Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Day Like This

There are some fall days that are just amazingly beautiful - clear blue sky, cool refreshing breeze, colorful leaves adorning the trees everywhere - days like this:

Unfortunately, today isn't one of those days. Today is a day like this:

Cold, damp, dreary, rainy...and our furnace is on the blink. SO -I made myself a big pot of my favorite soup* and tucked in to a hearty bowlful.

Now, I'm all set to curl up in my favorite chair, wrap up in a warm, cuddly blanket, and indulge myself in some of my favorite things to do on a day like this ~

Of course, it probably won't be long before I join these two ~
And, actually, that's a pretty good way to spend a day like this!

*Paradise Steak Soup (courtesy of the Paradise Grill in Branson, MO)
Brown 1 pound lean ground beef (or turkey) in a Dutch oven over medium high heat.
Add 2 cups diced onions, 1 cup each diced carrots and celery, and 1 tablespoon minced garlic; cook 10 to 12 minutes until vegetables are softened;
Add 3 cans (13-14 oz. each) chicken broth, 1 can (16 oz) crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon red pepper sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes;
Meanwhile, melt 1/4 cup of butter or margarine in a small saucepan; stir in 1/2 cup flour. Cook over medium high heat, stirring until deep brown. Whisk into soup. Cover and simmer 15 minutes more.
Makes 11 cups.
Serve with hot crusty bread and a crisp salad for a tasty meal that warms both tummy and heart!


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Poetry Thursday -When I Am Among the Trees

Who could not love a day like today, with its brilliant blue sky, crisp breeze with just a hint of chill, and most of all, the trees hung with their great scarlet and gold medallions. And yet, in spite of all this beauty, it was a day of great weariness for me. One of those inexplicable days when the soul is heavy and the body even wearier. I dragged myself home after a late afternoon rehearsal, threw myself into my softest easy chair, and picked up the book on the table beside me. I opened it to these words of perfect beauty and simplicity. And while the second stanza pierced my heart with it's truth, I was comforted by the sage advice of the last - "it's too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine."

When I Am Among The Trees
Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."

for more poems to ease your weary soul, look here


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Written in the Stars(?) - the Results

I'm the first to admit that artistic projects are not my forte. But last week I embarked on a rather creative project at my office, which I mentioned here. Some of you have been clamoring to see the results, so, without further ado......

my colorful array of post-it flags, in a unique linear arrangement

A Box Full of Darkness

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
Mary Oliver, Thirst

I was once given a box full of darkness. Someone I loved gave it to me, too. The darkness was actually disillusionment, disappointment, and despair. The box was full of meanness, lies, and deceit.
The first thing I did with this box was glorify it. I gave it pride of place in my emotional world. I let it consume my thoughts, my heart, and my mind. Every so often, when I was feeling at my most vulnerable, I opened it up and peered into the darkness, where I would wail and cry in despair, pitying myself for being dealt such a dark and horrible blow.
Time passed, and I found myself opening the dark box less often. Sometimes, I was just too busy with other things to spend the time I knew the darkness required. Other times, I simply didn't have the energy to deal with all those dark emotions. Eventually, I was just bored with the dark box and it's perpetual whining.
Then came the day that my thoughts drifted toward the darkness, and I realized the dark box was no longer there. For a few frenzied moments, my mind searched for it, but I simply could not conjure it up. A deep sigh of relief welled within me, and I knew the darkness was gone for good. In it's place was a very quiet sense of understanding. peace, and forgiveness, a sensation that I had never before known, but one I wanted very much to store up and treasure.
At one time or another, life will hand each one of us a box full of darkness. It's important to keep that box around for a while - but not for too long. Buried deep inside this box is a wealth of insight, compassion, and self-awareness. When you dig deeply enough to reach this layer, you've found the real buried treasure - the true gift that's hidden in the darkness.


Monday, September 25, 2006

One Deep Breath-Windows and Doors

particles of glass
combine with artist's vision~
awesome creation

We visited so many cathedrals during our trip to the UK last year, and I was in my own personal glory viewing all the stained glass windows, each centuries old, and each depicting it's own creation story.

But one of my favorite stained glass windows is quite new, and right here in the US - the West Rose Window of Washington's National Cathedral. This contemporary masterpiece is also known as the "Creation" window. An abstract rendering of the beginnings of mankind, it was designed by artist Rowan LeCompte and installed above the west front portal of the Cathedral in 1976. Set ablaze by the rays of the sun, the window is an impressive 25 feet in diameter and contains over 10,500 pieces of clear and colored glass.

Besides its beauty, there's another reason I love this window so much. Our guide told us that the artist was visiting the National Cathedral with his school when he was about 13 years old. During that visit, he became so entranced with the stained glass already in place, he decided then and there that creating art with glass was going to be his life's work. He began studying on his own, and had his first window installed in the National Cathedral just a few years later. Besides the fact that the artist and I share a common name (Rowan is my surname), the teacher in me is just delighted with this story!
for more haiku go here


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Instructions

How to...

Sing with the voice of the nightingale, or chickadee ~

Move with grace, swift as the deer through the wood ~

Flow ceaselessly, like the neverending tide ~

Sparkle in a million diamonds like the sun on the sea~

Gaze in wonder with the eyes of a child ~

Love with wild passion and consuming fire ~

Savor each moment of life's grand adventure ~

Instruct me in these ~ what more would I need?
for further instructions, go here

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Force To Be Reckoned With

“I have forced myself to begin writing when I've been utterly exhausted, when I've felt my soul as thin as a playing card…and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.”
Joyce Carol Oates
"Don't force yourself," my grandmother used to say, when friends would call me to go out playing on an icy cold winter day, or teachers would urge me to compete in piano competitions.
"If you're not feeling up to it, you shouldn't try to do it."
Thinking back on it, this was odd advice from a woman who came of age during the Great Depression, the eldest of eight children. An unusual way of thinking for a southern farmer's daughter, who became a farmer's wife at age 17, a mother at 19. There must have been many times when she had to force herself to rise at dawn to care for the animals, to light the stove, to tend to a sick child. To bake the daily bread, harvest vegetables from the garden, and preserve them for the winter. In her youth, she was a strong, hardworking woman. And yet, she always seemed to encourage me to take the easy way, to ride life like a soft cloud, swerving neatly to avoid any potential bumps in the road.
I embraced her philosophy throughout my childhood, and even into early adulthood. With age, however, I've come to realize the necessity and value of "forcing myself." Countless times, I have grudgingly dressed in my concert attire and "utterly exhausted," dragged myself to the stage. Then, the lights go up, the performance begins, and suddenly everything changes. I'm not only energized, I'm excited, alive, fulfilled. There are mornings I open the pages of my journal, totally convinced that I have absolutely nothing to say, and as soon as the pen touches paper, words seem to bubble forth, like water suddenly released from behind a dam. Even in the most mundane of chores -if I can just push myself to attack those closets that need cleaning, or those drawers that must be sorted - there is a real sense of satisfaction in completing the project and restoring order to some small part of my material world.
It is so easy to play it safe, to allow ourselves to take the smooth road and avoid any detours that might require us to get out and push ourselves uphill. Sometimes, it's absolutely necessary to apply force in order to avoid total inertia. It's amazing how simply engaging in the activity (of writing, or playing music, working out at the gym or scrubbing the floor) can change everything.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Poetry Thursday- Your Own Voice

As someone just taking baby steps into the world of writing, and particularly the world of poetry, this week's Poetry Thursday prompt made me throw up my hands (metaphorically speaking) and cry WHOA! Voice? I don't think I have a "voice" yet, at least not in the poetic sense. Not in the way that Mary Oliver has a voice, or Jane Kenyon, or Naomi Shihab Nye, some of the poets whose work I've been reading and enjoying. I spent most of the week wandering around thinking, "where is my voice?" and "how do I find it?" I had just about decided to post a poem from one of the poets mentioned above, as if to say, "I don't have a voice of my own, but how I wish I had one like this!"

But then, I heard something. Not a voice, really, but a tiny whisper. So, I have a poem of my own to offer after all.

You must know ~
I've been searching endlessly
for this voice of mine.
Perhaps it hides
beneath loads of laundry
and lists of chores,
notes from various people
(not friends)
who beg money or time from me.
Perhaps it's injured or frightened,
remembering a moment in the past
when it ventured cautiously
from behind it's safest shelter,
only to have me ~it's protector~
shove it hastily aside,
discount its worth,
continue blithely with
the truly important tasks
that fill my day ~
the dusting, the driving, the tidying up
of all the cobwebby corners
of my world.
I tell myself now
to sit quietly
and gently call its name,
coax it to me
with a promise
of fresh ink, blank paper
a full measure of my devotion.
There is more poetry here


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Written in the Stars (?)

Your imagination is flying high today, dear Pisces. Intellect and intuition join together in a vivid and explosive union where the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. Don't waste this energy. Get busy and work on whatever creative projects you're involved with, or start one if there aren't any. This energy may not come around again for a while, and you'll want to make the most of it. Have fun!
I really wish I had read this horoscope this morning when I first got out of bed, instead of now, at 8:00 pm, when I'm about to change into my comfy flannel jammies, pour myself my alloted glass of wine for the day, and burrow into the corner of my leather couch to watch Dancing With the Stars. If I had only known before I went to work that my intellect and intuiton were going to join in a vivid and explosive union, I'm sure all those reports I typed and mailed at the office would have immediatley caught the eye of a top literary agent. And that fax requesting a quote for shower grab bars and a raised commode seat would probably have garnered me a nomination for a Pulitzer prize.
Of course, I did make some headway on one very important creative proect - my stockpile of post-it flags are now individually displayed in a colorful flag-like banner along the entire length of the shelf above my cubical, a project I completed during the time I was on hold with the telephone company repair service.
Oh well, tomorrow's another day, another opportunity to make the most of my creative energy, assuming it comes around again. And tomorrow, I'll be checking the horoscope first thing with my morning coffee, just to see if my imagination might be flying high.

Monday, September 18, 2006

One Deep Breath-Delicious Autumn

Summer's on the wane
green glory slipping into gold
harbinger of fall
A visual feast
nourishes my hungry soul
for the long winter

There's no doubt about it, autumn is here. Daylight arrives later and later, while dusk falls earlier and earlier. I've been keeping my eye on this tree, which grows more crimson every day. I love the colors of fall, along with all the other delights of the season - new sweaters, fires in the hearth, hearty soups for dinner, and snuggling under the covers at night. From now on, I'll be busy storing up all these delights in preparation for the dreary cold of winter.

for more haiku celebrating the deliciousness of autumn, go here

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Google Magic

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet."
--From Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)


1) From the Hebrew name רִבְקָה (Rivqah), possibly meaning "a snare" or "a noose" in Hebrew, or perhaps derived from an Aramaic name. This was the name of the wife of Isaac and the mother of Esau and Jacob in the Old Testament;
2)Rebecca is the English form of a Hebrew name, Rebekah. Until the 17th century, Rebecca was almost exclusively a Jewish name. After the Reformation, however, it became one of many Old Testament names adopted by Protestants. Rebecca was especially popular with the Puritans. It was revived in the late 20th century. In 1900-1910, it was 161st most popular baby name in the US. In 2003, it was the 64th most popular.

I've always been really interested in names. When I hear news of a birth, the first question I'm likely to ask is, "What did they name her (or him)?" After all, your name is the one thing about yourself that probably will never change - unlike your skin, hair color, and certainly height and weight, your name isn't affected by the ravages of time. So, unless you take the time and trouble to change it legally, it's yours intact from birth to death.

When I was a kid back in the 60's I was the only girl named Rebecca in my entire school. I liked that actually. I was never a child who felt compelled to be like everyone else, so I was secretly proud of the fact that I wasn't one of the three of four Kathy's or Debbie's or Linda's that always seemed to be in my classes. I did go through a phase of spelling Becky with an "i" on the end (I know, really stupid), but that didn't last long.

I've also always liked the fact that Rebecca is a Hebrew name, particularly since I discovered that some of my earliest ancestors here in America were actually Jews from Germany, who arrived here in the mid 1700's and settled in the area that is now Pennsylavania. However, I'm not fond of the Hebrew etymology. A "snare," or "noose"? Not a very attractive image to fulfill. Modern baby name books use the word "captivating" as the meaning, which is certainly much more appealing.

I remember asking my mother why she chose this particular name, since it was rather unusual in the mid-1950's when I was born. And she said just what I would expect her to say - that she wanted my name to be special and unique, because that was the kind of person she wanted me to be. (On the rare occasions when I did complain about not having or doing something that "everyone else was doing," my mother always gave me a withering look and asked pointedly, "Do you really want to be like everyone else?" Grudgingly, I had to admit that I really didn't.) So, perhaps it was partly because of my "special and unique" name that I've always been quite comfortable in my own skin, even when I don't blend in with the crowd.

How about you? What's in your name?


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Poetry Thursday - In the Voice of Another

If Life should walk Beside me
all Lovliness to See -
I'd take its Hand - invite it In -
my Heart's true Company.
If Death should walk Beside me
grave Lonliness to Bear -
it too, would be Welcome -
my Heart's burden Gladly share.
For now, Content, I walk Alone
midst trees of Evergreen -
my Rhymes and Songs to Guide me
toward Pathways yet Unseen.
Emily Dickinson has always fascinated me, from the time I was a child and first read "I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you - Nobody - too?" I was, and still am, envious of her complete self-containment, her single minded dedication to her poetry. Her reclusive life seemed romantic and glamorous to me, a young girl growing up in a midwestern suburb, cherishing her own dreams of "the writer's life," and I almost feel as if I'm committing an act of sacrilege, making this faint attempt to capture the rhythm and grace of her voice.
For more poems in the voice of another, go here


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

In Confidence

Perhaps there was something in the air, or maybe it was the specter of 9/11, but it seems that yesterday was the day everyone chose to confide in me.

First, there was my neighbor, a lovely elderly man who shares his garden produce with everyone and cheerfully keeps watch on our homes when we're away. He stopped by as I was coming in from walking to the dogs and told me all about his wife who is showing increasing signs of dementia -forgetting to pay bills, repeating questions over and over, signs I am certainly all too familiar with. My heart was still aching for him when the phone rang, and it was my friend and colleague, bemoaning the fact that school counselors had pulled another five students from her girls choir because of a schedule conflict with required courses. She admitted to feelings of despair over the music program she had worked so hard to build over the past 18 years, now feeling as if it were now "disintegrating before her eyes," in her last year before retirement.

While I was still in shock at these mournful comments coming from my eternally optimistic friend, a call came from another friend whose 27 year old son died by suicide in January of this year. September 1 marked his birthday, and it was a conversation full of tears from both of us, as we remembered him and mourned his loss all over again.

I admit to being someone who likes to fix things, and when people confide their hurts and problems to me, I just itch to find a way to make it all better. So, after finishing all these conversations, I was wracking my brain trying to think of a way to help these people that I care about. Suddenly, I realized that I probably had helped them, just by listening to them, by lending a sympathetic, non-judgmental ear. Then I had a revelation of my own - I realized that I rarely, if ever, confide my problems to anyone. Not the really deep down, crisis of the soul sort of problems. I carry them with me, tightly knotted in a heavy sack so they can't possibly get out. Occasionally, I feel them come bubbling to the surface, trying to leave my mouth during a conversation with a friend, or even to flow from my pen as I write in my journal.
Usually, I stuff them back inside the sack, hidden forever like an evil monster. I'm not sure why I persist in this reticence - fear of boring people? of seeming weak or out of control? or just plain fear of looking head on at the things that pain me the most?
Perhaps there are two kinds of people in the world, confiders and confidantes. Which one are you? a confider? or a confidante?

Monday, September 11, 2006

One Deep Breath - Tanka

In Remembrance

Evil experience
shakes a country's foundation
we band together
to achieve our goal -
life, liberty, happiness.

Hearts ache in sorrow
my tears have not yet dried
remember the lost
stand strong in our unity
never forsaking the dream.

With hands outstretched
reaching out to each other
to combat evil
becoming a living bridge
spanning the river to peace.
~September 11, 2001
For more tanka go here

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Poetry Thursday- Blue

Holding the Words

Blue line on white paper,
a faint demarcation
to order my thoughts.

I set a black word upon the line
so as not to frighten it.
Slightly breathless, I lift my pen
allowing the word to balance there

It totters slightly ~
hopefully, it will right itself,
settle into place with confidence and authority.

Just a black word on a blue line ~
a small offering
to a world outside my own.
A small piece of my soul
placed tenderly upon the line
so your eye may caress it.

Carefully now ~
it's a delicate balance that word has achieved.
Go easy in your perusal,
Be kind in your assessment
~for it carries my heart.
here is more poetry

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

One Word

Here's an interesting exercise from a group called First Drafts. In my opinion, it's just plain cruel to ask a writer to do anything with just one word! But, I'll put on my game face and give it a go.

Yourself: Caring
Your partner:Loving
Your hair: Aggravating
Your Mother: Loving
Your Father: Puzzling
Your Favourite Item: Book
Your dream last night: Sad
Your Favourite Drink: Chardonnay
Your Dream Home: Bythesea (i made it one word, didn't I??)
The Room You Are In: Comforting
Your fear: Disapproval
Where you Want to be in Ten Years?: Creating
Who you hung out with last night: Family
What You're Not: Sedentary
Your Best Friend: Millie
One of Your Wish List Items: Fulfillment
Your Gender: Feminine
The Last Thing You Did: Read
What You Are Wearing: Jammies
Your favourite weather: Brisk
Your Favourite Book?: Mysterious
Last thing you ate?: Crackers
Your Life: Changing
Your mood: Excited
The last person you talked to on the phone: Pat
Who are you thinking about right now?: Susan

Monday, September 4, 2006

One Deep Breath - Solitude

Alone and serene
revelling in solitude
my spirit set free

My thoughts turn inward
searching mind, heart, and soul
awareness arrives

True understanding
life's mysteries revealed
alone, not lonely

Although most dictionary definitions for solitude have negative connotations, I've often had wonderful experiences being alone. It's a time when I'm free from all the pressures and demands of the world and it's people and focus on my own thoughts and feelings.

A favorite place to savor my solitude is in walks by the ocean. The eternal rhythm of the waves, the warm sun on my face, and the salty wind in my hair, relax my body and energize my spirit.

You will find more thoughts about solitude here

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Living Luxuriously

Yesterday, I did something completely luxurious. I spent two hours in one of my favorite places, a place I hadn't been to in years, indulging in one of my favorite pastimes. It felt wonderfully energizing, yet at the same time extremely soothing. I wanted to stay there all day.

And this wonderful, inspiring, invigorating place? My local coffee cafe, where I sat during the best part of yesterday's rainy morning, continually refilling my cup from the big silver urns, reading my book, surreptitiously evesdropping on various conversations, and making a few notes in my Moleskine journal.

Sitting in a coffee shop for a couple of hours is not something most people would consider luxurious. Neither is walking the hiking trail at the park taking pictures along the way, or singing along karaoke style with your favorite tunes. Nevertheless, these are the kinds of "small luxuries" that are so important to our sense of well being and to our creativity.

I knew this, but it took Julia Cameron and The Artist's Way to remind me. Cameron says that in order to allow our creativity to flourish, we need to practice "self-care," and "pamper ourselves" with the small luxuries that bring us joy. She writes that when we "put a stopper on our capacity for joy by declining the small gifts of life, we turn aside the larger gifts as well," gifts like creativity and contentment.

When I read this, I immediately began thinking about some of the ways I used to pamper myself. Notice I wrote that in the past tense, for I realized that it's been a long time since I've done these things on a regular basis. Perhaps that's why I continually feel so harried, rushed, and unfulfilled with everything in my life - as if I'm always behind the eight ball, and never quite able to catch up with all life's demands.

I scribbled my personal list of small luxuries right in the margins of the book ~

~a trip to the library
~walking in the park
~dancing to music on my stereo
~driving with the windows down and the radio blasting
~a long, hot, bath with a glass of wine, candles, and a good book
~and of course, spending the morning at the coffee shop, reading, writing, people watching

So, what are your small luxuries?? And, how often do you indulge yourself??

Sunday Scribblings-Fortune Cookie

First Cookie: My Family - husband, son, daughter-in-law, mother, father, puppy dogs
Second Cookie: Health and well being of all the above
Third Cookie: All my friends, those nearby and those in the blogsphere
Fourth Cookie: Work and co-workers that I love (most of the time)
Fifth Cookie: My talents and the ability to use them in ways I enjoy
Sixth Cookie: My home(s) - the old one, and the new one
Seventh Cookie: Living in a land of plenty, where everything I need is so readily available

These are my fortune, and I am indeed one fortunate cookie!

for other fortune cookies, go here

Friday, September 1, 2006

Grateful Friday

I love fall. Cool, crisp breezes that invite warm sweaters and extra big mugs of coffee in the morning. Blazing red and gold foliage, flaming in the sun. Back to school, with crisp new notebooks and sharp, woody-smelling pencils. I think I would not like to live in a place where there was no fall.

So, I was grateful today, on our walk in the park, when I spied this first frosting of red on these trees overhanging the river. I made Magic and Molly stand in one spot far longer than they liked while I took some pictures. I wondered why these branches have turned to crimson so much earlier than the rest of the tree. Are they forward thinkers, setting the standard for other limbs to follow? Are they early birds, eager to show off their colors before every one else? Or are they simply aging more quickly than necessary, giving up on the effort to stay green?

As much as I love fall, I am not immune to it's bittersweet nature. It's nature's last hurrah before the frosty months of winter, and I do not love winter. So even though I welcome these dusty red tipped branches, I also want to tell them to be patient, to hang onto their verdant green leaves as long as they can. To be grateful for life, in all its colors.


You were born on the cusp
of the earth's yearly turning,
that bitter twist
toward cold and death.

We call it fall,
but you lifted us up
with your feverish excitement
and passion for truth.
Your seasons were marked
with love and devotion.
But you -
always searching, never finding,
unable to bear
the full fire in your mind -
found comfort at last
in arms cold as ice.
Winter, your womb
at the end.
In memoriam -J.D.D. September 1, 1978-January 31, 2006