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:

Thanksgiving

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

Crocks

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.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Thanksgiving Threads

--I have spent the last 15 minutes down a Pinterest rabbit hole as I "researched" making my own cornucopia.  I was hoping to find something that reminded me of the basics of paper mache.  Instead, I found chicken wire and pizza dough and ice cream cones for a smaller version.  And of course, many of the ideas revolved around buying the cornucopia from an arts and crafts store and decorating it.

--Why do I need a cornucopia?  I want to create a Cornucopia of Gratitude event for my campus next week.  There will be pie, and I have a vision of handing out gratitude slips as people arrive to campus.  My hope is that people will write one thing they're grateful for on the slip of paper.  Put it in the cornucopia, get a slice of pie!

--I have spent many hours in the past 2 days trying to figure out how to get turkeys for our campus Thanksgiving dinner on the Monday before the holiday.  The Ft. Lauderdale campus got a really good deal from Publix, a local grocery chain, for cooked, hot, sliced turkeys delivered to the feast.  I can't seem to find anything similar in the Publix branches closer to me.

--The turkey quest is getting to me.  Just before I woke up, I dreamed about a special episode of Little House on the Prairie.  The family was building a new house; the exterior walls hadn't been filled in, but they were having their Thanksgiving meal anyway.  And then, a stranger comes to the feast . . .

--And yes, I do realize that the Thanksgiving holiday would not have been invented during the time of the Ingalls family.  And they likely wouldn't have had turkeys to hunt out there on that prairie.

--My nephew has caught the road race bug--the running kind, not the NASCAR kind.  This year, at our family gathering, we're going to do a road race together.  One race we considered had a 1 mile Gobble Wobble.  Now that's a great name.

--We will do a more low-key road race--and it's free, if you don't want a t-shirt.  My nephew has already started seeing the t-shirt as a collection.  And I confess that I've already begun thinking about a possible quilt that we'll all make years from now.

--My favorite bit from the race web site:  "If you need your time – wear a watch."  These organizers sound like my kind of people!

--And now it's time to get on with the day--what will it bring?  Often in the last week I've reflected on how I am doing tasks I wouldn't have anticipated doing a year ago when I was new in this job.  But I want to believe we're building a more welcoming campus.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Essential Questions of All Saints

I have noticed in the past few years that I have more trouble adapting to the fall time change than the spring one.  Something about the darkness invading the late afternoon really throws me off.
 
My grandmother was the same way--she hated this time change, and I thought it was about safety.  Now I wonder.
 
This year my mood is further impacted by the gloom of needed hurricane repairs and the slow pace of it all.  Plus, my spouse is feeling similarly gloomy.  We are often not in gloomy moods at the same time.  In fact, I've often joked that we're two halves of a bipolar personality (I'm manic; he's depressed).
 
The hurricane has made many of us down here re-evaluate our 5 and 10 year plans.  I'm re-evaluating to be sure, but I have no idea where it will all end.  I've never been good at being content to live in the mystery, to live in and through the questions.  I want a 5 year plan and a plan B and several back-up plans.
 
Complicating it all is the slow pace of my creative work--and I live in a house where I'm surrounded by reminders that I was once more prolific:  quilts that I made completely by hand on our beds, boxes of drafts, a shelf of chapbooks, several boxes of journals that contain my poems.
 
My Create in Me friend, Mitzie Spencer Schafer, has written a wonderful blog post that connects All Saints Sunday with essential questions for artists: "I guess it is only natural, but I couldn’t help thinking, 'What if I could learn from this? How might I apply this slowing down and intentionality to my own art and creativity?' What would I be making? What would I be designing? How much time would I really want to spend on it? What would it do for my emotional health? 
Would it even matter?"
Read the whole post here.
 
I will warn you that Mitzie's post doesn't give us any answers--and that makes sense to me.  And I know that the answers this year might not be the same as the answers when I was 20 or 40.
 
I just finished re-reading Marge Piercy's Braided Lives, which is a portrait of the artist as a young woman during the 1950's.  It impacted me deeply when I read it in undergraduate school, and I found it just as moving with this reading.  Jill, the young poet in that novel, wrestles with the same questions while trying to decide how to set up her life in order to have space to answer those questions.
 
Today I will return to the task of revising the book length manuscript of poems.  At some point soon, I'll read through the whole draft to make sure that I'm not repeating images too often.  I worry that every other poem has an image of jewels sewn into hemlines as people flee oppression.
 
I will revise the manuscript and read my work and rejoice that I'm still able to do it.  I'll have lunch with one friend and later, wine and cheese with another friend and be grateful for the friends I have here.  We may all decide to move away, but like Jill in Braided Lives, I have hopes that we can stay connected.

Monday, November 6, 2017

All Saints Sunday Wrap Up

There are advantages to being offline for a day.  Yesterday, I turned off my computer when we went to church, and I didn't turn it back on--thus, I missed the news about the mass shooting in the Baptist church in Texas.  It was such a small community!  I went to college in Newberry, South Carolina which was a slightly larger town, so I understand the impact this crime will have on the even smaller town.  

Instead of spending the afternoon bogged down in horrifying details, we had my husband's brother and his wife over for lunch after church.  I woke up very early because of the time change, so I got some chicken breasts into a lemon-garlic marinade.  It was delicious.  We had roast potatoes and broccoli to go along with the meal, and apple crisp and vanilla ice cream for dessert.  It was a perfect Sunday meal.

We exchanged hurricane stories.  After lunch, they looked at the cottage, while I did the dishes.  My sister-in-law said that the damage wasn't as bad as she expected, which was oddly comforting.  We pried up a floorboard in the main house--the standing water that was under the house has receded, which was very comforting.

After they headed home, we took our wine onto the front porch.  It was good to finish the week-end this way.

I'm glad that I didn't know about this shooting along the way.  It was good to celebrate All Saints Sunday in a more general way--to go to church to be reminded of the kind of community God calls us to be, and spending time together in community while we're on this side of the grave.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Highlights from a Creative Week

It has been a good week in terms of creativity.  Let me take a minute here and recap:

--On Monday, I helped orchestrate a successful decorate-a-pumpkin day for students at my college campus.  The very act of putting together a table full of decorations felt creative--and it was cool to see so many students respond enthusiastically.

--On Tuesday, we had a costume contest at school.  I delighted in the variety of costumes.

--On Thursday, I had a great poetry writing morning.  Steeped in Halloween and the feast days of All Saints and All Souls (Nov. 2), I sat down, and a poem just flowed out of me.  I've pasted it at the end of this post.

--On Thursday, I created a Veteran's Day art project for us all.  I'm asking people to post a picture of their favorite veteran or to write a thank you note to a veteran.  So far, we've had some participation, which makes me happy.

--On Friday, I revised my book-length manuscript.  The book-length manuscript included most of the poems that have since appeared in my chapbook Life in the Holocene Extinction.  Awhile ago, I made the decision to only have a few poems from each chapbook in any book-length manuscript--the audience for both chapbooks and longer books is likely to be the same, and I want readers to get mostly new content.  But at the same time, I know that a book-length manuscript might last longer, so I don't want to exclude poems, simply because they appeared in a chapbook.  Plus, some just really fit thematically.

I want to have the manuscript ready for entry to this reading series open only to women over age 50.  I felt a bit overwhelmed when I first realized how many poems might need to be removed.  But in the end, it wasn't as hard as I feared.

--I've done some cooking and baking--delightful!


Here's a poem for today, the day when many churches will be celebrating All Saints Sunday.  It first appeared here, on Dave Bonta's wonderful Via Negativa website.


All Saints Songs
"with all the evening music
great as a prayer" 
        Dave Bonta, “Red-Lined
I awake early on the Feast
of All Saints and take
my coffee to the porch.
Once I would have stayed
awake until this hour, wringing
all the celebration possible
out of our All Hallows Eve.
I say a prayer for all those departed,
the ones gone much too early from the party.

Once I would have lit the candles
and declared my love
of thin spaces. Now I fear the hunger
of ghosts who are not ready
to leave and the hooligans
who take advantage of the dark.

I touch the pumpkin’s crumpled face
collapsed from the candle’s heat.
I put the gourd on the pile
of tree limbs ripped from the body
of the tree canopy during September’s storm.

 I hear one lone bird singing
either a prayer to greet
the morning or a lullaby before sleep.
I look to the sky, still dark,
no message in the stars.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Solace and Self Care with Apple Crisp

Long ago, when both my spouse and I had more flexible schedules, he served on the Board of Trustees of Novus Way.  Novus Way is the organization that oversees 4 Lutheran camps.  I always went along to the Board meetings.

This week-end, I'm seeing Facebook posts from the current Board members, and I feel a bit sad.  I know that our current life won't support either one of us being an effective Board member--that fact makes me sad.

I'm trying to feel happy with the memories that I have of times that we had an autumn trip to the mountains.  I have an apple crisp in the oven, both for solace and because I'm taking it to my quilt group.  I will feel happy to still have friends here who will meet to sew and to have yummies together.

My apple crisp recipe is easy and adaptable and fairly quick, as recipes go.  In case you are needing solace too, I'll post it below.  It's great at all hours of the day, and it can function as dessert, snack, or breakfast/lunch.  It's fairly healthy. 

If you need some self care, this is the recipe for you--in these later years, I make it solely with apples, but there are ways to make it even more healthy, which I list below.  I know that I post this recipe periodically--that's how delicious it is. In the words of the old camp song, I want to pass it on!

Apple Crisp (based on a recipe from Jane Brody's Good Food Book Cookbook)

Fruit
2 or more apples* cut in bite size chunks
carrot shreds to taste or not at all
cranberries, fresh or dried, chopped or not--or not at all:  1/2 C. to 1 C.
blueberries, fresh or frozen, would probably work nicely too

At this point, you can toss the fruit with a few T. of white or brown sugar, but it works well without it.

Put the fruit in your pan:  a greased pie plate or a square dish or a casserole pan or a 9 x 13 pan.  In the same bowl mix the following:

Topping (can be varied, depending on whether you like a lot of crispy topping or little)
1-2 C. whole oats (quick cooking works too)
a few T. brown sugar - 1/2 Cup --1 C. if you're making a big pan or want a very sweet crisp
1-2 T. cinnamon
nuts:  anything from a handful of chopped nuts to 1 C. or more.  I prefer pecans, but walnuts work too.  I imagine that hazlenuts or almonds would be nice.  And of course, you could leave the nuts out.
You could also include some ground flax seeds or wheat germ.
 a few T. of flour--or not

Spread the fruit on the bottom of the pan and the topping on top.  Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until nicely brownish on top or less brown, if you prefer.  Enjoy for dessert (goes great with vanilla ice cream!), breakfast, or a healthy snack.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Shopping Lists

More than once this week, I was struck by how much of my life as an administrator now involves buying things or authorizing purchases.  Let me capture my life as an administrator through the medium of items bought:

--Yesterday I signed a purchase order for skinned cats--no, it wasn't for Halloween, but for our Vet Tech program.  There's a shortage of skinned cats, and a back order, so we may not get them for several months.  I tried not to think too much about the implications of that sentence.

--I have approved orders for a variety of office supplies.  No surprise there.

--The day after Halloween I went out to see if I could find Halloween supplies at deep discounts.  I was only successful in finding autumnal ribbon at Jo-Anns.  Our pumpkin decorating event was so successful that I stocked up for next year.

--I was surprised at how quickly Halloween left the stores.  And now it's on to Christmas--what about Veterans Day or Thanksgiving?

--Yesterday I went out for a variety of things:  small litter pans, a fake Christmas tree, materials with which to make a Veterans Day bulletin board, AA batteries, and some paper goods for our Thanksgiving meal on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

--Today or Monday, I need to order the turkeys for that Thanksgiving meal.  I had thought that Corporate might be able to order the turkeys for all the campuses, but it was not to be.

--We also started to plan for our Winter festival week.  We will buy some gingerbread house kits and leave them on tables for students to build and decorate them.  We will have hot chocolate.  We will need candy canes.

I do wonder if anyone above me will say to me at some point, "You know, we did not hire you to make holiday bulletin boards or to plan art projects."  But as long as I'm not neglecting the more academic duties--staffing classes, keeping records, making sure that students are progressing as they should--I think I'll be fine.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Cottages and Chicken Coops

As we've been watching various shows on the Create channel (PBS's answer to Home and Garden and Food channels on cable), I've noticed a variety of shows coming back to chickens--the kind you raise, not necessarily the main course for dinner.  At one point, I turned to my spouse and said, "Let's turn the cottage into a chicken coop."

I was only partly joking.  A cottage will do far more to increase the property value than a chicken coop.  Plus our cottage has a kitchen and a bathroom, which chickens wouldn't need.  Transforming a cottage into a chicken coop makes no sense.

Except . . . it would cost less.  It would take less work.  The chickens would be protected in the cottage in a way they wouldn't if in a traditional coop.

What's really at the root here:  I am weary at the thought of making the decisions that must be made to bring the cottage back to usability:  a new AC/heating system, reinforcing the foundation, replacing some drywall and figuring out the floors.  And then we can figure out furnishings.

I've been looking through my sketchbook, and this theme jumps out at me:



I took the picture without a flash, which accounts for the sepia tone in this picture and the next one.  I like the effect, although it wasn't intended.

I also know that my yearning for chickens shows a deeper yearning for a simpler life, a life where there is time to care for chickens.  There's the self-sufficiency aspect and the wanting a homestead of my own--these elements have been part of my personality since I first learned to read.



I love this goat.  I love the pumpkins and the chicken.  The perspective is screwy, but I find that sort of charming too.

I know that if I had a real goat and real chickens, I would grow weary of their needs and demands too.  It would become a job.  I would wonder why I didn't want a traditional cottage that I could have monetized in a different way or have space for visitors.

I would wonder why I didn't transform the cottage into a writing retreat.  I would resent the animals for taking away my writing time.

But psychologically, that's where I am.  At least for this season.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Early Morning, Feast of All Saints

This morning I walked outside to put the rest of the Halloween candy in the car.  Like much of America, I'm taking the leftover candy to work.

It was dark, of course, and oddly moist, and quiet.  I thought, it's the feast of All Saints.  I looked at our motorcycles, likely wrecked by Hurricane Irma, although none of our insurance companies cover that damage.

I thought about last night's celebration.  My spouse was teaching, and I went over to a friend's front yard party.  All my neighborhood friends (who once taught at the same school, but have moved on to other endeavors) brought goodies and nibbles and wine.  The kids raced around and tried to climb the palm tree, and occasionally, an adult set out with them to trick-or-treat.  It was wonderful.

I spent part of Halloween talking to the flood insurance people.  At first I was happy about the amount of our check that will be in the mail.  And then I wondered how much damage we'd need to have to get the full amount of the policy:  $250,000 minus the $2000 deductible.

I thought about all the losses of the last years, as I often do on this feast day--as I often do on every day these days.  I thought about a time long ago when I first had a sense of these losses, during my sophomore year in college, where we'd spent Halloween going from party to party and watching The Birds, and as October moved into November, we sat on the courthouse steps in Newberry, South Carolina.

I've turned that night into both a poem and at least one short story.  Here's the poem, which was first published in A Summer’s Reading .  I've changed the names, to protect the privacy of my undergraduate friends.



Hitchcock Virgin


Halloween, 1984. True creatures of the night,
we roam the town. Nineteen years old, we know
our currency will soon lose face. We flit
from party to party, refusing to limit
ourselves to the standard fraternity
bores. We head to Main Street, to the spooky tomb
of a house which looks even creepier
crypted for Halloween.

Middle-aged men proposition us in the kitchen, corner
us where their wives won’t hear. They miss
bodies unmarked by childbirth, breasts unbound
by gravity. Their age terrifies them. They stink
of mortality and stale beer. I eat my fill
of free food, avoid the alcohol and desperate
mid-life hormones, feel the rare thrill
of my powers to attract, even if I’m captivating
men I do not want.

We jump by George’s house after all the trick-or-treaters
have gone. We eat the last of his candy
and watch The Birds, for me, the first
time. I’m a Hitchcock virgin, yet immune
to his power. These birds don’t seem evil
as much as demented. It’s a Hitchcock
double header. We stay for the shower
scene in Psycho, the one that haunted
my mother, made her avoid showers for a season.
Once again, I shrug.  Sorrel and I head
out, while George and Diane stay
behind to learn Anthony Perkins’ strange secrets.

As October turns to November, we settle
on the cold, marble courthouse steps that face
College Street, squat in the spot where the county forefathers
pledged their fidelity to the Confederacy.
I feel the history of the place seep
into my bones. My festive mood faints
at the thought of how quickly college will be over,
how soon I will be another ghost haunting this town.