Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snow Confetti and Ancient Mysteries

Today in the Northeast we are in the midst of what the weather folks are referring to as an “epic” storm. Here in western Long Island we’ve received just over a foot of snow, while the east end of the island is predicted to get 2-3 feet of snow.

A few years ago I would have been joining in the general grumbling and complaining about this major inconvenience. But it’s funny how your perspective changes as you go through life. Last week I heard the most wonderful news: my metastatic breast cancer is officially “in remission.” This is as good as it gets. They don’t consider the cancer “cured” because they believe the drugs are what’s keeping it from becoming active and spreading again (just as MS patients and others with chronic diseases are never really cured, even though they can experience periods when their disease is in remission). But for now, I’ve been given a reprieve and so this white stuff falling on my head sure looks like celebratory confetti from heaven!

And now we’re ready to get back to exploring life and having fun and we thought the best way to escape the winter weather today would be to take a virtual trip to the Nile area of Egypt. We recently saw a very interesting show on PBS that talked about the Sphinx and the three Pyramids of Giza.

To begin with, the three great pyramids have been found to be aligned with the three stars in the belt of the constellation Orion, and hieroglyphics mention one of the Egyptian gods, Anubis, as having a connection with the center star of the belt.

Hmm, as mentioned before in this blog, I’ve noticed that a certain bear’s outline has a remarkable resemblance to this constellation:

Then there’s the mystery of the sphinx. Recent research has raised the question of whether the head of the sphinx is original to the sculpture, or whether an ancient pharaoh destroyed the first head and replaced it with his own.
Our friend Paul did some research and sent me this picture he found in an ancient text:
I honestly can’t remember where Stretch came from, I just know he was sitting on my shelf one day when I was drawn to pick him up and put him in a pocket on my purse on the way to a doctor appointment. Since then, he has slowly taken on a life of his own. Maybe I should contact some of those researchers and suggest that I may hold a clue to the ancient secrets of the Egyptians.

On the other hand, Stretch is enough of a pawful already with his worldwide fan club. I wonder where he is this morning; he’s usually at his desk on my desk offering comments as I work on a blog post . . .

Oh, the Emperor Stretch has declared it’s a snow day and you’re all invited over for hot cocoa and cookies.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Contemplative Day at the Met (dedicated to our dear friend Khadijah)

As you’ve probably noticed, our blogs have been tending toward a more serious note in the past few weeks. I think that’s partly because it’s January here in the Northeast and that allows for a lot of time to snuggle up indoors and contemplate life. Right now you turn on the television and all the news programs are fixated on reports of terror attacks and threats mixed in with the usual murders, epidemics and dire weather predictions. Then I look at my calendar and I’m reminded that one week of the month (this week) I have my quarterly medical tests lined up to find out if my treatments are still working and not causing any bodily harm.

So in this dark cold scary winter month, it’s good to seek out the light and some positive messages. Yesterday Stretch and I did exactly that, we took a trip to the Metropolitan Museum in NYC and spent a quiet afternoon strolling through some of the galleries that exhibit artifacts from the world’s religions. For any of our readers who might benefit from a peaceful blog with some reassuring thoughts to counter all the negativity being blasted at us, here are some pics and thoughts from our outing:

We started our visit at a new exhibit showing some pages from the Winchester Bible, a stunningly illustrated medieval work. Here’s a page from the beginning of the book of Samuel:
Stretch: “You took Latin when you went to high school in the last century. That was probably a widely used language back in the days when you were young, huh? Can you translate this?”
Me: “Sure, it says there: “He safeguards the steps of His faithful, but the wicked vanish in darkness.”
(Stretch gave me an amazed look and I had to admit that I looked up some of these verses before we came to the exhibit, because after all you can’t lie when you’re standing in front of a Bible!)

Here’s another beautiful set of pages, these are from the book of Jeremiah:
“They will fight against you, but will not overcome you, for I am with you, Yahweh declares, to rescue you.”

In another case at this exhibit that contained some other medieval Christian artifacts was displayed this really colorful picture of two angels standing next to a lamb at the cross of Christ. I believe in angels and I always pray to two guardian angels in particular, so I loved this image!

From the Bible exhibit, we wandered across to some rooms containing Middle and Far Eastern religious artifacts. The messages these exhibits offer is the same hope and encouragement as the Christian Bible passages. 

Here are a couple examples:

This is a statue of Avalokitesvara (“Lord who looks down) who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. He has made a vow to assist sentient beings in times of difficulty.

This beautiful lamp is from an Egyptian mosque. I loved this verse from the Qu’ran that describes the significance of the mosque lamp:
God is the Light of the heavens and earth.
The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp
The Lamp enclosed in glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star
Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the East nor of the West,
Whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it
Light upon Light! God doth guide whom He will to His Light
God doth set forth Parables for men:  and God doth know all things.

Then there is this magnificent Mihrab (prayer niche) from Iran on which is inscribed a message from the Prophet Muhammad:  "Witness that there is no God save Allah and that Muhammad is his Apostle and the Blessed Imam, and in legal almsgiving, and in the pilgrimage, and in the fast of Ramadan, on him be blessing and peace.”

One has to wonder, looking at all these ancient artifacts with similar messages of peace and blessing, how we ended up with so much hatred and violence based upon religion.

As I was musing on this, I noticed Stretch had disappeared. I found him back in the hall with all the Chinese exhibits, giving advice to one of the ancient Liubo players. 

Don’t ask me how Stretch knows all about this very primitive ancestor of our modern chess games because I didn’t interrupt to ask him. I was just glad to find him here instead of at the register in the gift shop with a charge receipt.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Talking to Your Food

People often ask me how I come up with topics for this weird blog. I answer quite honestly that the topics seem to find me. For example, I was going to work on a post this week about a visit to the Morgan library, but--

The other day Joe came home from work carrying a tiny shopping bag from Stretch’s special friend Megha. It seems Megha discovered a little blue bear looking for a home and thought maybe Stretch could find a place for him in his huge condo. Blue is a very sweet little bear so of course we welcomed him into the family.

Well, the next day was Stretch’s butler Bennett’s day off (this butler seems to get a lot of days off!) and as I was serving the little guys some pancakes for breakfast, Blue asked if he could have blueberries on his.
That somehow reminded me that I haven’t had salmon with blueberries in a while, and then I remembered an exhibit I saw on our visit to the Smithsonian last year, and that made me think of something I read about how our thoughts about what we eat can generate positive or negative energy . . .And when you put all that together, you get this post:

Last summer when we were at the Museum of Natural History in Washington, I came across an exhibit that talked about how some other cultures around the world have a more grateful and spiritual attitude toward the food they eat.

One exhibit in particular caught my attention—a story about how the Japanese conduct special ceremonies and bless a catch of salmon before they eat it, thanking the fish for providing them with life sustenance. 

It's interesting how modern science is discovering what ancient cultures already knew centuries ago. Pharmaceutical scientist David Hamilton has done experiments on how expressing gratitude when we eat or drink actually has a physical reaction in our bodies. He writes in his book It’s The Thought That Counts:

“So, to go back to food, any thoughts, feelings, or words expressed around it will color it to some extent. Imagine the consequences of eating three meals a day, 365 days a year, after saying a few words of gratitude as you sat down to eat . . . In one year alone, that would be 1,095 times where you would have taken positive energy into your body as you ate.”

Remember those “last century” days growing up when saying grace at the table was routine. How many people bother to do that anymore in our culture? (Maybe we need an APP for that, or perhaps we could text the message around the table on our cell phones?)

So don’t be surprised if you happen to be sharing a meal with me in the future and after saying grace I have a conversation thanking my food before I eat it. Then again, most people who know me well probably wouldn’t find that unusual at all.

Stretch says all this talk about food and the mention of blueberry salmon kindled his appetite for that dish. Blue says he knows how to make a great blueberry salmon, so he’s working on that while Stretch and Tiny make a salad to go with it.

 (Megha, they said you’re more than welcome to join them for dinner!)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ordinary Days?

You know how you can go along for years and suddenly one day something that you’ve seen all the time just suddenly strikes you in a different way? That happened to me recently with the words “Ordinary Time.” In the Catholic liturgical calendar the part of the year that doesn’t include the holy seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter is called “Ordinary Time.”

That certainly seems to make sense because after all, the holidays are special times. We grow up looking forward to them, knowing that we’ll be receiving presents and having a holiday from school. As adults we often grumble about the work and expense involved, but we still enjoy these times nonetheless. So of course after the holidays are over, we’re back to our everyday ordinary life, moving along through the daily grind.

But the last few years have taught me that there really are no “ordinary” days. Living with an illness and becoming friends with many others who have similar or different afflictions has taught me that each day is like being on a roller coaster; sometimes it’s a real high, other days it’s a devastating low. But it’s rarely just ordinary.  And with the news often filled with “extraordinarily” bad events such as terrorist attacks and devastating weather, when is life ever ordinary anymore?

I chuckled to myself thinking maybe I should write a letter to the truly “extraordinary” new Pope of the Catholic Church (love those Jesuits!) and suggest that he should find a new designation for his church calendar. But then I looked more closely at the readings the church uses in “Ordinary Time” and saw that they celebrate the days of Jesus’ life when he was simply interacting with ordinary people—telling them parables, teaching them to pray, sharing a meal.  But wherever he went in those “ordinary” days, miracles happened. Lives were changed.

Isn’t that a great thought? That each “ordinary” day can be filled with miracles, great and small. Today I heard that a dear friend got a good report from her latest cancer scan, everything is still stable; a cousin wrote me about a new baby in her family; several other cousins wrote really loving messages to remember my Mom on the anniversary of her death. I woke up this morning two years after being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer still feeling well thanks to the great care of my awesome doctors and a lot of prayers and love that constantly surround me. I looked up at the angel hanging above my desk, a gift from my cousin Janie. It’s called “Heavenly Miracles.” Indeed.

And then there’s life with Stretch. Nothing has been “ordinary” since this bear arrived on the scene. Today he’s trying out the new Emperor’s throne he received for the holidays (thanks to Paul, Mitzi, Harold, Laurie, and everyone else who put the idea in his head that he’s an Emperor!) and he’s working on setting up his new library. More about that in our next blog later this week, when we’ll get back to our usual zany adventures.

But today I really thought it would be good to start the New Year with a reminder that there are no “ordinary” days in life and miracles are not only still possible, they’re all around us every day.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Year Resolutions

So, have you broken your New Year’s resolutions yet?

I only made one resolution this year, and Stretch is still giggling about it. When you live with an illness, as many of my friends and relatives can verify, the usual resolutions just don’t cut it. I don’t need to lose weight and I’m already eating healthier and exercising out of necessity. So my idea was to find something challenging to accomplish in the New Year within the limitations I have. Those who read this blog regularly are very familiar with my long line of dismal failures in the area of craft projects.  That said, what could be more satisfying than to find some craft with which I could actually have a semblance of success? (Mary Seif Curran, I hear you giggling along with Stretch!)

During the holidays we visited the Museum of Natural History in NYC so Stretch could see their Origami Christmas tree. It’s always spectacular but I really loved this year’s tree because underneath it they had Origami figures of characters from the “Night at the Museum” movies.
We found our hero Teddy Roosevelt. (How the heck did they create this likeness by just folding paper? Amazing.)
And my favorite character from the movie, the mischievous monkey. Here he's taunting the dinosaur with the keys he swiped.
There were also representations of some of the animals from the museum and New York themes such as good ol’ King Kong at the Empire State Building.

In the children’s section of the museum gift shop I found  a little Origami kit for beginners complete with instruction booklet and special printed papers. Hey, if a child can do it, I decided this is the perfect craft project for my New Year’s resolution.

I brought it home and opened it to the page with instructions for the very easiest design in the kit—the butterfly.  Just 11 simple folds it said!

Now really, look at these directions, does this look simple to you? Stretch, stop humming “Another One Bites the Dust!”  

I fold this in half, fold it in half again, fold upwards . . . look, this looks just like the picture!

And that’s where this story ends. Trust me, you don’t want to see the mangled final product. How anyone could consider these directions so simple a child could actually make an Origami figure . . .

Is it too late to switch my New Year’s resolution to something less stressful like “read more books?”

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Well, another year of adventures with my little pal is drawing to a close, and we’re already planning new ways to have fun in the New Year and looking forward to sharing our crazy life stories with all our wonderful family and friends.

And since many of you have been asking about what Stretch got for Christmas—after all what do you get the bear who seemingly has everything?—you can find one of his presents in the picture below. He and Tiny now have a genuine British butler, a distant cousin of their dear friend Susie Bennett. And I’m glad that we now have an extra pair of hands to help me wait on these spoiled little bears!

Stretch, Tiny and Bennett the butler (and Joe and I) wish all of you a Happy New Year!

And to all my cousins:
  Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku a wszystkiego najlepszego!