Wednesday, November 25, 2009



The year has turned its circle,
The seasons come and go.
The harvest all is gathered in
And chilly north winds blow.
Orchards have shared their treasures,
The fields, their yellow grain,
So open wide the doorway~
Thanksgiving comes again!
~Old Rhyme

May everyone have a happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Great Britain trip update

Based on the advice of Susan Allen Toth, who has written several enjoyable books about her travels to England, J. and I have subscribed to the "thumbprint" method of travel: set-up base in a town and plan day trips within the area.  We will be doing this for several areas in Great Britain.  I have yet to hammer out a definite itinerary, but these are the four areas we plan to visit:

Fort William area.
What we plan to do here:

hike Ben Nevis, highest point in Great Britain (that's the actual trail in the picture, in case you're wondering)

wander around Glen Coe

Cairngorms area
What we plan to do here:

poke around Kingussie

wander around the Cairngorms, where there is tundra

Hadrian's Wall
What we plan to do here:

walk a little bit along Hadrian's Wall

Visit Hexham, which has been around in some form or other since the 7th century

Lacock Village area
What we plan to do here:

get our fill of the quintessential English look at Lacock Village

go to the Bodleian Library at Oxford (one can never see too many libraries)

see Kelmscott Manor, abode of William Morris, who was part of the Arts & Crafts movement

I may possibly try to squeeze in a visit to Bath 

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Today I am thankful for tea.

Tea goes beyond just tea.  It embodies a ritual, deliberating slowing down life. Each moment is to be savored: hands wrapped round a warm mug; the first sip, and each one thereafter; the heady scent of a good brew; the whisper of steam against your cheeks as you raise the cup to your lips; even the simple pleasure of the cup itself, so practical in its construction, so pleasing in its form.

The ritual of tea extends beyond the tea itself, of course.  If it didn't, what's the point?  One of the things I always do whenever I go home to visit is sit down to a cup of tea at my grandmother's. Usually my mother and cousin Rosie are there, too.  We sit round the table and catch up after months of separation.  Cups clink; we laugh; napkins rustle as we nibble on sweets.  We share stories and listen in our turn, for tea loosens the tongue, unstops the ear. 

It's a ritual that I happily crash everytime I go home to visit.

"The first cup moistens
my lips and throat.
The second shatters
my loneliness.
The third causes the wrongs
of life to fade gently
from my recollection.
The fourth purifies my soul.
The fifth lifts me
to the realms
of the unwinking gods."

Chinese Mystic Tang Dynasty

Travel plans and the uncanny

Trip preparations for our trip to Great Britain are getting ridiculously uncanny.  First, I decided that we should setup a base camp in Kingussie, Scotland for our time in the Cairngorms.  Then I found out that it was used for some scenes in one of my all-time favorite series, Monarch of the Glen.  Okay, cool, not enough to make me absolutely have to stay in that village should a better location show up, but, still, pretty cool.

Recently, I found out about Lacock Village and decided that we would make that another base camp because I was intrigued by the thought of a village that "remains largely unchanged over the centuries."  Then I found out that it was used in the famous 1995 Pride and Prejudice series (I don't need to mention how much I love that series, too) and some Harry Potter movies (I love Harry Potter, too.)  Now I am definitely making sure that we include this stop in our itinerary!

And today, after some discussion with J. about exploring other mountainous regions of Scotland and settling on Ben Nevis and Glen Coe, I discovered that the village Glencoe was the setting for my all-time favorite shots in the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  And I ABSOLUTELY have to go here!

Really, this is all getting a little...strange.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My better half

I'm not a very affectionate person, usually.  I'm rather reserved and, for all I know, it probably looks like I have the emotional range of a toad.  But I do have feelings, and they break through the wall of reserve occasionally.  It's usually through my writing, but sometimes it surges out verbally.  J. is usually the recipient of these outbursts (I'm married to him after all).

This is what I've told him: "Don't ever die."

While this might seem like obsessive neediness (depends on how you look at it), those three words encapsulate how keenly I recognized at that very moment how much he means to me.  Those moments come and go, ebbing like the tide.  The last time I told him this was during the closing credits for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,"  a movie about the lifelong love affair between a woman and a man with an unusual handicap.  The actors must be exceptionally good, to cause such a verbal outbreak from me.

So, obviously, I love J (and I tell him this, far more frequently than "Don't ever die," in case you're wondering). I tell people that when we met, we started talking, and we haven't stopped.  It's been eight years so far (five of those in holy matrimony).  While we have our differences (he just can't quite understand the right-brain view of things; for an example, see this post), all that's done is to ensure that we're always learning from each other.  There is no stasis in the relationship, only room to grow.

That's my ode of thankfulness for J., who is my better half.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Today I am thankful for my cousins Rosie and Jenny.

We three take after the Nyberg side of the family: tall, big-boned, big brown eyes, long feet (you see the theme emerging here). While growing up, we were inseparable, our friendship a force to be reckoned with.  Even now, when we see each other only two to three times a year, we easily slip back into our camaraderie. I have no stories to relate from our long friendship; there are too many, and what significance do they have for my readers, who were not there with us?  Suffice to say that our bond runs deep.

My memories of our times together are tinged with woodsmoke, the sharp slice of prairie grass, whispered conversations at midnight, a ribbon of creekwater, stacks of books, bare feet on grass, afternoons lazy with sunlight, snow crunching underfoot, uncontrollable laughter, coffee cups scattered on tables, cats slinking round the door, the tickle of long hair as we hug each other farewell.

These memories are part of my talismans against forgetfulness.  When you move from the place of your upbringing, it is all too easy to forget where you came from.  Home inevitably fades once you are no longer able to see or touch it.  Memories keep the amnesia at bay.  These memories, with their tangible associations, are particularly powerful talismans against the fog of forgetfulness.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dumbledore's portrait

One of the saddest passages in all of the Harry Potter books:

"And a new portrait had joined the ranks of the dead headmasters and headmistresses of Hogwarts: Dumbledore was slumbering in a golden frame over the desk, his half-moon spectacles perched upon his crooked nose, looking peaceful and untroubled."--from "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (penultimate book in the series)

Monday, November 09, 2009


Today I am thankful for my father.

Dad and I have a lot in common.  We write really sloppy, have big heads and big bones.  We have flat feet and walk a little duck-footed.  We devour fantasy/sci-fi books and tend towards reticence (getting an opinion from us can be like pulling teeth). 

Our way of spending time together whenever I pop home for a visit is to go see a "Laura and Dad movie."  These movies are generally over-full of action-adventure stunts aided by cgi, in which the plot begs for your willing suspension of disbelief, the heroes are good-looking, and the villains villainous: what you would call bad movies.  We love them.  Ever since we saw the enjoyably stupid movie "Anaconda," we have been on a quest to find a movie even worse than it.  We're still looking.

I was poking around my computer the other day and came across this little thing I wrote during my first year in college.  We may not tell each other "I love you," very much (that's a little embarrassing), but the bond is there.  I think you'll see it in this little bit of writing.  Here it is, completely unedited:

The man of no affection hugged me today, long and hard. The barren, cold room surrounded us, hovering over our shoulders, eyeing me flat against my face as I rested my chin on my father’s shoulder and reveled in the warmth of his familiarity. Nothing else was familiar; all was strange and heartless in that room – my room for the rest of the year. The mottled brown carpet, the pasty white wall, the flimsy closet door – they all stared in solemnity at the tearing of family bond in their midst: this happened every year. How can this painful break be so commonplace? Thousands go through this every year; thousands weep and thousands shiver in nervous anticipation. Such a break is commonplace only in the statistics; it is a whole other thing for flesh and blood. Life as these thousands know it is no more, has altered dramatically. In that little room, my future home, a part of my being was being wrenched away and shut up in the vaults of memory. I could not return to the safety of childhood. And my father, the very person (and often the only person) who had been the one encouraging my departure from home, my baby steps into the real world – he was the one who held me long and hard today, on this cold and barren day.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Today I am thankful for my cats.

I don't think we ever realize how much our pets do for us.  To them, you are absolutely normal.  They like you just the way you are, even if you sing to them in awful operatic voices and pick them up for far too frequent cuddles.  Think how serious this is, to be accepted at face value.  There is no pretense, no hiding of your true self behind the flimsy disguise you wear for work.  To be confronted by a creature that sees you, and likes what she sees, is no small thing.

Other reasons why I like cats:

Pope and Sasha rudely awakened from their nap

"I love cats.  I love their grace and their elegance.  I love their independence and their arrogance and the way they lie and look at you, summing you up, surely to your detriment, with that unnerving, unwinking, appraising stare."--Joyce Stranger.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Pearl of great price

"The Bright Field"
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

-R.S. Thomas


Last week, one of the sons of the ladies I work with was suffering from a high grade fever.  They were worried that he might have meningitis.  While chatting with some colleagues who have children of their own, the subject turned to this sick boy as someone relayed the message that he was getting better.  I mentioned how relieved I was to hear that he was out of the woods, as I had gotten sick with meningitis and lost my hearing as a result. 

After this conversation, I realized what an odd situation I was in.  Here I was, a happily healthy, rather normal person who just happened to have a disability that resulted from the infection we were talking about.  And I was contemplating how awful it would be for this little boy to be afflicted by the very same thing that I had survived.  I may not be explaining very well why I found this situation a little odd.  I certainly wasn't wishing on this child what I had suffered.  But to commiserate about a terrible infection and the possibility of irreparable damage to one's hearing made me uncomfortable because I've developed a determination not to feel sorry for myself.  This determination (and it is determination because I am a introspective person) has made me a much more content person.

I still remember the throes of self-pity I threw myself into when I was a teenager.  It took a very brutal, startling retort from my father to shake me out of my melancholy.  I haven't looked back since.

What I'm thankful for today, I'm not sure.  It's a tangled web of thoughts and emotions I'm trying to sort through.  Am I thankful for being hearing impaired?  Obviously not, but then again, it's made me who I am.  I guess what I'm trying to get at is life itself.  I may have been dealt a different set of cards than many people, but, somehow, lacking a sense makes you all the more keen to seize life.  You're making up, not for lost time, but for lost experiences.  I may not know what it's like to wake up to the sound of voices in the kitchen as someone prepares coffee, or what it's like to distinguish the sounds of birds from the wind, or what it's like to carry on a conversation with someone across the room, but what I do pick up on, whether by sound, sight, smell, taste or touch, I treasure. 

"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."--George Eliot

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Today I am thankful for friends and family who are constantly harping on me to keep writing.  One of the greatest bits of encouragement I got was from a friend who told me that my writing was organic, imbued with nature.  I had never really perceived that slant in my writing before, but now that it's been mentioned, I see it everywhere in these posts.

It's always been my hope that what I write inspires self-reflection in my readers.  When I share childhood memories or random stories from my day or whatever I happen to be thinking at the moment, I try to write it in such a way that it reminds people to examine their own memories and stories and thoughts.  By looking for meaning in what I experience, and writing what I discover, perhaps my readers will be able to inspired to do the same. 

"The greatest thing a human soul every does in this world is to see see is poetry, prophecy, and religion all in one."--John Ruskin

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


I'm going to challenge myself to write a post a day on things I am thankful for.  Seeing as this is the month containing Thanksgiving, I thought this would be an interesting exercise.

First up: water.

I don't think I fully appreciated water until I started hiking.  When you have to carry your water because you can't drink directly from the streams you come across (however nobly beastly a notion that is); when grit starts to accumulate on your skin and you catch unexpected whiffs of your own rich aroma; when you have to trudge through a daylong downpour--you start to appreciate water.

It's not always neatly confined to a faucet that you can turn on when you need it.  It's not always safely contained in plastic containers on the shelves of your grocery store. You can't always duck indoors when the clouds unleash their fury.  Water is a force to be reckoned with.

And yet it's so beautiful...even when I'm low on treated water while hiking and feeling like the ancient mariner from Coleridge's poem whenever I pass a burbling stream: "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.."