Thursday, August 31, 2006


A week of teacher meetings and almost a week of classes. Major energy demands. Stacks of papers graded and stacks to go. A pile of Inquirer essays of my own drafted. A church adult education/formation program almost in shape. Sons turning 22 tomorrow. One of them might show up.

So do we think this woman is going to do a single thing tonight beyond watching two Grey's Anatomy reruns?

P.S. Apollo is content enough but increasingly frail. A sad vigil.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Iona VI - Older Stuff

OK, so no one liked the newer botany and bird sculptures.

I did.

But the Iona Abbey Cloister has lots of things in the realm of hundreds of years old, too. Chief among them are the gravestone slabs, unfortunately removed from their original locales but easy to see as they are displayed on the cloister walls.

Anyone who has read this blog for long knows that I am enamoured of the Celtic stonework in the nearby cemetery where I walk several times a week. It's pretty astounding to see Celtic carvings hundreds of years old on their original island home. These reflect the intricacy of traditional Celtic design and the combination of war (the sword, second from bottom image), sea (the ship, bottom image), and nature inherent in the island life of the last millenium.

They say that Macbeth is buried on Iona, and Duncan, too -- along with a series of Scandanavian kings who sought a holy resting place. No one knows where they lie. No one knows what stories these stones tell.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth (V, v, 19)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Iona V: Contemporary Cloister Art

The Iona Abbey Cloister may have risen from the ruins of the Reformation, but the capital carvings are decidedly contemporary. I can't identify the botanical ones myself, but I was entranced by the birds ~ especially, of course, the gannets.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Apollo, the Sun God(dess, in this case)

Apollo was stretched out on the windowsill in the sunshine when we went looking for her a couple of days ago. Today she is huddled quietly under my daughter's bed, waiting to move on.

Apollo came to us as one of a litter of four, along with their mom ~ a foster family when my daughter was a sixth grade volunteer at the local animal shelter. The idea was to enjoy a family of tumbling and frolicking kittens without actually acquiring another feline. The idea was not, of course, perfected in its execution, and Apollo stayed with us.

(The name? The kids named all four kittens for Greek gods and goddesses. The kittens were very small when they arrived, and we got the genders exactly wrong.)

For most of her life, Apollo was otherwise known as Psycho-Kitty. Despite the fact that she lived entirely indoors, we seldom saw her and, when we did, she was careening around a corner, horrified at having almost made human contact.

When her kidneys began to fail last winter, she became a lot more affectionate. The vets shook their heads at the numbers (5% kidney function), pumped her up with fluids for a week, and we all watched in some amazement as she returned to what must have been Life Number 9. She remained thin as a rail and friendly enough to crawl up onto my hip to purr in the the early mornings, but otherwise she reverted to her former self.

She stopped eating again a couple of weeks ago and this time additional fluids have had no positive effect. Last night she was confused and lethargic, unsure of whether to lie on one side of the bed or the other. I told my daughter to say a last good-bye to her kitty before she left for college early this morning, and told the vet tech later that I thought Apollo was ready to be done. Then I brought her home and settled her in the peace of the Lovely Daughter's room, where there is food available should she change her mind and where she can rest in the darkness under the bed, away from the dog and away from the call back to the life in which she is no longer interested.

Rest gently, little cat.

Friday, August 25, 2006

One Year Ago

A year ago my youngest was en route to her college orientation with her father and brothers, while I was doing exactly what I've been doing this week, participating in my own school's teacher orientation week.

Who could have imagined
what was coming?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Transportation (Round Robin Photo Challenge), or. . . Iona V

OK, so I'm cheating, just a little. The subject of the current Round Robin Photo Challenge is Transportation, and a ferry is, indeed, one of my favorite forms of transportation ~ because the destinations that require ferry transport are my favorite destinations. Hence the first photo, of the ferry that runs between the Hebrides islands of Iona and Staffa.

The reamining images are of Staffa as one first sees it (it's actually much longer than it is wide); the volcanic rock formations that many visitors go to see, formations mirrored across the sea on Ireland and, therefore, the basis of a story involving a mythological Giant's Causeway across the Irish Sea; the most important residents of Staffa; and the seals who watched us come and go. Most of the photos enlarge reasonably well with a click.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Iona World IV

I anticipated some personal challenges on Iona. After an intensely interior year focused on an Ignatian approach to spirituality, how was I going to manage a week of equally intense community life? And Ignatius was, paradoxically, a man of the cities. How was I going to bridge the distance between Paris, a Jesuit hometown, and Iona, the pastoral island "thin place" to Celtic saints?

OK ~ figured it out. I took a volume of Gerard Manley Hopkin's poetry and writings with me -- Hopkins having been that Jesuit, largely unknown in his lifetime, who penned those expansive nature poems. And so when I got up before 5:00 am on Iona to watch the sunrise and walk to the beach, the language echoing in my head served to connect all my experiences:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil... .

As it happened, among the first things I saw on the beach were oystercatchers -- including a frantic pair of adults, indicating to me that they must have a young one nearby. I've only seen oystercatchers during their winter layover in northern Florida, but I was soon to discover that they summer in northern Scotland. They were all over the place -- at least, all over the beaches where I walked every day. I did find the one little one, but limited myself to only a few photos and didn't make any effort to disturb what must have been others nearby on other mornings.

It wasn't until I came home that I read up on Brigid, a woman swirling in mystery and somewhat lost to mythology. A goddess of the Druids? A Catholic saint? She looms large in the Celtic world and, it seems, the oystercatcher is her sacred bird. According to legend, she sent oystercatchers out to guide sailors safely home.

Everything, in the end, has a way of merging. Celtic Brigid and Jesuit Hopkins. Oystercatchers and kingfishers catching fire. There are gannets, too, over the Irish Sea. I didn't find Iona to be an easy place, but with Hopkins in my pocket and oystercatchers among the rocks, I was all right.

Adult Oystercatcher

Little Oystercatcher ...or...maybe it's an adult Ringed Plover? Thanks, Virginia, for the correction! Anyone know for sure?

Brigid Window in the Iona Abbey Church

Monday, August 21, 2006

Summer's End ~ Pass It On

One of our sons spent the summer in Spain, and then a week visiting a friend in Greece.

Our daughter spent the summer as a counselor at a camp in North Carolina where probably half the staff is international, and tonight we are hosting a delightful young couple from Sydney, Australia as they journey north and then east and then south, soaking up as much of America as they can in the time they have left before their visas run out.

The photos were taken last week-end at Graveyard Fields, one of my favorite hiking spots in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Iona III - Friends

It's good to spend time in a place where the cows take walks on the beach.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Happy 19th on the 19th!!!

New Orleans 2006

Prince Edward Island 2005

Friday, August 18, 2006

Rambling Around

I've been cleaning house and putting together teaching materials today, which means I've been on the computer a lot. Floor-washing and notebook organizing require a break about, oh, every five seconds or so for those of us operating out of an ADD context. So I've been rambling around the house, the internet, my own mind.

The house doesn't look so bad, but the yard needs some work. Tomorrow night we are celebrating the Lovely Daughter's turning 19 on the 19th with as many friends as we can scrounge up -- a lot of them are out of town. Once we pick Chicago Son up at the airport tonight, our three children will be together for the first time since Christmas. Advice To Parents of Children Who Will All Be In College At The Same Time: either they all choose schools on semesters or they all choose schools on quarters. A blend DOES NOT WORK.

I read
this online today, in a comment to a review of an Anne Lamott book:

"I remember thinking "wow, here's a liberal with a genuine experience of Jesus." (I didn't know that was possible...) Needless to say the book blew the doors of my conservatism wide open."

I hope the gentleman doesn't mind my quoting him. I couldn't decide whether to chuckle or weep, but he hit on a topic that's been on my mind lately. Partly because my Presbyterian Church is in such a stew over Certain Issues and those who disagree with me would, as far as I can tell, like either to see me align myself with them or to cast me and my ilk out as apostates of the worse kind. The language gets pretty harrowing. And depressing.

Partly because I am wading through my own call to ministry and it's hard, in ways that are probably fairly atypical. Most people getting ready to visit their Committee on Preparation for Ministry are young, energetic, musing over their own college loans rather than those of their children, their own love lives rather than their concerns over a three-times widowed and once-divorced parent. Probably not so many have spouses, children, parents all pretty much oblivious to the work of the spirit.

And partly -- oh yeah, that "liberal with a genuine experience of Jesus" stuff. Ayh-yep. Surprisingly enough, c'est moi, ordinary middle-aged midwest mom. I was looking at myself in the mirror at the drugstore today as I picked up a prescription for Son Who Has Returned from Spain with yet another fungal infection due, apaprently, to pesticide-doused fruit. Linen capris, teal t-shirt, flip-flops, bright red-and-sparkly toenail polish, chin-length haircut. I look just like every other woman I know (except for the ones who can stand to sit still for highlights and manicures). I've been told recently that I make it quite clear about where I stand politically (not in an abrasive kind of way, just in a clear kind of way) -- and, like many people around here, I feel pretty middle-of-the-road but I keep hearing my views, religious and secular, described as "radically liberal." So here I am, liberal mom/lawyer/teacher with a genuine experience of Jesus. I guess a lot of people, including a lot of my friends, find something anomalous in that. To me -- it feels powerful and quiet.

And as a result, something else I read touched me today -- you can read it for yourself
here. I was struck by the remark that "what we do [in church] is increasingly strange and unfamiliar to a watching world," and by what followed it. I do a LOT of things on a daily basis that reflect my faith and its power in my life, but most of them would not be apparent to anyone else. And I suppose they would seem strange and unfamiliar, which became particularly clear to me last week-end when I visited some of my extended family and realized how far apart our priorities are -- in ways that were immediately obvious to me but I'm sure are invisible to them.

I was also struck by the workplace example in the above piece -- and it gave me a much-needed boost as I get ready to return to teaching next week. I've been feeling a bit down about that, as it will mean coming face-to-face with the conflict in Lebanon in ways that I am able to avoid as long as it is August. I need a way of being in the world, as we all do, and it seems that we Presbyterians, despite the chasm that divides us over some matters, do share something transformative at the core of our lives.

Well. I have to feed the dog and decide whether the damage I did to my back at the gym and on that 1600-mile-drive precludes a walk. I think it will take a l-o-n-g walk to shake off this end-of-summer wistfulness.

Iona II - The Abbey

The Abbey as seen from the ferry approaching Iona from Mull.

Replica of St. John's Cross in front of the Abbey Church.

The nave, looking east.

The choir.

Looking west to the entryway.

You can visit Iona on a day trip from Mull, or you can spend some time there in one of the small inns, or you can do what we did -- apply to participate in the Iona Community for a week, in which case the Abbey Church will become a central part of your life.

The Church was built around 1200, thanks to the Benedictine monks who settled on Iona after the Vikings finished off the community founded by Columba. It fell victim to Protestant Reformers of the 1500s and then to the elements and the cost of restoration. Most of the subsequent work has been accomplished by the present day Iona Community, founded in 1938 and known for its music, liturgies, and work on behalf of peace and justice.

If you stay on the island, you are welcome to attend any of the morning and evening services at the church. If you stay with the Community, you will be housed in either the Abbey or the nearby MacLeod Center, where we stayed, and you'll participate in meal and clean-up chores and a relaxed week of programming and community life.

Our church's Music Director is enamored of the Iona Community and Taize' music often sung in the Abbey church. I think we were all moved to find ourselves participating in worship services in a place where Christianity had been practiced for 1500 years and to sing songs that we had learned in a contemporary world an ocean away.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Iona Journey I

Our journey, made by twelve people from our church, really began in 563, when the Irish nobleman and monk Columcille (known by the Latin Columba) turned his back on his native land, ostensibly following a dispute now lost to legend (but possibly involving his plagiarism of a manuscript and initiation of a war over its return) and headed across the sea. Little is known about Iona's Iron Age pre-Columba past, but by the time Columba himself arrived, a Gaelic-speaking Irish aristocracy, the Dal Riata, was in charge of the place known as Dalriada, the western coast of Scotland. Columba and his followers founded a number of churches on the mainland and islands, with Iona becoming one of the most famous.

We were there in part due to the gleam lodged in our pastor's eye ever since the idea of a pilgrimmage to Iona had come to her, and in part as a culmination of our year-long adult-education program on the traditions of the church. The previous year we had focused on the Bible, and in the upcoming year we will look at spiritual practices, but last year we started with the early Jesus movement and made our way through the early creeds, the medieval church and its monasteries and mystics, the split between East and West, the Reformation, and the modern church in America. (No, for all of you emergent church fans -- we never did get that far.) Iona, with its Celtic Christian to Roman Catholic to Protestant history, was an ideal objective for our year-end journey.

It's hard for us to imagine -- we flew to Glasgow and the next day took a three-hour train ride to the coast, an hour's ferry to the island of Mull, an hour's bus ride across Mull, and then a short ferry to Iona -- but in Columba's day, overland travel was so dangerous that the sea was considered a fast and efficient venue and Iona easily accessible. When you stand on Columba's beach, you have to wonder.

The images (these are worth clicking on to enlarge):

(1)MacLean's Cross, c. 1500

(2) Contemporary pilgrims en route to Columba's Bay, where the saint reportedly landed in his coracle.

(3) The hillside Columba climbed upon his arrival; he wanted to ensure that he could not see Ireland from any point on Iona before he made up his mind to stay!

(4) and (5) Columba's Bay, a number of whose stones now line one of my bedroom bookshelves.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Life (Very) Well Lived

I am always thinking, as I move on in my life, that the people and places who have left their marks on it will stay where they are, right where I left and remember them. But of course they, too, age and change and move on.

This afternoon I went to the memorial service for a long-ago (twenty years) mentor of mine, a generous and loving husband and father, a gifted attorney, and a consummate churchman. It was a humorous, moving, and gracious tribute to a man who had touched hundreds ~ actually thousands ~ of lives in his own 85 years. I hesitated to go, since I had left the firm that bears his name when I was an associate with three children three and under, and over the past decades had gradually lost touch with everyone there. Would I feel like a voyeur? Was it all right to make an appearance in tribute to someone whose family I did not know (his wife died several years ago)?

I was so glad that a friend encouraged me to get over there. As I walked in, I saw a couple of attorneys from past lives who greeted me with warm smiles and handshakes, and when the service ended I found closer friends from the past whose greetings quickly became hugs. And I learned a lot about our recently departed friend and mentor as well.

I already knew how much he adored his wife and how passionate he was about the outdoor world -- fishing and birding in particular. But what a joy to hear about some of his more select moments as parent to his children, mentor to young attorneys, and participant in church polity. I was reminded that he honored and supported women in the law and in the church, and discovered that in his last years he had become a passionate advocate for those whom the church excludes from full participation because of their sexual preferences.

One of the speakers, a significant leader in their church, related in some detail how committed this man had been to its structure and governance, a structure which he fervently believed keeps its people together when they agree and, more importantly, when they do not. His church and my own Presbyterian Church share similar conflicts and turmoil at the moment, so I was especially struck by the wisdom that was being shared in the form of a eulogy.

I have been to several funerals in the past year, and now two of them have been for especially skilled, productive, wise, and generous men, men who were active participants in multiple arenas of life well into their eighties. Some of my best and dearest mentors and supporters right now are men and women in their seventies and eighties. They stand as an impressive reminder to the rest of us to share our own wisdom, should we ever acquire any, and to be generous and loving with our time and energy, even as both start to vanish.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Five Minutes

Lisa has a great idea for dealing with the too-busy-to-write syndrome, so I am stealing it: five minutes to catch up and that's it. Here goes:

9:56 pm: 1600 miles of driving in the past four days and my back is killing me. The Lovely Daughter is terrific -- what a joy to hear her funny stories of Life as a Camp Counselor and see how she has grown and stretched herself. We gave a ride most of the way home to a lovely young couple, counselors this year from Australia, so the camp stories multiplied several times over. Son is home from Spain, the only glitch after the ATM card being a delayed flight that cost him an unanticipated and expensive night in a LaGuardia hotel. He says that all of the good will, patience, and self-control of the passengers through many hours of security and flights sans IPODs, books, laptops, and toothpaste completely dissolved when the airlines, in a scramble to reschedule everyone into new flights upon arrival into NYC, announced that since security issues were the cause of the delays, they would not be paying for hotels. I had a lovely lunch with
Waterfall! and her sister in North Carolina, and met their parents, too! Over and out at 10:01 pm.

Friday, August 11, 2006

From Chartres to Sheep

After two days in Chartres, we returned to Paris, where we did some of the exploring I've already pictured. At the end of our travels, my husband headed back to the U.S. and I flew to Glasgow to meet the rest of the group from my church, twelve of us in all, who would be spending the next week with the Iona Community in Scotland. There are at least as many sheep as there are people on the Hebrides island of Iona -- more on them and on the rest of our experience next week!
European Travel Update:
Son made it from Athens to Vienna to Barcelona. Athens and Vienna airports are calm and he was permitted to carry hand luggage and to keep his cell phone. Travelers to the U.K. and the U.S. are not allowed to carry anything with them except wallets and glasses cases, so after he calls me from Valencia tonight I won't hear from him again until he has cleared U.S. Customs. His only problem was unrelated to the terrorist threat: 4 ATMs in the Barcelona airport were out of cash and the fifth ate his card! Luckily, he found a repairman, but that was a two-hour process, causing him to miss his train to Valencia. So he will get there about midnight and snooze in the airport, since he needs to be there at 5:00 am anyway.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Chartres VI: Wandering the Streets of the Historic City

A dream come true. Early mornings, lazy afternoons, and late evenings spent wandering the streets, hills, and Eure River paths of Chartres. Kids play in the kayaks stored under their houses, and gallinule families float down the river on mats of grass. At night the bridges are lit from underneath and many local churches and other buildings are transformed into light show canvasses. Unlike Paris, Chartres pretty much shuts down by 11:00 pm, so if you want to see the lights, you're often on your own.