Saturday, August 20, 2011

Maps: discovering the minute and grasping the breadth

I move fairly often. Each time I settle into a new place my room takes on a slightly different look. In this apartment my theme is maps. I love maps. Even as a kid I remember studying a map of California. I read the names of places. I looked at the highways wriggling like veins over the state. The topography fascinated me. I liked seeing where the mountains pushed up in rigid triangles and where lakes dotted the state. Several years ago I bought a three map set from Costco. The first is a standard map of the United States. It shows major roads and some geographical features. It is brightly colored with large squarish states in the west and smaller squiggly border states in the east. It is familiar. I can trace the path of at least four cross country trips on it, recalling fondly what we ate where and what historical sight we just had to see. I remember the Dairy Queen someplace along the Kansas portion of  I-70 where we stopped on a summer long road trip and my dad bought us all a treat. Years later when driving through Kansas I drove through a little town that I'm sure is the same one. This map represents my country.

The second map is one of North America. This one broadens my view of the world. I see how country lines are arbitrary and the Rocky Mountains that start way up north in Canada leave a distinct ridge all the way down through Mexico. Everything east of the Rockies looks so flat, like flour leveled with the back of a knife. I think about the Bay of Biscay. It looks so large that it might be able to swallow all of Texas. Mexico is the odd country of the large countries in North America. It is quite a bit smaller than both its northern cousins. It's relatively narrow and hooks up to one side. Mexico looks like the tail of a mermaid. Even further south are the small countries of Central America. These tend to blur together on the map, yet each one is distinct. The countries trail down and meet South America.
The third map, which is probably my favorite, is the world map. I always hang this one up some place in my house. Sometimes I stick pins in it to show all the places I've been to. I can look at it for hours wondering about different places, dreaming about where I want to go next. It shows a world of diversity where each country has its unique shape and is home to people that have a separate identity from all others. Huge land masses cocooned by masses of water and islands that look like they will be swallowed up speak of exciting places and new things to see. At the bottom of the map are the flags of the world. I wonder about flags, how do you come up with a flag for a nation. Who decides what it should look like. Some flags are quite unique where as others follow a similar theme of stripes. Red is a dominate color amongst the flags. If I had my own country what colors would I pick for my flag? How would I make mine cooler than the rest?
These maps are my happy companions. I can spend large amounts of time just looking at them and speculating. along with my maps, I have mementos hung that I brought home from various places. I have three banana leaf pictures from South Africa of a lion, an elephant and a village. I have two bird feathers framed from Costa Rica. The blue one has a toucan painted in astonishing detail. The orange one has a monkey. There is a painting of the Santo Domingo church in Oaxaca, Mexico that my sister did for me. I took a picture when I was 17 in a little coffee shop overlooking the church. I always liked that picture. I asked my sister to paint it for me. There are other places I have traveled that aren't represented on my walls, but I fondly remember each one when I look at my maps. I anticipate where I might end up next. I look forward to whatever adventures lie before me. Until then I will look at my maps and dream.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Have some cheese with your wine

My birthday was last week and my parents sent me a present through the mail. It arrived last Tuesday in a styrofoam cold box inside a regular shipping box. Opening the lid, I found four kinds of gourmet cheese. I love cheese. I like trying new things. I said to myself, what am I going to do with all this cheese? Wine goes well with cheese. However, wine and cheese by myself or just with my roommate although fun, didn't quite seem to be enough for the occasion. So what did I do, I did the modern equivalent of writing out invitations, addressing envelopes and sending them out; I sent an evite over facebook to my girlfriends.
I had a great time getting read for my party. Something about wine and cheese creates a feeling of sophistication. I am not all that sophisticated. So what do I do? I went to the dollar store to purchase clear plastic serving trays, little wine glasses, and tiny plates. I also got a plastic red table cloth and sesame street napkins. The smell of baking brownies greeted me when I got home. Pleased with my elegant plastic purchases, I showed them to my roommate. In turn, my roommate described to me her brownies that she made without flour. We set up our living room and went through all of our Cd's to find the five that carried an elegant air. We ended up with classical music, Sarah Brightman, and Frank Sinatra.
Finally our guests began to arrive, bringing wine, cheeses, crackers, and fruit. We ended up with six different types of cheeses including: French Gruyere, French sheep cheese (etorki), Canadian red leaf cheddar, Chocolate goat cheese from Wisconsin, no women Cajun cheese, and Havarti. There was a spinach artichoke dip to die for. In wines we had a French Bordeaux, Chardonnay, and pink truck Zinfandel. With our tiny plastic plates and put together wine glasses, we chatted and laughed. We discussed extensively the illusive flavors in wine that others seem to taste that we can never find. I had a great time. So next time I get fancy cheeses you just might get an invitation to share them with me and drink some wine.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Choose, fear or faith

I have been thinking about pathways and journeys recently. This is a short essay that I wrote several years ago about the choices we make in life. I was inspired by Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" and the Sermon on the Mounts description of the broad and narrow path.

Fear or Faith

We are all well acquainted with Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” We all realize that the fork in the road signifies choice and that the narrator “took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Allow me to use Frost’s poem to work out a choice we all must make again and again. What if one path represents living life based on faith in God and the other represents living in fear of anything and everything. I have most often chosen fear’s path. This path allows me to hide. I can hide from my emotions, from love, from forgiveness, from self discovery, from friendship, from commitment, from change, from life, and even from myself. I can hide from whatever it is I fear. The longer I follow fear’s path the greater my fears grow, the more power they hold over me, sending me fleeing faster down fear’s path.

            Unlike in Frost’s poem, however, I am presented with the fork in my path often, constantly. At any time I can choose to tread the path of faith. This path is scary and requires reliance on God for every step. Nothing is hidden. Everything is revealed. Light shines brightly to uncover secret thoughts, intimate desires, and petty selfishness; nothing more or less than the truth of who we are and our place in the world. The path of faith has a companion, Jesus. He walks by my side, picks me up when I fall, and converses with me. This path invites love, fellowship, trust, giving, and gratitude. There is no room for fear.

            The path of fear or the path of faith, the choice stands before you and me every moment of every day. Are we willing to give up all, to place our future, happiness, desires, thoughts, secrets, and yes our fears themselves into God’s hands or de we cling tightly refusing to trust, refusing to change? I believe that no one who has chosen the path of faith has regretted it, yet on the path of fear there is much regret and disappointment of those too afraid to live by faith. The path of faith necessitates great courage, unconditional love, and abundance of mercy, grace and patience. It takes strength perseverance. This path burns away the dross of our lives leaving pure gold. Through trial and fire those who chose the path of faith become the best of who they are. The longer one stays on the path of faith the more like Jesus one becomes. I often pick the path of fear. It is easier, but my mind and heart remain tormented, carrying burdens of guilt, unmet desires, loneliness, and fear – always fear. At times I pick the path of faith. Terrifying in its way because I am stripped of all defenses and I am left vulnerable. I am vulnerable, but not ashamed, clothed in love – unafraid. Each step based solely on faith.

            Something changes, a new challenge, a new choice, fear or faith. As in Frost’s poem those who choose the path of faith most often find “that [it] has made all the difference.” Few choose it, even fewer keep choosing it. It isn’t a path for the faint of heart, but those who persevere can say “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

"The road goes ever on and on..."

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

J. R. R. Tolkien

There is something about a path winding its way beyond the horizon that is irresistible to me. It does not matter where the path is, I always want to follow it. It might wind along a coastline with waves crashing against sandy beaches. The path may be shrouded by tall trees with heavy boughs. It may run straight through a field of wild flowers. Wherever the path is, it beckons my feet to follow it. I want to know where it goes even if it is only the other side of the mountain.

There is something about a path that allows me to think things over. While my feet wander along, my ears hear the sound of birds and the rustle of grass, and my eyes eagerly search for new things to see; I can think. My problems seem less important, somehow removed from me. I can ponder the questions that I do not have time to think about on a normal stress filled day. I feel a little bit sad when I reach the end of a path or have to turn around to go back. As I head away from the adventure bit by bit every day concerns settle back on my shoulders, like a pack that I always carry with me.

I love looking at pictures of paths. When I see them I want to know where they go. I imagine what is around the bend as the path curves off the side of a picture. A path stretching before me, represents freedom. Freedom from the normalcy of the regular day. Adventure. Discovery. Peace. This is what I find as I follow a dirt track through a forest or a rocky trail up a mountain. I hope you too can discover the joy of a path pulling you to discover new things.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

World of Words

I am starting a new blog about writing. Never fear, I will continue writing on this one. This blog will have my general observations and anecdotes. My new blog will be all about writing. It is about things I learn along the way, my writing processes, and other such writing related material. You can find this one at I'm excited to begin this new phase in my journey to becoming a professional writer. This blog is still in the inception stage so it might take some time to take off. I would appreciate hearing any writing feedback you have or your own stories about writing. Thank you for following my blogs.