Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sixth Day of Christmas

Since discovering the church calendar, I have come to love experiencing Christmas as a twelve-day celebration. Not only does it free me up to send "late" Christmas cards and gifts, but it really does provide more opportunities to think about what it means that God became man, Word became flesh.

Today I read from N.T. Wright's Christmas Day sermon, which held Psalm 85 up as a background to John 1, and will share his summary paragraph:

But if that larger, global picture gives a brief indication of why John’s repeated ‘grace and truth’ matters, and matters urgently, in the wider world and church, we cannot of course ignore its message for our own lives. One of the great truths of spirituality is that you become like what you worship. We beheld his glory, says John: we gazed at it, long and lovingly, with adoration and worship, so that the marriage of grace and truth which we see and know in the Christ-child can be born in us as well, so that we can be people, we can become communities, in whom God’s grace generates and sustains a human integrity, a wholeness and holiness of character. And the definition of mission . . . can be restated in exactly the same terms: we are to become people in and through whom God’s grace overflows to the world around, producing a new integrity, a new truth and truthfulness, at every level from politics to university study to sexual morality to ecology (where the image of grace from above producing fruitfulness below is especially poignant), and reaching out into human hearts and lives and imaginations with the news that there is such a thing as truth, because there is such a thing as grace, because there is such a person as Jesus, and because in him we see and know God’s living word made living flesh and are summoned to become living words in living flesh ourselves. Grace and truth have met together; justice and peace have kissed each other; truth springs up from the earth, and justice looks down from heaven. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace; for the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Come to him today, taste his grace and truth in bread and wine, and become yourselves wedding guests, feasting at the marriage of heaven and earth.

Merry Christmas!
(This is our Christmas tree from our Christmas visit to Croatia four years ago.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Charlotte's Web

We just saw it tonight.

You need to see it.

Some people probably call me sentimental. Depending on which definition you use, I might or might not agree with that. But I don't see Charlotte's Web as sentimental. I think it really connects with some deep stuff of life.

At any rate, I was sobbing by the end of the movie and had to ask for Drazen's handkerchief. (His comment on the movie: "It was fun." Vive la difference.)

I remember this book so fondly from earlier years, and I enjoyed learning in later years that the author was the same E.B. White of Strunk and White, so well-known among English majors. I knew it wasn't "just" a children's book.

But it wasn't until tonight that I saw the story on a whole different level, the level that made me sob.

Because it hit me tonight that it is truly because of friends, mostly older friends, who have written or spoken special words about me, that I am alive today. Not that I would have ended up in the smokehouse like Wilbur. But several times in my life I am quite sure I would have died inside, and almost did, had it not been for the words others had applied to me.

Words that told me I was loved.

Words that helped me believe in a "me" beyond the one I was able to see at the time.

Words that pointed me to the One who gave me life to begin with.

Words that gave me hope and a future.

And some of those who wrote and spoke those words have, like Charlotte, left this life. And death will eventually separate us from all those we love . . . for a while.

And that's why I sat there with tears streaming down my face, thinking of Grandmother, and Mr. Wright, and other precious people who are still living and will go unmentioned because they are humble and might be embarrassed.

They are all some friends, terrific, and radiant, as well.

If you haven't seen the movie, go see it. See it in honor of the people who have found the right words for you, who have seen your soul in a way you could not. For the people who have saved your life.

And go find words for others who need them.

(And enjoy it, too: it really is fun!)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Flying Dreams

In fifth grade I had a dream of flying over the playground at school. I've never forgotten it, but I had no more dreams of flying until about two weeks before going to Lookout Mountain.

Interpretations about flying dreams abound, but the main issue for me was that dreaming of flying was so lovely, such a beautiful and free feeling, I wondered if hang gliding might not be a disappointment after the dream flight.

I'm happy to report that my first experience with hang gliding, despite the lack of visual romance alluded to in the earlier post, did not let me down.

Not only that: it outdid my dreams.

The plane took us up to an altitude of 4,000 feet. Up until this time the plane's motor was a constant companion, and of course we were moving pretty quickly, so it felt fast and fairly bumpy. Then Eric said, "I'm going to release us from the plane now. It's going to feel like a big bump."

And it did, and my tummy felt much the way you feel when a fast elevator stops or takes off.

(Here you can see the rope that held us, about to be released.)

But then . . . but then . . . it was just us and the wind.

It was breathtakingly beautiful. I remember saying, "Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness." And "Beautiful. This is beautiful. This is just beautiful."

It was a clear day, and we could see so far in every direction. Not like being in a airplane at all, really, because then you can only see out windows.

It was amazing. It was beautiful.

And so quiet. The peacefulness struck me as much as the beauty.

I would have been happy to just hang there and say nothing (except I couldn't stop saying "this is beautiful....")

But this was supposed to be in part a lesson, not just a dream fulfilled.

So, at some point Eric let me turn the glider left and right and showed me how he slowed it down and made it go faster. I was struck by two things: how relatively simple it was to maneuver the glider, and how much I need to get in better shape. Because even though it's simple, it does take strength.

He pointed out Cloud Canyon State Park, and we wondered at a large green forest atop a plateau in the midst of all the autumn leaves. The leaves, of course, were a big part of why I kept saying "beautiful." They were at their autumn peak, and when you can see them for miles and miles around, the intensity of the color is almost overwhelming.

It was fascinating, too, to have seen them quite close as we were leaving the ground; and then to see the shapes and colors merge into a sort of impressionist painting as we were pulled higher and higher; and then as we began gliding down, to see them take shape again until we could point out individual trees to one another.

I remember asking Eric how long he had been gliding. Six years. What did he do before that? “I was in graduate school for an MBA.” How did he wind up doing this? “I just came up here one time and did it, and after that I was hooked.” After a moment of looking around at the beauty, he added, “I think I made the right decision.”

I remember showing Eric a brilliant red tree, probably a maple, growing in front of a house. And thinking how strange it was to have this view from this perspective. To see these people’s tree in a way that they may have never seen it themselves.

Eric would occasionally have me turn the glider. And sometimes he had me do other things. I always thought it had to do with the gliding lessons, but sometimes it turned out he was just wanting a pose for a photo.

Eventually we were back in the area of the flight park. Eric asked if I wanted to land the glider. I still don’t know if he was serious or not, but I said I thought it would be fine for him to land us! Then he asked how about if we first flew by the launch ramp to “say hello.” I said that was fine with me.

Well, “saying hello” to him meant swooping down over the group of folks gathered at the ramp, so close that we could see each individual face. I’m sure we could have heard their greetings if I had not been screaming. (I learned the following day from a man who was on the ramp at the time that we were going about 50 mph. No wonder it felt so fast!)

Happily I felt the peace and quiet resume as we glided into landing position in the remaining 1300 feet we had to go. I think in a way that was the most amazing part, being so close to the ground, and yet moving above it. I can’t find anything to compare it to.

Inch by inch we came closer to the ground until there was a very small bump and our wheels touched down, rolling to a stop. It took a moment to be unhooked and un-velcroed from the contraption I was in. And then walking was something else! Kind of like trying to walk after you’ve skated for a long time.

Within minutes, once I got my legs back, my main thought was that it already seemed like a dream. Being down on the ground, it was hard to believe that I really had been up there. It was such a very different perspective and experience, where different thoughts and feelings were possible. Much like a dream.

Except that it was real.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Day Before Hang Gliding

Well, I know you’ve all been waiting on the edges of your computer desk chairs to finally read about my in-the-air hang gliding adventure. (Remember, the part that I had written my heart out about, that got lost when I transferred to BloggerBeta?)

I hope tomorrow to have a good chunk of time to sit and re-reflect on that experience and write in a way that will do it justice.

So right now I thought it might help to share a bit of the journey I took en route to Lookout Mountain Flight Park. To prime my own pump, and perhaps to whet your whistle. (Messy metaphorical sentence, but at least they both have to do with water.)

I drove from Searcy to Memphis that day, went to church, and then drove from Memphis to Sewanee, a lovely mountaintop town in East Tennessee. It’s the home of the University of the South, where a friend of mine finished seminary recently.

This dear friend, when I told him I needed a place to stay in the area, told me about St. Mary’s convent having a guesthouse. “Tell them I sent you” was enough to convince me that I’d probably be welcome. And I was. I called a couple of days ahead of my trip, and they had a bed waiting for me.

I had been to the convent a few years ago, but that was in the daytime, and we walked from the retreat center where we were staying.

This time I got there after dark. I was a little nervous, making turn after turn when I could barely see the road, let alone the signs I’d been told to look for.

But I found it, without any wrong turns. Sister Elizabeth and a big dog named Sara greeted me, and after a quick supper and a walk in the moonlight, I spent a peaceful night.

The next morning I had time for another walk. As winter sets in, take a moment to enjoy these pictures of beautiful fall in the mountains.
This was my home for about eighteen hours! (My room was on the right side.)

The convent is built on the very edge of the mountain. Sorry for the bad lighting, but you can see through the windows and imagine looking from the inside out over a huge beautiful valley.

Autumn is the loveliest, is it not?

This tree branch amazed me. It grew sideways and curved back down to the ground.

If anyone has an explanation for how/why a tree would grow like that, I'd love to hear it. It looks like it is dancing to its own music, doesn't it? Or maybe it was afraid of heights?

And so, after a lovely walk, I got back in the car and after a quick call to the friend who had made the overnight stay possible, drove to Lookout Mountain. By that time, I have to admit, I was wondering if I ought to write a just-in-case goodbye letter to leave somewhere.

You know. Just in case.

And tomorrow I'll see if I can describe the actual flight for you.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rosemary the Cow

At some point in my childhood or early adolescence, I arrived at the idea that it would be a good thing for me to have a cow one day when the time was right.

It had nothing to do with the phrase “have a cow” that was heard so often for a while.

No, I really thought it would be good for me to own and be responsible for a cow. I suppose repeated readings of James Herriot books had something to do with it, along with Laura Ingalls Wilder being a part of my life.

The thing was, I knew that you had to milk a cow every morning, no matter what. Cold weather, rain, even waking up with a headache could not stop you from milking the cow, or else it would be very bad for the cow.

And I also knew that I struggled with being disciplined.

So, it just made sense to me that being responsible for a cow’s wellbeing was the answer. It would force me to develop a regular routine and be disciplined and committed to it, and I figured this would help transform my character and eventually affect my discipline in other areas of life. (The old-fashioned-ness of it appealed to me, as well. I also recall in fourth grade vowing that I would never have a computer or microwave in my house, the way the Weekly Reader was predicting people would.)

Fast forward to the present.

I haven’t yet had that little house in the country that would make adopting a cow possible. And I haven’t yet become the disciplined person I want to be.

A week or more ago I was shopping at Wild Oats and saw the most precious little rosemary bushes trained to grow like small Christmas trees. I immediately loved them for their Christmas-y look, their Italian connection, and their pungent aroma.

I went over to read the attached card. Among other things it said, “If kept in pot must be watered daily.”

I almost walked away.

But then I thought, “Here is my cow! Rosemary the cow!”

And I brought Rosemary home. She has been staying in my office, the sunniest room in the house. And I’ve been watering her every day.

Every day, that is, until . . . well, umm . . . I’m not sure exactly which day I managed to forget. I know it’s been at least two days. This evening I looked at her and was stricken to see drooping ends all over and some brown areas. I nearly had a cow, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Now her roots are in a bowl of water overnight as I seek to repair the damage. I just hope this little operation will go as well as some of James Herriott’s did. I feel bad about it, and I wonder how it is that I have twelve other houseplants that have been living for several years. I guess it’s because they don’t require daily watering. And it’s that grace at work in the universe, keeping things from going as badly as they ought.

So, whether it’s keeping a plant alive, or keeping my own soul alive, I’m thankful for new beginnings and the grace that keeps us going even when we neglect that daily care.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Today at one point when I was checking my email, the msn menu on one page offered these options for viewing, all in one list:

Hollywood’s most powerful funnymen

10 tips to a low-cost divorce

Making pretty pie crusts

Can Britney bounce back?

And Britney’s story was touted as the story of highest interest.

Those of us who use computers see these little headlines everyday, and I’m not sure why this hit me so hard today. But I was really struck with the following:

Making pie crusts was right there under divorce, as if they belonged on the same page.

The story on divorce was described the way you’d talk about saving money on buying a car or doing a home repair job.

Divorce was in the same phrase with “tips,” as if it’s just a normal thing people go through and might need some friendly tips on the best way to do it. And the emphasis was on saving money, not salvaging relationships or self worth or anything like that.

Two of the items have absolutely nothing to do with the real life of almost anyone viewing the page. They are about movie stars and a singer that surely less than one percent of the people seeing the page will ever be affected by personally.

Does this strike anyone besides me as madness?

It reminds me of Don McLean’s song, “Prime Time.” If you don’t know it, say so and I’ll provide the lyrics. What started out as the craziness of television, where you could watch video footage of the war in Vietnam and be interrupted by a commercial for toothpaste or deodorant, has spread beyond TV to all kinds of media.

I know other people think about this because I read their books and articles. But outside the field of sociology and psychology, do people notice that our brains are being taught to trivialize nearly everything? Does this bother you? Do you see how it affects the society we live in? What kind of effects does this have on you? Can we even know what effects it has on us?

I’m curious to know what you all think.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christ the King

Today is the Sunday of Christ the King, according to the church calendar. A day that brings to mind celebration and triumph and power and victory, all those “positive” things we modern Americans like so much to focus on.

(It must be said, however, that our ideas about power and victory are generally very different from power as understood through historical Christian teaching.)

We want to triumph in our own lives. We like to celebrate--and rarely even talk about mourning and grieving, not to mention the simple but sometimes excruciating task of bearing our crosses and standing up under the weight of them.

So I, feeling the heavy weight of my particular cross this morning, was deeply touched by this unfamiliar verse of a familiar hymn. The version I grew up singing did not include it:

Crown him the Son of God before the worlds began,
and ye, who tread where he hath trod, crown him the Son of man;
who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
and takes and bears them for his own, that all in him may rest.

He walked on this earth. He hurt. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He denied himself, took up his cross, and lost his life.

He sees, he hears, he knows, he cares.

He will redeem all pain and sorrow.

Let’s not leave out that verse. People need to hear it sung.

(For those interested in comparing, this is the same crucifix as pictured in my January 6, 2006 blog entry, from St. Columba Retreat Center. It seems appropriate for this post, as time and weather and woodpeckers have taken their toll, and the Christ figure has disintegrated except for the part you see here which once represented the right arm. It is sad, but also a reminder that Christ himself is alive no matter what time and nature bring. Though he suffered to the end, his life did not end on the cross.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Reflection

This mirrored cabinet once hung on the wall outside my grandmother’s kitchen door, where you see it in the photo.

I love this picture, which I took about a year and a half ago, because of the way the mirror reflects the window facing it. And of course the window looks out onto the yard.

And so by looking in one direction, into the mirror, you can actually get a glimpse of life in the opposite direction, the light coming in the window.

It fits my Thanksgiving experience this year.

Last night as I cooked cornbread dressing and eggplant casserole--using Grandmother’s recipes, her measuring spoons and pyrex 2-cup measurer, her wooden spoon, her cast iron cornbread mold—I was looking toward the meal for today. Looking forward to seeing family, eating together, playing guitar and piano and singing together, watching eight little cousins deepen their ties with one another.

And as the aromas filled the house, I was suddenly looking in the opposite direction. Hearing Aunt Dorothy ask Grandmother, “Do you think we need to turn the oven up for the dressing? Everything else is about ready.”

When I realized there wasn’t room in our refrigerator to hold everything, my mind pulled up images of going out to Grandmother’s car trunk to get boiled custard or dressing that wouldn’t fit in either of her two refrigerators. So I checked the forecast for the night, and decided we could leave our dishes out in our garage, where they spent the night.

Memories galore returned last night. They say that scent is the sense most closely connected to memory, and I believe it.

And today, watching young Jonathan and Daniel hug each other tightly, or older Emily agree to sit at the table with the really “little kids,” I remembered playing with my similar-aged cousins at Grandmother’s house, and later sitting in the kitchen with the younger batch, even though I was really too old to be in there.

And I knew that someday those little children would sing in each other’s weddings, listen to each other’s stories, look back on these days the way I look back on our visits with cousins.

Past, present, future. We think of them as separate pieces of life, but they’re really not, are they? They are all just different parts of one long story.

I’m thankful to have a part in this story.

Here’s to Thanksgiving—past, present, and future.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed:
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His flock, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.

O enter then His gates with praise,
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? The Lord our God is good;
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
* * * * * * * * * *
I grew up singing this hymn both at church and sometimes at school. As a child I liked it because in third grade my teacher Mrs. Lawson had us memorize Psalm 100, and I liked being able to connect these phrases with what I had memorized.

As I grew a little older, I liked it because of the simple harmonies that opened into full chords and a fermata at the end of each line. In College Church, where I grew up, singing together as a congregation was a taste of heaven. We had several trained singers, and most people were trained simply by a life of singing in church. The result was an energy and a beauty in congregational singing that remains in my heart today as a very special treasure.

But the memory most precious to me is of singing just the last verse, the Doxology, around the table at Grandmother's house before a meal. Not so many voices, and the sound not so lovely. But knowing our own history and seeing God's goodness through it was beautiful.

May you enjoy the memories that come to you in the upcoming days and weeks. And may we all live our lives in a way to create new memories that we can treasure in the years to come.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Grace in a White Plastic Bowl

Preliminary addendum:Oh great, now Blogger won't publish the spaces between my paragraphs! It shows spaces when I compose it, but then it's all smashed together when I publish it. Who knows how it will look at the time you are reading it? I'm going to try double spacing between paragraphs. Who knows? Maybe it will translate everything into another language. This is maddening.
Original composition: Despite my previous post's rant about the changes in (on? about?) Blogger, I have actually been thinking more often about how often good things happen when we least expect it and certainly when we least deserve it.
In the photo, look to the left, about a third of the way down, and you will see the brilliant red of a geranium blossom. According to the experts, it's actually a Pelargonium, but since most people call it geranium, that's what I'll call it here.
I've always been struck by the joyful look at red geraniums sitting on front porches, or grouped in bunches at the nursery.
Last year I actually read about a study in which researchers had men and women look at various kinds of flowers, including geraniums of various colors, and then measured chemicals in the blood after each viewing.
They found that simply seeing a red geranium boosted seratonin levels in women. Not in men. And not other red flowers, and not other colors of geraniums.
I found that fascinating and decided to buy a couple to hang on my back porch.
Keeping them alive through the hot, dry summer was a test of my discipline and compassion, and more than once I had to go out with scissors and cut off dried up leaves. But they made it.
Then, I was out of town weekend after weekend, and I decided to let the geraniums go. Perhaps you can see from the right side of the photo how well I succeeded. Many leaves are brown, the green ones are small and wilted. I had far greater success at letting them suffer than at keeping them healthy. It was much easier.
Last weekend I was home but occupied most of the time (upcoming blog!), so I didn't make it out back to dispose of these poor delapidated friends. Each time I've looked out the back door, I've thought what a bad person I am for not caring more for these little creatures. They looked so forlorn, so abandoned. Because they were.
Then yesterday I went out to throw the ball for Paolo, and what did I see but this tiny little spot of bright red against the brilliant yellow of the tree. (Not so brilliant in the photo because I couldn't take the picture till late in the day.)
It was like an offer of understanding and forgiveness from this dear geranium.
I think that one little blossom raised my serotonin level more than all the summer blooms did!
And now I'm thinking I'll see if I can nurse these graceful beings through the winter. Anybody know if that' s possible?
After seeing this, it seems anything might be possible.
Afterword: I hope my indentations made it easier to read. For that matter, I hope they show up!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Beta Schmeta

I am not happy. I am really not happy. I think I'm mad, actually. A mixture of anger and grief, to be precise.

I had written my little heart out about the experience of actually being in the air, gotten my photos onto the computer (thanks to hubby's help), and have tried for the past week to get the photos onto the blog, and they just wouldn't appear. The little boxes said exactly what they always did, and said my photos were there. But they weren't.

And all week I was being asked by the computer, did I want to switch to Beta Blogger? I never responded, because I liked my blog fine the way it was, and I didn't want to change anything.

Then today I thought I'd try again, and.....I really can't remember what happened next. It has been so stressful.

Either I learned that they were going to switch me, anyway, no choice about it. Or i decided to switch because the pressure was so continual, and I thought maybe something about not switching was causing my photos not to post. Maybe the new system would do what it was supposed to do.

So I created a password and switched. To the new, improved Beta Blogger. A merger between Blogger and Google. I was optimistic. I was brave. They said it wouldn't be all that different, just better. I figured I could learn to "drive" the new machine.

And now the photos will post, but I can't move them. So I spent all this time deleting them and then putting them up in reverse order, so that I could then cut and paste the text around the photos.

Finally, I was going to get this wonderful essay on here . . . share the actual experience of hang gliding with my loyal readers . . . and then, what do you think? Somehow two thirds of my writing was just gone. Cut off not in mid-sentence, but in mid-word. A violent crime.

And I have no energy left for re-writing it all tonight. As if I could possibly remember what I wrote, the way I wrote it, anyway. And I'll be out of town next weekend. And then it's Thanksgiving.

I don't know when I'll get to it.

It's a bad night for this blogger, and right now I'm not at all pleased with this "beta blogger." Not at all. It's bringing out the Luddite in me. As my dad always said, the fancier something is, the more things there are that can go wrong.

I'm going to go sit and write with a pen on paper and lick and stick envelopes for a while. I wish I had some lick and stick stamps, too.

And go fold clothes. No one has come up with a technology to mess that one up, not that I know of, anyway.

"New, improved." Bah, humbug.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Take off!

So, here you have it. Rather than the leap of faith I had imagined, I stepped into that awkward harness thing and felt like a five-year-old as a staff member pulled on this and adjusted that and stuck the velcro around my legs.

Then came the helmet, which I could not tell by feel how to fasten, so someone had to do that for me, too. It really did remind me of being a little child.

The funny thing is that I had bought a "hoodie" (silly word, I think) of this beautiful blue knit specially for the occasion. It would keep me warm, the color was perfect for my eyes, and I thought the hood added a rather dramatic look to my wavy hair. I seriously thought about how good it would look in the pictures that would be made. It reminded me of the French Lieutenant's Woman in her cape.

This--my body covered in black nylon, my hair and head smashed by a plastic helmet--was not the dramatic scene I had envisioned.

I did not feel bold and adventurous.

But eventually I was proclaimed ready, hooked into the glider as I mentioned earlier, and just hung suspended there while Eric got into his place to my right side and explained how things worked.

Each harness outfit has handles on either side. I was instructed to hold onto Eric's handles for take-off. It seemed a little funny at first to be putting my arms around a total stranger, but there was so much padding around each of us that it wasn't really at all like putting your arms around a total stranger. It was like holding onto two handles for safety. Besides, all energy was so focused on what was about to happen that I didn't really have time to think about it, and he obviously was very used to this protocol.

(In the photos it looks more like we are stacked on top of each other. But we were actually side by side, although he was a little lower most of the time. I'm not sure how that worked, but I think it has to do with when you're holding onto the bar and pulling, it must pull the front of your body down. And when your hands are elsewhere, your shoulders get pulled upward. That's my theory, anyway.)

So, with my arms safely in their place and unable to wave around, grab anything, or cause any sort of commotion, Eric held onto the bar that makes the bottom of the triangle, and with eyes on the little red airplane, off we went.

As I said, it wasn't as dramatic as leaping off the mountainside. But it was fun!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Getting ready

This is Eric. My Monday hang gliding instructor. Before we went up, I asked him to pose for a picture, and to please look as confident and professional as possible, so I could show my husband once I got home that he could trust this process. It seemed important to me, somehow.

This is how Eric responded, wringing his hands and saying something like, "Oh, man. I haven't done this very much. I sure hope I don't mess up. Oh, man."

His laid-back attitude seemed par for the course with most of the people I met who were regulars at hang gliding. Not that they didn't take safety seriously, but they just seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. And I can see why!

When I originally thought of hang gliding, I assumed I would be jumping off the edge of a mountain somewhere. While it seemed daunting, it also seemed like a wonderful thing to do. And while that is an option for trained hang gliders, it's not an option for beginners at Lookout Mountain. I did have to drive to the top of the mountain, go to the office, and read and fill out the necessary papers.

Which means I had to walk by the launch ramp. And to be honest, once I saw that, I was very glad that I wouldn't be jumping off it anytime soon! Here is the office, and you can see just the begining of the ramp to the right. (You can see "Lookout Mountai" etched in concrete.)

And here it is from the side. It's 1300 feet above the valley below. "Daunting" does not begin to describe the way I thought of it once I saw it. I've always been one to go pretty close to the edge of a cliff, but this ramp with its purposeful slope and no true "edge," put the fear of heights in me perhaps for the first time.

Much less daunting, then, was driving back down to the valley, onto a huge green field where everyone's feet were on the ground. I took a turn into the wrong parking lot, which led me to meet Walter, who is a friend of our friend Keith, an avid hang glider. And it turned out Walter, from Arkansas, knew Chris, from my hometown, who was there that very day. And when I met him, it turned out that he had actually done some remodeling work for my sister. Small world!

So by this time I was feeling pretty much in good hands already, making so many personal connections.

I watched an instructional video, filled out another form saying I understood various things related to what we would be doing, and soon it was my turn.

I had spent time thinking about what I would wear for this adventure. Since we were going 4,000 feet up, I knew I had to dress warmly. And I wanted to wear something that had some significance for me. And, yes, I wanted to look nice, because I had paid to have pictures made.

Well, the warm part mattered. And I was glad to have crosses from some special people in my pocket, kind of a way to share the experience.

But as for how I looked, it just didn't matter! You wear a helmet (of course, but I had never even thought about that), and they put you in this big harness that is rather complicated with wires and straps. I had to have help to get into it without falling over. As you will see in a picture yet to come, my attire hardly mattered (except for warmth.)

So, the glider was attached to an airplane by a long rope. And we were both attached to the glider by these harness contraptions.

People ask if I wasn't scared to do this. The truth is, walking up near the launch ramp was scary to me. But taking off from the ground like this, with this obviously not nervous Eric in charge, I didn't feel scared. Excited, yes. Eager, yes. A little nervous just not knowing exactly how it would be, yes. But it really wasn't scary.

Like many things in life, the not knowing was scarier than the actual doing.

Tune in next time for take-off.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Head in the Clouds

After years of playing and singing "The Eagle and the Hawk," of staring out airplane windows, of watching hawks in flight, I finally did what I'd been longing to do: I went 4,000 feet in the air on a hang glider. And liked it so much I did it again the next day.

I've gotta go to work now--gotta pay for that extra flight!-- but less than 48 hours ago I was where you see me here, hanging in a glider with an instructor named Rex. At this point we had just dived through a hole in the clouds. He warned me it would be fast and not exactly gentle, but was necessary to get us below the clouds so he could see to land.

Seeing where to land seemed like an important goal, so I didn't protest. But wow, it wasn't the beautiful, surreal, floating experience of the day before. I don't suppose anyone but Rex could hear, but I think I screamed the whole way down. So the photo is a bit deceptive, so calm and lovely it all looks.

(If you click to enlarge, you can see my tiny little legs on the right side. You can't see the expression on my face, and I can't imagine what I looked like at that moment! It was like riding a roller coaster without a seat.)

Anyway, more later.

If you have any questions about hang gliding, I'll try to answer them in what I write if you'll email them to me or send them via the comments.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Austin City Limits

Well, would you believe that I bought a book in the airport about a reporter who travels by herself and writes about her learning experiences. (Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman by Alice Steinbach.)

And, would you believe that I didn't even get to read half of it, because I was too busy enjoying Austin?

The exam prep part was mostly rather boring.

But I also:

* sat in the airplane next to Jay, drummer for the Fabulous Thunderbirds

* ran into a college friend I hadn't seen for over fifteen years

* found a wonderful French brasserie where I ate three different evenings with three different sets of companions

* had lunch at Las Manitas, recommended by Jay, an authentic Mexican restaurant threatened with being shutting down--I assume it has to do with the fact that you have to walk through the middle of the kitch to get to the patio, which is covered with a platic "roof"--a petition was in progress to protest the shutting down--quite an eating adventure, and I hope it doesn't get shut down

* met the lone psychiatric intern who had also come alone and thought she would spend five days shunned by family therapists (who have a history of major disagreements with the medical model used by psychiatrists)--and she was even considering Memphis as a residency option--who'd've thought it?

* watched thousands of bats fly from the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset

* watched the sunrise during my morning prayer time

* found a wonderful bakery that made everything from scratch and had the cutest Halloween cookies I've ever seen

* accidentally walked into a Catholic church at mass (I thought the church was empty!)

* watched hawks flying over the river

* ate fettucine and funghi sitting at a bar because the tables were all reserved

* got to have breakfast with Jackie Halstead, a woman I'd admired from afar based on her writings

* generally had a wonderful time walking around Austin when I wasn't with old and new friends

* talked most of the flight back with a 79 year old woman from Vienna who had actually been to Zagreb and other Croatian cities and gave me advice about being married to a European man

You just never know what's in store, do you?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Just in case anyone comes to my blog in the next couple of weeks, thought I'd leave this note. I leave today for Austin, TX, for a professional conference. For me, that will mean attending three+ days of sessions all geared toward studying for the licensure exam I plan to take in February.

While I have to say that I'm in this field (counseling) because it is interesting and meaningful to me, I don't really imagine this is going to be a thrilling four days.

The worst part (in my mind, at least, right now) is being in a huge hotel, surrounded by tons of people each day, but not being with anyone I know most of the time. Bleahhhh. Not my preference. I'll have to pretend I'm a foreign journalist or something, just observing a lot, and perhaps "interviewing" the occasional friendly-looking face.

Wish me well.

Then I come back for a few days of work and take off again for my college Homecoming (where I'll know lots of people). And then . . . I'm going hang gliding in north Georgia! Now that I can hardly wait for. Going alone, but not to be around tons of strangers. Just me and the instructor and whatever birds might be up in the air. My dream is that a hawk might decide to fly with us.

So, I don't imagine I'll be writing again until early November.

And I have a feeling I'll have more to say about what happens in Georgia than in Texas. :-)

Keep enjoying fall.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


I was shopping the other day and saw a new-to-me vegetable. It looked a lot like zucchini, with alternating dark and light green stripes, but it was much lighter than any zucchini I've ever seen. And the shape was different, plumper overall and with more of a bulge on one end.

I looked at the sign accompanying it, hoping for enlightenment.

Written in slightly crooked letters with a thick black marker was the word "squach."

Something told me that someone didn't really intend to put a "c" there, and that I wasn't actually learning anything about the precise variety of this item.

Being the former English major/editor that I am, I would normally experience something negative upon seeing such a misspelling in a public place. But in this case, I did not.

It has to do with context.

You see, less than five minutes from our house is a store called Mediterranean Grocery, and that's where I was shopping. Shopping at the Mediterranean Grocery is like stepping into another world, just for a moment.

On this particular day, I went in hoping to exit with gyros to take home for lunch. But when I approached the woman behind the counter, she said, "We not have gyros. No hot food. This is Ramadan. We not selling hot food in Ramadan."

As I said, it's like being in another world.

The majority of the people seen in the MG are Muslim. Many products come from their part of the world, with labels written in languages I cannot make out. As I walk the aisles, I feel like a foreigner, the only person with blondish hair, and often the only woman with hair uncovered. I hear mideastern languages being spoken all around, and occasionally English spoken with a heavy accent.

MG also carries products from other Mediterranean countries, and this is what drew me into the store. My husband's Bosnian co-worker told us about it first, that they were carrying products from Croatia. I buy Napolitanke (I know we have an English word for them but haven't used it in ages and have forgotten....those wafer cookies that look like Lego blocks and are mostly air with sugar and some crunch...) I buy ajvar, a Croatian specialty made with eggplant and mild peppers and other things, used as a spread or as a condiment with meat. I buy Bajadera, a chocolate-hazelnut confection made only in Zagreb. I've found a seasoning mix for cevape,a meat specialty beloved of my husband.

I can sometimes find products from Italy, which bring back happy memories. Or from Germany, that we ate in Italy. I don't know how German products qualify for a Mediterranean grocery store, except that they've exported to those mediterranean countries.

In the back of the store is another reminder of my life overseas. From the ceiling hang huge...well, is carcass the proper word for the body of a slain animal that is going to be cut up and eaten? I'm not sure what word to use, but anyone who has been in a mediterranean butcher shop knows what I'm talking about. I don't go too close to that part of the store.

There are also coffee makers, for good old "Turkish coffee," just like they drink in Croatia, thick as mud. And rugs, and artistic prints of faraway places that remind me of black velvet art, for some reason.

The store is not fancy, and it doesn't have the glaring light you find in most American grocery stores. I can't always count on finding the same products each time I go. And there is the occasional misspelled word. (Unless "squach" actually is the name of this vegetable I bought...)

The cash register is not fancy. The little receipt that prints out is about an inch wide and only lists the necessary information. No give-aways, no website information, no anything except the prices and total. And above the cash register is a sign informing you that at this place you can have videos and DVDs "translated" from the international standard to the American standard for a certain price.

Mediterranean Grocery is, thankfully, unlike the many grocery stores that all look pretty much alike. It's not just a good place to get certain foods at low prices. It'a also a reminder to me that the world is much bigger than what I see each day, and that in the blink of an eye I can transform from "native" to "foreigner." It all has to do with context.

I like that. Somehow it helps me be humbler. Somehow it expands me, too.

By the way, we ate the squach today at lunch. It was good.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More about music

I love music.

Not all music, mind you. And certainly not everything that gets called music.

But, matters of definition and taste aside, I love the very thing we call music. That it even exists amazes me. What it can do to us, and in us, amazes me.

Right now I'm listening to the soundtrack from The Mission, by Ennio Morricone. As I started writing, the music was so beautiful, I was floating somewhere in some beautiful area of my mind, and that's why I decided I had to write.

Within moments, the music became tense, dissonant, "scary." And I noticed my shoulders tensing, my brow furrowing, and suddenly I didn't know what I wanted to say.

In some ways, music is much more powerful than prescribable mood-altering drugs. But without the side effects, thank goodness.

One of my concerns about our culture is that music has become so much a background element. We get used to hearing it in stores, in cars, on TV, etc., and we tend to hear but not listen. So we are both affected by it without realizing it--and missing its fullest impact because we are not really hearing it.

So, I encourage everyone reading this to take some time out in the next day or two and really listen to some music that does you good. Stop everything else and just listen to it. Soak it in.

And if you're in town for November 10, I encourage you to come to our concert! You can enjoy beautiful sounds, profound words, in the acoustic wonderfulness of the Germantown Performing Arts Center. With no distractions. I promise it will be worth your time and whatever you pay for a ticket.

Whether you can come to that or not, though, do take some time to let music do what it was meant to do--to really connect with you and bless you.

I would love to hear what you listen to. Well, maybe not actually hear it, but read what you write about what you listen to. Kind of a show and tell in the comments.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mendelssohn, Music, and Metaphor

Once upon a time I was a college music major. Even in high school, I used my lunch break and free period (when I was supposed to be editing the yearbook) to walk over to the college music building and practice piano. And I was always in the chorus, ten years straight. At one point during college, I would practice piano three hours a day whenever I could.

When I took those vocational aptitude tests they gave us repeatedly in high school, "conductor" was always near the top of the list.

Music was once very much the focus of my life, and even after I switched majors (first to elementary education and finally to English), I imagined always living a life immersed in music.

Then my life went in a rather different direction, taking me to faraway countries and times when I didn't even have access to a piano. Times when I had no one to sing with.

So, when I came back to the States, there were times when I would attend a symphony concert and find myself in tears because I felt that I had lost that part of my life and didn't know if I would ever get it back.

Years later, I am again singing with a chorus. I teach piano a little bit. And as of this past weekend, I am even taking piano lessons again.

Still, it's not as if I can really devote myself to the music the way I did before. (In fact, I still don't know how I'm going to get piano practice time in, and I haven't learned my parts for the upcoming choral concert.)

Over the past decade, while I've worked on a counseling degree, completed that degree, and worked toward a license, from time to time I've had serious moments of wondering if it wouldn't be better to toss all that and get back into music. It never was my dream to become a counselor. For a while I tried being a full time piano and Italian teacher, in fact.

But I came back to the counseling eventually, and that's where most of my time and most of my heart are given.

Well, last night, we went to hear Gil Shaham and his wife, Adele Anthony, internationally renowned violinists, perform with the Iris Chamber Orchestra in Germantown. The music was phenomenal. The performers were outstanding--and very sweet, as he kissed her after each piece! Conductor Michael Stern, son of violinist Isaac Stern, outdid himself. Perhaps I'll write more about the concert later.

One thing that "hit" me last night, though, was that I did not cry. I did not feel that I was missing out on something. I did not have that old familiar thought, "Could I have been up there if only I had . . .?"

Instead, the only really personal reflection that came to me was the memory of one of my clients three days earlier, as he noted that we were two days away from our two-year anniversary as counselor and client. He has had a particularly difficult life, and some really amazing and lovely changes have occurred in the two years we have worked together.

I tend to view my work as a counselor somewhat like being a midwife. The client is doing the really hard work; I'm just helping. More often I simply see myself as a vessel: God does the work, and He just uses me from time to time as needed.

But this man made a point of saying he saw me as having "orchestrated" things in such a way that he could make the changes he has made. He used the word repeatedly and even said he was pleased to have come up with that particular word, because he felt it was the best descriptor for how he saw my work with him.

Of course I don't orchestrate in the sense of writing a score, or even spelling out for clients what to do. But there is a sense in which counseling is like orchestrating. You have to be able to hear the music of a person's life, when often they cannot hear it. You help them practice and learn their part. You show them how their part fits with the parts others play. You help them hear the music of life as it can be played, and you teach them to listen more carefully. You help create harmony where there was only dissonance before. Or perhaps only silence.

So, last night as I closed my eyes the better to hear the Adagio movement of Mendelssohn's C minor symphony, and floated in that lovely, lilting music, I didn't feel left out. I didn't feel regret.

I realized that I am very much immersed in music, the music of people's lives. And that it is music worth listening to.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Raindrops on Roses

Well, whiskers on kittens are not really among my favorite things, but the girls in the pictures are certainly among my favorite girls. (I don't have a current photo, but thought this old one was especially cute, so there it is.)

Tonight we had two of them over. Even if you don't know who they are, you can tell by looking which two are sisters, so that's who came over, along with their parents and little brother.

It's late, so I won't write much, but I will say that this evening was the most fun I've had in too long! Those who know who Claire, Caroline, and Seth are will know why they have such a special place in my heart.

Tonight we laughed and laughed as little Seth talked and talked, inviting us to his house numerous times and mentioning all the different things he has in his room and asking, "Do you want to see it?" We even got invited to spend the night by this hospitable little boy (who thought it was a great idea to let us sleep in his big boy bed, so he could go sleep with Mommy!)

We played piano and sang, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes," "I Believe," "Bibbity Bobbity Boo," and Claire even remembered a piece she learned over three years ago when she was taking piano lessons from me.

Caroline kept busy with stickers and crayons, and it was clear that she is a wonderful big sister to Seth (perhaps even convincing him that pink and purple are the proper favorite colors???)

We did lots of remembering...remembering piano lessons, remembering magnets on the dishwasher, remembering our special candle ceremony of special women, remembering Laura, remembering visits with Emily (in the photo), remembering, remembering.

The photo was made over three years ago. A lot has happened in those three years. Children have grown, hearts have healed, God has blessed.

God has blessed, indeed.

Monday, September 04, 2006


The air has changed.

Yesterday I went for a walk with my dad, a good 40-minute walk up and down hills, and hardly broke a sweat.

Today we turned off the air conditioner and opened all the windows.

The wind is blowing. The air is fresh.

I feel like I'm coming alive again, after a long, hot summer that had just about worn me out. "Dem bones gonna rise again."

Who knows? With this new energy, maybe I'll start writing more often and even finish the Croatian Chronicles.

That remains to be seen. The important thing is that the wind is blowing, the air is moving, and my spirit is rejoicing in the promise of autumn. Living in the South, fall is my favorite season. And the past two days have been like a sneak preview. Summer will not last forever. We can breathe again, and sit on our porches again, walk our dogs again, and enjoy being outside again.

The air has changed.

It reminds me tonight of a passage from my favorite, G. M. Hopkins, after he describes how man with his industrialism is messing up the earth. (And though I'm not yet convinced of the scientific basis for the global warming theory, I know our asphalt and cutting down of trees makes summer much worse....)

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


It's raining. It's actually raining. After a couple of hours of hearing thunder and not daring to hope, I now hear rain falling steadily on the roof over my office.

I think of my ferns and hurry to put them out on the walk where they can soak up as much as comes down.

I think of the piano piece I used to play in junior high called "It's Raining," and I sit at the piano and realize I can only remember the first few measures. But I don't care. It's raining.

I see our doggies hunkering down because of the thunder, keeping their ears down and eyes alert. I'm sorry for their anxiety, but it's okay. It's raining.

I know I won't need to get up and water plants tomorrow morning, and I'm thankful. It's raining.

I think of the weeks and weeks of dryness, the heat, the dust that has invaded our house (via the dogs from the backyard), and I feel relief for just this night. I know it won't last, but that's okay. For now, it's raining.

I think of God. I think of Paul writing "my God will supply all your needs in Christ Jesus." It's raining.

I think of my friend last year saying "God may not often show up early, but He's always there on time." It's raining.

I think of the hardest, darkest, driest times of my life when I wondered how much further I could go on with a dry heart and dust in the teeth of my soul. And I remember how, just when I knew I couldn't go on any further or I'd wither away, God showed up. In the body of a person, or in a song, or in a scripture, or in some other way that He used to resuscitate, refresh, renew me.

And, like a tree, I find my roots have grown, deepened, after those times. Reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkins' words. Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain. Even deep roots would eventually fail to sustain us without His life-giving rain.

It's raining. It's raining.

Thanks be to God. It's raining.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Tomorrow I am going with some friends to Eureka Springs, and I am living in eager anticipation.

The occasion is a centering prayer retreat led by Thomas Keating, author of the book Open Mind, Open Heart, and something of a crusader for the practice of centering prayer, a prayer discipline that has been a real blessing in my life over the past eight months.

I'm hoping to visit the lake pictured above, maybe do some drawing, do a little window shopping in the Victorian downtown area, but mostly just....retreat. Be quiet and pray. Get more centered.

Be. With God.

Oh, and hoping against hope to hear John Michael Talbot sing more than he did at the retreat I attended last year, when his doctor had ordered him not to sing too much!

If you want to see where I'll be staying, check out

If you want to learn more about the retreat hosts, check out

For JMT's music, check out

And if you want to know more about centering prayer, check out

And if you can teach me how to make those addresses turn into links, give me a call!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Croatian Chronicles: A Word from St. Francis

Ever since living in Italy and seeing Zeffirelli's film Brother Sun, Sister Moon, I have grown in admiration of Francis of Assisi. Not that the movie itself is wonderful, but it was my first look into anything more about Francis than the prayer that gets attributed to him. ("Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace," not actually proven to have any connection to Francis, probably written long after he died.)

If you want to learn more about his life (from a more historical than legendary source), I recommend Reluctant Saint, by Donald Spoto. Just don't read it unless you're willing to examine your own life and see room for growth!

Have I mentioned that Zadar has more churches than I've ever seen in as many square feet of land? It was amazing. Churches everywhere. We didn't even have time to learn the names of each of them.

But we did visit the Church of St. Francis. And there were two things I couldn't help but notice. First, there was actually a prayer group going on while we were there. You don't encounter that terribly often in Europe anymore, but Zadar seems to be different from much of Europe when it comes to churches.

The second thing was this little carving over the entrance to the church. The church itself, inside, was rather somber and serious. And then you have this jolly little figure out front. It kind of cracks me up.

As long as the heat wave in Memphis continues, I don't think I'll be blogging more than once a week. I have to spend my morning time watering plants, and that not only cuts down what I can get done in the morning (that I have to make up in the evening), it also zaps my energy. My body was not made for hot weather!

But being out with the flowers and foliage gives me lots to think about, fodder for another blog entry, perhaps. And that connection to nature also connects me to Francis, even though I'm far from Assisi these days.

If you're not familiar with it, below is a prayer we do know Francis authored, the Canticle of the Creatures. It would be a good one to memorize and think on while I'm out there watering, doing my little part to take care of God's amazing creation:

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
all praise is yours, all glory, all honor,
and all blessing.

To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through all you have made,
and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
and through whom you give us light.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor;
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars; in the heavens you have made them,
bright, and precious, and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through Brothers wind and air, and fair and stormy,
all the weather's moods,
by which you cherish all that you have made.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night.
How beautiful is he, how cheerful!
Full of power and strength.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through our Sister
Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers
and herbs.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through those who grant pardon for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy are those who endure in peace,
By You, Most High, they will be crowned.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your will!
The second death can do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks
And serve him with great humility.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Writer's block unblocked (let's hope)

(See if you can figure out what this photo has to do with what I wrote. I had two things in mind when I chose it.)

Okay, it's been how long since I said I would be back here to continue? Yikes, has it been three weeks? Too long.

And I've realized one reason why. It's because every now and then I think of something that I really would like to write about, but then I think, "Oh, I can't do that until I finish the 'Croatian Chronicles....' "

Kind of feels like a writing assignment. The result is, it kind of squelches my desire to write, and I don't do anything.

Not that I don't want to share our Croatia trip with you! Not at all! It's just that there are tons of pictures and things to say, and I get overwhelmed by the thought of having to finish it all before I can write anything else. The Myers-Briggs folks would probably say it has to do with my being a "perceiver" rather than a "judger." In other words, I don't always like to finish what I've started before I start something else....

So, I think I've hit upon a solution. I will continue the Croatian reporting, but I will also intersperse it with other things as they hit me. You can find the Croatian stuff because I'll always label it "Croatian Chronicles."

So, do come back for photos and comments from our trip, and feel free to read or skip the other stuff, as you wish.

As for today, the thing I want to write about is something I heard today on Mars Hill Audio. This author/political philosopher was pointing out that the people who most say they believe Darwin's ideas prove that his ideas were wrong, and the people who most say they don't believe them actually show evidence for them.


He was saying, look at Western Europe and even some of affluent America. These are the people who most often say they buy Darwin's ideas. They are the richest, most comfortable, most powerful people on the planet. Maybe the healthiest, physically speaking. They represent the strongest segment of the human species, which should, in order to survive, do things to reproduce and better itself.

And they are for the most part dying off, because they are choosing to have so few children or none at all. (We won't go into whether or not they neglect their living offspring, but they are the most vocal proponents of abortion, it seems.) Low birthrate has developed into a crisis in Europe, if you're not aware.

And the people who for the most part disagree with Darwin's ideas, conservative Christians, tend to have the most children and to put a lot of energy into nurturing them and preparing them for life....the kind of thing that naturally contributes to the survival of the species. Which is what Darwin says is the natural course of things.

I'm not a scientist or any kind of professional who can go into much analysis of this, but I found it fascinating.

And if you're not familiar with Mars Hill Audio, you really ought to check them out. Listening to Ken Myers' interviews will enrich your faith, your worldview, and it wouldn't surprise me if listening to Mars Hill while driving helps create new brain cells.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Croatian Chronicles: Blue, blue, my world is blue

Yesterday and today we have had beautiful morning weather here in Memphis. The air is cool, the humidity seems to be down, breezes are blowing. My Gregorian windchime has been singing all morning.

Yesterday I walked with a friend in the Botanic Garden. We went to see the water lilies and wound up seeing three hawks flying above, soaring against the blue sky, calling out their otherwordly cries, and one even flying very low so that we felt he might be trying to telling us something. My friend had to leave, but for nearly two hours I stayed and enjoyed their company.

This morning I went out to the hammock in our backyard. The green leaves of the pecan tree above were amazing against the blue of the sky, with the sun piercing their leaves, making the green almost magical.

All this blue sky and fresh air seems a good transition back into the Zadar photos, so here are some shots of the sea and sky, in varying shades of blue.

The north end of the old city...where the ships come in.

"Yours trulies."

Along the western side, as the famous sunset was beginning further north, out of sight.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Intermission: Back again

If you look carefully, you can see me walking on the street in this photo, taken in Zadar.

And I've decided to resume the "blog walk."

Thanks to all for the feedback. It really does make a difference. Once July 4 is over, I'll be back to finish up the tour.

Oh, and I'll send a prize to the first person who correctly identifies which figure in the photo is me. If I have your address, that is. If I don't have your address, I'll come up with some kind of virtual prize....

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Needing feedback...

This is me by the sea in Zadar.

I'm putting this photo here to show how I feel when I come to my blog...quite alone out on the pier, with a big expanse all around me! Only two people have left comments in the past ten posts, and I'm wondering if perhaps my travel reports are boring my readers? (And a couple of people have given me verbal feedback.)

Please let me hear from you, whether by leaving a comment or sending me an email.

When I'm sure that it's worth it, I'll continue the Croatian Chronicles. Or if not, switch to something else.

I vowed when I started this blog that I wouldn't do it as an exercise in self-absorption. Personally, my time could be better used creating a real scrapbook rather than a virtual one. The point of blogging is the interactivity, is it not?

Thanks for letting me know whether or not to continue.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Croatian Chronicles: Intermission

Another late night. My car broke down again today (it did yesterday, too), which has a way of messing up the schedule.

So, a quick single photo before I delve into the next series.

This is someone you know walking through what used to be a moat. The wall in the background is the old fortification for the old castle in Cakovec, the town where someone else you know grew up, and where we lived for one year. Actually, our house is in a nearby village, but our mail comes through Cakovec. (Though not through the castle, just to be clear....)

My beloved remembers the moat full of water when he was a boy, and recalls its being drained because of the snake and frog population. Until he told me about that, I never thought what a gross thing a moat would be. I'm sure it they added to the mosquito population and other populations, as well. I imagine it didn't smell very good. Life in those castles was not the fairy tale Walt Disney has made it out to be!

Anyway, these days the moat is gone, and the ground is covered in beautiful green grass with tiny white flowers, and it made for a lovely little walk, almost like walking through part of a fairy tale.

(Back to reality: Does anyone know of a good used car for sale??)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Croatian Chronicles: Donat Details

I was about to say that flowers like this would be a lot easier than the kind I've just come in from planting and watering....but then when I think how long it must have taken someone to carve this, I have to change my mind! I think that would require a lot more patience and perseverance than does my gardening. These are found at the base of one of the pillars in the church of Sveti Donat.

This fascinated me. The church builders used as part of the foundation these Roman pillar fragments turned sideways. (In case it isn't clear, look for the circle on the left.)

Looking out a window, you can see fragments like the type seen in the previous photo.

Looking straight up (as straight as the camera could get it) at the ceiling from the floor. None of our photos turned out well because of the darkness and the height. This dome is lovely, apparently made of two types of wood, and it almost looks as if it is woven, like the bottom of a giant basket. I haven't found any information on it, except that it is not original. But it is quite unusual.

A close up of the top of one of the Roman columns, incorporated the expected way.

I hope you've enjoyed this "tour" of a place that we really did enjoy. Tune in next time for pictures of the rest of Zadar. (Well, not ALL of it, of course....)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Croatian Chronicles: Look Up!

Well, the "blogsite" (?) has been down each time I've tried to get on and add something. It's working now, but I only have a couple of minutes.

When I first moved to Italy, my friend Jay, while taking me around the city, pointed out the importance of stopping to look up often. He said if you don't look up, you miss most of what there is to see. I like the metaphorical possibilities with that idea, but it's also true in a very literal sense when you're walking narrow European streets surrounded by architectural details on every side.

So, here's one shot of the top of Sveti Donat, with the belltower of Sveta Marija (you guessed it, Saint Mary) behind.

I love the way the church is sprouting greenery and flowers in its cracks and crevices, and no one is rushing to stop it.

And I've never seen an angel like this atop a bell tower. It almost looks as if the angel is conducting the chorus of life that goes on in the city, doesn't it? (Remember to click on the photo to enlarge it. You can see it quite well that way.)

If all goes well with the weekend and with, I'll add more photos this weekend and move on to other parts of the trip.

(So, how many of you recognized the man in the photo of the previous post?)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Croatian Chronicles: Special Guest

Had a wonderful weekend with all kinds of people who had ties to the churches in Italy. It kind of made up for not getting to go to Italy when we went to Croatia.

Well, jetlag seems to be over and I guess I am officially back into the swing of things. Which means today was work (with a run to the garden center at lunch), a return to the garden center after work, grocery shopping, then coming home to spray bug-infested bushes and plant verbena and pull up dandelions and other things that came up while we were away. We were both out in the yard until dark.

Which means I am officially tired now! So until I have the energy to do more, I offer a special guest appearance by someone you will probably recognize. This was a big poster we saw in Zadar, with a story below, in five languages, about his visits to Zadar and his saying that Zadar has the most beautiful sunsets in the world. It was the oddest thing, after seeing statues of Francis of Assisi and of various renowned Croatians, to come across this.

They've got some creative tourism marketers, I think!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Croatian Chronicles: Hiatus

Tune in Monday for more photos and stories. This weekend we are off to Arkansas for a reunion of people who have worked with churches in Italy.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Croatian Chronicles: Church Windows

Below are views of, or through, windows in the church Sveti Donat. I especially like the ones with flowers growing in them: they weren't planted there, but grew from seeds that had landed in the accumulated dirt. Amazing how little soil it takes for a seed to grow!