Sunday, January 31, 2010

Geocaching in Wissahickon Park, Philadelphia

Today about thirty of us, divided into seven teams, went geocaching in Wissahickon Park, Philadelphia. It was a very chilly day, but we warmed up a bit once we got moving. We got a list of caches hidden in the park and with the aid of our GPS devices and some hints we found as many as we could. The cache either had a sticker to put on our list, or a stamp, or some other little token. Some were well hidden, and some were more obvious.

After we were finished, I was walking to my car and I heard the unmistakable sound of a large woodpecker calling. I looked up and saw a large pileated woodpecker flying through the trees! I also saw him creeping up a tree trunk. A very rare treat, especially in Philadelphia!

This is your GPS device. You must, of course, take off your gloves to program it.

We found the first one! We got a sticker for our list.

That just LOOKS cold!

Tom finds another one!

Let's consult the device.

We have to climb this?

It's up there somewhere.

Are we close?

Not just any geocache, but the "official" geocache! (that's what the writing says on the container)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

African American Art At the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Last night I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for their Art After Five program. I really enjoyed the tour of African American Art.

The Annuniciation 1898 Henry Ossawa Tanner. Tanner was the son of a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I love this depiction of Mary, it shows her as the young girl she really was, in the clothing of a Middle Eastern peasant. This is one of my favorite paintings because of the way it humanizes Mary.

Face Vessels 1860 to 1870 Attributed to Thomas J. Davies Pottery 1862 - 1870. Nobody knows exactly what these were used for. Some of them were found along the Underground Railroad, indicating that they could have potentially been used as a signpost of some type. They reveal their African influence.

Portrait of the Artist's Mother 1897 Henry Ossawa Tanner. This woman was one of eleven children sent by their mother, a slave, into the Underground Railroad. Tragically, she never saw them again, but she sent them to their freedom. The woman in the portrait looks compassionate and thoughtful.

Portrait of Elizabeth Brown Montier 1841 by Franklin R. Street. Although Franklin Street was not an African American, this painting is one of only a few portraits of African Americans during this time period. The Montiers, living in Philadelphia, belonged to one of the largest and oldest communities of free African Americans in the United States.

John Woodrow Wilson Campesions (Peasants) 1952. African American John Woodrow Wilson felt a connection to the poor indigenous people of Mexico. Notice the emphasis on the size of the hands, indicating that they are manual laborers.

Elizabeth Catlett Mother and Child 1954


Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Glimpse of Palestine, A Taste Of Syria

I recently enjoyed the film Amreeka about a Palestinian single mother Muna and her teenage son Fadi who emigrate to America. We get a glimpse of life in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, and see the insecurity and anxiety of daily life in a conflict zone. Muna and Fadi receive a long awaited chance to move to America, and they begin a new life near Chicago living with Muna's sister and her family. Muna struggles to find a job, and Fadi tries to fit into his new school. In addition to the difficulties of transplanting themselves into a new culture and way of life, they unfortunately face some anti Arab sentiment as America is embroiled in a war in Iraq. Although the movie touches on very serious topics, it is at the same time light-hearted and fun. We get a glimpse into the warm and beautiful culture of the family, and see the humor as Muna stretches her wings in a new job and starts a new friendship. This movie is highly enjoyable, hopeful, and entertaining, while not shying away from challenging issues.

If you rent the DVD, don't miss the short bonus film "Make A Wish", also by director Cherien Dabis. Also set in Palestine, it has a poignant, surprise ending.

After watching a movie with Arab food, music, and culture, I was hungry for some Middle Eastern cuisine! I had lunch with some friends at newly opened Syrian restaurant Lazeez in Whitehall. I was assured by the owner that all the food was homemade by his family, and it was indeed delicious. I feasted on falafel and baba ganoush, and all the favorites were also on the menu including tabouli, spinach pie, shawarma, and more.

Now that we have traveled to the Near and Middle East via film and food, enjoy this beautiful song Supplication by the Azeri musician Sami Yusuf. You may remember this song from the movie Kite Runner.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Rainy Weekend, Holding On, Letting Go

Saturday we held our routine lunch at the nursing home with our Dad. My family and I are trying to maintain a new normalcy, meeting with Dad weekly during lunch time and having as much of a family meal as we can under these circumstances. These moments are even more precious now that my Father has been diagnosed with late stage Alzheimer's. I don't know how much awareness he has of our relationship to him at this point, but I do believe he understands he is surrounded by people who love him.

Bahá'u'lláh (Prophet founder of the Bahá'í Faith) has written about illness and its effect on the soul, and these words have been a consolation to me. He says:

Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind. That a sick person showeth signs of weakness is due to the hindrances that interpose themselves between his soul and his body, for the soul itself remaineth unaffected by any bodily ailments. Consider the light of the lamp. Though an external object may interfere with its radiance, the light itself continueth to shine with undiminished power. In like manner, every malady afflicting the body of man is an impediment that preventeth the soul from manifesting its inherent might and power.

I understand this to mean that my Dad's spirit is just as strong as always, even though it seems to be hidden from us (and even from him possibly). So we still love to be in his presence and enjoy his companionship, and hope to assist him in his journey and provide comfort in whatever small way we can, even though we cannot be aware of how it is received. Also, in more medical writing on Alzheimer's, I have read that although the intellect may be impaired, the emotions are very much intact, and a person with Alzhemier's definitely benefits from the love and care of family and close ones.

When I came home I felt like I needed some physical activity, so I did a few rounds of Sun Salutations (a yoga sequence) to the Gayatri Mantra. I forgot how comforting yoga has been to me in my life! I definitely plan to incoporate it more into my weekly activities.

I planned to go hiking on Sunday, but unfortunately, the day was cold and rainy. I don't mind a few sprinkles on a hike, but I was not in the mood for a cold driving rain! So, once again, the hiking boots remained unlaced for yet another week.

I used the day for a bit of long overdue uncluttering, tackling my closet and dresser drawers. In the past, I have been comforted sometimes by wearing my husband's sweaters. Now, of course, I don't really enjoy dressing like a man, so it felt like the appropriate time to let them go. As I packed up the bag for donation, I was surprised to find that I was crying! Doesn't grief have an expiration date? I went ahead with my plan anyway and donated the clothing, because it felt like the right thing to do. After all, it's not the physical possessions that give comfort, because they are merely material. The spiritual relationships we form and the love we foster endure.

I love all the seasons, even the sometimes rainy cold weekends of late winter. The rhythm of activities is different. We share moments with those we love, use the time for some introspection, soul searching, and healing, and clear away remnants to make room for the fresh growth of Spring.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Stones into Schools, Leila, and news from Iran and Haiti

Oh my dear readers, I fear my blog has been dormant too long. Sooner or later, there comes a time in every blogger's life when they become occupied with personal concerns and the blog is neglected. So, I'm going to give a quick whirlwind tour of what I've been reading and thinking about and begin posting regularly once again. I have some new fun hikes planned so hopefully will share some pictures soon!

I finished Greg Mortenson's Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.I enjoyed this book even more than its predecessor, Three Cups of Tea, Greg's personal memoir about a community in Pakistan helping him after a failed attempt on K2 and his resultant desire to benefit the children of that village by building a school. Mortenson's organization, Central Asia Institute, has built 130 schools throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan. The most effective way to combat terrorism is to educate children, especially girls. An educated girl who later becomes a mother is more likely to guide her family to avoid extreme thinking and violence. The most important aspect of the work, however, is not solely avoiding terrorism, but unleashing human potential and the ability of communities to determine their own future by knowledge and literacy.

Interestingly enough, our local hiking group was treated to a wonderful presentation by Bethlehem resident Joe Yannuzzi who summited Everest in May of 2008 and has worked to benefit the residents of Nepal by building libraries in that region. We saw stunning photos of the Everest climb, and also pictures of children enjoying the newly constructed library, and even the yaks hauling in the books!

I also finished Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, definitely a worthy read. In the author's own words: "Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, and purpose."

I recently saw Crash due to the suggestion of a friend. This movie asks some hard questions about what part racism plays in our lives. We're forced to face our unconscious assumptions and evaluate our actions and our relationships to others. This isn't a family friendly film, but see it with your friends and significant people in your life and have some honest and hard discussions. Definitely worth seeing and talking about.

The Iranian movie Leila was also thought provoking, but in a different way. Leila found out she was unable to have children early in her marriage to Reza. Reza's mother pressured Leila to ask her husband to take a second wife. The movie is about what she decided and the impact which follows. At first it was difficult for me to relate to the characters, the view on marriage was just too different (you want me to WHAT?!). But as I reflected on it, I realized that my own culture is also going through a shift in our views on marriage. Leila and Reza had a love marriage based on companionship and affection but they were pressured by their family's view of marriage as being primarily a vehicle to carry on the male line. Plenty of social commentary has been written on our own shift in culture to the desire for a soul mate marriage, and marriage as a vehicle for personal fulfillment. Our marriages and families are struggling with these relatively new concepts and the resulting shifts in expectations and roles. Phillipe Copeland over at Bahá’í Thought has started an interesting discussion on these topics here.

Junior Youth Class:
Bahá’í Junior Youth class is continuing to go well. This week we had a discussion about media and popular music and how to be conscious consumers. All of us are bombarded with messages many times daily. We enjoy a wide variety of music and movies and books, but ultimately we need to be conscious of the attitudes and perspectives we are absorbing and think critically about them.

The seven Bahá’í leaders in Iran, imprisoned nearly two years without proper legal representation, had their first trial January 12. The next session is February 7. The situation is very grim and the unfounded charges they face carry serious penalty. For background information and to follow the latest news, please see Iran Press Watch.

Of course our hearts are breaking daily with the news out of Haiti.

"When such a crisis sweeps over the world no person should hope to remain intact. We belong to an organic unit and when one part of the organism suffers all the rest of the body will feel its consequence."
- Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance

Our thoughts and prayers are with our neighbors far too long oppressed by poverty and injustice and now, tragically, natural disaster. There are plenty of websites out there that give guidance on where to donate, but two of the most helpful lists I have found are here and here .

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Bahá'í Junior Youth Learn about Children's Rights

This year was the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty ratified by most nations which ensures the protection and development of children around the world. Only the United States and Somalia have not yet ratified this treaty. The Bahá'í community has been an active participant in efforts to obtain US ratification of this treaty for all 20 years.

In our Junior Youth class, we discussed the importance of human rights for children and explored what some of those rights are.

Children have a right to:
A.Survival - clean water, nutritious food, health care, hygiene
B.Development - education to assist them in reaching highest potential
C.Protection - from discrimination, abduction, abuse and neglect, trafficking, drugs, armed conflict, child labor, unlawful arrest
D.Participation - freedom of opinion and expression, religion, thought and conscience, association, leisure and play, the right to be a child

After we brainstormed about what rights are included in the treaty, we drew some pictures to illustrate some of those rights.

The right to be kids

Freedom of belief

Peaceful environment

A work in progress


The right to nutritious food

Displaying our creations

Full text of Convention on the Rights of the Child

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