Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth

Uploaded on December 14, 2006by majamom under Creative Commons License

Today I was searching the Vatican web site for a Christmas message, and I came across the Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace . It was such a beautiful message of hope and peace that I will share parts of it here.

The title of His message is "The Human Family, A Community of Peace". He says the human family " is the first and indispensable teacher of peace" and that "the language of the family is a language of peace". He extends the love of our own families to the love of the entire human community: "But the peoples of the earth, too, are called to build relationships of solidarity and cooperation among themselves, as befits members of the one human family: All peoples —as the Second Vatican Council declared— are one community and have one origin, because God caused the whole human race to dwell on the face of the earth (cf. Acts 17:26); they also have one final end, God", and, furthermore: "We do not live alongside one another purely by chance; all of us are progressing along a common path as men and women, and thus as brothers and sisters."

He also makes a clear statement about our responsibility to care for our common home, the earth, and protect it for future generations: "We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion." He urges us to consider our responsibility towards the poor, for they cannot be excluded from the "goods of creation destined for all" and we need to "ensure a prudent use of resources and an equitable distribution of wealth".

He goes even further and discusses the relationship between nations and the need to "submit to a common standard" and a "common moral law ", and He says there is an urgent need to "encourage the legislation of individual States to converge towards a recognition of fundamental human rights". He states: "In difficult times such as these, it is truly necessary for all persons of good will to come together to reach concrete agreements aimed at an effective demilitarization, especially in the area of nuclear arms", and entreats those in authority to negotiate for "progressive and mutually agreed dismantling of existing nuclear weapons".

I am truly in awe of this amazing and encouraging message advocating the unity of the human race and the need to work together to ensure a common, peaceful future for every member of the human family, excluding none. This statement by the Head of the Catholic Church is (solely in my own opinion) nearly word for word in agreement with the beliefs of my own Faith, the Baha'i Faith. So on this wonderful Eve of one of the holiest of Christian holidays, we can stand together with people of all Faiths and collectively pray and hope for Peace and Blessings upon our one human family.

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Holly and The Ivy

Today we went to Longwood Gardens in the beautiful Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania. The Christmas display is one of the most beautiful sites of the season. The indoor gardens have an incredible variety of plants in the most stunning displays. Then, after a hot bowl of soup in the Terrace Restaurant, after the sun sets one can see a magical display of light and color in the outdoor gardens which are decorated with a half-million sparkling lights.

A photo of me in front of one of the many Christmas trees

My sister Diane

Poinsettias and other tropical plants

The icicle dining room

The orchid room was one of the most beautiful rooms!

The gardeners designed the most attractive color combinations.

Orchids in the most fascinating shapes and colors

Every color imaginable...

Another tropical beauty

Gorgeous hibiscus with papery thin petals

Flowers in all colors

Amaryllis with a silvery leaved plant

Red and green are the colors of the season!

Outdoor tree with ornaments the birds can eat. The icicles are made of raisins!

The real magic happens at night. The gardens are lit up with literally hundreds of thousands of lights. Photos can only hint at how beautiful the luminescent gardens are.

Colored lights outlining a tree

Fountain display set to music, shown here under a glass filter

Rows and rows of brilliantly lit trees

Beautiful wintry blue

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Christmas Angel

My nephew Scott and his wife Kendllena's beautiful daughter Aida. A Christmas Cherub...

Do I hear hoof steps on the roof?

Daddy is acting silly!!!

I love this Christmas stuff!!!

Improve Your Vocabulary! End World Hunger!

Just stumbled across this site: Free Rice. For every vocabulary word you get right, they donate 20 grains of rice through the United Nations to end world hunger. So you can get smarter and help end poverty at the same time!!!! Does it get any better than that?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Simply Having A Wonderful Christmastime

One of the highlights for me of the Christmas season is my annual Holiday Open House. Yesterday I had a wonderful time with my family, neighbors, and friends enjoying each other's company and some Christmas goodies. The snow and ice storm held off until late in the evening, but this morning the ground is covered in white.
Wish I had more pictures to share, but here's a snap from before the festivities began of my best attempt at a Martha Stewart pose, serving a platter of cookies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Happiness Is An Inside Job

Today I stayed home sick nursing a cold, so I had the opportunity to read a little gem of a book by a favorite author of mine, "Happiness Is An Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life" by Buddhist meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein. She illustrates classical Buddhist concepts with easy to understand anecdotes from her own life. She has a talent for making profound concepts very easy to understand, and her tone is lighthearted and breezy. She teaches methods for concentration and mindfulness in everyday life, from being aware of the movements of the breath to watching the contents of one's thoughts. I also loved her descriptions of the four Divine Abodes: friendliness, compassion, empathic joy, and equanimity.

Another central theme of her book is the beautiful practice of loving-kindness meditation, in which one extends good will towards one's self, loved ones, neutral acquaintances, difficult people, and eventually all living beings. Sylvia Boorstein writes "Indeed, the thesis of this whole book, from the beginning, has been that restoring caring connection when it is disrupted, and maintaining it when it is present, is happiness. Not even, leads to happiness. Equals happiness. With that as my core belief, mindfulness of the presence of (or the absence of and the subsequent intention to restore) caring connection is, for me, the key element of practice." (p. 97)

I enjoyed this endearing book immensely with its message of restoring equanimity to the mind and joyful connection to others.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Christmas Treat

Sharing this video of James Taylor singing "Go Tell It On The Mountain". I came across this while looking at a beautiful blog Jenny Sais Quoi. Jen posts a Christmas treat on an Advent Calendar every day this Holiday season. Thanks Jen!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Baby It's Cold Outside

Christmas songs are one my favorite categories of music. Although difficult to choose, if I had to offer only one as my favorite I would pick The Little Drummer Boy. I love the idea of the drummer boy only having his humble talent to offer the Christ Child, but he offers it up with his entire heart and is rewarded with the Holy Child smiling at him, and His Blessed Mother acknowledging the gift. Other favorites of mine include Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, What Child Is This, The First Noel, O Come All Ye Faithful, and of course in tribute to my beloved home town, O Little Town of Bethlehem.

My favorite more contemporary song is James Taylor's charmingly endearing rendition of Baby It's Cold Outside with Natalie Cole. I am, after all, just an old fashioned romantic girl at heart.

Anyone else want to share some favorites?

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Beauty Academy of Kabul

Today I rented "The Beauty Academy of Kabul", a documentary film about a group of American women, including several Afghan-American women, who start a beauty school in Kabul. The film includes a short description of the recent history of Afghanistan. Some of the women who enroll in the school give glimpses into what life was like before, during, and after the time of the Taliban. Much of the footage shows the destruction from decades of war still apparent in the country.

We learn not only about the lives of the Afghan women, but also the motivations of the teachers. One of the teachers states "education is empowerment", and this certainly holds true for the students whose newly acquired skills enable them to help support their families. The teachers have a vision of not only sharing their profession, but helping to support the healing of Afghanistan, one woman at a time. Their motivation is not to spread American ideals of beauty, but to support the self-directed desire of Afghan women to improve their lives and position in society, and to pave the way for a better future for their daughters and sons.

Sabara doing hair on graduation day (reprinted with permission)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Today was a wonderful day to sit inside by the fire, addressing Christmas cards and catching up on reading. At dusk, I tried to capture the festivity of this joyous season enhanced by a light dusting of freshly fallen snow.

Oh Beautiful Star of Bethlehem

Astronomers and scholars have long speculated about the famous Star of Bethlehem. On August 12, 3 B.C. the brilliant planets Venus and Jupiter were in close conjunction near the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo in the pre-dawn hours. Could this have been the famous Star? Who knows? I'll leave that to your own speculation, but here is a map created from my Starry Night program which shows a guide to the night sky at 5:00AM on that morning, as viewed from Jerusalem. One thing is certain, the view of those luminous planets would have been beautiful in those starry skies.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

Today I hiked the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, a freshwater tidal marsh which draws lots of ducks, geese, herons, and other birds, as well as many other types of wildlife. We have bypassed "brisk" and gone straight to "cold", but with plenty of layers and a quick pace, it remained somewhat comfortable. Gone are the brilliant foliage colors of mid Autumn, but late Autumn has its own stark beauty.

Freshwater marsh

Plenty of waterfowl. We saw Canada Geese, a Great Blue Heron, a Kingfisher scouting for a meal, and Pintail Ducks. The observant birdwatcher will find many more species as well.

Bright orange berries against a crisp blue sky

Hikers on the bridge over the marsh.

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