Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Paris Lost and Found

Doors in Marseille Notre Dame

Sixteen years ago I went to Paris. I lost a camera (technically my wedding gift to my new husband... technically with all our honeymoon photos on it). I was an artist then, going expectantly to an artist's city. But I came home having lost heart for being a professional artist. Upon returning, I immediately began to pursue a Masters in Teaching. My time in the great city had given some things, taken away others. All of it unexpected.

Fast forward. Today, I returned from Paris. And again, it gave some things and took others away.

There were things I hoped for, sought, even acquired. A day at the Picasso museum. A visit to Roman ruins. Strawberry jam from a wonderful fromagerie.

Picasso, closed. Ruins in renovation (explain that!). Jam confiscated at security; okay, I'm a seasoned traveler, but I packed the carry-on bag from H-E- double L. In other words, I had four glass jars of sealed jam. One open jar, for breakfast on croissants of course. A bottle of water. Scissors in the kids' sewing project. Like I said, the bag from H-E-..... Oh, and I lost my airplane chocolate chip cookies, had to give them away, 'cause while I was in Marseilles I found I am allergic to almonds and the wrapper said could contain traces of nuts.

St Paul's in Paris

In place of Picasso, we found St. Paul's, and had a moving moment of lighting a candle for my gravely ill baby niece, Summer Rain. It was the kind of moment that I and my two girls came into all at once, agreed on without words, then found it was so when my Littlest expressed, For Summer. It was almost physical, the way we moved together in our minds before our hands lit that candle of please, God, please.

The ruins gave over to a famous bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., where my Littlest played the piano (and lost her rock when she set it down). The lost jam found us a story. And the cookies I had to give away... they found me a laugh! When reading the wrapper, which said, suitable for vegetarians... and... saving orangutans, this product is free from palm oil... my travel-weary brain read that the cookies were suitable for orangutans.

In a rather ironic twist, I wrote this on the plane and ended by saying I do not yet completely know what I have lost and what I have found... So of course, when I landed, my luggage was... who knows? Not with me on the ground.

Shakespeare bookstore

Doors of Notre Dame in Marseilles photo; Shakespeare bookstore photo in Paris; St. Paul's in Paris photo, by L.L. Barkat.


L.L.'s Made to Last
L.L.'s Golden (includes awesome picture of ceiling in Notre Dame Marseilles)

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Windows to Blue

French Cafe

Night has fallen here in Paris. I walk across an old wooden floor, open the window and look out at the Eiffel tower. Blue with light. It shines cobalt blue. And now it sparkles, hundreds of white lights that look like stars blinking. On and off. The whole galaxy here outside my window, it seems.

To travel is to go nowhere. It's just like being anywhere else, says my Little one. Yet it is also to go a world apart. At times, it feels nothing is familiar. Simple things like faucets, locks, subways suddenly become adventures in living.

I notice things like... many people here wear scarves, and they tie them in a unique looping fashion. Even the old homeless man who emerges from the metro... he wears a scarf, blue like the sky. And on Sunday afternoons, people here walk with a liquid smoothness.

The children have lilting voices, Mama! they cry. Children with cropped hair, confident eyes, strong simple clothes in plain dark colors. And I... I feel like a child... my language eclipsed... sure, I can speak to get by, but my writer self is put aside and instead my eyes and ears are tuned to sights and sounds, while I stay mostly silent.

Silent, mostly, except for a lot of Merci! and S'il vous plait. Thank you, please. Gratitude expressed, mercy asked. Please and please and thank you. In a way, to travel is to go nowhere. But in a way, it is to get outside oneself, to fall out of one's little window, to go a world apart, to come back to simple please and thank you. Gratitude and mercy, language universal.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Grace Around Grace

Nest on Table

Grace and the barn: it brought us the story of a particular table that sits on the porch of our sweet Canadian friend Ann.

But such stories are only beginnings. Our lives, and perhaps the tables in our lives, have stories behind stories behind stories. It was my profound artist friend Erin who remembered this, who said in the comment box, Ooooo, I bet the history behind that table is a gooooood story.

So I wrote to Ann, asking for the story behind the story. And this is what she said...

A story behind that table? At first, I thought no... no stories that I know. Discarded from a sister-in-law, we dragged it off to the barn, where it quietly sat for the past decade.

And then, yes, it came — a story scrap (for isn't everything storied?)

I wanted a gathering place for the porch... nothing grand or ornate. (Read: nothing glass, shiny, curvy). Just simple, a bit worn, quiet. (Do seating arrangements reflect our personalities?) Like a hawk, I scoped out thrift stores, garage sales. To no avail. Couldn't find a plain, wooden, worn table. (Does this somehow speak of the oddity of this personality? ~warm smile~)

And then I thought of the barn table: Yes. Exactly right. (Yes, I'm a farm girl— where else to find the perfect table?)

The only glitch was that kind Dutch Farmer whose wedding band I wear. He said he needed the barn table to remain in the barn. It was a fine repository for various miscellany. The perfect size. The perfect shape. The perfect age. I agreed.

For the porch.

Negotiations continued for a few weeks. As days warmed, and the porch called for leisurely sitting and talking and eating, I pressed. But neither could I find a similar replacement table for the barn.

And then one inviting summer day, there was the table, sitting out on the porch, waiting.

Confused, I asked 'But don't you need it still? And I haven't found one to swap you yet...'

He smiled kindly, the way he does. 'I'll make do. Table's yours.'


You wrote it so well, L.L: Grace and the barn. That's where Grace entered into our messy world.

And redeems us.

Nearly every day this summer, into the fall here, we've eaten out on the porch at least one meal a day around that barn-redeemed table. Saying grace around grace.

It was the perfect place to read Stone Crossings, L.L.

But then again, isn't anywhere?

For all is grace.

(I look forward to more grace places Stone Crossings has wandered too! Thank you for this place, L.L.)

All's grace,

I thank Ann for this story behind the initial story. And when I asked permission to lift it out of the comment box at my original post and raise it to the surface, this is what I said, hoping she would agree...

If you say yes, I think I will match it with a picture of an old wooden table that sits on my side porch. How many of us have old wooden tables in our lives? Oh, and wouldn't it be fun (I think it would), to invite people to do their own posts of such tables. And their own sweet, and struggling, and hopeful and mournful, and joyful posts about such tables.

So there it is. Do you have an old wooden table in your life? A storied table, as Ann puts it? Or maybe an old wooden chair? I would love to see the pictures of such tables or chairs, hear the stories. And if you tell me that you've posted such, why of course I shall link to you.* It could be our own way of saying grace around grace.

*Your patience appreciated as to the speed of my linking... I'll be in Paris for some days coming up, mostly internet free. But I shall get to it. I promise.

Old Wooden Table Photo, by L.L. Barkat. Woven Nest, by Sara and Sonia.

Warrior Princess' Grace, Tables and an Artist's Easel
Hildegard's Resting on Grace 1
Hildegard's Resting on Grace 2

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Prevent Senility the French Way

Eiffel Tower

How do you envision yourself at 70, 80, 90? Clear minded, or memory challenged? In Stone Crossings I explore this question— albeit with a spiritual emphasis— through the work of Ellen Langer and her book Mindfulness.

Here's an excerpt from Stone Crossings concerning Langer...

What [she] found in study after study was that 'old' is too often a state of mind, not a state of fact—even in people aged eighty and up. In a series of studies that raised the bar for elderly participants, she and her colleagues saw dramatic results—from memory loss reversal to prolonged life, improved hearing and vision, increased emotional satisfaction, renewed hand strength, and so on. p.141

Richard Restak, author of Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot concurs. He notes that the brain WILL change over time but says, The real question is: Will we help bring about positive, enriching changes in our brain's structure and function, or will we allow it to undergo 'disuse atrophy'? p.15. According to both Langer and Restak, we do have some choice in the matter of senility onset; we have some measure of control, depending on how we challenge our brains.

While Langer's book is more theory and research, Restak's is delightfully practical. I learned, for instance, that using my hands is vital for preserving brain health. So all that dish washing, floor sweeping, onion chopping, lawn mowing, piano and guitar playing, keyboard tapping and pencil wielding I do... well, it's good for my brain. Music is good for my brain too, as is paying attention to fragrance. Standing exercises are excellent brain developers. Learning a language is terrifically helpful. And, says Restak, The brain thrives on novelty. Stress, on the other hand literally kills my precious neurons in the hippocampus.

I can think of all sorts of applications. Notes to myself, like never hire a housekeeper... unless you are trying to develop his/her brain and put your own into atrophy. Or, hey don't sit so long at the computer; it doesn't qualify as a standing exercise. Or how about this one? Go to Paris, where you'll hear new music, see new things, relieve your stress, stand a lot, and have a reason to learn French. On that last one, I think I'll do it sometime in the next couple weeks— go to Paris, that is. Do you think I can learn French that quickly? Je ne sais pas, but I'm going to try.

Eiffel Tower photo by J Barkat. Used with permission.

Ted's book club post Roxaboxen: Heaven
Ted's book club post Blood from a Stone: Completion

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Of Grace and the Barn

Ann Voskamp's Stone Crossings

Ann, my dear Ann of Holy Experience, who slowly made her way into my heart, has graciously agreed to let me post her picture of Stone Crossings, as part of my Links for Art offering.

I first saw the picture when she gave the world this eloquent review of Stone Crossings. Still, I knew nothing about the secrets behind it, the humble beginnings of the table and what Ann's mind and hands had purposed and wrought. So, thank you, Ann, not only for the picture but also for this beautiful story. Told in the kind of beautiful words you're always speaking...

It's an old wooden table, one that's been out in the barn for years, neglected. I dragged it into the sunlight this summer, painted its top face a happy, gentle scone color, sat it out upon the front porch, a place of honor. Bestowed her with a wreath of worn chairs, ancient and memoried. So the little ensemble greets visitors right at the front door, inviting them to sit a spell, share. And I smile when I think of Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places laying there. It seems appropriate, right. An abandonded, beat-up barn table redeemed, set in an esteemed place.

Grace found in a hidden place.

Isn't that just SO Ann? Grace that searches the darkness of a barn, works to bring love to light.

Stone Crossings at Wooden Table photo, by Ann Voskamp. Used with permission.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

For Better, For Worse: 5 Ways Blogging Changed My Life

Brooklyn to London

Memes. I've always had mixed feelings about them. But right from the start I've always participated (okay, unless I forget, which I sometimes do... sorry to anyone whose meme I've forgotten to follow up on!)

Which brings me to this. I never thought I'd actually CREATE a meme. Well. I was thinking about all the ways blogging has changed my life, for better or worse, and I thought how I'd love to share these things with you... and have you share your blogging stories with me and others in the blogosphere.

Anyone who has followed Seedlings for any length of time knows: I'm not much for following meme rules. So it feels odd to create a few of my own— which, of course, you can feel free to break... maybe even SHOULD break, in honor of my informal meme-breaking policy.

Here are the rules:

1. Write about 5 specific ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.
2. link back to the person who tagged you
3. link back to this parent post (I'm not so much interested in generating links, but rather in tracking the meme so I can perhaps do a summary post later on that looks at patterns and interesting discoveries.)
4. tag a few friends or five, or none at all
5. post these rules— or just have fun breaking them

Now for the 10 ways blogging has changed my life ...

1. Through blogging, I met author Scot McKnight, who changed my thoughts on how and when to develop book ideas. Consequently, I started developing my second book, God in the Yard, far before I considered seeking a contract.

2. My very first published article was about blogging. I couldn't have written it without being a blogger.

3. I met Marcus Goodyear through blogging. Now I write for his organization and participate in High Calling Blogs.

4. Because I met Marcus, I later met Lauren Winner at a retreat at Laity Lodge (I knew Lauren by email for three years but had never gone in a paddle boat with her, which I did at Laity Lodge.) I wouldn't have gone to Laity Lodge if I hadn't been working on a logo for The High Calling's Win a Free Retreat blogging project.

5. Andrea once blogged about Sabbath in such a convincing way that I changed the way I practice Sabbath. Now I often take a nap, I don't work, and I don't blog or check email on the Sabbath.

6. At one point, I blogged far too much. It was the first time in my life I understood, in even a vague way, the anatomy of addiction. Practicing a technology Sabbath on Sundays has been key to reorienting me at least once a week. And if you've been with me for a while, you probably see that I blog far less than I used to (sorry this means I visit you less!). As a bonus, I'm far more compassionate towards people with addictions. I just bought Mays' book Addiction and Grace, and I trust this will give me further insight into an issue I never cared much about in the past.

7. Christianne, who I met through blogging and later met face-to-face in Florida, taught me a few things about the heart. And about being grace-filled. In some ways, this converges nicely with what I mentioned in number 6.

8. Though I met Charity Singleton at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, it was through blogging that I solidified my relationship with her. And eventually, when she was diagnosed with cancer, I was able to assist her a little bit, emotionally and financially. In return, she has unwittingly ministered to me, giving me a sense of immediacy and depth concerning each day's gifts.

9. Sara enchanted me with her commitment to The Compact. My Visa bill has trimmed considerably.

Okay, for better or worse, I tag...

Ann Kroeker
A Musing Mom
Callapidder Days
Jim Martin
Brandon Satrom
Jennifer at Snapshot
Ted Gossard

Oops. I broke my own tagging rules. ;-) That's neither a few, nor is it five, nor none at all.

Brooklyn to London photo, by L.L. Barkat. (Very cool. There was this contraption down near the Brooklyn Bridge, where you could stand and see people in London and you could wave at each other, as if you were standing face to face with only a bit of glass between you. I had an ice cream cone and the people in London started licking the air, begging for a bit of my cone.)


Ted's book club post: Climbing: Justice


House of Lime's Friday 55 Da Count in Meme Form, Scot McKnight's Weekly Meanderings, Reading to Know's Tag, I'm It!, God-Writing's My Blogging Habits are Causing a Stir, Susan's Double Tagged, Arlene's How Blogging Has Changed Me, Nancy's For Better For Worse: Ahhhhhh!, Susanne's A Blogging Meme, Matt's 5 Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Kim's Mini Blog Celebration, Crow's I've Been Tagged, Brother Maynard's 5 Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Lisa's Blogging: For Better for Worse, Ellen's I've Been Tagged, Dawn's Tagged!, JD's Five Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, The Upward Call's Because I Love to Blog About Writing, Becca's I've Been Tagged, Minutes to Memories Today's Assignment, Wendy's Five Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Futurist Guy's Five Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Lara's Grand Prize Meme Rule Breaker Blogging and Me Meme, Suey's Ways Blogging Has Affected Me (love the cartoon over on this one!), Ronnica's The Affect of Blogging, Mama Blogs A lot's It's a Meme: Just Do It, Tykerman's I've Been Tagged, Kathy's Blog-Tag-Fun, Tulsi's A Tag that is Not a Tag, Lisa's Blogging Meme, Spaghettipie's For Better or Worse, Dianna's I Was Tagged by Lara, Jill's Five Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Louise's Five Ways Blogging Has Affected Me, Jill again : ) 5 Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Allan's For Better, For Worse: Five Ways Blogging Changed My Life, Tony's I've Been Tagged, Rev J's 5 Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Mel's Awards, Giveaways and Memes Oh My, Frank's 5 Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, John's 5 Ways Blogging Has Channged My Life, Will's Tagged: 5 Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Nick's Five Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Ann Kroeker's Monday's Meme-ish Musings, Liz's Blogging and Its Effects, Keith's For Better, For Worse: 5 Ways Blogging Changed My Life, Kirsten's 2 Memes: 4 Things and 5 Ways, Natural Systah's I've Been Tagged, Every Square Inch's How Blogging Has Changed My Life, Kelly's Memed Again, Gnome's Five Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Henry's Tagged: But I Can Break the Rules, Trish's Why I Blog Meme, Bruce's For Better, For Worse: 5 Ways Blogging Changed My Life (including zombie advice!), Craig's mildly cheeky Blogging Hasn't Changed My Life, Birthday's 5 Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Eddie's I Am Eddie and Blogging Has Changed My Life, Kim's Memage, Katie's Five Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Nora's Blog Tag, Kelly's Blog Tag, Bellezza's Books and Photography and Blogging, Oh My!, Ben's How Blogging Has Tweaked My Life?, Lynet's Five Ways Blogging Changed My Life, The Chaplain's Blogging Meme, Billy's The Blogging Meme, Ordinary Girl's Five Ways Blogging Has Changed Me, Gabe's 5 Ways Blogging Has Changed My Life, Tina's 5 Ways Blogging Has Changed Me, Erik's Blog Tag, Anna's 5 Ways Blogging is Changing, Affecting, Uplifting, destroying, corrupting, and encouraging my life..., Jandy's Blogging is Life-Changing, Tommy's Meme: Five Ways Blogging Has Changed Me

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