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.