, peace-filled place. Outside the US, it would have to be Aix-en-Provence, a lovely "walking town" in the south of France, home to impressionist Paul Cezanne. I had an awesome 10 days there in 2004, taking a writing class in the morning and wandering all over by foot in the afternoons. I need to go back.

The movie I watch when I want to The Princess Bride, even though I know almost the whole thing by heart. It's funny, witty, and sweet all rolled into one.

No one knows I...(I can't think of anything no one knows that I actually want to share now...)

I feel healthy when I...sleep 7 hours at night, exercise every morning, and drink 8 glasses of water a day

If I could do anything else for living I' a full-time writer

Exercise routine...I go to "Healthy Fit" every morning and walk two miles. I started at 44 minutes (a 22 minute mile).
I'm working at decreasing the time it takes me to do the two miles.

Proudest moment in my career...there have been many as a teacher, all involving students doing what they thought they couldn't. As a principal, it was getting, and keeping, the school into the black after decades of it being in the red.

My dad always told keep Jesus first.

My mom was right about...putting my life in God's hands.

The lesson I keep learning over and that I don't need to do everything myself.

I wish I had more time for...reading and writing....and more money for travel

My great unfilled dream be a published author of a book (as opposed to magazine/newspaper article).

Real contentment is...sitting outside reading--on the deck at Second Wind, on the patio at my parents', by the pool at my sisters', by the fire anywhere...or listening to music at these same places...or camping with my family...

One of my favorite quotations is...from Jeremiah 29:11 (The Message): "I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for."

I always feel saner when in my classroom teaching...or talking with my parents or sisters--either on the phone or, better yet, in person.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Transcending the Day

Concord, MA is one of my favorite destinations. It is a beautiful town that "reflects and respects its past," a past that towers over that of other towns in the area, even though they, too, have a past worth bragging about. I love it for its architectural beauty, its natural beauty, its philosophical and literary beauty, its historical beauty. Each time I go there, I am inspired. Today, I woke up hungry and decided to make my way to Concord. Five hours later, I arrived back home entirely satiated.

My first stop was at the Concord Museum for an exhibit celebrating the 375th anniversary of Concord's founding.
Housed behind its walls, you can see one of the lanterns that hung as a signal (One if by land, two if by sea) from Paul Revere that let his compatriot know how the British were coming; an extensive collection of artifacts that once belonged to Henry David Thoreau, including the flute that both he and his father played; and the study of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The brochure describes Concord this way: "From the 'shot heard round the world' to the writers of the American literary renaissance, things have happened here, words have been spoken here and books have been written here which changed the face of a nation. Over time, Concord has become a symbol of liberty and intellectual freedom."

From there, I made my way to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, originally a woodsy area meant as a place for peaceful walks and talks (a Transcendental thing). Ralph Waldo Emerson described it as a place where the muses could be found and where whispers were to be heard in the breezes. He felt that it should be a place where people could go for contemplation and leisure. That part hasn't changed any. Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott (left), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Sidney (who wrote "The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew"), Emerson and their families are all buried here on "Author's Ridge." Daniel Chester French, the great sculptor who created the Lincoln Memorial and the Minuteman statue, is also buried here. And I did, in fact, meet several people who were there listening to the whispers on the breezes =)

Then it was on to the Buttrick Mansion, a lovely old colonial home built on a bluff that overlooks the Concord River and the Old North Bridge. While I was there, two youngsters completed their requirements to be Junior Rangers and were applauded and introduced to the visiters who happened to be nearby. I'm not sure all they had to do to accomplish this, but it appeared to be a big deal, both to them and the ranger who signed the completion certificate.

Next up was Orchard House, home to the Alcott family for 20 years (they had moved 22 times in the previous 20 years!). I've been to this house many times before, but I always see and learn new things. That's one of its appeals for me. This time they had Anna's (Meg in Little Women) wedding dress on display. I soooo wanted to get a picture of it, but of course no pictures were allowed inside. It's quite beautiful...and exactly the way Louisa describes it in Little Women--a lovely grey silk. I'm always charmed as well as inspired to spend time in this house. Today it was especially meaningful to me, having recently read the delightful The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott and currently reading the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning double biography Eden's Outcasts. In talking with the excellent docent, I learned that this summer's "Conversational Series" will feature a lecture by the author of this book. You can be sure that I signed up to be there to hear him! BTW, LMA's 1/2 moon desk where she wrote her famous book is situated between these two windows in her bedroom. That's Queen Anne's Lace dried, preserved, and hung in the panes--something I still want to try for myself.

As always, I had to pick up a few things from the gift shop. Today's treasure: a card with a 1845 LMA quote on it: "I had an early run in the woods before the dew was off the grass. The moss was like velvet, and as I ran under the arches of yellow and red leaves I sang for joy, my heart was so bright and the world so beautiful. I stopped at the end of the walk and saw the sunshine out over the wide "Virginia meadows." It seemed like going through a dark life or grave into heaven beyond. A very strange and solemn feeling came over me as I stood there, with no sound but the rustle of the pines, no one near me, and the sun so glorious, as for me alone. It seemed as if I felt God as I never did before, and I prayed in my heart that I might keep that happy sense of nearness all my life."

It was, indeed, a collection of revelations that transcended my expectations for the day. Coming on the heals of a lengthy job interview, this was the perfect antidote for the stress of trying to decide what to do next. As the day progressed, I felt more and more that I could, in the words of Thoreau, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Claude and Camille, Celia, and Sarah

I've been on a reading frenzy since school got out. The most recent books have been about artists or writers, or both. I'm a huge fan of novelized biographies and have enjoyed a number of such books about artists, the most recent being Stephanie Cowell's book Claude and Camille about Claude Monet as a young man trying to break into the world of art and the great love of his life, Camille. What an amazing story! The kind where you fall into it and don't get out of it for days, the kind you don't want to end, the kind you dream about and get up at 5 o'clock in the morning because you can't stop thinking and dreaming about it. I've long been a fan of the Impressionists, and have countless prints of their work that even as I write this decorate the walls of my home. My favorite, though, is a painting my niece did of Camille (left), as it turns out, after Monet's now famous portrayal of his eventual wife. Once done with the book, I spent hours looking up the paintings described in it and found myself wishing I'd known this story when I saw many of the originals in Paris or even in Boston. To that end, I may just find myself standing in front of some of them tomorrow as it's Community Day (free admission!) at Boston's MFA.

Meanwhile, I dove back into life-stories of artists I've admired and read Sandpiper, the biography of Celia Thaxter, written by her granddaughter. What a loving and poignant portrait of one of New England's most beloved poets! You may remember that my sisters, mother, and I visited her garden last summer out on Appledore Island off the coast of Porstmouth, NH. I may just have to find my way back there this summer having now read her story. I had forgotten that she was an artist as well as a writer and that she actually made more money with her painting than her writing.

Following hard on the heels of Celia's story, I read Master Smart Woman, a Portrait of Sarah Orne Jewett, another New England writer from the same era. She was born in South Berwick, ME a town I can drive through on my way north to see my parents if I chose to avoid the Maine turnpike (which I often do). Another towering figure in the world of women writers, Jewett painted New England as she saw and loved it with words that are still true today. I suspect I'll be making a visit to her home in the weeks to come as well. All this reading about writers and artists makes me hunger for my own experience as an artist, although many (most) did not live lives of leisure. In some respects it's a wonder we have any books or paintings to enjoy. Passion for what you're doing must be paramount...

Watching God Work

One of my friends posted this on her Facebook status a few hours ago: "Four ways to handle a predicament: Don't be afraid. Stand still. Watch God work. Keep quiet. "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians (or whatever you are struggling with) whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent." Exodus 14: 13, 14. (adapted fromSwindoll)" It has given me pause to think about life and the changes we go through, most of us on a daily basis.

Two months ago, I came to the edge of a cliff (metaphorically speaking) and, without much hesitation, jumped off*, whispering to God as I did so "Please don't let me crash." I then proceeded to let God do what He does best: take care of us. First thing He did was get me through the next several weeks unscathed. I did not crash. Second thing He did was bring people into my life who were not out to build themselves up, but who were more interested in seeing others fly. It was a revelation. Third thing He did was give me peace of mind and an out. An out that is even better than the alternative.

The truth is, God has a job to do, and it is all about taking care of us. The trouble is we usually don't stand still and let Him do His work. We think we need to get in there and do it ourselves. Too many times that only means we mess things up. It is too often my tendency to keep my fists all balled up with my frustrations crushed inside instead of opening them wide and letting the troubles fall at His feet. Having experienced His care over and over, it is a conundrum to me why I don''t always just put my hand in His and let Him take over from the get-go. It's that human independence, I guess. This time, I didn't try to do it myself. I just gave it all to Him, right from the edge of that cliff. I don't know yet how it all will turn out. So far, so good, though.

*The cliff was my job. Or should I say the departing from my job of 17 years, putting my condo of 15 years up for sale, and then waiting to see what would happen next.