Saturday, December 22, 2012

“What Should I Do?” 

Many, many bloggers have been writing about the horrific tragedy in Connecticut. I didn’t think I wanted to add to the number. But last Sunday’s Gospel reading in church really hit home, and after a week of reflection, I decided to write down some thoughts.


“What should I do?”


This is the question that was asked repeatedly of  John the Baptist: “What should I do” to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.


Since last Friday, many people are asking, “What can we do?” It’s natural for us all to feel helpless and impotent in the face of such horror. But although nothing can bring those innocent children or courageous teachers back, there are some things--perhaps small, yet meaningful--that each of us as individuals can do. All it takes is the will.


At first I was going to write long paragraphs exhorting everyone to stand up for the two major issues here: gun control and mental health and illness. But those conversations have been in the air for days now, and I don’t think I need to add to them. People are already thinking about them, hard and seriously, and this is a very good thing.


My fellow blogger Sharon Hodor Greenthal, on Empty House, Full Mind, has linked to some excellent resources concerning gun control and mental illness. I urge you to check out her blog post.

There are still a few things, though, that I would like to emphasize, things that any one of us can do. Both could be ways of reforming our culture.


Stand up against our culture of violence. We have to take a good look at ourselves and ask ourselves if we really want the kind of society that builds its entertainment industry out of bloodshed and death. There is a lot of solid evidence that children who grow up watching violent media are more likely to become violent adults. Our movies are becoming more and more bloody, promote more and more calloused attitudes toward violence, and promote vengeance as a virtue, and they rake in millions of dollars. One easy step that anyone can do is to STOP putting money in the pockets of exploiters who produce these kinds of things. The same goes for television shows, video games, and music. This is one area in which the people, not the government, hold all the power. If these things stop making money, they will stop being made. It’s simple economics.

Keep beauty and love in the world.  

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There are things every one of us can do to help to heal ourselves and the world. Judaism has a lovely phrase for this: tikkun olam, “mending the world”.
Spread the power of beauty. Terrible events like this can make us despair, but don’t let despair grow into hopelessness and helplessness. Fight destructive actions with constructive ones. Creation negates destruction.
Make something beautiful. Make handicrafts if you have the talent and desire. Write poetry and songs. Plant beautiful flowers in a garden, and share them with others. Write thoughtful, heartfelt letters to people you love.
Fight against the hollow of negativity by doing positive things. Give love. Volunteer to do something good for people who need it, people you don’t know.
Adopt a pet and give it the love it needs, and the love it gives you will be a blessing and comfort.
Pray. The power of prayer has been demonstrated. Pray for the victims and their families. Pray for our country and for humanity. There’s an old saying about war: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” This is a time to contemplate and reconsider whether we have the ability to humble our pride and call on a higher power—whatever you may believe it or him/her to be—and admit that we need help, as a people, as a country, as individuals.
Share all the positive things and beautiful things in the world and in life with others. Don’t let ugliness control you or sicken your mind. Believe in beauty and in hope, and do your best to bring them about. Mend the world, in your own little ways.

Join the “Kindness Movement.” Ann Curry of NBC recently posted on Twitter a call for “26 Acts of Kindness”, asking people to do one kind act for every one of the victims. I think this is a wonderful idea, and I’m already thinking about what I can do. For more details, see: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/12/18/15999109-if-you-do-good-youll-feel-good-ann-curry-explains-origins-of-26acts-of-kindness?lite


Are you in?



Friday, December 7, 2012


Enabling Henry:

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies


Book Review



Mountains of books, fiction and nonfiction, have been written about Henry VIII and his wives, particularly Anne Boleyn. But Hilary Mantel’s novels are unlike any of them.



First of all, they aren’t about Henry at all. Their main, viewpoint character is Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who rose from blacksmith’s abused son to become arguably the most powerful man in England. Second, they are complex and beautiful literary works that well deserve the Booker Prizes they both won.

Wolf Hall, published in 2009, deals with Cromwell’s youth and rise to power under Cardinal Wolsey and then King Henry, his family life, and his maneuvering in bringing about Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Bring Up the Bodies, published in 2012, deals with Henry’s disillusionment with Anne, his attraction to Jane Seymour, and Cromwell’s unscrupulous means of ridding the king of Anne and her troublesome family.

Henry VII
and Catherine of Aragon

Jane Seymour

In these novels Mantel accomplishes the kind of revision of history that only fiction can. She dares to take on a historical character who is almost universally reviled and make him into a many-layered, complex human being. The world knows Cromwell, to the extent it knows him at all, as Henry VIII’s closest advisor, marital strategist, and hatchet man. He is not generally as well known as his later kinsman, Oliver Cromwell, but what the world does know is mostly repugnant. Grasping, self-interested, ruthless, scheming, ambitious without scruples, selling his ability and loyalty to whoever can benefit him the most, be it Cardinal Wolsey or King Henry—all of this is received wisdom about Thomas Cromwell. And though it may all be true, Mantel has managed to temper that perception of him for at least as long as the reader is under the spell of her writing.  

Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey

The secret to her success may well be her manipulation of point of view. She uses a close third person that somehow reads like first person yet maintains a crucial distance between reader and character. By referring to her protagonist as “he,” even the first time we meet him, she puts the reader inside Cromwell’s mind yet still manages to withhold just enough so that we don’t feel we really know the inmost soul of him. It creates an effect similar to first person without the degree of self-revelation that first person provides.


This device does tend to create some pronoun confusion, particularly in Wolf Hall, forcing the reader to stop and reread to understand which character is being referred to. Probably this slight flaw was pointed out by critics, because she makes an effort in the second novel to clarify more—to say “he, Cromwell” when there’s chance of confusion. But it works just as well, so nothing is lost.


This use of point of view manipulates the reader—in the best manner of great fiction—by causing us to forget or skip over the elisions in Cromwell’s story, the things Mantel partly withholds from us, including the most base elements in Cromwell’s character and the real nature of his maneuverings. These things, filtered through Cromwell’s mind as part of the duties he owes his king, become almost unremarkable, mixed in as they are with such duties as his handling of the royal treasury.

 Thomas Cromwell

In Wolf Hall Mantel shows us a man who has become self-made, who has worked his way up from the roughness of his childhood to somehow become educated and erudite, a man who has traveled Europe and worked in many professions, eventually becoming a lawyer and protégé to Wolsey, who was then the most powerful man in England after the king. She shows us Cromwell’s devotion and loyalty to the cardinal, a genuine feeling that curves back in a surprising way during the events of Bring Up the Bodies.
She shows us a loving family man who is devastated at the loss of his wife and two daughters to the plague, a man who takes in orphans and destitute people, shares his home with them, makes several of them proteges of his own. It’s a startling look at the man that doesn’t fit our preconceived notions of him. And in making Cromwell actually sympathetic, Mantel hides much of his cruelty and horrid deeds; so that when, in Bring Up the Bodies, we see all of his terrible ruthlessness come out in his persecution of Anne and her putative lovers, it’s even more chilling coming from this character we thought we knew.

Mantel makes us want to believe that Cromwell wasn’t the monster that history paints him as, makes us wonder whether his case might be more like that of Richard III; will these books spawn a Thomas Cromwell Society, dedicated to erasing the stains of history from his name? Of course, the history of the Tudor regime and the sixteenth century is documented just about down to every stitch of clothing; it doesn’t seem likely that Cromwell has been too unfairly represented. Yet these books carry the message of inscrutability that much great fiction illuminates: that the human mind and heart are always a mystery. Psychology has taught us that a person’s actions are mediated by context, by time and place, by the society he or she lives in and what’s necessary to survive in the world, nearly as much as they are by character and personality, and this is especially true of times as brutal as that of the Tudors. Was Cromwell an unfeeling monster, or was he a man who had decency in him that was corrupted by his insular world? Mantel raises the question and leaves us to try to answer it.


As a lover of English history, I’ve always tended toward the Plantagenets and hated the Tudors. But since reading these books I’ve read biographies of Catherine of Aragon and of Thomas Cranmer, Henry’s archbishop of Canterbury; I have found a sudden fascination for the people who surrounded the Tudors, who aided or were victimized by them. The real achievement of a historical novelist is to make her readers think and reconsider what we know or thought we knew about a person or a period, to excite our curiosity to learn more; this is Mantel’s achievement in these novels. And I was thrilled to find out that she is writing one more novel to make a Cromwellian trilogy; I can’t wait for it to be published. Bring up the next book!

The Tower of London--where Henry's enemies ended up.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What I Learned...



This past month, for the first time, my blog and I participated in Fat Mum Slim’s photo-a-day challenge. This was the first time since the April A-Z blogging challenge that I committed to doing and sharing something every day.

As it turned out, I didn’t end up doing it every day. Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun and learned a few things along the way.

• I discovered creativity in myself. Although I had printed out her list of topics for photos and spent a few days thinking about it, I had pretty much decided against it, largely because the prompt for the first day of the challenge was “take a picture of where you’re standing.” That didn’t sound very inspiring to me. Then, as I was going down my stairs, I stopped on a step and looked down, and the light of imagination came on. Right in front of me, an interesting picture of where I’m standing! Voila—I was in. So I began to look at things differently.

• I found myself noticing creativity by others. This was one of my favorite photos from the challenge. These gourds were on the table in a restaurant where my husband and I had dinner in Troy, New York, and when I saw them, I had to take the photo. I love the creativity of whoever put them there and set them this way, like cuddling swans!


• I carried my camera with me more often, on walks with my dog, to restaurants, looking for things I might not ever have noticed otherwise, and found them.


• Even though I “cheated” a little sometimes by using photos I already had in my files, I discovered a new purpose for these pictures and a new way of looking at them. They became more than just random shots; they became part of a project. And I learned to think selectively and creatively through the process of finding photos to fit a given idea. Now I’m thinking about possibly organizing my photos according to theme and—do something(?) with them!

• I learned that I like taking pictures at restaurants.

• And pictures of signs.

• My favorite topics were the ones that were sort of abstract: shadow, light, angle, color. These let me really use my imagination.

• This is the first digital camera I’ve had, and I’ve had it a little over a year. It’s fun and easy to use, but it has its limitations. I’m used to using an SLR, and I like having a long telephoto and especially a macro lens. I had some trouble with the “closeup” prompt;  I wanted to take a very close shot of one of my medieval coins, but I couldn’t get close enough to get the detail without blurring. So I may eventually considering getting a digital SLR. 

• Now the negative lesson, or as a better term, self-insight. I have trouble following through on things over the long term. I tend to start enthusiastically but then lose momentum later on. I found that this happened with this challenge as the month went along. I began skipping days. Mostly these were days on which the prompts didn’t really catch my interest, but I also became too lazy to really think about them and try to find a creative angle.
Looking back, I see that I missed about six days’ worth of photos. There were no rules for this challenge, but still I feel I let myself down a little bit. I know that I can do things in month-long stretches; I’ve completed NaNoWriMo and the A-Z blogging challenge. So the next time I decide to do this, I hope to be able to finish all of it.

Finally, doing this challenge has reminded me of why I began this blog: as a way of celebrating the things that we don’t always notice, the small things that may not seem important in themselves but that all together give life its richness. I know that many of my posts this year have dealt with sadness and loss, but those things are also part of the richness of life, because without them, we wouldn’t know how to appreciate what we have. Another purpose of my blog was to celebrate lifelong learning…so this is what I’m doing here! And I’m sure I’ll take up this challenge again in some future month.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 31


My photo-a-day challenge entry for today.


Day 31: Photographer’s Choice

Prompt for the last day of October: take a picture of anything you please.

Chinese lanterns, taken on our trip to Philadelphia. Aren't they cheerful?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 30


My photo-a-day challenge entry for today.

Day 30: Clothes

A cowl I crocheted last winter--just waiting for me when the cold comes!

Monday, October 29, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 28


My photo-a-day challenge entry for today.

Day 28: Looking Back
Me at age 7 in my communion dress.
The challenge photo topic for today--Day 29--is the moon. Since we're currently being battered by Sandy, I don't think I'll be able to do that one!

Friday, October 26, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 25


My photo-a-day challenge entry for today.


Day 25: People

A woman walking on a beautiful fall day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Days 22 and 23


My latest  photo-a-day challenge entries.


Day 22: In My Town: Signs

The home of the first governor of Rhode Island and signer of the Declaration of Independence.


A local restaurant.

My LYS (local yarn shop).

Day 23: The View from Here

Sunset from my office window.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 21


My photo-a-day challenge entry for today.


Day 21: Calm:  Something that represents calm


My bed!

Friday, October 19, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Days 18 and 19


I got a little behind again. Here are my photo-a-day challenge entries for yesterday and today.


Day 18: Something that made me smile


Cuddling gourds! Don't they look like swans?

Day 19: Letters


The prompt was any kind of letters. These are some of the most famous in history.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 17


My entry today for the October photo-a-day challenge.

Day 17: Fruit

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 16


Today’s topic for the October photo-a-day challenge is to take a picture of something you wrote.


Day 16: Something I Wrote


My first published poem, in Rosebud magazine no. 24, my entry in a reader's contest. It was such a thrill to see this in print!

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 15


Here’s my latest photo for the October photo-a-day challenge.

Day 15: Dinnertime

Chicken stew with rice and vegetables.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 14


Here’s my latest photo for the October photo-a-day challenge.



Day 14: Something that makes me laugh


I found this silly greeting card years ago and laughed so much I had to buy it for myself. It still makes me laugh.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

An Addition to Replace a Subtraction


We got a new tree today! When the utility company cut down our venerable but half-dead maple several months ago to make room for their street work, I was upset. But they promised to give us a new one when the work was finished.


As time passed and the work took forever to get done, I became skeptical; I thought they’d forget about it and I’d have to make phone calls and wait and hope they’d eventually get around to it. But yesterday I found a spot on our curbside grass dug up, and this morning there it was--our new tree!


Of course it’s a far cry from the old maple that I used to be able to see from our bedroom window, but it’s going to be fun to watch it grow over the years.


Sometimes companies actually do keep their promises.

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 13


Here’s my latest photo for the October photo-a-day challenge.

Day 13: Landscape

Overlooking Troy, New York, from the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at my husband's reunion last weekend.

Friday, October 12, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 12


I am doing the October photo a day challenge.  Here is today’s photo.

Day 12: What’s on my living room table

Thursday, October 11, 2012

This year I’m doing the October photo a day challenge.
Here's today's photo.

Day 11: Close-up

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Photo a Day Challenge--Day 10

October Photo a Day Challenge: Day 10


I am doing the October photo a day challenge.  Here is today’s photo.



Day 10: Emotion

October Photo Challenge

October Photo a Day Challenge: Days 5 through 9


I am doing the October photo a day challenge. I’m a little behind after being away for the holiday weekend, so I’m catching up here.


Day 5: Shadow



Day 6: I’m thankful for…



My husband, my dog, eating outside on warm summer evenings!



Day 7: Light



Day 8: Angle



Day 9: Red


Thursday, October 4, 2012

October Photo a Day Challenge: Days 3 and 4

I'm doing the October photo a day challenge. Just a day behind so far...here are days 3 and 4.

Day 3: This Happened Today

It rained!

Day 4: What I'm reading now.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Photo a Day Challenge

October Photo a Day Challenge: Days 1 and 2


I’ve decided to try to do the photo a day challenge for October. I may not get all thirty-one, but I’ll try! It sounds like fun. Anybody else want to join?

Here are days 1 and 2:

Day 1: A photo of where you stood when taking the picture

On my stairs.
Day 2: A photo of your lunch.

Half of a bean and vegetable burrito, brought home from a restaurant a few days earlier. (It tasted much better than it looks here.) With a cup of green tea.

Crochet Fever Comes Back

Crochet Fever Comes Back


The cooler weather has rekindled (pun intended) my crochet passion. I’ve been going at it like a demon lately.


These photos are for Work in Progress Wednesday:


I’m finally learning how to make granny squares! Two more rounds of color to go on this one: orange and red. This is made with Lily Sugar 'n' Cream.
It’ll be about 18 inches, so I’m not sure yet where I’ll put it, but I love working with the different colors.
These are two pieces of a vest I started last winter and just got back to. The yarn is a beautiful, soft merino from Manos del Uruguay.

I just bought this lovely gray yarn to start a shawl.
I'm also still participating in my church's prayer shawl ministry. And there will be more to come--I'm into it now!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wear Purple and Walk


Many of you know that I lost my mother a month ago. For the past few years I watched her suffer as her brain gave way to the destruction caused by dementia.


September is World Alzheimer’s Month, dedicated to raising awareness of this terrible disease. Today, September 21, is Alzheimer’s Action Day. The Alzheimer’s Association is calling on everyone to show support for the fight against Alzheimer’s and other dementias.


Almost every minute another American gets Alzheimer's, and as the baby boom generation gets older those numbers will double. This is our fight, those of us who are still young enough to be able to take action in a way that those who are afflicted no longer can. We can work to change our futures and ensure that neither we nor generations after us will have to suffer from this debilitating, mind-destroying disease.


Today, Alzheimer’s Action Day, wear or carry something purple, the color of the Alzheimer’s movement, to honor all those with this disease and their caregivers. Walks to End Alzheimer’s are being held all around the country to raise awareness and funds. My husband and I and a friend will be participating in one on Sunday.


Is there one in your area that you could sign up for?

If you can, consider making a monthly donation to the Alzheimer’s Association. I do, and the amount is charged to my credit card. I don’t even need to think about it, yet I know I’m doing something to help.

What can you do?