Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Sojourn - From the Sky

“The best laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft a-gley" (The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.)

- Robert Burns

Silly me. What was I thinking? Getting up at 3:30 in the morning to watch a royal wedding and saying to myself, “No problem. I can sleep on the plane.”

[Yes, I’m off on another trip. Every year, usually on Mother’s Day weekend, I fly off to Las Vegas to visit with Son #3, The Coach, and his beautiful wife, The Fashionista. They both work very hard, she as a sales rep, and he as a teacher and coach-of-any-sport, and though they come home to Weldon Spring once or twice a year, we enjoy seeing them in their natural habitat occasionally, too. This year, we’ll have the opportunity to sit on the sun-drenched bleachers and watch The Coach lead his high school varsity football team to victory…we hope.]

Well, my plan to rise early and sleep for hours on the plane seemed like a good idea when I hatched in in the early morning hours. Actually, the plan worked perfectly for a good long while. I had a beautiful morning, watching a lovely young couple take their till-death-us-do-part vows in opulent splendor. I drank cups of strong English Tea Maine Blueberry coffee and ate piping hot scones hard boiled eggs . I admired women in lovely dresses and bizarre creative hats, and men in morning suits and uniforms. I chatted on facebook with friends inWashington, D.C., Toronto, Canada, and London, England. I had a great time.

I watched the giddy crowds, so enamored of the spectacle that many of them had spent the night in ?) Park in order to catch a glimpse of the procession to Westminster Abbey. As the happy couple returned to Buckingham Palace after the beautiful ceremony in Westminster Abbey (which had been bedecked with scores of live trees inside the abbey, which I just adored), I watched the jubilant people chant in unison to their future king to “Kiss Her! Kiss Her! Kiss Her!” until he obliged. Twice.

After The Kisses, I reluctantly turned my attention from the telly (hehee) to the unpacked suitcase and readied myself for my journey. I cleaned the kitchen, tidied the house, and picked up the Little Beauty from her morning preschool.

Our #2 son, the Scholar, drove my husband and me to the airport, where we enjoyed a nice salad before boarding the plane. I was feeling ready for my nap, but what a fun morning I’d had.

Then the plan fell apart.

[First of all, who makes these flight plans, anyway…’Wrong Way’ Corrigan? We were scheduled to fly from Lambert St. Louis Airport southeast to Birmingham, Alabama, and from there, west to Las Vegas, thereby turning a four-hour trip into a six-and-a-half-hour fiasco flight. Really? How is this plan economical to our environmental resources, the wear-and-tear on the airplanes, and even sound business practice? But I digress…]

What are the odds that one could spend two flights totaling over six hours and have two separate families end up in the seat directly behind me , each with a baby who screamed the entire trip? It must be astronomical…the odds, I mean.

But it happened. I don’t blame the babies, and I don’t even blame the parents (both of whom, it appeared, were completely surprised that their offspring were doing this, and clueless as to how to make it stop). These things happen. I know. I know. And no amount of expert advice from good-natured flight attendants and experienced mothers surrounding these families helped. There was no way a nap would take place.

I read. I did crossword puzzles. I flipped through the Sky Mall catalogue (did you know you can buy eyelash tinting dye that will last 28 days before re-tinting? Why can’t it last a whole month?)

Finally, I took out my camera and started snapping pictures of the journey from my seat on the plane. The blueblue sky, the ever changing topography, the cloud formations, and the lovely patchwork of roads and farms and mountains and valleys provided an endless supply of awe-inspiring and peace-inducing diversions.

The plane trip turned out fine after all. So what if I haven’t slept in seventeen hours or so? I’ll just plan on sleeping in Vegas. Another great idea, eh?

I may not have received an invitation to the royal wedding, but I had a front row seat to the majesty of nature yesterday. Here are just a few of the wonders I saw from my window to the heavens...enjoy.

The music selection could be none other than the legendary Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World." Enjoy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

To Watch or Not to Watch?

Disclaimer: This post is intended as a tongue-in-cheek look at the ambivilence many Americans feel toward our British cousins.  I understand there are serious issues regarding the amount of media attention being poured into this topic, the contrasting tragedy in the tornado-ravaged southern U.S., and the inordinant amount of resources spent on this wedding. I get it. I also realize that the royal couple will have their wedding day despite what the rest of us do in response, so let's not get our knickers in a bunch. Keep calm and carry on, I say.

“God bless the King--I mean the faith's defender; God bless (no harm in blessing) the pretender;
But who the pretender is, or who is King--
God bless us all--that's quite another thing.”

- John Byrom

Queen Victoria -- Official Bridal Portrait
Franz Xaver, 1847, Oil on canvas

I'm so conflicted.

I've largely ignored all the the scrutiny surrounding the impending royal nuptials, but as the wedding day of Prince William and Catherine Middleton [whom we used to refer to as "Kate" but which is now, I hear, too familiar to use...really, would "Kate" ever find out I had called her "Kate"? I feel just rebellious enough to do it, being American and all] has approached, I must admit I've become drawn in.

The pomp and circumstance of all things royal is curious and quite fascinating to me. I can't help but find it both a little appealing and a little appalling.

Centuries of tradition, ettiquette, and pageantry seem romantic and more than a little comforting to me. In Great Britain, it seems one knows one's place, where one belongs, and how to comport oneself while there. (Good Gracious, I'm even beginning to speak the King's English.)

As an American, I see a world without a class system (ideally, somewhere, someday), and feel that "the institution of royalty in any form", as Mark Twain once said, "is an insult to the human race."

As an American, nothing we do in any official capacity goes back any further than two hundred, thirty-five years. We're mere newborns in the world's nations, and as such, weve barely begun to form our rules of ettiquette.

Who am I kidding? The way things have been going here in America lately, I don't see us getting around to the task of refining our rules of ettiquette any time soon.

See why I'm conflicted?

The prince and his bride seem like nice young people. She's even a "commoner," of all things.  Mabye the royal family is making progress in this class system thing. Probably not, but the two of them do make a lovely couple. 

Kate (ha! take that!) is a very beautiful young woman and will make a stunning bride in her top secret wedding gown.  William will doubtless be a more dashing version of his already dashing self.

I heard today that Westminster Abbey is being transformed into an enchanted forest for the ceremony. That sounds spectacular. And I do love horses. Lots of horses are expected to escort the entire bridal party to the Abbey. That beats a stretch SUV any day.

Mark Twain, who felt so strongly against royalty of any kind, wrote further on the subject in 1904, when he wrote this...

"...these are princes which are cast in the chaste princely mould, and they make me regret -- again -- that I am not a prince myself. It isn't a new regret, but a very old one. I have never been properly and humbly satisfied with my condition. I am a democrat only on principle, not by instinct -- nobody is that. Doubtless some people say they are, but this world is grievously given to lying."

Well then, that settles it. If it's good enough for Samuel Clemens, it's good enough for me. Count me in...I'll see you at the church at 3 a.m.

Mazel Tov, Bill and Kate!

The music selection for today is, of course, from the recently released official wedding program...

Many royal brides have not used traditional wedding processional music, but Catherine has selected "I was glad" by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry for her walk down the aisle. I'm sorry, friends, this might be majestic and beautiful music when heard live in Westminster Abbey, but the recordings of it seem heavy and dreary and oh-so-slow to me. No, that will never do.

Instead, I've chosen to post the newly married couple's recessional music, which is much lighter, though still not as lighthearted as we're used to in this country. Obviously, royal pomp and circumstance is still an aquired taste to me.

Here is William Walton's "Crown Imperial" which he composed originally for the coronation of King Edward VIII in 1937. Unfortunately, Edward abdicated the throne in 1936. Fortunately, his brother stepped in, and the coronation took place on the scheduled date, crowning George IV King of England. Whew...God Bless us All! 

On with the Dance!

"On with the dance! let joy be unconfined..."

- Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

This one is for all of us currently dealing with the soggy weather, the flooding, and even worse storms like tornadoes over the last few days.  

If anyone can make us feel better about truly nasty weather, it's Gene Kelly. Hollywood lore has it that Mr. Kelly was truly sick and running a high fever when this scene was filmed (hence, the added reference at the beginning of this scene). And yet, there he is having the time of his life, jumping in puddles, kicking up water, and singing and the rain. I want that passion.

I pray that we can all find a tiny bit of this spirit within us as we assist our communities in recovering from these weather woes.

I heard from so many people yesterday responding to my post on "The Dance" (not just here on Smiling Heart, but on facebook and email, too) that had connected with the idea of dancing that I decided to spend more time on the subject.

When I thought a bit more about the subject, I wanted to touch on the idea of finding passion in our 'dance'.  If we are to agree that we all dance (in a purely literal sense, I think it is innately born in us...even babies dance, with or without music), and the earth dances to its own rhythm, and the universe itself dances; expanding,contracting, arching and spinning, then should we not honor this miraculous dance with our passion?

We know passion when we see's in a performer who connects to something within himself/herself to convey more than mere words or melodies or steps or songs,

...a photographer who captures more than the mere light and shadow of a subject,

...a teacher who refuses to give up on a difficult student,

...a mechanic who treats a car with the care and respect of a doctor tending a patient,

...a first responder who runs into the building everyone else is running from, elite athlete who gives up a good portion of a 'normal' childhood in order to train,

...or the coach or trainer who inspires and teaches that athlete (or John/Jane Doe) to attain his/her goals,

...a writer who endures solitude, writer's block, criticism, and rejection in order to share his ideas,

...a mother who changes the course of her own life to help her child,

...a scientist who dedicates years of her life to researching one tiny organism,

...or a seamstress who spends hours making the inside of a garment as perfect as the outer garment itself, though no one but the person wearing it will see it,

I could go on and on. It seems lots of my own friends are filled with the passion of their own life's dance. (Did you recognize yourselves? You know who you are.) Have they been blessed with this passion? Have they chosen to create that passion? I wonder if there is a difference between the two.

As the noted American author, educator, and civil rights leader, Howard Thurman, wrote, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

That's just another way  of saying we need people who dance with passion, right?

Today, I hope you find the passion in your dance...and then share it with others! 

No one will ever accuse soprano Anna Netrebko of lacking passion. In this aria by Franz Lehár, "Meine Lippen sie küssen so heiß" (My Lips Kiss with Such Fire), she brings the audience to a frenzy with her obvious passion. In a most literal way, it carries her to another dimension, and she becomes Giuditta. Lord Byron himself would be thrilled...her joy is unconfined. 

This production is part of BBC's Proms series from 2007. Whether you are an opera star or a country music fan, a man or a woman, young or old, this performance will wow you. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Dance

Whirling Dervishes in a Tekke, c. 1845-1855
Water and bodycolour over pencil
Preziosi, Aloysius Rosarius Amadeus Raymondus Andreas (5th Count Preziosi)

Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?


Don't call this world adorable, or useful, that's not it.
It's frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.
The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.
The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.

But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white
feet of the trees
whose mouths open.


Doesn't the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?

Haven't the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,
until at last, now, they shine
in your own yard?


Don't call this world an explanation, or even an education.

When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring, or was he looking
to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there,
beautiful as a thumb
curved and touching the finger, tenderly,
little love-ring,
as he whirled,
oh jug of breath,
in the garden of dust?

 -Mary Oliver--excerpt from Why I Wake Early

We dance on...all of us, dancing and spinning and turning and reaching for one another and connecting and disconnecting. 

Whether in a structured setting...

Two Dancers in the Studio
Edgar Degas, Oil on canvas, 1901 
The Square Dance
Artist Unknown

At the Ball -- Oil on canvas, Leopold Schmutzler

On a stage or in a grand ballroom...

Jeune le Cafe de Paris
Oil on canvas, Beraud

Or maybe in a decidedly
unstructured setting,


Dancing Gypsy Woman 
Oil on canvas , Adrien Moreau

...or outside in the fresh spring air.

Maybe it's only metaphorically that you dance. However it is that you choose to dance through life, 
Dancing Tree, photographer unknown

keep turning.

Who says the trees won't join you in the dance?

And so the dance goes on. Remember, we only imitate the wind, who invented the dance. At times we look out toward the mountains and on to the stars beyond them. At other times we look inward as we spin and arch and spin some more.

It's all in the cycle and seasons of our existence here, then, isn't it? Neither approach is better than the other. It's only different. That's my theory anyway.

Are you looking at the 'big picture' as you dance the dance? Do you see the white-capped mountains that loom so large in the distance? That sort of dance makes me feel dizzy and overwhelmed at times. I'm much better at the inward-looking part of the cycle, where the universe it equally infinite, but each moment seems easier to hold onto, to see more clearly, to inspect thoroughly. I feel more empowered when looking at the 'little love-ring' as I whirl.

The important thing, I think, is to just keep on turning in this "frisky theater" in which we live and love and work and play and laugh and cry each day .

What kind of dance are you doing in this little garden of dust?

Whether with the piqué turn of a ballet dancer, or the wild abandon of a gypsy (or anything in between), I hope you dance today.

I found this video named "The Mountain," from Norwegian photographer Terje Sorgjerd, to be as beautiful as any dance I've ever seen. Music is "Nuvole Bianche" by Ludovico Einaudi. It illustrates to me the connectedness of all living things, great and small. We're all in this great dance together. Enjoy.

The Mountain from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Time Remembered

For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

- Algernon Charles Swinburne, Excerpt from Atalanta in Calydon

Blossom by Blossom the Spring Begins
Wishing Well at The Elms

 Well, I could easily end my post right here. How could I ever attempt to express my weekend better than Mr. Swinburne did?
I suppose the best I can do is give you my general impressions to go along with just a few photos of the beautiful, poignant, joyous, fun, and precious time it was with my siblings and other relatives as we celebrated a life well lived.
The weekend was full. It included a magical place to stay...
The Elms Resort & Spa, Excelsior Springs, Missouri
Grand Foyer and Fireplace
Built from native limestone and imported marble, one can still feel the opulence it once displayed.

The huge hotel is placed on acres of manicured lawn and gardens, making it appear perfectly sized after all.

View from the Gazebo

Grand dame that she is, she has a vibrant history, and like the most fascinating of women, she has an air of mystery about her...
and some secrets she'll never share.

We had no trouble filling this great space with laughter and love...

On Friday night, we held a family cocktail party...

(with relatives coming in from California, New York, Maine, and all around the state of Missouri.)

Followed by an intimate dinner for thirty...

After dinner we had an informal gathering about the memorial to be held the following day.

My older brother, The Patriarch, passed a gift to each of us...

Each bag contained a gold chest engraved with our parents' monogram, and contained purple velvet pouches containing their mingled ashes...enough pouches for each member of that sibling's family.

It also contained a personalized packet of photographs, letters, cards, and other mementos from Elly and Bob, including a letter from Mom to Her Children. ♥

After that, we toasted Mom with her favorite drink...Squirt soda and vodka.  Agent Theunemann was responsible for this mission...

Late that night, many of us went on a ghost tour of The Elms Hotel with Jay The Maintenance Man...

Jay had lots of stories about strange happenings in the wee hours of the morning
while working in the hundred-year-old hotel.

His favorite phrase was "Can't explain it."

Just as we were leaving the basement pool area, I saw this painting in the hallway...

I think Mom just wanted to say hello,


I can't explain it.

On Saturday morning, a local Boy Scout Troop planted an Elm tree on the grounds of the hotel property in honor of Earth Day. After the tree was in the ground, The Elms hosted an Easter Egg Hunt for children. The intrepid cousins and second cousins from our family took part...

 All children should be permitted a period 
of fun distractions and fresh air and
running and laughing as their parents prepare to mourn a passing.

It was the perfect way to spend the morning before the memorial.

After that we went back inside to greet the rest of the relatives arriving for the gathering. When the last of the egg hunters had left the hotel grounds, and the last of the cousins had arrived in the lobby, The Patriarch led the way down the path to the wishing well...

...where he led the family in a celebration that was personal, poetic, and absolutely perfect.

When it was finished, everyone took their velvet pouch and went to the wishing well, where we spread some of the ashes, the "days dividing lover and lover" being over.  We then each went our separate ways out onto the hotel grounds, where we chose spots that felt right to us to spread more of the ashes...

Among the lily-of-the-valleys...

At the edge of a walkway...

Beneath the lush trees...

Or in the picturesque little river.

I found a quiet and beautiful archway of old trees along the path leading down from the gazebo. The moment I walked under the grand trees (which had surely been bare in the winter of 1945 but now were leafing green and luscious), they whispered a secret to me, one that I'm sure they'd witnessed many times over the span of their lives. 

Bob and Elly had walked along that path one romantic, starlit night, and Bob had teasingly pulled her into the protected archway and kissed her. Elly laughed her glorious laugh and gave him a loving slap on the cheek in return.

"Oh yes," I heard from the trees. "Leave their ashes here."

I said a final, tearful goodbye to my mother, but rather than feeling empty, great love and happiness rushed in to fill the void.

I looked and saw that, indeed,

"in green underwood and cover, 
Blossom by blossom, the spring begins."

The day proved to be the perfect closure for us all, I think. I know I felt that "Winter's rains and ruins are over."

Today I wish you the light of joy.

The musical selection today was very difficult for me. So many lovely pieces ran through my head. I woke with the music of Edvard Grieg on my mind, and thought I would post his joyous "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen" but now I think I'll save that for another day.

I've decided instead to go with something more contemplative from his Lyric Pieces,  his Op.43 No.6, "To Spring." This version, played by Sviatoslav Richter, is elegant and perfectly paced. Grieg is one of my favorite composers because he can be dramatic and heavy-handed in some composistions, but serene and light in others. This one falls into the latter category. Please enjoy.

Friday, April 22, 2011

How Can I Keep From Singing?

"Move forward, embrace the moment, love & live life."
- Lizzy Frizzfrock

Eleanor Joyce Floyd
1924 - 2011

A Grandmother's Love -- Charlotte and Eleanor
March, 2011

Today, I hope you sing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mission Incredible

"If you surrender completely
to the moments as they pass,
you live more richly those moments."
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Elly and Bob, married February 1, 1946
Honeymoon at The Elms

People are unique. Like leaves on a tree, no two are exactly alike. One size definitely does not fill all. Why, then, should we adhere to rigid customs pertaining to death and dying? 

Funerals and mourning rituals used to be rigidly set and were not to be taken lightly. The rules of etiquette pertaining to  mourning reached ridiculous proportions in the Victorian Era. If you'd like to read more about the rules for veils and calling cards and gloves and jewelry and such things, read this.

I'm happy that the rules have eased since then, for according to Harper's Bazaar, I'd be wearing a long dress of "black Henrietta cloth (whatever that may be) or serge trimmed with crape, complete with a deep veil" worn at the back of my bonnet for the next year.

That sounds hot, uncomfortable, and itchy to me.

I'm pleased that people have begun to buck the system and make their own plans for ceremonies, services, or "going away parties" after their deaths.

My mother was one of those people.

She left explicit directions to her brood telling us the plan. No fussy funeral for this Parkville farmer's daughter. No expensive show, and no grave, either. Her letters to us have turned her memorial into a Mission Incredible.

You know by now that Eleanor married Robert Floyd in 1945 and they spent a short but happy honeymoon at The Elms Hotel in Excelsior Springs.

Now fast forward fifty-two years through six children, about as many homes, several careers, more than a dozen grandchildren, a few great grandchildren, and to the death of her loving husband. Now go even further...about fifteen years further without the love of her life.

Elly wanted us to make sure she spent eternity with Bob.

Elly's request to her children was for us to gather together for a party  at The Elms in our parents' honor. That seemed simple enough. We knew that the hotel still existed, though what an additional 65 years might do to it, none of us knew. A quick search told us that the historic hotel has had several incarnations through its century of history, but that it is now thriving as a resort and spa, capitalizing on its proximity to Kansas City, and to the healing mineral water springs for which it was created. Here's what it looks like today.

And so, on Friday evening, April 22, 2011, thirty members of Elly and Bob's family from several generations will gather for a party at The Elms in their memory.

The second request was for us to find the wishing well on the hotel grounds, which held deep sentimental value for the couple. In fact, the wishing well was so significant that Bob created his own replica of the well in the backyard of their home in Oak Grove as a gift to Elly for their 50th wedding anniversary. Here's what the replica looks like....

We had a Spruce up Grandma's Yard party on Mother's Day just last year, and my husband found a commemorative coin in the wishing well while sprucing it up. It turned out to be a coin from the Las Vegas hotel where Bob and Elly had spent their 25th wedding anniversary.

We were dismayed when a thorough search of The Elms website failed to show any photos of the wishing well, but thanks to facebook (yes, you can 'like' them if you want to), The Elms facebook page was a treasure trove of photographs. Look what I found...

Yep, that's it, covered with snow, but it's still there. Whew!

The final request from Elly was that we mingle their ashes together (yes, Elly had hidden Bob's ashes away to await her return to him) and to deposit them in and around the wishing well.

Wehhhll, now it gets tricky. And a little funny. We may have to call Agent Thuenemann in for this mission on Saturday .  To be honest, we're not really sure what The Management might think about people doing that sort of thing to and around their well, so it may be necessary to make this one a covert operation.  Did anyone bring the maps? We'll need recon to assess the situation, then maybe a diversionary tactic to distract The Management away from the suspicious-looking group of people skulking around  in the garden. Ah, yes, an Easter Egg Hunt should be just the thing.

Team Floyd is on the job, Mom, and we won't let you down. Reunited now, rest in the embrace of your loving husband on your eternal honeymoon.

Today, I wish you success in all your missions.

 Music today is "Gabriel's Oboe" by Enrico Morriconi from the visually and musically stunning movie, "The Mission."Carlo Romano is the oboist, playing with the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Italy . Enjoy.