Sunday, August 20, 2017

Nuclear Nightmares and Other Apocalypses

Last week, my thoughts turned to civil war and what might be coming our way.  In the week before, I couldn't stop thinking about thermonuclear war--during that week, I started reading War Day, and I'm close to finishing it. 

The book tells about the aftermath of a limited nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1988. Several U.S. cities are obliterated, and San Antonio is nuked into a black glass wasteland.  Two writers, ostensibly the book's authors, Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka, take a trip across the U.S. five years later to see how the country is doing.

I've reread the novel several times.  When I first read it, when it was published in 1984, it felt like prophecy--and of a future that would be arriving momentarily.  When I last read the book in late fall of 2001 I thought that the authors had missed the boat in the horrors that were coming, because of course the terrorist events of September 11 were fresh in my mind, and nuclear war seemed a distant possibility.  Some people worried about terrorists with a backpack nuke, but I didn't--the materials to assemble such a thing would be expensive and volatile and probably lethal to those constructing it.  And the aftereffect wouldn't be as extensive as one might expect.  Recent world events have taught us that one can use much cheaper ways to terrorize us.

Of course, I'm not naïve.  I know that since the break up of the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons are less easy to control.  I've always worried about rogue nations like Korea, but until recently, I didn't worry about rogue minds being in charge of U.S. weapons.

The book offers a cold comfort:  even with stable brains in charge, events can go terribly wrong.

As I've been reading the book, I've been struck that it's set in 1988-1993--big changes were coming, but not the ones that the book predicts.  The book does posit that the Soviet Union was weaker than the U.S. thought, which was what led to the nuclear exchange, but those 1984 authors would not have believed the changes that actually did happen.  Some days, I still can't believe it.

It's an interesting vision of a population weakened by exposure to radiation and partly wiped out by famine and flu that followed.  The book shows how fragile our communities are--even nations who aren't part of the nuclear exchange and collapse that follows have struggled in the aftermath.

When I first read the book, I was fascinated by the survival aspects.  These days, I'm intrigued by how economies were wiped out because of the electromagnetic pulse--whole fortunes just vanished.  And what happens in the aftermath?  Some economies swoop in and prosper, while others will never recover.  And regular people just limp along--they weren't that rich to begin with.

I've continued to read dystopias in the decades since this book was published.  I've always thought that dystopias tell us a lot about larger societal fears.  I'm sure that future literary critics will spend great amounts of ink/pixels analyzing why zombie narratives were so popular in our current day.  I watch people behaving like zombies once their smart phones have gotten ahold of them, so I'm not surprised that zombies are more popular than vampires, which were the predominant monster narrative in the days of the AIDS crisis.

I'm seeing lots of narratives about ecological collapse, which is well underway.  But the events of the past weeks have reminded me that a nuclear nightmare will never be completely put to bed.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Disrupted Week-end Plans

This morning was going to be different.  I had bought 4 pounds of bacon, and we would likely have cooked at least 1 pound.  We were going to drink salty dogs (grapefruit juice, vodka, and a salt-rimmed glass) by the pool.  We might have walked to the beach.  Above all, we were going to luxuriate in the twin blessings of sunshine and being together.

My sister and 11 year old nephew were supposed to arrive last night, but she called me at 3 p.m. to tell me that her flight was cancelled because they were expecting heavy weather in the area at the time of her flight.  And because so many flights were canceled and people rebooking, they won't be here until 8:30 tonight.  We are none of us happy about this delay--my spouse may be the most unhappy because he teaches Monday and Tuesday and so this delay impacts him most.  But nothing can be done.
And my sister called later in the evening--they did get awful storms, and the flight would have been seriously delayed, if not canceled.  At least she wasn't stuck at the airport or on the road. 
As I said to my spouse, at least the delay is weather related:  no one got sick, no relative died.  There are lots of reasons that this week-end could have been disrupted, so happily, it wasn't any of those.
I will put this disrupted time to good use.  I have an online class that had major changes made to it--as an online instructor, I receive the course shell, and if I'm familiar with the class, it's fairly easy to input dates.  When the class has been changed, it's not as easy.  And when I get the course shell less than a week before the first day, it's that much more difficult.
And perhaps I'll write a poem.  This morning I had an idea for my Jesus in the world cycle of poems:  Jesus as an online instructor, Jesus musing how the relationship he has with online students is similar to the relationship he has with those who pray and with those who don't.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Speaking Truth to the Local Mayor

A week ago, I'd have been about to head out to a Hollywood Chamber of Commerce breakfast where the focus would be education; a group of us from my school went.  Our speaker was the superintendent of the Broward County school system, which is one of the largest in the country.  Just hearing about all the programs and buildings that he's in charge of made me tired.

Earlier in the morning, when various important people were introduced, I took note of the fact that the mayor of Hollywood was at the table right next to ours.  Afterwards, we decided that we should speak to him.
 The head of Admissions and I went over and introduced ourselves and our campus.  I realized that we likely wouldn’t have much time with him, so I came right to the point and told him that we could really use a bus line on Taft Street.
He said that it wasn’t only up to the City of Hollywood, that we would have to talk to others, like the Broward Transit people, but he would see what he could do.
I said, “We would really appreciate that.  I know that a lot of government attention goes to the beach and the downtown area of Hollywood, and I live in the historic district, so I understand that it’s easier to work for the prettier parts of town.  But the citizens who live out west need government help too.”
He said, “I would like to come visit your campus.”
We said, “We’d love to have you come visit.”
We asked if he had a card, and he didn’t.  I gave him one of mine, and we shook hands and assured him that we’d be in touch.
Will we get a busline?  I know it's not that simple.  Will the mayor come to the campus?  I won't be surprised if he doesn't.  Will the poorer residents get some government attention?  Probably not.
Still, I feel good, because I could tell he was in the process of brushing us off, and something I said (I think) made him stop and talk about coming to campus.  He's a new mayor, and fairly young, so maybe I planted a seed.  Maybe he'll remember that people like me are paying attention.
I also like that my brain is now going in different directions.  I'm thinking of looking up the representative on the Commission that represents the school's zip code.  I'm thinking of a variety of political events and discussions that the school could host.  It's good to start thinking of these things before the next election season goes into full swing.
I'm feeling good because I'm remembering that lots could get done at a local level, when it comes to politics.  I can't make Trump quit sending out tweets that bring us to the brink of annihilation, but if I could get a busline to an impoverished area, that would make me feel proud.
After we returned to our table, my colleagues looked at me with a mixture of awe and something else.  One of them said, "I didn't know you had it in you."  I think it was said in admiration.
Truth be told, I didn't know that I was going to say what I did until the words were flowing out of my mouth.  But I feel like I've been trained through decades of social justice work, both in church groups and secular groups.  One must seize the opportunity to speak to politicians who might be able to make a difference.  One must be polite, direct, and forceful--it's a delicate balance, and one I think I achieved,

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Free Writing to Begin a Strategic Planning Meeting

Long ago, in 1988, when I was in a grad school class that prepared us to be Composition teachers, I learned about free writing.  The rules are simple:  keep writing, don't go stop, don't read, don't ponder, don't worry about grammar, just keep writing.  If you run out of things to say, just write, "I have nothing more to say," until you do have something more to say.  Don't censor yourself--let your mind go where it wants to go.  Above all, just keep writing until time is called.

I have used this technique with every class I've ever taught onground.  I've used it when I've been a retreat leader.  Yesterday I used it with colleagues at the beginning of a strategic planning meeting.

We met in a private meeting room at a restaurant, so it was the first time that I had people writing on cloth tablecloths.  But it still worked.

I was asked to lead the strategic planning meeting, and I wanted us to begin by diving deep into our own thoughts, without censorship.  So I began by saying that we would not be sharing our thoughts unless we wanted to.  Then I led us through the process.

I started by explaining what we would do.  I expected discomfort or protest, like I sometimes get with students, but everyone looked agreeable.  To start, I said, "It's a year from now, and you're at the Hollywood campus.  What do you see that makes you happy?"  Everyone wrote for 3 minutes and seemed sorry to stop.

I moved on to the next question:  "It's a year from now, and you look around the Hollywood campus.  What makes you sad?  What concerns do you have?"  Everyone settled into their writing.

I asked the same questions at 3 minute intervals, only the next 2 were set five years in the future.  Once again, everyone wrote without complaint and without stopping.  I wrote a bit too, even though I had to keep my eye on the time.

As always, I'm surprised by what I come up with, and how quickly I can dip into my subconscious--and what I find there.  In five years, I wrote about outgrowing our space and getting new space that came with a kitchen and a dining space.  I wrote about our new approach to community college:  colleges that eat together to build community.  I wrote about the slogan we created five years from now (verb tense is tricky here, isn't it?):  the school that breaks bread together breaks barriers together.

When I started writing, I had no vision of a kitchen and communal meals.  It took me less that 12 minutes to pull that up.  Was it already bubbling in my mind or did I stretch out to grab it from somewhere else?

We had a good day of strategic planning.  We focused mostly on what we can do in the next year, as I knew we would.  But I liked rooting us both in a short and a medium length of time.  I liked beginning in a place of quiet, with each of us diving a bit deeper into our own brains, with each of us writing separately but as a group activity.

Most of all, I'm impressed with the willing attitude of my colleagues.  Once again, I realize I am lucky.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wars and the Elderly and Aging

I somehow missed the coverage of Donald Trump's news conference yesterday, but the thought of a president who can't bring himself to condemn neo-Nazis makes me too upset to write about this morning, so let me move my analysis to a slightly different plane.

Yesterday afternoon, I read this article in The New Yorker that analyzes the possibility/probability of a coming Civil War in our country.  The consensus was a 35% chance--but that was before the events of Charlottesville this past week-end.

One of the historians says, "It's like 1859, everyone is mad about something, and everyone has guns."  That's the quote that's stuck with me long after my original reading.

This morning I woke up thinking about how I think about civil wars in terms of young people and their lives disrupted and ruined.  But I rarely think about civil wars and their impact on the elderly--or on people who will soon be elderly.

This morning I had this thought:  of course I don't think about the elderly and aging because books about civil wars are written from the perspective of the young, the ones who go to war, the ones who resist, the ones who must travel long distances.  Those stories are full of what we traditionally think of in terms of narrative arc:  a clear conflict, a clear climax, and often a clear message.

Let me broaden my thoughts and ponder how many books I've read about any kind of war and how often I see the elderly and aging as the main characters.  No book immediately comes to mind.  Do we not see these stories because they don't exist?  Or have I just been drawn to stories of young people because until recently, I've been one of the young people?

In many ways, it's depressing enough to write about the issues of aging without a war as part of the story.  Perhaps that's why we don't see those stories.  We don't see many stories about the elderly and aging, period.  By stories, I mean fictional, not news articles (although I don't remember seeing many news articles about how war impacts the aging and elderly either).

I'll have to keep thinking about the issue of war and how it's depicted.  I'm hoping I won't have the opportunity to experience it all firsthand.  Sigh.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sold Out Convention Hotels

Yesterday was the first day that we could make our hotel reservations for the AWP conference in March.  I know that in the past, the hotels get full very quickly, so I wasn't going to wait.  By 8:30 a.m.--on the VERY FIRST DAY that we could make reservations--I couldn't get a reservation for the night before the conference starts, March 7, at the conference hotel.  I made reservations for the 2 nights that were available. 

I thought about making a reservation for March 7 at a different hotel.  I thought about driving up very early in the morning on March 8, but the thought exhausted me, even though I'm an early riser.  It is a 5-6 hour drive to Tampa from my house, after all.

By 11:30 or so, the conference hotel was completely sold out--on the VERY FIRST DAY that we could make reservations.  I made an alternate set of reservations at the overflow hotel that has a skywalk to the convention center where the conference is being held.  That hotel has breakfast made to order as part of the cost of the room, along with drinks and snacks at the end of the day.  That hotel has suites, not just a room.  I'll likely keep that reservation and cancel the conference hotel. 

I decided not to make any further decisions yesterday, as it was all vaguely overwhelming and exhausting.

Don't get me wrong:  I'm thrilled that I'll be able to attend the AWP.  But the fact that the conference hotel sells out before noon on the first day that we can make reservations does give me pause about going to an event in the future that will require much more in the way of travel coordination. 

I do wonder if this event is quickly outgrowing the capacity of most U.S. cities to host it.  Many of us assume that any large city can handle this kind of event, but if we want everyone to have a hotel room near the event, that assumption is simply not true.

But for this year, my travel arrangements are set--and I cannot tell you how excited I am to be going--and driving!--watch out book fair last day sales!  I have an entire car to load up with great deals.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Affirming Life

Yesterday was a good day in many ways, despite the sobering events of the week-end in Charlottesville.  We went to church, where we heard a sermon I would have expected to hear, a sermon that reminded us that we are called to be better, both as individuals and as people. 

I often sketch as the service is happening because I'm often at multiple services on a Sunday.  Yesterday I made this sketch:

Years from now will I remember the context?  Or will there have been events so much more extreme that this week-end's events will seem dwarfed?

We came home and relaxed.  We had delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.  We also made tiramisu.  We were invited to a friend's house for halibut, and I volunteered to bring dessert.  I made tiramisu primarily because I like it, but it's also light in a way, and it doesn't require turning on the stove, a plus in these hot, humid days.

We had a wonderful dinner with our neighborhood friends.  Once again, there was a strange moment when we realized we all had once been at the same school but now no longer had those ties, not any of us.  Happily, we didn't spend much time talking about the politics or the future of the old school.  We also didn't talk about national politics much, although we did briefly talk about North Korea.

It was wonderful to catch up, good to remember why we go to the efforts that we do to live where we do. 

And if you need an easy dessert recipe, this tiramisu couldn't be much easier, although it does require dirtying multiple dishes.

It's from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts.


I doubled this recipe because I wanted to be sure we had enough; as is, this recipe serves 5 generously, 6 modestly

8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. cocoa
1/2 c. whipping cream
2-4 c. coffee (you can add in some coffee and/or amaretto liqueur)
12 ladyfingers

Whip the cream in one bowl.  In another bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese, sugar, cocoa, and vanilla together.  Fold the whipped cream into the mixture.

Pour the coffee into a shallow bowl or pan.  Soak the ladyfingers for a minute or two on each side.  You can then create individual bowls or one big bowl.  Put the soaked ladyfingers on the bottom of the bowl (and the sides, if you like).  Add the whipped cream mixture.  You could keep doing this in layers or not.

Refrigerate for at least an hour and serve cold.  You can top with grated chocolate or cocoa or raspberries--whatever you'd like.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

How Long Must We Sing This Song?

I have not been following the events in Charlottesville in real time.  I knew that there were protests on Friday night, but I didn't know how terribly wrong the week-end was going.  I knew that there were marches and countermarches yesterday, and I knew that the volatility meant that it could all go terribly wrong--but I was shocked to hear about deaths.

I am not one of those white folks who thinks that racism is a thing of the past.  But I also understand that we all feel, most of us at least, that we have a tenuous grasp on safety and on being a valued part of society.  I've talked to so many people in so many walks of life, and that sense of being abandoned by the larger society and the institutions that are supposed to protect us--that sense undergirds so much of what we say and do and feel.  I understand that many acts of hate and repression are rooted in that sense of abandonment. 

And of course, let me hasten to say, I do not excuse those actions regardless of who is doing them.  We are adults, responsible for our actions.  We can demonstrate peacefully.  We can't hit each other, no matter how we feel.  I would urge caution in the words that make up our chants.  Words can be wounding, and those wounds can last much longer than bruises and broken bones.

The events of the week-end in Charlottesville went even further than I would have anticipated that they could go.  Who drives a car into a gathering of people?  It's a rhetorical question.  At this time in our history, we've seen that plenty of people use vehicles as weapons.

I don't blame the current president and his administration, not exactly.  I've been alive long enough, and I've read about other eras, so I know that this kind of hatred bubbles up this way periodically.  I'd like to see more leadership from certain leaders, but at this point, I'm not surprised when it doesn't come.

I will take comfort from the leaders we might not have known previously.  I found the pictures of clergy with linked arms--and the statements from church officials--to be tremendously inspiring.  I am in awe of the UVa faculty and administration members who went to the Quad on Friday to make sure that their students were O.K.

I will hold onto my hope.  I know that these widely televised events sometimes shock us out of our complacency and move us further along the road towards a time of justice.  That is my prayer this morning.

Today I have a different set of songs in my head.  My brain pulls lines from U2's War:  "How long, how long must we sing this song?"  It's a sentiment that weaves its way through much of the album.  And of course, it comes from a much more ancient lament:  Psalm 40.  It's a good text for today with its promise that we can be lifted from our muck and mire and given a firm place to stand.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Inspirations in Facebook Messages

Yesterday, I wrote about the art of journals, in the context of Dorothy Wordsworth.  This morning, I'm thinking about our Facebook messages and our texting, and feeling sad about how much of that will be lost forever.  I've read volumes of letters that are written so artfully.  Of course, I realize that most letters are lost forever too.  I've always thought that e-mails might be kept and preserved.  I find my old e-mails easier to access than my old Facebook messages.

This morning, I read a Facebook message from a friend who is having us over on Sunday:  "We are super excited to see everyone on Sunday. Fair warning our house is a mess! We are redoing our bedroom. But, I know you guys don't care!!! And as KBA says ,"just clean the bathrooms!"

I wrote to qualify:  "Actually, only the toilets need to be clean. We won't look at the bathtubs, and a smidge of toothpaste in the sink makes it feel homey."

If I was a different kind of freelance writer, I'd have the beginnings of an article.  Would anyone buy it?  I don't know.  I have a vision of either an article or a book on scruffy hospitality, but I'm not sure I'll ever have time to write it.  Maybe if I write enough blog posts here and there, a more distinct vision will emerge.

This morning, I have not been focused.  I worked on blog posts and a short story, while listening to news updates about Korea and the week in review and buying swimsuits online at end of season sales.

I'm not even pretending to do one task at once.  I'm zipping here, zipping there.  It puts me in mind of a podcast I heard earlier, one which explores how we get to the state where we can do deep work:

"The type of deep work I talk about is almost nonexistent, as far as I can tell, in most knowledge work positions. Even when people think that they're single-tasking, they say, I've learned a lesson that I'm not supposed to multitask. I'm not supposed to be on the phone and do email while I write. I'm just working on one thing at a time. What they're still doing is every five or 10 minutes, a just-check. Let me just do a just-check to my inbox. Let me just do a just-check to my phone real quick and then back to my work. And it feels like single-tasking. It feels like you're predominantly working on one thing. But even those very brief checks, that switch your context even briefly, can have this massive negative impact on your cognitive performance. It's the switch itself that hurts, not how long you actually switch. So I actually think even very conscientious knowledge workers, who think they're pretty good at focusing on one thing at a time, are actually still working far from the sort of high-performance, deep work ideal."

I've done a lot of switching this morning--but I did get work written, e-mails sent, and swimsuits ordered.

Let me end with both a Facebook post that I wrote earlier in the morning and a haiku, which is only a haiku in the amount of syllables per line sense of that word:

"If you are looking for a soundtrack for these days of nuclear brinksmanship, I'm toggling between Sting's "History Will Teach Us Nothing" and "Russians." I sing, "There's no such thing as a winnable war, it's a lie we don't believe anymore" and then "History will teach us nothing." And then, just to change things up a bit, I burst into the chorus of "I'll Fly Away" or "My Lord, What a Morning" (stars falling from the sky). There you have it, my mood, neatly summed up."

At 3, the monks pray.
The president tweets his threats.
Nuclear missiles wait.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Nineteenth Century Journals, Modern Blogs

For a variety of reasons, I'm back to one version of my strange insomnia this week.  I have no trouble falling asleep, but my eyes snap open at midnight or 1, and I either don't fall back asleep, or it takes several hours. 

Last night, as I was trying to sleep, I thought back to grad school and the class where I first read the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth.  I thought of how few people were writing about her then.  If I had continued in that direction, could I have become the nation's Dorothy Wordsworth expert and scholar?

In those days of 1989, lots of academics would have discouraged that direction.  They'd have explained how keeping a journal wasn't real writing.

I thought to our current age, how so many forms of writing that might have once been kept private are now published in a variety of forms.  I thought of future scholars--how will they sift through all of these detritus and treasures from our current age?

I thought of all the blogs and sites that I visit.  Some of the writing and other forms of expression are truly wonderful.  Others are a marking of the days which might be valuable to future historians, but not exactly forms of art.

When I first read the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, I was torn.  Part of me believed that her journals were art just by themselves alone--in fact, I wrote a course paper to prove it.  But part of me believed her journals were deeply important for other reasons:  for the insight into an artistic community, for the way she documented daily life, for the information about what it took to keep a family alive as the eighteenth century shifted to the nineteenth century.

My blogging is the writing that I do most regularly, and it's important to me for all the same reasons.  I've mined these blogs for all sorts of inspirations for my other writing.

Will these blogs be important to future scholars?  Perhaps, but that's not why I do it.  They're important to me, and that's enough.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Inspirations that Come from Brinksmanship

Yesterday was one of those surreal days, wanting to check the news to see if anyone has fired any missiles that we can't take back, being swamped in the daily tasks of meetings, and wondering if I should be doing any prep work in advance of a possible nuclear exchange.

But what prep work would that be exactly?  Should we start digging a hole for a fallout shelter?
Oh, wait, we're only 20 inches above sea level--we're doomed if survival means we need to go underground.
I am feeling unsafe, and I do not like this feeling.  It's been a long time since I felt worried about nuclear fallout and electromagnetic pulses.  I had gotten used to fretting about sea level rise and very hot summers and what kind of world will today's children inherit. 
I heard on NPR that some sources are upping estimates of how many warheads N. Korea has:  60.  That could do a lot of damage, even if we're nowhere near Ground Zero. 
On a plus side, geopolitical nuclear brinksmanship (and I use that gendered term on purpose) has left me with lots of inspiration for poems--one written this morning, at least 2 more in my head!  And I wrote one yesterday too.

Yesterday was the kind of day that exhausts me as an administrator.  Morning meetings with a variety of navigating of personalities to do, afternoon budget calculations--by the end of the day, my brain was quite frazzled.

Let me record my happiness that a student who was about to be withdrawn for excessive absences, a student who I had let come back to school even as I was warned about his absence history, a student I've been calling--he was in class last night. 

I went home later than I anticipated, with a head that wasn't useful for much creative work.  I decided I would sit in the sun and read one of my favorite post-nuclear apocalypse novels:  War Day by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka.  You might think such a heavy book would be too much, but I found it oddly comforting reading. 

What will today bring?  Will we really go to war over Guam?  I am hoping that we will all do as we have done in the past:  walk back from the brink.  I am not sure that the leader of the U.S. and the leader of North Korea are actually capable of backing down.  This is not a situation that makes me rest easy.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Urge to Make Origami Cranes

Last night, after hearing Trump's anti-Korea rant on the radio news and seeing him say it on the TV news, I wrote this Facebook post:

"So today, on a day between the anniversary of the Hiroshima blast and the anniversary of the Nagasaki blast, the U.S. President threatens 'They will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen.'  I am struck with a sudden urge to make origami cranes and pray for peace and for bellicose leaders to shush."

When my spouse came home he said, "August 8 is also the anniversary of the day that Russia entered the war."  I had forgotten that part of history, or perhaps I never knew it.  With the exception of the nuclear issues, my knowledge of WWII in the Pacific is a bit spotty.

This morning, with North Korea's threats against Guam, it seems I may have a chance to catch up on geography.  Yesterday I wished I had an old-fashioned globe so that I could track possible ICBM routes from North Korea.  I suspect that South Florida is fairly safe.

Of course, a nuclear explosion means that we're not safe, not any of us.  I don't have any of my favorite nuclear war movies in any format that I can watch, but I did bookmark this site years ago.  Critics compare Threads and The Day After.  It's an excellent way to spend 50 minutes when one contemplates the possibility of nuclear war.

Threads is the most terrifying movie I've ever seen.  It's a very graphic look at what will happen with a limited nuclear exchange.  It's ghastly.

Trump should watch it too.  The government officials are safe in their bunkers, but they don't have an easy time of it either.

As I heard yesterday's news of nuclear saber rattling and Venezuela unraveling, I thought, we've seen these movies before.  And it doesn't end well.

I'm trying not to think of the events of August 1914, when world events escalated at a dizzying pace and before we knew it, the world was in flames.

Today I fully expect someone to bang a shoe on a table and bellow, "We will bury you."

Let me remember though, that out of the darkness of the 80's came lots of social changes that I would not have predicted.  Maybe unlikely leaders will emerge who will craft unlikely peace treaties.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

New iPhones, New Laptops

I was just hearing a news report on the new iPhone.  Will I be buying one?  No, I will not.

But I am not a complete Luddite.  This past week-end, during Florida's back-to-school tax free week-end which included computers under $700.  My laptop has been having screen issues for several months now--it's akin to the old TVs, when the vertical hold was slipping--lots of jerking around on the screen, which makes for a dizzying experience.

I've created a fix by hooking up my laptop to the monitor of my old desktop.  I'm inordinately proud that I figured out how to do that.  But this fix does cut out a lot of the advantages of having a laptop.  And I am fairly sure that I'm living on borrowed time.

So when the tax free week-end was announced, I decided that now was the time to buy a laptop.  I decided not to spend a lot of time researching the best deal.  I wanted something similar to what I already had, and when I went online, I found one that was on sale for half the usual price.  By Friday afternoon, I had the laptop replaced.

I haven't plugged it in yet.  I have resolved that I won't wait for 3 months the way I did last time.  But I do feel like I need a space of time to get it all set up.

Let me take a moment to record what an amazing time we live in, in terms of our computing access and the low cost of it.  I got my old laptop for $579, the on sale price with some rebates.  I wanted an extra USB port, although I'm not sure that I've ever need the extra one; 2 would have been plenty.  I paid extra to get a larger hard drive, and I've filled very little of it.

This time, for $400 (same sort of sale price), I got an even bigger hard drive, a terabyte. I got a year of Microsoft Office 360 and a year of online protection.  I got a wireless mouse, even though I don't need one.

I remember my first personal computer.  Back in 1993, I bought a used Mac for $3000, and I thought I had gotten a deal.  I had.  But the deal I got on Friday is better.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Week-end Creativity Report

On Friday morning, I had a vision for a sketch for my spiritual/visual journaling, so I quickly committed it to paper:

Friday was a fairly quiet day at work--thankfully!  I had been awakened by the alarm company calling, and I wasn't in a high energy mood.  But luckily, no crises emerged that required me to be firing on more cylinders than I had.  Friday night I crashed into sleep sooner than I expected; I don't think I even made it to 6:30 a.m.

I woke up early, around 2, and put together a manuscript of the inspiration e-mail project posts that I've been creating for several years.  I saw this call for manuscripts at Pleiades Press, and I thought I might submit.  I still can't decide, but I knew the first step was to assemble what I had and then to determine if I thought it was poetry.  Stay tuned!

Sunday was the most productive day in terms of creativity.  I went to JoAnn Fabrics to pick up some autumnal lights (like Christmas lights, only in orange, yellow and brown).  I saw a wreath frame and it was relatively cheap, and then discounted 40%, so it cost less than $5.  I thought about the autumnal elements that I already have:  ribbons in 3 colors and fake gourds.

Even though I'm not going to hang the wreath on our porch until September, I wanted to assemble it while I was inspired.  And so, yesterday afternoon, I did.  I wrapped the ribbons around the form, and my spouse got two types of pliers so that we could string thread through the fake gourds to make loops so we could hang them.  Here's a close up:

And here's the longer view, with a coconut on the table:

In my sorting of the past month, I came across a broken candle holder made of pretty glass that my spouse had kept, and we promptly forgot about.  I thought it might make an interesting candle base, with reflective qualities.  I found some rocks that I had saved for some reason, and I thought they make an interesting combination:

As we've burned the candle, the wax has started melting down the inside, despite the fact that I'm using a tea light candle, so I'm not sure how this construction will look in the future.

I experimented with the variety of holiday lights I got, the autumnal ones and the ones with palm trees and the ones with Hawaiian shirts and surfboards.  The latter 2 aren't quite as versatile, but they, too, were cheap.

This morning my spouse got up early, as he's got a report due today.  So, it was another day of waking up at 2:00.  But in a way, it was fine.  I read The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison,a collection of poems by Maggie Smith, and then I wrote 2 poems, plus I have ideas for more.

So, it's been a good week-end with a variety of creative activities.  Did I get the weeding done?  No.  Have I done all my grading?  No.  But I feel ready for the week, in a way that I wouldn't have, if I hadn't fed my soul in this way.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Nuclear Distractions

On this day in 1945, the world was about to change in dramatic ways that we likely still don't fully comprehend.  On this day in 1945, the first nuclear bomb was used in war.

The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it.  There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement.  The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim.  And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

On this day, and on August 9, in 1945, nuclear weapons were used in war, and so far, we haven't used them in war again.  We have been lucky that nuclear weapons are so complicated and pose such a health risk in terms of radiation that terrorists have stayed away from them.

Let us do all that we have in our power to do to make sure that these weapons are not used again.

We may not feel like we have much power to have any impact on nuclear treaties.  Until recently, we might not have worried about it.  Now, like many people, I find myself thinking about North Korea and wondering what road we're travelling here.  I spend too much time thinking about North Korea.

Today is a good day to think about what distractions, atomic, cosmic, personal or otherwise, take our attention away from the true work.  Today is also a good day to meditate on power and how we seek to harness it and how we use power once we have it.

Today is also a great day to celebrate the transfiguring possibility of power.  After all, not all uses of power lead to destructive explosions.  Some times, we find redemption.

On this anniversary of the Hiroshima blast, I am aware of the very temporary nature of our lives and our artifacts.  One fine morning we can be eating breakfast one minute, or walking to work, and then, in one blast, in just a few seconds, we're fused into the concrete.  It's a sobering thought, and a good one to have, to move our hearts to gratitude for a day where we're not facing a thermonuclear blast, where we don't have to deal with an electromagnetic pulse, where our loved ones are still here, on this side of the earth.

Friday, August 4, 2017

August Prep Work

I've been awake since just before 2:00.  I'm the first person the alarm company calls when the alarm goes off at school.  Just before 2, the company called.  I'm not too worried, since we've been having alarm problems, but once the phone rings me out of sleep, I'm jangled.  I couldn't fall back asleep, so by 3:00, I was up and at the computer.

In some ways, that's fine.  I got the grading done for my online class--it had been haunting me, because students have papers due tomorrow (Saturday), and the last writing workshop that needed to be graded was in many ways my last chance to give them feedback.  So, I'm glad to get that done.

I know I may be tired today, but I also know that I can make it through the day--happily, it's likely to be quiet.

It's a strange time, this month of August.  Soon, many students will be trooping back to school, but we're not there yet.  Soon, literary magazines will open their reading periods, but we're not there yet.

Yesterday as I took my short morning walk to the marina, I thought about using the month of August to return to my memoir manuscript.  I want to rewrite the introduction--I think--with an eye to my new title of Micromanaging the Miracles.  I want to submit to a press that wants a Table of Contents with a brief description of each chapter, so I'll use the month of August to complete that.

Today begins our tax free week-end, and this year, computers under $700 for home use are included.  I plan to replace my laptop, which has started having problems that remind me of vertical hold problems in old TVs.  The laptop is over 4 years old, and I've used it almost daily.  It's time to replace it, and a tax free week-end can save me some money.  I will use the month of August to get materials from the old laptop to the new one.

Some people see the new year as a time to begin again.  But the start of a new school year is a good time to begin again too.  Let me use the month of August to prepare.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Small Wins at Work

Yesterday, I got a phone call from a colleague who was promoted to my position, in charge of the General Education department, at my old school.  She said, "I know you kept a copy of sign in sheets for faculty development.  Any idea where they are?"

We talked about some possibilities.  Then I remembered that I had uploaded many files in one large file to a shared drive.  I walked her through how to get to the drive and how to find the GE file that I had left.  She found it and opened it.  At first she didn't see it, and then she said, "Wait, here it is.  Faculty Development sign in sheets.  Yes!  These are the ones I need."

I said, "Thank you past Kristin, for taking care of us!"

I was inordinately thrilled that I had saved what she needed, and even more thrilled that it was still there--it's a shared drive, after all.

I have reflected before on these kinds of job thrills--in one way, they're small, but in a different way, they're still so important to me.  One expects to be feel good about the big wins, like successful navigating of auditor/accreditor visits.  It's good to remember the small wins too.

Another small win yesterday was my successful registration for the AWP conference.  I'm going to Tampa in 2018--hurrah!  And I'll be driving--oh dear--no airline luggage weight limits to hold me back at the book fair.

And now it is time to get ready for another day at work.  I anticipate a small win of a different kind:  it's new student orientation day for our midquarter start students.  I say it's a small win, both because it's a small group, and because the sense of the larger win must go to Admissions. 

But small wins are wins--and I'm grateful for them.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Kingdom of God is Like a Field of Sweet Corn

On Sunday, we came home to feast on sweet corn.  Our friend had gone to Ohio and was willing to share her stash of sweet corn with us.

I thought of all those teaching moments of Jesus that begin with The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . ., or the Kingdom of God is like . . .  Throughout the summer, the Program Director of Lutheridge, Pastor Mary Canniff-Kuhn has been posting modern updates with a camp theme:

"The kingdom of God is like gingerbread cookies made in KidzCamp. Delight is essential. Judgement is irrelevant."

"The kingdom of God is like snow in July. All things are possible."

The Kingdom of God is like a friend who shares her sweet corn with you who are stranded at the tip of the continent without good sweet corn to call your own.

Let me end with a different kind of quote about summer, that I got from this blog post.  RJ quotes Parker Palmer:

"Summer is the season when all the promissory notes of autumn, winter, and spring come due, and each year the debts are repaid with compound interest. In summer, it is hard to remember that we had ever doubted the natural process, had ever ceded death the last word, had ever lost faith in the powers of new life. Summer is a reminder that our faith is not nearly as strong as the things we profess to have faith in - a reminder that for this sing season, at least, we might cease our anxious machinations and give ourselves to the abiding and abundant grace of our common life."

As always, Palmer's words leave me in awe of the power of language and the power of seasons.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Day for Directional Changes a Bit Dizzying

Yesterday was a day of realizations and changes that made me feel a bit whipsawed.  But it wasn't bad.
When I look back, I will likely most remember the departure of newly appointed and then newly dismissed Anthony Scaramucci, the foul-mouthed White House communications director.  Lately, each day brings something new to make me feel like a little old lady in how easily I am appalled--but "the Mooch" so far is the winner in that department.  Who talks like that to a reporter?  Who thinks that is O.K.?  What does his mother think?  Who raised these people?
Let me now take off my white gloves and church hat--back to the rest of the day.
I felt sad as we learned about the death of Sam Shepard.  I remember decades ago reading his work after hearing a grad student declare him as significant and feeling baffled, much the way I felt baffled when I read about women seeing him as a sex symbol.  Yesterday I read declarations that he was one of the most important playwrights of the 20th century.
Really?  He ranks right up there with Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Samuel Beckett?  I could keep listing important playwrights of the 20th century, but I also know that we could have this discussion all day/month/year, and not reach consensus.  Let me not go down that road.  Let me acknowledge that Shepard had enormous talent, and that I always feel a bit sad when one of those lights has been snuffed out.
I thought about the AWP and wondered why I forgot to register.  It's in Tampa, after all.  I went to the website and found out that registration had just opened on July 31 (yesterday)--hurrah!  It's not too late.  I thought about the FAPSC conference that I attended on Friday.  I didn't have to pay for that because I was a presenter, but the registration fee was not much less than the AWP--and my school was willing to pay for that.  The AWP will give me much more value for not much more money--I'll run the idea by my new boss, and then tomorrow, if he gives me the green light, I'll register.
All day yesterday, I kept my eye to the skies.  We had a low pressure system off of Tampa that quickly strengthened, in the course of yesterday's early morning hours, into a full blown tropical storm.
Happily, tropical storm Emily was a big fizzle.  We got one little squall around 11 a.m. yesterday--over in 4 minutes with driving sheets of rain, and then nothing.
But it was overcast, so the temp was lower, which has been nice.  Last night we went over to our neighborhood friends, and we sat outside--it was perfectly comfortable.  I thought we'd have a cozy night of rain, but if we did, I didn't hear it.
I'd prefer a fizzle of a storm to a storm that's supposed to be small but smacks us with more.  I am feeling grateful today and hoping that the rest of this hurricane season is a fizzle too--and every hurricane season after that.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Micromanaging Miracles

Yesterday as we were getting ready to leave for church, my spouse commented on my blog piece about Martha, whose feast day was Saturday.  He said, "I really like the way you talked about micromanaging the miracles.  Is that idea original to you?"

I said, "I wouldn't be surprised if someone else has also come up with it, but I didn't get it from anywhere else."

He said, "You should write a book with that title."

"I should figure out if I've already written a book where that title could apply."

I've since been thinking of my long-neglected collection of essays that is part memoir and part devotional meditation.  One of the things that long stymied me was finding a good title.  Perhaps now I have found one!

I went back this morning to make sure that I used the essay about Saint Martha that used that idea, and I did.  I'm trying not to beat myself up for how many years I've been working on this project.

I have so many book-length works, and so little progress towards publication.  I remind myself that it's not for lack of trying--although I do get to a certain point, often after 15-20 unsuccessful submissions, where I am too discouraged to keep going.  And yes, I know all about the works of literature that were submitted so many more times, only to be published to eventual success.  I also know of many more equally worthy works who have never found publication.
I don't feel as discouraged about submitting smaller pieces, like the individual poem or short story.  Is it because I am less invested?  No one ever expects to be able to leave their day job after a poem is published.  But most people I know who write have dreams of being able to leave their other work so that they can devote themselves to creative work.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about an alternate approach to submissions.  I tend to make a submission here or there during down times during the day--maybe I should also submit larger works.  I know I don't want to self-publish--I'd like a mainstream publisher who already has some resources, especially in terms of distribution, in place.

As we head into autumn, let me think about my goals, just to make sure that I'm still on trajectories that can serve me well.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sleeping In

July is coming to an end with a week-end of sleep.  On Friday, I fell asleep at 7:30--I just couldn't hold my eyes open any longer.  I got up at 3 a.m., but crawled back into bed an hour later and slept until 8:30.  Yesterday we took a nap, but still were in bed by 8:00 a.m.  Yes, July has left us exhausted.

It's not like we've gotten nothing done.  We got the cottage back into shape after a week of hosting the camp counselors.  We did several loads of laundry and took quilts/afghans back to the cedar chest in the main house.  A week ago, I spent an afternoon taking things like food, dish soap, kitchen towels, and such out to the cottage--yesterday, I brought them all back.

I had a coupon for $10 off a shoe purchase--since that coupon was only good during the month of July, I went to the store.  In the past, this time of year, I've been able to get a pair of sandals for practically free, and this year was no exception.  The store had a buy one, get one for 50% off, plus I had accumulated an additional discount through a points system that I didn't realize was in effect through these years of shoe buying.  So, for $25, I got 2 pairs of sandals that are suitable to wear to work.

I also bought airline tickets, which is always a much longer process than it should be, as I compare airlines and times and weigh the advantages of being able to choose a seat and to get home earlier and to check a bag if I feel like it and wonder why this all has to cost so much.

We haven't had a week-end of sleep like this in a long, long time.  Part of me feels guilty:  I know that we still have much to do before the month of July is over, by which I mean we're still teaching some summer classes, and my spouse still has some freelance work to get done.  The wise part of me knows that any day when I sleep past 5 a.m. is a day that I really needed the sleep.

Perhaps I shall also take a nap this afternoon!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Saint Martha and Modern Life

Today is the feast day of Saint Martha, one of the few named women of the Gospels.  You may remember her from the story in Luke, where she hustles and bustles with household chores and grows ever more exasperated with her sister Mary, who isn't helping. 

For a theological approach, see this post.  I've written about her frequently through the years.  Today, I want to think about Martha and her lessons for those of us who are trying to carve out a life with more meaning.

At first glance, it's counterintuitive.  Martha is not living a particularly creative life or a life with depth.  How can she?  She's much too busy trying to manage and micromanage.  And therein lies the lesson.

Martha scurries around so much that she can't be present for Jesus. How often are our current lives similar? We often get so consumed by the chores of our daily life that we neglect to make time for what's really important.

Keep in mind that even though the story revolves around women, men are not exempt from this paradigm. All humans must wrestle with the question of how to balance the chores that are necessary to sustain life with the other kinds of nourishment that we need so desperately. Unfortunately, often the chores win.

I can hear some of us shrieking by now: "Yes, but those chores must be done!" Really? Are you sure? What would happen if you didn't vacuum this week? What would happen if you wore your clothes an extra time or two before laundering them? What would happen if you surrendered to the dust?

Jesus tells Martha that she worries about many things, and the implication is that all of the issues that cause her anxiety aren’t really important. It's a story many of us, with our increasingly hectic lives, need to hear again--maybe every day.

We need to be reminded to stay alert. Busyness is the drug that many of us use to dull our senses. For some of us, charging through our to-do lists is a way of quelling the anxiety. But in our busyness, we forget what's really important. We forget to take time to work on the creative aspects of our lives that matter most to us.

Give up one chore this week and use that time to return to an activity that matters.

There's one other story about Martha that gives valuable instruction for those of us struggling to find our creative lives.  We also see Martha at the story of Lazarus, her brother, who has been dead in the grave for several days when Jesus comes.  She is convinced that her brother would still be alive if Jesus had gotten there in time.  And she's worried about the smell when Jesus orders the grave opened.  Here she is, about to witness a miracle, and she's worried about the social niceties.  She wants a miracle, but she wants it on her terms.

I see the same thing in many a creative life.  I've had chapbooks chosen for publication, but I yearn for a book with a spine.  When I get the book with a spine, I expect to yearn for something else yet again.  We live in a time where distribution of words is miraculously easy--and yet I often wish that someone else would do the hard work.

I've seen friends who finally get the book deal, and then they complain over items that seem minor to me, issues of copyediting which baffle me as I watch the battles from the sidelines.  I see so many instances of creative types trying to micromanage the miracles coming their way.

I see similar dynamics in many a person's struggle to discern what's important and what's not--and in larger institutions too.  We see institutions that wish to be larger, while neglecting to rejoice in the relationships that a smaller group encourages.  I see people with an idealized view of family life who cannot relax into the family that actually exists around them.  I know many a person who doesn't appreciate a job until it's gone.

 I have hopes that our lives will follow the model of Martha.  Even though she seems slow to understand the lessons of Jesus, he doesn't get exasperated and send her away.  He continues to try to shape her, gently and insistently.  He tells her that she worries about many things, but that her sister sets a good example.

The sister, Mary, is fully present.  My hope for us all is that we, too, can be fully present to our lives, to that which needs us to bring it into the world.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Hecticity of the Last Week of July

Some day, perhaps I will wonder why I didn't blog more about politics.  It's been a dizzying time, after all.  I find myself shaking my head and wondering what will come next.  And it's always been something that surprises me and shocks me, just when I think I can no longer be shocked.  I find myself wondering why people can't act like grown ups.

I am most distressed by the attempt to roll back human rights.  Or am I most distressed by how we seem ready to treat the poor?

This morning I'm happy about the defeat of the Senate health care plan, if we can call it a plan.  I know that we will have more gridlock because of it--wait, can we have more, if nothing is getting done anyway?  I don't care--I don't want these folks to take much action.

I find myself having good weeks at work, even as I'm distressed about the national scene.  One of the advantages of a small campus with enthusiastic people is that it's easy to organize events.  This week the moon pies and the eclipse viewing glasses arrived--it's going to be a good August!

I find myself getting ready to enjoy the summer, even as summer seems to be winding down for most people.  This is the last week that our camp counselors are on duty--and in a week or two, they report to campus to get everything ready for the students who will be arriving in mid-August.

I've felt frustrated over my inability to finish writing a short story.  But this week, a poem came to me out of some Facebook posts; I put them on paper, new images came to me, and voila!  A poem.   I was happy.

Today it's off to a conference that's in Ft. Lauderdale, the FAPSC conference.  I'm presenting!  I'll do a workshop that I did at my past school:  Using Haiku to Assess Student Learning.  I am hoping that the technology works, but I have a plan if it doesn't.

But first spin class--time to head out.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wednesday Highlights: Eclipse Glasses, Good Conversations, and Wonderful Books

Early in the morning, I literally had to put out a fire at work.  That's a bit melodramatic--I had to take the cigarette disposal container apart and dump water on the stinky cigar that was smoking up the doorway.  Still, it was fun to come back inside and declare, "I'm literally putting out fires here!  Who's got another problem for me to solve?"

Far more fun was the arrival of the eclipse viewing glasses.  At first, I was worried they'd been lost, since they'd been delivered on Tuesday, and no one had seen them.  Lo and behold, the package was small enough to fit in the mailbox.

They are the darkest glasses I've ever put on my face:

I thought I might wear them around school to advertise the special eclipse events we have planned, but I literally cannot see a thing with them on my face:

I ordered 60 pairs, since the Aug. 21 eclipse will happen during the day when we have students.  Since an eclipse is a slow moving event, students can share. 

I'm also keeping my eye on a shipment of mini moon pies that should arrive today.  A week before the eclipse we will have an informative event--with mini moon pies!

The afternoon was fairly quiet:  my computer got upgraded to Windows 10.  Two members of Corporate came to bring us our Scantron machine, and we spent a lot of time talking about a variety of school stuff.  It was good to catch up with them.

Last night was a whirlwind evening; it was my night to host dinner for the camp counselors who are down here to lead VBS.  I left work early, but I didn't beat the camp counselors home.  Luckily, I had done a lot of prep work on Tuesday.  They finished up in the cottage, while I put the finishing touches on dinner.

One of them walked in and said, "It smells like Heaven in here!" I'm hoping they'll remember the smell of Heaven and not the unswept floors and the dusty surfaces of my house.

I washed the dishes while the camp counselors walked to the beach--how did I think it was a good idea to have all the pasta topping options that required so many serving dishes?  After they came back, we chatted for a bit before we all went our separate ways.

I finished the night by reading.  I finished American War by Omar El Akkad.  It continued to impress me--I imagine I will continue to think about it through the rest of the summer.  It occurs to me that my summer reading has been bookmarked by scenes of torture:  American War, The Sympathizer and The Underground Railroad all contain torture that’s more graphically depicted than I’m used to. Hmmm.

Earlier in the day, I had written a few lines for a poem, but then the tech guy showed up and I could never got back to the poem.  I read a bit of Jane Hirshfield after finishing American War, and then I returned to the poem.  I like the direction it's headed.  It includes the parched petunias on my porch, the ones I hope are making a comeback, and my poinsettia at work that doesn't realize that we're in the middle of summer, not December (its leaves are making the transition from green to red again!).

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cooking for Six

When I look back on this week, I think I will remember the grocery shopping and the cooking.  We have had a rotating schedule of providing meals for the camp counselors, and by the end of the week, I'll have been responsible for 2 days.

There are 5 camp counselors, so I'm cooking for 6; my spouse is out teaching every weeknight or it would be 7.  I usually have enough ingredients on hand to cook for 2-4 people--6 is a different matter.

Four college age kids, along with a high school counselor in training, and not one is vegetarian or vegan—what is wrong with the youth of today? Just kidding, of course—in a way, it makes it easier to cook for a big group.

One of the counselors can't eat pork and is lactose intolerant.  I don't usually cook much with pork (or with much meat).  But it's interesting to think about all the desserts I usually make and how much they depend on dairy.

On Monday, we had chicken poblano mole, with a black bean and corn salad, and tortillas and tortilla chips. Tonight we’ll have pasta with a variety of toppings: last night I made a tomato sauce, and marinated veggies with mushrooms and without (one counselor looked a bit queasy when I asked if everyone was O.K. with mushrooms). I overbought mushrooms, so I’ll make a mushroom and olive oil sauté. Or they could just top it with grated parmesan romano cheese mix—except for the one who is lactose intolerant.  My spouse made meatballs, which I added to the homemade tomato sauce last night.

We will have leftovers, because I would rather have too much than not enough.  It makes planning for lunches and suppers when we're not hosting the counselors much easier.

We were told that we could give the counselors money so that they could eat out.  But I figured that I'd need to give each one twenty dollars--I can cook for 5 a lot cheaper than $100.

Of course, I'm lucky.  I know how to cook, and I know how to cook for a crowd.  I know how to economize--but even if I didn't, cooking at home for 6 is cheaper than sending 5 kids out for dinner.

Now, to plan for dessert:  leftover brownies made with vegetable oil or make an olive oil citrus cake?  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dinner with the Camp Counselors

Last night's dinner with the camp counselors went well.  I was nervous about it, and those of you who are better at these social occasions might wonder why.

I knew it would be just me and the 5 camp counselors for dinner.  I'd have been less nervous if some of the church VBS leaders had tagged along, but they had been working VBS all day, so I understood why they didn't want to make the trek to my house.

I had decided to make chicken with poblano mole sauce.  It's been a success when I've served it before, but it's unusual.  I made a black bean and corn salad to go with it, and I put out tortillas and tortilla chips.  I hoped that people would find enough to eat.

Happily, they loved the chicken.  They took seconds of everything.  We talked about Wednesday's dinner.  I worried that they get pasta too often.  They've been staying in people's houses all summer, and some of them have been doing this for several years, and they said they've never had spaghetti.  So, I will make my pasta with marinated veggies, along with some meatballs in a tomato sauce, and I'll let them decide how to combine it all.

I find it fascinating that I'm making meals for 4 college students and a high school student, and no one is a vegetarian or a vegan.

The item that makes me most nervous about hosting a get together with people I don't know is the question of what we'll talk about.  I needn't have worried.  Our conversation was wide ranging, from all the foods one can deep fry (squares of mac and cheese anyone?) to strange food combinations, like peanut butter on a burger to various camp experiences, some with food, some not.  We spent a lot of time after dinner talking about musical instruments.

The high school student was fascinated by the dulcimer, which I bought for $40, but never taught myself to play.   Actually, it would be more accurate to say I taught myself, but now I don't remember--it was a brief season with the dulcimer. 

By the end of the evening, he played it with a bit of a slide guitar sound.  As always, I'm fascinated by how people play instruments when they've had no training.  What makes some of us frozen with fear, while others explore? And I was intrigued by the fact that all of us can play the ukulele, to some extent.  Is the ukulele becoming more popular?  Or was it just some fluke?  I suspect it has to do with how affordable an instrument it is and how accessible.

They stayed for about an hour and a half after dinner.  We talked not only about musical instruments, but about camp experiences, both the residence camp and the travelling to churches to assist with VBS camps.  I was interested to know what kinds of lodging they'd had.  They've stayed in people's guest rooms mostly, with a sleep sofa here and there.  So our cottage is perfectly fine; in fact, one of them said, "If I was a college student here, I'd love to rent something like this cottage."

As I cleaned up, I tried not to notice all the ways I'd failed to clean my house for them--I was too busy getting the cottage in shape.  I had clean dishes and a clean bathroom, but my floors could use a sweeping, and let's not talk about the dust. 

I decided long ago that I can't keep up the housekeeping standards of a past generation.  But I don't want to let that fact keep me from extending hospitality.  I suspect that most people don't even notice the dust--or they say, "Hey, I'm not the only one who lets the dusting get away from me."

I'd like to have people over more often--but that often requires a feat of scheduling that's beyond me.  So for now, let me be happy to have had this experience--and its reinforcement of my belief that this hospitality is a worthy skill to practice.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sunday Reunions

Yesterday was not only the day that the camp counselors came.  Our old campus pastor also came to worship.  I had time to reflect on our various journeys.

My spouse and I met at Newberry College, a Lutheran school in South Carolina that had more Southern Baptists than Lutherans.  Our campus pastor was also a professor.  Later, he would return to parish ministry and spend time as parish pastor at my grandmother's church in Greenwood, S.C., so I stayed in touch in a way I might not have otherwise. 

Much later, my spouse served on the board of Novus Way, the group that oversees 4 Lutheran camps and more programs than I could list here.  Our old campus pastor retired and found that he needed more to do than supply preaching--and thus, he travels across multiple states, supporting the mission of Novus Way.

Yesterday he came to our church for a variety of reasons; the main one was to give my spouse a beautiful print in honor of his service.  He also talked to the congregation about what their donations have made possible.  After the service, we had pizza and talked further.

At one point, I said, "Who'd have ever thought, back when you were my Phenomenology professor, that some day we'd be here, talking about church camp?"

One of the church members said, "Phenomenology?"

I said, "Yes.  I had to give an oral report on exorcism.  And one of my classmates was an ordained Baptist minister, and he said, 'Oh yes, I've done lots of them.'  And I never quite recovered my momentum."

Soon after that, we gave our campus pastor a hug, and he was on his way, driving all the way back to South Carolina in one day.  I said to my spouse, "I'm both glad that we're not making that long drive and slightly envious of that meditative state he might achieve."

We came home to keep working on projects, chief among them getting the cottage ready for the camp counselors.  I hope they'll be comfortable--I've done as much as I can do to that end, with the resources that we have.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Week-end Update: Graduation and Camp Counselor Prep

It has been a week-end with an odd mix of relaxing and getting things done.  When I look back on July and wonder why my writing didn't pick up once my intense online class ended in June, let me remember my spouse's intense July and how I tried to help him.

My work week lasted late on Friday, since I had to go to graduation.  In many ways, it was like most graduations.  Our Hollywood campus joins with the main campus in Ft. Lauderdale for the graduation ceremony.  Hollywood had far fewer graduates--let me remember these numbers when we compare retention rates.  At the Hollywood campus, most of our programs are still quite small--so when just one student decides to drop out, it impacts our retention rates far more radically.

Saturday morning, I got up with that barely-able-to-move feeling that's becoming more and more familiar--especially after an evening like Friday, when I was on my feet for hours.  But I drank some coffee and did some writing and eventually my muscles unclenched.

Yesterday my spouse and I began our morning together the way we have for several weeks now:  the task list and the divisions--the decisions about what must be done and what can be postponed.  And then the work commenced.  But we also had time to relax in the pool and to enjoy some burgers.

Our task list this week is complicated because we are hosting camp counselors who are coming to run our Vacation Bible School; see this post at my theology blog for more in-depth thoughts on this approach to VBS.  They will stay in the cottage, so it won't be as intense as it would be otherwise.  But it still involves some cooking, some cleaning, and some transport.

Late yesterday afternoon, I thought about getting some of the cleaning done.  I thought about baking.  But I was really enjoying the book I had just started:  American War by Omar El Akkad. Man oh man, is it a good read! It's a wonderful dystopian novel, set in the late 21st century. It's a fascinating way to look at climate change and refugee crises and the Civil War, both the one in the book, and the earlier one, the real one, in the 19th century.  These days, I get so little time to read the way I once did, when I just sink down into a book and settle in.  I decided to enjoy it.

Today I have a bit of time before the counselors arrive.  I'll do some cleaning and some set up.  I'll keep reminding myself that college kids who insist on resort style accommodations generally don't choose camp counselor as their summer job.  I'll keep reminding myself that hospitality doesn't mean that everything is perfect, but that everything is clean and comfortable with enough food to share.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Easter in July

Today, we celebrate the feast day of Mary Magdalene.  You might be saying, “Mary Magdalene? Wasn’t she possessed by demons? Wasn’t she a prostitute? Why would Christ appear to her anyway? Why does she get a feast day?”  Or maybe you remember more modern stories and think of her as Christ's secret lover and wonder if they had a secret family.

Or maybe you remember her in the Easter story as the first one to see Christ after the resurrection.  After Mary tells the disciples about the empty tomb, several of them race towards the tomb. They look, they assess, and then they go home. It is only Mary who stays behind to weep.

But because she stays behind to weep, to be still for a bit, she gets to be the first to see the risen Lord. The male disciples are first to see the evidence of resurrection, but Mary sees Christ. Soon others else will see him, but she is first.

The story of Mary Magdalene has much to say to us in the 21st century. We need to be reminded to stay alert for the Divine, and for each other. Busyness is the drug that many of us use to dull our senses. But in our busyness, we forget what's really important.

If we're too busy, we might miss Christ altogether. Both the Old and New Testament teach us that God will come to us in forms we least suspect. If we're not careful, we'll assume that we're not needed and go back to our houses. If we're not careful, we won't notice that the gardener is really Jesus.

It's good to be reminded of the resurrection story in the middle of July. Now the year is over half way done. We don't have the magic of spring to renew our spirits. We may be feeling scorched by the weather and by our dashed hopes for the year. It's good to remember the story that we can be part of; it's good to remember that we're promised grace and salvation.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Creativity Report: Thursday Night

Last night, I got home earlier than I have any other night this week.  I did some writing--a very small bit of writing.  Once I could write a huge chunk of short story, if not the entire short story, in an hour or two.  Now I feel lucky if I get a paragraph or two without feeling despair at not knowing how to write the story.

Next week we are hosting 2 camp counselors who are arriving to help our church lead Vacation Bible School.  Last night I found out that I'll be feeding them 2 nights, which is fine.  After all, when we agreed to host them, I assumed we might be feeding them dinner every night.  This week, my dinners have been my favorite:  wine, crackers, and cheese, which I feel O.K. about since I've been vigilant in portion control.  But that won't do for camp counselors.

I've had some poblano peppers that I bought when I planned to make a mole sauce.  They were on their last days, so I used the impending approach of camp counselors to make the sauce.  Later, I stuck it in the freezer for next week.

I had planned to collage, but I was running out of time.  I decided to go ahead and do it, just to see what would happen.  A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out some shelves, and I found a lot of materials that we kept in anticipation of doing more collaging.  I decided to throw away old calendars.  But I kept the envelopes of images and words that I cut out and saved. 

Last night, I decided that I didn't have to look through every envelope.  I found an old Christmas card that I liked, and I decided it would form the anchor of my collage.  I chose a few phrases, and a few other images.  When I was sorting, I came across a stash of mat boards that we bought at a sale long ago.  I decided on a purple mat board, even before I chose the images.  I love how it all came together:

I do notice that I tend not to collage like other people.  I have a lot of open space in my collages.  If I like the original image, it's hard for me to add other things on the image.  You'll notice that the Christmas card image is untouched, although I let things creep onto the white border.  The lantern had the purple glass.

When I used the modge podge, the images wrinkled a bit, and the blob at the lower right of the Christmas card formed.  I try to see it as part of the process, but my inner perfectionist is not happy.

If I look at this collage as a journaling exercise, it's clear to me what my soul is saying.  I'm ready for Christmas!  I'm also interested in more open spaces, in a different landscape.  What do those turtles mean?  Coming out of my shell or going in?  Wishing my house was more portable?

I didn't spend more than 45 minutes on this project, but I found it immensely satisfying.  Let me remember that for the future.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Love Each Other the Way You Have Loved the Monastery Dog

Near the end of our June retreat at Mepkin Abbey, I said, "I'm going to go home and love my husband the way we all love the monastery dog."

When I first met the monastery dog, I felt sorry for her.  I heard the story about how she appeared at the monastery in very bad shape, with a chain around her neck.  The monks took her in and taught her to trust the humans that show up at the monastery.

When I first met the dog, I thought about all the children who would never be part of her world.  But she has a never-ending supply of visitors who would likely pet her.  The monks take care of her.

I'm intrigued by how most people respond to the dog.  Almost everyone pets her head as she comes up to them with her wagging tail.  Many people kneel her level, all the better to be with her.  She seems to put most people in a better mood, and they respond to her accordingly.

She makes it easy to love her, in a way that humans don't always.  But how would the world change if we treated each and every human in the loving, soothing way that we treat the monastery dog?

I've had similar insights as I've watched toddlers move through the world.  I remember seeing a toddler in the process of having a crying meltdown in the parking lot--I'll never forget seeing the adult who was with her drop to her knees and talk in soothing tones.  It was so different than the way adults usually treat a child in the midst of a meltdown.

If we treated everyone that way, what a better world we would live in!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lessons from a Pudding Quest

When we had a planning session for this quarter's Student Appreciation week, we knew that students didn't want to have a salad bar.  We did that for Winter quarter, and because we had so many non-perishable salad items left, we did it for Spring too.  We thought about hot dogs for our summer Student Appreciation week, but I knew the smell would be oppressive (to me, at least).  I suggested ice cream, with toppings.  But that could be messy, what with all the melting ice cream.

I said, "How about pudding?  We could have similar toppings, but the pudding wouldn't melt the way ice cream will."  And thus, we agreed to pudding.  I had a vision of big tubs of ready-made pudding in the refrigerator section.

On Monday, I went out to get the pudding.  I thought it would be easy.  I went to the GFS, the store that wants us to think it's a Costco or Sam's, but without those membership fees.  They had pudding in a can.  I haven't thought about pudding in a large can since my days as a counselor at Girl Scout camp.  I can't remember what we did with the pudding, but I remember that our can opener didn't work, and so we used a rock and our penknives to open the can--punch, punch, punch, all the way round.

I went to Wal-Mart--no pudding in big vats in the refrigerated section, and no instant pudding either in the powdered section.  I started to worry.

Finally, in the Publix, I made a decision, after briefly considering switching to yogurt.  I went to the powdered pudding section, and there were pudding cups.  I compared the price to the small vats of ready-made pudding and how much it would cost to make pudding.  The pudding cups were cheaper.  And so, I switched my plan.

The pudding cups had advantages I didn't think of.  I was interested in big tubs because I thought it would be cheaper than other options--likewise, creating our own instant pudding.  But in addition to being cheaper, the pudding cups were more convenient--we didn't have to spend part of our morning making the pudding--and more important, we didn't have to dish out pudding.  We still used some paper bowls because we had thawed fruit and whipped cream that we'd kept in the freezer from a past student appreciation event that featured waffles.  But we didn't have to portion out pudding, so our prep time was much speedier.

So, in terms of waste, we probably generated more trash with this event.  But I took the cardboard packaging home to recycle, so I'm hoping we're about even.  And we used up some of the frozen stuff which was probably reaching its end date.  Just add it all to my tally--I need to spend my retirement planting trees to make up my debt to the planet!

As usual, I overbought, because I didn't want to run out.  We still have enough pudding for another event.  And because I bought cups, the pudding will keep.  If I bought vats of pudding, or if we made pudding, we'd have a lot of pudding to consume right now.

I'm glad I was able to change gears and go with an approach that worked better than the one I was convinced that we needed.  I'm glad that I had to consider other options when I couldn't find huge vats of pudding.  I'm glad that students seemed delighted to have pudding, even though they didn't eat as much as I thought they would.  I'm glad that my initial frustration at not finding pudding ended in a plan that worked.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Injecting Fitness into Regular Life

This morning, I did a little running as part of my morning walk to the marina to watch the sun rise.

Let me clarify.  I say running; you might watch me and beg to differ.  You might use a verb like jog or something that denotes an even slower speed.  Still, I haven't run much at all, much less at a sustained pace that lasts beyond a block, since 2015.  This morning, I did.  It felt great, until it started to feel painful.

I'm not planning to try to get back to my younger self who could run long distances.  I do miss that ability, but right now, I'm just trying to inject a bit more exercise into my days.  Lately in spin class, I've been thinking about "pushes," where we speed up for just 30 seconds, and I've thought about using that principle when I walk--because when I walk by myself, I'm rarely getting my heart rate up.

This morning, I could feel my pulse pounding--in a good way.

Before I started, my foot and back felt good, unlike some mornings where I can barely limp through my walk--on those mornings, I persevere because the movement helps loosen up the soreness.  This morning, perhaps because of the heavy pasta meal I ate last night, I felt raring to go.  And so, I let myself experiment with running a bit.  And it worked!

I've been trying to inject fitness into my days in other ways.  I work in an office that has energy saving lights that turn themselves off when there's no movement; often that happens when I'm still at my desk, since the motion sensor part of the light is in a strange spot.   So when the lights go out, I use it as a reminder to stretch.

I've thought of using a calendar reminder to stretch or to leave the desk--but I know how easy it is to ignore that, once I've got it set up.  The lights going out are harder to ignore.

I feel some of my fitness levels ebbing away as I sit at my desk day after day.  It's good to remember that I can reclaim parts of myself that I assumed might be lost forever--particularly as I'm dealing with foot pain and back pain.  It's good to remember what can be done, even when there's pain.  It's good to remember that midlife has it's challenges, but those challenges aren't the final word.

It's a good larger life lesson too.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Voldemort Defeats Me Too

I've been paying a smidge of attention to who is watching Game of Thrones and who is not.  I am not.  By the time someone told me I should tune in, there were 40 hours of show to watch.  I had already made the decision not to read the books, with their thousands of pages accumulated.  The sheer volume of it all was overwhelming.

The truth is that there's never been so much quality stuff to watch, and it should be easier than ever.  But I find myself appreciating old fashioned TV, where I can watch an episode here or there, and if I don't tune in for 6 months, I can easily drop back in.  And if I don't, that's fine too.

When Harry Potter was big, I was the only one in my circle who hadn't read the books.  Even my friends without children read the books.  I did see the first several movies, but I stopped somewhere along movie 5, where the movie was literally too dark to see on my TV screen.  Life is too short to squint for 3+ hours.

But a few months ago, I read Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny:  Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.  In chapter 9, "Be Kind to Our Language," he says, "One novel known by millions of young Americans that offers an account of tyranny and resistance is J.K. Rowling's, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  If you or your friends or your children did not read it that way the first time, then it bears reading again" (pp. 62-63).

I decided it was time to try to enter Harry Potter's world again.  I had hopes that my familiarity with the movies might help me understand the plot and the characters.

But I just can't keep going:  130 pages, and I'm confused and frustrated and wondering when the action will happen.
I'm throwing in the towel.  Life is short, and there's so much to read.
I am happy to have retrieved a memory.  When I read Voldemort's name, I was reminded of a president at my old school who was stymied and when he wasn't stymied, he made progress at what appeared to be an attempt to destroy what we had all built.  It became clear that we should be careful when we talked about him, even if we thought no one could hear.  And so, we named him Voldemort.
It probably fooled no one.  In retrospect, those of us talking probably were beneath his notice.  But the memory of us adopting that name for the one who seemed to be an arch villain made me smile--while also making me wince.
Would that be a useful nugget for the collection of short stories I'm writing?  One hundred years from now, will the reference to Voldemort be understood?
How much a part of popular culture will these books remain?  I suspect that they have serious staying power.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Good Reading for Sleepless Nights

The last few nights have been somewhat sleepless.  I'm the first one on the list of people the alarm company calls when the alarm goes off at school.  We've had calls two nights in a row about the same classroom.  The first night, Friday night, it took me 2 hours to fall back asleep.  Last night I had trouble sleeping, but when the call came, I did manage to fall back asleep.

The first night, I got up and read two chapters of the last Harry Potter novel.  I'm finding myself frustrated in the same ways (moments of delight at the inventiveness punctuated by long spells of boredom when I think about scenes that could be eliminated or condensed) that I was with the first 2 novels, and I don't know if I'm up for 700+ more pages of this.

Last night, I read Love, Henri:  Letters on the Spiritual Life, a collection of Henri Nouwen's letters.  What a delight!  I'm not done yet, but it has captivated me--I can't wait to return to it.

I had hoped that it would be this kind of reading experience.  I've always loved Nouwen's journals more than his more intentional writing.  And when I've read work pulled from letters he wrote, I've loved that too. 

His letters are full of warmth and honesty, no matter the audience.  They're also full of good advice, even now, decades after they were written for someone specific.  Here's an example:  ". . . we would do well to think about what pastoral care for nostalgic people means.  After all, don't we all desire to return to paradise?" (p. 8).

I was also intrigued by his work/academic/pastor life trajectory:  not serious to get tenure at some schools, not theologically minded enough, not focused on regular pastoral life, so hard to please everyone.

The beginning material by the woman who compiled the text also provided fascinating insight into his writing life, his letter writing life.  He was so meticulous, and even though his letters may talk about how long it has taken him to respond, he was responding to lots of people and staying connected.

I wish I could say that after reading his work, I fell into a blissful, non-worried sleep, but that was not the case.  I read his book and wanted to write letters or theology or stay up late praying.  To me, that's the mark of a wonderful book.