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Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

The last nine/ten months have been incredibly challenging in all parts of the world as we confront an insidious danger, a new virus. Here at home, we can heap on top of the pandemic an election the likes of which we have never seen, and wish we had not. On a personal level, I have lived for one year now with my house for sale, never sure if I will be able to stay in my home, and top it with the cherry of a very intense, seasonal workload. This is just my variation of the theme; so many of you and those you know, and so many more we’ll never meet are struggling with your own form of stress. It’s been an increasingly easy time to feel adrift from our moorings and to be lost in the most immediate problem in front of us.

While shopping on a website for other than books, of course I decided to dip into that section. You know, just looking. What I found was the book I needed, which you see here. Because that is what has happened to me … in the stress, distraction, and exhaustion, one of the things to go was the time put aside for my spiritual self. This book was published in August 2020 and references the onset of the pandemic and the ramping up of the presidential election, so it’s very current. Even having read a small way into the book, I am feeling calmer and reassured of moving in to a better direction. So there is that.

On other fronts, because it’s been a while since I’ve posted, I thought to share a few photos, and what’s been happening in this small part of the world.

Produce from the local farm in October – the last of the gorgeous Jersey tomatoes, new potatoes, and a mix of Gala and my very favorite Macoun apples.

It was Halloween. Trees were beginning to shed their leaves, just enough to scuff through for trick or treaters or whoever wanted to enjoy a walk through the neighborhood. This little vignette of fall brought a smile to see the little pumpkins on the fence posts, the mums, and in a time we need to believe in our country, our flag.

While searching for something else, I came across this photo of Claude. Although he is no longer with us, this just reminded me of how calm and Buddah-like he could be at times, in contrast to his being a total goofball the next. He is still very much missed.

Another photo I stumbled upon …  a clearing sky after a winter rain from a second story window, raindrops sparkling the screen. How lucky are we to have so many beautiful skies and sunsets in this part of my state.

In November I attended an online children’s book conference held by Rutgers University. Normally, the conference in several hundred dollars and limited in attendance due to space and the personal nature of the event, but with COVID, it was presented online with Zoom to hundreds of attendees for a pittance. Our keynote speaker, Sayantani Das Gupta writes a New York Times bestselling series of a brave girl named Kiranmala. Sayantani was quite inspiring. One of the quotes she offered in her talk was the above by Toni Morrison, both relevant and a reminder of the heroic writer in all of us.

I also took a screen shot of this quote by Ursula LeGuin because it just hit home. Made me remember that I am no small talent, nor are you. Sometimes we need to be reminded and luckily, someone comes along to tap us on the shoulder from time to time. This was a good tap for me

As the days get shorter, the nights longer, we look more to light. I frequently have a candle burning, but this gathering of wolves is one of my very favorite pieces, the light so beautifully illuminating their faces. It’s only made of stone, but for me, it brings some deep-stirred memory of woods and the quiet footfalls of our lupine brothers and sisters.

And here we are today. I cleared my porch of fall decor in preparation of other lights of the season. I carried the two small pumpkins that sat at my door to the end of the block, over the grass and tracks, and tossed them onto the plateau of dried grasses below. It won’t take long for some of the local wildlife to discover them and enjoy a small feast.

Perhaps this meandering through photos has reminded me that even when we’re in tough times, there is still always much to be thankful for. For every obstacle or challenge, there is another way to look at it, a way to learn something we need to know. These, indeed, are gifts and my heart is lightened.

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Weatherbug tells me this morning’s chilly temperatures are right on cue for October. But Thursday, it was a warm and sunny 71˙. When I decided to go freelance over a decade ago, one of the reasons was to not only shed my wretched cross-state commute, but also to have the freedom to make my own schedule. And despite my annoying and persistent feeling that I should be at my desk from 9-5 for my clients, Thursday was just too wonderful to stay inside.

And so I walked. One of the interesting things about my little town is that it’s in a valley and doesn’t always have the same weather as the surrounding towns. Or the same seasonal appearances. Just now some trees are turning bronze, some shrubs, yellow. But for the most part, it’s very green in my little part of the world.

Beyond the few scattered leaves on the ground, and some dried weeds, you might think we were in early September. If you were to walk straight in what is almost a path in the photo above, you would come right up on the Delaware River. When I drove out of town last Monday, I was surprised to find that not only had the leaves turned color, but many of the trees were already bare.

Not here. As houses begin to be dressed for Halloween, we are still on dense green lawns surrounded by still-green shrubbery. Our little town has always made a big deal of Halloween. There’s been a parade down the main drag with floats and a couple bands, vendors, food stands, and kids galore in costumes vying for prizes. Needless to say, that will not be happening this year.

But residents are not giving up on the Halloween spirit, even if there aren’t quite as many decorated houses as I’ve seen before. And we neighbors are talking, reading online, about what we can do to make trick-or-treating safe for the kids … and for us. It won’t be the same as having little princesses and Frankensteins running up to our doors yelling “Trick or Treat!” but we are in different times.

This house always goes all out for the holidays. I mean ALL the holidays. This is the kind of decorated house that gets the little ones all excited. I am so glad these people have done what they always do. It keeps some sense of normalcy in our lives.

How wonderful is it that this is “normal” for my town! But what I couldn’t help but notice is how few people there were walking about. I’m sure there were more on the Main Street where the stores are, a walk of just a few blocks further. (It’s a pretty small town.) And where all the scarecrows are. I wanted to keep walking and take pictures of them, too, but I was doing my best to keep in mind that I still had work on my desk.

My walk takes me past this very old garage, which you may recall seeing in some earlier post. I am strongly drawn to this building, though I cannot say why. As often as I walk past it with a camera, today my phone, I will photograph it.

Maybe it’s the doors. The texture, the tone, their slightly ajar position. Or just the very old stone and cement the garage is built from. My town was established in the mid 1700’s, and went through several name changes, the first being when the mill on the river burned down in 1769. The town officially became a borough in 1911, its incorporation confirmed by the state in 1925. The population in 1920 was 656; today, it’s 1,233. 

This is the mill as I know it today. I’ve heard rumors over the years that a special committee formed to preserve it had plans for it becoming condos or an arts center. As long as I’ve been here, it looks like this. The stonework tells me the little garage, may have been built at the same time.

I returned to my work, renewed by the sunshine and fresh air. We need these simple things, and it’s important to remember to give them to ourselves. I have had a hard time writing, blogging, doing creative work, especially these last few weeks. I am deeply unsettled and fear for the future of my country. I feel compelled to keep reading the latest news stories, yet know I need to stop. I am reminded to move my focus away from what I cannot control. I’m trying. I know you’re trying. We all are.

So if a walk through town, taking pictures of my neighborhood Halloween decorations and what is our striving for normalcy amid so much confusion helps, then I’ll take it. Stay safe. Stay positive.

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In memory of all those who lost their lives on 9/11 and in gratitude and in memory of all those who became heroes in a moment’s notice – fire fighters, rescue workers, canine search and rescue teams from all over the U.S., health workers, and the often unsung heroes – all those responsible for evacuating 500,000 people to safety in the Great Boatlift of 9/11, the largest boatlift in human history. You are not forgotten.

With the towers in flames and everyone running for their lives, it soon became clear that Manhattan was an island and that there weren’t many places to run. But that it’s an island also meant something else. There were boats. This is such an amazing film, made 10 years after 9/11 by Eddie Rosenstein and narrated by Tom Hanks. When the call went out for help, hundreds of  tugboats, ferries, fishing boats, coast guard cutters, party boats and others sped to Manhattan to take as many people as they could for as many trips as they could make. People who could not refuse the call to help – who were honored to assist the thousands of people, standing desperate on the edge of Manhattan – became largely unsung heroes. This video sings their praises and so beautifully.  It’s nearly 12 minutes long but worth every second.

For those of you who follow me, you have seen this before, but I decided to post again for those new people who may stop by, and also, because this video restores my faith in the human race — in the potential for kindness and compassion from one everyday person to another. I hope you watch again.

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If there is one video I always look forward to at Christmastime it’s the one created by the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in Britain. Whoever puts them together is not just some remote advertising exec somewhere, but a wonderful person whose heart is filled with love for animals, and knows how to bring their heart to life on behalf of the RSPCA. I am always grateful to see it.

I had posted a previous year’s video here: https://stilladreamer.wordpress.com/2018/12/06/kindness-goes-a-long-way/ – you may want a tissue handy.

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Are you familiar with Little Free Library? I learned about them about 5 years or so ago, and thought it was just the most amazing idea. The concept is to have a little “house” or box of some sort which provides for the free exchange of books of any kind – sometimes these are located in areas where it’s hard for readers to get to a library; sometimes it’s a convenience for neighbors. It always promotes social exchange wherever they appear. (Pictured here, a LFL in Traverse City, Michigan.)

LFL (Little Free Library) is a non-profit organization founded in 2009 byTodd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin whose aim was to inspire a love of reading, build community, and spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. And that he did! Since it’s beginnings, the LFL has grown to 80,000 little libraries around the world in a total of 90 countries, (as of 2019), all providing access to our most treasured possessions, books. (Second photo in Mount Martha, Victoria, Australia.)

Bol started out with a simple idea – and built a model of a one room schoolhouse, filled it with books, and put it on a post in his front yard. The idea really caught on, so he built some more and gave them away to neighbors and friends for free. While discussing potential social enterprises with UW-Madison’s Rick Brooks, who had seen Bol’s DIY project, the pair saw potential to expand and advance the common good. They were inspired by a number of things, among them the homegrown “take a book, leave a book” concept found in coffee shops and other public places. They were also inspired by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who had set a goal around the turn of the century to fund the creation of 2,508 free public libraries across the English-speaking world.

With Carnegie in mind, Brooks and Bol set their own goal of surpassing 2,508 Little Free Libraries by the end of 2013, and exceeded it a year and a half before their target date.

The above LFL is located in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

What’s even more exciting is that this concept inspired people everywhere to apply to be stewards of a LFL where they lived, and who then designed and built this vastly creative array of structures to house the neighborhood book exchanges. (There’s a whole gallery of LFLs on their website to check out.) Perhaps one of the most truly amazing is a jaw-dropping LFL that was built by a librarian inside a dead cottonwood tree in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – you must take a look at this!

Please visit the Little Free Library website – it’s exhaustive and illuminating and inspiring, and hey … maybe you’ll start thinking about creating and hosting a LFL in your neighborhood! One of the best concepts ever … free access to books.

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In memory of all those who lost their lives on 9/11 and in gratitude and in memory of all those who became heroes in a moment’s notice – fire fighters, rescue workers, canine search and rescue teams from all over the U.S., health workers, and the often unsung heroes – all those responsible for evacuating 500,000 people to safety in the Great Boatlift of 9/11, the largest boatlift in human history. You are not forgotten.

With the towers in flames and everyone running for their lives, it soon became clear that Manhattan was an island and that there weren’t many places to run. But that it’s an island also meant something else. There were boats. This is such an amazing film, made 10 years after 9/11 by Eddie Rosenstein and narrated by Tom Hanks. When the call went out for help, hundreds of  tugboats, ferries, fishing boats, coast guard cutters, party boats and others sped to Manhattan to take as many people as they could for as many trips as they could make. People who could not refuse the call to help – who were honored to assist the thousands of people, standing desperate on the edge of Manhattan – became largely unsung heroes. This video sings their praises and so beautifully.  It’s nearly 12 minutes long but worth every second.

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The jury is still out on this one. There were several points along the way in reading Those Who Save Us that I felt I could have put the book down and it would have been OK. Yet I didn’t. It’s not a case that it wasn’t a worthwhile book, but there was something about it that did not pull me in and engage me as I would have liked. As a writer, Blum has an excellent command of the language. You kind of knew where the book was heading – or at least, you hoped it was – but my total investment wasn’t there. Why not?

For one thing, I don’t think Blum made me love her characters enough. Trudy, the daughter, lives a rather empty life emotionally. I understand why, but I still wanted more from her. Same with Anna, the mother. I certainly understand why she became stoic and blocked emotion, but how do you write about two such characters and still make us care? Anna went through some excruciating experiences; I should have loved her deeply. I also didn’t feel the story building with the kind of momentum that I felt it could have to a real climax.

The novel is told in alternating groups of chapters about Anna and her past and Trudy in the present. Blum weaves them together to bring Anna into the current time in Trudy’s life. The story begins in Weimar, Germany in late 1939 when the Nazis had taken control of the city and started taking Jews. Anna is a girl of eighteen, living a very comfortable life with her widowed father, who is cold, demanding, and solicitous of the Nazis’ favorable opinion. Her father’s dog becomes ill, and Anna, fearful of making the journey to the German vet across town, takes the dog to the closer veterinarian who is Jewish. The two take a liking to each other despite an age difference, and she ends up hiding Max in her large and elegant home, practically under her father’s nose. They fall in love, she conceives his child, but comes home one day to find him gone. The father has suspected and turned him in, at which point, Anna leaves home.

Hoping for some word of Max, Anna remains in Weimar, hidden by a baker, Frau Mathilde Staudt, who helps the Resistance.  There, Anna gives birth. In making a secret run to hide bread in the forest for the starving prisoners, Anna is spotted by the Obersturmführer, Horst. To save her life and that of her daughter, she complies with the SS Officer who demands an often cruel sexual relationship with her.

In the current day, Trudy is a college professor of German history. Following the burial of Anna’s American husband, Trudy is putting her mother in a nursing home after a fire in Anna’s house, its source being suspicious. In picking up her mother’s belongings, Trudy finds what appears to be a gold cigarette case with a swastika on the front, and inside, a photograph of the Obersturmführer with her mother seated in front, Trudy on her lap. Trudy has always been angry with her mother’s refusal to tell her about her early childhood in Germany, but now believes her father was a Nazi. In her search for some sort of enlightenment, Trudy decides to do a special project interviewing Germans who lived through this time, and recording their views of the Holocaust in retrospect. She is shocked by the answers she hears, but also meets more than one person who will impact both her and her mother’s lives.

The story continues, weaving the lives of mother and daughter together, past to present. Despite the forward momentum of these intertwined stories coming to a resolution, I didn’t find myself on what could have been a taut and gripping journey. And yet, I never stopped reading. So the jury is out.

If nothing else, this book is a reminder of how we, who have grown up in the free world, unscathed by events such as those in World War II, can never begin to understand the torture, horror, and pain of those who lived, died, and witnessed the Holocaust. In that regard, the book never fails to be both brutally honest and a cautionary tale of what may lie beneath the surface of even the well-intentioned.

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This is a re-blog of a previous post of mine from 2013. In light of so many things – the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the callousness and bias of our leader(s), the weather patterns that can only get worse as we ignore the needs of our beautiful Earth – I am reminded of the ever growing need to offset – to combat – hate, and to see the divine in one another. All of us. More than ever, we need to be kind and to forgive. This TV show was always a favorite of mine, and is the epitome of finding and acknowledging the light in one another, no matter how dim it may seem to shine.

In following an unexpected trail of webby bread crumbs recently, I came to a YouTube video of Joan of Arcadia.

256px-JoaI always loved this show and also the show’s theme song by Joan Osbourne, One of Us. I loved the premise of Joan Girardi, (Amber Tamblyn), finding God each week in everyday people – a fellow student, a mime, a homeless man, a club DJ, a girl on the color guard at school, a soccer mom, the lunch lady, the dog walker,  and the list goes on.  The message is ultimately about the Divine in each of us, and the essence of the greeting Namaste. The song’s refrain is this:

What if God was one of us,
just a slob like one of us,
just a stranger on the bus
trying to make his way home.

Namaste is a greeting used by many Hindu, Taoist and Buddhists which literally means “I bow to you.” It is said with the hands together in prayer position over the heart chakra and with a bow of the head. It is the divine spark in one person acknowledging the divine spark in another. To me it is one and the same as to what Joan of Arcadia was all about … acknowledging the divine in each other – finding the divine in each other – sometimes in the most unexpected places. As said in Wikipedia, (where you can also read more about the show’s premise), “No specific mention of any “true” religion is ever made, and God quotes Bob Dylan, Emily Dickinson and the Beatles, rather than any scripture or verse”  and is always very human in his/her appearances. I suppose it may be easy to look at this TV show in the light of one religion, but  in the end … the message is the same, and enlightening from any angle.

Listen to the song –

Take a look –

 

 

 

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Some guilty part of me feels that I should be writing something patriotic as it’s the anniversary of our wonderful country – Happy Birthday, America! – but alas, I finally have a bit of time to write and I have some other rambling thoughts. Like about the nectar of the gods.

Coffee. And how it’s made.

Not everyone feels that a cup of joe is the nectar of the gods, but as far as I’m concerned, you can keep your wine, beer, aged scotch, tea and (heaven forbid) soda. I’ll take coffee.

It’s not the caffeine, it’s the flavor. I like good quality coffee, and I like making it the same way I’ve been making it since I first began brewing my own – with a Chemex coffee pot. Years ago, long before Keurig and the vast array of coffee makers that electronically brew your coffee on a timer, there were some simple coffee makers, drip coffee pots, and a few other options. At the time, Consumer Reports evaluated all the means of making coffee and ranked the Chemex number one for flavor with the French press right behind.

With special filters manufactured by Chemex, all bitterness is removed from the coffee as you pour boiling water over the measured grounds. People have commented on how good this coffee is which I credit to the Chemex method. (OK, and the fact that I’m willing to spend a bit more on well-crafted and sustainably-sourced coffee.)

But here’s what’s funny. Like so many other things in life, this method is now having a revival! Having once fallen out of favor except with its many devotees, and having been (unintentionally) kicked to the curb by Keurig, this method of brewing can now be found in restaurants all over, and it’s known as “pour-over” coffee. Uh-huh. Rewind! Welcome to my world, guys. Live long enough – and I’m not that old – and you will see everything come around again from platform shoes to tie-dye shirts to troll dolls.

But in this case, it’s a real benefit to those of us for whom our cuppa joe will always be the nectar of the gods. Cheers!

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There’s a great little animated video making the rounds among “animal people.” Yes, it’s partially about that adorable puppy you see below, but I would be misleading you if I told you it was really only about the puppy. It’s much more than that. It’s about the difference an animal – or person – can make in another’s life. In this short video, wait for the twist. Well worth a bare 4 minutes of your life.

It says that Disney offered this student a job after seeing the animation. I just say thank you, Jacob Frey.

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I am repeating this post from my own blog from 2012. It is never too late to do a kindness and there is never a wrong time but today is the day that celebrates it. Should you wish more information, there is a Random Acts of Kindness website with wonderful stories, ideas, etc., but I suspect you know exactly how to be kind. Have a lovely day.

Recently a friend from the other side of the country – Washington State, to be exact – sent me an e-mail with the photos below. Needless to say, the images have been collected by someone from all over the web and put together in that e-mail. I have  pulled them together for this blog post because I believe we all could use a little inspiration here and there and it never hurts to be reminded of the difference a small kindness can make, how a simple gesture can touch a heart and soul, and how there really is a great deal of kindness in the world despite what many sources would have us believe. We can always add to that, and it needn’t be on an official Random Acts of Kindness Day – it can be any day or every day.

Enjoy the photos. The e-mail began with this : If you never learn the language of gratitude, you will never be on speaking terms with happiness.

A father and mother kissing their dying little girl goodbye. If you are wondering why all the medic people are bowing,….in less than an hour, two small children in the next room are able to live thanks to the little girl’s kidney and liver.

The e-mail continued on with the following, which I have altered slightly to be more inclusive of all beings on Earth:

Every day, every day, you hear …
I WANT!   I WANT!  I WANT!
Every day you hear people saying what they want. Well, here’s what I want:

  • I want people who are sick to be healed
  • I want children – and animals – with no families and no one to love them to be adopted
  • I want people to never have to worry about food and shelter and heat
  • I want to see a kinder world towards all animals on this planet
  • Most of all, I would like to see people start to care more for one another.

May your heart be touched by kindness today and every day.

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I journal almost daily, in the morning, with my coffee, and find it a very effective way to start the day, clearing out cobwebs, jotting down ideas, organizing what-have-you, etc. I am RandomActs-Notes2generally somewhat particular about what size my journal is – as there are limits as to what is most comfortable in one’s lap – but not how plain or fancy the journal may be. After all, this isn’t some formal document, and in the long run, is not going to be kept. I often can pick up a perfectly serviceable journal in the supermarket.

As I was down to the last 2 pages in my current journal, I planned to pick up a new one when I went grocery shopping, but … there was not one to be found of a workable size. All seemed to be notebooks that kids would bring to school, at least 8″ x 10″. OK, then, as mentioned, hardly the Declaration of Independence going in here.

“Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” ~Maya Angelou

When I opened it, however, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a perforated, light cardboard page behind the cover promoting Random Acts of Kindness! Eight cards you could tear apart, write a note for someone and leave for them or give to them. Now that’s RandomActs-OneCard2pretty cool! And while it has its own hashtags from the manufacturer for learning more, it doesn’t take away from how wonderful an idea this is to put right into the hands of children, (or anyone, really.).

I have always been enamored by Random Acts of Kindness. Most of us actually perform them daily and don’t even think twice about it – holding open a door, picking something up for another, giving a compliment – kindness isn’t hard. We’ve all, I’m also sure, gone a little above and beyond from time to time. One of my personal favorites was a number of years ago when in New Hope, PA, a very popular, artsy town known for its unique shops and restaurants AND for its 25 cents for 15 minutes parking meters. One time, returning to my car, I spotted the meter maid about 6 cars down and coming my way. The meter had expired next to the car directly behind me, so I fed 4 quarters into their meter and bought them an hour. I’m sure you’ve done the same. I was amazed that something so small put such a big smile on my face, even to this day.

“Always be a little kinder than necessary.” ~James M. Barrie

RandomActs-Ideas2

Now if the purchasers of this notebook are at a loss as to what to do with the cards, the reverse side gives lots of examples. As for me, I think I’ll be tearing off at the perf and carrying one with me. You never know when the chance to do a Random Act may arise!

If you are interested in knowing more – for your kids, students, or just for yourself – of course there’s a website for Random Acts of Kindness with all kinds of resources and ideas. I suspect you’re already a kind person, and I’m sure you agree, that in addition to making a however-small difference in the life of someone else,  there’s a lot of giggly-inside, feel good to be had in a Random Act of Kindness.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~Leo Buscaglia

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