Writing into the Light…

Finding my way with words…


Memories of Easter Sundays Gone By

In the northeastern United States we are still awaiting the first leaves on the trees and the trees and bushes to flower.  Planting season is weeks away and the visual and aromatic signs of spring are not yet evident.  This is the time of year this Philadelphia girl turned Mainer relearns the lessons of patience as we sit and wait for nature to come alive again.  One location in which spring is in full bloom is the floral department at the grocery store.

As I went through the door yesterday to pick up the last few items for Easter dinner I was immediately consumed by the smell of lilies.  I always associate the smell of lilies with Easter.  I used to teach a graduate level course for teachers on designing and delivering instruction for brain-based learning.  Scent is the strongest of all senses in producing imprints on the brain leading to retained memory.  Years of Easter memories came flooding back from childhood as I stood next to the heads of lettuce and clementines and was taken away, not by calgon, but rather by the scent of lilies.  I looked next to the lilies at the tulips and other spring flowers.  My eyes followed to a display I don’t remember seeing for years and years…small square boxes containing an orchid corsage.  Wow!!  That sight brought a tsunami of memories!  An orchid corsage, growing up, was always a part of my Easter tradition.

Easter was a benchmark.  It was an annual “graduation” of sorts leading to first perfumes, first lipsticks, first kitten heels.  Easter Sunday required a complete new outfit for church.  There was to be a new suit or dress with a coordinating hat.  If Easter fell too early in the year a coat was required to go with the dress.  Just before the big day a package would arrive from Gimbel Brothers from my Great-Aunt Margaret which would contain everything that went under the dress ~ it was time for new underwear and slips.  I got my first pair of stockings for Easter Sunday which meant Aunt Margaret would have to throw a garter belt in that box with the undies.

Shoes were always an issue since Mom was a stickler for fashion rules.  I knew these would be my only dress shoes for quite a while.  Some years I wanted white patent leather rather than the usual black… but Easter was before Memorial Day… a no-no.  The purse would match the shoes and the hat was always a struggle.  I’ve never liked hats, they squashed and messed up my hair forcing me to either leave it on all day or take it off and look like squirrels had been nesting on my head… yet, a lady always wears a hat to church.  The only year I actually looked forward to wearing my hat was the year I had picked a Jackie Kennedy pillbox number to go with my suit.  I even had the Jackie voice down to make it a complete package.  And… bless me, I always had my white gloves for Easter Sunday.  Soon after Easter, I would manage to lose ONE somewhere and couldn’t wear gloves until next Easter.  Funny how that happens!

Before that glove was lost and my new shiny shoes scuffed, Easter Sunday was photo day.  Pictures in our family were always taken on the front step walking out of the front door of the house.  We have DVD’s going back to the era of super 8 Kodak movies of the front door opening and people walking out of the door, pausing, then walking to the car, starting the engine and waving as they pulled out of the driveway.  The other standard spot was by the lamp post in the front yard.  It was the only spot where daffodils were planted.  I guess that means I spent my Easter Sundays as a child all decked out tiptoeing through the daffodils.

In addition to the religious celebration of Easter, it was a family celebration.  The Easter basket contained only Zitners (of Philadelphia) cocoanut cream eggs.  I still have them mailed to me in Maine every year!  The dying of the Easter eggs has always been a big deal.  Mine is a family of creative people.  It would be blasphemous to either just dye eggs a solid color and call it a day, or to repeat a method of decoration for more than one year…new year, new creative challenge.

As my brother and his family moved to MD in the DC suburbs, we began to take my youngest nieces to the Easter Egg Roll  at the White House on Easter Monday  .  Can you believe that some adults actually taught children to lie and say they had not received their souvenir wooden Presidential egg so they could have one of their own (being way above the cut-off age for receiving the souvenir children’s eggs)?  As my nieces got too old to participate we considered renting children to take to the Easter Egg Roll to continue the set of eggs.  I fortunately found out you can purchase the souvenir eggs and support the National Park Service all at the same time.  I was so excited that when I came back from sniffing the lilies at the grocery store yesterday I found that the Easter Bunny had come to my house to deliver my 2012 set of eggs.  Note the fuchsia egg front and center… it is the first White House pet to have its own egg.  Ta-da… the Bo Obama egg which he signed on the back and left a paw print (such a talented puppy!).

May all of you reading this post have a blessed Easter filled with your own traditions and benchmarks!


Thomas Jefferson and The Jefferson Bible ~ Rim Walkers 3

Smithsonian Institution

To consider the life of Thomas Jefferson, we think about a heroic statesman, patriot and intellectual.  We visualize a man who knows what he wants and does not stop until he has manifested his dreams of how things should be.  We consider a man who, by all appearances, is known for “doing the right thing.”  To use my terminology from former posts, Thomas Jefferson was a “Rim Walker.”

I just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit family, attend a Women’s History Month Symposium  at the Capitol (more on that later) and go in search of the last of the premature cherry blossoms who could not wait to celebrate their 100th anniversary year.  A stop at the Smithsonian Museum of American History held an adventure that was unanticipated.  I noted that the “Jefferson Bible” was on display.  I battled my way through the crowds of American schoolchildren on spring field trips and headed in that direction expecting to view the small Bible that Jefferson held at his inauguration and consulted frequently.  I left the museum later wondering, “What rock  have I been hiding under?”

Thomas Jefferson, I found out, was more of a spiritual man than a “religious” man.  His views on religion were, at the very least, complex.  Those views he held private.  He rarely publicly wrote of religion, nor did he speak of religion.  He shared his views, and this ultimate creation, with only his closest friends in confidence. Jefferson was, as we know, the author of the Declaration of Independence.  He was one of the champions of Religious Freedom.

Thomas Jefferson was a devoted student of the teachings of Jesus.  That being said, the intellectual Rim Walker in him, intellectually challenged the validity of the writings of the Apostles in the New Testament.  He considered their interpretation, as published, to be untrustworthy.  Thomas Jefferson was considered to be a religious renegade, and in the 1800 presidential election he was declared an “atheist” by his opponents.

At the age of 77 Thomas Jefferson embarked on a project that settled his confused feelings about the life of Christ  and his own belief system.  He purchased six Bibles published in English, French, Greek and Italian.  He set  them side by side, and took knife to page in what many who define the Bible as the undeniable Word of God consider a blasphemous act.  Jefferson began cutting passages that accurately expressed his belief system, passing over the rest. These passages were then pasted into a new volume he titled “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.”  This was Jefferson’s second attempt to “edit” the Bible.  His first attempt was 16 years earlier, and lost.

Hugh Talman/NMAH-SI

Jefferson was a product of the intellectuals of “Age of Enlightenment.”  The same world view that created the Declaration of Independence also created “The Jefferson Bible.”  Jefferson once wrote that he was “a sect by himself.”  He was born into the Church of England (Anglican).  The Church of England was the official religion of the State of Virginia.  He studied under Anglican clergy from elementary school through college.  He attended Anglican services all his life.  That being said, Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant intellectually curious man.  That trait caused him to question everything (hence his ability to visualize and script The Declaration of Independence).  He consistently defended his right to make his own judgements in regard to religion and encouraged others to “question with boldness even the existence of God” and to form their own judgements.  As outrageous as that sounds, especially on this Good Friday, one of the characteristics of creative people who have historically changed the world for the better is that they continually challenge assumptions about the world and commonly held beliefs.

Jefferson’s belief system was based on rational thought.  He believed that nature itself proved the existence of God.  Biblical stories of miracles such as the story of feeding the multitudes with only two fishes and five loaves of barley bread will not be found among the passages in the Jefferson Bible.  The Jefferson Bible ends with the entombment of Jesus following the Crucifixion.  There is no Resurrection in Jefferson’s rational thinking Bible.

Was Thomas Jefferson truly an atheist and an “enemy of God” as described by John Adams and the Federalist party in the 1800 presidential election?  Despite repeated attacks Jefferson won the election.  Jefferson wrote, “I am a real Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”  He described the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

In 1895 The Jefferson Bible was purchased by the Smithsonian from Jefferson’s granddaughter.  In 2011 it was completely restored and repaired.  The “new” Jefferson Bible is currently on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History until July 15, 2012.  A copy of the Jefferson Bible can be purchased in numerous forms, including one from the Smithsonian Institution itself.

On this Good Friday it is an appropriate time to ask ourselves what role, if any, religion should be taking in the upcoming presidential election.  We, are a society that rewards creative thinkers who challenge everything and provide us with a new perspective on the world.  Is it just, then, that we then turn around and delve into personal and private belief systems involving religious beliefs to evaluate and chastise whether a particular candidate should be running/elected in the presidential race based on those very private and personal beliefs?

Would we elect Thomas Jefferson in 2012?  Unfortunately, probably not.  What a loss it would be to lose his intellect and well defined belief system.  I, for one, welcome a candidate who challenges everything before making a plan of action.  That behavior, after all, is what brings about change which we say we desperately want.  That plan of action would then need to be clearly defined and concisely publicly presented based on thorough research of all aspects of the issue and designed to anticipate success with a plan A, B, C… to manifest that solution.

Do you challenge commonly held beliefs or accept them (because they come from an “authority” you are taught you should not question)?

Do you question everything and create your own world perspective?

Would you vote for Thomas Jefferson today?

Is it possible to be a believer, yet question?

Some thoughts to ponder this weekend.  I wish you a blessed weekend.

Additional Resource: “The Bible According to Thomas Jefferson” ~ http://thehumanist.org/march-april-2012/the-bible-according-to-thomas-jefferson/


Wills vs the TSA

Hi!  My name is Willie or Wills.  Mom sometimes calls me Wills after Prince William.  She says I have a royal attitude!  I think that’s a good thing.   Although I am a rescue, I think I am mostly Norwegian Forest Cat.  That means that my ancestors were working cats on the ships that sailed from Norway to Maine… they were the mariner mousers!  Yesterday was my birthday.  I am 14 in cat years, or 73 years in equivalent human years.  I guess I better get the app ready for joining AARC.  As a special birthday present Mom said I could write a blog today to tell you a little about myself.

I moved to Maine three years ago in January.  My first Mom (my current Mom’s Mom) was sick and had to move to a place where she could get lots of care and couldn’t take me.  Mom flew down from Maine to visit Mom (this is getting confusing) in Maryland and it was decided that I had to give up my bachelor pad and move to Maine.  We gathered up my medical records and a few “happy pills,” an airline approved carrier and a plane ticket.  Mom was really mad because my ticket was only $1 less than hers and I didn’t even get my own seat!  How fair is that?  I didn’t even have luggage!!

We spent a few days practicing in the carrier.  Mom thought that serving me meals in a carrier, and throwing my cat nip toys in there would make me happily run into the carrier when it was time to go to the airport.  What a dumb bunny Mom is!  She doesn’t understand cats at all.  We get through life by making our owners feel secure that we will do exactly what they want, and then at the critical moment we surprise them by exerting our independence!  It took three people an hour and a half to get me into that carrier.  They were yelling things like “we’re going to miss our flight” and “Damn it Willie, get in there!” getting really rough toward the end.  Anyway, the best was yet to come…

Mom slid her hand in the zippered opening and dropped in a treat (which was really a pill pocket – I’m no dumb cat).  I was so exhausted from playing with them for ninety minutes that I ate it.  We left my old apartment and headed for the airport.  I think we were speeding to make up time, but I was getting as furry inside my head as I was on the outside of my head, so I didn’t care!  We arrived at BWI with enough time to get to the gate but Mom was hustling!  We checked in at the counter with our tickets.  When they asked for a photo ID Mom provided my vet records with a color picture of me so they knew I was me, and not a terrorist cat.  The grumpy lady at the counter just handed it back to Mom and said, “I don’t need this.”  As we walked away from the counter, Mom mumbled something about people in Baltimore not having a sense of humor.

We got to the area for TSA security at BWI.  Mom and I got in a line with grey bins that went through a machine.  Everybody took off their shoes… I think Pepé le Pew was on our flight… I was choking and gagging at the smell!  YUCK-E-E-E!!!  Mom wasn’t quite sure what to do with my carrier.  A TSA agent came over and said, “Ma’am, you’re going to have to take the cat out of the carrier.  We can’t x-ray the carrier with the cat in it.”  Mom was picturing three people trying to get me in the carrier for ninety minutes and said, “No.  I can’t take the cat out of the carrier.”  Mr. TSA called over a supervisor.  Now, scroll back to the top of the page… is that not the sweetest little face you’ve ever seen?  What harm could I do?  I’m a cat for Pete’s sake (who’s Pete?).  I put my paws up against the mesh on the front of the carrier, “See, bare paws, I took my shoes off… so what’s your problem??”

We were escorted to a little room off to the side.  We were left with two female TSA agents.  “Ex-cuse-e-e-e Me!  I’m a boy!!  I demand a male agent!!”  Mom took me out of the carrier since we were in a tiny room and I couldn’t get away, ferocious man eating feline that I am.  Everyone expected me to start hissing and growling and fighting to get away.  My happy pill had taken effect and I just collapsed like a rag doll over Mom’s shoulder.

One of the Ms. TSA agents took the carrier out to x-ray it to be sure I wasn’t hiding a bomb in my cat nip toy and blankie.  The other one asked Mom to hold me up and away from her body.  She waved a magic wand over me… up one side and down the other.  Then, wait till you hear this… then she put the wand down and started to pat me all over.  Can you believe this horrendous abuse of power?  This woman is just grabbing at my fur and touching my handsome male self without being invited!!  I wanted so bad to fight this injustice, but my happy pill just left me hanging there with my head bobbing up and down and my body limp.

Finally, they put me back in my carrier and we were on our way.  When we got to my new home in Maine I met Misty the cat and two giant furry things Mom called dogs.  I had never met one of them before.  Oh well, maybe I can write again and share some more stories… have a pur-r-r-fect day!


Rim Walkers II ~ Oscar Hammerstein II

This is the second in a planned sporadic series of blogs in which I discuss people I call Rim Walkers.  Rim Walkers are those who live and work “out of the box.”  They are authentic souls who can only function when they are “walking their talk.”  Rim Walkers do not accept that anything is impossible.  They believe they just have not found the correct path to their desired goals, be they individual or social.  Rim Walkers are comfortable “living against the grain.”  They will stand up against the norm, make no apologies, and in hindsight, they will have moved society in a positive direction.  Rim Walkers move the world in a direction, and to a place, it didn’t know it needed to go.  Rim Walkers change the world.

My plan for the evening was to sit with my feet up and read.  I thought, “let me turn on the TV for a few minutes to unwind, then I’ll read.”  I poured myself a glass of ginger ale, plopped in the recliner, pushed back, and petted Willie (cat who had just jumped into my lap) with one hand while I scanned through a few channels with the remote in the other.  I stopped when I hit the New Hampshire PBS station (they were fund raising) to catch a few minutes of a show about Oscar Hammerstein II ~ Out of My Dreams.

I was stopped by comments about Hammerstein’s humanity being written into all of his lyrics.  They discussed the fact that when he saw injustice, he confronted it in word and action.  They said he used his work as a lyricist as an outlet for his social activism.  WHAT???  Oscar Hammerstein wrote fluffy little musicals containing songs with simple lyrics and dancing cowboys and girls in gingham dresses singing to the sunrise on a ranch in Oklahoma, World War II nurses trying to “wash that man out of their hair,” and an English widowed teacher who teaches the King of Siam to dance… 1, 2, 3…1, 2, 3…  He wrote great songs that years later we can remember the words to… he thoroughly entertained us… he provided great musicals for every theater from Broadway to the local high school or summer camp to entertain us with. But a social activist???  Get a grip!!!

This show proceeded to delve into the person behind the lyrics.  Hammerstein was a “sort of” former neighbor from Bucks County, Pennsylvania where I spent half of the years I have been alive on this earth.  I was captivated and invited to look beneath the surface of what I had determined since childhood, was fluffy song and dance theater.  What I discovered was, Oscar Hammerstein was so good at what he did, we never caught him doing it!

I saw South Pacific as a musical love story.  It is.  It also is a story about racism and interracial and intercultural relationships.  Without being overt, Hammerstein began to lay the groundwork for acceptance of all races and cultures.  Through the song “You’ve Got To Be Taught” Cable tells us:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Oscar Hammerstein used his lyrics to create memorable musicals that make us sing for weeks afterward, tap our feet, and feel good.  He also shares his philosophy of acceptance, child rearing and bringing families together.  These themes run through all of Hammerstein’s work.

In the King & I Yul Brenner plays a king with power and absolute authority (not to mention a male chauvinist).  The “King” was not unlike many of the world leaders in places much larger than the mythical Siam.  Here comes Deborah Kerr, a British widow who comes to Siam to teach his children and she has the audacity to challenge his thoughts, behaviors and authoritarian demeanor.  By the end of the musical she succeeds in softening the King, making him more liberal and more of a humanitarian.  He even learns to dance in the process.

Oscar had notable neighbors.  He was friends and neighbors with both James Michener and Pearl S. Buck.  James Michener’s novel “Tales of the South Pacific” was the basis for Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific.”  They were both, along with neighbor Pearl Buck, committed to racial and cultural equity.  In 1954, James Michener married Mari Sabusawa, a Japanese American who, with her family, was confined to an internment camp in Colorado.  The same year South Pacific debuted, Pearl Buck founded Welcome House which was committed to finding adoptive families for Asian and Asian American children, many of whom were  abandoned by American servicemen.  These children were considered “half-breeds” or “hybrids” and were not accepted in either Asian or American culture.  Buck devoted her life to finding loving homes for biracial and cross cultural children.  Michener himself adopted two biracial children through Welcome House.  Two of Hammerstein’s grandchildren were adopted through Welcome House.

An interesting side note, Oscar Hammerstein II was writing until his death from stomach cancer in 1960, just prior to The Sound of Music opening on Broadway.  The last song he wrote before he died was Edelweiss.  Many people, myself included, thought that was the Austrian national anthem or an authentic folk song of Austria.  Now that is a convincing story teller.

I am grateful for not getting my reading done this evening!  I have learned new things about former neighbors and their roles in presenting a new cultural identity for American in a period of history where these ideas were not, when blatantly thrown in your face, accepted.  Hammerstein, Michener and Buck all laid the groundwork for ideological changes that are still evolving.  They are all Rim Walkers.

As the program finished I jumped on the computer realizing that the national touring cast of South Pacific will be in Portland next week.  I’ll be putting aside my green beer and Irish music for the evening and enjoying a performance of South Pacific to see the production with new eyes.

Photo of Oscar Hammerstein II from Wikipedia.com


Lent: To Give or To Give Up??

It is Lent.  For those who grew up in a culture where Lent meant giving up that which you loved the best – sweets, perhaps a favorite cocktail, video games, shopping for your favorite guilty pleasure, or, these days, an electronic toy.

The custom of “giving it up for Lent” dates back to the middle ages when Ash Wednesday would mark the beginning of Lent and a period of sacrifice ending on Easter Sunday.  For many, “giving it up for Lent” is only slightly more successful than a new year’s resolution.  For others who were not raised with this predominantly Catholic tradition, Lent passes eating no guilt cheeseburgers on Friday with friends who are chomping away on a McFish sandwich.  In addition to the sacrifice of choice, in the Catholic church there is to be no meat consumed on Fridays.

Last Sunday, columnist Bill Nemitz wrote an article for the Maine Sunday Telegram about a program at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  Rev. Timothy Boggs explained their congregation’s approach to Lent, a “Compassionate Cross.”  At St. Alban’s, they are asked to give rather than give up.  Right inside the door to the church is a large cross.  The cross is covered with colored index cards.  On each of the colored cards is the name of a local social service agency.  Additionally, there is a wish list for that agency.  Perhaps they need office supplies or kitchen equipment, perhaps they need a volunteer for outreach work, or perhaps they need a driver with a car to provide transportation.  The colored cards are also presented online.

Trying to visualize the cross with all of the multicolored cards attached made me think of the Christmas tree we had set up at work.  Tied to the tree as ornaments were mittens made of construction paper which contained the age and gender of someone with a “most needed” item for Christmas.  Employees took the mittens from the tree, purchased the requested items, wrapped them and they were confidentially delivered to neighbors in need.  So it is with the cards on the cross.

A contact person in the congregation called every agency they could locate, described their plan and asked them to share their wish list.  This is a win-win situation for all involved.  Rather than giving up desserts for Lent, this congregation is asked to give of themselves to a community in need.  It goes beyond writing a check to a local charity.  It asks that they contact the agency, learn about what they do and what they need, and how they can come face to face and form a relationship with agencies and members of their community.  All humans crave “belonging.”  The Compassionate Cross opens the door to enlarge their definition of community and lend a hand to neighbors and agencies that are less and less able to meet community needs each budget cycle.  This is a plan that could easily work regardless of denomination or spiritual ideology.  It’s called humanity.

If you feel the need to “step away from the cheesecake” by all means do so.  Put down the fork, reach out to your neighbor and make a sacrifice for Lent that really matters.  Better yet, make it a part of your lifestyle…

Have any of you seen, or heard of, an alternative to the traditional Lenten sacrifices?


And the Oscar goes to…

I have been a woman on a mission lately.  I decided I was going to see all of the movies nominated for “Best Picture” before they rolled out the red carpet.  I would watch and analyze the films and decide whether “The “Academy” knew what they were doing when they voted.  I did, after all, take a “History of Film Media” course as an undergrad.

Well, I’ve eaten a lot of popcorn in the past few weeks, and I came close to my goal.  I have seen all except one of the ten nominated films plus one with a best actress, but not best picture nomination.  In pursuit of full disclosure, I did not see War Horse.  I chose not to see the film when it was in the theater because I have an aversion to war films.  When I decided I would see the film it had left the theaters, had not been released on DVD and was not on “On Demand.”  Not to give up easily, I did track down the film on netflix.  That would have meant, at this late date, watching the film on my laptop.  Somehow, the thought of seeing horses the size of gerbils running across the screen was not going to make for an “authentic” film experience.  Thus, I made the choice to not see the film.  Judging from friends who have seen the film, it was outstanding!

I anticipated picking “best picture” would be easy, that one would stand out above the rest with others being duds that left me wondering how they ever got nominated.  That did not happen.  I loved all of the films for different reasons.  I learned something from each and every one…

The Artist:  Who would have thought in 2012, the age of sophisticated techno-media that the release of a silent movie would cause such a stir.  I actually found many analogies between the beginning of the “talkies era” to the changes made in communication due to technological devices, advances in the scope and methods of communication and the growth of social media.  I also compared the advent of talkies to the change from black & white photography to color photography.  I expected to be mildly entertained by The Artist… I LOVED this movie and think there needs to be a new category of awards for that dog!!

The Descendents:  This was a film that was good, yet did not cause the overt excitement within.  It was such a different role for George Clooney.  It was a film that presented a unique circumstance within his marital relationship.  Clooney, through his character, presents the ultimate example of love and forgiveness.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:  This is a beautiful film many people avoided because they thought it was “another film about 9/11.”  ELIC is so much more!  This beautiful film was more about seeing the world through the eyes of an autistic child.  It is about how this young man, with the help of his father, found ways to navigate the world in ways that encouraged communication with others.  This was done through “reconnaissance missions” his father created as adventures.  The world he was navigating was NYC.  Finding the connection to a key he found among his father’s possessions after his death on 9/11 led to him developing a relationship with Max von Sydow, a man who does not speak – again a connection to the world of silent films.  The missions, a connection to the adventure in Hugo.

The Help:  This was a film whose time was due, past due actually.  The main characters were strong and demonstrated their strength and dignity throughout the story.  They demonstrated that strength and dignity throughout history for that matter.  These southern black maids were looked upon as lower class citizens.  They were seen as a separate form of human “who carry ‘other’ diseases than we (whites) do, you know.”  They were forced to use separate bathrooms for that reason.  Yet, these same maids were entrusted with the south’s most precious possession, their children.  In many cases, since child rearing was the responsibility of the maids, it was these maids who built the strong character and confidence in their children.

Hugo:  Taken from the adolescent novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a cinematic masterpiece.  The film is visually stunning as it takes us on an emotional adventure of a young orphan in Paris who attempts to solve a mystery left to him by his father.  Much of the adventure takes place in the Paris train station.  I kept having a feeling of deja vu while watching the film.  I finally realized that this is the train station that is now the Museé d’Orsay, Paris’ museum of Impressionistic Art.  There is also a connection to the theme in The Artist.

Iron Lady:  I admit to being stunned at Meryl Streep’s performance in the Iron Lady.  While there were many negative reviews about the perspective of the story, I will defend it.  This is a story about Margaret Thatcher’s decent into Alzheimer’s.  It is the study of the progression of one of the great minds of our lifetime.  I found it to be a sensitive and respectful study.  Film is a work of art.  It is the role of the artist to determine the angle of view of their story.  This is not, and was not intended to be, a biography, nor is it intended to be a documentary of Margaret Thatcher’s role as the Prime Minister of England.

Midnight in Paris:  I will admit that this was one of the films I anticipated I wouldn’t like.  I was wrong.  One of the premises of this Woody Allen film is that when we are living in a world that leaves us feeling uncomfortable or fearful, we tend to look to other periods in history as the “golden era” or “the green grass on the other side.”  The lead character is a writer who manages to time travel to 1920’s Paris every evening to mingle with Zelda & Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Man Ray, Dali, Matisse, etc.  No matter what era we live in, it seems another is perfect.  Ideally, we could learn to recognize and appreciate what “here and now” has to offer.

Moneyball:  If someone had told me I would a) go to see a movie about baseball, and b) love the movie I would have called you crazy!  My adventures in sports is limited to the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs games!  I’ve been known to apologize to my golden retriever when I leave the TV on for her when I go out and come home to find out she had been watching a baseball, basketball or football game.  Moneyball is more about sports business and integrity than it is about the game of baseball.  I will never think of the sport in the same way again.

The Tree of Life:  This is the film that initially had me regretting telling a friend that I realized I am drawn to movies that are “out of the box” approaches to stories.  The Tree of Life was further out of the box than I was prepared for!  The photography was abstractly beautiful, the musical scores incredible.  Yet this is another film where there is almost no dialogue.  While we keep hearing about The Artist being a silent film, I found the exploration of stories with little or no dialogue (for various reasons) to be intriguing.  They all work!  The basis of the story is a family who has lost a child.  The husband and wife demonstrate two ways to approach life, the way of grace and the way of nature.  While grace doesn’t try to please itself nature only wants to please itself and wants others to please it too.

Albert Nobbs:  While Albert Nobbs is not nominated for Best Picture, Glenn Close was nominated for her lead role as Albert Nobbs.  It left me pondering, among other things, the status of women throughout history.  It is only recently, historically speaking, that women have had a prominent role in society.  Among other reasons, Close portrays a woman living as a man so that she can earn money to support herself.  We can look to history at other women who have lived as men to be able to receive an education in societies when women were not educated.  Again, Glen close did not have much dialogue, but communicated exquisitely with few words.  Her hands were what I noticed most.

My journey through the Best Picture nominees for 2012, I came to realize, was much like a trip through a great art museum.   Walking through rooms containing antiquities, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Faberge, Cezanne, Rodin, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Salvador Dali or one of the Wyeths we can “read” and appreciate the language of each despite their different styles.  So it is with the nominees of this years’ Oscar.  While very different, they are all valid and valuable.

I am going to force myself to vote for Best Picture although I enjoyed all of the nominees for very different reasons.  If you saw any of these films, you saw the results of great film making.  Okay, drum roll please… Carol’s Oscar vote goes to The Help for a great ensemble cast that told a story that needed to be told.  A story that defines our nation, who we were, who we are, and who we can be.  To realize the timeliness of these questions, tune in to one of the political debates…

How many movies did you see this year? 

What were your favorites? 

Did you notice any themes running through seemingly unrelated films? 

Who would you want to hand Oscar to for an outstanding performance?


Tuesday By Any Other Name…

Depending on where you spent Tuesday, February 21, 2012 it was either Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Fasnacht Day or Kinkling Day.  If you celebrated any of these days heartily you are most likely spending Wednesday, February 22, 2012 in a carb and grease coma!  This day has been celebrated since the middle ages as a time to confess our sins and to clear the pantry of lard, sugar, butter and fat before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  Lent can then begin with a clear conscience and an attitude of sacrifice.

Basel, Switzerland has an annual Fasnacht Festival.  The 19th century immigrants settling in the Mid-Atlantic States in America became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch in the area of Lancaster County, PA.  They brought to America their recipes for fasnachts, donuts made with potato based dough and cut into square or rectangular shapes.  They are either uncoated or coated with table sugar or powdered sugar.  Fasnachts are synonymous with Carnival in Germany, Switzerland, Alsace and Austria.

A long-time friend and former co-worker grew up in this area of Pennsylvania.  Karen used to spoil our team and bring us fasnachts on Fat Tuesday each year.  They were wonderful and have left an imprint that will cause me to celebrate her salivate like one of Pavlov’s dogs automatically on Fat Tuesday.  Each year going forward I celebrate (and will continue to celebrate) Karen’s culinary skills and friendship.  Thank you Karen for all of those gastronomically delightful Tuesday mornings!!

In the state of Maryland, especially in the area of Frederick, you would find Kinklings on Fat Tuesday.  They are, in essence, identical to fasnachts.  Fasnachts have some other relatives.

Paczki  is a Polish cousin of the fasnacht.  They are traditional round donuts (no hole) made with yeast dough and filled with either fruit jelly or crème.  They are often covered with powdered sugar.

On Fat Tuesday in America we always think of Mardi Gras.  Mardi Gras brings forth images of the King Cake.  King Cake originated in the middle ages as an oval shaped braided cake decorated with cinnamon sugar in the official Mardi Gras colors of gold (for power), green (for faith) and purple (for justice).  In medieval times there would be a coin hidden in the cake.  Today, it is a small plastic baby, the person who gets the slice of cake with the baby must host the next party and may be crowned King or Queen of the Mardi Gras party.  King Cake, although associated with Shrove Tuesday, traditionally was eaten between the Twelfth Night (after Christmas) until Fat Tuesday.

In the United Kingdom, Tuesday was referred to as Pancake Day including games and races involving airborne flapjacks.

The French celebration involved a large meal including crepes and waffles.

In Northern Sweden they were most likely dining on a meat stew.

In Southern Sweden there are Shrove Tuesday buns called semlor.  These buns are filled with an almond paste and whipped cream.

Finland they dined on pea soup with a blini (a rich pancake) served with caviar and Smetana (sour cream).

What did you eat today that you will be wearing on your thighs throughout Lent?


Stringing Pearls…


I am a woman on a mission.  I have set a goal to see most of the movies nominated for Academy Awards before they roll out the red carpet.  Midway through today’s flick my mind wandered and I visualized myself with fine silk thread and I was stringing pearls.  Even for my right brain that often goes haywire, it was a strange experience.  Several events and experiences were represented on that strand of pearls… all unrelated, yet related.  Each pearl was a link to the past and the present simultaneously – creating a synergy.

The first pearl evolved from the images in front of me, the film, The Artist.  I was consciously aware of the fact that with no words my imagination became a part of the creative process.  I took the visual images in the film, the body language, and the facial expressions and became one of the screen writers.  I made the film what it ultimately was to me.  I was as much a participant as an observer.  This led to the second pearl…

 In 1994 I was fortunate enough to have seen Glenn Close as Norma Desmond on Broadway during the opening weekend of Sunset Boulevard.  As Jean Dujardin’s character George Valentin fights the idea that films need to become “talkies” I could hear Glenn Close singing in my head, “…with one look I can break your heart, with one look I play every part, I can make your sad heart sing, with one look you’ll know all you need to know.”  Ironically, a precocious Jack Russell Terrier plays Vanentin’s sidekick, hero and comic relief for the film.  At one point Dujardin’s character mouths the words, “if only he could talk.”

The third pearl led back to a film I had seen several weeks ago, Hugo, adapted from the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Spoiler alert: there is a link to the silent film days and the transition to the world of talkies.  This silk thread tying together these thoughts (aka “pearls”) made me aware of the fact that because there was no dialogue in silent films I was experiencing a more participatory role.  I thought about great transitions in history and those who openly accepted that change and those who fought it until the end… sometimes their end.

My father was a professional photographer.  As a child he took me under his wing to teach me the art and science of photography.  I was not permitted to use color film.  His philosophy was that until I mastered black and white photography I didn’t know enough to move on to color.  He said the color in a picture was “entertainment.”  “As long as you can be entertained by color, you will never learn to make photography the true art form it should be.  Color is a crutch.  Learn to use lighting, shape, form and value with composition to create art.  Only then can you add color.”

I thought of some of the world’s greatest photographers, many of whom lived, flourished and took a new medium to acceptance as art sans color images.  In black and white photography we think immediately of Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier Bresson, Margaret Bourke White, and W. Eugene Smith.  I thought of Dorothea Lange’s photographs from the Dust Bowl, especially the iconic Migrant Mother.  Somehow “…with one look, you’ll know all you need to know” without the “entertainment” of color images. That being said, other photographers have so artistically mastered the art of color photography it would be hard to imagine their photographs having the same impact in black and white.  Steve McCurry is a perfect example.

As the pearl strand grew I asked myself about those who confront drastic, and often scarey changes in the world.  We think of microwave ovens as a normal part of daily life.  I am old enough to remember when they were first introduced.  I think about my parents who could not, and would not accept this frightening and dangerous machine.  It was as if it were some evil put on earth.  Had I not bought them one, and literally set it up in their kitchen, I fear they would have continued to cook “the old fashioned way” for the remainder of their lives.  It still boggles my mind that you can put pieces of paper into a machine that looks like a copier, dial a phone number and those pages will travel through the phone wire to appear just like the one in front of you thousands of miles away.

The final pearl on my strand this afternoon was to take these questions into the present day.  In one word, “technology.”  Okay, I accepted welcomed color photography, microwave ovens, cordless phones, cell phones (although an archaic model that doesn’t take pictures, doesn’t text, doesn’t tweet), a Kindle, and a personal computer.  I’m afraid, however, that I stand with Norma Desmond and George Valentin when it comes to the “i-family.”  My land line and archaic cell phone are working just fine thank you… and i-pads… I have a computer, why would I need one of those.  Pictures are meant to be taken with a camera, not a phone.

I attended a brown bag lunch yesterday with Sarah Braunstein, the author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children.  At one point she quoted Franz Kafka, “A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.”  Perhaps all art should serve as an ax…

Put me in a 100 minute silent film and I’ll hear more than the orchestra.  Some days I fear the world is spinning past me and out of control.  I don’t want to be a silent film star, but I’m happy where I am.  I am, however, concerned that pretty soon I will be left with no means of communication in the dust of a world in a hurry.  I guess the question is “Can I live with that????”


Rest Peacefully JoePa

Penn State coach Joe Paterno is carried off the field by his players after getting his 400th collegiate win over Northwestern 38-21 in an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Former Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno, known for his “uniform” of glasses with thick smoky lenses, rolled up khaki pants, black sneakers and a “Nittany Lion Blue” windbreaker died this  morning after what has to have been the most horrific few months of his 85 years.

As a Penn State Alumni several times over (B.S., M.Ed., Principal Certifications) I have “known of” JoePa since arriving on campus in State College, PA in 1969.  Paterno made the unusual journey from Brooklyn, New York to the farm lands of the Nittany Valley  sixty-one years ago to become the asst. football coach (leading to forty six years as head coach).  It was there he planted the seeds of his life’s legacy, Success with Honor.  I, like many of my dear readers have struggled since November to wrap my brain around the ripples emanating from the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.  How could Joe Paterno have been fired?  What did he know, when did he know it, and is he responsible for not preventing further abuse after information was presented to him by a graduate assistant?  To quote Oprah, “What do I know for sure?”  I know we will never know.

The media had a field day with the “student riots” on the Penn State campus immediately following Paterno’s firing.  To expect the students, most of whom are still adolescents, to calmly accept the firing of a man whose picture they would expect to find illustrating a Wikipedia entry on the words ethics, honor and integrity is unrealistic.  While I don’t condone the actions of those students, it could have been predicted.  At Joe Paterno’s request, those students  turned their energies to positive ends within days.

There was much criticism that JoePa should never have been idolized and placed upon a pedestal.  To say that is to say that the world should have no heroes beyond those created in books, stories and animated movies.  To deny real world heroes is to create a world that is at once extremely sad and containing no hope for the future.  Perhaps we have created too narrow a definition of Joe Paterno’s life legacy.

David Bergman, Sports Illustrated, November 28, 2005

Paul Posluszy (inset photo on cover) is a former player under Paterno who led the Nittany Lions to The Big Ten Championship and currently plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars, stated, “Besides the football, he (Paterno) is preparing us to be good men in life.”  Paterno had a reputation for demanding excellence in the classroom as well as on the field.  In the course of his sixty-one years at Penn State, Joe and his wife donated millions of dollars to build up non-sporting programs at PSU.  One of his legacies is the Paterno Library, one of the jewels of the University Park campus.  He, indeed, could see life beyond the view from  inside Beaver Stadium.

Paterno was a popular keynote speaker on the topic of ethics in sports.  His players, Penn State students past and present,  and indeed the entire collegiate community nationwide, have been given a great gift in the life example of Joseph Vincent Paterno.  Even if some believe he was too “deified,” the reality is the essence of his persona created a high moral and ethical standard for all who knew him and knew of him.  For sixty-one years he has sent both football players and students into the world to carry forward the JoePa style of honor and ethical behavior.  At the end of a life, those are the “fallout ripples” that really matter.

Joe Paterno was admitted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.  He was named Coach of the Year by the  American Football Coaches Association four times.  He was considered to be one of the most successful coaches in the history of college football.

by Annemarie Mountz

Let us continue to carry forward the true life legacy of Joe Paterno.  Lord knows we live in a time where the world needs those high standards of excellence as a guiding light.  Let us not confuse the unknowns of one situation with a life well lived with integrity.

Rest peacefully, JoePa.  You’ve earned it.  Thank you for the guiding light that was you life.


The Journey to the Promised Land

My words will never surpass his…  Some of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.:

A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.

He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’


I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.

Credits:  Photos from Wikipedia.com                Quotations from BrainyQuote.com