Friday, February 24, 2017

Trappist Telescopes and Other Inspirations

When I heard about the seven planets discovered by the telescope named Trappist, I thought, what a name for a telescope!  I've spent days thinking about what a monastic order has in common with a telescope and space exploration.

Not one piece of news coverage talked about the name of the telescope, so this morning, I stopped resisting my impulse to look it up.  I had no idea the name was an acronym.  The letters stand for:  Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope.

The Wikipedia article says that it was named in homage of the religious order known for brewing beer.  Hmm.  When I think of Trappists, I don't think of beer.  I think of vows of silence and stubbornly enduring fierce landscapes--which makes sense for a telescope.

Yesterday's poem had monastic elements, but not outer space elements:  it compared the life of a mother with a baby and a toddler to the lives lived by monks.  I started thinking about it because of a Facebook friend's post about getting up to feed the baby periodically throughout the night and how the monks get praise for this practice, but not nursing moms.

This morning, I wrote another poem, which had its beginnings last week, before the news of the Trappist telescope and the 7 planets.  The beginning of the poem came to me in an image of an older woman unpacking a box of things from her youth.  What does she find there?  A red cape.

When I sat down this morning, I wasn't sure what else she would find.  She finds a drop spindle and a pot in which she used to prepare porridge.  In that pot, she plants the apple seeds that she finds in the box.  She wears the glass slippers to church, but remembers why she put them in the box. 

This line might be my favorite from this morning's writing:  She feels her feet exhale when she sets them free.

Or maybe this line, from my short story that's written in the voice of an HR director:  "Any time I overhear the tiresome argument about whether or not an Ed.D. is the equivalent of a Ph.D., I think of the other meanings of the word 'terminal.'”

And thus concludes this morning's writing session:  off to school for an early morning meeting to discuss student success and retention and then to continue to audit student files.  But the most important work of the day has already been done.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Good Day's Writing

I finally wrote a poem this morning, a writing session that came easily.  Most of my recent poem writing sessions have started with an interesting idea or image and then just fizzled.

In January, that was O.K, because I was also writing a short story that went in interesting directions.  It was unexpected, and the writing made me happy.

February has felt like a more strangled writing time, with longer hours at work.  This week, as I've done fewer spin classes, I have had more success.   Something to consider for the future?

And then, on The Writer's Almanac, I read about the composer Handel (today is his birthday):  "During Lent of 1735 alone, he produced 14 concerts, most of them oratorios. He also suffered anxiety and depression, and a stroke had impaired the movement of his right hand, but he didn’t stop composing, even after he lost sight in his right eye, and then the left. He composed Messiah in 24 days."

Yes, now I'm feeling inadequate again.  But let me remember the wise words of Beth in this blog post:  "Maybe we don't know what to write or say or paint yet, in this new climate where we find ourselves. That's OK. Practice. Just get back at it. I see it like Zen calligraphy or archery: when we draw, or write a poem every day, or practice our instrument, we are preparing ourselves and honing our technique, so that when the moment comes to express ourselves, we will be ready with words or images that are true and sharp. But even more than that, we're talking about being the people we're meant to be, in spite of what is going on. Each of us needs to do whatever is necessary to be strong enough inside to get through this without losing ourselves, our vision, or our love of humanity and what is most noble about it. We have to be able to say, with our actual actions and the examples of our lives, that it is impossible to suppress or destroy the best parts of the human spirit."

Be who you are--be who you are meant to be.  Wise words.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

February Fragments: Past and Present

I haven't slept as much as I planned--my spouse has been sick off and on with a stomach bug, and last night was tough.

So let me capture some February themed fragments of thoughts:

--I won't be going to spin class this morning.  I want to be here, in case my spouse runs into trouble.

--I've been wondering if I should give up on spin class altogether.  It seems to take a lot of time, what with the drive over.  My little gym used to be on my way to and from work, but no longer.  If I didn't go there, would I enjoy the delights of my neighborhood and my pool more often?

--I feel like I've caught a case of February.  I'll write more about this idea in a later post, but it's basically my more imaginative way of saying "I feel blah."  February used to be cold and dreary, and it was tough to keep going.

--I wonder if this metaphor still holds true.  For this winter, on this side of the U.S., perhaps not.  My Facebook feed is full of people worried about the fact that their flowers are sprouting and their trees are in bud/bloom.  They worry about a freeze.  But maybe there will be no freeze.  Maybe we've had one of those rare winters when the cold weather comes early and then leaves.

--When I trained for a triathlon, back in 1990, it was just such a winter.  January and February were such mild months that it was easy to log long miles on the bike and on foot.  And I was having a tough time in grad school, with a graduate director who seemed out to get me.  It was good to have that release, which in turn gave me determination, as I was able to accomplish new personal bests in my athletic training.

--On this day in 1980, the U.S. Hockey team beat the Soviets.  The U.S. Hockey team was truly an amateur team, while the team from the Soviet Union had age, skill, and experience on their side.  I watched the game, even though as a southern girl, I didn't know much about the game.  I found it inspiring then, and I still do.  I like this reminder that underdogs can win, that amateurs can win, that even though it all looks stacked against you, a win can come at the last minute, or even the last second.

--Do I believe in miracles?  Oh yes I do, miracles of all sorts.

--I'm ready for more of them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dueling Banjos, Dueling Emotional States

Yesterday, while much of the U.S. contemplated Presidents with a day off, I went to work.  Our students, most of them, had the day off (our EMS and Vet Tech students have to accumulate a set amount of hours in some classes, so they had to report to work).  I didn't resent having to work as much as some might think:  I've often worked in schools where we celebrated holidays on a different schedule or not at all.

I interviewed a candidate for our TABE test proctor/tutor position that we need to staff.  I looked at faculty files and did some other tasks for our upcoming site visit.  I plugged along on a variety of projects.

We got notice that parts of our IT system would go down, but I didn't think much about it--it was the Ft. Lauderdale campus that would be affected, after all.  But eventually, we couldn't access parts of our system.  Unlike a few weeks ago, we lost internet access--but unlike a few weeks ago, I could access Word files.  I couldn't print, but I could see the files.

Luckily, I had printed some site visit materials that needed to go into binders--and so, I spent a few hours, making labels for binders, sticking them on the binders, punching holes into the reports, and putting them in the binders.  I was surprised by how much time it takes--which is why I haven't done it before.

I was also surprised by how satisfying it was.  At the end of the task, I had a pile of binders, an obvious sign of work accomplished.

After work, I had a lovely time of wine and cheese with friends, while my spouse taught their daughter to play the ukulele.  On the way home, he was able to pick out  "Dueling Banjos" on the ukulele--it sounds much less threatening on the ukulele than it did in Deliverance.  And then, when we got home, he switched to the mandolin, with every 5th note or so just a bit off--intriguing!  His version was plaintive and yearning and not like the movie at all.

Maybe it was because there was no second instrument with which to duel--how would it sound with ukulele and mandolin instead of banjo and guitar?

I had started the day feeling a bit pinched and anxious about money.  It was good to finish the day in a different emotional state.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Chicken Mole Poblano

A few weeks ago, I went shopping to get ready for the arrival of my college roommate.  I thought we'd make beef stroganoff, in case she didn't like my more daring recipe:  chicken mole poblano.

I first found this recipe in a Cook's Illustrated magazine; it was simplified, but I have simplified it further, as I've experimented.  I couldn't find the dried ancho chiles, so I used fresh poblano peppers.  I have made this recipe on the stovetop and also in the oven.  It's very flexible; you could leave out the raisins, for example.  The recipe would also work with green peppers, although it would have a different flavor--likewise, you might not be able to find canned chipotle peppers, so just add some chile powder.

Grind the following in a food processor in 2 batches:

4-8 poblano peppers, without cores and seeds
1-2 onions
1/2 c. raisins (if you have time, you could soak or stew them in chicken stock)
1-2 C. almonds
2 slices bread
1-2 chipotle peppers, canned in adobo sauce
1 small can tomato paste
1-2 C. chicken stock to help everything blend together
garlic cloves or garlic powder
4 T. sesame seeds

From the food processor, put everything in a large pot and bring to a boil as you add (I've wondered what would happen if you didn't bring it to a boil and simmer it for 1/2 an hour as the recipe says we should do):

4 T. cocoa powder
1-4 T. cinnamon
1 T thyme
1 T oregano
1/4 C. oil

Let the sauce simmer--or move on to the next step.  If your pot is big enough, add 6 pounds chicken.  I've used all kinds of chicken:  boneless skinless chicken breasts or various parts--they're all delicious.

But an easier method:  grease 2 pans, size 9 x 13.  Put the chicken pieces in the pans.   Pour the sauce over it.  Bake in a 350 oven for 50 minutes.

I've eaten this alone and with rice.  If I had good tortillas, they'd be tasty too.

I wonder how the sauce would be with other meat?  Hmmm.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Stitching and Mending

Yesterday was the kind of nourishing day that I hoped it would be, the kind of day we all said that we had needed:  quilt group day!

I say "quilt group," but only one of us is actually working on a quilt.  I took care of my pile of mending, one of us worked on a portable loom, her friend from out of town worked on intricate beading, and two of us worked with yarn (one knitting a sweater and one crocheting an afghan).  I don't remember a time lately when we've been so relaxed as a group, when we've had so much laughter.

I've been gathering with variations of this group since 2002, so I know how the group dynamics can change.  I know that if we have one bad day, it's important to keep going back, because the next gathering might have us back to our warm, encouraging selves.  Yesterday was the kind of high point moment that will keep me committed to this group.

There have been quilt group days that only lasted for a few hours.  Yesterday was one of our more leisurely days:  we gathered at 9, had bagels with cream cheese and salmon that my spouse had smoked on Friday, and got started working.  My spouse came with me, and he and the spouse of our host went outside to explore the new smoker.  We had an interesting tomato cous cous soup for lunch. 

We had great conversations.  We used to all work together at the same school, but now we don't, so there was some catching up to do.  We had great conversations about serious stuff (the future of higher ed, upcoming accreditation visits) and about popular culture--what we've been reading, what we've been watching.  We talked a bit about politics without depressing ourselves.  We watched the behavior of the 7 pets that live with our friend in her house.  We talked about the strange behavior of our students and coworkers.  Every so often, someone said to me, "Maybe you should write a story about that."  I always replied, "In a way, every story I've ever written has been about that very thing."

What I like about this group is that we can go from hilarity to talking about deeply serious stuff.  We had an interesting digression into existentialist philosophy and what happens when we die, and we digressed into questions about whether or not the universe is beneficent.  At one point, the spouse of our friend wandered through and looked surprised.  I said, "Yes, this is your atheist wife talking about Purgatory with your Hindu friend."

Around 3 or 4, some of us had to leave.  Some of us stayed to enjoy an evening meal together:  a pork butt that had been smoked, delicious green beans with garlic, and an interesting potato salad.  And then we played cards.

It was a wonderful day, a day when I could put aside my evergrowing chore list and just enjoy being with a group of people who have been friends for a very long time.  While there's a sadness about the fact that we don't see each other several times throughout the week the way we could when we all worked in the same building, there's a joy in the depth of connection we can maintain by seeing each other once a month.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Self Care: Salmon and Tulips

My house is sticky, as if a band of 3 year olds came over when we were at work and played with melted chocolate and marshmallows.

But of course, that's not the case.  My spouse made an amazing main dish last night:  bacon-wrapped salmon with a glaze made of blackberry syrup, smoked on the grill.  And I made a side dish of butternut squash with a maple syrup glaze. 

Ordinarily, for my spouse, that would be too many sweet dishes on one plate, but the bacon transformed the blackberry glaze into something more savory.  Plus, I made a "salad" out of sliced grape-sized tomatoes, black olives, shaved parmesan, with a vinaigrette.

We ate outside in the back, so my spouse could keep an eye on the salmon that he was smoking for today's quilting group gathering.  Once that smoking was done (delicious!  one must sample what one is bringing for brunch!), he moved the smoking logs over to our outside fire circle, and we enjoyed a fire.

It was a lovely way to end the week. It has felt like another week of long days, with times of fulfillment and times of long meetings and times of feeling a current of tension without fully knowing why we're all stressed.  It's one of the disadvantages of a small campus.

In these times, self-care, like a good meal or relaxing with a fire, becomes even more primary.  In that spirit, I bought a bouquet of tulips on Thursday when I shopped for Friday dinner:



I couldn't get a great picture, but I wanted to record it anyway.  I love the vase too, bought to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, a work in ceramics made by a NC potter.  Each time I've seen the flowers, I get a double shot of joy.

This week, I will have more moments with the potential for joy:  I've scheduled time with friends throughout the week.  I can feel my shoulders relaxing away from my shoulders just thinking about it.