Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cool Spaces for Kids - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 17

For the 17th week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge as well as the Spiritual Practices from A to Z challenge, I read Cool Spaces for Kids by Sam Scarborough.

This wasn't one of the books recommended on the Spiritual Practices from A to Z list for this week's focus (Imagination), but I felt that the book captured the spirit of imagination.

The book is a delightful compilation of ideas and patterns for creating items that would foster a child's imagination. Many of the ideas brought back wonderful memories of the earlier years of Sophia's and Olivia's lives when they would play for countless hours with imaginative toys and props that I collected for them.

They would spend a lot of time in their indoor play space - a dramatic play area as I referred to it.  The play area would change each week or so - one week it was a bakery, another week a veterinarian's office, and another week a campsite. Their minds would transport them to these worlds and they would play and imagine what life was like in these places.

The one section that I particularly enjoyed in Cool Spaces for Kids was the treehouse section. The author offered advice:
- Plan a fantasy space. Spend some time planning with your children.
- Build together. Build trap doors, fixed step ladders for little ones, and hanging ladders for older climbers.
- Decorate the interior. Make curtains, add floor cushions and blankets. Take up roll-up mattresses and sleeping bags.
- Add swings and slides. Add a zip line or create a suspension bridge or walkway.
- Build signposts and pulley baskets. Hoist up a picnic basket on a pulley for lunch supplies or books and other toys.
- Build a treehouse without damaging the tree. 

Another idea that would be appropriate for tweens/teens is to make a games table. The author suggested using decorative scrapbook paper and decoupaging it onto the wooden table. This is a different - and quite beautiful - way to embellish a table while giving it another practical purpose. Perhaps this could be a future 4-H project for one of the girls since both enjoy playing games.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Hope

The eighth spiritual practice this year, is focused Gratitude. These ideas came from the Spirituality and Practice website which has a wide variety of ideas for bringing this practice to life.

Spiritual Practices: Hope
Enhances: Optimism
Balances/Counters: Despair, Impatience

The Basic Practice

Hope is a positive and powerful spiritual practice with the strength to pull us through challenging times. It is usually described with light metaphors — a beam, ray, glimmer of hope; a break in the clouds; or the light at the end of the dark tunnel. It is often discovered in unexpected places.

Sophia as Laura Ingalls Wilder at Sunset
Sophia skipping through the pasture as she spreads milkweed.
We were hopeful that the seeds would take and new milkweed plants would grow.
Almost eight years later, there are countless milkweed plants
throughout our farm. 
Our dedication to spreading milkweed seeds has paid off!
(Taken on October 20, 2007)

Hope can be learned with practice; and certain attitudes support it. One is patience or an ability to tolerate delays and a willingness to let events unfold in their own time. The other is courage or having an attitude of confidence even when facing the unknown. A third is persistence or the determination to keep going no matter what happens. We have hope when we can say, all will be well, and we mean it.

Why This Practice May Be For You

Hope is the basic component of optimism - or a tendency to dwell on the best possibilities. It goes well with another spiritual practice — enthusiasm - which is equally energizing.

But a more common — and very telling expression — is "Hope for the best, but expect the worst." As the Spirituality and Practice website said, "The more likely outcome, it implies, is the worst. When we are without hope, we easily fall victim to such negativism. When the light of hope is absent, we are overcome by gloom and doom, despair and defeatism."


The Chinese have a saying: If you keep a green bough in your heart surely the singing bird will come.
— Chinese saying quoted in The Web in the Sea by Alice O. Howell

Singing Female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

A singing female rose-breasted grosbeak on 
a pine tree in the pasture.
(Taken on June 10, 2011)

Hope is the foundation for creativity, inspiration, joy and all those emotions which allow us to transcend ourselves.
— Verena Kast in Joy, Inspiration and Hope


Soul of a Citizen - Living with Conviction in Challenging Times by Paul Rogat Loeb

I also found a book at the library called The Cure for the Chronic Life - Overcoming the Hopelessness that Holds You Back by Deanna Favre and Shane Stanford.


Cast Away - I have watched this movie several times and it truly does capture the essence of hope.

Places in the Heart


According to the Spirituality and Practice website, "Rock music is basically a hopeful medium, despite all the lyrics about personal woes and the messes and miseries of the world. When we need a boost, nothing is quite as effective as putting on a pounding rock song and joining in the defiant and hopeful chorus."

The site suggested several different songs to listen to including:

- "I Can See Clearly Now" by Johnny Nash

I remember this song when it came out in the 1970s. I liked it then and I still enjoy listening to when I hear now. It's one of those songs that instantly uplifts your mood. The lyrics are so hopeful:

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been prayin for
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there's nothin but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin but blue skies

- "You Can Make It If You Try" by Sly and the Family Stone

I had never heard this song before. The solo keyboard music about a minute or so in reminds me of a band I used to listen to in the late-1980s, The Wallets. Only that part - the rest of the song has more of a 70's flair to it.

- "I Shall Be Released" by Bob Dylan

The video that accompanies this song has lots of pictures of prisoners, some famous people who were imprisoned, and prisons. It would be nice to know what all the images are to give them some context, but it still is an interesting compilation of images to reflect upon as one listens to the music. One must have had hope to be able to endure the situations shown in the photographs.

- "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor Stevens

This is a live version of this song. For the first minute it is a bit slow-going, but then the song kicks in and it is the way that I remember it. In some respects it looks like she is someone in deep despair at the beginning of the song, but then moves to hope and living her life to the fullest as she gets rid of someone who didn't have her best interest at heart. She will survive...and will do well in her life!

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

• Turning on a lamp is a cue for me to practice hope.

• When I plant a seed or a bulb, I am reminded to plant hope in my heart.

Whenever I have planted a bulb in the fall or spring, it is always with hope that it will grow. I envision the colorful flowers emerging months later - brightening the yard and bringing happiness to everyone who seems them. Sometimes the flowers come up, sometimes they don't. Regardless, I still will continue to plant bulbs with the hope of transforming the environment.

Planting Nasturiums

The girls were planting nasturiums and bulbs in the backyard.
(Taken on May 27, 2011)

The same is true for trees. I think of all the trees we planted in May - 43 of them - in the pasture and front yard. Will I ever see them at their full size. No, probably not. But, that's not important. Someone will see them and enjoy them in the future...and they'll know that someone took the time to plant them so that they could enjoy them. Hopefully that cycle continues indefinitely.

Practice of the Day

No true effort is in vain. Look at the fields over there. The grain sown therein has to remain in the earth for a certain time, then it sprouts, and in due time yields hundreds of its kind. The same is the case with every effort in a good cause.
— Badshah Khan quoted in Nonviolent Soldier of Islam by Eknath Easwaran

To Practice This Thought: Sow some grain for a good cause, and don't concern yourself with results. 

I do have many packets of wildflowers that could be randomly tossed into the field and see what happens. Will they germinate? Hopefully...and with that the landscape would be significantly more beautiful. Butterflies, bees, and other pollinators would have more food.

The only way I can do this is by opening the packets of seeds and sowing them. Imagine if they did yield hundreds of their kind. What an amazingly beautiful image people could hold in their minds as they go about their days and lives.

Bee on Flowers
A bee on a wildflower in the pasture.
(Taken on September 25, 2011)

Spiritual Exercises

• Write affirmations to express your hopes for yourself and a better world. The sacred texts from all traditions contain assurances that give rise to hope. For example, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, you are with me."

I haven't had a chance to do this yet. We just started working on the Barn Quilt Trail and it is taking quite a bit of time to get everything set up.

Journal Exercises

These are all things I would like to write about at some point:

• Quickly write a list beginning with "I hope for . . ." Try writing it with your non-dominant hand to access your less expressed feelings.

• The Chinese have a saying, "If you keep a green bough in your heart, surely the singing bird will come." How and where can you make a place for hope in your life? Describe specific opportunities.

• Write a reflection on the ways you have been a life-bringer and a bearer of hope to your family, friends, or community.

Girls Visiting Adoption Agency

Visit to the adoption agency that helped us adopt Sophia and Olivia.
(Taken on March 8, 2012)

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

Again, I haven't had the opportunity to reflect on these questions but would like to at some point:

Share the story of a time when the strength of hope was a spiritual resource that helped pull you through a difficult period.

• What do you think people mean when they say to you, "Don't get your hopes up too high?" What would be a good response to this advice?

• Does the prospect of the future fill you with anxiety or hope? Why?

Household, Group, and Community Projects

I haven't done this yet, but I think it is worth doing some time during the upcoming year:

• Have a family meeting to talk about your attitudes toward the future. Identify people who have nurtured your optimism. Then find ways to honor these mentors of hope — writing letters, adding their pictures to a household shrine, or making a contribution to an organization in their names.

Plant trees. Many people plant trees in whose shade they will never sit during their lifetimes. This act reflects confidence and hope in the future.

Olivia planting a tree in the pasture in April 2015.

Olivia, Sophia, and I planted 43 pine trees this spring in the northwest pasture and the area next to the driveway.

Sophia planting a tree in the pasture in April 2015.

They are seedlings at this point - ranging in height from 6-8 inches tall. How different everything will look when these trees are three feet...six feet...twelve feet...twenty feet tall. The shade and shelter that they will provide to animals and people makes me so happy...and hopeful...for the future.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Poet/Poetry Study - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American poet, essayist, and philosopher, was born on May 25, 1803, in Boston, Massachusetts. After studying at Harvard and teaching briefly, Emerson began in the ministry and became an unwilling preacher.

Unable in conscience to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper after his nineteen-year-old wife died of tuberculosis, he resigned his pastorate in 1831.

The following year, he sailed for Europe and visited two people: Thomas Carlyle and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He returned to New England and began challenging traditional thought.

In 1835, he married his second wife, Lydia Jackson, and settled in Concord, Massachusetts. Emerson was known in the local literary circle as “The Sage of Concord," and became the spokesman for Transcendentalism, an American philosophic and literary movement that was a reaction against scientific rationalism.

Emerson’s first book, Nature, best captures his view of Transcendentalism - the belief that everything in our world (even a drop of dew) is a microcosm of the universe.

Ralph Waldo Emerson died of pneumonia on April 27, 1882.



Was never form and never face
So sweet to seyd as only grace
Which did not slumber like a stone,
But hovered gleaming and was gone.
Beauty chased he everywhere,
In flame, in storm, in clouds of air.

He smote the lake to feed his eye
With the beryl beam of the broken wave;
He flung in pebbles well to hear
The moment's music which they gave.

Oft pealed for him a lofty tone
From nodding pole and belting zone.
He heard a voice none else could hear
From centred and from errant sphere.

The quaking earth did quake in rhyme,
Seas ebbed and flowed in epic chime.
In dens of passion, and pits of woe,
He saw strong Eros struggling through,
To sun the dark and solve the curse,
And beam to the bounds of the universe.

While thus to love he gave his days
In loyal worship, scorning praise,
How spread their lures for him in vain
Thieving Ambition and paltering Gain!
He thought it happier to be dead,
To die for Beauty, than live for bread.

Sophia thought: Huh... The beginning was was beautiful. Towards the end it took on a bittersweet tone almost. It reminded me of a red rose because one of the things I think about when I think of beauty is a rose.

Olivia thought: I liked it, but it wasn't exactly my favorite. I liked the way it was said - the words. I didn't even notice that it rhymed. 


The Mountain and the Squirrel

The mountain and the squirrel
Had a quarrel,
And the former called the latter
“Little prig.”

Bun replied,
“You are doubtless very big;
But all sorts of things and weather
Must be taken in together
To make up a year
And a sphere.

And I think it no disgrace
To occupy my place.
If I'm not so large as you,
You are not so small as I,
And not half so spry:
I'll not deny you make
A very pretty squirrel track.

Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;
If I cannot carry forests on my back,
Neither can you crack a nut."

Sophia thought: That was cute. It was kind of funny that the squirrel told off the mountain. What does "prig" mean? (a self-righteously moralistic person who behaves as if superior to others). The beginning and ending was the best compared to the writing in the middle.

Olivia thought: That was really cute. I really liked that one because it sounded so funny. I liked the last part where the poet wrote about carrying forests on one's back and how the mountain can't crack a nut.


The Humble-Bee

Burly, dozing humble-bee,
Where thou art is clime for me.
Let them sail for Porto Rique,
Far-off heats through seas to seek;
I will follow thee alone,
Thou animated torrid-zone!

Zigzag steerer, desert cheerer,
Let me chase thy waving lines;
Keep me nearer, me thy hearer,
Singing over shrubs and vines.

Insect lover of the sun,
Joy of thy dominion!
Sailor of the atmosphere;
Swimmer through the waves of air;
Voyager of light and noon;
Epicurean of June;
Wait, I prithee, till I come
Within earshot of thy hum,—
All without is martyrdom.

When the south wind, in May days,
With a net of shining haze
Silvers the horizon wall,
And, with softness touching all,
Tints the human countenance
With a color of romance,
And, infusing subtle heats,
Turns the sod to violets,
Thou, in sunny solitudes,
Rover of the underwoods,
The green silence dost displace
With thy mellow, breezy bass.

Hot midsummer's petted crone,
Sweet to me thy drowsy tone
Tells of countless sunny hours,
Long days, and solid banks of flowers;
Of gulfs of sweetness without bound
In Indian wildernesses found;
Of Syrian peace, immortal leisure,
Firmest cheer, and bird-like pleasure.

Aught unsavory or unclean
Hath my insect never seen;
But violets and bilberry bells,
Maple-sap, and daffodels,
Grass with green flag half-mast high,
Succory to match the sky,
Columbine with horn of honey,
Scented fern, and agrimony,
Clover, catchfly, adder's-tongue
And brier-roses, dwelt among;
All beside was unknown waste,
All was picture as he passed.

Wiser far than human seer,
Yellow-breeched philosopher!
Seeing only what is fair,
Sipping only what is sweet,
Thou dost mock at fate and care,
Leave the chaff, and take the wheat.

When the fierce northwestern blast
Cools sea and land so far and fast,
Thou already slumberest deep;
Woe and want thou canst outsleep;
Want and woe, which torture us,
Thy sleep makes ridiculous.

Sophia thought: That one was too long. The title was a little bit misguiding because I was expecting a bumblebee or honeybee. That's what I was imagining it to be about. I was thinking the poem would be more like the Mountain and Squirrel. I didn't really this one. It was a bit too involved. 

Olivia thought: This one was good. I liked the name and beginning of it, but not so much the end. I liked how at the beginning the poet described how the bee was going on its journey for nectar. 


Not poems, but famous quotes:

=> To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Sophia thought: I liked that. It certainly makes you want to be a better person. I think I've done some of these things. I need to work on leaving the world a better place.

Olivia thought: I liked the beginning of that one - especially the part about winning the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children. I would agree that these are some of the things that make a person successful.

=> Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Sophia thought: That's kind of inspirational. I like the idea of making your own path and not simply following others.

Olivia thought: That one is good. When it said "Don't go on the path" I thought, "What if you don't know where to go if there's no path? You could get lost." 

=> You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.

Sophia thought: That's kind of ominous. Do a good deed now or you may never get a chance to. I do think that has some truth to it.

Olivia thought: I like that one because it shows that you should do something right away rather than waiting and not being able to do it...and maybe regretting that you never did it.

=> What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.

Sophia thought: That's interesting. It kind of sounds like you could either be a really good or bad person. 

Olivia thought: It kind of reminds me of the past, present, and future thing. The first part is leaving the past behind you; the second part is not worrying about the things that will happen in the future; and the last part is about learning to live in the present moment.

=> To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

Sophia thought: I don't think anyone has ever done that. There is always someone who can always change you for both the positive and negative.

Olivia thought: Makes sense. It shows that you should be yourself no matter what people say. 

Diego Velazquez - Artist/Artist Study

Sophia and Olivia have been focusing on Diego Velazquez for the past few weeks, and learning more about him and some of the art that he created. Each of the girls looked at six pictures that he painted for a period of time. I asked them later to recall what they could remember from each painting. These are the paintings they looked at and what they could remember:

Queen Isabella on Horseback

Sophia remembered:
=> In the picture, Queen Isabella is sitting on a pure-white horse with a long forelock and mane and its white and a little it looks like a Gypsy Vanner mane. It's really pretty. The horse has a black bridle and reigns, but you can't see much of the black because there are gold designs.
=> The horse's bit is gold and it has its head slightly curved down.
=> The horse is standing on three legs and its fourth left front hoof is sort of curved it is about to take a step forward. At the same time it looks posed because the other three feet aren't in motion. So, it looks like the horse is just holding one of its feet up for the picture.
=> On the horse's back there is no saddle. It honestly looks like it has a big rug on its back.
=> The rug is pretty long because it goes over the horse's back, and is about five or six inches from the ground on either side.
=> The rug is black but it has goldish designs on it. It also has a little bit of fringe on the edges.
=> Sitting on the horse's back is a lady in a dark brownish-black dress. It is rather poofy, and she is sitting side-saddle. She is sitting so she is facing the painter a little bit.
=> Her dress is really long. It is so long that you can't see her feet, but that could be because she has pulled them up a little bit.
=> The dress has flower designs on it, and its sleeves go up a little bit above the elbow. That's where the poofy part stops. Then she has a grayish-white sleeve that goes down to her wrist. It has flowery-designs on it. It is pretty close fitting, but the flowery-designs are different than the rest of the dress.
=> Around her neck she has a frilly white collar that starts around her neck and ends in a "V" above her belly button, and ends with a frilly black bow. It's made out of the same fabric as the white sleeves.
=> The back part is rounded and looks like it is a little bit off her shoulders. It makes her a little bit more queenly.
=> Above the white collar there is a white frilly neck piece that looks like something that Shakespeare would have worn, but puffier.
=> Above that is her head. It's slightly oval shape. She has darkish black hair that falls to her ears, but it looks like it has been pulled up in the back.
=> It also looks like she might have a feather on the right side of her hair.
=> She has slightly pink cheeks and a pinkish-red mouth that isn't smiling, but isn't frowning. She also has dark eyes and a slightly pale face.
=> In her left hand, she's holding some of the reigns, and in the right hand she's holding the end of them - 5 or 6 inches from the end. Her right hand is a little bit higher than her left hand.
=> The horse appears to be standing on a road and behind it you can see some shrubs and trees and a few hills which takes up about 1/3 of the background. The rest is all sky - mostly grays, light blues, and a little bit of white.
=> The whole picture looks dark and not really bright. Most of the colors seem muted and because the sky looks a bit stormy, it makes everything look darker.

Olivia remembered:
=> In the picture, there is a white horse with the queen on it riding side saddle.
=> The queen is a wearing a dark goldish, brownish gown with lots of flowers on it. The flowers are inside circles.
=> She is kind of smiling or half smirking.
=> Her hair is kind of in a bun with a feather in it. Her hair is a dark brown.
=> The horse looks exhausted and the bridle has lots of flowers and leaves on it.
=> The chest thing on the horse has lots of flowers and gold stuff on it.
=> The ground is a tan reddish brown. The background - the sky is stormy looking. It looks like it is about to rain.
=> There are lots of trees that are small and scraggly.
=> There are lots of shrubs and bushes. They are green, dark green, and a lime color.
=> In the background you can kind of see a tower that is crumbling. It looks like it is going to fall apart.
=> One of the horse's hooves was up.
=> Her dress looks like is all smooth and covers most of the back part of the horse.


The Maids of Honour

Sophia Remembered:
=> In the picture, everything seems kind of dark. The ceilings are rather high and appear to be made out of wood, but you can't know for sure because everything towards the ceiling and upper walls is almost black.
=> In the center of the room there is a young girl who has a light gray dress on that's a hoop skirt and has a pleat at her waist that goes a little bit over the hoop part of her skirt.
=> She has ruffled sleeves with flowers and at the center of her bodice there is a bunch of flowers that kind of look like a heart.
=> She is very pale and has pale whitish blonde hair that is slightly wavy. The left side of her hair is pulled up by some flowers.
=> To the left and right of the girl are two handmaidens who also have hoop skirts and the one on the right has some flowers in her hair.
=> To the left is a large canvas that an artist appears to be painting on; and to the right and behind the handmaiden there is what appears to be a nun talking to a priest.  They appear to be in a deep conversation.
=> In front of the right hand maiden is another girl who has a hoop skirt. She has her hair down and isn't the most prettiest person ever. Her jaw is slightly protruding and to the right of that girl is another girl who is sitting on a window sill. She is not wearing a hoop skirt and has her hair down also. Her feet are dangling a little bit off the ground. Next to her is a dog.
=> The dog looks a little like a German Shepherd, but its ears are down and it doesn't have enough black, but the muzzle does have a little bit of black. The dog has a rather majestic air.
=> Behind the girl with the pale hair is a mirror on the wall, and in the mirror you can see what appears to be her mother and father from across the room.
=> Behind that is a doorway and in it is a man who appears to be leaving.

Olivia remembered:
=> In the picture, there are five young girls and none of the people in the picture are smiling. The girl who catches your attention the most has a pretty ivory-colored dress. There are flowers at the top of the dress that are sort of in the shape of a heart.She has really pale skin. She has that silvery-blonde hair.
=> To her right, there is an older looking girl whose hair is being held up with a couple of flowers. She is looking down on her like she is asking her a question.
=> The girl to her left has her hair held up with something that is the shape of a butterfly, and it looks like she is fixing her dress.
=> Behind the girl to the left is an artist who is holding a couple of brushes with a paint palette in his left hand and in his right hand he is holding a paintbrush. There is a very big canvas that looks like it is probably ten feet tall.
=> There is a dog standing by a girl who is kind of frowning. Also by that girl is another girl who you can see who is young who looks like she is maybe five. One of her feet is placed on top of the dog - like she is standing on top of the dog.
=> You can see two windows. Standing behind the girls is a man and a nun. There is another man who is standing in a doorway. He looks like he is going up or down the stairs.
=> Also, the room is very dark. It looks like it is made out of stone. There are a lot of paintings on the wall.


The Franciscan Nun

Sophia Remembered:
=> In the picture there is an older woman standing front and center. She looks like she's 60 or 70 years old...maybe older. She has brown eyes and a slightly wrinkly, stern face.
=> She is wearing a long, brown dress that looks kind of comfortable. There is absolutely no design on it. It's just a plain dress with slightly billowed sleeves. You can't see the collar because she has a white piece of fabric that covers her head and goes down past her neck and her shoulders, and covers a  fair amount of the front of the dress.
=> Over that, she has a brown cloak on that's the same color as the dress and falls about to her shins. It has a hood and the hood is pulled over the white piece of fabric that is covering her head.
=> The cloak is fastened with a pin and at the end of the pin there is what appears to be a little figurine at the end - like of a person or something.
=> The pin is a golden color and kind of stands out against the brown of the cloak.
=> In her left hand she is carrying a brown cross with a little figurine of Jesus nailed to the cross. You can't see all of him because Jesus is facing her, and you can only see a little bit of his leg and torso.
=> In her right hand she is carrying what appears to be either a brown book or a picture frame of some sort. I'm not quite sure.
=> Her face has a slight frown on it and she doesn't appear to be that happy.
=> Her lips are pursed.
=> There is no furniture in there...just her. The room is slightly darkened.

Olivia remembered:
=> In the picture, there is one person standing in it. The nun is wearing dark brown robes and a dark brown cloak or cape.
=> In her left hand, she is holding a leather-bound book that might be the Bible.
=> In her right hand, she is holding a cross with Jesus on it.
=> She has this white thing on her head that is under the hood of her cloak that extends a little bit down past her neck.
=> The background is a very dark brown, and at the top there are words that might be in French.
=> On the ground, the color is the same as the background and there are more words in French.
=> Underneath her cloak you can see this little rope.
=> The robe was very long so you couldn't see her shoes or feet.
=> She wasn't smiling or frowning. She was just kind of staring.
=> Her face was wrinkly, and her eyes were kind of a chocolate brown.
=> Her hands were also wrinkly, and I couldn't see her nails.


The Coronation of the Virgin

Sophia Remembered:
=> In the picture, there are two men who are crowning Mary, mother of Jesus, while up in the clouds in an almost-heavenly look.
=> The man on the first is older and has a white forked-beard and white hair. He has a little bit of a moustache and a stern expression. He is wearing flowing robes of dark pink, purple, and blue. In his left hand he has a glass sphere or ball about the size of a bowling ball, but a little bit smaller. It is kind of see-through, but you can see pink and purple in it. With his other hand, he is holding a crown made out of rosebuds and green leaves.
=> On the other side of the crown is another holy man. He has brown, curly hair that falls to about his shoulders and a fair amount of stubble on his face. He also has a flowing robes of dark purple and pink, but no blue. In his left hand, he has a golden stick that is thin and has a heart-shaped tip. In his other hand he is holding the other side of his floral crown.
=> Mary appears to be sitting in the clouds as the crown is being lowered onto her head. She has very pale skin with pink cheeks and lip. He hair is a dark brown and black on some places, and she has a white cloth covering the lower part of her hair in the back and a little bit in the front because the two sides of the cloth come over her shoulders. She is wearing a dark pink dress, a little bit darker than the one that the men are wearing. Over her right shoulder and on her lap is a beautiful blue cloth.
=> Peeking out from underneath from her dress are little angels. There are six all together and they all have pale skin, little wings, and pink cheeks. There is one angel on the left side of Mary who has brownish-blonde hair and blue-green wings. He appears to be looking down at two of his friends who appear to be a girl and a boy who have curly, blonde hair and the same color wings. But they are peeking out of a cloud, so it looks like they don't have any bodies. They just look like heads.
=> On the other side of Mary are two other little angels with grayish wings and light-red curly hair. They also appear to have no bodies as they appear to be peeking out from a cloud.
=> The final little angel is behind the two with the red hair. This little angel is bending over slightly backwards and the artist drew the angel so that he or she has no head.
=> Below the angels and Mary and the two holy men you can see more clouds and maybe a little bit of rocks or mountains. Up above Mary in the crown and up above and between the holy men is a white dove that appears to be flying towards the coronation.
=> The dove is surrounded in light and has rays of light coming off of it. One ray goes through the crown and shines onto Mary's head. The dove has a very majestic feel and could possibly be God coming to watch the coronation of Mary.
=> Mary is not looking at the coronation, but appears to be looking at the little baby angels or cherubs or has her eyes closed. Around her neck she either has nothing or a cross necklace that she has her hand on.
=> Overall the picture has a majestic and mysterious aura, but at the same time seems very realistic.

Olivia remembered:
=> In the picture, there are three people and six little angels.
=> There are two men and there is Mary.
=> The man on the left has dark brown hair and a brown beard, and in his left hand he is holding this very thin staff and it looks like a tear drop and then it looks like a marshmallow or maybe like an upside down heart without the little thing in the center.
=> In this right hand, he is holding part of the wreath or crown.
=> The man on the right has white hair and white beard. He has in his left hand this glass ball that you can see through and in his right hand he has the other part of the wreath or crown.
=> The men are wearing are wearing a dark purple robe and a really long shawl or scarf that is a purplish-pink in color.
=> Mary has dark brown hair. She has a veil - a light, lacy cloth - that drapes over her shoulders; and she is wearing the same purplish-pinkish robe. Hanging off her right shoulder, she has this navy blue cloak or coat that is really long. Her hand is on her chest and it appears that she is wearing a ring on her right hand.
=> Above her head is the crown that has pinkish, purplish flowers and green leaves.
=> Above the crown is a white dove. The dove is surrounded by light and has beams of light going to or across them - kind of surrounding the men's heads so they kind of glow. One of them goes down and kind of surrounds Mary's head.
=> The six little angels all don't have clothes on. (Laughs.) Well, they don't! You can see four heads that are sticking through the clouds so it looks like they don't have bodies.
=> One of them is on the left is holding up part of Mary's cloak or coat.
=> There are two others that the angel that's holding Mary's cloak is looking down it. There are two of them, and they appear to be siblings. The one of the left is looking at the other sibling.
=> On the right, there are three other angels. Two of them you can see their heads. The other one you can't see the head. It looks headless. The headless one is holding up part of Mary's coat.
=> The little angels have tiny, blueish-greenish wings. The other two on the right have reddish hair and the ones on the left has blondish hair.
=> They appear to be hovering over a mountain in the clouds. They are sitting on the clouds.
=> The sky isn't exactly blue. It's more of a gray, and there are lots of clouds.


Prince Philip Prosper

Sophia Remembered:
=> In the picture, there is a boy having his portrait taken. He appears to be about five or six years old even though he only lived to be three.
=> He has short blonde hair that gets darker as it goes back.
=> He has dark eyes, a childish face, and orangeish-pink lips.
=> He is wearing the most unmanly thing I've ever seen. He is orangeish-red dress with five or six horizontal strips of silver around the bottom of the dress. He also the same color of silver stripes running diagonally up his puffy sleeves.
=> The dress is fairly long and covers his shoes and it goes all the way up to his neck where there is a fairly long collar that goes a little bit past his shoulders.
=> On his left shoulder is a bow that is the same color as his dress, and appears to be added for decoration.
=> The end of his sleeves are a white and are very frilly. They have two or three rows of puffy lace that go up his arm.
=> There appears to be an almost white apron over his dress because he has a white cloth covering the front of his dress that goes from his white collar all the way down to the floor, and covers most of the front of the dress except a little bit on the side.
=> Through the white cloth you can see a large diagonal stripe running across the front of his bodice.
=> Philip has a golden string running from underneath the bow on his left shoulder to a few inches under his arm on his right side. On it is a golden medallion or pendant that he wore because he was sickly and there is another pendant or medallion on the same golden thread except it is on his arm and under the place where the string came out of his bow.
=> Around his waist he has a string that is the same color of his dress that is going across the white fabric to make it look more fitted and add a little bit of color to the front.
=> On the lower part of his dress, he has three bells attached to the white apron. One in the center, and two a couple of inches to the sides and a little bit up.
=> His right hand is just laying against the side of his dress. His left hand is resting a red velvet chair.
=> The chair doesn't have a particularly high back. It is red velvet with gold trim with little bronze/gold beads holding it to the chair.
=> The front of the chair is facing off the picture, so you could only see the back of the chair, the legs, and one of the armrests.
=> On the chair is a small dog that is white, but has gray and a little bit of black on it. It has dark eyes and has a content expression on its face. Its ears look a little feathery at the tips.
=> The dog is laying so its paws are between the arm rests and the bottom of the chair. His head is on the arm rest.
=> You can only see one arm of the chair because the other arm is covered by a dark red cloth that goes up the wall and appears to be attached to the ceiling.
=> Behind Philip in the background is what appears to be another cloth. To the side of the cloth is what appears to be a doorway with a little square light shining out.
=> Behind and little bit to the right of Philip is a stool/chair with a red velvet pillow with gold tassels laying on it. On the pillow is what appears to be extra clothes or fabric that is a dark red and has white on it.
=> Overall the picture has a somber air. Even though Philip is having his portrait taken and isn't smiling, he has an almost cheerful and relaxed air about him.

Olivia remembered:
=> In the picture, there is a boy who looks like he is six, but he is actually three.
=> He has very pale skin and rosy-colored cheeks.
=> He is wearing strange thing for a guy to wear, but maybe not in England in the 1600s - not so much the 21st century: he was wearing a dress!
=> He has a red-orangeish dress with silver and kind of goldish stripes on it.
=> He has an apron - sort of - that acts as the collar of his dress to the length of his dress. It kind of wraps around the dress. You can still see parts of the dress since the apron doesn't cover it all up.
=> On the sleeves of his dress he has a white, frilly, linen fabric that is kind of ruffly. Sticking out of the sleeves, you can see feathers that are the same color as his dress.
=> He has a strip or string of gold that has a charm or amulet on it that goes from the top of his shoulder all the way around him.
=> He has another kind of charm on his arm, and then he has a red string that goes around his waist and has these gold strings hanging down from it that has more charms hanging down from it.
=> His right hand is on his chair and his left hand is hanging down.
=> On the chair is a little dog that has ears that stick out sideways and then go either up or down. The dog is white with patches of gray fur on it.
=> The chair has red velvet on it. It has gold trim and on the trim there are these black nails. You can see one arm rest and part of another one. On the other one that you can see is a curtain that is made from red velvet with gold trim on it as well.
=> There is a large, black rug with red designs on it.
=> Behind him in the distance you can a big, red drape or curtain. By the curtain you can see a doorway where you can see light coming through.
=> Behind the prince there is a stool that isn't really a's more like a stool-like chair...that has a red velvet seat. On the seat there is a big, plush red velvet cushion that on the corners has gold trim and tassels.
=> On the cushion there is a hat or might be a hat or extra fabric and maybe a pair of scissors or silver trimming.


Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress

Sophia Remembered:
=> You can't see much of the background in this picture. Everything is dark, black, brown; but you can see the outline of what appears to be a large fireplace.
=> On the mantel there are some gold figurines. I could only make out one which was a golden lion.
=> Above the mantel, there is what appears to be a large mirror or painting.
=> To the side of the fireplace, there might be a table, but I can't see.
=> The background is dark because the artist wanted to focus on the main attraction which is a girl of probably about 12 or 13 who is wearing a beautiful blue dress with a hoop skirt.
=> Starting at the bottom, the dress is fairly long and covers her feet. There are seven horizontal lines of a shimmery silver color that take up a good portion of the bottom of the dress.
=> Moving up to the hoop part of the skirt, there are more of the silver designs in a circle around the hoop part and they make triangles and they meet at the bodice.
=> Some of the silver design goes up the front of her bodice in three diagonal lines - one in the center and two on either sides. You can't see where they end because the color of her dress is a white lace that goes a little above her forearms.
=> Her sleeves are the same blue and they start out slim, but quickly get very large and puffy. They have the same silver strips running diagonally up and down the arms. At the wrists some large frills end with a little golden cuff.
=> She has a choker necklace on that has a small pendant hanging off of it and a pair of blue bow earrings (the same color as her dress) that hang down to her shoulders.
=> She has very pale skin and she looks a little doll-like because of it, but she has pink cheeks.
=> She has dark eyes and her lips are a light orange mixed with pink.
=> She isn't smiling, but she doesn't look upset by being there either.
=> Her hair is almost perm like and is a very, very pale blonde. White - you could almost call it.
=> She has a blue bow that is the same color as her dress which contrasts her blonde hair very nicely.
=> Her right hand has a brown glove and is holding another brown glove because her other hand is bare and is holding a very large brown muff.
=> Below the designs at the top of her dress there are two more large bows of the same color as her dress.
=> The blue of her dress shimmers and is a color that is truly beautiful.

Olivia remembered:
=> In the picture, there is a young girl who has silvery blonde hair and has very pale skin.
=> She is wearing a beautiful blue dress that has a hoop that makes it puffy. The dress is a navy blue, but appears to be made out of velvet.
=> At the bottom of the dress, there are seven lines of gold trim going around it.
=> Towards the top of the dress, there is more gold trim detail.
=> On the front of the dress is a big, blue flower that something in it - like a charm or pendant, or a big bead sewn on it.
=> The sleeves of the dress are very poufy or fluffy. The sleeve on her right arm isn't quite as poufy as the one that is on her left arm.
=> She has kind of pink cheeks.
=> She has frilly cuffs on her dress.
=> She has, in her right hand, she appears to be wearing a glove. She also is holding a handbag. The handle of the handbag is the same color as her glove. The bag is the same color as her dress.
=> Behind her is a large frame that might be a picture or mirror in it.
=> There is also a table under the frame, and there is some gold trinkets on it.
=> The walls appear to be a dark gray or black.
=> She is wearing a necklace with gems in it - diamonds and sapphires in it.
=> She has a very high, dark blue collar.
=> Her hair has a large dark blue flower in it - the same color as her dress.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Soul of a Citizen - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 16

For the Spiritual Practices A to Z challenge, one of the practices is "Hope." As part of that spiritual practice, I read the book Soul of a Citizen - Living with Conviction in Challenging Times by Paul Loeb.

Some of the parts I found particularly meaningful and insightful including:

- At the core of our being lie resources many of us never dream we possess, much less imagine we can draw on.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made my lie something particular, and real,
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited the world.
Mary Oliver', When Death Comes

- Martin Luther King, according to Children's Defense Fun founder Marian Wright Edelman, was "someone able to admit how often he was afraid and unsure about his next step...It was his human vulnerability and his ability to rise about it that I most remember. He didn't pretend to be a great powerful know-it-all. I remember his discussing opening his gloom, depression, his fears, admitting that he didn't know what the next step was. He would then say: 'Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.'"

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. 
Lao Tzu

- Nothing gets accomplished when we try to do everything at once.
- Growth comes from saying yes to the unknown.
- "Children who teach a younger child, write letters to people in the hospital, or make toys for poor kids develop more receptiveness to helping people in need than those who don't share such experiences. Humane morality is learned through moral action." (Ervin Staub [a political psychologist])
- If we speak to people's passions, they're more likely to get involved in social causes.
- "Any true calling impels us toward service to the community, even as our particular passions, strengths, and gifts will determine the shape of our service." (James Hillman)
- By standing up for my integrity, I discovered the power of conviction, taking my first small step toward a lifetime of engagement.
- We never know how acts of generosity and faith will resound in the world.
- We never know how the impact of our actions may ripple outward, affecting others. We never know whom we may touch.
- Many of us find it easier to help our fellow citizens one on one than to exercise our democratic voice. We're far more likely to volunteer to meet a specific human need than to work to elect wiser leaders or pressure major economic, political, and cultural institutions to act more responsibly.
- Volunteer efforts can help us regain our sense of connection, offer lifelines to beleaguered communities, and change people's lives.
- Bread for the World points out, every day, 16,000 children perish of hunger related causes worldwide....The toll is largely from infectious diseases that devastate undernourished bodies. Because the stories of these deaths are so rarely told, we don't feel their full human impact, making it easy for us to ignore the problem.
- Making the  best use of our time and energy is more than a matter of reducing expenses. Most of us spend time recuperating from stress - time that we might use to get involved in our communities.
- We need to strike a balance between the havens that nurture us and the work that needs doing in the world. That means learning to draw pleasure from our modest domestic comforts, our hobbies, our passions, and even some of our distractions - but refusing to let them dominate our lives.
- Our kids need to think for themselves, learn from our limits and strengths, and find their own causes and commitments, in personal and public life alike.
- In The Little Virtues, Italian essayist Natalia Ginzburg argued that we should teach our children "not the little virtues but the great ones. Not thrift but generosity and an indifference to money; not caution but courage and a contempt for danger; not shrewdness but frankness and a love of truth; not tact but love for one's neighbor and self-denial; not a desire for success but a desire to be and to know."
- Only the great [virtues], which we hope our children will spontaneously develop someday but which in fact must be taught through example, can inspire a deeper sense of purpose.
- Children give us the best reason to stand up for what we believe. Again and again, activists describe them as their living links to the future.
- Aristotle once said that a barbaric culture consumes all of its resources to support itself in the present, whereas a civilized culture preserves them for later generations. Many of our society's most destructive actions yield consequences whose gravest implications aren't immediately apparent. That's true of our casual destruction of the planet.

Maybe the things we're working on today 
won't bring about changes for years. 
But it's just as important that we do them. 
Virginia Ramirez

- What I didn't realize was that giving beyond what I could emotionally and financially afford left me so exhausted that I could not continue over the long haul.
- If we are to stay involved in our causes, we must set boundaries to keep our lives from being so consumed that we're forced to withdraw from involvement entirely.
- We need to choose the pace and manner of our commitments, so that we don't end up too drained to continue.
- If we save enough time for contemplation and rejuvenation, we can continue our work throughout our lives. 'You get out of the city,' said Hazel Wolf, 'You hike, run a river, or watch birds in a park. With all the things to observe, there's less room for worry. Your mind gets a rest. You come back ready to take on Exxon.'
- Such moments of beauty and respite can help build engaged community - and lift the souls of those of us who participate.
- Isolation amplifies our impulses toward fear, resignation, and despair; whereas community helps overcome them.
- The more we voice our beliefs and speak to these longings, the more hope has a chance to emerge. We talk with new people, hear inspirational stories, build bonds with new communities. We no longer sit passively, immobilized by despair.
- We inspire each other simply through our participation.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? 
And if I am only for myself, what am I? 
If not now, when? 
Rabbi Hillel

- The moment of commitment cannot  be deferred. It must become a lifelong process, one that links our lives to the lives of others, our souls to the souls of others, in a chain of being that reaches both backward and forward, connecting us with all that makes us human.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Poet/Poetry Study - Lord Byron

Lord Byron was born on January 22, 1788, in Dover, Kent, Great Britain. His father was Captain John 'Mad Jack' Byron and mother was Catherine Gordon, heiress of Gight in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

After the death of her husband, Catherine took her son back to Scotland, where she raised him in Aberdeenshire. The death of his great-uncle, the “wicked” Lord Byron inherited him with both his estate (Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire) and title.

Byron received his formal education at Aberdeen Grammar School. After completing his school, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. When not attending college, Byron lived with his mother in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. During this time he became friends with Elizabeth Pigot and her brother, John.

Elizabeth encouraged Byron to write poetry and - at 14 years old - he produced his first poem, “Fugitive Pieces.” However, the poem was quickly recalled and destroyed on the advice of his friend, the Reverend Thomas Beecher, due to its amorous verses.

On March 13, 1809, Byron took his seat in the House of Lords but very soon left London on June 11, 1809 for a continental trip. On his return from his trip, he asked his relative, R.C. Dallas, to publish his poem, “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.” Two sections of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" were published in 1812 and became success.

This success was followed by equally popular “Oriental Tales,” “The Giaour,” “The Bride of Abydos,” “The Corsair,” and “Lara, A Tale.”

Lord Byron had a reputation of being extravagant, courageous, unconventional, melancholic, eccentric, flamboyant, and controversial. He was known for his independent nature and extremes of temper.

After falling ill on February 15, 1824, Lord Byron was given the remedy of bloodletting which weakened him further. Before he could recover, he caught a significant cold. It was believed that he developed sepsis due to the use of improperly sterilized medical equipment. After a high fever, Byron died on April 19, 1824.


Sophia and Olivia listened to the following six poems and had these thoughts about them:

She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Sophia thought: It was okay. It just blended together. There wasn't any real story to it. The beginning and the end of the poem stood out for me. I thought the tone was a little more defined in the beginning and the end.

Olivia thought: The part that stood out the most for me was the first couple of lines. Definitely towards the end it did blend in. 


When We Two Parted

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow--
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o'er me--
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well:
Lond, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

I secret we met--
I silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

Sophia thought: It had a very melancholy kind of tone. I'm a huge fan of that kind of tone, so I didn't really like it. He was reminiscing about someone he lost or broke up with or had a falling out with. 

Olivia thought: It sounded like someone had their heart broken. There were lots of sad parts to it. I kind of liked it. There were parts that I liked and could understand. It made me kind of sad.


So, We'll Go No More A-Roving

So, we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have a rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

Sophia thought: I thought he wasn't going to do any more love poems. I like the beginning. I like the title - it's different from other poems he wrote.

Olivia thought: It sounded very romantic. I liked that one because it had a soft tune to it. I like the end with the moon part at the end.


Stanzas for Music

There be none of Beauty's daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me:
When, as if its sound were causing
The charmed ocean's pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lull'd winds seem dreaming:

And the midnight moon is weaving
Her bright chain o'er the deep;
Whose breast is gently heaving,
As an infant's asleep:
So the spirit bows before thee,
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of Summer's ocean.

Sophia thought: I like that one because it seemed to flow more easily than the other ones. It seems like a lot of the poems he writes are romantic and pining after a lover. 

Olivia thought: I liked this one, but it wasn't my favorite one. I liked the one you read before this one. I liked the ending because I could imagine them walking on the beach in the night time. It's very romantic


The Destruction of Sennacherib 

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he pass'd;
And the eyes of the sleepers wax'd deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still.

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there roll'd not the breath of his pride:
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail;
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

Sophia thought: I liked that parts of it rhymed. It sounded more uniform and a poem to me. I like the made me think of blue and green for some reason. I thought it was kind of long. It could have been shortened.

Olivia thought: I like the part about the Angel of Death. It does rhyme! It was good. It was a bit long. I also liked the ending.


There Is Pleasure In The Pathless Woods

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Sophia thought: Is that it? I like the ending, but I don't really like this poem. It doesn't seem like anything special. I don't know why. I definitely liked the one before better.

Olivia thought: I liked the part when "I love not man the less, but Nature more." I liked that because it means that the person likes nature more than mankind. Also, I like the first two lines at the beginning. It made it sound interesting. I kind of imagined no path in the woods with the sun shining through the trees.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Cure for the Chronic Life - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 15

This is one of the books that I am reading for the Spiritual Practices from A to Z and Read 52 Books 52 Weeks challenges that I am doing this year.

The book is actually a 40-day spiritual treatment plan and devotional guide that provides practical daily connections life lessons. I began doing the daily reflections and journal writing, and then stopped - ironically - because I had too much to do with leading a 4-H club, the barn quilt trail, and upcoming events and field trips with 4-H.

If anything, it made me realize that I do need to create more balance in the next school year so that the things and people I value aren't taking second place to activities I am volunteering for - however worthy and interesting they are to me.

From the book, there were some general things that I wanted to remember:

- The "unanswered life" of broken relationships or misguided intentions of habitual patterns of poor decisions , or of the wrong answers from the start invariably disrupts our relationship another, because, as the effects grow, our natural tendency is to turn "inward" and to focus more and more on our own self-interests.
- A new direction in life: compassion, understanding, response, and encouragement. Each of these four categories provides a different way to view the world, to disconnect from our self-destructive patterns.
- The first letters of each of the four categories of answers form the word CURE.
- We find ourselves living in the trenches of warfare or in the ruts of complacency. Either way, we are unable to become so deeply inside each of us.
- We must survive and so, in response, we learn to live chronically in crisis. And these patterns give birth to worries that permeate every corner of our lives.
- To often, or as human nature is expected to do, we focus on these worries of life and remain hostage to the whims of this world. And all the while, our souls are craving something more, something different. We crave awe and wonder. We are built for such, to run and to praise - not to be tied down by the meaningless goals and broken relationships.
- Most chronic patterns do not start overnight. We do not wake up one morning with a brand-new chronic illness. No, the symptoms develop over time and become debilitating. The result is a life lived at 50 percent power or possibility.
- Depression signals a degree of loneliness that permeates one's soul. You can see it on her wherever she is. At times it debilitates her; at other times it runs her life in quiet ways, not peering above the surface, but you are always sure it is there. When she feels like this, she is fragile and insecure. Life seems to control her or, at the very least, she is held hostage by the day.
- But the other side of the coin is just as dangerous. During these times, she sparks her strength and moves into the world with a fierceness that is strong and certain. But she is not well enough for the battle; she puts up a good fight but ultimately realizes she has taken on an enemy that is much stronger than she is. During these times, our friend will empty herself, usually for nothing much in particular, until she runs out of steam and is left drained ' elsecally and emotionally.
- What do you do with a secret or a broken heart or an addiction that is too much for you to deal with or even admit? Most people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol live extremely functional lives. And yet, they are always on the edge. Life has pushed them there, and they teeter between the next hit and the next plunge.
- The chronic life is very much like this. We remain in these patterns long enough, and they almost take on the air of addictive behavior - a habit too much to handle or break.
- For every season, there is a beginning and an ending. Beginnings are easy. Endings? Not so much. Life has seasons.
- Compassion: it literally means "go beyond one's own struggles to recognize the struggles of others." We can't throw off the chronic life until we have moved out of our own way and are prepared to see the other side of the story through someone else's perspective.
- Understanding: the chronic life limits us in our thinking; in our impressions of the world; in how we see ourselves and others.
- Response: Love is the binding factor of faith and of this new life.
- Encouragement: Means becoming the blessing. The chronic life is the opposite, with the focus on us.
- The real goal and purpose of compassion is not just one single set of kindness. It is a recasting of the situation so that kindness becomes the predominant frame for how a person moves forward from there.
- Maybe your life needs a U-turn today - a place, an occasion, an opportunity to stop going in the same direction that has led to so many problems, and to try something new.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Gratitude

For the seventh spiritual practice this year, I am focusing on Gratitude. These ideas came from the Spiritual Practices website which has a wide variety of ideas for bringing this practice to life.

Spiritual Practice: Gratitude
Enhances: Satisfaction
Balances/Counters: Greed, Entitlement

The Basic Practice

The spiritual practice of gratitude has been called a state of mind and a way of life. It basically covers all our daily activities. To learn the spiritual practice of gratitude, practice saying "thank you" for happy and challenging experiences, for people, animals, things, art, memories, dreams. Count your blessings; and express your appreciation to everything and everyone you encounter. By blessing, we are blessed.

A sunrise at our farm.

Why This Practice May Be For You

According to the Spiritual Practices website, "The continuum of words related to gratitude go from greed and jealousy; through taking things for granted and feeling entitled; to appreciation, acceptance, and satisfaction. The practice of gratitude would be an appropriate prescription whichever one of the above describes your attitudes."

Gratitude can sometimes be puzzling. For example, instead of rejoicing in what we have, we greedily want something better, more, or different. We can't be grateful because we are making comparisons and coveting other possibilities.

When this happens on a personal level, when it's our ego that is dissatisfied, then we are ungrateful. But when we want something more, better, or different for the benefit of the community, this greed may be a manifestation of our love, devotion, or yearning for justice.


Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.
— Karl Barth in Joy by Beverly Elaine Eanes

I think the dying pray at the last not "please," but "thank you," as a guest thanks his host at the door.
— Annie Dillard in Super, Natural Christians by Sallie McFague

Continuous practice, day after day, is the most appropriate way of expressing gratitude. This means that you practice continuously, without wasting a single day of your life, without using it for your own sake. Why is it so? Your life is a fortunate outcome of the continuous practice of the past. You should express your gratitude immediately.
— Zen Master Dogen in Enlightenment Unfolds edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi

Gratitude is the intention to count-your-blessings every day, every minute, while avoiding, whenever possible, the belief that you need or deserve different circumstances.
— Timothy Miller in How To Want What You Have

Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted.
— David Steindl-Rast in The Music of Silence


There are a couple of books that I started reading this month that I will be working to finish:

In Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life, Angeles Arrien, presents a tribute to the practice of gratitude and its related qualities of thankfulness, appreciation, compassion, generosity, and grace, through a a month-by-month practice of gratitude.

Naikan - Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection by Gregg Krech. Gregg Krech is Director of the ToDo Institute, an education and retreat center near Middlebury, Vermont. He is a practitioner of a method of self-reflection, attention, gratitude, connections, kindness, and compassion developed in Japan during the 1940s by Ishin Yoshimoto, a devout Buddhist of the Pure Land sect. David K. Reynolds introduced Naikan to the United States in the 1970s.

The Japanese word Naikan means "looking inside." This practice of self-reflection is based on three questions: What did I receive? What did I give? What troubles and difficulties did I cause?

"We hurry through our day giving little attention to all the 'little' things we are receiving. But are these things really little? They only seem so because, while we are being supported, our attention is elsewhere. But when there is no hot water for a shower or we lose our glasses, these little things grab our attention."

When we consciously pay attention to what we have received from others, the realization dawns on us how dependent we are on others.

When our days begin to reflect gratitude, it becomes much easier and more natural for us to give to others in acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion.


The Spiritual Practices website recommends The Lively Garden Prayer Book by William Cleary which is a collection of poems in which plants, beetles, dogs, cats, worms, and aphids sing their praises to the Sky and Earth. The blessings range from A (Acorn) to Z (Zucchini).

A chipmunk we saw when we took a trip 
to Grand Marais in 2010.

This book is unavailable through libraries in Minnesota, but there was an except on the Spiritual Practices website:

"Among the deeper mysteries of life is the mystery of manure, how awful it smells, how disgusting it looks, how repulsive it feels — yet how delicious it is to our vegetable cousins in the garden: the tomatoes, the corn, the carrots.

"We put manure right into their bed. They not only welcome it, but they take it in, and through the life powers within them, absorb its very substance into their individual beings, transforming its smelly and disgusting substance miraculously into bright shining red tomatoes, yellow luscious corn, sweet wholesome carrots.

"Miraculously, that execrable manure has now turned into something humans can eat: nourishing, sweet-smelling food, delicious to the mouth and life-giving to every part of our bodies — a magic we might expect to find only in mythical Eden."

Children's Books

In Three Hens and a Peacock Lester L. Laminack wrote about three hens and a peacock who try an experiment and come away with new respect and gratitude for each other. The hens think the peacock has an easy job attracting the attention of potential customers to the farm, while the peacock think the hens have an easy job of laying eggs.

After switching jobs for a day, they realize that they are meant to do the things that they are gifted and skilled with...not something that another animal is meant to do. It's an interesting story about the assumptions that we make about others' roles in life and how we believe that we sometimes could do a better job.

Yet, when faced with the responsibilities and challenges that another person has to go through, we often become aware that the journey they are on and role they play in this life is equally as challenging as our own and we are grateful that they are able to do their job and roles so effectively and with such grace.

A beautiful white peacock at a wildlife sanctuary at 
Oak Leaf Park in Glenco, Minnesota.
(Taken on June 8, 2012.) 

A book I found at the library when searching for ones about gratitude was Giving Thanks - Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving edited by Katherine Patterson. Below are some poems and prayers that I liked and/or brought back memories from childhood:

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Earth who gives to us this food,
Sun who makes it ripe and good,
Dearest Earth and Dearest Sun.
We'll not forget what you have done.
- Christian Morgenstern ("The Waldorf Verse")

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
- Shaker Song by Elder Joseph Brackett ("Simple Gifts")

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the world

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day
- Eleanor Farjeon ("Morning has Broken")

Oh, the Earth is good to me,
and so I thank the  Earth for giving me
the things I need,
the sun and the rain and the apple seed.
The Earth is good to me.
- "Johnny Appleseed Grace"

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, - 

One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
- Emily Dickinson

O heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath: guard them from all evil, and let them sleep in peace. 
- Albert Schweitzer (when he was a child) ("A Child's Prayer")

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.
- Helen Keller

Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves,
For we shall never cease to be amused.
- Author Unknown

Give me a sense of humor,
Give me the grace to see a joke,
To get some pleasure out of life
And pass it on to other folk.
- Author Unknown

When I rise up
let me rise up joyful
like a bird.
When I fall
let me fall without regret
like a leaf.
- Wendell Berry ("Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer")

Do all the good you can
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
Too all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
- John Wesley

May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be feed from their illness,
And may every disease in the world
Never occur again.
And now so long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To soothe the sufferings of those who live.
- Dalai Lama

Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little
bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.
- Desmond Tutu


I didn't have the time to watch two movies that were recommended for this spiritual practice. However, I do want to mention them because at some point I'd like to watch them:

=> Wings of Desire - a story about an angel who sheds his wings and takes a leap of faith into a worldly existence. He's drawn by a desire to experience the sources of gratitude — from the pleasures of a cup of coffee to a love relationship with a woman.
=> Harvest of Fire an FBI agent is sent to investigate several barn burnings in an Amish community. A local sheriff believes that it might be a hate crime. At first the FBI agent finds the Amish very formal. They are, after all, a religious community that is uneasy with outsiders whom they call "English."
       One of the Amish widows whose barn was burned down, befriends the agent and for a brief time lets her stay in her home during the investigation. In the end, the real drama is not about the crime but about the friendship which forms between these two very different women. As the widow tells the FBI agent, "When two lives touch, they can never again completely be separated."


Since becoming a member of the Orthodox Church in 1977, British composer John Tavener has endeavored to use music to praise the Creator. He wrote Akathist of Thanksgiving which is a hymn of thanksgiving. Tavener used poetry written in the 1940s by Archpriest Gregory Petrov shortly before his death in a Siberian prison camp. I had hoped to find this through the library system, but it was unavailable.

Since I couldn't find that particular CD, I checked out Tavener's Fall and Resurrection. There are ten tracks on the CD. Of those, I listened to Silence, darkness: In the beginning, before time; Representation of Chaos; The Serpent; The Lament of Mankind; and Cosmic Dance of the Resurrection: All is Transfigured.

Each song composed by Tavener completely captured the title and and part of the Creation story. I have never heard music that could so eloquently tell a story without words - just through a variety of music instruments and vocal sounds (but not words). It was quite engaging, and I'm glad I listened to it. This CD would not have been one I would have found on my own had I not being doing the Spiritual Practices A to Z challenge.


French impressionist Claude Monet's series of paintings of the waterlilly pond on his property are blessings of the natural world and blessings to viewers. The artist's gratitude for a special place seems to pulse through these scenes, embracing the water, the floating flowers, the reflected sky and clouds.

Monet painted this water garden extensively during the last 30 years of his life, catching it in different seasons and times of day, his appreciation of its pleasures apparent in every brush stroke.

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

• Picking up a spoon to eat a meal is my cue to practice gratitude.

• Every time I walk in the door of my home, I am reminded to count my blessings.

• On my birthday, I vow to practice gratitude during the new year.

Practice of the Day

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, and swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in ink.
— G. K. Chesterton quoted in Different Seasons by Dale Turner

To Practice This Thought: Begin each new activity with a brief grace.

Spiritual Exercises

One of the ideas for practicing gratitude is to "...reverse any tendency you have to make comparisons. Quit talking about what you don't have compared to what you have; stop whining about how you are doing career-wise, relationship-wise, or any other-wise in comparison to how a friend or enemy is doing. The next time you start chattering about wanting something more, better, or different, don't listen," suggested the Spiritual Practices website.

One of the people I write to through a prison ministry program wrote about this exact same issue recently. In prison, the comparisons that were so difficult to handle were such basic ones: being envious of those who had family members who visited them; those who could go to the "store" there and get whatever they wanted since their account bank account was being funded by their families; and those who were fortunate to be able to extra food to supplement what they received at meal times.

After I read the issues, I thought that it is no different than what you see in the free world - except in the free world those comparisons relate to often larger - more material - objects: a nicer house, a better car, "toys" - like ATVs, snowmobiles, or campers, and so forth. The list could go on.

And then there are the more quiet - often unspoken - comparisons as one ages: that others don't struggle with health issues like you do; that one's relationship with a significant other seems stronger and happier; that other families seem to do a lot more together than your family does.

I see it at the nursing home and with those who are homebound: wishing that family members would visit more - or simply visit them; that a spouse was still living; or that others get to stay in their homes, but not them.

I think this spiritual exercise - about trying to not make comparisons - is worthy of my time. It certainly would be a challenge on some days. Other days, I see no reason to negatively compare my life to others.

Journal Exercises

Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal. Every day before you go to bed, write down five things that you can be grateful for that day. In Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach describes this journal exercise as a transformative process: "As the months pass and you fill your journal with blessings, an inner shift in your reality will occur."

I did this during 2014 and by my 48th birthday had 1,000 things for which I was grateful. Whenever I would pick up the list and read a few of the things, it would immediately bring me back to that moment. I could envision exactly what I read and that memory would flood back and I could relive it again.

This is something that I truly need to start doing again - even if it is one thing that I am grateful for each day. Sometimes having to write 3 or 5 things each day can get overwhelming...but just one thing is easy enough to do.

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

King Faisal of Saudi Arabia displayed a flask of petroleum on his desk with a card saying "Allah's Bounty." What would you put on your desk as a constant reminder of gratitude?

Some of the items on my desk that have special significance.

When I look on the desk that belonged to my grandma that's in my bedroom, I have several items on it that reflect what I am grateful for:
=> family - especially those who have died (a hand-carved camel that my dad gave me when he went to see the Holy Land; a picture of my grandma with my sister, brother, and me; and a stuffed fox that my dad had when he had Alzheimer's Disease - it was the closest stuffed animal that I could find that resembled a corgi - his favorite dog; an emerald green lamp that my brother gave me); and
=> the ability and opportunities I've had to travel (a picture of a tawny frogmouth bird in Australia; a hand-painted globe from China);
=> my spirituality (prayer beads; an image of a statue of St. Francis that I did by using a slide transfer method and then hand-colored using colored pencils).

Household, Group, and Community Projects

Create a Gratitude Calendar for use in your household daily or weekly devotional observances. Set up a schedule of blessing emphases in a date book, perhaps having a different focus for each month: (1) People We've Known, (2) People We Do Not Know but Admire (living and dead), (3) Artists, (4) Service Providers, (5) Spiritual and Other Communities, (6) Our Bodies, (7) Places, (8) Animals, (9) Nature, (10) Food and Drink, (11) Things, (12) Opportunities.

I like this idea and the topics that the Spiritual Practices website suggested. This is a matter of being much more intentional in thinking about different people and things for which to be grateful.

 Identify creative ways to show your gratitude to the world:
- Send letters of appreciation to teachers or writers whose work has touched you. I did this each month throughout 2012 for people who had positively impacted my life or our family's life. What made the letters so meaningful for the recipients was that they didn't expect them (first of all) and that they had no idea the impact they had made on other's lives. Many of the people called or wrote back to me saying they were moved to tears by what I had written. In 2014, I wrote to several people as part of my 48 acts of kindness for my 48 birthday. Again, it was the same reaction but by different people who I sent letters to. It was well worth the time to write and share these thoughts with others.
- Thank your body by giving your feet a massage or blessing your skin with moisturizing lotion. I've been using a body cream from Watkins that has been wonderful in terms of moisturizing my skin. It's one of the best creams I've used and each time my skin just absorbs the cream - clearly needing and appreciating it.
- Show your gratitude for the gifts of nature by incorporating some of them — house plants, leaves, acorns, rocks, sand — into a table centerpiece. I used to do this when Sophia and Olivia were younger. However, Cooper and Aspen both have high separation anxiety whenever they are left alone and will start finding and chewing anything they can get their mouths on. So, no more nature displays or seasonal displays like I used to do on my grandma's bureau in the dining room. I miss that. Yet, I haven't come up with a solution to do this in a way that things won't be destroyed.

• Be a blessing by performing a service to a neighbor or a shut-in — doing a chore, running an errand, or delivering groceries. Sophia, Olivia, and I took care of our neighbor's dog while they were on a trip. This gives their dog the ability to stay at home, and saves our neighbors lots of money by not kenneling their dog. We do this for them many times throughout the year.

Extend your gratitude into your community. In appreciation for the good service of a grocery store, a cleaners, or a gas station, tell your friends about the place so that their business can grow. To thank public servants and community activists, attend meetings and fundraisers or volunteer to help in their offices. One of the big projects that we are going to start working on this month is a Barn Quilt Trail. Olivia has received several grants and donations to do this project.

The finished barn quilt at Gammelgarden Museum.
This is taken from the road looking over the pond.
The barn quilt is 7'x7'.

There will be seven barn quilts that range in size from 4'x4' to 7'x7' that are placed in three neighboring communities. This is a way to beautify these three towns, draw customers to the small businesses in each one; and bring volunteers together from a variety of different places.

Olivia by the finished barn quilt at Gammelgarden Museum. 

To see pictures of the Barn Quilt Trail as the barn quilts are being painted and installed, we set up a Barn Quilt Trail Facebook page. We may set up a website at some point if the project expands beyond the seven quilts.