I’ve had so many conversations with people learning English who assume that ‘how are you’ is a genuine question rather than just an empty greeting. In Mandarin ‘ni hao’ literally translates as ‘ you good’ but if you are greeting a friend and you actually want to know if they are good, you add the question word ‘ma’ at the end. Such a clear and practical language, well done Mandarin. Now we just need a way in English to signal whether we actually care, ‘how are you?’
Recently I have had fun armchair traveling with a young friend, Zoe Konovalov, who is visiting Asia. She is immersing herself in the rich cultures and traditions of many of the countries. Her fondness for the people and places she has already encountered has led her to learn Mandarin. One of her recent posts gripped my heart, she shared:
I’ve had so many conversations with people learning English who assume that ‘how are you’ is a genuine question rather than just an empty greeting. In Mandarin ‘ni hao’ literally translates as ‘ you good’ but if you are greeting a friend and you actually want to know if they are good, you add the question word ‘ma’ at the end. Such a clear and practical language, well done Mandarin. Now we just need a way in English to signal whether we actually care, ‘how are you?’
After reading this post I couldn’t put it out of my mind. I responded to her thoughts by saying that, perhaps rather than amend our language, we should amend our ways. Maybe what we need to do is genuinely mean what we say, to care, to really want to hear the answer to the question. I think it bothered me so much because mostly I am a person who wants to know how people are doing. Whether I ask the cashier checking me out, the server taking my order, or a neighbor I am talking to on the sidewalk, if I ask, “How are you?”, I really want to know. I don’t want to fix the language, I want to fix a society that is perhaps losing the ability to care about others. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a world where people stop to engage others in honest, compassionate dialogue, extend kindness and empathy where it can soothe, and rejoice and laugh with those who have something to celebrate. But, I also realize that sometimes I am guilty of using the words, “how are you”, as just an empty greeting. I want to fix that in ME.
I tend not to like to talk about “the good old days” because I have lived long enough to realize that one day in the future, THESE will be “the good old days.” However, there are some things that might need reviving. I’m grateful to know so many of my wonderful neighbors, but I have friends who tell me they do not know the people living around them. Remember when neighbors talked to one another over the back fence, brought a plate of cookies to the new family on the block, and shoveled the walk or raked the leaves of the elderly folks on the street? Remember when neighbors really wanted to know, “How are you”? Remember when women had “coffees” and that didn’t mean meeting at Starbucks? It meant inviting people to your home, setting out mugs or coffee cups and pretty napkins and some homemade goodies, and really catching up. Those coffees and similar get-togethers are invaluable times for really finding out “how are you”—no cell phones (I’m guilty), no rushing, just lending an ear, listening (now there’s a dying art, and again I’m guilty), and making eye contact. As I write this I am aware of all the screens staring at me—the television screen, my phone screen, the computer screen on which I am typing—maybe it’s time to shut them off and engage in more face-to-face time. Body language and voice inflections, emotions and feelings, are hard to perceive via email and text messages. I don’t think we are as connected as we think we are.
Going forward I want my greetings to be genuine. If I ask you how you are, expect that I will be looking you in the eye, reading your body language, listening to the words and the emotions you share, and looking for your honest response. Maybe if all of us really mean it when we ask others, “How are you?”, we can reopen the door to a more caring world, and leave it open for the generations to come. I don’t want to fix the language; I do want to fix ME, so that I can be a better friend to YOU! So, how are you? No really, HOW ARE YOU?
In just three hours my sixth amazing experience will draw to a close. Some of you will no doubt find this final event mundane and even boring. Some of you, who know me well, will find this experience bordering on the miraculous. For the past, almost 24 hours, I have been alone, in a suite, at the Bolger Center, a conference hotel not far from my home. I have not been on the internet, I have not seen anyone, and I have not spoken since checking in yesterday (and the “not spoken”, is where the miraculous part occurs). I have not turned on the television or listened to or read any news, which means I am blissfully unaware of the world’s latest tragedies and was totally amazed to wake and find it had snowed a bit when I pulled open the curtains this morning. The amazing thing is, in my almost 60 years, I have NEVER spent 24 hours alone and in silence!
As I thought about what to do for my final experience, the idea of reflection, quiet, and renewal popped in to my head over and over. The idea to be alone gripped me. I am an extrovert! I don’t DO alone! I don’t LIKE alone. I am energized by being with people. I realized that more than just disliking the idea, I was afraid of it.
My mind mulled questioned after question. How would I fill the time? I have panic disorder, what if I had a panic attack? My calendar is always full, when could I carve out the time? Excuses, all of them – it was time to conquer fear, experience aloneness, and be still and silent. It was time to reflect on my six decades and think about goals and plans for whatever time I have going forward.
The Bolger Center isn’t fancy, but the suite was clean and comfortable. I brought my own food, it would have meant breaking silence to order meals, and I truly wanted my silence to last 24 hours. I unloaded my food and laid out my Bible, handiwork, and IPad and stylus. The quiet was deafening! I dropped onto the couch and opened my Bible, my parent’s pictures smiled up at me; I keep them tucked into the pages, my sweet bookmarks. I began my time of reflection.
With mom and dad “there” with me, I thought back to my childhood, to all the things my parents did to make those years special, comfortable, educational, and life shaping. I was grateful for the love and care and security of those years. In the quiet I revisited not only my childhood, but my teens, they were hard. My twenties, they were fabulous, I was a new wife and new mother. My thirties, exciting with my children’s activities, my first full time staff work at a church and hosting my radio show. My Forties, full of medical challenges as I fought cancer, surgeries, a life-threatening staph infection, and the loss of my in-laws. But that decade also ended with all three of my beautiful daughter’s weddings and the birth of my first granddaughter. Who knew the forties that had started out so difficult would end so well. Finally I reflected on the past decade, my fifties, the loss of my beloved parents, the completion of my psychology degree, five more beautiful granddaughters and anticipation of my first grandson, three children’s books, the renewal of my art, and so much more. All the time spent in reflection left me feeling grateful and calm. I realized even my thoughts were quiet, (can thoughts be quiet?).
With the silence came an awareness of subtle things around me. I actually took time to notice the sun patterns on the carpet and my shadow on the wall, the setting sun outside my window, just beginning its evening path toward the horizon. I realized for the first time in a very long while, seconds, minutes and hours meant nothing! I had found freedom from the clock.
Following my mind journey through the decades, I returned to my Bible lying open beside me. I read and I prayed. The time in my Bible inspired, encouraged, comforted and challenged me – words written thousands of years ago, still speaking across the ages. And one scripture, John 13:34-35, challenged me (as it has before) going forward into my seventh decade to “…Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I had found a renewed mandate as my 60th birthday approaches next week, to really share love with everyone I encounter. I also prayed. I prayed for family, friends, our country and its leaders, for the world, and before I knew it the sun had set. I had spent two full, uninterrupted hours in prayer and Bible study!
The afternoon and early evening were wonderful, but honestly, when I glanced at the waiting bed while preparing some soup for dinner, my heart sank a little. It would just be me in that bed tonight. In our 41 years together, Bob and I have never gone 24 hours without touching bases; this would prove to be the hardest part of my time of aloneness and silence. It made me so grateful for my wonderful husband – even those times when we drive each other crazy.
The rest of the evening I worked on art, handiwork, and listened to quiet music and scripture. I thought about what these hours alone and quiet had taught me. First of all, the prayers regarding things I am grateful for seem endless! When given time to reflect and mull the past, God’s plan for me, even in the difficult times is amazing. 24 hours is not enough time for all the “thank you” prayers I could offer.
Secondly, I still don’t like being alone! I can’t wait to reconnect with Bob, my children, grandchildren, sisters, uncle, nieces and friends! Even my Facebook friends! PEOPLE (shouting in my mind) I love you!!!!!!!!!!
Finally, the silence has been good. You might actually hear a little less from me in the future! But be aware, my mind is never quiet.
So here I am writing this blog on a small, paper tablet (since I didn’t bring my laptop) and soaking in these last three hours of silence. I have a profound respect for those who live alone, I know many singles of all ages, and they all manage (or seem to) these hours alone much better than I ever could. What I am saying is, my daughters and sisters and possibly friends beware, God forbid anything should happen to Bob, because you might just find me on YOUR couch.
I am looking forward to heading home. It will be a joy to reconnect. But to all my dear ones I am sending and sharing peace with you . . . I found it alone in the silence.
It never gets old, the sight of the National Cathedral, rising up into a blue, cloud-filled sky. The various towers, and massive main structure, dwarf every building for miles. The Cathedral sits on the highest site in the city, the view from the bell tower, no doubt one of a kind. Bob and I spend a few minutes gazing up at the beautiful architecture in front of us before entering an unlocked door on the Northwest corner of the main entrance. Today we are meeting our friend, Mary Clark, one of the Cathedral’s bell ringers, and one of the most experienced. Today we have been invited to see the bells in the high tower and watch the ringers pulling the ropes and listen as they ring the heaviest set of rope bells in North America.
Stepping into the building frees us from the cool Autumn wind. Immediately, I sense the history, holiness and hope embodied in the beautiful stone walls, ceilings and floors. Lovely stone carvings and beautiful stained glass abound, intricate iron work fills doorways and light streams through heavy glass windows, lovely light. Scripture is carved into stone and wood. The morning service is nearing its close and the sound of the organ floats through the heavy wooden doors from the sanctuary. All this beauty and we are still in a hallway. We have toured this Cathedral several times before, so today we simply wait for our friend in this entry way, enjoying the music and drinking in the enormity.
Minutes later Mary arrives and we are joined in the elevator by several other ringers and another guest, a student, who is doing a paper on the stories behind the scenes at the Cathedral, today that story, is the ringers. These men and women, the ringers, gather every Sunday and Tuesday to practice and ring the bells in the Cathedral tower. They are not young and muscular, they are seasoned, they are committed to ringing and they are strong and experienced. Mary has been riding the elevator to the ringing chamber and ringing these massive bells for 45 years, two of her fellow ringers have been ringing here for 50 years. The women today, outnumber the men, I like that!!!!!
The first elevator takes us to a level below the ringing chamber. At this point we enter a part of the Cathedral not seen by the public most of the year. Making our way to the elevator that will take us to the ringing chamber we enter a large, unfinished room. On one side is a set of stairs (very much like one might find in a lighthouse), I’m not a fan of heights and I am thankful that although we COULD climb these 100 stairs to the ringing chamber and bell tower, there is an older, more rugged elevator that can deliver us there. I notice an interesting display of champagne bottles and a lovely carving over a doorway in this large dimly lit chamber. Mary explains it is a memorial to the head stone carver who passed away at a young age. At the end of each year the carvers open, share and toast the year’s carvings, and these were the bottles shared with the departed head carver, still covered in dust from the stone carving shop. There is a beautiful stone work piece above the bottles made in his honor and all of it a memorial, tucked away in the Cathedral, a hidden tribute. We board the caged elevator and ride up to the ringing chamber.
Stepping off the elevator, we are immediately in a light-filled chamber, surrounded on all sides by windows. 10 ropes, woven with a length of blue/purple velvet, snake through holes in the ceiling and hang in a circle above a raised dais. There are, however, no bells in sight. The bells are still one more floor above; there is no elevator to the upper chamber. I realize I have to squelch my fear of heights and climb this last round of open-sided stairs to the bell chamber, I can’t come this far and not see these massive, music makers. With a ringer walking ahead of me, and my husband walking behind me, I am able to make the last climb to the bells. It is amazing to see the circle of giants. Ringers are busy in the bell chamber setting all the bells to the upright position. I get a short lesson on how the bells will use their own momentum to swing. I am amazed at the size and weights, ranging in weights from the 600 lb. range to the 3600 lb. range, I am astonished that these ringers, (some in their 70’s) will pull the ropes and ring these huge pieces of metal. And then it is time to descend to the ringing chamber, staying in the bell tower once the bells are ringing can be deadly. The walk down the steps is more frightening for me, but again wedged between my guide and my husband, I am soon back in the rope chamber.
The ringers are ready to begin; they will practice what are called methods for at least an hour. No talking is allowed during the ringing. Ringing is dangerous, ropes are dangerous, the methods require concentration, no run can be repeated, many of the methods have 200 or 300 runs, never one repeated. I am in awe as the ringers begin, the ropes are gliding up and down, the ringer’s faces are focused, their arms sure and steady, and the bells are ringing over the nation’s capital again this bright, Autumn Sunday. With the exception of a few very short breaks between methods, the ringers pull ropes, the bells ring, and I sit fascinated for a full hour.
Once the practice session concludes, Mary (who led the session) invites me onto the dais to feel the weight on the other end of the ropes. I pull on the lightest bell first, I can feel a very slight give, but moving to the heaviest bell, there is no moving the mass, its weight equal to a car. These bell ringers are incredible, their commitment is remarkable. Mary tries to explain the math behind the ringing. Using a chalk board she writes out rows of numbers (each corresponding to a bell) and how the methods progress, I can see the pattern emerge, but I realize quite quickly, 45 years would not be enough time for me to learn this incredible art.
There is one beautiful, hand carved peal board in the ringing chamber. On it are the names of the 10 British ringers, from 10 Cathedrals in the UK, who rang the first peal on these bells in 1964. The peal took 3 and ½ hours. When peals are rung, there are no guests in the ringing chamber, the utmost concentration is necessary for a peal. I realize I am standing before a beautiful piece of Cathedral history. The board itself is a work of art, carved by one of the Cathedral’s own ringers. The ringers, themselves, are a part of this history. Mary has rung at many Cathedrals around the world, they are part of a legacy of ringers, still using the same techniques, the same safety standards, pulling ropes the same way, concentrating on and producing the same methods and peals that have been rung for over a thousand years. I feel very small in this room filled with the continuation of such a long legacy
Before leaving the chamber we walk to each window. We enjoy a view of the city not seen often or by many. The view into Maryland, Sugar Loaf Mountain in the distance and the Mormon Temple a bit closer is visible out one window. The Potomac river, the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial and the Vice President’s residence lies before us out another window. The view of the Cathedral towers and roofs dip and soar out other windows and gargoyles are almost close enough to touch. But it is time to leave.
Mary gives us one more sweet surprise, a peek into the Cathedral “attic”. It’s like a little world of lost bits and pieces of Cathedral history. A small model of the Cathedral, once located for viewing in the public area, now missing small bricks and turrets due to visitors helping themselves to parts of the tiny building as souvenirs. A model of the Jesus statue found in the Nave, holding the earth in one hand, sits silent, forgotten, covered in a plastic sheet, still beautiful. Tiny rooms with little stone cherubs, and other carvings can be seen through small windows in doors which line the large attic room, and the carillon master’s room, the room where he practices on a mock carillon key board, is here too. Mary takes us next to the floor below so we can see the huge bells of the carillon, much larger than the bells in the tower, and more numerous. We are thrilled to have seen so many of the Cathedrals’ normally hidden treasures.
We retrace our steps. The afternoon at the Cathedral has been a truly amazing experience. Mary joins us for dinner, the icing on the cake, more time to learn about the bells and catch up with this sweet friend. After dinner we part ways, I am suddenly aware of how many people I know who do such extraordinary things. I realize that everyone I know does something extraordinary, that all of us have gifts and talents and interests that can be shared and used to enlighten others. At this moment I realize 6 amazing experiences need not be the end of amazing!!!!!!! With one more experience needed to reach my goal of one amazing experience for each decade leading up to my 60th birthday, I think maybe I’ll have to work on living 700 more amazing experiences before my 70th birthday. In the meantime, I am thankful for Cathedral bells, belfry views, and beautiful friends, each one amazing.
I have loved trains ever since I was a little girl. There is just something magical about locomotives and train tracks. Maybe there’s a little bit of train love in my genes, my grandfather worked for the railroad, although at the station, not on the trains. My grandmother’s yard in Indiana bordered the train tracks that ran through her little town. As children, my sisters and I would hear the train whistle blow, and out the door, across the porch and to the end of the lot we would run to wave at the engineers and railroad hands as the noisy cars rolled by. They waved back, and we stood counting the cars until the backdoor of the caboose was just a tiny dot as the train left town for whatever destination our imaginations conjured. Although I have always loved trains (I’m talking about the traditional trains that crisscross the country), until last Saturday night I had never actually boarded and ridden one. I’m excited that as part of my quest to do six amazing things (one for each decade) leading up to my 60th birthday in January, a train ride was on the agenda.
Several months ago, I happened upon the Walkersville Southern Railway, excursion train. One of their options was an evening, 4 course dinner, train ride. That was it!!!! I stepped out on faith, called the Railway’s event coordinator and booked THE ENTIRE dining car. I just knew my first “real” train ride, (I have ridden many rapid transit systems) would be all that much better accompanied by 40 of my favorite people. So the planning began!
My mind was filled with images of trains and tracks and railroad signs. Those images I drew and painted and they quickly became notecards for the guest goodie bags. What was a goodie bag without chocolate? I spent a day pouring molded chocolate train engines and packaging them for my guests. Finally a wooden train whistle was added to the bag and voila, the goodie bags were filled and ready to roll. Friends and family forked over the money for the ride (many thanks all) and before I knew it the dining car was full, the entrees were chosen, the seating chart was completed and the big night was fast approaching.
Bob, my sister, Gail, and I arrived at the station early. Some of the guests were already there; no one wanted to miss the train. The event coordinator wanted me to check everything in the dining car to be sure it was just as I wanted, and invited me aboard to put the guest’s bags at each seat. I loved climbing up the platform and stepping onto the train, it was just as I had imagined. Beautiful warm wood covered the walls and lovely burgundy curtains framed the windows. White linen cloths and gold linen napkins covered the beautifully set tables which lined each side of the car. Candles flickered softly, reflecting their golden light in the windows. It was perfect! The only thing missing were the guests.
I stepped outside and the guests began arriving at the train station. I got a bit teary waving as each car filled with friends and family, bounced across the gravel, found parking spaces and joined the growing crowd at the station. Some guests came as far as North Carolina to join in the fun (thank you Maggie and Tina), I knew, I would enjoy my first train ride, but I realized the real fun would be an evening spent with all the special people on the train. Finally I called “All Aboard” and the line up the platform to the dining car formed.
As friends and family boarded the train, I was invited to visit the engine (thank you Chuck Wasson for arranging this) and so I quickly jogged to the front of the train. I grasped the metal ladder rails and climbed up into the cab, there I was, not just taking my first train ride, but at the controls. They didn’t let me drive the train, but I did get the engineer’s view, checked out all the bells and whistles and tried out the leather covered seat reserved for the engineer. Quite an experience and we hadn’t even left the station. Back down the ladder and past the dining car I jogged again, my turn to board was fast approaching. I looked into the windows of the quickly filling train, happy , candle lit faces smiled out at me, my three oldest granddaughters, my daughters and sons-in –law, my sisters and brothers-in-law, my uncle, nieces, and lots of wonderful friends, it was surreal, a whole train car full of amazing family and friends. I boarded last and looked down the rows of tables, it looked like a painting. Perfect. I took my seat and we were off.
The train ride was slow and steady. Evening was upon us as we wound through the beautiful Monocacy Valley, mountains purple in the distance. Cows glanced up from grazing and even chased the train a bit as we passed their field, and deer scattered as the train rolled by, their white tails disappearing into the woods near the tracks. Cars waited for us to pass at railroad crossings. This was a new perspective for me. It was fun looking out the train windows and observing people watch the train pass, I had always been the one waiting and counting cars as the train passed in front of ME! We crossed the Monocacy River as the sun’s setting rays danced across the water, turning the river orange. The trained was filled with talk and laughter. The servers delivered soups and salads, breads, meats and desserts and filled and refilled glasses. With each new course, I rang a silver bell, and guests answered train questions (name 3 songs with trains in them, or 4 movies with trains, or what is the longest railroad in the world, What 4 railroads are on a monopoly board, etc.) and received prizes for correct answers. The last part of the trip found us looking out on moonlit fields, the lights of farmhouses and little towns twinkling in the distance. And then we were back at the station, my first, (but hopefully not last) train ride was over.
There were lots of hugs as guests departed the train. The evening really was an amazing experience, far more than I had even dared hope for. Best of all, the train was just as magical from inside as it had been all those years looking at it passing in front of me. I’m already looking forward to another ride on the rails, I’d like to fill a whole train next time . . .who wants to come along . . . ALL ABOARD!!!!!!!
"It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving"
We've all heard it said that virtually everyone is touched by cancer. I do believe that is true. In my own life, I have seen both of my parent’s lives ended by cancer, watched my son-in-law, Josh, battle colon cancer, seen numerous friends walk their cancer journeys, and of course experienced cancer first hand when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. I was reminded this year that cancer is experienced worldwide when a young friend of ours in Australia was diagnosed with it.
Thankfully, I also know people working on the research end of cancer. One of my friends is a world renowned cancer researcher at Georgetown University. I’m happy to report that her cutting edge treatment is having great, clinical trial, success. I’m also happy to report that my friend, Mike, is successfully battling esophageal cancer thanks to an amazing new treatment. All in all, things have come a long way, Baby. Progress is being made thanks to the people who are funding and to those performing the research.
One of the organizations I most respect is the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org . For 14 years I worked closely with them as a volunteer with their Reach to Recovery program, the most successful patient service program in their history. I also did media (television and radio), and corporate speaking for them to raise awareness and educate others to topics related to cancer and health. I know them to be trustworthy in the information they share, on top of the latest cancer developments, careful with how they allocate and distribute their contributions, AND one of the largest funders of cancer research in the United States. They fund research for ALL kinds of cancers.
Recently I made a decision to try and do six amazing things, (one for each decade), before I turn sixty in January. So far I have hand feed wild birds (yup it was amazing) and watched the sunrise over the tidal basin and cherry trees while eating a picnic breakfast with my family. I have some other fun things in my mind, and one of the goals is to only do things that cost little or nothing and are amazing, so far, so good with that goal. As I have thought about my six amazing experiences, I realized I wanted one of them to be some type of “give back” project. I don’t want it to be all about me, because I don’t want my life to be all about me. I kept waiting for some inspiration and just this week, it happened. I figured out the perfect “give back” project
For quite a while I have thought about designing note cards using the pink ribbon prominently used to promote breast cancer awareness. I have seen these designs in my head but not put them on paper. Finally, just a few days ago, I made time to get the designs out of my mind and see them in front of me just as I had envisioned. One is a vase made from the pink ribbon, holding a bouquet of pink flowers. When I was walking through my cancer journey many times, just when I would hit a low spot, someone would deliver a beautiful bouquet to my door and it truly lifted my spirits. That design reminds me of those moments. The second design is of a hand, wearing a pink ribbon survivor bracelet, and delivering a bouquet of flowers made from pink ribbons. This picture reminds me of being a survivor and paying forward all the kindness shown to me during my journey.. As a Reach to Recovery volunteer, I visited and walked along side many newly diagnosed cancer patients; this drawing reminds me of those times. The third design is of a butterfly, it is soaring upward. This is a symbol of those who fought the battle and are now free of cancer, free to soar again. I've been happily soaring for almost 18 years now! Finally, there is a notecard bearing a crown set with three jewels, those jewels represent the three most important support systems I relied on during my cancer, my faith, my family, and my friends. That picture reminds me of how blessed I am to have all three of those things in my life.
Now that the notecards are designed I’m ready to launch my “give back” project. I have printed 200 sets of what I call “Ribbon Art From The Heart”. They are $6.00 per set, and for every set I sell I will donate $1.00 to the American Cancer Society. Although the art features the pink ribbon which figures prominently in my own journey, I am donating the money to the ACS because they fund ALL types of cancer and I have many friends battling many different types of cancer right now. If you feel led to help me reach my goal of selling these 200 note cards, you may leave me a message on my personal Facebook page, my business Facebook page, BK Pen and Paint, or order directly from my website www.bkpenandpaint.com . If you are local, ordering directly from me will save you the shipping.
I have never undertaken a project like this (although I have donated to other projects) and it was a step of faith for me to order the 200 sets of note cards without knowing whether they would sell or not. I will not be using this blog again to solicit donations of any kind, but I’m happy I could feature “Ribbon Art From The Heart” here, because I wanted my friends to share in the adventure. For all who saw me through my cancer journey, thank you, I’m forever indebted. For those who have fought and won the battle already, I’m thrilled for you. For those who are currently in the midst of their cancer journey, I’m walking with you in prayer and here if you need a shoulder to lean on. Walking forward, stepping out on faith with this third amazing experience, I’m half way through the year, and this project is half way through my six amazing experiences, so delighted to mark the halfway point by “giving back”!
Please feel free to share this blog and my website with your friends who might be interested in supporting the "Ribbon Art From The Heart" project.
I originally posted this back in April of 2012 on my previous blog. Please use the arrows to go through the process step by step. There are a lot of photos so please give it a moment to load.
Years ago I learned how to make apple birds and they have graced many fruit platters at parties since then. They are easy to make and add some fun to the table, so please enjoy the tutorial and have fun making your next party table an even bigger hit!
4:30 AM and the alarm sounds, time for amazing experience number two of six leading up to my 60th birthday next year. Thankfully, I prepped the night before! Clothes laid out, picnic ready, camera with new batteries charged up, and best of all, my family also up and dressing. We meet in the kitchen to fill our cups with coffee and hot chocolate. Bleary-eyed, but excited, as we talk and laugh in quiet tones so as not to wake others in the house still sleeping. This morning, Bob, Jean, Ellie and I are off to watch the sunrise over the blossoming Cherry trees on the Tidal Basin in DC. A twenty minute ride away, we finish gathering cameras, jackets and the picnic basket and head out the door.
It’s still dark as we drive out of the neighborhood and head toward the District. Over 40 years I have lived in the area now. The roads are forever etched in my mind; I know five ways to get to the same destination (which helps when the traffic bogs down). This early, traffic is flowing well; it’s the calm before the morning rush hour storm. We head down the Clara Barton Parkway, mist rises off the C & O Canal, snaking along beside us, the mule path just barely visible in the dusky pre-dawn light. Beyond the canal we can glimpse the Potomac River, high from recent rain, running by the most powerful city in the world. We are getting close to the District, the towers of Georgetown University rise above us and we are almost there. I’m excited as the city unfolds in front of us; we follow the line of red tail lights entering the city streets ahead of us. After all these years I still wonder how I could be blessed to live so close to this beautiful city. I still smile when the tip of the Washington Monument begins to peek through the buildings, still marvel at the Kennedy Center reflected in the river, still feel my heart skip a beat when I see the Capitol dome shining above the grassy Mall. This morning, watching the sunrise down here will be an experience I've thought about for many years, the city looks particularly beautiful this morning, it’s clear and perfect as the stars and the sun begin the dawn dance.
We find parking amazingly close to the Tidal Basin and grab our things. We are not alone, not by a long shot. Couples, families, bicyclists, old folks, young people, runners, walkers, police officers, news crews and Photographers are all moving in the same direction toward the Tidal Basin. Before we can see them, we smell the Cherry Blossoms, sweet and delicate, the scent hanging softly in the morning air. And then, we see the still water of the Tidal Basin, and the silhouettes of the beautiful trees. The Washington Monument is lit in the pre-dawn darkness, the Jefferson Memorial is surrounded by blossoms, still just outlines in the dark. Camera’s flash in amazing numbers around the Basin, and we set up our blanket and basket and watch the news teams sharing this peak day of blossoms, this special dawn. I watch them from my blanket as I sip hot chocolate, I know that no matter how good their photographers and film crews are, their viewers won’t see the sunrise like we will, it makes me smile.
We've brought our cameras, and we also capture these moments. We shoot the monuments in the pre-dawn light, we take pictures of each other and the news teams, we take pictures of early morning crewing teams on the Potomac, beautiful art elements on the nearby bridge, the water in front of us, the sky slowly changing from black to blue and then the sky growing lighter behind Mr. Jefferson. It’s almost time for the new day to dawn!!!!! And dawn it does. The sky behind the Jefferson Memorial is on fire as the sun makes its appearance. The light changes the Tidal Basin into a glowing mirror, the reflections of the monuments and the Capitol dancing on the water. The Cherry Trees are stunning; they wear their fragrant attire beautifully and truly make the early morning trip well worth the effort. I am so filled with contentment as I take it all in. My family, the city, the trees, the sky, the people, the experience, It was all I hoped it would be. People begin to move away as the sun rises higher, the” big event”, has come and gone and they have places to go and life to get on to. I sit on the blanket and munch on the ham and Swiss cheese croissants Jean made, and some strawberries and fresh pineapple. Yup it couldn't be more perfect.
As we pack up and head to our car, I am still reliving and enjoying the whole dawn experience. We settle into our seats and are back on the road heading toward home and I feel like praying. I pray for those who will be making important decisions just down the street in that big domed building today, I pray for my family and thank God for blessing me with such amazing daughters and husband, I pray for my family not able to come that morning. Then, as we retrace our route and leave the city I start thinking about these first two experiences I've enjoyed, and how really, the moments that matter, the most amazing moments, the really important moments in life are FREE. I have recently had two truly memorable experiences and neither cost me a thing. In this one morning, the things that made this experience so memorable, so amazing, so fun, so awesomely beautiful were free. My family, laughing, posing, eating and enjoying making a memory together, free! The Cherry Trees, the fragrance, the history, the blossoms, the beauty, free! The sun, its light, warmth, and power, free!
The trip into DC is just a memory now as we drive past Roosevelt Island and onto the George Washington Parkway. Traffic isn't flowing well heading into the city, but we are already outbound, we have beaten the storm. Bob is talking business on the phone, Jean is anxious to get home to Lucy so that Josh can get off to work, Ellie needs to go to an early morning event at her children’s school and I have to make a mid-morning appointment. Sunrise and Cherry blossoms were a great way to start the day, a respite from all the norms, a wonderful second experience, but the time has come to get back to our every day routines. Thankfully the memories were made and I know through the normal hours ahead my heart will still be soaring! I am already looking forward to the next amazing adventure, won't cost a dime, because the best things in life are FREE!
"Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings." Victor Hugo
For months my friend Lisa has been training wild birds to come and eat from her hands. Regularly she would write about her progress on her Facebook page, I loved these posts, entitled "As the Bird Turns". It made me want to have the experience that she was having. To feel those tiny feet land on MY hand and eat from MY palm. And so I asked Lisa could I come, could I feed her birds. Graciously, my friend said yes. When my alarm woke me early this morning, I couldn't layer up and head out the door fast enough, mittens, heavy coat and husband with camera in tow.
We arrived at Lisa's and I finished bundling up. The morning temperature was 26 degrees and I wouldn't be moving. Lisa gave me her hat, which the birds were already familiar with, instructions not to move, how to hold my hand, and a reminder not to look around or move my eyes, and then we were on the porch. Lisa settled me on the chair, gave her familiar bird “hello”, to her feathered friends, and then left me, sitting, not moving, my mittened hand full of fresh walnuts.
All was still. Snow still on the ground and chill in the air. I took slow, quiet breaths. I felt myself melting into my surroundings. And I waited. The minutes stretched on. 10 or 15 minutes passed and although I could hear tiny, feathered friends flitting and stirring around me, none approached to feed. My fingers began to feel numb. I was not giving up yet. I began to pray. I lost track of the time, and then the unmistakable rustle of wings nearby broke the silence.
Suddenly a little Titmouse appeared. Thoughts tumbled through my mind, stream of consciousness, "Don't be afraid little one, come and feed, I have good things here for you. Stop fluttering about, don't hesitate, I won't hurt you, come and rest and enjoy these blessings." The feeling of tiny feet on my fingertips will never be forgotten; my heart soared. My facial expression never changed, I barely dared to breathe, I made no sound, but, my heart was singing, my spirit was smiling. All the long minutes (about a half an hour) of silent, stillness, and waiting, were for that one moment, worth it all. The experience repeated itself over and over again. The thrill never abaited.
I would have sat there much longer but my hand was starting to shake and the cold was taking its toll. As much as I wanted the experience to continue, I knew I needed to stretch and move, even though doing so would mean ending this amazing encounter. I had to warm up. Reluctantly I stood and my new feathered friends scattered to nearby branches. A squirrel who had ventured a peek scurried down the trunk of the snowy tree hanging over the railing. These special moments would never be forgotten.
This experience was Holy on so many levels. The closeness to the tiny, perfect creatures warmed and amazed me. Their fragility, and their courage, their beauty and perfectly equipped feathered bodies were stunning. The stillness, mine and the world around me, altered my being, drew me into a quiet state of worship. As I looked at the fresh bounty in my palm, I thought how God stretches His hand laden with blessings out to ME and to ALL of US. I realized how often I flutter around, too busy, or too afraid to reach out and receive God's blessings. I realized how His heart must soar when I (and you) rest and refresh in His hands. God spoke to me in the stillness this morning and through the beauty of His creation.
As I approach my 60th birthday next January, my goal is to enjoy 6 new experiences, one for each decade of life. Today was my first. Hoping each adventure will be as amazing. Praying each one of you finds rest and refreshment in the hands of The Lord. He's sitting very still, and very patiently waiting to bless us all.
Many thanks to my friend, Lisa Schnoor for sharing her birds with me, and to my amazing husband for capturing these precious moments. You both blessed me abundantly.
You would think that, at my age, I would no longer be surprised when my seemingly normal life becomes unraveled in the blink of an eye. I received a phone call seventeen years ago, informing me I had cancer; results indicating a life threatening infection a couple years later; an unexpected summons to assist with a sudden medical crisis; and in the last three years, three separate missteps that have left me with painful injuries and even the need for surgery. But for some reason, surprise me it does!
It's amazing how easily I fall back into "normal" between each life-altering jolt. Maybe I'm a slow learner. Perhaps I'm not picking up on the "lessons" these unexpected and grind-to-a-halt challenges are meant to teach me. But with this latest fall, broken wrist, and upcoming surgery I'm ready to take a really close look at what it is I need to glean.
I have learned some things from the hard (and often painful) experiences I have faced. I think I'm more compassionate, take less for granted (like having two strong arms for example), enjoy the small things in life more, and enjoy the big things in life more (like a day without pain). But every time I'm up against the wall, I realize I still haven't learned all that I am meant to or need to.
Last night was a long one for me. I spent hours in the dark, pushing back all the fears rising in me and threatening to swallow me up, as I face surgery tomorrow. I know that "perfect love casts out fear". But even as I grow older, I still haven't learned how to rest and be peaceful in that perfect love, no matter the situation. I still wrestle at the onset of these unsettling and unnerving experiences, although I do think my get-to-the-point-of-total-surrender-and-trust times are shortening.
I usually do reach that moment of peace. That moment where I realize there is nothing left but to trust and believe that The Lord will bring me safely through, whatever trial I'm facing. I wish I could say my break-through moment comes faster with each experience, but I can't. I wish I didn't struggle and wrestle with my fears and anxieties with every life-altering challenge I face, but I do! Thankfully, God isn't standing over me with a stop watch timing my process. But I feel sure He is standing solidly by my side to see me safely through every scary and painful moment, and is heartbroken that it takes me so long to rest in His grip.
I have walked closely with The Lord for almost 38 years. I know that these tribulations are not God sent, but I have learned that He does meet me and teach me in the midst of them. Please pray that I will be a better student when it comes to finding peace and calm in the stormy seas of fear and anxiety. Pray that I can feel His strong hand and healing spirit when I am wheeled into that sterile operating room tomorrow. And pray that when the next unexpected challenge occurs (and it surely will), I will clasp His strong hand more quickly with my newly repaired right hand and a peaceful heart.
"Good friends are like stars. . .you don't always see them, but you know they are there."
For the past few months, Bob and I have been planning a trip to my hometown, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Nestled in the Cumberland Mountains, it’s an amazing town, nicknamed “The Secret City” for the role it played during the Manhattan Project. My family arrived in Oak Ridge about twelve years after the end of the war. My father was a research scientist, my mother a homemaker, and I was eighteen months old. The third of four daughters, you can imagine how lively our home was. I spent the next sixteen and half years enjoying the benefits of this unique community, making friends and memories.
When I was eighteen, just out of high school, my father made a move to Maryland, to finish his career with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. My younger sister and I moved with our parents to another amazing town and state. The beautiful area just outside of Washington, D.C. has been my home for the last four decades. In all those forty years I have only been back to Tennessee a handful of times, but next month there is a special event luring me “home”: my 40th high school reunion.
Social media, Facebook specifically, has allowed me to reconnect with many of my high school friends. When I heard about the reunion I was both excited and nervous. A lot about me has changed in the ensuing years. In many ways, maybe most ways, I’m a very different person. And I quickly realized that reconnecting via Facebook is very different than reconnecting face to face.
As I debated with myself about attending, I was reminded of a fad that many of us enjoyed during our Jr. and Sr. High years called the “come as you are party”. This fad usually involved an early Saturday morning call. Typically the invitee was still asleep, no makeup on, hair in curlers, and still wearing pajamas. Accepting the invitation to come for breakfast meant walking out of the door immediately. It was fun and funny to see everyone, sleepy-eyed and fresh out of bed, in oversized T-shirts, orange juice can rollers, and fluffy bedroom slippers. Somehow, these spur of the moment get-togethers allowed us to see each other a little more clearly, without the weekday effort put into keeping up, being hip, making the right impressions. In the midst of reminiscing, I realized that reunions are very much like a “come as you are party”—especially as we get a bit older and more comfortable with who we are, where we have come from, and where we have landed. I became excited about attending the reunion.
I feel confident that many of my classmates and friends had similar reactions when they heard about the 40th. None of us are the same people who walked the halls of ORHS, cheered the Wildcats on crispy fall nights at Blankenship field, danced till midnight at the Civic Center, and applauded each other across the stage the night we graduated. We’ve married, had children, divorced, buried loved ones, survived life-threatening illnesses, found faith, lost faith, and with each experience we’ve changed. We all have scars, some visible, some not; but each wound, and every life experience, has made us the people we are, the people I’m so looking forward to seeing for the first time in many years.
I’m grateful for the wonderful work the planning committee has done to coordinate a weekend of gatherings. I’m looking forward to seeing the changes made to the high school and sharing the best pizza in the world at Big Ed’s. Most of all, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to reunite with amazing people who shared the unique experience of growing up in a most extraordinary place. No matter how much we’ve changed, our shared memories of early Oak Ridge live on collectively.
Bob and I will be driving from Maryland to Tennessee for the big event. I’m still excited, and yes still a little nervous. Look out class of ‘73, here I come forty years and forty pounds later, just as I am! Hoping you’ll be there too, none of us should miss this ultimate “come as you are party”. Let’s roll, Wildcats!
I'm a wife, mother and grammie who loves time with family and friends. I love learning new things, visiting new places, and making each day count, because moments matter and I don't want to waste mine.