Sunday, November 30, 2014

One Last Look at Thanksgiving

I am back from our annual Thanksgiving sojourn.  My extended family meets at a big house at Lutheridge, a church camp in the mountains near Asheville, NC.  It's not resort living, but we can cook, and it's a huge place with lots of room for rambunctious children.  The house hasn't been updated since--oh, probably ever--so we don't have to worry about protecting the house from the humans.  In fact, we often make some improvements while we're there.  There are plenty of walking routes and playgrounds and it's relatively safe, in terms of traffic and predators.  We've met there since 1994, either at Christmas or Thanksgiving, but mostly Thanksgiving.  We've gained new family members:  spouses and 7 children.  We've lost family members:  we first started going there because my grandmother would go to Lutheridge when she refused to go anywhere else.  She died a few years ago, and happily, we still commit to going.

Going back to that camp feels like going home in so many ways.  This year was no different.  But as with many years, traditions change.  Some thoughts on the holiday time:

--We've been going there for several decades.  Until recently, it never snowed.  Now, it seems to snow on a regular basis--unless it's unseasonably warm.  This year, on Thanksgiving, snow swirled through the air.  It never accumulated, but it was pretty.  Last year and this year both, we drove through the approaching cold front, but this year, we didn't have the torrential rain.  I much prefer a 12 hour drive under cloudy skies than the sunny skies we had yesterday.

--As we drove, we often scanned the radio dial.  Yesterday I heard more Duran Duran songs in one day than I ever did in the 80's.  More than once I wondered if I had fallen through a hole in time.  I heard Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" several times.  When it first came out, I saw it as the quintessential song about young married folks struggling against great odds.  It still feels like an oddly relevant song, as we all struggle against great odds in this world that has restructured itself climatically and geopolitically.

--My extended family has a wide variety of political beliefs, but we manage to be civil for several days.  I often wonder why other political collectives can't manage a similar feat.  Maybe the Congress should be forced to cook Thanksgiving dinner on a regular basis--then they'd remember that we're all humans.

--And if they did cook together, they'd probably realize there's a wide diversity of opinion, and not every question has to be a zero-sum game.  Can't agree on the cranberry relish?  Serve every option!

--In the past, we've gone to the local high school track to run and play.  But last year the field was locked tight.  They've done a lot of upgrades, and from a liability standpoint alone, I understand, but we needed a new place for the runners to log their miles.  So we discovered Fletcher Community Park.  Wow.  What a great place, with vast fields and long trails and Cane Creek.

--We played several soccer games.  Our littlest athlete, who is 3, doesn't understand yet that tackling is not part of every sport.  So we played and tried to keep him running instead of tackling.  For the most part, it worked.

--If you had seen us, you might have thought we were playing rugby.  We had a split lip and a bloody nose, and I expect that many of us have returned home with bruised shins.  But it was great fun.

--It is interesting to watch the older children begin to train the younger children.  I didn't read as many books out loud this year because some of the older children took that role.

--We rarely do much Black Friday shopping, but we have usually gone to the Frugal Backpacker to find really good deals some years.  This year we trooped down there, but they had moved.  When they were a half mile away, it was one thing to brave the "crowds."  But their new location was much too close to the mall and clear across the county.  No thanks--but we felt a pang of sadness at the end of this tradition.

--I got up the mountain to realize I'd left half of my cosmetics at home--so off we went to get toothbrush, eyelid wipes, and the like.  My nephew really loved the singing toothbrushes.  I got the Queen "We Will Rock You" toothbrush, and he got the one with the KISS song about wanting to rock and roll all night.  But then he wanted to trade.  I'm an old Queen fan, so I said yes--got to train the next generation!

--We also got supplies for a tea party.  My mom wisely encouraged me to get animal crackers to go along with the more traditional shortbreads and ginger snaps.  We had a lovely tea party, two of them, in fact--this year, I brought a tea pot.  Fun!

--We went to get more apples--the last of this year's season.  We got Pink Ladies--which used to be one of my grandmother's favorites.

--We had several apples sitting on a table.  The youngest child took a bite out of each one.  We were reminded of my grandmother's old refrigerator, which was in the garage.  It was the overflow space, where she kept extra produce and pantry items.   One year, our youngest cousin took a bite out of each apple in that fridge.

--In past years, we'd have been spending Thanksgiving Sunday with our friends in Jacksonville before coming the rest of the way home on Monday.  This year, for a variety of reasons, we came all the way home on Saturday.

--We have returned home without illness, so far, knock wood.  Some years, we've come back with intestinal distress, and more than once, pink eye.  This year, so far, we're fine.

--Now to get ready for the upcoming week.  I have returned home with a variety of tabletop trees for decorating.  As usual, I'm feeling a bit astonished by how quickly this holiday has zoomed past.   I can't believe how quickly the Thanksgiving holiday zoomed by.  While I also love the Christmas season, I begin to feel increasingly sad--the October to December time period holds the best holidays, if you want my honest opinion.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas:  what could be better?  I love the decorations, the food, the music.  Can you say the same thing about the Valentine's Day-Easter-Memorial Day corridor?  I can't.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Budgeting for Black Friday and Beyond

The weeks before Christmas pose challenges to most of us, no matter what beliefs we hold. Even the most balanced of us can lose our way during this time of frantic busyness and hectic schedules and our culture beaming messages at us that we must spend more. How can we as creative people best use our gift giving dollars?

Our first impulse might be to give our gift giving dollars to various charitable organizations. I’m fortunate enough to be able to buy all the material stuff I need. I am haunted by all the charities that are underfunded. I am haunted by the gaping needs in the world. I would prefer that people give money to the needy than to buy more stuff for me. Chances are good that lots of people on your gift list feel the same way. Then the hard part comes in choosing the charity.

Philosophers like Peter Singer would encourage us to send our charitable dollars to charities who serve the developing world, where our dollars go further. Organizations like Lutheran World Relief have long histories of delivering our donations efficiently to areas of the globe with great need. But we know that there’s plenty of need here in our home countries.

Some people who give money to charities in lieu of gifts have fun matching the charity to the personality of the gift recipient. Some families choose one charity and give all their gift budgets to the one charity. Some families support local churches.

But what about the people on our list who aren’t as charitably minded?

Maybe instead of a gift, we could give an experience. Could we also support artists by giving an experience?  Maybe we could go to a writing workshop together.  Why not give theatre tickets?  What about an afternoon at an artist's studio?

We could give the gift of time together—in February, when life calms down, and we need a treat to make it through the rest of winter. You could take your gift recipients out for dinner. Take them to a locally owned restaurant instead of a chain, and you've helped your community even more.  Make a date for a museum, where your artist self might feel inspired by the art, and even if you're uninspired, at least you've supported a local resource.

We could give magazine subscriptions, the gift that gives throughout the year. Choose a literary journal or an arts journal, and you're helping to support artists' economies.

In a similar way, you could choose a book from a small press.  Many poets publish fine books each year, even though established names are the ones who win the poetry prizes.  Choose books from poets like Jeannine Hall Gailey, Kelli Russell Agodon, Luisa Igloria, Susan Rich, January Gill O'Neil, Rachel Dacus, Martha Silano, Rachel Dacus, Sandra Beasley, Sandy Longhorn, Diane Lockward, Rachel Barenblat, oh the list could go on and on.  Choose a book from a writer who's published by a small press and you support multiple artists all at once.

 This year, we might want to give gifts that help support local businesses so that they survive. We could give any number of gift cards to local businesses: car mechanics, gym memberships, hair stylists, boutiques, bookstores, restaurants, move theatres. We could broaden our approach and choose gift cards that support our vision of the life we want to have, of a world that supports artists of all sort. Instead of an Amazon gift card, we could support a local bookstore. We could buy fair trade products from organizations that support people in developing nations.

But what about the people on our list who don’t want a gift card? What about the people who want an object specially chosen for them?

One year, my family had a lot of fun by giving handmade gifts. But most of us don’t have time between now and Christmas to give handmade gifts.

Luckily, other people have been preparing. Why not support a craft fair? There we’ll find beautiful objects to suit all sorts of budgets—and we’ll support artists and sometimes other organizations too (I'm thinking of church craft fairs here). Even if you think you can’t afford art, you will likely find something in your budget, like a set of note cards or a beautiful pottery mug. We could buy our gifts from SERVV or other groups who support artisans in the developing world. We could buy books from local authors.

However we choose to approach our gift giving, we should create a budget before we begin shopping. It’s easy to get caught up in the good feelings that spending money can produce for many of us. It’s easy to whip out our credit cards and worry about how we’ll pay for it later. Unfortunately, when we do that, many of us will still be paying for those Christmas presents next summer, or worse, the summer after that. And when we do that, we don’t have that money available for other worthy causes.

And there are so many other worthy causes.

One of our worthy causes, as artists, must be ourselves.  When we go deeply into debt to buy gifts for others, we rob ourselves of the time to create.  When we take our hard-won dollars and support other artists, we win on many levels.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Gratitude for Mepkin Abbey

Today is Thanksgiving.  Hard to believe--where has the year gone?

This morning, I want to focus my gratitude on one area, and see where it leads me.  I want to think about my decade of trips to Mepkin Abbey.  First and foremost, I'm grateful for the spiritual deepening that comes from those times at Mepkin.

I am grateful for how the monks conserve the land.

I am grateful to have time to sit by the banks of the river.

I am grateful for the writing projects which may not have ever developed, had I not had this writing time.

I am grateful for treats of all kinds from the gift shop.

I am grateful for the comfort that comes from knowing that the monks pray for us all, each and every day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gratitude Haiku for Thanksgiving

What are your gratitude customs for Thanksgiving?  Surely you have some.  The holiday, after all, is not supposed to be about a big meal or getting ready for Black Friday shopping.

I'm proposing something different for your family to try this Thanksgiving:  the gratitude haiku!

Why gratitude haiku, you ask?

First of all, a disclaimer. I'm using the word "haiku" very loosely. I understand that there's much more to haiku than the syllables per line (5-7-5). 

The practice of gratitude journaling is one I've comd back to periodically.  You've probably done it too:  at the end of the day, write down 5 things that fill you with gratitude. No doubt that it's a powerful practice. But I wanted to be honest. When I've kept this discipline for any length of time, my gratitude lists begin to seem quite similar. As always, cultivating a quality of mindfulness does not come naturally to me.

Once, I changed up my gratitude journaling practice.  Quite by accident--as I recall, it was in a desperate attempt to stick to a poem-a-day ritual one April--I wrote a gratitude haiku.  And then I wrote another.  And I kept doing it for several weeks.  The practice short-circuited my tendency to keep the same list. I found myself paying attention and trying on subjects for haiku possibilities. I found myself more lighthearted than I sometimes am when I'm keeping a gratitude journal--it's fun to write haikus.

So, I offer this to you as a complement to your other Thanksgiving traditions.  It involves no time in the kitchen, no exotic ingredients, and easy clean up--what could be better?

I'll start:

Thanksgiving 2014

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What's the Best Thing that Happened?

Back in the summer, I kept a logbook--see this post for more details about a logbook.  It's much easier in many ways than keeping a journal or writing blog posts.

As I was going back through it, I came across this idea, which seems infinitely adaptable for Thanksgiving conversations.  Maybe we can avoid the family arguments that so many of us dread around the holidays.

I came across this idea when reading Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist.  It's a quote from Nicholson Baker*, talking about writing The Anthologist"If you ask yourself, ‘What’s the best thing that happened today?’ it actually forces a certain kind of cheerful retrospection that pulls up from the recent past things to write about that you wouldn’t otherwise think about. If you ask yourself, ‘What happened today?’ it’s very likely that you’re going to remember the worst thing, because you’ve had to deal with it—you’ve had to rush somewhere or somebody said something mean to you—that’s what you’re going to remember. But if you ask what the best thing is, it’s going to be some particular slant of light, or some wonderful expression somebody had, or some particularly delicious salad. I mean, you never know… "

It's a variation on the gratitude exercise, it seems to me:  list 5 things each day for which you are grateful.  Your life/outlook will change.

I wrote this down, thinking I'd use it at work.  Maybe when people come to me to complain, to fret, to blow off steam--maybe I'll start remembering to use this prompt to shift the conversation:  tell me the best thing that's happened to you this week.

And maybe this week, during my Thanksgiving travels, I'll ask this question about the best thing that's happened in the past year.

*I realized I'd never really heard of Nicholson Baker, or at least, I thought I hadn't.  So I did what modern people did:  I Googled.  I came across this fascinating article from a few years ago.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Romantic Piano Inspires Much Creativity

Followers of this blog know that this has been the autumn of many music concerts.  My spouse has been taking music theory class, and as part of the class, he's had to attend 10 concerts.  Yesterday was concert #10.

We headed over to Bailey Concert Hall--what a beautiful remodeling job they've done!  We settled in for a great concert of Romantic piano music given by Dr. Jure Rozman.

It was excellent.  Rozman told us that the 19th century, the Romantic age, was a great one for the piano.  People loved the instrument because a musician can do dramatic things with it, without needing a full orchestra--and thus, composers turned their attention to creating music for one musician at the piano.  Rozman then went on to demonstrate the wonders of this music and these composers. 

He showed us the power of this instrument even if one only has one hand.  He talked about a time when he couldn't use his right hand, so he explored what has been composed for the left hand.  He played us a work from Alexander Scriabin, who similarly couldn't use his right hand and composed work just for the left.  It was an amazing piece.  If I hadn't been watching him play, I'd have sworn it was more than one hand.

I had many inspiring thoughts during the concert.  I thought about how to assemble the poetry chapbook I'm working on and how to title a poem so that it fits in.  I thought about teaching a creative writing class that looks at non-written works that tell a story and has writers do the same thing.  I thought about this after Dr. Rozman mentioned that many of these Romantic composers were trying to tell a story with the music and the melody.  Fascinating!

Then we came home and looked through the fridge.  We've had leftovers that have been mounting.  I had some heavy cream to use up--as expensive as this dairy product has become, I wasn't going to let it go bad with Thanksgiving neglect.

So, I made up an alfredo sauce.  WOW!  It was so fabulous.  I had a cup of cream, and following a recipe out of one of the Silver Palate cookbooks, I brought it to a boil, then let it simmer for 15 minutes.  I added some chopped, fresh basil, but it would have been fine without it.  I added 1/4 pound of parmesan cheese--it was flaked, not shredded, so it melted beautifully.  I cooked up about 1/3 pound of pasta shells, and put 2 T. of butter on them and then the sauce.

It was quite yummy and easy.  Unfortunately, I do understand that it's much too high fat to serve too often.  My spouse and I agreed that if we make it again, we need to make precisely 2 servings, which is what we made last night.  If I had made a whole pot, we'd have eaten the whole thing.

It was a great end to a week-end that was mostly great.  And now, Thanksgiving is minutes away.  It's hot and humid outside in my part of the world.  Hard to remember that we're almost done with November.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Processing the Pumpkins

I had bought the pumpkins just to serve as a pretty porch decoration.

But yesterday, I started feeling a bit guilty about the waste.  And so I decided to cook the smaller, more orange pumpkins.

I got home from spin class, and my spouse was game to help.  At first it was fun, much like childhood memories of cleaning out the pumpkins to get ready for Halloween.

We decided that the rounder one would make a perfect soup tureen, and so we started it baking once we cleaned it out.  The other one we decided to cut into chunks and to grill.  We tossed all the seeds with seasonings and cooked them too.

We scooped the sides of the pumpkin tureen from the inside and made some holes.  So, we cleaned that pumpkin and added it to a pot with some chicken broth.  Unfortunately, I spilled too much basil into the pot.  We tried to correct it in so many ways, but each attempt made it worse. 

Ultimately we threw it out.  So, I suppose in some ways, we wasted more by trying to save the pumpkin, if you think about the chicken broth.  Or maybe not, because we did use the seeds.

The grilled pumpkin was not as interesting as I hoped it would be.  Even with the mesquite chips being used to grill the ribs, the pumpkin wasn't smoky tasting at all.

Plus, it wasn't really cooked well enough to blend into a puree.  So I cooked it down with more water and put it in the freezer when it was done.  In the end, I finished with about a can's worth of pumpkin.

So, let me count the dishes dirtied to redeem these pumpkins:  3 cookie sheets,  a big soup pot, a smaller pan that cooked the grilled pumpkin chunks while I was still trying to save the soup, the blender, various knives, cutting boards that were dirtied and washed again and dirtied again, a colander, various spoons . . . I felt like I spent much of yesterday washing dishes and washing dishes and washing more dishes.

Let me count the energy used--the non-human energy that is.  We used the oven and 2 stove burners.  We used electricity for the blender.  We used the grill, but we'd have been using it yesterday.  We used a lot of electricity to heat the water to clean the dishes.  Our carbon footprint was large to prevent 2 pumpkins from going to the landfill.

And at the end, a pile of pumpkin seeds and a cup or two of pumpkin puree.

Perhaps for the other 2 pumpkins, I'll take them to a wildlife area near a boat launch and hurl them into the undergrowth.  Will they nourish the land?  Perhaps.

A hundred years from now, will people wonder how a pumpkin patch came to be so close to the sea?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tree Lights and Other Illuminations

For over a month, I'd been planning to go to the Hollywood Tree Lighting event on Nov. 21.  There would be the tree, of course, and snow, and Santa's arrival--and then a concert by an Air Force jazz band.

But yesterday was blustery and rainy and all afternoon, I thought about not going.  However, the event wasn't cancelled, and so, we walked downtown.  What a magical time!

My spouse commented that some of these South Florida kids would think that they'd really seen snow--but actually, it was soap bubbles.  Still, to see these "flakes" floating through the air really made me happy.

And then the tree was lit--a collective "Ahhhhhhh."

Santa arrived by way of golf cart.  It makes sense--those reindeers need their rest.  And though it looked snowy, it was actually quite warm last night.  Can reindeers sustain themselves in 78 degree weather?

We walked through the downtown.  It's a mixture of high end and grubby. 

I saw a deranged man careening down streets and sidewalks on his bike.  He pointed his fingers at a group at a bar and made shooting sounds.  They paid him no mind.

My friend was much more upset at the idea of a child hanging out at a retro lounge with a couple.  But the downtown doesn't feel so much like a bar scene--there's a fudge shop and all sorts of restaurants, so a couple at a sidewalk table outside a retro lounge in downtown Hollywood seems less worrisome than a child at a South Beach Miami scene.

My spouse told us of a scene that he'd witnessed in the Charlotte airport.  There was a sports bar and some burly guys who changed the channel of an overhead TV that most people couldn't even reach.  And then one of them ordered a Shirley Temple.

We watched the glassblowers and listened to the jazz band.  We walked home, tired but happy.

And now, I have more of my Saturday than I thought I might.  I had planned to do some online training for a school where I'll be teaching for the first time come January.  But I got a lot of it done last night.  I think there's more, but I can't find it--I suspect that I have to be added to the additional training module.  I wanted to get it done before Thanksgiving, but that may not be possible.

What will I do with this gift of time?  I plan to get chapbooks ready for 2 competitions:  the Concrete Wolf deadline approaches, as does the Yellowjacket Press deadline.  The last is for Florida poets only, and I've always wondered if I have a better chance with a reduced pool of entrants. 

It will be good to get my work back out again.  It's been too long since I submitted book length works regularly, and my last chapbook was published in 2011.  It's time to think about this again.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Perfectly In Sync, at Least for One Day

Yesterday I tagged along on a field trip to the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.  I expected to like the Café Dolly exhibit best, and while it was interesting, I was far more captivated by the photography exhibit.

The curators were interested in what the photographers were capturing in terms of the American experience.  So there are lots of photographs of gas stations at the middle of the century (more fascinating than it sounds!) and houses of all sorts.  There are some of the inner city scenes that are now iconic--people at drug store counters, back when there were soda fountains in drug stores, and people in holding cells.

There were pictures of road signs and billboards.  There were photos from WPA era times--a different set of iconic scenes from the Great Depression. 

It made me think of my desire to travel the U.S. South to take pictures of falling-down structures:  houses and barns and fences.  My friend and colleague who teaches the class said she'd always wanted to capture drive-in theatres before they're all gone.  I thought of all the structures along the coastline that are gone.  I'm especially sad that I never took pictures of an apartment building at Hollywood Beach that had a spiral staircase from the ground floor to the second floor.  Along the staircase, were concrete mermaids, about the size of half a forearm, one per every 7 steps or so.

That structure is gone to make way for a faux-Tuscan monstrosity of an upscale condo building.  Sigh.

My friend and I finished our field trip by going to the Starbucks at the hospital where we could sit in the outside courtyard.  We drank our holiday drinks and talked about ways to save students that we might not have thought of before.  And then we went back to campus to give it a try.

It was one of those days that made me feel wonderful, like my job is in alignment with my truest self.  I don't always feel that way, so I'm grateful for days like yesterday.

In the late afternoon, I was pleased to find myself in good company, in Jeannine Hall Gailey's gratitude post.  I want to mention it here, so that I don't forget.  So often I beat myself up for what I don't accomplish, and I forget to remember what I've done that's been working/successful/good.

Jeannine says, "Here are some bloggers I’ve been reading for a while that I’m thankful for (and you should take a peek at their blogs, too!) Obviously I love and value everyone on my blog roll or they wouldn’t be there, but these are the blogs I turn to when I’m discouraged, I need a lift, or I need to commiserate." 

And then she says this about me:  "a mix of writing, college administration, and spiritual living, Kristin in intelligent and thoughtful and often ponders things in a way that (I think) make me thing about stuff that’s really important."

Wow!  Thanks for that affirmation, Jeannine!

I've often said that I'd write even if I had no readers at all, because my writing is important to me in so many ways.  But I do love the affirmation that comes when I find out that my writing is important to others too.

Yes, yesterday was a day when I felt like my life was in sync with my values:  good art, good writing, good company, good teaching, trying to make the world a better place, in a variety of ways.  My gratitude post of yesterday continues!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gratitude Countdown to Thanksgiving

It's hard to believe we're one week out from Thanksgiving--which means we're getting close to the end of school terms.  I feel a bit of stress just typing that last sentence.  So let me take a few minutes to center myself.  I'll make a gratitude list to do a bit of self-grounding.

--I'm thinking of a year ago, when the coconut palms in the backyard started dropping their coconuts.  We woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of breaking glass.  Happily no one was breaking in.  Unhappily, a coconut had crashed into the outdoor light of our cottage.

Since then, we have had the trees removed.  Hurrah!

--I am grateful that my current job does not involve math.  Last night I had to do an onboarding assessment.  At first I thought it was just personality assessment.  But then I got to the math.  It's math I could do, if I had plenty of time.  But I just didn't want to do it.  Happily, my work life does not depend on me having to sit there and puzzle it out.

--This morning, I heard a news feature on a reporter who started to ask people about their passwords and the stories that they reveal.  From there, I wove an interesting poem that talks about passwords and comets.  I love a poem that comes suddenly.

For all the times that I feel frustrated with having less time to write than I wish I did, I'm grateful for the time I do have.  I'm deeply cognizant of the fact that many people would be grateful to have the time that I have.

--I did a Google search of my name, and this time clicked on the images to see more.  I'm grateful that there aren't pictures that make me cringe.  I was surprised by how many pictures aren't pictures of me, but pictures I've posted on my blog.  I'm grateful to be reminded of how many cool projects I've been part of and then blogged about.

--Tomorrow we're going to the first annual tree lighting and holiday concert at the Hollywood Arts Park.  I'm grateful to have friends who want to go with us.  I'm grateful for a festive event.

You might say it's too early for holiday events.  I would disagree.  And I'm not even upset about Christmas commercials.  It's so much better than the Oct. barrage of political ads.  Give me carols and snow and surprise gifts in the advertising landscape any day!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Unexpected Treats in a Work Day

Yesterday I had planned to have a working lunch with a colleague friend.  Most of my working lunches are held nearby because both parking and time are at a premium.  Yesterday, my friend and I had more time, and her 2:00 meeting was across the street where there is plenty of parking.  So we decided to have an adventure.

We headed north.  The cold front was already pushing through:  a spit of rain here and there from the gray, wooly clouds overhead.  She knew of a great restaurant with a view.

And what a view!  There was a bit of rolling grass and then some sea grape cover (or was it mangrove?) and then sand and sea.  It was the kind of day when I most like gazing out at the horizon:  deserted beaches and rain rolling in.  But not the kind of rain where I worry about flooded roads and roofs springing a leak.

Of course, the difficulty of a great view is that it's hard to think about the working part of a working lunch.  But we covered what we needed to cover.  We had a great lunch.  We treated ourselves to dessert, an amazing crème brulee that had some sort of chocolate custard underneath.

We agreed that we could have perched there all day, gazing at the steely sea.  We thought about how the restaurant would make a great house if one had unlimited wealth.  We talked about what to do with our limited wealth.  Could one afford a small something with a similar view?

In this time of increasingly severe storms and sea level rise, would one want to?

We exchanged hurricane stories.  We talked of friends elsewhere, like my friends in the Asheville area, who have had worse hurricane seasons during some years than we have down here at the edge of the sand.

And finally, we returned to our less delightful work duties, satiated with good food, wonderful conversation, and a gorgeous view.  And thus, the rest of the work day was drenched with a sense of well being.

We had cared for ourselves, and we returned, all the better equipped to do the work that needs to be done, work which essentially involves caring for others.  I went to classes to tell them about the Art Grant.  I went to a first quarter class to talk to students about how to be most successful.  I called students on the at-risk list.  I evaluated transcripts.

And at the end of the day, a book that I had ordered as a preview copy was in my mailbox.  Hurrah! 

I like a work day that reminds me that work does not have to be drudgery.  I like a work day with unexpected treats.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What to Read on the Day that the Vote on a Pipeline is Scheduled

I know that today may be a difficult day for my political friends, depending on which way the vote on the Keystone XL pipeline goes.  Oddly enough, I've been reading Bill McKibben's latest book, Oil and Honey, which dovetails nicely with the political events of the week--but it's odd, because I started it long before the vote was scheduled.

It's also odd, because I have that sense of time warping--the book covers the beginning of the protest against the pipeline back in 2011, and here we are, years later, still waiting to see how it all turns out.

Regardless of how the vote goes, it's important to remember that the vote has been delayed because of the actions of this band of protestors.  And President Obama may prevent the construction of the pipeline, if the Senate and the House give approval--and that would not have been the case without this protest movement.

The movement was helped by the larger institutionalized protest groups--but the bulk of the movement was comprised of ordinary folks.  McKibben, himself, is a fairly ordinary guy:  a teacher and a writer at midlife.  He shows the way that a movement can be built:  he knows these people who know these people and eventually, they get the attention of the White House.

The book also tells the story of one of the more successful beekeepers in the U.S.  It explores the ways that people can combine resources:  McKibben has a bit of money to buy some land, but no time to care for it the way he would like.  The beekeeper has vast knowledge, but no money to buy land.  They combine forces to find that interesting twists and turns happen.

It's a book about the land and all the ways we might save it.  It's a book about ordinary citizens and the power that they have.  It's a good reminder in these political times.

And regardless of how the vote goes, McKibben continuously reminds us (and I'm only halfway through the book) that the environmental struggle is never truly won.  I would say that the flip side is that the battle is never truly lost either.  I've written this before, but it bears repeating:  when I was a child, you couldn't swim in many of the country's rivers--and they sometimes caught fire. Now you can swim in most of them without too much fear. When I was a child, in major metropolitan areas, you could see the air you were breathing. Now, you can't, at least in Europe and the U.S.

I'm also thinking of the death of Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues:  what an amazing life (more details here).  I think of this book as one of the classics, so I was startled to realize that it wasn't published until 1993.  I had been thinking it was one of those 70's books, like Rubyfruit Jungle.

Let us take a minute to think about how much has changed in the world since 1993.  For one thing, we can use a word like transgendered, and many of us have an understanding of what that means.  And that book, the remarkable work of one amazing writer, helped bring about that change.

I think that many of us are guilty of one of the deadliest sins, the sin of despair, of being unable to imagine that change can happen.  We think that our work doesn't matter.  We think that it's much too late.

McKibben has documented in numerous places that we have indeed changed the planet, and it likely won't change back.  But while life on this planet will be harder in some ways, in others, it's easier now, at least in parts of the world, as this article reminds us.  Many of us have more freedom to be our authentic selves.

It's good to have these books and these humans as examples of why it's important not to waste that freedom.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Teacher as Presence: Online and Onground

I've been going to Humanities and Communication classes to talk about the Art Grant.  I also went to a colleague's class to give an orientation type talk that our Associate Dean used to give, back when we had associate deans.

It's a class that all first quarter students are supposed to take, so I talk about all the ways that their academic careers can go wrong.  I talk about when to drop a class and when to stick it out, about incremental completion rates, about academic warnings and terminations.  It sounds gloomy, but I try to make it interesting.

My colleague told me that I had quite a presence in the classroom, so I'm calling it a success.

Beyond the compliment, I started thinking about the online classroom.  Some of the skills that make me a compelling presence in the onground classroom--do they translate online?

I don't yet know.  Right now, I'm not utilizing video in the online class, so my compelling presence relies on my words.  That works well for some students.  I do suspect that online discussions and e-mails are easier to ignore than a roaming presence in the onground classroom.  And it's harder for me to perceive who's getting left behind in the online world.  Onground, I can tell who's zoning out and who has drifted off to sleep.  I can tell people to look away from their distractions and stand over them until they do.

I can't always do that with my online students.  But I'm delighting in some aspects of my online classes.  For example, I've been having an e-mail exchange with a student who loved the Flannery O'Connor short story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."  She's fascinated by O'Connor's giving characters several different choices in the world she creates and following the consequences of those decisions.  She asked if I know of any novelists who explore human nature and the consequences of decisions.

Now I could make the argument that the roots of most conflicts in fiction are rooted precisely there.  But instead, I listed some of my favorite contemporary artists and books that are most suited to her quest; I included people like Gail Godwin and Barbara Kingsolver.

We've been having an ongoing discussion about these novelists and O'Connor and the possibilities for the paper that she needs to write for the class.  What a joy.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Eating: Pathetic, Soothing, Celebratory

I've been baking cookies--Butterscotch Bars, the easiest cookie recipe ever, the one I pull out when I need something quick and tasty for a gathering.  The recipe is here.

The cookie baking put me in mind of a funny incident at the office earlier this week.  I had a plastic container open on my desk.  My colleague said, "Are those cookies?"

I held up the piece of broccoli I was eating.  "No.  Broccoli."

He wrinkled his nose.  "Not cookies."

I said, "Wait, it's worse.  It's old broccoli.  It's broccoli I'm trying to eat up before it goes bad."

And yes, I know how pathetic that sounds.

But wait--it's worse.  It's broccoli that I paid much too much for.  I went to the Fresh Market, and I bought a bunch of broccoli, the only one in the pile that I thought was worth any money at all.  That broccoli had seen better days.

So, I bought a bunch and later, I stopped by a Doris Italian Market.  I could have gotten much better broccoli for a much lower price.  Sigh.

So, if you're wondering why I forced myself to eat broccoli that was far from its best days, it's because I was already annoyed with myself for paying too much.

Paying too much and then throwing away--that would really make me mad at myself.

How much more I love baking--the kitchen activity which so rarely disappoints--unless you count the extra calories which can lead to extra pounds.  But I've gotten better at moderating that in the last few years.

Perhaps it's because I'm using wine these days to soothe my anxieties and to celebrate the end of the day.  I used to end the day with extravagant baked goods that I'd made--along with ice cream.  And more baked goods.  Now, if I'm eating those kinds of calories--and it's much more rare--I try to do it earlier in the day, so that I have more hours to burn it off.

And yes, hopefully some day I will become the kind of evolved person who doesn't need food or wine to soothe my anxieties or celebrate the end of the day.

Or do I?  Certainly I'd like a better way of processing anxiety.

But it's hard to think I'll ever want to completely abandon the practice of celebrating with food and wine.  That impulse is deeply rooted in our collective humanity--and likely for a reason.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Medieval Monastic Tradition: Making a Way Out of No Way

My essay about Gertrude the Great is up at the Living Lutheran site.  Go here to read it.

I am startled to realize how many of these medieval monastics I've written about.  Ten years ago, I would not have anticipated this turn of events.

I've been thinking about the strange twists and turns of a writing career--my brain returns to this topic periodically, but this time, it was triggered by this article on the Poetry website.  The author observes, "Those of us who matriculate through MA, MFA, and PhD programs join a select club relative to the general population: writers who can make some kind of living, no matter how meager, from work related to their art. Access to that club is so limited and our numbers so few that we become a class unto ourselves, a writing class serving as poetry’s own version of a 1 percent. It’s true that club isn’t so decadent as the analogy implies. I put in time after my MFA and again after my PhD earning lousy incomes as an adjunct lecturer, postdoctoral fellow, and visiting writer. I taught my share of overwhelming course loads for underwhelming pay without health insurance or job security. Still, I remained a poet in the academy and party to its culture even as it exploited me as a low-cost laborer."

I'm thinking of the strange twists and turns not just of a writing career, but in terms of my teaching and academic career.  I would not have anticipated that I'd find publication opportunities in writing about medieval monastics and mystics--but I have.  I would not have anticipated a website like Living Lutheran, which needs much more in the way of content than the monthly magazines where I first sent my creative non-fiction.

I'm also thinking of the twists and turns of other careers.  One of our colleagues who was laid off in March assumed he'd never find another full-time job--he's over 60, after all.  But he just told me that he'll be the first full-time online teacher at a local college.  In that capacity, he'll also be a lead instructor type of person, someone who keeps tabs on all the online faculty.  He's sort of a teacher, sort of a department chair, sort of a trainer.  Ten years ago, there weren't many of these kinds of jobs.

I've done my fair share of worrying about the future of higher education and my distance from retirement.  And yet, so far, I've made good for myself, but always in ways I didn't anticipate.

I went to grad school assuming that I'd get a lovely teaching job at a small, liberal arts college.  So far, it's the one kind of school where I've never taught.  But I've found elements of the liberal arts college wherever I went.

I'll continue to hold fast to tales of making a way out of no way.  And perhaps that's what most attracts me to these medieval monastics and mystics.  They, too, found a supportive community in the midst of a larger society which didn't understand their passions.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Intimations of Mortality

--Yesterday I got to work to find that none of the plugs in my office worked.  Hmm.  I tried not to see it as an ominous omen.

--You'd think a circuit breaker had tripped, but that was not the case.  Luckily, the electricians who had been replacing lights in the hall were still in the building.  Something in a distant ceiling had come undone while they were replacing lights, and they could fix it.  Ninety minutes later, I had power.

--While I was waiting for the plugs to work, which means the computer access necessary for most of my work, I went to various classes to talk about the Art Grant.  Our school has created this opportunity for students to reduce their tuition cost by 15-20%.  Part of it is naked self-interest, in the light of the Gainful Employment legislation.  But it ultimately helps students, so I'm willing to advocate for it.

--Some have speculated that the money freed up from the discontinuing of the company's match of our 401K accounts will go to this Art Grant.  On some level, I hope that's true.  I mind less losing money to student grants than the thought of the company match going to executive bonuses.

--In my idealistic grad school years, I would never have dreamed I would write a sentence like the last one.

--I spent the rest of the work day engaged in pursuits that I hope will make a difference:  telling classes about the Art Grant, helping students with transfer credit questions, welcoming new students at Orientation, taking a Math class off hold for a bit of time so that registration could happen, all the minutiae which hopefully helps students towards graduation.

--I ended the day by going to a funeral.  It was oddly inspiring in its own right.  For more on the spiritual aspect, see this post on my theology blog.

--It was sort of like a family reunion.  I saw church members who worship at different services, church members who have been away tending sick relatives, members who have moved to different churches.  It was good to see everyone, good to rejoice in a life well lived.

--It was good to be reminded that life is very short.  Does that make me seem strange?  I often think of monks who sleep in their coffins or artists like John Keats, who cough up a bit of their lungs each morning and thus reminded of impending death, go on to produce their best work.

--I think of the Grandmother and the Misfit in that Flannery O'Connor classic, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."  I think of the Misfit saying that the Grandmother would have been a good woman if there had been someone there to shoot her every day of her life.

--That reminder of mortality--it's a powerful jolt.

--So this morning, back to wrestling with poems.  I'm working with images of paintbrushes buried in the dirt, poinsettias who hear an ancient music, and the strange songs of comets.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Failure and the Writing Life

I began yesterday by listening to Diane Rehm interview Margaret Atwood.  You can too, by going here.  What a great age we live in!

I found some interesting ideas about failure in this article from The Guardian.  I foolishly assume that once someone is successful, the fears of failure go away.  These well-known writers reassure us that it isn't true.

I think the link takes you to the end of the piece, where Lionel Shriver reminds us that she wasn't always successful.  I had forgotten about her failed novels, the 6 before the one that got onto the best seller lists.  She also reminds us that each day can bring a fair amount of failure our way.

The essay by Margaret Atwood is marvelous, but you knew it would be.  She speculates that her failure to write one novel set her on a course that led to The Handmaid's Tale

Julian Barnes reminds us that even when people seem to have messed up their lives beyond redemption, there may be more to the picture.

I love the essay by Anne Enright, who reminds us:  "The zen of it is that success and failure are both an illusion, that these illusions will keep you from the desk, they will spoil your talent; they will eat away at your life and your sleep and the way you speak to the people you love."

What a wonderful way of saying that just because the illusion is an illusion, that doesn't mean that it doesn't affect us.

She concludes thusly:  "You want to meet people in their own heads – at least I do. I still have this big, stupid idea that if you are good enough and lucky enough you can make an object that insists on its own subjective truth, a personal thing, a book that shifts between its covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives, talks, breathes, refuses to die. And in this, I am doomed to fail."

I confess that I haven't read her books.  But now I will.   Anyone who writes this beautifully about failure is someone whom I would trust my precious reader's time.

Seven writers writing about failure--it sounds depressing doesn't it?  Actually the collection of essays was immensely interesting--and a great comfort.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day at the Abbey

Some of you may be scratching your heads:  Armistice Day?  Isn't it Veterans Day?

Well, yes, but before it was Veterans Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that the Armistice was signed that brought World War I, one of the bloodiest wars in human history, to a close.  However, those of us who know our history may be chastened by the knowledge of what was to come. The end of World War I planted the seeds that would blossom into World War II. World War I brought carnage on a level never before seen – but World War II would be even worse.

For a more theological meditation on Veterans Day, see this essay I wrote which is posted at the Living Lutheran site.

One year, my annual trip to Mepkin Abbey coincided with Armistice Day.  It also happened to be near All Saints Day, the first All Saints Day after Abbot Francis Kline had been cruelly taken early by leukemia.  Part of one of the services was out in the monks' cemetery, and all the retreatents were invited out with the monks.  I was struck by the way that the simple crosses reminded me of the French World War I cemeteries:

I took the above picture from the visitor side of the grounds, but it gives you a sense of the burial area.  I turned all these images in my head and wrote a poem, "Armistice Day at the Abbey."

I haven't read the poem in several years; it's interesting how I remember it differently.  I thought it was more obvious in tying together military discipline and monastic discipline.  But it's much more subtle than many of my poems.

For the first time in its entirety, I present it here:

Armistice Day at the Abbey

The monks bury their dead on this slight
rise that overlooks the river
that flows to the Atlantic, that site
where Africans first set foot on slavery’s soil.

These monks are bound
to a different master, enslaved
in a different system.
They chant the same Psalms, the same tones
used for centuries. Modern minds scoff,
but the monks, yoked together
into a process both mystical and practical,
do as they’ve been commanded.

Their graves, as unadorned as their robes,
stretch out in rows of white crosses, reminiscent
of a distant French field. We might ponder
the futility of belief in a new covenant,
when all around us old enemies clash,
or we might show up for prayer, light
a candle, and simply submit.

Monday, November 10, 2014

String Quartets for a Rainy Sunday Afternoon

Saturday, in between rain and storms, we went over to Broward College to see the Amernet String Quartet.  It was billed as an evening of Jewish music, which was strange because it started at 4:00 p.m.  I heard an ad for the show which said it would feature a Jewish cantor.  And there was some mention of Kristallnacht.  Clearly it was not going to be your traditional classical music concert with your typical string quartet.

Is there a typical string quartet in America these days?

I was surprised to realize that Nov. 9 is not only the anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall, but also the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass that actually lasted 2 days and was far more than just rioting and looting against the Jewish people in 1938.  After spending a morning hearing news coverage about the 1989 events of hope, it was disorienting to be plunged back into the chaos and horror of history.

I wondered what the audience would be.  I expected to be the youngest people there by about 25 years.  But there were more very young children than I expected.  It was a restless audience, with the very young children and the very old; it was a concert where people came and went a lot.  There weren't as many students--maybe because we got a special student rate, not free tickets.

So, here is my confession.  I liked the string quartet by themselves much more than I did the parts with the cantor.  But it was a good mix of music, so just when I thought I couldn't stand anymore of the cantor's singing, he left the stage.

Would I have found the music more moving if the sung parts had been sung in English instead of Hebrew or Yiddish?  Probably.  Luckily we had introductions, so at least I had a sense of what the lyrics said.  For more on the sacred music aspect of the concert, see this post on my theology blog.

And it wasn't all dreariness.  Some of the songs were children's songs (I think), with some interesting plucking of the strings and other sound effects.

Overall, I'm glad we went--it was good to stretch my musical boundaries and good to get out.  But I'm also glad we got the student rate.

We came home through increasing rain.  I was glad I had made a simple sauce for pasta (recipe here)before we went.  It was good to have dinner ready in quick order.  We watched a rerun of In the Heat of the Night, a show which takes me back to the back roads U.S. South of my college years.  Then we watched The Simpsons and I worked on my online class, and off we went to bed. 

It was another delightful Sunday afternoon, with different music, but again an appreciation for what the community college brings to our community.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Autumnal Smells, Autumnal Memories

It's an overcast morning--much on my brain, but not much of great import, except for anniversaries of historical events :

--Still turning cell phone plans over and over in my head.  Do I really need one more computer, one more screen?  I'm never too far away from the computers I have, from the phones that I hate to use anyway.  I will likely start with a pay-as-you-go plan and upgrade if that's the route I go.

--It's gloomy, and I had apples that were a few days away from spoiling--no, not my mountain apples!  I have some cider that needs to be used up.  So, in my oven at this very moment, this recipe for carrot apple cider cake/bread/loaf.

An update:  the bread is wonderful!  I made the cream cheese spread and tried them side by side.  I think that I prefer it without the spread.  The spread overpowers the other tastes.

--I'm also making an apple crisp with some shreds of carrots; I grated too many for the above recipe.  It will be a combination of breakfast and dessert tastes.  My crisp has only oats and pecans and brown sugar for the topping--it's not like a crumble or a brown betty or a cobbler--no batter.

--These items in the oven are making the house smell autumnal.

--Autumnal.  My favorite smell!

--Last week-end, we grilled a lot of bone-in chicken.  I thought I would boil the bones down for stock this week-end, but when I opened the pot where I'd been storing them, I decided that they smelled strange.  Strange chicken smells--not my favorite.  I threw them out.

--I hated the waste, but I would hate food poisoning more.

--I usually don't have trouble adapting to the end of Daylight Savings Time, but this year, darkness crashes in early, and I feel a bit of a struggle to maintain a good mood.

--Yesterday's release of the North Korean hostages took me back to the Iranian hostages of November 1979.  Yesterday I watched Argo again.  What a great movie.  I thought I'd just watch the first part while I ate lunch, but I couldn't stop.  And I've seen the movie several times before.

--I also have the fall of the Berlin Wall on my brain:  25 years ago today.  A victory for non-violent resistance.  You could argue that it was just public officials who misspoke and border guards who were afraid to shoot.  I will go to my grave feeling happy about that event, regardless.  More in this news story.

--I'm happy to report that the apple crisp with carrot sheds works!  In case you want to make something similar, since many of you have cold weather headed your way, here's a recipe for one of the simplest apple crisps you'd ever want to make, and you can vary it, depending on the fruit you have and your preference for ratio of topping to fruit:

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

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.
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.

*If you're filling a pie pan, 2 will probably do.  If you like more topping and less fruit, 2 will do.  If you're filling a 9 x 13 pan, you'll probably need 4-6, again, depending on your preference of fruit to topping.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Am I Smart to get a Wonderphone?

I have spent far too much time this week thinking about cell phone plans.  I thought it might be easier; after all, we already knew the carrier we needed, the only one that gives reliable coverage at one of the camps to which my husband travels periodically.

I didn't anticipate how complicated it might be to choose a phone. 

Wait, let me be more specific.  I didn't anticipate how expensive it might all be.  At first I thought I might be able to get the phone I wanted for free and a plan of $45 a month.  But then it was looking like $60 a month.  Hmm.  Then I went back to the website and wondered if it might not be $80 a month.

When I talked to the nice lady on the phone, I didn't want to make a sudden decision, plus my spouse would be travelling, and I didn't want the cruddy cell phone to go dead. 

This morning, I looked at pre-paid plans.  Maybe I don't want to get locked into a 2 year contract--especially if it's going to be $60-$80 a month.  I multiplied that times 12--that's a huge annual cost.

People tell me that I will wonder how I ever lived without the wonderphone.  I am doubtful. 

I already spend a lot of time staring at screens.  Now I'm going to add an additional screen?  A very small screen?

I could buy the phone I thought I wanted (hundreds of $) and go with the $45 a month prepaid plan.  Will I save money that way?

Am I really going to download a lot of apps?  I know myself enough to know that I am unlikely to upload a lot of music to the phone.  I still haven't uploaded much of it to the computer.

Lots of people tell me that I will need more than 1GB monthly.  But I think I'll start there and see.  I am unlikely to be using the phone to watch TV or movies.

Why do I want a smartphone again?

I would like to take pictures.  I would like to upload/send them instantly.  There are times it would be nice to have a device that would let me check e-mails or look up an Internet something or . . .  wait, again I ask, why do I want this smartphone?

But lest you think I'm anti-technology (I'm not--I once thought I didn't want a laptop, and now I love my laptop), let me call your attention to some inspirations I've found this week.  I wouldn't have found them without them existing online and without the Facebook recommendations that led me to them.

This wonderful interview with Jane Hirshfield, where she reminds us that "technology helps keep poetry alive. Technology’s a stamp, not a rival letter. One line I wrote has been tweeted all over the world, mostly it seems by young people, and it just keeps going. It’s a line I’d never have guessed would have a life of its own, 'How fragile we are between the few good moments.' I’ve tried to imagine what note it strikes. I think it allows space for a person to acknowledge the harder patches of a life. If one person admits they feel fragile, others can feel less solitary in their own fears or grief. Even in happiness, poems keep us company; knowing you aren’t alone in itself helps people. It tells us our fates and blows are shared by all."

Technology is the stamp!

This idea from Hirshfield will stay with me a long time:  "The most powerful moments of our lives cry out for the deepening and acknowledgment that hard-to-find words can bring them. Poems let you enter those moments more fully, and they also stop them from fading. They set the colors of your inner life the way fixatives set a dye, and they enlarge the range of what you can see and feel."

Poems as dye-fixative!

I also liked this essay by Molly Crabapple; this idea has stayed with me for several days:  "I've never had a big break. I've just had tiny cracks in this wall of indifference until finally the wall wasn't there any more."

Friday, November 7, 2014

Seeds of Past Writing Projects that Blossom

Yesterday, I had a strange, writer's moment.  I got an e-mail to tell me that the book was ready and that contributors would get a discount.

Book?  I contributed to a book?

The title seemed somewhat familiar, so I did a search of my e-mails.  Sure enough, I came across a series of e-mails where a reader wanted to use my blog post (about coracles and traveling with trust of God in lieu of oars) on her blog.  I said sure.

At a later point, I got this e-mail:

"You are receiving this Email because either you were a guest blogger or were
interviewed by us and we used your comments and/or ideas for our summer project
Boats Without Oars.  Once again, thank you for your participation in our
research and adventure.  I have been discerning, upon request by many, what, if
any, work to do to honor our travels, findings and new relationships within and
without the Episcopal Church.  One idea is to have the work included in some
sort of publication.  To that end, I am writing to ensure that if such
opportunity is forth-coming, you would be comfortable with your contribution to
Boats Without Oars being included.  So, would you please take a brief moment to
reply "yes" or "no" to this Email?  I appreciate your consideration as well as
prayers about the direction of our work."

Again, I responded with a "Sure.  Use my work."

That was 2 years ago.  And now, there's going to be a book.  I'll post more details as I get them.

This morning, I continue to be amazed at how my various writing projects travel.  I think of all those parables of seeds and yeast and how the smallest things can blossom, even without our attention.

I also got a Facebook message yesterday from the Living Lutheran editor who first published my work on the site:  "I was thinking of you yesterday when I used your blog as an example of how to blog for a webinar that I led."

How cool is that?

Last night I came home from work and worked for a few hours on my memoir project.  The moon rose outside my east-facing window, and I'd write and then ponder the moon and write some more.

I sank into a deep sleep, but then at 1 a.m., I awoke with a start.  I think the house just emitted a deep creak, but when I woke up, I wasn't sure.

I couldn't fall back asleep, so I decided to get up and keep writing.  I have this strange vision, that maybe I can have a complete draft of my memoir by the end of the week-end.  It will still need one more polishing, but it will be easier to grasp the scope of it.  I've been working with bits and pieces, working for one brief spurt here and then another brief spurt a few months later.

I need to plug in a series of gratitude lists throughout the manuscript; I'm going to do the same thing with a series of dream job chapters (one is based on this post, still one of my favorites in the series).  But I can't plug them in until I have the complete manuscript.

Although I wouldn't want to awaken at 1 a.m. every day, I feel strangely energized for someone who only got 4 hours of sleep.  It's wonderful to have had this time to write!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Work Meetings and Table Ministries

Today at work, we will have an Academic Affairs meeting where we will likely discuss the Winter 2015 schedule and the new approach to registration for classes.  Then we will eat lunch at the school's restaurant.

To my knowledge, we have never done this before.  When I first moved into administration, our Chairs meetings often had food supplied by Culinary, but it wasn't a real meal.  Sure, it was charming to eat a gingerbread boy while we talked metrics, but it didn't make the kind of bond that sharing a meal would have.

Today's meal may not bond us together either.  But if we did it often?  I bet we'd be more cohesive and more effective.

My church has learned this lesson.  After our success in planning alternative worship services over dinner, we now also have our church council meetings over dinner.

We're lucky to have a pastor who opens his house to us.  We're lucky that he has a huge dining room table.  People who have served on church councils before and are serving now comment on how much better we're getting along and how functional we are as a group.

Why is this such a surprise?

After all, as a church, we have the example of Jesus and his table ministry.  You may or may not recall that many a story in the 4 Gospels shows Jesus having a meal:  with followers, with huge crowds, in people's homes, in borrowed spaces, in huge outdoor areas.

I am not the first person to see the radical nature of this table ministry.  Radical and radicalizing.  It's hard to continue to think of people as "Other" when we've eaten dinner with them.  When we eat a meal together, we learn a lot about each other--thus, it's harder to demonize each other.  It's easier to work as a group when we've broken bread together.

Jesus knew a lot of things, but his idea of table ministry was one of the super-genius ideas.  If they were giving out MacArthur Fellowships then, would he have been recognized?

Do they teach this idea of the value of sharing a meal together in the nation's business schools?

I'm willing to bet that they don't.  What a shame.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Antidote to Election Day Funk

I spent much of yesterday feeling slightly sad.  I wonder why.

Part of it was feeling slightly rushed in the morning.  We went to Target, which should be an easy trip.  It's only 2 miles away, but it seemed to take forever.

I was also in that mood where I wanted to go out to eat.  I got to work ready for a lunch out.  But Monday was my lunch out day, not yesterday.

Maybe it was that I had such a nice lunch out on Monday.  I met one of my writer friends, and we had great conversation about writing projects.  We talked about the visual artists that we know.  One of them uses shadowboxes, and we wondered if we could create shadowboxes with words, with short fiction.  She's wrestling with a story for her collection, and we talked about what gives modern women power.  We talked about the accomplishments of children and how that gives some women a kind of currency.  I wondered if, as we have to care for aging parents, that care will be the way that some of us one-up each other.  I don't know many women who are still competing on the good looks field.

It's the kind of free-ranging conversation that I treasure, a throw-back to grad school days, where we mixed theory with gossip with inspiration for future artistic work.  That was Monday--no wonder Tuesday felt a bit pale in comparison.

Even my evening spin class didn't move me out of my funk.  I felt tired and wiped out.  I was able to do the class, but not with my usual gusto.

So, what finally shook my sadness?  I got home and ate some popcorn and read a chunk of James Martin's Jesus:  A Pilgrimage.  But even that felt hollow somehow--plus I wanted to make pan after pan of popcorn.  I stopped at 2.  So, although the book captivates me, I decided to do some work on my online classes.

In one short story class, my students are having a fascinating conversation about Sherman Alexie's story "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven."  They're wrestling with what it means not to have control over one's life and the way one is perceived.   They're sharing experiences.  I wrote some responses too, and some responses to the other stories.

After that, I felt better.  So literature proved to be the fix I needed, as it so often is.

I thought about my online class, how not everyone is participating at such an active level, but some are highly engaged--much like in an onground class.  I thought about how much I loved being part of it, and how, as with the onground classes, I had hopes that the rest of the class was enriched by being part of it, albeit a silent part.

I went to bed before much of the election coverage trickled in.  Once upon a time, I'd have stayed up late and spent time speculating about what the returns meant.  Once, in my younger days, I'd have spun apocalyptic possibilities.

Now I am old enough to know that it may or may not matter who wins which election.  Now I try to guard my inner optimist a bit more than I did when I was 19.

So off I go, this morning after elections, into a world which may or may not be changed--no, wait, let me amend that.  Changes will certainly come, and some of them I'll like, and some I won't.  But what's important is to treat each other with compassion and then to go home and either create compelling art or create compelling classes with good conversation about great literature.

If you're in need of inspiration, here's a wonderful videopoem by the incomparable Nic Sebastian.  It uses images from underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor ( This page of his site explains how he tries to heal underwater reefs with his underwater creations which are both artificial reefs and attractions for divers and snorkelers who might otherwise be diving around the endangered coral reefs.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nerdy Thrills: Voting and Flights to Mars

I've spent the last 2 weeks reading Andy Weir's The Martian.  It's about an astronaut, Mark Watney, who is stranded on Mars--his crewmates saw a catastrophic accident and assumed he had died.  But his spacesuit healed the leak, and now he has to figure out how to survive.

I'll be honest:  I thought the first part of the book was much more fascinating than the latter part.  In the beginning, Mark strategizes about how to extend his food source--that part was much more interesting to me than some of the engineering problems which perplex him later.

I am a product of my childhood reading, so I was hoping for a book where he'd colonize Mars.  I was halfway expecting some encounters with strange Martian creatures--too much War of the Worlds kind of storytelling in my youth.

But Andy Weir is a different kind of writer, a much more true to the science kind of writer, the kind of guy who likely follows NASA on a web site.  I say this without meaning for it to sound snarky, although I know that it might.  I, too, would follow NASA on a web site.  I would love to be an astronaut--if it didn't take so much training in math.

Poets in space--now I would support that kind of presidential campaign.  However, this book is clear about the risks to space travel.  And not just risks--it's a lot of time out of one's life, and loved ones left behind try to be brave, but the astronauts will miss major life events.  Is the price of discovery worth it?

I love this paragraph:  "If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search.  If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood.  If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies.  This is so fundamentally human that it's found in every culture without exception."

And this description:  “I need to ask myself, 'What would an Apollo astronaut do?' He'd drink three whiskey sours, drive his Corvette to the launchpad, then fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man those guys were cool.”  

This morning, as I was looking for the book review which led me to put this book on my ever growing to-read list, I came across the story of how the book was published.  It's one of those stories that fascinates my writer self.

According to this Wikipedia entry, Weir sent it to literary agents, to no avail.  So he offered it for free on his website.  And then, "At the request of fans he made an Amazon Kindle version available through at 99 cents (the minimum he could set the price)."  He sold 35,000 copies in 3 months; even a non-math person like me can figure out the profit there.

And thus, he attracted the attention of the mainstream publishers.  And soon, the book will be made into a movie.

I love these kinds of happy endings!

And now, speaking of happy endings, it's time to get ready to vote.  Yes, I could have voted already, in any variety of ways:  I will never understand these claims of voter suppression.  It's much easier to vote now than it was when I voted in my first election in 1984. 

Thirty years ago--wow.  I had to send documentation that I really was away in college before I could get an absentee ballot.  And this year, the polls have been open for several weeks, and I could have mailed in a ballot or voted online, even though I'm in town and can go to the polls.

So, yes, in an hour or so, we'll go to the polls. I don't expect a crowd, but I'd be happy to be surprised and late to work.

Do I think that my vote will make a difference?  Yes, I really do.  Even when I lived in places where I knew I would be outnumbered, I voted.  It makes a difference to me.

I know how many people have struggled so that I can exercise this right to vote--and I know how much of a struggle it was to have the larger population acknowledge that women have that right.  Thank you, suffragettes!

I'm still nerdy enough to be thrilled by the idea of space travel, to be thrilled at the idea of participatory democracy, to be intrigued by the challenges of colonizing new spaces, whether it's Mars or new populations of voters.  These thrills don't come cheap, although we may not give them their due.  I'm happy that the thrills of younger years still hold their power.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Snapshots from a Week-end

--Last night, we realized that the clock on the stove was 2 hours behind the clock in the bedroom that hadn't been changed.  I had changed the stove clock back one hour, and then later, my spouse, not realizing that I had done it already, moved it back one more hour.

--I do love having one extra hour in the week-end.

--We did a quilting for Lutheran World Relief session after our 9:45 service.  It's hard to know how much progress we made.  I did have to rethread the sewing machine about 20,000 times.  We got the squares cut out.  The pre-teen who didn't want to help did learn to sew a fake pocket on her shirt--after sewing the two sides of the shirt together.  This is how we learn.  But did we finish a quilt?  No.  Did we sew squares together?  Yes.  Did we get cutting of cloth done?  Yes.

--Of course, I forgot that we had made as much progress as we made last time.  I got out the supplies and there was 1/3 of a quilt top from back in September. 

--My apple cider chicken was not as delightful as I expected--good, but not delightful.

--I bought chicken leg quarters and got home to realize that I'd been charged for boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  I had to run some more errands, so I took them back.  The difference in price?  $6.19.  Maybe I should use the less desirable parts of the chicken more often.

--The chicken thighs were huge.  What kind of chicken had those legs?

--I had extra glaze for the Day of the Dead bread, so I thought about making more bread.  But the Sunday crowd didn't eat as much as I expected, so I still have bread left over.  Some times, it's good to just throw away the 5 extra tablespoons of glaze.

--We had a lovely Day of the Dead picnic on Sunday.  We invited our friend who rents our cottage to join us for a chicken, broccoli, and mashed potato supper.  She brought pesto bow tie pasta.  We lifted our tea glasses in a toast to her bird that died 3 weeks ago.  She and the bird had been travelling together for 29 years.  That's longer than many a relationship.  She's still grieving.

--I made one of the breads for her:

I had tried for a shape of the bird; even before it went into the oven, it was only abstractly a bird.  Afterwards, not so much a bird.  The picture above is one that she took.  You can see the altar that she's constructing in the background.

--Our church's pumpkin patch sold more pumpkins than last year, but we still had lots of pumpkins left.  I brought some to a friend whose mom is visiting.  They were surprised that I had no plans for processing pumpkins into pies and bread.  But I've done that once, and it's more trouble than it's worth.

--My pumpkins on the porch are still OK.  I bought these striated pumpkins, which were once more green than orange:

Now the striped ones have turned almost all orange and cream (the little one used to be evenly green and orange, the larger striated one was once all green and cream).  Interesting.

--I find pumpkins to be a lovely autumnal decorating element--and you don't have to store them until next year!

--Next up on the holiday calendar:  election day!  I thought about voting early, but I really like voting on election day.