saint sophia greek orthodox cathedral: haghia sophia

Thursday, July 31: Yesterday, FedEx delivered my papers from the university in China where I’ll be working, so after my class today I head downtown to the Chinese Embassy’s visa office on Wisconsin Avenue.  The process seems pretty straightforward.  I have to return next Wednesday, August 6, to pick up my passport with my visa in it. It looks like I’ll be on my way before too long.

As there’s nothing else to do at this point but wait, and as I’m already downtown, I go to visit Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral.  It’s another on my list of places to photograph in D.C., and it’s not far from the visa office, so I show up on the doorstep of the Cathedral only to find all the doors locked.

Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral

According to the Cathedral’s website, each of the transliterated Greek words which make up the name, Haghia and Sophia, has two meanings: the former means “holy” and “saint” (like, the Latin sancta), while the latter means “wisdom” and is also a female name. Probably through the Germanized Latin rendering of the name of the Cathedral in Constantinople, Sankta Sophia, Saint Sophia came to be accepted in English. However, Greek name means Holy Wisdom, for the cathedral is dedicated to Jesus Christ, who is the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), and not to a saint named Sophia. The word Saint is by custom always spelled out in the name.

On the facade, surmounting an arch which embraces the three main entrance doors, is found in relief the two-headed eagle which expresses the unity of the Byzantine State and the Church. The early Byzantines felt that the Church would baptize the whole spirit and organization of society and the Emperor would provide for the physical welfare of the people as the vicar of God on Earth.

Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Around the side of the Cathedral, I find a doorbell and ring it.  As I’m about to give up and leave, a man appears from around a corner.  I tell him I’m a photographer and have heard the Cathedral is a beautiful place to photograph.  He’s happy to take me in and show me around.

Inside the cathedral
Inside the cathedral

It’s quite dark inside, and he offers to turn on the lights, but he can’t get the light switch to work.  I take some pictures in the dark.  Finally, he comes out from a room where he’s been flipping switches and tells me he can’t get the lights to come on.  They have trouble with them periodically, apparently.  I tell him not to worry; I’ll just come back another day.

The architectural style of the Cathedral is Byzantine, with the typical central dome about 80 feet high symbolizing Jesus Christ as head of the Church.

under the dome
under the dome
Stained glass windows
Stained glass windows
ceiling
ceiling
iron doors
iron doors

This parish was established in 1904 by newly arrived Greek immigrants. After worshiping in rented or makeshift quarters, the community built its own church at 8th and L Streets, N.W.  It was completed and dedicated in 1924, remaining there until moving to this site, which was purchased in 1943. Ground breaking and foundation stone laying occurred on September 25, 1951.

stained glass
stained glass

The building, designed by architect Archie Protopapas of New York City was ready for occupancy on February 19, 1955. The first service was celebrated on February 20, 1955. The cornerstone was laid by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with His Eminence Michael, Archbishop of North and South America, officiating on September 30. 1956. Saint Sophia was elevated to the status of a cathedral on September 24, 1962.

Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral
the Virgin
the Virgin
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arched ceiling

I hope I’ll be able to get back to take better pictures another time, but I don’t know if I’ll make it before I leave.  There’s always next year!

The dome of Saint Sophia
The dome of Saint Sophia

 

calvert cliffs state park, where “my name is stranger”

Tuesday, July 29:  After leaving Solomons, I drive north a short distance and enter Calvert Cliffs State Park.  I pay a $5 fee and ask the ranger if the path to the cliffs is safe for a woman hiking alone.  I’ve heard it’s a 1.8 mile hike each way to get to the beach and cliffs, partly through forest and partly through freshwater and tidal marshland.  He assures me the park is well used and I should be perfectly safe.

the path through the forest
the path through the forest

I actually do feel a little nervous while in the forest, as I find myself alone for some long stretches.  I’m used to traveling alone, but when hiking in wilderness areas, I usually have someone with me.

entering the wetlands
entering the wetlands

Once I emerge from the forest to the more open marshland, I feel safer.  I don’t know why that is, as there are still long stretches where I’m alone.  I guess I feel safer because I can see for a long distance and could spot anyone who came after me!

pond
pond

I come across a boardwalk that is quite dilapidated.  A tree has fallen on part of it, but it seems to be caving in elsewhere too.  The boardwalk is chained off to the public.

ruined boardwalk
ruined boardwalk
ruined boardwalk
ruined boardwalk

I don’t know why I’m so fascinated with man-made things that are ruined and overrun by nature.  Maybe I find these ruins especially poignant in light of the recent deaths of my mother-in-law and my dog.  It brings to mind the phrase: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” which comes from the Anglican burial service, referring to total finality.  That phrase is based on scriptural texts such as “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return” in Genesis 3:19 and “I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.” (Ezekiel 28:18)

Nature encroaches
Nature encroaches

Or maybe I just find them interesting subjects for photographs.

the boardwalk is closed
the boardwalk is closed
the decrepit boardwalk
the decrepit boardwalk
leaving the boardwalk behind
leaving the boardwalk behind

It’s strange. I’m not really afraid of death, but I am afraid of the manner of death.   I know death is the nature of things, but I can’t help but wonder what becomes of us, if anything, after death.  I’m afraid I’m not a very religious person, though I go through periods where I’m a spiritual person.

Man-made objects that fall into disrepair and are overrun by nature remind me that all of us will leave this earth, and our existence as we know it, at some point.

wetlands
wetlands
boardwalk through wetlands
boardwalk through wetlands
another pond
another pond
the road less traveled
the road less traveled
wetlands
wetlands
wetlands
wetlands

By the time I get to the end of the trail and the beach, I’m exhausted.  That’s quite a hike!

Calvert Cliffs State Park is known for its cliffs, of course, but the main draw is its fossils.   People trek here to search for fossils on the quarter-mile-long sandy beach between the cliffs found at the end of the trail.

Calvert Cliffs
Calvert Cliffs

The massive cliffs for which Calvert Cliffs State Park was named dominate the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay for roughly 24 miles in Calvert County.  They were formed over 10 to 20 million years ago when all of Southern Maryland was covered by a warm, shallow sea. When the sea receded, the cliffs were exposed and began eroding. Today these cliffs reveal the remains of prehistoric species Including sharks, whales, rays, and seabirds that were the size of small airplanes.

Over 600 species of fossils from the Miocene era (10 to 20 million years ago) have been identified in the Calvert Cliffs. Chesapectens, Ecphora, Miocene era oyster shells, and sharks teeth are common finds. Sieves and shovels can be used to sift the sand for fossils.

the tiny beach with the cliffs in the distance
the tiny beach with the cliffs in the distance

Off the beach, there is a huge pier/factory of some sort.  It looks abandoned.  Maybe it’s still operational, but I don’t see any activity from the beach.

some kind of abandoned pier
some kind of abandoned pier

The area beneath the cliffs is closed due to dangerous land slides and the potential for injury. It is illegal to collect fossils beneath the cliffs.

Calvert Cliffs
Calvert Cliffs

The beach area is very small and I have to say the cliffs are a little disappointing.  Maybe I could see them better if I were in a boat, but as I’m on foot, I can only see tips of them. The White Cliffs of Dover they’re not.

I don’t bother looking for fossils, as I came primarily to see the cliffs.  I head back down the long trail back to the parking lot, passing the same scenes I passed on the way in.

pond
pond
happy leaves
happy leaves

At one point, I pass a family with several kids on bicycles.  As I walk by, one of the boys yells out to me, “My dad says your name is Stranger!”  I am so surprised by this that I laugh out loud.  “Oh, really?” I say, laughing again.  I continue walking past a little girl.  She says,  “What did he say your name is?”  I say, “He said my name is Stranger.”  She says, “What’s your name, really?”  I laugh again, and tell her, “I’m Cathy.”

I’m tickled by the whole exchange.  If I hadn’t been caught off guard, I might have had a more clever response like, “If I’m stranger, then you shouldn’t be talking to me! Didn’t your dad tell you not to talk to strangers?”  Or, “I could say that from my point of view, your name is Stranger!”

back to the ruined boardwalk
back to the ruined boardwalk
And here it is again
And here it is again

I continue back through the marshland, past the ruins, and through the forest.  I’m exhausted after the whole expedition!  And though I don’t feel the cliffs are worth all that effort, I do enjoy the wetlands, and especially my ruined boardwalk.  And I’m tickled to know my name is Stranger!

 

a day trip to solomons, maryland ~ a taste of real summer :-)

Tuesday, July 29:  The heat and humidity certainly indicate that summer is here in northern Virginia, but as we don’t live near the water, it doesn’t seem like summer.  I grew up in southern Virginia, near Wormley Creek off the York River and not too far from Virginia Beach.  We used to spend our summer days either crabbing from a dock, swimming in the creek, river or ocean, motor-boating, sailing, water-skiing, or lying on the beach slathered in coconut oil.  Everything revolved around the water.  Here in northern Virginia, summers are simply an annoyance.  I hate the heat and humidity when there are no sea breezes and no water activities nearby.

I’ve been wanting to visit Solomons and Calvert Cliffs in southern Maryland, less than a 2 hour drive from my house, but I’ve not been able to find the time to go for an overnight.  I’ve also been hesitant to fight the traffic headed to the beach every weekend.  So today, a Tuesday in the middle of my work week (I teach Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings), I decide on a whim to hop in the car and go to Solomons for the day.

Solomons was actually an island until about 1868, according to Moon Handbooks: Maryland & Delaware.  Isaac Solomon, who developed oyster canning in Baltimore, purchased “Sandy Island” and built a processing plant at the northern end.   The channel that separated the mainland from the island was gradually filled in with oyster shells until only a ditch remained.

I get a late start since I decided to take this trip at the last minute.  By the time I arrive, I’m just in time for lunch at Solomons Pier.

Solomon's Pier
Solomons Pier
Blackened shrimp tacos for lunch
Blackened shrimp tacos for lunch

My lunch is wonderfully pleasant.  The weather is superb today, in the high 70s.  A cool breeze blows off the Patuxent River.  I haven’t had such a pleasant moment all summer.  I want to sit here all day and bask in the sun and the breeze and the sight of the sun reflecting off the water.  But alas, there are sights to be seen, so off I go for a walk along Patuxent Avenue.

I come across this charming little Episcopal church, St. Peter’s.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
St. Peter's Episcopal Church
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
St. Peter's Episcopal Church
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
St. Peter's Episcopal Church
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church

Beside the church are some pretty irises.

flowers beside St. Peter's
flowers beside St. Peter’s

I walk south of the pier and see the view of Solomons Pier and the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge, which crosses the Patuxent River to St. Mary’s City.

Solomon's Pier
Solomons Pier
Solomon's Pier and the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge
Solomons Pier and the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge

Along the south shore, piers jut into the water and boats bob in the waves.

Piers south of Solomon's Pier on the Patuxent River
Piers south of Solomons Pier on the Patuxent River
Sailboat on the Patuxent River
Sailboat on the Patuxent River

I find this cute little shop, with these two polished old-fashioned bicycles out front.

Solomon's Gallery
Solomons Gallery

As I walk further south into a quaint neighborhood of weathered houses, I see more piers and boats.

weathered house
weathered house
piers
piers
pier with kayaks
pier with kayaks
flowers and pier
flowers and pier
boathouse, pier and the bridge in the distance
boathouse, pier and the bridge in the distance
a duck poking around in the grass
a duck poking around in the grass

I veer left down Charles Street where I find a marina full of boats but not a human in sight. I find these gauzy curtains dancing in the strong breeze.  They seem ghostlike in this deserted place.

the wind whips around these gauzy curtains at the abandoned marina
the wind whips these gauzy curtains about at the deserted marina

There are plenty of boats waiting patiently for their owners.

boats at the marina
boats at the marina
piers
piers
a yellow catamaran
a yellow catamaran
catamaran, another angle
catamaran, another angle
a cozy little boat, flip flops and all
a cozy little boat, flip flops and all

As I walk among the boats at this marina, not a soul is in sight.  The wind is gusting and the boats seem to be conversing in a language of their own, groaning, clanking, whining.  They seem a little lonely today.

electric chargers look like rigid little men, waiting to be put to use
electric chargers look like rigid little men, waiting to be put to use
Hello, Miss Betty
Hello, Miss Betty
pretty sailboats all in a row
pretty sailboats all in a row
a boat with a garden
a boat with a garden
Life buoy, Pump Out Station and ICE
Life buoy, Pump Out Station and ICE
Across Back Creek: Solomon's Yachting Center & Calvert Marina
Across Back Creek: Solomons Yachting Center & Calvert Marina
Fill 'er up!
Fill ‘er up!

Leaving the marina, I pass by this cozy Victorian bed and breakfast, Solomons Victorian Inn.

Solomon's Bed & Breakfast
Solomons Victorian Inn

Walking back down Charles Street, I come across this funky Tiki Bar.  There’s only one client in the open air bar in this early part of the afternoon.

Tiki Bar
Tiki Bar
Hats on Right, Pants Up Tight ~ No Exceptions
Hats on Right, Pants Up Tight ~ No Exceptions ~

I walk around the back where colorful Adirondack chairs, tables and giant heads are scattered about in the sand.

Welcome to the Tiki Bar
Welcome to the Tiki Bar
Which way should I go?
Which way should I go?

Finally, I head back to my car, and I take a parting shot of this old corrugated iron building with kayaks neatly stacked behind little boats filled with grass.

Not sure what this is...
Industrial still life

It’s such a pleasant time at Solomons on this breezy day.  Luckily I discover that it really doesn’t require an overnight stay, as there’s really not much to do unless you have a boat.

I have a mind to hike to Calvert Cliffs next, so I head north about 5 miles and enter Calvert Cliffs State Park, where I’m told it’s a 1.8 mile hike each way to get to the cliffs. I need my exercise after those blackened shrimp tacos, so off I go.

goodbye to bailey

Saturday, July 26:  Last night, a day after my mother-in-law’s memorial service, Mike and I were watching the French movie, Delicacy, when suddenly we heard Bailey, our 12 1/2 year-old Border Collie, get sick.  Mike said Bailey had been more lethargic than normal on his evening walk, but at his age, 88 in human years, that was not so abnormal.

Bailey in a blizzard in 2010
Bailey in a blizzard in 2010

Later in the night, Adam and his friends were hanging out in the basement.  Adam told us in the morning that Bailey had thrown up about four times.  Each time, Adam gave him water, which Bailey drank right up.  Then he’d throw up again.

Bailey in our kitchen
Bailey in our kitchen

On Saturday morning, we found Bailey lying in the basement sewing room, far removed from all the activity, his heart beating rapidly and his chest heaving as he tried to breathe.  He looked scared and wouldn’t move.  Alex picked him up and carried him to the van, and Mike and the boys took him immediately to the vet.  The only thing we could think of was that he had eaten something out of the compost pile yesterday that might have made him sick.  Mike and the boys stayed with him a while, but the vet recommended they go home as he said it would take some time for a diagnosis.  They left him with the vet, who took x-rays and found some kind of mass in his chest.  Blood work showed his blood wasn’t clotting.  Before any final determination could be made, the vet phoned to say Bailey was declining, and he recommended putting him down.  We all jumped in the van as quickly as possible, but before we got out of the neighborhood, the vet called.  Bailey had died.

Adam and Bailey ~ brotherly love
Adam and Bailey ~ brotherly love
Alex and Bailey at Great Falls in winter 2013
Alex and Bailey at Great Falls in winter 2013

We were so sad not to have been by his side, as he was a dear member of our family.  All we could hope was that he wasn’t too scared all by himself in his last moments.

Mike and Bailey in front of his mother's house
Mike and Bailey in front of his mother’s house

Sometimes it seems bad things happen in groups.  I say they happen in threes, Mike says in twos.  He remembered how his father died of a sudden heart attack in 1999, a couple of days after Mike fell off a ladder and broke his arm. This time, my mother-in-law, Shirley, was admitted to the hospital on June 30 with a bad cough and pneumonia and released to go home under hospice care two days after her 88th birthday on July 1.  She died on Thursday, July 17.  We had her memorial service on Thursday, July 24.  And then Bailey died two days later at the human age of 88 (12 1/2 in dog years).

Somehow, I can’t help but think there is a connection between Shirley’s death and Bailey’s.  Shirley loved Bailey as if he were her own dog.  When she came home from the hospital, she mysteriously had a soft golden teddy bear which we’d never seen before.  She said someone from her Garden Club had given it to her.  She called it Bailey and kept it by her side in her last weeks.  In those last weeks, she also asked Mike several times to bring the real Bailey by to see her, which he did.  She was always happy to see him.

Shirley and Bailey
Shirley and Bailey

Did Bailey sense that Shirley needed a companion in her death?  Was it just coincidence?  They were both 88.  Shirley had that bear named Bailey that never left her side.  Maybe 88 is just a good age to go.

Bailey at the Virginia Arboretum
Bailey at the Virginia Arboretum

The vet told us we could take Bailey home to bury him in our yard.  We have a corner garden, and Adam wanted to bury him there and plant a fig tree over him.  Bailey ruled that corner of our yard.  It was probably annoying to many people, but whenever anyone walked by our yard, Bailey ran up and down the property line barking at them.  Most people knew he was harmless, but I think he might have made some people a little nervous.

Mike and the boys dug a 5-foot-deep hole in the garden, which took them several hours in the hot sun.  It was a grueling effort, and I kept them supplied with ice water.  We put Bailey’s body in the hole with Shirley’s teddy bear, Bailey’s favorite squeaky football, and some of the flowers from Shirley’s funeral.

Our corner garden where Bailey will watch over our yard forever more
Our corner garden where Bailey will watch over our yard forever more

Later in the evening, Mike’s sister Barbara came over, we all went out to dinner at East West Vietnamese restaurant and made a toast to Bailey.  Then we came home and had a little ceremony over Bailey’s grave and fig tree, where we tossed all the flowers from Shirley’s funeral over his grave.  We felt overwhelmed with sadness.

The fig tree over Bailey's grave
The fig tree over Bailey’s grave

As a Border Collie, Bailey was a heart a sheep-herder and an alpha male. He liked to round up smaller dogs and he liked to be in charge.  He liked to rule his territory.  But he was a scaredy-dog at heart.  If another dog challenged him, he’d go cowering into a corner.

Bailey's grave in our front garden
Bailey’s grave in our front garden

Tools made him bonkers.  He went ballistic whenever we used the vacuum cleaner.  He would attack a broom with his teeth bared.  Whenever we brought out the blender or a corkscrew, or our onion chopper, he could hear from another room that we were going to use them, and he’d come in barking, upset that anyone would dare use tools such as these in his presence.  We finally trained him to sit while we used those tools, but he’d whine the whole time.

We use a tool when we put a rubber cork into open wine bottles;  that tool suctions the air out of the bottle and seals it.  No matter how quietly I tried to do that task, I’d hear the pitter-patter of Bailey’s toenails on the wood floors as he skittered into the kitchen to bark or whine.

It seems awfully quiet around here now.

He loved to hang out with the boys, with me, or with Mike, as we sat reading or working or doing an outdoor task.  When Mike took him on his evening walks, he’d sniff the pee-mail left by every dog in the neighborhood, and he’d send secret messages back. He obviously had an active social life.

Bailey and his ball
Bailey and his ball

We’ll miss his quirky personality and his presence in our family. But I hope he’s now keeping Shirley company in a happier place.

the george washington masonic national memorial

Friday, July 25:  Today, the day after my mother-in-law’s memorial service, I have to drive Sarah to the Greyhound bus station so she can get back to work in Richmond this evening.  Since the bus station is in Springfield, I hop over to Alexandria to visit the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.  I’ve seen this building towering over Old Town Alexandria, but I never knew what it was until I heard it was a nice place to take photos.

entrance to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial
entrance to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is a memorial and museum, an active Masonic temple, a research library, a cultural space, a community and performing arts center, and an important regional landmark, according to a brochure handed out by the Memorial.  It’s a nine-story neoclassical structure erected and maintained by the Freemasons of the United States to express their high esteem for George Washington and to preserve the history and heritage of American Freemasonry.

The Memorial Hall is symbolic of Greek and Roman temple entrances. The Hall features eight green granite columns 40 feet high and more than four feet wide.  A marble floor, painted elaborate ceiling and two murals surround the room.

The painted ceiling of the Memorial Hall
The painted ceiling of the Memorial Hall

The mural on the north wall shows General Washington and his officers attending a St. John’s Day Observance at Christ Church in Philadelphia on December 28, 1778.

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Mural of George Washington and his officers attending a St. John’s Day Observance at Christ Church in Philadelphia

The mural on the south wall depicts President Washington in full Masonic regalia laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol on September 18, 1793.

Mural of George Washington and his officers attending a St. John's Day Observance at Christ Church in Philadelphia
Mural of President Washington in full Mason regalia laying the cornerstone of the United States Capitol

In a rounded niche at the end of the hall is a huge statue of George Washington wearing his Masonic apron and jewel.

George Washington
George Washington

Next to Memorial Hall is the Replica Lodge Room of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22.

The Replica Lodge Room of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22
The Replica Lodge Room of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22

In the lodge room are artifacts, paintings, and a portrait display of past Masters of the Lodge.  It also includes the Chamber clock of George Washington, stopped at 10:30 p.m., the hour Washington died on December 14, 1799.

Chamber clock of George Washingon stopped at the time of his death
Chamber clock of George Washington stopped at the time of his death

On the third level of the Tower is The Family of Freemason Exhibit, featuring organizations such as the Grottoes of North America, The Order of the Eastern Star and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon.

On the fourth level of the tower is The George Washington Museum. The space draws on the old reading room of the Boston Athenaeum and portrays Washington’s life.  Alcoves feature Washington as: Virginia Planter, Model Citizen,Military Officer, the Nation’s First President, Mourned Hero, and American Icon.

The George Washington Museum
The George Washington Museum
Staircase in the George Washington Museum
Staircase in the George Washington Museum
The George Washington Museum
The George Washington Museum
The George Washington Museum
The George Washington Museum
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Death notice for George Washington

On the observation deck of the Tower, we can see a view of Old Town Alexandria all the way to the Potomac River.  We can also see the great Washington icons: the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol, the Naval Observatory and Washington National Cathedral.

view of Old Town Alexandria to the Potomac River
view of Old Town Alexandria to the Potomac River
views of Washington and the Washington Monument
views of Washington and the Washington Monument
Views across the Potomac River
Views across the Potomac River
Views of Alexandria, Virginia
Views of Alexandria, Virginia
Alexandria, Virginia
Alexandria, Virginia
Alexandria, Virginia
Alexandria, Virginia
The observation deck
The observation deck

I can’t remember which level this was, and what it symbolizes:

Looks like a Crusader
Looks like a Crusader
Stained glass of Christ on the cross
Stained glass of Christ ascending into heaven

Below Memorial Hall is the Grand Masonic Hall.  The prominent features of this room are the eight Doric New Hampshire granite columns (4 1/2 feet wide by 18 feet high)  which support the entire Memorial Tower.  The room is enclosed by six etched glass panels featuring the Memorial Crest and the Square and Compasses.

The Grand Masonic Hall
The Grand Masonic Hall

In the east alcove is a bust of Washington backed by a mural of Mt. Vernon.

Bust of Washington with Mount Vernon surrounding
Bust of Washington with Mount Vernon surrounding

So, what are the Freemasons?  Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that traces its origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons, which from the end of the fourteenth century regulated the qualifications of masons and their interaction with authorities and clients.

View from the front steps of the Memorial
View from the front steps of the Memorial

According to Freemasonry: A Fraternity UnitedFreemasonry exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around three million (including approx. 480,000 in Great Britain and under two million in the United States). At its heart, Freemasonry is a self-improvement organization. Through three initiation rituals, lectures and other ceremonies, combined with social and charitable activities, Freemasons seek to improve themselves as they improve the communities in which they live. To join, one must believe in a Supreme Being, be upright, moral and honest in character, and be recommended by a Mason.

Freemasonry employs the tools and instruments of stonemasonry to teach a system of morality, friendship and brotherly love, hence, the standard emblem of Freemasonry is the square and compasses.  

It sort of brings to mind a top-secret boy scout organization for men.

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Our guide at the tour today asks us if we know how many U.S. Presidents were Freemasons.  She tells us that 20 were, beginning with George Washington.  However, according to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, only “fourteen U.S. presidents have been Freemasons, meaning that there is conclusive evidence that these men received the Master Mason degree: George Washington; James Monroe; Andrew Jackson; James Polk; James Buchanan; Andrew Johnson; James Garfield; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; William Taft; Warren Harding; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Harry S. Truman; and Gerald Ford.”

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

According to some sources, there is much opposition to Freemasonry because of its secretiveness, its cult-like nature, and some of its practices.  There are many groups that oppose Freemasonry, including religious groups, political groups and conspiracy theorists.

To learn more about Freemasonry or the Memorial, you can check out the following links:

Wikipedia: Freemasonry

Freemasonry: A Fraternity United

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial: A Brief History of the Memorial

 

an afternoon with light-crazed sunflowers

“Bring me the sunflower crazed with the love of light.” ~ Eugenio Montale

Saturday, July 19:  Today, two days after my mother-in-law passed away, I take a break from the funeral preparations to go to the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area off River Road in Montgomery County, Maryland.  At this point, our family is waiting for her visitation and memorial service on Wednesday and Thursday, July 23 & 24, and there isn’t much to do but pass the time.  I decide I’ll create a tribute to her life filled with flowers, which she loved dearly.  I’ve mentioned before that she had a lovely garden, and I think she would have liked to wander through these fields of sun-drenched flowers.

It’s late in the afternoon when we arrive, and I’m surprised to find that the sunflowers are all facing away from the sun.  That seems counter-intuitive to me.  It also makes taking photos challenging, as we have to face into the sun.  I end up taking a lot of photos of the backs of the flowers.  Many of the sunflowers are past their prime, but some of them are perfect.

I hope you’ll enjoy the sunflowers on this lazy summer day.

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There are a lot of people out posing with the sunflowers today.

People posing with the sunflowers
People posing with the sunflowers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have a long and sad week coming up, and hopefully my memory and photos of these sunflowers will bring us some happy moments in the days ahead. 🙂

 

fare thee well, dearest shirley

Thursday, July 17:  This evening, my mother-in-law, Shirley Dutchak, passed away.  Her 88th birthday was on July 1, so she was lucky that she was able to see another year through. She told me, while in the hospital on her birthday, that she knew this might be the end of her life.  She smiled and said, “It’s been a good life, Cathy.”

Alex and Shirley in healthier days at the Melting Pot, December 2008
Alex and Shirley in healthier days at the Melting Pot, December 2008

Here is her obituary from the Washington Post: Shirley Iris Dutchak.

Shirley in her backyard with Bailey in May 2011
Shirley in her backyard with Bailey in May 2011

I’ve known Shirley since Mike and I started dating in 1987.  We married in November 1988, and from the outset, Shirley was an involved and loving grandmother to my children.  At the time we married, my 4-year-old daughter Sarah, from my earlier marriage, became her ready-made first granddaughter.  Alex was born in 1991, and Shirley and Gene, Mike’s father, volunteered to watch Alex for me at least one day a week so I could have some time to myself. They continued taking the children one day a week after Adam was born in December 1992.  I’ve always had a high need for alone time, so this offer to watch the children was a blessing.

Adam, me, Shirley and Alex, with Bailey in front ~ May 2011
Adam, me, Shirley and Alex, with Bailey in front ~ May 2011

Shirley loved to travel and she and Gene often went on trips with Elderhostel, a not-for-profit organization that provides lifelong learning opportunities for adults.  Gene was an avid photographer, so that required some patience on her part.  Because they lived in Vienna, less than a 20-minute drive from our house in Oakton, we always celebrated holidays with them.  When Gene died of a heart attack in 1999, Mike’s sister Barbara moved in with her mom to keep her company.  We continued to share holidays with Shirley and Barb.  She will be missed as she was such a presence in my life for so long.

Her potted plants, July 2014
Shirley’s potted plants, July 2014
Shirley's garden this sad July
Shirley’s garden this sad July
Shirley's garden
Shirley’s garden
Shirley's garden
Shirley’s garden

On Monday, June 30, Shirley was admitted to the hospital with a bad cough, and at a frail 83 pounds, she “celebrated” her birthday in the hospital.  She had been losing weight over a period of several years and was on oxygen, which she had to carry with her everywhere.  She suffered from COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. “Progressive” means the disease gets worse over time, according to the National Institutes of Health.  COPD can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.

July 2014 in Shirley's garden
July 2014 in Shirley’s garden

On Thursday, July 3, she was released to go home under hospice care, with around-the-clock assistance.  The doctors told her there was nothing else they could do for her.

Shirley's garden, July 2014
Shirley’s garden, July 2014

Up until Wednesday, July 16, she was still sitting up in the bed that hospice had placed in her family room. From her bed, she had a view of her beloved backyard garden.  Because of medication she was on, her eyes were ultra-sensitive to light.  As she sat in bed reading the newspaper or the cards people sent her, she wore a dark pair of stylish sunglasses.  I’ll always remember her propped up on a plethora of pillows on that convoluted bed, her stuffed teddy bear (which she named after our dog Bailey) by her side, and those dark glasses on, her hair all askew.

A sea of black-eyed Susans
A sea of black-eyed Susans

She desperately wanted to go to the beauty parlor on that Wednesday, when she was last awake and responsive.  She called to make an appointment and asked the nurse assistant, Rosamund, to take her.  We could all see she was too frail and weak to make an outing to the beauty parlor, but she kept insisting.  When we told her it would be too much for her to handle, she waited until Rosamund was out of the room and she asked me, “Do you think Alex or Adam could take me?”  I said, “No, Shirley.  I can’t have them be responsible if something happens to you.”  I couldn’t imagine the devastation they would feel to have her collapse while in their care.

Shirley's front garden
Shirley’s front garden

On that Wednesday, she could barely talk because of the fluid in her lungs.  She was also breathing laboriously and coughing a lot.  At one point, after not having gotten out of bed for several days, she insisted on getting out of bed with her walker to check the oxygen machine.  She was so frail and weak, it must have taken every ounce of energy she had to get up. She made it to the living room and sat in front of the oxygen machine, pushing the buttons, turning it on and off, pushing the reset button.  It turned out she broke the machine.  Luckily we had a back-up.  What she couldn’t accept was that it wasn’t the machine that was failing, it was her lungs.  It was so sad for all of us to watch her, in a panic, trying to gain control over her breathing.

Shirley's garden in May 2011
Shirley’s garden in May 2011

In her last two weeks at home, we saw her fluctuate between confusion and lucidity.  She became obsessed with buttons on remote controls.  While Alex and I took a short break of several days to drive to New England, she kept pressing the buttons on the remote: “I have to push these two buttons at the same time to keep Alex and Cathy safe,” she told Mike numerous times.  One time she told Mike she had to get ready to get on the helicopter with the four blonde boys.  Yet.  In the midst of all that confusion, the hospice nurse gave her a test for lucidity and memory, which she passed with flying colors.  She knew the answer to every single question.

May 2011
May 2011

On Wednesday evening, she went to sleep and became non-responsive.  Her breathing was labored and her skin was cooling and turning gray.  It was difficult to watch.  But Rosamund, who takes care of dying people all the time, said that Shirley could hear everything.  She said she’d hear whatever we said.  We all spent a lot of time with her on Thursday.   Each of us took turns saying what we wanted to say to her.  I held her hand and thanked her for being such a wonderful mother-in-law and grandmother to my children. I told her I hoped she would forgive me for the pain I had caused Mike.  I said I hoped she could understand that I had a desperate urge to forge a life for myself outside of marriage and motherhood.  I don’t know why I believed I couldn’t have the life I wanted within marriage, but at the time Mike and I separated in 2007, I felt there was no other way to do it.  It was only when I went to Oman and met Sandy and Malcolm, a British couple who has lived apart for many years of their marriage, that I realized I could have my marriage and family, AND the life I wanted.  That’s how we will try to work it out going forward.  I told her all of that and asked for her forgiveness.  I believe if she could have responded, she would have forgiven me.  She was not the type to hold grudges.

Shirley's garden in May 2011
Shirley’s garden in May 2011

Mike, Alex and I left the house around 8:00 on Thursday evening.  Adam had been by earlier in the day.  Barbara was holding Shirley’s hand and talking to her for about 40 minutes when she passed away around 9:30.  I’m glad Barbara was with her at the end.

The photos in this post are from Shirley’s garden.  It’s not at its prettiest now, as it’s been slightly neglected during her decline.  Some of the pictures were taken several years ago.  She loved her gardens, and she loved watching the birds congregate at the many bird feeders she has hanging throughout her yard.  She always tried to identify the birds from bird books.

One of many bird houses in Shirley's yard
One of many bird houses in Shirley’s yard

The flowers and the birds, her garden club and Holy Comforter church community, her grandchildren, her children and her daughter-in-law will all miss her very much.

Shirley and Alex in her living room, Christmas 2013
Shirley and Alex in her living room, Christmas 2013

Bon voyage and rest in peace, dear Shirley.