Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wondrous Strange

The days between Winter Solstice and New Year's Eve have always had that slightly askew, muddled feeling to me, like someone cut the anchor and set me adrift to float gently toward the horizon. There is an emptiness that is welcome after weeks of frantic preparation for the holidays, a blessing of relief from the holiday ho-ho and commotion. I don't think I'm alone in this feeling, because I've seen that same fleeting look of momentary confusion/fear/lostness on the faces of others in the last few days which elicits the same nervous smile, like we all should be doing something other than playing hooky from Life.

Yet during this time out of time I can feel an urgency also. Within this period when not much seems to be happening on the surface, things are churning and formulating down deep within. It's as if the potential of the New Year is coming together, ready to explode into being at just the right moment when the power peaks. It's synergy, the coming together of many forces into oneness. While I believe reflection and introspection are restoratives for the soul, each New Year's Day I feel as if I've emerged from a dark underground place where my spirit has been hibernating. Blinking, I view the light of day for the first time on a first new day, and it is a extraordinary, magickal thing for me. It is wondrous-strange.

It is not to say we leave on-going responsibility behind. There will always be things we need to lug  through the portal of the New Year with us- things that require our attention so that everyday life as we know it continues. No journey is complete without baggage, but I do believe that we can to some extent control the weight of the load we bare. So often we drag our selves down with unnecessary things and make life ponderous and sullen. That's why the Place of Deep In-Dwelling is important: it's a safe haven to examine our lives and regenerate. Things we no longer need can be left there, where they will eventually fade away like so much compost, and perhaps help better things grow for us in the future.

Our New Year's Eves are spent quietly at home, or celebrating with family and friends. The phenomenon of First Night is interesting to me because we spend the last night of the old year in a Janus frame of mind, cramming  activities into those last few hours that directly contrast our ordinary lives: roaming around watching street performers, going to art and concert venues, going on amusement rides and eating foods we normally would eat- all in the name of having one last good time before the Big Ball drops at midnight. It's as close to celebrating Misrule as most of us dare come, and we end it with a kiss- the single final act of affection and kindness we can manage in those few precious last seconds as we cross over into the Unknown. We toss the confetti into the air (and our cares symbolically with it), shout as loudly as we dare (to frighten away those ever present demons) and drop the balloons from the ceiling ( as a quasi blessing of air, the element of inspiration.)

Then it's over. Life returns as a hopefully better version of what it was before. The champagne glasses are cleared away, the confetti and streamers are swept up, and the remaining balloons popped. We are left in the silence alone with ourselves once again, wondering what direction to take, and if it will be a better choice than the one we made last New Year's Eve.

Faith vs 'In Good Faith'

"Bibles Made Available at NC School"

Ginger Strivelli says her son, a fifth grader, was given a Bible at the public school he attends. This story caught my eye because it happened in my home state of North Carolina. It seems a public school principal made the poor decision to disregard the very highly publicized statue of the  Separation of Church and State we have in this country by offering free Bibles to students. For this she is inexcusably wrong. The above story mentions that the students were given the option of leaving class to go to the Principal's Office, where the books were being given out to whom ever wanted one.

The Gideons International, a Christian fraternal organization best known for providing copies of the Bible for hotel rooms, donated the books to the school for free distribution. Their spokesperson said it was not their policy to have a teacher hand out Bibles in school, but that they did want to make them available. Supplying Bibles is what the Gideons do, along with offering Bible Study and other training as a part of their evangelistic ministry.

I am envisioning that the intention of a member of the local chapter of the Gideons meant well when he dropped off the box of Bibles to be given out to anyone who wanted one, since no students were lined up in an assembly and issued a copy forcibly. They were meant as a gift during the Christmas season, so I suspect that the  box of books were intended to be set on a table with a sign that said, "Free, take one." I am not going to criticize Gideons International for being faithful to their ministry because spreading the message of their God is why they exist. They have freedom of religion just like the rest of us, even if this was a poor choice- and I believe it was simply that.

However, I am going to blame the Principal, Jackie Byerly, for accepting the gift of religious texts in the first place. She could and should have turned the offer of Bibles down flat. The Gideons would have gotten over it eventually: I'm pretty certain they get their fair share of refusals,too. Surely Ms. Byerly knows there is a separation between Church and State, and that any institution that that is funded through taxes falls under that category. She allowed religious materials to be distributed on public property, when she shouldn't have allowed it. This is not a matter of equality- the law clearly states that there be no exception, meaning no religious materials on the premises, period. Her decision was wrong. I'm not going to try to second guess that Ms. Byerly is herself a Christian because that should not be an issue in this case- as the representative of the public school system, she should have upheld the policy of zero distribution of  religious materials in her facility.

Ginger Strive-who is a Pagan- says her son, a fifth grader, was given a Bible at the public school he attends. She is outraged with about as much righteous indignation as anyone can muster, according to several reports. The story has generated a fair about of PR in the media. Pagans are up in arms because Bibles were given out in a public school and some are responding with the usual amount of anti-Christian sentiment.  As a Pagan and more importantly to the point, as a citizen, I am upset and concerned because an institution funded with my tax dollars has distributed religious materials in an educational no-fly zone. I would have the same feeling if the materials were political in nature.

Because I know there is always more to a story, I did a little research online... And just as I knew I would, I found some interesting details to further flesh out this story. According to the Christian Post website:"...Strivelli argues that making an announcement in itself is a form of coercion, since students have an opportunity to leave class and will no doubt do so when given the chance. She also claims that a teacher physically handed her son the Bible." ( )

Frankly, I'm finding a bit of a disconnect with her statement in which she indicates that her son  participated as a means to get out of class.  This means he voluntarily went to the school office on his own-just to get out of class- which says the onus is on her kid. After all, the only legitimate reason for him to have been out of class at that time would have been to go to the Principal's office for a Bible. No one forced him to leave class. No one coerced her son, and the assumption that "...since students have an opportunity to leave class and will no doubt do so when given the chance." is just that-an assumption on her part- because she honestly can't say she knows the motivation of anyone other than herself. Saying that making an announcement over the school PA is coercion is a  stretch of the facts. The announcement did not say, " Come to the Principal's Office right now to get a free Bible or else". Besides, I've been a teacher, and believe me, I know plenty of fifth graders who would have needed a lot more motivation than getting a free Bible to them to have worked up the gumption to take a few minutes stroll to the Principal's office, even to get out of class.

For the record, there was no mention in the original report from saying that a teacher physically handed Strivelli's son a Bible. None. I believe that Patti Wigington is a reliable news source for the Pagan Community, and a mention of someone handing the student a Bible was never made in her story. That statement seems to have come from Strivelli as a codicil after admitting that her son went to the Principal's office just to get out of class, which, let's face it, sounds a little wiggly.
( Actually it sounds like, " Hey, my kid found an excuse to get out of class for a few minutes, that's why he went to the principal's office.")

Principal Jackie Byerly has stated that she would handle the distribution of other religious material in the same way she distributed the Bibles. I don't think she yet has a handle on the concept that no religious material what so ever should have been distributed in the first place. It is obvious that she hasn't heard of the lawsuit last year against a Tennessee school district doing something similar. (

Meanwhile, Ginger Strivelli is trying to test the water in an interesting way: by asking the school to distribute Pagan books she has contributed to as a writer "... I need to contact the Editor who used my Chapter in her book, surely she can chip in some for my work on that book for her..."(

Uh huh...I'm beginning to suspect there's more going on here than meets the eye and which I personally find questionable and in poor taste. I'm reserving my opinion on this until later, because I'd like to see how it all plays out.

What I will say is this: Parents have a personal responsibility to oversee to their child's religious training. That includes a discussion on formulating a polite refusal when offered religious materials from another faith which you as a parent find offensive. A child of nine or ten years old knows right from wrong and is able to understand the basic tenets of their faith. He or she can certainly be taught to say, " No, thank you." or even " My mom doesn't want me to have that."

Spiritual training and the distribution of religious materials is the sole providence of faith communities and their member families. It is inappropriate for public schools to promote religion in the United States and has been illegal to do so since 1963( Supreme Court ruling, Murry vs.Curlett).

There are valuable lessons for everyone involved in this situation which I'd like to see come to a productive resolution instead of setting off another firestorm of religious persecution.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Toward That Long, Long Night

The moon hangs low in the sky-a huge golden crescent- as I type this. It is barely visible through the trees, but it is the brightest thing in the sky tonight. The cold is numbing. I'm only up at this hour because I was so cold earlier that I actually went to bed to get warm. It makes me wonder how my ancestors fared in their sod houses when the fire burned low, in that cold, wet part of Ireland so long ago.

Living is a struggle because of the cold. As each year passes, I find myself getting colder more often. I am not fond of the oppressive heat we have here in the South ( particularly living as we do without air conditioning), but I believe the cold is worse. There are nights I have slept fully clothed, even under a pile of throws and blankets, because it was one more layer of warmth against the piercing cold...and this is coming from someone who has cracked a window to let in the crisp air in January when I lived up North. It's a different kind of cold because of the humidity here.

Simply making it through the day, day after day, in this cold is maddening. I have no earthly idea how I am supposed to get anything done when all my energy-such as it is these days- is focused on getting and staying warm. Gods, I am glad that I don't have to go out and collect wood, but on the other hand, there would be a fire, and warmth. Maybe living in the modern world isn't so great after all?

This makes me appreciate the anticipation and excitement of those who have gone before as they awaited the long, long night. It would be the last of the nights that seemed endless. The following days would ever so imperceptibly gain light-and warmth. The light would gain and the earth would begin to send up life through the cold ground. It would call them forth from the dark like a siren's song. They would be just as unable to resist, until finally-finally-there would be something bright green and juicy to absorb the sun's rays.

But now, for a few days, there is the cold and the dark, where the warmth is in-dwelling. The furnace of life resides inside and burns steadily.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Remembering Love

It's just a tiny ornament, one inch long and half an inch wide. Sandwiched between two small pieces of glass is a faded, brown little flower, with the word
"Love" etched below. It's held together by a bit of metal foil and hangs by a frayed red ribbon.

It means the world to me.

We were standing in front of a shop  window filled with etched glass ornaments and sun catchers in Baltimore's Inner Harbor in mid- September,having walked from Camden Yards where we'd spent a relaxing afternoon watching the O's. Frankly, I'm not much for baseball-I'm not a fan of any sports, really: Occasionally I watch the Olympics. On this particular day I'd made the 90 minute drive down I-95 to volunteer on the crew at a charitable event John was playing for the regional Cerebral  Palsy agency, and we would be attending the Orioles game prior to the concert. Some of us took a side trip through the Inner Harbor just to window shop and came upon this glass shop.

The rather plain rectangle was quietly put into my hand. It was wrapped in a piece of white tissue paper. There was a tiny pressed purple and white violet and the word "Love" etched into the glass. It would look cute on my Christmas tree and join in the eclectic riot of ornaments that I carefully packed away each year. There were no accompanying pronouncements of love, just a low-key, non-romantic "Here you go-from me."  John had brought me ornaments from all over the world for my collection, so we'd gone through this particular ritual for years; most of the time something would arrive in the mail followed a day later by a phone call. Occasionally, like this day, the babble in question would be handed to me in person.

Nothing appeared special about the little glass rectangle when it was pressed into my hand. Nothing at all.

Except it would be the last ornament John ever gave me. He was killed in a plane crash three weeks later. I was devastated not by his dying, but by the separation of death. I wanted him back. I still do.

I'd forgotten about the little glass rectangle until I found it still wrapped in the tissue paper tucked deep in the pocket of my purse one day in early December. It was just in time to put it on the tree with my other pretties and twinkling lights. John had been dead exactly two months to the very day I placed it on a high branch so the cats wouldn't disturb it. Back lit by the lights on the tree, the edges of the etched letters made tiny dancing stars.

Fifteen Christmases have passed since John died, yet he's still with me. This one particular little piece of sparkling glass is always hung at eye-level so I can pick it out easily it every time I  look at my holiday tree. Admittedly, it is not as pretty as it used to be since the flower faded. But I remember what it looked like when it was new, and that's what I see, a delicate purple and white violet. Violets, in the language of flowers, have many meanings: friendship, love, remembrance, resurrection, rebirth... an un-ending promise. The ancient Romans laid violets on the graves of loved ones to denote continued affection after death. This is what enters my subconscious every time the little ornament catches my eye. It tells me that our friendship has endured beyond the veil and is still present even today. It says that the relationship not only continues, but will bring us back together at another time and place.

Another wonder of this magickal season, where Mystery reminds us of the fragility of Life and Love.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Out, Out Damned Fruitcake!

We have all seen it: that nefarious brick of glowing fruit chunks glued together with corn syrup and Goddess - knows - what. We were forced to eat a chunk of it by our Mothers every Christmas Eve because it made our sweet old Aunt Martha deliriously happy to watch our little kid faces screw up attempting to chew the sticky mess without spewing it across the room. And we swore we'd never take another bite of fruitcake for as long as we lived. Ever.

That oath ended when I found a wonderful recipe for fruitcake in a1973 Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Craft book. I've made cakes from this recipe-with a few adjustments-nearly every year since. It's essentially a dark spice cake with cooked fruit. I wrap it in cheesecloth ( or pieces of an old clean, worn sheet) soaked in brandy or rum, wrap that in foil then tuck them in zip lock bags. They have to be checked weekly and the cloth soaked periodically to keep the cake moist.

There is nothing to compare to the heady fragrance of a fruitcake's some of the best incense in the world! After a couple of weeks curing in the fridge, you pull it out, unwrap it and slice it in little pieces to serve with a pot of tea or good strong coffee, and it makes you feel all warm, cozy and loved. A morsel of late night fruit cake is a magickal thing...

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup diced mixed candied fruits and peels
1/2 cup raisins or snipped pitted dates
1/2 cup candied red or green cherries, quartered
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
2 eggs
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice or apple juice
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons mild-flavored molasses
Brandy or fruit juice

Rick fruit base cooked on the stove before adding to the cake mix.
I adapted this basic recipe and added apricots and figs, or prepared mincemeat, which is substituted for 1/2 cup of the candied fruit. I  also add in orange jest and adjust the amounts of spice. Taste it before adding the eggs and dry ingredients. I add a bit of fruit juice and water and cook the fruit on the stove for about ten minutes then let it set to develop the flavors.

1. Grease and lightly flour an 8x4x2-inch loaf pan (or two 5 3/4x3x2-inch loaf pans). Set pan(s) aside. In a large mixing bowl stir together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Add fruits and peels, raisins, cherries, and nuts; mix ingredients well.
2. In another mixing bowl beat eggs; stir in brown sugar, juice, butter, and molasses until combined. Stir into fruit mixture. Pour batter into the prepared pan(s). (The smaller pans will be quite full.)
3. Bake in a 300 degree F oven for 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours for the 8x4x2-inch pan, 55 to 65 minutes for the 5-3/4x3x2-inch pans, or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. If necessary, cover pan(s) loosely with foil the last 10 to 15 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning. Place cake in pan(s) on a wire rack and cool thoroughly.
4. Remove cake from pan(s). Wrap cake in brandy- or fruit juice-moistened 100-percent-cotton cheesecloth. Overwrap with foil. Store in the refrigerator for 2 to 8 weeks to mellow flavors. Re-moisten cheesecloth with brandy or fruit juice weekly or as needed. Makes 16 servings.This cake does not rise, and it's difficult to judge doneness by poking it with a knife. It is very dense and feels solid and heavy when done. The top will be glossy but dry.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Weeks of Waiting

The Latin word adventus means arrival. It is from this word that we get the name of the Christian season of awaiting the birth of the Christ Child, Advent.

I have a special fondness for this season. It eases us into the Christmas holiday because every Sunday is assigned an attribute of the season: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love. Concentration on the attribute of the week lends insight and deeper meaning to Christmas when it finally arrives.

When I left the Christian Church and adopted an Earth-centered spirituality, I retained some of the ritual and adapted it to my needs. Advent became the Weeks of Waiting, the time leading up to the Winter Solstice and the Birth of the Divine Child. Why not? So much of our expressions of spirituality are intermingled, and I liked the idea of a period of devotional preparation as the nights grew longer. Several years ago, I began writing a little book of daily devotions for this season and called it Seeking Light In The Darkest of Days ©. I shared a little of it here last year at this time,and by next year I hope to have it finished and in print.

The Weeks of Waiting can be a wondrous time of creativity: crafting Yule tree ornaments and other decorations, making greeting cards, baking cookies and cakes. I also use this period to dig a little deeper into how I perceive the season and my feelings about it since my spirituality has shifted from one faith tradition to another. Whenever I need a break from holiday preparations, I dig out my journal, make a cup of tea and start writing about my anticipation of the arrival of the Divine Child, Sol Invictus, the Invincible Sun which returns following Solstice. It's a great source of inspiration for path working: Who is this Child? Who am I in relation to Him? Why does it matter? I will admit that I have co-opted the traditional Advent Wreath and made it into something of my own, that I have re-written the story to suit my needs and fit into my own faith tradition. The Advent Wreath is only a tool which symbolizes an underlying grace, and in viewing it this way I have no problem using it in my home and retaining the original purple and pink candles. I have also made wreaths very similar to the one pictured, which I think looks very Pagan and agrarian in origin. I love the harvest apples on the evergreens and the golden beeswax candles: there is something esthetically organic about that look that fits right in with celebrating the Winter Solstice for me.

I have retained the attributes assigned to each week because they are universal in character: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. We are hopeful for the future with the return of the Light. There is a peacefulness in waiting. The triumphant return of the Light is a joyous occasion, and our hearts are filled with love for the Child who is born again. Days of revelry and feasting follow as the lunar calendar winds down and spills over and becomes the providence of Janus, the God who looks ahead to the future while not forgetting the past. The wreath works well in my personal spiritual practice as a way of recounting down the days until the arrival of the Divine Child and foretells of His coming.

You for Whom we wait,
Light bringer into darkness
Show us your Divine Self in each of us.

Quiet our minds,
Still our doubts in this darkness
In confidence we wait for You.

The Light has returned!
No more do we tremble in fear
As we are illuminated by the Sun.

Our hearts are bound together
In this sacred revelation
We see You, O Holy One, in each others eyes.

As we wait for the Longest Night of the Year
We wait for the fulfillment of a Promise which never ends.
So mote it be, and be blessed.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Reason for the Season

We do not live isolated from one another, nor does our society exist in a vacuum. We are a nation of people from many countries and religious backgrounds. We all have a constitutional right to celebrate and worship as we so choose.  It is in that spirit that I firmly believe that no single group or religious entity has sole sovereignty to dictate how we greet one another in the spirit of goodwill.

Crammed into the period we celebrate as the winter holiday season, there are four weeks of Advent... Ashura...Ramadan ... Feast of St.Nickolas...Feast of Santa Lucia...Enlightenment of the Buddha(Bodhi Day)...Pearl Harbor Day...Hanukkah...Feast of Guadalupe...Winter Solstice...Yule...Los Posadas...Festivus...Christmas...Feast of Mithras...Saturnalia... Winter Skoal...Boxing Day...Kwanzaa...New Year's Day...Feast of Janus...Epiphany...Three  Kings Day...Orthodox Christmas...and a few I'm certain I've forgotten. It's not an all inclusive list and there are many ancient feast days being reconstructed as quickly as this list is printed.

The point is that there are many holidays in December--Christmas being only one of them. Jesus is  the "Reason for the Season" for only a select group in the population. Non-Christians and those who declare no affiliation but are spiritual out-number Christians by two thirds in the world population. That should tone the herald trumpets down just a tad. I admit that I am disheartened and slightly disgusted by the yearly outbreak of  the 'my religion is the reason for the season' hubris. To begin with, the actual, scientific reason for the season is the tilt of the Earth which creates the solstice. Everything else is a matter of faith, dogma and conjecture heaped up by humans. It's all mythology -not a bad thing because our ancestors used folklore to explain natural events. Weaving a metaphysical tapestry to wrap themselves in was comforting. The natural world was less merciless and frightening if there was something humans could relate to in a story.

I will continue to greet my Christian friends with " Merry Christmas", but I will not insult my non-Christian friends- who are Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Baha'i, Pagan, Atheist, Humanist and a various mixture of undeclared spirituality-by intoning "Merry Christmas". I will wish those loved ones a tiding of good will that encompasses their faith tradition without compromising my own: " Happy Holidays"

In the same breath I will admit that I have a knee jerk reaction to reply "Merry Christmas" to anyone who says it to me...purely out of doing so for so many years. The issue I have is with individuals who deliberately force the blessing of their God upon others maliciously and knowing full well there is a hurtful connotation to the recipient. There is a difference between an innocent expression of your faith and intentionally using that expression as a theological weapon. My friend Moz is a Rabbi, and as such always wishes me a "Happy Hanukkah ", meant as a lovely gesture which shares the essence of the Festival of Lights between friends. It is not an attempt to force the tenants of the Hebrew faith on me or co-opt my personal religious beliefs. I take it in the spirit that he means to wish me a similar blessing reflected by the story of how a single day's worth of oil continued to burn for eight days. I gratefully accept his wish for prosperity and unexpected abundance, which is exactly how he means it. He is not trying in anyway to make me a Jew or to assault me with a notion of Jewish superiority. The same goes for the majority of my Christian friends who only wish to share the good tiding and great joy of the birth of their God. I can relate to their excitement, because that is happening in my own faith tradition with the return of Sol Invictus. Neither of us are speaking words of conversion, only joy. That is how I believe it should be.

What does raise my hackles is the in-your-face, chip on the shoulder attitude of some overbearing fundamentalist Christians who have been recently using social networks as a means to spout off to anyone within hearing distance about how an imaginary  unnamed authority is trying to force everyone to give up their God-given right to say "Merry Christmas". This victim mentality causes me to have an urge to puke no matter who or which group is doing the whining, because it is unsubstantiated and maliciously conspiratorial. It plays on the public's emotions in an unethical and immoral manner because it is simply another version of the psychological game of "Someone one is out to get me, ain't it awful?", done purely to elict a gut reaction from others who always cheer the underdog. As if this pathetic grab at attention-getting wasn't enough, it also has an underlying selfishness. It is nothing more than a self-serving cry of false victimization.

This is not the message of peace and brotherhood as told through the story of the birth of Jesus. I will name it what it is: a childishly manipulative attempt to force others to submit to the will of another and it is the providence of bullies.

I'll share a little secret here: I personally hated this nattering bit of bullshit  when I was ministering in the Episcopal Church, and a majority of mainstream Christianity feels the same way I did then and still do now.  The braying of jackasses does not contribute to the song of the heavenly chorus. If saying "Happy Holidays" instead of " Merry Christmas" takes Christ out of Christmas for you it's because you allow it.

We live in a diverse world full of celebration, joy and wonder. Being considerate and respectful of religious holidays  observed by others is a way to begin healing our divisions. It is an authentic way to further dialogue in the mainstream faith community. It's the right and loving thing to do, and it is such a small step to take.


Friday, November 25, 2011

15 Days of Thankfulness: The Last Three Days

The 15 Days of Thankfulness has ended-it's been a wonderful exercise in gratitude. Somewhere in the back of my mind I have an appreciation for things that I don't express, but should. The past two weeks has caused me to think, to dig deeper, to examine what there is in my life to be thankful for-and why.

I purposely left the last three days go so I could do them together, because I think this post will be a fitting end to the 15 Days of Thankfulness.

Days 13-15

If you've been following this blog any length of time, you know that I came to where I am now on my spiritual journey because I wanted to enlarge my concept of the Divine. Rubrics, dogma and guidelines are wonderful tools which point you on  your way in the beginning. Everyone needs a map to get to where they're going; you need to be pointed in the right direction. By right direction, I mean right for you-and you only. Spiritual relationship is a personal exchange, it's an individual path, and you make the journey alone no matter how many others are heading in a similar direction. Notice I said headed in a similar direction, because the crowd may be facing East, but what you see defines what East is for you...and no two people are standing in the same spot, so they don't see things exactly the same. The unfolding of your path is your own personal journey, and as such, your experience is what colors it.

So first of all, I am thankful for a spiritual path where there are few rules to follow and less obstacles to connecting with the Divine. I like the accessibility of being able to focus at anytime in any place and know that my inner most thoughts and desires are being heard without ever having to speak them- because oft times words fail to fully convey the feeling. I am thankful for a spiritual path that allows me to see the God of my understanding in myself, that restores my birthright to being a co-creator of my Universe, that give me the freedom to explore the religions of others and take into myself things which will enrich my sense of worship. I am thankful that any time I want to commune with the Divine I can with the assurance that I am heard.

There are a lot of things that make me laugh. I probably laugh at myself more than anything else, because being human is ironically comical at times. We do some amazingly crazy, silly, funny stuff in spite of our presumption that we are the dominant species on Earth and have dominion over everything else. That presumption alone makes us pretty funny.

I loved the TV variety shows of the 60s, 70s and 80s; some of the best comics of the era were guest stars or starred in their own shows during that time. We've  lost exposure to a lot of talent since that genre of TV died out; I personally think the demise of the variety show has contributed to the dumbing down of the entertainment industry in general. Entertainers who hosted their own weekly variety shows- Carol Burnett, Red Skelton, Dean Martin, et al, were not only specifically talented singers, comics or dancers, but dabbled in other areas: singers tried their hand at acting and dancing, dancers were actors, comics were actors and singers and some did a little of everything. That's the definition of the word Superstar to me. Many of them were terrific comedians simply because they could pick the irony out of everyday life and present it in a way that made us groan in sympathy or identify with the subject. That's what made me laugh. Many of the so-called comics currently fashionable get laughs by embarrassing an individual or group, and the laughter is mean-spirited and vulgar. I really don't like laughing at the expense of another person's  misfortune; it's just cruel, and I suspect the root of so much of the bullying we see today begins this way. Lucy used to get into some hysterical predicaments-like the time she was working in a chocolate factory and lost control of the conveyor belt and started cramming her mouth full of chocolates to hide them. That was funny, and no body got hurt. More to the point, everyone understood the emotion behind it-that's what made it funny. We were amused by Lucy's antics, but secretly, we were laughing at our own.

What am I thankful for on the last day ? I am thankful for food, friends and fellowship; for music and art to enrich my soul and satisfy my spirit; for friends and animals past and present who brought joy and companionship to my life; for the beauty of Nature and the connection to that place of Deep Indwelling where I truly exist and live out my life.

Happy Thanks-giving and Abundant Blessing throughout the year.

Monday, November 21, 2011

15 Days of Thankfulness: Catching Up

One of the things I love about this project is that it challenges me to be mindful and present in the moment. I have to purposely think about what I am grateful for and then express my gratitude  in a tangible manner- in this case writing. Writing comes easily to me because I am a natural born writer: throughout my life I have written fictional stories for my own amusement,diagnostic and medical treatment reports, teaching plans, technical reports, synopsis for courses, entertainment reviews and magazine articles,dissertations, sermons and blogs...and I rarely suffer from writer's block. No kidding. Most of the time I know exactly what I'm going to write about and have several other ideas on the back burner as well. What I do suffer from is a lack of time-as many of us do who lead full, active lives. "There is not enough hours in the day" may be a bit  cliched, but nothing else describes it as well. It's not a lack of time management- it's a genuine lack of time.

So today's installment of 15 Days of Thankfulness is going to be a  two-for-one in order to catch up, get on track and bring this project home in a timely manner.

Day 11

The subject for today is to select 3 friends who inspire me. I'm going to call in my chips and say that I've already written about a lot more than 3 of these people. It's difficult to just pick 3 because so many people have contributed equally toward inspiring me, and the last thing I want to do is to diminish the contribution of some in favor of others- I would never purposely do that.

The real problem I'm having in choosing is that people inspire me in particular areas- the inspiration is compartmentalized. I have been more than  blessed with the friendship of dozens of people who shine in their own way. They illuminate the dark corners of my life in times when I need to see light, and several of them are always there in the background, ready to shine just as the sun comes up at dawn.

My relationship with Jean ( and later her husband, George) began through Scouting. Jean was one of my Scout leaders, so the potential for being someone to look up to was already in place. One would think differently, but the dynamic of our relationship didn't so much change as morph when I reached adulthood. What was there when I was younger became richer and the layers more deeply defined as I earned the right to equality at adulthood. Jean and I can talk about anything- and often do. Mostly I talk and she listens before imparting wisdom. We have the relationship my own mother and I never had and what should have been there but was lost when my grandmother's alcoholism took her elsewhere. The physical distance has not dampened our relationship because we talk long and often.

Melinda has been nothing short of a blessing in my life every since we met online shortly after JD's death. In the days after that fateful day, I made myself available to listen to John's fans who needed a sounding board or someone to help them sort out just why they were morning so deeply for someone they knew only through his music. Melinda was in several discussion threads and we began to communicate regularly several times a week. Except for brief periods, that has continued for the last fourteen years- and like conversations with Jean, no subject is safe from our examination. Melinda and I finally met face to face in Aspen, Co in the fall of 1998 during the first John Denver Memorial Weekend. We each had separate activities planned for the trip, but after picking her up at the airport, I wanted to do give her something I knew no one else could- I wanted to introduce her to the Aspen JD had shared with me, the place that had inspired him to write and sing-and the place he wanted to come home to from all over the world. We drove out to Windstar Ranch in Snowmass when there was no one else there and then up on the mountain so Melinda could see the same vista JD saw at sunset from his beloved backyard in Starwood.And then we had dinner at the Woody Creek Tavern, which (forgive me) is a local dive that JD and I simply adored...we walked the streets of Aspen late at night talking for hours, and by the time we left nearly a week later, we were friends for life.

I still have these two extraordinary women in my life...and for this I am thankful.

Day 12
I have had trouble exactly following the rules for this challenge because so often I don't select the prescribed number of  three Cordelia had in mine when she created this project. Some rules are made to be broken, and I am a rebel at heart. Not following the rules in this case is my way of making the project my own.

Nature often challenges and enlarges my consciousness. I began my spiritual path because I more keenly feel connected to the Sacred when I am outdoors more than any other place. There isn't a place where I have been out in Nature that I have truly disliked- except one particularly cold, wet camping trip near Hawk Mountain where I was soaked through multiple layers of clothing and several layers of skin until I was quite literally frozen when the temperature suddenly dropped after dusk. The lesson that came from that experience was to not be overly confident of my ability to be comfortable in the wild and take nothing for granted. Ever.  There have been many other lessons-Nature is the quintessential teacher.

Maybe it's because I am a Pisces, but I have always had an affinity for water. I will instinctively seek and find a source of water when I am hiking and usually end up on a river bank or the shore of a lake. I am not a touristy seashore person, but I love the ocean, even in the winter. When I lived about an hour from the ocean I loved walking on the beach in March, when the Atlantic was so cold it would burn your skin.

I am intrigued by sights and sounds of  waterfalls. Very often I'm not content to watch and listen- I want to be inside the falling water.  I am truly a fish! The rush of water soothes mind and spirit. Scientifically. moving water givens off negative ions which stabilize alpha rhythms in the brain- that's why we feels so good near a body of water. I will happily walk in the rain, but as I've gotten older I find I don't like the combination of rain and cold. I can take one or the other- not both.

I also love wind for many of the same reasons; I love the song of the wind and the accompanying tangle of dried leaves, clattering bare branches, and dancing of trees. I always feel clean after being in the wind.

For the gift of all of Nature, but especially water and winds, I am thankful.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

15 Days of Thankfulness: Teachers

Day 10

From the first through fifth grades, my art teacher was Mrs. Shaw. She was a small, dark-haired lady with a big imagination, and my inspiration to continue in the arts until I, too, was an art teacher. I haven't thought about her in years, but I still have one of the projects I made in her class- an imaginary animal. It was the first time I'd worked in clay that could be fired. My imaginary animal has a low, flat body with a dog's head and alligator's feet. He's not particularly scary- in fact, he has red lips curled into a smile. He was on display in the principle's office for a couple of years. Right now he's packed away in a box somewhere waiting for both of us to get a new home.

My scholastic career was less than stellar. Being in school was preferable than being involved in all the drama at home, but our little neighborhood school was nothing special. It was just like every other school in the 60's and 70's. So other than art class, nothing really caught my eye-and I don't remember the names of most of my teachers.

What I do have a clear memory of was becoming a teacher- and art teacher, in a private school for children with learning disabilities. I worked with most of the student individually on an individual basis, then gathered all my IEPs and reviewed them with the school psychologist. Charlotte Taylor was a fascinating woman- she'd managed to earn her PhD while quietly enduring the insults of post-polio syndrome. She walked with crutches, but she could drive a car-an Audi. We became fast friends outside of school, and Charlotte was the first person outside the family who had faith in who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do with my life. She encouraged me in earning my post graduate degrees and inspired me to go to seminary...and she introduced me to Al Anon, where I learned to cope with my grandmother's alcoholism and Pop's anger. I owe a huge debt to this woman and I wish she was still in my life, but she's gone to a better place a while ago.

For these two wonderful women who touched my life, I am thankful.

Friday, November 18, 2011

15 Days of Thankfulness: Upcoming Events

 Day 9

I'll admit it- I haven't been following the "rules" my friend Cordelia set down when she wrote up this latest challenge. There has been so much to be thankful for it's been difficult to limit myself- but I'm going to try this time....Here are 3 Upcoming Events for Which I am Thankful:

1.The Approaching Winter Festivals: Happy Holidays

Thanksgiving, The Feast of St. Andrew,Advent, St. Nicholas Day, Santa Lucia, Bodhi Day Yule, Las Posadas, Hanukkah, The Birth of Mithra, Saturnalia, The 12 Days of Misrule, Sol Invictius,Christmas,Christmastide, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Winter Skoal, Lunar New Year, Hogmanay, Epiphany (Three King's Day) and Eastern Orthodox Christmas all fall between the fourth Thursday of November and mid-January....and I'm certain there are a few I've forgotten. It takes us from deep Autumn into early Winter, and they're all " days of feasting". I  love decorating and cooking for the holidays and I celebrate as many as I can each year

2. The Public Release of An Affair of the Heart
The independent film documentary about Rick Springfield I am featured will be entered in film festivals around the country after the New Year- maybe as soon as Sundance Film Festival in mid-January 2012! If that's the case I'm going to stay with a friend in Utah who volunteers at the festival so I can help promote the movie. It's been shown twice-at the premiere screening in Malibu in September, and on the latest Rick Springfield fan cruise just last week-and the review have been better than we could have ever hoped for. I know it's has a niche audience, but I think it has a wider appeal to those who enjoy music documentaries and human interest stories as well. Time will tell.

3. Book Publishing

There's been some interest in a couple of manuscripts I've been working on. One is about holidays within the 'year and a day' cycle, and the other began as a Yuletide devotional and expanded to include my own illustrations. I've also just launched a new interfaith inspirational blog called Feast of Days, which can be found at

This time and these things, I am thankful for whatever the future holds.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

15 Days of Thankfulness: Things in the Home

Hail Caffea!
Day 8

I am pretty certain there is a goddess named Caffea who has made her temple in my coffee pot... I would be remiss if I didn't begin this list of things I'm thankful for in my home by singing the praises of the coffee maker! One of the blessings I missed the most when I was briefly in homeless exile was the ability to have a cup of coffee any time I wanted one. Coffee is more than a drink, it's a social ritual for me. Some of the most intimate conversations of my life have taken place over a cup of coffee. Coffee equals creature comfort to many: the day begins with a hot cup of coffee while gathering their thoughts.

While I'm not much on gadgets and fancy machinery, I have found that I am rather fond of both the vacuum cleaner and the steam cleaner. While there is something intrinsically satisfying about sweeping a floor with a broom, I'm finding that as I get less flexible, my appreciation for the vacuum has grown... you point it... ZOOP!...the cobwebs and dust bunnies are gone! It does a better job of keeping the carpet clean since too much vigorous sweeping has become painful for me. Ditto the steam cleaner. Armed with a soft dry cloth in one hand  and a fired-up steamer in the other , and the kitchen and bathrooms are clean and sparkling in  half the time without the use of harmful chemicals...and there is something satisfying about watching the grease melt out of crevices in  the stove that I can't explain.

The back yard this morning. I am blessed.
My thankfulness doesn't end at the modern conveniences around the house: I am thankful for the house as well. There is a formal living room/library, and when I first moved in I was thrilled to find an entire wall of vintage books. Yes, many of the volumes contain outdated material, but reading through them gave me a sense of how people thought at the time they were published.

There are two porches on the house, one above the other. The bottom porch is screened and includes a ceiling fan ( the coolest spot in summer, since we don't have air conditioning); the top porch is more of an uncovered observation deck. Both give fabulous views of the back yard, which is thickly wooded. Coffee on the screen porch at dawn where I can watch the birds feeding or at dusk when I catch an occasional glimpse of a raccoon or fox is magickal.

Don't laugh, but I am thankful for blankets. The heat is kept minimal here during the winter, and I have acquired a collection of colorful fleece throws for my bed. I appreciate they have less weight than a traditional blanket with comparable warmth since finding a comfortable position is sometimes a chore for  me- I'm not fighting a bunch of heavy blankets while sleepily searching for the sweet spot that will allow me to relax. Two of the three blankets I own are nothing to write home about-they are faded but warm and have long passed the age where they are attractive. My favorite blanket is a cranberry red velvet-like number from Martha Stewart which pretty much stays on the bed year round.

Creature comforts and things that make life easier aren't often thought about as something to be thankful for...but naming them today makes me thankful for them.

15 Days of Thankfulness:Inspirational Songs

Day 7

I have always said there was a soundtrack to my life. What I'm doing at the moment or the mood I'm in dictates what I'm listening to-and I listen to all types of music,so it's difficult to pick a genre. It's all inspirational to me- the differences are the level of inspiration.

I grew up listening to some of the best music ever crafted. My grandparents played the music that they loved and was meaningful to them-most of it from the 30's when they were married and the 40's during the war.  We always had a record player of some sort in our house-and it was truly just a record player, not a stereo system. Other than that, music came out of the radio that sat on the kitchen table, or later from the small battery-powered unit in my bedroom. I have memories of being glued to that little box for the entire summer of 1969, so Bryan Adam's Summer of  '69 stands out for me. During the 60's, folk music gave me a social conscience because I became aware of the world around me in a very tangible way- through the freedom marches and the anti-segregation demonstrations. Because I was just kid, my understand of those things were limited, but I knew what was being sung about needed a voice. Later, when I did understand, those songs helped mold my sense of right and wrong-and they still continue to do so today. The simplicity of a Pete Seeger song can still inspire me to examine what is going on around me that needs attention in society.

Like so many in the 70's, I listened to the quasi-country music of John Denver, and later, I had the privileged of working with him. I can tell you that being in a touring company opened my eyes to how music is actually put together and produced before it ever reaches the public. Songwriting is incredibly hard work- the lyrics and music may just flow out of an artist, but arranging what you hear in your head so other musicians can play it is nothing short of miraculous. My two favorite JD songs aren't popular ones-Christmas for Cowboys for the holidays because I have been on a cattle drive in the winter at night with a thousand stars and a cup of coffee by a campfire ,and The Wings That Fly Us Home, because of it's recognition of the dignity in all things human.

I'll admit I have a fondness for 80's music, as cheeky as some of it was. Much of what was  written is about sorting out romantic feelings or relationships, but it was buried under layers of over dubbing and gung-ho orchestration to become dance music. If a pop tune is over 3 minutes long and doesn't have a 'hook' to inspire interest, it's dead in the water, and that was never truer than in the 80's-which is why we're still slap-happily singing Jessie's Girl in karaoke bars 30 years later.

I'll admit that after that period, most of my musical experience gravitated to classical and progressive jazz, because in my opinion popular music became a sort of wasteland after the 80's. I was also paying more attention to the classics because I had graduated from a Christian seminary during the mid 80's, and a lot of Anglican Church music originates from Beethoven and Bach. You can get lost in good classical music, riding the swells and dips- it's quite a roller-coaster if you climb aboard and relax. The Church is where I learned to love the meditative lilt of chant,so later in my spiritual progression as a Pagan, chanting was comfortable and came easily. I was listening to the music of my ancestors out of Ireland and Scotland now because I had a closer connection at a soul-level: Lorenna McKennit, Kate Bush are pretty much my heroes. A tip of the hat goes to John Whelan, because he brought the common tunes of Ireland into the popular genre through the magnificent Riverdance.

So once again, I've made no actual choices, because I embrace so many types of music-For this I am thankful.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

15 Days of Thankfulness:Things at Home

Day 6

Creature comforts I never thought of before are certainly much more appreciated now that I'm not living on my own. Privacy is at a premium most of the time, but there are rare moments when I am in the house alone when I can watch a movie on the computer, or listen to a CD without the headphones or... ( hold on, this is gonna get racy!)...Sleep in my underwear...So it truly is the little things that count these days.

I have a room in where I can retreat from the world and paint my toenails or do a few crafts, and a warm bed to sleep in at night. There is a roof over my head, and I can make coffee when ever I choose to brew it. I don't have to pack up my dirty launder and schlepp it to the laundromat, I can wash it at home and even though we don't have a dryer and it takes over a day for them to dry, at least I do have clean clothes and a place to shower ( though I do secretly, yearn for a long hot bubble bath!)

It isn't an ideal situation, but I'm not taking anything for granted. My situation could be and has been yes, I am thankful for what I have at home.

15 Days of Thankfulness: Animals Past and Present


Animals are a gift of life. They are sentient beings who need our love, time, attention, affection, and care. They repay us with unconditional acceptance, devotion and love. They are our teachers, our guides, and our confidants. Often times, they are also our healers.  They provide us with the opportunity to drop the mask and be authentically who we are. The mere act of petting an animal provides a soothing effect for most of us.Their presence in our lives has been scientifically proven to increase our longevity.

They teach us to live in the moment. If we adopt when it is young we are privileged to watch it grow into adulthood - similarly, we see ourselves through them. They grow old and die. The cycle of seasons are inevitable.

Like most families, we had several pets throughout the years- dogs, cats and others. Pop had a ferret named Rosco who used to ride in the front pocket of his wool lumberjack shirt and eat peanuts. I had a box turtle for a few months that was eventually freed in Noxintown Lake, where Robin Williams movie The Dead Poets Society was filmed. There were a few dogs-and many cats. We always had pets around the house from the time I was a tiny child. I took the last cat with me after I sold the house a decade ago.

I don't remember the names of some of these precious little souls. Some of them only lived a short while; others had a lifespan of  more than a generation. But I was touched by all of them and made a more sensitive, considerate person for their existence. For  their lives, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

15 Days of Thankfulness: Childhood

 Day 4: Things I'm Thankful for from My Childhood

Things I'm thankful for from my childhood?

That I was never allowed to run wild. 

My childhood was far from perfect, but I don't think I even entertained the thought of just going off and doing whatever struck my fancy. It just wouldn't have been tolerated, and I'm glad my grandparents were strict in that sense, because it helped me build character. Some of the kids from the old neighborhood were allowed to do whatever they wanted- and they were always in trouble. Not normal kid-type trouble, the kind of trouble that merited a visit from the truant officer, social services or the police...and a couple of them ended up dead before they were even out of their teens-because they were given 'freedom' by parents who were overwhelmed with jobs, or involved in  personal pursuits. You can't just turn a child loose on the street like that-not then and certainly not now.

It wasn't that I was being watched like a hawk every minute of the day-but at least one of my grandparents always knew where I was and what I was doing... And cared what i was doing...because some of my childhood chums were sent out to play the minute they got home from school and weren't allowed back into the house until sunset. It didn't stop me from doing normal kid stuff- I got in my share of trouble, believe me.Still, there was always someone there when I got home from school in the afternoon. Someone made sure I got my homework done, and helped me if I needed help. I was expected to be indoors by the time the streetlights came on- without being called home. And I was-or else. There were consequences if I didn't abide by the rules.

It wasn't like my life was intolerably structured. That's just the way it was in our house: the adults had the final say and the kids knew their place because, well... we were children. No one expected me to act like a miniature adult when I was a child.

I see this happening now, and I ache for the kids who have to grow up too fast and never get to be children. I see families where the roles of parent and child are reversed, where the kids are picking up the pieces or cleaning up the mess the adults have made- and it's just so very wrong. Childhood is fleeting and gone in the blink of an eye. Kids should get to be kids when they are kids. Looking back on this time now, I know how fortunate I was.

Yes, I am thankful that I was allowed to be a child when I was a child, because once that time of innocence and learning are gone- it's gone forever.

Friday, November 11, 2011

15 Days of Thankfulness: Those From Your Past

My grandparents raised me, so there was a little disconnect in my childhood. My mother and her sister-much to their chagrin- were more like my peers. Begrudgingly, they were required to treat me as an equal because that's how my grandparents viewed things. Truth to be told, there was barely a generation between us. I called my Grandmother "Mom", so the grandmother element was missing....until Aunt Laura moved next door.

Aunt Laura was actually the mother of one of our neighbors. She was born and raised in Wilmington and lived happily in Browntown, the ethnically Polish part of town. 'Browntown' was like a lot of the other European immigrant  neighborhoods on the west side-a little run down and dog-eared and only existed because the Roman Catholic Church had a parish there. That's how it is today: all the ethnic areas are grouped around large Catholic parishes-St Anne's (Irish), St. Mary's( Latino), St.Hedwig's (Polish), St Anthony's (Italian). In the late 1960's, the neighborhoods were starting to decline, so Aunt Laura's son moved her into the little house next door to us.

The house next door to us had been vacant for years. Mrs.Usselton, the former elderly resident, had been deceased for years. She was about as mean and disagreeable as anyone could get, so when Aunt Laura moved in, it was like a breath of fresh air. Her tiny house-one bedroom, kitchen, living room, bath and boiler room was little more than a box, but it was always bright and inviting.

Aunt Laura became the missing grandmother in my life. She was spry and lively, despite being deaf. She wore a hearing aid, but you could still hear her TV in our living room when the windows were open. All the neighbors knew what we were doing, because I had to yell so Aunt Laura could hear me. When I got hoarse, it was time to go home.

A couple times a week Mom would fix a plate of food after we'd had supper and tell me to take it over to Aunt Laura. I spent my pre-teens to late 20's in that little yellow kitchen with the tan tile, mostly drinking coffee, and playing Rummy. She taught me to make jelly and introduced me to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and I think she read every murder mystery paperback available. There was always a pile under the couch to choose from. Some nights we'd just sit and read, each with our own individual books until one of us fell asleep. We used to watch the Perry Mason show together faithfully (It's a good thing CSI wasn't on TV then, or we'd never have gotten her away from the television again!)

When company was expected-usually her friend Mae who still lived in Browntown- she'd make sandwiches from canned corned beef , and what she called an Orange Jello Cake (with orange butter cream frosting). And percolated coffee...always 'the good stuff' for company.

While I was away my senior year in college, Aunt Laura developed bladder cancer, and the next spring, she was gone. Aunt Laura was 91 years 'young' when she died.  She had a habit of saying," So and so's all dressed up and no place to go.", and she made me promise to say it when she died...and I did. The night of her viewing, he son stood next to me in front of her casket as I lovingly looked down at my 'grandma' of  18 years and  only half-way seriously intoned, " Poor Laura- all dressed up and no place to go!"

Christmas was her absolute favorite holiday. She made the red corduroy dress she's wearing in the photo. She would only wear it on Christmas and Valentine's Day.  Aunt Laura out did herself making an extraordinary array of cookies before the holidays.  I  still use some of her recipes to make my own cookies at Yule.

Two of my most cherished possessions came from Aunt Laura- I have the two white plastic reindeer (circa 1950's) that were her favorites. They were the first ornaments on her tree every year and the last to be taken off ( I still carry out this ritual in her memory.)
I rescued them from the trash when her kids cleaned out her house after her death; they didn't care about them. I was astonished because I was certain they were family heirlooms. It turns out hey didn't have the same memories I had.  They should have come around to visit their mother more often- she only loved three blocks away.  It was their loss, believe me. She was a treasure- my treasure- and I am forever thankful for having her in my life.

Don't forget to visit my friend Cordelia's blog- 15 Days of Thankfulness was originally her idea! Visit her at:(

15 Days of Thankfulness: My Favorite Veteran

This is Day Two of the 15 Days of Thankfulness,: My Favorite Veteran- and it's timed to launch on Veterans Day. I've already written my blog about that subject here a few days ago:

When I sat down at the keyboard, I was at a loss as to what I wanted to write about. I tell recollections about my Grandfather all the time that include stories of his military service- how he was in the Army for 11 years as a cook for the First Engineers-the famous Big Red One.

But to be honest, every one of my friends-and all of you who have served in the military to preserve our rights are my hero. Every one of you.

My favorite Veteran is the last one I've met. Thank you for putting yourself on the line for me. Thank you for your sacrifice of service- even if you've never been deployed overseas or into a combat theater.

Thanks for all the crap you took at boot camp, moving your family from place to place and disrupting your home life, the time you spent training for a specialty, and endangering your life. My own life has been made better because of you. My personal freedoms have been preserved. Defending my home land is one less worry I have because I know you were there. Thanks especially for your humanitarian service when you were called out to bring food and medical supplies or drove a 'water buffalo' to a disaster area. You made my job easier when I was out running an emergency shelter for the Red Cross: not only was I glad to see you when you arrived, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw those green vehicles pulling up, because I knew I would be able to fulfill my own duty to those in need. Thank you for all the times we have laughed, cried and freaked out together in the line of duty. It has been an honor to serve with you.

Today, wear something to honor your favorite Veteran- it can be a Buddy Poppy, an American flag pin, or another token representing civic pride and thanks giving for the sacrifice of members of our armed forces. Because every day should be Veterans Day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Let the Blessings Begin!

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow."
-Melody Beattie

My friend Cordelia over at Cordelia's Cauldron has begun a blog series/ challenge entitled 15 Days of Thankfulness. I'm picking up the gauntlet and asking that you do the same if your write a blog, or to urge the author of your favorite blog to join us. Many  have been deeply affected by living in such an unstable economy, it's easy to let negativity slip in and color our thinking. There's a lot to worry about. There's a mountain of crap looming over us casting a shadow of doubt. It's really, really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and believe it could actually be daylight and not the head lamp of a train coming to mow us down.

 I wrote this post at this time last year:  It began with the same quote I've used above, because I believe those words sum up the core essence of gratitude pretty well for me.

It's easy to for me to loose sight of what is good in my life. I always remember the big things, but the little ones often get plowed under...and it's the simple, everyday things that make my life tolerable, especially the space in my head that I'm occupying presently. The little things enhance so much of my life and make it better. But I forget...we all forget.

November 10 - Day 1 - An author, artist and musician you are thankful for.


"Poe"  by David Gough
I love to read. I was that dorky kid who loved going to study hall in the library because it meant I could get a book off the shelf and get lost in it. Reading fired my imagination and made me want more out of my life. I knew early on that I would never be satisfied just sitting at home: I wanted to go places and do things. There was never a lot of money in our house for extras, so there were few vacations. But a book from the library cost nothing and allowed me to travel around the world and beyond. I could be a time traveler and go back to the beginnings of history in the pages of the classics. One week I was in Rome, the next in New York, and I never left the comfort of my bedroom. I could go places and do things only limited by my imagination and the card catalog in the local library. I gave up a whole week at camp one summer to read Bram Stoker's Dracula.

I read all types of books, but I love a good mystery with a lot of plot twists. Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe were all my best friends, and still are, but I've added Anne Rice, Patricia Cornwell, Dan Brown and a few theologians to the gang.

La Bella Mano by Rosetti
(I adore all things Victorian because it can go to either extreame with me: beautiful or macabre, depending on my mood. I suspect I was either born out of time or had another lifetime then, because I can transported back to that time so easily.)


My college education began by studying the fine arts, and at one time I  intended to be an artist by trade. I taught art for nearly ten years in both public and private school and for special populations. My greatest joy as an art teacher was when I could help someone release creativity they never dreamed they had. For a while I worked at the Delaware Art Museum, where I was surrounded by paintings by Howard Pyle, N.C.Wyeth, his son Andrew and his grandson Jamie, Joan Sloan, and the largest collection of Pre-Raphelite art in the world. Every day I could stand in front of the originals- and oft times the artist's sketches- of The Mermaid, Marooned or
La Bella Mano. Dante Gabriel Rosetti is my favorite  artist of the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood, because I adore his model Alexa Wilding (who may have been his mistress).


I am a sucker for singer-songwriters. I simply love hearing a song sung by the composer because that artist knows how the lyrics were intended to sound, they know the inflection and the emotion behind those words better than anyone. My taste in music is broad: Classical, Jazz, Celtic, 80's Pop Rock,Broadway Show tunes, Cowboy Western and 1960's era Folk. My cell's ringtone is Pachebel's Canon, but my screensaver is a photo of Rick Springfield strapped into and tearing up an electric guitar playing  the solo of Jessie's Girl in concert.  Some days I want to hear Michael Crawford sing The Phantom, others I want to meditate to Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring, or clean house to David Benoit playing The Great Pumpkin Waltz. I have a special place for John Denver, who did Western Country Cowboy songs like nobody else will ever do again. If I have to pick one to be my favorite, it would easily be JD, because we were friends for so long. We became friends because of the music, and it bonded us for a quarter century until his death.

For the artistry of these individuals- and many others, I am thankful.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thanksgiving, Perspective and Abundance

"Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean."                                                                                                
                                                               ~ William Bradford

I think we're all pretty much aware that the image of  happy Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrating the first Thanksgiving is at best bogus if not an outright fabrication. It's simply a case of the victor writing history to suit his purpose. I was raised on a sanitized tale of Pilgrims sailing nobly to America and making friends with the Indians, bolstered by cute cut out cardboard decorations from the greeting card store. For many years that's how it was for all of us until around 1970, when someone burst our collective bubble and the realization that this wasn't just another potluck social starring our ancestors. The reality of the Pilgrims landing in the new world was gritty and grim. It seems the story was destined to be romanticized from the beginning if you consider the opening quote by William Bradford, so we can't blame it all on the greeting card companies.

Before it carried the Pilgrims to the New World, the Mayflower (as part of the British merchant marine fleet) carried wine from Bordeaux, France to Devon, England for at least a decade. Delivery of the Pilgrims to the mouth of the Hudson River was just another business assignment. The term Pilgrim-more descriptive of their mission than their group- wasn't actually used  to describe the First Comers to this part of the New World until the 1800's: before that they were refereed to as Separatists. The Separatists were a group of religious dissidents who believed it was necessary to leave the Church of England due to persecution by King James. One of the hallmarks of the Separatists were their use of the Geneva Bible, a translation of the Scriptures disapproved of by the Church of England. The group moved to a more religiously tolerant Holland for a few years, but returned to England when they were contracted by a London merchant in 1620 to establish a warehouse venture for the storage of timber, furs and whatever they could find of value in America.

The voyage last for nine weeks of mishap and stormy seas. Originally the Mayflower had been accompanied by a smaller ship, the Speedwell, which leaked so badly both ships had turn back to England. When ready to set sail again, the Mayflower, loaded with 102 passengers and crew, sailed alone.

At this point the history becomes muddled: the original landing site was somewhere near the mouth of the Hudson River, but records show that the group had permission to settle in Virginia. Instead, they landed near Cape Cod, Massachusetts...quite a bit of a mistake in navigation, if you ask me. They spent a month anchored just off the rocky shore while a group of passengers, including William Bradford, went ashore to explore the area. According to Travels of the Rock by John McPhee (Princeton University Press, Bradford was in the woods on day when he was accidentally caught in a trap cleverly designed  by one of the  native inhabitants. Once freed, Bradford and the exploration party proceeded to search the area and found a storage of  corn in buried baskets, which they acquired for their own use. Coming across the grave of a child, they pillaged what they considered the best of the belongings buried with the body. Little wonder they had arrows fired at them from unseen attackers in the nearby woods numerous time before the sun set that day. (I guess grave robbing was permissible by their religious standards and personal ethics because they considered the native people of the area a lesser form of humanity.)

When the scouting party of First Comers returned after some time to the Mayflower, they discovered that Dorothy Bradford had committed suicide by "going over the side of the vessel" and drowning. Months passed before the group dared to  finally walked through sub-freezing water and ice over the rocky shore to land. Most of the passengers on the ship had been ill with pneumonia and scurvy, and less than half of them survived to make settlement.

The Native Peoples of the region were familiar with the Europeans who had been exploring the region since the late 16th century. In southeastern New England, the Wampanoag and Narragansett people have been following an agrarian cycle of farming and fishing for thousands of years and ultimately taught their new neighbors those skills. In return the Europeans brought infectious diseases with them for which the Natives had no natural immunity.  Many villages were totally wiped out by measles and small pox.

The Pilgrims and Natives kept their distance until nearly a year and a half later, when they had contact with Samoset, a Native elder, who greeted them in broken English he'd learned from some other Europeans who'd come to fish in the area. It was he who introduced Squanto to the residents of Plymouth Colony. Squanto had been kidnapped by a sea captain in 1614, but returned to his people five years later. He remained a part of the colony as an ambassador until his death many years later.

There are only 2 reliable historical accounts ( of the "First Thanksgiving", which was actually a Harvest Festival the Pilgrims celebrated every year at home in England. To them, a day of thanksgiving was designated each week on the Sabbath, so there was no need for an additional day to give thanks.( There is a record of a special feast happening about three years after the establishment of the colony, to give thanks for the intervention of Providence after an extraordinarily long period of drought being ended by a rain storm.)

 "Freedom from Want" by Norman Rockwell
Some of my friends don't celebrate Thanksgiving, citing the bad treatment of the Native Americans by the Pilgrims. I agree they were indeed treated abominably and I understand. I can appreciate their wish to stand in solidarity with those they feel were wronged. On the other hand I would also like to frame the situation in a realistic light. The Europeans of that era believed their colonizing effort was just because they were 'improving' the area in the manner commonly in use in Europe at that time, which included permanent settlements and their own methods of farming. They introduced the Christian religion because they believed they were chosen to do so by a Higher Authority. While none of these actions are excusable in any manner, I'd like to point out that we are also judging people from hundreds of years ago by the current standards of our society. That is incorrect, also. While hardly justifiable in what they wrought upon the land and its inhabitants, we cannot frame these events by our own morals and ethics of the present day. We must allow for  a genuine understanding of the mindset of the day, which was very different from our own. Stripped of it's emotion, the situation is less volatile: the natives fought to retain their right to land they had lived on and worked on seasonally for centuries while the Pilgrims were fulfilling an agreement for which they were contracted. The bottom line for them was that it was a business deal, and they'd given their word to hold up their end. Like it or not, that's what it comes down to- it was all " just business" as the popular phrase goes these days.

My take on this is that I reject the negativity created by the story of the First Thanksgiving. That does not mean that I have forgotten who wronged whom, and I believe that the single most important lesson that has come from all of this is that we as a people should never allow this type of thing to happen in our lifetime. We cannot change the past or continue to hold a grudge against people who were long dead before our own great grandparents were even born. Remembering and agreeing are two completely different things, therefore a remembrance to honor the beginning of our country's history is not out of line. It has never been a perfect history and many objectionable events have taken place in it's forging- but it is there, none the less and continuing to carry on the anger and pick at the wounds every year when we should be celebrating being thankful in the spirit of gratitude is a greater wrong. The phrase, " Would you rather be right or rather be happy?" comes to mind. What do we gain by continuing to beat our breasts and crying over what we personally had no involvement in? Accept the lesson, and move on.

I'd prefer to think of Thanksgiving as simply that: thanks-giving. The day is about being thankful for what is manifest abundance. Individually,we have a lot to be thankful for no matter who we are and how much we struggle. Every one's  life could stand some improvement in some form, but we've all been blessed, we've all received something unexpected, something we have not earned and do not deserve. Every one of us. Be thankful for those things. Stop to acknowledge that which has come into your life unearned or uninvited, even the things that seem go wrong or be wrong. You will be surprised by the gift of resiliency you find and the personal tools you develop to survive. Isn't that something to be thankful for?

Thanks-giving is about what is plentiful in our lives, not about Pilgrims and turkeys.