…and then forget to breathe

Navigating

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. —Reinhold Niebuhr


The young sink easily from head to heart like birds through low clouds, wings spread in an ecstasy of power, flipping, fluttering the tips instinctively — now dipping with the currents — now resting on prevailing winds. But they forget to think, they disengage the brain, lost in sensation, craving more of it. For all their wishing to, they were not born to soar as eagles do—not
yet, but someday, as a gift of grace, perhaps.

Solitary hawks surveilling circle low but hunt this field in vain and so with great and mighty clapping of their wings they race like arrows on the upward arc and pierce the misty layers of the sky; but even they don’t dare enrage the gods by flying where the air is thin, the ether delicate, where all their strength and skill and their sly wit are impotent.

Not yet wise, the young enlist intelligence, depend on it, and then forget to breathe. The mind is only half a navigator. Intuition is the needed complement, or else the course is set without respect to joy. The head considers well the destination; it’s the heart that loves the voyage, praising Heaven for the ocean and the
waves.

 ***

Annagrammatica card sale

Big Stone Gap

Big Stone Gap, Virginia

Big Stone Gap, Virginia

For your recreational and mindful reading…

Big Stone Gap

Another view of Big Stone Gap, in the heart of coal-mining country (twchoir.com)

I’ve been doing a lot of waiting lately, something I do very well under most circumstances, but I was ready for a Good Read. I like to go into Quality Thrift, one of Hilltop’s two used-goods stores and by far the better of the two because Mona and Del Maloney, the owners, have an antique shop as well (Quality Antiques). They go on buying trips and bring home truckloads of antiques and “junque,” as they refer to the odds and ends often thrown in for free when they make substantial purchases at estate sales.

If they relied only on estate sales, the book selection would run to romance novels, religious books, and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Fortunately, for me anyway (though I have a weakness for mindless mysteries and for the better romance novels by first-class authors such as Nora Roberts and Kristin Hannah, but not necessarily in large-type editions, which for some reason make me feel like I should read v-e-r-y slowly, placing my index finger under each word), Mona and Del catch the library sales and the yard sales, especially in the spring, when people want to free themselves of the burden of STUFF that seems to gather and multiply in their homes during the winter.

Big Stone Gap, by Adriana Trigiani

Big Stone Gap

(I don’t have anything against Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, by the way. Mama used to subscribe and she and Daddy would read all the books and if there was one they really liked they’d buy the unabridged version.)

So you never know what you’ll find, bookwise, at Quality Thrift. Sometimes the books I pick up are Very Serious slice-of-life sorts of novels in which all the characters are adrift and are so badly flawed that the story amounts to people pretty much stumbling over themselves and each other and finally dying and you don’t care. I used to feel honor-bound to finish every book I started and then I’d go around in a funk for a day or two trying to Figure Things Out. Now I’ll read a chapter or two, say (mentally) Get Over Yourself to the author, and move on.

The paperbacks are just a quarter, so I donate the ones that don’t make the cut back to Quality Thrift. (The Maloneys’ antique store does quite well; the Quality Thrift profits go to the no-kill animal shelter in La Mesa.) As the books are five for a dollar (that is, five for the price of four), I don’t mind taking a chance, and that’s what I did with Big Stone Gap, by Adriana Trigiani, an author I had never heard of. If nothing else, I thought as I glanced at the synopsis on the back cover, I could enjoy an imaginary sojourn in the beautiful and mysterious Appalachians, as I did with the lovely book Christy, by Catherine Marshall, and as I do whenever Uncle Lester surprises us with a visit.

Big Stone Gap is a real town of about five thousand in the extreme southwest corner of Virginia. Adriana Trigiani actually grew up in Big Stone Gap among people with names like Fleeta (and her husband, Portly), Worley Olinger, Spec (the ambulance driver), Dicie Sturgill, and Pee Wee Poteet — hopeful, likable people who, if they died, you’d care, just as you care about the narrator, Ave Maria Mulligan, the self-styled town spinster, who is much more attractive and interesting than she thinks she is.

Author Adriana Trigiani

Author Adriana Trigiani

But, you see, she has never been mindful. That’s what this charming book is about — the Big Push that life gives Ave (pronounced AH-vay) Maria into Mindfulness.

“I took care of everything,” she says to herself at one point. “I was so busy, I didn’t think about what I was doing or where the years were going. I just did what was expected of me.”

I actually am enjoying this book so much that I am refusing to finish it. My paperback edition has 306 pages and I’m on page 295 and I’m going to fix myself a nice lunch of baked salmon and buttered asparagus before I read the next page, and after that maybe I’ll have a dish of apple crisp with real whipped cream and then read another page and by the time I finish the book I will have gained fifty or sixty pounds….

The June Tolliver House & Folk Art Center in Big Stone Gap. June Tolliver was the heroine in the 1908 novel THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE by Big Stone Gap native John Fox, Jr.

The June Tolliver House & Folk Art Center in Big Stone Gap. June Tolliver was the heroine in the 1908 novel THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE by Big Stone Gap native John Fox, Jr.

Fanny McElroy

Moi, Fanny

Check this out! Sister Alma Rose told me she wrote romance novels in another life. I said, “Sister Alma Rose, I don’t know how that could be, because you’re, like, one hundred and fifty years old and before that there was no such thing as a romance novel,” and she grinned and said, “Tells how much y’all know,” which only made me more confused than I already am about reincarnation and past lives, and I followed her into the kitchen and said, “Sister Alma Rose, is there such a thing as a future past life?” and she said, “Honey, there’s things y’all need to learn now and things for later, and this is one for later,” and she handed me a huge oatmeal-raisin cookie, to shut me up, I think.

————–

Learn about mindfulness meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Serenity

Riverside Lookout

This is one of my favorite contemplation spots

Editor’s note: I’ve been trying for weeks to use Typekit fonts, with zero success, but I don’t get frustrated. No, indeed. I nip frustration in the Sister Alma Rosebud. I SO Am Mindful! Omigosh! I am radiant with mindfulness and only a little peeved at the Typekit people, whose instructions are, to say the least, pitiful

Mindfulness Is the Real Deal

My grandmother once said of a friend of hers, Mrs. McPhail, that she “rolled with the punches.” I liked that metaphor. When I was a really little kid, I did NOT roll with the punches. I got knocked out, bruised, and bloodied. A LOT, not literally, I just did not play well with others, and my parents disciplined me for throwing toy trucks at kids and for being “oppositional” with them. And I screamed bloody murder every time.

Pretty teenaged redheaded girl

Moi, Fanny

Then Sister Alma Rose taught me a form of meditation — I was maybe 7 or 8 — that mainly focused on not taking stuff personally (even when it was personal), like getting teased about my hair — certain people taunted me with “Orangehead!” — or about my name (“Fanny is a butthead” was the least offensive phrase flung in my direction for a time) — or being excluded from Mary Louise Hobbs’s birthday bash, which was an ice-skating party and I was a good ice-skater, which is probably why I wasn’t invited, but it didn’t matter, because I didn’t take it personally, because people learn pretty fast that it’s no fun to be mean to other people who don’t react, and the bonus is they sort of open up to you and you get to know their other qualities.

The Church of What’s Happening Now

Kids love Mr. Tim's toys

If you have been paying attention, you know about poor Mrs. Ana and Mr. Tim. Mrs. Ana is still in the hospital, in a coma, and Mr. Tim has no memory of getting snockered and bashing her in the head or of someone else coming into the toy shop and clocking that dear woman. The current theory is that Mr. Tim was “set up,” because no one wants to think ill of kindly, softhearted Mr. Tim, who makes custom toys just exactly the way children want them. Please. Mr. Tim and Mrs. Ana were CPAs in a previous life, and they were successful and prosperous but they didn’t engage in nefarious practices like cheating their clients or “offing” their rivals, which, as far as they know, they didn’t have any, so it remains a lovely little mystery for people to wonder and theorize about, although it would be MORE lovely if Mrs. Ana would wake up and tell the world what happened that bizarre morning, though THAT would ruin the fun of the wonderers and theorizers.

[Sister Alma Rose has pulled the plug on the rumors that (a) Mr. Tim has a “side dish” in La Mesa who got drunk with Mr. Tim until he passed out and then broke an entire shelf of Hall pottery on her head, and (b) Mr. Tim has a brain-wasting disease — Dr. Deirdre, however, did have her neurologist friend come over from La Mesa and examine Mr. Tim for dementia, and he, the neurologist, concluded that Mr. Tim’s mind is clear as a bell. Now, what does that mean? “Clear as a bell”? Why not “clear as a cloudless sky”? Please.]

RAISED BY FOREST FAIRIES. Father Dooley and Dr. Deirdre and I were sitting in comfy grass-green rattan chairs with floral cushions on Sister Alma Rose’s magical grass-green wrap-around porch just yesterday, in the afternoon, which, I’ll do some research but I’m sure it was the most splendid afternoon in history. (Splendid is an odd word, isn’t it? You hear it a lot on the Ridge among the Ancients, I suppose because some of them might have arrived straight from the 1930s, at least that’s my guess.)

Fairies in Victorian art

The Forest Fairies

A glass of Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incomparable lemonade was sitting on the table in front of me, and it must have got there by magic because Mr. Truman LaFollette is off chasing his fey fairy-child, Portia, who could be anywhere, though she feels most at home in the forest. Portia is not like the rest of us. Oh, I suppose there are other Portias out there, God help us, but Portia was born without inhibitions and lacking any sense of danger, and she has wandered more or less at will since she learned to walk — not that Mr. Truman LaFollette hasn’t tried to keep her at home, but she always escapes and cannot be found, and I am almost convinced that the Forest Fairies look out for her and feed her and protect her from being devoured by wolves, because the last time I saw her — every once in a while she wanders back our way — she was rosy-cheeked and voluptuous and displayed no wolf-bite marks, but Mr. LaFollette is frantically searching for her right now because he doesn’t want her to get pregnant. Again.

THE MIDDLE WAY. And that’s what we were talking about when Dr. Deirdre mentioned mindfulness. People who are well schooled in mindfulness do not become frantic, she commented, “and Mr. Truman LaFollette is one of the Ancients and ought to trust in Providence and practice detachment.” Dr. Deirdre is a serious meditator and also a Methodist.. “walking,” as she explains, “the Middle Way.” I simply adore her.

Father Dooley mentioned J. Krisnamurti, the famous sage who was always unruffled and serene because, as he put it, “I don’t mind what happens,” and Father Dooley said that he was “not ready, spiritually, to be quite THAT detached” and he was profoundly grateful for the Buddha’s wisdom in allowing the Middle Way. Dr. Deirdre replied that she has to practice detachment because almost all her patients are people whom she knows well and she could not do her job if she were pulled into their suffering, but she is exceedingly attached to the St. Louis Cardinals and has a baseball signed by Stan Musial in a Plexiglas cube in her office.

“But I no longer let the St. Louis Cardinals’ wins and losses fling me from joy to despair,” she said with a little laugh, “just as I don’t allow my nephew’s struggle with addiction make my heart pound and drive me to drugs… prescribed tranquilizers, I mean, though I always carry my little bottle of Rescue Remedy.

That's Dr. Deirdre--the woman on the left, of course, wearing the mask

“When I’m meditating and worry intrudes, instead of clutching, instead of fighting it off, it becomes my mantra. I turn my compassionate attention away from my breathing toward my mental state, which is worrying, and I look at it and silently repeat ‘worrying, worrying, worrying,” for as long as I need to. That way it doesn’t grab me by the throat and have me creating dire scenarios for the future. And you can learn to function this way, you see, not just during the time you are meditating but all the time.”

Thanksgiving? No, thanks

“Last November,” she said, “I was supposed to prepare and serve Thanksgiving dinner for fourteen people in my home. The house was a mess. I mean it was a disaster. It should have been condemned. I’d had emergency after emergency during the time I’d set aside to clean, and, I’m telling you, I was stepping over dog poop Thanksgiving morning. Poor Jerry. There was no one home to let him out.

Puppy under a blanket

Poor Jerry

“And staying down the street at the bed-and-breakfast were all those aunts and uncles and cousins expecting a royal feast, and I hadn’t even bought a turkey, and there were clothes growing mold in the washing machine and dog poop on the floor and maybe a can of sardines in the cupboard, and I’m thinking, I am NOT Jesus Christ and I canNOT feed fourteen people on one can of sardines and half of a soggy cantaloupe.

“So I panicked, and I actually picked up the phone to call the inn and have Marlene, the owner, you know, tell my family that I had some dreadful and highly contagious viral infection and no one could come near me, because, of course, I wasn’t sick, really, but it would be a horrible thing if my relatives came to my house and it weren’t spotless and the meal weren’t perfect, and the REASON it would be so horrible was… and I couldn’t think of a reason. I could, in fact, clean up the dog poop, rewash the laundry and put it in the dryer, and serve turkey TV dinners, and we’d still all enjoy each other, unless I spoiled it by being embarrassed or upset.”

Window, tulips in vase, white lace curtains

...at the bed-and-breakfast...

“Is that what you did?” asked Father Dooley, impressed. “Serve turkey TV dinners?”

“No,” said Dr. Deirdre. “Actually, I literally wept with relief after I made arrangements with Marlene to buy Thanksgiving dinner for everyone at the inn. Around two o’clock I walked down to the inn, ate a delicious, traditional Thanksgiving dinner that I didn’t have to cook or clean up after, which I enjoy when there’s no dog poop on the floor, and I had a wonderful time with my family, except for Uncle Skinny, who chews and farts and leers… and then, after dinner and one glass of wine, I went home, meditated, cleaned the house (my mantra was “cleaning, cleaning, cleaning…”), and had everyone over on the Friday, the next day, you know, to watch college football games and eat cheese and crackers and drink this wine punch I make that’s mostly fruit juice and just a little wine.

Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods

...murky future...

“The point is, you can see what happens when you let a thought or a feeling attach itself to you and pull you away from the present and into this murky future where something just awful is surely going to happen related to that thought or feeling, which is just, after all, one of the gazillions of thoughts and feelings that are part of life rolling by.”

to be continued…

Bliss

Space, Earth, Sunrise

...as if the whole big wild chaotic universe is sitting on my lap surrounded by and drenched in love

I Am the Archetypal Mother

rain falling on trees and road

...a baptism of rain

There is a frightened little girl in me who fights the good fight every minute every day and cries herself to sleep and I don’t comfort her enough, but now I’m longing to enfold her; so we sit and rock, the two of us, and, oh, what simple strength there is in that, and bliss. And as I wrap my arms around the child, it
seems as if the whole big wild chaotic universe is sitting on my lap surrounded by and drenched in love. I am the
archetypal mother, crooning, soothing, weeping for my children’s pain. But the Creator takes my tears, as all
are gathered for a baptism of rain, sweet, tender, healing rain
that makes the iris and the poppy and the peach tree
bloom again. So when we cry, the child and I, our grief is
not in vain. Our sighing is a gentle breeze, and when we
laugh the leaves dance on the elderberry trees.

Tree in the mist

See our books and other items at bargain prices on eBaY. To see all items, click on “see other items,” upper right in listing. All our listings start at 99 cents. For sale right now or starting later today (Sunday, March 6) are spiritual books, mysteries (set of 13 in Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich), coats and other high-quality women’s clothing. Enjoy an economical shopping spree!

Café Inmediatamente

Tchaikowsky's last home

LET’S REVIVE THE PRACTICE AND ART OF LETTER-WRITING. Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy Russian widow, and the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky exchanged more than a thousand letters between 1877 and 1890 without ever meeting. Pictured above is Tchaikowsky’s last home (at Klin, northwest of Moscow). The composer died in 1893

Letters from Henry

Adventures in serendipity and exercises in navigating nonsequiturs

She stopped, just stopped in the middle of the drive. Just to look, and to think, and remember. Inside was warmth, fires burning with the crackle of real wood. Everything in her life had somehow navigated her here. Whatever the horrors had been, the pain and blood, whatever dogged her dreams like a hound, had brought her here. She believed that…. She had this because she’d survived the other. J. D. Robb (pseudonym for Nora Roberts), Memory in Death

"Come In, We're Open" antique sign

A battered old OPEN sign like the one at the farmhouse. Source: http://virtualspace.nclude.us

RECAPPING MY LAST ENTRY, which related my walk into town with Sister Alma Rose to visit Mr. Tim and Mrs. Ana, the toy- and dollmakers: When we arrived at their beautifully restored old farmhouse-workshop-store, the cheery, battered old sign practically sang out COME IN We’re OPEN!

But something was off. It was too quiet… no skritch of sawing or sanding, no sewing machine clattering, no voices conversing about dolls or trains, boats that really sail or  airplanes that really fly. We pulled open the fancy Victorian screen door, wood-framed with an old-fashioned spring that yanked the door shut behind us with a good, solid slam.

Two kids at a pond on a summer day
…boats that really sailed

In the few seconds it took for my eyes to adjust to indoor light, I didn’t see anyone. Then a flash of white caught my eye, and the glint of sun on glass. Mr. Tim was on the floor leaning against the big counter by one of the west windows, paler than I’ve ever seen him, his face as white as the bib apron he wore, his blue-jeaned legs splayed like a broken doll’s. He took a long, greedy swallow from a brown liquor bottle — no label (Was he a bootlegger?) — arranged his face in a parody of a smile, and tried to get up but succeeded only in flipping over and ending up face-down on the pine plank floor.

“Mr. Tim!” I moaned. “You’re snockered!”

I should have mentioned that Mr. Tim has always been a teetotaler. Seeing him blotto on the floor was discomposing, like surprising your second-grade teacher and the church youth pastor in a steamy lip-lock. In my memory Mr. Tim had always been upright, his back straight and strong as a chimney, his eyes scanning my face anxiously to make sure that the doll or dollhouse or kite was precisely what I had requested, which it always was, only better.

Cute blonde toddler with stuffed dog on wheels

Not wanting to watch him grope for his dignity, I skittered around Mr. Tim and into the kitchen hoping to find coffee while Sister Alma Rose looked around for Mrs. Ana. I was scooping coffee into the filter basket when I heard her startled exclamation — “Sweet Jesus” — which, coming from Sister Alma Rose, is a prayer, not an oath. I hurried to pour water into the coffee maker and push the BREW button and ran back into the front room, where Mrs. Ana was out cold by the basement door. 

There was a large lump purpling on her left temple and Sister Alma Rose was telephoning for an ambulance, muttering a prayer and motioning me away from Mrs. Ana. I had poured a cup of coffee, took a restorative sip, put an ice cube in it, and was force-feeding it to Mr. Tim when the ambulance came and whisked both of them away.

A redheaded Cabbage Patch Kid

...too much like a Cabbage Patch Kid (Source: http://www.CabbagePatchKids.com

Dr. Deirdre had followed the ambulance in her VW bug. Holding onto the coffee cup for dear life, I slipped into the back seat. Gracefully for a large woman, Sister Alma Rose squeezed into the front, and five minutes later we were sitting on the cold marble benches in the hospital lobby being grilled by Police Sergeant McCaslin, if the man’s tentative, apologetic, and mostly irrelevant questions could be considered “grilling.” Sergeant McCaslin looks too much like a Cabbage Patch Kid to be scary. Then again, there’s never any crime in Hilltop. Unless today turned out to be an exception.

We sat in the second-floor waiting room, where the morning sun streamed benignly through mullioned windows, the trim painted shiny hospital white. We could hear snippets of Sergeant McCaslin’s questioning of Mr. Tim, who, we supposed, would suffer little more than a nasty hangover for his sins — physically, in any case. As for Mrs. Ana, we had no idea what to expect. We didn’t want to dwell on the bleak possibilities, though the words HEAD INJURY flickered in my mind like a police-car flasher.

Mullioned windows

Mullioned windows. The mullions are the pieces--in this case, of wood, painted white--that divide the larger window into two or more panes

Sister Alma Rose prayed and prayed and prayed. Whether she sat, walked, or looked out the window, she had her praying face on. I prayed for a good five minutes, then reached into my jacket pocket and took out Henry’s last letter — for comfort — already crumpled from numerous rereadings.

Dear One… I miss you… the way I miss fresh, crisp apples in February, with some sadness but even more anticipation [followed by more endearments, which I give you leave to imagine]….

Spanish Word of the Day is fugarse (para casarse) = elope. Fine, but as a casual speaker of Spanish, mostly in situations involving commerce, I seldom have a need to mention elopement or to hear it talked about. Yesterday’s and the previous day’s words were only slightly more basic: (el) formato = formatting and (el) formato = format. When I learned French, it was all la plume de ma tante and je vais bien, merci. Ah, the good old days of vapid conversation in an unfamiliar language….

Hall china antique coffeemaker, an especially elegant one of all porcelain

Mama coveted this spectacular antique coffeemaker -- a Hall porcelain Drip-O-Lator. Mama has a Hall Drip-O-Lator whose "guts" are aluminum, and she loves it, but she salivated over this porcelain one. It was reasonably priced but still too expensive for my blood, and Daddy's as well....

One of the things I miss most when you are gone — something I have never taken for granted, and I never will — is your rapping, tapping, rapping at my door every morning and the sight of your just-scrubbed face in a sort of mist created by the steam from the two cups of coffee you are carrying. I’m almost surprised that some Lowlander with an entrepreneurial bent has not developed a lucrative business around delivering morning coffee on demand. Sure, there are coffeemakers on timers, but I’m definitely not the only person for whom the mood of the first few hours of the day is soured by the early-morning recollection of having forgotten to set the timer or prepare the coffee, filter, water, etc., before going to bed the night before. You might discuss this with Johann, although this sort of enterprise might not be well suited to bicycle delivery….

Your plan to buy a motorscooter is excellent, my love, and I know I don’t need to tell you to be careful and to always wear a helmet, which, of course, I wouldn’t even mention if I weren’t trying to tell you to be careful and to always wear a helmet. Maybe I can figure out a way for you to bring it with you when you come back up. [There are no cars or trucks on the Ridge except for farm vehicles, but a small percentage of the population ride motorbikes, golf-cart-type vehicles, and a few other low-powered varieties of motorized transport.]

Since I am without you on my rambles, I am practicing walking meditation quite a bit, the type that you showed me.* Once I got out of the hyperawareness habit and focused just on the sensation of foot meeting ground, I pronounced a thousand blessings upon you. I love you not only because of the coffee delivery but also because you are such a charming combination of ageless wisdom and age-related naiveté. You will never grow cynical, sweet Fanny….

I folded the letter and put it back into my pocket, meaning to read the rest of it that afternoon when I sat down to answer it. Our letters are exchanged via Sister Alma Rose. I don’t have the faintest idea how mail and other stuff gets transported to and from the Ridge. Maybe by quantum leap á la Harry Potter. It wouldn’t surprise me.

The Ancients’ Waiting Meditation

How to meditate and firm your calves at the same time

People who live on the Mountain — by which I mean the Ancients, of course — rarely stand in lines the way we Lowlanders do, waiting to buy movie tickets or pay for groceries or have a spin on a ferris wheel. If the Ancients are going to queue up it has to be for something really, really worth waiting for —

Alice and Stieg Norlander’s wild-cherry dairy sorbet.  

Friends Eating Ice Cream

Everyone loves the Norlanders' dairy desserts

To think about Alice and Stieg’s delectable wild-cherry sorbet is to find your feet moving in the direction of the dairy without your head being involved in the process. Savoring that sorbet is a religious experience. So, yes, on a warm Saturday evening on the Ridge, people’s minds turn to thoughts of Alice and Stieg Norlander’s wild-cherry dairy sorbet.

Folks generally don’t mind waiting in line at the dairy, because all their friends and neighbors are there, and people even bring guitars and blankets and picnic baskets, like all-nighters camped out to buy Rolling Stones tickets during one of the band’s rare tours.

If the line is only moderately long, you are likely to witness a curious phenomenon: sorbet customers bouncing on their toes as they wait, much as dance students do as a beginning-of-class warmup. Henry explained this to me soon after I arrived on the Ridge, pointing out that it helps you be patient while you’re waiting for something OR it can be a simple way to meditate almost any time and any place.

View from the Empire State Building's 86th-floor observation deck

View from the Empire State Building's 86th-floor observation deck

Ground yourself, standing straight but relaxed, with your feet far enough apart to give stability. Rest your attention on the bottoms of your feet and the supporting ground underneath. Ideally, you’re barefoot and outdoors, but you could do this meditation wearing cowboy boots and standing on the Empire State Building’s observation deck. Well away from the edge, if you don’t mind. I know, they have those fences. Just saying….

Now roll up onto the balls of your feet by lifting your heels just an inch or two off the ground. Repeat, finding a comfortable rhythm. Your knees should be straight but not locked. Don’t rise any higher than is comfortable. Your calves will pay you back the next day if you do. Relax into the rhythm and go for five minutes the first time, gradually working up to ten.

This little meditation helps me feel both courageous and supported. For the second or two that your heels are in the air you are metaphorically flying — risking, adventuring, and “rising above.” The sensation of the heels meeting the earth again is like going home, having a base… having, so to speak, both feet on the ground.

Physically, you’ll tone and strengthen your legs and improve your balance.

* Sister Alma Rose’s Walking Meditation

during which “each footprint is an impression of the peace and love you feel for the universe”

Before she begins a walking meditation, Sister Alma Rose prays fervently for several people she knows who’d gleefully give up all their worldly goods for the ability to walk at all, even to Hilltop and back in the wind and sleet.

The way Sister Alma Rose practices walking meditation is much like the way she does sitting meditation, except that she focuses on the sensation of encountering the edge of the earth with the soles of her feet. (For you chakra balancers, this can be a form of grounding meditation in that one foot or the other is always on the ground, Mother Earth nourishing the root chakra.) It is the repetitive, rhythmic intersection of self and surface that induces the meditative state, rather than the cycle of inhaling and exhaling… with the additional benefit of motion.

Bare feet walking outdoors“Y’all are headed toward a destination,” Sister Alma Rose explains, “though the place is irrelevant and should not be allowed to intrude on the focus of y’all’s meditation.”

Sister Alma Rose offers this caution to walking meditators: “Leave space in y’all’s outer awareness for some of the more aggressive external stimuli — automobiles, rampaging wildebeests, and the like.”

Free!

I am no longer bound by limitations of any kind. I give no power to adversity or negativity. —Daily Word, September 3, 2010

The Cages We Make

HILLTOP FARM — Oct. 6, 2010. I am back in Hilltop for the time being. Henry is still up on the Ridge, and

LITTLE WOMEN cover, illus. Clara M. Burd, 1920s
LITTLE WOMEN cover, illus. Clara M. Burd, 1920s

since we have been, as they say, joined at the hip (Why the hip? Why not the phalanges or tibias? tibiae?), I wondered if I would feel like half a person, but he only laughed and teased that I would have plenty of giggles playing Barbies with my girlfriends and forget about him entirely, just because I am 14 and he is 22, but I don’t exactly PLAY with Barbies, I just buy them new outfits about once a year and air them out and set them around their miniature Barbie estate that Daddy made when he was recovering from his car accident, which (the estate–mansion, swimming pool, stables, summer house, gazebo, tennis courts) is on a long shelf above the east window of my bedroom, so they (Barbies) are ornamental, NOT to be PLAYED with, and besides, they happen at the moment to be the Little Women, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, plus their seventeen best friends (I stuck some moss around the swimming pool to make it look like a pond but it just looks like a fuzzy swimming pool). So.

canned produyce

Mama will start canning...

I am relaxing on Sister Alma Rose’s porch. “Relaxing” here is different from “relaxing” on the Ridge, since among the Ancients there is hardly anything to relax FROM, because one thing just seems to flow into the next and you don’t ever have to worry about being late, which I’m now convinced is the cause of 97 percent of all stress and which is why as far as I know there is only one clock on the Ridge, a grandfather clock that doesn’t work.

homemade bread

...and baking

Pablo is going to come by after school and we are going to ride bikes or hike along the creek and have a picnic of whatever I can round up, which last time I looked in the pantry seemed to be four mustard packets and a jar of tarragon, because Daddy and Mama and the little boys have been on the Ridge too and are not coming back until tomorrow, and then Mama will start baking and canning and the house will be full of good smells and good food. 

Cotton gingham bolts

Cotton gingham for doll clothes, dollhouses, and stuffed toys

Near the top of my list of Things I Want to Do while I am home was “visit Mr. Tim the Toy Man,” which Sister Alma Rose was also eager to do, which, she says, shows that I am coming along well in “intuitiveness.” Neither of us has seen Mr. Tim for a few years, but I have been longing to do so. His Toy Shop is one of the pleasantest places imaginable, smelling of fresh-sawn wood and new cotton cloth, lemon oil and coffee, and, if the windows are open, clover and the damp, fertile soil just west of the old farmhouse, which is at the very edge of town.

Main Street USA
Main Street (photo by Zach Vesoulis)

 

Mister Tim and Mrs. Ana, who are actually Tim Light and Anastasia (Ana) Kircher Light, are among dozens of Hilltop citizens who have come here because it’s a place where entrepreneurs are welcomed with open arms and artisans can actually make a good living. Both Tim and Ana were certified public accountants in Cincinnati for more than twenty years. Their great heartbreak was being unable to have children plus making heaps of money with no time to enjoy it. They are both from big families and have a great herd of nieces and nephews, which is how they got started making toys.

Three sheets to the wind

China Doll

One of Mr. Tim and Mrs. Ana's china dolls

Mr. Tim is wound a little tight, which is evident in his eagerness to please — the children for whom he makes toys, their parents, his wife, the neighbors, and especially Sister Alma Rose, you’d think she was the Queen of Sheba, he does everything but throw himself at her feet, and I don’t think it’s because she is a large, weathered, hardy brown woman whereas he always looks like he’s just been dusted with flour and he is about my height, which is five feet four inches. (He is terrified of Mrs. Ana, and she is not even five feet tall.) The reason he is so exceedingly solicitous of Sister Alma Rose is, in my opinion, because she is so kind. Sister Alma Rose sniffs at that and says it’s because Mr. Tim is Lutheran.

grandfather clock
…a grandfather clock that doesn’t work

 

They retired from being CPAs and moved to Hilltop after Mr. Tim’s second heart attack, but Mrs. Ana says that he has stopped being a nervous wreck during tax season and has started being a nervous wreck during Christmas season, when he has lots of orders for toys and never turns anyone down. What he and Ana do, you see, is make toys to order. A child or someone who wants a gift for a child can describe exactly what he or she wants, Mr. Tim quotes a price that is always absurdly low, and then he orders the materials and basically invents the toy. No one ever comes in and says, “I want a train just like Stevie O’Malley’s,” so there are no two toys alike coming out of Mr. Tim’s workshop. Mrs. Ana helps Mr. Tim with the painting and decorating and does all the needlework, but she is more realistic than he is and begs him every year to set a deadline for Christmas and Hanukkah orders, and of course he promises that he will do exactly that and even prominently displays a sign that says NO HOLIDAY ORDERS ACCEPTED AFTER NOVEMBER 1. THANK YOU, but all you have to do is go in and snuffle a little bit and he takes your order.

Beautiful stone and stucco farmhouse

The Lights' farmhouse after restoration

There are always beautiful toys on shelves and hanging from hooks all over the shop, but the whole point of going to Mr. Tim is to get your DREAM toy, and if your idea of the perfect toy shifts a little bit between the time you order it and the time it’s ready, and you show the tiniest amount of disappointment, Mr. Tim will change it or start over… which is why there are so many toys on shelves and hanging from hooks.

Country road

Walking into town

It was only a ten-minute walk from Hilltop Farm to the Toy Shop. It felt wonderful to be walking into town with Sister Alma Rose, as we had done together so many times, talking or just enjoying warm sunlight on a cool day, enjoying the prospect of tea with good friends or maybe a small adventure. I was almost sorry when we reached the Lights’ porch, where a pretty handmade sign indicated that the shop was OPEN, as was the glorious carved-oak front door.

But something was off. It was too quiet. No sound of sawing or sanding, no sewing machine clattering, no voices chatting about dolls or trains or airplanes that really fly. We pulled open the fancy Victorian screen door, which slammed most satisfyingly behind us. In the few seconds it took for our eyes to adjust to the relative darkness, we didn’t see anyone. Then a flash of white caught my eye, and the glint of light on glass. Mr. Tim was leaning against the big counter by one of the west windows, paler than ever, his face the same color as the white bib apron he wore, his blue-jeaned legs splayed like a broken doll’s. He took a large, long swallow from the bottle he was holding — no label (Was he a bootlegger?) –arranged his face in what I think was supposed to be a smile, and tried to get up but succeeded only in flipping over so that he was now face-down on the pine plank floor.

Plain brown bottle

Privately distilled?

“Mr. Tim!” I moaned. “You’re snockered!”

To be continued…

Murder Threats on YouTube

Rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan, dating from ten thousand years BCE

Rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan, dating from ten thousand years BCE

Because of the greatness of your strength,
your enemies, O God Almighty, cringe before you.
Before you all the earth shall bow,
shall sing to you, sing to your name!”
Let our joy then be in you,
for you, God, rule forever.
Your eyes keep watch over the nations;
let rebels not rise against you. —from Ps. 66

Free Speech or Hate Speech?

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Take survey HERE

Loreena McKennitt 2009

Loreena McKennitt 2009

Sister Alma Rose is appalled. She doesn’t like being appalled. It’s not her style… though she suspects that Loreena McKennitt would be appalled as well.

On May 18 (“The Purest Race” in Sister Alma Rose Has the Last Word), our dear friend Fanny McElroy cited vitriolic antisemitic comments related to a “sophisticated, beautifully crafted” fan-created video found on the popular media-sharing website YouTube. Fanny discovered the antisemitic comments when she added her own comments, praising the video’s creator for beautiful work. The video accompanied  folk-singer Loreena McKennitt’s song “Night Ride Across the Caucasus,” first recorded on McKennitt’s 1997 album The Book of Secrets.

In just a few minutes’ browsing of other videos, Fanny came across murder threats against Zionists, Chinese, and people of unspecified race or ethnicity.

Click here for video, comments, background, and a brief, anonymous survey on how you feel about these threats and other comments. You can, of course, view the information without taking the survey. It is short, however, only four yes-or-no questions; and your anonymity is guaranteed if you choose not to enter your name. 

Children's puppet theater

In keeping with the Caucasus region’s tradition of children’s puppet theater, “Stories from Our Yard” uses locally-designed puppets to deliver its message

What does YouTube permit?

Here is an excerpt from YouTube’s Community Guidelines:

We encourage free speech and defend everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view. But we don’t  permit hate speech (…which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/ gender identity). [Emphasis ours] …Predatory behavior,  stalking, threats, harassment, intimidation, invading privacy, revealing other people’s personal information,  and inciting others to commit violent acts or to violate the Terms of Use are taken very seriously. Anyone caught doing these things may be permanently banned from YouTube.

Wedding dance, Georgia, the Caucasus region

Wedding dance, Georgia, the Caucasus region (Source: ConcordTravel.ge)

Fanny says that the principal subject of McKennitt’s song, according to McKennitt’s album insert, is alchemy, while the video seems to depict a traditional wedding among the peoples of the Caucasus (more at “The Purest Race“).  “The video makes artistic use,” says Fanny, “of what appears to be, but probably isn’t, old black-and-white footage, blurry, flickering… mixed with vivid new footage. Some of the same landmarks appear in ‘old’ and ‘new’ footage, which consist mostly of wedding scenes, dancing, and people on horseback, probably underscoring the continuity of culture over time. It is beautifully done, with — I think the phrase is ‘high production values.'”

Endangered Ateni Sioni church in Georgia dates from the 7th century

Endangered Ateni Sioni church in Georgia dates from the 7th century

The antisemitic comments on YouTube refer to neither alchemy nor wedding, Fanny reports, but rather to the nationalist biases and aspirations of the “Caucasians” (that is, the peoples of the Caucasus).

On May 17, Fanny flagged the comments and reported them according to prescribed YouTube procedure, informing YouTube that the comments violated YouTube Community Guidelines. She resubmitted her objections a few days later. To date (June 8), YouTube has not deleted the comments and has not responded to Fanny’s report.

Fanny writes,

Please. This is important. We are asking you to take a brief (4-item) survey (anonymous unless you choose to give your name) about vitriolic anti-Semitic & anti-Chinese YouTube messages. You’ll see a mere handful of ugly postings, but such messages are abundant on YouTube in defiance of YouTube guidelines.

Is this abuse of free speech? A big unfunny joke? Were the rules changed when my back was turned? Or is it felt that people not allowed to speak openly will go underground? I imagine there’s already plenty of “underground.” Please take the survey and share this request with others. Thank you…. Fanny

MOI, Fanny

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