A prayer for Thanksgiving

This is a moment when I feel like I actually do have some sort of blogger community out there. I read them, they speak to me, we cover some of the same issues from different ages and varied life stages.  Friend and writer Lindsey Mead Russell ( adesignsovast.com ) gave me the gift of a post about thankfulness today, about finding a level of something south of unachievable perfect happiness, something more in the realm of peaceable contentment–specifically in the face of life experiences that are not necessarily joyful.  That post hit home with me, and with a number of her readers, one of whom mentioned a prayer of thanksgiving by Robert Louis Stevenson that Lindsey’s words reminded her of.  That comment sent Lindsey and me both to Google, in search the entire prayer.  I suspect she found it too, and I suspect it will be read aloud at her Thanksgiving day table tomorrow.  I know it will be at mine, though I will probably make my beloved read it out, as I might not make it through without getting teary.

Yeah, it’s been that kind of year.  I’m bumping up against all sorts of landmarks, around what I learned about my health just one year ago.  Scary stuff, and yet, and yet…I feel so very fortunate.  My life is blessed in so many ways.  Even in a down year.

So. I’m guessing some others of you out there might be glad to have these words for your gatherings together tomorrow.  Here you go:

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Lord, behold our family here assembled. We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell; for the love that unites us; for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope which we expect the morrow; for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies that make our lives delightful; for our friends in all parts of the earth, and our friendly helpers in this foreign isle.

Let peace abound in our small company. Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge. Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Offenders ourselves, give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders. Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully the forgetfulness of others.

Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends; soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another.

As the clay to the potter, as the windmill to the wind, as children of their sires, we beseech of Thee this help and mercy for Christ’s sake. Amen.

Tis the season to make lists

Hello dear readers.  Would that I had something for you to read here, but this week, the only writing I’m doing is utterly devoid of subjects and predicates.  I’m busy making lists.  November and December, it’s all about the lists.

IMG_3179Here’s what I’ve been up to this week.

To Do lists.  Shopping lists.  Timeline for what-goes-in-the-oven-when lists.  That’s the mode I go into when Thanksgiving is upon us.  I have my own list-making shorthand. I won’t bore you with it. Just know, I’ve gotten to the place where I need to remind myself where to find the recipe I’ve just written down the shopping list for…Okay. “SP” equals Silver Palate.  But I forgot to indicate whether that’s the SP cookbook with the red cover or the white one. Dang!

IMG_3175 IMG_3175“Move that pile of books from the stairs” was just one item on my To Do list that led to unexpected sub-items. Like the  significant de-dust bunnying required, upon having cleared the decks.  So many books already read, still to read, all to share.  But I don’t actually have two of all these books, and I don’t have a clue how to unstick the top photo from the bottom one.  Sorry about that.

If I sound like I’m complaining, I apologize.  Because I’m not.  There’s something about the whole run-up to a big gathering that does my heart a world of good.  Like my sweetie, I’m big on that old ski racer phenomenon, where you prepare compulsively at your own pace, to be ready for the big three…two…one…go!  I really like the part where, after all that prep work,  I get to sit down and just be with my loved ones, enjoying those efforts.  I also really REALLY love the part where I sit and drink a glass of wine while others clear the decks. Lucky for me, I married a top-notch dishwasher and general cleaner-upper.

IMG_3209Honestly, one of the joys of Thanksgiving to me is that so much of the meal can be made ahead of time.  I knocked off two stuffings today–this classic cornbread, apples and pecans version, and a new entry from last Wednesday’s New York Times food section.  Leeks and mushrooms and bacon.  I think we may have a new winner!

So, apologies for the late entry here, but figured a little something is better than nothing.  And while I’m still busy checking off items on my to do lists, I will leave you with a visual list of just a few things I’m so very thankful for these days:

IMG_3186Still thankful for my beloved Sox.  And had fun at the premier of MLB’s little video remembrance of this year’s World Series.  Loved the grand excuse to cheer for the guys with the beards one more time, and loved this outfit, on a woman just ahead of me in line who makes my claim at fandom seem…diminished. I wish I’d gotten the hat in this shot; it’s covered with rookie cards of her favorite Red Sox players.

IMG_3138Always thankful for little bits of architectural and signage humor.

IMG_3133I’m particularly thankful for the current exhibit at the MFA Boston, of John Singer Sargent’s watercolors.  Which makes me notice how beautiful the world is, when light hits, well, practically anything.  Honestly, I’ve adored this house for decades, in all seasons, but never really saw it as a screen upon which its glorious beech tree neighbor gets to project a little dancing version of itself.  Just fantastic.

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Yeah, John Singer Sargent got it.  And I’m grateful he’s made me see it, too.

There’s more, much more, but I’ve got a few more items to knock off my to-do list.  Happy Thanksgiving, all.

A wondrous gift, from an unlikely source

IMG_2932Autumn leaves fall away, evidence of springtime bird life is revealed.

A remarkable thing happened, just a few days ago. I was taking a midday walk around the reservoir, in a switch from my usual crack-of-dawn time slot.  Which meant that none of my favorite morning regulars were about, the ones whose dogs wag their tails at me.  I like that when I go early, I can count on seeing some friendly and familiar counter-clockwise travelers on my clockwise round the reservoir routine.  By noontime, well, you never know whom you might run into.

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This week’s wind and rain brought down the last of the maple leaves, the stubbornest of oak leaves.

Like, for instance…there’s a peculiar character in this little narrative, a fellow Cantabrigian reservoir walker.  I call him Mr. 9-11-Vets-Against-the-War, which gives you a sense of what he’s about, as well as a sense for how long I’ve been aware of him.  He comes to walk his dog, generally in the late morning hours. He also comes with an agenda.  He’s just one reason why I like to go at dawn, and why I generally avoid high noon.  The man can spoil my day like nobody else I know.

He starts by making eye contact, offering a smile from afar that makes you wonder, “Who is this person?” Then, at about the moment that you realize he’s not anyone you want to stop for, too bad for you, because he’s full tilt into his solicitation for whatever upcoming demonstration or rally is on his docket.  Oh, he’s perfectly civil, so long as you give him the time of day.  But if you cut him off, or say, “Sorry, not today,” or give him any other such rebuke, he can go a little…off, shall we say.  His words bite, and always leave me churning.  After one of these encounters, I spend the rest of my walk wracking my brain for the perfect response to his snipes, the kind that never comes when I need it.  He is the last thing I want to encounter when I’m in my meditative bubble, observing the flora and fauna, soaking up vitamin D.  Being belittled for not caring enough about the state of the world is a bummer, particularly when what I’m there for, what I’m specifically seeking, is solace.

And confession: I probably made it worse by trying to get Mr. 9/11 to remember me and my story—that I’m the one who has told him, at least a dozen times, that I come for the birds and the foliage and the light of this hour and to remember my sister and be alone with my thoughts, or to have pleasant interactions with my friends.  I don’t come to be solicited.   That much I’ve definitely told him.  What I’ve only imagined saying to him is that my walk is my religion, the reservoir path is my cathedral, and every time he gets angry at me for not aligning with his agenda, it’s like he came into my church, marched down the center aisle, and farted.  Loudly. I want to tell him that, but I don’t quite dare incur his wrath.  What I’ve gotten over the years is more than enough.

IMG_2944Another late autumn explosion.

All that said, I hadn’t gotten sucked in to his spiel in a long time, in part because I avoid his time slot, and in part because I can spot him from fifty paces–he with his kooky hat, his dog with the muzzle strapped over its snout.  I’m good at turning on a dime when I see them coming.

Until the other day.  There he was, just a short distance away, headed in my direction.  I immediately had my defensive sunglasses deployed, the phone in my pocket at the ready if need be.  Ah, good, he’s already got someone in conversation.  If I walk quickly enough, I can zip by before he’s finished with his current victim.  It’s like getting past well-intentioned college kids with clipboards and petitions in Harvard Square, except that there, I expect to be accosted by such do-gooders.  On my reservoir walk, please, no.

Oh, shoot.  He’s done talking with the woman ahead of me, and has released her back to her stroll.  Now has me in his sights.  Be ready.  Be firm.  Be polite.  Don’t stop.

Luckily, I gave him just enough time of day to hear him speak these words:

“There’s a peregrine falcon up around the corner.  Just beyond the tree where the cormorants hang out, up on the right.”

IMG_3010This is it.  The place where a peregrine falcon waited for me. Right where Mr. 9/11 said I’d find him.

Well. Huh. My sworn reservoir obstacle, the man I rearrange my outings to avoid encountering, pointed me to the most glorious creature I could ask to see, on a beautiful November day.   He offered up no other agenda items.  He only did exactly what I would have done: share the wealth.  A Peregrine!  Falcon! Sitting in a nearby tree! It really doesn’t get any better than that.

IMG_3020Illustration by Julie Zickefoose, from the amazing bird guide, Identify Yourself. Yep, that’s what I saw.

Hands down, the highlight of my week.  A wondrous gift, and a heightened appreciation for the treasure that is human kindness.  Once more with feeling: be open, be ready to be amazed, and just maybe, you will be.

a lifetime of library love

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I’ve adored libraries for as long as I can remember.  My library obsession began in my childhood hometown, a place blessed with an All-American civic jackpot of the early 20th century: a Carnegie-endowed temple to books and knowledge.  Our little public library was a surprisingly grand space, rich and substantial.  From the granite steps and copper downspouts to the long oak tables and brass hardware, I always loved how that jewel of a building smelled and sounded and felt.  I loved the heavy doors with their oversized knobs, the echo-y sound of my footsteps in the entry vestibule, the smooth slide of the card catalog drawers. No one needed to be hushed there; the architecture informed all who entered on the etiquette of how to be.  Which meant that everyone had to be like me—well behaved by way of being painfully shy, and very, very quiet.

Perhaps the most delightful artifact of my first library was the little yellow library card it bestowed to me, with my name and address typed in bold capital letters.  When I was still reading picture books, my card lived in a file drawer at the checkout desk, accessible only to the librarians. Later on, as I graduated to chapter books, I got to carry my library card with me—my first, and for a long time, my only wallet-sized form of ID.  That card proved that I existed, that I mattered.  I could walk into that library anytime I wanted and pick out whatever I wanted to read, so long as it wasn’t from the grownup section.  For the girl who memorized whole passages from the books she loved, my library card was my ticket to somewhere else, someplace magical.

IMG_0767A lovely detail at the old entry to my current hometown library.

You might think that my early experience would cause lesser bookish institutions to pale in comparison, but no. I knew from the start that any library was a celebration of reading, no matter how humble the structure might be.   Years passed before I realized that my grandmother’s library was really just a dusty storefront on her Main Street, with no reading room, and no divisions between the grownups’ and the children’s sections.  It may have been small, but it gave me a whole new collection of books to choose from, and that was all that mattered.  I do remember being underwhelmed by the offerings at the laundromat that my mom dragged us to on our school vacation ski weeks—though that was not so much a lending library and as a random collection of paperbacks that fellow wash-and-dry patrons were willing to leave behind.  Even so, the mere existence of that cardboard box always gave me hope, that there might be something new to read while we waited to pair up our ski socks. More than once, a stash of Archie comic books buoyed me through a rinse cycle.

IMG_0849This is a more scholarly version of my old laundromat reading options. But the fact still is, when someone in my neighborhood puts a box on the sidewalk with a sign that says, “Free Books,” my heart skips a beat.

Later on, I went to a college that boasted libraries galore.  But the library I called my own those years, the one I rode the subway to get to when I had something important to attend to, was the one I discovered while wandering around on my own. The Boston Public Library in Copley Square became my go-to locale for term paper drafting and midterm study sessions, or anything else that required applying seat-of-the-pants to seat-of-the-chair attention.  Something about the rows of long oak tables in the Bates Reading Room threw me back to my little Carnegie hometown library, I think.  Perhaps it was the smell of the place, or maybe the glow through the thick green glass shades on the individual reading lamps.  I liked the pilgrimage of getting there and settling in, and I liked that there were people not exactly like me there—people who were older, people who were reading for pleasure or working on their taxes.  On the days when my college felt a little too exclusive, I loved the all-are-welcome element of the public library.

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Confession: I took this photo of the BPL courtyard on my way to Fenway Park.

* * * * *

IMG_2685This fabulous flourish caught my eye.

 Years have passed, and still, libraries draw me in.  When I travel, I seek out the libraries, old and new, big and small.  This past week found me in Chicago, where I noticed a building worth circling back to, on my cab ride in from the airport.  Turned out my library radar was working just fine, thank you.

IMG_2687I’m quite sure that if I lived in Chicago, I’d refer to this as the New Library.

Even though it opened two decades ago.

I learned that Chicago has two impressive library buildings downtown.  The first one I met up with is pictured above: The Harold Washington Library Center.  It’s the equivalent of the Philip Johnson attachment to my beloved McKim, Mead and White library in Copley Square–the not-so-grand, but highly user friendly cousin to the old Beaux Arts palace.  What the HWLC lacked in ornament, beyond that amazing cornice, it made up for in helpfulness.  That, and great quotes, everywhere.

IMG_2686I appreciated both the quotes and the authorship acknowledgement.

At the Library of Congress in DC, there are also soaring quotes, but all unattributed.

You’re in a library! the walls in Washington seem to be saying.  Go look it up!

IMG_2696Gotta love that this one made the cut.

It was a day later that I happened upon a building that was once the city’s grand dame downtown library.  Now the Chicago Cultural Center, the 1897 edifice spoke to me, beckoned me in.  I didn’t know what I would find, but I was pretty sure the lobby would be compelling.

IMG_2698Oh, yeah.  A little shout out to my New England roots.

Turns out Plato and Aristotle were high, high above these guys.

IMG_2700I need to go back some day and get the full-tilt architectural and historical tour.

But I love that this little zone had quotes in Hebrew, in Chinese, and even in Egyptian hieroglyphs.

IMG_2705And then, this.  The largest Tiffany work of art, ever. Absolutely stunning.

IMG_2708And on the morning I happened by, a concert, replete with sugar plum fairies.

Needless to say, I’ve added Chicago’s library buildings to my long list of libraries I love.

T. S. Eliot got it right.  The mere existence of such places is our best hope for the future.

yet another week, full of things to be grateful for

IMG_2390Oh, what a night.

Well.  Easy enough to know where to begin. There was this thing that happened last Thursday, in a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark, as John Updike famously proclaimed our beloved Fenway.  If I had nothing else to be grateful for this week, the pure delight of celebrating the final out of a World Series championship, of being a witness to the joyous exultations from the fans in the stands, from the players on the field, from the fireworks over the green monster and the joy that embraced an entire region, the whole of Red Sox Nation, a place that is no Mudville, not even vaguely this week—let’s just say, were I Rogers or Hammerstein, I’d find a way to work Game 6 into the lyrics of My Favorite Things.  I will surely be remembering that evening, that joyfulness, for as long as I live.

IMG_2270Everywhere, everyone celebrated.

It’s been four days since that final strikeout, which makes the World Series more than yesterday’s news.  But I can’t stop reading whatever anyone’s willing to write about it. I love that the Boston Globe enticed a whole slew of wordsmiths —sports writers, diplomats, poets and historians among them—to provide us with a collective remembrance of this remarkable season.  From Dennis Lehane to Robert Pinsky to Ken Burns to Samantha Power, each provided his or her unique perspective.  But none hit the ball out of the park quite the way Stephen King did, ending thusly:

“I have puzzled long and hard about my devotion to the Red Sox—in good times and bad—and how it relates to the jewel city of the New England where I have spent almost my entire life.  All I can figure is that there’s a powerful kind of transference going on.  We bear the frustrations and celebrate the victories because they are us and we are them.  No player has grasped this better than David Ortiz, who said—before famously proclaiming Boston as our (bleeping) city—“This jersey we wear today, it doesn’t say Red Sox.  It says Boston.” 

 

Under normal circumstances, sports are just a welcome diversion from our ordinary lives, and when the local teams win, we take a little bit of that victory to ourselves, bask in it for a day or two, then move on.  This World Series was different, and not just because the final out was recorded on home turf for the first time in 95 years.  It restored balance to a city that was hurt and frightened (but not cowed, never that) on April 15th…Half a year later, at another sporting event, there were no explosions, no deaths, no innocent bystanders maimed by flying shrapnel.  Instead, almost 40,000 voices rose to repudiate anger, violence, and the darkness that always threatens: “Every little thing gonna be all right.” 

 

On the night of October 30, 2013, it absolutely was.  How (bleeping) great is that?”

IMG_2393My last photo from Game 6, from the last train back to Harvard Square. That little guy will feast on stories about how he was there, the night the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series at Fenway Park.

The only thing I could possibly add to King’s take is that, first off, Bob Marley’s tune should become the Red Sox’ go-to anthem—immediately, if I had my way.  And if the marvel of hearing 40,000 people singing in unison isn’t enough, what I will remember most, every time Shane Victorino came to bat, every time his chosen music was piped in, was the group pause, the perfect silence, in the middle of that phrase: Every Little Thing (…silence! amazing, remarkable silence!…) Gonna Be All Right.  Forty thousand people, singing at the top of their collective lungs, then waiting, waiting, for it to be time for everything to be all right.  Just fantastic.

* * * * *

IMG_2402Everywhere, the world has been turning from green to gold, and beyond.

Okay, there was more than baseball this week.  There was the complete change in seasons, made more vivid to all my senses by a trip I took to the Mt. Washington valley.  In springtime, I love that I can make up for not having fully appreciated crocus season, or lilac season, or any other marker that nature throws our way to entice us towards warm weather, by simply hopping in the car and heading north.  Whatever I’ve missed, bang, there it is, just an hour or so up the interstate. But this time of year, it’s that process in reverse.  Go north and find yourself in stick season, the hills shifted from that riot of foliage to that pre-winter fade, red to rust, yellow to gray, green to gone.  Going to the north these days is a lesson in appreciating what’s still vivid, back at home.

IMG_2452New Hampshire in November.  Its own version of glorious.

IMG_2556This is a view from 16B of Mount Washington that I can’t resist taking a photo of, ever.

I get it, why people bemoan the end of warm weather and the disappearance of a sun willing to stay up in the sky.  But I also love the turn towards winter.  I love looking through the woods on my beloved 16B loop around Jackson Falls, hoping to catch sight of a moose or a bobcat or a pileated woodpecker.  I love the smell of dead leaves and wet earth.  I love the shift to hillsides of silver and rust.

IMG_2594Light  the lights!

I also love the excuse to light candles at dinnertime, to string up some twinkly little lights on the mantel, to open the damper and light a fire the fireplace.  I’ve always been a sucker for Christmas displays, but really, who isn’t a happier human being, when the sun goes down at half past four, to have a little glow to come home to?

IMG_2441More than once this week, the setting sun provided its own fireworks.

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There was also, on this particular weekend, a gathering of the clan that is New England ski racers.  We came to support the New England Ski Museum, and to honor a remarkable athlete named Tyler Palmer.  His list of athletic accomplishments is long, too long to mention here. But what he gave back on this evening, to a gathering of fellow coaches and athletes and ski industry folks, of  friends and neighbors and mentors and mentees, was most remarkable for its emotional depth. We went to honor him; he stood up and honored us.

IMG_2512Two Olympians and a two-time NCAA All-American; three generations of New England ski racing mentors.

Tyler spoke the names of the people who had helped him along the way, especially the ones who pointed him in the right direction when he was particularly brash and headstrong and not inclined to do as he was told.  To be the recipient of so much support from so many people along the way, and to have gained so many lifelong friends—Tyler counted this as the true victory of his life in ski racing, far above trophies and medals.  This from the man who was the first American to win a World Cup race in Europe in the “modern” era:  what mattered most, what was his greatest delight, was the fact that three kids from North Conway, New Hampshire, got to represent their country in the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Japan.   And that he got to come back to his home town and honor the coaches and mentors who have passed, and to thank the ones who would come out on a chilly evening to be there for him, was his pride and his joy.  It was infectious.  It was a night that made this little ski racing world matter, just a little bit more than usual.

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I really don’t know if sports should matter as much as they do in this world.  But now and then, by luck or kismet, I really do believe it can take a sporting event for us to join together and notice collectively what matters most.  A teammate to hold you up. A friendship that lasts forever.  A chance to work hard, and be proud, and, when the stars align, to cue the duckboats and celebrate as one.