Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Week in Review: Community Newspapers and Cottages

It's been a week where I haven't had as much time to write in the morning--that means I haven't had as much time to reflect and ruminate.  It's been the first week of summer term at my college, which also means I haven't had as much time to reflect and ruminate.  I've also been doing a 10 day modified shred (no alcohol, very limited dairy and grains, more exercise), so my head space has been occupied with that attempt.

Let me now capture some additional insights I've had as the week has gone by.

--Like the rest of the nation, I was both shocked (and to be honest, not shocked) over the shooting at the community newspaper in Maryland.  I am aware of how many VERY ANGRY people cross my path; it is not lost on me that any of them might be full of murderous intentions.  What makes people snap and show up at a school or work place with a firearm?

--The fact that it was a community paper also shocked me; I'd have been less shocked if a murderously angry person showed up at The Washington Post with a gun. 

--I have close friends who have worked on community newspapers.  My own college newspaper was closely aligned with The Newberry Observer, the community newspaper for the town where my undergraduate school was located.  I remember one long ago night, where we watched our college newspaper rolling (literally) off the presses at that local paper.  It was so cool to see how the paper was physically produced and to know the journalists who wrote the words that rolled off those presses.

On to other aspects of the week:

--The visit of the camp counselors from Sunday to Friday morning went smoothly.  They were the first people to stay in the cottage since Hurricane Irma.  I was slightly worried that we'd discover something major that needed to be repaired once they were there using the water and the electricity.  But it seems to be fine.

--So on to the next question:  what next?  Most immediately, the cottage will be a holding place for the stuff that needs to come out of the main house so that the floors can be done.  We plan to do the floors in 2 stages, moving half the house to the other half.  But some stuff, like boxes of books, could live in the cottage until we're done.

--It felt somewhat strange, having the counselors here, having people live in the cottage again.  Unlike last year's counselors, they used the pool, which we told them was O.K.  We didn't swim with them, in part because they would only be here a few days, and we wanted to give them time off away from people, since they had intense days leading Vacation Bible School.  And the one day that we did swim in the evening, I felt a bit strange, knowing they might return at any moment.  It's good to remember these feelings, as we consider letting others use the cottage.

--I wanted to take pictures of the cottage after last Saturday's intense work.  As I looked through them, I was struck by the monastic retreat effect that we created:

The bedroom looks cozy, at least in this picture.  A headboard would make it better:

It's not a kitchen that my younger self would love.  My younger self baked in huge batches.  But perhaps it's a kitchen for how we live now (minus the dishwasher and the microwave that many people would want):

--As I've thought about the future of the cottage this week, I've thought of monastic retreats, but as I've said before, I haven't figured out how one would market that.  Yesterday, I overheard a new student talking about her ceramics studio.  I came out of my office to say, "In one of my alternative lives, I'm a potter and a weaver, but who has room for a loom?"

--After that encounter, I went to the stairwell to get my stairs and my steps done for the hour.  As I climbed the steps, I thought, well, I think I have no room, but I have this whole cottage.  What I'd really like to do with the cottage is turn it into studio space.  Carl could do woodturning, and I could do clay or fabric.  And we could still easily clean it up for when out of town guests come.

--Of course, so far, the only out of town guests who have been keenly interested in staying in the cottage were my parents--and that's when my sister and nephew were staying in the guest room of the main house.

--I don't have much free time for a ceramics or fiber studio.  Would I make more time if I had a studio? 

--I have a vision of making interesting garden sculptures and wind chimes--but what to do with them all?  Could I make clay pieces that people might want to buy without a wheel?  I think I could.  But where would I sell them?  And would there be time for that?

These are not questions that must be answered now.  The next project:  floors and a kitchen remodel.  Then we'll see what kind of money is left and how much energy we have.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Mid-Life Arthritis and Mid-Life Goals

The other day, the morning after a day spent working on the yard, I said, "I hurt everywhere from my ribs down--well, except for my knees."  My spouse expressed surprise, but it was true.  I felt pain in every joint except for those at the knee.

I spent my younger years running long distances, and I was almost never a thin runner.  I always joked that I was grinding my bones into dust.  I always thought I'd first experience that pain in my knees.

It's been an interesting year or two, learning to deal with my arthritis and bunions in my feet.  So far, it's constrained my activities somewhat, but I remain committed to doing all that I can to avoid surgery and/or disability.

In my younger running years, I would talk about the importance of listening to the body, but now I have a different experience of that listening in my experience.  In my younger years, when I felt lazy, I would listen for an ache or pain that would give me a reason to have a day off.

Now I show up for exercise realizing that I'm never really sure what I'll experience.  Some days, I have achy feet, but I have an amazing spin class.  Other days, the ache doesn't really flare up until I'm spinning, but I can have a fairly effective work-out just by staying seated and pedaling hard.  I always begin my walk knowing that I'll be limping a bit at the end.

This morning, as I stood up the wrong way and pain shot through my foot and up my leg, I thought, well, I guess I won't be hiking the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end; that question is settled.  No marathons for me.

Of course, if I really wanted to do something, I'd see if there was a way to do it.  As with my earlier days, I'm using my pain as a reason to cross items off the list.  This morning I realized that if I'm crossing them off the list, I didn't really want to do them anyway.

Why is it so hard for me to just admit what I do and do not want to do?  Why do I remain committed to lists that I made when I was very young?  Where else in my life am I showing similar behavior and not realizing it?

I've also been thinking a lot about my writing life.  Are there projects that once were important, but now I should jettison?

Or should I think in a different way?  Are there places where I assume I can't do something, but I should really revisit those goals and apply myself?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Keeping Our Collective Chins Up

Yesterday as news spread about Justice Kennedy's retirement, I wrote this Facebook post:

"As we feel despair about Justice Kennedy resigning, it's worth remembering that he was a Reagan appointee, and that Reagan likely thought that Kennedy would make different decisions than he has made. And that outcome isn't unusual, when one looks at the history of Supreme Court justices. Let's keep our collective chins up! I want to live in hope, not in fear. I keep remembering the 1980's, when things seemed quite bleak--but then Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the wall between East and West Germany came down without bloodshed. Perhaps we are at a turning point that we don't recogize yet."

I understand people's despair over this retirement, but let's remember that Kennedy was nominated and confirmed with everyone expecting him to be a conservative bulwark--not a moderate swing vote.  He's been a friend of lefties, as he's protected women's reproductive rights and the rights of homosexuals in a variety of cases.  I will miss his insistence that the dignity of humans must be considered in court cases.

Any time this administration does anything that's rotten (which is a daily occurrence some weeks), my Facebook feed lights up with comparisons to Hitler's rise to power.  I confess to wondering whether or not we're in a similar place to Europe in the 1930's.  I want to believe that we can learn from earlier times when fascist forces rose up rather quickly.  On my good days, I believe.  On my despairing days, I wonder where I should move.

It's good to remember that our nation has faced dark days that didn't end in an apocalypse like Hitler's Germany and World War II.  Perhaps these days are more like the McCarthy era, when people were finally so outraged by the excesses that they were able to ignore the fearmongering and insist on a better future.  Perhaps these days are more like the Nixon regime, where the nation seemed closest to Constitutional crisis, but cooler heads prevailed, and the nation did not split asunder.

In these days where the news leaves me especially prone to despair, I've been taking great solace from the posts I'm seeing from the national gathering of Lutheran youth in Houston.  It's a huge group, and I'm inspired by their hope and enthusiasm.

When I think about just giving up, I will think about these youth.  I will think about my years of training in non-violent resistance to evil.  I will remember that we can't know when the tide is about to turn, when evil leaders will be washed away to sea.

When I need courage, I'll turn to this post on my theology blog, a photo essay about how the fabric of society can be rewoven--and often, from the scraps and frazzled strips, we can make something even more beautiful.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Cottage Odds and Ends

Today is the first day of Summer quarter at my school.  It's odd to have a term starting on a Wednesday; is that why I feel off kilter?

Let me collect some odds and ends here.  Maybe, as in the past, they'll collect themselves into a poem.  Or maybe I'll see a coherent thread that I don't anticipate.

--Last year, I cooked 2 dinners for the camp counselors who came to run our Vacation Bible School program.  This year, others are cooking.  We haven't seen much of them.  But we hear that they like our cottage so much that they wanted to take dinners to go, so that they have more time to spend in the pool.  They're still here for 2 more days, so hopefully all will continue to go well.

--It's the first time we've had anyone stay there since we had the new AC installed.  I'm glad that nothing has happened that we needed to solve.  We haven't even noticed any difference in terms of water pressure. 

--When we showed them the cottage on the first day, they were very complimentary--again, a relief.  I realize that many people are trained to be polite, not to express dismay.  But one woman asked if we'd ever rent it out to say, a college student. At dinner at the parsonage, she had talked about her difficulty finding a place to stay as she goes to college in South Florida.  I said we'd be open to renting it out.

--Of course, I'm not sure how I'd really feel if she turns out to be serious.  I'd probably give it a try.  But I'd draw up some kind of document, just to clarify some items that I didn't clarify last time we had someone live in the cottage in an ongoing basis.

--On Sunday, I did some brief research on what it would take to rent it out short term, in terms of what the city requires--overwhelming!  I think that the rules and regulations are really designed towards controlling the more commercial types who are taking advantage of Air BnB.  For example, the city wants a property manager named, someone who could be on site in 60 minutes if anything happened.

--I can hardly get the cottage ready for the occasional guests who use it.   It's difficult to imagine doing this on a regular basis for paying guests.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Poetry Tuesday: "Artifacts"

A few weeks ago, I got my contributor of The Atlanta Review, which published two of my poems.  Because my writing time is short this morning, let me post one of them here.

You will likely read this and assume I'm writing autobiography, and in a way, I am.  My grandmother did have a wonderful tin of buttons; shaped by the Great Depression, she saved every button before using the cloth from worn out clothes for other purposes.  I have no idea what happened to that button tin.

She did have beautiful hydrangea bushes.  I have often wished I saved some of the soil that she created by composting, but I didn't.  I don't have her soil on the mantel, but I have lots of other artifacts that remind me of times long gone.


In the end, so little is left
behind: a tin filled with every button
that ever came into the house,
a hydrangea bush blooming blue
in someone else’s back yard.

I sew a button onto one seam
of each garment in my own closet, a hidden
token to remind me of you.

Some might keep ashes,
but I dig from your compost patch,
the place where you buried
the scraps left from every meal you ever ate.

You followed the almanac’s instructions,
but I don’t have that resource.
I blend your Carolina dirt
with the sandy soil that roots
my mango tree.

Some of it I keep in a jar
that once held Duke’s mayonnaise.
I place it on the mantel
of the fireplace I rarely use,
to keep watch with a half burned
candle and a shell
from a distant vacation.


Monday, June 25, 2018

The Sewing Circle and the Whaling Ship

Over the week-end, we lost two important literary giants.  Both were old, so their deaths weren't surprises.  Still, more and more it seems an age is passing away.

I think of Donald Hall as the husband of Jane Kenyon, whose poems I loved more than Donald Hall's.  It wasn't until I read the article in The New York Times about Donald Hall this morning that I realized how many books he had written, including important books that purported to anthologize the decade's most important poets.

I was always astonished that he gave up an academic job with tenure to give his attention to writing and the family farm in New England.  I knew that he had cancer and expected to die before Kenyon--and then she got cancer of her own and died, while he had more decades than expected.

One of the most searing poems of loss I ever read was his, but I can't remember which one it was.  I was surprised to find out that he went on to love again, or at least date/have sex, even after writing that poem.  It's not the first time (or the last) that I've assumed to know too much about the author by reading an author's work.

At the end of the article about Hall, I clicked on this obituary about Nina Baym.  Her name is probably not as familiar to people as Hall's, but she's one of the reasons why our literary canon expanded in the 1970's.  She was one of many feminist scholars who asked why we read so many male writers and not females.  She set out to find forgotten female authors, and she did.

In the introduction to Woman’s Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and About Women in America, 1820-1870, she wrote “I have not unearthed a forgotten Jane Austen or George Eliot, or hit upon even one novel that I would propose to set alongside ‘The Scarlet Letter.’ Yet I cannot avoid the belief that ‘purely’ literary criteria, as they have been employed to identify the best American works, have inevitably had a bias in favor of things male — in favor, say, of whaling ships rather than the sewing circle as a symbol of the human community; in favor of satires on domineering mothers, shrewish wives, or betraying mistresses rather than tyrannical fathers, abusive husbands, or philandering suitors.”

I could argue that her influence was much further spread than Hall's.  She was the editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, and so many of us were more familiar with her ideas than we might have realized.  And because of her work, we've recovered all sorts of works of literature that might have been lost.  Those of us who see ourselves in a widening canon may have felt permission to write.  Those of us who didn't see ourselves in that widened canon went on to widen it further.

Well done, good and faithful servants.  May we all be inspired to continue the work.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Rescued from Wreckage

I am rather astonished to be able to say that after 9 months of wreckage, the cottage is back to operational again.  Make no mistake, it still needs some work:  there's a door frame that has rotted out at the bottom, the floors are still concrete (and not the attractive kind of concrete), and the furniture is a mash of leftovers.  But I think we've achieved a level of rustic-cozy, as opposed to rustic-scary.

Because yesterday was stormy, my spouse couldn't work on his yard projects, so he helped--one reason why we were able to get it done.  He focused on what still needs to be done; he's most distressed about the hot water.  The cottage and the main house share the hot water source, which means the cottage has to wait a few minutes for the water to get hot.  It takes longer now that we have an on-demand hot water heater.  At some point, we may get an on-demand system for the cottage alone.  But for now, we need to get the main house repaired so that we see how much money we really have for the cottage.

As I was working on the cottage, I was taken back to the early days of our marriage, where there was one apartment that needed some work before we moved in.  I remember that scrubbing and wondering how the final result would look.

Like that apartment, we have curtains in the cottage that we have made ourselves.  I really like them, but my spouse said, "It's not much better than students who attach sheets up to the windows with push pins."  I like that they pull the eye up from the place where the floor meets the walls, where there are still stains from the flooding.

Yes, the walls need repainting, but we didn't have time for that.  So many repairs and beautification, but so little time.

And part of the problem is a lack of vision/agreement about what to do with the cottage.  One of my friends suggested that I turn it into some sort of space--whether it be office, music/arts studio, or pool party space, that I want to be in.  I understand her point, but I tend to perch on the same pieces of furniture, even when more attractive places open up.

We've thought about doing short term rentals, but that idea is not appealing to me for a variety of reasons.  I feel like I can hardly keep up with my current obligations, so I'm hesitant to take on something as large as managing a vacation rental.  Plus my city has lots of rules and regulations, which makes me even more hesitant.

I'm also hesitant because I think that many people are expecting something luxurious, like something out of a glamorous travel magazine--and I worry that they'll be inclined to complain vociferously and bitterly when it's not what they expect.

I think of our mishmash of furniture, which I find oddly appealing, but I know that others might not.  It reminds me of Mepkin Abbey, when I first went there.  The sheets weren't Egyptian cotton, and neither were the towels.  They were clean and soft from years of use.  Each room had a different type of desk and desk chair--comfortable, but from a much earlier decade.

Right now, the cottage has that type of furniture:  two chairs that were rescued from the trash heap of a school library remodel, a rocker that has the University of South Carolina seal on it, a folding wooden chair with a cushion.  The tables are plastic and battered, but sturdy.  The kitchen has a complete set of white dishes and cooking pans--very serviceable.  The bed has a mattress that's only a few years old, slept on for less than a year.  It has new sheets that I got on sale--otherwise I couldn't have afforded the organic cotton.  It also has a cheery quilt that I made.  The towels are also new and rarely used, and thus, more luxurious than many of our towels. 

The rugs that we got last Sunday don't cover as much of the floor as I had hoped.  But they work well enough for now.

As we sat in the living room yesterday to take it all in, I thought, yes, this will work.  The camp counselors will have a clean, safe place to sleep tonight, with lots of comforts, like the breakfast foods we bought for them yesterday.  That's more than much of the world has.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Bistro Night

Last night, I had planned to go to an early dinner with a friend.  It was going to be a larger group, but when it turned out to be just the two of us, we decided to meet at her house to go to one of the restaurants nearby.  She lives near the very trendy Las Olas district, where new places pop up on a regular basis, and there are always old faithfuls: the creperies, the steakhouses, the European coffee spots.

As I drove over, I saw the storm clouds gather, and the first clap that at first made me wonder if something was wrong with the car before I realized that I was hearing thunder.  When I got to her house, we decided to wait to see what the weather would do.

After 45 minutes, the crashing rains relented, and we decided to walk to see what appealed to us.  The rain had chases away the oven-like heat of the afternoon, so it was a lovely walk. 

My friend had wanted to go to the new French bistro that had opened, and we got to it first.  They had a great early bird special:  3 courses for $26, plus a basket of wonderful bread and a bowl of cornichon pickles. Course 1 was salad or French onion soup (wonderful soup!), course 2 a choice of hangar steak, mussels, or chicken, and dessert could be sherbert or creme brulee (who would choose sherbert when you could have creme brulee?). We were still early enough, so we decided to stay there. 

I got the hangar steak, which came with wonderful, skinny fries.  But the most flavorful part of the meal was the French onion soup, although the strings of cheese made true enjoyment difficult.  I always have that problem with that soup.

Actually, I'd have been happy to sit there with the bread basket and a hunk of butter.  Or just to sip wine and watch the rain.

At the end of our time at the restaurant, there was a singer. She wasn't bad, but her speaker had a bit of a buzz to it. I was glad we weren't going to be there for her whole gig. I preferred the music they played when we first got there: an interesting mix of Elton John, Queen, and Earth, Wind, and Fire, those types of music. I have been hearing (in other places) snippets from the new Jay Z/Beyonce album, and I just can't understand why everyone is rapturous, because their vocal stylings just IRRITATE me--I want to say, "Quit mumbling and sing. And when you sing, open your throat and try to make it sound less guttural."

Nothing makes me feel older than trying to listen to modern music!  But I digress.

We walked back to my friend's house, on sidewalks that had us pass by beautiful houses and canals.  I don't always appreciate the beauty that South Florida offers, and I'm always grateful when I have a chance to remember why we moved here.

When we first started back, the rain fell in random, fat drops, but it soon turned into a drizzle.  In my running days, I used to say that if there had to be moisture in the air, I'd prefer rain to humidity, and that's still true.  As we walked, I joked that we should form a bistro club:  our goal could be to try every French restaurant in town!  I said, "It would be better than a book club."

I love the idea of book clubs, but they often disappoint me.  I have so little time to read, and I often don't like the books that others choose.  Or, I like them, but I'd have preferred to spend my time reading something else.

A French bistro club!  Now there might be a club I could enjoy.

Last night was the kind of night I thought I'd have all the time as a grown up.  But now that I'm grown up, I realize that I appreciate that kind of experience because it's a contrast to my usual home cooking, which has a coziness that I'd miss if I only went to restaurants.  I feel lucky that I can have both.  

Friday, June 22, 2018

Happy Birthday, Octavia Butler!

Today when I went to the Chrome browser, I was delighted to find a Google doodle that celebrates Octavia Butler's birthday.  Ah, Octavia Butler.  If I could bring back one writer who left us to soon, she would make the short list.

I don't reread her works often--but I'm not rereading many works these days.  So many books, so little time.  But she's one of the writers who formed me.

The first book of hers that I read was Parable of the Sower, which I read shortly after it was published.  It was a powerful book.  I'd say that I couldn't put it down, but I had to periodically to remind myself that I didn't live in the dystopian world depicted.

I was happy to discover that she'd written other books, that I wouldn't have to wait to read more.  And what a wide variety of books!

One of my colleagues at work remarked that Kindred was her favorite, so I read that one shortly after Parable of the Sower.  In this novel, a black, female writer gets sucked back to antebellum Virginia. It wasn't until reading this novel that I fully understood the horrors of slavery, the various threats of that time period. To make the plot more interesting, she quickly realizes that she's being transported back to her ancestors, which limits some of her choices: she can't just kill those people who threaten her; if her ancestors die, what will happen to her? It's not one of my favorites of all the books she wrote, but it is one that I'm glad that I read--several times.

In 2001, I read Wild Seed, one of the most inventive books I've ever read. At first, I thought I was reading about a different world, but eventually I figured out that I was reading about the earliest years of the slave trade. What interesting wording--the slave trade, as if there was only one. I mean the slave trade which brought Africans to the North American continent and the outlying islands. It's an amazing book which deals with gender, race, and history in such amazing ways that it's impossible to look at those subjects the same way again.

Butler's life as a writer has also been an inspiration and a comfort.  I was so happy when she won the MacArthur award. I read an interview with her in Poets and Writers shortly after she won that award. She talked about the value of money to a writer, how having a funding source freed her to write all the books she'd been storing up but couldn't write because she had to work. And in her early years, that work was often menial labor, the kind that leaves one too tired to write.

Butler was a writer who writers could love. Like many of my favorite writers, she stresses habit and persistence over talent and inspiration. Here's a typical quote (found on GoodReads): "First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice."

Good advice in any number of areas--persistence and habit will get us much further than talent or luck.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


We live in dizzying times.  After weeks of insisting that he could do nothing, because the law is the law, President Trump ended the policy of separating children from their parents at the southern U.S. border.

Did he have a change of heart?  Is this executive order simply one of a number of ways to manipulate his way to what he wants?  Does he have a plan or a vision?

I confess that I do not know, and I can see any number of scenarios which might be possible.  Or I may be looking for a method where there is only madness.  As I watched the news last night, I felt incredible weariness.  I feel like I've been working on immigration issues, particularly those that revolve around Central America, for over 30 years now, and we haven't improved the lives of anyone.  Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador may have slightly less repressive regimes and civil wars may be over for the moment, but civilians are still being terrorized on all sides.

I also see my brain stuck in its usual rut.  No matter how many successes my brain sees, it always thinks about ways that improvement is still needed.  So let me take a minute to express joy at the end of the evil policy of family separation.

I don't use the word "evil" often.  I'll use any number of other words to express negative aspects, but I reserve the word "evil."  This policy was evil, pure and simple--not misguided, not wrong, but evil. 

I wasn't sure that this administration would be influenced by our collective outrage.  I am glad to see that hearts can be softened, even if it's for reasons of optics, not morality. 

I realize that a letter from someone like me, an ordinary citizen trying to cobble together a middle class existence, doesn't bear the same weight as others.  I suspect that the Pope's outrage didn't soften administration hearts either.  I'm not sure what did.  The thought of damage to those running in 2016 elections?  The counsel of first ladies, present and past?

I realize that those families will be held in those tent cities that went up.  I'm not happy about that either, but I've always had problems with my country's repressive immigration policies.  But at least children will not be ripped away from parents. 

I am still fretful about what new outrages may be in store.  But I'd be more frightened if we hadn't been able to solve this issue, if we were still separating families at Christmas of 2018, if no one had been able to intervene.

I am happy for these examples of what it takes to defeat evil, even if the fight is far from over.  We wrote letters and e-mails and made phone calls; some of us went to the border to record what was happening; a wide variety of groups both religious and secular raised voices against evil; on and on I could go--and this time, we've won a victory.

This morning, let me pause to take a breath, to say, "Good job."  Let us always be a force for peace and justice in the world.  Let me pray:  give us the strength for the next onslaught.  Let us not be overwhelmed at the size of the task of caring for the poor, the outcast, the oppressed.  Onward!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Notes from a Rustic-Cozy Week

It's been a strange week so far, with repeat visits from insurance adjusters and AC installers, this feeling that for every step forward, we may get knocked back 4 steps--but perhaps not.  The AC seems to be an easy fix.  Maybe it's not 4 steps back, but a pause.

These are the days that make me feel like I'll never have sustained focus for a project ever again.  Let me record some impressions which may twist together into a poem or may just shed some light on this week in June.

--One online class will soon come to an end.  I wrote myself a note to remind myself to do the final grades this week-end.  In the shadowed light of the early morning kitchen, it looks like I wrote Do Final Oracles, instead of Do Final Grades.  What would the Final Oracle have to say to us?

--I bought one of those robot vacuum cleaners thinking that I'd free up some time and have cleaner floors.  But it's sort of like having a puppy:  I leave it to its own devices, and it gets into trouble.  I have to rescue it from some piece of furniture that it's gotten stuck under or pull some cords out of it.

--On Monday, my spouse made a mac and cheese dish in the cast iron skillet on the grill.  Even though he greased the pan, much of the mac and cheese wanted to remain stuck in the pan.  So, we had a day of scraping and soaking and scraping and soaking again.  Last night, as I was scrubbing the pan, I thought about the years of cleaning up after my grandmother's meals.  She'd whip out a bit of steel wool and make cleaning that pan look so easy.  As I scrubbed, I wondered if I was not only scrubbing out bits of our Monday meal but long lost dinners:  pork chops and Salisbury steak and gravy made of meat juice, flour, and milk.

--As we've been working on getting the cottage ready for the camp counselors who will be arriving Sunday, we've also been talking about what to do with the cottage.  We were talking about what it would take to get the cottage to anything rentable, particularly on a short term basis, like Air BnB. Rustic-cozy might not appeal to that crowd.  I had a vision of a monastic retreat house, something for everyone who has ever yearned for Thomas Merton’s hermitage. I have no idea how to find those people or if they’d be willing to go on that kind of retreat.

--What do I mean by rustic-cozy?  No TV.  Perhaps no wi-fi.  Concrete floors--but with a rug on the floors.  Flowered curtains and quilts.  A serviceable shower, but not a garden tub.  A serviceable kitchen without a lot of work space.

--I've been eating a lot of watermelon--big tubs of cut watermelon pieces have been on sale at Doris' for $4.99 a tub.  I buy it thinking I'll make a tub last several days.  I often eat the whole thing.  It's delicious and refreshing--and filling!  If I kept receipts, some day I'd look back and marvel at how much I spent during the month of June on watermelon.

--My sleep schedule is stranger than usual.  As I tried to sleep on Sunday night, I was stiff and sore and restless.  At some point Monday morning, I fell into a deep sleep--and missed my chance to go to spin class.  I almost never oversleep, but I woke up at 5:50 and decided against a mad rush to get ready to go by 6.  I had a good walk.  This morning, I gave up on sleep about 1:15.

--One of the benefits of being up early is the opportunity to write in my offline journal and to work on a poem.  I've been thinking of my old backpacking equipment, of the elegant simplicity of it all.  I've been thinking about snakebite kits and all the snakes of modern life. 

--I don't want to give up on last week's poem that I was trying to develop around the central image of a bird who build a nest in a Christmas wreath--a symbol of hospitality?

And now, it's time to move to the next part of my day:  spin class and then work.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

You Are Not Powerless: Keep Writing

On Friday, I wrote this post about ways we could protest the administration's approach to deterring illegal immigration by separating parents from children.  Throughout the day, I wrote several Facebook posts to let people know how easy it is to write to their senators and representatives.  I tried to space my posts so that I'd show up in people's FB feeds periodically to remind them to let their voices be heard.

And of course, I wrote my own e-mails:  to both senators, to my representative, to the Department of Justice, and to Donald Trump.

I want to record the responses, because I find them interesting.  Thus far, I've gotten no response from the DOJ.  I got an e-mail from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz which seemed like an auto-reply message to let me know that my e-mail had been received.  I got an interim message from Senator Marco Rubio that said it was an interim message and that I'd get a more detailed response later.  Those two messages came just after I sent mine.  I got Senator Bill Nelson's response yesterday evening, which detailed what he is doing to put a stop to this inhumane policy, including co-sponsoring S. 3036, the Keep Families Together Act.

The strangest response was from President Trump, an e-mail which told me all about his successful summit with North Korea. I expected either no response, or a response that told me that I didn't know what I was talking about. I didn't expect a response which discussed a different aspect of the president's week in such great detail.

I may send follow up e-mails today, or perhaps I'll make some phone calls. Let me cut and paste the contact info here, to make it easier for us all to find:

Here is the site for the House of Representatives contact info, and this site will give you information for the Senate.

This website explains our options for contacting President Trump.

Contact the Department of Justice in one of the ways explained on this site.

Here's the original e-mail that I sent; feel free to use it as a template for your own communication:

I am writing because the current policy of separating immigrant parents from children at the border is beyond cruel. I am also concerned that we no longer consider domestic violence or gang violence to be grounds for asylum, but I am MOST concerned about the fate of these children who are separated from their parents. I know that there are bills coming to Congress next week that will address this issue, and I wanted you to know how much I want this issue solved so that parents and children are never separated in this way again. Thank you so much for anything you can do.

We may feel like we're powerless but we're not. And the truly powerless are counting on us. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day Pictures (in Words)

On Facebook, I'm seeing some very old pictures of fathers.  My pictures of my very young father holding me as a baby are not digitized.  My dad had his Air Force hair cut, and my mom had very 60's clothes (not the flower child version of the 60's, but the Jackie Kennedy stylish 60's as it worked its way into fashion for the masses by the middle 60's).

My pictures of my dad in my youth are also not digitized.  The pictures in my head probably don't exist.  I'm seeing my dad letting us use the pop up camper to play our Little House on the Prairie game.  I'm seeing the fridge and stove that my dad built out of wood and painted, a very early toy.  I'm seeing a world of board games that my dad played, along with chess, which my father taught me in the first grade.  I would not have had that patience.

My pictures of my dad in my teenage years exist only in yellowing form, also not digitized.  Those were the years of road races, running events which we ran together, at least to begin.  I was a plodding runner, so my dad would finish his race and then loop back to find me and run the rest of the race with me.  Somehow, he did this without making me feel ashamed of my lack of ability.

I don't have any digitized pictures of my dad when I was in college.  What kind of picture would capture us arguing about politics but managing to still love each other?

I wish I had a picture of that night in 1989 when my dad just happened to be in town on business and was eating dinner with us.  We had the news on while we prepared pasta, and we got to be together when the first news broke of what would become the dismantling of the wall that divided East and West Germany.  Dad said, "I think this will be a momentous night."  Yes, indeed.

As with all my relationships, the one with my dad has been difficult at times, while joyous at times.  I'm grateful that we've survived the tough times.  I know it could have been otherwise.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Cottage AC Update

The big drama of the week was the AC in the cottage.  If you've been reading this blog, you might say, "I thought you had that fixed."  So did I.  In fact, I wrote this blog post about the completion of the project.

On Sunday at church, I found out that lodging was still needed for the camp counselors who will be coming on June 24 to run our Vacation Bible School.  Months ago at a planning meeting, I had taken our cottage out of the running because I thought we might be living there as our flooring project in the main house progressed.  Much has changed since that planning meeting. 

On Sunday, I said that we'd have the cottage ready, although it would be rustic--by which I meant that the walls still needed repainting, and there would be no TV, and the flooring would be concrete.  We agreed that it would be fine.  The counselors had volunteered for camp, after all, not to be childcare workers at a luxury resort.

When we got home from church, we went to the cottage to strategize--and we found out that at some point during these damp weeks, the AC had stopped working, and mold had taken over almost every wall.  We thought that maybe we just didn't understand the remote controls to the system, so we reset settings.  I scrubbed mold off the walls with a bleach solution.  It came off easily and hasn't come back.

Over the next day, it was clear that the AC wasn't working at all, so I called the company, and they've spent the week isolating a leak, fixing it, and refilling the Freon.  I am surprised by how relieved I was last night to have a cool cottage.

It's so depressing to think a major problem is fixed, just to have to deal with it again.  I know--it's a part of home ownership, and I'm lucky to have a home.  But it's wearying.

Now it's time to take the cottage from scary rustic to cozy rustic.  I'm only a week behind--but it can be done!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Stop this Cruel Policy!

Today is a good day to take some actions on this administration's cruel policy of separating parents from children at the border.  I didn't realize until it was too late that yesterday was a day of protest, but clearly it will take more than one day to stop this evil.

Next week Congress will vote on an immigration bill that will call for keeping families together.  I plan to call my senators and representative today.  If you don't know who represents you, this website will tell you.  Here is the site for the House of Representatives contact info, and this site will give you information for the Senate.  I plan to write, call, and e-mail.

I also plan to contact Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  If you would like to do that too, this site gives you options.  Sessions' recent complaints about the way that church groups are interpreting his actions suggests to me that he's listening.  His interpretation of Romans suggests to me that he needs to go back to Sunday School. 

And while we're at it, why not contact President Trump?  This website explains our options.

I don't know if any of these actions will make a difference, but we must try.  We cannot let our country continue down this road.  We cannot take children from their parents because their parents are fleeing a horrible situation in their home countries. 

Even if we disagree on this issue, the uptick in these separations means that there's a unanticipated drain on resources.  There are several nonprofits providing vital free legal aid that need financial support: The Texas Civil Rights Project; the Florence Project in Arizona; and Kids in Need of Defense and The Young Center, which work nationwide.

We're running out of room in the places where we send these children to stay.  I plan to donate to charities that assist these immigrant families.  While I'm taking action today, I plan to make a donation to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a group which is assisting those separated families.  Go here to donate or to help in other ways.  If you want to assist a local charity, this New York Times article notes that the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas is helping families with supplies and humanitarian relief.

These are the days that break the hearts of caring people, but we can't shut down.  We may feel we have no power, but it's important to remember that we do.  It's important to use that power as a force for good in the world.  Lots of people who are truly powerless need us.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Spots of Sadness

This has been a week of spots of sadness:  not the sadness that swamps my little boat, but a dark spot that I can sail out of, but it's still odd to find so many of them in a week.  Let me list them:

--On Sunday, we discovered that the relatively new AC in the cottage isn't working.  It's still under warranty.  But it's frustrating, because I thought we had that task finished.  I thought I could work on getting the cottage back into livable shape so that the VBS camp counselors could stay there the last week of June.  I still think that can happen.

--I'm sad because although the cottage was never glamorous, it had a certain rustic charm.  And now it has no charm.

--I heard from the once-friend who was the first to live in the newly recreated cottage.  When she left, I had hopes that she might find happiness.  It does not sound like that has happened.

--I feel sadness because there has been so much loss.  Dealing with the loss (like calling contractors, writing to the insurance to appeal the denial of claims, calling the AC company, cleaning the cottage) makes me feel the sadness of the loss and the enormity of the recovery tasks ahead.

--My high school Facebook group has been posting pictures--can it really have been 35 years since graduation?  I feel sadness at the losses there too, particularly the death of my best friend.

But let me remember that in the midst of this sadness, there are still lots of times of quiet joy:  the front porch, the pool, the beach.  Let me go for a walk and count my blessings.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Of Summits and Air Conditioners

I have occasionally gone through my old journals looking for a reference to huge world events that were happening--rarely do I find it.  I wonder if in later years, I'll feel the same way about this blog.

It's hard to know what the future will see as trajectory changing events.  Take for example, this week's "summit," which seemed to last for the space of a dinner and agreement signing with President Trump and the dictator of North Korea.  Will it be seen as a huge event?  If so, in what way?  Will it lead to a denuclearized Korean peninsula?  Will it buy North Korea time to expand their nuclear program to become a bigger threat?

From what I can tell, the agreement that was signed doesn't offer much that's different.  But I remember other agreements where I shrugged, but they turned out to be important in ways we couldn't have anticipated.  So I'll be open minded.  It's better to have these leaders meeting than threatening and blustering from a distance--I think.

From my perspective, which is limited, the bigger news story seems to be Trump's behavior regarding Europe and Canada.  I look at this week's stories, and I shake my head.  Trump meets with a brutal dictator while launching a trade war with our allies and threatening further sanctions.

Right now, I confess that my focus is more local and less political.  I still have one class left to staff for our summer term which will start in 2 weeks.  We are having issues with the AC system that was installed in the cottage just a few months ago--insert a heavy sigh here.  I am trying to get the cottage ready for the Luther Springs camp counselors who will be here the last Sunday in June, which is fast approaching.  It will be rustic, but if we can get the AC back to operational, it will be adequate.  The counselors signed up for a camp experience, after all.

My writing time grows ever scarcer--but that's because I'm managing to get a bit more sleep, despite my various aches and pains.  Time to head to spin class!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Returning to "Angels in America"

Yesterday I did what I have wanted to do for some time now:  I reread Angels in America, both plays. 

I brought them to work to set up a book display in the library for Pride month, and I opened Millennium Approaches.  I wrote this Facebook post:

If you haven't already thought of it, now is a good time to reread "Angels in America," which just won a Tony award for best revival. I suspect it will have much to say to our current time. I shall let you know. I pulled it off the shelf, and opened to this epigraph from "The Testing-Tree" by Stanley Kunitz:
"In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking."

I thought of the first time I read the book, on a different rainy afternoon, back in 1993 or 1994.  Back then, I had colleagues with whom I had discussions about literature, both classic and current, and one of them told me that I had to read this play.  And so I got it and read it in one great gulp.

When the plays came to the Kennedy Center in 1995, we went with my parents, and it was perhaps the most amazing theatre I've ever seen or will ever seen.  And then, for the last 23 years, I haven't revisited the plays, even as I've thought it would be interesting.  When the revival won a Tony award on Sunday night, I wasn't surprised.  But I did want to know if it held up well.

So, I read both plays, straight through--and they do hold up, on many levels.  It is strange to read them now, when AIDS is a more manageable disease and not an instant death sentence.  It is very strange to read the anti-Ronald Reagan sentiment, much of which I still agree with, but I would be happy to have that president back again.  So much has changed since the dark days of the setting of these plays--and so much darkness remains.

The plays are about so much--the ways we can and can't be our best selves, the work we're called to do and the work we cannot do, the ways we connect with each other and the ways we fail so miserably.  These aspects of the plays seem timeless.  I can't imagine humans will ever master those issues so completely that the plays won't speak to future generations.

When I read the plays back in the 90's, the sexuality issue seemed intense and new to me--but we've seen the plot trajectories of closeted gay men struggling with their identity in so many works of art that this narrative arc isn't as interesting as it once would have been.  I do think we live in a culture where we don't discuss the ways our bodies fail us, particularly as we grow older.  I see Prior, the AIDS patient, as a metaphor for that aging process, even though I don't think Kushner meant him to be.  I'm much more interested in the caretaking issue, especially in the not-much-discussed Mormon mother of the closeted gay man who arrives to take care of the unraveling young wife.

I am struck by the abandonment in the plays--why is it so hard to stay together?  But I'm also struck by the youth of the main characters--they aren't much older than 30, so they don't have much experience.  But there's also the larger issue of God's abandonment of creation--the angels in the play implore the characters to stop the world's progress in the hopes that God will return.  Prior knows this approach won't work, and so, he gives the sacred text back.  It's a theology that isn't mine, but I understand how it might seem to explain so much about our current world.

I'm also struck by the idea that we hold the sacred text in our bodies--we are the text.  That idea seems both ancient and post-modern to me.

I have never done much thinking about angels, outside of the types of angels we find in literature, like Milton.  I'm not one of those people who wears an angel pin or counts on a guardian angel.  I imagine that those people would be baffled by the angels in this play, these abandoned creatures who are trying to continue in their calling, even though God seems to be gone.

Would the plays work without the supernatural elements?  Yes, but it wouldn't be as rich. 

It's interesting to think about these plays as part of the literature of apocalypse.  I'll need to think more about that.  I tend to be drawn to apocalyptic literature of a different type, although I do love a good disease narrative arc.  Why haven't I made the apocalypse connection before?  When I first read the plays, I was thinking of nuclear winter, not AIDS.  By the early 90's, I assumed humanity would survive that disease--it's fairly preventable, after all. 

It must be hard to be Tony Kushner, having written this momentous work, returning to the page.  Or maybe it's a relief, knowing that important work has been done.

And now, it's off to work of my own.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Poetry Monday: "Son Salutation"

My time is running short this morning--but that's O.K., because I had a relaxing week-end, plus I'm caught up on my grading for my online classes.

Over the week-end, I got my contributor's copy of The Atlanta Review, so let me post a poem for your Monday reading pleasure.

Son Salutation

Jesus goes to yoga class.
Gabriel tells him that he needs a practice
to reduce his stress, and Michael sings
the praises of flexibility.

Jesus watches a class first,
humans stretching themselves into unnatural
shapes. He senses their pain
and wonders if there’s a more efficient
way to dispatch that discomfort.

He could heal them with a single
word if they had faith.
He unrolls his yoga mat
to join them as they arch
into dog shapes and fish curves.

He’s been crucified on a cross.
He thought he understood the limits
of human pain. But on this hard, wood
floor, he senses yet another threshold.

After several weeks, he admits
to feeling better. That persistent flare
of pain in his lower spine
has faded. The kink of muscles
in his right bicep has ungnarled.

His classmates, too, notice
improvement. They sleep
through the night to rise
with renewed energy. They feel
new hope. The ones
who have touched
the sweat of Jesus report
the easing of every chronic condition. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

In the Weeds

I didn't plan to spend a few hours yesterday weeding; in fact, if I had planned it, I might not have done it, out of resentment of feeling that I should take care of the weeding.  We have parts of the yard that are supposed to be low maintenance, covered by small river rock.  Alas, it's been several years, and the weeds are not deterred like they once were.  This year, those areas are particularly scuffy.

Yesterday, I went over to a huge weed and yanked--and it came right out.  It's a strangely exhilarating feeling--and so, I kept going.  My spouse worked on the murky pool, I worked on the weeds, and when it was done, we went to the front yard.  He mowed, I weeded in the front, and after a few hours, we could see the progress we made.

There's always more work that can be done, of course.  The shrubbery reaches for the sky and scraggles sideways too.  The paver bricks could use some weed killer.  But I got the hydrangeas put into bigger pots and grass seeds on the bare parts of the lawn. 

I woke up this morning sore in strange places, which also makes me feel good.  It means I really did get some sort of work out.

This morning I woke up thinking about volunteering our cottage to the camp counselors who will be coming in two weeks to run our Vacation Bible School--that date would force me to get the cottage into some kind of livable space.  But I don't really know what we're facing.  I could scrub the patch of mold off the wall, and it could come right back.  I wouldn't worry about it for me--but maybe I shouldn't expose others.  I know I won't have time to remove and replace the drywall.

Let me go to church and ponder this idea . . .

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Week in Media Stories

What a week in media we've had!  Let me recap.

--When I think about the week in media, I am guessing that I will most remember the two suicides of the week:  Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.   I never had a Kate Spade purse and can't imagine a bag so wonderful that I'd spend hundreds of dollars on it, but I respected her as a designer.  I may be the only writer who has never read Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, but I read parts of his work and respected him as a writer and as a TV persona.

With both of those deaths revealed as suicides, my first thought was, but they had it all, life on their terms, why suicide?  I realize the error of my thought, but I wanted to record it anyway.

I feel like I should have something more profound to say about these deaths, but right now, I'm at a loss.

--Yesterday, after a morning hearing and reading about Bourdain, I read Charles Krauthammer's goodbye column.  His cancer has returned, and he's not expected to live long.  A wave of sadness washed over me.  I didn't always agree with him, but his stances were full of clear thought and explanation.

He finished his column this way:  "I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended."

I hope that I can say the same at whatever point I go.

--It's been the week of the 50th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy's death.  After hearing so much analysis of that time in politics, I feel both fear and wonder.  We don't seem to have candidates like Kennedy right now, but maybe these difficult days will prompt some to come forward.  I take heart in remembering those difficult days in 1968, when it seemed the nation would be ripped to shreds but somehow, we persevered.  I hope it will be the same now.

--Last night, my dad and I had a great conversation on the phone--I mention that we were speaking on the phone because I think that I hate talking on the phone, but some of my best conversations are on the phone, especially with my family.  We dissected the week in Trumpian politics:  a trade war declared on our allies in Europe and Canada, the upcoming summit with North Korea, the horror of children being separated from parents at the border.  We talked about what good citizens can do.

Part of me was marveling at the fact that after almost my entire life, my dad and I are on the same side politically.  I know that Trump has torn apart many families, but that's not the case in my immediate family.

--Yesterday afternoon, I had the kind of conversation that I think that I prefer:  lunch at Panera with a writer friend.  It was a stormy afternoon, and the skies opened up as we were thinking of leaving.  So we settled in, and I got a mocha and a scone.  We talked about the oldest media of all:  books and further back, Shakespeare and Homer.  We talked about the different Ulysses we had read.  What a treat to be with someone who knows the Tennyson poem as well as I do.

Because we are female writers of a certain age, our conversations often come back to our work and our publishing progress.  We take heart in writers who come into their own after age 50, since we are both in our early 50's.

--Driving home, I heard a story on NPR about the fact that 20 years ago this week, the first episode of Sex and the City aired. While the story did make me wish that I was drinking a craft cocktail with a view of metropolitan skyline, I came home and wrote a poem instead. It's not what Carrie Bradshaw would have written, at least not what she'd have written back when the show premiered. Maybe now, 20 years later, she'd have spent Friday night thinking about Jesus and wedding cakes for gay people and answering the question, "What would Jesus bake?" Now that would make an interesting relationship column!

--And now, on to the week-end, which I hope to spend immersed in Meg Wolitzer's latest novel, which I was lucky enough to find at the library.  Oh, how I love the public library, full of all sorts of media and joy.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Friday Fragments from an Administrator's Perspective

My brain is swirling with administrator thoughts today.  Let me capture some of them:

--I'm hearing about the clog in the courts down in Texas where people crossing the border have been detained in systems that aren't designed for this.  There aren't enough court workers to process people quickly or at all--or to shelter them while waiting for trial.  Children have been taken from parents, but there aren't local shelters.  It breaks my heart on so many levels.

I've been thinking about it from the perspective of parents and children--to have children ripped from the arms of parents?  Are we really this country now?

This morning I'm thinking about it from the perspective of the workers on all sides.  I imagine that people who work from the law enforcement side must be somewhat used to this kind of chaos when families are forcibly separated.  But I think of court reporters and judges and all of the others who would ordinarily never see this level of sorrow.

--I feel lucky in my current administrator life.  I don't see chaos and woe on these levels.  But there are weeks where I see a bit.  This has been a week where students have been making decisions about whether or not to continue with school, and I've heard some sad tales over paperwork signing. 

--But this week hasn't been all sadness.  Yesterday we had our Meet and Greet, a quarterly event.  This time, we had barbecue brought in from a local restaurant that I really like.  When I say barbecue in this context, I mean pulled pork and pulled chicken.  We also bought cole slaw from the restaurant.  I bought salad ingredients at a restaurant supply store (Gordon Food Services, not Costco or BJs), so we also had a big pan of salad.  It was a lovely spread.

We invited continuing students to be part, although we should have invited them earlier.  We missed some EMS students, and I keep telling myself that every student won't always have every opportunity.  One of the continuing students said, "Wow!  Did you cook all of this for us?"  I said, "I'm not opposed getting a big slab of meat and smoking it for you guys, but this time, we ordered from a restaurant."

Again and again, new, potential, and continuing students said, "I really love the atmosphere here" or "it's so happy here."  Any time a person says that, I feel that we're successful.

--The days that I've logged the most steps on my Fitbit were yesterday and our Open House on May 19.

--Today, at my old school, they should be wrapping up an accreditation visit, which started on Wednesday.  I don't envy them.  The more of these visits that I experience, the more I know that so much depends on a lot that is out of our control as administrators.  The worst visit that I was ever part of came almost a decade ago.  It was February and part of the visiting team had a 1 day delay because of weather; they were stuck in an airport part way to us and arrived in a terrible mood.  The visit went downhill from there.

--Today should be a fairly easy day at my school.  This quarter, Fridays have been easy, and I don't expect today to be different.  Plus, a variety of people are out of the office today, which will make it even quieter.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Sunrise Snippets

Several weeks ago, I wrote a list of fragments and observations that went on to become an interesting poem.  Let me try this again:

--This is a love letter to the two parrots in a palm tree that screech at each other.

--This is also a love letter to a pair of abandoned shoes at the beach, tan suede, clean, barely used, made for a man's foot.

--The sun rises, as it always does.  The clouds are the middle managers.  They know that their job is to make the boss look good.

--This morning, the clouds have settled on apocalypse as a theme, in contrast to the man sitting on the steps, playing his harmonica.

--Does the sun see the people running to the sand to catch the sunrise?  Is it aware of how many people ignore the sunrise for whatever magic their phones offer?

--Before the sun came up, I spent the morning looking at graduation pictures of people I remember as little children at church.

--This is a loved letter to all of us on this planet which can seem so doomed.  But the sun comes up each morning, and there is coffee enough to fill all of our mugs, and the hands of the master potter can still make sense of it all.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Summer Vacations Then and Now

Our school district has its last week of school this week.  My friends who have children in Catholic schools have their last day today.  Our thoughts are turning to summer vacation.

Several of my Facebook friends have already been to the beach.  Their posts make me think of the rambling beach houses of my youth, long ago, in Myrtle Beach.  Those houses have probably been completely remodeled--or torn down for newer houses or condo buildings.

In my youth, we saved our summer trip to the beach for the last weeks of summer vacation--a wise move on the part of my parents.  By then, summer was boring, and a change of scenery was just what we needed.

I'm also seeing Facebook posts from friends who will spend their summer working at camp.  They've been getting counselors trained and grounds ready.  Part of me is jealous, although my current working life sometimes shares more elements with camp life than I let myself realize.  Today I will buy food and treats for our Meet and Greet Open House, and tomorrow I'll serve food at the event.

Now I have so many different school schedules running in my head that it's hard to keep track of where we are on the real calendar.  And our weather here is fairly constant throughout most of the year--it's warm to hot--so I don't have any external cues.

But it is lighter much later these days.  Last night when I carried glasses to the sink close to 9 p.m., it still wasn't completely dark.

This week-end, I look at the calendar and see we don't have any plans--the first week-end without plans in many weeks.  Maybe, in addition to the chores, I can plan some staycation type of things:  reading a book by the pool comes to mind.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Kitty Breaks at Work

Yesterday I got an idea of why people spend so much time posting/watching cute puppy or kitty photos and videos.  One of our Vet Tech students brought an abandoned 4 week old kitty to school, and our registrar has adopted it.  She will be bringing it to work so that our staff vet can keep an eye on it and give it shots.

Throughout the day, I watched people come to the registrar's office to have some kitty time.  Most of them simply held the kitty.  Some of us played a bit.  I had forgotten how small mammals of most varieties can be amused by playing any type of peek-a-boo.  One of our registrar's pens has a floppy top, and each time I moved it, the cat pounced.

The cat didn't have boundless energy.  She spent a good part of the day sleeping in a box curled against a stuffed animal.

It was also fascinating to watch her navigate the world.  We have long windows beside our doors, and the kitty walked right into it.  Soon she will understand how glass works and won't make that mistake again.

I am guessing that these kitty breaks made us more productive.  It's much too easy to get lost in the weeds of spreadsheets and student records, while we try to figure out a way to make our ARC (registered average credit) higher.  But if we move away from the screen, pet the kitty, and talk to others who show up to visit the kitty, we might come up with a possibility.

At the very least, the kitty got us out of our seats to go see what the kitty was doing.

I always look back and say, "Why didn't I write a poem?  Why didn't I write the next chunk of the short story?  I could have sent my work out into the world.  I could have taken a different kind of break!"

Today, the kitten will be at home.  Today, during a break, I'll send out at least one poetry packet.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Random Fragments from a Week with a Cold

Before last week gets lost, let me record a few impressions from the week:

--Spending a week coughing is a good way to develop some abs.

--Taking aspirin for the headaches caused by the coughing and taking ibuprofen for the sore back caused by the coughing--these help with the arthritic feet.

--My cold didn't seem like a major one, although it was noticeable to people.  It's taken me awhile to shake it.

--I'm glad that I didn't have to miss the 2018 Broward Teacher of the Year Awards.  It's good to remember how many people are out there quietly doing good work.

--A local high school choral ensemble performed.  My colleague and I were there early because she created centerpieces, and we had to set them up.  There was lots of down time, and some of the ensemble members worked on other pieces. 

--It is strange to hear a Bon Jovi song arranged for a choral group.

--Yesterday I heard Maria Shriver interviewed during an On Being episode on NPR.  I was struck by her final thoughts.  She talked about being on book tour and seeing people who had books in their hands.  Her first thought was that she was on the wrong stage, that those people were waiting for someone else.  She reflected on the idea that's she's 62 and spent so many years working on the political campaigns of others and that she only now feels like she has time and focus for her own work.  She encouraged those of us who are feeling like it's taking a long time to come into our own.

--Yesterday I spent the morning being in charge at church.  It went well.  As always, when preaching goes well, I wonder if God is trying to tell me something.

--As always, I tuck those thoughts away for a later day. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Koinonia and Intentional Communities

Can I just say how delighted I am that the word that won this year's National Spelling Bee is koinonia?  And I am delighted that spell check knows the word--because I just misspelled it when I wrote it.

I have visions of the nation looking up the word--online, as so many of us do.  And then it takes them to Koinonia Farms in Americus Georgia.  In this time of racial divisiveness, that place has an inspiring story of black and white farmers working together in the heart of racial ugliness in the middle of last century.

It's the birthplace of many an initiative.  Perhaps the most famous is Habitat for Humanity. Less well known is the Jubilee Partners community in Comer, Georgia, a spin off community from Koinonia that has helped resettle refugees for several decades.  During my college years, I visited them several times, and that idea of intentional community still has a hold on my imagination.

That group was in the process of building homes for the community, and they were beautiful, simple, functional facilities.  I think about creating something similar:  small cottages with a single larger house or two.  Then, when people want solitude, it's there, but there's communal space too.  My experiences have shown me how important it is that everyone has their own bathroom, which they are responsible for cleaning.  I think that the kitchen can be more communal--people are willing to pitch in to clean up after a communal meal. 

For now, I'm living in a much smaller intentional community of two--and it's time to go to Home Depot to work on various projects.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Hurricane Season Begins

Today is the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season--but it's already begun, as our friends in the mountains of North Carolina know.  Once again, my friends who live around Asheville are having a much worse hurricane season than the rest of us.

Let that sink in.  Think about how far inland and upland my Asheville friends are.  They are suffering massive amounts of rain, and it's not over yet.

In this same week of our first named storm, we got information about Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico.  It did not come as a surprise that the death toll was higher than originally reported--but so high!  Over 5,000 dead.  And those who are left alive, many of them are far from back to normal.

That's true of many of us who suffered one of the worst hurricane seasons in modern memory in 2017.  Think of the people in Houston.  Think of those in the path of Irma.  And then, Maria, just for good measure.  There are Caribbean islands which will be forever changed.

In this week of our first named storm and the beginning of the 2018 season, we are far from recovered.  We've had a very rainy month of May, which has delayed our fence project.  But finally this week, the survey company came, and now we can mail the property survey and the notarized documents to the fence company--and then, they can apply for permits and buy supplies.

And we're still in the very early stages of getting the damaged floors restored.  We did get confirmation that the floor joists are Dade county pine, one of the more water/rot resistant types of wood that exists.  So we won't need to rip those up.  They've been here since the house was built in 1928, and they will probably be here long after the Atlantic reclaims the coast.  Two hundred years from now, divers may swim in the wreckage of my house, and the floor joists will likely remain.

Regardless of where we live, today is a good day to think about our emergency plans:  count your supplies, take some pictures of your valuables, put those pictures with your insurance and other important paperwork.  You do know where those important papers are, don't you?  You could grab them at a minute's notice, if you had to evacuate?

And while we're at it, we should back up important papers and important pictures.  If you can't afford cloud computing, you can e-mail files to yourself.  Or put it all on a data stick and ask an out of town person you trust to hang on to it.  That way, even if you don't have access to your hard drive for whatever reason, you've got your important stuff.
We live in a time where it's good to have some skills that lead to self-reliance.  Until recently, we assumed that our government could save us from anything that might go wrong.  Believe that at your peril.  At least realize that it might take awhile for your government to ride in to the rescue.  Could you eat in the meantime?
You might think that you have nothing to worry about.  Until recently, most of us assumed that we lived in a world with stable, predictable weather patterns.  Surely no one believes that anymore.  And even if your weather is stable, disaster is never out of the realm of possibility:  a house fire, a water main break, all sorts of things can go wrong.

It doesn't hurt to have a plan and some supplies on hand.