Saturday, January 20, 2018

Shutting Down and Revving Up

--So the Republican government which controls the House, the Senate, and the Presidency couldn't come to agreement and now the government has a partial shutdown.  My grandmother, when truly disgusted, would pronounce the word with a special emphasis on the G.  Let me just say, "I am DIS--Gusted."  If I did my job only half as badly as those folks, I'd have been fired long ago.

--We shall do what we planned to do anyway today:  cook!  We are making a brisket for our delayed family gathering tomorrow--the Texas kind of brisket, not the Jewish kind.  I will make a pot of some kind of beans.  I've already made a pot of a corn chowder for my quilt group that will assemble at my house later today.  One of our friends who was bringing bread has taken sick and can't come, so I'll make a pan of cornbread too--it will work well with what we're having both today and tomorrow.

--This morning while cooking,  I pulled out the garlic mincer and reflected on how rarely I mince garlic these days.  Once, influenced by the Frugal Gourmet (a PBS chef and cooking show in the 80's), my dad bought a Susi garlic press, and he loved it so much that my parents got me one for a stocking stuffer.  That was over 20 years ago, and it's still working just fine.  Amazing.

--Before I started cooking, I wrote a poem.  I had the idea for it in mid-December, as a colleague described the dining room table items she used (ostrich feathers) and the present she bought for a friend:  napkins that shimmered because of Swarovski crystals sewn into them.  You may remember that I wrote about the experience in this post, along with the glimmerings of a poem.  I went on vacation and promptly forgot about it.  Yesterday as I drove from store to store getting the items we would need for cooking, the idea flitted through my head again.

--The poem is somewhat different than what I first intended.  I put in a stanza about my grandmother's dining room table, always covered with a linen cloth, but rarely used, like the china in the cabinet that matches the table and the sideboard.  If I never published another poem, I'd keep writing them, because of the delight of the unintended and unexpected.

--Because I've been going to spin class more regularly, I have more music in my brain.  Unfortunately it's not always music I would want to have in my head:  "Met her in the backseat of a taxi, on the way to the club."  Sometimes I've discovered cool music that I wouldn't have met without spin class.  Some days, the music I hear makes me worry for the health of my country--same as the antics in Washington, D.C.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Spin Class Challenge(s)

We are now close to halfway through our spin class challenge.  There are 2 ways to win the challenge:  most weight lost and most spin classes attended.  The gym has added lots of extra spin classes, but I don't expect to win that category, as I have very limited times that I can go.

However, I have been able to go to 2 additional classes a week, on Tuesday and Thursday morning--so I have been exercising vigorously for 5 days a week, a marked uptick.  I am the kind of person who does best when I get my exercise done in the morning.  I always used to say that no one ever calls a meeting for 6:30 in the morning, but it can be hard to get away for a 5:30 in the afternoon class.

Of course, I also do my best writing early in the morning.  If I could live my life however I wanted, I'd probably wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., work for a time, sleep for a time, and keep going in 2-3 hour cycles.  I think that would work, but would it really?  I'll probably have to wait until retirement, should that day come, to find out.

I am sleeping so much better in the past two weeks--is it because of the extra exercise?  This week, I also abstained from drinking for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night, so that might play a role too.  Or maybe I've just been tired.

Yesterday we had an announcement in class:  someone had donated a pair of women's size 11 spin shoes--did anyone need them?   Could anyone use them?  Did anyone have that size foot?

I do, especially with my arthritis swelling.  Still, I felt somewhat guilty.  But the spin instructor/head of the Wellness program said that she'd made the announcement in class after class, and I was the first one who wanted the shoes.

I do feel a bit like Cinderella--Cinderella and her spin shoe.  I had been needing a new pair of spin shoes, and these might do the trick.  I can make them much wider than my regular spin shoes, which is no small thing these days, with my swollen feet.

True to most athletic shoes, they are a bit smaller than a real size 11, but my foot slid right in, so I'll try them in a spin class this morning.

I got my first pair of spin shoes--the pair I'm still using--from a spin class buddy who had been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and so had to buy much larger shoes.  I bought them for 15 bucks and had to go to a cycle shop to have the clips put in.  Once they were loose on my feet, but I made them work.  Now they are not.  Sigh.

I am lucky that I can still do this exercise--it's the only vigorous exercise that I can still do consistently.  I never realized how much I bend my feet in a normal day until it became painful to do so.  And so much exercising involves an ability to bend the foot.

I thought I might be able to win the weight loss part of the challenge, but truth be told, I don't really care if I do or not.  I needed something to encourage me to eat differently--and to drink less.  So far, it's working, although I haven't made the radical changes I would need to make to lose the weight I would need to lose to win.

Unless . . . I suspect others are in the same boat.  And there's still 2 weeks.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Roll Top Desk as Metaphor

Wednesday nights my spouse teaches late--the perfect time to write, right?  I thought I might write last night, but I was feeling uninspired, tired, grouchy.  I thought I'd listen to some recent NPR shows that covered the nuclear false alarm in Hawaii--I'm still working on the poem that imagines a blast site far away and the preparations that we would take on the southeast coast of Florida to protect against wind-borne radiation.   It needs something, but I used up my last idea yesterday morning.

I'm not sure how I came to decide to clean off the roll top desk.  I have an antique-ish roll top desk that came from my grandmother's house.  It's not practical for modern writing tasks, and it has a very narrow space for a chair.  So it tends to be a catch-all flat surface--all those pieces of paper that come into the house that need to be kept for a time or shredded or filed away, and when I don't have time to do it, I put it down on the desk.

Like much of my house, it also gathers dust.  So much dust.

Last night I discovered yet more hurricane damage.  The desk sits under a window, and that window had been shuttered during Hurricane Irma.  I assumed no water could get in, but over the past month, I've discovered otherwise.  The envelopes at the top of the desk looked rained on, for example, but I rarely use envelopes anymore, so I didn't discover this fact until mid-December.

As I sorted through piles last night, I realized that water had gotten into one of the piles.  It was dry on top, so I didn't think to look through the pile.  In my defense, there was lot to do in the days after the hurricane, and no power with which to see.

Now the surface of the desk has a few ripples.  I am feeling such guilt about that.  I get this beautiful furniture from my grandmother's estate, and I can't properly care for it. 

I also feel this sense of powerlessness--I can't keep anything safe.  I realize that safety has always been an illusion to a certain extent.

Last night was one of those times that I just felt despair:  like a failure at the basic tasks of adulthood (someone must do the dusting!) while also resentful that I felt like a failure at tasks that seem more like drudgery than something essential.  I also felt overwhelmed at all the wreckage that surrounds me still and the road back to "normal"-ish life seems so long.

And there's that knowledge that my post-hurricane life is so much easier than that faced by people to the south of me--so why am I blubbering like a big old baby?

Let me return to the roll top desk.  Let me think about the desk as a metaphor.  It's got some ripples in it, but it's still perfectly usable.  I don't like using it the way I've been using it, but it's not too late to change that.  I am in the process of rethinking this front bedroom which serves as my writing corner, the guest room, the overflow storage room--that's a good process, and I need to be gentle with myself while doing it.

The desk has some hurricane damage, but that gives it character.  In time, perhaps it won't even be noticeable.  I suspect the desk also has some damage from children, some damage from humid Southern summers in an age before air conditioning.  It can take the damage and still be its essential desk self.

It's been a good desk.  One reason why I wanted it so much is that I wrote my first decent short story at that desk, back in 1987.  It will continue to be a good desk.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Poetry Wednesday: "Basic Health for Everyday Life"

The news of the false missile warning in Hawaii took me back to my youth.  I remember a Health class in early high school that had a chapter on surviving a nuclear blast.  Even then, I remember thinking, really?  really?

Right now I'm working on a poem that imagines a blast site far away and the preparations that we would take on the southeast coast of Florida to protect against wind-borne radiation.  My favorite part so far involves moving the chickens into the front bedroom:  free range, but with a very limited range.

I'm thinking of a poem that I wrote long ago when I thought the cold war might really be over, in the early years of this century, when I thought I might have prepared for the wrong apocalypse.  But now I'm wishing I could remember more of what I once knew about how to protect against radiation. 

The basic lesson: if a blast happens, most of us won't be incinerated immediately, and we should stay put.  Don't go outside if a nuclear event is near or even far away.  If you go outside, take a shower.

Here's the poem, which first appeared in The North American Review.



Basic Health for Everyday Life


My tenth grade health book included three pages on surviving
a nuclear blast. There, amidst the basic first aid
instructions, the material on bacteria and viruses, in the midst
of a host of innocuous information, a picture of a mushroom
cloud, suggestions for preparation. When class bored
me, I flipped to that section and planned my defense.

It’s best to have a basement, but barring that, the book suggested
a linen closet or a bathroom. Shield the eyes. Don’t look
at the flash of light. As the book suggested, I stashed
canned food in the basement, hiding them under
a stack of old ragged beach towels. Decades later, what must
my parents have thought when they packed up the house?

My nightly nuclear nightmares recede to occasional visitations now,
but I still keep stockpiles of canned goods in a basement cupboard.
When shopping for a car, I consider the electromagnetic pulse
of the initial blast and wonder if the car’s ignition would survive.
Even today, the roar of a low flying jet sends
my hands to my eyes, even though I know the futility
of fingers as a shield against radiation.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Higher Ground

Last night we went out to dinner with a group of friends.  We all met each other through a variety of workplace constellations, which I won't go into here.  Even though we no longer work together, we still meet periodically for dinner.

And now, two of those friends are actively planning to move to higher ground.  They met each other through their work as actuaries, so they have more of an understanding of hazard and risk than most of us.  It was sobering to hear that they are actually likely to move.

Of course, there are other factors:  they'd like to be in a less populated place, close enough to a scenic downtown to walk.  They want to stay in Florida, in part because of the warm weather, in part because Florida has no state income tax.  They're looking at Mt. Dora; it's got all the pluses of a small town, but it's close to Orlando, which appeals because one of them needs to be near a major airport, and because his children and grandchildren love the theme parks.

We spent part of the night speculating about how long it will be before life in the southern tip of Florida becomes untenable--it will happen long before the ocean rises up to swallow the land.  One couple at our table had spent the month of December doing airport transport out of the Miami airport, and they used that opportunity to go over to South Beach.  They talked about the construction they had seen:  raising the roads and something that looked like a seawall.

That's all very well and good, but it will prove to be a temporary fix.  The ground in south Florida is very porous, so as the sea level rises, the water will rise up from the bottom.  We talked about the strains in infrastructure that we see coming, including how expensive it will become to get drinking water.

Long before that, I imagine that we won't be able to afford our property insurances.  Eventually, I predict that insurance won't be available at all.  But before that happens, middle class people like the educators we all are/were will be driven away.

It sounds like a gloomy dinner, doesn't it?  But it wasn't.  We were in a cozy Irish restaurant, with good food, good drinks, and good friends.  Our two friends are thinking of moving to a beautiful community.  We talked about the possibility of all of us moving.  They're thinking of buying land and building houses close to each other.

It's inspiring to be around people who have dreams about a better life and are making a map to get there.  And I'm intrigued by how they are creating community, albeit a small one, as they go along.

We left the restaurant to find that the evening had turned cool and rainy, almost like we had been transplanted to Ireland.  Part of me wanted to go back into the restaurant and enjoy one more nightcap while gazing at the rain.  I thought that it was interesting that I have disdain for theme parks that try to offer alternate realities, but I'm happy to pay for a restaurant that does the same thing.

We came home, changed into our jammies, and went straight to bed.  But I'm sure I'll be spending some time this morning thinking about how many people are actively planning to leave this  unstable shelf by a southern sea.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Learning to Dream Again

I confess that I have often approached Martin Luther King day as a celebration of how far we've come--and let us take a moment to remember how far we really have come, and in a relatively short time.  For example, when I took a summer job in 1985 at a D.C. office of Lutheran Social Services, I met a black woman who was old enough to have experienced Jim Crow laws and how they impacted travel by car just 25 years earlier.

And now, same gender couples can get married.

Some of us are worried about the erosion of Civil Rights.  We tell ourselves that once rights are given they can't be taken away, but you don't have to do too much digging in history to realize that statement is not true.

Some of us are frustrated that the rest of us never realized how much was left to be done.  That's fair.  But now it must be clear to us all.

So on this day that honors one of our Civil Rights leaders, let us take some time to think about the work left to do and how we might be part of it:

--We can shake the despair we might have been feeling in the past.  Let us dream boldly again.  If any society was possible, what elements would we want to have as part of that society?

--We can use our art, whatever those talents might be, to share that vision with others.

--We can use the old tools of writing letters to lawmakers, organizing, marching, and teaching to dismantle the structures that oppress.

--We can learn to use the new tools of social media--those are the tools that taught many of us how much work is left to be done.

--If we're spiritual/religious people, we can pray that our vision of a better future will come to pass.  We can ask for Divine help.

--We can remember that much of the work of social justice is not the type that will get us a holiday in our honor.  In fact, those Civil Rights workers, including King, did that kind of work for years and decades before breakthroughs happened.  We can do the work of making the sandwiches, running the childcare centers, working with disadvantaged students, listening to the dispossessed in our own communities.

There's plenty of work to do and a wide variety of ways to do it.  That's both a frustration and a blessing.  There's room for each of us, although the work we do may feel very piddly.

We can't always know that progress is being made when we work for social justice.  We proceed in faith, trusting that our work will not be done in vain.  Perhaps that's true of any big project:  books that we write, children that we raise, students that we educate, long-term relationships of all kinds.

Today is a good day to take some time to envision a better future, for ourselves, for our children, for future generations who will marvel at what's been done.  What dreams do we have?  If we believed that anything was possible, what would we want to see?  

Let us do what can be the hardest work of all--to believe that anything is possible.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Installation Art in the Sanctuary

One of the things I love about my church is that we're willing to think about art in the worship space beyond the traditional paraments, banners, music, and flowers.  Most churches do this kind of experimenting periodically, most notably during Advent/Christmas and Easter.  We go further.

My pastor is on sabbatical, so he asked me if I'd come up with something for the baptism of our Lord.  I said sure.  I immediately thought of the glowing elements that we added to a baptismal font at the 2014 Create in Me retreat:



I won't be adding glowing elements or even the twinkly lights that first came to my mind.  I'm taking a variety of other elements to church with me.

I have a variety of blue fabric and sparkly fabric.  I have some wired ribbon, blue ribbon that I got for dirt cheap at an after-holiday sale at JoAnn Fabric.  I have some other ribbons too.  I have a variety of boxes so that I can do something with varying heights.  I've got some pieces of coral.

I have a vision of creating a river of fabric and ribbons.  I want to create a sense of cascading water.  I want to add the words of God about being well pleased.

Of course I will take pictures--stay tuned!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Language, Presidential and Otherwise

Every time President Trump says something offensive or outrageous or so, so wrong, I wrestle with whether or not to say anything.  Thursday's comment about immigration and who we admit and who we don't--and the profanity about some of the nations--well, I just don't know what to say.  Actually, I have a lot to say, but I'm not sure it's wise.

So I decided to write this post on my theology blog.  You will probably not be surprised to find out that I am plunged into despair by Donald Trump's language.

As with most other adults, I have absolutely no control over Donald Trump--and even less so with this President, since he is unlikely to care what I think about his language and actions.  So what's an artist to do?

I wrote 2 poems this morning, neither of which had anything to do with Donald Trump.  And I started thinking about how much I would produce in a year if I created a poem every time this president does something or says something that I see as problematic.  Some weeks, I'd be writing every day, multiple times a day.

I am torn over how to respond to national politics.  In my younger years, I'd have sworn that writing to our politicians could make a difference.  In my younger years, I might have plotted how I might could run for office.  Throughout my life I've given money to people who have the time and energy to do the tasks I cannot do when it comes to social justice.  I've marched, I've organized, I've thought about trying to live below the economic line which would mean that I wouldn't pay taxes so that my earnings wouldn't go to pay for nuclear weapons and other national programs that I thought were toxic.  Throughout my life, I've seen my teaching as a site of resistance.

I am 52 years old, and I know that some of those actions seem to have worked, some have worked for a time, some have yet to work, some may never work.  The act of creating a better world may take longer than I anticipated.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: we cannot know which work is going to be most important, which is what makes the work so frustrating. That e-mail that seems unimportant today . . . will likely be unimportant hundreds of years from now, but who knows. The poem that seems strange and bizarre and something that must be hidden from one's grandmother may turn out to be the poem that touches the most readers. Being kind to one's coworkers who cluck and fuss and flutter about matters that seem so terribly unimportant is no small accomplishment either.

We can't know how long the struggle for justice 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.

And it's important to remember that our art can be part of that.  Our art can illuminate and perhaps change hearts and minds.  And even if it doesn't, it can keep our creative hearts soft and open. And that's no small thing these days.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Windows on Work

It has seemed like an extraordinarily long week, which is not a surprise.  Between Thanksgiving and the first week of January, I didn't work a full week, although some of those weeks didn't include full days off.  Still, December just had a different feel.

It's been a good week, however.  All of our new students have reported for class--hurrah.  We've had a strong Winter 2018 quarter start.

As I look back, I realize that three weeks ago we'd be getting ready to head to the Miami airport for our trip to San Diego.  I've never seen that airport so busy.  I've never seen security lines that long in any airport ever--and we were there by 7:15 in the morning.

Here is one of my favorite pictures from the trip. 



My dad, sister, and I are waiting for my nephew who is in a shop that sells the widest variety of root beer I've ever seen.  We had just come from a great Mexican meal, where I shared a margarita with my mom, something we never do:



I think of the office building that we could see from our hotel window.  We knew it would be vacant during the holiday week-end, yet every light was on. 




I wonder what it looks like with everyone returned to work.  I wonder if they look out their windows and wonder about the people who are at the hotel on vacation.

My office window has a generous view of the sky, so it's fine with me that we're not in some glamorous location.  And on weeks like these, where I need to be at work for long hours to make sure that all goes smoothly during week 1, I'm grateful for the view from my window.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Time Management 2018

Last night I returned home after a delightful dinner with my Hindu writer friend. Even though we're both a bit run down from work and from illness, it's good to be together.

It was fairly late for me when I got home at 8:00, only about an hour or so before my regular bedtime.  After I got my gym bag together for morning and put my work clothes away, even less time remained. 

I reached for the remote, my usual habit, even when my spouse is gone.  But then I thought about this post of Kelli's and decided to reach for a book instead.  I had planned to read Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Ladies next, but it didn't really appeal to me the way I had anticipated.  So I read the title story and moved along.

In honor of Kelli, who had inspired me to read instead of watching TV, I reread her book of poems, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room--it was more of a treat than any TV show could ever be.  And thus, fully nourished, I went to bed and drifted off to a peaceful sleep.

I recently finished Laura Vanderkam's I Know How She Does It, a time management book that explores the lives of working women earning $100,000 a year with at least one child under 18 living at home.  Vanderkam had women keep time logs divided into 168 hours that we each have in any given week.  Thus, she got some interesting insights and a more honest accounting of how we spend our lives.  I found that her insights are probably valid for many of us, even if we're not in that higher earning group or have no children.  So, below I'll use the pronoun "us," even if we're not all part of the sample.  I don't earn that much from my primary job or have children, but found the insights useful.

She found that most of us aren't consistently working the hours that we would self-report.  Most of us work 45-50 hours a week, not the 60-70 that we might report.  And many of us have more flexibility during the work day than we might think.  Again and again the book reminds us not to fritter away the kinds of time that I had last night--a stray 45 minutes here and there can really add up to more fulfillment in a week.

I'm already doing that, when I'm making conscious choices.  The trick will be to maintain that conscious state more often--I suspect it's going to be a life long mission, at least as long as I am working full-time.

Here's the one other take-away I want to remember. Vanderkam encourages us not to worry about cleaning up our e-mail inboxes.  I currently have no e-mail system that requires me to do that.  At my last job, we could only get to a certain point before we had to weed and refile.

I feel this enormous guilt about the huge amount of e-mails that I haven't dealt with in all of my inboxes.  I answer the ones that need answering right away, and the ones with important information that I know I need I put in my electronic files.  That still leaves lots of e-mails which might be important or might not.  I'm not like my spouse who deletes fiercely each time he reads e-mails.  But I also get more e-mails than he does.

What would happen if we just accepted the pile of e-mails and didn't fret?  I plan to find out.

And now, it's time to head for spin class.  We're in a month of additional spin classes, so I'm spinning every weekday morning now.  It will be interesting to see how I feel at the end of the month.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Oprah, the Last Jedi

I confess that I did not stay up to watch the Golden Globe Award show; I never watch those shows unless someone who is staying with me wants to see them.  Thus, I did not see Oprah's speech.  I haven't read it, but I've heard/read snippets.

It was inspiring, as I expected.  She's always had a great way of connecting with those of us who aren't super wealthy, of reminding us that she comes from very meager beginnings.

I think we're losing sight of how many of us came from very meager beginnings, if you go back a generation or two or three.  But that doesn't detract from Oprah's speechmaking skills.  Lots of people from meager backgrounds don't make the most of their opportunities and certainly can't speak about it as powerfully as Oprah does.

Lots of people have been taking up a lot of time by discussing whether or not she should run for president.  We can genuinely say that we've seen worse candidates.  But would she be best?

I think her powers of inspiration could be important.  I'd like a candidate devoted to calling us all to live our best lives.  Would she have the legislative capability to put programs and money in place to help us do that?  She might.

I've been thinking a lot about politics and about our desire for a messiah in that arena, someone who can swoop in and fix things.  Anyone who has been in a leadership position of any kind knows it's not that easy.  Some days we're lucky, and the ideas we offer are accepted with enthusiasm--and they work.  Other days we spend time redoing work we thought was finished months ago; if we're lucky, we do the work with grace and with better results.

I keep thinking of movies and the stories they tell us about ourselves.  I saw  The Last Jedi less than 24 hours after Christmas Eve service and after an Advent month of longing--and after a political season that has included shifts I never would have forecast or believed.  I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of theology the movie presents.  It's an interesting blend of ancient religions and modern spirituality, as always.  I don't believe that the movie tells us that the destiny of humans is pre-ordained--and how interesting that twist is to me.

I love the message of the movie, at least the take-away message for me:  we don't fight evil by adopting the tools of the evil regime, we fight evil by saving what we love.  A parallel message is that we don't have to be part of a spiritual dynasty to join the fight for the future--the Force is available to us all.

I thought of our cultural desire for a Messiah, for someone who will save us.  But we're often doomed by our insistence on being the Messiah--it was interesting to watch this movie with the words of John the Baptist ringing in my head:  "I am not the Messiah."  I'm still thinking about these parallel ideas--how to respond to a world with so much need for a Messiah?  We can't be the Messiah, but people need more than just the promise that a Messiah will come.  I worry that I'm transposing my theological ideas on the movie, but here it is:  the Force (which I've always understood to be God) operates much more effectively in the world when there are spiritually attuned people to help.  Those light sabers and rocks won't move themselves. 

The idea that the Force can be used for good or for evil (or for profoundly mixed motives) isn't one that Christianity traditionally presents to believers, but it makes sense to me.  I don't see God as a parent, but as a partner, albeit a partner who knows more and has more resources than I do.

Our political lives would be very different if we saw our politicians in the same way, if we stopped waiting for someone to save us and instead saw opportunities to start creating the world where we want to live, if we did that hard and consistent work ourselves.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What Term Is It?

Yesterday I discovered that I made a HUGE mistake as an online teacher.  I keep telling myself that it could have been worse.

I thought I had accepted a schedule of 2 English 1101 classes, both 6 week sessions on either side of the semester, plus a 12 week Short Story class.  So I made out the syllabus for the class that started yesterday, having it end in March.  I got an e-mail from a student and then another one who wanted to know why I had the class ending in March, when it ends in May.

I was about to fire off a dismissive e-mail, when I thought to go to another site to check the schedule.  And sure enough, it appears that my 6 week class is now a full semester class.  Was it changed at some point?  That's possible.  It's also possible that it was always a January to May class, and I should have checked.

I won't make that mistake again.

As mistakes go, it could have been worse.  I'd much prefer to learn that I have an expanded schedule than to think I signed up for a full semester course only to have it be a compressed one.  I do need to rethink every single due date and to re-enter all that information, which will be a huge annoyance.  But once I get it done, there will be some benefits.

The main benefit will be that for the next 8 weeks, I, too, will have a more leisurely schedule.  I think that the 1101 students do better on a compressed schedule, but it's a compressed schedule for me too.  Now I will have time for other projects.  I've made good progress on sorting the books.  I want to continue doing that.

I also want to keep going with my short story project.  I want to determine if I am close to being done with a collection or if I need to keep going.  At first, I had a vision of including stories from many voices in the school that's the connecting point of the stories:  a custodian, a food service person, the building itself.  But now I'm not sure it makes sense.  I gave up on the idea of the building--I condensed that story idea into a paragraph at the end of the story that I wrote this fall, based on Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried."

I'm surprised at the sense of shame I feel over my mistake.  I keep telling myself that there are much worse mistakes I could have made, like not turning grades in on time.  I could have not realized that I screwed up until I went to turn in grades in March, only to realize that I had more time than I thought--although that wouldn't have been possible, since I'd discover it when I went to do attendance verification.

So, let me continue to focus on the wins of yesterday--an evening student who gave me a high five because she was so excited to start her school career, a student who asked me for a letter of recommendation so that she could apply for a job as a grief counselor, a good start overall to the various school starts of yesterday.

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Return to Sensible Living

This is the odd time in the academic calendar:  almost every college and university in our 3 county area will begin class today, unlike say, the fall or summer start.  The U.S. House and Senate return to work today, and I'm guessing that many statehouses swing into session too.

Even if we went back to work last week, this week is the first full work week for many of us in many weeks.  And even if we haven't had time off for the December holidays, the festive atmosphere is likely gone by now.

Some of us will sit quietly and stare at all the e-mails that have been waiting for us.  Some of us will care for the loved ones of others who need to get back to regular life and regular work.

Some of us will be happy--having a regular schedule keeps our moods more regular and makes it easier to eat in a more healthy way and to get some exercise.  Some of us will be sad--some of us won't have much in the way of time off for the next few months.

Some of us are grateful to have jobs, and some of us wish we had other jobs.  Let us not forget those wishing that they had any kind of work at all.

I spent the week-end getting the house cleaned up and putting away the Christmas decorations.  I didn't put out all of our decorations, so that part of my cleaning up task was easy--but also difficult because I really like the twinkling lights to brighten the winter darkness.

Luckily, I got some cool lights for a Christmas present.  They're tiny LED lights on a wire strand.  The off-on switch is in the shape of a wine cork, so you can put the wire down in an empty wine bottle or on the outside.  I'm looking forward to experimenting.

So, even though it's back to work and back to more sensible living, I'll stash some Epiphany bread in my lunch bag to go with the plain porridge I plan to eat.  Here's hoping that we all have a good first non-holiday week of 2018, a week full of both the sensible and the sweet.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Non-Traditional Creative Saturday

We decided not only not to go to church today, but also to move our family gathering from today to 2 weeks from today.  If we're not going to expose the church to germs, why expose the family?  But more to the point, my spouse had this vision of a feast he wanted to create, and because of his cold, he didn't have the energy to get the food, prepare the food, and so on.

He spent much of yesterday sleeping, which freed up some time.  Ordinarily, we'd be running errands, doing house chores, and/or socializing.  However, because he was napping, I didn't feel like I could do deep work, like writing, because I thought he might wake up at any moment and want to do errands or do something fun or watch a movie.

So I did creative work that could be easily interrupted and then either returned to or abandoned. 

First, I made some epiphany bread, the most creative thing I did all day.  I had some leftover ingredients from December's cookie baking:  all sorts of nuts, dried ginger, and dried lemon and orange slices (how I love Trader Joe's).  I had an idea of the bread I wanted, and it changed as I went along.  At first, I thought I'd have layers of my homemade almond paste, and then I decided to make a pan of rolls:



Those are labor intensive, and so, I also made loaves.  As you can see, I also took photos.  I love the way the sun shines on the rolls, and the green grass in the background.  If I saw this picture in a magazine, I'd want to bake the recipe.

I also made progress on the project I started on Friday night:  to combine the fiction and poetry bookcases and to sort through the poetry volumes.  I got all the poetry volumes sorted into ones to keep, and bags of books to go to the library.  I've gotten a lot of poetry books because they got good reviews or because I wanted to support the poet at a reading.  Some I don't even remember getting.  Some I got on a good sale.  One of our former school librarians moved to Maine and gave me a lot of her poetry books, which I was happy to get at the time, but most of them did not turn out to be important to me.

I was amazed and delighted to find how many I wanted to keep, but even so, I took 5 paper bags of books to the public library.  I handed the first bag to the library worker, and I said, "I've mostly got poetry volumes here." 

He said, "Oh, good."  He was serious, and that made me happy.

I'm not sure what mood has struck me, but I also did some deep cleaning.  I'm not the kind of person who moves the furniture to clean.  I vacuum the pathways where we walk, and I keep the dishes clean, so the house gradually becomes grungier.  And I still rarely move the furniture. 
 
Yesterday, I moved a lot of the furniture in the bedroom. During one of my spouse's awake times, he oiled the furniture.
 
I think of how much of our furniture comes from a generation of women who would have moved the furniture much more regularly than I do, and would have oiled the wooden furniture at least once a month.  I remind myself that those women did not work outside the home.  I would have a much different home, if I didn't work for pay, and if I needed to keep a tidy house to prove my existence.
 
I don't usually think of cleaning as creative work, but it can have some of the satisfactions of a creative pursuit:  creating something new out of what was there before, a satisfaction that comes from doing something with my own hands.
 
Today I'll finish putting things back, doing a load of laundry with all the old towels I used for cleaning, I'll do a quick vacuum to capture all the dirt I haven't already captured.  In short, I'll get ready for the week to come.
 
I'm glad I'm not teaching onground this term.  I would not be able to do the kind of talking in the coming week that onground teaching requires.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Baking Epiphanies

Today is the last day of Christmas, the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the wise men to Jesus.  For more on the theology of it all, see this post on my theology blog.  I thought I might get up and make some sort of bread, but I am short on flour, so I'm waiting a bit.

I bought all sorts of cookie ingredients a month ago that I still have, but I'm short on flour.  Sigh.

I would like to have a meditative Epiphany, but that's not likely.  We have some family members coming tomorrow, so we need to do some shopping, some clean up, some food prep--and we're both fighting colds, so there's that to navigate.

Last night, I started on my project to combine the fiction and poetry bookcases and to sort through the poetry volumes.  I am amazed at how many volumes I have.  I said to my spouse, "I am feeling two states that cannot exist simultaneously.  I am surprised at how many volumes I have that I want to keep, and I am surprised at how many I have that I simply do not care about."


Several hours later:  I decided to go to the WalMart Neighborhood Market, the minute it opened, which I did.  Of course, I forgot the cold medicine:  luckily, I was still in the car in the parking lot when I remembered.  So I reparked the car, went inside, and got the cold medicine. 

As I walked to the car, I noticed something like snow behind my car.  So I was not surprised to get home to find that the bag of sugar had left a small sugar drift in the back.  Happily, it was a fairly easy clean up.

So, we have some cold medicine and some firewood (which ripped the sugar bag) for this chilly day.  I also got flour, so I have the first and last batch of Christmas bread dough rising.  I decided to make a variation of the Day of the Dead bread recipe which you'll find in this blog post if you scroll down.  I decided to use some of the ingredients that I bought and didn't use for cookie baking:  dried sweetened orange slices which I chopped in the food processor, and almonds, which I also ground with sugar in the food processor to make a filling.

As I used the food processor, I thought about the fact that it was a Christmas present from my parents in 1987.  I had been hoping for a VCR, and I had trouble hiding my disappointment.  But the Cuisinart has outlast any VCR we've had, along with a DVD player or two.  Most months, I use it more than I use the computer to view entertainment.

I've never used it to knead bread dough.  I bake in much bigger quantities--plus, I really like getting my hands in the dough.  I should do it more often.

As I was paging through recipes last night (after the book sorting), it was interesting to see the ads from those Bon Appetit pages of many years ago (the early 80's).  I thought of my undergraduate years when I had no access to a kitchen and yearned to bake.

I am still always happy when creating yeasted dough, although these days it's more often for pizza than for traditional breads.  It's time to return to my bread dough--and I mean that in more ways than one!

An epiphany for Epiphany.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Work Week Gratitudes: No Poop!

Yesterday was a fairly quiet day, nestled between two days that will take more energy--on Wednesday, we had our New Student Orientation, and today, we have a Faculty Development Day.  Unlike other places I've worked, we only offer one session, so the day won't require as much energy as other years. 

Part of today will be led by Career Services, as we are discussing soft skills and all the ways we can get students prepared to go on the job market.  We will brainstorm ways that we might include these in our classes.  For example, I might require students to write a thank you note in response to teacher-student conferences.

Some traditionalists might protest that teaching soft skills is not their job as faculty.  But our school is below benchmark on career placement, so we need to show that we are trying to remediate that situation.  If we can't get our numbers up, those traditionalists might not have a job at my campus, depending on how severe our problem turns out to be.

And I might argue that those soft skills are more important than some of the skills a traditionalist might include.  Most students aren't going to have to write a research 5-10 page essay in their work lives.  But most will have to write e-mails or other communications that give information in clear and concise ways.  Most will have to keep records and other types of documentation.

Yesterday, I headed out to do the shopping to prepare for our Faculty Development Day.  We are lucky:  we can still afford to buy lunch for the event, and so I needed to have some paper goods.  I also got items for the quarter for various people on campus.  It's not glamorous stuff:  bleach, wipes, storage bins, that kind of stuff.

It made me inordinately happy that I was able to find everything on the list.

In the afternoon, I turned to an aspect of my job that's a bit more drudgery:   uploading contracts and filling the exact same information that's on the contract into a spreadsheet/log so that the HR person can then upload/enter that same information into our payment software.  It's not unpleasant, exactly, but a process that could be streamlined, if we were so inclined.  And it involves lots of paper and scanning.

At least it doesn't involve poop.  Let me explain.

After work, we went to the house of neighborhood friends for wine and cheese.  I offered this greeting:  "Don't hug us.  We're both fighting off colds.  It occurs to me that I should have let you know, so that you could have decided in advance that you didn't want to be exposed to our germs."

Our psychologist friend said, "I spent my work day stepping around poop on the floor, so your cold germs are the least of my worries of disease exposure."  She'd spent her work day at the low budget institution where one of the Medicaid clients sometimes acts out by pooping on the floor.  At least my work day doesn't involve human poop.

I feel fortunate that I have that sort of workplace.  I'm dealing with disadvantaged clients of a different sort, but my skill levels are better suited to teaching than counseling--and to the facilitating of good teaching.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Snow Day Envy

We have awakened to very chilly temperatures down here:  somewhere in the 40's, the radio tells me.  Those of you further to the north and snort, "Amateurs!"  All yesterday afternoon, I saw Facebook posts from friends in coastal areas that usually get no snow, like the 5 inches that fell on Charleston, SC.  I'm feeling a bit jealous, even as I don't want the huge dump of snow that's coming to the states in New England.

I'd like a snow day--I've been having a good writing morning.  I've been working on the short story that I began in the summer, about a woman who teaches Animation at a for-profit art school who starts having dreams where God is speaking to her.  But God doesn't look like we'd expect--God is some sort of quilter, but in a frumpy, middle-aged white woman kind of way, not a wise-elder, African American kind of way.  God tells her to repair the frayed fabric, and the main character isn't be sure of what to do exactly.

When I first started writing the story, I had no idea where it would go.  After my summer trip to Mepkin Abbey, I had the animator join her friend there.  She has a vision of the spirit of Harriet Tubman, who may have arrived to help teens save the world--or has she come back to destroy the world?  The animator and her friend create a film but can't figure out the ending.

Now I'm at the end of the story--I think.  The faculty member has received a letter by registered mail that tells her she must come to a meeting with a corporate higher-up.  As she thinks about what this might mean, she figures out how to end the film.

So it would be nice to have a snow day to keep working.  But maybe it's good that I don't--I'm still not sure how to end the story.

So off I will go to school.  It should be a fairly low-key day, sandwiched between 2 high energy days (New Student Orientation last night, Faculty Development session tomorrow).  The only unusual item on my schedule is some shopping to restock supplies:  paper products, bleach, that kind of non-glamorous stuff.   Not as much fun as shopping for food for an open house, but necessary.

And while I go about the tasks of my day, my subconscious will be working on that ending!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

To Begin Again

Today will be my long day at work; we have New Student Orientation tonight.  I love students at this stage:  the hope, the optimism, the determination.  I wonder what happens to make it all evaporate/drain away steadily?

It's probably the same story for them as it is for most of us:  a combination of daily life challenges combined with a setback that derails us.

Perhaps a more interesting question:  what makes some of us return, often again and again, with hope, optimism, and determination, to an arena where we've failed before?

I've been intrigued by the many poets who are committed to returning to blogging this year; many of them once had regular blogs which made me yearn to be a blogger.  Here's hoping for lots more blog posts to read in 2018!  I've always found it very inspiring.

At one point during our trip, I thought about my longer poem that was inspired by our last trip to Southern California.  It's composed of 3 poems that are thematically linked with a prose poem between each of them.  I've wondered if I should force myself to try writing longer work, to go deeper.  Or perhaps I should experiment with linking more of my poems into something longer.

I'd like to get back to writing at least one poem every week.  I've got that rusty feeling that comes from being away from the writing desk too long.  Let me record some ideas that might become poems later this week:

--I never did write the poem about Jesus getting a dog.

--One of our planes was a 777, with an amazing first class section, with seats that could recline into beds.  I'd requested a cheese platter as my lunch, which would have impressed me more, if I hadn't had a super-duper amazing cheese platter at a wine bar the previous night.

--When I thought about going to San Diego, I had planned to go to the bar that was in the ritzy hotel where we spent the first part of our trip.  I wanted to try some craft cocktails.  It sounds so lovely, doesn't it?  Craft cocktail.  But when I read the descriptions, I thought, "These might be lovely.  On the other hand, these aren't flavors that I think of as going together."  I stuck with red wine.

What does that say about me, that I want to be a woman who drinks craft cocktails, but I'm happier with cheapish red wine?

Every night, the ritzy hotel set out a hot chocolate bar in the lobby--completely free, with all sorts of toppings.  Do I want to work in that detail?

--I keep thinking about all the homeless people who are so evident in San Diego.  I think about the tent cities in parking lots that I saw out of the trolley on our way to Old Town.  I think about walking back to the swanky hotel after the Christmas Eve church service.  We saw people sleeping on the ground, and I thought about the Gospel and what it means when there's no room at the inn.  On every block, people settled down to sleep on sidewalks and huddled beside buildings as Christmas Eve moved to Christmas morning.  Would those juxtapositions make for good poetry?

Speaking of beginning again, it's time to get to spin class.  Time to get back to more rigorous exercise!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Christmas Trip to San Diego

We spent much of the last day of 2017 traveling back from San Diego--but unlike previous airline trips across the continent, we traveled in the comfort and luxury of first class--it will be hard to fly any other way from now on.

I went to San Diego as one of our big family vacations.  We had planned to go to St. Thomas, but the hurricane season made those plans impossible--and because of the lateness of the destruction, choosing another destination-vacation site was not possible.  My dad thought that San Diego would appeal to all of us, so off we went.

Overall, it was a good vacation.  Instead of going through the 10 days one by one, let me make some lists:

The Good Aspects:

--It's always interesting to me to explore a different part of the world.  I realized that my K-12 history classes/lessons spent about 3 sentences on west coast history, while spending the majority of the time on colonial-nineteenth century U.S. east coast history.  We went to the Old Town historic area, which was interesting, but not specific enough for me.  When you've seen one historic tavern in one part of the country, you've sort of seen them all; the stable area, on the other hand, was more California specific.  I came home with questions about the first explorations by the Spanish that I'll spend some time researching--and to be fair, we never made it to the park which might have answered those questions for me.

--Similarly, it's fascinating to travel to a different coastline.  We went to La Jolla, where we saw many of these creatures (the sea lion is to the left of the human):



We took a harbor cruise that ended with a glorious sunset--a wonderful way to see the coast.

--We had other activities that were fun, like our trek to the Gaslamp district on Christmas Day to see The Last Jedi.  For more on Christmas Eve service and the movie, see this post on my theology blog.

--We enjoyed many great meals.

--I had time to read big books.  I began by reading Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140.  It was interesting to read Robinson's take on sea level rise and future urban life in a high rise building near the ocean.  I read Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1, an interesting exploration of the many ways that human lives can start from the same point and diverge greatly.  I finished Arthur Herman's 1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Order.  On the plane back, I read Lauren Grodstein's Our Short History; I loved her earlier books, and this one didn't disappoint.

  
The Less Good Aspects:

--Some of us fought a cold for part of the time.  My spouse seems to be fighting it off now.

--I packed wrong, just the way I did the last time we traveled to California.  I'd have liked to have warmer clothes with me.

--As always, there was too much to do and not enough time to do it all--it's a nice problem to have.

And now it is time to return to regular life--time to get ready for work.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Renovate 2018!

The sun slowly rises.  The last time I saw the sun I was 30,000 + feet above the earth, as the onboard airline map showed me I looked down on the Mississippi River flowing to the Gulf of Mexico; it was a magnificent sunset as the plane flew from San Diego to Miami.  I reflected on the fact that it was the last sunset of 2017, and I was finishing the last book I would read in 2017, Lauren Grodstein's Our Short History.

I felt a bit weepy, both from the content of the book and the fact that the year was ending and the fact that my vacation was ending.  I'll say more about my vacation in the coming days.  Today, let me do my traditional New Year's Day thing and think about my plans and goals for the coming year.

In some ways, my plans and goals are the same as they always are.  More of what I want to invite into my life:  more writing, more intentional time with friends and loved ones, more healthy practices like eating vegetables and getting some exercise each day.  Less of the things which sap my joy in life:  less anger at the national news, less TV, less consuming of food and alcohol which will leave me less healthy as the years go by.

Some years I try to choose a word that will be a motto or mantra for the coming year.  This year's word is either "Remodel" or "Renovation."  Readers may remember that finishing the house renovations was my goal for 2017--and it was, but then, life (a huge accreditation project at work primarily) and Hurricane Irma, intervened.

A year ago, my spouse and I had decided to renovate the house first, and then with any money left over, to renovate the cottage.  But that was before the hurricane damage; now, we need to have a 2 pronged approach.  Right now, the cottage needs a new AC/heat system and flooring, at the minimum.  The big house needs to have all the floors replaced, a new wrinkle to our plans.  We still need to have a remodeled kitchen, and I'm wondering if it would be wise to rip out the walls in the small laundry room that got soaked from hurricane damage aftereffects.  We need a new fence and gates.

Let me remember the small, bright lights of good house news that came out of the hurricane.  Our roof is in good shape, a fact confirmed by several inspectors.  We have good neighbors.  We have insurance policies that will pay us when we have damage.

I like the words renovate and remodel because they suggest that there's no need to abandon our current lives and spaces.  We have a good foundation--let's build on that for 2018!