Friday, May 31, 2013


I was sitting out on the deck just now, watching the wind toss the tree branches about in a pleasant sort of way, grumpily pondering the vagaries of life. I was wearing a red t-shirt with Sheldon Cooper's face and his catchword "Bazinga!" prominently displayed.

I had closed my eyes to ponder more deeply for a minute or two and was startled to hear a nearby loud buzz . I jerked up and opened my eyes to discover an aggressive hummingbird a few inches from the red and yellow of the shirt, trying to decide whether to poke around or not. When I moved, so did the bird, disappearing into the back yard.

This happened once to a novice at Holy Hill, a young man from New Jersey who had apparently never encountered a hummingbird before. When one approached him as he sat on the monastery's deck, he thought he was being attacked by an enormous bee and fled into the house.

One thing I noticed about my experience this evening was that the arrival of the hummingbird completely derailed my somewhat grumbly train of thought. The bird came, buzzed and then disappeared. I realize that many of my troublesome thoughts are like that: they arrive, buzz and -- if I let them -- will disappear, leaving things/me in a state of pleasant calm. My problem is that I don't let the thoughts go as easily as I let the hummingbird fly away. I want to touch them, pick at them, turn them this way and that. As a result, the thoughts just tangle me up more and more. I do better when I notice the thoughts, let them just be like a passing bird and let them go, and then in a more peaceful frame of mind, re-examine what had bothered me. Or realize that there is no reason to re-examine it at all and just get one enjoying the pleasant evening that surrounds me.

Thanks, hummingbird. Come back soon when the trumpet vines are in bloom and you can have all the nectar from them that you want.

No bazinga!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

All shall be well ...

This saying, found in the writings of the anchoress Julian of Norwich, has always been a favorite. It is a timeless message.

Julian was born in England in 1342 during the time of the Black Death.

An anchoress (men were called anchorites) was a person called to a solitary life, but he or she was not cut-off from the world. Their life was one of prayer and contemplation, highly esteemed by people of the time. They thought of such a person as anchoring the presence of God in a particular location.

Dame Julian never left her cell. She had a servant who brought her meals and she kept a small garden with high wall that insulated her from the ordinary life of the time. This was not to prevent her from knowing what was going on, but to make sure that no one intruded to disrupt her life of contemplation and intercession. She listened through a curtained window to those passersby who needed counsel.

The only one who entered her space was her cat, allowed for a practical reasons: to keep the rat population at bay. (I think Sundance and Cassidy might want to take this role more seriously!) Unbeknownst to the outside world however, she had a close relationship with her beloved cat. They would sit for hours in Julian's garden in contemplation and prayer. Julian and her cat together anchored the light during one of the darkest periods of history.

Okay, I admit the cat may have been contemplating the birds in the garden, but even so ...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Breaking rocks

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Back to normal ...

We had company over the holiday weekend. Helen and Jay came down from St. Paul, and Peter, Jennifer and Parker Joy came up from Evergreen Park. This was the first time we met Jennifer's daughter, a lively and easy six-year-old. She is bright and can pretty much take care of entertaining herself. They went to a water park, but I think she may have enjoyed roaming around our woods on a nature scavenger hunt as much as anything.

Helen and Jay went home Sunday afternoon and Peter and family headed back about lunchtime on Monday. The house is about back to normal, the cats are settling down to their routine and I am trying to get back into mine today while Tom is over at the railroad training a new conductor. There are no basement workers here today, which is unfortunate as far as progress on that  project goes. But it means I have a bit of quiet to get back to my regular morning readings, reflections, meditation and exercise. So that is all good.

I had a nice message from one of the UK Discalced Carmelites about my Gratian/Gracian translation. It is always encouraging to hear from someone who knows about Gracian (he has been translating a biography) and who likes what I did. There were tricky bits and I was not always sure I was making the best choices in my translation. But that is the translator's burden!

Monday, May 27, 2013

This is me ...

Friday, May 24, 2013

Book news

For some reason, my small book on Jerome Gratian (AKA Jerome Gracian) has recently begun selling better. We are not talking big sales here, of course. But of the three books I have published, this is the one that generally is of interest only to a small group of people studying the history of the Teresian Carmel's beginnings. His autobiography is about to be published in English as part of an effort to have him beatified (a step on the road to sainthood), and that may have stirred up some interest.

I was involved in a small way in editing the translation of the autobiography. In the process I was pleased to discover a footnote referring favorably to my own book. Perhaps after that volume gets on the market, where it will be vigorously marketed and is sure to sell much better than mine, I will see a small bump in sales, too. Whether I do or not, I have a lot of respect for the priest who translated the autobiography and appreciate his kind words about the translation of the minor work that forms the bulk of my book.

Tom did the portrait of Gracian for the cover of my book, based on an old one that he found online. The publisher of the autobiography plans to use the portrait as part of their cover design, too. Tom agreed to let them. He asked that he not be acknowledged by name, however, because he had only taken an existing work and modified it. Trust me, his version looks much better than the original, but I understand his feelings about it.

The book on Elijah, for which Tom also did a great cover based on an Eastern Christian icon, is my bestseller. The John of the Cross mystery is my favorite though, probably because it was the most difficult for me to write. Apparently it is also the most difficult for people to read, unfortunately!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Weave me the sunshine

A college roommate sent me a CD he had put together, a pretty eclectic mix of music. I managed to transfer the songs to my MP3 player and have been enjoying them as background music while I walk down our road. The main problem is that a lot of it is good dance music and I have to restrain myself from hip-hopping all over the road. We live out in the country, but there is more and more traffic between the two golf resorts that are at either end of the road, and I am not sure I want to startle the people driving their fancy SUVs with my bad imitation of a scene from Footloose.

At any rate, one of the songs is by Peter, Paul and Mary: "Weave me the sunshine."

The lyrics made me think of the people suffering in Oklahoma. Here is an abbreviated version:

Weave, weave, weave me the sunshine  
Out of the falling rain.
 Weave me the hope of a new tomorrow  
And fill my cup again...

They say that the tree of love  
Will shine on me again;
Grows on the bank of the river of suffering.
 Shine on me again.

If only I could heal your sorrow, 
Shine on me again,
I'd help you to find your new tomorrow,
Shine on me again now.

Only you can find that mountain  
Out of the falling rain, 
 If you want to drink at the golden fountain: 
Shine on me again... 

The people of Oklahoma, of course, are not the only ones suffering today. I encourage you, if you are able, to make a donation to an organization like the Red Cross or perhaps to another one that helps people in your local area. Lately when I check out at some stores, they ask if I want to donate a dollar to specific charities. I am trying to make it a habit to do so when it is a group I believe does good. 

A dollar. I won't even notice it when my credit card bill comes through. 

Maybe my little dollars can be part of someone somewhere weaving sunshine out of the falling rain. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013


The odds are you are unaware of the recent increase in violent crimes against gays (and those perceived as gays) internationally and here in the States. These stories do not often make a ripple in the media. Besides the sadness I feel because of the violence and the suffering of the victims and the attackers, I am sad to see how little public outcry one hears from religious leaders about what is happening. I am not surprised, and that fact saddens me even more.

The Buddha once prayed, "Let none deceive or despise another anywhere. Let none wish harm to another, in anger or in hate." I make that part of my daily meditation. It is so easy to wish harm and then to do harm in anger or in hate. I have to fight the temptation to think people who suffer do so because they deserve it. I was raised in a Christian home and was taught better than that.


After a long-lingering winter, we are now in full spring and flowers are blooming. This is the corner of the sidewalk in front of the house. Besides the phlox, violets, vinca, bleeding hearts, grape hyacinths and a lonely red tulip, the iris are ready to open up if they can survive the rainstorms we expect tonight and this week. If you can see the tiny bit of yellow near the middle of the right edge of the photo just below the bench, that is one of the day lilies Mama gave me from her house. There are plenty of other lilies around, but that one looks like it will be the first to pop.

The lilac bushes are out as well as our puny little crab apple and the sand cherries. It is now fun to sit out on the deck or the front porch, with the permission of the wasps, and enjoy the flowers and the bird song.


Thanks for the greetings on my birthday. Here is the one from Steve in Kenya:

Asante sana!

Saturday, May 18, 2013


I don't know. If you have to eat zucchini, grilled sounds like the way to go.

We went out to eat with friends tonight at a local vegetarian/vegan restaurant. Guess that's why this caught my eye.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Brazil, officially the Federative Republic of Brazil, is the largest country in both South America and the Latin American region. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population, with over 193 million people. 

Motto on the flag: Order and Progress

Monday, May 13, 2013


Around the Dells during tourist season, we see all sorts of license plates. Most out-of-state plates, not too surprisingly, are from Illinois or Minnesota.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Yesterday an oriole showed up while I was on the phone with my mother. It was flapping around near the deck doors, attracted apparently by some plastic wrap on a useless hornet trap or maybe by the large stained glass panel that hangs inside the door. Sundance saw it and came running over, crouched down and tried to figure out how to get through the glass.

The oriole flew around quite a while, and I went out later and put a cut orange on the deck. Nothing after that. I figured the raccoon would take the fruit, but it was still there this morning. So I put a tablespoon of blackberry jelly on it -- not having any of the recommended grape. Later in the day the oriole was back, picking happily away at jelly and orange.

Saw my first towhee of the year, although I had heard their call already. Also the first cowbird, the only parasitic bird in the state, laying its eggs in the nests of other birds for hatching and raising. I am tempted to think, "Bad bird!", but they are also a reminder of the bison herds that they once followed across the prairies. Peg reports sighting a scarlet tanager and indigo bunting. Beautiful birds, both of them.

Lots of activity at the feeder today. Maybe the birds are stocking up in preparation for the expected sub-freezing temperatures tonight.

Hope everyone had a happy Mothers Day!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Trying to work on my attitude

I added to my daily meditations the thought, "May those whose hell it is to hate and hurt find shelter in my heart." That may not make much sense to you, but for me it is a reminder that just about every religious and/or spiritual tradition agrees on one thing: we are supposed to love everyone. Everyone, even, as Someone famously said, those who hate us.

So instead of hating the haters, I am working on a different approach. I don't know that it will have any impact on them, but if it makes me a better person, that will be my little contribution to a better world. The other approach just has me adding my share of bitter.

Recently ran across a line about our minds being like tofu. Tofu has little flavor by itself, but it picks up the taste of what is has been soaking in. Time to soak in something with better flavor.

I have mentioned this before, but I have to keep reminding myself. Feel free to ignore it.

See how loving I am getting? I suppose it would have been more loving to say you could ignore this at the beginning of the post, but hey! This getting-better thing is a process.

Down to zero tonight!

Okay, so it is only going to get down to 0 degrees Celsius, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, it is freezing, just barely, and this is May 11. We expect a high today of 52 or so (Fahrenheit) and maybe 55 tomorrow for Mother's Day, followed by another night with temps at freezing. Then in typical Wisconsin style, we hit 80 again on Tuesday. As I think I have mentioned before, the average last frost date here is May 15. (Tuesday will be May 14.)
When I mentioned to Tom that we were about to have two nights at freezing and then hit 80 on Tuesday, his response was, "That's Wisconsin. Usually it does that in one day."
On a brighter note, today there is an arts and crafts Fair on the Square in Baraboo and their library is also having its book and bake sale. If all goes well, we will get over there for a while.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dirty raccoon!

In order to deprive the squirrels of a perch on the bird feeder pole, Tom recently moved a suet feeder to a post on the deck. It attracts woodpeckers, including the pileated, and we wanted it placed where we could see the birds. The first night it was there, a raccoon discovered it, opened the wire box, scooped out the suet and proceeded to eat most of it and scatter the remnants. I realized what had happened and Tom eventually used zip ties to put an end to that. The birds are happy and the raccoons are foiled.


When it rained, we discovered that the raccoon's greasy, suet-covered paw prints all over the deck. They are invisible when the wood is dry, but just a bit of water brings them out.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Aztalan State Park is a Wisconsin state park located just south of the town of Aztalan and established in 1952. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. The park covers 172 acres (0.7 km2) along the Crawfish River.

Aztalan is the site of an ancient Mississippian culture settlement that flourished during the 10th to 13th centuries. The indigenous people constructed massive earthwork mounds for religious and political purposes. They were part of a widespread culture with important settlements throughout the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. Their trading network extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast, and into the southeast of the present-day United States.

Yesterday was a beautiful day and Tom and I decided to pay a visit to Aztalan, a couple of hours away. It is a fairly simple site but one I had been wanting to visit for some time. I would also like to see Cahokia someday, where the Mississippian culture's most famous center was located near present-day St. Louis. It amazes me that I learned so little about this highly developed native civilization when I studied American history in school. We oohed and aahed over Aztec, Mayan and Incan ruins but paid little attention to the impressive earthwork constructions here in the States. Maybe the fact that they used dirt instead of massive stones was part of the reason they seemed less important. Or perhaps the fact that, unlike those more famous Latin American civilizations, they had disappeared long before the arrival of Europeans.

Whatever the reason, the park is a lovely and peaceful reminder of people who lived, laughed and loved here before us.

Birds of a feather and the human condition

I ran across this story online about rooks. (Americans may want to think of crows, because they are related.) It sounds sadly human ...
"A lady wrote to the correspondence columns of a newspaper to recount an interesting experience. The trees in her garden provided the nesting site for a large colony of rooks. One day she observed a pair of the birds starting to build their nest at some distance from the main colony, but this independence could not be tolerated by the rest of the colony (rooks are strongly social and gregarious) and they demolished this attempt at a break- away. The couple did not give up, but persisted in a second attempt; this suffered a like fate, as did their third attempt at diversity. The day after their third effort had failed, the lady was awoken by unusual sounds from the birds. She got up and went to the window, from where she saw the rooks ranged in a circle on the grass, and in the centre of the circle was an isolated pair. After a period of agitated excitement the mob attacked the errant pair and killed them."

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

I won't do all the birds that come through here because that would never end. Peg had mentioned seeing grosbeaks and today for the first time this season I saw a male in the back. Later Tom and I were walking along the road and there was some bird warbling its little heart out. We couldn't spy it, but I came back and managed to locate the sound online. It turned out to be our friendly neighborhood Rose-breasted Grosbeak (or several), claiming territory or looking for a partner, no doubt. Click the arrow below to hear him sing.

Not really the prettiest of birds -- which of us is? --, but the males do bring a splash of color . The song is complex and lovely, but Tom thinks a little bit goes a long way.

BTW, isn't it amazing that you can go online and with just a few clicks track down a bird song? There is even an app for it, if you are into that sort of thing.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Happy Easter!

Most Christians celebrated Easter several weeks ago. Some Christians do not celebrate religious feasts at all. And the Eastern Christian Churches, the Orthodox, celebrate Easter tomorrow, May 5. Since I have family members and friends in all three of those groups -- the early celebrants, the non-celebrants and the later celebrants, I want to take an opportunity to wish the Orthodox a happy Easter.

On a much more secular note, tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, so sombreros off to the wonderful people of Mexico wherever they may be. I remember someone once ridiculed George W. Bush because they thought he was ignorant about Mexico's Independence Day. Then-President Bush pointed out that Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain on September 16. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a regional holiday commemorating the Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla.

Thus endeth the lesson for today.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cassidy and the catterel

Doggerel is a derogatory term for verse considered of little literary value. The word probably derived from dog, suggesting either ugliness, puppyish clumsiness, or unpalatability (as in food fit only for dogs). "Doggerel" is attested to have been used as an adjective since the fourteenth century and a noun since at least 1630.

I found myself composing verses of little (no) literary value for the cat this morning as she played let-me-out-let-me-in. What do you call doggerel written for a cat? Catterel?

Turns out, as usual, that I am not so original as I thought. There is actually a blog where you can find examples of catterel, called catterel: A Cat's Eye View. Click on that link for more.

Thursday, May 2, 2013