Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012! · 365 Project

Happy New Year 2012! by Rondi Aastrup · 365 Project

I've decided to try the 365 Project of posting one photo each day of the year 2012 that captures the essence of the day.  My friend Christy succeeded in doing it every day of 2011 and she has inspired me to try.  Not only will it keep my eyes open for the little details that make up my life, it will get me writing on a daily basis again.  Both good things!

This photo was actually taken a couple of days ago when all but one of our family was together up at Second Wind (family cabin) in western Maine.  This cabin is the site of many, many family gatherings as well as other groups, large and small.  It's a place that brings peace just at the thought, and it's a place that brought us all together again after a year and a half of separation.  Last year and this year we were missing one of the brother-in-laws for one reason or another.  Last year, Martha photo-shopped the missing person in.  She has not had the chance to do that yet, so I will change this picture when she does.  Still, I thought it a fitting way to begin this project by reminding me of the thing most important to me:  family.  This time next year, we will have an additional face to add as there will be a wedding in the spring.  So...the group does the love.

Happy New Year to each and all!

Sunday, December 25, 2011


And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a child on earth for me?

And is it true?  For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
the sweet ad silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent 
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No caroling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare--
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

These are the last three stanzas of John Betjeman's poem "Christmas."  I love them.  The rhetorical question, "And is it true?" is, of course, true.  The Maker of the stars and sea did indeed become a Child on earth for your and me...and lives today...not just in Bread and Wine, but in the hearts of each and all who believe.  Nothing that we know or understand can compare with that.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Some Children See Him

I was listening to one of my James Taylor Christmas albums on my way home from work yesterday.  It's a nice collection of songs an carols sung as only JT can sing them.  One of the carols is particularly interesting to's reminiscent of the old Sabbath School song:  "Jesus loves the little children--all the children of the world:  red and yellow, black, and white--all are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world."  The thing about this carol, though, is that it takes all the children of the world and talks about how they see Jesus, kind of reverse from the song:

Some children see Him lily white,
the baby Jesus born this night.
some children see Him lily white,
with tresses soft and fair.

Some children see Him bronzed and brown
The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
with dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
this Savior whom we kneel beside.
Some children see Him almond-eyed,
with skin of yellow hue.

Some children see Him dark as they
sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.
some children see him dark as they,
and, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place
will see the baby Jesus' face
like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
and filled with holy light.

O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering,
come worship now the infant King.
'Tis love that's born tonight!

Coming from a school where we had more than 50 countries represented between the staff and students, I can understand why some might think that Jesus sees us as we see Him, with His traits the same as ours, whatever they might be.  But truth is, He sees beyond our surface traits.  In fact, He covers our traits with His, so that in the end, He sees our face like His, sees His righteousness instead of our sinfulness.  'Tis love beyond compare that was born that night.  'Tis the most amazing gift!  I'm so glad that He sees us from His perspective instead of ours, aren't you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I Will Go

In our staff worship on Monday, our registrar shared a Steve Green song with us that had powerful meaning for her, but also for the rest of us gathered around the table.  Every day the principal and I meet to talk and pray together about the day and for our students and staff.  It's always nice when others come, but it's not often.  This week, the registrar has joined us.  The song she brought touched each of our hearts as each of us have left something or someone important to us to come where God has led us.  The principal's wife still lives in Texas because she is taking care of her elderly father there.  The registrar and her family left a stable situation in northern California and came to a very challenging situation here in Arizona.  I left all of my family on the east coast and came here where I knew no one and nothing about what I was getting into.  We all three believe God brought us here to Thunderbird, but it has not been easy.  The words to the song gave us all hope and courage for the journey:

Give me ears to hear Your Spirit
Give me feet to follow through
Give me hands to touch the hurting
And the faith to follow You.

Give me grace to be a servant
Give me mercy for the lost
Give me passion for your glory
Give me passion for the cross.

And I will go where there are no easy roads
Leave the comforts that I know
I will go and let this journey be my home.
I will go.
I will go.

I'll let go of my ambition
cut the roost that run too deep
I will learn to give away
What I cannot really keep.

Help me see with eyes of faith
Give me strength to run this race.

I will go, Lord, where Your glory is unknown.
I will live for You alone.
I will go because my life is not my own.
I will go.
I will go.
I will go.

~ Steve Green

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
        Landscapes plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
                And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.

A Thankful Heart

Today is Thanksgiving Day.  I'm supposed to be on my way to a friend's house for dinner.  Well, in every other year of my life save one, I would be on my way to a family member's house for dinner.  Instead, I am home with two cats and 3 dozen birds...counting my blessings all the same.  I'm in Arizona instead of Massachusetts because I went home in September and October and am going again in December.  I'm not a millionaire and you almost need to be if you are going to fly across the country once a month.  So, I stayed put in the Valley of the Sun this year.  I'm in my own home instead of a friend's because I succumbed at the beginning of the week to a barrage of germs that came forth from my hacking and sneezing students.  I was hoping to escape this year, but now I'll have to hope it's just this one time...and that it is short-lived.

So, as I said, it's just me and the cats...and the 3 dozen birds swarming my bird feeders.  Nothing exotic, just house finches and sparrows and juncos.  Oh, and the doves.  Three varieties of doves....  Still, there is much to be thankful for.  I don't need any Facebook statuses, text messages, TV commercials, or days off from school to remind me that I have more than my share of things to be grateful for.  Tuesday in my last class, one of my students asked me to share with the class one of the most exciting things I've done in my life.  She was jut trying to make conversation, and thus avoid having class, but she caught me up short.  I really didn't know what to tell her.  I couldn't think of anything...not because there's nothing, but because there are so many things...literally.  I ended up saying that I've been very lucky, that my life has been very exciting, at least by my definition.  She just looked at me, thinking, I'm sure, that I was just trying to avoid her question...which I kind of definition of exciting probably wouldn't match that of a 17 year old girl's.

Still...I come back to being grateful...grateful for all the things that have gone on in my life to make me who I am, imperfect as that being is.  I have an amazing family that's full of beautiful, smart, funny, vibrant people spanning several generations and two continents.  I have scores of lovely friends spanning decades in age and length of friendship.  I have a job I love, I work with people I like and respect.  I belong to a church that feeds my spirit and soul.  I live in a place that, while not my beloved New England, is at least tolerable most of the time.   I can't complain.  I am, in fact, most grateful...

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Curious Conincidence

It was rather cool in my bedroom this morning when I woke up:  50 degrees on the "out" side of the window and 70 degrees on the "in" side of it.  My cats' noses were literally cold to the touch!  I actually had to get out a blanket to take the chill off while I watched CBS This Morning's tribute to Andy Rooney, who passed away Friday night.

As usual, I was multi-tasking while watching TV later and it occurred to me to check the weather where the rest of my family was this morning.  What I discovered was rather surprising.  Even though we are scattered to four corners of the continent, almost literally, we were mostly all within 9 degrees of each other, and all in the 50s!  My parents in Maine were at 53.1; my nephew just outside of Boston was at 53.4; my sister, niece, and brother-in-law in Charlotte, NC were at 58; my other niece in Loma Linda, CA was the coldest at 50; and I was the warmest at 59.

My nephew in TN, however, broke the 50s barrier, coming in at 64.  My other sister, along with her husband and in-laws, is in Florence, Italy today.  And guess what?  The temperature there was 59!!!  I thought that was such a curious coincidence.  I can't imagine that there will be too many times when we'll all be at roughly the same temperature at the same time.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

An Autumn Evening

Here's a lovely autumn poem by a favorite childhood author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, mostly known for her "Anne of Green Gables" series.  I have read her books countless times, even know parts of them by heart.  I recently discovered her poetry.  Anne would be pleased.  (The pictures are autumn in Phoenix, from my back patio this week.)

Dark Hills against a hollow crocus sky
Scarfed with its crimson pennons, and below
The dome of sunset long, hushed valleys lie
Cradling the twilight, where the lone winds blow
And wake among the harps of leafless trees
Fantastic runes and mournful melodies.

The chilly purple air is threaded through
With silver from the rising moon afar,
And from a gulf of clear, unfathomed blue
In the southwest glimmers a great gold star
Above the darkening druid glens of fir
Where beckoning boughs and elfin voices stir.

And so I wander through the shadows still,
And look and listen with a rapt delight,
Pausing again and yet again at will
To drink the elusive beauty of the night,
Until my soul is filled, as some deep cup,
That with divine enchantment is brimmed up.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Red Sky at Morning

"Red sky at night, sailor's delight.  Red sky at morning, sailor's warning."

Living in a hot dry state like I now do certainly brings its share of weather adventures.  In the year plus that I've lived here, I've experienced a "freak" hail storm that literally poured down tennis ball-sized hail stones, national-news-making dust storms, rapid and dramatic temperature drops, and multiple rainbows in the midst of sun showers.

This morning, when I opened my blinds, the sky was red.  So red I had to take a picture.  Then I listened to the news and weather.  Everything was about the powerful wind and dust storm that was going to take up much of the day--from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.  

Even now, they are talking about thunderstorms and rain.  I've not seen or heard the rain/t-storms, but I did see the dust and felt the wind.  This is so foreign to me!  And interesting.

The pictures show this morning at about 6 a.m. and this evening at about 5:30 p.m.  Big difference!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Because it is my Name!

I'm between classes right now.  Actually, I'm done with teaching for the day, but still have 3 more hours before I am finished with work for the day.  It's the last day before I get my final class back and will be teaching fulltime again.  I've had a student teacher this semester.  She's an excellent young teacher and we've had a good experience together.  I've kind of enjoyed the relative freedom that comes when you aren't teaching fulltime, but I've missed the students...and I've particularly missed teaching some of my favorite literature.  She had complete charge over all my classes for much of the past several weeks and only just started handing them back to me, one each week.  Next Monday, I will be back to full time teaching.

Still, it's been a good experience--for both of us I think.  She handed over the juniors and seniors in the middle of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, a play I have always enjoyed teaching.  We both read and watch the play, and as is always the case with something that's meant to be watched instead of "just" read, their response to the movie has been very positive.  I finished with the seniors this morning and thrilled to hear for the second day in the row (the juniors finished yesterday) John Proctor refusing to compromise himself any further by signing his name to a confession that was a lie, just to save his life.  You understand why he almost did it.  The scene between him and his wife is so sweet, so beautiful really.  And you want this couple to have a second chance, for them to experience a profound love they had only just realized.  But you also know that they could never enjoy their life knowing it was based on a lie, and knowing that their friends had gone to their death without that lie.

John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis acting the part) crumbles up his confession and cries out that he can't do it "Because it is my name!  Because I can't have any other on earth!"  So powerful, that acknowlegement of what his name--his reputation--means!  And even though this means he dies for something he didn't do, at least he's not living for something he didn't do.  A fine line, but a clear one all the same.  I love working through things like that with students.  They always want the happy/easy ending at first.  But on second thought, they always come around to what is right, to what has to happen if we are to learn the lesson that was intended.

And so it goes with our own lives.  We want the easy way through things, but deep down we know that we need the lessons.  We need the consequences.  We need to work things through and out if our lives are to mean anything.  If our names are to carry any weight--for our present and for our future.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Every, Every Minute

"Do human beings realize life while they live it?  Every, every minute?"
~ Thornton Wilder,  Our Town

One of my favorite plays is Thornton Wilder's turn-of-the-century (20th) celebration of the little things of life.  My student teacher just started teaching it to my AP English class this week and I am finding myself itching to be doing it myself!  First of all, it's set in a place I love.  Second of all, it has some profound truths about life in it, making it (in my humble opinion) a valuable piece to bring to the classroom.  Since it's still her time to teach, I am having to content myself with enjoying her fine effort to impart wisdom and joy in my place.

Do we realize life while we live it?  I dare say most of us don't.  Wilder's Stage Manager says "No.  Saints and poets.  Maybe they do some."  What does it take to realize it?  Coming to the edge?  Nearly falling over it?  Why aren't the ordinary things of our life enough?  Those are some of the things to ponder as she helps our students navigate this lovely portrait of New England life during the next several days...

Coincidentally, one of my Facebook friends posted this lovely photo of the real-life model for Wilder's fictional Grover's Corners.  It's enough to make me appreciate life!  And enough to make me miss living in New England in the fall...

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

Last weekend I was in Massachusetts for my friend's funeral.  Everything about those three days was amazing and inspiring.  I'll write about that in another post.  Today, I want to reflect on the kindness of a stranger that I observed on the second leg of my journey home.  In order to be able to afford the trip, I had to settle for a round about trip home with two plane changes and a 9 1/2 hour trip (as opposed to the 5 1/3 hour non-stop trip I usually try to get).  

The Boston to Dulles flight went smoothly, but the Dulles to Houston leg was challenging because there was a young mother in front of me with two very young boys who cried and fussed the entire time.  Finally a lady sitting behind me went up and asked the man sitting next to the mother to change places with her and she spent the last half of the flight entertaining the older of the two while the mother worked at calming the baby down.  I'm sure his ears were bothering him and he had no idea what to do about it.  

I thought that lady was an angel.  She even helped the mother off the plane and at the baggage claim...  Everyone else was blessing her, too, as the plane wasn't as noisy once she sat down and started her magic with the little boy.  That was one of the most thoughtful gestures I've seen in a long time.  

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Relative humidity

It's a strange place I live in when 95 degrees in the shade seems like "cool" weather, comfortable enough to do vigorous garden work!  Of course it's all relative.  Because the humidity is also incredibly low, I barely broke a sweat this morning as I scrubbed the algae off my little patio fountain--after chasing away the salamanders that like to hide underneath.

Months of 95+ weather here (in Phoenix), would be disastrous in New England.  The 30+ days we've had of 110 degrees and as high as 117 degrees would be impossible to bear there.  But here, we have soldiered on through the over-the-top heat.  My gardens have suffered.  I threw away several withered up plants today that succumbed.  I will start over again in a few weeks when the temperatures are down to stay for awhile.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

My Story, My Song

This is my story, this is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long. 

If anyone ever embodied the meaning of this beloved hymn, literally, it was my friend Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse.  I say "friend" because she truly was my friend, although many years older than I, and many times more gifted and talented and beloved than I could ever hope to be.  We were not equals in sense of the word . . . except in purpose and mission.  Her mission, her passion, was to bring God to the world through music.  Classical music.  It was there, through this medium of music, that we met.  It sounded like heaven.  It was there, through this ministry of music, that she and thousands met.  And it is there, because of her ministry in music, that we will meet again someday.  Founder and director of the New England Youth Ensemble, Virginia-Gene was a force to reckon with.  A legend.  An icon.  A difference-maker.  A mentor and friend.

Virginia-Gene Shankel Rittenhouse
Tuesday morning, a tsunami wave of enormous proportions swept over the musical world, leaving hundreds of musicians, young and old, bereft of their leader and mentor.  As the word got out that Virginia-Gene had passed to her rest, we began to reach out to each other, through Facebook and other means, to comfort and to share.  There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of stories of how she brought kids together to play music and took them around the world to praise God.  We could tell stories by the hundreds--stories of the crazy experiences...and yes, miracles...that occurred on tour.  Tales of sleepless nights, bus breakdowns, lost passports, border crossings, sunstroke, buckets of granola, apple crisp, 5 concerts in a day, and lives touched.  And then there were her stories!  She was an amazing story-teller!  You've not heard stories until you've heard her tell one...

The Ensemble in 1975. 
I am struggling to find the words to express the difference she made.  I don't think it's possible.  You can read about her here, but unless you spent time with her, unless you saw her at her highest as well as her lowest, you can't begin to understand what it meant to have her in your life, however briefly.  She made her mark the first time you met her.  And if you were lucky enough to tour with her, even once, never mind over and over, your life was never the same.  And you were part of the Ensemble family forever.  That in itself is a gift.  We are coming together again this week, through Facebook, and over the next several weeks at various Life Celebrations.  We will be sharing our memories, sharing our loss and our appreciation for the gift she gave each of us.  This world will not be the same without her, but we have the hope and promise of seeing her again in the world made new.  That blessed assurance was hers.  That, above all, was her story and her song.  And it is ours in no small measure because of her.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Richly Blessed

This time last year, I was unemployed and planning to spend the next year on Sabbatical from teaching.  I thought I would be writing, traveling, and otherwise enjoying life.  Independent.  Answering to no one (at least not a boss) and nothing.  I was looking forward to it.  Who wouldn't?  But an out-of-the-blue phone call from a principal at a boarding school in Arizona changed everything.  A week later, I was on a plane bound for Phoenix.  Less than 24 hours later, even before I had arrived back in Boston, the job was mine.  If I wanted it.  A week later, I was packed and on my way back to Arizona for what ended up being an extremely interesting and rewarding school year teaching English in what almost seemed like a foreign country to me, so different was it from anything else I'd known--both culturally and professionally.

Among the many things that could stand out about that story, two things rise above them all.  The first is the way I felt when I was listening to the principal talk about the job during that first phone call.  My heart leapt up, literally.  It was shocking to me to realize that, to physically feel what it meant to even think about teaching again.  I hadn't considered how much it meant to me because I had been so busy making it OK not to be teaching for awhile.  The second is the way I felt retelling the above story this week to a new staff member.  I could feel myself smiling all over.  I was so happy, through and through, to be teaching!  What a blessing to be doing something with your life and know it's the right thing, the thing you were meant to do!

This sumer, I've been reading a couple of historical novels set during the Civil War.  This was not by design, but mere happenstance.  Perhaps.  The first was an amazing book about a young midwife who wanted to become a surgeon so much that she went to Washington to serve as a nurse in order to get experience working with doctors.  this was during a time when women were not considered fit for medical school, never mind medical practice.  Long story short, she reached her goal, but not before she experienced the horrors and terrors of a most brutal war.  Robin 's My Name is Mary Sutton is a must-read.  It was absolutely impossible to put the book down.  The writing was so distinct and clear that I often felt that I was Marry Sutton.  I lived and breathed her experiences.  Powerful stuff!

The second was the latest in a favorite series of mine devoted to women quilters:  The Union Quilters from Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilters series.  I have loved her books from the first, so I was looking forward to reading this one, especially as I had just finished reading about one woman's role in the Civil War.  I hate saying it, but coming off Robin's fabulous book, Jennifer's paled in comparison.  At first.  I struggled through the first few chapters, forcing myself to read on because I knew from past experience with this author that her stories were compelling and worth pursuing.  Happily, my perseverance has been rewarded.  I am about two thirds of the way done and am enjoying the read, as I had expected to do from the beginning.

Both books have presented a perspective that we don't often read about when studying the Civil War:  that of the women.  In the case of Mary Sutton, she put herself in the thick of things.  I have read Louisa May Alcott's account of her time, however brief, as a nurse in Washington and it parallels what I read here.  Conditions were deplorable for all, the medical staff as well as the patients.  Medical practices were primitive.  Conditions were anything but sterile.  Amputations were myriad.  Deaths were legion.  It's a wonder anyone got out alive!  And yet the doctors and nurses stayed on, doing ther best in untenable situations.

In the case of the Union quilters, they were relatively safe in the mountains of Pennsylvania.  But their loved ones--fathers, brothers, husbands, lovers00were off fighting in those appalling conditions, and it was the women's "job" to find ways to send comfort, courage, and strength to their soldiers in whatever way they could.  They raised money, made quilts, sent provisions, wrote letters, and lived holding their breaths in hopes that their soldiers would come back to them alive and in one piece.

These two books forced me to take a look at my own life--at the things that I want, the things that I think I need.  Put next to those who just want their next breath, who need something as small as a whispered word of encouragement, I for nothing and have need of even less.  Put next to what I thought I wanted a year ago, what I have now is infinitely more, quite unexpectedly so.  As my mother told me so long ago, "When you put your destiny in God's hands, there are no regrets."  I sometimes forget where I have placed myself:  in His hands.  I try to take charge of my own life, follow my own plans, often without thinking things all the way through.  Thankfully, God doesn't forget.  He has had me in His thoughts and plans the whole time.  When those plans are finally revealed, I am chagrined to think I thought I had something better. . .

Prayer found on dead body of Confederate soldier:

"I asked God for strength that I might achieve.  I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.  I asked for health that I might do greater things.  I was given infirmity that I might do better things.  I asked for riches that I might be happy. I was given poverty that I might be wise.  I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.  I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.  I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.  I was given life that I might enjoy all things.  I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.  Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.  I am, among all men, most richly blessed."

Indeed, so am I.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Houses and Gardens II

While I enjoyed visiting the two beautiful homes with their lovely gardens this week, I had the privilege of actually staying in two other beautiful homes with lovely gardens.  One belongs to my sister in Massachusetts and the other to my mother in Maine.  They don't have the resources the other two gardeners have, but I think their handiwork rivals any I saw in public.

I have long envied both my sister and mother their flowers, but until the past 10 months I never lived anywhere that I could have my own garden.  Now that I do, I am trying to figure out how to bring the color of these two gardens to my small desert gardens in AZ.  When I get back home later this summer, I will work on that...being inspired as I have been this past week.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Houses and Gardens

I'm back in MA/ME for 5 weeks and am quite happy to be here. Today, my sister and I visited two public homes and gardens for the sheer enjoyment of the sight and smell. In the morning (fairly early), we went to the Glen Magna Farm in Danvers, MA to walk through the gardens. The place smelled amazing, and was so peaceful with the dew still on the flowers. There was just one small act of violation: a female snapping turtle was tearing up one side of the gardens presumably looking for a place to lay her eggs. We steered clear of her!

In the afternoon, we joined an open house/tour of the Willowdale Estate in the Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield, MA. Mr. Palmer founded the company that eventually became Gillette and was very well to do, to put it mildly. This estate was his "country cottage" that he left to the state of MA when he died. His instructions were that it was to be maintained for the enjoyment of all, free of charge. Built in 1901, it comes out of the "craft" era of design and is quite charming with its field stone facade and open-beamed ceilings. The gardens' designer took us through the gardens which consisted of mostly native, non-invasive butterfly-and-bee-attracting plants. Yet another sweet-smelling visual feast!