From Pete the Cat: It’s All Good

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One of the joys of grandparenting is revisiting stories I loves to read my own children and sharing them with theirs. What fun it was to read to my granddaughter some of her father’s favorite books, Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Superfudge. Equally fun is discovering new favorites all her own, like the audibles we’re listening to of Junie B. Jones series narrated in that delightfully scratchy and droll voice of Lana Quintal as Junie B. rebels against riding the stupid smelly yellow school bus, and gets back at that meany boy Jim who invited everyone in room 9 to his birthday party but her.

A new recent favorite is the Pete the Cat series, and my personal favorite I Love My White Shoes. This groovy blue cat with the yellow eyes and long skinny legs has a new pair of white hightops that he loves, loves, loves! So much so that as he strolls along he sings this song: ” I love my white shoes! I love my white shoes! I love my white shoes.”

But then, “Oh no!” he steps into a huge pile of strawberries, turning his white shoes red. What does Pete do? Does he cry? “Goodness, no!” He just keeps strolling along singing his song, “I love my red shoes! I love my red shoes! I love my red shoes!”

And when through a series of accidents his shoes turn blue, then brown, then wet and white again, what does he do? He just keeps strolling along, singing his song, which changes according to the circumstances: “I love my blue shoes! . . . I love my brown shoes . . . . I love my wet shoes . . .!”

The illustrations are so vivid and cheerful, the cool cat’s insouciant optimism so infectious, with the repetitious sing-songy verses undercut by unexpected riffs from the past (Everything is Cool! Groovy! Rock N’ Roll!), we don’t even mind when, at the end, the story points to itself and sets out the “moral” in black and white on the page:

“The moral of Pete’s story is

No matter what you step in

Keep walking along and

Singing your song . . .

[turn page]

because it’s all good.”

So simple. So wise. And for all its triteness, so encouraging to this grandma and her little granddaughter, each of us in the throes of transition, our lives turned upside-down since she’s come to live with me, not knowing what will come next as I petition for permanent guardianship,  the decision so completely out of our hands.  

All we can do and must do is just keep strolling along, singing our songs, reading our books, enjoying our sweet time together in the here and now, come what may, regardless the shifting landscapes and incidences that continue to color our lives.

Knowing, like that great, wise, groovy Peter the Cat says: It’s all good.

[NOTE TO READER: While the Junie B series is new to me and my granddaughter, it’s been around for a long time, since 1995! Pete the Cat is not as young as he is cool either, having debuted in 2010. If you younger parents and grandparents know of newer book series you think my sweetie might like, please let me know. She’s an “old soul” first grader.]

 

 

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Life’s Sweet Longing for Itself

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Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not from you.

I first read these words from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet when still in high school, a child myself, although I did not see myself that way. His words moved me then, even as they do now, so many years later, when I am raising a granddaughter.

Then I truly was “life” in its earliest stages “longing” for the life that was to be, that stretched out before me in what seemed an endless and exciting unknown potentiality.

I didn’t want to be hemmed in by the hopes and expectations of my parents, nor by their fears and warnings. I didn’t want to “learn from their mistakes,” as they cautioned me. I wanted to live my life as an adventure, learning from my own mistakes, not theirs. My life was my own and no one else’s. I wanted to risk all, moving at my own direction, and good or bad, I alone would take responsibility for the life I chose. Such were my longings then.

So I found Gibran’s  parenting advice immensely inspiring,  both for myself as I was moving beyond my parents into adulthood, and also for the kind of parent I wanted to be to my own children.

He goes on to say:

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Now, as the mother of a grown son and the guardian of his child, The Prophet’s words still move me . . . and admonish me.

How I wish now my son had heeded my warnings, and that they had been louder and clearer. How I  wish he had chosen paths more safe and sane, had lived up to all the potential I saw in him then and see still.

But those are my fears, my regrets, not his. I must loose him and let him go, and see the direction in which he flew as his own choice. It was never mine to make or change or regret. I had longed when young to make and learn from my  own mistakes, and so must he. But that learning is his alone to make or forsake in his own good time.

As for his child, my little granddaughter, she too is an arrow who will fly beyond my bending, beyond my ability to see or guide her life’s flight. Will my warnings to her be louder and clearer? No doubt. Will she heed them, or long to learn from her own mistakes, as I had, as her father must? We shall see.

She, as her father, is in the Archer’s hand. And I must trust, trust, trust that each will reach that mark upon the path of the infinite toward which the Archer aims with gladness. They are, after all, Life’s sweet longing for itself.

As am I.

Chaos Can Take a Hike

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I wrote the following post For Love of Chaos in August three years ago, when I had my little three year old granddaughter living with me. She’s six now and again living with me. So times haven’t changed much in many ways, including the wrecking-ball politics we saw on the nightly news, then as now.  And I still enjoy watching The Last Kingdom on Netflix.

But chaos itself I can do without. I’m weaning myself away from cable news, and the dark, edgy stuff I used to like to read and watch I now avoid.

Now my nightly reading is Judy Blume, Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing, and Super Fudge, stories I used to read to my children when they were young. I read a chapter to my granddaughter before bed and she loves them just as much as her dad and auntie did. It’s so cute when she gets excited and starts giggling and covering her face when Fudgie does some new crazy thing that drives his big brother Peter nuts.

O give me light, give me laughter, give me snuggles and giggles. Chaos can take a hike.

For Love of Chaos, Trump, and Wrecking-Ball Politics

(First posted August 2016)

Since becoming the full-time nanny for my little granddaughter, my reading tastes have taken a decisive darker turn. Instead of the lyrical literary novels I’m usually drawn to, I’ve been on a Viking binge.

It started with Bernard Cromwell’s The Saxon Stories, upon which the acclaimed BBC series “The Last Kingdom” is based. It continued with Judson Roberts’ “The Strongbow Saga“, Giles Kristoan’s “Raven Trilogy”, and James Wilde’s books about Hereward, the English hero that some claim the Robin Hood tales were based on.

The question puzzling me for quite some time is why this dark turn toward such violent reads? What is it that draws me to them and keeps me reading?

I may have found at least a partial answer in one of Kristian’s books, when the young Viking Raven muses on “the love of chaos.” How even in the most life-threatening moments, when absolute silence is needed to keep death from descending and destroying them all, part of him wants to cry out and “turn that still night into seething madness.” Part of him wants to “break through the thick ice of that mute terror, for even chaos would be better than waiting, than expecting the fire to reach out of the night and eat your flesh.”

Perhaps we’ve all felt a bit of that “love of chaos” at some time in our lives. Felt in the face of some extreme danger a wild giddy urge–to run the car off the edge of a dark winding road, to step off the edge of the cliff into the wild-blue thrill of free-fall. Perhaps all extreme sport enthusiasts harbor a bit of this in their hearts when attempting their death-defying stunts. The mad desire to push past the edge of all reason into a wild unknown.

Maybe my turn toward these violent reads is a dormant “love of chaos,” the urge to experience, if only vicariously, that death-defying thrill. To travel with these warriors into a dark unknown as they risk death and destruction in a daring quest for gold and glory. To risk all to see what great gain may stand on the other side. Or not.

I can’t help seeing some of this “love of chaos” playing out on the political stage today in what some have called a kind of “wrecking-ball” mentality in some American voters. Their impatience with restraint, nuance, diplomacy, and what they see as political correctness. The wild urge to tear it all down, all apart, and see what rises out of the ashes. They see Trump as wielding the wrecking ball that will destroy the status quo in the wild hope that out of such chaos will come gold and glory.

I’m far from being a Trump fan, but I do understand that wild impulse. In certain seemingly hopeless situations, throwing caution to the wind has a strong appeal. The desperate hope is that chaos itself will become the cauldron out of which a new, better world will emerge.

This urge toward chaos has strong a strong corollary in nature, in the violent upheavals that impose a new order: The shifting Teutonic plates that broke apart to create the continents and seas that sustain life today. The glaciers that ripped away vast chunks of earth to carve out spectacular canyons and riverbeds. The wild-fire that brings so much destruction, yet germinates new seeds for future forests.The list goes on.

“Out of chaos the dancing star is born.” So sang the poet.

Perhaps this love of chaos is etched into our DNA. We can’t escape it, but we can try to understand it, in ourselves and each other.

I’m hoping our better angels, our more reasonable natures, will prevail in the November election, and we do not trust our future to the chaos of wrecking-ball politics. But it’s important to try to understand what gives rise to these desparate tendencies. To not make the mistake of thinking we are above it all, that only the others, the so-called “deplorables,” have such dark urges. Hate, racism, xenophobia, terrorism–if we look deep enough into our own hearts and minds we will find the seeds of each, whether lying dormant or on fertile ground. We have to see this, and understand it in ourselves, before we can understand it in others. And learn to rein it in.

Young Raven learned to rein in his urge toward chaos that dark and deadly night, and he and his companions lived to fight again for gold and glory. Learning when to let our wilder urges move us forward, and when to rein them is what will move all of us closer to our own common goals, whether they be of gold and glory, or peace and prosperity and a better world

Resting in the Grace of the World

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Crystal Light series original oil painting by Erin Hanson

“Crystal Light” by Erin Hanson

“When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” ~ Wendell Berry

I have not lain down where the wood drake rests, but I am coming to find a kind of grace in letting loose, more than letting go, in pressing steadily forward without attachment to the outcome, in a kind of letting be, come what may.

My granddaughter came to live with me at the beginning of summer and she is with me still, having started first grade at a nearby school in which I enrolled her. I am petitioning to become her legal guardian. This comes with the blessing of my son, but not the child’s mother, who will fight this. Both are struggling with addiction, both victims of this opioid crisis.

I grieve for my son and my heart breaks for the mother, even as I fear for my granddaughter. Sometimes it seems overwhelming.

Then I take a deep breath and do what must be done, regardless the outcome.

I move toward “the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief.”

I rest in “the presence of still water,” and feel “the day-blind stars waiting with their light.”

I cannot say I “am free.”

But I do feel the grace of the world, and love of God, surrounding me and mine. I lean on that, and it comforts me.

The Roman Forum, An Ancient Relic Then & Now

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Giovanni Paolo Panini Painting - Capricio Of Roman Monuments With The Colosseum And Arch Of Constantine by Giovanni Paolo Panini

The Roman Forum lies right behind the Colosseum, that I wrote about last week. It is the great plaza where Caesar and Augustus and other Roman emperors once trod and, like the Colosseum, has been a mecca for tourists, artists and photographers down through the ages.

It was mostly in ruins when the Vikings first sailed up the Tiber River to gaze at this wonderland of antiquity.

A View of the Roman Forum today, image from Wikipedia

I was there for one short and very hot afternoon last summer. I didn’t take as many photos as I wish I had, but the views I’ve become most enamored by are the ones that artists painted hundreds of years ago. You will find my photos mixed among those below.

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By Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1691 – 1765

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By Cannaletto in 1742

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By Franz Kaisermann, 1765 – 1833

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Watercolor by David Roberts, 1835

Ancient Relic of Rome – The Colosseum, Now & Then

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It seems so far away now, and long ago, that trip to Europe last summer. Even more so when re-viewing photographs of The Coloseum and Public Forum, which were ancient even in ancient time, when artists throughout the ages flocked here to paint these wonders that still stand like a thread through time, tying us all together.

Below are a few of my photos of the Coloseum that I took last summer, along with paintings of the same from long, long ago. I’ll do the same for The Public Forum in another post.

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The Coloseum by Gasper van Wittel (Vanvitelli), 1652 – 1736

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My photo of the interior, 2018

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The interior by Thomas Cole, 1832

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Here we see the floor of the Coloseum, the arena where the gladiators fought and Christians died, as well as a view under the floor, the little cells where they prepared for battle and were held captive.

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The Coloseum cells by Pietro F. Garoli, 1638 – 1716

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The cross in the Coloseum was a place of pilgrimage through the ages.

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By Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, 1783 – 1853

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Night view through arches by Carus Carl Gustav, 1789 – 1869

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A painting of an arched entrance to the Colosseum covered in plant life

Arches through arches By Francois-Marius Granet, 1804

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Self-portrait with Colosseum, by Maerten van Heemskerch, 1553

I loved seeing this Selfie from the 1500’s! So I’ll end with my own selfie, nearly 500 years later.

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Me with Coloseum, not so long ago

Secluded Pool, Secret Garden, & Summer Plans Gone Astray

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I haven’t been painting as much this year, but I thought I’d share these two. Both were meant to be abstracts, but the one became a secluded pool and the other, while more abstract, I think of as a secret garden. Secret, I suppose, because it exists only in my mind. Both are watercolor and oil pastel.

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One we’ve framed but not hung yet.  Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph it before it was covered in glass, and you can see some reflection there at the far right.

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My plans for the summer—more painting, more writing—have gone astray. The acrylic class I was supposed to take was cancelled. And then my six-year-old granddaughter came to stay with us for a couple of months. So I’ve been spending more time in the pool and playing games with her than painting or writing.

But I did finally get back to playing the piano again, teaching my granddaughter to play, and then playing duets with my daughter who plays guitar when she was with us last week.

And we’ve been watching parades of the wild turkeys and quail with their baby chicks passing behind out house, and the deer eating our roses, and hundreds of the squirrels scampering across the hillsides and digging beneath our oak trees.

My granddaughter will be with us a few more weeks and I am going to cherish every sweet moment I have with her. She’s still young enough to love cuddling and holding, and we’ve been reading lots of books together. I am so blessed to have her in my life.

The writing and painting can wait.

Michelangelo’s Pieta & Saint Peter’s Basilica

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I have always been drawn to and moved by images of Michelangelo’s Pieta, his sculpture of the Mother Mary holding the body of her son in her lap after his crucifixion. Seeing it in person when I visited Italy last year did not disappoint. To me it symbolizes that  perfect all-embracing, unconditional love that transcends time and space. Her son is dead, beyond her comfort. And yet she holds him with such tenderness and devotion that I don’t feel despair or grief. I feel the power of an undying love and that spills outward, encompassing her and her son and all who behold them.

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The Pieta was commissioned to be “the most beautiful work of marble in Rome, one that no living artist could best.”  It is truly that, even today, and is considered by many to be Michelangelo’s greatest work of art, even besting his sculpture of David, and his painting of the Creation of Adam.

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is a magnificent setting for the Pieta. Many masters of the Renaissance contributed to its creation, including Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael, Donato, and Giacomo della Porta.

After the narrow, crowded spaces of the Vatican museums, it was a pleasure to move within the spacious grandeur of the Basilica. I loved especially the lush details in the decorative grilles and arches, and all the beautiful and varied colors of marble found in the tiled floors and walls, as well as the stunning sculptures.

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Religious Art, Old and New at the Vatican

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Visiting the Vatican Museums while in Rome is a must if you love art and history. The vast richness and splendor of the long halls and chapels, along with the stifling crowds, is almost overwhelming. Too much to really take in. But I found a quiet refuge in the Modern Art gallery tucked away in the middle of the Vatican, where I was able to move at leisure, uncrowded. There I found religious art by Van Gogh, Chagall, Matisse, Kandinsky, Klee, Redon, Picasso, and so many others.

The place I was most excited to see was the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo”s painting of the Creation of Adam, with God’s finger touching Adam’s. But when I reached the place after being herded through so many countless rooms, I did not recognize it at all. While I found a place against the wall to actually sit and rest my poor feet, I gazed up at the magnificent paintings on the ceiling, not realizing I was in the Sistine Chapel. I was shocked to see the Creation painting, one small rectangle among dozens. Can you find it in the image below?

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For some reason I expected that to be the dominant painting covering nearly the entire ceiling. Not so, as you can see. It is almost lost among the others.

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Photographs were not allowed in the Sistine Chapel, so the images of the Creation painting featured  above are not mine. The photos below are.

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The Sistine Chapel was not the only room where the ceilings and walls were covered in paintings.

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But for all the splendor of the long halls and chapels, my favorite rooms and artwork were more intimate and modern.

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Sometimes for me, the simplest drawings are the most moving.

These time-worn tiles below . . .

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. . . and this little faded alcove above also touched me.

But of course, my favorite is still the Creation painting. Even as small as it is and almost lost among the many, it moves me like no other.

A Taste of Rome, The Eternal City

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The last place we visited on our 30-day tour of Europe last year was Rome, the Eternal City. We only had a few days there, and there was so much to see. So I’ll be posting over several days to try to do justice to what we saw.

This first post will be just random photos of the city to give you a taste of what it’s like to just be there, in such an ancient and beautiful city. Most of these were taken within walking distance of our hotel. The most famous being the Trevi Fountain at the top of the post.

In my nest posts I’ll share photos of the Colosseum, the Public Forum, the Vatican museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

If you’ve been to Rome, I’m sure you’ve seen all this and will revel in your own memories. If you haven’t, I hope it will whet your appetite to go.

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