Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Feast Day of Santa Lucia

December 13 is the day that Scandinavian countries celebrate Santa Lucia day, or St. Lucy's day. There will be special breads and hot coffee and perhaps a candle wreath, for the head or for the table.

 The feast day of Santa Lucia is one that’s becoming more widely celebrated. Is it because more Midwestern Scandinavian descendents are moving to other climates? Are we seeing a move towards celebrating saints in Protestant churches? Or is it simply a neat holiday which gives us a chance to do something different with our Sunday School programming and Christmas pageant impulses?

I first heard about St. Lucia Day at our Lutheran church in Charlottesville, Virginia. As the tallest blonde girl, I was selected to lead the St. Lucia day procession when I was in my early teen years. The grown ups placed a wreath with candles on my head and lit the candles. The younger children carried their candles. I walked up the church aisle and held my head very still.

I still remember the exhilarating feeling of having burning candles near my hair. I remember hot wax dripping onto my shoulders--I was wearing clothes and a white robe over them, so it didn't hurt.

It felt both pagan and sacred, that darkened church, our glowing candles. I remember nothing about the service that followed.

A year or two later, Bon Appetit ran a cover story on holiday breads, and Santa Lucia bread was the first one that I tried.

A picture from that cover story

What a treat. For years, I told myself that baking holiday breads was a healthy alternative to baking Christmas cookies--but then I took a long, hard look at the butterfat content of each, and decided that I was likely wrong. I also decided that I didn’t care.

 I still bake that bread almost every year, and if you’d like to try, this blog post will guide you through it. If you’re the type who needs pictures, it’s got a link to a blog post with pictures.

As a feminist scholar and theologian, I’ve grown a bit uncomfortable with virgin saints, like Santa Lucia. Most sources say we don’t know much about her, which means that all sorts of traditions have come to be associated with her. Did she really gouge out her eyes because a suitor commented on their beauty? Did she die because she had promised her virginity to Christ? Was she killed because the evil emperor had ordered her to be taken to a brothel because she was giving away the family wealth? We don’t really know.

 The lives of these virgin saints show us how difficult life is in a patriarchal regime. It’s worth remembering that many women in many countries don’t have any more control over their bodies or their destinies than these long-ago virgin saints did. In this time of Advent waiting, we can remember that God chose to come to a virgin mother who lived in a culture that wasn’t much different than Santa Lucia’s culture.

 Or we can simply enjoy a festival that celebrates light in a time of shadows.

I love our various festivals to get us through the dark of winter. When I lived in colder, darker places, I wished that the early church fathers had put Christmas further into winter, when I needed a break. Christmas in February makes more sense to me, even though I understand how Christmas ended up near the Winter Solstice.

 So, happy Santa Lucia day! Have some special bread, drink a bracing hot beverage, and light the candles against the darkness.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Treats

Will this be the year I bake no Christmas bread?  I have Christmas breads on the brain because tomorrow is the feast day of Santa Lucia, and by Dec. 13, I've usually baked several batches of cookies and multiple types of bread.

I say usually--but that hasn't been true for at least a decade and probably longer.  Between my shift from faculty work to administrative work (which requires more time in an office) and more Christmas travel and a desire not to gain 20 pounds every year--I don't do much holiday baking.

I have shifted my joy to other parts of the holidays.  I love the variety of lights I see this time of year.  My spouse tries to play every Christmas CD we have at least once, and that's a delight. 

The weather doesn't always cooperate, but last night, we had a fire in the fireplace.  I thought back to grad school, where one of my friends dated a man who had a fireplace in his office.  She talked about finishing her semester's papers in front of that fireplace.  That sounded like such an amazing treat--it still does.  We watched TV while we sat in front of the fireplace--that, too, was an amazing treat.

This morning I drank my V8 juice in one of my glass Christmas mugs.  It's not as wonderful a treat as coffee in that mug along with a piece of Santa Lucia bread, but this morning it will have to do.  I have a non-leisurely morning--I'm subbing for a colleague.  I only have to proctor a final exam, but it means I must be early.

Tonight I'll take a walk through the neighborhood and enjoy the Christmas lights.  And then it's back to grading--my online grades are due tomorrow.  That, too, is a treat of sorts.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Fighting the Chill

We have gone from record setting highs on Thursday to very chilly temps--it's 50 degrees outside, and all the windows have condensation.  I will wear my very heavy purple jacket, the one I can only wear a few times a year when the weather turns cold.

And yes, I realize that it's not really cold, according to any state to our north.  I've been watching everyone post their snow pictures on Facebook.  I'd been feeling a bit jealous, but now I'm ready for our warm weather to return.  It makes me rethink my vague ideas of where we might relocate, if rising seas and insurance costs make it impossible to stay here.

Still, even with the chilly temperatures, it was possible to sit on the porch in the late afternoon.  Instead of wine, I drank coffee.  I posted this on Facebook:  "Wild living, midlife style: we're drinking coffee at 4:43 on a Sunday afternoon. Can we drink enough to keep us awake until 9 or 10, but not enough so that we're still awake at midnight?"

I was trying to finish The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher before it was due back at the library.  It's strange to read a book where I agree with the basic premise (our modern culture is toxic), but I disagree with lots of the reasoning that Dreher takes to get there.  For a more complete review, see this post on my theology blog.

Last night I took my library books back and enjoyed the lights beating back the early night.  That's the part of the season I miss the most, once January has settled in.

Perhaps tonight we'll have a fire in the fireplace.  I always wonder about these historical houses with their fireplaces.  Is it because people came from the north and couldn't imagine not needing a fireplace? 

We've talked about converting it to gas as we repair the house.  But that's a ways down the road. For tonight, perhaps we will burn wood in the fireplace--another way to beat back the chill.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The House of the Tabletop Christmas Trees

A Jew, a Hindu and a Wiccan all come to the House of Tabletop Christmas Trees.  It sounds like the set up for a joke, but it's what happened yesterday when I hosted my quilt group.  I thought I might be the only one who celebrates Christmas, but while I am the only practicing Christian, we all observe Christmas to some extent.

I even got out my small collection of Christmas dishes.  Long, long ago, I had a group of grad school friends who gathered each Saturday to stitch.  One year we went to a house where we had cappuccino served in glass Christmas mugs, which I thought was the epitome of festiveness.  Years later, when I saw a similar set at an after-Christmas sale at Williams-Sonoma, I snatched it right up.  I have a set of 4 dessert plates, and 2 non-matching larger plates with a Christmas tree.

Now that I'm in a much smaller house, I question the wisdom of having stuff designed for just one season--but for now, I still have them, and it makes me happy to use them. 

While we were gathered, a cold front came through--with rain and gloominess, so it was great to be inside.  Last night, it was too chilly to linger long on the front porch.

It is hard to believe that two weeks from now will be Christmas Eve.  I always say that my favorite time of year is mid-September until late December:  so many great holidays, so many reasons to feel festive, such a welcome changes of weather (back and forth, from summer to winter and points in between), and so many memories.

Only yesterday have I found time to sit and listen to a whole Christmas CD.  It was great to have time to sit and catch up with friends, while listening to Christmas music.  While others feel sad that I don't have a traditional tree, like past years, I am happy that in every direction I look, a tree twinkles at me.

In past years, I've made use of Christmas greenery, and often ended the Christmas season with an oozy, goopy eye.  I'm allergic to pine, and last year, we spent every evening on the porch, surrounded by pine boughs.  By Christmas, I could hardly see out of my eye, my allergic reaction was so bad.

This year, I bought small rosemary bushes cut in a Christmas tree shape for the front porch.  So far this season, my eye is fine.

I can't say the same for my eating healthy goals.  On Friday, at our Holiday Open House Meet and Greet, I ate far too many cookies from Trader Joe's.  I bought them because I am usually not interested in mass produced cookies, but they were surprisingly delicious.

Ah well, far too soon it will be time to get back to more sensible ways.  Still let me look for ways to insert some sanity into my work days this week--we don't have any festive events at work this week.

Let us take some time today, before the holidays' hectic schedule completely overtakes us, to sit and contemplate the beauty and the mystery of the season.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Virgin Mary and the Discount Store

I saw the Virgin Mary outside of Marshalls last night.  She was feeding a bottle to a baby in a carriage.  In broken English, she asked for help for her baby.  I guessed that her native language was Italian, but it might have easily been Spanish or a language from the countries near the Holy Land.

No, I haven't lost my mind.  I am working on an idea for a poem.  But the above incident did happen--I did see a young woman in the shadows beside the entrance of Marshalls.  I smiled at her, even though I knew I might be inviting further interaction.  I would likely have smiled anyway, but in the season of Advent, with the Advent texts in my head, there was this strange moment when I thought about the Virgin Mary and angel messengers.

But of course, my encounter was more mundane.

She did ask me for money.  I don't often give away money (in fact, I rarely have cash), but there's something about a person with a child that can move me to give--and yes, I know that's easy to manipulate.  I know that there might be a man somewhere who drops the woman and baby off at a shopping center and says, "Don't come back until you get x amount of money."
But last night, I had a 10 dollar bill in my purse, which I gave her.  She said, in broken English, "But diapers cost $25 a box."
I said, "That's all the cash I have.  At least you now have more than you had."
Do I regret giving her the money?  No.  I suspect it will go to something for the baby, not for drugs or alcohol, the usual reason I don't give when I have cash.  But it did make me feel incredibly sad, this woman begging outside a discount store that has tons of deeply discounted clothes from past seasons.  It makes me feel sad knowing that harder times are surely coming for people in poverty.
And my brain immediately started crafting a poem.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Energy Ebbs and Flows

It is interesting to me to watch my patterns of energy.  On Wednesday, I felt ablaze, and I got a wide variety of tasks accomplished.  Yesterday, I crashed a bit.  I was still able to get through the day's agenda, but I didn't feel that same surging energy.

I hope my energy level is a bit higher today because we've got a big day on campus.  It's a holiday Meet and Greet Open House.  We'll have incoming students come in to meet people and get books ordered and paperwork completed--in short, it's a pre-Orientation opportunity that helps Orientation go more smoothly.  Beginning with this Meet and Greet, we're adding an Open House element--we're inviting everyone who has ever shown an interest in our school.

So, we could have 30 people come or 300--it makes it hard to plan from a food and beverage perspective.  I'm prepared to make a quick Publix run if we need more soda or bottled water.

Meanwhile on the home front, here, too, my energy has ebbed a bit.  I want to sort bookshelves and closets and kitchen supplies, but what to do with all the detritus?  I should see about various organizations who will come to my house, at least to pick up small stuff, like clothes.

I want to get rid of the dining room table and chairs--they're too heavy, too dark, with too many knobs where dust collects.  And did I mention how heavy they are?  And the surface of the table discolors if you glower at it.

Still, I know there's someone out there who might love it.  I wish I could figure out how to find that person.  After Christmas, I'll be more proactive about getting rid of furniture.

Now let me get ready for work--before I go to campus, I'm going to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hurricane Recovery

I ended up taking half a day off work yesterday to be home while the cottage foundation repair work was going on.  I felt a bit nervous about it--what if they had questions that I couldn't answer?  What if something dreadful happened?  In the end, it was fine.

Is our cottage foundation now more secure?  I assume so, but how would I know?  As I said before the final inspection, "You know, if you had showed up to mow my yard, I'd know how to evaluate your work."  They had drilled holes around the edge of the cottage on the inside, put a nozzle down the holes, filled the empty space with a foam that will harden and be waterproof, and filled the holes with concrete.  They even cleaned up the dust. 

My spouse worried that they might not show up at all.  He worried it might be a massive scam--after all, it's not too hard to hire pleasant people to talk on the phone and to manufacture some web sites that attest to your competence. 

The worker said that they had piped in more foam than they had anticipated.  So I'm assuming that we did have a problem that has now been solved.

As they worked in the cottage, I got a lot of grading done.  I had thought that I might get them started, go to work, and then come back, but the job ended up not taking as long as I thought it might.  It made more sense to stay home.

After they left, I applied online for a loan from the Small Business Administration.  You might ask, "You have a small business?"  No, but  I got notice from FEMA that we weren't eligible for disaster assistance because we have insurance, but we could apply for a loan from the SBA, which is how the U.S. Government loans citizens money for disaster recovery.  We'll see what the terms are and if we even need the money--but the deadline is upon us, so I went ahead and applied.

I have noticed this tendency in myself in past disasters, so I want to record it, in part so that I remember, and in part, in case it helps others.  After the disaster, I tend to shut down a bit--in some cases, completely.  I have trouble making decisions or even deciding on an approach.  And then, I come out of the disaster fog.

I'm still a bit overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. But I'm happy to be feeling more capable of doing it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Sociology of Gingerbread

I am tired today, in part because I didn't get enough sleep, and in part because I subbed for a colleague yesterday, which means I stood up all morning.  So, I didn't sleep well, in part because of my aching lower body.

I know that many teach from a seated position, but I've never been able to do that.  Plus I know that the class could be somewhat rowdy, so I wanted to be standing so that I got a full view.

The class wasn't rowdy--in fact, they were delightful.  I know that I came to the class from a very different position than the teacher, so I'm not reading much into it.  We spent the first 90 minutes talking about social change and how social change comes about--a great discussion about social justice movements.  We took a break, and then did a thorough exam review.  When I didn't know an answer, we looked it up in the textbook.

I realized that I've always felt like a failure if I have to send people to the book, while many students like using the book this way--an interesting insight.

While I was teaching upstairs, gingerbread house decorating began downstairs.  Here's my favorite picture from the day:

I spent the afternoon trying to recover from teaching.  In retrospect, I probably should have gone offsite for lunch to give myself a chance to regroup.  When I teach the way I did yesterday, it takes a lot of energy, which leaves me drained.  I'm not at my most patient, problem-solving self in the hours after a class.

But overall, it was a good day.  When students are enthusiastically decorating gingerbread houses, how can it be a bad day?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Unexpected Administrator Tasks

Yesterday was one of those days at work where I was struck again and again by how many tasks are not exactly what I thought I would be doing when I took this job as Director of Education.  For example, yesterday I cleaned water from the freezer of the fridge and tried to determine what had made the ice melt.  The fridge light was on, so we had power.  But we didn't have cool air in the fridge.  I turned the temperature gauge all the way to coldest and waited to see what would happen.

Happily it seems to be fixed.  One of our colleagues reported that she had dropped by the building on Sunday to get a USB drive, and it was very hot in our offices, so I'm guessing that we had a power outage; actually, I think a breaker was tripped, since the fridge in the student lounge was fine.

I went to Wal-Mart and made a lot of purchases for the coming month:  food and decorations for our Meet and Greet Open House, gingerbread house kits and mini marshmallows for our Winter Wonderland Festival week, and granola bars to greet students for week 1 morning classes in January.  I also bought general supplies, like paper plates and creamer for our coffee.

If we had a larger staff, maybe there would be someone else to make the Wal-Mart run.  But we don't.  Some days it's easiest for me to get away, and so I do.  Some days, others do the shopping.  We're all doing activities here and there that are outside of our job descriptions.

In many ways, it gives each of us on staff room to do more, if we choose.  It can be liberating and give us unexpected opportunities.  For example, much of our week-long Winter Wonderland Festival was planned by a woman whose primary duty is to staff the front desk.  Since we don't have a Student Activities coordinator or team, she was able to launch the festival she envisioned without worrying about stepping on the toes of someone with that job description.  Similarly, when I created the pumpkin decorating day, I just went ahead and did it--no need to worry that I would insult the Dean of Student Affairs, a position which doesn't exist on our campus.

I'm trying to improve retention, and I know some (most?) of the factors that cause students to withdraw are outside of my power to change, like illness or job loss.  But I'm hoping that if we make the campus a place that always has some interesting activity just around the corner, students won't drift away.  So far, our retention numbers have improved, so I'll keep doing what we're doing.

Truth be told, I like planning ways to make the weeks more meaningful.  Some approaches, like the pumpkin decorating, appeal to my inner camp counselor.  Some appeal to my inner chaplain, like the display that we created for Veterans Day, when we invited the entire campus to post pictures and stories of their favorite veterans.

Most days, it's the academic part of my brain that I use most, as I think about classes we're offering and how to staff them and how to make sure that students are making satisfactory progress.  When that work is going well, it's intensely satisfying.  When the problem solving isn't coming as easily, it's nice to take a break to go buy supplies for the campus, even if that's not exactly my job description.

And it probably won't be a surprise when I say that I often solve the thorniest problems as I'm driving to the store.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Annunciation from Different Angles

Yesterday, my church looked at the story of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel appears to Mary.  I was in charge of the interactive service, and I wanted to do something different, since I'm often in charge of the service that looks at the Annunciation.

Several years ago I was part of a project that had poets writing poems about the Annunciation.  Elizabeth Adams, the editor, created art to go with the poems.  Her publishing company published the book, and I ordered extra copies.  For more information about the book, and to order your own copy, go here.

We are celebrating Advent by having waffles between services, so as people ate their waffles, I read the story of the Annunciation in Luke.  After we sang two songs, we looked at the books.  We didn't have lots of time, so there wouldn't be a reading of the whole book, just a quick look to see what leapt out at us.

I divided the group into smaller groups, since I didn't have a book for everyone.  Each group chose a poem, with mine not being one of the options, and read it out loud.

The exercise seemed to go well.  People liked seeing the story from other angles, including from the perspective of the angel Gabriel.  The exercise did what I wanted it to do, which was to get us to think about the story in a different way.  Those of us who have been going to church for years have been hearing this story every year.  It's easy to forget how strange a story it is.

As I went to the next service, the more traditional service in the sanctuary, I looked at my feet which are a bit swollen with arthritis.  I thought about the story of Elizabeth, who was older than I am, and the swellings of middle and older age and of pregnancy--and I spent the next service, working on a poem.

So, it was a good morning, all around.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Annunciation Saturday

I started yesterday steeping myself in the Annunciation.  On Thursday, I had tried writing a list poem of reasons why women before Mary might have said no to the angel Gabriel, with his message of God's plan to take on human flesh in the form of a baby.

I didn't really like the list poem, although it helped me think about the categories of reasons why women might have said no to the opportunity of being the mother of the Divine.  Yesterday I wrote a different version of the poem, and I liked it much better.

I have the Annunciation on the brain because today I am in charge of the interactive service at our church.  We are off lectionary, so we're looking at the story of the annunciation.  I was trying to think of something new to do.  We've done plays and that kind of approach.

Today, I'm taking copies of Annunciation:  Sixteen Contemporary Poets Consider Mary.  One of those poets is me.  When the book came out a few years ago, I ordered extra copies because I could get an author's discount.  I thought I might want to have them if I did readings, but so far, that hasn't happened.  They have sat on my shelf since they came to my mailbox.

So, today, we'll look through the book to see if any of the poems or woodcuts speak to us.  Yesterday after I wrote my poem, I looked at the book to be sure that there wasn't anything too intense for children.  I should look again, because I got distracted by the poems that I read, and then I wanted to find more from the authors, and then I was down the rabbit hole of the Internet--but in a good way.

I've meant to return to this book since I ordered the copies.  I thought I might use it for an Advent practice, but that hasn't happened.  I'm glad to have an opportunity to spend some time with the book, and I hope others will enjoy it too.  If you'd like a copy, you can order it here.

I am often in charge of the interactive service during Advent, at least one of them, and I often choose the Annunciation.  I do worry that I say the same thing year after year.  There's nothing wrong with that--in fact it could be good.

But this year, I'm sure I haven't had this approach.  Tomorrow, I'll report back on how it goes.

The rest of the day moved me away from thoughts of the annunciation.  We did some trimming of the hedges.  I kept my spouse company--he did some grading for his online class on the porch, and I read--very pleasant.  I got a haircut and spent time with the friends with whom I always get a haircut.

Our talk turned to how the hurricane has impacted our thinking.  Our hairdresser is thinking about selling her house and renting for as long as she continues to live in the area.  One of my friends spent $17,000 to get a whole house generator.  I play with a variety of possibilities, like buying a house further inland and north of Lake Okeechobee (I could get there on one tank of gas, so it would give me an evacuation shelter), but the first thing to do is repair the damage to the 2 small houses on my property. 

When I got home, my spouse and I took a walk to the marina where we saw huge yachts docked at Hollywood restaurants across the Intracoastal.   We went home to a pasta supper and a glass of wine--perhaps just a variation of what those rich yacht folks were eating.  It's good to remember the pleasures of this place, even while preparing for disaster.

I wonder if I could weave those elements into an Annunciation poem?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

New Year's Eve

You may think I'm a bit early--or maybe you worry that December zoomed right by you.

No, I'm not talking about December 31, 2017.  I'm talking about the liturgical year, which ends today.  Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, although with Christmas Eve on a Sunday, many churches might have already started observing Advent.

What if we used this day the way that some of us might use New Year's Eve?  We could serve champagne and stay up to greet the new year at midnight.

Far better, though, if we use this day to think about our spiritual lives, especially the past year of our spiritual lives.  What has fed us spiritually in the past year?  What might we like to see more of in the year to come?

For me, it's been a stormy spiritual year.  My work life has consumed more hours than I'm used to, as we geared up for an accreditation site visit.  Many of my friends have been working through new milemarkers in their lives:  new jobs, new houses, impending moves, children/family members in transition too.  And then, there have been literal storms, like Hurricane Irma, which has left many of us considering our life choices.

I am pleased that I held onto some of the spiritual practices that moor me, even as I've felt increasingly adrift.  But make no mistake:  I am tired of feeling like a tiny ship taking on water on a stormy sea.

I am ready for the occasional retreat that helps to restore me.  This past year, I couldn't go to the Create in Me retreat because it coincided with our accreditation visit.  This year, I've already requested and been granted the leave time for that retreat.  I'm hoping to get to Mepkin Abbey too.

I am ready for regular creative practices that inject delight into my week.  I've done a fair job at my sketchbook journaling, but I finished a poetry legal pad today, and I didn't write as many rough drafts of poems this past year as other years.

Perhaps it is time to get more involved in worship planning.  I've done some of that in the past year.  I've written prayers for the liturgy, which I always enjoy.  I've liked the days when I've been in charge of the whole service, although those days do leave me exhausted.  For Advent, I'm in charge of 3 of our interactive service, which I'm looking forward to.

In this new year, I also want to stay open to all of the possibilities.  I want to remember the Advent message of the importance of staying alert and awake.  And I want to remember that new life can come out of the ashes--when it looks like all is over (think Elizabeth), the new vision might be unfolding.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Building Cathedrals of Social Justice, Stone by Stone

Each week, new revelations emerge about powerful men and the women they've sexually abused.  Some of the revelations, like the ones about Matt Lauer, are horrific.  Others are more puzzling.  I did not come of age in the 60's; I'm not comfortable with nakedness in the workplace.  I'm don't subscribe to the "if it feels good, do it" ethos; the thought of prison or bankruptcy or job loss or gaining 50 pounds in a year keeps me from doing many things that might bring me temporary good feelings.

On Tuesday when Garrison Keillor was suddenly fired, I felt this weariness.  I wrote this Facebook post:

"In these days when it feels like no one is living a life according to their values--or maybe the problem is the repellent values--let me remember forces of good in my small corner of the world:
--our Vet Tech student group who raised over $1000 (small donation by small donation) for a local charity that helps fund operations for pets that belong to families who are too poor to pay for the operations.
--my pastor, who has never been afraid to the preach the Good News that demands justice for the poor and oppressed; he's currently working on a sermon that weaves themes of gender justice with the Advent story of the Annunciation.
--all of the faculty members I know who are tirelessly helping students get to the finish line.
--all of the people who share their stories to demand justice for both themselves and those who cannot speak.
--more family members and friends than I can count, many of whom have stood beside me for decades, demanding the better world that we know we can create."

It is good to remember that it's these small acts that so often build together until change comes.  And we may feel that the change is temporary, but it's really not.  I know that we may feel we're revisiting Civil Rights issues that we may have thought were solved or sexual harassment issues that we thought we laid to rest with Anita Hill--it's good to remember that even though we made progress, we weren't done.  And now it's time to do some more to bend the arc of history towards justice.

Today is a good day to remember what ordinary citizens can do.  On this day in in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.  This liberation work had been going on since the end of the Civil War, and before, during the times of slavery.

For generations, people had prepared for just such a moment that Rosa Parks gave them. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.  We should take heart from their example.  Those Civil Rights workers faced much steeper odds than we face.

Today is also World Aids Day, a somber day that recognizes that this plague has been one of the most destructive diseases in human history. Let us remember another band of activists who worked hard to make sure that humanity vanquished this disease--I'm thinking of ACT UP, but AIDS united many groups that might not have otherwise found a common cause.

Many people idolize Ronald Reagan, but I will never be able to forget how he refused to take leadership as this disease emerged.  I am haunted by all the lives lost, and perhaps needlessly--if only . . . but history is so full of this needless loss.

It's easy to get bogged down in despair; we have survived earlier difficult days, and we will survive current and future difficulties coming our way too.

We can't know how long the struggle might be. Those of us who work towards social justice and human dignity for all are similar to those medieval builders of cathedral: we may not be around to see the magnificent completion of our vision, but it's important to play our part. In the words of that old Gospel song, we keep our eyes on the prize, our hands on the plow, and hold on.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thanksgiving: The Recap with More Details

Perhaps tomorrow I'll do some writing about Garrison Keillor and the events of yesterday that led to his firing and the disappearance of The Writer's Almanac.  Or maybe I won't.  I will say that while I was never a huge fan of A Prairie Home Companion (I liked a story line here or there, but much of it gave me a headache), I did appreciate all that he did for poetry, and he did a lot.

Today, one week after Thanksgiving, let me remember some highlights of our trip.

Things that were the same:

--We still go to Lutheridge, where we rent a huge house that can't be damaged by rambunctious children.  We've been meeting there for over 20 years, so it feels like a homecoming to me.

--We cooked a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, even though the kitchen is far from updated.  The oven is very small (a turkey roaster that my cousin brings helps us get everything ready), and there's no dishwasher.  Still, we manage just fine.

--There were football games in the back yard.

--We made numerous trips to Wal-Mart.  Part of me still feels sorrow about the development that has sprung up around a camp that in my childhood was very isolated.  Part of me recognizes how convenient it is to have the Wal-Mart right there.

--I did some quilting--I had a baby quilt to finish for a colleague who is pregnant and had a baby shower earlier this week.

--The ride was long, especially Interstate 95 in South Carolina where traffic slows for no apparent reason.  But it was good to see different sights, especially the fall leaves, which were still brightly colored and on the trees.  We don't always have an autumnal feast for the eyes like the one we had this trip.

--Lutheridge has a residential community of a few dozen houses.  As always, we took walks, and I wondered what it would be like to live there.  As always, yearnings bubbled up in me.  They were fiercer this year, since we have made very little progress at repairing our hurricane damage back home.

--We went to Fletcher Park, an amazing regional park.  This year, Frisbee golf was the attraction.  And the dog park . . . which leads me to what was new.

What was new:

--My cousin's family has an adorable dog named Slugger, a Golden Retriever/Poodle mix.  He's only 5 months old.  He spent much of the time at the kennel where he stayed, but we spent some time with him each day.

--Most of us did a 5 K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.  It was in Hendersonville, a nearby town; the route took us through a lovely Main Street, a cemetery, and lots of gorgeous homes.  I hung out at the back with my cousin and his two small sons.  It was a low-key kind of event, the kind where you didn't even have to pay the entrance fee if you didn't want a t-shirt.  Pets were welcome, and I don't think I've ever walked 3 miles with as many dogs.  I was cold in the 31 degree weather, but not in a lot of pain.  I felt relief about being able to complete the course.  I need all the reminders that I can get that arthritis is manageable, and it doesn't necessarily lead to being completely disabled.

--On Thanksgiving night, I heard a commotion, just after I thought we had all turned in for the night.  I was a little worried that someone had seen a rodent.  I walked out, and one of the children said, "We found a cat!"  Happily, the cat was in good shape, so we didn't have to figure out how to find a home for a stray.  We gave the cat some milk, and said that we'd check back outside in 15 minutes to make sure the cat wasn't cold.  By then the cat had disappeared.

--We went to the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.  The mountains around Asheville, NC now house many breweries, a major change that we've witnessed.  We didn't take a tour, in part because they were full, in part because it takes 90 minutes, and there's very little that would keep my interest for 90 minutes--certainly not manufacturing.  But we did go to the tasting room and restaurant.  There were only 4 brews of the 29 that my spouse had never tasted, so that was fun.  I really enjoyed the food. 

--We went to the brewery on Black Friday.  I foolishly thought that everyone would be shopping--come to find out, it's one of their busier days.  On Thursday night, we tried to get some Black Friday deals at Wal-Mart, where it was emptier than I expected, and while there were very good deals, I returned home with nothing.

--We finally had a chance to shoot off the rockets that my uncle created out of soda pop bottles.  You put water in them, pump them with a bicycle pump, and then pull the string that pulls out the cork.  It's a demonstration of one of the basic laws of physics, about actions and reactions.  It amazed us all, from the youngest to the oldest.

In short, it was wonderful to be together, well worth the long car trip.  I am grateful that we still make the effort.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Random Wednesday Thoughts Post Internet Restoration

At some point, maybe tomorrow, I'll have both time and Internet connection to reflect back on Thanksgiving.  Today is not that day.  Let me record a few brief observations:

--I get a lot more done when the Internet is gone--the old-fashioned kind of work.  Yesterday I made serious progress on a short story that's been eluding me for a month.

--I was surprised by how many things I thought I wanted to look up, but couldn't, because of lack on Internet access.  I kept writing, and it didn't really matter.

--Interesting to realize how often my brain wants to distract me.

--Someone cut the line at the pole.  I was surprised to realize how relieved I was when I found out that the lack of Internet access wasn't my fault and that I couldn't have fixed it, no matter how I tried.  The Comcast tech took 2 hours to get us back online.

--Of course, I didn't completely disconnect.  Unlike my time at Thanksgiving, I did listen to NPR.

--My brain circles back to North Korea's missile test.  For the past 10 years, I've thought that I was worrying about the wrong apocalypse--I spent my youth looking for mushroom clouds, not rising seas or temperatures.  Now I'm worried about it all.

--Part of me isn't as worried as I would have been in my younger years.  I've lived a lot and gotten to do a lot.  If it all went up in flames or waves today, I wouldn't have many regrets except for not having a chance to have great experiences again.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Brief Thanksgiving Week Recap

It's hard to believe that a week ago, I'd have been anxiously waiting to see if the turkeys would arrive and if they would be delicious.  Why was I anxious?  I called Doris' Italian Market, and they assured me that all was underway.  Still, I felt the burden of the responsibility.

In the end, we'd have been fine, even without turkey.  I didn't anticipate that people would bring so much food.  It was a delightful event.  I lost many hours of productivity to making the event happen--but then again, maybe it was the most important kind of productivity, working to weave us all together into a community.

And then I went home, packed, slept for a few hours, and then we drove north to celebrate Thanksgiving again, with a different community.  It was one of the best Thanksgivings ever, and I'll write about it in more detail in the days to come.

I returned home with a poem in my head--let me record the idea here before I lose it.  I want to write about Jesus getting a dog.  My cousin's family arrived with their new dog:  Slugger, the poodle/golden retriever mix.  They called it a Goldenpoo, but a Goldendoodle is probably a better name for the dog mix.

I thought I would write more yesterday, and I was home in time to do so.  But we discovered that our Internet connection had been lost, and so, there would be no blogging yesterday.  There was also no chance to do grading or other work for online classes, which made for a much more peaceful re-entry.  We washed clothes and ate turkey sandwiches on the front porch.  We took a nap and then, as the light left the sky, we walked to the marina.  It was good to be reminded of why we live here.

We are beginning to move out of our post-hurricane despair.  Part of our discussion on the porch yesterday revolved around the home repairs that need to be done, and how we have the opportunity to have a house that's closer to what we want.

How long will we keep the house?  We simply do not know, but hopefully we can fix it up and enjoy it, before those decisions come crashing on our heads.

My re-entry to work has been relatively calm too.  Let me hope that it remains so.  And now, let me get back to that work.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Make a Holiday Sanity Plan

Some of us have already started our holiday preparations.  Regardless of how far along we are, this week-end is a good time to plan for how we're going to have a meaningful holiday season, how we're going to resist the consumerist, capitalist madness of a whirlwind that tends to sweep us all along.

Let's strategize. How can we avoid a hectic season? How can we invite more contemplation and quiet into December?

--Make a budget now.  Before you start shopping, make sure you know how much you can spend. It's easy to get caught up in the shrill cycle of good deals and fierce desires. Don't buy so much that you'll still be paying off those credit cards in July. Nothing is worth that.

--Instead of buying stuff, buy experiences. Most of us have too much stuff. Why not give someone a meal out or a movie? Give the gift of your time.

--Instead of buying stuff, donate to charities. I'm lucky enough to be able to buy just about everything I need (and my needs are fairly simple). I am haunted by all the charities that are underfunded. I am haunted by the gaping needs in the world. I would prefer that people give money to the needy than to buy more stuff for me. Chances are good that lots of people on your gift list feel the same way.

--Plan your social calendar now. And keep it simple. Choose only one or two events per week-end. Declare that you won't go out on school nights. You can't do everything, and you'll only feel irritable if you try. What's most important to you and the ones you love?

--Purge the traditions that have ceased to have meaning. This one is tough. For example, I often find myself bored and irritable as I sit through The Nutcracker. I always think I'll love that ballet, probably because I loved it as a child. I don't love it as an adult. Why spend the money and time? Of course, if everyone else in the family adored it and wanted to go, it might be worth it. But now is a good time to have a frank discussion, before we're caught up in the sentimental sweep of December.

--Streamline some of the traditions. Do you really need to bake every kind of cookie that you remember from past holidays? Maybe you and your friends could have a cookie swap. Or get together to bake cookies together. Have a wonderful afternoon of cookie dough and wine and leave with enough cookies to get you through the holiday. For years, I did a cookie bake/swap with friends, which grew into a dinner swap, which we'd still be doing today, if I hadn't moved 700 miles away. That tradition meant something. These days, though, I don't bake cookies all alone. Consider ways to make the holiday meals simpler. Consider ways to simplify the holiday card tradition. Ask yourself which church events mean something to you and which you're attending because you always have.

--Take time to help the needy, and bring your children along. Some of my favorite holiday memories involve helping others. My Girl Scout troop used to go caroling at nursing homes. The church of my adolescence assembled gift baskets for homeless women. The words of Isaiah are knitted into every fiber of my being: "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1: 17). My parents, along with social institutions like church and school, modeled the good behavior of working for social justice. It's stuck with me. The holiday season is a great time to train the next generation in the habits of social justice and charitable work.

--Schedule time in your day to slow down. Most of us have some traditions that help keep us grounded and centered, but it's easy to lose them in December.  Now is the time to remember to pray and/or meditate.  Don't give up on your exercise habits in this season. Now is the time to rest. Light the candles and contemplate the mysteries that so many religious traditions celebrate as the year winds to a close.

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Centering Photo Meditation for Black Friday

Once the Friday after Thanksgiving launched the Christmas shopping season; now we see Black Friday leaking into other parts of November.  Today, before/as we launch ourselves fully into the holiday season, let's take a minute to think about these winter holidays. 

If we're Christians, can we hold onto the true meaning of this season?  It's not about the gifts under the tree, it's about the baby in the manger.

For some of us, it's about the family gatherings and traditions.


Now, before the holiday madness overwhelms us, let's remember why we're celebrating.  Let us hold onto those reasons.

In this time more than many, it's important to remember that we have a mission--and it's not to get the best bargains.  Could we transform our holiday season so that we're doing something to heal the world?  It could be something as simple as adding socks for the homeless to our shopping list or adding compost to our gardens.

Or maybe it will be something that transforms the world!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Gratitudes

This past season has been a tough one; I have begun to wonder if I will ever recover from Hurricane Irma.  But for today, let me remember to be grateful.

I love the holiday of Thanksgiving.  It's a clear cut holiday, although I know we are headed for the time when it becomes part of the Black Friday shopping frenzy.

 For many of us, Thanksgiving is about a day off, a day to eat a good meal, a day to spend some time with the people we love.  It's not loaded with emotional traps, like Christmas can be.  It's not loaded with such potential for disappointment, like Valentine's Day can be.  It's fairly straightforward.

It's a good day to remember to be grateful.  It's a spiritual discipline that most of us would do well to incorporate into our lives more frequently than just once a year.

So, let me begin today.  I'm grateful that the hurricane wasn't worse.  I'm grateful we have resources to deal with the aftermath.

I am happy with my job, a year later.  In fact I like it even better now than I did when I first started.

I'm grateful that my health is still fairly good, even with my diagnosis of arthritis in my feet.  My spouse, too, is holding on.  Would I change anything in terms of health?  Oh yes.  Most people who make it into their 50's have health stuff that they'd like to change.  But I'm grateful for what's not in our lives:  no cancer diagnosis, no diseases so severe that we consider suicide.

But mostly, I'm grateful for friends and family.  I'm grateful for the good things they're experiencing.  I'm grateful for all the good times we've had together.  I'm grateful that we continue down life's road together.

I'm hopeful that the coming year will be better than the past one.  I'm grateful for my optimism that may flag, but always undergirds my outlook.

Let me not get so lost in my luckiness that I forget to be mindful of those who can't be so grateful.  Let me work to create a world where we all will have enough.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tables of Gratitude

Tomorrow, we will sit down at our tables of gratitude.

Some will have spent the past month working on the meal.

Some will show up empty-handed.

Some of the arguments will seem familiar.

But some of us will find fresh connections.

We walk through this labyrinth both alone and together.

Can we find the common ground?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Creative Thanksgiving

For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time where our main creative efforts will revolve around the meal.

But maybe we can find time for other creative pursuits.  Maybe it's time to transform the pumpkins of Halloween into Thanksgiving decorations:

Maybe we can remember childhood, even if we don't have children in our lives who will draw with us.

We could make an autumnal arrangement.  It needn't involve expensive flowers.

Maybe we only have time for a gratitude haiku; here's mine to get us started:


Travels behind us,
We gather for food and fun,
Deeper nourishment.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Turkey Acquisition and Other Tasks of the Modern Administrator

Today is my only day of work this week, so I anticipate that it will be a full one.  We have a holiday lunch for faculty and staff today;  I found myself in charge of the turkey acquisition.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.  At first, we thought we could piggy back our order on the Ft. Lauderdale campus order, and we publicized the event.  And then it turns out that we couldn't piggy back our order.  I thought, how hard can it be?  We couldn't get a similar deal, and so I spent more hours than I would have thought possible in procuring turkey.

We don't have a stove on campus, so many of our options weren't possible.  I also wanted the turkey carved, and perhaps it's not surprising to find out that many places will sell a cooked turkey, but you must carve it yourself.  We went with Doris' Italian Market, in part because we got a decent deal, but in larger part because they could deliver a cooked, carved turkey.  We ordered 3 of them.

I've spent the week-end dreaming about this event today.  I've dreamed that we could cook on campus.  I've dreamed that we just had an ordinary dinner.  I've woken up worried that the turkeys won't come.

I keep reminding myself that it's just one meal.  I'm not feeding homeless people--we'll go on to have dinner.  And we're bringing dishes to share, so it's not like anyone will go hungry.

And I keep reminding myself that I didn't volunteer for this task, and I've done the best job that I can do.  If for some reason the turkeys do not satisfy, it won't be a job ending moment.

I'm intrigued by how I feel responsible for it all, and how I'm trying to keep it in perspective.  I remember when I was a much younger woman in grad school, and we were warned against being the one who would always make the coffee or bring the cookies--our female mentors thought that it would be likely, since we would be one of few female faculty members.

That may have been true, had I gone the research university, tenure track route.  And yet, I wasn't studying Engineering.

At my current campus, we have far more women working than men.  I don't mind pitching in to procure food, especially if I have more time to devote to that project than others might.  I've even been known to bring in cookies.

I've been surprised by how many people have expressed their worries about the sign up sheet.  I even had one person suggest to me that I should be doing more to organize the pot luck, perhaps assigning food groups to people.  But that's a bridge too far, for me.  I want everyone to bring foods they love, and if we end up with more starchy side dishes and desserts than nutritious veggies, I don't care. 

I return to my central point:  it's one meal, for well-fed, Western, working folks.  If we leave hungry, we'll all go home to have dinner.

Update:  the turkeys were delivered--carved and hot and right on schedule.  We had several tables of food that people brought, and it was all delicious--think of the best church potluck you've ever had--it was like that.  People relaxed and laughed and talked and it was great.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Will I Decorate Today?

I usually decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving so that I have plenty of time to appreciate the decorations.  If I wait, it will often be early December before I can decorate--or that's what I tell myself.  It's not like our decorating takes a long time, though.  We don't have to haul boxes out of the attic, and we don't go out to cut our own tree.

I thought I might decorate last night, when my spouse was likely to be zoning out in front of the TV.  But I found it oddly overwhelming, the thought of decorating.   I have two new autumn placemats that I managed to quilt--but my placemat storage space is limited.  Of course, I'll take the Advent/Christmas placemats out of the drawer, but that forces me to face the sad state of our dining room table with its insurance documents that have taken up permanent residence.

Today I will once again try to get some decorating done.  This shouldn't be so hard.  But there it is--in the spirit of full disclosure, I want to record these moments.  I blame them on both post-hurricane blahs and the week that I've felt which has left me so worn out and worried about being at a breaking point which I'll only recognize later, when I'm surrounded by shards.

But yesterday had its good moments.  I wanted to do self-care yesterday, which for me does not mean exotic bath salts or a massage.  It means that I cook good food, so that I'm not living on cheese, crackers, and wine all day--and so, we made a wonderful pot roast with all its yummy veggies.  I went to JoAnns to get some backing fabric for a baby quilt.  I got grading done.  I did some writing.

I will strive to have a similar day today.  And maybe by the end of today, some small trees will be twinkling on some of the surfaces of our house.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Let Me Remember My Weekly Creative Efforts

Let me take a look back at my creativity this week.  I want to remember what I've accomplished, even if I feel I haven't accomplished all that I wish that I could:

--I sent out 8 poetry packets and short stories.  Let me note how much I get done if I don't waste an afternoon in Internet surfing.

--I wrote 2 new poems, one of which I like.  I also took some poem fragments and wove them together.

--I worked on short stories, especially the linked collection of activists at 50—which has grown into something that is so much more. I figured out that even though a lot of the characters are administrators and having similar conversations with students, they aren’t the same conversations. I figured out how to use one of my all-time favorite stories (“Day of the Dead”), written before I was working on this collection.

--One night, my spouse and I turned off the TV and broke out the art supplies.  I had a good night with watercolors.

--I made a delicious pasta dinner with shrimp and lemon juice and zest.  It's always a delight to realize that it's easy to cook a satisfying meal even if one is short on time and ingredients.

--I did some administrative writing which felt more important than most administrative writing that I do:  I helped revise a nomination letter for a student scholarship, and I wrote a nomination essay for a group to be recognized for community service.  Will anything come of it?  I have no idea.  But I was heartened by the e-mail that I got from a student from years ago who got into Georgia Tech, in part because of the letter of recommendation that I wrote for him for his files.

--I also created a work event:  Pie and Gratitude.  One of my colleagues volunteered to buy the pies at Sam's Club, and I accepted her offer.  On Thursday, I cut pies and put them on plates and throughout the day, I invited everyone to have pie.

When I left Thursday afternoon, we still had lots of pie, and I thought we might be eating pie for the next few days.  But the event was much more popular with evening students--they ate every scrap.

I know that some students experience food scarcity, so I'm trying to create events that involve food at least every few weeks.

It's been a good creative week--I don't always remember that I've had good creative weeks unless I catalog them periodically.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Insurance and Losses

Last night was downright strange.  I got a phone call from a person representing our windstorm insurance who told me that we only had $4000 of damage, which doesn't meet the $6,000 deductible.  Since I have spent more than that already, and the repairs aren't done, we will be filing an appeal.

Part of me expected that decision from the insurance company.  As my spouse points out, they're a capitalistic business--it's not about protecting us, their clients, but making profits.  I am annoyed that I have real, documentable damage, and it's just dismissed.  I expected it, but it still breaks my heart. 

I'm trying not to read too much into any one thing--I am guilty of seeing random incidents as a sign from the universe that's telling me something.  And the message that I'm hearing is "GET OUT."  That may be my tiredness talking, not the universe talking.

We got a check from the flood insurance.  Because we have a mortgage, the mortgage company is a cosigner on the check.  Because of the amount of the check, the mortgage company will be much more involved in the repairs than I would like.  I understand why--but it feels unnecessarily complicated to me.

I’m trying to be grateful. We’ve gotten money to make repairs, some of which we would have to do in our planned renovations. But the voice in my head is irritable about all the repairs we have to do which should be covered, but might not be. I’m trying to be grateful. We have money in the bank. We have been told that our roof is in good shape. We have a cottage, so we can get the repairs done and not have to live in the middle of the mess. But my whiney self doesn’t want to live in the cottage.

My whiney self is very loud.

It's been a strange week overall:  a good week at work, but also a week where I got my arthritis diagnosis.  We get told that we won't get money from one insurance company, while another one is giving us money that comes with complications and obligations.  I've gotten good work done on revising short stories, and I've sent out submissions.  But there's always that feeling that I'm not writing enough new material.

This week-end, I will try to do some self care.  It's time to think about Thanksgiving and also time to decorate for Christmas.  I will likely make a pot roast.  I will do some reading and writing and grading.  I will take some walks and remember that my neighborhood is beautiful--and my house can be beautiful again.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Art, Advent, and Creativity on a Wednesday Night

Last night, as we ate dinner, we watched the last half hour of an episode of Craft in America, a WONDERFUL PBS series that has been airing on the CreateTV channel.  Last night was episode #102 on landscape--but it was about how landscape influenced the artists, not landscape art.

Near the end, one of the artists said that they create art to show the beauty in the Divine.  My spouse said, "What are we waiting for?  Let's create art!"

We pulled out the art supplies and the paper.  The episode had left me wishing we did more with clay or metalwork, but we don't have those kinds of materials on hand.  He chose colored pencils, and I chose watercolors.

I like the way his sketch looks so luminous.  I'm not sure the photo captures that quality:

I decided to let the themes of Advent swirl in my head when I saw that I had chosen 2 shades of blue and 1 of red watercolor to squeeze on the palette.  Can you see the candles?

I am the first to admit that I treat watercolors more like acrylics.  Last night I tried a different technique, wetting the paper.  But I didn't really see or feel a difference.

This morning I woke up thinking about the last time I painted with watercolors, back in August when my nephew and sister visited.  I remembered using the same colors and wondered if I had painted the same picture.  Here it is:

I was relieved to see that they are somewhat different--clearly there are similar elements, but that's fine with me.  I remember feeling dissatisfied with it, but this morning, I like it better.

It was wonderful to turn off the TV, listen to Holst's The Planets, and lose ourselves in creative play.  Ahhhhhh.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Strength, Gender, and Tipping Points

Yesterday I went to sign for a whiteboard that was being delivered.  The delivery man looked at me and said, "I'm gonna need a man."

I thought about the snappy things I could say:  making a sexual joke or a consciousness raising comment or something insulting.  In the end, I said, "Why?"

Turns out that the delivery man only gets the delivery to the door of the building; we have to get it upstairs.  I said, "Do we need one man or two?"

The man said, "It weighs 105 pounds."

I decided it was a two man job, and luckily, I was able to find two people on the more male end of the gender spectrum to help.  They slid the unwieldy package across the floor; I refrained from pointing out that most of us could have managed that.

Once I'd have moved the thing myself, just to make a point.  These days, I think about the larger point.  If I moved the box, would the delivery man go away a changed man with changed views about gender and strength?  Doubtful.

We stand at an interesting time in our nation in terms of gender.  I want to believe that we'll see an upsurge in women elected in 2018 because of all the revelations of sexual abuse and harassment that have been coming to light in the past 6 weeks.  I want to believe that we're at a time similar to the Anita Hill hearings in 1991 that led to historic wins by women in 1992.

But perhaps my vision is too limited.  The gender binary is so hard to leave behind.  Maybe I should be looking to the recent election of the transgender candidate in Virginia.  Maybe what I should want to see is the election of people all along the gender spectrum:  women who can move 105 pound boxes by themselves and men who are tenderhearted with babies and people whose gender we can't quantify but we like their stands on certain policies.  I want the same for race, for religion, for immigrant status.  I want a more diverse group of people making policies.

I know that it's only with a wider group of people that we'll begin to see the world I want to see:  a world where women and children are not prey.  They aren't in need of protection, for the most part, because we all agree that it's wrong to see them as prey.  I include teenagers in that group.

It's been a bit triggering to see the photos of the young women that Roy Moore reportedly hunted.  It was the late 70's.  I have similar pictures of myself yellowing in an album.  In what world is it OK that men who are decades older tried to date teenagers?

The world we live in, sadly.  I'm ready for a time period where we make some quantum leaps in terms of human rights.  I want to believe that it's already underway.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Visit to the Holistic Podiatrist

The pain in my feet had become so consistent, with so many people asking me why I was limping, that I finally went to a doctor.  People who know me know that I rarely go to a doctor.  I don't have a primary care physician. 

I know that I am lucky.  I don't have chronic conditions, like high cholesterol or high blood pressure, that would make it necessary to see a primary care physician on a regular basis--or because I don't go to one, I would be one of those people who dropped dead of a stroke if I had high blood pressure--that would be the first sign.

At a retreat at Mepkin Abbey in June, I asked an older woman about her practice of walking instead of driving, and I mentioned my feet.  At the time, I only had pain in my left foot.  That wise woman told me that the difference between a good old age and a difficult old age was mobility, and she advised me to protect my mobility in every way that I could.

So, I've been meaning to go to a doctor.  But it was only when my right foot started hurting consistently that I decided to see a doctor.

I went to a holistic podiatrist, primarily because a friend recommended him.  I'm not opposed to holistic practices, but that's not my first concern when choosing a doctor.  The holistic podiatrist has 2 practice sites, and I went to the one that's in the back of an old-fashioned drug store--who knew there were doctor's offices back there?  And a post office!

The podiatrist is hoping that at some point, he can focus solely on his holistic practice, but for now he divides his time between that practice and the traditional one that he shares in a different place with two doctors whom he suspects would not be open to his holistic practices.  I found it fascinating to discover yet another person who has a dream of a different life and is working towards it.

He spent an hour with me; I can't remember a time when a doctor has taken that long and never given any expression of feeling rushed or harried.  We talked feet, we talked exercise, and we talked about natural pain relief and orthotics.

The diagnosis:  arthritis in my big toe joint exacerbated by a bunion that's growing on the top of my foot, not the side, where most people grow their bunions.  He didn't need to take x-rays, because with my limited range of motion, he knew what he would see.  I'm fine with that; I've been doing research, and I know that with my symptoms, there's very few diagnoses that I should have been expecting.  Arthritis was not a surprise.

Except--it sort of was.  I felt both relief--it's not something I'm making up to get out of exercise!--and immediate sadness, that grief that seems to be haunting me this autumn, that grief of a future that isn't looking like what I expected.

There's also the sadness that comes from hearing that I have a degenerative condition that's not easily fixed.  I had been hoping for a cortisone shot and a stern lecture about how I shouldn't let pain go on for so long before getting an easy fix.

I'm not sure that any other diagnosis has so made me feel every single one of my 52 years.  Sigh.

But now I have a diagnosis.  Now I know.  I will keep working on protecting my mobility.  It's time to get more intentional about using ice, and maybe tape.

Let me also remember that there was good news:  my feet are strong, and there's no sign of nerve damage.  It could have been worse.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Dreaming of Sweet Potato Pie

--Just before I woke up, I was dreaming of going to the grocery store to get autumnal treats:  apple cider and pumpkin pie.  I thought about a sweet potato pie, but they've always disappointed me.

--I woke up thinking of my grandmother.  Once she made a sweet potato pie, and I was expecting pumpkin.  It was a much different pie, and I couldn't hide my disappointment quickly enough.  She was the type of person who remembered every slight, and she never made another sweet potato pie again, even though I think I would have liked it.  It's earthiness might be a welcome change from the cheerful sweetness of pumpkin.

--Yesterday, I was in charge at church.  I had my grandmother on my brain.  She likely wouldn't have approved of lay leadership being in charge, and I'm fairly sure she wouldn't have approved of a female in charge, even if that female was her loved one.

--Yesterday I knew that I would be the only one there opening up the church, unlike usual, when there's at least 2 of us.  I decided to wear pants and running shoes.  I would be keeping the church locked until parishioners showed up, but I still wanted an extra layer of safety.

--I thought of my grandmother, who would have disapproved of my gender as the one in charge, and she'd have disapproved of my clothes. Once when I visited her, at some point during the early 1990's, she was very upset over a woman who wore blue jeans up to the altar rail to take communion.  Until I heard her, it never would have occurred to me that anyone would take offense with blue jeans, unless they were dirty from gardening.

--Happily, if anyone else was offended by my casual clothes, I didn't hear about it.  Church went well--that usually happens, but it's never a given, so I'm always happy when it does.  It's so easy for worship to go in unintended directions, to cause pain or offense.

--Over the week-end, I also dreamed I was pregnant--I was my current age, 52, so it was unexpected, but in the dream, we were happy.  Perhaps I've been looking ahead to Advent?  I'm more likely wanting to feel like I'm in a holding process for something wonderful that is coming.

--It has been a good week-end:  full of good food, little trips out to restock, some grading that needed to be done, and some writing.  My friend has still not gotten her pool back from its glowing green state, so I wrote a poem in which I imagined changing the pool into a grotto.  It was a surprise poem, and it went well.  I also finished revising my short story that has its inspirations in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.

--Here's hoping for a good week, full of similar elements:  food with friends, writing, good work on campus.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


Friday is often a day when I can leave work earlier than usual.  On this past Friday, I knew that we could use a change of scenery, so I suggested we go on a quest for new wine glasses.   I wanted to leave the house for something more than chores, which is why I thought about Crate and Barrel for wine glasses, not Target.  Plus, I've tried the 2 types of glasses that Target has.  The expensive ones break easily, and the inexpensive ones have an annoying lip around the glass rim.

I suggested that we go to Crate and Barrel.  I had been missing trips to the Crate and Barrel outlet, where my mom and I used to go when they lived in northern Virginia.  That store, both the outlet and the regular version, is so lovely.  I want a life that looks like Crate and Barrel, but I know it's an illusion that they're selling.  I love those Le Creuset pans, but I hardly find time to cook hunks of meat in my grandmother's roasting pan, so why do I think it would be different with yet another pan?
We wandered around the furniture, which looks so cool--both trendy and classic.  We sat on some of the chairs, but they're not comfortable.  Whew--just saved $800!
My reading for this week-end:  Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year, about how she coped after Gourmet magazine abruptly shut down.  It has recipes and lovely photos too.
Yes, I am sensing a theme.  Part of me longs for a major change, but I'm not sure what I want that major change to be.  It's so different from when I was younger, when I knew exactly what I'd like my life to look like, if only I had a magic wand.  So, while I'm waiting for those kinds of issues to clarify for me, I'll think about smaller changes:  some better quality wine glasses, some delicious cooking, some trips to stores where I'm not willing to afford the stuff which hopes to tempt me to think that all I need is a better sofa and my life would change.
Though those tablescapes that they had set up in Crate and Barrel were mighty tempting--lovely displays along long dining room tables to evoke autumn, Thanksgiving, and Christmas--just lovely.
While I was there, I was reminded of "Crocks," a poem I wrote that's inspired by the store, a poem which explores similar themes.  It's just been published in Innisfree Poetry Journal, and you can read it here.
And now it's time to get ready for church, a truly countercultural activity these days--not just in the fact that so few people go to church, but more so in the message that I get there.  Church reminds me that what Crate and Barrel offers me is an illusion of the good life.  The good life will be found in other ways, not in the buying of stuff.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

College Community Art Project for Veterans Day

I've written a lot of blog posts about Veterans Day through the years.  This post, which considers Armistice Day and the changes brought by World War I, is one of my favorites.

This year is the first year that a Veterans Day celebration for college students has been completely up to me.  I thought about all the things we could do, all the things that have been done at other schools where I've been:  wearing red, white, and blue to show our support of the troops seems to be one of the most common ways to celebrate, probably because it costs no money.  I thought about a cake.  I thought about some sort of declaration.

In the end, I decided that I wanted some sort of display.  We had a red board sitting vacant, so I asked if I could use it before it became the Career Services Wall of Fame.  I was given permission.

I went to a school supply store to get some bulletin board border--it's not as easy to make a border as it looks!  And then I made a sign for the middle of the board:

We sent out an e-mail that gave the same invitation as the board:  we asked people to post pictures of their favorite veterans and/or to post notes of appreciation.  I decided to start by posting this picture of my dad, during Navigator school, in 1962:

And then I waited to see what would happen.  I was slightly worried that my addition would be the only one:

On the very day that we sent the e-mail, we got 2 photos sent to us electronically.  And then, throughout the week, more pictures and stories arrived.  By the end of the week, the board looked like this:

I have gone by the board numerous times.  So have the students--it's on the way to the parking lot.  I've noticed people stop to look.

I am so pleased with how this experience worked out.  It gave people a space to pay tribute, but it gave privacy to those who can't celebrate in very public ways.  It honored those who served, without being preachy about all the prices that we pay for this service.  It grew organically, without dictates from the people in charge; in the past, I've been uncomfortable with the ways that we've been ordered to pay tribute.  I especially like the participatory nature of the project.

I've been part of many community art projects throughout the years.  They satisfy my creative urges in such a different way than the art I create in solitude.  I like creating these kinds of creative opportunities for my campus--it's one of the favorite things I do as an administrator.  This one felt especially important, so I'm glad that it went well.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Comfort in the Wreckage

The other night I dreamed that I wrecked the car--it doesn't take someone with an advanced degree in Psychology to interpret that dream.  I have spent some time wondering about the symbolism.  Does my subconscious think I'm self-destructing?  But the car wreck wasn't my fault--I didn't realize I was supposed to merge into the lane; I thought it would be my lane.

Maybe it does take someone with an advanced degree in Psychology after all.  But my degree is in English--maybe I'm thinking about the symbolism too much.

In any case, that's how many of us in South Florida feel:  we're living in the wreckage.  And yes, I feel guilty about feeling that way because it could be so much worse.  We're not in the lower Keys or Puerto Rico, after all.

Last night I found comfort in Krista Tippett's latest book:  Becoming Wise.  It's a wonderful compilation of segments of her past shows and her meditations on what it all means.  I may have a more extensive review later, but it's one of those books that I will return to again and again, especially in the middle of the night when I need something that stops my hamster mind from going round and round on a wheel of worry.

My spouse needs a different approach.  I said, "I prescribe you some time in the sun." 

He said, "O.K. Doc."

Yes, with my Ph.D. in English, I can prescribe sunshine.  Even in the wreckage, we can find comfort in time in the sun and a good book.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

When Walls Come Tumbling Down

Today, many thoughts swirl through my brain.  It's the one year anniversary of the day that Hillary Clinton conceded the election to Donald Trump.  But it's also a different anniversary:  this day marks the anniversary of the 1989 beginning of the end of the wall between East and West Germany.  The story of how it happened is one that's inspiring and scary--it could have been so much worse, ending in bloodshed and terror.  Instead, in one year, Germany would be reunited.

Not every uprising in 1989 would end this way.  I'm thinking of June of 1989, when I held my breath watching the Tiananmen Square uprising in China, and how crushed I felt when the tanks rolled in.  I waited for tanks that never came to eastern Europe in the fall of 1989.

I'm thinking about social justice and those huge movements for change.  I think about my childhood aspirations to be a Martin Luther King for my generation.  I think of how hard it is to keep fighting for the people in my immediate orbit as we work to make our school better.  And I wonder how Martin Luther King found the strength.

Part of it was his religious community--and the Civil Rights community, which overlapped with that religious community.   I think about the religious people who have undergirded other movements for justice.  On All Things Considered in 1989, I heard a story about a Lutheran pastor who began to hold weekly Monday meetings in his church to pray for peace. This movement spread to other churches, and soon it was a mass movement of thousands of people. Communist officials later said, "We were prepared for everything except the prayers and candles." Again, people waited for the bullets. Again, the power of peace defeated the forces of violence.

I think of other places in the 1980's, where the powers of prayer and peace defeated the powers of evil, most notably Poland and South Africa. I think of places today where I cannot imagine how peace will come, like Syria.  I think of our own deeply polarized country, today, a year after a deeply divisive election.

When I think of Germany in 1989, I also think of it as a story of administrators.  One administrator had a news conference where he announced new travelling rules.  When asked when the new rules would go into effect, he didn't know--he hadn't been at the meeting.  So, he made the policy when he said, "Immediately, without delay."

Citizens assembled and demanded to be let through the gates.  Soldiers called their higher-ups but got no answer.  They feared a stampede, and so, they opened the gates.  Some years, history is made in this capricious way, a way that doesn't end in bloodshed and military invasions.

I think of that boring bureaucrat and the blundering news conference, and I am reminded that even if we have the most dull jobs in the world where we feel like we affect nothing, we still might be an agent for social change. I think of those border guards who chose not to shoot. Even if they did it for fear of losing their own lives in the chaos that would ensue, that choice changed the future.

The elections of this week remind us that our futures might be decided by very few votes.  Even if we feel despair, we can still vote.  Even if we feel despair, we can still offer our prayers for a better future and trust that there are powers that work for good in the universe--some of us frame it in spiritual terms, but even if we're not comfortable with that language, we can still work towards a vision of something better.  We can be people of hope, not fear.

It may feel like we've fallen through a hole in time and landed in 1939, when powers of evil are assembling.  That may indeed be true.  But the story of Germany in 1989 reminds us that evil can be defeated--and it may not take mass bloodshed.  We may just need to light a candle and remember that we can create better lives.