Love In Action

 


Love

In

Action


a column by

Elizabeth Hill


Elizabeth Hill is an artist, teacher, nurse, and mother of three grown daughters.

Her early work in pediatric nursing inspired her international award-winning sculptures, which led her to live at a spiritual and eco-conscious community called Findhorn in Scotland for four years.

There her art became community-based, which ultimately led her back into nursing.



She now finds the two careers have merged in her teaching as well as creating therapeutic products for people with minimal mobility.

www.findhorn.org

www.elizabethhillart.com


Read Love in Action 2016

HERE

 

To Have a Piece of Cake


Recently, while visiting my life-long friend in West Virginia, we went to see a play called “The Cake” that was part of the 2018 Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown. The production was wonderful, poignant, hilarious, and thought provoking. Since then, my mind keeps revisiting scenes in all its subtle and not-so-subtle-moments.


Playwright Bekah Brunstetter—born into a conservative North Carolina family—scripted the play at the same time the Supreme Court was grappling with the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, involving a gay couple having been denied a wedding cake on the basis of the baker’s religious beliefs.


Brunstetter’s play is set in North Carolina. It is a present-day story of a lesbian couple—one, an African American from Brooklyn—the other, a Caucasian hometown girl who, together with her fiancé, came to North Carolina in hopes of getting married there.


As scenes from this play remain in my consciousness, questions that I didn’t anticipate continue to come up in me. For instance, I sometimes make portrait cake toppers for weddings of friends and family. Each one is made with love and care. I gladly make them for all types of relationships, which makes it challenging to step into the shoes of someone who feels they must adhere to beliefs they consider to be religious law.


I ask myself- “Would I agree to create a caketopper for someone whose values and actions strongly oppose mine?” As in the case of the Colorado baker, might I feel that request to be an infringement on my own civil rights?


Each character in “The Cake” tapped a place of empathy in me—enough to open my mind to consider their various points of view.  As the story unfolded, each character was faced with potentially mind-altering challenges.  Unfamiliar ideas about marriage equality, gender roles, race, regional culture, and religious beliefs rattled core beliefs of each one. 


Each individual had to decide whether or not to embrace change. Personally, I came away feeling the issues were so multileveled, they could not be fully resolved with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.


I think most of us would agree that people make cakes to share. We might even say that a cake’s function generally is to include—not to exclude—others. Offering a piece of cake to someone can be a form of communing with that person. Likewise, accepting a piece of cake from someone can express regard for whom or what is being celebrated.


I don’t pretend to own the ‘right’ answers to questions about other people’s lives. The times we live in seem to bring out the best and the worst in each of us. Why is it that statements and opinions are so often delivered with emphatic self-righteousness and finished with exclamation points? Is this way of communicating opening minds and hearts for discussion between opposing views, or does it only divide us more?


What I appreciated about “The Cake” is that, along with the things that caused separation among the characters, there was also genuine care and good will within the group. Though they faced confusion, disappointment, and significant inner conflict when struggling with things they did not understand, it was the underlying love of family and friendships that strengthened their resolve to search their hearts. All of this emotional heaviness was punctuated and sweetened by precious moments of hilarity.


The painting shown here, titled “Lavender Cake, “ created by the artist Kate McCabe, pretty much visually describes the play, “The Cake.” In Kate’s words, “These cakes came out of a show I did about nuclear proliferation and they were symbols of hope floating in voids, something to focus on in a tumultuous time.”


I find this painting to be alive with tenderness, humor, caring, and celebration. It is like a portrait of the foibles of humans, and just wabi-sabi enough to elicit empathy. As it emerges from a background of darkness and perhaps uncertainly, it offers itself up proudly as a bit of gratitude and comfort food for us all.


To inquire about McCabe’s cake paintings: info@kidnapyourself.com

Instagram @kidnapkate and the site kidnapyourself.com

http://catf.org/cake-bekah-brunstetter/



Mother and Child



When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

~ Fred Rogers


It was not easy for my aging parents to accept that I left nursing to make art. Mom even once referred to my sculptures as, “Big dust collectors.”


Nevertheless, there she was—one arm cradling the half-carved wooden baby girl, the other yanking me out of bed where I lay curled up in the aftermath of a life-shattering trauma. She’d shrunk by then into a wisp of herself—her bum ticker reminded to beat by a pacemaker. When we reached the back yard, she plugged in my hundred-foot outdoor cord, shoved the wood baby into my arms, and said emphatically, “Go carve!”


I walked in a tear-streaming haze toward the shaded part of the yard where—one previously better day—I’d set up a carving station to complete the three-quarter life-sized sculpture.


In spite of my raining eyes, carving commenced as if it was being accomplished by a part of me I did not yet know very well. Eventually, frenzy set in to complete the work—leaving the outer surfaces rough. My life depended on it.


One time, Dad emerged from the house, his pale blue eyes mostly blind and his gait unsteady by then. Wearing sloppy slippers, he’d somehow navigated across the blacktop and uneven ground, carrying two long and heavy antique pipe vises. Without a word, he got to work steadying the vises so I could laminate wood for arms onto the partially carved adult figure.


Mother and Child—an image of my mother and me—breathed life back into me during that dark and heavy time. Step by step the broken pieces of my self reconnected, and started me on a path to integration and wholeness.


We all need helpers in times of crisis. For these times, I offer a few more words from the gentle soul of Mr. Rogers,


“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, "It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem." Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

~Fred Rogers



Fifty Years of Gratitude in One Beautiful Weekend


One after another we stood and found a sister’s hand to hold—the singing round of our Alma Mater nearly completed—as together our voices gently glided into a reverent humming refrain of its tune. It was, in those few solemn musical moments, as if fifty years had never parted us at all.


I didn’t expect tears to flow, but there they were—like a misty veil of dusty rememberings—welling up and dripping down my cheeks.


I’ve heard that tears have many distinct tastes, depending on the emotions that cause them to flow. Some tears are sweet, others salty or bitter. Though I was not, at that moment, engaged in analyzing the chemical makeup of my tears, I was certainly overflowing with respect and sisterhood for this group of women with whom I shared those three regimented and often overwhelming years of hard work becoming registered nurses.


Unlike most nursing programs today, we lived in a dormitory on the hospital grounds. We ate all our meals together, and absolutely relied on each other for support and teamwork on the wards.


After our first year, we worked as essential staff in the hospital—five days a week and year-round—with a vigorous schedule that included blocks of day and evening shifts in all the various departments. By year three, night shift was added to our roster along with being in charge of whole wards with thirty or more patients. Most nights, there would be two auxiliary staff people to help with patient care, though there was only one Nursing Supervisor for the whole hospital who could be paged if there was an emergency. Most wards were routinely at full capacity, sometimes also jammed with extra patients in beds lining the hallways.


During our recent 50th reunion weekend—while stories from those long-ago student days were being shared—one classmate quietly stated:


“Every single day during those three years, I was scared!”


Her words landed on me like a soothing suave on a tired old wound. I thanked her for saying it out loud!


In the 60’s, student nurses did not practice their craft in cyberspace or on rubber dummies! We learned—sometimes by trial and error from very early days in our training—on flesh and blood human beings! We were teenage girls charged with responsibilities way beyond our years, and our actions could be life enhancing or even life threatening!


I was eighteen that first year, assigned one day to care for an elderly man who had suffered several severe strokes. He wasn’t able to talk, but I do remember the sparkle in his eyes and his smile, made crooked by the strokes. I was aware his chart had DNR on it, which meant he was not to be resuscitated if he stopped breathing.


That morning, I helped him eat a bit of breakfast and did his routine care until my lunch break. By the time I returned, he had slipped into a coma, and orders were to give him comfort care.


I sat next to him and held his hand for several hours as his breathing slowed and became irregular. Then, gasps began. I knew from our classroom studies these gasps meant he would soon take his final breath.


Fear overtook me. Though still holding his hand, I had to turn away. I felt as if I was invading a sacred space, a moment that was too private for me to watch.


Later, I felt ashamed of my fear response. I had been the only other person in the room at that final moment, and my heart ached as if I’d let him down.


This became a defining moment for my nursing years ahead when I took care of youngsters who were born with life-shortening conditions, and whom I’d come to know and love over years of their frequent hospital stays. As each of them arrived at life’s end—most of them teens or young adults—no longer was it just my duty, it was an honor to hold a hand or simply be fully present for each of them during their journey Home.

These extraordinary and unforgettable kids taught me that Fear has no power over Gratitude for Life.


I never again turned away.


For me, these past fifty years have been, in part, a process of integrating nursing with being a sculptor. They are now one and the same, which brings to mind a beautiful quotation—not from someone in the medical field, but from the late great tenor, Luciano Pavarotti.


He said, “If you don’t have stage fright before a performance, you are not making Art!”


Perhaps, this too, applies to the Art of Nursing.




May Hem at 510


Mom told me this many years ago. I don’t recall exactly when it happened, so let’s say it was sometime in May, circa 1952. I would’ve been six years old, living then in the house I now own.


I may have mentioned before that my little white house is a bungalow, not unlike many others in this suburban town. And, like most of the others, it was constructed in the 1930’s from a Sears and Roebuck prefab kit.


Though the house is less than 1000 square feet in dimension, the back yard is proportionately large by comparison—tightly surrounded on three sides by neighbors’ fenced-in yards.


In the 50’s when we were kids, my three older brothers loved to build forts as well as race their hand-made go-carts in the back yard. A rusty swing set stood in the middle, on which I spent many May-through-November days. Needless to say, no grass could grow in our playground, so Mom eventually gave up on grooming gardens except around the edges, against the fences.


Not sure, but it may have been an early impulse of my future life as a sculptor that made me love to dig in the dirt. Whatever the reason, my hands, knees, and feet found themselves most days in muddy messes.


I guess it was no surprise to Mom that I would get sick with intestinal worms—most probably of the pinworm variety—which were all too easily contagious among kids that spent their days outside.


Most 50’s Moms stayed at home with their children, and were expected to keep the household in ship shape and germ-free. A child having worms in his or her gut was not something a mom would want to announce to the neighbors. My Mother was also a nurse, and had become our neighborhood’s backyard wellness expert. So, I can only imagine it was a bit embarrassing for her when I got worms. 


The old-fashioned treatment for enteric worms lasted a full two weeks. Infected kids were given daily oral doses of a suspension containing Gentian Violet, which dyed everything it touched—including the child’s digestive system—into a brilliant bright violet hue.


It just so happened that during the time I was being quietly treated for this condition, our sewer got clogged. That, in itself, would not have been an issue, had it not been that the access opening to the sewer sat at the mouth of the curbside driveway in front of the house, and in full view of the neighbors. Without warning, the sewer’s metal cover shot skyward, and the hole it opened erupted like a volcano, gushing great gobs of bright purple sewage out into the light of day and all over the driveway and street!


This old story came to mind a few days ago, while watching the national news on TV—only this time I envisioned pressure steadily building inside and underneath another—much grander—White House! Like the worms that invaded my gut as a child, a systemic infestation of secrets presently multiplies and festers in the underbelly of The White House.


We are living in extraordinary times. I, for one, choose to tame my frustrations and fears with a bit of levity. Surely, we all know that plugged-up mounting pressure eventually must blow, sometimes into category 8 seismic eruptions! I invite readers to join me in visualizing bright purple while watching for signs of leakage on Pennsylvania Avenue.




[Photo Credit: Emily Cantrill]





Blooming Through The Gloaming


When you’re in a dark place, you sometimes think you’ve been buried.

Perhaps you’ve been planted.

Bloom.


~Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life




(Photo credit: Kate Hill Cantrill)


A grey sky hung low and heavy this morning, while a warm, damp, gentle breeze whispered in an eerie stillness. It was just last week that snow lay on the ground, punctuated here and there by brave young crocuses, daffodils, and tulips reaching upward toward the life-giving sun. As the icy fury, persistence, and challenges of winter gradually die away, new life and color begin to grow again.

 

One by one these flowers are blooming, their well-planted roots and stems becoming strong enough to hold high their heads—buds opening toward their fullest potential. Year after year, the cycle of life to death and death to life continues as these perennials germinate and multiply. With time, these flowers spread outward and join together with countless others, sometimes creating lovely, rainbow-colored blanket displays that are capable of transforming their world into magical places of Peace and Beauty.


If your heart is a volcano, how shall you expect flowers to bloom?

~Khalil Gibran




Today’s strangely mysterious gloaming sky reminded me that we humans, too, are part of nature. Perhaps, if we are open to the possibilities, the waxing and waning of the seasons with all their colors, textures, tones, their charms, as well as their challenges can help sustain our strength and resolve through these times of necessary change.


Recently, many American teenagers have managed to plant themselves firmly into the heart of our nation, leading the way in a most contentious yet essential struggle for nothing less than justice, sensible legislation, and positive transformation across our land. May the ever-changing seasons be of sustenance for body, mind, and spirit in each of these young peaceful warriors as they move forward in the tasks ahead.


Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher

can change the world.

~Malala Yousafzai




Shawabty and Snowdrops


On the 13th of March in 1996 tragedy struck the Scottish town of Dunblane when a townsman gunned down sixteen first-graders and their teacher in the school’s gymnasium.


In its aftermath, condolences and gifts arrived from all around the world. The mayor of Dunblane graciously accepted each one in the town’s magnificent cathedral. At the time, I was preparing for an extended stay in the north of Scotland, and decided to donate a plaster cast of one of my sculptures, called Shawabty, to the grief-stricken town.


The entire transept of Dunblane’s cathedral—vaulted to near infinity with a huge wall-to-wall carved wood alter—overflowed with gifts. Stuffed bears graced every available space.


Shawabty is a sculpture inspired by ancient Egyptian tomb figures of the same name, holding tools of manual labor in crossed arms. They were intended to serve and care for the deceased in the afterlife. The Shawabty I sculpted holds two children in her arms. On her base, I attached an engraved plague that read:


Shawabty — Guardian of the Wee Souls


In Scotland, March brings a bit of hope for spring when the Snowdrops begin to pop their narrow green leaves up out of the frozen ground. Shortly there after, their snowy blossoms appear, each top-knobbed in green. Neither the flower nor its foliage is particularly remarkable. The white, nodding blossoms are small and unassuming, and hang like tiny lanterns from 4-inch stems. Their simple grace can be quite delightful because they appear while most other plants remain asleep. Folklore, legends, magic, and even superstitions have been attributed to Snowdrops.




The blooming of Snowdrops—at least for the people of Dunblane—became a reminder and symbol of the innocent lives lost. Their "Snowdrop Campaign," which took its name from the only spring flower in bloom at the time of the massacre, built momentum among the British people and their government, ultimately resulting in a ban on all private handguns.


The Firearms Act was passed in 1997, with another stronger version passing later that same year. Gun violence in Briton has reduced significantly since then.


Next week, Scotland’s Snowdrops will once again begin to emerge—their heads bowed humbly after pushing themselves up through the frigid Scottish ground—into the light of day. That image gives me pause to think about all innocent souls everywhere who have witnessed, suffered from, or been lost through gun violence.


It’s no secret that issues around guns here in the US are more divisive and entrenched than in the UK, where the people of Dunblane were able to get gun laws changed by taking action through their grief.


Presently, I am in awe of the bravery, fortitude, and determination of Florida’s Parkland teenagers who are standing up, organizing, and demanding positive change in our gun laws. May the wave they are riding swell to a tsunami of preserving life over profit and politics. Along with countless others, I am with them all the way.




Not So Plain Jane


“The greatest danger to our future is apathy”- Dr. Jane Goodall.


As she approached the podium I could feel her energy, which was like a grandmother’s quilt wrapping around us.


She spoke—her voice occasionally squeaking with a British upswing—each word eloquently delivered. Gradually, the hall began to resonate with a special kind of power I’d describe as Gentleness.


It was 1999, and The International Conference on Sustainability commenced at Findhorn where I lived at the time. Participants arrived from all around the world. Experts in the fields of renewable energies, planetary conservation, alternative currencies, ecopsychology, and others offered talks and workshops related to their particular fields.


Among them was Dr. Jane Goodall—British primatologist, ethnologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace—who lived over three decades in the Gombe National Park, studying chimpanzees. Through her sometimes up-close-and-personal studies, she shattered long-held notions about chimpanzee behaviors, diet, abilities, families, and social interactions.


Dr. Goodall concluded that chimpanzees have emotions and feelings, and, like humans, can make rudimentary tools when foraging for food. Contrary to an old belief that chimpanzees were a peaceful and vegetarian species, Jane observed occasional violence within their own family units as well toward other animals. Though chimpanzees mostly eat fruit, Jane witnessed them regularly hunting for meat, their main prey being red colobus monkeys.


Her unorthodox research methods sometimes drew criticism from more traditional scientists. This never deterred Jane in her work, as she knew in her heart she was blazing a whole new trail. Jane even rejected the scientific tradition of assigning numbers to in-study animals. Instead, out of respect for a species she regarded as sentient, and based on her observations of their individual personalities, Jane named each chimpanzee.


Now considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, Jane Goodall is also a dedicated advocate for all animals and their natural habitats worldwide. She is also a tireless and outspoken ambassador for sustainable energy initiatives in order to combat climate change.


A vegetarian, Jane speaks out against the inhumane treatment of domestic animals in the industrialized meat industry, as well as the toxic pesticides used in industrial farming.


I was thrilled that day at Findhorn—now nearly twenty years ago—to sit and eat lunch at the same table with Jane Goodall. The community dining hall was very informal and unpretentious, as was the conversation around our long and fully occupied table.


After lunch, each of us placed our dishes and cutlery in the KP area. As I turned to leave, Jane was just behind me. Our eyes met, we shook hands, and I thanked her for all she does for the world. I came away from that moment realizing that true power is not only heartfelt, but also humble.


In 1991, Dr. Goodall founded Roots & Shoots, a youth education and service program for youngsters of all ages. The program’s mission is:


…to foster respect and compassion for all living things, to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs, and to inspire each individual to take action to make the world a better place for people, other animals, and the environment. *


Through the Roots and Shoots website, youngsters everywhere can participate in ongoing service projects or design their own projects in whatever categories they may choose.


“Here we are, the most clever species ever to have lived.

So how is it we can destroy the only planet we have?”- Dr. Jane Goodall


Today, at the age of 83, Jane continues to travel the world three hundred days each year, learning from people of all cultural backgrounds, and raising awareness everywhere she goes.


Without a doubt, Dr. Jane Goodall is living proof that one person with an loving and courageous heart, a forever curious mind, and a little bit of cheeky sass can steer our world toward a better tomorrow.


* Mission Statement from Roots and Shorts website

https://www.rootsandshoots.org/aboutus

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/jane-the-movie/




My Weekend with Lenny


New Years Day 2018, I returned from an inspirational four day weekend of Leonard Bernstein’s music at a nearby retreat called Pendle Hill—gifted to me by my eldest daughter, Christina—with whom I’ve enjoyed many memorable musical moments.


Maestro Karl Middleman—a man with an encyclopedic mind and a heart as expansive as his illustrious subject—facilitated this fascinating course. He made the music and the man come alive, using remarkably descriptive, mindfully chosen words. At one point, he surprised me by delivering a string of what came to be meaningful jokes—seemingly out of nowhere—crafted with perfect timing and the impishly droll expression of a stand-up comic.


Maestro Middleman showed us numerous videos of performances throughout the weekend. One, for me, was no less than life-altering, in that it ripped open my heart to more fully understanding the soul and genius of Leonard Bernstein. It was his Symphony No. 3 Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the Dead. Kaddish—meant to be a collective prayer—is only to be spoken in the company of at least ten people.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnOObn3Eo0g


This particular performance took place at Hiroshima on August 6th, 1985. The chorus and orchestra were composed entirely of young people, with narrator and a soprano soloist. This work is one that Bernstein struggled with and altered repeatedly for many years before this performance.


The female orchestra members donned frilly red ruffled dresses, making them look like innocent little girls. The young men in the orchestra, along with the entire youth choir, narrator, and Bernstein himself dressed in black and white. Soloist Barbara Hendricks wore a flowing angelic white gown adorned with silver sparkles.


By 1985, Bernstein, a white-haired senior living with chronic lung disease, was still robust at the time of this performance. The lung disease would eventually precipitate his death just five years later. For this performance, he sported his signature handkerchief—this one red—in the heart pocket of his white dinner jacket.


I mention the clothing of these performers because I believe it was an intentional visual element in this multi-layered masterpiece. This Symphony No. 3 Kaddish is both a Requiem and a Celebration of Life—on all levels—the personal, national, international, and universal.  It is simple yet complex, intimate while being remote, and provocative as well as reassuringly entertaining.


Three quarters through the sacred work, Bernstein pays homage to his dear friend, Aaron Copeland, with a hopeful and optimistic segment that leads into the final triumphal segment that celebrates the redemption of the Soul of Mankind.


Like many other kids back in the late 1950’s through to the early 70’s, I regularly watched Bernstein’s Young Peoples’ Concerts on TV. I was fascinated by how he explained the art of music in ways I could understand. He discussed topics such as relationships of jazz and rock n’ roll to classical music. He also introduced his TV audience to many great composers and performers—among them, the seven year Yo-Yo Ma. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPU-IAbzSRo


I consider Leonard Bernstein my first mentor, not just for my early years playing cello, but also as a sculptor. He was a man with a universal heart who treasured diversity, revered justice, and sought inclusion for all. His music could not be contained in any one category—indeed, he reveled in blending widely disparate genres, as well as shattering prejudices relating to theatrical music.


Like his life-long friend, Aaron Copland; Leonard Bernstein’s music expresses a quintessentially American sound.


Toward the end of our time with Maestro Karl Middleman, I asked him if he thought Kaddish might have been Bernstein’s magnum opus.


He replied, “What about West Side Story?”


To that, I answered, “Yes, of course! West Side Story is where he brought all of his genius together!”


I see now that West Side Story, as well as his other theatrical works, was Bernstein’s vehicle for touching the hearts of everyone, not just the symphony hall regulars. For this, he was often criticized, but in my mind, this is exactly what I love most about his unbounded humanity. He—the grandson of an ultra Orthodox rabbi—cared about all people, and to all of us he gave his whole heart and soul.


One of the very special children I’m privileged to take care of as a nurse has a favorite song I frequently sing to her: “Somewhere” from West Side Story. This link’s for you, my beautiful young friend! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BQMgCy-n6U


There’s a Bernstein quote I’ve shared with students over many years of teaching. I’d like to share it now with everyone who reads this, as its message remains so needed in the world today.


“I still hear people asking: What have we artists to do with oil and economy, survival and honor? The answer is Everything. Our truth, if it is heartfelt, and the beauty we produce out of it, may perhaps be the only guidelines left, the only clear beacons, the only source of renewal of vitality in the various cultures of our world. Where economists squabble, we can be clear. Where politicians play political games, we can move hearts and minds. Where the greedy grab, we can give. Our pens, voices, paintbrushes, our words, our C-sharps and B-flats can shoot up higher than any oil well, can break down self-interest, can reinforce us against moral deterioration. Perhaps, after all, it is only the artist who can reconcile the mystic with the rational, and who can continue to reveal the presence of God in the minds of men.”






The Fruitcake Caper


My mother made wonderful fruitcakes. The recipe was handed down from her mother—they were basically buttery pound cakes chock full of candied fruits and nuts. Once they were baked and cooled, the cakes were wrapped in cheese cloth and then amply moistened with brandy.


Dad, a proud teetotaler, who often would say that liquor had never crossed his lips, didn’t know about the brandy. He just really loved this annual holiday treat, so Mom never felt compelled to reveal her secret ingredient to him.


In 1990, Mom was asked to make her fruit cake to be used as a groom’s cake for her eldest granddaughter’s wedding. The wedding would be in California, so the cake would have to accompany my parents on their flight out west.


The finished cake was not only large, but also quite heavy with fruits and nuts. My brother Ross, the bride’s father, described the cake as a behemoth that nearly gave him a hernia as he carried it through the airport to the parking lot when our parents arrived a few days before the wedding.


The morning of the wedding, most of the women in the wedding party were getting gussied up at the local beauty salon. Not surprisingly, my three jokester brothers—Ross, David, and Don—now alone together with the precious groom’s cake—decided to make some mischief.


They brought the now fully decorated fruitcake into Ross’s garage, placed it on top of his orange manual car jack, and commenced to have a photo fest with it. Fortunately, no damage was done to the fruitcake, other than its weight becoming the brunt of jokes for years to come.


The following year, Mom had a bit of sweet revenge. While making her annual batch of fruitcakes, she had brother Don bring his car jack and camera to our parents’ kitchen. The jack was placed under the open oven door. While Don took photos, Dad positioned himself like he was operating the jack handle, and Mom—laughing at the camera with her tongue extended—brought the cakes out of the oven and put them onto its door. For Christmas, Mom and Dad then gifted each of us with a lithographed coffee mug pictured here. Over time, the colors have faded, but it still makes me smile whenever I see it in the kitchen cabinet.


Another year passed when my brothers purchased a box of twenty-four Christmas cards that said, “What do you get after twelve days of Christmas? Twelve months of fruitcake.”


They distributed all twenty-four of the cards in sealed envelopes to friends and family across the country, along with instructions to mail the enclosed envelope from their local post office. Each of the cards had been stamped, sealed, and pre-addressed to our parents in New Jersey.


When the cards started arriving at Mom and Dad’s from all parts of the country, it soon became clear that the brothers were playing fruitcake games again!


So…the following Christmas, Mom purchased a small card-holder shaped like a Christmas tree. She put all twenty-four cards from the previous year’s postal folly on it and then photographed it. That picture then became the Christmas card we all received.


This is my year-end article for 2017. Yes, things in our world have been heavy this year—a lot heavier than Mom’s mega fruitcake, which I offer here as inspiration for the upcoming year.


Mom’s opus magnum was of a size that caused inevitable weightiness, as it contained so many tastes, textures, tones, and types of ingredients crammed tightly together in a mix of wet and dry and sweet and sour buttery-ness. Naturally, mixing it started out as a goopy mess and required what seemed like forever to bake into a lovely colorful sliceable solid. It was so full of preserved nutritious stuff that could last for months.


I think, perhaps, there’s majesty in fruitcake with its luscious blending of so much diversity.


For now, I think I’ll make a fruitcake for my family’s holiday celebration! It ‘ll be beautiful symbol for nothing less than: Love in Action.




Little Miss Buster


Mise en garde: Not for the faint of heart



It’s been seven days and I’m still skeaved-out! Everyone I’ve told about it instantly takes on a scrunched boo-boo face, or gags in disgust! Trouble is, I just need to tell this story!  After having my throat scoped by an ENT doc yesterday who reassured me that the damn thing is gone without any tissue damage, I’m finally sleeping better without contemplating taping my mouth shut!


The truth is—in the dead of night while sound asleep in a beautifully comfortable bed—I swallowed a Stink Bug!!!


I woke abruptly with a terrible burning and an awful feeling that something was stuck in the bottom of my throat! I ran to the bathroom to rinse my mouth. Though still half asleep, I started to cough. Twice, I spit out some black stuff along with bits of blood. Immediately after that, the taste intensified to an indescribably horrific nastiness! It literally tasted poisonous, so I woke my best friend who was sleeping in the next room in case she might need to call 911. Feeling safer with her beside me, I continued to cough in an effort to get rid of the invader. 


Instead, the remains of the nasty thing commenced to slide down my esophagus v-e-r-y slowly. Nausea set in and remained throughout the night, as I did my best to find a comfortable resting spot on a couch. By that time, I was certain the bug’s putrid defensive secretions were not lethal, so my dear friend covered me with a blanket as I held a cushy pillow snug against my queasy belly. Hours later, I fell asleep, with the worst of that unwanted encounter seemingly over.


It was not over. All week, I’ve been reliving the events of that night. Shadows of that horrible taste continued over several days to resurface whenever I burped. It even occurred to me that something subtle but important is changing within me- as if the insect had journeyed through my body as a wake-up call of some kind. If nothing else, it has made me take a breather and re-evaluate aspects of my life that I want to adjust.


Curious about their function in our world’s ecosystem, I googled information about stink bugs and came across an article called “In Defense of the Stink Bug.” This fascinating read describes many different species of stink bugs- some who eat crops, and some who eat pests of crops. Others are known to spread diseases among crops. Their signature obnoxious stink is deployed when these bugs are threatened or crushed.


The article’s author, who enthusiastically displays affection for these critters, stated that stink bugs are remarkably attentive and protective parents to their offspring, and have other ingratiating qualities such as an inquisitive nature. I was also surprised to find that certain species have colorful shells with beautiful markings.


In the States, stinkbugs are an invasive species that have threatened to decimate many crops. Fortunately, predators of stink bugs—such as parasitoid wasps and spiders—have also flourished, now greatly reducing the insects’ numbers in many locations across the US.


Last week’s nighttime encounter reminds me that we humans belong to the natural world, and that sometimes species inevitably collide. Learning a bit more about the world of stink bugs has given me a measure of empathy for the one that walked into my mouth. After all, even though the stink bug was able to cause me temporary misery by releasing its putrid secretions into my gut, I am the lone survivor of our collision.


Having shared this unpleasant experience, please allow me to offer a light-hearted and sweet antidote to shake off any lingering stink my story may have left here.


To that end, I’ve engaged the assistance of a most adorable and preciously costumed child I’ll call Little Miss Stink Buster! (picture)


Please click on the following music link to help us all to sing and dance the lyrics below:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_A8RR4TfnF0



Lyrics:


STINK BUSTER!!


If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood

Who ya gunna call? Stink Buster!

If there’s somethin’ weird and it don’t smell good

Who ya gunna call? Stink Buster!


We ain’t scared o’ no stink bug!

We ain’t scared o’ no stink bug!


If your’re seein’ things runnin’ through your head

Who ya gunna call? Stink Buster!

If a stinkin’ somethin’ makes ya fear and dread

Who ya gunna call? STINK BUSTER!













Thay




When you begin to see that your enemy is suffering, that is the beginning of insight.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh


Years ago during some very dark days in my life, I discovered the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, known affectionately to his students as Thay, which in Vietnamese means Teacher. For me, his words were life changing and life saving.


Fast forward to last week—I watched Ken Burns’ documentary on the long and complex history of the war in Vietnam. This enormously moving and insightful film not only took me back to the chaos, heartbreak, and peace movements of the sixties, but also highlighted how similar present events are to that time.


Fear and its offspring—Bigotry, Hatred, Inequality, Injustice, and Violence—continue to threaten our society daily. To make matters worse, monstrous storms and other weather-related events have devastated people’s lives here in America as well as many corners of the world.


I don’t think I’m alone in feeling as if I’m living in a hologram—pumped up on steroids! I have to work hard just to stay grounded and optimistic because everything seems askew in this atmosphere where lies look like truths, and truths get lost in lies.


Thankfully, Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings of mindfulness and being peace help bring me out of the hologram. Clearing my mind of the outer chaos through conscious breathing, I find hope remains alive in the depths of the inner self. Thay said it best in this poem:


I have lost my smile,
but don't worry.
The dandelion has it. 

~ Thich Nhat Hanh


There are also blessings of these times as well, not unlike in the sixties. More people are becoming engaged in our political process. People are standing up for equality for all as well as acceptance and inclusion of diversity and immigration. We are fighting for the wellbeing of and caring for our planet and all its beings. Many initiatives are being developed for sustainable energy sources and holistic healing modalities. Important conversations about ongoing institutionalized racism are gaining traction and building in support.


People of good will are resisting and pushing back against the dangerous lies, sword rattling, and mayhem coming from Washington DC. Slowly, more and more former supporters of the administration are waking up to the realities of this present oligarchy that threatens to destroy democracy as well as our planet.


That said, as the dandelion puffs its seeds out into the breeze toward a better tomorrow, I offer a few more of Thay’s words that are presently lifting me up:


Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh



Trailer for the documentary about Thich Nhat Hanh titled Walk With Me:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne7-wnnWqFY








A Man Named Shin


A hug from him is an unforgettable experience. He’d take me into his arms with his heart pressed to mine, and continue to hold on until our breathing synchronized. His soothing embraces felt safe, like those bear hugs my beloved Grandfather gave me when I was a child.


Shin-ichiro Terayama was born in Tokyo in 1936.  He grew up to be a workaholic physicist who ran a successful consulting business. At the age of forty-seven, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. In spite of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, his cancer metastasized, and he was eventually put into hospice care.


It was during this time in hospice that he decided to try healing himself. He told me that he had gone out of a window of the hospice and climbed up on its roof. There, he made a promise to himself to watch the sun rise every day for as long as he would live.


He sold his business, and returned to playing his cello daily after a twenty-five year hiatus. He intuited that the music might help to raise the frequency of his body’s cells, allowing the deceased cells to receive more oxygen in an effort to slow the abnormal overgrowth of the more dense cancer cells. He changed his diet to vegetarian macrobiotic, which he thought would help his body to be more alkaline that might also inhibit cancer growth. He drank only select mineral water as well to rid his body of toxins.


Shin transformed himself by—in his words—“Loving my cancer instead of fighting it.” He was surprised and delighted to find his commitment to watching the sunrise every morning was making him feel very positive and relaxed while healing energy was entering his heart chakra and then flowing through all seven chakras. He said these decisions were made harmoniously by his intuition and not through instruction. After three and a half years of this regimen, he was cancer-free.


It was thirteen years after his time in hospice that he and I first met during his annual visit to Findhorn. After a round of his super hugs with many of his friends, he then graced the entire community with his lovely cello music.


By then, he was well known worldwide in holistic self-healing circles. Now in his eighties, he continues to teach and nurture countless souls globally, always with his cello by his side. Annually, he brings groups of people from Japan for workshops and conferences at Findhorn, where he serves as a Community Fellow and a Global Elder.


His life has been no quick fix but one of commitment to healing through detoxing, nourishing, and transforming his own body, mind, and spirit. His daily mornings in Nature and creating live music have infused his inner and outer self with a lightness of being that touches all who meet him.


These days in America, it feels to me that our country is suffering from ailments that are daunting and threaten to destroy its Heart and Soul. These divisive issues are not new; they have festered and grown since our nation’s beginnings.


I’d like to think we might each learn something from Shin’s personal journey to health. By first transforming himself, his work then became service to others based in love and consciousness.


http://www.shin-terayama.jp/en/message.php




How To Fold A Presby Cap


It was 1965. Though it hadn’t been my number one choice to become a nurse—there I was—a first year student at Presbyterian School of Nursing in Philadelphia, the place where my three older brothers and I had been born.


Like most nursing schools back then, discipline was strictly enforced throughout the three-year hospital-based program. By our second year, we students were required to work year-round as regular hospital staff, covering all three shifts and every other weekend. By our third year, we were in charge of whole wards sometimes containing more than thirty patients. Often, there were only two or three auxiliary staff—most of who were years older than us—to help with patient care.





We were not only expected to be professional, efficient, and nearly angelic on the wards, but also in our personal lives. Our dormitory lobby door was locked at all times—controlled and guarded by strict older housemothers who sat at the front desk. No males were allowed upstairs in our dorm rooms at any time. Behind the front desk, there were open-backed student mailboxes with locked clear glass fronts, through which the housemother-on-duty could keep a watchful eye over any possible hanky-panky going on in the small door-less cubby holes located across the hall, known as the ‘dating rooms’.


One of our daily rituals was assembling our heavily starched and pressed student uniforms, which were delivered weekly from the school’s laundry. The collars, bibs, and aprons were all separate pieces that required sixteen double-sided buttons to assemble, and were worn over a blue and white striped midi-length underdress. White stockings and sensible standardized white leather oxfords were required that—at least for me—would wear out every few months because my feet would literally sweat them into ruin. 


Every nursing school had its own signature cap. I loved our ‘Presby’ cap, which even today remains one fondly remembered symbol of the high level of discipline we received as ‘probies’—the nickname for first year students.


Capping Day arrived in the spring of our probie year. Unlike some other nursing schools of that time, however, we Presby girls had been preparing for this event throughout the previous semester in a hands-on course titled, “How To Fold a Presby Cap.”


The unfolded Presby cap was a flat piece of cotton shaped like a domed cathedral window. The flat side was a double thickness, machine-stitched into a two and a half inch wide hem. In the middle of what would become the inside of the cap was a small sewn-on loop that would later accommodate a bobby pin. 


First, we each were given one flat and limp cap along with ten pearl-topped hatpins. I remember feeling proud listening to a lengthy lecture about these ten pins, because they were intended to represent and remind us of the Bible’s Ten Commandments. It was not that I was particularly religious, but that symbols seemed sacred to me.


Our first task was to starch the flat cap by soaking it in full strength liquid starch. We were instructed to stick the wet thing on the side of a refrigerator, while smoothing it out and shaping it into symmetry, being careful to remove any air bubbles that might be under the fabric. We were to let the cap dry on the fridge to maximum rigidity overnight before carefully peeling it off without making dents or wrinkles in it. We’d then bring our stiff flat caps to class for folding instructions.

(See pictures)


The first fold was at the flat end of the cardboard-like cap. All but the stitched edge of the hem was neatly folded back onto the outside of the cap, making sure the little bobby pin loop was on the underside. The first two hatpins were then inserted at the two open ends of the brim to hold them in place.


Four parallel pleats were then precisely folded, one at a time. The two ends of each pleat were pinned an eighth of an inch next to the previous one, which lifted and curved the pleats into four parallel domed shapes. The end result was a three-dimensional cathedral-shaped beauty that fit perfectly over pulled-back or short hair with three bobby pins securing it.


We practiced the ritual of making these caps throughout our first semester. Some classmates struggled to perfect this craft, and I enjoyed helping those who found it really challenging.


Generally, I like change. Admittedly though, I did miss wearing my cap and school pin when the tradition died out in the early 1980’s. I have never, however, missed the scratch and rash of over-starched uniforms or those clunky sweaty white-nursing shoes.


Having said that, I recognize there were gifts within the pomp and circumstance of preparing and caring for a complex uniform, cap, and our own personal grooming. Our uniform-making rituals created order, made us slow down, pay attention to details, and feel pride in our profession. I liked getting ‘dressed up’ for work—it was a little celebration—even though our nursing tasks were hands-on and usually messy.


Last week, I received a note—ironically through my art website—from a long lost classmate from Presby, announcing a 50th Reunion celebration being planned for May 2018. I was delighted, and soon thereafter, accepted an invitation to create a Presby cap memento for each classmate to take home from our event.


Aging has taught me to appreciate how life sometimes cycles back to its beginnings. When I was a young nurse, I worked mainly with children who had life-threatening and life-shortening illnesses. Empathy was the tool by which I could offer good care, though at the same time it was what led to burnout.


It was through making sculpture that empathy, once again, became my primary tool. Used this way, however, empathy gifted me back an image that helped to open my spirit, heal myself, and also touch the hearts of many others as well. Reflecting now on those rich and meaningful Presby years, it’s no surprise my art ultimately merged with nursing as one healing modality based on symbols, ritual, and celebration.




Baby Buddha


Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful ~ Thich Nhat Hanh


Recently, I spent time in Brattleboro, VT with my friend Nancy from Ontario. As women friends often like to do, we browsed all the shops on Main Street.


At first, one place seemed like an ordinary bead and stone jewelry-making establishment, but ordinary it was not. Standing at the store’s register, and with just a quarter turn of my head, I spotted a little being there on a shelf, calling to me. Small in stature but huge in soul, she beckoned that I hold her. She fit nicely in my hand, while her eyes carried me way far back through the ages.


“Where did she come from?” I asked the shopkeeper, who grinned with delight at my noticing. I called her she though such an iconic figure need not be gender assigned.


“She’s very old, made in China in the early nineteenth century, ” he remarked. “She was part of an estate collection.”


My noticing continued then to another shelf where sat a row of coarsely sculpted clay figures. “Where did you get these? Are they tomb figures? How old are they?” I asked in amazement! “Yes,” he replied, “They are from ancient tombs in the Philippines.”


One question led to another until the shopkeeper, whose name is Brian (who lived for a year in a hole in the ground—but that’s for another story), invited Nancy and me to see the downstairs museum of ancient jewelry, stones, and other ritual-related objects he had collected from around the world.


At the bottom of the stairs there was a stunningly gorgeous arched double door that looked as if it hailed from the beginning of time. It was rich with thick remnants of bright and varied colors between deep cracks that ran like rivers across its surface. Large brass rings flanked the keyhole, which allowed both sides to open ceremoniously toward us.


Inside, an extraordinary and sacred visual experience of the sublime awaited us. The feeling was that of a sanctuary, a place of worship and connection to all beings. There were beads, necklaces, bracelets, and beaded objects of every possible size, color, and shape. The space was full of energy, both seen and unseen.


Brian, apparently realizing we were genuinely feeling privileged to enter this most sacred space, offered to let Nancy and me sit in meditation there. Even with the sounds of customers walking and talking upstairs penetrating the silence, Nancy and I both came away with a renewed sense of wonder and gratitude for the love, diligence, and commitment it must have taken for Brian to compile such an amazing and magical world in this basement museum.


Before we left the shop, Brian even gifted each of us with an ancient cylindrical carnelian bead. Mine has become a necklace that I made by hanging it on a silver beaded chain. Wearing this treasure will remind me just how important ritual, symbol, and magic are in my life. They bring order and wonder, and help me be more conscious of connections to other times, places, people, and traditions. My guess is that these things are important in most peoples’ lives, given what civilizations now past have left for us to discover.


Not surprisingly, Baby Buddha came home with me. I felt compelled to give her a necklace with the heart-shaped rose quartz on it, which is the stone of compassion. She now stands proudly on one edge of the altar, looking out and striding with love toward the future. Beside her lies a sage smudge rod to help keep unwanted energies at bay. Above her sits a stone Buddha from Cambodia who wears a bib I made that symbolizes Nature’s four seasons. Below her is another small seated Buddha made of soap atop a ceramic box made by the Amish. On the bottom level there is a moss garden on which a wooden zebra, which was carved in Africa, meditates. My Great Grandfather Hill built the bureau and stacked boxes where the altar objects are displayed, and the antique wooden shoe-stretchers underneath the bureau belonged to my father.


I find joy in this ironic mix of spiritual symbols as well as how the wooden shoe-stretchers suggest feet—making the whole composite somewhat puppet-like.


I offer my quirky personal altar as an inspiration for others to construct their own version of a sacred space, so that each day when you look at or pass by your own conglomerate of precious things, a smile might appear on your face, warm thoughts may enter your heart, and you just might feel a bit of extra spring in your step.




From the Hands of Our Fathers


Dad was born May 15th, 1908, and passed away ninety years later on Oct. 30th, 1998. Recently, he’s been on my mind. 


Like all of us, Dad was a product of his ancestry. His maternal Grandfather, David Waters, and Great Grandfather, John Waters, were both merchant sea captains who sailed from the port town of Pictou in Nova Scotia to China during the nineteenth century. They owned two three-masted ships known as barks, one named Maggie Elliott and the other, Innerwick. Their many voyages, often several years in duration, included having to negotiate the treacherous waters and storms around Cape Horn at the southern tip of Africa.


Stories from their ships’ log books told of horrific storms around the Cape- one of which blew the Innerwick backwards three-months worth!

The ships’ logs themselves were works of art, written in beautiful calligraphy-like script. Some passages were even rendered as poetry that celebrated their lives at sea as well as their ships.


Captain John built the family home at the top of a hill in the town of Pictou, where both generations lived. His son, David, also owned a bicycle shop in Pictou, where he worked during extended stretches of time on land.


Captain David was a man of many interests. An inventor by nature, he designed and secured a patent for a razor-stropper, used for sharpening straight razors. Thankfully, I am now the proud caretaker of the original prototype model, which works by rotating a handle that causes a spiraling roller of sandpaper to move back and forth across the blade.


Though he never actually launched a business around the stropper, it did lead Captain David to a later invention, which grew out of his interest in bicycles. A man named Zimmerman had already patented the bicycle chain. However, it was David Waters who designed the first gearshift that allowed for varied speeds and physical effort. Even bicycle gearshifts today work in a similar way to Captain David’s razor stropper. For reasons unknown, he never secured a patent for his bicycle gearshift, though his contribution to the world was significant nonetheless.


Dad’s paternal grandfather and great grandfather, both named Elden Hill, were also men of great skill. Though I don’t know as much detail about their lives, I do know his grandfather built the bureau and boxes pictured here. The bureau was made for Dad when he was a baby.


The elder Elden Hill was an accomplished wood carver who created beautifully ornate furniture, one piece of which now lives with one of my brothers. My own personal favorite is the lovely hand-carved wooden square pictured here. Once, this tool helped me to build a most unusual chair, better known as the ‘throne’, that involved squaring up four-inch diameter PVC cylinders securely enough to make numerous and precise through-and-through holes with only a hand-held screwdriver. Every hole lined up perfectly for what I needed to complete the construction.


Years ago, Dad kindly gifted me with his great grandfather’s tools, from which emerged a number of carved wood sculptures. 


Like his predecessors, Dad was good with his hands. He built shelves and cabinets for the kitchen, as well as many other home repair projects. He was a wonderful photographer, and when my brothers and I were kids, he had a dark room in the basement. He also loved making model ships until later in life when Time took away his vision.


Classical music, Nature, and Nova Scotia were the places where he found respite from the world. Two of his favorite pieces of music were Ave Maria—one by Shubert and the other by Bach and Gounod. His most cherished instrument was the cello.


For much of my youth I played cello, and it was during those years that Dad helped plant a love of music in my heart. He and I argued often—when I was a teen—as to whether or not there was any merit at all in Rock and Roll, yet classical music has retained its place in my life as first and favorite.


Dad used to say he might’ve gone to sea like his ancestors, had life taken him on that path. Instead, he became a draftsman who helped build ships. It was shipbuilding that brought our family to New Jersey during WWII, where Dad worked for the New York Shipyard in Camden.


Dad’s draftsman’s handwriting was so neat it looked like typed letters. His mechanical drawings were gorgeous. I especially remember the ones he did for the first nuclear ship, Savannah, for which Dad worked alongside others designing the ship’s engines.


On July 21st, 1959, the Savannah was launched from the dock at the New York Shipyard. Our family was standing there, close enough to see Mammie Eisenhower struggle to christen the huge vessel. I remember watching her swing the bottle several times, bouncing it—still intact—off the ship’s nose.  The crowd’s anxiety grew with each blow because the bottle just would not break. Finally, the First Lady took a deep breath and mustered enough gusto to smash that bottle squarely on the nose of the ship! Everyone cheered, and then slowly the ship moved backwards, accompanied by music I recall, away from the dock and into its new wet world.


Dad was a complex man. He could be gruff and argumentative, but would quietly weep at the sound of music, the sight of a rose, or a heartwarming moment on TV. When my brother Don served in Vietnam, Dad mailed to him a letter every week. Not only did he bring music into my life, he also taught me to appreciate beauty, and quality in all things, most especially things handmade.


This is the month we reflect upon our Fathers. Though it was not always simple or easy between us, I am grateful that George David Hill was my Dad.


Dad, if you’re listening from out there somewhere, this link is my tribute to you—it’s a magical blend of your music and mine…


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vysa3h8mNoU





Robin in the Rain


Spring is finally here! I’m excited about all the colors and new life it brings year after year. Though I would love to be working in my garden, a drenching rain has been unrelenting all morning.


Midway through the afternoon the deluge slowed to a drizzle. A deep quiet and calm settled in. A few moments later, I heard a bird’s chirp as it searched the newly soaked soil for worms. Silence returned again momentarily, and then another chirp. The chirps became more frequent as the birds feasted and proclaimed the end of the storm.


I found myself humming a children’s tune titled Robin in the Rain, composed and sung by a man known as Raffi. I’ve heard and sung Raffi’s songs many times for the children in my care, so out of curiosity about his life I did some research. What I found opened my eyes and my heart to a wonderful service-oriented person whose life story quite literally emerged out of and was shaped by the ashes of a horrific manmade storm.


Raffi Cavoukian was born in Egypt to Armenian parents who named him after a poet from their homeland. Both parents had somehow escaped from Armenia during the genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government in 1915.

Each of Raffi’s parents had been married before the invasion. His father and his first wife had three daughters and his mother and her first husband had an infant son. Both spouses and all four children were killed or died of disease during the genocide.


Once safe as refugees in Egypt, Raffi’s parents met and were later married. Not surprisingly, Raffi recalls his parents as being very strict and protective throughout his childhood. Given their devastating experiences and memories of the genocide that claimed at least one million Armenian lives, it is no surprise they would do everything possible to keep their son safe and healthy.

When Raffi was ten, the family emigrated from Egypt to Canada, eventually settling in Toronto, Ontario. No doubt living in these two very different cultures combined with a complex Armenian heritage and history, helped to shape Raffi’s expansive worldview. 


Raffi’s music emerged from his own personal tragedy when both his parents passed away within an hour of each other. Songs for children became his main musical focus, as well as his mission as a fierce advocate for children around the world.


Also known as the Children’s Troubadour, Raffi was presented with the Fred Rogers Integrity Award in 2006 for his work protecting children from commercial exploitation.


In life, storms are, of course, inevitable and even necessary for growth. Tragically though, some storms, both natural as well as manmade, can be so destructive and deadly that they change our world forever.


Like a robin in the rain, Raffi’s music rings out with hope, gentleness and gratitude for life. Children everywhere love his optimistic tunes, sung with simplicity and gentle grace. May we all feel comfort in knowing that when a storm is finally over, a songbird will come out from its sheltered place to announce and celebrate a brand new day!




This Land


As I went walking I saw a sign there

And on the sign it said “No Trespassing”

But on the other side it didn’t say nothing

That side was made for you and me

~Woody Guthrie


Recently, my daughter Kate relocated from Brooklyn, and is currently sharing my home in South Jersey. With her came a partially blind three and a half year old cat named Kitten Little. Integrating this feline into the household would have been simple if not for the ten-year old recently adopted Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix named Annie who already lives here.


Annie is the first dog I have ever adopted. After five and a half months, she has become very comfortable as the one and only four-legged being in this house. By nature, she is a predator who lives to chase squirrels, rabbits, and other critters, including cats. Though very loving with people, her soul is that of a hunter. She has lived in at least four different homes during her life, so I have incomplete knowledge of her past experiences and living conditions, in particular whether or not she has ever shared a house with a cat. What I do know about her is that my home is now her palace, which she enjoys and defends with gusto.


Kitten Little was born on the streets of Brooklyn. She was with her mother only briefly before her rescue. Her eyes were badly infected, which left her with cloudy corneas. She has been with Kate since then, and has lived peacefully with several other cats. For a time, there was a rather sedentary schnauzer named Biggie added to the mix. He and Kitten Little generally got along well except occasionally when the kitty got too rambunctious for him. Then Biggie often tried to boss her around, for which Kitten Little once swiped him across the nose. Thankfully truce prevailed, as they would often sleep curled up beside each other.


Learning as much as possible about our four-legged friends’ histories, needs, and inborn natures is helping foster understanding and empathy from Kate and me in this delicate process of acclimating the two animals to each other.


We both recognize that kindness, calmness, compassion, and respect for each of our animals is key to successfully creating a peaceable kingdom here in our shared home. To this end, we have installed two retractable see-through-able mesh gates to keep them separated and supervised until we are certain they will not hurt each other.


I find it curiously amusing that Annie’s arrival into my home coincided with our disastrous and corrupted 2016 national election. Kitten Little has now entered the picture smack dab in the middle of that election’s resultant chaos, scandals, rumors of war, and even possibly soon-to-be-proven treason.


The task ahead for Kate and me regarding our newly co-habituating animals in some way reflects the challenges our nation faces in addressing the deep divisions between people and ideologies.


As the confusion and angst around current events in our nation accelerates, I’m noticing people’s stress levels rising in kind. Casual conversations with friends and acquaintances so easily slide into intense analysis of political events. Some old friends who have never before been involved in the political process have become activists and involved in peaceful resistance.


From its infancy, America has been a country of diversity, built on the backs and blood of the poor, the enslaved, and the disenfranchised. It seems to me this is an outdated and outworn version of what humankind is capable of. In an atmosphere of hierarchy and fear, true cooperation and co-creating is impossible.


I think we humans can do better than that. As with the animals now living in our house, Kate and I could continue to accept that one animal will be bully while the other is bullied. That would mean our house would continue to have barriers that separate and divide. Instead, we prefer to give our beloved pets enough time, understanding, and loving kindness to help them bridge their own divides.


This Land Is Your Land


This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me


And I went walking that ribbon of highway
And saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me the golden valley
This land was made for you and me


I’ve roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me, a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me


As I went walking I saw a sign there

And on the sign it said “No Trespassing”

But on the other side it didn’t say nothing

That side was made for you and me


When the sun come shining, then I was strolling
In wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling
The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting
This land was made for you and me


In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people

By the relief office I seen my people

As they stood there hungry I stood there asking

Is this land made for you and me?


Nobody living can ever stop me

As I go walking that freedom highway

Nobody living can ever make me turn back

This land was made for you and me


This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me


~Music and original words by Woodie Guthrie


Link to Global Village Project Refugee Girls Choir on You Tube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCDoZ7hiGAk



Mein Yertle


These past two months, our nation has been embroiled in, what many of us consider to be, a life or death struggle for Soul of our Democracy. It’s become my daily routine to sign petitions and make calls to elected officials regarding so many issues. Being informed and involved has been challenging in terms of staying positive in the face of so much mean-spiritedness.


The other day, as I watched a news clip from The White House, a children’s book by Dr. Seuss called ‘Yertle the Turtle’ came to mind. Ironically, re-reading that story helped to lighten my mood for a much-needed moment of respite and reassurance.


Yertle was king of all the turtles in a pond called Sala-ma-sond. The story begins with Yertle sitting on a rock, looking around the pond. He bragged about being ruler of all he could see, and then groaned and lamented that he wanted to go higher so he could see more of his kingdom! So Yertle commanded nine turtles to swim over to his rock and then told them to climb on top of each other, making a nine turtle stack! Then Yertle ascended to the top of the stack and sat down.


“All mine!” Yertle cried. “Oh the things I now rule! I’m the king of a cow! And I’m the king of a mule! I’m the king of a house! And, what’s more beyond that. I’m the king of a blueberry bush and a cat! I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh, marvelous me! For I am the ruler of all that I see!”


And all morning long, he sat way up high, bragging over and over, “A great king am I.”


Around noon, Yertle heard a small groan from down below, and he shouted, “What’s that!”


At the very bottom of throne was a turtle named Mack. A polite little fellow, he excused himself before asking the king just how long he and the other stacked turtles would have to sit there. He complained of having pain in his back, shoulders, and knees.


“Silence, the king of the turtles barked back! I’m king, and you’re only a turtle named Mack. You stay in your place while I sit here and rule. I’m king of a cow! And I’m king of a mule! I’m king of a house! And a bush! And a cat! But that isn’t all. I’ll do better that that! My throne shall be higher! his royal voice thundered, “So pile up more turtles! I want ‘bout two hundred!”


The king kept bellowing, demanding more turtles for his throne. All the pond’s turtles trembled with fear, though in the end they obeyed. By the dozens they came, and each of them climbed on the head of poor Mack. One by one they climbed up the ever-growing stack. Yertle was perched now so high in the sky he could see forty miles!


“Hooray!” shouted Yertle. “I’m the king of the trees! I’m the king of the birds! And I’m the king of the bees! I’m the king of the butterflies! King of the air! Ah, me! What a throne! What a wonderful chair! I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh, marvelous me! For I am the ruler of all that I see!”


From down below, Mack pleaded for mercy! He and his stacked friends were very hungry, in great pain, and afraid their shells might crack under the weight! In a last-ditch effort, Mack tried to convince the self-absorbed leader that every turtle in the stack should have rights.


“You hush up your mouth!” howled the mighty King Yertle. “You’ve no right to talk to the world’s highest turtle! I rule from the clouds! Over land! Over sea! There’s nothing, no NOTHING, that’s higher than me!”


Yertle continued to rant from his throne on high, until evening when he noticed the moon rising in the sky.


“What’s THAT?” snorted Yertle. “Say what IS that thing that dares to be higher than Yertle the King? I shall not allow it! I’ll go higher still! I’ll build my throne higher! I can and I will! I’ll call some more turtles. I’ll stack ‘em to heaven! I need ‘bout five thousand, six hundred and seven!”


Now Mack at the bottom was feeling so bad, which finally made him a wee fightin’ MAD! Then this plain little turtle did a plain little thing.

He burped! And his burp toppled the throne of the king!


King Yertle, no longer that Marvelous he, now lives in the mud, which is all he can see! Once again, all the turtles are free as can be, living together in sweet harmony.


All this had happened because plain little Mack, when faced with a crisis did not turn his back. He fought for peace in the face of injustice with a burp, though simple, was packed with Love Toughness!


Original story best told in Dr. Seuss’s words:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmuvLqYenc0&t=303s




People Power in Pink


“Women are like teabags. You don’t know how strong they are

  until you put them in hot water”  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt




The millions of people who participated in the Women’s Marches throughout America and around the globe on January 21st gave the world powerful images of what our forefathers meant by ‘We The People’. Most importantly, these marches launched a global Resistance Movement to counter the tyranny now coming from the White House.


On that day now two weeks ago, my three daughters and I marched alongside 50,000 others in Philadelphia, Pa. Marchers were an array of every possible color, creed, class, age, ethnicity, gender, orientation, and ability. The crowds were entirely peaceful, and the atmosphere was filled with an abundance of camaraderie.


For me, the weeks leading up to the march were surprisingly meaningful as I knitted seven pussycat hats, one for each of my family, one for a friend, and a few extras to give away to others that might want them. While knitting, I became aware of being part of a vast energy I can only describe as Love. I could feel a connection to past hard-fought resistance movements for which countless people had given their efforts and too often, their lives. Though the hats were pink, cuddly, and mildly humorous, I envisioned them as our battle helmets as we marched into The Resistance.


Along with handmade signs, we carried a simple puppet I’d put together using a paper mache’ head I found stored in my basement. A young girl with special needs had created it a few years back in one of my classes. Because of illness, she hadn’t been able to finish her puppet. It seemed a most appropriate image to use as an ambassador for all the wonderful special children I’ve been privileged to work with over the years, both as a nurse and an artist. I felt proud to dress this child’s puppet with a pussycat hat, matching pink stuffed gloves for hands, and a shirt emblazoned with the words “Love conquers Hate”.


The commuter train from my town in New Jersey to Philadelphia was packed to the max after standing in a very long line outside the station door just to get inside the ticket area. Once inside, I overheard a conversation of a family standing next to me. Both the Grandma and her granddaughter were wearing pussycat hats, and all three were expressing disappointment that the child’s mom didn’t have one. Apparently, she had ordered one from the knitter, but it hadn’t arrived in time. Smiling, I reached into my backpack and offered her one of the extra hats I’d made. She was delighted, and then she asked how much I wanted for it. I replied, “Just keep marching”.


We arrived at Logan Circle in central Philadelphia where the crowds were gathering and the excitement was palpable. Pink pussycat hats of endless varieties gave the crowds the look of a soft patchwork quilt. Thousands of colorful signs turned fierce words, powerful truths, concerns, and sayings into visual delights that sparked conversations among groups and individuals.


The crowds became increasingly dense as we marched down the Parkway. Had it not been for the Puppet held high atop the people, it would have been close to impossible to find all my family members as well as my 4ft. 9in. tall friend to whom I had previously promised a hat. Though we’d planned to text, it was quite challenging to hear cell phones ringing over the amplifying speakers along the way. 


I lost count of how many people took pictures of our Puppet, and the many kids and adults that accepted the Puppet’s offers of hugs and high-fives! Slowly, we advanced to the front of the Art Museum at the end of the Parkway. There, drummers and other performers, surrounded by large crowds, were creating a party-like atmosphere. Our Puppet joined in and danced to the electrifying rhythms, rendering my mildly arthritic hands stiff and my arms numb!


Caption: Sculpture of Eleanor Roosevelt- (adorned) Sculptor- Penelope Jencks


The weeks before and since the Inauguration have brought dramatic and most alarming changes to our country and the world at large. The path ahead for today’s Peaceful Warriors is unchartered, and it seems clear to me it will require each of us to be strong, resilience, vigilant, and the best versions of our selves.


That said, I’ve noticed of late, some subtle changes within my own family. We seem to be keeping in touch with each other a bit more often. Our conversations tend to gravitate toward current events, and what we can each do to defend and fight for justice, equality, and inclusion for everyone, along with respecting and defending our planet. Naturally, we each have our own particular concerns, challenges, and points of view. I think we all agree that the solidarity we experienced with so many others on January 21st gave us each a good measure of comfort as well as a boost of courage and determination to keep this Resistance alive and growing.


Inspired by the above-quoted words of Eleanor Roosevelt who exemplified the life of a Peaceful Warrior, I invite everyone to jump en masse into the hot water and find out just how strong we are together!




New Year’s Reflections on “Charlotte’s Web”


I recently watched “Charlotte’s Web.” For years, it’s been one of my favorites, but now, as we step into a most uncertain 2017, it has taken on a deeper meaning, and given me a bit of comfort and guidance for the days ahead. 


Many are likely familiar with the story, so I am not going to retell it; rather, I prefer to focus on its symbolism through the four words Charlotte spun in her webs.


The story can be read as an archetypal life journey, and the animals seen as various psychological archetypes within the human psyche. For instance, within each of us there is a ‘Templeton’- that grumpy, self-centered, sarcastic, loner rat that lives in the shadows and thrives on others’ waste. Similarly, we each carry an internalized ‘Ike the Horse,’ who looks strong and mighty, but faints from fear at the sight of a spider. The cows, Betsey and Bitsy, demonstrate blind naiveté about their own lives, but are fatalistic and gossipy about others’ lives.


Charlotte spun four webs containing four specific words to describe, celebrate, honor, and ultimately protect the life of her piglet friend, Wilbur. The title chosen for the story, however, is not ‘Charlotte’s Webs,’ but ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ My guess is that this choice is not simply descriptive of how many webs she wove, but rather symbolic of the entire web of protection Charlotte was able to build around her friend through her words.


She did this because she valued the open hearted, loving, and innocent behavior Wilbur displayed toward everyone. As Charlotte stated before she spun the first word web, “The right words can change the world.”


SOME PIG


Like Wilbur, Charlotte had once been shunned by the barn animals. This made her determined to show everyone that Wilbur’s life mattered! To that end, she spun the words ‘SOME PIG’ into her web. Because of this, Wilbur became known far and wide, and all through summer the farm flourished with visitors and sales of their produce. Even the barn animals began to take pride in their resident pig. Wilbur’s example of caring and positivity toward everyone brought new life and enthusiasm to all the farm’s residents. Little by little they began to be kinder to each other as well.


TERRIFIC


By late summer, the public excitement over Wilbur was fading. Charlotte, though, remained determined to make Wilbur such a celebrity that he would not end up in the smoke house. All the animals, including Templeton, offered assistance to Charlotte in her search for the right word that would best describe the feeling she observed looking at Wilbur’s smiling face. She then spun a new web with ‘TERRIFIC’ written in it. Once again, crowds gathered and news stories spread of the now famous pig. Wilbur’s gratitude for life was, at least for a time, infectious to all who were touched by this second word web.


RADIANT


Inevitably, though, public fascination over Wilbur was again short-lived, but Charlotte continued to keep up the momentum. She noticed how Wilbur’s loving energy seemed to glow, so she spun a third web with the word ‘RADIANT’ in it. The biggest crowd ever gathered around Wilbur and the magical web spun by his friend Charlotte.


By this time, Charlotte’s life was languishing. Her belly was full with hundreds of eggs, for which she would soon create a chrysalis to incubate them until hatching time the following spring. Once the chrysalis was built and her eggs deposited in it, Charlotte’s life cycle would be complete.


HUMBLE


Reluctantly at first, Templeton agreed to assist Charlotte in finding a fourth right word. Even risking life and limb, he brought Charlotte a scrap of paper with one word on it.  She said, “Yes. This is the perfect word.” (quietly, and to herself)- “the last one I shall ever write.”


The next morning, Wilbur woke to Charlotte’s web that had the word ‘HUMBLE’ spun into it. Looking puzzled, he said, “Is it true? I don’t really think I deserve any of the things you’ve written about me.”  Charlotte replied, “Then it’s the perfect word!”


Charlotte was now dying, having finished her chrysalis and placed her eggs in it. Wilbur was heartsick as Charlotte said her loving goodbyes to him. He promised to care for her unborn babies until their hatching.


Life on the farm had ceased to be just ordinary. Everything seemed extraordinary now because one runty, innocent pig had shown everyone how to appreciate, care for, and treasure each other. Even the hardest of hearts had softened a bit.


Charlotte’s story came full circle the following spring when hundreds of her newborn babies took to the breeze to start their own lives. Happily, the three smallest spider babies decided to stay and build their webs on Charlotte’s doorway.


Wilbur said to them, “You’ve chosen a hallowed doorway in which to spin your webs. This was your mother’s doorway. She was loyal, brilliant and beautiful, and she was my friend. So to you, her daughters, I pledge my friendship forever.


Wilbur knew it’s not often someone comes along who is a true friend and a writer. Charlotte was both. He missed her, but also loved his new friends. He had learned that being friends means that no matter where life takes you; you carry a piece of that friendship with you. Then you can pass it on to others who may need it in the times ahead.