Sunday, December 16, 2018

Reflections at the Midpoint of a Holiday Season

Here we are, just a day and a week from Christmas Eve.  Let me capture some holiday thoughts:

--Last night, we went out for a short drive to look at holiday lights, which really helps me with my early evening Saturday restlessness.  I saw a couple leaving their house with several Christmas gift bage--probably headed to a party.  I thought about how few people in my social circle have those sorts of parties.  My family is far away.  For a brief moment, I felt sad.  But then I remembered some of those parties I have attended, and I felt relief.

--One of my Facebook friends wrote about Christmas cards on the same evening a different Facebook friend wrote about her intention to send more paper mail in 2019.  It made me remember Carolyn See's writing regimen which called for writing two notes each week to any variety of people: a writer one admires, an editor, and not for any purpose than admiration or encouragement; in other words, one isn't asking for a favor. Her book came out before Facebook, but even then, she was adamant about notes handwritten on good paper. I'm thinking about my grandmother, to whom I wrote regularly when she was alive. I bought a variety of cards, often from artists or institutions I wanted to support. The cards probably brought me as much joy as my writing did her. All of this is to say that I'd like to do more old fashioned communicating in the new year.

--This is the time of year when many post/give all sorts advice for making the holidays manageable.  Last night was not the first time I've reflected on the relative emptiness of my holiday calendar.  In part, it's because I've already done the work of keeping what's meaningful and ditching the rest.  In part, it's because I'm fairly good at resisting the capitalist values of my larger culture that would have me go, go, go, spend, spend, spend.

--Usually by now, I'd have baked one batch of cookies or one holiday bread.  Of course, most years I'm not in the middle of a kitchen remodel.

--We hadn't planned to move the stove back to the kitchen.  We planned to cook the turkey soup with dumplings outside on the grill burner.  But it was rainy, and the kind of rain that had settled in for the day.  So, we moved the stove back, which was much easier than I thought it would be.   And happily, unlike the washer/dryer, we plugged the stove in, and it's working just fine.

--So, did I immediately make a batch of cookies or bake some bread?  No.  I'm hoping that this will be one of the few holidays where I've avoided my usual 3 to 10 pound weight gain.

--Here is a picture from our Kitchen Remodel Advent, a different take of the stockings being hung by the chimney with care:




--And here is a poem-like creation sparked by my Friday evening of meditative wet laundry draping:



Twas 2 weeks before Christmas
And all through the house,
The clothes were hung drying,
Still as a mouse.

The dryer stopped heating,
The washer won’t spin,
But at least we have new floors,
They’re installed, all in.

The measurer will come next week,
The cabinets we’ll order,
Maybe our kitchen remodel can continue
In no short order.

Let us focus on what we’ve accomplished,
The floors, a new fence.
Let us not think of the damage,
The social fabric now rent.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Wittgensteinian Wanderings

Two steps forward, and a bit of lurching back:  my spouse moved the washer/dryer unit back to the laundry room and hooked it back up.  He spent the afternoon washing clothes and waiting for the dryer to dry.  By the time I got back from work, it was clear that the dryer wasn't working.

Before we moved it, it had started acting up again.  At the end of summer, it wouldn't go through a full wash cycle without the dryer being on.  We had a repair team who seemed to fix it--for about 6 weeks.  But the dryer had always worked.

So, while my spouse finished grilling burgers, I moved all the wet clothes into baskets.  We ate dinner.  I emptied the lint trap, and my spouse flipped some breakers.  Lo and behold, the dryer gave off heat!  We dried the dress shirts and enjoyed some wine, since we wouldn't have to take loads of wet laundry to a laundromat.

And then--the dryer stopped giving off heat.  Sigh.  So I spent much of my Friday evening draping wet laundry over the drying rack, shower rails, anything that would support wet laundry.  It was oddly peaceful and meditative.

It was an early night after a long week that probably felt more difficult than it was.  As I drove home, anxious about all sorts of things, I heard a variety of news that reminded me that my problems are very manageable:  I'm not being held in a detention camp which is safer than the violence in a Central American home country.

Because it was an early night, I got up in the wee, small hours of the morning.  I've been reading a variety of interesting things, working on a poem that weaves together the cracking of the older Arctic ice and home repairs/grading/writing, putting together a poem submission for the Tampa Review--in other words, the kind of morning I like best.

I loved this piece at the On Being blog.  It's full of wisdom and ideas for writing and heartbreaking observations.  This bit led to some interesting research on both Wittgenstein and Spinoza:  "For a time, I required my students to write a Wittgensteinian essay: Start with one idea. Notice where it goes. Number each idea. Keep them short. Don’t worry if you hop around. Read and play with what emerges. It may take a while to understand what you are trying to say. To yourself."

He also makes lots of spiritual connections:  "I discovered that the Desert Fathers and other ascetics employed this approach. They sought a way to move from contemplative sense to paper. Sometimes they called what they wrote a century: 100 pieces of heart-sourced inklings. Heart to hand to ink. Follow what comes. Only the numbers seem orderly. Like prayer."

I am interested in the composition of these short pieces.  I also stumbled across this site which talks about the writing practice of William Stafford.  He, too, began his writing day by writing a short observation:  "Some prose notes from a recent experience, a few sentences about a recent connection with friends, an account of a dream. This short passage of 'throwaway' writing, it turns out, is very important, as it keeps the pen moving and gets the mind sniffing along through 'ordinary' experience. You are beginning the act of writing without needing to write anything profound. No struggle, no effort, no heroic reach. Just writing."

This morning, I also went outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of a meteor in these waning days of the Geminid meteor shower.  No luck.  I stood on the sidewalk, looking up and looking at the 3 small trees that lit up my front windowsill.

My grades are turned in.  My next round of classes don't start until January 7.  In these three weeks, I will read over my manuscript of linked short stories and begin my revisions.  I will return to my manuscript that is part memoir, part spiritual meditation.  I will continue to write poems and to do my spiritual journaling.  It will be a good break.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas Miracles: The Hurricane (Irma) Recovery Update

I have been outside to see if I could see any meteors--it's the peak of the Geminid meteor shower.  But I see no stars at all, and it's not because it's overcast.  We just have too much light pollution.

This has been a difficult week; it's the week that comes periodically, the week where I think, I cannot stand to keep camping out in this house one more minute.  We have been without a working kitchen since mid-September.  I do miss having a stove and countertop work space, but I miss the sink most of all.  It's harder than you might think to wash dishes in the bathroom.

We've been without our washer and dryer since early November.  It tells you how many clothes we have that we haven't been too inconvenienced.  I am getting tired of washing my socks and underwear in the bathroom.

We took the washer/dryer unit out of the laundry room to have the repair work done on the laundry room.  For a time, we thought we would paint before moving anything back.  But we've put that off so long that we might move the washer/dryer unit back, and then who knows when we'll get the painting done.  On some level, I do not care.  I just want to wash the mounds of dirty laundry.

Most weeks, I can stay in good spirits because I feel like we're making progress.  With the kitchen remodel, it's been hard to keep my spirits up.  So much waiting for phone calls that were never returned--much like the early part of the home repair process before we finally found a good contractor.

Yesterday, I made this Facebook post:

It's a Christmas miracle! We FINALLY heard back from the company that does the measuring for Home Depot when one wants to buy kitchen cabinets and make sure that they will fit. The final measuring will be done on Monday, 3 weeks after the design app't at Home Depot. And then it will take 4-6 weeks for the cabinets to arrive. And then we'll hope that the contractor will be between jobs so that he can come back to install. And then we'll try to find someone who can supply the color of Corian we've chosen for the countertops, since Home Depot can't.
So, who wants to place bets? Will the Berkey-Abbotts have a functioning kitchen by Easter? Perhaps for the start of the 2019 hurricane season?
Still, let us take our victories where we can, in this long post-Hurricane Irma repair saga.

The post doesn't say that we first had the measurer out in late October.  And in late September, we were playing phone tag with a cabinet person that our contractor recommended. 

In short, it's been a VERY long process.  But at least our floors are done.  I can do without a working kitchen more easily than if the flooring guy had disappeared mid project.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Feast of Santa Lucia in This Year of Our Lord without a Functioning Kitchen

Today is the feast day of Santa Lucia.  For a more traditional approach to this feast day, go to this post on my theology blog.  

This feast day may have been the first one I ever celebrated, although I wouldn't have thought of it as a feast day back in my early teenage years.  My Lutheran church in Charlottesville, Virginia had some sort of evening event, and I was part of the procession.  As an older girl, I got to wear the crown of candles.  Yes, real candles, lit, with wax running down them.

I often look back and am amazed at all the risks we took in my younger years.  After having a friend lose almost everything to a house fire, I am much more leery of open flame.

A recent Facebook exchange gave me much St. Lucia happiness.  One of my grad school friends posted this invitation:  "Come sing the songs of the winter holidays at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia Saturday the 22nd! (I'm personally hoping someone will show up wearing a St. Lucia crown of burning candles!)"

I responded, "OOOOOOOHHHHHHH! If I lived in Columbia, I would so show up in a Lucia crown with fresh, warm, home made bread!"

My friend replied, "Your golden red hair lit with candles -- that would be a glorious sight!"

If I lived in Columbia, I would likely have a functioning kitchen and could actually show up with bread warm from my oven.  Sigh.

I tell myself that it's O.K. that I'm not baking this holiday season--I tell myself this every holiday season, but most seasons, I could bake if I wanted to.  Even now, I could--we do have a functioning oven in the cottage.  I think it's functioning, but I'm now realizing that we haven't tested it since Hurricane Irma.

Maybe that will be my mission this week-end:  to test the oven by baking some holiday bread.  I also want to reset the air conditioning units to the dehumidify option to see if we could move the dehumidifier to the main house for the winter and not leave the cottage vulnerable to mold.

You won't find these kinds of scenes in holiday movies, but maybe we should.



Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Sketching as Deep Reading

Since Nov. 4, I have been part of an online journaling class.  We're making our way through Joyce Rupp's Open the Door, a book that is organized into a three to five page chapter to read each day.  Each chapter ends with a meditation and a prayer.

We were given a list of markers to buy:  4 specific colors and 3 black markers with tips of varying fineness/breadth.  Our leader created a secret Facebook site, and each week, those of us who can meet in a Zoom session, which is recorded for those of us who can't be there or who want to go back to watch again. 

We post our sketches.  Some of us post daily.  Some of us have rarely posted.  I am posting daily.  The Facebook group helps me want to sketch each day and post; I don't know if everyone reacts the same way.

Lately I've been thinking about how the sketching leads to deeper reading.  I confess that if I picked up the book on my own, I'd have given it a quick read, skimming over a lot of it.  But because I'm looking for entry into a sketch, I often go back.  And I'm lucky in terms of my classmates:  as with the best classes, someone will notice a nugget which will send me back to the text to see what else I might have missed.

I am often a skimmer of texts, not a deep reader.  In some ways, that's a skill I've been proud of, a skill that got me through grad school and other arenas where I needed to get through massive amounts of texts in very little time.  But in terms of personal growth/learning, it can be a detriment.

I have often been a note taker, but this is my first time sketching my responses to a text.  I wonder which one leads to deeper involvement; it probably depends on many things, like the text itself, my mood, my daily life at the time (it's easier to take notes in many settings than to sketch, which involves markers and a sketchbook and the regular book), and others.

It's been interesting to think about these practices in terms of contemplation and meditation.  I've participated in lectio divina, where we hear the text and ponder it and then hear it again.  I've done a variation where we write instead of pondering, but I've never done it where we sketched.  It makes me curious about the ways into our interior, especially about the ways I haven't tried yet.

I am using the term "sketch" loosely.  Some of my sketches have specific elements, which are sometimes recognizable to others:



Some of my sketches have parts that are recognizable, like wings or eyes in a small part of a more abstract expression:



Some sketches are more words than sketches:



Some begin with swirls and go other places; some of that sketching just quiets my mind, but doesn't seem to lead to other insight.


There are other parts of this practice that I haven't done as much with, like experimenting with both sides of the paper.

It will be interesting to see how this practice evolves once the class ends; next week is the last week of class.  I intend to keep sketching often through the week; I will carry my markers and sketchbook with me.  I will also keep working my way through a book in the way that I've done.  I like carrying the sketchbook in the book and keeping it nearby as a reminder of the deeper work that needs to be done.

I will miss my group.  I wonder if I could create something similar in my church group.  I wonder if I will stay Facebook friends with these online group members.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Keeping the Lanterns Lit

Here is my view from my desk this morning:




I love the two lanterns that I got over Thanksgiving.  I do regret not getting more of them--they would make great gifts. 

I thought I would pack away the one with Christmas tree shapes after this season, but I may keep it out.  I'm really enjoying the light they give off. I picked up some "fairy lights" at a seasonal display at Walmart--fairly cheap and they run on AA batteries.  I have some strands that run on watch batteries, but they don't last long.

I'm also enjoying how they remind me of the time I spent in Black Mountain with my family before we joined our larger family for Thanksgiving.  My mom, sister, and I bought matching lanterns.

I keep thinking about how magical that time seemed--and I knew at the time that we were having a special time.  The airbnb house was perfect, and I loved exploring Black Mountain.  It was just big enough, but not overwhelming.  But more than that, I felt like we were all able to be fully present.  How often does that happen?

So I will keep these lanterns close through 2019.  I want to be reminded to be present.  I want to be reminded that it is possible to live an integrated life--the lanterns will remind me to remember the online journaling class that I was taking during the month of November.  I want to be reminded of the possibility of treasure:


Monday, December 10, 2018

Metaphor Monday

Last night I wiped my eye, and dislodged my contact lens.  I couldn't find it on my face or in my eye.  Finally, I went to bed.  This morning, my eye felt irritated, but I thought it was because I had spent so much time poking at it last night.  Lo and behold, after half an hour, I found the missing contact lens in the corner of my eye.  I've put it in to soak, and I'll wear it today.  Happily I had saved the remaining contact lens, so I'll have a pair.

All night I dreamed of the missing contact lens, finding it and then losing it again.

It seems this should be a metaphor for something, but I'm not sure exactly what.  The vision that is still in my eye?  The prodigal lens that doesn't get very far?  The vision tucked for safekeeping in the corner of my eye?

Here's another metaphor development for your Advent pleasure.  We began our Advent wreath this way at church:



But it became clear that we'd need a helper candle to get the candles lit each week, and so now we have a candle, which can also nicely represent the baby Jesus:



And yesterday, my pastor added the last element, an image that he found on Facebook and got permission to use.  He had it printed on a foam board, and it leans against the marble altar:



I love having an ever-changing sanctuary space that gives us more to think about, that gives us another way of thinking about the metaphors and symbols.