Happy Birthday, USA. It’s Time to Shine!

1-10259236_10153515755787925_696162760111206077_o“Fireworks had for her a direct and magical appeal.  Their attraction was more complex than that of any other form of art.

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They had pattern and sequence, colour and sound, brilliance and mobility; they had suspense, surprise, and a faint hint of danger;

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above all, they had the supreme quality of transience, which puts the keenest edge on beauty and makes it touch some spring in the heart which more enduring excellences cannot reach.” ― Jan StrutherMrs. Miniver

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Yep, that quote would be me. Next to Christmas, the Fourth of July is my absolute favorite holiday. First of all, I love fireworks. Period. But I also love the way it draws my nation together. We have a complex history and a lot of problems, yes. But there is and there never has been a country like ours. Most of us learn and grow from our nation’s mistakes. Though very diverse, there is one thing of which we are in solid agreement: America is great.

If you’ve never visited you won’t understand. And if you live and grew up here, it’s so easy to take for granted. Think about it. In the history of nations, never has a country had freedom and prosperity like ours. Never has a country cared for the world like ours. Never has there been an economy like ours.

I don’t blame anyone for leaving their country of origin to come here. Many go through great peril and cost to do that. As a citizen, I just ask a few things. Please follow our laws and do whatever is necessary to become a citizen. Be honest. Work hard. And learn our history. Take a Civics class to learn how our government works. Be educated on our current events.

Don’t believe everything you read in the media. Investigate the facts. In other words, become a well-informed citizen and think for yourself. Don’t let anyone “spoon-feed” you. America will offer you and your children the best life they could ever have. And don’t ever take that for granted. I don’t know any American that does not welcome you if you do this.

Now, onto the fireworks! I cannot close without drawing attention to these photographs posted on Dan Pope’s Facebook page.  He is a real top-notch photographer and friend of our family and I’ve featured him before. His link is on my sidebar. Dan is a fireworks nut like me. He captured these Friday night. And of all things, he caught this last one with a train rolling through. Nicely done, Dan!

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In closing, I’m posting this link to a  video of the Katy Perry song “Firework”, still an all-time favorite of mine on our Fourth of July. I think the words capture the human spirit quite well.

Shine everyday because–baby, you’re a firework!

What a Community of a Few Can Do | WPC: Community

We meet for prayer

Day One. We arrive in Guatemala. Hungry, Tired, Wet.

Fifteen people. Nine days. That’s all we had.
So few of us, so much to do. “How can we make a difference in nine days?” An oft-repeated murmur: “Wow, we are here for only nine days. Nine days seem so short to do anything.” And the most repeated: “What will we leave when we go?”

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Build What??? With What???

Another time. A similar question. “There are so many and we are so few. And we have only five loaves of bread and two fish. How do you expect us to feed all of these?” (Matthew 14:17)

Crowd waiting for glasses

And this, too? A crowd larger than expected waits for eyeglasses

Why is it we think value in terms of numbers?

“Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:18)
Here we are, Lord. Tired. Hungry. Wet.

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.” (Matthew 14:19) That’s how we feel, Lord. Broken. Broken people. How did you do it? How will you do it? Umm…what was that you just did? Gave thanks? With barely enough food for a single family you gave thanks?

“Then he gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave them to the people.” (Matthew 14:19b) And so we began. From sun up to sun down, non-stop, never-ending–we set out to do what seemed impossible. We’re not sure about all this! As the week progressed, our goals loomed far away. But we just pressed on.

New living quarters“They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Matthew 14:20, 21) Note that the number of just men was five-thousand. Add the women and children to that and the number grows.

But everyone was satisfied. And there were even leftovers.
Well, our week finished. Were the people satisfied? We don’t fully know but their countenance reflected joy and thanks. We think they were more than satisfied. And we were delightfully surprised, elated actually. So few of us and so little time, broken humanity, giving thanks, serving. He did the multiplication.

Did we have leftovers? Indeed. This is what we left.

An earthquake-proof rebar-filled foundation for new staff living quarters at a men’s drug and alcohol rehab center—complete with plumbing, electrical, and a smooth concrete floor.

The gift of sight through donated eyeglasses for an entire community and local school.

Lettering the title and logo on the wall entrance.

Also for the school children: their first very-own box of crayons and backpacks. School supplies for their teachers. Their first watercolors ever. Their very first school pictures ever. A colorful mural on a classroom wall. A newly painted gymnasium.

Visiting two orphanages and hearing their stories. Playing with and holding the children.

Family portraits of the community.

Connections made. New relationships started. Longtime friends reunited. And not only that. Three months later, as of this very week, two more orphans have a sponsor to provide their need for a home, family, and education. That sponsor is my sister.

Two children. Let’s see, what was that distant thought breaking the surface of my mind? We only have fifteen people and nine days. Like a pebble cast upon the water, we cast ourselves, adding faith with thanksgiving.

We see but a few ripples, but it is enough. Enough to know that ripples are never-ending. And, by faith, we believe that is enough for now.

Final result“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ~ Mother Teresa

But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14 NKJV)

“To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition—to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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This is my contribution to the Weekly Photo Challenge with a theme of “Community”.
It’s just a bit longer than usual and I’ve had it sitting in the drafts for a while. When I saw the theme this week I thought it fit very well. I hope you do, too. If you ever get a bit jaded or in a rut about life in general, I urge you to take a mission trip to another country. It usually involves a rigorous schedule so be ready. Research the area you’re going, take some good safety measures, learn a little of the local language. I also recommend going with a group that does some sight-seeing. A good blend of work and taking in the sights and culture bring a nice sense of balance to the trip. And be ready to be blessed. It’s a great feeling to step out of your comfort zone and give, expecting nothing in return. You’ll be amazed at the skills you’ll suddenly develop.
How about a few comments from any of you who’ve done it?
Peace, Alexandria

Beyond the Imagined | Horizon

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“Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step.

Yep, that would be me.

 Only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.” ~ Dag Hammarskjold

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Water has an endless horizon; there is no limitation when you look out into the water. 

There’s nothing to interfere with the mind’s eye projecting itself as far as it can possibly imagine.

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I suppose it’s the same way people in the Midwest feel about watching amber waves of grain or endless rows of cornfields. There is something exhilarating about it.” ~ Billy Joel

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“We praise the day and and stand in awe of the night. However, sunrise and sunset live as the union of the two–a marriage formed by day and by night, a reminder that even the world was made to come together. Like love, it is something our hearts can experience, while the mind will never fully understand.” ~ Sean M. Smith

When I leave my day job I walk to the top level of a parking garage to get to my car. Usually well into the evening, I’m greeted by a sparkling city-night skyline. After a hard day of work, it’s exhilarating. But there’s something else in the parking lot that greets me as well—a barely noticeable very slight bump in the middle of it. And you know what? Not a night goes by that I don’t trip over that bump. You know why? I can’t take my eyes off that beautiful city skyline. I do it nearly every time.

It reminds me of my life. In my attempts to stay focused on the big picture sometimes I falter and trip. You see, when your eyes are on the horizon that can happen. But if I focused on that bump in the parking lot I’d never look up to see the beauty of the skyline. Horizon is what I chase everyday. Don’t we all?

Few experiences in life exhilarate like the horizon. Whether yours is a city skyline, an expansive ocean, or a sprawling cornfield, the bumps are worth it. Unless you like standing still.

Peace, Alexandria
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Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

Inside the Thorns

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When life gives you thorns …
“Lift your hands toward the holy place, and praise the Lord.” Psalms 134:2

DSC_0842When life gives you thorns …
“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.” ~ Dale Carnegie

DSC_0836When life gives you thorns …
“A single rose can be my garden… a single friend, my world.” ~ Leo Buscaglia

DSC_0828When life gives you thorns …
Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses. ” ~ Alphonse Karr

Lo, How the Rose Enduring

Mystifying, life defying,
Wrapped inside the
deadly piercing.
Delicate, yet
Strong emerging.
Not weathered torn.

But …

Beauty dazzling,
Lightly rising,
Fragile petals,
buds reach praising,
Inside eye
of dreadful storm.

Shall we fare less
inside our thorn?

DSC_0857“When life gives you thorns, grow roses.” ~ Alexandria Sage
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Another contribution for NaPoWriMo 2014.
Poem and photos by Alexandria Sage. Photos taken with Nikon D60 with AF-S Nikkor lens 18-55 mm. Photos have no post-processing, editing, or cropping.  It’s the same rose, different views.
Perspective matters, doesn’t it?
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Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Adventures in Apertures | WPC: Focus

DSC_0498“Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

“Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” ~ Tony Robbins

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” ~ Mark Twain

DSC_0461 f/4.2 cropped“Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think.” ~ Niels Bohr ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
These photos are taken with differing apertures using two different lenses. They are collections of the same scene.

As you can see, they each have their advantages and disadvantages. It all depends on, well, what you want to focus on. In photography, it’s important to focus on one thing. That one thing may be the big picture or it may be a small object. There is the shallow depth of field and the large depth of field.

It’s kind of like life, isn’t it? —dynamic arrays of focus. And it can be hard in this modern warp speed we are now immersed in. At every moment we focus on “something”. I don’t juggle it perfectly but I certainly try. I have a few big picture goals in my life that get squeezed out by all the little things that draw my attention.

Some of the little things I love, like an unexpected visit from my grandson or adult children. Or phone calls from faraway friends and family—just visiting or planning time with them. They are definitely worth my focus and relationships with them fall into my “big picture” goals. There are many other good things, too, but I do have to say “no” to a lot of those good things.

I sprinkled a few quotes that help me. What about you? What do you say “yes” and “no” to? Where’s your focus these days?

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“Beware of overcommitment. You can’t “yes” to everyone. You must practice saying “no”. Otherwise, you may be at risk of compromising your quality or your integrity.” ~ Stephen Deal
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This is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge with a theme of “Focus”. It was a lot of fun to experiment and I’m pleased with the results. I hope you are, too. Peace, Alexandria

Other links:
SimplySage: A Return to Organic Photography
Photography 101: Finding Your Focus
Festival of Flowers: Week 12

Close, Closer | WPC One Shot, Two Ways

Close

“Life consists of a myriad of details that can cloud your vision. To gain a balanced perspective one must overlook some of the minutiae. Details, while very important, are not everything.

You can stand close and still see the big picture.” ~ Alexandria Sage

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This is my contribution to the Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways. I just returned from a trip to Antigua, Guatemala, a lovely city set in the volcanic mountains of that country. The elevation is around 5000 feet which, combined with the tropical climate, makes for an average everyday temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Built in the early 1700’s, Antigua is filled with Spanish Baroque architecture. Though hit by mild earthquakes and a few large ones, the city retains almost all its original cobblestone streets and buildings. It is absolutely stunning. Many hotels, shops, and restaurants now line its streets. They have done a great work in modernizing this city while retaining the beauty of its originality.
Aside from cropping out cars and slight rotation of the first photo, these photos are unedited. I used iPhone 5.
EnJoy.
Peace, Alexandria
Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways
Some Favorites:
One Shot, Two Ways by Sph3re
Finding Peace and Tranquility at Hotel Cirilo, Antigua, Quatemala
One Shot, Two Ways by ThirdEyeMom
One Shot, Two Ways by Tina Schell

Nature’s Usual Pose | Weekly Photo Challenge: Up

The Life of Less

Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars.” ~ Henry Van Dyke

The Climb

“It’s easier to go down a hill than up it but the view is much better at the top.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

It's a Bug's Life

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow them.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

Aspire

Man cannot aspire if he looks down. If he rise, he must look up.” ~ Samuel Smiles

The Sign of Heaven

I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Heaven's Promise“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” ~ G. K. Chesterton
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Here are other interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge with the theme of “Up”.

Defining Moments | Weekly Photo Challenge: Lost in the Details

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“Wherever you are, be all there.” ~ Jim Elliot

The Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Lost in the Details”. And what a challenge it is. Don’t we get utterly lost in the details of life? Opportunities missed, lost windows of time—to show kindness or listen, to be all there. What about those that consume, order, and demand, leaving us so distracted we miss the wonder and joy of other moments?

The Observer

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” ~ William Morris

And then there are those moments that shake us … or rather, shape us. We come to full attention. They are usually spun by a variety of events—some good, some not so good. Whatever their source, I find they can be a birthplace of goodness or newness. They are, in essence, whatever I choose them to be.

Autumn Hydrangea
“After all, it is those who have a deep and real inner life who are best able to deal with the irritating details of outer life.” ~ Evelyn Underhill

These moments serve to keep us in check or bring a new awareness of vulnerability or strength, moments to discover what we are made of. Are we flexible to receive honest criticism and ready to change? Or if we have done right can we have peace within and stand firm, even when we are misunderstood? Either way, are we ready to forgive—to let go—to forget, to move on, knowing we can’t fix everything?

“All the details of life and the quirks and the friendships can be laid out for us, but the mystery of their writing remains.No amount of documentation, however fascinating, can take us there.” ~V.S. Naipaul

Whatever moment you are in today, whether joy or pain—never dismiss that moment, for the only moment that truly exists is the one you are in right now. Some moments are times to embrace and absorb joy. For the difficult moments we need to receive love from sane, safe friends and family. It’s okay to not always be the giver or to have all the answers or to have everything together. Cherish the good moments, learn from the difficult. I found the following drawing and thought it details the true reality of life. May it bring a smile to your face as it did mine. I hope it increases your joy as you trek your own crooked path.
Peace,
Alexandria
SuccessDrawing
“If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.” ~ Maria Edgeworth
See the Weekly Photo Challenge for other interpretations.

Drawing credit: Unknown
All photography by Alexandria Sage, except the first one, which is by S. Michael
(aka—my dear son)

Procrastination—Today’s Latest Cure

‘Twas a lazy Sunday afternoon and the great doze had settled in. Ahhh … perfect. Time to cozy into the chair and succumb to restful dreams. Flip footrest up … yawn. As I sauntered into luscious sleep a nagging thought gradually meandered in, disturbing my blissful state. Oops. Didn’t I promise myself, no matter what, curtains were to be hung in two rooms this weekend? The curtains culminated the completion of my decorating adventures in them. Therefore, this was a pivotal moment!

Every weekend my honey and I resolve to complete one home project. The project usually involves a trip to our favorite store, Lowes, to buy some new gadget or flowers or rake to make our simple existence seem a bit more lavish. Sometimes we just dream about a project, which still affords a sense of achievement. This weekend it was curtains but since he got a strange crick in his neck we decided he would direct and I’d do the work. Usually I direct and he does the work. (Hmm … that didn’t come out right.) Anyway … back to the curtains and the disturbance.

“Oh my, not now!” My eyelids grew heavy, weakening my resolve. Alas, I was stealthily approached by the procrastination bug— that old varmint! “Promises, promises … not now … later … another day,” it whispered, threatening to chomp.

Ahhh … but how many times had I told myself that? I have to confess, too many times! The curtains and rods were purchased nearly a month ago. Capturing valuable space in my sanctuary, they were an eyesore with every step past them. The relentless self-talk began.

“Oh, but I work tomorrow. I need my rest! What time is it anyway?”
“Still plenty of time. Be honest now.”
“Oh, but the husband has a crick in his neck. No way can he get on ladder and drill holes for me.”
“Umm…I believe you can use a power drill and climb a ladder. He can direct, y’know.”
“What??? I’ve never put my hands on a power drill!”
“Well, it’s high time you learned, isn’t it? Wasn’t that the plan?”
“Ugh. Don’t give away my secret of feigned helplessness! Yes, I know. Too well, I know!”

Flip footrest down! And up, go I. First, one step. Then, another. Wow—a beginning.

Then the commence of my familiar, forlorn call. In my most humble-ever-damsel-in-distress-voice I weakly cry, “Hon…eeeey? Guess what.” “Yes, dear. What?” “Remember that promise I made myself that you said you would help me with but you can’t do the work because you have a crick in your neck but I said you could direct me and you said maybe you could?” “Yes, dear.” “Well, I think that time is NOW.” And I, astute at reading his mind, immediately halt his thinking—“Gee, I’d hoped she’d forgotten. Shoulda offered her a trip to Lowes.

Flip footrest down! (The lucky dog has one in his man-cave.) And I think, “Oh, it’s wonderful to have a man who can read a woman’s mind!” So with crick in neck, me on a ladder with levels, ruler, pencils, and power drill, I, for the very first time in my life, drilled my first hole. I handled that little monster with command … and respect. With the adrenalin rush on board, five rods and five sets of curtains plus two hours, done!

All this to say, when you sense the procrastination bug you can nip it with a for-sure cure. And that can be done in one, ever-so-miniscule-but-very-significant, step. One step. Try it. It really works!

Later in the week, I finished an upstairs room completely solo. I’m on a roll! And my husband knows the perfect next gift for me—my very own power drill. I feel a rush coming on just envisioning that next trip to Lowe’s!

“The cure for procrastination is one small step.”
~ Alexandria Sage

“The only difference between try and triumph is a little bit of umph.”
~ Unknown

“I’ve always been in the right place and time. Of course, I steered myself there.”
~Bob Hope

This is an article in response to the Daily Prompt with a theme of “Procrastination“.
I’d written this awhile back but return to it repeatedly when I need some motivation to take that “small step”. Works for me! :-)

A Tale of Agony {Or Whatever Happened to Winning?}


I’m not sure when it happened, but some time during the last thirty years our culture forgot how to celebrate success. We forgot how to be proud of achievement and became more concerned about the feelings of the loser than the accomplishment of the victor. It’s happened in almost all areas of life, but is most easily noted on the athletic field, in the classroom, and now has crept into the business and financial world.

I first noted the change on the athletic field when my kids were small, participating in league sports. When I was a kid, there were winners and losers. Trophies were awarded to the champion and perhaps the runner-up. But for my kids, everyone took home a trophy or a medal. Even the kids that came in last got to take home a medal. Somewhere we lost “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Instead we became a culture that celebrates the “thrill of participation.”

I learned a lot in athletics but a key lesson was this—I learned more from losing than winning. But even beyond, the most important lesson I learned was that I didn’t like losing! This extreme dislike made me work harder to improve, perfect, and finally accomplish.

From that spawned another lesson—I liked success. The entire crux of the matter found its summation in the most crucial lesson of all—between the reward for success and the negative feelings of failure, it didn’t take me long to realize the extra effort was worth it. Failure spurred me into high gear. No one can achieve perfection but failure drove me to deeply look at how to do things different. In this quagmire of self-examination, success begins. If the self-examination of failure is removed, accomplishment declines.

The classroom is another place I noticed this. Academically, we started celebrating mediocrity. The best example of this is the change of the bumper stickers given out to kids in school. First, we had the bumper stickers that said “My Child is an Honor Roll Student at Fiddle Faddle Middle School” but this obviously offended the non-Honor Roll student so soon the signs changed to “My Child showed Good Character at Fiddle Faddle Middle School.” I’m not knocking integrity but anyone can show good character with very little effort.

Kids that work hard today get passed over, snubbed, even dismissed because we have to lift up those that “showed up.” This is ultimately discouraging for those trying to achieve. Why do we not celebrate their success and achievement anymore?  Extra effort that leads to success was the foundation for the greatness of American achievement, but is a time-tested truth for any society that aspires to greatness. We did not succeed by celebrating mediocrity in any arena.

(Please note—I believe celebrating the Honor Roll Student is correct, but the parents should teach humility by placing the bumper sticker on the refrigerator and not on the car. That way the child has their success celebrated and is also taught the importance of caring about other’s feelings.)

Now, about the financially successful, most have worked extremely hard. They worked harder in school than most, some continued their education, and they work more hours than those who don’t succeed. Certainly we can point to other reasons for their success but largely, we make excuses for it. “They are smarter, they had more opportunities, they had a good home life.”  The real truth is we don’t like to admit someone else worked harder that we did.

But perhaps this honesty can cause us to return to the principle of hard work, learn the lessons of failure, empower our abilities, and celebrate the success of others. Let’s not settle for mediocrity. Let’s relish success and achievement. Every time I meet one of the successful I look at them with the joy of knowing with some hard work I have the same opportunity.

So where did we screw up? I think we simply forgot how to celebrate the success of others and the important lesson failure teaches. It is truly okay to have winners and losers. We are not all created equal and have different talents. But there is no denying we are each called to use our talents to the best of our ability. And this usually comes with a healthy combination of desire for success and fear of failure.

Thoughtfully,
Steve

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