Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tree lights by moving camera. (Thanks, LEDs!)
I hope you had yourself a merry little Christmas.
A few years back, our daughter planted a photographic suggestion in my mind: play with exposures and camera movement.
Last night, after all the packages were wrapped, all the stockings stuffed, I turned out all the lights except for the ones decking the tree. I took a moment to enjoy the peace, the quiet, and the glow. 
Then I remembered my daughter's idea, and began to play.
Light is magic.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

One picture can be worth a thousand words. Others can leave you quite speechless.
To experience the power of such pictures, go to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which is hosting a traveling exhibit called “Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs.” And go there soon, because this amazing collection is on view only through Dec. 31.
My husband and I saw the exhibit last week on a shared day off (a more than momentary joy). Even as I type this, images from the show resurface in my mind, unforgettable.
Within the gallery walls, photos depict the best of times and the worst of times (thanks, Mr. Dickens). Birth, death; peace, war; celebration, grief: all captured by the magic of the lens —  and the vision of the human behind the camera.
The exhibit brought me to tears more than once. The contrast of joy and sorrow hits again and again. One minute you see the miraculous moment of birth, a wide, elated smile on the mother’s face. A few walls later you see a haunting portrait of another mother and child, this infant just hours from death in famine-ravaged Ethiopia. 
Dramatic moments in history — the attack on the World Trade Center, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald — are juxtaposed with more personal dramas — the rescue of a young girl caught in roaring flood waters, a Vietnam veteran watching an Armed Forces Day parade from a wheelchair, holding a toddler in his lap.
This world is a terrible, wonderful place. We all bear witness every day.
I give thanks for those who frame and preserve those moments, to remind us all.
The National Constitution Center is at 525 Arch St., on Independence Mall. For more information, visit the website:

Friday, November 22, 2013

This representative of yang guards our mailbox.*
I consider myself lucky to be a writer (though as any writer would admit, there are times when a pile of unfolded laundry proves more enticing than wrestling with a balky paragraph).
One of the gifts writing gives me is the chance to indulge my curiosity. Whatever I wonder about I can write about, which means I first get to read and learn about anything under the sun (or over it for that matter).
For example, as I wrote my previous post I realized I didn't know much about yin yang, aside from recognizing the black-and-white symbol you could buy as a patch for your bell-bottom jeans in the 1960s. 
Indulging my curiosity (not to mention my inner editor, who insists on accuracy), I turned to the internet to read up on the ancient Chinese concept, which dates back so much farther than the '60s.
Wading through the web I learned that the dark side of the symbol is the feminine yin, connected with the moon, while the light side is the masculine yang, connected with the sun.
I found more factoids. For example, yin is symbolized by a tiger, and yang by a dragon. (Dang, why do men get to be the dragons?) I didn't end up using any of those details, but the knowledge settled into my brain, like seeds planted. 
Now, let me switch gears, with the promise that all will mesh in the end.
I've been learning Spanish again by listening to Pimsleur language CDs in the car. One concept foreign to my English-speaking brain is the idea of male and female nouns. 
English has just one “the.” Spanish uses at least two: “el,” for masculine nouns, and “la” for feminine. Most masculine nouns end in “o,” and female nouns end in “a.” But not always, which is when I'm likely to misspeak.
I mentioned this to my English major husband, who offered this idea: the older the language, the greater the structure, the more rules. 
Spanish has roots in Latin, which definitely counts as an older language. Hmm. More seeds planted.
A few days later I was working with a teenager who studies French. 
We commiserated about the tricky male/female noun business.
I mentioned “el dia,” day (masculine, even though it ends in “a”) and “la noche,” night (feminine, though it ends in “e.”)
“Why?” I asked. “Who decided that the day is male and the night is female?”
I barely finished that sentence before the linguistic lightbulb blinked on.
    Ahhh. It's yin and yang, moon goddess and sun god. Ancient ideas, ancient languages live on in words we use every day (especially when we speak Spanish).
Those seeds planted had sprouted. And a little piece of the universe made just a little more sense.
   Just one more reason I feel lucky to be a writer.
*My dragon sentry is a candle I found on a memorable thrift shop outing with a dear friend (a more than momentary joy). He started out as a Halloween decoration, but I'm letting him enjoy the porch awhile longer.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A view from the tent.
There is joy to be found in the embracing of opposites.
Spring seems all the sweeter following a harsh winter. 
A glass of iced tea tastes more heavenly after mowing the lawn in muggy August.
Kicking off your shoes and putting your feet up feels more sublime after a good day's work.
And a long, leisurely, hot shower equals ecstasy after a weekend of camping, especially in October.
Where there's a yin, there's a yang.
   Our annual camping trip last weekend embraced the opposites of wet and dry, as a 30 percent chance of rain became 100 percent reality for a couple hours on Saturday night. We were prepared, tarps up, before the (relatively) brief deluge hit.
   And the fire never died.

Friday, October 4, 2013

My October obsession ...
There's a saying I'm fond of:
A sorrow shared is halved; a joy shared is doubled.
The second part of that certainly came true for me this morning, as I ate my first pumpkin pancakes of the season at the Village Diner.
A dear friend joined me in the breakfast sublime. 
Wonderful food, heart-warming company.
 Much more than a momentary joy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A sign of the times ... and a summer
memory of Sandpoint, ID.

"To everything there is a season …"
So says the Book of Ecclesiastes, and so sang Pete Seeger, and later the Byrds. ("Turn, turn, turn ...")
I'm hearing that song in my head today, the first full day of fall. Summer took its bow at 4:44 p.m. yesterday, allowing autumn to move center stage.
I love living in a place where the seasons truly change. Winter, spring, summer, fall. In Philadelphia, all have their beauties, and their annoyances. And the transitions always leave me feeling wistful.
 (Another song playing in my head is Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" … "Empty lake, empty streets, the sun goes down alone." Like I said, wistful.)
So. Will I miss summer's 90-degree days with pea-soup humidity? Not so much.
But I will miss the songs of crickets in the night.
And though I just said I won't miss the excessive heat, I will miss the gift that heat gives in my dance class, where we can stretch longer and deeper because of it.
I will miss living in flip-flops, and the pops of color visible on free-ranging toes.
I will miss the ever-changing rainbow of flowers appearing in my neighbors' gardens. 
I already miss the light. The sun may not always go down alone, but it sure goes down earlier.
I think the universe understands we need to ease into all these changes. I suspect that's why we're treated to the firework of fall leaves before the winter unpacks its more subdued palette.
Goodbye, summer, and welcome, fall. 
Winter? Please wait your turn.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Welcome to my world ...

Long time, no write.
There's a story behind that … so here goes.
I think of myself as a liberal, so I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me when I began listing to the left.
Unfortunately, I mean that quite literally.
I've been listing, as in Leaning Tower of Pisa type listing, usually to the left.
Call it, "Adventures in Vertigo."
My tilting began in mid-June, in the middle of a dance class. After stretching out on the floor I started to sit up, but the room took a fierce spin around me. I fell over (yes, to the left), and squeezed my eyes shut. The wonderful women I dance with snapped into action, bringing cold paper towels, ginger candy to calm the nausea, and lots of tender, loving care. 
Not feeling steady enough to drive, I called home, and my dear family came to the rescue, picking me up and driving my car back.
I've experienced vertigo a handful of times in my life, and it usually passed within a week or so.
Not this time.
In the midst of week two of waking up to spinning walls, I saw my doctor. She outlined a plan, and recommended that I see an ear, nose and throat specialist if I felt no improvement in two weeks.
My off-center tilt continued. Walking down the street, I found myself constantly drifting to the left. (At least my liberal self got a laugh out of that.) The persistent dizziness made reading (and writing) difficult; the scrolling and quick eye movements used in computer work proved downright nauseating.
After two more weeks I headed to the ENT office, where, after a series of questions and one brief vertigo-inducing maneuver, the doctor pronounced my diagnosis: BPPV, or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, a mouthful that means I got dizzy when my head moved into certain positions. He recommended a physical therapy practice in Willow Grove that specializes in balance disorders.
Who knew?
Since starting PT in mid-July, my eyes have been opened to the complex, wondrous workings of the human body's balance system. 
The seemingly "simple" act of standing, not to mention walking, requires constant communication between your brain and your eyes, inner ear, as well as your muscles and joints. If something goes awry with any of those "messages," your sense of balance is … tipped.
That's where BPPV comes in. (If you're not into medical detail, you can skip the next three paragraphs.)
In a nutshell, vertigo can set in when microscopic crystals dislodge themselves from the inner ear and wander into an ear canal, where they start sending wrong signals to the brain. 
  At PT, they induced the vertigo by moving my head into certain positions. By observing the direction of my eye movements (think REM with nausea), the therapists determined which canal was harboring the wayward crystals.
After that, we moved on to the "bump and dump," wherein the therapist carefully and quickly moved my head and body in a way to send the crystals back where they belong. There are different prescribed "maneuvers" for each ear canal, usually named after the person who invented them, such as Epley and Semont.
As I wrote to a friend after the first session: 
"When I wasn't on the verge of throwing up, I found it fascinating."
I still do.
I'm happy to report that the PT maneuvers were successful, and rooms no longer spin around me. Unfortunately, I'm dealing with residual dizziness, visual and balance issues, which often come with this territory.
To help with that, my PT routine includes eye exercises and balance work. My favorite is one I call "the blind flamingo," standing on one leg with eyes closed. (I'm almost up to 30 seconds!)
One side benefit of this dizzying adventure has been the necessity to slow down. My eyes can't handle too much movement -- such as letters moving on a computer screen or cars moving in traffic -- so I have to make time in the day to just sit quietly, with eyes closed.  I highly recommend it, dizzy or not.
On the down side, I wasn't able to watch much of Wimbledon this year.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Momentary Joy has been ... taking a moment.
Stay tuned this week for details.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The calendar may say it's still spring, but for me, summer officially arrived last week the moment I saw those small yellow beacons in the night:
Lightning bugs are back.
As I walked with our dog a few nights ago, a half-moon shone overhead while just in front of us a tiny airborne light flashed on and off, on and off. I reached out gently, just as I did countless times as a kid, and let my hand act as landing strip.
The firefly rested on my forefinger, bathing it in sunny yellow. Tiny feet tickled feather-light against my skin. 
My small, bright passenger hitched a ride for only a few steps before it took off again, wings a blur in a golden glow.
Beautiful things do come in small packages.
For more firefly musings, click here.
        One of my favorite quotes -- and one I often cite when I teach writing -- happens to mention lightning bugs. It comes from Mark Twain:
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter -- it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Well said.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Louie, loyal friend ... and visual aid.

I love words, which certainly comes in handy as a writer.
We use words so much, their original meanings can get lost in their familiarity. A word then becomes simply the sound we make to stand for some object, or idea.
Every now and then a word reveals itself in a surprising way, and reminds me just where it came from.
Case in point:
One recent weekend my husband and I took Louie, our resident canine, to the dog park.
While we sat on a bench by the fence, Louie -- and every other dog there -- made the rounds, sniffing noses (along with tail ends … a ritual that always makes me glad I'm not a dog). Their exuberance and joy reminds me of kids let out for recess.
On that day one small white dog in particular attracted our Lou. He pursued, they circled and sniffed, she barked when she had enough. A few minutes later, he pursued again, they sniffed, she barked. Louie returned again and again to his would-be buddy, tail always wagging, ever hopeful.
"Ah," I said to my English-major husband, pointing toward Lou. "Dogged!" 
The meaning of that word was never quite so clear.

Years ago I had a similar epiphany.
In the '70s, one of my best friends occasionally drove an aquamarine Chevy Impala convertible. On this particular night, we were driving in Ocean City, N.J., and I was in the front passenger seat.
Back in those days, buckling up was not mandatory. Feeling young and happy, I grabbed the top of the frame and pulled myself up to standing. The sea wind smacked my face as my long hair shot straight back.
"Ahh! Wind-shield!" I said, laughing as I sat back down, amazed how I had never really thought about the word in that way before.
A lesson in literal-ity.

As I mom, I have to add: If there are any young drivers or passengers reading this, just take my word for it. 
Stay buckled up. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

If only there were a scratch-and-sniff option on this blog ...
Unless you suffer from seasonal allergies, I highly recommend going outside and taking a deep breath.
If you're lucky, you may be in the vicinity of a lilac, and your nose will ascend to heaven. Those delicate lavender and white blossoms are about to leave us for another year, so gather that glorious scent while ye may.
I'm fortunate to be able to simply walk onto my front porch and inhale, thanks to a lovely lilac I transplanted from my folks' house about 20 years ago.
Mowing our front lawn last week proved less of a chore each time I ducked under those perfumed branches. 
Knowing how fleeting they are makes them that much sweeter. Savor them, because you can only experience lilacs once a year.
Unless …
A couple years ago, I serendipitously discovered a way to double that pleasure. All it took was a trip out west to visit family in Idaho and Washington state (a more than momentary joy).
It was late May, and the lilacs back home were long gone, just a fond olfactory memory. Now, I knew the Northwestern climate was cooler than ours, but never thought about what that would mean in terms of spring flowers.
Until I stepped out of our car in northern Idaho and caught a familiar, heavenly scent: lilac -- again! The bush by my father-in-law's apartment was just beginning to bloom. I felt doubly blessed, given the gift of lilacs squared.
So, if you really love lilacs, you only have to travel 2,500 miles to get a second helping.
'Twas well worth the trip.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Once again, it pays to look down.
Seen in passing …
The invisible made visible, thanks to a passel of cherry blossom petals.
As I walked through my neighborhood this morning, I saw those pink petals playing ring-around-the-rosie in the street. Their game lasted just a few breezy seconds before they all fell down.
The wind doesn't just blow, it swirls.
Pretty in pink
As a writer and editor, I strive for accuracy. After I wrote this post, I questioned whether the petals I saw were from a cherry or a crab apple tree (to my eyes they're similar).
I headed out and found the tree in question. Feeling bold, I rang the doorbell of the house where the tree lives. When one of the owners answered the door, I introduced myself, and explained my quest. 
She happily replied that indeed, the tree is a weeping cherry. We chatted for a bit, and she encouraged me to come back when the wisteria is in bloom around their porch.
I could have used the internet to answer my question, but it was so much nicer to meet a fellow human.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Those myriad fine lines will soon be filled with leaves.
Spring is all about potential.
The natural world is fairly bursting with possibilities … for growth, blooming, blossoming change. Winter browns are making room for greens, yellows, pinks and purples. The returning colors warm my heart.
Last week I made a point of giving myself the gift of time outside. I walked to work twice (about 40 minutes each way), and hiked into the woods above our house one afternoon, just to soak it all in. Call it natural therapy.
Brown will soon give way to green.
On my Tuesday walk, which took me through a swath of woods, I looked up and noticed that the trees were still leafless, though tiny buds told me that wouldn't last long. As much as I love leaves, I also have a fondness for the silhouettes of trees in winter. I lingered at the sight of those bare branches reaching up and across the sky.
The next day I explored another patch of woods. I looked up again, this time armed with my camera, and saw so much more than bare branches. An astonishing network of thready, delicate stems arced overhead, each one home to a future leaf, a canopy nothing short of colossal.
Saturday's walk came after the rain, offering me puddles mirroring the world above. I took my time -- and lots of pictures. 
I also turned down the worries noising around in my head and tuned into the song that is spring. Birds peeped, chirped, and sometimes squawked. The sun beamed warmth, while a gentle breeze cooled my face.
        I breathed deep, and gave thanks.
The sky below my feet
An oval puddle painting

Friday, March 29, 2013

We all start small.
Recent encounters with the youngest among us have reminded me of how much we have to learn, to figure out, and … accept as we grow.
Children are miraculous sponges, absorbing, taking the world in -- and storing it all for future reference.
While waiting in line at a department store the other day, I noticed a little girl standing at the counter with her father. As her dad and the cashier went through the everyday motions of a sale, the little one stood transfixed. She observed every part of the transaction intently: handing over the clothes, scanning, swiping, typing, bagging -- done! 
Lesson in the marketplace complete.
That intensity of focus is impressive.
I saw another example of it this week, while walking our dog, Louie, past a neighborhood park where a mom and two little girls were playing. When the toddler of the two spotted Lou, she headed straight for the fence between us. Eyes laser-focused on the dog, she pointed (in a way that suggested the gesture was fairly newly learned), and said quietly, "Woof, woof."
"Ah, you speak his language," I said.
"Yes, she's fluent," her proud mom replied.
Lesson in communication complete.
Alas, in life, some lessons are harder learned.
At the library where I work, we offer several story times, including one for the under-2 set.
Story times are reliably upbeat and positive. One memorable session, however, reminded me of "existential story time," a running joke I share with a friend whose sense of humor also veers to the dark side.
        Think Mr. Rogers with angst.
  After listening to stories and moving to music, one little girl simply could not accept the concept of having to give back the bead-filled plastic egg she'd been given to shake along with the song.
"I want my egg," she said. "Mommy, I want my egg."
She repeated her plea, over and over again. Maternal explanations did not compute.
She began to wail, and her patient mom carried her outside. I could still hear her beyond the door: "I want my egg," her voice ranging from small and plaintive to loud and adamant, trying to find the right tone that would bring back her egg.
  They came back in.
The librarian said, "Ok, everybody. Pick out a book to read with your mommy."
"I want my egg."
Sigh. Egg-istential lesson, not quite complete.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

My reward for walking after dark:
Low-slung sliver of moon,
Bright smile lingering in the night.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Remnants of snow, with a side of spring.
As kids, we understood the joy of snow.
As grownups, we too often see snow as a burden, something to be removed, shoved aside, and avoided.
Last night, I took a walk in the snow, and remembered the joy.
The flakes were just beginning to fall as I headed up the hill for the Ash Wednesday service at our church. By the time I headed back home, snow had muffled the parking lot. While others began the chore of sweeping off their cars, I simply walked off into the snow globe.
At the top of the hill I stopped near a street lamp, just to watch. The flakes caught the light and rode the wind, swirling by the thousands.
I walked on and listened. Snowflakes are so small, it seems impossible that one could make a sound, but together, they make a soft, whispery chorus. 
In the distance, a passing train added a wistful chord.
Now and then a car passed and kind drivers asked if I wanted a ride home. 
"No, thank you. I'm good," I said.
I didn't have miles to go before I slept, just a few more blocks. But I'm glad I traveled by foot, and stopped, on that snowy evening.
A few months ago I joined the choir at church, quite a brain-expanding experience. Our choir director recently brought in some poetry recordings for us to listen to, including Robert Frost reading "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." 
It's clear I was inspired.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Let there be light.
They say God spoke those words at the dawn of time, and ever since the first fires cast shadows on cave walls, we humans have looked for ways to banish the dark.
Darkness can be hard to handle, whether it's the long nights of winter or the murky depths of sorrow.
It's no wonder we include light in our winter celebrations. We light candles during Hanukkah, swoop strands of lights at Christmas, shoot fireworks as the New Year begins.
I was happy to turn the page to 2013, leaving behind a year of too many goodbyes, beginning with the death of my father in January. Loss is part of life, I know, and the losses of 2012 hit hard, but they also reminded me of how blessed I am, to be here, and to have loved -- and still love -- those who are gone.
That's the light I hold onto amid the darkness.
On New Year's Eve Eve, my husband and I went out to dinner with two dear friends (a more than momentary joy). Afterward we drove around the neighborhood in search of noteworthy Christmas light displays. My favorite was a free-form creation: five strands of icicle lights, streaming down from a treetop some 30 feet high. A light wind set the strands a'swaying.
From that simple setting we headed to a house in Glenside, whose owners take a decidedly different approach to holiday lighting. Their glow is visible blocks away, and features Santa, reindeer, polar bears, a seal balancing a ball on its nose, candy canes and a chugging train. All in rainbow lights, some of them flashing. I may even have seen a unicorn.
As one of our friends put it: "Pleasantly over-the-top." 
 House by house, those lights will soon disappear. In honor of my roots, I keep ours up until at least Ukrainian Christmas (which happens to be today) and usually beyond. I feel wistful as the lights go, leaving nights a little darker. Fortunately the sun is already giving us help, setting a bit later each day, offering a glimmer of the seasonal shift ahead.
I hold onto that light, too.
It seems I am a creature of hope.
Read the pages of any newspaper and it can be easy to lose hope, easy to think that this world will never change. Newtown. Aurora. Afghanistan. Syria. The heart of darkness beats on.
And yet.
I recently came across a quote from Amma, an Indian spiritual leader also known as "the hugging saint." Among her wise words are these:

"Don't be discouraged by your incapacity to dispel darkness from the world. Light your candle and step forward."
Let there be light?
It's up to us.
Little lights add up.