Pausing

For the first time since I started this blog in August 2008 I skipped one of my monthly masthead updates (the March 2011 masthead). I won’t describe what this does to my obsessive-compulsive nature; I had to volitionally exhale, meditate on the true things that matter in life, and let. it. go. I traded in that masthead — and many, many other things — for doctoral candidacy. Not a bad trade off. The process of creating a dissertation prospectus, presenting the proposal to my committee, and getting approval for the project was the hardest step thus far in my PhD experience, and I will even go so far to say that it was one of the more challenging feats in my life. By the grace of God, I have finished that leg of the race.

Because most things in life can be analogized to triathlons, I think about the finish trusses that some races have for each triathlon leg.

At this point in the race, there is no medal for your neck and no formal finisher’s ceremony. But there is celebration. Family and friends congregate at these finishes. Triathletes smile as they pass through (you don’t always see the smile through pain-filled grimaces or tears, but it’s there). Whatever fear that was associated with that leg has been overcome and, whether the greatest challenge lies ahead or not, there is an unmistakable opportunity to celebrate.

Similar instances occur in life, so take them. Take those opportunities to celebrate the smaller victories along the journey, especially if the greatest challenge lies ahead. Even if it is an ever so brief moment allotted to pause, put hands on knees, take a few recovery breaths, and say “Wow, I did it!” before turning full stride again, soaking in the victory helps to fuel us for the legs that lie ahead.

My PhD program is a pentathlon. The dissertation proposal was the 4th leg. There was no blue inflatable finish truss for this stage (though one would be a welcome addition to the department), but seeing my committee’s signatures on the doctoral candidate form was a rite of passage in itself. So I celebrated, albeit briefly, and am already full stride in the final leg of the program.

The April masthead — what I really wanted to write about in the first place — is an example of nature doing its own celebrating as it survived the winter leg and welcomes spring. The trees with these blooms line the streets of our neighborhood and they humbly proclaim, “Wow, we did it!” Because this kind of celebration is so inspirational and contagious, every time I step outside of my house I briefly pause to join them in the celebration. Yes, we did do it. We survived a rough season, a challenging leg of the race.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Aaahh.

Okay, now back to work.

Rocks

Twenty-five days in to the month and I have finally managed to get a new masthead up.  As with writing, I am not up to speed with my picture-taking, so I thought I’d dig in to the archives for this photo.  This month’s masthead is a shot from the Australian Outback at Uluru, or Ayers Rock.  Because the Outback is so flat and desolate, and because this monolith is so grand (the largest in the world of its kind, in fact), you can easily see Uluru from a couple dozen miles away.  So majestic.

“There, in the middle of a memorable and imposing emptiness, stands an eminence of exceptional nobility and grandeur, 1150 feet high, a mile and a half long, five and a half miles around, less red than photographs have led you to expect but in every other way more arresting than you could ever have supposed…You cannot stop looking at it; you don’t want to stop looking at it. As you draw closer, it becomes even more interesting. It is more pitted than you had imagined, less regular in shape. There are more curves and divots and wavelike ribs, more irregularities of every type, than are evident from even a couple of hundred yards away. You realize that you could spend quite a lot of time — possibly a worryingly large amount of time; possibly a sell-your-house-and-move-here-to-live-in-a-tent amount of time — just looking at the rock, gazing at it from many angles, never tiring of it.”  Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

However forced or cliché it may seem, I cannot help but to compare the most impressive rock on Earth and the Rock of the Bible.

“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” I Samuel 2:2

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:1-2

God is like Uluru, but living, bigger, more powerful, more dependable, holier, more personable, more loving, full of grace and redemption…  Okay, so they’re nothing alike, but I do love the imagery.  “See this magnificent rock that is so awe inspiring you can’t stop staring at it?  Yeah, well I am the unshakable, eternal Rock that is exponentially more arresting and majestic.”

In the midst of a cold and bleak Midwest American winter, here’s one small reminder of the warmth, inspiration, and fortitude that comes from standing at the foot of the Rock and gazing tirelessly.

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

A wedding, a birthday, a cousin reunion, a bizarre trip to the allergist’s office, a day with Mom, the National Anthem at a ball game, a 10th wedding anniversary, a mountain biking accident, a couple photo editing projects, some really good days, some really hard days, some spiritual nuggets, laughable moments, a couple fleas…and, yes, my comprehensive exams.  I certainly cannot attribute lack of material as the reason why I haven’t written any posts for nearly the entire summer.  I told myself – in an attempt to channel all writing energy towards my comps – no posts until my paper was turned in, which was supposed to happen in June until I had a little meltdown in my advisor’s office and got an extension.  The second deadline was again a soft one – no specific date was set, but the new game plan was to be done mid-July.  Well, it is officially August and still no paper.  Still a lot to go, in fact.  So I will keep not posting until I get relief from this project, which hopefully can be completed within the next ten days, though I’ve completely surrendered any attempts to mark a specific date.

I’m writing a little blurb now, however, because I posted a new masthead this month, a slice of a painting, and I wanted to give props to the artist.  For our TENTH anniversary last Friday, Brian and I were simply going to celebrate with dinner and a movie.  Because we are exciting people.  All day long I anticipated the movie theater popcorn.  Because I like to think about exciting things.  But then, at the last minute, we spontaneously slipped away from our world and spent the night at a high class resort.  It was a rare opportunity to experience the type of luxury the rich and famous experience on a daily basis (and to spend more money than we normally would ever pay for a bed and a couple meals).  For the twenty-four hours we stayed at the resort I was sure that I would run in to either the Queen of England or Jessica Simpson.  Didn’t happen, though.

Our hotel was named the Chateau LaFayette.  It was designed to replicate the Ritz Paris, which is slightly ironic because nearly twelve years ago a bellman kicked me out of the Ritz in Paris, yet last weekend the bellmen anticipated and met my every hotel and traveling need before I could even ask.  So I guess the Chateau is just like the Ritz Paris only kinder.

I cannot speak about every floor of the hotel, but our gorgeous hallway was lined with artwork by Boyer.  Just outside of our exquisite room – decorated with a recessed ceiling, crystal chandelier, and marble in the bathroom – was the painting that I used for the masthead.  If I were Boyer and someone posted my artwork on their blog then I think I would want people to see the entire piece, so here it is:

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I wanted to find out more about this artist so I could cite him (or her) appropriately, but according to Google there are a lot of Boyers out there who like to paint.  This makes you wonder, are all of these Boyers related?  Wow, what a testament to genetics that would be!  Anyway, Boyer, if you are from this century, are currently alive, happen to be a faithful reader of Moore Tokens, and recognize your artwork that I posted, please give us an “About the Painter” blurb in the comment section!

Boyer?  Boyer?  Boyer?  Boyer?

Keep Watch

Today begins Holy Week.  The events celebrated this week are the most critical of the Christian faith.  Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (our Palm Sunday), the Last Supper, the Crucifixtion, the Resurrection – these are no small potatoes.  One of the powerful moments during Jesus’ final week on Earth occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26).  Just before he is given over to his enemies who eventually crucify him, here in this garden Jesus tells his friends how heavy his heart is because he knows that he will soon bear the sins of the world on the cross.  He knows that death is closely upon him.  He sobs.  He prays.  Three times he lets God know that he doesn’t want to go through with this, but in those same moments he surrenders his will and says, okay, if this is really your plan, God, then I’m in.

April’s masthead shows olive trees from the Garden of Gethsemane that breathed the same air that Jesus did.  When we walked through this olive garden on our trip to Israel in November, I wanted so badly to hear these centuries-old trees tell the story of what they had seen, of what they had heard.  I cannot imagine the overwhelming sorrow of that night with Jesus.  But I hope someone told those trees that night to keep watch, because just beyond the darkest event in history comes the most remarkable, the most beautiful, the most powerful event this Earth has known.  Keep watch, good news is coming!

***

Gethsemane

The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.
Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,
maybe,
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.

~Mary Oliver

One!

The March masthead came about when I realized that 1) I haven’t taken any pictures in the last month, and 2) a year ago this month we purchased a new car, a 2008 Toyota Prius.  I have never had a brand new, driven-less-than-ten-miles-when-we-drove-it-off-the-lot vehicle, so owning it has felt like living in luxury, even when I’m driving while wearing my $9.99 pajama bottoms and a spaghetti-stained race t-shirt.

When we bought the car every inch of it was so shiny and flawless, a state that I knew we’d never see again, so I drove it to a municipal park near our house for a little photo shoot. Thank goodness there were no baseball or soccer games going on at the time, because I didn’t need dirty, toothless children staring and pointing at me to clue me in to my quirkiness.  I recognized on my own that I looked strange snapping photos with such extreme detail.  But hey, at least I wasn’t shouting, “Work it!  Work it!  Look right at the camera!  Now give me pouty lips!”

Here are just a couple shots of the car as the photo shoot waned in to the sunset and post sunset hours.  Note the sunset sky reflecting on the car in the first photo and the full moon in the second.  Ooooooooo.

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I originally thought that I would use this photo as the masthead for this month…

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…because when is there any other time that your car’s engine is so abnormally clean that you want to lick it or cut fresh fruit on it? There is no other time. Further, how often do you see a lickable car engine as the masthead to a blog? Probably not too often. While I was excited about this rarity, Brian vetoed it in favor of the dashboard view masthead. In the name of love, I let his first choice prevail.

(After I added the dashboard view to the website, I tried to think of something profound that I could say about the photo, but all that came to mind was Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light, and the harder I tried to think the louder the lyrics “DO YOU LOVE ME? WILL YOU LOVE ME FOREVER?…” resonated in my head. Ah well, instead of thought-provoking I got memories of junior high dances.)

So I was enamored with the pristine newness of the car, but as I celebrate the first anniversary as its owner, please realize that the anniversary excitement is less about the car and more about the opportunity to count something.  I can’t help it; I was born in to a family who has a strange affinity for numbers.  My father teaches math, and my grandfather, mother, and brother are accountants.  Am I forgetting anyone?  Well, most of the rest of us without a bean-counting job title still enjoy numbers in our spare time.  We monitor baseball and football stats, count stairs, find patterns in phone numbers, take heed to random dates (e.g. insignificant anniversaries), and oogle over the odometer in the car, to name only a few examples.  Heck, even before one of my nephews started kindergarten he was counting by 11’s and playing games with people’s ages.  Just like The Count on Sesame Street, we cry if we do not get to count things and we will sometimes send letters to ourselves just so we can count the incoming mail.  Okay, maybe we don’t do the latter, but cry if we run out of things to count?  Yes, yes we cry.

Does anyone else think of their odometer as a little dial of magic?  When my brother was in high school trying to decide what topic he should choose for a paper, my grandfather told him that he should seriously consider writing his paper on how my grandfather’s car hit 66,666 miles that week.  Similarly, my mom and I will often call each other to excitedly announce that our odometer struck a number like 80,000 or a fun palindrome like 105,501.  In every car ride, a surprise awaits.

Anyway, as The Count would say about the Prius today, “One!  One anniversary!  A a a a a!”

Walker Road

February ended moments ago and if I’m going to keep up with what I’ve been doing then I need to find a new masthead for March, but before I do let me explain the current one, Walker Road.  A two-minute jog from my development, I have spent many, many hours on this road by foot, by bike, and by car.  It’s the by foot and by bike experiences that stir up a sense of nostalgia within me.  We live on the border of highly developed land and rolling country farm land.  Walker Road celebrates this close-to-country feel, so when I am out training here I love to breathe in the peaceful, simple air and enjoy the homes with yards that do not live under the rule of a developer.

I’ve even come to enjoy the company of the horse-like dog that chases me while bellowing a ferocious bark – well, that is, he chases me as far as he can on his side of the fence.  At first I was terrified by the beast, since I’ve been twice bitten by dogs, but now I pretend we’re friends, and in between breaths as I run or ride past I call to him in motherese, “Hi, Pup!  How’s my pup?  Gooood, puppy pup!”  I can tell this confuses him, like how could his prey seem so loving?  One day he will learn to jump the fence and will either eat my face or exfoliate it with a sloppy, friendly lick.  Every time I run by I wonder if today is the day I will find out if we’re friends or foes.  Mental note: start carrying steak in hydration belt.  And bear spray.

Like a no-nonsense friend, Walker Road is honest.  So brutally honest.  Without inhibition it will tell me what kind of shape I’m in, and its words have not always been kind.  There are portions of the road that are subtly hilly, and there are sections that are unmistakably steep.  The hill at the end of the road, for example, is so steep that on more than one bike ride I have pumped my weary legs at a pathetic 3.8 mph while trying to climb it.  This is so slow that my front wheel wobbles back and forth to keep me from falling over during the brief moments that I am actually motionless in between pedals.  Coming down this hill I have gained speeds over 35 mph, which is challenging in its own right.

There is a creepy stand-alone garage along the road in which I always imagine a serial killer resides, so as I run or ride by I scheme my survival, just in case I’m right.  When I hear rustling leaves on another stretch of the road I imagine a wild cat living in the woods and again I plan accordingly.  I usually moo at the couple of cows that seem very out of place in the yard of one home, and make up stories to explain why no one has ever been seen using the outdoor swimming pool at another.  The water in the ponds and little creeks looks refreshing albeit completely undrinkable.  The open fields and trees are rather simple, yet I can’t help but stare as I go past.

There’s a barn that stands against the road.  Not sure why I love it, and until I took a picture of it this past month I couldn’t even remember what color it was.  In my mind its walls are blank slates that change colors, like a mood ring varying by my emotional state.  Whatever color, the sun strikes the building perfectly and it somehow inspires me to endure or to smile or to pray or to set goals or to count my blessings.  I’m not necessarily a barn person, but have found raw, rousing beauty in this one.

Maybe that’s why I set Walker Road as the masthead for February.  February can be a doozy of a month.  It can be cold.  It can be gloomy.  But these pictures remind me that even during a hard run we can find things that inspire us to endure…to smile…to count our blessings.

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The Tide Is Coming In

The inspiration for this month’s masthead comes from the movie Cast Away (2000) with Tom Hanks.  After being stranded on a remote tropical island for five years, convinced that he would die alone on that island, a chunk of plastic from a port-a-potty washed ashore and gave Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks’ character) a sail…and hope.  He created a raft and set out to sea.  The waters were rough, but finally he was rescued.  When he returned to land and his former life, he not only dealt with the trauma of reacclimating, but he also discovered that his fiancee had married another man and had a child.  On that island he thought he would never see her again, but after the hope of the rescue and then the disappointment of reality, he lost his love all over again.  Chuck Noland said to a friend:

One day logic was proven all wrong because the tide lifted, came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back in Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass. And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I have to keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

I love how he finds gratitude in the midst of his mourning.  Whether we order it or not, life comes with some rough seasons.  It’s a package deal.  There are times that the gloom, the pain, or the stress of life’s winters can be overwhelming.  There is not always a logical, tangible explanation for the strength that we are given to endure and overcome these hard days, and some times it seems like we aren’t even succeeding at this.  But we can, and we will.  We have to keep breathing.  For tomorrow the sun will rise, and who knows what the tide could bring?

Bill Shakespeare Would Be Proud

My grandparents used to take my mom and uncle to Nelson Ledges in the fall when they were young.  My mom carried on that tradition with my brothers and me, every fall if possible.  We typically started our day in the picnic area, enjoyed a lunch together, and tossed around a football or frisbee in the open field for a bit.  Afterward, we all hit the outhouses and then walked across the street from the picnic area to the ledges.  Degree of hiking difficulty here is determined by the group.  Hikers could casually stroll above or around the ledges, or could opt for more demanding descents, climbs, and crevasses through which to crawl.  We usually elected for anything that would challenge us or that looked like it had not been explored before.  If I made it through the Devil’s Icebox without losing my footing – which meant drenching my foot in the cold, orange, mineral-deposited water – then the day was a success.

November ’07 we introduced the state park to the next generation’s boys – four of my nephews.  This month’s masthead is a photo of Brian and the three youngest nephews heading in to the hiking area.

My brother, Tod, explained this sign best as “where your pee would go if you #1’d right here.”

It is customary for our family to stand on this balcony and recite, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?…”  Thanks to Brady, it looks like licking the balcony may become a new tradition as well.

Being silly, I had captioned the photo of Tod, Cliff, and me as “Siblings in love” in a family album.  When my mom was showing the album to my nephews, she asked if they knew what ‘siblings’ were?  Evan, seven years old at the time, said, “Yeah.”  “What are siblings?”  He explained matter-of-factly, “People in love.”

At the end of the day, my mom rode home with Tod and his two boys.  Nate, five years old then, must have been observant of the chatting and laughing that my mom and I did throughout the day, and then saw the hug and kiss we exchanged as I headed back home to Pennsylvania.  In the car he asked, “Granny Joanney, how do you know Aunt Michelle so well?”

Must be all those trips to Nelson Ledges.

Reinforces My Hypothesis

My hydrangea bush continues to flaunt its personality. The massive flower from June that I showed in my last post has faded to a green with rosy tips as it rounds out its life cycle. At its peak it was a pale blue, almost white. The color of hydrangea is dependent upon the pH of the soil, which is why I am perplexed to see this bush produce other flowers that are a deeper range of pinks, blues, and purples. So we have a range of color and color depth. Could the soil vary so much within this small space, causing roots that feed different branches to grow in soil with widely varying acidity? Or is this bush just bizarre?

As I walked around to the back of the bush, I discovered an even more massive flower than the first one. Also green now (and the current masthead), this flower is almost the size of a basketball. Is this normal?

We should probably have testing done…maybe the backyard really is radioactive.