Sunday, September 16, 2007

Old Fashioned Hymn Sing Anyone?

A friend told me about a Shaped-Note harp sing that he attended recently in Brooklyn. It must have been amazing. I have to say that I was very sad when many of the Mennonite Churches changed their hymnals to what seems to now include very few of the old standards. I recently attended a Mennonite Hymn Sing
where their newer hymnal was used, and I was heartened by the requests that folks called-out, even those among the younger demographic-I made a mental note that all except one, were old standards! This lead me to wonder how many of us are even singing any of the other songs in this new, more modern, Mennonite Hymnal? I personally feel that the old hymns are what I connect with most in my Mennonite faith. I apologize if I seem to be complaining, I just grew up a very traditional Mennonite.

I still get teased by my NYC friends, because while so many of them grew up reading the classics, I was busy memorizing The King James version of the Bible, much of which can still recite. Many churches don't read from that version anymore, but I cannot help myself as I still reverse-translate whatever scripture is being quoted to me, back into the good ol' KJV!

I leave you with this beautiful sacred hymn that a kind soul sent to me with the hope I'd find some comfort as I mourn my cousin's passing:

121 Florence
Tune: Thomas W. Carter, 1844
Words: Philip Doddridge, 1755
Meter: Common Meter Double (8,6,8,6,8,6,8,6)

Not many years their rounds shall roll,
Each moment brings it nigh,
Ere all its glories stand revealed,
To our admiring eye.
Ye wheels of nature speed your course,
Ye mortal pow’rs, decay;
Fast as ye bring the night of death,
Ye bring eternal day.

Ye weary, heavy-laden souls,
Who are oppressed and sore,
Ye trav’lers through the wilderness
To Canaan’s peaceful shore.
Though chilling winds and beating rains,
The waters deep and cold,
And enemies surrounding you,
Take courage and be bold.

Though storms and hurricanes arise,
The desert all around,
And fiery serpents oft appear,
Through the enchanted ground.
Dark nights and clouds and gloomy fear —
And dragons often roar —
But while the gospel trump we hear,
We’ll press for Canaan’s shore.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Are You Ready?

I will be traveling to Lancaster, PA again this week, this time to pay my respects to the family of my dear cousin who passed away suddenly at a very young age.

How sad, and how sobering. We must be ready at any time. I can't help but recall a very powerful message we heard recently at church from a guest-speaker, Rev. Keith Fiveson. Reverend Fiveson is an InterFaith Minister, a term which is new to me, but as I understand it, means they embrace all religions. His voice can really project, and he is quite tall, so he made an impressive impact as he approached the lecturn and immediately began with a booming, "Are you ready? ARE YOU READY? Well, are you? Ready? I mean, really ready? Are YOU ready?"

Both his vocal flection and fluctuation were amazing. At first, I thought he lingered too long on this phrasing and I almost became annoyed, but after much thought, I believe I was not annoyed, but in fact, unnerved or uncomfortable, and I'm still learning that when I'm affected in this way, if I look deep inside myself, I will find this feeling is often prompted because there's something very important there for me to learn, and I can greatly benefit by investigating further. To this day, I can't quite shake Mr. Fiveson's haunting version of this question. How 'bout you?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hurray! Beavers Are Back In NYC, Chewing Up Trees!

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

Newswise — The beaver, the state mammal of New York, and whose image adorns the official seal of New York City, has returned to the Big Apple after an absence that dates to colonial times, when the animal was hunted to local extinction. The evidence can be found on the Bronx River, where employees from the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society have discovered a beaver, and its lodge along with numerous gnawed tree stumps, proving that a New York City original has come home. The beaver has been photographed and filmed.

Very cute video below! Beavers are notorious for being elusive, but this video captures an outline of the little critter inside his dam using thermal imaging. Well done!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I Spent Two Days In Lancaster, PA

This past week, I spent two days in Lancaster, PA. I went there for several reasons. One, I wanted to help my friend Heidi Beth with eight computers that I had donated to her community service for children. Heidi Beth and her husband Will, were the Managers at Menno House when I lived there. Menno House is a brownstone in Manhattan owned by the Mennonite Church and used as living quarters to anyone affiliated with the Mennonite church doing missionary work, or attending college in New York City.

Most anyone who knows me, reaches-out to me when they have computers to recycle or upgrade. They know I will take the old ones off their hands and rebuild them, then place them in the hands of those who need them most. It is one small way in which I can use my skills to help those less fortunate. My friend Bill, an Engineer from M.I.T. had about 6 PC's and 3 MAC's to get rid of. His company was upgrading, and Heidi Beth had recently called me to ask if I knew of any equipment she could acquire as a donation to her community project. Shortly after leaving New York City, Heidi Beth and her husband Will bought a house in a very poor section of Lancaster. They quickly became a fixture in the community, and have revitalized their neighborhood with their kindness and compassion. Heidi Beth opens up her home to kids after school, as a means to keep them off the street. They know they can come to her for food, shelter, and help with their homework. She wanted to turn the front room of their home into a “cyber cafĂ©” experience, where kids could add a digital element to their learning experience. She is also very active in the martial arts community there, and has inducted several of the kids into her Capoiera classes. She told me accounts of seeing a complete turn-around in children’s demeanor, grades in school, and overall health since becoming involved in Capoiera. After working from noon to midnight, and up again at 5 a.m., I ended up with a small LAN both wireless and wired, and about 4 decent workstations.

I also wanted to visit with my cousin Julia who has been battling cancer for the past two years. My cousin Mel, who lives here in New York City and makes frequent humanitarian trips to Iraq to take medical supplies to children dying due to sanctions, also really wanted to visit Julia, but because of his career-choice, has very little money. I told him I would rent a car, and he could travel with me.

Another reason I wanted to visit Lancaster is that my cousin Stanley (who lives in Delaware) was going to be in Lancaster with his mother. Our mothers are related and hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, so I wanted to plan a dinner where we could all catch up.

One more reason to visit home was to see my Aunt Mary Louise who I had not seen in several years. We thought it was high time that we got together. We had a nice breakfast with my mother.

Lastly, and always a reason to get back home, is to visit my brother Harold and his family. Harold was in a horrific automobile accident several years ago, and unfortunately has never recovered mentally and physically. Since Harold’s accident, I have maintained an informational Web site on head injury, coma and traumatic brain injury, and I keep it going because I get occasional letters from families in similar situations, thanking me for its helpful information. September 18, 2007 will mark the eighth year since Harold’s accident in 1999.

I find it worth mentioning that as we were driving on familiar back-roads in Lancaster, en-route to dinner, I saw a bicyclist approaching and noticed he looked unusually decorated with a lot of colorful riding gear. It wasn’t until he passed, that I realized it was Floyd Landis! And by the way, NO, I don’t think he “did it.” I believe he was either “slipped a Mickey” or showing higher levels due to his medical condition. Mennonites are poor liars, as it goes against their grain. There’s no way he was secretly sipping any juiced-up Kool-AID.

Something else I came across on my travels was a sign that my mother and I saw on the side of a Dentist office in Lancaster next to a huge picture of a tooth: “We cater to cowards!” I saw that and I immediately had to phone my friend Jane who works at the NYU Dental School.

My trip wouldn’t have been complete if I did not pay a visit to my 86-year old cousin Martha whom I’ve referenced before on this blog. Martha was recently the subject of New York based artist, Jayne Holsinger, whose gallery opening happened last week. Cousin Martha came up to the city for it, and I spent the entire evening with her at the gallery. Both Martha and the paintings were very well received. The artist is a member of the Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship, and wanted to create art that portrayed her Anabaptist roots with dignity and integrity.

Finally, I always try to stop by to visit our Amish friends when I’m home. We have many Amish friends, and I don’t always have time to visit each of them every trip, but this time I stopped to briefly visit with the Amish family who bought my father’s homestead. This particular home has great meaning to our family, as it was where my father grew up, and I believe his parents as well. My Aunt Ruth likes to tell the story of “The day I was born was the day we got electricity.” Of course we laugh sometimes about how the Amish bought the farm and then ripped out all the electric.

A few years ago when my sister was home, she told me about how she drove by the ol’ homestead very slowly. It just so happened that the Amish owner was outside working, and asked if she needed some help. She explained that her father's family grew up there and it came up in that conversation that my sister had acquired a very old aerial photograph of the farm. He said he'd very much like to see it, so I figured I'd make a few copies and drop it by the next time I was in the area since I tend to take more trips there than my sister. Well, that sat on my “To-Do” list for some time, but after about a year, I got it done. I snail-mailed it to the Amish man, and the next time I was in town I drove by and he again was outside. He didn’t know me at first (because he’d only met my sister), but as soon as I told him I was a sister to the other gal he’d met and had mailed him the photos, his face lit up. He was very pleased to see me. He then asked me if I knew what year the photo had been taken, but I wasn’t sure. After I got back to NYC, I dug it out of storage again, and tried to make out what was written. It was hard to read, but appeared to be from 1919. This past week when I was in town, I stopped by to deliver this date to him, but he was not home so I left a note on the door.

People often ask me if I knew any of the Amish families affected by the tragic story earlier this year. I did, and in fact spent the latter part of that week sitting with them as they recounted their nightmare, supporting them in any way that I could. That schoolhouse was a few miles from where I grew up. When I asked my Amish friends if there was anything I could do to help, they said my visit was enough.

My bird list for the day is short. I was in the car for a few hours, then inside the rest of the day, but I had barely left the Holland Tunnel when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pair of pantaloons wafting in the breeze. This was no whirligig folks! This was a big ol’ Red-Tailed Hawk, sitting atop a building, peering down at me! I saw many other hawks along the way, some perched on lampposts, while others chose the tops of telephone poles or trees. There were some Seagulls and Mourning Doves also on the wires to greet me.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

What A Day In The Park!

Well, when you're me, and the first bird of the day you see is a Red-Tailed Hawk, you know your day is going to be great! Circling overhead, right where I usually enter Central Park, there it was.

I arrived in the park around 8:40 a.m. and phoned my birding buddies to see where they were so that we could walk together. They told me that they were going to be arriving a bit later this morning, so I killed some time around the castle. I ended up relaxing on a big rock that doesn't get a lot of traffic. Next thing I knew, a little girl (who couldn't have been more than 3 years old) had slipped and fallen into the pond! I was closeby, heard her screaming and saw her flailing her arms in panic as her head was bobbing under. I immediately dropped everything and ran to her. I anchored myself on the rock and shouted for her to "Grab my hand! Grab my hand!" She was so frightened, she almost couldn't, and I thought I was going to have to jump in, but in seconds I was pulling her out, trying to calm her down by repeating over and over to her "It's OK, everything is going to be alright." I'm starting to tear-up just typing this. Her parents came running over shortly afterward, thanking me. Strangers had gathered and they too were thanking me. Some wanted to call the newspapers saying, "The Mayor will give you a medal" and I just told them, "I didn't do anything that anyone standing here wouldn't have done." I was also afraid that Children's Services might try to take the child away from the parents. They had two other girls and seemed like decent people who made one mistake. One of my friends said to me, "Yes, but that's one mistake you can never let happen!" of which I agreed, however, does this warrant the child to be taken away? I'd heard just this week of a similar instance. I am not a parent so I cannot say, but it seemed a bit of a grey area to me.

Onto birding. My friends soon arrived and we had a very special day. A Connecticut Warbler had stopped to eat more than its body-weight of worms while en-route to South America. This little bird was putting on an awesome show, and had drawn quite a crowd. I asked why it was so rare if it was named "Connecticut" and must live nearby, but I was told its name was a misnomer.

Move over Conan, a new celebrity just flew into Manhattan!

Next we saw this lovely Downy Woodpecker

This mushroom was an incredible color of yellow!

Turtles Having Fun

One of my friends who comes out to say "Good Morning" to me when I walk by each week.

Homeless? Did you know that a percentage of "Homeless" souls hold down full-time jobs but they just don't make enough to pay rent. I was shocked to learn this recently. They need shelter, just like you do. They need food, just like you do. And they work, just like you do. They need to clean-up and change clothes, just like you do.

1 American Redstart
4 Baltimore Orioles
2 Black-and-white Warblers
Multiple Blue Jays
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Connecticut Warbler
1 Downy Woodpecker
Multiple Ducks
1 European Starling
1 Grackle
1 Mockingbird
1 Mourning Dove
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Ovenbird1 Red-Tailed Hawk
Multiple Rock Doves
Multiple Sparrows
Assorted Grey Squirrels
Assorted Turtles