Monday, December 31, 2007

A Blessing For The New Year


May the sun
bring you new energy by day,

May the moon
softly restore you by night,

May the rain
wash away your worries,

May the breeze
blow new strength into your being,

May you walk
gently through the world and know
its beauty all the days of your life.

apache blessing

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Peacock, December 27, 2007

Late Thursday afternoon Bill and I drove over to Richmond to one of my favorite places to see holiday lights .... Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. It's really one of my favorite places to visit at any time of year. But at Christmas it becomes more than about the plants and trees ... it becomes an expression of the joy of the holidays and this beautiful garden spot all rolled up into one.

We arrived at dusk ... that lovely time in the evening when the sun has just rolled over the edge but its light is still giving the sky a lovely glow. It was a warm evening ... no hats, gloves, scarves needed and I almost wanted to take off my coat.

Inside the 11,000 square foot Conservatory, trees glistened, a toy train chugged around a layout made completely of dried and live plant material and the orchids were in full bloom.

This little owl perched in one of the trees is made of all sorts of plant matter as is the little house below.

Who do you suppose lives there??

We haven't
been to the garden for a couple of years. Each year the light show changes as do all of the decorations. The last time we were there the big tree inside the Conservatory was dressed with beautiful glass ornaments from all over the world.

This year, lacey Angel Trumpet blooms and seed pods hung from the boughs.

After wandering through the garden we had a lovely dinner with a friend and reminised about past times.

I'll visit the garden again in the spring when all of the bulbs are in bloom.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Saks Fifth Avenue

All of the images on this post are of the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue taken last week while I was visiting the city. I never did make it to Macy's ... with the grid lock it got too complicated and by the last day in the city, I was pretty tired of the hoards of people that I had to work my way through in order to get a photo. I'm a person who doesn't particularly enjoy being in huge crowds. I did pretty well the first couple of days, but then it got a bit old. I do have personal space issues!

In my last post I didn't mention the food we enjoyed in the big city. The highlights were a marvelous lunch at Milos, on 55th between 6th and 7th Avenue ... simple, fresh Greek food to die for and a delicious dinner at Union Square Cafe on Union Square, of course. We also enjoy Fiorello's across from Lincoln Center where we've had wonderful meals ... they didn't dissapoint at lunch with a scrumptious thin crust pizza and a selection of Antipasto dishes. We mostly ate only two meals a day ... a big breakfast and a big lunch or dinner.

I need to make a correction about all the shows and movies I mentioned that I saw in my last post. My husband tells me I'm losing it and I'm afraid he's right. I can't seem to remember alot of things these days ... names just go down the tubes and numbers, well, forget it. At any rate I saw only 2 plays and 3 movies ... still not bad for a person who doesn't like to sit in dark rooms for extended periods of time. Bill tried to get me to do 2 movies in a row but I just can't do that. I have to spend a certain amount of time moving about outside where the air is crisp and the sun is shining.

We had a lovely Christmas day! It was bright and sunny and mild, around 55 degrees. On Christmas Eve a large flock of Robins appeared and swarmed all over the yard looking for earthworms and whatever else they could find. I spent a couple of hours working in the yard, cutting back some plants and enjoying the springlike day. When we called other family members later in the day we wished them Happy Easter, because that is how it felt! Without anybody visiting for the day, I was able to release those old Christmas demons that have haunted me for years ... I felt unchained, free, no expectations!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Moonrise ...

Last night I watched the moon rise over the river. It was a beautiful sight. It had rained all day ... a wonderful half inch of wetness ... a blessed gift to the trees and flowers that now lie dormant and those that stay green all year round. Then the clouds magically evaporated and this is what I saw.

I'm home from New York and greatful to be here. Though we had a lovely time, this is where my heart is ... in the peace and quiet along the banks of the South Fork Rivanna River.

At Christmas, New York City wears her finest garb and the people for the most part are polite and smiling. The sidewalks were packed with holiday shoppers and tourists like myself, just wandering 5th Avenue, snapping photos here and there. While we were there a "Grid Lock Alert" was posted and people were asked to take public transportation rather than drive their cars. It seemed that most people did still drive, because the buses were only half full. Cross streets especially were backed up with horns being honked by frustrated drivers. In a few days, I'll post some of the photos I took there.

Usually when I'm in the city I visit some of the museums. But this time I joined my husband in one of his "New York Theatre Binges." In four days and nights I saw three plays, all wonderful off Broadway hits ... 4 movies and attended a stunning performance of Handel's
Messiah, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and fabulous choral singers and soloists. We attended that concert the last night we were there and it was the perfect note to come home on. In between, we wandered through Rockefeller Center, various Christmas markets and the Avenues. Bill did see an extra play one afternoon when I chose to nap.

French Beaded Poinsettia Flower On My Mantel

Here is wishing all of you a very Happy Holiday season and a Peace Filled New Year!!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Oh, Christmas Tree ...

We have lived in this house since January 7, 2001 and it is the first year in all that time that we have had a Christmas tree. Some years we were away for the holidays, other years we were tied up in what I call complicated times. So it's with joy that I tell you we do have a tree this year ... small, at around 2 feet tall, but none-the-less a lovely little Frasier Fir, that holds some of our oldest and smallest decorations that go way back ... treasures we brought together when we married that hold sweet memories for each of us. On the top is the wise owl our tiny children chose to be the guardian of our lives.

We will be alone to celebrate Christmas this year but only in the sense that we will be the only two living people in the house. There will be echos of past holidays and the looking forward to future days ... the beginning of a new year ... and an upcoming visit to see our grandchildren.

We could have gone to see them for this holiday ... but this is the first Christmas since my mother died. I feel a need to just be here where I can be with my memories of her and sort through all of the feelings one encounters when one loses a loved one. It will be both sad and happy, bitter and sweet ... a time for healing and learning to feel comfortable with the changes that life is so full of.

We begin our holiday with a trip to New York City ... to see once again the city decked out in its holiday finery. I lived out on Long Island as a child. Each holiday season took us to "the city" to see the magical window displays at Macy's, to tell Santa what I'd like to find under the tree and to spend carefully saved nickles and quarters for something special to give to my mom
on Christmas day.

When we first planned this trip I had no idea how important it would be for me. I thought it would just be another trip to the big city to see a few shows. I'm discovering how much I need to do this ... to look back and look forward all at once, to see where I've been and to wander some possible avenues for the future.

I'll be back next weekend and hopefully will have some big city photos to share!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Weather Extremes ...

Last week we had a very light dusting of snow. It was enough to get me inspired to do something about decorating the house for Christmas.

Today it is 72 degrees outside. It's also very humid, all due to a flow of Gulf of Mexico air coming up from the south. I was going to take that slice of watermelon down from above the door, but with these wild weather swings, maybe I'll just leave it in place. That way we'll be ready for whatever comes.

The next system coming through will bring some rain and they say that there is a possibility of a "winter storm" over the weekend. That usually means lots of ice, but I'm putting in an order for snow. It's that time of year and I'm ready ... though we are planning an excursion by train to the Big Apple on Monday to take in the Messiah at Lincoln Center and a few Off Broadway shows. We'll window shop on 5th Avenue and hopefully do some museums. The American Folk Museum is one of my favorites. So I hope the weather is good enough to allow for all of that. If not, we'll just stay here and bake cookies!! Either way, I'm sure we'll have fun!!

Snow on the evergreen leaves of a Camillia

A friend of mine reminded me yesterday that in order to fight "Holiday Consumer Disease," one should:

refuse to rush
don't expect too much
accept what you have as a gift
be grateful for the little things
give lots and lots of love
remember that all we have is the present moment

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ushering In The Season ...

Sycamore Tree Near The River, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

While a good portion of the country is undergoing Mother Nature's wrath, with snow, freezing rain and other forms of nasty weather, we wait for a bit of rain. It isn't supposed to amount to much, if anything. Yesterday the local weatherman called for about 1/4 of an inch, but today he didn't mention an amount . That means that the giant storm causing so many people grief, will probably slide by us to the north, leaving us with worsening drought. Our total rainfall for November was a grim 3/16ths of an inch.

I've just finished preparing bottles of Elderberry Syrup for gifts. Two loaves of bread just out of the oven fill the house with yummy smells. I've gotten quite a bit done today and am feeling pretty good about myself at the moment.

But earlier it was a little different. I woke feeling, not dreadful, but kind of "flat." Kind of like, "who cares!" ... just not interested in doing much at all and the things I needed to do seemed like endless chores. Sounds like the annual "Holiday Blues," some of us suffer from.

I have absolutely nothing to be depressed about. It bothers me that I can make
Big Pains out of little nothings especially when there are so many people in the world in need of the basic things in life ... like food, clothing, shelter, a job and a peaceful place in which to wake up. So what to do?

I start by listing the things that make me one of the most fortunate people in the world: A beautiful home in a gorgeous, peaceful community, tucked into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I have more than enough food in my larder, much of it locally grown and organic. I have warm clothes, shoes and all the accessories to make myself look fashionable. My family is made up of loving, unselfish people. I have my health which is amazing, judging from all those I know who are suffering from one ailment or another, some, life threatening.

A male Cardinal, often called "Red Bird" here in Virginia

That by no means is the end of the list. I could go on and on, but I won't bore you. It's time to brew a cup of spicy tea, put on some Christmas music and address a few cards to those I haven't seen in an age. Maybe I'll also pull out a few Christmas decorations as well. Tomorrow I'll buy a wreath and spread good cheer where ever I go!!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Loss ...

November Sky At Dusk, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

The downside of loss ... we can't let go ... loss of a close relative, loss of time, loss of a job, loss of control. We hang onto yesterday and long for tomorrow. We set rules and regulations within our heads that tell us the way things should be. We only like things a certain way whether it's an arrangement of furniture or someone else's outfit for the day. The world ends if the dinner burns, our flight is canceled or we break a favorite piece of china. We're all losers. We lose something every day. We hang on to everything so tightly that we forget that things change moment by moment and that we will never pass this way again. We're lost.

The Upside of loss ... we can let go. There isn't so much to worry about. We don't have to carry all that "stuff." We feel more spontaneous, can wear the skimpy dress rather than the heavy sweater and long skirt. We laugh more. We cry more. We aren't as tired and sleep better. We have compassion for our neighbors, watch the sunrise, mend the broken china, catch a later plane, breathe more deeply, smell the roses ... experience each day as a new adventure with losses to be mourned, and gains to be proud of. We may still be losers, lost in the woods, but it's much more fun.

Monday, November 26, 2007

November Garden

Japanese Maple in November, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

I'm sure I've mentioned before that the fall is my favorite season here in Virginia. I suppose that if I lived in some other region of the country, I might choose a different season to love the most ... but right here, right now it's the fall. It has been an exceptional season for color this year, despite the drought, which many said would cause the colors to be drab and muddy. To the contrary, they have been vibrantly alive. The leaves are falling quickly now and as if part of a colorful fiesta, they dance across the meadow as the wind picks them from the trees, blowing them to and fro. I listen for the clash of symbols as they settle to the ground, an oboe mourning the loss of yet another year. A cello, violas and violins
the undercurrent of things to come.

Fallen Leaves, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

In stillness the leaves make magical layered patterns on the ground where they lay and I'm happy tromping through piles of them making crunching sounds and inhaling the sweet autumnal perfume held in chilled afternoon air.

American Beauty Berry, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

This is the time for beauty berries. Their purple so out of place in the rusty toned atmosphere of the season. I've picked branches to bring into the house, but alas, the berries fall off quickly in the warmth of the house.

November, Late Afternoon, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

The weeping cherry is the first tree to lose its leaves in the fall. Lined up against the sunlit pussy willow, still holding onto its leaves tightly, the cherry's bones of trunk and branches stand out.

November Afternoon, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

As the sun begins to dip below the curviture of earth for another day, the splendor of the season is caught in the river for a brief moment ... a water color painting of the landscape.

Maple on Maple, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

These are the things I see and watch everyday in my yard. We're over 15 inches of rain short for the year, but somehow, most everything is holding on. I am very grateful to be living here in this beautiful landscape.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Little Red Ship Goes Down ...

MV Explorer, August, 2007, in the Canadian Arctic

After a lovely, quiet Thanksgiving with old friends and new, I awoke on Friday morning to discover that the "Little Red Ship," I had traveled on this past summer in the Canadian Arctic was in distress in Antarctic waters, twelve miles south of King George Island and 700 miles south of Cape Horn, after reportedly hitting ice hidden beneath the sea. All 150 passengers and crew had been evacuated to life boats and were eventually taken on board the Nord Norge, a Norwegian cruise ship, sailing in the area. Though very cold, fortunately the weather was calm. There were no injuries reported. The Explorer, since then, has sadly gone to rest beneath the waters she was built to sail upon.

Built during the '60s, the Explorer, at 2,400-tonnes, 75-metres-long, with an "ice-hardened double hull," was the "first commercial vessel to navigate the Northwest Passage." Not one of today's glamorous, luxury cruise liners, I found the Explorer to be a small, intimate, very comfortable vessel. The staff and crew were wonderful people who went out of their way to help in any situation.

My husband and I have often considered traveling to the Antarctic aboard one of the small "adventure" cruise ships, but we've always been more drawn to the Arctic, where we have enjoyed meeting the Inuit people as well as seeing amazing wildlife. Would we do it again aboard the Explorer, if she hadn't met this tragic ending? You Betcha!! We love traveling with people who are interested in learning about our planet and our fellow creatures, while making as small a mark on the landscape as we can. Yes, there are risks involved in traveling to remote destinations, but I figure on today's crowded highways, I'm at a greater risk staying home and going to the grocery store!!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving ...

Anya Grace Allison Zabski, November 14, 2007

What a bittersweet week it's been! We had a house full of family from New England to celebrate an early holiday season and to be here for an informal get together of my mother's closest friends and care givers. We toasted her with tea and traded stories of her life which came to an end on May 21st after a 2 year battle with lung cancer and emphysema.

The sweetness of the week was having my brothers here along with my nephew, his wife and my-oh-so-special grand neice, Anya, who was born 9 days after my mother died. Anya is now five and a half months old and just as beautiful and well behaved as a wee one can be. This was the first time that I have seen her in person. She is full of smiles and I like to think that she learned the word "Hi!" and to wave at the same time while she was here, under my tutelage! There is nothing like a small child to take your mind off of the serious problems and issues of any day. In the spring, if we get a good wet winter, we'll plant 2 trees in our garden ... one to honor my mother and her life and the other for Anya and her just beginning life. Maybe I'll be able to get them to come back for that event!!

The bitter part, of course, was not having my mother here and the realization that she will also not be here for the real holidays ... another step on the rocky road called mourning. Also, my daughter couldn't be here ... she herself going through challenging times. There were other family members missing as well. Now the house is once again empty and the dust is settling back into the corners and crevices and we march on to the next chapter in this glorious mystery we are living.

As Thanksgiving week begins to unfold, there is much to be thankful for ... the first and not least, is the wonderfully supportive family I have and the many dear friends and strangers who came to our aid while my mother was dying. She was cared and prayed for with great tenderness by all. I would like to express a heartfelt thanks to you all. May the blessings of the coming season be upon all of you, including all of my blogger friends who have sent their prayers and support throughout the difficult times.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

More On Redcedar ...

The Cedar Grove From The Front Door

Comments left on yesterday's post about Eastern Redcedar have sent me scurrying to find out more about this species and its connection to the making of gin. The latin name for this species is, juniperus virginiana. Juniperus scopulorum, or Rocky Mountain Juniper is the western counterpart to Eastern Redcedar, according to Michael A. Dirr, in his book, Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs, An Illustrated Encyclopedia.

As a child, I remember my mother cooking with juniper berries that she picked from a cedar tree growing outside our kitchen window. She added them to saurkraut as it simmered on a back burner of the stove and to some meat dishes, mostly game meats like venison. My parents both hunted when they were young and taught us about foraging for wild plants for food. My mother was an expert on wild mushrooms. One of my brothers has taken up the post she had to abandon as she aged and became ill. When they are in season, he collects mushrooms in Vermont and New Hampshire supplying many a fine restaurant with the treasure he collects in the woods.

But back to junipers and gin! According to Joe and Teresa Graedon, hosts of The People's Pharmacy, aired on many an NPR station, juniper communis, or Common Juniper is the one used for making gin. It is also listed in Dirr's book, but with no reference made to the gin part. I haven't found other references to this particular species being used for gin in my other reading. According to Dirr, this cedar grows mainly in New England.

Juniper berries have been used for centuries in herbal medicines by ancient Greek, Arab and Native American healers. It can be used as a diuretic and to treat maladies of the bladder and kidneys. It can also be used to "pique the appetite," as an aid for digestion and for relieving flatulence or good ole common gas. Other uses include being used topically to treat wounds and inflammed joints as in arthritis.

According to Karma Ashley in her on online leaflet entitled, Juniper Berries, a Dr. Sylvuis, discovered gin in the Netherlands in 1650, while he was looking for a medicine to treat kidney disorders. Commercial production began around 1655.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Way Things Work ...

Small Cedar Grove In Front Of My House

I'm reading a wonderful little book, Teaching the Trees, Lessons from the Forest, by Joan Maloof. She teaches biology and environmental studies at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland. The book is a series of essays about the individual kinds of trees and the links between the trees and the creatures that live on and around them, each dependent on the other for their lives.

Take the redcedar for example. Known as a "pioneer" species, it is one of the first trees to begin growing on "disturbed" or abandoned pastures and fields. We have a very small grove of them in front of our home. Among the birds I've seen feeding on the lovely blue berries, produced only by the female trees, are robins, titmice, cedar waxwings, downy woodpeckers and starlings. Our overly abundant gray squirrels and cottontail rabbits also feed on them along with racoons, opposums and other small mammals. Within the first few inches of soil under the trees, lives a whole other universe, microscopic in nature, that feeds on the decaying plant material the cedars shed as they grow ... their needlie leaves, berries, the stringy bark.

The Female Of The Species With Her Lovely Blue Berries

Cedars also provide nesting sights and places to hide from the villains of the animal world. When a hungry hawk swoops through the yard looking for a quick bite, the birds at the feeders scatter quickly to the darkest corners of the cedar grove until the threat is past. The dense foliage, green all year, also gives protection from winter's cold winds and harsh weather. In return for all of these favors, the birds who feast on the berries, spread the undigested seeds across the land, planting small forests of cedars, provided that the owner of the land where these groves pop up let them remain standing.

In the heat of the summer, I often sit in the cool shade of these trees enjoying the birds going about their lives around me while I sip a gin and tonic. The flavor of the gin, of course, comes from the berries of cedar trees.

We humans use the wood of the redcedar for a multitude of items, including furniture, as in your cedar chest where you store your wool sweaters and socks. The wonderful aroma of the cedar keeps wool hungry moths away. Here in the south, the trees are often cut and used as Christmas trees.

Last but not least, cedars, along with all other green trees and plants, provide oxygen for us to breathe, while they take in carbon dioxide, which we are pumping into the air at an alarming rate due to our use of carbon saturated fuels, contributing to our problems with global warming. That alone seems reason enough to leave them standing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More From The Beach ...

Here are a few more photos from our vacation. This image was taken at sunrise from the deck of the house we were staying in. Each morning was more spectacular than the morning before until the second week when the clouds came rolling in. Sunset too could be spectacular over Currituck Sound.

Every moment of every day held gifts for the senses ... soft sand between my toes ... the sight of pelicans diving into the sea scooping up fish in their big bills ... the smell and taste of salt air ... flocks of ducks in vee formation heading south ... the shocking warmth of the surf on my feet and legs ... sand crabs sideling out of my way ... clouds of sanderlings running along the water's edge ... the laughter of children ... sandcastles with pine cone turrets ... kites flying high on late afternoon breezes.

A Gull Prowling The Surf Line

Bill and 4 year old Noah Watching The Sea

Zoe ( 7 years old) In Her Rose Colored Glasses

Zoe and Noah Resting On A Live Oak Tree

I could go on and on describing the pleasures of this time with my family in these peaceful surroundings. The simplicity of these moments mean so much to me as I try to navigate through this crazy world. I have nothing but gratitude for the fact that these two children are not living in the midst of war as are the children of Iraq ... they are not starving as are the children in Darfur ... they are secure and happy in their surroundings.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Coming Home Can Be So Hard To Do ....

Yes, I'm home and it was hard to leave the beach and freedom from stress and long lists of things to do. But I am glad to be back now after some adjustment time. I like my own bed better and was growing tired of sandwiches and meals that weren't to my liking most of the time. You see, we get REALLY lazy and eat out or put together whatever is easiest ... not always the best tasting or the healthiest. I'm going to change that next year. I normally love to cook and eat, but when I'm away often get out the habit.

But I still miss the peace, the sound of that gorgeous ocean pounding away on the shore, sea birds, dolphins, good books, bike rides, walks on the beach, jigsaw puzzles and time to talk.

When I got home on Saturday afternoon and went to the grocery store to get something for dinner, I was taken aback by the crowds. Some people pushed and shoved to get to the check out line. I gave up and went back on Sunday morning when most people were still sleeping. You'd think I had been away from this life for years. As I get older I seem to grow more intolerant of crowds and my own rushing about like a headless chicken.

Bill reading with Sam

While we were away we recieved 6 and 5/8ths inches of rain here at home ... a most precious gift. The garden looks great in it's autumnal scraggley state. Yesterday I dug up some tender herbs to bring indoors as our first frost was predicted. Sure enough, this morning everything was coated with frost and looked quite wintery.

We had rain at the beach, too. North Carolina is also suffering from drought. But rainy days on the ocean are always welcome. I got lots of reading done and a little bit of beading.

Molly 'n' Me As I Read

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Still away ...

No, I'm not home yet, and I'm feeling very lazy ... so no photo this time. It's been a wonderful break. My daughter, her partner and my two wonderful "grandlings" were here for one week. We had loads of fun and I especially enjoyed the giggles, the hugs and their shining faces.

Bill and I have been alone here with our dogs since last Saturday morning ... it's been a moment to moment meditation to the sound of waves crashing on the shore and the cry of gulls. I've been reading, riding my bike, doing a bit of beading and taking lots of naps. My heart is breaking for the people in California who are losing their homes due to the raging fires. I have a cousin in LA and checked in on her. She is fine and not in harms way, thank goodness, but others are not so fortunate. News from home: we had a half inch of rain last week and the garden has perked up a bit!

I am feeling extremely grateful for being able to be here enjoying the beauty around me and for a wonderful blogging community which I'm sorry to be ignoring, but I will be back early next week. After the events of the past year, I really needed this time of doing almost nothing.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Socks and other thoughts ...

After our October heat wave, when temps were in the 90's, for Pete's sake, finally the cool down. It isn't supposed to reach 70 degrees today and that's fine with me. I'm ready for sweaters and socks! I love to wear socks and the crazier the better! I love having happy feet! I have several more pairs of these cotton wonders in different color schemes. In case you can't tell, I love color!!

The leaves are beginning turn orange and yellow here and it's lovely. Although I love the fall colors and the sunshine, I really wouldn't mind a gray week of nothing but rain so that the ground would get wet and my sad garden would be happy again, knowing that it will make it through the winter. The last measurable rain we had was on September 14th with a total of one-half inch of rain for that month. So far no precipitation has fallen in October.

On Saturday my husband and I, plus Sam and Molly our dogs, will load up the car and head to the Outer Banks for a bit. Every October we rent a house just outside of Duck, North Carolina where we spend the first days with our daughter, her partner and our best-in-the-whole-wide-world grandkids. Then my sweetie and I have the remaining days to ourselves, to read, meditate to the sound of the surf and walk along the shore with our pups who don't like the water, but love to find and eat smelly, dead things that the tide has left behind.

October is peaceful and quiet on the Banks. There are few people about except on the weekends when, if the weather is good, they do show up, but not in the numbers that summer brings. Alot of the shops are closed or getting ready to close, except for one of my favorite bookstores. The best restaurants are still serving delicious coastal treats. And I really don't mind if it rains while we're there. It's the best weather for jigsaw puzzles, mugs of hot tea and little beading projects that I bring along with me.

The cats will hold down the fort here with a good friend who loves to stay at our house when we are away. I hope to be doing some posting on this blog if I can. I've been having some problems lately with uploading photos. For instance I can't figure out how that white stripe at the bottom of the photo got there. It is NOT in the photo. So, my posts may be minus photos, though I'll do my best.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Nobel Peace Prize

The Coast of Greenland, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

Former Vice-President Al Gore, and Inuit activist, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, are co-nominees for this years Nobel Peace Prize, to be announced in Oslo, this coming Friday morning, October 12th. Everyone knows of Gore's books and film, An Inconvenient Truth, but few south of the Canadian border seem to be aware of Sheila Watt-Cloutier's work and that she is Gore's co-nominee.

Until this morning while slogging my way through my morning work out, I was one of the ignorant. As I do most mornings, I was listening to BBC World News which comes through on one of our local NPR radio stations. The report concentrated on the record breaking ice melt in the Canadian Arctic this summer, equaling in area the size of the United Kingdom multiplied 10 times. There was brief mention of Watt-Cloutier's nomination along with Gore for the Prize, along with a statement by her, concerning the fate of the Inuit people living "at the top of the world."

The report quite startling to me, because of the image in my head of the size of the ice melt, became more so since when I went to BBC World News on the net, to read the print version of the story, Watt-Cloutier's name and comment were not included. Tonight, on one of the network news programs, Gore was hailed as being a nominee, but there was no mention of his co-nominee and her work, which began in the 1990's when she became a key political player in the Canadian Arctic, speaking for the rights of the Inuit people. I can't help but wonder why she was not mentioned, as her work, though not as widely known as Gore's, is every bit as compelling.

In 2002, Watt-Cloutier was elected international chairwomen of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, representing 155,00 Inuit who live in Canada, Greenland, Russia and Alaska. In 2005, when reports of thinning ice and eroding coastlines came to the forefront, she initiated the first international legal action on climate change, charging the United States of violating the rights of Inuit people by refusing to reduce its polution of the atmosphere causing global warming and endangering the Inuit culture. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with whom she and 62 Inuit elders and hunters filed the petition, declined to consider the petition until she was nominated along with Gore, for the Nobel Peace Prize. In March of this year, she was granted a brief hearing by the Commission, but they would not consider the entire petition. Go here, to hear a brief clip from her speech to the commission.

In addition to the honors above, Watt-Cloutier has been recognized for her work with awards from the World Asssociation of Non-Governmental Organizations, and the United Nations, the Sophie Prize in Norway and the Order of Canada, the highest honor the Canadian government can bestow.

A resident of Iqaluit on Baffin Island, Watt-Cloutier, has seen the effects of climate change and globalization. She was raised traditionally, on the ice and never traveled by anything other than dogsled until she was ten years old, when she was sent away to boarding school. She says "As Inuit, we have the highest suicide rate in North America, especially for our young men. And we have lots of addiction and social problems that we are trying to grapple with. I have a grandson who's nine and who's growing up here in the middle of all this. I want him to keep hunting, because the hunting culture is not well understood or is misunderstood. It is a really powerful training ground for our young people." She adds "Ultimately you learn to be wise about all kinds of choices, not only on the land. These are transferable skills that one would need, especially, in a transitioning culture such as ours. I know that many answers and solutions lie in the power of this wonderful resilient culture we have."

Friday, October 05, 2007

Pain and Suffering

October Sunflower II, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."
Susun S. Weed
Wise Woman Herbal, Healing Wise

What wise words, these, and ones most of us need to remember on a daily basis. Too often I find myself tied in knots over some indignation ... 0ur planet on fire with war and climate change, the lack of rain, my dying garden over which I have slaved, a snide remark by a friend or the pain of a long forgotten memory, now suddenly come to the forefront. Those chafing, stinging knots, of course, are caused by none other than myself.

It can be difficult to let go of the headlines, the craziness of this world and enjoy the peacefulness of an autumn evening like this one ... crickets trilling ... deer feeding in the meadow below the house ... a gentle breeze stroking my skin as I sit by an open window writing these words.

I do have a choice though ... the glass half empty or full bit ... the letting go that can allow me to reclaim my life and go forward embracing whatever I find before me. Personal growth doesn't happen as I am relaxing, enjoying a mint julep on the veranda ... it happens in the dark of night when the shadows are dense and hovering too close.

For tonight I choose to let go, live in the moment and sing the praises of the universe. The shadows may retreat and my dreams will be colorful and happy. Life may still be painful, but my glass of wine will be full.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Time To Get Back To Work ...

A corner of my studio

This is my studio. I haven't spent much time in this wonderful space in a good long time. Six years ago my mother came to live with us. She was not well and though she was in her own apartment, elsewhere in the house, her presence made it difficult to spend uninterrupted time being the artist I had been for many years. So gradually my time creating art diminished and during the past few years came to a halt. Though I would occassionally start something new I never finished anything. As a result many projects hang on the walls or are tucked away in boxes and bins for a time when I might feel inspired to begin again.

Since my mom passed away in May, I've been slowly pulling the threads of my life back together into some kind of recognizable shape. I think it's just beginning to blossom. Maybe it's just a tiny flower right now, but the desire to paint, to play with beads and to write poems is unfolding and I 'm finding time to look at half done pieces that I'd like to complete. And those little sparks of light, like tiny fire crackers are beginnning to go off in my head as new ideas begin to surface.

Above is the beginning of a series of small painting of the animals in my life. This is a portrait of Lilliput, not quite finished. Next I'll start on Peppermint and Miss Cleo. Then there are the dogs, Sam and Molly! Should be fun!!

This is a half finished beaded pumpkin, part of a series of small vegetables and fruit that will someday be called "Eve's Garden." Below are a few of the finished pieces, a tiny pumpkin, a gourd and an apple.

At the moment I'm working on putting the garden to bed for the winter and still going through some of my mother's belongings. I'm also beginning my studies of medicinal herbs. But creativity is knocking! I find the best way to keep the door from slamming shut when I try to open it, is to announce to the world I'm going back to work. I may not answer the phone or get out as much as I have been. I might not even write alot of posts for this blog. I'm being called by the muse, and she rarely takes no for an answer.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

It's Lucy's Fault!!

Okay, I've been tagged by Lucy to do a meme, using the letters of my middle name to come up with words that describe who I am. I think all she wants to know is what the "Z" stands for! Now is that fair??

Well, my middle initial "Z" is not the first letter of my middle name. It is the first letter of my maiden name ... Zabski. Yes, it's a good Polish name, and yes, I always was called on last in school and always sat in the back of the room. When I went to college the funny folks who are in charge of placing students in the dorm, roomed me with a wonderful gal with the last name of "Debski." We were known as the "Ski" twins. She was from Brooklyn. I was from Long Island. Well, the joke is on them. We still keep in touch some 40 odd years later.

So here is my response to the meme!

Z: Zealot. I'm too often overly enthusiastic about things once I set my sights on them. This can be good and bad.

A: Anxious. This results from being overly zealous, which also has to do with wanting to be perfect in what I'm zealous about. It's a terrible thing!!

B: Buddhist. Now this is a very good thing and helps me with my anxiety. I try very hard to follow the principles of Buddhism but I'm not very successful. However, I am learning to catch myself when I'm really being bad at it!

S: Silly, Stubborn, Serious. I don't think I need to go into these!

K: Kidder, Kyaker. Yes, that's me in the photo on my way out to have a paddle with my friend, Susan, over at Visual Voice. She took this photo. And yes, I do like to kid around sometimes!

I: Interested. I'm far too interested in too many things and don't have time for them all.

So there you go! There's probably more information here than you wanted. I will refrain from tagging anyone else, but offer up the invitation to anyone who reads this to take it on.

The other meme that Lucy tagged me for was a list of questions that I'm not going to dive into. However, the one question that interested me the most was who would you invite to a dinner party if you could invite anyone in the world, living or dead. One could have a lot of fun with that one. I have a list, but it's too politically incorrect and might result in more war. So why go there!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Autmumn Joy ...

The Sedums (the dark red is Autumn Joy) in the photo above are the glory of my garden at the moment. Due to a lack of rain for most of the summer, things are getting a bit crispy out there. For the month of September we've only had 1/2 an inch of rain. The area is down 1 foot of rain for the year. Yet the water and sewer authorities refuse to issue a water emergency. We are under some restrictions at the moment, but they are minimal. Tonight on the local news, a reporter said that the authorities had talked about declaring a water emergency today, but want to wait longer ... until what? Until there is no water coming from the faucet and the reservoir in front of my home is a waterless wasteland like it was back in 2002?

It was that year of crackling lawn and newly planted browning lanscape that persuaded me to install a cistern to collect rain water. (We had just moved in the year before and had planted alot of shrubbery that I didn't want to lose.) The tank holds some 3,000 gallons of rainwater when full. I also have some rain barrels around for watering small areas. But I'm not watering much this year. You have to have rain to fill the cistern and though there is still water in it, I don't really know how much. So I water only those things that should be looking good at this time of year. The rest I let go since it will be dying back for the season as hard frost approaches.

This is my very favorite time of year, however! The cool nights bring wonderful sleep and though it can still be hot during the day, it isn't the endless summer blast furnace that nothing can relieve. So I sing the praises of the season even without the rain.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In Greenland ...

Wouldn't you know it! During the last days of our trip and the part I'd been looking forward to the most ... Greenland ... I got pretty sick with bronchitis. I spent alot of my time on board the Explorer, while everyone else was on shore having fun and seeing the sights.

I did, however, make it on shore in Ilulissat, where the ship refueled and we had several hours to wander through the town. Greenland is Danish and though the Inuit of Greenland are related to the Inuit of Canada, the villages are very different in appearance. While the homes and buildings in the Canadian Arctic are prefabricated and somewhat dull in appearance, the buildings that we saw in Greenland are very colorful European style cottages, painted in many colors of the rainbow. Through one window, I spied lovely orchids blooming. They must be a godsend in the winter months, bringing joy to that person who carefully tends them and watches them open delicate petals while the weather outside is foul.

The harbor in Ilulissat

Ilulissat seems to be a very busy place. At the dock next to the Explorer, was a large fishing trawler that had just brought in its catch. Halibut already cut, frozen and packaged was being loaded into containers that would be shipped and available in grocery stores in North America and around the globe.

Fish, Arctic Char, I believe, drying in a back yard in Ilulissat

And then there is the way the locals do it. I'm sure these folks eat fresh fish daily in summer that they catch themselves. And as you see in the photo above, they preserve it for those long winter months when the ice on the waters makes fishing impossible.

I first became interested in seeing Greenland some years ago when on a flight back to Virginia from Europe, we flew directly above the southern tip of Greenland. It was November and early afternoon. I watched in awe and delight as glaciers and mountains passed below us adorned in splendid, frozen white. Then five years ago I had the opportunity to sail through the Svalbard Archipelago, another stunningly beautiful place. There was lots of wildlife but no Inuit to visit. So when I received information about this trip, I had to sign up, immediately.

As autumn begins and shadows grow long here, I wonder what it's like in Ilulissat. Has there been snow yet? I'll bet the snowmobiles and dog sleds are being dusted off and warm boots, mittens and hats are coming out of the closet.

But who knows ... with the planet warming, it may still be relatively warm. I hope to have another chance to get back to these wonderful places. By following my dream of seeing Greenland, I found the Canadian Arctic and have once again fallen head over heals for the spirit of the north.