December 2009


Wreath

I always feel like I should say Something Profound at the turn of a new year, a time when so many folks look back before looking ahead. Try as I might to convince myself that New Year’s Eve is somehow different and more magical than any other winter evening, however, I can’t seem to pull it off. Year-round, I’m fairly contemplative; year-round, I’m fascinated by the incessant flow of time. Why, then, should this night be any different from any other?

Entryway

Heavy drinkers refer to New Year’s Eve as “amateur night”: one night a year when merely casual drinkers decide to tie one on. I’ve already described how I feel something similar about Thanksgiving, that one day a year when everyone makes a conscious effort to Be Grateful. The older I get, the more befuddled I find myself at these enforced periods of frivolity: why should I be more grateful, more merry, or more happy this day rather than that? I’m all for gratitude, happiness, and celebration…but what if one’s emotional compass isn’t precisely aligned to those red-letter days when everyone else insists on merry-making?

74 1/2 with wreath

I have to admit I look forward to January 1st mainly because it marks a return to ordinary time: the period after the expected elation of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. J and I don’t do much out of the ordinary to mark the holiday season, and this leaves me feeling out-of-step with friends and colleagues who are more intentional when it comes to their annual merry-making. If you’re happy all year round, why should it be so extraordinary that you don’t go out of your way to be Extra Happy during the months of November and December? On Christmas, I was overjoyed simply to turn off my laptop for a much-appreciated day off spent walking around Beacon Hill with J, taking pictures. Forcing myself to do something more on Christmas would have felt arbitrary and artificial, like sitting for those portrait photographers who carefully arrange you into some stilted pose and then urge you to “Act natural!” The contentment I feel year-round is candid and unsolicited: it arises naturally on any given day, not just the red-letter ones.

Complementary

On January 2nd, my emotions become my own again, free from the external input of holiday hoopla. New Year’s Eve offers the once-a-year opportunity to see one year transform into another…but every day offers the opportunity to see one moment dissolve into the next. Tonight is a night when amateur clock-watchers try to compete with those of us who are perpetually obsessed with time’s passage: who cares about the passage of one year when you can spend your days hearkening to every passing minute?

True-blue sports fans have to chuckle at the scoreboard noise-meters that “remind” spectators when they should cheer: if you’re a true-blue sports fan, you don’t need to be prompted to “get loud” at the critical juncture of a game, and it seems to me that happiness is something similar. If you’re genuinely content with your everyday life, you don’t need the extra stimulus of the holidays to remind you of that fact; without streamers, noise-makers, and party hats to tell you when to be happy, you can simply pay attention to your life and respond appropriately.

Knock here

Tonight, J and I are staying in for New Year’s Eve; tomorrow, we’ll do our usual Friday routine, tending to the pets and taking time in the afternoon to watch the Winter Classic on TV, an understated nod to annual festivities. It isn’t every night that a New Year comes knocking, but every night you choose how you live your life, with every year like every life being nothing but an endless sequence of moments. At each critical juncture, you decide what to do with this moment and the next and the next, your New Year’s resolve continuing ad infinitum, This Present Moment reflecting the practice of every other.

Click here for a photo-set of images from Christmas on Boston’s Beacon Hill: enjoy, and happy New Year!

Empty in the middle

My six-year blogiversary was this past Sunday: it’s been six years and two days since I posted my very first blog entry on December 27, 2003. This gives me an excuse to share my annual retrospective of the past year in blog-posts, loosely organized into categories.

Life as Lorianne

This past year was personally monumental in several senses. I turned 40 this past January, an occasion I commemorated in The Big 4-0. The year 2009 also marked the five year anniversary of my separation and divorce, a milestone I revisited in posts such as Retrospect and Bella Vita.

Under the bridge

Although the daily format of blogging provides an excellent platform for keeping track of one’s mundane life, it also provides an excuse for looking back and taking stock of what one has learned over the years, something I did in posts such as Manjushri’s sword, Water under the bridge, and Checking in. There’s nothing like the death of a dear friend to make you take even deeper stock of your life, and I did so in No words and Wealth.

Not all the personal milestones in 2009 were so somber, though. In Recipe, for instance, I describe a wonderful meal a friend and I enjoyed on the occasion of her “forty-something” birthday.

Posts about Zen:

My meditation practice provides a perpetual source of blog fodder: if nothing else, sitting quietly and following your breath provides ample evidence of the boundless fecundity of your own thinking mind.

Dharma room sunbeam

In Meditation, I struggled with the question of how to illustrate my Zen practice in response to a Photo Friday prompt; in A silent place, I tried to describe, as best I could, the indescribable “place” that meditation takes you after you’ve been practicing a while. In The wisdom of mist, I returned to this idea that meditation changes you over time by considering the way a fine but constant drizzle (like those we had through much of the month of June) soaks you just as surely as steady rain, and in I stand as nigh, I shared some insights inspired by a sidewalk inscription I observed one Sunday morning before arriving for mid-morning practice at the Cambridge Zen Center. And in The replacements, I contemplated the Zen truism that “impermanence surrounds us.”

Writing

Moleskine

Like my Zen practice, my daily practice of keeping a journal fuels my blogging. In Take note and Morning routine , I describe my daily ritual of writing in my Moleskine notebook, and in Riding the waves I describe how I’ve learned not to skip these pages on days that are busy. In Purely prosaic, I talk about how journal-keeping feeds my blogging, and in The bright side, I describe how daily blogging changes the way I look at my own life. Finally, in Just breathe I described the preparations I made before presenting several of my blog-essays at a public reading with a half-dozen of my Keene State teaching colleagues.

Birds and birding

I’ve been bird-watching since I was 12 years old, so it makes sense that I’d occasionally reference birds and birding on my blog. In Extreme closeup, for instance, I describe a wild duck chase involving a Eurasian teal at Newton’s Cold Spring Park, and in Saturday at the cemetery, I describe the hoopla caused by a pair of red-tailed hawks sunning themselves on the tower at Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery. In Fair and fowl, I once again go birdwatching in a cemetery: this time in Newton Cemetery on Thanksgiving Day.

Mallard drake

In Heads up, I talk about the birds you can see even in the suburbs if you simply look up, and in Picture perfect, I narrate a trip with my family to Pickerington Ponds in central Ohio, a place I birded often when I was a teenager. In Flyby, J and I watch birds and planes at Belle Isle Marsh in East Boston, and in Of frost and pheasants, I’m startled to see a well-camouflaged pheasant on a morning dog-walk in Keene.

Sometimes birds are just birds, and sometimes birds represent something else. In Plenty, the endless flocks of migrating blackbirds I remember from my Ohio childhood serve as a metaphor for infinite creativity, and in Dreaming of Birds, the strange and exotic birds I occasionally see in my dreams are as elusive and unidentifiable as any mystery.

Sports

Waiting for the puck to drop

This year as in past years, J and I went to a lot of sporting events with cameras in hand, on a perpetual hunt for blog-worthy moments. In Freeze-frame, I explain my interest in hockey by describing my continued quest to photograph a puck in mid-drop. In Are you ready for some football and The beautiful game, I explain several of the reasons J and I have recently become soccer fans while Three tells why I’ve always loved basketball.

In The winners, J and I take a walk down the street to watch runners in the Boston Marathon, and in To the nines and Eyes, we travel all the way to Atlanta to see the Red Sox play the Braves.

Good walks remembered

Bumble bee on purple coneflower

They say that golf is a good walk ruined, but I’ve found that walking with an eye toward the bloggable actually enhances one’s perambulations, with some of the best pedestrian discoveries happening almost by accident.

In Unwind, September stride, and Leave your mind alone, for instance, I describe the dog-walks I rely upon to help me relax at the end of a long teaching day. In To make a prairie, Serendipitous, and Gossamer, I’m surprised to discover photogenic insects and arachnids, and in A place like this, The lesson of leaves, and Gone to seed, plants are the ones providing photogenic (and lesson-worthy) blog-fodder.

Art and culture

Art is a perennial source of inspiration in both my writing and blogging. In some cases, I use photographs of artwork to illustrate blog-posts about entirely different things, as is true with Dreamtime, which uses photos from Ugo Rondinone‚Äôs Clockwork for Oracles at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art to illustrate a post about the nightmares I often have before the start of a new semester. In other cases, though, I talk about art more explicitly.

Pine Sharks

In Metal, for instance, I use the occasion of a Photo Friday prompt to share photographs of my favorite installation at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts. In The sands of time, I consider a far more ephemeral medium–sand sculpture–as a metaphor for aging, and in Paper thick, the occasion of a New York City art show inspires a meditation on image and fashion. In Drawn from nature, my own nature journal sketches are the subject of scrutiny, and in Everyday use, an exhibit of art quilts leaves me wondering whether Art is the highest use an object can have.

Sounds good!

Nose in a book

At the start of 2009, in a post titled Books for free, I talked about my lifelong fondness for public libraries and my more recent appreciation for digital audiobooks. Also in January, I committed to an audiobook challenge whereby I would blog reviews for 12 audiobooks before the end of the year.

The year ends on Thursday, and I’ve blogged only two audiobook reviews even though I have listened to the full dozen books I’d committed to. Perhaps sometime before New Year’s Day, I’ll take the time to tell you about the ten other books I listened to this year, but in the meantime, I’m proud of the two reviews I did post: Where the heart is, which focuses on Marilynne Robinson’s Home, and As she lay dying, which reviews Toni Morrison’s A Mercy.

And so another blog-year turns just in time for another New Year, and as always, who knows what blog-worthy moments 2010 will bring.

Faithful to the spirit of retrospection, today’s photos are recycled from the various blog-posts that made the year-end cut. If you want to review previous blogiversary posts, you can find them here (2008), here (2007), here (2006), here (2005), and here (2004). Enjoy!

Festive

My fall semester grades are submitted, my Christmas cards and packages have been safely sent their merry ways, and a fresh batch of online classes has been prepped for the New Year. Despite today’s mild temperatures, we’ll have a white Christmas here in Newton thanks to last weekend’s snowstorm, and I’ll be stepping away from my laptop for a much-needed break this weekend. Here’s hoping your holiday is restful and happy.

Semi-plowed

According to J’s official backyard measurement, we got 12 inches of snow in Newton this weekend, starting late on Saturday night and continuing throughout the day on Sunday. Contrary to the media hype (and local supermarket panics) over this presumably apocalyptic storm, life did not screech to a halt in New England: it never does. A fresh foot of snow is Just Another Winter Storm, so even on Sunday morning as the snow still fell, folks in the suburbs were out with shovels and snowblowers, digging out as usual.

Lone snowblower

J and I had tickets for an afternoon women’s basketball game at Boston College, so since the game wasn’t canceled, we transported ourselves to the game the way we usually do: we walked. Yesterday wasn’t the first time we’ve made the seven-mile round-trip trek to BC in a snowstorm: the exertion of walking keeps you warm, and although some stretches of sidewalk weren’t plowed or shoveled, drivers were careful to leave room for the two intrepid pedestrians walking the plowed edge of Beacon Street.

Snow-laden

The exceptional thing about our walk to and from BC is that it isn’t exceptional. On the way to and from BC, we met a handful of other walkers, along with folks out shoveling driveways and folks stopped for hot chocolate before or after sledding. At the game itself, one fellow working the concession stand said he’d walked two miles through the snowstorm to get to work. Again, life in New England doesn’t screech to a halt because we got a foot of snow; instead, we quickly get to the business of digging out, and life otherwise goes on as usual.

Frosty the Two-Dimensional Snowman

Because we spent Sunday afternoon walking to and from that women’s basketball game, J spent this morning doing the snow-removal he usually would have done yesterday, snow-blowing the driveway, sidewalks, and walkways as well as raking the roof of excess snow. It’s about three hours of work he has to do whenever it snows, so it’s just as well to get 12 inches in one big storm rather than a little bit of snow here and a little bit of snow there.

Leave only footprints

As for me, I’m spending today with my paper-piles, with final grades for both Keene State and SNHU Online being due tomorrow. Whether you’re blowing through snowdrifts or battling paper-piles, it’s a long job of digging out all the same.

Green bee on purple coneflower

Maybe today’s arctic chill makes me particularly fond of this July scene. One of today’s tasks was to wrap (and tomorrow mail) a stack of 2010 photo calendars for my family back in Ohio, and of the 13 shots (12 months plus a cover image) that made this year’s cut, this image of a green bee on pollinating a purple coneflower is my favorite. I’ve always loved purple coneflowers, and it took some trying to get a handful of pictures worth sharing. And on a bitterly cold December day, it’s always good to cherish a memory of a warm and sunny July day.

This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Best of 2009. Enjoy!

Gratuitous cuteness

It’s been brutally cold today and yesterday, with windchill temperatures in the teens and single-digits. Reggie doesn’t seem to mind the cold as long as the pavement beneath his paws isn’t too icy, so we walk even in frigid temperatures, with Reggie tugging at his leash and me wrapped in layers of down and fleece.

Pristine

I’m always amazed to see wild things active and apparently undeterred by severe winter weather, as if cold doesn’t penetrate fur and feathers. Yesterday, the squirrels seemed oblivious to the cold, and this morning, a half dozen Cedar waxwings were foraging in a cluster of fruit-laden crab-apple trees, consuming fuel for their inner fires.

On cold days, it still feels good to walk, at least once you burn off your initial inertia. If you dress well, you almost don’t mind the chill, knowing full well you have a warm apartment and hot beverages to return to. Fingers inside gloves warm quickly if you swing your arms, and a long down coat will keep even your legs warm if you walk briskly. The only thing that really hurts on a frigid morning dog-walk is your face, but even that isn’t insurmountable: I wear a scarf on extremely cold days, and I haven’t lost my nose, cheeks, or watering eyes to frostbite yet.

Throughout the day today as I’ve sat grading papers at my kitchen table, I’ve repeated a silent prayer of gratitude each time I’ve heard the furnace start up in the basement below me: the sound of my apartment fueling its own inner fire.

Get your kicks

Surely it says something about my priorities that the best photo I took during Sunday’s rainy Patriots game was an image of high-kicking, Santa-suited cheerleaders. Why settle for “ho, ho, ho” when you can have “rah, rah, rah”?

Click here for a photo-set of appropriately blurry images from Sunday’s gray and drizzly game. Enjoy!

Crabapple with snow

Yesterday afternoon, I had a quintessential Winter Moment as I rearranged the snow shovel and snowshoes in the back of my Subaru in order to make room for J’s snow-blower, which I retrieved after its annual tuneup. And that’s not even mentioning the bag of emergency hats, scarves, gloves, and hand-warmers I carry in my car during the winter, or the stash of emergency snacks I keep in my car in case I ever get stranded on some snowy road between New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Now that winter’s arrived in New England, you really can’t be too prepared.

Hydrangea with snow

Airing now in Massachusetts, there’s a TV ad for a local insurance company that contrasts the romantic idea of “winter” with the actual realities of the season. “An insurance company in California thinks this is what a New England winter is like,” the announcer intones as Santa’s sleigh is shown gently floating over a quaintly snowy landscape. “We know,” the narrator continues, “that winter in New England looks like this,” and what follows is video montage showing folks shoveling insurmountable snowdrifts, folks scraping inches of ice from frozen windshields, a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam in a blinding snowstorm, and a car skidded off the road into a ditch. J and I chuckle whenever we see this commercial. Yep, that’s about right.

Snow on roses

Last weekend’s first snow was particularly picturesque, but know that’s only part of the picture. Winter is a two-faced season, and in its worst moods it’s essentially unbloggable. Words and pictures can’t capture what it’s like to walk the dog when temperatures are in the teens and it’s windy, and a blog-post can’t describe what it feels like to skitter across icy sidewalks or clamber through ankle-twisting snow heaps. I can try to describe the dirty ugliness of old snow that’s grown gray with road-exhaust or the eyesore caused by a season’s worth of road salt bleaching roads and cars a similar shade of blah. I can describe these things, and I can post an occasional picture, but ultimately you have to live through it to really understand it.

The previous three pictures show the pretty side of winter, when the snow is fresh and pristine and our souls haven’t gotten sick of it yet. A more accurate image of winter, though, is the following photo from my apartment in Keene, where at least one plow-guy apparently thinks we’re going to have an extremely snowy winter, making it necessary to leave an entire yard’s worth of space now for all the plowed snowbanks in the months to come.

Plowed

This is my contribution for yesterday’s Photo Friday theme, Winter. My landlord will probably have a heart attack when he sees, in person, that final scene of my plowed yard, especially since last year the house next door plowed their accumulated snow banks well into my backyard. During this season of snow, snow, SNOW, plow-guys eventually run out of places to shove it all.

The Abominable Snow-Dog!

You’ve seen this picture before, but it perfectly captures what Reggie looked like after this morning’s snowy dog-walk. In Newton, J says they got only a few inches of slush followed by rain, but here in Keene, we got (I’m guessing) about a half foot of snow in a storm that started overnight and continued throughout the morning with tiny, spitting flakes that seemed more like sleet than snow.

New roof, just in time

Classes were canceled at Keene State today, but Wednesday is my at-home grading day, so today’s snow-day didn’t affect me. Instead of getting the day off, I’m still snowed under a pile of fluffy white papers and digging out from under an encroaching glacier of digital to-dos. It’s the last week of classes at Keene State, so it’s easy to feel snowed in with work no matter what the weather.

If I’m stuck at home reading papers, it doesn’t much matter what it’s like outside, since I won’t be seeing the light of day much. Instead, I’m relying on hot chocolate and stamina to get me through the latest paper-pile, which I’ll hand back tomorrow, just in time to pick up another pile or two before next week’s final blizzard of exams and end-term portfolios. In other words, I won’t be going much of anywhere anytime soon.

Digging out

Blue and white

I’d asked for snow, and my wish was granted. It snowed in Boston over the weekend, the cold drizzle J and I walked through on our way to see the Bruins on Saturday night changing into wet snow by the time the game was over. It was a magical moment when we emerged from the arena and stepped into a whitening world where snowflakes were falling like feathers.

Winter wonderland

It was a slippery, slushy snow: I wouldn’t have wanted to drive home in it. But we didn’t have to drive on Saturday night; we just had to walk to the T, and I’d worn my new winter hiking boots, which are warm, waterproof, and heavy enough to provide good traction.

By Sunday morning, we had the best of all worlds: bright sun, blue sky, and the novelty of fresh snow. Saturday night’s snow was dense and wet, so it clung to trees, creating the lovely look of a winter wonderland with every branch and twig outlined in white. Somehow, almost miraculously, this wet snow melted overnight from streets, driveways, and black-topped sidewalks, leaving the Sunday morning delight of crystal-bright whiteness with no real need for snow shovel or snow-blower: a winter wish granted.

Click here for a photo-set from Sunday’s winter wonderland. Enjoy!

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