Sunday, September 21, 2014


My sister, Linda, and I chose a sparkling September day to set out on a river cruise aboard the Maine-built wooden boat, the Seguin. We were visiting the Maine Maritime Museum in the city of Bath, which is situated on the Kennebec River and famous for its centuries-old shipbuilding industry. Seguin's captain, Dave, mentioned that in the coming weeks the cruise would lure many serious photographers eager to capture a perfect view of the six lighthouses located along the Kennebec.

The Feng Shui “Theory of the Five Elements” may be applied to our natural attraction to lighthouses, with interesting results. The ancient sages observed that energy moves in five fundamental ways: downward, upward, outward, around, and inward. These movements are expressed in Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal; and are the building blocks of everything that we perceive in our world. The elemental forces are never static, but are constantly interacting with one another, sometimes creating, sometimes destroying.

In the natural scheme of things, water extinguishes fire. However, in this case, the brilliant, glowing, illuminating rays of the lighthouse are surrounded – but never quenched – by the deep, moving, often dangerous waters of the rivers and sea. There is hope and the promise of safety in the fact that this particular fire is constant and indomitable. Something deep within us is stirred by the knowledge that this small circle of brightness has the power to push back the night.

On the return journey, Captain Dave talked about the river itself, and the changes that have taken place over the past several decades. As we watched eagles flying overhead, and the sparkling water flowing by, Dave said that as a boy he couldn't swim or fish in the river – it was too polluted. 150 years of industrialization along the rivers had done their damage. But in an era before the environment was a part of everyday conversation, Maine's own Senator Edmund S. Muskie worked systematically to find solutions to air and water pollution. Senator Muskie was the driving force behind the Clean Air Act in 1970, and the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Human beings are most nourished in places that contain all of the five elements, and we had all of them that day: the pristine waters of the Kennebec, the tall white pines and spruce trees along the banks, the late summer sun, the immense rectangular shapes of the buildings of Bath Iron Works, and the pretty domes and arches of historic buildings of Bath. As the days are now getting shorter, and the New England winter is looming ahead, I'm going to be reminding myself that there is a perfect five-element day just a memory away.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Because we have a family member who is struggling with dementia, my good friend Barbara recently lent me her copy of Pulling Taffy: A Year with Dementia and Other Adventures, by Tinky Weisblat. The author, a part-time resident of Hawley, MA, is not only a writer, but a singer, a humorist, and a food lover – and is especially attuned to how all of these good things can lift spirits and create community. Barbara reminded me that we met Tinky briefly about ten years ago when she was selling her Pudding Hollow Cookbook at an outdoor summer garden fest in Deerfield.

It was a surprise to find that what might be a tough or depressing subject in other hands became delightful reading in Tinky’s. This is not to say that she minimized the difficulties that both she and her mother had to endure in their last months together; but to a potentially heavy brew she added humor, insight, honesty, and a rich smattering of stories from her mother’s life. The result is a work that is both touching – and uplifting.

As a Feng Shui practitioner, the thing that struck me most about both Tinky and her mother Jan (affectionately called “Taffy”), was the quality of their personal energy, or chi. When a person’s chi is low, life can be hard or overwhelming; but when it is bubbling and moving, even the most challenging situations can be managed. It seems to me that both mother and daughter were able to find a vital source of refreshment within themselves, in spite of times that were certainly gray and bleak.

Tinky includes several photos of her mother in a variety of moments throughout her long interesting life. Here is clearly someone who was in LOVE with living! There is one of Jan as an infant sitting on her own mother’s lap – with a smile that spreads from ear to ear. This same smile lights up her 93-year old face, and makes us realize that it is a person’s ability to welcome life that defines their essence.

There are people among us who are inspiring because of their general cheerfulness and ability to appreciate the things around them. Tinky and Taffy were able to embrace the moment in their joy of simple things -- music, poetry, pets, food, sunshine and fresh air, the kindness of friends – certainly a recipe for good chi.