The Garden Buddha

May 31, 2012

Children at play give personalities to lifeless objects, and we don’t need to give up that pleasure as we grow older. Poets are good at discerning life within what otherwise might seem lifeless. Here the poet Peter Pereira, a family physician in the Seattle area, contemplates a smiling statue, and in that moment of contemplation the smile is given by the statue to the man. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

The Garden Buddha

Gift of a friend, the stone Buddha sits zazen,   
prayer beads clutched in his chubby fingers.   
Through snow, icy rain, the riot of spring flowers,   
he gazes forward to the city in the distance—always   

the same bountiful smile upon his portly face.   
Why don’t I share his one-minded happiness?   
The pear blossom, the crimson-petaled magnolia,   
filling me instead with a mixture of nostalgia   

and yearning.  He’s laughing at me, isn’t he?   
The seasons wheeling despite my photographs   
and notes, my desire to make them pause.   
Is that the lesson?  That stasis, this holding on,   

is not life?  Now I’m smiling, too—the late cherry,   
its soft pink blossoms already beginning to scatter;   
the trillium, its three-petaled white flowers   
exquisitely tinged with purple as they fall.   

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2007 by Peter Pereira. Reprinted from What’s Written on the Body by Peter Pereira, Copper Canyon Press, 2007, by permission of the author and publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


At 2 A.M.

May 29, 2012

I had no trouble falling asleep over my book, so I turned out the light around 10:45. But now it’s 2 a.m. and I’m awake. My mind has begun to turn, like a merry go-round, starting slowly but picking up speed. My husband has chosen tonight to snore—not loudly, but vigorously enough to keep me awake. I try to relax, to breathe, to capture pleasant thoughts, but it’s all for nothing. “Snxxkkll,” says my husband, and the breeze from the ceiling fan seems unusually strong. I can’t get comfortable.

My mind seizes the opportunity to highlight whatever flaws and character defects it wants me to know about, thrusting them up for consideration. I think of three more things, minor but necessary, that I will add to the to-do list for the week. I feel overwhelmed by how long that list is growing. Soon I’m having a full-blown anxiety attack and all hope for immediate sleep has fled. I know that I lead a richly blessed life—that I am not in need in any real way. But tell that to my mind at 2 a.m.

I repair to the guest room where I turn the TV on low, just loud enough that I can barely hear it. I find this soothing. Eventually I fall asleep, only to be woken at 4:18 a.m. by my son’s alarm clock, the aptly-named Sonic Bomb. I storm into his room, which adjoins the guest room, and change the time on his alarm to a more reasonable hour, muttering imprecations (Why was the alarm set for 4:18 in the first place? Inquiring minds still want to know.) However, he hit the snooze button at 4:18, instead of turning off the alarm, so it goes off again at 4:28.  This time, the dog, who sleeps with him, decides she requires a bathroom break.

By now, it’s getting dangerously close to the time my own alarm clock is set for. Should I try to get a little more sleep? Do I need the TV again? Mmm, this bed is pretty comfortable...

Wait—is that my husband getting his coffee in the kitchen?


What do you do at 2 a.m.?

Oh, sure, sleep now...


How's That Passion Thing Workin' Out For Ya?

May 25, 2012

You might recall how back in January I chose “passion” as my word of the year, and “nourish” as a secondary word/focus. Since then, I haven’t said one word about the word of the year on this blog…not one. (I did mention “nourish” in Beyond the Junk Food of Life.) So, you might be thinking, when you’re not busy pondering much more important matters, I wonder how Kathy is doing with her quest for passion in 2012? (Of course you’re not—you have your own life to live and possibly even your own word of the year to ponder—but humor me, people.)

I’ll tell you how I’m doing…what was my word of the year again?

Yup. Haven’t paid one bit of attention to the concept after the initial excitement of choosing the word. Am I afraid of it? Unsure where to start? Too busy with daily life to ponder what passion means to me and how to get more of it in my life? Probably a little of all those things. I’ve done a few things that I feel passionate about—rode and played with Tank, traveled, took an art class—but I haven’t connected passion with any of those things.  I haven’t let it motivate me or keep me going when I wanted to quit. I haven’t allowed it to flow through me the way I wanted to.

So. What now? Well, I have half a year left—I mean to make the most of it. I’ll start asking myself what I feel passion for, or even how I can ignite passion about some of my less-exciting everyday activities. With a little more thoughtfulness and imagination, the second half of 2012 may turn out to be more exciting (in a good way) than the first half. That’s one of the beauties of life: every day you can start over, take one more baby step towards the life you want to lead.

If you chose a word of the year, how has it influenced you so far? And if you didn't, has your year seemed to have any kind of theme?


Seize the Pleasure

May 23, 2012

Seize the flowers and chocolate...

“Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”
Jane Austen, Emma

Armchair travel

Armchair Travel: Take Off Without Taking Off

May 21, 2012

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

I don’t know how many of you like to travel, but I love it. (You may have guessed that from some of my posts.) I don’t do as much of it as I’d like to, and until the day comes when I can take off on a whim for parts unknown, I’ll make do with armchair travel—which, come to think of it, would be good for those who do not want to travel, but would like to broaden their knowledge of the world in general.

Of course, reading books and watching movies set in different cities and countries is one of the best ways to get a taste of a location. My favorite getaway movies include Shirley Valentine, My Life in Ruins and Under the Tuscan Sun.  For books, I often return to old favorites The Enchanted April (also an excellent movie) or one of Mary Stewart’s older novels, set in Greece: This Rough Magic, The Moon-Spinners or My Brother Michael, for example.

Now, however, there are even more ways to get your travel fix without leaving your comfortable home. The internet has brought us closer together in a number of ways—there are websites devoted to cities, counties and nations with photos that can transport you there with the click of a mouse.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could learn a language. Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur and Tell Me More are three well-respected, fee-based options. You could also check out free podcasts on iTunes and elsewhere, or check out websites such as learnalanguage.com.

My current method of enjoying armchair travel is Laure Ferlita’s Imaginary Trip to Greece (see Imaginarytrips.com for a list of all Laure’s terrific classes). Not only am I improving my sketching skills, I’m also learning more about Greece with every lesson.

Erechtheion Porch of the Maidens
Whether I’m looking at someone else’s pictures or creating my own, armchair travel keeps me (somewhat) satisfied in between actual trips. How do you satisfy your yen for travel?


Happy Little Things: Notebooks

May 18, 2012

I confess. In addition to being addicted to books, I also have a small notebook fetish. From the purse-sized notebook I carry for jotting things down on the run, to the multiple spiral or bound journals that congregate on my shelves, I own a number of notebooks that I’m actively using as well as ones that I haven’t yet cracked open. And even though I have plenty already, I cannot help but be drawn to displays of notebooks and journals wherever I am. I always have to pick them up to see how they feel and what kind of paper is inside. I try not to overbuy, but really, is it so bad to have separate notebooks for morning pages, a personal journal, books read, writing ideas and all things wordy? And maybe one or two ready and waiting for when I fill up one of the ones in use? (And then there are the sketchbooks. I have at least five of those with varying types of paper: sketch, watercolor, multi-media. But that's another story.) 

I guess it’s a fairly harmless and mostly inexpensive obsession—and it makes me happy. I’m all for noticing, savoring and encouraging the happy little things in life, and my notebook mania does makes me happy. I love every stage: browsing notebook choices, gloating over a shelf of blank notebooks, starting a new notebook and putting a period at the end of the last sentence of one I've filled up.  Then I can start the whole process over again!

What little thing has made you happy this week?

“Notebooks are like attics, a place for treasures which sometimes turn out to be junk, but take you anyway to another time and place.” —Cynthia MacDonald


Baby Wrens

May 16, 2012

Photo courtesy lovetheson 

I’ve built many wren houses since my wife and I moved to the country 25 years ago.  It’s a good thing to do in the winter.  At one point I had so many extra that in the spring I set up at a local farmers’ market and sold them for five dollars apiece.  I say all this to assert that I am an authority at listening to the so small voices that Thomas R. Smith captures in this poem. Smith lives in Wisconsin. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Baby Wrens’ Voices

I am a student of wrens.
When the mother bird returns
to her brood, beak squirming
with winged breakfast, a shrill
clamor rises like jingling
from tiny, high-pitched bells.
Who’d have guessed such a small
house contained so many voices?
The sound they make is the pure sound
of life’s hunger. Who hangs our house
in the world’s branches, and listens
when we sing from our hunger?
Because I love best those songs
that shake the house of the singer,
I am a student of wrens.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine.  It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  Poem copyright ©2005 by Thomas R. Smith, whose most recent book of poetry is “Waking Before Dawn,” Red Dragonfly Press, 2007.  Poem reprinted from the chapbook “Kinnickinnic,” Parallel Press, 2008, by permission of Thomas R. Smith and the publisher.  The poem first appeared in “There is No Other Way to Speak,” the 2005 “winter book” of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, ed., Bill Holm.  Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation.  The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


What I'm Reading

May 14, 2012

I’m always reading a book—usually more than one. Today is no different, but I’m torn because I’m enjoying each one so much. Usually a favorite emerges, and I put aside the others to finish it—that hasn’t happened yet, but I’m getting pretty close to the end of a couple of these:

Just borrowed Outlander from the library—a beautiful, 20th anniversary edition. (How did this book exist for 20 years without my having picked it up?) I’m totally engrossed in Claire’s adventures in 18th century Scotland, which is a good thing, because I only have three weeks to read this 650+ page novel. So far I’m zipping along pretty quickly, so I think I can manage it. If I can’t, my library offers a one-week grace period before they start charging fines. Apparently I’m not the last person alive to read this, because there are multiple holds on this book so I won’t be able to renew it.

Zen and Horses is an exploration of “lessons from a year of riding,” as the subtitle explains. Ingrid Soren, who also teaches yoga and Zen, writes thoughtfully about what she learned, and beautifully describes the countryside where she lives and rides: “It was a golden day in mid-September. The fields were dormant, the stubble plowed under. The land lay quiet before the sowing of the winter wheat. A light mist rose off the ground in the morning, obscuring rust-tinged leaves as a low sun struggled through. Plums and apples dropped off heavy trees into the damp grass, and blackberries shone on the bramble.”

I broke away from working with Getting Things Done, by David Allen, to write this blog post. I’m always trying to find better ways to organize my time (so that I can have more time to read…and do other fun things) and this book was recommended in something else I read. Allen’s system is by far the most comprehensive I’ve seen, and I think that applying at least some of the principles will help me. Some snippets of wisdom: “The vast majority of people have been trying to get organized by rearranging incomplete lists of unclear things; they haven’t yet realized how much and what they need to organize in order to get the real payoff. They need to gather everything that requires thinking about and then do that thinking if their organizational efforts are to be successful.” I’m still in the process of gathering everything together. The idea is to have one system to keep track of everything—that way nothing falls through the cracks. (So far I’m overwhelmed and intimidated by the amount of stuff I’m collecting—but apparently that’s not unusual.)

One of the key things I’m learning from this book: Projects are overwhelming, because you can’t “do” a project—you can only do actions related to the project, some of which take only minutes. Ask yourself: what is the next action I can take to move this project forward?

On a lighter note, I’m also reading Not So Funny When it Happened: The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure.  I picked this up when Outlander was “in transit” (on it’s way for me to pick up) and I didn’t want to start a novel I’d just have to put down again while I tried to finish Outlander. It’s easy to dip in and out of, as each piece stands alone, and most are fairly short and funny.

So that's what I'm reading. How about you?


It's a Wonder-Full World

May 11, 2012

Every now and then, instead of all the suffering, problems, irritations and frustrations of life, I see some things that fill me with wonder. I hear a story about something amazing or inspirational or beautiful. I marvel at the creativity and determination and sheer joyous spirit some people have. I’d like to share a few of my more recent discoveries in this post.

An anonymous someone has left a number of intricate paper sculptures carved from books at various libraries, museums and festivals in Scotland, beginning with the Scottish Poetry Library. (Click here for the whole story and photos of the amazing pieces.) Each piece was accompanied by a tag with a short message. Here is the wording of the one found at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, of a dragon in a nest: “A gift in support of libraries, books, works, ideas…. Once upon a time there was a book and in the book was a nest and in the nest was an egg and in the egg was a dragon and in the dragon was a story….” I would go to Scotland just to see these wonder-full creations!

This inspiring video (thanks to my husband who sent the link to me) demonstrates the power of belief and persistence. It’s also a pretty good advertisement for yoga!

Imagine that you’re blind. You’ve created a system using elastic bands, to enable yourself to write in longhand the novel that’s brewing in your brain. You complete 26 pages and begin to think about finding a publisher. Then your son comes to visit and breaks the bad news: your pen had run out of ink. Your pages are blank. What happens next is the wonder-full part: using a special police technique that involved shining light on the paper from various angles to reveal the indentations made by the pen, Dorset County (England) forensic service expert Kerry Savage was able to recover the entire manuscript except for one line. Ms. Savage spent five months of lunch breaks working on the project, in addition to her regular job helping to solve cases of murder, fraud or arson. Click here for the whole story.

Scientists in a new field known as “soundscape ecology” are using radio telescopes to record extended stretches of audio in wilderness areas. They’re studying the sounds found in entire ecosystems, and the effects humans’ sounds have on nature, among other things. While this is interesting, what I found wonder-full in this article was the links to short recordings of sounds found at Denali National Park and Preserve, such as “Alpine stream feeding into an ice cave,” or “Bear with cubs.” Sitting here in Florida, I can listen to nature sounds from Alaska!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories—and I’d love to hear from you if you have wonder-full stories of your own. Have a wonder-full weekend!

Everyday adventures

No Unimportant Place

May 09, 2012

“If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is not poverty and no poor or unimportant place.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke

Everyday adventures

Only in the South

May 07, 2012

Stumbled on this magazine at the grocery store:

I had not seen it before, but I see by the cover it’s celebrating its fifth anniversary! I don’t know who thought of it, but apparently someone felt that gardens and guns were a nifty combination. And many other someones must agree, or it wouldn’t still be in print.

I should have flipped through it, but I was in a hurry to finish shopping. Next time I see it, I’m going to take a peek.

What interesting combinations have you seen lately?

Everyday adventures

Sampling San Francisco

May 04, 2012

Ready for a return to San Francisco?

Here are a few more highlights:

Mission Dolores is the oldest building in San Francisco. It was the sixth mission established by Father Junipero Serra (in late 1776) and the building was completed in 1791. The Mission was built with adobe walls four feet thick, and original redwood logs lashed together with rawhide strips still support the roof. The Mission survived the 1906 earthquake, but the parish church next door did not. The current basilica dates from 1918. A small museum, cemetery and gift shop complete the Mission Dolores complex.

The original Mission
 Sunday we woke to fog, cold temperatures and wind—and wouldn’t you know, that was the day we planned to go to Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Promenade, all on the water. It was chilly, but we equipped ourselves with jackets and scarves—and this outing turned into one of our favorites. Crissy Field is restored coastal habitat, with tidal marshes, dunes and historic military structures (Fort Mason and Fort Point). We took our time strolling down the path, snapping photos of happy dogs, birds, flowers, sand dunes and a fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. We fortified ourselves with a stop at the aptly-named Warming Hut, the park store and small restaurant/coffee shop. 

 After lunch, we drove to Ocean Beach and then down Hwy 1 in search of photogenic beaches. The sun peeked out, but the fog still rolled over the hills like water. We spied swimmers, surfers and wind-surfers braving the cold Pacific:

 On our last day, Susan, a college friend of mine, made her way into the city to meet up with us. She gamely tagged along as we crisscrossed the city trying to see things we’d missed, and returning to the Golden Gate Bridge to get photos without fog while Laure gamely put up with our chatter as we caught up on each other’s lives.

One of our destinations was the Hyde Street Pier, part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Built for automobile ferries between San Francisco and Sausalito, the pier now houses a number of historical vessels, including the ferry Eureka, the square-rigger Balclutha, the steam-powered tugboat Hercules, and a number of smaller craft.

A quick stop for Irish coffee at “the” place to get it, the Buena Vista, and we were off for the Golden Gate Bridge again to try to get some shots of the bridge without all the fog of the previous day. This time, nature cooperated.

We ended the day with dinner at the Cliff House. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see the sunset, but apparently this is a great place to do so.

View from Cliff House
I’ve left out descriptions of some of the places we visited, such as Japantown and the “Painted Ladies” (Victorian houses) near Alamo Square. Even though we packed our days full of sight seeing, we still missed so many places of interest: the Conservancy of Flowers and other attractions at Golden Gate Park, several fine museums, the Yerba Buena Gardens, Alcatraz and the whole of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, to name only a few. We didn’t even ride a cable car—though we did ride everything else! And we didn’t get out of the city to explore at all. I feel like I’ve just had a taste of what San Francisco has to offer.

Guess we’ll just have to go back.

Cherry Trees

The Cherry Tree

May 02, 2012

David Wagoner, who lives in Washington state, is one of our country’s most distinguished poets and the author of many wonderful books. He is also one of our best at writing about nature, from which we learn so much. Here is a recent poem by Wagoner that speaks to perseverance. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

The Cherry Tree

Out of the nursery and into the garden   
where it rooted and survived its first hard winter,   
then a few years of freedom while it blossomed,   
put out its first tentative branches, withstood   
the insects and the poisons for insects,   
developed strange ideas about its height   
and suffered the pruning of its quirks and clutters,   
its self-indulgent thrusts   
and the infighting of stems at cross purposes   
year after year.  Each April it forgot   
why it couldn’t do what it had to do,   
and always after blossoms, fruit, and leaf-fall,   
was shown once more what simply couldn’t happen.   

Its oldest branches now, the survivors carved   
by knife blades, rain, and wind, are sending shoots   
straight up, blood red, into the light again.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by David Wagoner, whose most recent book of poetry is Good Morning and Good Night, University of Illinois Press, 2005. Reprinted from Crazyhorse, No. 73, Spring 2008, by permission of David Wagoner. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.