Monday, July 31, 2017

Micromanaging Miracles

Yesterday as we were getting ready to leave for church, my spouse commented on my blog piece about Martha, whose feast day was Saturday.  He said, "I really like the way you talked about micromanaging the miracles.  Is that idea original to you?"

I said, "I wouldn't be surprised if someone else has also come up with it, but I didn't get it from anywhere else."

He said, "You should write a book with that title."

"I should figure out if I've already written a book where that title could apply."

I've since been thinking of my long-neglected collection of essays that is part memoir and part devotional meditation.  One of the things that long stymied me was finding a good title.  Perhaps now I have found one!

I went back this morning to make sure that I used the essay about Saint Martha that used that idea, and I did.  I'm trying not to beat myself up for how many years I've been working on this project.

I have so many book-length works, and so little progress towards publication.  I remind myself that it's not for lack of trying--although I do get to a certain point, often after 15-20 unsuccessful submissions, where I am too discouraged to keep going.  And yes, I know all about the works of literature that were submitted so many more times, only to be published to eventual success.  I also know of many more equally worthy works who have never found publication.
I don't feel as discouraged about submitting smaller pieces, like the individual poem or short story.  Is it because I am less invested?  No one ever expects to be able to leave their day job after a poem is published.  But most people I know who write have dreams of being able to leave their other work so that they can devote themselves to creative work.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about an alternate approach to submissions.  I tend to make a submission here or there during down times during the day--maybe I should also submit larger works.  I know I don't want to self-publish--I'd like a mainstream publisher who already has some resources, especially in terms of distribution, in place.

As we head into autumn, let me think about my goals, just to make sure that I'm still on trajectories that can serve me well.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sleeping In

July is coming to an end with a week-end of sleep.  On Friday, I fell asleep at 7:30--I just couldn't hold my eyes open any longer.  I got up at 3 a.m., but crawled back into bed an hour later and slept until 8:30.  Yesterday we took a nap, but still were in bed by 8:00 a.m.  Yes, July has left us exhausted.

It's not like we've gotten nothing done.  We got the cottage back into shape after a week of hosting the camp counselors.  We did several loads of laundry and took quilts/afghans back to the cedar chest in the main house.  A week ago, I spent an afternoon taking things like food, dish soap, kitchen towels, and such out to the cottage--yesterday, I brought them all back.

I had a coupon for $10 off a shoe purchase--since that coupon was only good during the month of July, I went to the store.  In the past, this time of year, I've been able to get a pair of sandals for practically free, and this year was no exception.  The store had a buy one, get one for 50% off, plus I had accumulated an additional discount through a points system that I didn't realize was in effect through these years of shoe buying.  So, for $25, I got 2 pairs of sandals that are suitable to wear to work.

I also bought airline tickets, which is always a much longer process than it should be, as I compare airlines and times and weigh the advantages of being able to choose a seat and to get home earlier and to check a bag if I feel like it and wonder why this all has to cost so much.

We haven't had a week-end of sleep like this in a long, long time.  Part of me feels guilty:  I know that we still have much to do before the month of July is over, by which I mean we're still teaching some summer classes, and my spouse still has some freelance work to get done.  The wise part of me knows that any day when I sleep past 5 a.m. is a day that I really needed the sleep.

Perhaps I shall also take a nap this afternoon!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Saint Martha and Modern Life

Today is the feast day of Saint Martha, one of the few named women of the Gospels.  You may remember her from the story in Luke, where she hustles and bustles with household chores and grows ever more exasperated with her sister Mary, who isn't helping. 

For a theological approach, see this post.  I've written about her frequently through the years.  Today, I want to think about Martha and her lessons for those of us who are trying to carve out a life with more meaning.

At first glance, it's counterintuitive.  Martha is not living a particularly creative life or a life with depth.  How can she?  She's much too busy trying to manage and micromanage.  And therein lies the lesson.

Martha scurries around so much that she can't be present for Jesus. How often are our current lives similar? We often get so consumed by the chores of our daily life that we neglect to make time for what's really important.

Keep in mind that even though the story revolves around women, men are not exempt from this paradigm. All humans must wrestle with the question of how to balance the chores that are necessary to sustain life with the other kinds of nourishment that we need so desperately. Unfortunately, often the chores win.

I can hear some of us shrieking by now: "Yes, but those chores must be done!" Really? Are you sure? What would happen if you didn't vacuum this week? What would happen if you wore your clothes an extra time or two before laundering them? What would happen if you surrendered to the dust?

Jesus tells Martha that she worries about many things, and the implication is that all of the issues that cause her anxiety aren’t really important. It's a story many of us, with our increasingly hectic lives, need to hear again--maybe every day.

We need to be reminded to stay alert. Busyness is the drug that many of us use to dull our senses. For some of us, charging through our to-do lists is a way of quelling the anxiety. But in our busyness, we forget what's really important. We forget to take time to work on the creative aspects of our lives that matter most to us.

Give up one chore this week and use that time to return to an activity that matters.

There's one other story about Martha that gives valuable instruction for those of us struggling to find our creative lives.  We also see Martha at the story of Lazarus, her brother, who has been dead in the grave for several days when Jesus comes.  She is convinced that her brother would still be alive if Jesus had gotten there in time.  And she's worried about the smell when Jesus orders the grave opened.  Here she is, about to witness a miracle, and she's worried about the social niceties.  She wants a miracle, but she wants it on her terms.

I see the same thing in many a creative life.  I've had chapbooks chosen for publication, but I yearn for a book with a spine.  When I get the book with a spine, I expect to yearn for something else yet again.  We live in a time where distribution of words is miraculously easy--and yet I often wish that someone else would do the hard work.

I've seen friends who finally get the book deal, and then they complain over items that seem minor to me, issues of copyediting which baffle me as I watch the battles from the sidelines.  I see so many instances of creative types trying to micromanage the miracles coming their way.

I see similar dynamics in many a person's struggle to discern what's important and what's not--and in larger institutions too.  We see institutions that wish to be larger, while neglecting to rejoice in the relationships that a smaller group encourages.  I see people with an idealized view of family life who cannot relax into the family that actually exists around them.  I know many a person who doesn't appreciate a job until it's gone.

 I have hopes that our lives will follow the model of Martha.  Even though she seems slow to understand the lessons of Jesus, he doesn't get exasperated and send her away.  He continues to try to shape her, gently and insistently.  He tells her that she worries about many things, but that her sister sets a good example.

The sister, Mary, is fully present.  My hope for us all is that we, too, can be fully present to our lives, to that which needs us to bring it into the world.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Hecticity of the Last Week of July

Some day, perhaps I will wonder why I didn't blog more about politics.  It's been a dizzying time, after all.  I find myself shaking my head and wondering what will come next.  And it's always been something that surprises me and shocks me, just when I think I can no longer be shocked.  I find myself wondering why people can't act like grown ups.

I am most distressed by the attempt to roll back human rights.  Or am I most distressed by how we seem ready to treat the poor?

This morning I'm happy about the defeat of the Senate health care plan, if we can call it a plan.  I know that we will have more gridlock because of it--wait, can we have more, if nothing is getting done anyway?  I don't care--I don't want these folks to take much action.

I find myself having good weeks at work, even as I'm distressed about the national scene.  One of the advantages of a small campus with enthusiastic people is that it's easy to organize events.  This week the moon pies and the eclipse viewing glasses arrived--it's going to be a good August!

I find myself getting ready to enjoy the summer, even as summer seems to be winding down for most people.  This is the last week that our camp counselors are on duty--and in a week or two, they report to campus to get everything ready for the students who will be arriving in mid-August.

I've felt frustrated over my inability to finish writing a short story.  But this week, a poem came to me out of some Facebook posts; I put them on paper, new images came to me, and voila!  A poem.   I was happy.

Today it's off to a conference that's in Ft. Lauderdale, the FAPSC conference.  I'm presenting!  I'll do a workshop that I did at my past school:  Using Haiku to Assess Student Learning.  I am hoping that the technology works, but I have a plan if it doesn't.

But first spin class--time to head out.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wednesday Highlights: Eclipse Glasses, Good Conversations, and Wonderful Books

Early in the morning, I literally had to put out a fire at work.  That's a bit melodramatic--I had to take the cigarette disposal container apart and dump water on the stinky cigar that was smoking up the doorway.  Still, it was fun to come back inside and declare, "I'm literally putting out fires here!  Who's got another problem for me to solve?"

Far more fun was the arrival of the eclipse viewing glasses.  At first, I was worried they'd been lost, since they'd been delivered on Tuesday, and no one had seen them.  Lo and behold, the package was small enough to fit in the mailbox.

They are the darkest glasses I've ever put on my face:

I thought I might wear them around school to advertise the special eclipse events we have planned, but I literally cannot see a thing with them on my face:

I ordered 60 pairs, since the Aug. 21 eclipse will happen during the day when we have students.  Since an eclipse is a slow moving event, students can share. 

I'm also keeping my eye on a shipment of mini moon pies that should arrive today.  A week before the eclipse we will have an informative event--with mini moon pies!

The afternoon was fairly quiet:  my computer got upgraded to Windows 10.  Two members of Corporate came to bring us our Scantron machine, and we spent a lot of time talking about a variety of school stuff.  It was good to catch up with them.

Last night was a whirlwind evening; it was my night to host dinner for the camp counselors who are down here to lead VBS.  I left work early, but I didn't beat the camp counselors home.  Luckily, I had done a lot of prep work on Tuesday.  They finished up in the cottage, while I put the finishing touches on dinner.

One of them walked in and said, "It smells like Heaven in here!" I'm hoping they'll remember the smell of Heaven and not the unswept floors and the dusty surfaces of my house.

I washed the dishes while the camp counselors walked to the beach--how did I think it was a good idea to have all the pasta topping options that required so many serving dishes?  After they came back, we chatted for a bit before we all went our separate ways.

I finished the night by reading.  I finished American War by Omar El Akkad.  It continued to impress me--I imagine I will continue to think about it through the rest of the summer.  It occurs to me that my summer reading has been bookmarked by scenes of torture:  American War, The Sympathizer and The Underground Railroad all contain torture that’s more graphically depicted than I’m used to. Hmmm.

Earlier in the day, I had written a few lines for a poem, but then the tech guy showed up and I could never got back to the poem.  I read a bit of Jane Hirshfield after finishing American War, and then I returned to the poem.  I like the direction it's headed.  It includes the parched petunias on my porch, the ones I hope are making a comeback, and my poinsettia at work that doesn't realize that we're in the middle of summer, not December (its leaves are making the transition from green to red again!).

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cooking for Six

When I look back on this week, I think I will remember the grocery shopping and the cooking.  We have had a rotating schedule of providing meals for the camp counselors, and by the end of the week, I'll have been responsible for 2 days.

There are 5 camp counselors, so I'm cooking for 6; my spouse is out teaching every weeknight or it would be 7.  I usually have enough ingredients on hand to cook for 2-4 people--6 is a different matter.

Four college age kids, along with a high school counselor in training, and not one is vegetarian or vegan—what is wrong with the youth of today? Just kidding, of course—in a way, it makes it easier to cook for a big group.

One of the counselors can't eat pork and is lactose intolerant.  I don't usually cook much with pork (or with much meat).  But it's interesting to think about all the desserts I usually make and how much they depend on dairy.

On Monday, we had chicken poblano mole, with a black bean and corn salad, and tortillas and tortilla chips. Tonight we’ll have pasta with a variety of toppings: last night I made a tomato sauce, and marinated veggies with mushrooms and without (one counselor looked a bit queasy when I asked if everyone was O.K. with mushrooms). I overbought mushrooms, so I’ll make a mushroom and olive oil sauté. Or they could just top it with grated parmesan romano cheese mix—except for the one who is lactose intolerant.  My spouse made meatballs, which I added to the homemade tomato sauce last night.

We will have leftovers, because I would rather have too much than not enough.  It makes planning for lunches and suppers when we're not hosting the counselors much easier.

We were told that we could give the counselors money so that they could eat out.  But I figured that I'd need to give each one twenty dollars--I can cook for 5 a lot cheaper than $100.

Of course, I'm lucky.  I know how to cook, and I know how to cook for a crowd.  I know how to economize--but even if I didn't, cooking at home for 6 is cheaper than sending 5 kids out for dinner.

Now, to plan for dessert:  leftover brownies made with vegetable oil or make an olive oil citrus cake?  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dinner with the Camp Counselors

Last night's dinner with the camp counselors went well.  I was nervous about it, and those of you who are better at these social occasions might wonder why.

I knew it would be just me and the 5 camp counselors for dinner.  I'd have been less nervous if some of the church VBS leaders had tagged along, but they had been working VBS all day, so I understood why they didn't want to make the trek to my house.

I had decided to make chicken with poblano mole sauce.  It's been a success when I've served it before, but it's unusual.  I made a black bean and corn salad to go with it, and I put out tortillas and tortilla chips.  I hoped that people would find enough to eat.

Happily, they loved the chicken.  They took seconds of everything.  We talked about Wednesday's dinner.  I worried that they get pasta too often.  They've been staying in people's houses all summer, and some of them have been doing this for several years, and they said they've never had spaghetti.  So, I will make my pasta with marinated veggies, along with some meatballs in a tomato sauce, and I'll let them decide how to combine it all.

I find it fascinating that I'm making meals for 4 college students and a high school student, and no one is a vegetarian or a vegan.

The item that makes me most nervous about hosting a get together with people I don't know is the question of what we'll talk about.  I needn't have worried.  Our conversation was wide ranging, from all the foods one can deep fry (squares of mac and cheese anyone?) to strange food combinations, like peanut butter on a burger to various camp experiences, some with food, some not.  We spent a lot of time after dinner talking about musical instruments.

The high school student was fascinated by the dulcimer, which I bought for $40, but never taught myself to play.   Actually, it would be more accurate to say I taught myself, but now I don't remember--it was a brief season with the dulcimer. 

By the end of the evening, he played it with a bit of a slide guitar sound.  As always, I'm fascinated by how people play instruments when they've had no training.  What makes some of us frozen with fear, while others explore? And I was intrigued by the fact that all of us can play the ukulele, to some extent.  Is the ukulele becoming more popular?  Or was it just some fluke?  I suspect it has to do with how affordable an instrument it is and how accessible.

They stayed for about an hour and a half after dinner.  We talked not only about musical instruments, but about camp experiences, both the residence camp and the travelling to churches to assist with VBS camps.  I was interested to know what kinds of lodging they'd had.  They've stayed in people's guest rooms mostly, with a sleep sofa here and there.  So our cottage is perfectly fine; in fact, one of them said, "If I was a college student here, I'd love to rent something like this cottage."

As I cleaned up, I tried not to notice all the ways I'd failed to clean my house for them--I was too busy getting the cottage in shape.  I had clean dishes and a clean bathroom, but my floors could use a sweeping, and let's not talk about the dust. 

I decided long ago that I can't keep up the housekeeping standards of a past generation.  But I don't want to let that fact keep me from extending hospitality.  I suspect that most people don't even notice the dust--or they say, "Hey, I'm not the only one who lets the dusting get away from me."

I'd like to have people over more often--but that often requires a feat of scheduling that's beyond me.  So for now, let me be happy to have had this experience--and its reinforcement of my belief that this hospitality is a worthy skill to practice.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sunday Reunions

Yesterday was not only the day that the camp counselors came.  Our old campus pastor also came to worship.  I had time to reflect on our various journeys.

My spouse and I met at Newberry College, a Lutheran school in South Carolina that had more Southern Baptists than Lutherans.  Our campus pastor was also a professor.  Later, he would return to parish ministry and spend time as parish pastor at my grandmother's church in Greenwood, S.C., so I stayed in touch in a way I might not have otherwise. 

Much later, my spouse served on the board of Novus Way, the group that oversees 4 Lutheran camps and more programs than I could list here.  Our old campus pastor retired and found that he needed more to do than supply preaching--and thus, he travels across multiple states, supporting the mission of Novus Way.

Yesterday he came to our church for a variety of reasons; the main one was to give my spouse a beautiful print in honor of his service.  He also talked to the congregation about what their donations have made possible.  After the service, we had pizza and talked further.

At one point, I said, "Who'd have ever thought, back when you were my Phenomenology professor, that some day we'd be here, talking about church camp?"

One of the church members said, "Phenomenology?"

I said, "Yes.  I had to give an oral report on exorcism.  And one of my classmates was an ordained Baptist minister, and he said, 'Oh yes, I've done lots of them.'  And I never quite recovered my momentum."

Soon after that, we gave our campus pastor a hug, and he was on his way, driving all the way back to South Carolina in one day.  I said to my spouse, "I'm both glad that we're not making that long drive and slightly envious of that meditative state he might achieve."

We came home to keep working on projects, chief among them getting the cottage ready for the camp counselors.  I hope they'll be comfortable--I've done as much as I can do to that end, with the resources that we have.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Week-end Update: Graduation and Camp Counselor Prep

It has been a week-end with an odd mix of relaxing and getting things done.  When I look back on July and wonder why my writing didn't pick up once my intense online class ended in June, let me remember my spouse's intense July and how I tried to help him.

My work week lasted late on Friday, since I had to go to graduation.  In many ways, it was like most graduations.  Our Hollywood campus joins with the main campus in Ft. Lauderdale for the graduation ceremony.  Hollywood had far fewer graduates--let me remember these numbers when we compare retention rates.  At the Hollywood campus, most of our programs are still quite small--so when just one student decides to drop out, it impacts our retention rates far more radically.

Saturday morning, I got up with that barely-able-to-move feeling that's becoming more and more familiar--especially after an evening like Friday, when I was on my feet for hours.  But I drank some coffee and did some writing and eventually my muscles unclenched.

Yesterday my spouse and I began our morning together the way we have for several weeks now:  the task list and the divisions--the decisions about what must be done and what can be postponed.  And then the work commenced.  But we also had time to relax in the pool and to enjoy some burgers.

Our task list this week is complicated because we are hosting camp counselors who are coming to run our Vacation Bible School; see this post at my theology blog for more in-depth thoughts on this approach to VBS.  They will stay in the cottage, so it won't be as intense as it would be otherwise.  But it still involves some cooking, some cleaning, and some transport.

Late yesterday afternoon, I thought about getting some of the cleaning done.  I thought about baking.  But I was really enjoying the book I had just started:  American War by Omar El Akkad. Man oh man, is it a good read! It's a wonderful dystopian novel, set in the late 21st century. It's a fascinating way to look at climate change and refugee crises and the Civil War, both the one in the book, and the earlier one, the real one, in the 19th century.  These days, I get so little time to read the way I once did, when I just sink down into a book and settle in.  I decided to enjoy it.

Today I have a bit of time before the counselors arrive.  I'll do some cleaning and some set up.  I'll keep reminding myself that college kids who insist on resort style accommodations generally don't choose camp counselor as their summer job.  I'll keep reminding myself that hospitality doesn't mean that everything is perfect, but that everything is clean and comfortable with enough food to share.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Easter in July

Today, we celebrate the feast day of Mary Magdalene.  You might be saying, “Mary Magdalene? Wasn’t she possessed by demons? Wasn’t she a prostitute? Why would Christ appear to her anyway? Why does she get a feast day?”  Or maybe you remember more modern stories and think of her as Christ's secret lover and wonder if they had a secret family.

Or maybe you remember her in the Easter story as the first one to see Christ after the resurrection.  After Mary tells the disciples about the empty tomb, several of them race towards the tomb. They look, they assess, and then they go home. It is only Mary who stays behind to weep.

But because she stays behind to weep, to be still for a bit, she gets to be the first to see the risen Lord. The male disciples are first to see the evidence of resurrection, but Mary sees Christ. Soon others else will see him, but she is first.

The story of Mary Magdalene has much to say to us in the 21st century. We need to be reminded to stay alert for the Divine, and for each other. Busyness is the drug that many of us use to dull our senses. But in our busyness, we forget what's really important.

If we're too busy, we might miss Christ altogether. Both the Old and New Testament teach us that God will come to us in forms we least suspect. If we're not careful, we'll assume that we're not needed and go back to our houses. If we're not careful, we won't notice that the gardener is really Jesus.

It's good to be reminded of the resurrection story in the middle of July. Now the year is over half way done. We don't have the magic of spring to renew our spirits. We may be feeling scorched by the weather and by our dashed hopes for the year. It's good to remember the story that we can be part of; it's good to remember that we're promised grace and salvation.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Creativity Report: Thursday Night

Last night, I got home earlier than I have any other night this week.  I did some writing--a very small bit of writing.  Once I could write a huge chunk of short story, if not the entire short story, in an hour or two.  Now I feel lucky if I get a paragraph or two without feeling despair at not knowing how to write the story.

Next week we are hosting 2 camp counselors who are arriving to help our church lead Vacation Bible School.  Last night I found out that I'll be feeding them 2 nights, which is fine.  After all, when we agreed to host them, I assumed we might be feeding them dinner every night.  This week, my dinners have been my favorite:  wine, crackers, and cheese, which I feel O.K. about since I've been vigilant in portion control.  But that won't do for camp counselors.

I've had some poblano peppers that I bought when I planned to make a mole sauce.  They were on their last days, so I used the impending approach of camp counselors to make the sauce.  Later, I stuck it in the freezer for next week.

I had planned to collage, but I was running out of time.  I decided to go ahead and do it, just to see what would happen.  A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out some shelves, and I found a lot of materials that we kept in anticipation of doing more collaging.  I decided to throw away old calendars.  But I kept the envelopes of images and words that I cut out and saved. 

Last night, I decided that I didn't have to look through every envelope.  I found an old Christmas card that I liked, and I decided it would form the anchor of my collage.  I chose a few phrases, and a few other images.  When I was sorting, I came across a stash of mat boards that we bought at a sale long ago.  I decided on a purple mat board, even before I chose the images.  I love how it all came together:

I do notice that I tend not to collage like other people.  I have a lot of open space in my collages.  If I like the original image, it's hard for me to add other things on the image.  You'll notice that the Christmas card image is untouched, although I let things creep onto the white border.  The lantern had the purple glass.

When I used the modge podge, the images wrinkled a bit, and the blob at the lower right of the Christmas card formed.  I try to see it as part of the process, but my inner perfectionist is not happy.

If I look at this collage as a journaling exercise, it's clear to me what my soul is saying.  I'm ready for Christmas!  I'm also interested in more open spaces, in a different landscape.  What do those turtles mean?  Coming out of my shell or going in?  Wishing my house was more portable?

I didn't spend more than 45 minutes on this project, but I found it immensely satisfying.  Let me remember that for the future.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Love Each Other the Way You Have Loved the Monastery Dog

Near the end of our June retreat at Mepkin Abbey, I said, "I'm going to go home and love my husband the way we all love the monastery dog."

When I first met the monastery dog, I felt sorry for her.  I heard the story about how she appeared at the monastery in very bad shape, with a chain around her neck.  The monks took her in and taught her to trust the humans that show up at the monastery.

When I first met the dog, I thought about all the children who would never be part of her world.  But she has a never-ending supply of visitors who would likely pet her.  The monks take care of her.

I'm intrigued by how most people respond to the dog.  Almost everyone pets her head as she comes up to them with her wagging tail.  Many people kneel her level, all the better to be with her.  She seems to put most people in a better mood, and they respond to her accordingly.

She makes it easy to love her, in a way that humans don't always.  But how would the world change if we treated each and every human in the loving, soothing way that we treat the monastery dog?

I've had similar insights as I've watched toddlers move through the world.  I remember seeing a toddler in the process of having a crying meltdown in the parking lot--I'll never forget seeing the adult who was with her drop to her knees and talk in soothing tones.  It was so different than the way adults usually treat a child in the midst of a meltdown.

If we treated everyone that way, what a better world we would live in!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lessons from a Pudding Quest

When we had a planning session for this quarter's Student Appreciation week, we knew that students didn't want to have a salad bar.  We did that for Winter quarter, and because we had so many non-perishable salad items left, we did it for Spring too.  We thought about hot dogs for our summer Student Appreciation week, but I knew the smell would be oppressive (to me, at least).  I suggested ice cream, with toppings.  But that could be messy, what with all the melting ice cream.

I said, "How about pudding?  We could have similar toppings, but the pudding wouldn't melt the way ice cream will."  And thus, we agreed to pudding.  I had a vision of big tubs of ready-made pudding in the refrigerator section.

On Monday, I went out to get the pudding.  I thought it would be easy.  I went to the GFS, the store that wants us to think it's a Costco or Sam's, but without those membership fees.  They had pudding in a can.  I haven't thought about pudding in a large can since my days as a counselor at Girl Scout camp.  I can't remember what we did with the pudding, but I remember that our can opener didn't work, and so we used a rock and our penknives to open the can--punch, punch, punch, all the way round.

I went to Wal-Mart--no pudding in big vats in the refrigerated section, and no instant pudding either in the powdered section.  I started to worry.

Finally, in the Publix, I made a decision, after briefly considering switching to yogurt.  I went to the powdered pudding section, and there were pudding cups.  I compared the price to the small vats of ready-made pudding and how much it would cost to make pudding.  The pudding cups were cheaper.  And so, I switched my plan.

The pudding cups had advantages I didn't think of.  I was interested in big tubs because I thought it would be cheaper than other options--likewise, creating our own instant pudding.  But in addition to being cheaper, the pudding cups were more convenient--we didn't have to spend part of our morning making the pudding--and more important, we didn't have to dish out pudding.  We still used some paper bowls because we had thawed fruit and whipped cream that we'd kept in the freezer from a past student appreciation event that featured waffles.  But we didn't have to portion out pudding, so our prep time was much speedier.

So, in terms of waste, we probably generated more trash with this event.  But I took the cardboard packaging home to recycle, so I'm hoping we're about even.  And we used up some of the frozen stuff which was probably reaching its end date.  Just add it all to my tally--I need to spend my retirement planting trees to make up my debt to the planet!

As usual, I overbought, because I didn't want to run out.  We still have enough pudding for another event.  And because I bought cups, the pudding will keep.  If I bought vats of pudding, or if we made pudding, we'd have a lot of pudding to consume right now.

I'm glad I was able to change gears and go with an approach that worked better than the one I was convinced that we needed.  I'm glad that I had to consider other options when I couldn't find huge vats of pudding.  I'm glad that students seemed delighted to have pudding, even though they didn't eat as much as I thought they would.  I'm glad that my initial frustration at not finding pudding ended in a plan that worked.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Injecting Fitness into Regular Life

This morning, I did a little running as part of my morning walk to the marina to watch the sun rise.

Let me clarify.  I say running; you might watch me and beg to differ.  You might use a verb like jog or something that denotes an even slower speed.  Still, I haven't run much at all, much less at a sustained pace that lasts beyond a block, since 2015.  This morning, I did.  It felt great, until it started to feel painful.

I'm not planning to try to get back to my younger self who could run long distances.  I do miss that ability, but right now, I'm just trying to inject a bit more exercise into my days.  Lately in spin class, I've been thinking about "pushes," where we speed up for just 30 seconds, and I've thought about using that principle when I walk--because when I walk by myself, I'm rarely getting my heart rate up.

This morning, I could feel my pulse pounding--in a good way.

Before I started, my foot and back felt good, unlike some mornings where I can barely limp through my walk--on those mornings, I persevere because the movement helps loosen up the soreness.  This morning, perhaps because of the heavy pasta meal I ate last night, I felt raring to go.  And so, I let myself experiment with running a bit.  And it worked!

I've been trying to inject fitness into my days in other ways.  I work in an office that has energy saving lights that turn themselves off when there's no movement; often that happens when I'm still at my desk, since the motion sensor part of the light is in a strange spot.   So when the lights go out, I use it as a reminder to stretch.

I've thought of using a calendar reminder to stretch or to leave the desk--but I know how easy it is to ignore that, once I've got it set up.  The lights going out are harder to ignore.

I feel some of my fitness levels ebbing away as I sit at my desk day after day.  It's good to remember that I can reclaim parts of myself that I assumed might be lost forever--particularly as I'm dealing with foot pain and back pain.  It's good to remember what can be done, even when there's pain.  It's good to remember that midlife has it's challenges, but those challenges aren't the final word.

It's a good larger life lesson too.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Voldemort Defeats Me Too

I've been paying a smidge of attention to who is watching Game of Thrones and who is not.  I am not.  By the time someone told me I should tune in, there were 40 hours of show to watch.  I had already made the decision not to read the books, with their thousands of pages accumulated.  The sheer volume of it all was overwhelming.

The truth is that there's never been so much quality stuff to watch, and it should be easier than ever.  But I find myself appreciating old fashioned TV, where I can watch an episode here or there, and if I don't tune in for 6 months, I can easily drop back in.  And if I don't, that's fine too.

When Harry Potter was big, I was the only one in my circle who hadn't read the books.  Even my friends without children read the books.  I did see the first several movies, but I stopped somewhere along movie 5, where the movie was literally too dark to see on my TV screen.  Life is too short to squint for 3+ hours.

But a few months ago, I read Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny:  Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.  In chapter 9, "Be Kind to Our Language," he says, "One novel known by millions of young Americans that offers an account of tyranny and resistance is J.K. Rowling's, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  If you or your friends or your children did not read it that way the first time, then it bears reading again" (pp. 62-63).

I decided it was time to try to enter Harry Potter's world again.  I had hopes that my familiarity with the movies might help me understand the plot and the characters.

But I just can't keep going:  130 pages, and I'm confused and frustrated and wondering when the action will happen.
I'm throwing in the towel.  Life is short, and there's so much to read.
I am happy to have retrieved a memory.  When I read Voldemort's name, I was reminded of a president at my old school who was stymied and when he wasn't stymied, he made progress at what appeared to be an attempt to destroy what we had all built.  It became clear that we should be careful when we talked about him, even if we thought no one could hear.  And so, we named him Voldemort.
It probably fooled no one.  In retrospect, those of us talking probably were beneath his notice.  But the memory of us adopting that name for the one who seemed to be an arch villain made me smile--while also making me wince.
Would that be a useful nugget for the collection of short stories I'm writing?  One hundred years from now, will the reference to Voldemort be understood?
How much a part of popular culture will these books remain?  I suspect that they have serious staying power.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Good Reading for Sleepless Nights

The last few nights have been somewhat sleepless.  I'm the first one on the list of people the alarm company calls when the alarm goes off at school.  We've had calls two nights in a row about the same classroom.  The first night, Friday night, it took me 2 hours to fall back asleep.  Last night I had trouble sleeping, but when the call came, I did manage to fall back asleep.

The first night, I got up and read two chapters of the last Harry Potter novel.  I'm finding myself frustrated in the same ways (moments of delight at the inventiveness punctuated by long spells of boredom when I think about scenes that could be eliminated or condensed) that I was with the first 2 novels, and I don't know if I'm up for 700+ more pages of this.

Last night, I read Love, Henri:  Letters on the Spiritual Life, a collection of Henri Nouwen's letters.  What a delight!  I'm not done yet, but it has captivated me--I can't wait to return to it.

I had hoped that it would be this kind of reading experience.  I've always loved Nouwen's journals more than his more intentional writing.  And when I've read work pulled from letters he wrote, I've loved that too. 

His letters are full of warmth and honesty, no matter the audience.  They're also full of good advice, even now, decades after they were written for someone specific.  Here's an example:  ". . . we would do well to think about what pastoral care for nostalgic people means.  After all, don't we all desire to return to paradise?" (p. 8).

I was also intrigued by his work/academic/pastor life trajectory:  not serious to get tenure at some schools, not theologically minded enough, not focused on regular pastoral life, so hard to please everyone.

The beginning material by the woman who compiled the text also provided fascinating insight into his writing life, his letter writing life.  He was so meticulous, and even though his letters may talk about how long it has taken him to respond, he was responding to lots of people and staying connected.

I wish I could say that after reading his work, I fell into a blissful, non-worried sleep, but that was not the case.  I read his book and wanted to write letters or theology or stay up late praying.  To me, that's the mark of a wonderful book.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Birthday Report

My birthday got off to a rousing start:  a few Facebook birthday good wishes and then off to spin class, where my spin class buddies sang "Happy Birthday" to me.  We had a vigorous spin class--it was great.

No one at work realized it was my birthday, which was fine with me.  Every so often through the day, I checked on Facebook, where everyone knew it was my birthday.

I had planned to have our regular Friday meal:  my favorite meal of burgers and wine.  I thought that in honor of my birthday, we'd have a better quality of wine.  But it didn't come to the wine store in time, so in some ways, it felt like a regular Friday.

We spent some time in the pool.  I feel like we've spent the summer fixing the pool, with no time to be in the pool, so it was lovely to finally have a pool evening.

We may grill flank steak this week-end, but primarily because it was on sale, not because of my birthday.  We'll have the better quality wine with the flank steak.
In short, it's likely to be a quiet-ish birthday week-end, but I'm truly OK with that.  I spend so much of the week feeling tired and rushed and overextended that the idea of quietness at home, with better wine than I could afford at a restaurant, is truly happiness to me.
I've watched other people get upset over how people remember or don't remember special days.  I've watched people spend gobs and gobs of money, often money they don't have, in an attempt to have a high holy day of activities and gifts.
So yes, it will be a good birthday week-end.  But it won't be vastly different from most week-ends--and that's what makes me feel truly fortunate.  I don't have a life that's so difficult that I need to make birthdays such a focal point. 
Plus, as I age, I realize how lucky I am to be here to celebrate another year.  So I try to inject that awareness into each and every day, even if it's just appreciating my petunias on the porch or a glass of wine at the end of the day or how wonderful that first cup of coffee tastes in the morning.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Of Bastille Day and Birthdays

Today we have another chance to celebrate the human thirst for liberty and to ponder who gets to enjoy equality and who does not.  It's Bastille Day, the French equivalent (sort of ) of our Independence Day. I see this historical event as one of many that launched us on the road to equality. It's an uneven success to be sure. More of us in the first world enjoy more liberty than those in developing nations. But that thirst for freedom and equality found some expression in the French Revolution, and I could argue that much liberation theology has some rootedness in that soil (yes, it would be a problematic argument, I know).

Today is also my birthday.  Even though it's a Friday, we'll probably enjoy this Friday the way we enjoy most Fridays:  burgers and wine and a quiet evening at home.  I will stop at Hollywood Vine in downtown Hollywood to get a better quality of wine than we usually drink on Fridays, but that will likely be my main culinary celebration.

I will go to work because work is not onerous.  Why burn a vacation day for a birthday?  I spent many a lonely birthday as a child or teen because my birthday was in the summer and everyone was on vacation elsewhere.

We'll have a relatively quiet birthday week-end.  My spouse began his second summer session classes behind, so we're trying not to schedule too much.  I will go to my quilt group tomorrow, which will be a treat.  We may grill flank steak, but not because it's my birthday week-end but because it was on sale.

I will also listen to the music of Woody Guthrie because it's his birthday too.  I've long been fascinated by Woody Guthrie, probably ever since childhood, when I realized we shared a birthday. When I went to elementary school in the 1970's, we sang "This Land Is Your Land" far more than we sang "God Bless America." In fact, Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in direct response to "God Bless America." "This Land Is Your Land" is a much better song, but of course, I'm biased.

As elementary school children, we didn't sing the most radical verse:

"As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!"
Those verses are fairly radical, the idea that the land belongs to us all. I love it.

I find Guthrie fascinating as an artist. Here's a singer-songwriter who doesn't know music theory, who left behind a treasure trove of lyrics but no music written on musical staffs or chords--because he didn't know how to do it. For many of the songs that he wrote, he simply used melodies that already existed.

I think of Woody Guthrie as one of those artists who only needed 3 chords and the truth--but in fact, he said that anyone who used more than two chords is showing off. In my later years, I've wondered if he developed this mantra because he couldn't handle more than 2 chords.

I love this vision I have of Guthrie as an artist who didn't let his lack of knowledge hold him back. I love how he turned the deficits that might have held a lesser artist back into strengths. I love that he's created a whole body of work, but his most famous song is still sung by schoolchildren everywhere, and how subversive is that?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tag Team Life

I don't have as much time to write this morning.  I met my Hindu writer book lover friend for dinner at Panera, stopped in at Trader Joe's on the way home, and drove home, keeping a wary eye on the sky.

The clouds were purple and black and glowing--once I would have said, "It's a Steven Spielberg sky."  Now I'm not sure that people would know what I meant.  It was the kind of sky where I expected the clouds to part in a swirling hole that would reveal an alternate world.

Instead, it just opened up to rain.  We have the remnants of a tropical system over us, which is better than having a developed tropical system over us.

I stayed up late to make sure that my spouse got home from his class in Miami--and then we stayed up, in part because he's always too wound up after teaching to go to bed, and in part, because we wanted to catch up.

My spouse and I will do tag team chicken and dumpling making this morning.  I have a chicken in the pot, and the house smells wonderful.

It's not as stormy as I thought it would be this morning.  But even if the skies clear completely, it will be good to know that a pot of chicken and dumplings awaits at the end of the day.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chocolate Potlucks and Other Adventures

Yesterday was a great day at school.  We had a chocolate potluck day.  There's always that fear that we won't have enough food, although for an event like this, we're not serving a meal--it would be enough if everyone just had a taste.  I  brought a Mississippi Mud cake to share. It's the heaviest cake I've ever made, dense and sweet as a recipe that hails from the 1970's should be. I cut it into very small pieces, since I knew it may be a bit much for modern palates.

We had 5 batches of brownies--every single brownie devoured.  Half of my Mississippi Mud cake was left, along with some cookies--we saved those for the evening students. I have heard that they feel left out of these events, so I've been trying to remember to include them.

And as they arrived to class, they seemed pleased, although I'm not sure they realized that a chocolate potluck was planned for the day.

I'm calling this event a success!

I'll post the recipe later, in case you want to make one for yourself or for someone you know who needs to put on weight.

I also had a chance to talk with people about other ideas I've had.  I'm still working with the idea of a food pantry or bags of food that they can get.  One of our instructors just had her father die, and he was the kind of man who stocked up on lots of canned goods, the kind of food that the instructor and her daughter aren't likely to eat, like ravioli or vegetables.  When she's ready to sort them, we'll talk more about starting a food bag initiative.

I talked to a student who wanted a copy of his schedule.  I noticed that he had an odd-for-our-students with a class Tuesday morning and a class Tuesday night.  He said that he'd had some issues with his car, and he would be more likely to make it to class if he could keep it all on one day.  I'd been thinking about a ride share board, and he and I talked about whether or not it could work.

I had worried that students might take advantage of each other, by charging too much to share a ride.  But we agreed that students are adults who won't have to accept terms and conditions if they don't like them.  We agreed that there's risk of an accident, but they'd have that risk with Uber or Lift.  I didn't tell him about my fear that someone might be driven somewhere and attacked, but I do worry about that.

So at today's management team meeting, I'll bring it up.  We have extra bulletin boards--it wouldn't take much to launch this idea.

I like being at a place that's small, where I can actually do activities to make the school better and to keep the students feeling more connected.  I feel very lucky.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Apocalyptic Scenarios

Yesterday afternoon I read this article on the coming environmental apocalypse.  It begins this way:  "It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today." 

The piece of click bait that worked on me was this nugget:  "The present tense of climate change — the destruction we’ve already baked into our future — is horrifying enough. Most people talk as if Miami and Bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists I spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade."

It's a sobering article accompanied by some interesting art pieces, yet it didn't tell me much that I don't already know.  Of course, I've been thinking about these issues for a long time now.  Ironically, it was global climate change that convinced us to move to southern Florida rather than the desert southwest.  In the middle 1990's when we were making these decisions, I didn't include sea level rise in my calculations.  It wasn't expected to be that bad in our lifetime.  Now, it might be.

I expect that most of us will leave the area long before the sea swallows the land.  It's hard to tell what will drive the bulk of us away first.  Housing is pricey, and a large part of that price is the insurance that it takes to live here.  We are upper-middle class people, and each year when I open the homeowners insurance and wind insurance and flood insurance, I spend several weeks wondering how long we can continue to live here.

At some point the cost of drinking water may become unsustainable.  For now, we have a wonderful aquifer that runs below us.  We won't drink up all that water in my lifetime, but saltwater intrusion will likely happen--and then we'll have to pay much more for the water.

Why live here?  For one thing, it's a matter of sunk cost--we've already invested a lot, so we may as well enjoy it while we can.  And it's not like there's lots of jobs further inland and upland.  But it's mainly because I haven't gotten a clear sign that it's time to go.

Of course, once I get that sign, it may be more difficult.  The first house that is declared uninsurable will mean that the rest of us can't sell our houses.  The first taste of salt in the drinking water may lead to panic.

As the article comes to an end, the essayist wonders why we're not seeing climate change in our creative writing:  "So why can’t we see it? In his recent book-length essay The Great Derangement, the Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh wonders why global warming and natural disaster haven’t become major subjects of contemporary fiction — why we don’t seem able to imagine climate catastrophe, and why we haven’t yet had a spate of novels in the genre he basically imagines into half-existence and names “the environmental uncanny.” “Consider, for example, the stories that congeal around questions like, ‘Where were you when the Berlin Wall fell?’ or ‘Where were you on 9/11?’ ” he writes. “Will it ever be possible to ask, in the same vein, ‘Where were you at 400 ppm?’ or ‘Where were you when the Larsen B ice shelf broke up?’ ” His answer: Probably not, because the dilemmas and dramas of climate change are simply incompatible with the kinds of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, especially in novels, which tend to emphasize the journey of an individual conscience rather than the poisonous miasma of social fate."

I'm not sure I agree with the premise, yet I can't summon non-science fiction works to rebut the claim. I would argue that we see poetry exploring these ideas far more effectively than most genres.

It's an interesting call to artists.  Let me ponder it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Week-end Update: Quiet but Satisfying

It was a quiet week-end, the kind of week-end where we both had lots of grading to do, and so we didn't do much in the way of making plans.  We got some work done around the house, the constant upkeep kind of work that comes with having a house that has a yard and a pool, and I got some sorting done on Friday night.

Yesterday I led all 3 services at church, which went well.  I was lucky--I had a good text:  turning the other cheek, which I taught as resistance text (thank you Walter Wink!).  For more on yesterday's approach, see this post on my theology blog.

I got a bit of writing done, and the plotting that often happens before the writing was also going on in my head.

I've been reading some Neil Gaimon before I launch into the next big reading project with my reading buddy friend (who is also my Hindu writer friend):  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I've heard recommended as a book with interesting insight to our political times.  When I was in the library to get that book, I found a collection of Gaimon's nonfiction, which is almost too complete.  Some of the speeches interest me, while the introductions to various books only interest me if I've heard of the book.

My friend had recommended a Gaimon short story to me, so I got a collection of his short stories.  It didn't have the one my friend recommended ("Chivalry").  But I did read "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury"--who can resist that title?

I want to remember that dinner a few months ago when my friend told me she'd been reading Neil Gaimon's short stories.  I misunderstood and thought that Neil Diamond had turned his creative skills to short stories, which struck me as curious but not impossible.

Throughout the week-end we cooked simple meals of burritos and nachos.  I did some baking for our school's chocolate potluck tomorrow--more on that later.  I'll be interested to discover how my Mississippi Mud cake turned out.  It's a recipe from the 70's that I copied long ago.  It calls for things like 1 jar of marshmallow fluff and 1 box powdered sugar--here's hoping I got the measurements right.  Of course, it won't realy matter in this gooey decadence of a cake.

And so, the week-end comes to an end.  Let me get ready for today.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Cycles, both Seasonal and Spiritual

As I've been watching the moon move to fullness, I've been thinking about the last time I saw the full moon:  when I was at Mepkin Abbey.  A month ago, I'd have already been on the road for a few hours.

My brain is also thinking about the future--soon, summer will be over.  I'm seeing displays of school supplies in the stores already, and I confess to wishing it was time to decorate for Christmas.  Part of it is the relentless heat.  Part of it is my inner restlessness--learning to enjoy the season I'm in will be my lifetime task, I suspect.

I've been thinking about other times I was struck by the full moon--when we first moved to this house, I became much more aware of which phase the moon was in.  One October, I couldn't get enough of that huge full moon.  I felt like it watched over me as I worked as a new adjunct faculty member to understand how the online system worked.

Now, too, I'm learning a different online system:  having avoided the Blackboard learning management system for my whole teaching life, now my spouse is newly hired as an adjunct and needs to come up to speed quickly, so we're working on it as a group project.

I think about the next time the moon will be full.  We'll have hosted camp counselors who are coming at the end of July to run a VBS program at my church.  We'll know if a former colleague wants to live in the cottage.  We'll be getting ready for an end-of-summer visit from my sister and nephew.  At work, we'll know how our numbers are sorting out.

Let me focus on the day at hand.  Soon I will head to church to lead services today so that my pastor can enjoy some vacation time.  When I agreed to do it, July 9 seemed so far into the future.  We are finishing a sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount.  Today's reading is about turning the other cheek.  I will be introducing the congregation to the work of Walter Wink, who sees this text from Matthew as a resistance text. 

You might have been taught that it preaches passivity in the face of violence.  Wink argues that this text shows us how to resist evil in such a way that evil elements will not turn around and destroy us and how to resist evil in such a way that we don’t become the evil that we are resisting.

For more, see this post on my theology blog.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

From the Detritus, A Midsummer Art Project Plan

Last night, as my spouse talked on the phone, I tried to sort through some shelves.  We moved into this house 4 years ago, and I haven't touched many of the things I put onto the shelves since then.  I wanted to make sure that we still needed those things.

What did I find?  Lots of detritus of technology past.  In one packet of stuff that came with a computer that I no longer remember, I found a CD that I can load onto my computer which will let me have a free trial of AOL for 30 days--how many generations of computer software ago was that?

On a shelf of even older technology, I looked through what I assumed would be blank paper journals.  Lo and behold, some of them had writing.  From 2007, I found a log I kept when I was first Assistant Chair of General Education--just in case anyone ever asked me to justify myself.  I decided not to look through that one too closely.

I found a journal that I forgot I ever kept.  Long ago, before my current pastor was my pastor, he asked me to be part of a group he formed to help him with his dissertation, which looked at how we might encounter God in the outdoors.  Our group went to various locations, experienced the location, wrote in our journals, and then discussed.  We walked around the lake at the community college, the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk, and a labyrinth at an Episcopal school.  Once our pastor was done with our journals for his dissertation writing, he gave them back to us.  Fascinating!

I found a lot of materials that we kept in anticipation of doing more collaging.  I decided to throw away old calendars.  But I kept the envelopes of images and words that I cut out and saved--and I've developed a mid-summer art project plan.  I will collage with these materials that I collected at least 5 years ago.  I'll also go through the pile of magazines that I have in the living room.

So, this will be a different kind of collaging.  I've always collaged with images that spoke to me from magazines--I've never used images that I collected years ago.  Will it be an experience of time looping back on itself?  Or just a different curating of images from which to choose?

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sands Through an Hourglass

Yesterday was punctuated by 3 soul satisfying times.  I started by writing part of a poem.  I'd been thinking about a Jesus in the world poem:  Jesus and the accrediting team.  I wrote part of it before becoming a bit stumped by Jesus taking the team to an externship site.  So I went for a walk and got to see a beautiful pre-sunrise near the marina, where the sailboats who don't want to pay slip fees park for the night.  The sight made me happy, as it always does, but the poem writing made me happier; it has not come easily to me this summer.

I got to work and midway through the morning, we had a swearing in ceremony of the Student Ambassadors--it's a group that's a mix of honor society and service club, and we haven't had one on our campus in a very long time, if ever.  When we first talked about resurrecting it, I must confess to feeling doubtful that we would have much student interest--but I was happy to be wrong. 

I was pleased with my remarks--I kept them short and focused on students and leadership.  I had a sense of what I wanted to say, but I didn't write it all out, so I was even more pleased that the words came easily.  My new boss later complimented me on the ceremony, which made me happy.

On my way home from work, I stopped by the Hollywood library.  I browsed the new book section and picked up Dani Shapiro's Hourglass:  Time, Memory, Marriage, which I came home and devoured in one big gulp.  What a wonderful book.

Once I'd have read this book and been frustrated because I would have wanted more information about The Writing Life.  While this book has some of that, it's more of an exploration of both marriage and aging--not the aging that comes later in life, but midlife aging.  The memoir does its exploring through the lens of marriage:  two people who would have had very different lives and careers if they hadn't met, two people who have been together 18 years.  It's poignant and tender, as one would expect.  It's also bracingly honest:  there's no betrayal, in the form we might be expecting, but there's the betrayal of careers that suddenly stall, of family members who have crises, of a house that needs constant work.  There's the writing of our youth that haunts our midlife.  There's the loss of people who are no longer with us--including our younger selves.

In short, it spoke to me exactly where I am.  It's rare that I encounter a book that wrestles with much of what haunts me during the times I stop to ponder my life.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Wild Florida and Tamed Kristin

Last night I stayed late at work.  It was the last day of drop-add, and I wanted to make sure that every student was taken care of.  Suffice it to say, my plan to write in the evenings while my spouse is at class isn't working out.  The last thing I wanted last night was to spend more time at the screen and the keyboard.

Plus I was starved.  I watched Master Chef and ate a simple, but satisfying meal of black bean burritos.  Very nourishing and filling. 

At 9, I tuned into The Forgotten Coast: Return to Wild Florida, a great show on PBS.  When I saw the previews, I had assumed that the coast they would explore would be the Everglades, but they actually started at the headwaters of the Everglades (near Orlando) and headed west and then north and then west again, all the way to the western end of the Florida panhandle.

They tried to follow paths that wildlife would take, which was an interesting exploration of how development impacts wildlife.  But for most of the show, the 3 person team was in very remote parts of the state along the Gulf coast.

They hiked, swam, and used a variety of non-motorized vehicles:  kayaks, paddleboards, and bikes.  It was the kind of show that made me want to know the back story.  They were gone over multiple weeks and hundreds of miles--did they have a support team that brought their various pieces of equipment at certain segments?  In shots of the three in their kayaks, they weren't dragging bikes with them.  And they didn't seem to have all their food for the whole trip with them.

But it wasn't that kind of show.  It was much discussion of species and habitat and weather--and wonderful photography and filming.  It made me want to pack a few things on my back (I first typed bike--hmmm) and head towards the Everglades, where I would find a nice clearing and build myself a shack.  How soon would it take to tire of that?

The show didn't shy away from issues of climate change.  The segment that most spoke to me was one of exploration of how salt water is intruding into fresh water in the swamp where the river meets the Gulf.  A family runs a remote lodge there, and they noticed that around 2004, the trees began retreating from the salt water at a much increased pace.  The pictures proved the tale--and showed how just a bit of sea level rise can have huge impact.

I felt a bit of sadness as I watched these super-fit people (2 men and 1 woman) make their way across the rugged-ish terrain of Florida's non-beach coast.  When I was young, I planned to hike the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end and/or to bike from coast to coast, an activity that was popular when my family made our way west during the summer of 1976.  Although a long hike might be in my future, I can't see myself making a long trip by kayak or bike.  And even a long trip would require sleeping on the hard ground--many mornings I have trouble with my back after a night in my bed.

This morning, as I walked to the marina to watch the sun rise over the sailboats, or more accurately, the sky changing colors before sunrise, I thought about my sadness of feats of fitness I will likely never master.  But I reminded myself that there are other expeditions that can bring me joy.  Let me start planning some of those.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Relatively Quiet Independence Day

I suspect that I am like much of the nation in that I didn't get much sleep last night, and yet, off I go to work this morning.  Right now, I feel O.K.--will I still say that by 3 or 4 this afternoon?

One reason why I didn't get much sleep was that we took a nap that lasted 2 and a half hours--so I wasn't tired at my normal bed time.

I went outside to see if I could see the fireworks at Hollywood Beach; I really couldn't.  I stood outside anyway, since my spouse had gone up onto the roof to see what he could see.  He had a better view, but I still enjoyed seeing occasional bursts of color through the palm frond shadows.

I came in and watched the very end of A Capitol Fourth; and then, happily, our PBS station showed it again.  And then, at the end of that showing, at 11 p.m., I got interested in the next show on the history of the Mall in downtown D.C.--fascinating!

I didn't get to bed until midnight, and then I had trouble staying asleep.  But any tiredness I feel today will be worth it--that's how good the show on the Mall was.

It was a relatively quiet holiday, and it's not as smoky outside as it sometimes is on July 5.  We didn't have as much evening foot traffic as we have the past two years, but I enjoyed sitting on the porch, drinking some wine, wishing those who walked by a happy 4th.  We got some work done, but never as much as we would have wished.  I decided not to celebrate another holiday by pulling weeds, so it was great to spend time in the pool.

Yes, all in all, a great Independence Day.  May there be many more to celebrate!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day Thoughts on Liberty

Yesterday I made copies of the Declaration of Independence.  As I gave out granola bars and fruit, I said, "I have granola bars, I have fruit, I have copies of the Declaration of Independence--all you need to get your holiday week started out right."

A few students took a copy, which made me happy.  But even if few people took my hint and my handout, I'm glad that I could be there to remind us all that there's more to Independence Day than having the day off, than wearing patriotic colors, than having a cookout or enjoying fireworks (or comforting our pets and PSTD sufferers who do not enjoy fireworks).

I am already thinking about next year:  could we stage a reading of the Declaration?  I'd like to do more with these holidays to help students remember the larger picture.

I have said before that the advantage to being part of a smaller campus that's part of a larger network is that I can do certain things, like buy granola bars and hand them out.  If we decided to read the Declaration of Independence out loud next year, we'd be free to do that. 

My old school was also part of a larger network, but we didn't seem to be nimble enough to try out new ideas.  Or maybe by the time we realized we needed to do that, it was too late; morale was already so low that it was hard to motivate people to do anything at all.

My current campus is fairly new, and that's an advantage too.  We don't have people mourning the loss of the school's glory days.  We have people excited about the idea of campus growth--it's a different feeling than the one of desperation at my old school, where we knew that population was falling at a scary rate, and we knew the implications, but we were frozen with fear.

On this Independence Day, of course I have our country's founding parents on my brain.  What made some of them so convinced of their vision that they were willing to risk being hung for treason?  Were events just so intolerable that the risk of death didn't matter?  Or were they enchanted by a vision of life as it could be?

For each patriot, I suspect the answer was different.

I am happy that at this point in my life, I don't have choices to make like those that faced people in 1775 or 1776.  I am worried that we are headed down that road.  I think of the ending of the Declaration:  "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

In the coming years, I wonder how many of us will have to do some serious thinking about what is worth the price of that pledge.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sunday Report

Yesterday was strange in many ways.  I've joked, but only half jokingly, that my current church will turn me into a Quaker.  There's something about our occasionally overamplified sanctuary that makes the idea of sitting together in silence incredibly appealing.  Yesterday was one of those overamplified days.

We stopped by the pool supply company on our way home, and then after a dose of aspiring, we ate leftovers and worked on the filter canister.  The part didn't come with the o-ring, so off we went to the Home Depot.

They didn't have it, but the Home Depot guy suggested we go to McDonald Hardware across from Lester's Diner in Ft. Lauderdale.  Since we were already halfway there, off we went.

Thank goodness for old-fashioned hardware stores!  They had the o-ring we needed and for much cheaper than the Home Depot would have had it.

Have we fixed the pool?  It's too early to tell yet.  We have a leak at the top of the filter canister.  We've tried numerous things in an attempt to fix it.

We relaxed in the pool a bit, and then it was back in the house to work on my spouse's blended class, which he got at the very last minute.  It's the first time he's taught for this dean, and he inherited a course shell that he can only change minimally--primarily, the dates.  So, we had to figure out the non-onground parts of the class and figure out the best schedule.  Then came the drudgery of changing dates in various parts of the course shell.

And then we put it all in my spouse's paper calendar, along with due dates from other classes.  There's probably an essay here about how we interact with technology.  It's probably been said before.

Today is my last day of handing out granola bars and fruit to arriving students and getting summer quarter off to a good start.  And then, tomorrow, a day of vacation!  And then back to work--how strange it will be.

Today we're wearing red, white, and blue at school.  I made a handout of the Declaration of Independence, and a sign that says, "Don't just wear red, white, and blue!  Read the Declaration of Independence!  Free copies!  Take one or two!"  I'll offer those, too, along with the granola bars, fruit, and cookies for the evening classes.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mid-Year Reading Report

A week ago, I finished reading The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which has been on my to-read list since it first won the Pulitzer a few years ago.  I first started reading it at Mepkin Abbey, where it made a strange juxtaposition with The Underground Railroad, which I had reread the week-end before.  I was blown away by the first chapter of Nguyen's book--so lyrical, so beautiful, such promise.  No wonder it won the Pulitzer.

But after I finished, I felt much less easy about the book.  There's a torture scene at the end that lasts for a long time and is quite brutal, and I wondered if it was necessary.  It didn't haunt me the way that the torture scenes in Whitehead's novel have haunted me.  I continue to be amazed that Whitehead could explore slavery and race and history in the U.S. in ways that felt fresh.  Nguyen's writing began to feel clichéd by the end.

And I found the characters wearisome.  By the end of The Sympathizer, I hated them all.  I wasn't expecting that development.  But I kept reading, in part because I was aware of my developing negative feelings, and I knew the book had won the Pulitzer, and I wanted to see if there were better chunks to come at the end.

I was glad to return the book to the library.  Yesterday, I picked up a very different book, Rebecca Solnit's The Mother of All Questions.  I was surprised that my public library had it, since it was published so recently.

About a month ago, I felt like all roads were leading to Solnit.  I read this wonderful article on Donald Trump; it's the kind of writing that says exactly what I'm feeling, but does it so eloquently.  I admired Solnit's ability to stay somewhat sympathetic to Trump, even while excoriating him:  "We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way. The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space."

I have only read one essay in Solnit's collection, and I can't wait to return to the book because the first essay, "The Mother of All Questions," is so wonderful.  She explores motherhood, and why we're so eager to know why people--especially artists--don't choose motherhood.

This kind of essay runs the risk of being trite--or worse, saying what's already been said.  But this quote gives you a sense of Solnit's insight:  "One of the reasons people lock onto motherhood as a key to feminine identity is the belief that children are the way to fulfill your capacity to love.  But there are so many things to love besides one's own offspring, so many things that need love, so much other work love has to do in the world" (p. 9).

It's that last part that made me catch my breath:  so much other work love has to do in the world. It's a wonderful twist, to change love from a verb to a noun that's the subject of the sentence:  love as an active agent of change in the world.

I can't wait to see what other surprises are in store for me as I read this book.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

June Ends

This week has zoomed by, as has the month of June.  We started summer quarter on Wednesday, which has thrown me off.  Yesterday felt like a Wednesday because it was the third day of the new quarter.  But we seem to have had a good start.

I also met our new campus director.  He will be in charge of both the Ft. Lauderdale campus and our Hollywood campus, so the dynamic will be different than with the past executive director, the one who hired me.  From our first interactions, he seems like a person I can work with.  That's a relief.  There are so many ways that a boss can be bad.

It's been a week of handing out granola bars and fruit and leaving plates of cookies for the evening students.  I like creating an atmosphere of hospitality and welcome.

It's one of the advantages to being part of a small campus of approximately 230 students.  We can do a lot.  One of the disadvantages:  we have a small staff, so we have to do a lot, each one of us, because there's not a huge department waiting to fill in the gaps.

I've also begun to feel like maybe I'll be able to write again.  During the end of June, I was feeling tired and dried up.  It's a relief to feel creativity stirring again.

So, here's to the month of July:  it seems to have potential as a month where we can move forward, where projects become unstalled, where the seeds that we've planted begin to sprout.